Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Archive for December, 2018

Sunday musings…A New Year’s Compilation

2018. Each New Year’s celebration seems to bring with it some new manifestation of the wonders of family. The joy that is family, at least the good part of family. This certainly entails more than a bit of collective selective viewing and a willful effort to let pass transgressions that might at other times be the undersea earthquake that births a massive tsunami. Still, each year some lovely little something lights the hearth fire that warms our hearts.

This year was no different. Yesterday was spent in the tiniest of small town Vermont churches for a family wedding. Big city cousins invited all the kin to celebrate a marriage literally no one saw coming, in a way that not a soul predicted. And it was perfect. A new couple was ushered into familyhood by children, peers, and parents. Hope and love competed in a good-natured contest to see which would be the prevailing emotion.

All in all it was that most lovely of gatherings in which you arrived hopeful and left heartfull.

–There are certain weekends on which it seems OK to re-visit past thoughts. New Year’s might be one of them. In the spirit of the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal…

1) Hope. Chief Justice John Roberts gave a commencement speech to a group of 9th graders this year in which he wished them “bad luck”. Now, lest you think ill of the Chief Justice, that he was being churlish and mean-spirited, what he meant was that he wished that these young people would experience some degree of hardship in their youth so that they would develop tactics to persevere as adults when those same hardships inevitably arose.

“I hope you will be treated unfairly, to that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal, because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. I hope that you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life, and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.

And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so that you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you have just enough pain to learn compassion.”

My hope for each of you is encapsulated in Justice Roberts’ conclusion: I hope that you will have the ability to see the message in any of your misfortunes, and that you will express appreciation for the people who help you overcome them.

2) Indulgence. ‘Tis the season, eh? Indulgence at this time of year, at least in the Judeo-Christian world, is rather obvious. I watch my nutrition all year so that I can eat pie at Thanksgiving and cookies at Christmas. Neither of which I weigh or measure, by the way.

There’s an aspect of guilt when it comes to indulgence. It’s more than just the occasional treat. An inch of dark chocolate on your Paleo Diet doesn’t really cut it, and if you consider that an indulgence it’s probably time to loosen up a bit. I was thinking that the ultimate First World indulgence is the un-timed hot shower, but anything that occurs on a daily basis probably doesn’t count either.

Uh uh…indulgence involves a certain sense of not only excess but also a bit of “I really shouldn’t”. Jay McInerney: “I find the shadow of guilt always adds piquancy to any indulgence. It’s almost more pleasurable, feeling slightly guilty.” As a boy raised Catholic by a mother who openly admired the way her Jewish friends raised their kids (producing what I’ve come to call “double guilt”), I definitely get the “shadow of guilt” angle to indulgence, especially with ones that only occur on rare occasions.

Others, though, indulge in ways both frequent and grand. Indulgence writ large, if you will. Take, for example, Lilly Bollinger and her approach to Champagne: “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it–unless I’m thirsty.” Man, THAT woman knows how to indulge. Not much guilt evident, either. I’m sure my Mom wouldn’t approve, and I’m equally sure that Lilly wouldn’t care.

In a perfect world we would all be more like Lilly Bollinger, indulging on a daily basis in something that brings us pleasure with or without a side of guilt. The world, as I’ve said, is messy, no matter where it is you might live. Indulgence is what you make of it, and it’s probably a good thing that we have this Holiday Season during which we give ourselves permission to indulge a bit. Life is messy and life is hard–you’ve earned it.

[Raises flute]

3) Resolution. Let me leave 201[8] with a final thought, inspired by Ben Reiter’s review of the movie “I, Tonya”.

“Each of us, “I, Tonya” suggests, is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done–or, in Tonya’s case, the worst thing she might have done.” In our present days of instantly available and infinitely scalable opinion, we should add the worst thing someone says we did.

Let us, each of us, resolve that in 201[9] we will look first to that which is good about each other, and endeavor to see that each of us is more like the best thing we’ve ever done than not.

Happy New Year.

I’ll see you next week…

Eyecare Out Loud Episode 8 EMR Follies Part 2: Reclaim the Stories in Medicine

Episode 8 of my Ocular Surgery News  podcast. There is hope, however slight and far into the future. I think that hope lies in physicians and their patients reclaiming the stories that are the underpinnings of our relationships.

https://www.healio.com/ophthalmology/podcasts/eye-care-out-loud/episode-8

 

Eyecare Out Loud Episode 7: EMR Follies Part 1

Here is the direct link to my “anything goes” podcast on eyecare. In this episode I introduce the background behind EMR and computers in medicine in general.

https://www.healio.com/ophthalmology/podcasts/eye-care-out-loud/episode-7

Copy and past into your browser, at least until I figure out how to put a hyperlink into this blog!

Santa Will Always Be Real

“Santa is the Spirit of Giving. He is always real.” –Beth White

Once again my darling wife Beth knocks it out of the park. We have a couple of little ones again in the White house, and because of that we will have a healthy dose of Santa in our lives. While I realize that Beth and I will not really have a say in whether or not the whole Santa Claus story plays out in our grandchildren’s houses, what he stands for is important. Important enough for us to have had him in all his splendor and glory when The Heir, Lovely Daughter, and Lil’bingo were growing up. Important for us to draw out the time before Lil’bingo came to the realization that Santa was not a real person for as long as possible, so deep was his love for the furry fat guy he called “Key Klaus”.

Rest assured, the parental units in Clan White did struggle with how to handle the inherent subterfuge that is necessary to have the Santa Claus story as part of our children’s upbringing. From the very beginning, though, the message was about the giving, about generosity and caring enough about someone else that you not only gave them a gift, but you gave them a gift that let them know how much you cared about them. You know, the “spirit” in the Spirit of Giving, if you will.

No matter how you massage it, that day of reckoning when your child finally realizes that the character Santa Claus is nothing more than the figurative representation of the giving concept can be fraught with all kinds of emotional trauma. For sure you might get a dose of “you lied to me”, but in my now decades of experience being around parents it’s actually rather rare for this one to pop up. What you generally face is sadness, with maybe a touch of disappointment and even mourning tossed in just to add a little sting to the moment. Like so much else about parenting, or even just about kindness, these are times when you get to talk about and teach really important lessons. Here the lesson is about giving of yourself, with or without a physical gift to actually give.

While thinking about this we stumbled upon a lovely little story about how one family handled both the “Santa isn’t real” revelation and the “Santa is real” in spirit thing. Heck, the story may even be true! A Dad sensed that his son was pretty much on the cusp of discovering that the guy in the red suit wasn’t really the real deal. His approach? He talked to his son about how he sensed that he, the son, looked like he was not too sure about the Santa Claus character. The Dad complimented his son on being a caring young man: “Everyone who cares, who is generous can be a Santa. I’m very impressed by how kind you are. I think you are ready to become a Santa, too.”

The Dad went on to ask his son to think about someone in his world who looked like they were sad. Maybe a bit lonely even. He tasked the boy with thinking very hard about what that person might really like as a present. Something they needed, and something that would express that whoever gave it to them realized this need, and cared enough to give them a present that helped to meet that need. There was a catch, though: the recipient was never to know who gave them the gift. For the son the satisfaction was in the caring and in the giving, not in the recognition and praise that might follow.

It doesn’t really matter who the child chose or what he gave; you can trust that the story–true or not–is just lovely right to the end. What matters is that this very young boy is escorted through what can be a very sad stage in a young life by a caring and thoughtful parent. On the other side of this journey emerges a young man who has learned the true meaning of Santa Claus in the secular Christmas story. He has learned that what matters about Santa Claus is real indeed, and always has been.

Santa Claus is the Spirit of Giving. He will always be real.

Sunday musings… While Babysitting

Our little cottage is filled to the gills with a couple of our grandchildren while their parents enjoy a weekend away. I’ve forgotten how intense it is to take care of little ones all day for several days. Making things a bit more challenging, the Littles have some kind of bug that has laid both of them low with fevers and all the fixins. For all of my efforts to demonstrate my evolution as a partner in the parenting game a couple of things are starkly evident. I am much more capable of devoting the entirety of my attention to the blocking and tackling of caring for grandchildren. Despite that, just like it was with our own kids, 90% of the time only Grammy will do; my role is to be ever-ready on the sidelines in “point-and-shoot” mode when she needs me.

While I feel I should be doing more, that the bar for my success as a teammate is ludicrously low, in the end this is essentially what Landon, Lila, and Beth need from me this weekend.

Esquire has a cover article on Bruce Springsteen that I’m slowly working through, one that spends quite a bit of time on Springsteen’s lifelong quest to figure out who he really is. He has a funny little quirk. Each time the writer asks a question that requires a deeper bit of self-awareness Springsteen looks into a mirror in his office before he answers. It’s as if he needs to be reminded that he is answering as Bruce, or supposed do be answering as Bruce, not BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN. Almost like he is parsing the question “who am I when it’s just me looking in the mirror” before each answer.

Making this an even bigger challenge, the whole “who am I” thing keeps changing. The longer we live the more versions of ourselves emerge. Some of them even real! Returning for a moment to our weekend with the Littles, Papi really is a different but altogether real version of who I am at this moment in life. For sure I am no less frustratable, and I probably don’t really have all that much more patience than I did as Dad. Oh no. I feel all of that now, too. The difference is that for whatever reason I have now essentially embraced these and other feelings as an essential part of an activity that I truly want to engage in. Today I acknowledge their presence and experience rather than avoid them.

Who does this make me now? Springsteen had a famously fraught relationship with a father who never really accepted who he, Springsteen, was as a child and a young adult. As a father himself Springsteen learned to be present in the lives of his kids, and to at least try to accept them for who they are at any given moment in their lives. No matter how well or how poorly we may be at either or both of those with our kids, grandchildren give us a Mulligan. A do-over if you will, at least if you are fortunate enough to have a chance to be in their lives.

Many years ago I wrote about a long weekend spent in the mountains of Colorado in the company of friends at the time. Adult weekend we called it. What I recall was a rare feeling that for pretty much the whole weekend I felt like I was exactly who I thought I was when I looked in the mirror. At least the good parts of who I thought I was then. Pretty cool weekend. Interestingly it was a pretty easy weekend, too. No posing. No trying to anticipate what others expected, wanted, or needed. I just woke up and gave everyone whatever felt like the best part of me available at a given moment. Though I had no idea of the changes that were about to occur I had a pretty good idea of who I was that weekend.

Now? Ha! I can’t even figure out what the mirror even is right now. Is it truly the mirror over my sink, the one that reminds me of all the miles I’ve traveled and hours I’ve flown in the memory lines of my face? Could be. Always has been. Still, it may never have been that at all. The mirror in the mountains may have been my friends, and Beth, and how we were, all together. Today it may be the face of the children, or of Beth, as we make our way through this feverish weekend.

Or it’s all of those. That’s probably it. All of them. The mirror in the bathroom is the measure of where we are at the moment. It’s a good thing to know who you are at any given time. There are mirrors all around us that show us where we are going, or perhaps where we should be trying to go. I really would like to be enough for the Littles, but there are times when it will be someone else who they will need to be their enough. My role is to be ready if it’s ever my turn. Their faces tell me if I’ve learned enough patience, or if I’m as “in the moment” as I think I am. None of the mirrors lie to you, at least they don’t if you have your eyes open.

As the years have gone by I’ve become better at knowing who I am at any given moment when I look in the mirror.  Who I still need to become is there too, just in a different kind of mirror.

I’ll see you next week…

 

Sunday musings… A New Home

With the inaugural post here on Random Thoughts on April 4, 2009 I became a writer. It doesn’t take very much to be a writer, you know. A bit of free time and either a blank piece of paper or an empty draft space on a computer is the table stake. As soon as you mark that paper or hit the first key…SHAZAM!…you’re a writer. You may be very good, able to carve out  something that looks an awful lot like art. Or not. It doesn’t really matter, you see. If you write then ipso facto, you are a writer.

Now whether or not you are any good, or whether or not what you write has any value outside of what you, the writer, get out of it is another issue entirely. Why do you write? For whom are you writing? To whom, if anyone, are you writing? All of these questions may or may not be important, but the reality is that they only might become important if anyone other than you reads what you have written. If you write it is reasonable to presume that you, like me, get some benefit from the act of the writing. Beyond that we move into the murky world of motives and mercantilism, and since this little space is simply an extension of the chaos inside my little “Restless Mind” I will just leave your own “beyond” to you.

Over the years I have written in several places for several reasons to several audiences. Today marks the return home for all of my thoughts save for those in my professional world of eye care (which may also have a tiny place here as well). Some of you  stumbled upon my alter ego, “bingo”, in the fitness world where I have written “Sunday musings…” for some 10 years or so. Writing to the CrossFit community as a way to thank them, and CrossFit itself, for giving me a place to continue my life as an athlete, each Sunday I have tried to add a bit of thoughtfulness to our shared physical pursuits. “Sunday musings…” has often found itself here, and those essays and little thoughtlettes have occasionally gone on to become some of my better pieces when I gave them a longer look. “Into the Light” remains one of my favorite essays, and where that one piece has sent me both as a writer and a human being has been simply extraordinary.

Why now? Why bring everything home to “Random Thoughts”? Two things, really. First, the world is a whole lot more complex, and sadly much less kind and friendly than it was when I started talking to my fellow CrossFitters so long ago. Like the greater world at large there is at least as much emphasis on what separates us as that which we share. There one no longer writes on the equivalent of a chalk board at a commune of like-minded fitness “infidels” but rather under the watchful eyes of a grown-up digital company that acts to protect itself in a highly competitive business world. Mind you, this is neither good nor bad, it is simply the way of the world as it is today.

I envisioned myself writing “Sunday musings…” in the living room or while sitting at a dining room table in the “CrossFit home”. Everything I wrote came through a kind of filter that emanated from that scenery. I strove to be courteous, to write as if I was speaking as a guest at a party or dinner. One must be ever and always kind to one’s host, no? It’s not so much that I have the urge or the need to change what I write or how I say it, only that it now feels more like I’m sitting in the outer offices of a company with whom I do business, complete with everything that we have all come to associate with that. It’s hardly a CrossFit thing; take a look at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Heck, in my professional writing I have to self-censure because people read my drivel and are foolish enough to make business decisions based on my ramblings and my rants.

Why do I write? As I said in the very first post here I have found it very helpful in more ways than I can count to simply empty some of the space in my very restless mind so that there is room for growth. That kinda answers the next question, doesn’t it? I am writing for myself. Working out what I am thinking, and more so what I am feeling, has been incredibly helpful as I have navigated my little life’s journey. Sitting down to write every Sunday has imposed a tiny bit of discipline, not unlike having a workout schedule. Even if my life at any given moment was too whatever to write, each Sunday I would do whatever it took to write a little something. Again, not unlike going to the gym, the more I’ve done it the better I’ve gotten at doing it.

Which leaves only the question of whom it is I am writing to. It is flattering beyond belief that there is even one person who reads anything that I’ve written, let alone finds something in it that speaks to them. The fact is, I would be doing this even if you, a reader, wasn’t there. That you are, and more, that every now and again something I’ve written is in some way meaningful to you, well, that is just a wonderful gift from you to me. The equivalent of putting your hand in the front pocket of your jeans and finding a dollar bill. You can’t plan your budget around that, you know, but it makes you smile every time it happens.

“Sunday musings…” has become a tiny part of who I think I am when I look in the mirror. Beginning today it comes home the “Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind”. With a little bit of luck I will continue to sit down each Sunday morning and empty out a little corner of my internal hard drive. If some part of that moves you in any way, well, that will be that much better.

I’ll see you next week…

70, 200, 500, 1000 & 86,400 (Hat Tip to Parag M)

Imagine, if you will, that each day, precisely when you awaken, 86,400 pennies are deposited into your bank account. Every. Single. Day. Each night when you go to sleep whatever is left of that 86,400 pennies is removed from your account; every day you have to find some way to spend 86,400 pennies. What would you do? Would you put it in another account and let it grow slowly over time? Invest it in stocks or some other long-term plan? Get a bigger mortgage or a fancier car and use your pennies to make payments? Or would you perhaps give your pennies away, or even use your pennies for your own daily expenses and therefore buy the freedom to do, or be whatever it is that makes you (or those you love) happiest?

Would you spend a penny for the freedom to use your own time?

Of course many of you knew exactly where this little ditty was going to go as soon as you saw “86,400″, the famous number at the heart of Jim Valvano’s famous ESPY Awards speech as he was dying from cancer. There are 86,400 seconds in each day. No more and no less. You can’t bank them and save them for a rainy day. Each second has precisely the same value in that each sentence can only be filled by that which you choose. Valvano asked “how are you going to spend your 86,400?”

Another way to look at this is to ask what is your time worth to you. We’ve all heard the time-worn trope that “time is money”. Interestingly, the more affluent we become as a society, and the more affluent individuals become, the less time we all seem to have. Odd…ironic…isn’t it? I recently came across new terms: time poverty and time affluence. Interestingly, those at both extremes of the income scale can have either. It is striking that even the wealthiest among us, man and women who can (and do) pay to have all manner of the messy and menial tasks of their lives done by others (lawn, laundry, livery, etc.) find themselves swimming in an anxious and ever-shallower pool of time.

To be sure many of these time-poor individuals who are resource-rich are buying time to be busy at that which made them resource-rich in the first place, and those who are time-wealthy cannot use their time to acquire resources for whatever reason. For most of us, though, we do have some measure of control over how we spend those 86,400 pennies. Sometimes you must put a real number, a real value on your time.

This weekend I attended a meeting of a very special professional group that includes some of my very closest professional friends. It meant time away from my practice, time that produces on average some $1000/hour of revenue when you look at all of my activities (note: this is revenue to the practice that mostly goes to overhead, sadly not income to me!). Our meeting was generously supported by some 16 companies that do business in my space, companies for whom many of us consult. One of our guest speakers pointed out that the government has decreed that consultants in healthcare cannot be paid more than $500/hour (though most make much, much less than that), an arbitrary number when you are talking about a physician who might generate $5000/hour (think neurosurgeon). Still, it is possible to “price” time for almost anyone. Heck, your favorite hospital administrator or health insurance CEO would like you to think that they are a bargain at ~$1500-$3000/hour because they, and they alone are responsible for the aggregate revenue (~$10-$100MM/hour) of their institution!

In reality our time is much less expensive in dollar terms but much more expensive and valuable in, well, life terms. My real responsibilities at this meeting ended around 6:30 Friday evening. But these are my people; this is my professional “tribe”. I chose to spend the evening with them, and they with me. Doing so meant another night at the hotel so I shaved some pennies off of my expenses by booking a flight home the following evening at 8 (the meeting was completely done at noon on Saturday), something I instantly regretted the minute I got on my outbound flight. What did I do about that? I found an earlier flight at 4 and “bought” myself 4 more hours with my darling wife for $50/hour.

A bargain, at least for me.

So why stay at all on Friday night you might ask? Well, everyone around you is also making the exact same kind of decisions about their time. Most of my friends chose to spend Friday night together out to dinner just down the street from our hotel. Not only that but at least a couple of them spent a few of their collective pennies playing a joke on me. I didn’t even notice that all 60 or so of them in the restaurant had gathered around the table where I sat as the waiter brought a “Happy 70th Birthday” cake, complete with candle and a whole restaurant serenading me! The fact that I am 58 and my birthday is in January is irrelevant. My friends spent their “pennies” to make me laugh.

There are 86,400 seconds deposited in your account each day until the day when they’re not. Each one of us gets to decide, at least some of the time, how much each one of those seconds is worth and how we will spend them. Sometimes, like my first 70th Birthday Party, those seconds are the perfect gift.

Each in its own way priceless.

 

 

Sunday musings…

Sunday musings…

1) 41. George Herbert Walker Bush, patriot. RIP.

2) C8. The next version of the Corvette will no longer have the engine up front, thus ending the prominent proboscis  responsible in part for the iconic look.

Count my vote as “unlikely” for any new mid-engine design making middle-aged men look any less ridiculous driving one.

3) Tree. Why is decorating your Christmas tree called “trimming” the tree? Anybody?

The more stuff we put on ours the less “trim” is looks. Just saying…

4) Nexus. Readers of my drivel are aware of my fitness tracker…ahem…problem. I’m pretty sure I’ve tried and eventually abandoned no fewer than a dozen of the so-called “wearables” in my quest to record some actionable measurement of my exercise. I’ve been through simple steps trackers (not useful at all in my not humble at all opinion), HR monitors (reasonably useful as a marker of relative intensity), and instruments that measure HR variability (likely a useful measurement of both “stress” and recovery). (As an aside, measuring PO2 is pretty cool, but probably only useful if you are exercising at altitude.) While they all represent pretty cool tech, not a one of them is really useful when it comes to measuring the things that I think are meaningful when we discuss real fitness: work and power.

And not for nothing, none of them is anywhere near as much fun as my first ever tracker, the late and (at least for me) much lamented Nike Fuel Band.

But I think I’m onto something real. Big-time sports programs of all sorts have found it valuable to measure power and acceleration, and a company called “Push” has been supplying an instrument that can measure both. A couple of years ago folks in the fitness world started asking them if their tracker could be used to measure work done during a something like a WOD. After 2 years of fine-tuning the movement acquisition capabilities of their tracker and the sophistication of their algorithms I think we may finally have a gadget that measures your workout. I had great hopes for the Biostrap but gave up after finding it nearly impossible for it to recognize movements. The Nexus package of tracker and app are worth exploring.

Once again I am drawn back…

5) Three. Number of funerals we had this weekend. We were one wedding short of some kind of anti-RomCom (neither Andie Mcdowell nor Hugh Grant made an appearance). A beloved coach, a beloved peer, and a beloved mother (in-law) were all memorialized. We could only attend one, but I’ve been in touch with friends who made it to the others. All three were similar in that everyone seems to have taken my friend Bill the Surgeon’s advice and made their peace with the departed. This left us all with only our memories of the love we shared with our coach, our friend, and Beth’s Mom.

I’ve written this before, but on such a weekend it bears repeating. One should say 4 things often and with ease, not only in the course of completing a life’s work or concluding a life’s relationships, but in the course of living a life:
Please forgive me.
I forgive you.
Thank you.
I love you.

Sounds simple, huh? Maybe even a little trite, but none these is easy to say. Each one of those little phrases is a bit of a minefield, laden with a hidden meaning and a back story, each one the mid-point in a little journey with a “before” you know, and an after you can’t predict. There’s a little risk in that “after”, and that’s why those 4 little phrases aren’t really all that simple. Why considering this is not at all trivial. All 4 or those little phrases make you look outward, look at another, and in so looking they force you to put yourself at the mercy of that other.

With so many farewells I’ve spent a lot of this weekend thinking about those 4 essential things and about how they fit into a life. We are, each of us, part of a tiny little ecosystem; thinking about using these phrases encourages us to look outward and see the others in our own worlds. Saying them let’s us follow the guidance of Bill, shared most recently and succinctly in a note last week: “Say it now, for we know not when.” It was heartwarming to hear our friends and family so openly expressing not only their love for the three cherished ones we’d lost, but also to and for each other.

Please forgive me.
I forgive you.
Thank you.
I love you.

It’s been a long couple of years and I’m ready to stop thinking about death and dying for a while.

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

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