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Archive for May, 2010

Once I was blind…

Monday, May 16, 2010

It is, admittedly, a stretch to compare my condition with blindness.  I’m not blind.  These are simply aging eyes.  They have served me well for many years.  But my visual world has made steady, unwelcome progress toward dimming; blurring.  Tuesday last week, in just fifteen minutes, my ophthalmologist did an extraordinary thing.

For Dr. Kahn, it was certainly something less that extraordinary.  You might even call it ordinary, just another day in the life of the young physician.  They had us all lined up that fateful morning over at the outpatient Surgicenter.   Efficiencies matter, health costs being what they are.  So by noon, he performed seventeen lens replacements, including mine.  All before lunch.  (He’s done as many as thirty in one day; the total count is well into the thousands.  And he’s a young guy.)

The equipment is state of the art.  The anesthesiologist was on hand.  A crew of nurses and medical assistants got me ready.  I stepped on the scale.  As always, knowing that my shoes and wallet and keys and belt and jeans and shirt all add to the already inflated number that will be noted in my file, I asked if it would be permissible for me to remove my clothing first.  They didn’t even laugh.  My guess is that I’m not the only clever patient they see during any given day.  Come to think of it, they’re probably fresh off the mandatory harassment-in-the-work-place course.  Perhaps my feeble attempt at humor made it to the file, too, right along with my weight.

I requested the appointment because I suspected cataracts.  My vision, particularly in my left eye, deteriorated noticeably.  In bright light, just at the center of the frame, there was an awful blur.  I couldn’t follow the golf ball.  Airplanes disappeared in the sky.  I would often ask Carolyn to read the big green freeway signs; and if I was alone, it was pure guesswork.  “You’re really making me nervous,” she would say.  I’d wave it off like the man I am.

My G.P. gave me the go-ahead to see Dr. Kahn.  He shined that bright light directly into my eyeball as he peered through the scope.  “Yep, that’s a beauty,” he said out loud.  A cataract.  (I was relieved.  It could have been something more ominous, like macular degeneration, burned out retina or some other frightful thing.)  “Let’s book it.”

And as a part of the routine, he checked my right eye, too.  “Uh huh.  We’ve got another one,” he said as though he caught a second fish.  And in a manner of speaking, I suppose he did.

I checked in as scheduled on Tuesday.  Behind the curtain, I removed my clothes as instructed (no comments, no more jokes) from the waist up and then covered myself with one of those open-back gowns, paper and paper cap with elastic band.  They laid me down on a gurney, my head resting nicely on a pillow.  They checked all my vitals, attached an I.V.  A pleasant assistant applied a “numbing gel” directly on my left eye after she put an “X” with a marker over my left eyebrow.  (They don’t want the doctor to get confused.)  I think that’s about the time the drugs kicked in.  I was wonderfully relaxed (like you’ve had a couple drinks, the anesthesiologist explained) and before I knew it, that bright light was in my eye again.  I was conscious; I could hear the doc and his assistants chattering away.  They spoke of the brownies in the lounge (“Awesome!“) and their weekend exploits.  I recall nothing that had anything remotely to do with the task at hand; my eye or my state of mind.  They just worked and chatted and joked.

I won’t attempt to describe in any real detail what I saw; it was surreal; like three little white marbles spinning and turning; a dreamy coping fantasy, I’m sure.  Dr. Kahn pulled out the old natural lens covered with a cloudy, wavy, gummy cataract.  Then he inserted a clear, shiny new acrylic one with built in, customized correction.  He fixed it in place. And then they were done.  They installed a patch on my eye, gave me instructions for eye-drops, and sent me home.

The next morning, I wrote the following entry for my mom and my kids:

This morning, at 7:45 AM in Dr. Kahn’s office, Kaiser Yorba Linda, the patch came off.

This is the stuff of high drama, suitable enough for a movie scene with full orchestration swelling on the sound track; a moment of revelation with biblical overtones.  The definition of miracle will be strained here.  The question begs to be asked – is it pure science or is there some supernatural work at play?  The fact that Dr. Kahn did seventeen of these procedures that same morning will underscore the routine nature of the event.  But none of this (the science or the abundance of cases) diminishes the sense of elation, jubilation, or sheer wonder at the reappearance of bright, saturated color; brilliant detail and high clarity.  I have lived so long with the cloudy brown tint and wavy distortion that the new view is nothing less than stunning.  And it just goes on; like rediscovering what I thought was familiar and mundane… But today, an ordinary day in my hometown is, well, astonishing.

So it is a morning filled with gratitude: for Carolyn’s hard work for an employer who provides first rate medical care for her and her spouse (me); for the doctor and his staff who replaced my clouded up natural lens with a shiny clear new acrylic one; for the Creator of the human eye who also built into it extraordinary healing properties; and for my friends and family who covered me up with prayers and love.

“Once I was blind now I can see!”

And every day since that rediscovery continues. My world is not predictably familiar.  It is filled with color and detail and clarity and wonder.

I can read signs.  See airplanes.  Wonder at gardens in bloom, trees swaying in breeze.  Soon, I’ll check the golf ball in flight.

The right eye will be rebuilt on June 29.  Imagine the possibilities.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, 2010

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Strong Women

Monday, May 9, 2010

I’ve lived around strong women all my life.  My mother is a strong woman.   I have three sisters, all of them strong.  My three brothers all married strong women.  I married one myself.

Two strong women, a mother and a grandmother raised Timothy, Paul’s “son in the faith.”  Paul recognized it perhaps because he too knew the power of strong women.  There is a camaraderie among strong women that I do not pretend to understand entirely, but I have seen it in action.  In hardship and adversity, there is a strength of character that emerges steady and consistent; an ability to find goodness in the most trying of circumstance; a loyalty that transcends reason even when disloyalty may well be warranted. It is a spirituality that is full of mystery, and when I take the time to think about it for any length of time, added to mystery, wonder.

We have a daughter whose brood numbers five.  The oldest, a seven-year-old boy who is curious about everything, will be happy to show you his origami collection.   The third is a little girl as competitive and tough-willed as her older brothers and just as happy in her Cinderella dress with tiara perched in her blond hair just so.

My mom faced hard days as a little girl in depression ravaged Chicago.  Jobs were scarce.  Mom and dad were gone most of the day trying to get the rent paid and food on the table.  Off she went to Lutheran Sunday School where, as she tells the story, they taught her a melody with a lyric that stuck – “Be not dismayed what e’re betide, God will take care of you…”

In a conversation with our daughter, that mother of five, Mom explained that this little song was her very first introduction to the notion that there is a personal God who really cares.  A God who knows her by name and has a grand purpose in mind and will see it through no matter what.  This God is the Creator of the Universe who is big enough to know and attend to all of creation in minute detail.  So when she was all alone and the awful realities of life would close in now and then, she would sing this little song and rest in the assurance that there was something good, something better waiting out there if she would just hold on.

As Mom tells it, Kristyn’s eyes welled up with tears at the thought of a little girl finding strength in knowing God in the singing.  It wasn’t until later that Mom learned this was not the end of it.

Kris went to the computer and then to Google where she punched in what she could remember of the lyric.  Before long, both the melody and the two or three stanzas popped up.  Later, she took her place in a school setting in front of twenty little children, and just like that little Lutheran Sunday School class in post-stock-market-crash Chicago, she taught the children to sing, “Be not dismayed… God will take care of you, through every day…”

“You should have heard them sing it, Grandma,” she told mom later.  It was so beautiful, she said.  “And little Rebecca loves it.  While she’s playing, I hear her singing it all day long.”

So for Mothers Day, in a little town up North, we gathered for worship.  Moms showed up with their families all spruced up for Mom; somehow they know how much it means to sit with Mom on Mother’s Day on a Sunday morning over at the church.  Even tough guys who rarely show otherwise.

The day before, I managed to call Kristyn when Becca was in a favorable mood.  I had a digital recorder next to the cell in speaker mode.  It didn’t take much prompting.  Three almost four-year-old Becca sang in full voice…

God will take care of you
Through every day, o’er all the way.
He will take care of you
God will take care of you.”

I played the recording for our folks that Sunday morning, Mother’s Day.  Not a dry eye in the room.

And there you have it.  Four generations.  From the 1930s into the new millennium.  Strong women, passing along the secrets of their depth of character.

And now there is little Becca, a strong woman in the making.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2010

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Monday, May 3, 2010

Adam Smith, the Scottish professor of philosophy who published his magnum opus the same year that the American Colonies formally declared their independence from the British monarchy (1776), is generally known as “the father of modern economics.”  The Wealth of Nations remains a classic to this day.

A fierce believer in free markets, Adam Smith postulated that a truly free and open market would be by definition a self-regulating enterprise.  The rules of the game ought to be developed and enforced, but no government can possibly police every transaction in a booming economy.  He believed that the market itself would keep self-interest in check.  An “invisible hand,” he said, would both push the economy towards steady growth and keep it from overheating.

Justin Smith, in TIME (March 25, 2010), asked the question – “What would Adam Smith say?”   In light of the congressional hearings when Congress went toe to toe with Wall Street’s financial giants, what might be his commentary if Adam Smith were a talking head on the business channel?

Ever since I heard Ronald Reagan’s advisor, Dr. Arthur Laffer (often credited for “supply-side economics” unleashed during the Reagan years) explain the independent power of the marketplace, I have pondered this dynamic: a self-regulating market.  On many levels, it appears to hold true – to this day.  Dr. Laffer (known for his “Laffer Curve”) made the case: all artificial attempts to control the economy will always fall short of the mark.  Things like tax incentives, tariffs, credits, currency manipulation, price controls, regulation and de-regulation and all manner of government intervention will never truly change the course of the mighty economic river.  Economies have a life of their own.  For example, people complain about outsourcing.  But producers of goods and services will always be on the hunt for cost-cutting opportunities – there is no stopping it.  The economy will ebb and flow, as it will; in spite of our tireless, creative efforts.

From Adam Smith’s analysis, the concept of “fair market value” (FMV) is a guiding light.  When a willing seller and a willing buyer agree on a price, we have fair market value.  Throw in the “Golden Rule” (“do unto others what you would have done to you”) and the market takes care of itself.  For the Scotsman, integrity and character are essential.  Fairness and mutual respect remain at the core of an efficient market.

Of course, it is human nature to tamper with these fundamental principles.  But when a buyer or seller manipulates FMV with even what appears to be an imperceptible premium, much less an outrageous one  (e.g. price gouging), the “invisible hand” will eventually make its move.  Oh, it may go undetected for a season, but the violator will ultimately pay.  The Bernie Maddoffs will ultimately be exposed.

When integrity and fairness and character disintegrate, one might expect that the entire economy could well collapse.  Well it may.  When major investment banks sell investments at anything other than FMV, they have violated a basic principal of free markets.  To represent that worthless investments have substantial value and are worthy recommendations, the entire system has been cheated, not just the individual investor.

Eventually, the “invisible hand” moves in.

To call this collapse a “correction” is a vast understatement.  And yet, it is a correction.  A necessary one.  The white-hot growth of housing values and economic expansion was clearly unsustainable.  The greatest travesty of all is that the financial wizards and overgrown institutions who gave lip service to fiduciary duty seem the least likely to suffer the consequences of the loss.

But in the end, that invisible hand, identified by Adam Smith more than two hundred years ago, is leveling the playing field again.  For the courageous and the pro-active, opportunity is limitless.  Integrity, character, fairness will still be mandatory.  The Golden Rule remains golden.

Think about it.  What is that invisible hand, anyway?

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2010

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