Jody’s Bike

November 15, 2017

Remember when you were a kid and living in “the now” was a way of life? Eckhart Tolle has written books, produced audiotapes, given seminars, and made a career out of telling people the many virtues of living in the now. Kids get it. Grown-ups pull them out of the now with things like “time for bed!” Kids would rather do with they are doing now. Time for dinner … no, we’re playing pretend! Time to come home … no, let me stay at my friend Jody’s a little longer!

“Harry your Mom called and wants you to come home now!” Jody and I ran towards his house. Jody got there first and as I entered he was saying things like, “No not yet!” and “He just got here!” Another thing about being a kid is time progresses at extremely variable speeds.

So I called mom back and we negotiated. The negotiations probably took longer than the extra time I gained, but we did gain some extra time. It had been a good visit. At one point we’d gone out to the barn to see Joey their horse. Jody’s oldest brother Barry was there and his friend Terry Vann. They were friendly but obviously wanted to talk about stuff they didn’t want to discuss with us hanging around. I guess Jody and I should have been more understanding since we both had little brothers too, and while it’s not hard to be nice to them for a while, usually before long they can really put a damper on things.

Part of the negotiation sales pitch was pointing out that Jody’s bike would cut several minutes off the trip home. So when it came time to head home we tried to figure out how to get both of us on the bike. It was a big old Schwinn with no fenders covering the big fat tires front and back. I’m not sure we’d ever ridden the bike together before. There were a couple problems, for one thing, the missing rear fender meant I had to sit on the seat while Jody drove standing up, with me hanging on to Jody. The seat was set at a height that worked for Jody, but I still had my feet … a couple years later the artificial legs gave me extra height and would have made things easier. We managed to tip over a few times before I got on the seat and we started rolling down the hill. It was downhill all the way which was good since we were now behind schedule and needed to make up for lost time.

Jody liked speed and the deadline made fast the only way to make it home on time … we were going all out, rocking left and right with each pump on the pedals. As we approached my driveway on the right Jody swung the bike into the left lane to make the turn less sharp and yelled: “hang on!” Even with the tight curve untightened a bit and leaning far to the right, when we hit the gravel the rear tire slid left, but Jody instinctively corrected by steering in the direction of the slide. We managed to get out of the lean and upright without a crash and burn. Jody was back in full race mode.

We had a straightaway to the finish line a 100 yards off, but all was not well. The driveway was gravel with an abundance of chuck holes. The turn into the driveway had left me a little unseated. I was trying to correct as we bounced at each chuckhole. Some bounces let me adjust by pulling myself closer to Jody. I got centered on the seat again and some bounces got me further forward in the seat which was a good thing. Other bounces left me further back, I was mostly hanging off the back of the seat when we hit the chuckhole from hell. Remember the missing fenders?

I came down on the big fat back tire. I was getting the mother of all wedgies as the tire burned rubber down my crack. Jody kept pedaling away. The tire was jamming me into the forks. Jody pedaled away. My entire boyhood was sucked between the forks. Jody pedaled.

The rear tire eventually locked up with boyhood and cheeks. We went down and slid to a stop. I now had gravel burns. Rolling around in the gravel, my first instinct was to grab my crotch. Grabbing myself was painful so I let go and just rolled around caterwauling. Caterwauling seemed to help.

I could tell Jody was concerned except he was having trouble suppressing fits of laughter. He decided to see how many dumb questions he could ask. “Are you okay?” “Does it hurt?” “Where does it hurt?” Mom must have decided to enter the dumb question competition because I could hear her yelling from our front porch 50 yards away, “Is everything alright?”

At that moment, Eckhart Tolle would have had a hard time selling me on the virtues of living in the now.


Letter to Louis

June 8, 2017

Dear Louis,

In 1988 you and my other favorite author both died, leaving me with abandonment issues. I had just moved out of state and was anxiously awaiting the annual new release you both did every year. The new releases were going to slow down a bit.


You mostly wrote about experiences from the Wild West, a period in our continents history that has come to an end. The places are still there but buildings are gone. Stores still sell goods but the goods are different and brand names had changed. Parking lots have replaced livery stables and hitching posts. The cattle drives and wagon trains depicted in the 1950’s and 60’s on TV shows like Rawhide and Wagon Train, are no more. The events are over, but the thanks to you the stories are on bookshelves and in e-book readers around the world.


I often watched these shows much like an 1860’s ranch hand reading a magazine from his bunkhouse bunk. That cowboy was living a lifestyle that was coming to an end. The life style I was living was also coming to an end. The cowboy could look up from his magazine and see beds occupied by and belonging to other cowboys. When I looked around during commercials I saw beds too. The beds belonged to other patients at the Shriners Hospital in Portland Oregon.


They still have a hospital in Portland but it was moved over the river across town more than 40 years ago and things are done a lot different today. Kids are in and out in a week. My average stay was 3 months long. I went 10 times at various ages 2, through 16. Halloweens, Thanksgivings, birthdays and a couple Christmas’s took place during those stays. I could do a week standing on my head.


I’ve written several stories and I can write several more. Reminds me of a Woody Guthrie song lyric.

I’ve got several children

Expecting several more

Kids run out like cattle

When I open up the door.


I guess I am having trouble getting the door open. I’d like to sit down with you and other writers of your magnitude and visit about my book as I see it. Should I pull together what I have and publish a short book, to get me out there? Keep plodding away trying unsuccessfully to write more? So many ways to do this and so many things pulling me away.


Thanks for listening. If you can figure out a way to reach through the veil and respond, please do so.


Future New York Times Best Selling Author,


Harry Howell

Dad’s Birthday

August 9, 2016

Dad would have been 88 years old today. I had trouble finding his Obituary so i decided that if I located it i would post it here. Versions of the following appeared in the Hood River News and the Peninsula Clarion in Alaska.

Harry Howell

Local services are pending for Harry Lee Howell, Sr., who passed away unexpectedly on Dec. 24, 2002, at the age of 74. Harry was born Aug. 9, 1928, in Hood River to Harry A. and Lacey Howell. He was a life-long resident of Hood River until he moved to Kenai Peninsula in Alaska in the mid 1970s. He attended Barrett grade school, Hood River High School, and Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa. He married Sue Jane Dempsey on Oct. 4, 1950.

He was a devoted and loving husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, and friend. He was the kind of grown-up who got down and rolled around on the floor with the kids in his life. He loved all animals and had no fear of even the most vicious junkyard dog.

During his life, job skills included mechanic, plumber, electrician, carpenter, body and fender man, heavy equipment operator, welder, and logger. While living in Oregon, he helped build the John Day Dam and the first ski lifts at Mount Hood Meadows. He also worked on the Alaska Pipeline.

He had many interests over the years. He was a minister and pastor, philosopher, theologian, athlete, hunter, fisherman, photographer, painter, singer, musician, mushroom gatherer, collector of old bottles, antiques, and various items whose values weren’t always readily apparent to the rest of us. His most recent hobby was building birdhouses. He was a favorite customer at second hand stores, coffee shops, and garage sales. During recent years he had begun to focus his gathering activities on Coca-Cola items and became known on the Kenai Peninsula as the “Coca-Cola Man.” Other nicknames include “Red” and “Red Dog.”

He never knew a stranger and could make a friend anywhere, anytime, and under any circumstance. He is considered by many to be the originator of the world renowned full body gesture known as the Arthropitter. He will be remembered for his infectious laugh, described by most as a cackle, his mischievous grin, and his music. His children will always remember Sunday afternoon drives when they would head for the hills and drive dirt roads that angels feared to tread. He loved life and enjoyed it to the fullest.

He was an independent man who would build it or do it himself rather than hire someone. There wasn’t much he couldn’t do. He played music by ear. He would sometimes struggle with sheet music at the piano, then toss it aside in disgust and the music would flow effortlessly. The day before he left us, he sang Blue Christmas as a solo during a luncheon at the local senior center near his home in Alaska.

Those who knew him have been blessed with an abundance of memories and great stories.

His parents, and sisters Eileen Chapman and Harriet Babcock (who passed away on Dec. 19, 2002) preceded him in death.

He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Sue Jane Howell of Soldotna, Alaska; son and daughter-in-law Harry and Janice Howell of Oakville, Wash.; daughter and son-in-law Debora and Ron Friedrich of Oregon City; daughter and son-in-law Yvonne and Tom Bryant of Hood River; son and daughter-in-law Kenneth and Michelle Howell of Soldotna, Alaska; eleven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren; sisters Blanche Wirrick of Sherwood, Ore., and Eila Carmichael of Eugene, Ore.; and nine nieces and nephews.

Heaven will never be the same.


My Stump Story

June 2, 2014

Once upon a time there was a holly tree. Fooled you didn’t I. Most of my readers are aware that I am a double amputee and probably figured this story is about what’s left of one of my legs. Not exactly. It all began because there was a Holly tree next to my house. I like holly trees and holly on the mantle during the Holly-days, but the trees can be problematic near houses, sidewalks, and some claim they generate negative energy. Besides this particular tree was right where I always wanted to park my van to unload groceries and stuff. I like groceries … and stuff.

So one day a friend acquired a chainsaw and wanted to fall a tree with it. He knew about my trees unfortunate location and wanted to cut it down. He assured me the stump would be low enough for my van to clear. Eventually I had an 18 inch diameter stump, and some wood. I forget what we did with the wood but for a year or two I was parking my van off the street … and my van’s A-frame hit the stump every time. Talk about negative energy.

So at that point he wasn’t interested in lowering the stump but had all kinds of advice about how to drive. The more I parked straddling the stump the deeper the tire tracks got and the situation magnified. Others assured me they could cut the stump lower with their chainsaw and they’d come by and take care of it for me. I kept smacking the stump when I parked.

So one day I ran across a bow saw for sale and thought it would come in handy and maybe I could lower the stump with it. I leaned my legs against the wall in the bedroom, took the wheelchair out on the front porch, crawled out to the stump, and went to work. The bow saw did come in handy and 30 years later it still comes in handy. Holly wood is very hard though. So I bought a couple different shovels and started digging. I messed with that stump every day for weeks. Maybe I’m slow. I also ended up with an ax, machete, stump killer chemicals, and got to meet all my neighbors as they walked their dogs and stuff.

My church was in the neighborhood so as my church friends cruised through they’d stop to visit too. Friends and neighbors all had advice and generous offers. I could just quit and eventually someone would show up and remove my stump. Of course the generous offers would take place not today … but someday. I kept digging … and sweating.

I foot or so down I ran into a wagon wheel formation of roots up to 6 inches across. I started sawing and chopping. More advice, more generous offers, but like the Creedence Clearwater Revival song says … Someday Never Comes. I kept digging, sawing, chopping, hacking … and sweating.

Another friend named George actually did show up to help one day. He brought his 4-ton come-along. He assured me I had removed enough dirt and hacked at the roots long enough for the come-along to finish the job. George was built a little like Norm from the Cheers sitcom. So he hooked one end of the cable around a huge maple tree, and I hooked the other end around my stump. He took up the slack and started pulling the ratchet lever till it was really tight. He was straining for another click on the ratchet with feet braced when the come-along exploded. George hit the dirt. George is dead. But that didn’t happen till recently so my stump probably wasn’t a factor. George gathered up the pieces, gave me some advice, mostly about my driving, and left. I kept digging, sawing, chopping, hacking, sweating … and laughing. The laughing was helpful. I removed the stump. Thanks George.

What is Life

March 24, 2014

A gift received
A gift given
Times of joy
Times of terror
Lessons learned
Lessons taught
Life is good



The Jesus Story

December 12, 2013

Who was Jesus? What’s his story?

When I was about four years old, and miles away from family and friends, in a strange scary place … I woke up in the middle of the night and there were monsters under the bed. I wanted to scream but my parents or grandparents would not hear me and I knew my terror would only get worse when a stranger showed up. Strangers were to be avoided. This place was full of strangers. Besides, screaming would wake up the monsters under the bed.

This was a major event in my own story because at that point I silently screamed out to Jesus and there he was. Together we worked it out. The monsters left and were replaced with some really tough animal friends, lions, wolves and bears … no tigers.

Back then I knew the Jesus story. He was born of a virgin. I wasn’t exactly sure what that was and whenever I asked a grownup they would talk about innocence then change the subject. Finally an older kid filled me in. Then the song Away In A Manger told about his birth and no room at the Inn. Unlike me, during the monsters under the bed episode, his mom and dad were with him and he didn’t have congentil birth defects. Not much else to the story till he was about thirty years old when he began preaching, healing the sick, and performing other miracles. He was the son of God. Maybe three years later they hung him on a cross … he died for our sins.  I guess I needed him to do that for me too.  I’ve seen a few willow switches in my time.

There, the Jesus story in one paragraph. I left a lot out, like what they say he said in his sermons. It seems to me like he preached a lot about love, acceptance, peace, and harmony. But people can get into really heated arguments about who he was and why he was here, who he accepts and doesn’t accept. For me the most important part of his story is still, all the times his story intersects my story. He has been, and continues to be, a good friend. Many times together over the years we have tackled problems much bigger than monsters under the bed. We’re working together on a thing or two right now.

I have another friend with a bible name, but he was born a few decades ago and is still alive. As a young man with a family he moved here from another state. He has a short elevator  speech he can give between floors describing a normal, conventional backstory. We have become close friends and his actual story is a little different than the elevator speech. Nothing serious but enough to raise the eyebrows of some judgemental types. In extreme cases it could end a friendship. But my friend and I understand friendship, and our friendship will never be at risk.

So, as society discovers scrolls and such, we gain new insights into the life and times of my friend Jesus. Its pretty natural for folks to speculate about possible additions or even contradictions to the traditional Jesus story. Throw in the Internet factor and almost overnight any hairbrained theory can become the facebook fantasy of the day

According to some, Jesus had a wife, kids, and his descendants live among us today. Some say he never died on the cross, or ascended to heaven but went into hiding, living to be an old man. I have read that his miraculous healings were maybe at least partially because of his training in ancient mystical healing arts like Reiki. I hear Jesus channels to us in modern times through A Course In Miracles (ACIM.)  Just today I was reading that Jesus was a freemason. Do I believe these things?  Is there more to the Jesus story than the one paragraph elevator speech?

These potential Jesus story additions are seen as blasphemous contradictions and enrage a lot of people. For me, some of these things would really be cool, but I don’t think it matters.  We haven’t given up on each other. He’s my friend.

I think that’s how it is supposed to work with friends.

Fun With Doctors

June 17, 2013

I wasn’t there for all the fun stuff that happened at the hospital. But the really cool incidents were told and retold so many times they became legendary. In fact over thirty years later, at one of our first patient reunions, hospital brothers, sisters, and nurses alike were retelling the same legends. I wish I had been there when this one happened.


The hospital had a studio apartment for a resident doctor. It was situated in close proximity to the boys ward located on the east end of the hospital. I suspect this was to reduce response time for medical trauma unrelated to our disabilities. For instance one Saturday evening while getting ready for our Boy Scout meeting, I was knocked unconscious and needed stitches. I still have the scar right between my eyes. Maybe this had nothing to do with the location of the doctor’s apartment but boys will be boys, prone to fat lips, black eyes, and bloody noses.


So this one doctor, whose name escapes me, liked bridge and taught a few of my hospital brothers to play. They’d play in his apartment. They went down there so much that the imaginary line we were never supposed to cross … moved down the hall to his door across the from the operating room.  It was even ok to go there uninvited to see if he was up for a game.  One kid from Canada was especially good at cards and years later you’d see his name in the paper when he was in town for a tournament. He later played poker tournaments in Los Vegas and we’ve spotted him there on ESPN. He’s the one holding the cards with his feet because he has no arms.


One evening nothing good was on TV and game of bridge seemed like a good idea. One of the bridge kids went down the hall to scope things out. They saw him knock on the door, look up and down the hall, check the handle, and slip inside. Pretty soon he slipped back out and returned.



“He was asleep.”

“So why did you go inside?”

“All he was wearing was his jockey shorts.”

“What? Did you want a better look or something? Pervert! Pervert!”

“No … I hid his clothes.”


This cracked everyone up and when the noise died down a bit they checked to make sure the head nurse hadn’t noticed something was up …  she hadn’t. So they began wondering what he would do when he woke up. They discussed things like hiding in the closet, under the bed, and pounding on the door, giving someone one of those bloody noses, but these all seemed problematic. Finally one kid had an idea.


“Let’s make someone faint!”

“That’s crazy, like yelling boo at a little kid?”

“No … my big cousin showed me … I’ll faint … here’s how.”


So the procedure was laid out. The fainter hyperventilated with fifty rapid deep breathes. Then as the count reached fifty he was bear hugged from behind right below the rib cage. He was out cold. It worked … he looked dead.


“Holy Smokes!”

“Maybe he’s dead?”



She came running.


“What happened?”

“Uh … he fainted!

“Get the doctor!”


The doctor showed up almost immediately wrapped in a sheet … like he was headed for a Toga Party. The victim groaned, sat up, and the guys started snickering. Mrs. Thompson now knew something was up and was getting that no-TV-for-a-week look in her eyes. Then she saw the doctor as if for the first time.


Get ‘em laughing and you’re off the hook.

Another First Step

May 14, 2013

I was pumped. Today was Doctor Rounds and they were going to discharge me. No one had told me but I was twelve years old and I’d been coming here for a decade or so. Sometimes I knew what the staff was going to do or say before they did.

Once I got home there’d be fishing trips, and my .22 caliber carbine. I could buy comic books at the grocery store, I could sleep outside in forts, cousins would visit, and food. I would have access to food in the cupboards, the refrigerator, and snacks. Designated fluid times were a thing of the past and I could have a drink whenever I wanted.  It was Saturday morning and that meant Doctor Rounds.

Finally … down the hall they came. I was in the big ward with the oldest kids. It had 19 beds and they always went through the beds in the same order. My bed was in a good spot but was always the last one in the ward to be visited during the rounds. While they went from bed to bed I was only half listening to what they had to say to other patients as they made their way to me because … did I mention I was going home?

I knew I was going home because things were just like before. Okay I did have my right knee amputated this time but that’s not much different than the time they amputated both feet when I was nine. I’d put in my time after surgery.  I was fitted for new legs which I wore for a week or two before they made final adjustments. Adjustments were made and I walked around on them for a few more days just to be sure. The adjusting mechanisms were now removed and the cosmetics had been applied last week. I was ready. I was good to go.

The doctors came, we talked, and they left. I’d been higher than a kite. Now I felt like I’d just fallen into a bottomless pit. A nurse’s aide came in to do something with the kid in the next bed. “I don’t get it, my legs are done, why didn’t they discharge me”? She said “You were walking when you came in to the hospital. They won’t send you home till you are walking again”.

No sense arguing but technically I was walking … with crutches. Maybe I used crutches but that didn’t mean I could be pushed around like this. I pictured myself slapping the snot out of a few people but managed to maintain. It didn’t seem right. Yeah I came in without crutches but this leg was a whole lot different. The new right leg had a knee but I did not. I knew where the left foot was when I look a step but with the right one I did not. If I didn’t swing it out hard enough I would step down on a partially bent knee, it would buckle under me, and I would go down.  Okay I was torqued. They wanted me to walk … I’d walk.

After the big ward they would do the twenty-five or so beds in the other two wards.  There were a couple empty beds in the back sun porch so I went there and pulled them close together. They were about table height off the ground so I could use them as parallel bars and if I fell I wouldn’t go all the way down. I was scared spit-less.

So I stood at the head of the beds looking down six and a half feet or so to the end.  I was gonna break my neck. “Get a grip! Do I want to go home now or wait till I’m sixteen and they send me home for being too old”! Okay worst case scenario. I fall down. I have been eventually been thrown off every horse I ever rode, mostly because I didn’t know what I was doing but did watch Saturday morning cowboy shows and knew how to get in to a full gallop and stuff. I’d also fallen out of a couple trees I’d been climbing, the hayloft in the barn … so far no broken bones. One thing that almost never happened though was falling down due to my disability. Oh sure if I fell down no matter what the reason some people would figure it was because I was disabled. Of course if they fell down, it was because of ice on the sidewalk or a million other random things that could go wrong … but when I did it … “STOP IT”!

I’m wasting valuable time and I already know life ain’t fair. I’m not going to stay here just because I am scared. I can do this … and I did.

I walked to the end of the bed. Turned around and walked back. This time I walked past the end of the bed and kept on going till I got to the nurses desk. “Okay I can walk, when the doctors are done tell them to come see me again”.

“It’s too late but I’m sure they’ll discharge you next week”.

It wasn’t too late … but that’s how they did things back then. I shoulda been really upset about having to spend another week on top of the three or four months I’d already been there. But I was now more pumped about having overcome my fear than I had been about going home.

Fear sure gets in the way.


All Streams Flow to Same Ocean

November 7, 2012

The spiritual tradition of my birth is Christianity but when someone tells me they are Christian I don’t feel all that informed about their faith. Christians roll many ways. As a young child I saw many high energy discussions among my own relatives about the nature of God, how to use the Bible, and the scientific improbability of Jonah and the whale. These discussions weren’t exactly good examples of tolerance but still I got the idea that a lot of good people had passionately different ideas about the path to God.

My Shaman recently named me Pathfinder. The name came to him in a dream. He talked at length about the reason that was my name. For me it felt very much like the Patriarchal Blessing I received forty some years ago through the spiritual tradition of my birth. He talked about how my hunger for more spiritual knowledge has led to my taking a good honest look at unfamiliar paths out of my comfort zone. The list includes Freemasonry, Reiki, Native American spirituality, and others that would have totally freaked out my grandmothers. But find them I did and travel them I do. He also tells me I will show the paths to others. I have come to the conclusion that in many ways and on many levels all paths lead to God and all streams flow to same ocean.

So where did it all start for me … Shriner’s Hospital of course. As an adult I eventually became a Shriner and to do that I had to become a Freemason. I’m glad I did. One of the tenants of freemasonry is religious freedom and tolerance. To be a mason you need to believe in a Supreme Being.  Beyond that the details of your faith are up to you. But masonry provided many religious tolerance lessons for me way before I became a mason during the times I spent in their hospital as a kid. Some of them were a bit confusing, but that is the nature of much of the spiritual journey.

I’d heard some discussion, scoffing actually, during church potlucks about misguided believers who wouldn’t eat pork. So one day at the hospital we were having hotdogs for lunch and I did some scoffing. The kid in the bed next to me had just finished off his hotdog. His face lost all color and he asked, “This hot dog has pork in it”? I assured him it did which didn’t help his coloring. I decided I should have told him sooner because he didn’t eat another bite and I might have scored a second hotdog. Pretty soon a nurse showed up to gather trays.

He spent the afternoon lying on his side facing the wall.  I asked him what he was doing and he said when you ate stuff you weren’t supposed to you needed to pray and fast … skipping at least one meal. Dinner trays came and he just laid there facing the wall. Unfortunately this particular meal wasn’t one of my favorites so I didn’t ask him to share.  A nurse came to gather trays and criticized him for not eating anything. He didn’t say much which was my cue to do some well rehearsed scoffing. The nurse flipped out on me. She told me she knew what denomination I belonged to and I was in no position to be criticizing anyone’s beliefs. She probably had the usual misconception that I was affiliated with a group centered in Utah but given her current mood I didn’t try to set her straight. I got to thinking about what she said. Her cheap shot had for a moment caused me to look at my faith from the outside … some of it is hard to swallow even when viewed from the inside. But what really got me thinking was my hospital brother. He was still lying on his side facing the wall. I asked him why he ate the hotdog and he said his mom always bought all beef hotdogs. We visited about church and stuff. I had just witnessed penance.

I wasn’t just exposed to Christianity. In the summer we had boy scouts on Saturday evenings. One evening after scouts I was about nine years old and asked the hospital brother in the bed next to me if he had scouts back home. He said they had something similar but didn’t elaborate. I didn’t get the hint and started asking questions. It was all good though, he swore me to secrecy because he thought the other guys would tease him and here is what I found out. He was Indian and that’s what we called it back then. He lived on a reservation. There was a guy he called uncle who would teach boys the old ways. I asked about hikes and camping like boy scouts. He said no but when you were ready, this uncle would take you into the woods and leave you alone overnight. I asked about wild animals. He said the woods had plenty of them but they weren’t a problem when this uncle left you in the woods. He said you would see an animal or a sign and that would become your name or part of it. He saw a little rabbit and that was his name. When no one was listening I’d call him his spirit name … Little Rabbit. I have an autograph book somewhere with signatures of various nurses, patients, and actor Dale Robertson, but my favorite page was signed by Little Rabbit. Through his eyes I had witnessed a Vision Quest.

My first exposure to the path of Catholicism also took place in the hospital. After one of my surgeries I was in the recovery cube next to the nurse’s station that would hold two beds. It was crowded but did hold two beds. So since I’m recovering I was sleeping or maybe passing out a lot. Once when drifted back from sleep the hospital brother in the other bed was talking nonsense and making the same hand gesture over and over. He was older which could be a problem but when he was done he looked over at me and smiled. I told him I heard him talking but didn’t understand a word he said. He explained he was Catholic and he was praying in Latin. The only hand gesture I knew would get you in trouble if a nurse saw it so I asked about the one I’d seen him using. He explained it was symbolic of the cross Jesus had died on and Catholics used it a lot when praying. I had just witnessed the sign of the cross or signum crucis

We both drifted off thinking revert thoughts. The next time we were both conscience he wanted to talk more about religion. We were both nauseated and he had trouble talking and I had trouble listening especially since the next religious topic involved eating and drinking. In my church we call it communion and eat bread and drink what we say is wine but is actually red or purple juice of some kind. He said their bread was some kind of wafer. We managed to get past the wafer eating part without either of us throwing up. We then moved on to discussing the wine. He said they used real wine which I’d never had. I asked if they all got drunk and he explained that it wasn’t enough for that. So while it was a close call a couple times I was feeling pretty good about having gotten through the final wine portion of comparing communion notes without any dry heaves. But I was wrong … we weren’t finished. There was an additional wrinkle to the whole communion thing he felt obligated to share with me. They call it communion also but his explanation sounded like there was an extra belief where the bread and wine weren’t just symbolic representations but were the actual flesh and blood of Jesus. Nothing came up but all this talk about cannibalism brought on violent retching and the dreaded the dry heaves. I was able to keep the noise down so the nurse didn’t make an appearance.  That was my first exposure to the concept of the Eucharist.

When I drifted back into reality I didn’t remember drifting off but was kinda glad I had. I didn’t open my eyes but I could hear my hospital brother. It didn’t sound like words this time, Latin or otherwise. I wasn’t up for any more religious sharing and didn’t want him to know I was awake. Still I risked taking a look to see what was going on this time. I need not have worried as he was totally oblivious to my presence. His facial expression was a little like I’d seen when someone giving a mighty prayer in church really gets into it. There was also some twitching going on. I had heard about Shakers but didn’t think that had anything to do with Catholics. I decided to follow up on it later because I wasn’t up for it at the moment. I forced myself to drift off again. I didn’t put it all together right away but … I had just witnessed masturbation.

Brat-Boy’s Reign of Terror

August 11, 2012

// During my last stay in the hospital a spoiled rich kid was admitted. Brat-Boy’s disability was miniscule in comparison to some of the rest of us but he thought he was the only one on the planet with a hard life.

He lived with his Mom and Grandma who had babied him. Until his arrival we had a pretty mellow Ward. We were now constantly in some kind of trouble. Desserts taken away for a week, early bed times, staff mad at patients, and patients mad at staff. This kid was constantly angry at someone. Usually his anger was about his erroneous interpretation of things said or done by others. “They are picking on me” would be his interpretation of a discussion where he didn’t want to play some game by the “house rules”. He would act out inappropriately, eventually another boy or group of boys would have a belly full and also do or say something inappropriate. Brat boy would tattle and get off Scott free … others would be punished. Others would apologize, only to receive yet another tirade from Brat-Boy. There was constant turmoil. Peace and harmony did not prevail.

At 15 years and the oldest patient I had the title “King of the Ward” and it was my responsibility to restore peace and harmony. I tried a little whispering of wise counsel in his ear so to speak. He was having none of it, becoming angry, verbally abusive, and tattling his warped version of what took place. While no punishment resulted, I did receive a sound scolding and a couple days worth of angry looks from one of the nurses. Decades later a wise man pointed out to me the folly of trying to reason with an unreasonable person. I have made that mistake very few times since.

One of his violations of ward etiquette was refusing to grab a bottle from the next room for a “down” patient who had to pee. During the day the bottles were removed from the night stands and another patient would grab a bottle for you if you needed it … or at least go get a nurse for you. Staff and patients alike were not happy with him about this. After his surgery when he was bed ridden he was gonna be in a world of hurt should he need a bottle.

His surgery was scheduled but on the Monday morning he was to become a “down” patient, he woke up with major allergy issues. He was wheezing and his face was all red and puffed up like a toad. The surgery was postponed till they could determine the cause. They ran tests but found nothing. By evening he was fine and the surgery was rescheduled. Surgeries took place Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. For three days he would wake up looking like a toad, tests were run finding nothing and the symptoms would be gone by late afternoon or early evening.

On Thursday they sent him home. Peace and Harmony was instantly restored.

So a few of us were discussing our good fortune and joking about it being an answer to prayer, yet at the same time disappointing because we had plans for payback. One of my hospital brothers had this look like a poor poker player who is holding a good hand. I got him alone and here is what I found out. We all knew Brat-Boy had some allergy issues … but this hospital brother had somehow gotten a look at his chart and found out he was very allergic to baby powder. So Brat-Boys pillow was getting swapped out every night just before bedtime and while he was making his first bathroom visit every morning. The pillow was of course powdered liberally.

Removal of this one hospital brother turned a dysfunctional nightmare into a place where you could actually find enjoyment if you chose. There were no doubt better solutions but our options were limited.