Sunday, January 30, 2005

Flamenco

The lyricism and fluidity of Flamenco---both the dance and the music---awakens warmth in the belly and the loins. A music and culture of life and the celebration of living, the spirit of the Roma (Gypsy) culture of Andalusia in Southen Spain, brings a touch of that aliveness to this deadened New England culture, currently wrapped in the veil of winter's cold.

If you, kind reader, would care to read an in-depth look at the Roma culture and history, I highly recommend Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey, by Isabel Fonseca (1995), one of the best modern books written on the subject. And next time someone uses the term "gypped" to describe being cheated, remind them that this term is highly offensive to the Roma people and deserves to be removed from our lexicon, as it degrades the character and wholesomeness of the Roma people, perpetuating an undeserved and unnecessary stereotype.

Even with time at a premium, one must "make time" for pleasure and leisure, or one loses touch with the romantic, the soulful, the restful, even with the living. This music tonight was one such occasion when, for several hours, an opportunity is presented wherein the listener may remove from the mind the worries of the day and instead concentrate on beauty and the contemplation of the richness and vibrancy of music as art, as life, as authentic experience.

Weekend Musings

Ah, the weekend, that longed-for pair of days "brought to us by the Labor Party". While I give thanks for the weekend, I often resent and/or regret that Monday rolls around so quickly again. Having (for the moment) chosen a 9 to 5 existence (which is, in effect, life-consuming in and of itself), I treasure these hours on Saturday and Sunday when time for other endeavors is "created". While we cannot truly "make" time for something, we often "find time", but isn't the "finding" of time a conundrum since it is, as my old friend at SolQuest (http://www.solquest.blogspot.com) contends, a completely human construct?

Whatever the source of the construct, time (and its cousin the weekend) has me in its grasp, and I grapple daily with the constraints with which it saddles me. That said, between social engagements, time with Mary, walks with the dogs, and studying and taking notes for the class I'm teaching on Tuesday nights (six hours of nursing concepts and pathophysiology!), time is currently at a premium. As luck would have it, this evening we have two free tickets to see a Flamenco show at The Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, so this missive will be brief and "time-limited", since "free" leisure time, as we know, can never be forsaken.

Tomorrow, the whistle blows and the week of commuting and work-life resumes at full tilt, although I've taken this Friday off in order to take my son to see The California Guitar Trio (http://www.cgtrio.com) in Somerville, MA, late on Thursday evening. (Live music is a passion of mine not overly indulged but just often enough to keep the appetite whetted.)

Stay tuned for further postings, and thanks for paying Digital Doorway a visit. This is an exercise in presenting my inner process in a public venue, and I appreciate any indulgence on your part.

Bon nuit.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Viernes Se Llega! (Friday Arrives!)

In the course of my work, I sometimes feel like one of those circus clowns, running at full speed, dodging the other performers, and juggling numerous fragile plates in the air over my head as I continue to smile. It's a true juggling act of keeping multiple threads woven in my cerebral cortex, trying my best to remember the myriad details that need my attention: this one needs bloodwork; this one has an abnormal CAT scan that needs follow-up; the other needs a referral for the surgeon; and now my beeper is going off and cell phone ringing simultaneously as I'm paged overhead to meet a patient in the waiting room.

The patient in the waiting room has advanced AIDS that's perfectly under control, but his blood pressure is 170/112 today, and he fell yesterday during a dizzy spell and lacerated his shin. I check the wound which looks clean and is covered with steri-strips placed by an ER doc. His narcolepsy seems poorly controlled today as he nods off while on the exam table, and his wife says that they just can't remember to call me for refills of his Ritalin which helps keep him alert. I make a mental note to pay them a home visit soon to look over his meds and see where they've become confused. He failed his Hepatatis C treatment so that's one less thing to worry about in terms of meds, but I remind him that if he doesn't take care of his blood pressure, it will most likely kill him way before the AIDS ever does. (They're not joking about the "silent killer of hypertension".) I remind him of his appointment with the vascular surgeon for his horrible varicose veins, and also for the orthopedic surgeon for his herniated disk. Does he have the MRI films? Yes. Does he know where to go on Tuesday? He thinks so. Will he come in on Monday for a blood pressure check? OK. Keep those steri-strips dry and change the bandage every day, why don'tcha.

Meanwhile, another of my patients has come in to see his primary doctor, unbeknownst to me. The doctor finds me while I walk down the hall, letting me know that our mutual patient couldn't walk on his right leg for three weeks and never bothered to call us or go to the ER. He's feeling somewhat better, but we send him for a stat ultrasound of his leg and it's immediately confirmed that he has a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) from his ankle to his knee (a long clot traveling up a major leg vein). He's very lucky that a piece of the clot didn't break off and travel to his lungs. He would have died within minutes. We send him home with a prescription for Coumadin (blood thinner) and remind him to come in for bloodwork on Tuesday, without fail. By the way, we tell him, call us right away if you start having uncontrollable nosebleeds or your gums bleed while brushing your teeth. And please be careful shaving, OK?

The man with the DVT is followed by two of my favorite patients. A married couple, both infected with AIDS. She "bought in" early on and has fully suppressed virus and no side effects. He played around with his meds and failed a few regimens of AIDS drugs, and then came to me a year ago, desperate to try again, losing weight and wasting away. I had to scare him and tell him he had less than a year to live unless he worked with me closely, with great concentration and attention to detail. He decided to do it, and here we are. With frequent follow-up and a good rapport, they're a success story, with the virus under control for them both, their kids in school, newly approved Section 8 housing, and a sweet relationship. Our visits are peppered with laughter, jokes, and an ease which makes our time together flow smoothly and easily. I prefill his meds in two one-week boxes, give her an injection of Depo Provera, check their weights, and send them on their way. Hasta la proxima!

Papers and charts are piled on the desk. I make a few notes in my Palm Pilot, scribble some Post-It notes to leave on my desk for Monday morning, file my encounter sheets for the day, and turn off the computer for the first time since 9am on Monday.

The chaos and busy movement of the day are winding down, the phones are routed to the answering service, the beepers cease their sound, laughter fills the room, and we bid one another adieu, leaving the clinic to return to our families for the weekend, only one of us burdened with taking urgent calls until Monday morning rolls around again. It's been a job well done. I feel fairly crispy myself, perhaps medium well at this juncture.....

I arrive to the home fires burning in the woodstove, my lovely wife cooking yet another wonderful meal, the dogs wagging their tails, and the feeling of gratitude for a welcoming domestic scene which draws me in with its wholesome and restful embrace. We catch the end of "The Buena Vista Social Club" on the Independent Film Channel, and I cry as the group takes its well-deserved bows, having accomplished so much and brought joy and music to so many. My cup runneth over.




Thursday, January 27, 2005

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Recovery

Six inches of snow blanketed our region over night and this morning. The dogs seemed to be begging me to stay home and play, but I was a good little worker bee and drove the sloshy roads to work, the first stop being to get gas, shivering in the cold as I pumped fossil remains into my hunk of rolling steel and plastic. Next stop was a bar and hall in a nearby town, where I found my previously mentioned patient, "X", sitting at a table reading the paper as several older gentlemen drank beers at the bar. It was 9:30am. I felt like a visitor from another planet, or at least another era.

We ensconced ourselves in the very clean and well-kempt hall---replete with chandeliers, large tables and a dance floor---and I launched into my "scare-the-shit-out-of-him-with-the-naked-truth-speech". I showed pictures of a healthy liver, a fibrotic liver, a cirrhotic liver, and a cancer-ridden liver, and was very frank that his organ is enlarged, cirrhotic, and predisposed to failure, or possibly carcinoma, and that each drink of alcohol is akin to pouring gasoline on a roaring fire. He looked at me with his very sad (non-jaundiced) eyes and had little to say verbally, but his grave expression told me that I had hit home. That said, whether he can translate that into action and change remains to be seen, the tentacles of addiction being powerful and beseeching friends who will attract the afflicted person like the smell of barbecue will attract a hungry dog.

So, after having blown off his post-hospitalization follow-up visit, never filling his prescriptions that were given to him upon discharge, and drinking lots of alcohol since getting released, he is faced with an earnest nurse whom he trusts telling him that if he keeps drinking, he will most certainly die, and probably not with the kind assistance of a beautiful prostitute-turned-nurse like Nicholas Cage in "Leaving Las Vegas". He will most likely go into acute liver failure while in his apartment late at night, with various gruesome clinical situations unfolding too quickly for him to call 911---but wait, he doesn't have a phone. If his liver does go into acute failure, he might become extremely confused ("obtunded" is a term we like to use) from the rising level of ammonia (yes, ammonia) in his blood, poisoning his brain and curtailing his ability to think clearly. He might then hemorrhage internally or lapse into a coma, his friend with the spare key finding him stiff with rigor mortis in a day or two. These and other unpleasant scenarios certainly await him if he chooses to continue to walk down that road of addiction.

Will my candor pay off? Will he choose to move towards healing and recovery? I can't say, but I wouldn't hold my breath. I'll keep tossing him a line, offering my hand, but if his hands are busy with the bottle, my offers will go untaken, and I will attend yet another wake some time in the near future, just like the one I attended a few weeks ago. That gentleman was addicted to crack and cocaine, and try as I might, I could not turn him towards proper treatment of his AIDS, and he died of liver failure as well, a victim of his own trauma and loss, lapsing into a seizure and dying a quiet death in a specialized care center in Boston where we had sent him to die.

The saga of X will continue, as will so many other sagas that will go untold, those to which I am witness, and those which occur on the fringes of society where they reach their dramatic denouement with barely a ripple made or notice given. I dance in these lives, or at least on their outskirts, but there are often reluctant partners who refuse my hand and slip into the darkness. May their learning in the next life be less painful; may their souls know peace.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Exhaustion

It's 11:30pm and I'm exhausted. Mary is in that sweet state between waking and sleeping, and the dogs are on their way to that canine dream-land which we can only imagine. I will join them soon, but my brain is still spinning from the day.

The nature of my work can lend itself to mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion, with current loads of 80-90 patients each, my current roster numbering 83 individuals.

Imagine for a moment that you are a 60-year-old Puerto Rican woman with HIV, diabetes, hypothyroidism, major depression with psychotic features, and asthma. You speak no English and have a 2nd-grade education. Your family members also speak no English. How would you navigate the healthcare system? Or imagine you are a 35-year-old Latina woman with advanced AIDS, Hepatitis C, asthma, a seizure disorder, a history of trauma and physical abuse by your mother who burned your skin with hot oil and water for fun, and this caused you to pursue a life of self-medication with street drugs? How would you manage to take care of yourself and your children? How would you stay clean and do the right thing? How would you stay focused on your health when your history of trauma effects your every waking moment and decision?

These are just snippets to allow you to see the complexity and tragedy of some of the lives of which I am priviledged to be a part, welcomed into homes, confided in, and relied upon. I say it is a priviledge because it actually is an honor to be embraced by these individuals and their families. Yes, we see our share of death, of failure, of self-destruction and chaos, yet we see enough success and self-preserving valor in the face of grim odds that we feel it is worth our time and effort (and at times our mental health, frankly) to work in this community.

Tomorrow I go to visit a white gentleman in his late forties who is an alcoholic. I recently facilitated his admission to the hospital for alcoholic hepatitis. He came to see me and his liver was in such acute distress that his eyes were as yellow as a flourescent highlighter marker, his face a cadaverous pale yellow, and his ankles filled with fluid, almost the size of his thighs. After a 9-day stay in the hospital, delirium tremens (DTs) from alcohol withdrawal, and a general "tune-up", he is now back at home, hanging out at a local bar and drinking again. In his condition, drinking alcohol is like pouring gasoline on a fire. I don't know his whole history, but I imagine it's rife with abuse, abandonment, or worse. How do I convince him to stop drinking? How do I help him to see that he is slowly committing suicide? I guess I will do my best, and then rent "Leaving Las Vegas" and be reminded that some people will choose to self-destruct no matter what kindness is bestowed upon them. My meeting with him tomorrow may lead to little or no change, but I will remind him once again that help is their for the asking, and I will meet him half-way if he reaches out for it.

Consider this quote from Cracked, a book about addiction by Dr. Drew Pinsky: “We define ourselves by the way we relate to other people. We get deep, lasting, and meaningful satisfaction from giving selflessly to, and being present with, others. My patients can’t do that. They’re struggling with the effects of trauma suffered early in life when they were still developing the brain mechanisms that allow them to relate to other people and the world in general. Unable to trust, they grow up without a sense of self. They’re overwhelmed by feelings, unable to cope, always out of control. Their brains tell them to manage pain by getting loaded. Then, when they find their way to us, we ask them to go back and experience that powerlessness, the very thing that sent them off the rails in the first place. No wonder they resist.”

There are so many stories, so many struggles, countless people out there who deserve more, who deserve better, who have been dealt a bad hand either through genetics, poor choices, mental illness, or plain bad luck. If we think we can save them, we're wrong, and sometimes in our earnest efforts to effect change in the lives of those whom we seek to help, we lose sight of our own self-care. Thus, here I sit, just short of midnight on a Tuesday evening, pouring my heart out on this keyboard, with the realization that I will get up tomorrow and do it again. I don't write this out of a need for congratulations, praise, or moral kudos, I write it to share that this reality, this daily vision of the underbelly of urban America, greets my eyes each day and informs my own personal version of reality. I share it here as an exercise, an exorcism, a description, a way to loosen the hold of that troubling reality on my psyche as I prepare for the sweet forgetfulness of sleep which sometimes seems too brief.

Good night.

Sunday, January 23, 2005


Sit-down strike #2---Nice try. Posted by Hello

Winter Redux

Well, the weather forecasters were right---seems we were graced (or cursed, based on your outlook) with close to 18 inches of snow or so. Our plow guy came and I diligently tried to move our cars out of the driveway so he could do his job. True to winter form, my wife's car failed to start and we just had to work around it. A balmy 19 degrees, I feel fortunate after having received an email from a blog reader in Ottawa where it is minus 18. I cannot respond to this person as I do not have her actual email, but want to thank her kindly for her response and for making me count my blessings---or rather, my degrees, in that it is at least above zero in our neck of the woods (unless you count the 20 below wind chill, that is.)

Sparkey the dog always likes to accompany me while I shovel and clear the snow but I worry about him as he becomes increasingly deaf and suffers from growing cataracts. Needless to say, he avoided getting hit by the plow and I succeeded in not running him over when I moved the car. He usually gets in the back seat when I'm shuffling cars in this situation, but his arthritis seems to be kicking in and he winces when he tries to jump in the back seat now. Poor old guy. I will post a photo of him doing a "sit-down strike" on our front walk, silently demanding more outdoor time in this lovely sub-zero windchill. Naturally occuring fur must be so convenient (except when you live with compulsive humans who are forever trying to brush you and illogically decrease your natural insulation, something you really need at this time of year as a canine). Dogs must find it odd that we brush them down and remove extra fur insulation, then we dress them in embarrassing coats and sweaters, making them the laughing-stocks of the neighborhood mutts.

On that note, I came out of Whole Foods Market yesterday (as I and several hundred other people tried to maniacally stock up on food before the storm, as if we would be stranded for days) and my wife said she had a surprise in the car. She had been in the pet store with our dogs and I didn't know what to expect. What I found was Sparkey in a new yellow rain slicker (complete with small hood) and Tina in a slick black full-body jacket that looked something like what the Italian teenagers used to wear down in South Philadelphia when I was a young art student in the early 80's. (You know what I mean--shiny cheap black polyester, red stripe on the arms and collar, cloth cuffs). I expected Tina to whip out a cannoli, latte and a cigarette and talk like Sylvester Stallone. She disappointed me on that one, but my laughter was genuine and they both looked ridiculously adorable, or perhaps adorably ridiculous.

As this cold day continues, we hunker down to work on our laptops, think about starting a fire, and then look forward to watching a DVD of the 2nd season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm", enjoying Larry David's ability to offend pretty much anyone who crosses his path. I recommend it highly---if you have any social skills at all, Larry David can really make you feel quite good about your own public persona, unless of course you are as offensive as his character, then it will just make you feel like a total loser and motivate you to enter psychotherapy.

Enough of my wintry digressions. Back to creating a lecture on therapeutic diets in the treatment of gastrointestinal disease (no kidding!)

Sparkey on sit-down strike, 10 degrees F Posted by Hello

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Reflections on a New England Winter

Having recently been in Central America, experiencing the relative warmth of the Mexican winter, it is with hesitant trepidation that I embrace the cold of the New England winter. Each year I tell myself that winter isn’t so bad, that I don’t mind the cold and actually enjoy aspects of winter: snoozing in front of the fire with Mary and the dogs, the coziness of our house, cross-country skiing, and the picturesque quality of our neighborhood as the snow gathers on the bowing trees. But when the snow hits the windshield, so to speak, reality’s cold jaws are unmistakably unpleasant.

For instance, think about that ubiquitous winter activity of scraping the ice off of one’s car each morning. How many Mexicans would think that scraping ice off of a car is the strangest pastime? For my part, I find that my 12-year-old Toyota Camry is often iced over on the inside of the windshield. Just the other day, my locks were frozen shut and I had quite the time getting into my car. Then, once I was inside, the ice on the inside of the windshield took incredible dexterity and patience to remove. Due to the extreme cold and the Toyota’s poor defrost mechanism, I then found that the side windows just wouldn’t clear no matter what I did. As I came to the first intersection, I tried to open the driver’s side window (the windows are electric) in order to look for oncoming traffic, but the windows were frozen shut and the little electric motor made a very unhappy whirring sound. When I opened the door to look out, the blast of wind and cold air took my breath away and my glasses fogged up from the sudden change of temperature as the door opened. I took off my glasses but then was dismayed at my blurry vision and the way it felt like my eyeballs were freezing. What’s a hard-working New England nurse to do?

Today, we are expecting the storm of the year, up to 24 inches of snow, with sub-zero temperatures and high winds. Even Sparkey and Tina seem content to lay by the fire and let their bladders slowly expand, eventually giving in to those screaming stretch receptors, specialized cells in the walls of the bladder which send a signal to the brain that it’s time to void. (Why do they ever call it “voiding?) Anyway, I digress…...I was due to leave today in order to baby-sit my two lovely goddaughters, but I have sadly canceled those plans due to the pending storm. (My sincerest apologies to the family whom I love dearly.) It only seems that the snowstorms, however unfortunately, appear to occur on the weekends, never when I need them, namely during the week. As a healthcare provider working in a work environment with an admittedly “high tolerance” for staying open in inclement conditions, it is a rare occasion when I can kick back and enjoy a sorely needed snow-day like we used to have when we were kids. And true to form, it is patently plausible that, come Monday morning, the roads will be clear, the sky will be blue, and I will be off to continue my work which, while highly enervating and satisfying, is always in need of unforeseen weather-based absenteeism as a stress reduction tool. Having chosen to not work in a hospital, concentrating instead on community health, it is a relief that, even if I do not make it to work and the clinic is closed, my patients are generally warm in their apartments and homes, a phone-call away from expert medical advice and an ambulance. Still, the likelihood of a snow day is always slim and I mentally prepare myself for the slushy drive, frozen windshield, foggy eyeglasses, and malfunctioning doors that winter brings, and that most likely await me on Monday morning.

For now, we prepare to join hundreds of people at Whole Foods, shopping for fun treats and staples to get us through the storm, and then the line at the video store, looking for some feel-good movies to while away the snowy hours in front of the fire. And I realize, that no matter how much I complain, I love New England and its changing seasons and embrace the winter for what it is---just another challenge of life on this troublesome, cold, and wonderful physical plane.

Friday, January 21, 2005


Old Man Tree Posted by Hello

Soviet Soldier, East Berlin, 1985, by Keith Carlson Posted by Hello

Digital Drawing 2 Posted by Hello

Digital drawing 1 Posted by Hello

A Portrait of Woody by Mary Rives

Portrait of Woody
by Mary Rives
Woody was a caring, creative man with an inquisitive, contemplative mind, and a gentle, playful and kind spirit. He had a precious and contagious cackling laugh, and an uncanny ability to help others to watershed petty grievances and life stressors, rising above their judgments of others. Most of all, he was a devoted friend and mentor, deeply touching many lives in myriad and thoughtful ways. Some of Woody's trademarks were his delightful laugh, his brilliant mind, his amazing ability to actively listen, his intense desire to not succumb to rampant consumerism, being an avid animal lover, making people feel happy, and his sincere interest in others. His ability to relate and be of assistance to people of all ages and walks of life has inspired many of his friends and family members to emulate him in the various ways that we live our lives.
Woody was an enthusiastic nature lover, balancing social time with time in the great outdoors, often seeking inner peace by climbing a mountain, camping deep in the forest, walking in silent meditation with a close friend, or running off into a beautiful sunset -- often with our dog Sparkey at his side. With Woody being like a brother to me - to us - he was the one and only honorary uncle to our son, Rene. He was a best friend, an intimate part of our family, and a lifelong devoted companion.
Woody's intellect and genuine interest in others shined in how he interacted with children, the elderly, teenagers, friends, and strangers. His unique and creative brilliance manifested through his writing, colorful drawings, and in the puzzles and mazes, riddles, treasure hunts, maps and homemade games he created for our son over a span of 15 years. Woody thrived on natural highs from good clean fun. He did not use drugs, not so much as a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. He loathed smoke of any kind; he did not believe in distorting the mind; he practiced meditation with the aim of clarifying his mind, refining and enhancing his impact on this world. At parties, he was never the one to have a beer in order to have fun; rather, he was always the one to initiate dancing or playing charades - two of Woody's favorite things - and he was darn good at them too, and at helping to bring out those who felt too shy or inept to participate. Woody always had a special knack for making people feel good about themselves to such an extent that they'd stretch beyond their limitations. This was one of Woody's special gifts and the world is truly a grayer place without him.
Woody had the courage to follow his heart and honor his deeper nature, his inner callings. He was determined to follow his own path in life, which allowed him to embrace life with an adventurous spirit and a determination to live a more environmentally low- impact lifestyle. By doing so, he had more of himself to give. As any of us would attest to you, Woody was incredibly generous with his time, his attention. He would slow us down; help us to take a long deep breath from the hustle and bustle of modern life. He created his own communities of friends in various New England states to whom he was loyal over the years, while avidly making new friendships and connections wherever he fared. Wherever he would live or visit, if there was a friend in need, Woody would respond to the call. He was always there for us, with us, and we counted on him being around, as did the many children and teens he played and worked with. So many kids loved him and looked forward to being with him, kids whose lives he was positively influencing, kids who have been tragically robbed of more time with him. Woody figured prominently in our family's long-term plans, and now, sadly, we must move on without him.
The impact of Woody's death continues to affect the whole community. It is not just the loss of one person; it is the loss of all the potential goodness that many people would have felt if Woody had lived. It is a symbolic loss; disheartening and ignoble; needless and tragic; the kind of loss that makes one question the meaning of life when it can be cut short by knee-jerk reactions of violence and fear -- especially by those whose job it is to serve and protect our communities.
In his hour of need, as he pleaded and wept for help, Woody deserved better, he deserved to live. At the very least, he could have been allowed to have died with dignity and to have had his basic human rights respected, without inhumanely prolonged and preventable suffering, The men responsible for the needless loss of Woody's precious life are thus far free from any and all accountability by a system steeped too deeply in fear and denial to take a stand and do the right thing. It is not too late for justice to be given the chance that has been so unconscionably denied.

Thursday, January 20, 2005


Rene in Eden Posted by Hello

Tina Posted by Hello

Classic Sparkey Posted by Hello

Common Dreams

I highly recommend http://www.commondreams.org for "breaking news and views for the progressive community". Common Dreams provides an excellent overview of the best progressive writing and reporting, links to dozens of international news services, internet radio stations, and the websites and blogs of the foremost progressive thinkers.

Please add comments listing any similar websites that you would recommend.

Justice for Woody

We had a very good friend named Woody, who was our family angel, frequent visitor, honorary uncle to our son who is now 21, former lover of my wife Mary before our marriage, and my best friend. He was a light-being, an artist, a man who lived lightly on the earth, consumed little, listened well, and loved children and dogs especially. He was our Woody, our dearest family friend. He had a history of political activism and environmental activism, and claimed to us that he knew some things that the government had done that would not be very good publicity for the government’s record. He would not tell us what he knew and would only discuss it outdoors, away from houses and phones. He felt that he might some day be a target for the government and lived a low profile lifestyle.

On December 2nd, 2001, Woody entered a Unitarian Church in Brattleboro, Vermont, breathless and afraid, requesting political asylum. He stated to the congregants of the church that he had been visited by federal agents who threatened his life and the safety of his loved ones. He turned to the Unitarians for support and protection from these perceived threats, and threatened to kill himself with a small knife if he was left alone. Eighteen people remained with him and attempted to assuage his fears and calm him down.

Meanwhile, people who had left the room called 911 and alerted the police, giving false information about Woody’s threats of suicide, painting a picture instead of a church held hostage and a man “gone berserk”. At the time of that call, Woody was seated calmly with several people and was trying to call us on a cell phone to have us vouch for him and his claims.

Tragically, due to post-9/11 bravado and out of excessive and unnecessary fear, the police burst into the church and riddled Woody’s body with seven bullets within 60 seconds of entering the room, and 17 of 18 eyewitnesses all claim to this day that he never threatened anyone but himself. It was on our answering machine that we actually heard Woody yell for help, struggling in pain as he lay bleeding from seven gunshot wounds, the shots having been fired while he waited to leave us a message. It was in that short time---during our out-going message---that he was shot so many times. The officers were completely exonerated of any wrong-doing and there have been no changes made or apologies given for this horrible tragedy and loss of life. In the aftermath of his death, we formed a citizen group called “Justice for Woody” in order to call for justice in his case and to align with other organizations to stop the excessive use of force by police and other abuses of power by American law enforcement.

To add insult to injury, a civil suit against the town of Brattleboro by Woody’s family was thrown out of court by a conservative federal district judge in Brattleboro in 2004. The case has been appealed to the United States 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City and a panel of judges has agreed to hear arguments regarding the need for a civil trial by jury. This hearing is due to take place some time in early 2005 and may lead to an actual civil trial. We also realize that the 2nd Circuit may decide against Woody’s family, permanently dashing all hopes of justice. It is a long and lonely struggle yet we still cannot give up the cause, although we have become more internal in our struggle as opposed to our more vocal opposition and protest of a few years ago. Meanwhile, we attempt to heal from the trauma and move on with our lives as Woody’s death lingers and the injustice goes unpunished and under-recognized. Luckily, Woody’s spirit lives on in all of us and we carry him in our hearts forever. He remains a constant presence in our lives, and it is a source of solace that our relationship with him is not ended; only changed.

I invite you to visit http://www.justiceforwoody.org to learn more about Woody, his life, and our three-year struggle and recovery. Thanks.





Robert "Woody" Woodward Posted by Hello

Expatriation

We recently returned from a short trip to Mexico, in which we visited friends who have succeeded in transitioning to a new life in that warm and amiable land. Being travelers at heart, Mary and I are both keen to eventually create a life in which we can live the majority of our time outside of the United States. Mary lived as a poor young mother of a two year old in southern Spain in the early 80's, and I traveled through Europe and the Middle East as a young man and have been smitten with the travel bug ever since.

Mexico welcomed us with warm and welcoming arms. The people, the language, the food, the general pace of life----these all spoke to us deeply. The cold New England winter with its limited sunlight, copious snow, and biting winds causes us to yearn for a life in warmer climes. While this may seem a pipe dream to some, for us it is a beckoning future which will, of course, necessitate sacrifice, change, and compromise, yet is certain to offer myriad rewards.

Expatriation is the ambition of many in these days of compassionate conservatism, unfettered and irresponsible "pre-emptive" war, and a country which feels as if it has lost all moral reckoning. As our country plummets to ever new cultural and political depths, as the empire begins to crumble, the foundation beginning to crack and weaken, many of us wonder if it may be time to seek out opportunities where we might create a life of a different color and timbre.

Now, you may remind me, it is only the priviledged who are lucky enough to even consider such an endeavor, and you would be correct in saying so. It is our class priviledge to know that it is within our power to uproot, establish ourselves elsewhere, and birth a new life on richer soil. I am reminded that many of my patients cannot even consider escaping the city for an afternoon for a simple walk in the countryside, never mind undertaking the task of enacting major life change. I do not take these priviledged possibilities for granted, and give thanks for the blessings of my current incarnation and all that it offers me.

We would not go to Mexico---or any other country---simply to take advantage of cheap housing costs and abundant food. We would enter the culture sensitively and respectfully, keeping in mind that we are both guests and ambassadors, carrying with us the burden and the blessing of our American roots. It would be our goal to slowly assess the needs of the community in which we choose to live, consider the input of community members and leaders regarding how we could best contribute to the life and welfare of the community. In time, with the utmost sensitivity and awareness, we would offer a program or service which would create sustainable and welcome change, be it improved education, health care, economic growth, environmental awareness or something less tangible but equally important. With experience of growing this type of culturally appropriate programming in rural Jamaica (see http://www.global-children.org), we would seek to contribute in a way wherein the community and the people in the community would benefit in a manner that would foster further growth and betterment for all. This would not be a case of North Americans forcing on the "natives" what they might perceive as potentially beneficial; rather, this would be a project in which the community itself would dictate the need, the shape of that need, and the means to achieve a desired end result.

Living abroad for us will be a change of climate, yes, but also a change of culture and an alteration in perception, both of self and of self-in-community. It is an opportunity for cultural and personal dialogue of great magnitude, admittedly born of a desire for change and adventure, yet also from a deeper desire for connection and service.

Stay tuned as we further explore this future dream.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Birth of a Blog

This blog was born in thought on January 17, 2005, at the suggestion of my older brother, Ken Carlson, of Princeton, New Jersey, a fire roaring in the woodstove on a cold New England night. It came into actual digital form on January 18, 2005, my small grey dog, Tina, snoring to my left on the futon, my 12-year-old hound-dog, Sparkey, dreaming on the floor at my feet, and my lovely wife, Mary Rives, seated to my right, typing an email on our other laptop, frequently interjecting a question or comment. Many a chilly winter night, if you were to peek through our drawn curtains, you would see such a scene: two humans with laptops busily typing, the orange glow of the woodstove, and two canines resigned to their dreamy repose.The purpose of this blog is to allow myself a creative, albeit public, space, in which to publish my thoughts, drawings, photographs, and writings, and to allow others to react to those postings as they see fit. This is a unique venture for me, one which I hope will allow a new venue for creative expression and thoughtful (or thoughtless) reverie. I hope you find it interesting.