Sean’s Journal: Brainstorms Against Humanity…Touchstones to a Better Day

So many good things happened this week in my little world of healthcare delivery for patients and families and our guests. I spent time with new and seasoned providers in dialogue about compassion; I spent time with fellow administrators planning for a year or two or three to come in design of capital and operational needs for a system in transition; I learned from thought leaders and from my pals in the experience playground.

But, the lessons and the motivation and the inspiration and the growth could only go so far. My mind and my heart was pulled on to the world stage as well. The sadness and the grief in Paris and in other pockets of the planet wouldn’t leave me. My head was fogged by the responses from the right and left and all over the directional and ideological map.

I cannot entirely begrudge the emotional, and often ignorant responses to the terror that has taken place. My hope is that reason, accompanied by compassion, and mercy, and open hearts will prevail. My hope is that we find a balance of caution and servitude; empathy and protection; hope for the hopeless and care for those in our lines.

For those who continue to deny the truth and hold fast to their ultra anti-muslim rhetoric, I hope for enlightenment over sick prejudice. By now, we should know that ISIL or ISIS or whatever acronym given to these petty thugs has NOTHING to do with Islam. They use it as a cheap cardboard sign to gain a proverbial radical dollar at a traffic light of world order. “Will inflict terror for attention.”

A short course in history will reveal that terrorism has its roots in ideology, be it political, economic, religious, or other causes or themes. In this case, political motive is wrapped in a perverted and fictitious connotation of Islam. But, understanding that would actually require learning beyond what a Fox News anchor offers in seven seconds or a Ted Cruz or Donald Trump grandstand for cheap votes and a wall. It’s a little more complicated than throwing down a nationalist moat.

Terror, as we know it today has been around as long as humanity. The Nazis inflicted terror through an Aryan claim to justify “scientific” racism and anti-semitism. Fascists terrorized in the name of nationalism. Leaders and regimes have engaged in terror through ethnic cleansing in order to achieve ethnic homogeneity. And yes, less than a couple of hundred years ago our own thugs engaged in the terror (yes, “terror”) of slavery and justified it as an economic and evolutionary right.

Today these displaced and misplaced freaks are brilliantly hijacking a religion to mask their apocalyptic and narcissistic agenda. And we are buying it. And so are some of the potential leaders of the “free” world. Ironically, our freedom comes with risk. One of those risks is that we might go into a “Judeo-Christian” foxhole and display the antithesis of freedom in order to shelter from the possibility of radicalism. The ultra-Christian who blows up a women’s clinic is no less a terrorist. The white-supremacist who stones and hangs and shoots and burns is no less a terrorist. The anarchist who blows a building in Oklahoma is no less terrorist.

Yes, pause and consider what danger is among us. Blend defense with humanity. It is where we began. In our short history—and I do mean, “short”—our experiment in democracy and a better exercise in equality has such promise. I still believe in most politicians, believe it or not. I still hope that the men and women in congress and in other office will reach deeper than a sound bite or the fear of an idea so much that we abandon our own origin.

touchstonesAt the end of Friday’s retreat, we reached into a bag to retrieve touchstones as a token from the event. I couldn’t help but offer a smile and prayer for hope at the gifting irony.

Peace. Dream. Charity.


Sean’s Journal: No Strings (cables) Attached and What I Don’t Expect

Part one: This was an experiment. I had a T.V. go out a little over a month ago. My auto response was to run to Best Buy and get a bigger, higher definition, smarter one. I didn’t. Instead, I cut off cable for a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not on some cause to leave a less electronic footprint. Just curious about where my attention lands when there aren’t 500 plus channels, like dogs and cats in the pet store vying for my gaze and adoption.

Part two: I packed up one stack of books last year and donated them to Goodwill. The second stack is waiting on the bottom floor of my townhouse waiting for the same transfer. There are over 100 of them. Today might have been the day. Returning from Florida after a trying and joyous and scary time. Feeling a need to continue to purge and return to simpler.

Part three: Listened to an interview with theoretical physicist, Lisa Randall. Among many things she spoke to, one quote grabbed me. “We often fail to notice things we are not expecting.” This comment, from an author I truly enjoy and think has a beautiful balance of matter and what matters struck me about where I am right now.

Dénouement: Returning from a time in which mortality and meaning hit me in the face, I want even more to be distracted less. I want to slow and notice and not be so programmed into what is expected and miss the things I will ultimately love the most. I read a lot late at night following hospital visits and family time. I wrote. I walked and listened to singer-songwriters who capture these very things.

I returned home to conversation I missed so much, proximity of love, a shared glass, time with friends in celebration of life and birth, to no plans and letting the day carry us where it will.

And on the way out the door this morning for a crisp November ride in the woods, I saw my stack of books. There are passages and titles asking me for a little more attention before they are off to their new home. I wasn’t expecting that.

“To want what I have and to take what I’m given with grace.” ∼ don henley



Sean’s Journal: Remembered things

There’s not much good that can be said about dementia. In fact, there is nothing, unless it could be called on selectively to remove those things not worth storing or that hurt.

This journey with Patti (that would be Mom) has taught many lessons on the wonders of the body and the mind.

She has said as far back as I can recall, “Always have something to look forward to.” In this curious case of visiting her while an ICU and telemetry patient, dementia has a bit of twisted benefit.

It’s the short term effected the most. Questions asked and answered over and over—some with less patience than others. Names and even faces that leave almost as soon as they arrived.

If there is silver lining to the loss of fragments of memory in this case, it is that each visit becomes new. An unexpected and positive surprise. A big smile breaks through the tubes and the vapor of the breathing treatments and past the blinding lights of a room occupied by precious life and inanimate machines keeping the precious life precious for a little longer.

Memory has its blend for evil and for good. There is a neurological yin and yang about it. The recall can allow grudges to never die; for pain or sorrow or anger or all manner of negative emotion to be reignited. Whole wars have happened because of a collective or individual memory. It can haunt and stay, even if begged to leave. It can also remind us of the best parts of life. The births and the dates and the songs and the quiet moments and the celebrations and more. It can fill the mind’s canvas like a colorful and beautiful montage.

Mom’s memories are vivid. They are offered in headlines repeated over and over and with the same enthusiasm as if delivered for the first time. They are mixed with pride and melancholy. They are the best of what she wants to remember, and that is good enough. Some have become a little exaggerated over the lifetime. So what? What’s the harm in refreshing or adding a hue here and there to a life recalled?

We walked into the semi-private room tonight. Her eyes moved from the window the to the door as she could sense our approach. “Ohhhhhhhhh, it’s youuuu,” she exclaims with a smile. It had been only an hour or so, but it was new now…and so appreciated.

Using this time to reflect (as I always seem to do when trials present) leads me to consider changes or reinforce the best of my current path –which is so strong and hopeful. I am more determined to design and create and fulfill those moments that will become the memories of good. Equally determined to fight harder against those memories that intermittently plot a coup to create the dark moods and times quiet neglect.

Always have something to look forward to (and back on)!

Love you, Mom.

Sean’s Journal: A Good Pour and Cheers to Mom

I walked the balmy walk just down the road from my hotel in Panama City to grab a late salad and a glass of wine before settling down for a needed night’s sleep. After making it to San Francisco to deliver a presentation and learn from giants, I got a call from sis and mom’s doctor’s saying, “You need to make some decisions.” She had been admitted to ICU with respiratory arrest and pneumonia. It wasn’t a good scene. High Co2, lousy performance from a host of other physiological measures, and just plain bad.

My E.A., Jan, got me on the first flight that afternoon right back out of The City for Charlotte. Landed a little after 9 Wednesday night, packed, got in my fastest car and drove to Florida. Stopped once for a power nap somewhere outside of Columbus, GA. Arrived and spent the day with this amazing mom of mine and equally amazing sister who knows her so well.

By the time I arrived her Co2 levels were better; CT’s negative; airways clearing, a bit; meds doing their wonders; and clinicians searching for a root cause. Once it was known that it might not be so dire, my self creeped in and made a weak, albeit real attempt to resent the hijacking of my “important” presentation that had been in the works for months. Then, the better part of myself, my conscience, arrived like a tornado carrying a bizarre mix of The Hulk and Mahatma Gandhi and said to me…

“Are you kidding me? Get over yourself, and love, and be present, and kick that ego to the curb and be the man you actually are!”


After this long day was over and mom was comfortably (an entirely relative term and one only she could actually speak to) resting and breathing much better, my sister Denise and I headed out. I hopped on Travelocity and grabbed a hotel for a night or two. Showered, changed, needed a bite and a nice glass of something red before sleep.

When I got to the establishment after a little walk in the humid night, I was greeted pleasantly by Nicole, one of the servers. I asked if they had a wine list. Her reply, “Oh, we have every kind of wine you want.” I perked up and asked if I could see the list. I even went so far as to ask if they had a reserve list. In the mood for something that would offer a special “goodnight.” Nicole said, “We don’t have a list, but we have Chardonnay, Pinot, Merlot, Cabernet, and Muscat.” I paused and surely looked a little perplexed. “Do you mean you have those wines but not different labels?” She nodded and affirmed my leading question.

I smiled and said, “How about a Pinot Noir?” She said, “You bet,” and spun around toward the bar.

Moments later Nicole returned with a glass about the size of a flight glass, filled to the brim with something a little more white. I asked if this was Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris. “What’s the difference?” she asked. I offered a simple and hopefully unpretentious explanation that one is a red and another is white. She seemed to appreciate the lesson and asked if I would like a Merlot instead.

“Nope, this is going to be just right. And thank you.”

I took a sip. Really tasty. It almost seemed fitting. Something a little more chilled while sitting on an empty patio while the humidity fogged the screen of my laptop. I closed the computer and sipped on my pinot gris and reflected on the day.

This was surely nature’s way of shooting a message across the bow? Simplify, Sean! Appreciate the littlest things. Who cares if it is good vintage or poured out of a box? This day was about life. About love. About appreciating the wonders of medicine and the people who practice it. It was just as much about offering it out there for the inevitable and non-earthly realm of next real estate and the Ultimate Healer’s plan.

I sipped that little glass of pinot gris as if it were a glass of Trefethen 2005 Reserve Cabernet. And I totally dug every drop (pardon the lack of wine-snob vernacular).

Sleep was welcome. Tomorrow will bring what it brings. Maybe the merlot?

Sean’s Journal: A Weathered Rider and Turbulent Skies

Nation’s capital irony at its best. Turbulence in the skies all around the District. And on the night of the Republican debate.

It was to be a routine flight from Charlotte to Dulles International Airport. Upon our descent to Washington, D.C., the air was suddenly, but not entirely unexpectedly, unstable. Storms were forecasted.

The feeling was like that of an old wooden roller coaster. Creaks and moans from the CRJ900 fuselage, designed to move with the pressure. Speed, mixed with sudden climbs and drops.

At the first noticeable drop—probably only a few feet in reality, but always feels like a bungee free fall—a moderately intoxicated New York Mets fan in seat 19F acted like he was in a Red Bull commercial and offered a loud, “Gnarly!” The mother with the crying toddler, doing what mothers do so instinctively in an exercise in patience and comfort, offered soothing words with long vowels and rhythmic “Shhhhhhhhh’s”.

In all those years of flying this was familiar to me, but still unsettling for those moments navigating nature’s tension. I did what seems to come more naturally with age. I experience gratefulness over fear. Compromise over anxiety. It is at these times, even when they aren’t as threatening, that my book is closed and replaced with personal reflection. It is when God gets his moments missed because the distractions on the ground and the self that creeps in robs our conversations.

Coincidentally, it was another American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Nashville years ago that felt similar. The Red Eye. At around 2:00 A.M., I was awakened by the oxygen mask falling from the compartment above and brushing my face. This was followed by the captain announcing that the bags had deployed only as a precaution and to await instructions from our flight attendants. The cabin had an eerie quiet. Moments later, the attendants asked that we place them on as a “precautionary measure only.” Then began the nervous conversations. Seconds later the captain announced that we were going to make an emergency landing in San Antonio, Texas, and that we please follow the attendants’ instructions. We were asked, in a calm, but serious tone, to “assume emergency landing position.” Then, the cabin changed. It was a blend of soft crying; prayers for safety and prayers for deliverance; wide-eyed silence mixed with shaking knees and hands. The two ladies next to me, first time fliers, asked me over and over, “Are we going to be okay?” My response was that we were in good hands and the pilot is just keeping us safe by landing the plane so we could take care of any problem. One held my hand—rather crushed it—the rest of the way down.

Following a very rapid descent, we landed without incident . There were hugs and clapping hands and “Sweeet Jesus’s.” After deplaning, almost every passenger waited in the dimly lit and empty terminal to greet the pilots and the attendants with a welcome rivaling that of a confetti filled city street parade for the winning team. We learned later that a hydraulic problem could have led to other more serious problems and the landing was, in fact, a “precaution.”

I had said my goodbye’s to the kids. I wondered about those things left undone. I inventoried and was exaggeratedly saddened over my regrets. I had remained calm, but I do recall watering eyes and an escaped tear or two. I clutched my journal. I scribbled a few words.

This time, over D.C., was less extreme. The danger less eminent, but still haunting for the moments. My response was that of a more seasoned rider. One who is familiar with and respectful of the danger, but also has an idea of where the story might go. Kind of like a rodeo cowboy, I guess. The older, and perhaps wiser rider knows the bull’s fury, but also has some idea of his moves and the probable outcome.

Instead of being afraid, there was a bit of mild pleading mixed with, “Wouldn’t it suck if’s”

Wouldn’t it suck if…
…I didn’t finish recording Mom’s song?
…Lisa and I never got to spread her father’s ashes on a NASCAR track?
…I never got to hear the little victories and major breakthroughs in Chelsea’s career of helping others through their grief and loss? Or to be taught by her, inspired by her, and challenged by her?
…I missed more time sharing the littlest things with Logan that were missed for so long and now consume me with gratitude because they were there in those months stationed nearby? Or to watch the young love with his Jenny become what it is sure to become.
…We didn’t dive and experience the wonders of the sea I write about and that has eluded me all these years.
…I didn’t finish my book(s), or those songs, or those poems?
…I didn’t hear the voices or see the smiles and wipe the tears of a next generation?
…I didn’t ride that mountain pass that has been taunting me these last four years?
…I didn’t ask the questions, or acknowledge the fears, or make the statements, or live as well as I planned to?
…I didn’t shake my pain and fear and embrace the love and affection that, like a rising and magical tide, is all around me.

It’s funny how the bumps and rocking in the sky jar memories that were gathered quietly in my mind and heart, as if data portioned on a drive waiting to be recalled. The smallest things that mean so much flood immediately like a time lapse trailer. Laughs; lots of laughs. Quiet affection. Friends who love so deeply that whether known for months or years are always there, and when you least expect it. Forgiveness. Healing. Riding. Talk of the unimportant and the so very important. Fearfully and then courageously and respectfully facing my own mortality Rowing. Missing my family so much. Grateful for the family I have found. The books and the wine and the dreams. Grasping the vulnerable and staring down the ego that so plagues joy. The predictable moments in the same seats with the same servers and the same dishes and the same or the new conversations that seal and then open the the goodness of these days of mid-life.

And so much more.

The sky calmed around us. The groans and the soft prayers and the anxious conversations acquiesced to talk of flight connections and business deals. Books reopened. Laptops awakened. Cabin lights dimmed.

We landed.

I offered thanks, but didn’t allow the gratefulness to wane as I made my way to the rental lot and took the rainy drive to my hotel in this great city.

I don’t know how long I will walk and ride and and row and hold hands on this planet. I know I am making my peace and learning about it at the same time. I know love and I offer it back. I find life more mysterious and wonderful and interesting and live-able than in all the years before.

Bring on the storms. We land!