The Christmas We Deserve — Holiday Hospital Part 7

This is the seventh in a multi-part blog about my 2 week stay at St. Vincent Seton Specialty Hospital. Here is an index to all of the entries in this series.

Chaplain Services

I just realized that I forgot to tell you about the hospital chaplain that I met I believe the first full day that I was at Seton Hospital. As I’m writing this blog, it is 16 months after the fact so naturally my memory of events isn’t exactly total recall. Much of what I’m writing comes from a combination of two sources: One was a file I created “calendar.doc” containing one or two lines of notes about what happened on that day. The other source is the series of Facebook posts that I’ve been linking. Somehow I forgot to put in the notes on Facebook that there were two chaplains that I encountered during my visit. Unfortunately I didn’t make any notes about their names and I can’t recall either of them.

The first guy showed up I think on my first full day. He looked to be about 40 years old and was a very outgoing and gregarious kind of guy. He was a tall handsome man with light brown hair and a permanent smile. For those of you reading this who know the Enneagram system of personality types, he was very definitely a type THREE. He sat down and we had a nice conversation.

I told him about my involvement in St. Gabriel Church and how I had a good prayer support system behind me. Somewhere along the way I mentioned that I had been an RCIA teacher for 30 years. A puzzled look went across his face. Then he admitted he didn’t know when I was talking about because he wasn’t Catholic. I don’t recall what particular denomination he was but I seem to recall that it was some sort of evangelical branch. It might’ve been Baptist but I’m not sure. I thought it was really bizarre that a Catholic institution would hire a Protestant chaplain. But given that there is a priest shortage, if you weren’t going to have a person who could deliver sacraments then any person of faith would be okay. Although it is a Catholic institution, the population of Catholic patients was probably on par with whatever the general population percentage is. So having a Protestant chaplain wasn’t totally crazy. Just surprising.

He had with him a large piece of paper perhaps 12” x 24” that was a kind of a poster that had a number of questions about my personal life. I seem to recall he had things like favorite food, favorite TV show, hobbies etc. The intention was that I fill it out and they would post it on the wall where the staff could read it and get to know me. I never did fill it out.

I seem to recall we shared a prayer and he would drop by from time to time checking on me. At one point I shared with him the story of my friends from Adafruit and makers community and how surprised and pleased I was with their support. I especially wanted to tell him the story of how Phil seemed inspired by the fact his well wishes had had a positive effect on my recovery. I described it to him as a well disguised bit of evangelization on my part. I wasn’t really out to convert Phil to Christianity. But the fact that I had opened the door to get him to consider some spirituality and its real-world effects I thought was an interesting story. The chaplain seemed to enjoy it.

At this point in the story we are at December 23. It was about this time that the primary chaplain went on vacation and he was replaced by another guy whose name I forget. He was kind of short and a bit rotund. Not quite as outgoing or gregarious as the other guy but still very nice. I do recall that he was Lutheran which is somewhat more Catholic-like then an evangelical. Lutheran theology takes the same nonliteral historical critical approach to Scripture and they celebrate sacraments such as communion.

This backup chaplain had been tasked with facilitating a ceremony to put the baby Jesus into the manger of the lobby of the hospital. There had been a sign posted saying that the ceremony would be at 5:30 p.m. on the 23rd. I made it a point to be up in my wheelchair to participate in the ceremony even though I really didn’t expect it to be a very uplifting or spiritual experience. It was just something to do in a place and a time when there was nothing to do but sit and wait.

A Charlie Brown Christmas

On December 9, 1965 CBS premiered in animated special titled “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. If you ask the average person the title of a show featuring the Peanuts characters that had to do with Christmas, they would probably tell you that the title was “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” thinking that it is the story of Charlie Brown and the Christmas that he had. In the actual title, the words Charlie Brown are not about the character himself. The subject is not Charlie Brown. The subject is Christmas. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is describing the type of Christmas that it was. It’s similar to saying “A White Christmas” or “A Merry Christmas”. One of the keys to this distinction comes from a sentence that one of the characters delivers (I believe it was Lucy) when they say “Of all the Charlie Brown’s in the world… You are the Charlie Brownieist.”

Charlie Brown is Murphy’s Law incarnate. He is a sad little character for whom everything goes wrong. His kites always get eaten by the famous kite-eating tree. His baseball pitching is notoriously bad. Every time he tries to kick a football, Lucy pulls away at the last moment and he lands on his backside. The plot of the story is about his attempt to be the director of a Christmas play. In an attempt to set the proper mood, he concludes they need a Christmas tree. His choice of a scrawny, dried-up, twig of a tree initially only serves to be yet another defeat for him.

Somehow in the end, mostly as a result of his right-hand man Linus quoting Luke’s version of the nativity story, Charlie and his friends managed to discover “what Christmas is all about”. It is a cautionary tale about the commercialization of Christmas. But moreover the story is a subtle reminder to keep Christ in Christmas. In its own way it’s much more powerful than the cliché bumper sticker quote “Jesus is the reason for the season”.

Although Linus reading of the Lucan Nativity is the catalyst that “saves Christmas”. In the end really it is all of Charlie’s friends who saved the day. Linus says “It wasn’t such a bad little tree. All it needs is a little love”. The love of Charlie’s friends transforms not only the tree but Charlie himself and Christmas is saved.

I’ve always identified with Charlie Brown. There is a bit of physical resemblance. At age 10 I had a burr haircut and a round face. But beyond resemblance I felt the connection to him. It’s not that I saw myself as a perpetual loser. I think it was more that despite all of his failures he kept persisting. His never say die attitude was something I embraced in dealing with my disability. Just keep persisting despite all odds. And like everyone, I’ve known my share of failure and sadness.

Finding myself in a hospital at Christmas time solely for the reason that the bureaucracy would not authorize my ventilator in a timely matter could easily classify itself as “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. I was cut off from all of the traditions that are at their core of what makes Christmas special. In my childhood we would go to grandma Osterman’s on Christmas Eve. Have Christmas at home on Christmas morning. Go to grandma Young’s on Christmas afternoon. In recent years we would do Christmas Eve at our house with my sisters bringing their kids and grandkids and then spent Christmas day at Carol’s house with her grandkids. The usual traditions of food, lights, decorations, presents, music, home were going to be nothing but memories for this particular Christmas. Although I had not been to Midnight Mass in many years simply because it was too difficult for my stamina, apparently I was even going to be cut off from Catholicism this Christmas with nothing but a substitute Lutheran chaplain for spiritual direction and celebration. I had spent hours preparing my custom-designed Christmas cards and although they arrived from the printer just before I entered the hospital, they were not going to be mailed until after I got home. Dad had set up our little Christmas tree in the living room but because he was never home, he rarely turned it on.

So this was the atmosphere surrounding the placing of a statue of the baby Jesus into the manger of the Seton Hospital nativity scene. This was a Catholic ceremony for which I was totally unfamiliar that had been scheduled and planned by an evangelical preacher who went on vacation and left the job in the hands of a Lutheran chaplain who had little idea what he was doing there or why he was doing it.

We all gathered in the chapel at the appointed hour. There was me, I believe a nurse or two, another patient in a wheelchair, and I believe perhaps one family member (not my family). Dad who is not at all religious stood by outside the chapel with my iPhone. At my request he was ready to record the events as if they were going to be something special or memorable. The chaplain offered prayers. I seem to remember there was a Scripture reading of some kind. I believe he asked for volunteers to either read the prayer or Scripture and I did so with someone holding the page for me. We then made our way out into the lobby where he placed the small statue into the manger and then invited us to sing some Christmas carols. Dad missed part of it because he was unfamiliar with how to shoot video on an iPhone. Here is the video that he shot that day.

My comment at the end of the video that just got cut off as dad stopped recording was where I said “I don’t think any of us should quit our day jobs to become singers.” It drew a couple of chuckles from people.

It would be easy to look at this entire situation as a horrible tragedy. A pathetic attempt to squeeze some meaning out of Christmas under sad, depressing circumstances. But somehow in the spirit of Charlie Brown it was all okay. It was a determined if feeble attempt by all of us to not let our circumstances totally rob us of Christmas.

In 1975, Greg Lake of the famous rock group Emerson, Lake, and Palmer recorded a song titled “I Believe in Father Christmas”. He recorded it first as a solo single and later appeared in the ELP album “Works Volume 2” in 1977. Lake wrote the music and lyrics were by Peter Sinfield. The song reached number two on the UK singles chart in 1975 beaten out only by Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. In a YouTube video I found, Lake said it was one of his most requested songs whenever he performed whether it was Christmas season or not.

It has been included in many Christmas compilation albums which is strange to me because for the most part it is a very atheistic look at Christmas. Lake said he wrote the song as a protest to the commercialization of Christmas. Lyricist Sinfield however said that the words are about the loss of innocence and childhood belief.

As I understand the lyrics, it’s about someone who was tricked into believing the mythology of Christmas and Jesus as a young child and who eventually grew up to reject the whole thing as a fairytale. Yet somehow the message of Christmas, peace on earth goodwill towards men, while unfulfilled still resonates with the author. He wishes the listener have “A Hopeful Christmas” and despite his disillusionment over the religious aspects of the season, the title still indicates he believes in “Father Christmas”. In 1975 when the song was released it pretty much exactly describe my feelings about Christmas. It was a time when I had turned away from faith and to the church and considered myself decidedly agnostic if not completely atheist. It wasn’t until nearly a decade later that I returned to the church and we discovered my faith.

Whether I was in my agnostic period of time or now as a person with reawakened and rediscovered faith, I still like the song. Despite its rejection of the religious roots of Christmas the important part of the song for me has always been the final two lines.

Hallelujah Noel be it Heaven or Hell
The Christmas we get we deserve.

To me that says that whether you believe in Jesus or not, Christmas is so powerful that if you can’t manage to enjoy it then it’s your own damned fault. Anyone who is so cynical as to not enjoy Christmas gets what they deserve. That sentiment has always embodied my personal feelings about Christmas whether I was a believer or not.

That sentiment is how I could look at that pathetic ceremony under pitiful circumstances and still find the spirit of Christmas.

As you will see in the next blog or two, I was surrounded by family and friends and presents on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It wasn’t the usual Christmas but it was Christmas nevertheless.

Here are the complete lyrics of the song followed by some links related to it.

They said there’ll be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on Earth
But instead it just kept on raining
A veil of tears for the Virgin birth
I remember one Christmas morning
A winters light and a distant choir
And the peal of a bell and that Christmas tree smell
And their eyes full of tinsel and fire

They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a Silent Night
They told me a fairy story
‘Till I believed in the Israelite
And I believed in Father Christmas
And I looked to the sky with excited eyes
‘Till I woke with a yawn in the first light of dawn
And I saw him and through his disguise

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave New Year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear
They said there’ll be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on Earth
Hallelujah, Noel, be it Heaven or Hell
The Christmas we get we deserve

Having a Prophet for a Friend

This is the third in a multi-part blog about my 2 week stay at St. Vincent Seton Specialty Hospital. Here is an index to all of the entries in this series.

Where did we leave off?

It’s been quite a while since my previous installment because I had a major computer crash that took a week or so to recover. Then I got distracted with other things. We are now up to Friday, December 16 which is the first weekend that I spent in Seton Specialty Hospital. I had a bit of a rough night the night before. Here was my early morning Facebook post at 8:17 a.m.

The plans for Friday were to try to get me sitting up in the wheelchair. Dad brought my wheelchair with him that morning because the physical therapist said I should be getting up. It turns out the therapists were pretty busy that day and they decided they couldn’t help. Dad didn’t really need much of any help getting me dressed and in the chair except that we didn’t have any experience operating their patient lift equipment. As it turned out since I had had a kind of rough night the night before I decided to just stay in bed and we would get me in the wheelchair on Monday when the therapists could help us. Here is another Facebook post from later in the day at 5:06 p.m.

My friends Rich and Kathy Logan were planning to come by to visit me that evening. I had Rich bring me a print out of my communication board because I had a quick update I wanted to get and I didn’t want to wait until dad came the next day. But before they came, I kept myself busy throughout the day working on a 3D printing project.

Remote 3D Printing

Although my specialized nurse call button was working okay at the new hospital, my hand holding that button wasn’t doing as well. At one point a few years ago I thought I had glued a metal ring on the side of it that I would stick my finger into that would help me hold that in the proper position. Somewhere along the way I lost the metal ring. It’s extremely difficult to get the button positioned exactly the way I needed it. Anytime someone moved me or had to take the button away and put it back it was always difficult to get it put back in exactly the right position. Rather than trying to have my dad come up with a new piece of metal to glue onto the side of the switch, it was going to be easier to design and 3D print a new piece.

My St. Vincent Call Button

I do all my 3D modeling in a program called Blender 3D. That program isn’t specifically designed for 3D printing. It’s used mostly for rendering and creating video games and doing photorealistic 3D models similar to what I create in POV-Ray. It’s free and open source and rather than learn one CAD program for rendering and another one for 3D printing I decided to just stick with Blender bback when I first got my 3D printer. So I downloaded a copy onto my laptop and begin designing a little ring that would fit on the side of the nurse call button. Once I had a prototype designed, I transferred it from my laptop to my desktop at home using Team Viewer file transfer features. I told dad when he got home that he should turn on the 3D printer. I would type messages to him on the screen of my desktop and I would initiate the 3D print. I have a WebCam pointed at the 3D printer so I could remotely monitor the progress of the print.

For many months I’ve had difficulty getting parts to reliably stick to the build plate. However just prior to going to the hospital I had installed a new Zebra Plate build plate on the printer that had been working wonderfully. It worked beautifully again when I was printing the part. I printed the part Friday night and dad brought it in Saturday morning. It turned out that I needed to put a little twist in the model so that the switch would be in the proper position. I actually printed 2 different versions at different angles but even the one with the greatest twist wasn’t quite enough. I printed a third version Saturday night and dad brought it in Sunday morning. The final version worked just fine. Here is a screen grab showing the part that I modeled in Blender 3D. It illustrates 2 different versions with a slightly different angle on the slot that fits onto the original switch.

Here are some photos of the final part attached to my nurse call button. The 3D printed part is in green plastic.


The use of a closed ring to put my finger through worked so well that when I got home I redesigned the way I use my pushbutton switches on my iPhone and my bedroom IR remote/alarm button. Prior to this, I had a 3D printed part that help to position the buttons my hand but they were just a couple notches to position my fingers. After my experience with the closed ring, I redid the part on my iPhone and remote switches to completely enclose one of the rings around my finger. I tried using 2 rings. I tried the ring around the index finger. But ultimately it works best with only one ring around my middle finger and just a notch for my index finger. Here are some photos that show the old and new versions of that switch. And some photos of it in use. A friend of mine from Facebook once described this as a Doctor Strange “sling ring”. It really made me mad when he said that. I wasn’t offended. I was mad that I didn’t think of the name first 🙂


Although this revised system worked fairly well throughout the rest of my stay at Seton, the way that the wire comes off of the switch would often get in the way of my wrist or my forearm. After I got home from the hospital I decided I would take the switch apart. And I would change the way the wire extends from the switch. I would redesign the ring. As I am writing this blog I’m also working on a new 3D printed part for the hospital call button. It will look more like the ones I use on my remote at home in that it will have a middle finger ring and a first finger notch. As I mentioned above, I could not hold both the call button and my remote buttons at the same time. Ultimately I hope to be able to resolve that problem as well for the next time I am in the hospital.

Having a Prophet for a Friend

That evening I was visited by my great friends Rich and Kathy Logan. I’ve known them since my college days and I was the best man at their wedding years ago. I took the opportunity to tell the story of everything that had happened while I was in St. Vincent’s Hospital getting the trach. They had visited me at St. Vincent but I was unable to talk during those visits so I had lots of stories to tell them. Basically they got a condensed version of my entire 14 part blog where I wrote about the St. Vincent stay.

When you lay around the hospital for days and you contemplate the friendships you have and legacy that you have built, you tend to think of things that had been left unsaid. While there really wasn’t anything significant unsaid between me and the Logans, there was one story I have been meaning to tell them for a long time and had not gotten around to it.

When I teach religion classes for the RCIA program at St. Gabriel, I teach a class about the Old Testament prophets. Normally you think of a prophet is a person who predicts the future. But that really isn’t the primary role of a prophet. Prophets are actually spokespersons for God. I described them as similar to the White House Press Secretary. Of course I used to use that example when we had decent people in that job. I would hate to equate a prophet of God with someone like Sean Spicer 🙂 Instead think of C.J.Cregg from The West Wing. But not only are prophets spokespersons for God, specifically their role is to call us back to God when we go astray. To remind us of our core principles when we tend to forget them ourselves. Typically a prophet says if you don’t shape up, things will go bad for you and if you do shape up things will go well for you. Whichever happens… their prophecy tends to come true.

As examples in my class I cite people like Abraham Lincoln whose Gettysburg address was a prophetic message that reminded us what we were fighting for in the Civil War. I also include people like JFK with his “Ask not what your country can do for you… Ask what you can do for your country”. Similarly prophets are dreamers. People who dream about what the world would be like if we would stick to our core principles. The primary example of course is Martin Luther King Jr. and his “I have a dream” address.

But I also give biblical examples of prophets who are personal friends. My favorite story is the story of Nathan who is a prophet to King David and who called him out when he killed one of his generals Uriah to cover up the fact that he was sleeping with Uriah’s wife Bathsheba. I tell the class sometimes our friends are prophets for us who call us back to be the best versions of ourselves. To be the people that they know we can be. To be the people who made them want to be our friends in the first place. I explained that true friends are the people who can lovingly look us in the eye and say “You fucked up but I love you anyway. Now get your god damn shit together.”

Of course I don’t use that kind of language teaching the class… But you get the point.

So I told Rich and Kathy that when I teach that part of the class, they are among the friends I think of who are my prophets and to whom occasionally I have been a prophet. I explained that what I cherish most about our friendship was our ability to lovingly point out when we were being a real dick about something. I also confessed to them that I had not always exercised my role as a prophet to them out of the purest of motives. Sometimes I had been a bit self-serving in my role as a prophet and that was something which I regretted.

It wasn’t exactly a deathbed confession and I made it clear that it wasn’t. But it was nice to take the opportunity to thank them for being prophets for me and to say that I haven’t always been the purest of prophet for them even though I tried to be.

There is a parable about a guy who goes to heaven and asked Jesus “What in your opinion was the worst sin that I ever confessed?” Jesus replied “Once you had confessed your sin, I didn’t remember it anymore. So I can’t answer that.” Like the true friends that they are, the Logan’s didn’t recall the incidents that I had recounted until I recounted them.

Scripture says “Faithful friends are life-saving medicine…” Sirach 6:16

I have no doubt that they and other faithful friends had been life-saving medicine for me.

My Internet Ad Worked!

Tomorrow night at my church St. Gabriel the Archangel, we are starting our fourth or fifth year of a program called Catholics Returning Home. It’s a six-week seminar for people who used to be Catholic but for one reason or another have drifted away (or run away) from the Catholic Church. We try to do whatever is possible to help them feel welcome again. My pastor Father Larry says that the second-largest religious denomination in the United States is ex-Catholics. As someone who grew up in the Catholic Church, left it, and then got back involved again I’m ideally suited to be the group leader. The past few years it’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done at church.

Although we generally get three or four people each year, unfortunately last year we only had one guy show up and he wasn’t even Catholic. A Catholic friend invited him just so he could find out a little bit about the Catholic faith even though the program wasn’t really geared for him.

We’ve tried all sorts of ways to promote the program.

This year for the first time we tried Internet advertising using a feature called Google adwords.
Here is how it works… When someone does a Google search on a word like Catholic or Catholic faith or other pertinent phrases, our advertisement pops up next to the searches. The advertisement says…

Attn: Inactive Catholics
Feel at home in the church again!
Learn about today’s Catholic Church

You can select a specific geographic area to limit where the ad is shown. In our case the ad only appears in Marion County and in a 10 mile radius of our church which includes parts of Hendrics County. It has been shown just over 30,000 times. Fortunately we only have to pay for it when someone actually clicks on our ad and goes to our webpage promoting Catholics Returning Home. We have 54 clicks recorded in the approximately 3 weeks the ad has been running. The Evangelization committee (which is run by my mom) has paid $28.53 or just over $.50 per click. By the way if you see our ad, don’t click on it… it costs us $.50! Click the fake version of it above or here is a link to the page the ad would take you to…

http://www.stgabrielindy.org/features/crh/index.html

The great news is it works!

We just got a phone call from a woman seeking more information about the program. She and perhaps her adult son will be attending tomorrow night. We asked her how she found out about the program and she said she googled the word “Catholic” and there was our advertisement. Besides Google searches the ad also appears in various websites which are supported by Google advertising. Some of the people who clicked on our ad side in places like Catholic.org, online Catholic encyclopedias and other Catholic related sites.

Unfortunately sometimes the ad has appeared places we sort of wish it didn’t. A few weeks ago someone in the Vatican was interviewed and said that in modern times there are new ways to sin. Sin is that we didn’t even think about a few years let alone a few centuries ago. Among the things that were listed as new sins are “destroying the environment”. Normally I wouldn’t mind if our ad pops up next to such an article however online editions of two different British tabloid newspapers: The Times and The Telegraph ran articles which said something like “Recycle or go to hell Vatican warns”. Not exactly the image of the church we want to promote 🙂 It wasn’t just the terrible tabloid headlines but the stories themselves were chock full of inaccuracies about the teachings of the Church. Fortunately Google lets you block certain sites from showing your advertisements so I put a block on both of those tabloids.

I had tried doing similar advertising with various fundraisers at church. I promoted last years church festival poker tournaments and I’m pretty sure we got a few people showed up because of the advertising. I also tried it for a NCAA tournament team auction fundraiser we had a couple of weeks ago but I’m not sure that really attracted anybody. We did get some clicks but I don’t think anybody actually showed up at the event.

Anyway I think it’s really cool that the advertising really works. Believe it or not I get much more excited about saving souls than I do about playing poker despite the fact that I play a lot of poker! Now were trying to brainstorm other ways to use this advertising for other programs and events.

Anyway the Catholics Returning Home program starts tomorrow night and runs for six weeks. Say a prayer, wish me luck, cross your fingers, or whatever it is you do at your house that we get more people and that I do a good job in making them feel welcome in the church again. If you know anybody else who’s an ex-Catholic who might be interested… send them our way.