Friday, December 29, 2006

Uncle Jimmy - thanks for the lives you touched

A few weeks ago, our family lost Jimmy, my mother's baby brother, to post-stroke complications.

His stroke happened a few years ago, and he's never been the same. His speech coherency would come and go. He'd get lost. For his own safety and health, he moved to a nursing home back in October. Several days later, a heart attack took him from us.

Family members gathered in Texas for his funeral services, and we all heard different stories about how he affected their families and lives.

That made me consider how he touched my own life. The photograph accompanying this entry was taken during a trip to the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Beyond the fence, where civilians are not allowed, is the Freedom Train railroad, providing transportation to and from the last South Korean stop. At this spot, visitors have placed notes and mementos, including the cross.

Without Uncle Jimmy, chances are I would never have been there.

Business took me to Seoul, where I did some journalism training for a large news organization. My background is newspaper work, which started in 1976 as a lowly darkroom technician. That interest was sparked when Uncle Jimmy gave my family some hand-me-down darkroom equipment and books. I was hooked on photography, which led me to that part-time job, which led later to full-time newspaper work, a move to reporting and editing, and finally to a position where I conduct training for professional journalists across the United States and beyond.

Funny how lives can be touched -- Uncle Jimmy helped me awaken an interest in journalism. Others continued that interest in countless ways. How many lives do we touch every day -- intentionally or unintentionally? My prayer is that the lives I touch professionally or personally benefit and reach out for other lives.

The cross in the above photograph seems strangely at home surrounded by razor wire. It reminds us of the suffering Christ endured for you. And it reminds me of Uncle Jimmy, too, with his suffering lifted and, thanks to his influence, the photo taken.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Video games and prayer

Even a game, it seems, can help answer prayers.

According to a story from Reuters, researchers designed video "games" to improve stroke survivors' hand control:

According to Kira Morrow from The State University of New Jersey, Piscataway, and colleagues, the system consists of a modified Xbox that runs the training exercises, a virtual reality gaming glove that measures finger flexion and wrist position, a color monitor, and an Internet connection to a laptop used in software development.

Cost is cheap: $549, compared with more traditional systems that can run more than $17,000.

Personally, my hand control came back fairly quickly, although to this day my fine motor skills are not quite what they used to be. But the Xbox story reminded me of my own use of some of my daughters' "educational" toys to regain speaking and writing skills.

With all the complaints -- many completely justified -- about violent and distasteful video games, they can also give a hand to stroke victims.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

You can't control for God

A study about the effect of prayer on patients made the news last week. The American Heart Journal published an article with these conclusions:
Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG (coronary artery bypass graft), but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications.
The study used about 600 people who were told they were going to be prayed for, and about 1,200 people were told they might or might not be prayed for. Of those, about 600 were prayed for by strangers in one of three Christian groups. The others weren't prayed for among those groups. The results:
In the two groups uncertain about receiving intercessory prayer, complications occurred in 52% (315/604) of patients who received intercessory prayer versus 51% (304/597) of those who did not ... . Complications occurred in 59% (352/601) of patients certain of receiving intercessory prayer compared with the 52% (315/604) of those uncertain of receiving intercessory prayer ... . Major events and 30-day mortality were similar across the three groups.
While the study focused on heart patients, stroke patients have an interest, too. As someone who was prayed for and recovered, I'd say that among the newspaper stories about this, The Christian Science Monitor's Gregory M. Lamb gave it the best perspective:
The results of a long-awaited scientific study aimed at measuring the effect of third-party prayer for hospitalized patients not only did not match the expectations of those conducting the study, but also may have raised more questions for researchers than it answered. Among them: Can even the most carefully designed trial measure prayer's effects?
A good question, all right. Those who believe will continue to pray. Those who don't believe will use the study as ammunition against both the type of prayer studied -- those done by strangers, and only for 14 days -- and, often, other types of prayer as well.

For example, the blog offers from insight from regular contributor Mollie Ziegler:

...Rob Stein in the Washington Post:

Praying for other people to recover from an illness is ineffective, according to the largest, best-designed study to examine the power of prayer to heal strangers at a distance.

... (I)t makes it seem like the study proves all prayer is ineffective — which is much more broad than the study itself purports.

Anyway, I know the unemployed, sick and dying at my church will still be prayed for. Speaking of lead paragraphs, this satirical one made me laugh:

A team of scientists today ended a 10-year study on the so-called “power of prayer” by concluding that God cannot be manipulated by humans, not even by scientists with a $2.4 million research grant.

I like the last one, too. Consider it this way: Researchers can't control for God; God controls us.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Be a Good Samaritan - call 911

The Los Angeles Times recently published an interesting article about the lag time between strokes occurring and the arrival at emergency rooms.

From the LA Times article:

"Time is so important. Every minute counts," says Dr. Yousef M. Mohammad, the author of a second stroke study, presented last week at the American Stroke Assn.'s annual meeting in Florida. "There is a significant difference in what happens when you arrive by ambulance and when you arrive some other way."

In his analysis of 630,402 stroke patients, about half arrived by ambulance; 43% were walk-in patients (who arrived on their own or were driven by someone else); and 4% arrived some other way, such as by police transport.

The study found that those who arrived by ambulance were seen by a doctor sooner, were more likely to undergo tests to diagnose the stroke and were more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit -- all factors that increase the use of tissue plasminogen activator. When arriving by ambulance, stroke patients were admitted to the hospital 93% of the time; walk-ins were admitted 58% of the time."

Those statistics can give a modern twist to the story of the Good Samaritan indeed. From Luke 10:25-37:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"

He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'

"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

For those who have the chance to be a Good Samaritan to a stroke victim, the task is even easier: Call 911. As the statistics show, a ride in the ambulance can save a life. Using that as a guide, go and do likewise.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Dog ears and C.S. Lewis

Tess is a mutt – a combination, I think, of every possible type of dog you can imagine. Blessed with a generally good disposition, she is not terribly smart, even for a dog. Not long ago, Tess became clearly distressed by itching ears. She clawed and scratched and pushed the side of her head across the carpet. So I held Tess still as my wife squirted some medication into the dog’s ears. Tess was not pleased.

And that made me think of C.S. Lewis.

His book “The Problem of Pain” gives us an analogy of the care of a dog and God’s care of us all. A good pet owner doesn’t let the dog merely follow its natural impulses. Instead, the owner washes it, house-trains it and teaches it to behave. While that’s happening, the dog might question the “goodness” of the owner, Lewis wrote. But after it’s all finished, the dog is introduced to a world of affection, loyalty and – my favorite part of Lewis’ analogy – “comforts entirely beyond its animal destiny ….”

Comforts entirely beyond its animal destiny. Those are comforts that the struggling puppy cannot even conceive. Yet the comforts are real and available.

Lewis, who had his own share of personal pain, wasn’t trying to dismiss human suffering or tribulation. He wasn’t suggesting that people are really like dogs. What he did suggest: Submitting to God’s care was not automatic or easy in his 1940 era, and it is certainly no easier now.

Was my stroke part of God's care? I'm not a big believer of coincidences or random events – so yes, I believe so. To what end? That will be unknown until I see the day that Lewis described: Comforts entirely beyond my own animal destiny.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Finding inspiration around you

Stroke survivor Dick Clark's New Year's Eve appearance on television was, no question, admirable. While, according to USA Today, it revealed some societal uneasiness with stroke victims, Clark also gave some inspiration to stroke survivors and families.

That being said, there's someone closer to home who gives me inspiration. I'll call him L. If he reads this, he'll know who I'm talking about. L, an elderly man, had a stroke a few years ago and serves as an inspiration to many.

He knows what it means to struggle, and he knows he'll have health difficulties in the future. He doesn't sugarcoat that. But to hear L talk about his life experiences and his unshakeable faith gives a boost to my own faith.

So by all means, admire an appropriate public figure like Clark who gives needed attention to stroke survivors. But better yet, find your own L, someone you can connect with personally, and let his or her faith strengthen your own. Then go out and be an L to someone else. That's one of my own goals.