On Pain & Consequences


In the previous blog entry I said I would hopefully be able to report back with good news about my father’s condition.  I will focus on the positive.  Physically he’s improving little by little.  There’s still a long way to go.

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) is a complex malady.  But my dad is showing some positive signs, like I said.  If you pray or meditate or just mindfully take a moment every now and then to reflect, I ask you to focus on something specific:  lung infection/pneumonia and brain injury.


One of my favorite shows is “Impact Survival”.

It’s on the Discovery or Discovery Health Channel.  It surpassed “Mystery Diagnosis” for me a few years ago.  All those types of shows are best watched when recorded on a DVR.  It’s like they have 36 minutes of material and pace it plus add commercials to fill out an hour.

“Impact Survival” shows or recreates true stories of people in accidents and tells the story of their ordeal and recovery.  I learn so much.  You know how on the news you’ll hear of people who have been in accidents or have been attacked and you wonder why some live and some die.  On crime movies and TV shows violence is glamorous.  You don’t get a sense of what it means to be injured and recover.  In a movie, you can recover from three gunshot wounds to the chest and one to the head in a 5 minute montage.  No movie hero ever gets broadsided by a staph infection.

In real life, there’s no dramatic music playing.  No well lit slow motion for dramatic impact.  It’s a blur of time dilation and contraction, a rush of adrenalin, impact and then…

One of the stories that fascinated me most on “Impact Survival” was the 12 year old boy who somehow managed to get himself pinned, standing, against a wall by a stack of dry wall sheets.  I think it was for about 20 minutes.  His grandfather came in the room and found him.  The boy was a little out of it but otherwise seemed okay.  The grandfather pulled the sheets of drywall off of the boy and there didn’t seem to be any injury except for a bruise across the kid’s sternum.

Then the kid passed out.  Rushed to the ER.

One by one, his organs started to fail: kidneys, liver, lungs, heart, brain.

Pinned against the wall by hundreds of pounds of force restricts your breathing as you can imagine.  Low oxygen levels mean that not enough oxygen gets to the organs.  Fluids start to build up in the lungs.  Air can seep from the lungs into the abdominal cavity.  Low blood pressure ensues.  Possible infection of the lungs, leading to sepsis, infection of the blood.  The major organs don’t have the blood they need to function so they start to shut down.

The kidney stops functioning.  Toxins and waste aren’t eliminated and the body begins to poison itself.  The liver stops working.  And so on.  A cascade of failures that can very easily lead to death.  Just like that.  From 20 minutes of being uncomfortably pinned against a wall.

The kid survived.  The show does have “survival” in the title so all of the stories have relatively happy and inspiring endings.  Not everyone is intact and not everyone recovers 100% but considering what they’ve been through, being alive and mobile and enjoying life is a good, good thing.

It would be a very different show if it were titled “Impact Victims”.


I thought about “Impact Survival” when I found out the details of my dad in the ER.  After hours of waiting in the emergency room for some word.  Any word.  Is he going to die?  Is he in a coma?  Tell us something.  My mind raced through different scenarios.  I googled various things and frankly was more mortified than comforted.

So I wanted to say this to all of my friends and family who are willing to listen.  If you’re determined to be set in your ways please close this browser window and return to whatever it is you do with your time.  If you’ve given up on yourself then move along.  There’s nothing to see here.  If you’ve accepted your condition as your identity or as a sentence of some sort then don’t even bother reading on.  Don’t waste your time.

At a recent family gathering, a relative of mine who has serious but manageable health issues was looking for something to drink.  After a few seconds, she said,  “Heck.  Forget it.  I’ll just have some soda.”

Someone else said, “Are you supposed to be drinking soda?”

My relative said, “You’ve got to die from something.”

I’m usually quiet at gatherings.  In general I don’t say a whole lot unless I feel like it’s worth saying.  I’ll listen to lively discussions about politics, Obama, Bush, Gov. O’Donnell, the education system, health care, the wars, race and class, etc.  I don’t say anything.  I just listen.  But I couldn’t help myself in this instance.

I said, “Not from soda!”

A friend wrote somewhere (a comment to a blog entry?) something her husband told her.  It was something like, “You can’t break old, bad habits.  You replace them with new, good ones.”

I’ve been telling my friends, given the monumental crappiness of the past few weeks, that now is a good time to reevaluate our habits.  Now’s the time to start dealing with any bad habits you may have.  In the past three weeks, a friend died and my dad is in critical care at the hospital — best case it will take months or up to a year to get to whatever level of recovery he’s going to get to and we still don’t know what that is — due to bad habits.

I’m hoping at some point that he’ll be able to recognize me.  Or maybe he does already.  So in that case I’m hoping that he’s able to communicate well enough so that I know he recognizes me.  Well, I hope he recovers fully but you get my drift.

In this family medical trauma and drama, I’m seeing all of his bad habits conspire to to take him out.  My father is a smoker and he has a drink now and then.  Guess what can cause cancer. Smoking and alcohol consumption.  I was living in California when he was diagnosed.  I happened to be visiting in Baltimore when he was going through chemo and radiation treatments.

Do you smoke and/or drink?  Here are some things you might like to know about cancer treatments around the throat and neck area:

  • You will have all of your teeth removed
  • You will not be able to taste food since your taste buds will be burned off (for months or years)
  • You may lose your salivary glands
  • You may lose your thyroid gland
  • You will likely have muscle tissue around your neck and mouth removed in numerous surgical procedures that will alter your appearance
  • You will endure agonizing pain
  • You will not be able to eat or drink or swallow without feeling like red hot magma is being poured down your throat
  • You will be on expensive medications for the rest of your life, most likely
  • You will always be rightfully concerned that more growths will develop
  • You will probably have more surgeries to have growths removed if you’re lucky and catch them early
  • You will live with pain

There are things in life I don’t understand.  There are things in life that break my heart.  Seeing a loved one suffer elicits all kinds of emotion.  The entire range.

I’m reminded of a friend that I had a crush on, which doesn’t narrow the field by much.  She started going out with a guy who was … well.  I was there when the first flirting happened and was not happy.  Not just because it wasn’t with me but because it was with him.  I knew things.  Then I heard the stories after they got together and how she was treated.  She kept going back.  She’d be in tears more times than not.  Or humiliated regularly.  In pain.  Not valued.  Devalued.  Kept going back.

I’m reminded of that because my father couldn’t quit smoking.  A bad habit, especially a life long bad habit, does not want to let you go.  He went through hell.  And he couldn’t stop going back.

What I’m saying — what I’m learning — is that every choice or decision has consequences.  There is no escaping them.  You may think you have.  You may do pretty well.  And then during a health scare or crisis, they’ll show up as complications.  They’ll constrict the vessels in your lungs or slow your heart or wildly vacillate your blood pressure.  They may lead to clots, strokes, embolisms, seizures.  They will complicate and lessen your chances of recovery.

I’m not perfect.  But unlike a lot of people — too many people — I learn from other people’s mistakes.

I have a saying that’s part of my personal philosophy:  Adapt or die.

And:  Inflexibility leads to extinction.

The Dark Side

One of the emotions you’ll feel is anger for a loved one.  I’m not even going to get into the guilt thing.  That’s just about overwhelming at times.  And the second guessing of one’s self.  But I’m talking about anger and resentment.  It’s not rational and it’s not fair, I know, but it’s still there.

Like, what were you thinking??  You did this.  Y0u did this to yourself.  I don’t care that it was an accident.  What is going on in your head?  Do you want to go through all that again? Don’t you want to live long enough to meet my wife some day (which may be a long way down the road)?  To hold your only son’s grandkids?  Don’t you want to be around and healthy?  Why are you doing this to yourself?  Why can’t you stop?  Why can’t you f—king stop?

I’ve got relatives who are overweight or have been diagnosed with something or other or have had serious health issues, and they’ll think nothing of eating junk food.  McDonald’s.  Not physically active.  Unfortunately, they get most of their health info from the daily news.  So their reasoning is, “They say one thing and then say another.  You can’t eat anything if you listen to them.  What can you do?”

It drives me crazy.  And then you’ll see people have a health scare and feel sorry for themselves.  Like, “Why me??  What did I do to deserve this?”

It’s maddening.  It wouldn’t be if, uh, if something being inevitable meant that it didn’t hurt.


I don’t know.  Don’t know what my point is.  This is the edited collection of what’s been on my mind for the past week or so.  Just thinking.  Thinking of all the people I love.  All the people I miss.

To be fair, I am seeing an awakening.  My parents’ neighbor was talking to me a few weekends ago about exercising and eating right and eating local, organic food.  My family members are becoming more conscious of what they eat.  And even getting upset when someone brings junk food in the house.  Sometimes.  There hasn’t been a health renaissance yet, but it’s moving in the right direction.

I just wish I could say the right thing.  I’m a writer in my own mind.  I’m a decent teacher.  I’ve discovered that I have a way of working with someone and finding the right words, the right approach, the process that works for them to grasp a concept and turn it into knowledge or action.  Oh, physician, heal thyself.

I wish I could say just the right thing.  You know?  I just want to say … let there be light.

I don’t know if he understood me, but when I visit my dad I tell him, “Fight the infection.  That’s your job.  You’re getting better.  Slowly but surely.  Keep fighting.”

But in all truth, I’m at a loss.  I keep trying to think of magic words.  To bring him back around.  To spark synapses and cause neurons to blossom and bloom.  To motivate and enliven.

I want to do the same for you.  Myself.  Words have power.  They are magical.  Even if they don’t cause anyone to reciprocate, let’s say, or to respond in a predictable way.

They are … magical chaos.  Divine entropy.

Abracadabra.  I create as I speak.


Add Yours
  1. artsymoon

    You are divine goodness. I loved everything you wrote and heard everything loud and clear.

    Just so you know, your health consciousness has rubbed off on me, rubbed off on Khari…etc. In the store today, she pointed out the coconut water that I had gotten from your house and was like, “Look, the coconut stuff Uncle Gary and you drink!”

    Hook and I will heed your words and take care of ourselves so Khari can have us around in tact. Love you lots.


    • garyarthuryoung

      Thank you, Moon. To you and Hook and Khari.

      You know what I like about you? One of the things, I mean. You actually listen to me.

      I suppose this means I’ll have to avoid the 14 oz. steaks at Outback. Holy cow. That sucker was 900 calories on its own.

      For the record, I do eat vegetables regularly. Steamed in the bag are my favorite. A little seasoning, butter or olive oil. You can get creative with the spices and they’re so good. Like, during the day I look forward to having them with dinner.

      Mmmm. Vita Coco.

  2. Janna

    Yeah, you’re a writer out here in the world too, one of the very best.

    I’m a religious reader of your blog even if I don’t always comment, but for some reason I missed the last part of your last post where you mentioned your dad. Gah, so sorry my friend.

    Sometimes I get to thinking my own version of “adapt or die” about people that don’t take care of their health, but then frak, those people are someone’s family. Jesus, those people are in MY family. Then if I really take a closer look, I’m solidly in the overweight category too. Damn.

    I’m really sorry about your dad, you and he will be in my thoughts.


    • garyarthuryoung

      Of all the Bananas I know, you’re my fav.

      Well, you know. I’m not exactly Mr. Slim Jim myself. But I am physically active. Some phases more than others, but I do like to move it move it.

      And you’re biking and running and what not. And cooking delicious, healthy food.

      I’m willing to bet that your system is in much better shape than a lot of visibly skinny women.

      Oh, I wish they all could be California girls. And that I lived in California.

      Keep it up, mamacita.

      Thank you for … being you, J-MO.

    • garyarthuryoung

      Thank you, T. Subtle.

      Sorry for not responding earlier. Happy very belated birthday.

      Hope the new place is working out. (Pun intended.)

  3. sheilafaulstich


    This post has touched a few nerves….in a good way 🙂

    Ive been going thru ‘a swap of habits’ myself. Its been a rough go, but Im hoping that I havent stopped many of them too late.

    I have had too many people around me suffer from varying cancers in various locations….I have watched almost all of them suffer for being too obstinate and honestly hope that Im not too hard headed for my own good!

    Ill be keeping you and your family in my prayers 🙂

    • garyarthuryoung

      Hey, Sheila.

      Keep up your habit swapping. It’s all a process.

      Thank you for your support. Hope all’s well on your end and that you’re staying out of trouble. 🙂

  4. Heather

    Gary – Much love to you. You & your dad are in my thoughts. I know what it’s like to watch your dada suffer. I remember begging my parents to quit smoking when I was a child. But, I digress…

    One of the things I think about now that I am a mom and am approaching 40 is how I can be around for all those things. I was in a race on Sat and imagined my dad running next to me. It was powerful and overwhelming at the same time. May you never have to picture your dad riding next to you. Here’s hoping you have the opportunity IRL.

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