Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The good news is that we survived a bad news year

1/11/12 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

There’s no doubt about it, 2011 was a rough year. Setting aside the circumstances over which we have absolutely no control—wars, economic downturns, natural and manmade disasters—almost everyone I know struggled through the calendar year 2011.

For some of us it was a frustrating, heartbreaking, what’s-going-to-happen-next, kind of year. It was one of those really horrible, terrible, very bad years. The kind of year that lingers in your mind forever: “Remember, 2011? Wow. I didn’t think it would ever end.”

Now, I know all the clichés about how to cope with hard times. I know that life is composed of the good and the bad. I know that rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. I also know that no matter how bad things are, they will change. Blah, blah, blah.

But let’s face it if you’re going through a tough time, you don’t need clichés, you need help. Hard times aren’t imaginary. Bad things do happen to good people (another cliché) and I noticed a lot of good people suffering this past year—accidents, financial setbacks, deaths and illnesses. Our family was no exception.

January 2011 started out with a bang—literally. Matthew, my 17-year old grandson was broadsided by a driver (who did not have the right-of-way) turning into him. His car was totaled and he spent time in the hospital with broken ribs and a collapsed lung. The car was replaceable but Matt’s chance at a college scholarship for his track prowess was destroyed.

In the fall of 2010 I had arthroscopic knee surgery for meniscus tears. I did fine. Then, early last year, I heard a pop, went down on my knees and have really never gotten back up since. As the months went by, fluid removal and many injections did not help. Another MRI revealed that I no longer have an ACL (pop!) and I’m walking bone-on-bone. So much for the lifetime benefits of exercise and aerobics classes. I can’t believe the doctors are saying “knee replacement.”

During the summer, our youngest son lost his 22-year position as the founding pastor of a church because of the economy. One-third of his congregation was out of work; they could no longer pay the mortgage or the pastor. We are now very familiar with the word “unemployed.”

In October, we lost a precious niece to suicide. We are still shocked at the unfathomable loss of a talented, vivacious and perfectly adorable young woman. It is heartache beyond description. We will always be numb with grief and disbelief.

And then came Nov. 18, 2011. That night, my husband’s sudden abdominal pain began a nightmare that turned into three Emergency Room trips, an ambulance ride, many surgeries and procedures, doctors and stays in Intensive and Cardiac Care. Over the holidays, he was in and out of hospitals for six weeks.

What happened? Well, unfortunately, his infected gallbladder burst during the initial surgery, dumping ‘sludge’ into the abdominal cavity. That resulted in abscess formations and all the complications written in fine print on those papers you sign when you go into the hospital for a procedure. He had his last procedure Jan. 4, 2012. Praise God!

So where am I going with all of this? Well, we’re just one family that was coping with wave after wave of difficulties last year. Multiply us by thousands and you’ll find a heap of hurt in our world. And it helps if we take notice that others are in the same or similar boat—just coping and trying to get through the days.

That is not to say that good things didn’t happen. Last year, like all others, love brought couples together, babies were born, friendships were made, vacations were taken, graduates went out into the world, the sick were healed, sunrises and sunsets were enjoyed. In a way, it was business as usual. Our world operates on a delicate balance between good and bad.

But balancing life during stressful times is not easy. During Chuck’s weeks in the hospital I had to force myself to look up and outside of the hospital walls. I had to remind myself that “This, too shall pass.” Subconsciously, my mantra became, “We’ve done it before, we can do it again.” Giving yourself a pep talk is not an easy task when your loved one is in a life or death situation but it is necessary.

“Tough times don’t last, tough people do,” is another cliché worth adopting. One must make positive choices during tough times and not become a victim of circumstances. Choosing to look on the bright side of things is easy to say but difficult to do when you’re weighed down with physical, mental or emotional trauma.

So how does one really cope when dealing with the horrific or unknown? I distilled my coping mechanisms down to the basics:
1. Focus on what’s important (the patient, the procedure, etc).
2. Become an advocate (for myself or others).
3. Don’t become frantic or fearful. I meditated or listened to inspirational music in the car as I drove back and forth.
4. Have faith. Keep looking up and believing.

As I write this we’re already well into this month of January. None of us know what this year 2012 will bring but I wish you hope, health and happiness. We’re all in this life together, so bring it on!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Contact her at 942-1317 or via e-mail — bchatty@bettykaiser.com

Friday, January 6, 2012

Looking back: Edison's Vision for 2011

12/28/11 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

At the end of each calendar year I find myself looking back and trying to gain some perspective on events in my personal life and the world around me. I seldom come up with any earthshaking insights and while I’m looking ahead to the future, I’m not one to make any New Year’s resolutions or predictions. Facts have always been more appealing to me than speculation.

But some people are brazen enough to predict what they think the future holds. One of those was Thomas Alva Edison, the most prolific inventor in American history. His hundreds of inventions ran the gamut from electric power, batteries, motion pictures, phonographs, sound recording and cement—to telegraphs and telephones.

History has proven Edison’s brilliance. So in 1911 when he was asked to predict what life would be like in one hundred years (2011), he was up to the challenge. But before I quote his thoughts, let’s first take a look at how different life was from today at the turn of the twentieth century.

The American flag had 45 stars. Only 6-percent of students graduated from high school and two out of every 10 adults couldn’t read or write. Crossword puzzles and canned beer hadn’t been invented. Crime rates were low— about 230 murders in the entire country. And of course, there were no cell phones or computers.

The average life expectancy for men was 47 years. The five leading causes of death were pneumonia and influenza, tuberculosis, diarrhea, heart disease and stroke. Marijuana, heroin and morphine were available over the counter at drugstores.

The average wage in America was 22 cents per hour and the average yearly wage was $200—$400. An accountant could expect to earn $2,000 per year; a dentist or veterinarian $1500-$4,000 per year; and a mechanical engineer about $5,000. Ninety percent of all doctors had no college education. Instead, they attended (often questionable and substandard) medical schools.

A Sears-Roebuck catalog house with a screened porch, built-in buffet and inside bath could be purchased for about $1,100. Just 14 percent of homes had a bathtub and only eight percent had a telephone. In the entire country there were only 8,000 cars and 144 miles of paved roads; fuel was sold in drugstores. Sugar cost four cents a pound, coffee 15-cents a pound and eggs 14-cents a dozen.

It was in this environment on June 23, 1911 that the “Miami Metropolis” interviewed Edison and published his startling predictions about the future of automobiles, the discontinuation of gold as precious metal, the rise of steel and the death of the steam engine. I quote in part from “The Year 2011 According to Thomas Edison,” by an unknown author:

“None but a wizard dare raise the curtain and disclose the secrets of the future; and what wizard can do it with so sure a hand as Mr. Thomas Alva Edison…He alone of all men who live has the necessary courage and gift of foresight, and he has not shrunk from the venture.

“Already, Mr. Edison tells us, the steam engine is emitting its last gasps…In the year 2011 such railway trains as survive will be driven at incredible speed by electricity…generated by "hydraulic" wheels.

“But the traveler of the future… will largely scorn such earth crawling. He will fly through the air, swifter than any swallow, at a speed of two hundred miles an hour, in colossal machines, which will enable him to breakfast in London, transact business in Paris and eat his luncheon in Cheapside.

“The house of the next century will be furnished from basement to attic with steel, at a sixth of the present cost — of steel so light that it will be as easy to move a sideboard as it is today to lift a drawing room chair. The baby of the twenty-first century will be rocked in a steel cradle; his father will sit in a steel chair at a steel dining table, and his mother's boudoir will be sumptuously equipped with steel furnishings, converted by cunning varnishes to the semblance of rosewood, or mahogany, or any other wood her ladyship fancies.

“Books of the coming century will all be printed leaves of nickel, so light to hold that the reader can enjoy a small library in a single volume. A book two inches thick will contain forty thousand pages, the equivalent of a hundred volumes; six inches in aggregate thickness, it would suffice for all the contents of the Encyclopedia Britannica. And each volume would weigh less than a pound.

“More amazing still, this American wizard sounds the death knell of gold as a precious metal. ‘Gold,’ he says, ‘has even now but a few years to live. The day is near when bars of it will be as common and as cheap as bars of iron or blocks of steel.

“’In the magical days to come there is no reason why our great liners should not be of solid gold from stem to stern; why we should not ride in golden taxicabs, or substituted gold for steel in our drawing room suites. Only steel will be the more durable, and thus the cheaper in the long run.’”

Well, Mr. Edison missed the mark on some of his predictions: i.e. an entire house and furnishings of steel and a plethora of transportation made of gold, but some ideas weren’t so far off. Electric trains, massive airplanes, a few cars sprayed with real gold and Kindle type E-Books are certainly mini-libraries.

Now that 2011 is drawing to a close, it would be interesting to pick Thomas Edison’s brain about what the next 100 years might hold. On second thought, sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Happy New Year 2012, everyone! May your joys be many and your sorrows few as you live each day in gratitude with hope for tomorrow.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.