We all need Vacations . . .

Hello everyone (well not quite),

As a break from grading and packet reviewing, I am going to write a blog that will be posted in two different blog sites, but both sites are important. First, there is my long standing blog here, and then there is a blog that is available on the http://galtintravel.com site. What is Galtin Travel you ask? Well let me tell you. It is an online travel company that my Dominican family and I have opened. Yes, you have read that correctly. It is an online travel company? Why online because it is much easier to put together and it does exactly what we want it to do without all the overhead of a brick and mortar place. So . . . why might you want to work with our little company? Let me offer some ideas and insights. First, if you are getting to this blog post by my Facebook site, you have access to my photos and there are numerous photos of my trips to Puerto Plata over the past three years, and they will offer you some idea of just how outstanding the resort there is. Second, you have access to the web site now if you use the URL I have offered above. Third, even if you are not ready to go now, but are interested in a long weekend or a week before the end of the year, if you book the accommodation in April, we are offering a 20% discount on that accommodation. That is a phenomenal offer. We are offering you an accommodation at a price that is much less than if you went there and tried to book it yourself. How and why? Well because we own property there, we have options you do not have, and the why is because we want to provide an opportunity for others to experience the fun and relaxation we experienced there.

Why the Dominican Republic? First, it is not that difficult to find your way there. There are direct flights from JFK, Newark or Philadelphia to Puerto Plata, and also to Punta Cana. The length of the flight is slightly over three hours depending on from where you fly. The costs if you plan ahead are quite reasonable. I have found flights as low as 375.00 round trip from the aforementioned airports. Certainly the longer you wait to book and peak season can be more expensive, but planning ahead is always good. In addition, as far as accommodations at our little place, we have no blackout dates (with the exception of the Christmas/New Year holiday) and as long as things are available we can create a get-away for a couple or an entire party. We have from a one-bedroom studio, as you will see if you go to the website, to a 7 bedroom villa for 14, which will have you believing you have walked into a fairytale. That is how I felt my first time there and I was not even at the member level I am now. What is nice about this change is we can offer many of those same accoutrements for those of you who might book with us. Again, all of that is explained on the web site. The people of the Dominican Republic are happy people and the people at the resort carry that degree of happiness to an entirely different level. They will greet you with their indefatigable smiles asking sincerely, ¿cómo está? And if you do not answer “bien” or “muy bien.” They will want to know why and what they can do to make your day more pleasant. If you want a relaxing dinner in a luxurious setting, we have just the place for you (in fact there are a number of places). If you want to experience cultural dancing and amazing evening entertainment, we have just the place for you. When I went the first time, I remember titling one of my blogs “From Michael Jackson to Chocolate.” The Michael Jackson revue was unlike anything I had every experienced and earlier that day I actually went to a spa and sat by a fountain and sipped cucumber water and got wrapped in chocolate, which I learned is really good for your skin. I must say, it did not hurt my feeling to smell the wafting of chocolate as I walked around later that day.

Some of you might ask why the shameless self-promotion? Well, certainly it is hoping to make our little company successful and that is, in part, a financial thing, but that is not the main impetus. It is to share something I believe will make a difference in people’s lives. Experiencing another culture and finding the time to relax are central to being healthy. What I have learned through my travels, be it with my students, on my own, or with others, each trip changes me. I learn about other people, but I have also learned about myself. Sometimes, it is about language, and learning or trying to communicate in another language is both a bit frightening and amazingly gratifying. Experiencing that communicative process makes a difference in both people’s lives, and even if your attempt is less than perfect, it matters. Second, learning about their food is always a wonderful experience. Dominican food is wonderful. It is flavorful, and it is generally very healthy. The pineapple, the mangos, the coconuts, the plantains, and many of the meats are phenomenal. The grounds of the resort are unparalleled and with your VIP status for the stay, you will be able to experience care that is beyond your wildest dreams. This is not something I think, it is what I have experienced in my trips there. The sights and the sounds of the ocean beaches, the pools (and your own private pool if you have a villa) are spectacular. If you can get a group of 6 or more, the villa is certainly the way to go. There is more about that on the web site,  but you are always welcome to contact me and ask questions. I have visited Puerto Plata three times, and because of getting to know some of the workers and other Dominican people, I had the opportunity to visit some of the little towns outside the resort. There is a wonderful restaurant called El Cocinero in the neighboring little village called Maimon. The food is wonderful. It is a seafood restaurant that has freshly caught fish available daily. The family who operates this restaurant are hard working and hospitable and they are delighted to have you in their little establishment. Best of all, the cost of the food is beyond affordable, and when you return (because you will) they will remember you. Do you need to know Spanish? No, but learning a little is always helpful, and it is fun.

Why do you go on vacation? Often it is to get away or just have a change of scenery, but what if you could go where every little thing is taken care of and your all-inclusive fee means exactly what it says, “It takes care of EVERYTHING?” This is what we are offering you, and if you book it before the end of the April, the accommodation fees are discounted. Why not have an international experience that is not that far away? Why not actually experience a beach paradise that you thought was only available for people with more money in their accounts? Why not plan a trip that will have you wondering if somehow “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” found their way into your existence? That is what I felt after my first visit. It was not like anything I had ever done. I have spoken to some of you about this, but now I am putting it all out there. Those of you who know me know that I am more about giving than taking. This is really about offering you something that creates an experience that will be a life-long memory. This is about sharing with others what I was fortunate enough to experience myself. I should note that I did go to another resort in the DR the second time there. Somehow, I was fortunate enough to run into someone who was from the resort I went to the first time and we ended up back at the LVHC. I have not looked back and I am glad I didn’t. I want to offer the same thing to you. Please come see what you are missing. If you only have time for a long weekend, that is fine. I promise you that if you go once, you will want to go again. If you want to have a family reunion or a larger party, we can work on that with you too. We are certainly focusing on the smaller things at the moment, but that is because we want to make your trip as seamless and enjoyable as possible. Please check out our website again: http://galtintravel.com. From there you can look at our Facebook page, please look at and like our page. There is also an Instagram page that we would like you to tag and help us get your experiences out there.

Again, if you have more questions, please let me know. I hope you might find your way to book a vacation with us. Thank you as always for reading.

Michael (the travel agent and co-owner of a company)

SGS – Short Once Again

Hello from the GI/Nutrional Center at Geisinger,

I am currently waiting for a recopying of paperwork that I managed to misplace before I even got out of the hospital today. I am not sure how I managed that, but I did. I have been diagnosed with something called Short Gut (or Bowel) Syndrome, which is a direct consequence of the surgeries I have endured because of Crohn’s. It is primarily an issue of malabsorption of the intestinal tract. In my case, it is the combination of the removal of the large intestine (or total colectomy, which began in 1986) and the eventual removal of a significant portion of the ileum or part of the small intestine (which occurred completely in 1997, after reconstructing it in 1991 and again in 1993). For me the malabsorption is really no absorption because those parts of the intestinal tract are no longer present. The present treatment as it appears will include shots, vitamin supplements (of or for a number of things), a change in fluid intake, and a different diet. At least for the time being, I will not need parenteral nutrition (which would be vein feeding). The significant point in all of this is pretty simple. Once again, I have some sense of what is happening and why. Now I merely have to make the changes necessary to manage all of it. Most of my life has been about managing a situation where it seems things might have come up a bit shorter, smaller, or earlier than imagined.

Throughout high school and even into, and for most of, the service, I was the younger one, the shorter one, the smaller one, and probably, though difficult to say, the more immature one. All of those things had consequences for me. Being shorter created what might some call in today’s world bullying, but I saw it as a sort of teasing, and, indeed sometimes it had negative consequences. On the other hand it taught me how to cope; i learned how to manage difficult situations with both decorum and a sense of humor. That was significant because if I had been inclined to fight over most of it, I would have spent most of my childhood getting my ass kicked. My Great-aunt Helen once told me that I had developed a pleasant and pleasing disposition early in life (like before I was 2). Being shorter meant I was always in the front row in those group elementary school pictures. Being shorter meant that I was not going to be a basketball player and the fact I did not weigh three digits until I was senior in high school meant football was probably not a healthy choice. Instead, running and such were much more suited for my shorter, lighter physique. Then there was the fact that I looked even younger. Where I went to school, we had a junior/senior high school. Seventh (7th) graders were initiated, sort of like college freshmen and beanies back in the day. Looking as young as I did, I was still be initiated when I was in 10th grade. I remember going to a youth event for my church and being embarrassingly mortified when one of the older members of my youth group made fun of my minimal body hair when I was in 9th or 10th grade. Maybe that is why to this day, I have only been clean shaven twice since I was perhaps 23. I never really thought about that or made that connection. Starting school at the age of 4 seemed like a good idea to my parents, and probably to me, when I began kindergarten, but it had consequences when I got older, but was still one of the younger ones. Amazing that for the first third of my life, I was always that person: younger, shorter, smaller, and yes, still the immature one. That continued through my time in the Marine Corps. When I tried to enter the Marines, I did not pass the physical because I was too light. When I got to boot camp, I was named Private Chicken Body because I was so small. I was told if I lost weight I would be dropped to PCP (not a drug, but Physical Conditioning Platoon). Even when I got out of the Marines, I did not look like your typical veteran.

When I got to Dana, for the first time I was not the younger one, but actually one of the older. I was 24 when I entered as a freshman at Dana. While I had been to college before that first foray into higher education was less than stellar. When I started Dana, I was more immature than most realized, or more accurately, I was more frightened. I was afraid of failing again, and I was determined to not make the same mistake I had made previously. While those four years did a lot to shape the person I am today, there was still so much to learn. There was the need to believe in myself. There was the necessity of believing that I was worth something, that I was capable, that I belonged. Those maladies affected me more than most will realize. The maturity aspect of this is what I believe has been more inopportune for me than the shortness, smallness, or being younger. It seems, particularly into my 40s, that I was behind my peers. In my 20s that gap seemed to be 4 or 5 years, even when I was chronologically older. When I got into my 30s, and especially when I was a parish pastor, there was the necessity to catch up. In some ways, I did, but emotionally, not so much. This created more adversity. I remember having to work with so many people and so many things. I was theologically and practically prepared, but the little person, who was still such a profound part of me and that few saw, felt totally unprepared and inept. It created more problems that I have probably admitted in my personal life also. While there were ways I was ready to be married (and by that time I had been married for 5 years or so), there were other ways I really was not as prepared as I believed. There is an irony in that because while I was certainly older and more prepared in some ways, I was probably not any more prepared than she was, but I was viewed as older and wiser. It was not always true.

What I am forced to admit is that my immaturity certainly did things to doom that marriage. I know some who know both of us will say that I am being a bit hard on myself, and perhaps that is true, but I am not shouldering all the blame. It seems I must merely try to be more honest about my part in that failing. The other day I was talking about that period in my life and I have known for some time that while I believed I was handling things well, again, not so much. What I know is taking a position at Suomi at that time, while it seemed to be a good fit was anything but. Living in the dorm as I went through that divorce was problematic and even being in my own apartment the second year was less than ideal. Those two years also set a course with a bishop, to whom I referred in an earlier blog, that would be terminal for my calling as a pastor, at least in terms of ordination. Then I moved onto graduate school again, and toward a second marriage. The year between leaving Suomi and getting accepted to Michigan Tech was a brutal one, working as “the most educated server in the Keweenaw” did little for my self esteem, and probably damaged my liver more than I knew. I have often said all food and beverage staffs are dysfunctional families. That along with returning to being involved with the fraternity I had pledged as an undergraduate was a blessing and a curse to me. While I somehow managed grades and such, I did not manage responsible behavior and simply put, I tried to catch up on all the things I somehow believed I had missed. In terms of a rhetorical strategy, it did little for my ethos. Certainly, some probably thought me mentally ill or schizophrenic, and quite possibly, rightly so. I made mistakes in that time that I still regret. To get back to the theme for this posting, I fell short of what was expected and I was certainly a smaller person for it. By now I was into my 40s and honestly, I there were times I acted like an undergrad socially. Somehow academically, I did substantially better. Not surprisingly, I was in counseling this entire time. One might think a second marriage might have created a better situation, and in some ways, it did, but when the marriage created more issues, life was still a problem.

As I moved into the 21st century, I was still trying to figure out where I fit and who I was. That is a bit ridiculous for a person in their mid 40s, but it was who I was at the time. While again, I was successful in my professional life at this point, my personal life was in a shambles. In fact, my counselor at this point and I had this specific discussion. There is, as I noted a second marriage during this time, but I will address that in another blog at some point. I will say that I have had contact with my second wife recently and apologized to her for my failures. I am glad I was able to do that because it is about taking accountability for those choices. There are always ways to justify our mistakes, and certainly as humans we are prone to do so, but I think I am beyond that point. Simply put, I am a person who had (and still has) good intentions. The difference from the earlier Michael and the Michael of today is I allowed my immaturity and my things that I missed out on as a younger person to cloud my judgment. I wanted to experience some of the things I missed out on. With the older Michael, I somehow had my maturity  catch up with my chronology. I think perhaps the place that finally happened was in Menomonie, not in the first couple of years, but when I suddenly found myself caring for a new sort of adopted parent. I realized that I needed to do things better than I had earlier in my life. I needed to make up for what I felt was the failure of not being there for my own father.

I think I have always had some insightfulness into the needs of others and could see things that would help them, while failing to see the same exact thing in my own life. Again, somehow, my caring for the “little tornado,” as I still fondly call her, changed those things for me. Simultaneously, being in a new place professionally, and feeling a need to begin over, offered opportunities for me to finally close the gap. Interestingly, reconnecting with some and seeing things from a different perspective was helpful. Even in that reconnecting and exploring possibilities, I learned more about myself and what I needed if I am to care for myself. That was a new experience also. Most of my life I have probably vacillated between completely one side of the other, which is never good. What I am forced to admit it being short on one side or the other creates a situation that is seldom manageable. During the past 8 years I have been in Pennsylvania, I have finally closed the gap and I am probably where I need to be for the first time in my life. What I realize is I owe many people apologies for the failings, the mistakes, the inadequacies that permeated much of my life. I am sure I will make mistakes in the future, but it is my hope the failings will not cause others discomfort and struggles.

For the time being, it seems that I have a structure for my life and a structure for my health. Both things are helpful, and they are important. As I have told people, currently I have more doctors than I have fingers on one of my hands, but they are in touch with each other; as such I have an amazing team caring for me. During the past month, the care of others from students and colleagues to friends near and far, I am been blessed. Having the insight of a health professional who is also a dear friend has been my unexpected gift in all of this. The ability to ask questions and receive caring insight and advice has been both comforting and created a sense of security I am not sure I would have were the help not available. Speaking of other health things, as noted in a previous blog, one of my colleagues has passed on and the other is certainly in the closing days of his fight. Together they created a footprint on the English and Philosophy Department at Stout that cannot be replicated. In both cases, the loss is profound and life-changing, not only for their families, but for the scores of people they have touched across the country, and even the world. This is not hyperbole; it is the simple truth. As Dan has signed off on each of this letters to those of us honored to walk this journey with him, I leave you with this. Hug the ones you love. What amazing advice and what an important thing to remember.

While I have shared this video before, it seems appropriate in this time as I think of my mentor and treasured friend, Dr. Daniel Riordan.



To everyone else, thank you for reading and again, thank you for your thoughts and comments. I am blessed by you all . . . if I have offended or caused you harm in my earlier life, please forgive me.

Michael (Dr. Martin)

Show me the Way

Hello from my upstairs,

It has been a day of reflection and a day of feeling I am too far away from where I  believe  I should be. As I was telling my colleague, Mark, this morning as we shared our thoughts about Dan and Mike, or Drs. Riordan and Levy, a bishop might have demanded the resignation that removed me from a clergy roster, but he could not, did not, and cannot take away the profound and central part of my piety and soul that still has me providing pastoral care to so many people I meet. Certainly, I no longer wear the funny turned-around shirt and I’m no longer called, or referred to as, Pastor, but perhaps, just perhaps, some of the most significant and poignant ministry I have done has occurred in the Bible as Literature course, happened when I emotionally supported or demonstrated care for a struggling student, or lived the gospel in the manner that made someone reconsider God rather than ignore, or run from, God. In fact, it was 19 years ago this past week I was given a new commandment by an earthly person, one who enjoyed playing God, demanding I resign and forfeit my ordination. I certainly did some things to make him question, and for that I am accountable, but as many have said, he did not have to do things the way he did. Ironically, I had tried to resign the clergy roster only two weeks prior, but he would not accept it. I know now it was because I had taken his power away if I resigned on my terms and he couldn’t allow that. I have been asked more than once to consider applying to be reordained or reinstated, but having the title of pastor or the ability to do sacraments once again is not something I need, if I am to be fulfilled. There are certainly times I wish someone would just show me the easiest way to move forward, or as I tell my students, “please just give me the recipe card.” All too often that’s what we what. But there is a simple and profound problem with getting a recipe card; we are prone to blame whomever it is giving the card, especially when things don’t work out exactly like we thought. What does it actually mean to be shown the way?

I spent a good part of the day doing schoolwork @FogandFlame. When I was by myself I had my earbuds in and I can just disappear into my work. Part of the time was spent however again being somewhat of a surrogate father or providing some sense of pastoral care without ever really mentioning God. It’s not really that I am particularly brilliant or even very amazing, but I think I’m honest and genuine and the advice I give for the most part is accepting and pragmatic. It’s not a matter of rocket science it’s a matter of being honest with the situation and accepting accountability for the choices we make. I believe many times it is merely showing a person’s pathway, making it clear to them that there are options.  To help them believe they have a right, even in the midst of difficulty, to make a choice that is hopefully in their best interest and in the interest of those around them. seems to be the right thing to do. Too often we are paralyzed, unsure if there is the best option, and by our paralysis we lose our own way. This happens way too many times. One of the things I most admire about my former colleague and forever- mentor, Dr. Daniel Riordan, is how he has managed his diagnosis with prostate cancer from the very beginning. He faced, and fought, this disease gallantly, honestly, and on his terms, to the best of his ability. Through his letters, his emails, his posts, and his indutibly beautiful spirit he has shown many of us the way to move forward and live life as it is meant to be lived. In his fabulous gift of photography and his willingness to share it with others, he reminded, and will continue to remind, us of the beauty, which is often directly in front of us on a daily basis. I still remember the first time coming to Dan’s and Mary’s house I was introduced to the newest hatchlings of bald eagles. I remember looking out from their amazing view what a town that woukd change my life. I have often said that the job at Stout prepared me for my job now. My being in Menomonie introduced me to Lydia and the consequence of Lydia can never be overstated. Little did I know the way I was being shown. I should note that the Riordan house was always a point of refuge for me, and that has been a wonderful gift. Mary and Dan are an amazingly wonderful couple. It was apparent, even the last time I was in their house this past January how much they loved and supported each other.

This morning I wished a belated Happy Birthday to someone who turned 23 years old. It reminded me of when I was 23 and I wondered momentarily what I was doing. It is an easy year to remember because of the consequential nature of it. That was the year I traveled on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team called Daybreak. It was the year I was blessed to meet the Swenson family, my first host family. Through breakfast conversations and return visits, somehow I did not quite follow my intended path, or the one I was imagining at the time. Indeed, Lee and Judy Swenson persuaded me to consider other options. Perhaps the most important thing they taught me was about family and sharing and the willingness to open themselves up to other people. To this day I am grateful for their involvement in my life. And yes, for more years that I want to admit (and only because it will reveal age),  we are still friends. We still chat on the phone and those conversations are so treasured. Hard to believe the four-year-old I first met is now also a college professor just as I am. I do not want to tell you how old that makes me feel. I am pretty sure that is not what either one of us saw at that time. How do we determine the way? I am a firm believer that life is not deterministic. While I am certainly a cause and effect person, a process and product person, as I’ve grown older I’m quite sure that there’s more left to chance than we could ever imagine. Is that a bad thing? I’m not sure it is, but it certainly creates many more questions. For us as individuals, perhaps it is a reminder that we have less control than we think and we should exert less control over others then we often want. For me, what is more frightening is what it does to us societally, or as a country. By our votes we give power, and yet we have very little control. I already know that someone say we can just vote differently next time, but two years is a long time, and four years might change the course of history. What is the way and how are we shown a reasonable path when there are so many visions? And of course everyone wants to believe theirs is correct. Theirs is the way, just ask them.

Well, I have laid in bed working on this a bit longer than planned. I need to get some more things off my plate. I have gotten up, cleaned up and now back to @FogandFlame. As long as the day is productive, the week will go well. I have a number of student conferences this week for my Freelancing class and I need to do some things to prepare for that. Then there is just the grading that still needs to happen. Grading is such a difficult thing. I am reminded of the conversation with and for students that tries to help them understand the difference between evaluation and assessment. Students are so grade driven, they forget that classes and education are about learning and competency. When I ask students the difference between education and work I get some interesting answers. Education is for the sake of learning and understanding; it is not about skills, it is about what you have incorporated into who you are. If someone is learning, comprehending, analyzing, the grade will generally take care of itself. There is no one way; there is no recipe card. When students ask what I want them to do or implores me to tell them what to do, there is an issue? When they are more interested in the number of words, pages, or sources, they are asking for a recipe card. They want someone to not only show them the way, they want someone to walk it with them. That is an interesting struggle between being independent and dependent. That is an entirely separate issue and something that seems to be an oxymoronic process for most of my students. Of course, we did not have the communicative options students now do. I remember the last time I spoke with my Grandmother. It was from a phone booth just outside of Atlantic, Iowa, late in the morning as I pulled over on my motorcycle and called her because I had failed to stop and see her. Of course, I did not know this would be my last words with her. There is that uncertainty again. We have no way of knowing what lies ahead. How do we know the way forward? Perhaps it is not the path, but rather the direction.

What I am painfully aware of today is the tenuousness of life and that those who are alive ahead of me are fewer in number than those who are behind me . . .  I am not elderly, though there are moments, and I am certainly beyond middle aged, so what am I? How do I understand the way or the direction forward? I know that I have some things squared away and in place, but there is still more to do. To whom do I turn for direction and advice? This is a tougher question than some might imagine because I am using giving advice rather than taking it (I can already hear some of you, so stop!!), but truthfully, the position of being an advisor, of being a surrogate parent, of being the elder, and of having a number of experiences has created a sort of interesting position for me. How do I reach out when I am uncertain, and to whom? I guess that will be the thing to ponder today, but for now, it is back to work. In the meanwhile, here is another video that offers some sense of my dichotomous struggle with being part of the church and being tired of the institutional aspects of this needed community. I guess it is not surprising that I find Bonhoeffer so compelling for many reasons.

As always, thank you for reading my blog. I have appreciated your comments and what you have shared with me . . . you all show me the way more than you know.

Bless you,


Feeling Better . . . And Feeling Blessed

Hello from the Acre,

It is amazing what technology does; it matters not whether we are talking social media and our daily obsession or whether we are referring to what happens in a dctor’s office, an X-ray room, or a same-day surgical suite. This past week I have been a willing participant in all of them. I was in early adopter of social media, but if I’m to be completely honest I had no idea how it would eventually affect my life, my teaching, and certainly my scholarship. For some it might be difficult to understand how Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram might be related to what I did in graduate school. On the other hand, for some of my graduate school colleagues and for my intellectual and academic soulmate, Dr. Timothy Oleksiak, and hopefully certainly the case for many of my students, the connection is like peas and carrots as noted so skillfully by Forrest Gump. It is also, in my opinion, a significant component in what had created the nationalistic fervor that seems to be so prominent in the world as we currently experience it. There is certainly much more that could be said about this but I will hold off. And I know that surprises some of you because I generally don’t hold off on much. . . . A week or so has passed and I cannot get this finished because so much is been on my plate. I have been in a doctor’s office daily for my B 12 shots, and for the most part, that has been rather non-eventful. The same can’t be said for an attempt for starting IV yesterday while I was getting an MRI. Honestly, I do not remember such difficulty growing up, but somewhere around my 35th birthday there seems to have been a change. At that point, my veins got a mind of their own and as soon as I walk into a medical facility, they decide to dive and roll. Yesterday,  however, might be a new record: four different people attempted nine times total. And some of those attempts were excruciatingly painful. Yet, all the same, by the time we’re done the tasks were accomplished. Today except for a few bruises and some telltale signs of a stick, I am OK.

Blessings come in many forms, but perhaps the most profound blessings are given through the people that we meet and the realization of how much they have influenced or blessed our lives. It is been almost 8 years since I left the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and more specifically the Department of English and Philosophy (and yes I know that is strange pairing within an academic department; I thought the same when I was there). During the past eight years, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on many things. Putting aside much of the hurt that was inflicted by one person in particular, and through the ripple effects of that person by those within the department. The starting elements of that healing began at a KOA campground in Paducah, Kentucky, as I drove my Harley from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania. And the times I’ve gone back to Wisconsin over the years I kept in contact with whom it seemed reasonable. There in the past 36 hours two significant people in that department with a long history of scholarship and teaching have both entered hospice. One is my former chairperson, who is an amazing scholar in his own right, and is also genuinely a kind and gentle person.  The other is the person of whom I have spoke in past blogs (or more accurately wrote), as well as my mentor, the person who help me navigate that last difficult and painful year I served there.  Together they have well over a half a century within that department, and the numbers of students and colleagues they have affected is profound. One of my most important colleagues here in Bloomsburg, preceded me both at Stout and as he and I like to say, he poached me away from there. More truthfully, he saved me. Yesterday we spoke about both of these people and how we had a somewhat reversed reciprocal relationship with them. His closer relationship was with the chair and as such this time and the loss of that person for him is much more personally profound. For me, it is the latter of the two. It was interesting for me, and helpful, to have that conversation, on a whole variety of levels. He and I had our own time to reminisce and get ready to mourn from a distance this change. To my former colleagues who read this blog, and with whom I’ve stayed in contact, please know that both of us hold you all in our prayers and in our own ways our hearts break with yours from a 1000 miles away.  To Sandy and Mary, as you prepare to say goodbye to someone whom you love so deeply, I pray that you might find strength and comfort in knowing that you do not walk this journey alone. That is one of the blessings we are given in community.

In terms of my own health issues and things that I’ve noted very specifically in the last couple blogs, we continue to do testing,; I continue to walk through appointment after appointment, hoping for and determining a plan on how my teams of doctors and my homeopath will manage my struggling yet resilient body and the long-term consequences of Crohn’s disease. Today I have begun wearing a heart monitor for the next month. As it is about 2:00 a.m. that I am composing this, my timeline is technically correct when I say last night, I was at an annual event that might be one of my social highlights of the year. The LBGTQA Comission on campus, had their annual gala and silent auction. It is the 9th year that I see many more of my colleagues from across the University’s campus than perhaps any other night. Last night they collected over $10,000 to support students on campus. That’s a wonderful thing.  However, as I walked around last night socializing and sharing stories,  it was impossible to not marvel at how amazing, committed and hard-working so many people are on a daily basis, and damn, this reminds me that somehow I forgot to fill out my Snyder amendment this past week. Oops. Another thing to add to my list. But again I am so blessed by so many people. A person with whom I seldom get to spend time, but I was blessed enough to have dinner with one night at the beginning of my third year here, was at the event with his wife. He is our athletic director and I respect and adore them both. I don’t think I’ve actually spoken to them with much more than a hello since they were over to my house for dinner last summer. It was a poignant reminder of how quickly things go and how little time it seems we have to be with those who matter. I had the opportunity to speak with the person, who is a newer faculty member, and she and her husband are the most wonderful couple. She recently gave a recital, and while I knew  she was a significantly talented musician, I have not been transported into another place while listening to music like that since I was in the Thomas Kirke in Leipzig in 1985.  Or listening to music air cathedral in Lubeck, listening to the music of Buxtehude in the very church he had played in and that was in January of 1981. And then there was the surprise of running into the niece of a colleague, who unbeknownst to me, had returned from a year in Spain. She is such a phenomenal young lady. Again, the opportunity to be among such astounding people should never be taken for granted, and to give thanks for such tremendous gifts seems so inadequate. And all of these gifts are just in my little corner of the world.

It is unfathomable that we are already to April 1st, and that is no joke, but the passage of time certainly fools us. It is also the day that my Dominican family and I are launching our little travel company. Called Galtín (Gaul TEEN) Travel, we are specializing in vacations to the Dominican Republic. In fact if you followed by this blog long enough, I have written a number of entries from there on more than one occasion. If you want to know more, please go to galtintravel.com and check things out (If you get a password protected issue, that will change within the next few hours as we had it protected until launch). I can promise you an amazing time in a fairytale setting. An all-inclusive long weekend or week or 10 days, it is all up to you. You can go by yourself or with another person; you can take the family or group of friends and we can accommodate your needs. Yes, this is my unabashed advertisement. And if you book during the month of April and travel before the end of 2017, we are offering a 20% discount.  It is possible to get straight flights reasonably priced from JFK, Newark, or Philadelphia. You need to book your flight and have a passport. We’ll help you with the rest. I have traveled there three times now, and each time was more amazing than the first. It is honestly like walking around in a fairytale world for a few days where every need is cared for and every desire pampered. The current strength of the American dollar does not hurt a bit. Between that strength and the discount, there might never be a better time to book your travel.

If you go to the site, I have blogged there also about why I might undertake such a venture with my Dominican family. Together we hope to make a difference for others offering something that might seem impossible. In some ways it is sharing how we have been blessed together with others. Working with them on this process has been a learning experience, and there have been some minor bumps, but that is always the case when you do something the first time or when you try to move dreams into realities. It has been the hard work and many hours of pondering the actual doing. I must give credit to the two younger persons for getting things actually into a place where we can actually do this. Then there was additional rethinking, revising, and reconsidering that has gotten us to this point.  Once again, I have realized for most of my life, I’ve never really known what I expected or even where I was going. All I know is that I’ve been blessed in many and various ways, but many and various people. People enter and leave our lives sometimes because of our own changes and sometimes because of their’s. Two people who have profoundly influenced me, and my development as a scholar and a professor, are, in their own ways, preparing to leave and by similar paths. To both Mike and Dan, thank you for mentoring me and sharing what you have. To Sandy and Mary, my wish for you is a sense of comfort and strength in your time of sorrow. To all the children and the grandchildren, I’m sorry for your loss. I know all too well how difficult it is to lose a parent. I cannot help but feel both deeply sorrowful in their passing, yet profoundly blessed by their influences in my life. The interesting thing about being blessed by something or someone is that it is almost always unexpected and probably even more undeserved. These gifts actually occurs more often than we might ever know because we simply don’t realize how simply blessing are provided. It could be a gas station; it could be coming home and finding new people. It could be leaving and moving and losing and gaining at the same time. It has happened again these last few weeks as an unexpected reintroduction has come to pass. The conversations,  the sharing, the reminiscing, and the relearning has brightened up my days, lifted my spirits, and reminded me of how deeply I loved someone. It has transported me back to a time in my life where I was searching desperately trying to figure out who I was and where I was headed. It has been good just see how another person perceived me at that time. It has been helpful to know that what I felt, I did not feel alone. As I was blessed by their presence then I am blessed by their presence now. Once again I’m reminded that I never know what to expect in my life and the twists and turns it might take. But through it all, it is evident to me again that we do not walk alone. We do not fail to influence, or be influenced, by the other. So yes, I am feeling better, but more importantly, I am feeling blessed. The picture above is of a car I once owned. The video below is of a group whose concert I once attended. I still think Nancy Wilson might be one of the most attractive guitar players in the world. Just sayin’

Thanks as always for reading.


If I had Known . . .

Good morning from my office,

As a way to catch most up concerning the outcomes of appointments and tests, I think I will offer information here. Thank you, first of all, to all who have inquired about the continuing issues of managing the Crohn’s and its consequences. I have been to more doctors’ appointments (yes, the plural is accurate in both cases) and there are more doctors’ appointments yet on the horizon (again accuracy in the plurals a second time). The easiest way to explain everything that seems to be sort of crashing in upon me at the same time is this. First, the removal of a large intestine in 1986 and 30 plus years of not having the main water absorption organ in my body has caught up with me. Second, the removal of the J-Pouch, which was created after the colectomy, which was a significant portion of my ileum, a part of your small intestine, as a consequence of that surgery never really working, has created a different absorption problem, that being primarily B complex vitamins. Together, both the combination of these issues and their cumulative effect on my body (and that includes extensive parts of my body (e.g. organs, blood supply, nervous system . . . you get the picture)) had me in much more dire straits than I realized. Fortunately between my CPC, a phenomenal neurologist, an outstanding gastroenterologist, and some thoughtful nurses and PAs in December, I might have the best chance to be honestly healthy I have been since the beginning of all the surgeries over 30 years ago.

So what have they done, or are they doing? As of yesterday, I am getting B complex vitamin shots on a daily basis for two weeks. Then I will go to once a month for the rest of my life. My last blog gives some idea of why this is so important. Second, I have another test (MRI) of my mid small intestine coming next week to make sure that the Crohn’s is not currently active. Third, I am meeting with a GI nutritionist to see what is the best way for me to get some other vitamins and minerals into my under-absorbing body. I could go back to the U.P, steal copper and chew on it, but I am not sure that is a good plan. I am now taking 50,000 units of Vitamin D a month, Folic Acid, a statin, and aspirin daily to manage the other issues that have been deemed problematic because of this absorption, or lack thereof, issue. The shots are not difficult (I got one last night and another this morning). Taking pills is not one of my favorite things, but again, it is not that difficult. There are two issues to which I need to attend once again. I need to lose 30 pounds (and 40 would be better), and I need to get my blood pressure back down. It is once again up above where it should be. Some good news included the levels that point to kidney issues, which popped up in December for the first time, seem to be back to normal. The next, new, issue is a cardiac issue. It appears my heart is beating too slowly and that too seems related to the B complex vitamin issues, which is again related to surgeries because of the Crohn’s. It seems my body is adverse to absorbing most everything, which causes me to wonder how it is I need to lose weight. How can it be I have gained weight when I cannot absorb, but then again lack of energy and an increased amount of sleep might be the culprit. Seems a logical question, without a logical answer beyond what I have just offered. Yet that has often been the case with the somewhat  normal, and profoundly abnormal, way I have been required to manage my modified digestive system. As I noted in my last post, there has been little that seems I can do to change what my body will or will not do. I should probably be astounded that I have made it as far as I have.

What I sometimes wonder is what if they had diagnosed me with Crohn’s in elementary school, when they believe I probably contracted, though I am not sure one contracts it; of course, there is the doctor who told me I was probably born with it. In some ways I would be more comfortable with that as my reality. If one has it from birth, it just is. One can still question the why, but as I have learned, there is still much that is not known about Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBDs) and their causes. Immune issues seem to come up the most often. Of course, there is a question about what treatments might have been available to me (or more accurately for me because it would have been my parents’ job to help me manage something). I do wonder, again as I have noted, what it would be like if they had been able to keep my body intact. That seems to be the most significant or problematic topic or puzzle (we’re  back to that) currently. Yesterday, I had three doctors call and it was actually very satisfying to tell the neurologist that his appointment time and conversation with me might have been the best two hours I had ever spent in front of a medical professional. The care, detail, and willingness to answer and explain was like nothing I had ever experienced. For the first time in over thirty years, I believe I have a clear sense of how all the parts of the body interact and why the surgeries that I have endured were not the end of the story. Logically, I knew that, but I am not sure I have ever really considered what might happen. “It astounds me as I write to realize how much of my life is controlled by this 4×4 wafer and 10” pouch. The struggle to be seen as more than someone with a serious illness confronts me emotionally more than most know” (Martin 2011). When I wrote these words I was still coming to terms with my personal struggle. I also wrote, “So what is my identity? Who am I? I am a [61] year old male who was born prematurely and that early arrival had consequences; it might have more of which I am not even aware of at this point” (Martin 2011). This is surely the case as I spent almost 20 minutes placing doctors, nurses, and other specialist appointments into my calendar last night. It is surely the case when the majority of phone calls received today were from scheduling people at Geisinger (I think I had 5 calls today). The consequences are currently daily trips to the doctor’s office for injections, taking more medications, and wondering how to manage an HSA that seems to ask for more documentation that ever, all under the guise of blaming the IRS. When I was working on my comprehensive exams, one of the books I read was an astounding book by Arthur Frank, titled The Wounded Storyteller. There are moments I feel that is what my blog has become as of recently. I am able to accept the reality that I am affected and wounded by the fact that I am missing more intestine than I have left. “It is in that wounding I am reminded that I am still capable, or more accurately that I can still fight this with all my might. It is in suffering that I know that I am present  . . .  I am a person with an insidious and chronic disease. It is fighting to control me,  but differently from times earlier in my life, where I let it control me, now I refuse. It is taking more time than I wish, but for the moment I will give it its due, but I am coming back. I believe through these injections and managing motility, I will once again beat it back.

I am pretty sure that it is best that I did not know where all of this would lead because I am not sure I was strong enough earlier in my life to stand strong. As I noted once again in that paper, the role of telling all of this is a sort of testimony and the role of being able to tell a story, particularly a story of illness does allow  one to suffer, not in loneliness, but in a pedagogical way, a teaching way. Perhaps that is not surprising because I am both a storyteller (ask my students) and I am a teacher, but not a memorization person. I am one that pushes people to analyze and think about their situation. I am a firm believer we are all teachers in our own way, just like ministry can occur in many places outside the Sunday sanctuary. When we use a negative experience pedagogically, we are not allowed to wallow in sadness, but we are managing reality forthrightly and honestly. The narrative, the story, changes. This narrative as noted by another author on the chaos of illness speaks about a narrative of restitution. Restitution is paying back for what which has happened. Certainly, the trail of what has happened between my partner-in-life, Crohn’s and me is long. It has been an epic battle and the battling continues. Earlier in my life, the narrative was of embarrassment and rejection. I refuse to allow such a narrative to take hold of me ever again. It is ironic that I continue to address my personal, and intensively private, intestines in such a public place, but again, it is what I teach. How do we use computer mediated communication or our own social identity to come to terms with our personage? It is through this writing that I begin once again to make sense of what is a chaotic body-self dualism. The first time I struggled with the consequences of surgery in a most public way, someone who should have been supportive was incapable of doing so. I did not understand. In my frailty, I could not understand their reaction. What felt like rejection when I needed acceptance perhaps more than ever before was profoundly injurious, but that injury was not as readily apparent as my altered self. However, before I am too hard on the other, it is important for me to realize I could not accept myself at that point. Part of that was how weakened I was from fighting Crohn’s when it was decimating my body. At this point, it is not the Crohn’s, but the consequences of it. While some might not see a difference, I do. If both were problems at the present time, I think this would be exponentially more difficult.

So if I knew what 30+ years would have offered would it have been easier? No way . . . I can say with even more certainty that I do not believe I would have been strong enough to endure it, knowing it ahead of time. What I know even now in the throes of more issues that I still believe this is manageable. This is another battle . . . it is a war, and at some point, I even know I will lose, but I am okay with that. I am just not ready to lose yet. In fact, I am still making plans and putting plans into motion that will affect the next three or four years. In other words, I do not plan to allow these latest struggles to derail the desideratum I am working hard to create. There is much more I could write, but I think it is time to get to the work that is insistently calling for my attention. I would like to give a shout out of thanks to my friend for listening to so much of this story and much more this past week. You have inspired me to hang in there and keep trucking along. Generally, I am able to do this pretty well on my own, but it has been nice to share and for the gift of your insight. I offer this song on your behalf. Well back to Hobbit-land! 🙂

To the rest of you, thank you as always for reading.






Understanding the Puzzle (aka: My Body

Hello from my study,

Somehow when I deleted what I thought was a draft (it said local on it) of the last blog I posted before bed last night, it seems I deleted what I had actually written, so here we go again. I will still post it as a St. Patrick’s Day post, but it is a bit after honestly. This past week was Spring Break, though it had a more oxymoronic flavor to it, or a Houghton/Hancock appearance to it. This past Tuesday we received the most snow they have had in Bloomsburg during a single snowfall in decades. On the patio between my house and my barn/garage, I measured about 26 inches of snow and it was still snowing for a few more hours. I am not sure of the final total, but I think 28 inches is pretty accurate, at least in my yard. I am looking out now and it is snowing steadily again, just in time for students to think about driving back from wherever they spent their breaks. My Spring Break this year was substantively different that last year’s break, which was spent in Ireland. Howver, I knew that going in because of the medical incident that occurred in December. Yet, I would like to offer somewhat of a shout out to those I met in Ireland last March.What a wonderful 5 days that was. The food was phenomenal (and those of you who know me, know I can be coerced by amazing culinary items anytime.). The people are genuinely wonderful and accommodating. Finally, the greens in Ireland are certainly unrivaled by most any place I have ever visited. Siting in a bar the last night working on a paper about the rhetoric of place, drinking a pint of Murphy’s, and meeting two college students from my hometown of Sioux City was quite the irony, but it made the trip all that more special. So the picture above is of an Aer Lingus plane, the national airline of Ireland.

Back in December, as many know, I went into Urgent Care one morning after a week-long virus, but with some chest pains. What ended up happening that day was an Acute Kidney Incident (AKI) as it is categorized, when my kidneys decided they wanted a break. What I did not know, but perhaps should have surmised because of a doctor’s question (if your heart stops can we resuscitate?) was I also was suffering a cardiac issue. What I found out is my heart rate was under 50, which is something called bradycardia or bradyarrymthia. It seems that some of the reason for that, in my case, is probably again Crohn’s related. Because of some complexities in my altered GI track, there are likely conditions that can slow electrical impulses through the heart. When I was in the hospital that day it was probably an issue of both electrolytes and too much potassium in my system. In addition, it seems after a two-hour neurology appointment on this past Wednesday, that somehow the Crohn’s, and consistent subsequent removal of more and more of my gastrointestinal track, continues to have consequences. The area of the ileum that absorbs B complex vitamins, something I no longer possess, has created a malabsorption of said vitamins to be low to the point of being a serious problem, thereby vexing my remodeled insides in a notably  malevolent manner. Some of the consequences of bradycardia could cause me to:

  • Feel dizzy or light-headed.
  • Feel short of breath and find it harder to exercise
  • Feel tired.
  • Have chest pain or a feeling that your heart is pounding or fluttering (palpitations).
  • Feel confused or have trouble concentrating.
  • Faint, if a slow heart rate causes a drop in blood pressure

While I have had all of these things and more often than I realized, none of them seemed so severe to cause alarm. Together, however, when I see them in a list, I am a bit more concerned. Fortunately, a neurologist, who during residency had significant experience in gastroenterology seemed to peg my unique body pretty accurately. What has happened as a result of this appointment is a follow-up with a cardiologist. It seems they might do a thirty day monitoring of my heart and they noted something called a recording loop might be implanted to do actual recordings of heart activity when some issue is taking place. All of that will be done within the next month. In fact I need to return a call on Monday to see when I will have an appointment.

On Thursday it was back to the gastro doctors and a traipsing through that tube we call the digestive system. One of the most important things I have learned is this tube is much more complex than merely something with an opening on each end. When I wrote a paper with two colleagues about managing my IBD issues, I noted that we do not talk about our digestion or elimination of waste because it is too personal and embarrassing, but for the last 30+ years I have had to consider this on a daily basis. Once more, I was told by yet another doctor that I probably have had Crohn’s my entire life, or certainly since I was a child (like during elementary school). After both an endoscopy and ileoscopy, what we expected to find in my remaining small intestine and upper GI areas was exactly what we found: no active Crohn’s. That is a blessing on one level because it is one less thing to manage, at least in terms of additional medication. What is much more evident, however, is that this disease continues to do what I accused it of in that same paper some years ago. I asked, “What happens when there is no recovery from a disease? What happens when this disease [seems] to steal me from myself? How do I get myself back” (Martin 2010)? While I am not adverse to  the tests for Crohn’s any longer, as they have become commonplace, I do have some issues with the disease itself. As I was reminded, we still have little idea how or why someone is afflicted. We know it affects the immune system and I have struggled in a profound way with a compromised immune system. The issue of hydration and absorption of B complex vitamins seems to be the current over-riding concern at this point. I guess the vitamin is called complex because it is. It affects the heart, the nerves, the brain, and the list could go on. Here is a quick list I found searching the web.

  • B1 and B2 are important for healthy functioning of the muscles, nerves, and heart. B1 helps the body make new cells and B2 is important for red blood cell production and fighting free radicals
  • B3 helps regulate the nervous and digestive systems and helps convert food into energy
  • B5 breaks down fats and carbohydrates for energy and is responsible for the production of hormones. B5 and B12 are required for normal growth and development
  • B6 supports the immune system, helps the body produce hormones, and aids the body in breaking down protein
  • B7 is involved in the production of hormones
  • B9 helps cells make and maintain DNA and promotes the growth of red blood cells
  • B12 helps regulate the nervous system and plays a role in red blood cell formation
  • B6, B9, and B12 help to regulate levels of the amino acid homocysteine (an amino acid thought to contribute to heart disease when it occurs at elevated levels) (B Complex Vitamins)

Not sure I hoped to be a medical or vitamin handbook here, but the complexity of this one group of vitamins is staggering, both literally and figuratively. It seems there are two consequences that I will have to manage. Hydration, which is a constant problem, is going to be treated by taking of medication to slow down motility. Second, it seems I might be looking at B Complex Vitamin shots. This has always been on the table, but I did not realize that I was in such dire straits concerning all of this. Many of the symptoms I have been dealing with I wrote off to being 60-something. It seems that there is more going on.

Yesterday I also made it to the chiropractor again. The muscle tightness in my lower back and my butt (and I do mean serious maximus) as well as my neck and shoulders was palpable in many and various ways. So for me, Spring Break has been a week of introspection and working to understand how my altered body, one with which I have had a sort of love/hate relationship for 30+ years, is still amazing and resilient. I have been called superman more than once, but I do not feel all that super or amazing. It is what I have to work with. It is not something that I might have predicted, and certainly not something I would wish on anyone else. I remember being told I was a wimp once upon a time. My response in that instance was along the lines of I do not know what it is like to be on your side, and I am sorry for that, but I would not wish my side on anyone. I still feel that way. What amazes me in the past week, though I intuitively knew already, was how every little thing in the body affects and is related to something else. When I was a senior in college, I took and A&P class as med students call it for something to do. I might have been one of my smartest decision ever because I learned more valuable information in that class than perhaps any I have taken. It worked, not only when I was a pastor, but also now for myself. Some have asked why I am not more upset or why I do not seem to feel sorry for myself. There are moments, I promise you, but what being chronically affected by something has taught me is there are always challenges. Sometimes, to use the metaphor of the puzzle, it seems I am trying to put the puzzle together, except all the pieces are turned over or upside-down. I see only the shape, but they are all cardboard grey or brown. What the appointments this past week have done is to turn the pieces over . . . to give me a clearer glimpse of what the puzzle’s entire picture might be. It is never easy when your life is controlled by something you wish you did not have, but I do not feel badly because of the hand I have been dealt. I have a wonderful life. I am better than most because I have a job and insurance (which might be even more amazing considering the news this past week, but I will not go there more than I have by this comment already). I am fortunate because this week, once again, I have been afforded outstanding care by exceptionally intelligent people. I have had colleagues reach out and provide rides and neighbors ask if I was okay. There is so much we take for granted, and even in my compromised state, I am no different. What I do know is that many of the things I am dealing with on a daily basis are more serious than I might have anticipated. Perhaps that is because I have struggled for so long, but I do not see it as a struggle. Everyday we are offered a chance to get up and work at it again. I have a wonderful job and superb colleagues. I get to go in and do something I enjoy everyday. I know that puts me in the minority.
Last year I was reflecting on my Irish heritage and as I was writing this initially yesterday, it was time to do so again, but I do it more often than just the 17th of March, the day we specifically note those from the Emerald Isle. Our heritage is something more than place, it is identity. It is what connects us with our past, but hopefully points us to a future that could be better than from where we have come. It is interesting to me how place comes back into my psyche so often. Is that because I was adopted or something more? I am going to close with the same video I put in the first time. Before I close, however, I wanted to note how astonished I am by people and how our lives seem to work. Recently a person has re-entered my life, most unexpectedly, but also most wonderfully. How do you catch up on decades when the baggage is great and lives imagined are certainly not what occurred? It is fun to share with no expectations and with st least some sense of common history, albeit long ago and far away. Thank you for returning.


I am blessed and I hope you find reading this somehow both informative and a blessing. In my most native of languages, at least from what I can figure out, Sláinte!

Thank you as always for reading and Happy St. Patricks Day


Planning for an Uncertain Future


Hello on another Sunday morning from the Fog and Flame,

Technically, it is a few minutes after noon, but I have been here for a couple of hours working on things to prepare for the coming week and my classes; it seems to be my weekly pattern (including listening to Pandora – I know some say I should switch to Spotify, but I am a creature of habit – and I am listening to various Broadway show soundtracks). Amazing how much I have learned about Broadway since coming to Bloomsburg. I am fortunate to have worked with the BU Business LLC for that last 6 years; it has exposed me to many things I did not know. Continuing with the idea of where have four decades gone, growing up, this was the day we had a vacation from school because it was Lincoln’s birthday. It was also my Great-aunt Martha Hannestad’s birthday. She was born in Norway and immigrated to this country as a young girl. She was born in 1877. She turned 100 the day my elder brother was buried, and I remember her saying she should have been the one to be leaving the world instead of a 26 year old father of three. What I know looking back at this time was it was my first real “adult” lesson in realizing or accepting an uncertain future. I did not realize that at the time. As noted in my previous post, I was merely overwhelmed and angry at God.

What I know now, and I am well aware of this simple reality for all of us, I was born with an uncertain future. Undoubtedly, we all have an element of this, but being born weighing 17 ounces and only 26 weeks of gestation in the mid 1950s created another level to this human unpredictability. After 5 1/2 hours of surgery in 2004, the surgeon noted that I had probably been born with Crohn’s Disease rather than having developed it later in life. This was because of symptoms that I had a propensity for as a child. At the time, and I remember some of these painful incidences well, I merely lived through them not realizing (nor did my parents) there was something much more sinister amiss. I am trying to remember a time in my life when I was asymptomatic for Crohn’s and perhaps in my early 20s and when I was first at Dana. Now, however, since fighting this disease in conscious way (circa 1984), I do not really remember having a “normal life” in terms of my health. Some of you who know me in more completely personal manner are probably smiling and questioning any normalcy in my life. Fair enough. For some time the larger question for me has been simple enough. What are the consequences of this abnormal birth weight or gestation? What are the long-term consequences of nine abdominal surgeries and the removal of significant portions of an intestinal tract? Too often (myself included), we see this digestive tract as simply a tube that takes in food, processes it, and expels what is unneeded. It is so much more complex. It is a fundamental part of our immune system.  The surface area of the digestive tract is estimated to be about 32 square meters, or about half a badminton court. With such a large exposure (more than three times larger than the exposed area of our skin), these immune components function to prevent pathogens from entering the blood and lymph circulatory systems.  Fundamental components of this protection are provided by the intestinal mucosal barrier, which is composed of physical, biochemical, and immune elements elaborated by the intestinal mucosa. Microorganisms also are kept at bay by an extensive immune system comprising the gut-associated-lymphoid tissue (GALT) (I owe this previous couple sentences to Wikipedia). After doing more reading, it is not surprising to me, I seem to susceptible to every damn germ that comes my way. This now partial digestive system is fighting the best it can, but between its precarious beginning and what has happened since, I am pretty blessed to do as well as I have. Things were uncertain from the outset, much more parlous than I ever knew. What is much more staggering to realize is how resilient the body is and how my particular body has managed in spite of this malady than I could have ever imagined. While it seems that most of us understand the importance of hydration, what happens when your body does not know how to manage hydration because the main component in hydration no longer exists? The conversation with the gastroenterologist this past week was telling. No real surprises, but facing the reality of the consequences means coming to terms with that uncertain reality once again. Most of the time, I do not focus upon it, but some of the long-term reality and its affects on my daily life have made that more difficult.

What I know most importantly is I have been blessed to live the life I have. I have been so fortunate to meet tremendously talented and good people. I have been able to learn so much about the world in which we live. I have been able to sit at the feet of amazing professors from undergraduate school through a doctoral degree. I have been blessed by phenomenal students in my classes. I have been favored by the presence of terrifically caring people (thinking of so many wonderful people at Comforts of Home); I have been able to travel and meet exceptional people from California to New York, from Texas to the Canadian border. From 1980 to now, I have been fortunate enough to travel to Europe, including East Germany in 1985, more times than I might have ever imagined. Those journeys have always changed my life, from language acquisition to an appreciation for this world in which we live. From food to simple customs, each time there has been a transmogrification from a sheltered NW Iowa boy I once was to someone who has learned things beyond my wildest imagination. As I have noted in many of my earlier posts, the upbringing I had in Sioux City was a typical childhood for someone in the 1960s. We thought life was about playing in the yard, riding our bicycles, coming home when the streetlights came on, going to school and church daily and weekly. And so it was. In spite of things I have written in the past, I was fortunate to grow up in the world I did. I see that as I ponder a world today where so many people in this country are unsure of today, let alone a future. It hurts me as that white person that the country I call home seems so afraid of those who do not look like me or believe in the same God as I do. This is not the world or country in which I believed I was raised. There have been times during the past couple years where I am afraid to read the news, fearing what the newest craziness might be lurking on the daily headlines, but I do not think I am alone in this concern. While it would certainly be easy to point fingers in the current atmosphere, I do not want to do so. As most unmistakably know, I have a certain political bent,  but it is more complex than many might realize. My niece, whom I adore, stated it quite well today. She voted in the past election because she is not a conservative Republican and note, I leave that to interpretation. Fiscally I am more conservative than many might think, and while I am more socially liberal than my fiscal-nature, I might not be as liberal as everyone might assume by my academic profession. What does that mean? It is another example of how I have never been able to be easily compartmentalized. It is because I ponder and try to think beyond the obvious. I do fall into the easily categorized at moments, but that is generally when I am overly frustrated and write or speak before I think as carefully as I should. Sucks to be human at moments.

The next weeks will hopefully allow me some more certainly. While I thought I had every imaginable test done to my altered GI tract, there is the possibility of a new one, encapsulated cartography. What is this you ask? It is actually swallowing a camera and allowing it to take pictures (or is it movies) of my entire (or partial) gastroenterological system. I am not sure this will happen because it is dependent of the endoscopy and ileoscopy that is scheduled soon. I read an article in Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology titled “Crohns (sic) Cartography: Mapping Disease Patterns and Trajectories Using the Lémann Index; Are We Finding our Way?” If you are so inclined you are welcome to read it. If you find it a bit much, it is using a camera to see what sort of patterns they might discover after my three-plus fight with Crohn’s  after examining my insides. It seems like science fiction on one level, but it is actual medical care in this 21st century. That is the thing. If I had been like this even a few decades earlier, most likely I would not be composing a blog in my 60s. The intestinal issues are both at the crux of my concern, but on another level, the easiest to manage. I have been managing the consequences of Crohn’s as an intestinal companion for over 30 years. It is the next level of symptoms that seem to be more problematic (as well as increasing the morbidity). Up to now dehydration has been a inconvenience, but now it has added to the uncertainty that has been another companion. Ostomy moments are one thing to manage. Headaches that create a lack of hearing, an absence of sight, and a complete lost of equilibrium are an entirely different issue, and both a figurative and literal severe pain. Hearing that the consequence of this dehydration are now apparent in my brain matter serves as yet another disconcerting consequence. One of the things I have been able to do, at least until now, is merely live with the consequences and see them as a part of my life to manage. These latest revelations put me in a different place, but, honestly, I am not sure what that place is. That is new for me. It creates an uncertainty I am not sure how to manage, but it is something I have to manage. It is another hurdle to jump. It is something that scares me a bit. I do not remember being scared when I first went into surgery in 1986 for the beginning of this surgical journey that has had 9 major chapters (and numerous footnotes). I remember my Great-aunt Helen telling me I was very brave in 1991 as I laid in a hospital in Scottsdale, AZ. I did not feel brave. I merely felt that I wanted to somehow live a better life than I was. At this point, I am not sure the goal is that much different. I merely want to know the best way to manage this lasting and unwanted companion. Ultimately, the future is uncertain, but that is not any different from anyone else. We are all uncertain and more or less unprepared for tomorrow,  because for the most part, we have less control that we might believe. That is the giftedness of life. It is more unpredictable than we might think. When people complain of boredom, I find myself asking where they live? I have never really been bored and I do not anticipate that will happen anytime soon. However, it is time to get back to the task at hand: grading, writing, commenting, and living this amazing life I have.

Thanks for reading as always.

Dr. Martin