Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A True Vocation

I watched this video and felt very proud, not only of the incredible nurses shown but of the profession of nursing overall. Incredible. Please pray with me for all nurses struggling with low pay, poor conditions, and staffing shortages that their zeal for life will not falter.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

It's a major award!

Every July I go to bed late at night, and I lie awake, wondering if there was something I forgot, something I didn't do properly...perhaps a gaffe that insulted someone, or a breach of protocol I didn't know existed. I look at those in the "in crowd", compare myself, and wonder if I just can't cut the mustard. Do I appear too urban, or are my suburban roots showing? Did I neglect the wrong thing, while obsessing about something immaterial? Am I too formal? Too free-style? What did I do wrong?!?

Such is the frenzy of thought as I await the judgment of my garden.

Buffalo in Bloom, a locally-funded garden society that recognizes the best gardens in the city of Buffalo, sends its volunteers through every neighborhood, down every street, searching for gardens of note. The reward? A little sign with their logo to proudly display among the marigolds and rudbeckia, and a picture on the website. As the Old Man in A Christmas Story said, "Why, it's a major award!"

I have displayed that little sign in my front flower bed every year for the last seven years. I am not about to stop now; and so I weed, I feed, I snip, I pinch, I prune, I mulch...and then, I wait. I appear patient. I appear calm, cool and collected. But the wife knows. She sees through the ruse. "Oh, please," she says mockingly, "you'll get your silly little sign." But I am not so sure. Did I use too many impatiens? Are they looking for perennials or annuals? "I saw a sign on some houses on the other side of Hertel Avenue," I report to the spouse. "I guess I wasn't good enough this year." She laughs at me, "Don't get your shorts in a bunch". I am pathetic. I know.

This afternoon she called me at work: "You can relax. They came and put the sign on your garden today."

I never doubted they would come. Not for a minute.

Okay, whatever. Anyway, I won.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival!

This week's submissions began with a personal experience that touched me deeply. I followed with a lighter tone decrying the wet, cool Buffalo summer. I finished the week with a treatise on the morality of downloading music for free from the internet...hopefully not sounding too much like a lecture!

Our hostess - check out her site!

Have a great week!

Respectable thievery?

My employer pays me to work. Big deal, right? It would be if he didn't...

I earned a degree, prepared for and passed state board exams, continually update my education, work hard, apply my knowledge and experience to the benefit of my patients and employer; for this I am paid, and I might add, fairly well. I'm not a millionaire, but we are able to pay bills, send the kids to private school, go out to dinner every once in a while; diligence and hard work have been fairly compensated.

My career is not limited to compensated services rendered. Friends, family, and sometimes complete strangers test my knowledge and keep me on my toes. I am not paid for this, nor would I expect to be. It is my joy to use my experience and education in this way, so I choose to do it. "Sunday Clinics" are my favorite - after Mass a line develops of those who have questions: "My doctor changed my blood pressure medication. What are the side effects?" Do you know what this rash on my arm is?" Can you look at my knee? Its bothering me" "How can I hook up my unemployed son with insurance?" My wife has come to expect this over the years, and quietly waits with the children until the last one is seen and satisfied. This is a highlight of my week. I am proud to do it, but, once again, it is my choice to do so. There are many physicians, nurses and other health professionals who rarely, if ever, share their medical knowledge outside the workplace. It is not required by their profession, and their choice is not to do so (the ethical implications of that choice are fodder for another time).

At the Mission there are many craftsmen, professionals, and talented individuals that provide a service at no charge because they choose to do so: the electrician who helped re-wire the church bells, the janitor who stripped and waxed the dining room floor, the flooring specialist who tiled the kitchen, the lawyer who provides timely advice, the mechanic who fixes cars - I could go on and on. We don't pay them, nor could we ever afford to; they are aware of this and choose to provide the service anyway, and we are blessed by their generosity of time and talent.

There is one profession, though, that many of us feel that we may partake of their services for no charge, even if they have not chosen to allow it. Perhaps we feel as though they are compensated enough for their job. Perhaps we feel the industry is well-off enough to take it. Perhaps we just want what they have to offer. No matter the situation, many of us feel perfectly entitled to steal their services without a thought or care. I speak of musicians. They have not chosen to allow their work to be distributed freely, and yet it is, every day, by well-meaning, respectable folks all over the world.

There are many who believe I make too much money at work, that I am part of the problem with spiraling health care costs. Yet no one would think to make me work for free based on their opinion. No one requires the electrician to work for free based on their belief that "they can afford a free job now and again". No one feels that they can break into a jeweller's shop and take what they like because jewellers are paid too much anyway. And we all know what happens to thieves who take things just because they want them. Why, then, do we feel taking the work of musicians is acceptable? Did they not have to learn and practice their craft for years? Did they not have to work hard, audition, fail, try and try again? Are they not entitled to being compensated, not only for their musical creations, but for the years of toil that led to it? EVEN IF we think they are paid too much, don't deserve it, can take the hit, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera?

Exodus chapter 20, verse 15 reads: "You shall not steal". If someone expects to be paid for a service or product, the law states they are well-founded in that expectation, and we take it anyway...well, let's just call a spade a spade.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Global warming?

Summertime, And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin',
and the cotton is high.
Oh, your daddy's rich
and your mamma's good lookin'.
So hush little baby, don't you cry.
One of these mornings
you're going to rise up singing,
then you'll spread your wings
and you'll take to the sky.
But until that morning
There's a'nothing can harm you
With your daddy and mammy standing by.

Summertime, by George Gershwin, lyrics by DuBose Heyward

The sun is shining this morning. For most, excepting those in an Amazon rain forest and perhaps Seattle, that is not a big deal. Here in the eastern Great Lakes region, in the midst of our water-logged pseudo-summer, it is cause for great celebration. Children are running and dancing in the streets, old men are dreaming dreams, young men are seeing's nearly biblical.

It has been raining since April, causing all manner of problems. Mainly of the whining "I can't believe what a crappy summer...can't mow the rained out..." variety. Picnics, graduation parties, family reunions, street festivals and the like have all felt the pain. Coupled with the rain are temperatures at least ten degrees below our normals for this year, prompting most to just stay indoors. Not to mention hail and tornado warnings. In a region socked in by snow for what seems like ten months out of the year, this has created considerable strain. Folks are just cranky. Therefore, I have compiled a list of positives for those who are considering packing the wife and kids in the Winnebago and heading for the Mojave desert:

1. The grass is sooooooo green! Yes, lawns that should be a lovely shade of death brown are still green and lovely, even if they are fourteen inches high because we haven't been able to run the mower due to the rain.

2. Chuck E. Cheese is booming! Submerged playgrounds be damned, kids gotta play. Why not in a joint owned by a smiling rodent?!? Think of the economy, people!

3. Mosquitoes are breeding at epic rates! Yes, those pesky critters are having the time of their lives, what with puddles and brackish water abounding. It is definitely a mosquito buyer's market. This will have the following effect: more bats, which will definitely help the economy as rabies vaccines will need to be mass produced, and increased sales of "Skin So Soft", that magical lotion that works on mosquitoes like garlic does on vampires while leaving your skin silky smooth and supple, putting money in the pockets of Mrs. Tuttlebaum (our friendly Avon sales rep). Again, the economy.

4. Decreased water usage! Yes, at this time of year men in Bermudas, black socks and sandals in places like Cheektowaga, Tonawanda, and Lackawanna New York normally would be hosing down their concrete driveways on a daily basis (it is a particular obsession among we men of Polish descent: a clean driveway = a happy homeowner). Thus, water can be saved for important things, like washing the pizza pans at Chuck E. Cheese's, or for washing heavy sweaters and warm socks.

5. Souls are being saved! Summer Sunday's are a bit sparse on Mass attendance, as any Monsignor can tell you, but not this summer! Pews are packed. Now if we could just arrange for the return of Jesus to coincide during a Sunday summer squall...

Well, there you have it. Five positives in a big puddle of negatives. For those walking around looking like someone stole your bike because it is still raining, lighten up. Give a little whistle. Put on a happy face. Cheer up Charlie. There's a silver lining in that big, ominous black cumulonimbus heading this way. Think about that while you hustle the kids in the basement, Mr. Crabby Pants.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A very small thing...

Today I baptized a little baby. I'm not usually in the practice of such things, but it was an emergency. He was only alive for a few minutes, just long enough to feel the waters of baptism flow over his head. He was very small, yet seemingly perfect to the casual observer. Mom was surprisingly calm, almost grateful, to see the little one before he died. We carefully placed him in a little satin blanket made by someone somewhere who wanted to make sure that the little ones have pretty blankets to be swaddled in while their mothers grieve.

I had quickly grabbed a Styrofoam cup near the sink in the treatment room, filled it with tap water, and spoke these words as the water flowed over his head three times: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." That simple...and baby quietly died.

In a small room, in a little hospital in an old rust belt city, on a hum-drum Monday afternoon, while the world went about its business, a little baby was born, died and rose again in the waters of baptism, and went home to Jesus all in the span of just a few short moments. Few will ever know, but I will remember. Baby, pray for me!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival

Good Sunday, Snippers! This week I concluded the novena to St. Camillus de Lellis, patron of nurses, hospitals, and physicians with reflections on Clothing the Naked, Sheltering the Homeless, Visiting the Sick and Burying the Dead. St. Camillus, Pray for us! I also posted a glimpse into the Marciniak garden...

Here is a link to our hostess.

Have a great week!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Final Day: St. Camillus de Lellis, Pray for us!

St. Camillus de Lellis, intercede for us that we may be selfless in service and single-minded in our devotion to Jesus. Help us to see that serving our brothers and sisters and performing the corporal works of mercy are acts of love for the one who loved us first. May all we do, say and think reflect the merciful love of Jesus.
Pray for us, St. Camillus, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Complicit in a greater plan...

I am not sure just how to respond to this. I know so many good and faithful priests...yet THIS is the priest everyone in Buffalo is talking about. As I consider the effort to separate the Catholic faithful from the hierarchy by those who wish to quell the voice of the Church I can only think that incidents such as these will add fuel to the fire. The Evil One knows our weaknesses and plays them. We are in a battle.

Ex-pastor admits theft of $213,000 from parish : City & Region : The Buffalo News

Shared via AddThis

Novena Day Eight: Bury the Dead (July 17th)

This may sound macabre, but I am quite accustomed to death. I am faced with death on many levels, both professionally and spiritually, and minister to those dying in my role as nurse and missionary. That doesn't make it less painful, nor does it reduce the ache of grief and sorrow; but I have come to accept that our death is as much a part of who we are as any stage in life.

Most folks do NOT talk about death, and if, for some reason, it is an absolute necessity, it is done in hushed tones and with obtuse language. For many, it is just too frightening. As a society, we have not done well to prepare one another. It is not a part of the fabric of our culture; illness, age and decline are seen as signs of weakness and are to be avoided.

As one who experiences the initial grief of death in the Emergency department, I have come to believe that we are actually moving even further from the reality of our mortal death with each passing generation. There is far too much expectation on the medical arts to prevent what we cannot accept as inevitable. Initial grief is becoming traumatic, even violent, at alarming rates. The smashing of walls, breaking of furniture, and violent outbursts are becoming the norm rather than the exception. There are times I must remove staff members for their own protection. It is obvious by this behavior that we are not prepared, generally speaking, as a people to assist one another on the journey to our mortal death and eternal life.

Can preparation make it any easier? In a sense, yes and no. Will a realization that we must, at some time, die to our bodies to rise to eternal life help us to have a healthy understanding of ourselves and those we love? Surely. Can this help us to be open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit as we prepare for what most certainly will come? Indeed. Will honest reflection help us to minister to those experiencing grief and suffering after the death of a loved one? Certainly. Will it take away any pain we may experience when death touches our lives? Well, no. We will grieve. We will cry out in pain. We will feel the nearly crippling ache of loss. If one has a heart, it can't be avoided; but the difference maker is one little four-letter word: HOPE.

Our hope is in the Lord who made Heaven and earth. Our hope is in the Lamb who was slain for our sins, that we may live forever. Our hope is in the Divine Mercy of our God, who gave us His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life. Without hope we are lost, without hope our life has no meaning, death has no purpose. This is what our society is missing. The word "hope" has been abused as of late by politicians. That hope is sold as a means of making our own heaven on earth. Unless our hope is based on the reality of God's existence, His abiding and unconditional love for us, and His desire to share eternity with us we will never achieve peace.

St. Camillus, you were at the bedside of countless men and women as they were called home to God. Pray for us that we may be a comfort to one another when death touches us. Pray that we may better prepare for our own death by growing closer to the God who loves us and desires us to be with Him forever. We ask all this in the name of the Merciful Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Novena Day Six: Visit the Sick (July 15th)

Let's be real - visiting the sick can be awkward, uncomfortable, and a bit frightening. What do we say? How long should we visit? What time is the best time to "pop in"? What if the person we are visiting is too sick or too tired to talk? Should I bring flowers or a gift?

I have visited hundreds of people in the hospital over the years. I have also cared for patients during visits from family members. I would like to share a few tips to help the visit go well for both the patient and the visitor. If you have a suggestion as well, be sure to leave it as a comment below.

1. Visit. Don't put it off another day, don't think about it, don't rationalize that the person doesn't want someone to visit. Get in the car, get on the train, board the bus, saddle up Ol' Paint, do what ever you have to do to get to the hospital or nursing home. Almost everyone who is ill or infirm wants to see loving faces expressing care and concern. Just do it.

2. Call ahead. If there are particular tests scheduled, the patient is beat from a busy day of blood draws or x-rays, or he's just too sick for a visit you give the patient the opportunity to maintain some sense of control in an environment that can seem completely OUT of control. Conversely, if you are welcomed, the patient now has the happy task of anticipating your arrival, which prolongs the joy of the visit.

3. Always knock before entering the room. This is out of respect for the patients privacy. There is nothing more embarrassing than welcoming visitors while trying to conceal a full bedpan you've been calling the nurse to remove. Again, it is about giving the patient a sense of control.

4. Wash your hands. This, again, shows respect for the patient by recognizing the need for cleanliness and to limit exposure to germs.

5. Be encouraging and upbeat. This isn't the time to talk about your horrid experience in that particular hospital, the people you know who died of the surgery the patient had, or to question whether the doctor is doing all he or she should. Nor is this the time to bring bad news or tales of your own poor health. I have listened countless times to visitors spin terrifying yarns of their last colonoscopy or other such procedure. Not the venue. The visit should be edifying. Tell good news, talk about your kids or grandkids, and share your funny stories. Keep 'em smilin'!

6. Don't pry. If the patient wants to talk about their illness, listen attentively and try not to ask questions that are too personal or specific. Concentrate on feelings; "How are you handling that?" or "how does that make you feel?". If the patient doesn't want to talk, respect that. You can talk about the squirrels eating your tulip bulbs. Or, just be silent.

7. Keep the visit relatively short. Visits for the sick can be tiring. Perhaps Aunt Clara is coming in an hour. Perhaps the nurse is coming with the evening enema. Who knows. Half an hour is more than sufficient most of the time; read the patients body language. Usually you can tell when someone's had enough.

8. Bring a practical little gift. A rosary, a holy card, a small plant, something to read...anything to help the patient feel loved and cared for. Cards are wonderful - I dare you to walk in any patients room where the cards aren't proudly displayed. It is a pleasant keepsake of your visit and a reminder of your care and concern.

9. Don't shy away from visiting at meal times. Meals are family affairs, and when eating alone it intensifies the feeling of isolation. Most people are quite comfortable eating and talking - we do it in restaurants and at the dinner table every day! Offer to get something the patient enjoys eating, as long as it's okay with the nursing staff. Bringing a pastry heart or a Frappacino the patient has been craving is a personal touch that won't go unappreciated.

10. Pray. Offer to pray with the patient. If he or she isn't the kind that is comfortable with that, let them know that you are offering prayers at home, mass, Eucharistic adoration, etc. Mass cards are awesome ideas. I know I always feel better when the Carmelites are praying for me. Ask if you can "put their name on our prayer chain", or if they would like their pastor to know about their illness. If they aren't comfortable with that, respect their wishes.

I hope these tips have been of some help. There are many other resources on the web with similar tips, and many that go in-depth; check them out. As a nurse of many years, I emphatically believe that those who are visited when ill are more at peace, recover quicker, and tolerate their stay much better. God will bless you both with grace and peace.


St. Camillus, you recognized that the sick and dying were often left alone and suffered greatly in their isolation, so you mobilized the faithful to serve and comfort the ill. Help us to recognize that when a member of the body of Christ is ill we, too, suffer. Pray that we may have the courage and compassion to reach out to those who are sick and infirm. We ask all this in the name of the Merciful Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Novena Day Five: Shelter the Homeless (July 14th)

My driveway is a disaster. The blacktop is cracking and coming up in chunks. I need to replace it soon, hopefully before it disintegrates into the street.

My bathroom has been in construction for just short of a year...the family has been using one toilet (all eleven of us) for far too long.

The mud room has a leak, and every time it rains the water drips all over the carpet. Sometimes we actually get icicles in the winter!

My four year old got hold of a black permanent marker and put neat little black dots on the walls, fridge, stove, and several pieces of furniture.

The kitchen is way too small for a big family. The kids are jammed in four to a room, with two sets of bunk beds in each. the basement has a moisture problem. The water pressure is way too low.

I could go on.

Despite all that, tonight while my children sleep snug in their warm beds there will be children sleeping under a bridge. While my wife makes dinner young mothers will cry while they watch their children go to sleep hungry. While my oldest daughter lathers up the shampoo on the little girls in the tub tonight there will be children washing in public bathrooms. As I lecture my children on the importance of eating their vegetables there will be children looking in trash cans for food.

I am blessed.

Homelessness is a worldwide tragedy. As our economy sputters the numbers of homeless men, women and children grow exponentially. As children of God we are called to recognize their plight and lend a hand. Whether donating our time or treasure, homeless shelters and relief agencies everywhere need our help. The unfortunate reality is that as the economy suffers so, too, to the sources of funding for those who provide for the poor. Now more than ever we need to give of ourselves.


St. Camillus, you recognized that the poor and homeless were not cared for with compassion and generosity, and worked tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of your brothers and sisters in poverty's grasp. Pray that we may see the suffering of the homeless and give of ourselves so that others may know the warmth of shelter. We ask all this in the name of the Merciful Jesus. Amen.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Now the weeding...

The planting is FINALLY done...
I know I am late. True gardeners have had their 'maters in since the end of May. Those with emerald thumbs put their annuals in after last frost. Floriculturists are watching thier gardens reach maturity in a blaze of color. My plants are still learning how to use the potty.
There were extenuating circumstances: the eighth grade trip to Cedar Point follwed by the second honeymoon in New York City smack dab in prime planting time, mainly. Not to mention hours of overtime because of that pesky H1N1 virus. Last night I filled the last patio pots, swept the driveway, put away the garden tools, and sat on the porch to survey the land. That didn't take long since I live in the city on a tiny plot of land. So I grilled a couple hot dogs, read for a bit, and went to bed. Nothing like working the land to send a man to slumber.
Here are a few of my babies...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Novena Day Four: Clothe the Naked (July 13th)

It may surprise those who know me, but I have little fashion sense. No, really. I can hear my friends and family insisting that my choice of clothing is surely trendy and at times avant garde; nothing like black socks, Bermuda shorts, and a t-shirt just a bit too tight 'round the middle...okay, I dress like a schlemiel. I tend to wear blue jeans until they're transparent. My t-shirts are stained from barbecues. It always seems like my clothes are in the washing machine when someone has smuggled a red crayon in their pants pocket. And if I look like I picked up something off the floor and put it on, well, I did. When it comes to buying clothes, my attitude is, if it ain't on sale at WalMart, I ain't buyin' it.

Despite all that, I do allow myself one secret little fashion indulgence: each spring I buy a new suit. Basic black, a few shirts, a tie or two, and a new belt. This may not seem like an indulgence to most, but for me it is a pleasure I anticipate yearly. For the last several years "George" would help me find the best suit for my budget, measure and mark it expertly, and send it off for tailoring. He always found the perfect tie, shirt, and belt. He was a true gentleman, and each suit was impeccably prepared. He was well aware that I am a missionary, and even managed to come once or twice a year to offer his hand in food preparation or some other activity. A faithful Catholic, he insisted that it was his honor to help me to look my best. For you see, I purchase the suit each year to wear as I renew my promises of poverty, chastity, obedience, mercy and charity on Divine Mercy Sunday. He knew that, and took pride in helping me prepare for my important day.

In March I returned to the shop, as always, ready to get this year's suit, but George wasn't to be found. I inquired, and the young lady and gentleman assistant with her suddenly became quiet and gently told me that George had died. He had been late for work, very uncharacteristically, and when they checked on him they found that he had died in his sleep. He was, indeed, an elderly man, and had had his share of medical problems. Nonetheless, I was heartbroken. I regret that I was not able to attend his funeral and pay my respects at that time.

After sharing a few stories and expressing my condolences to his co-workers, the young lady offered to assist me in my purchase. She was helpful, but she just wasn't George, but God bless her, she tried, and I did end up with a beautiful suit. As she began to tally the bill on the computer she remarked that my birthday was in March, and I was eligible for the birthday discount since it was still thirty days since then. She recognized my puzzled look immediately; "My birthday is in December," I said, wondering why George had put in the wrong date... and then we both realized what George had done. He knew that as a missionary I promised poverty to God. He knew I didn't have a big budget. He also knew that each March I bought a suit. He fudged it. He did what he could do to help.

Each year I wear my new suit to the Divine Mercy Sunday Mass, and this year was no exception. But this year I prayed for George, that he would enjoy eternal life with God for his generosity and faithfulness while here on earth. I bet he's there already.

There are many ways to clothe the naked. Each day I see men, women and children walking around the Mission with shirts and sweaters advertising private schools, country clubs, and travel destinations...I know those places are foreign to the wearer. The clothes came from donors, folks dropping off bags at our door so others may have something to wear. Some buy brand new baby clothes for donation; others sponsor company clothing drives. The donations are hung with care in the "Mission Mall", where those who have not may stroll and sift through the clothing to find what they could not afford. It is truly a blessing.

It isn't hard to do. There are plenty of agencies that would gladly take what we no longer wear, no matter where we live. It is a concrete way to perform the corporal work of mercy, Clothe the Naked.

St. Camillus, you recognized that the poor needed to be given the necessities of life when they could not provide for themselves. Even today we are surrounded with those who cannot afford simple, decent clothing. Pray that we may have generous hearts that recognize this basic need. Give us the conviction to give from our bounty that others may be adequately clothed. We ask all this in the name of the Merciful Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Novena Day Three: Give Drink to the Thirsty (July 12th)

Terri Shiavo did not die from complications of pneumonia. She did not die from a heart attack or stroke. She did not die because of sepsis or kidney failure, nor from any disease or medical condition at all. She died because she was denied food and water.

Terri was severely disabled. But she was not dying.

In health care settings medical professionals, families and individuals are faced with the reality of disease and death every day. The decisions made in end of life care are unique and dependent on the condition of the patient. The value and efficacy of treatments and procedures must be carefully considered. Our Church offers guidance regarding this in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997), sections 2278 and 2279:

Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of "over-zealous" treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one's inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.
Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted.

How does one define "extraordinary" or "over-zealous" treatment? Those treatments that will not change the inevitable end, those that increase suffering or exacerbate the present condition, are often considered extraordinary. The important concept is that the removal of treatment or therapies must not be done to cause death. As the Catechism teaches, the withdrawal of treatment must be an acceptance of the inability to impede death.

In the case of life support, mechanical ventilation, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, and other heroic measures are easy to identify as "extraordinary". But what of IV fluids? What of nutrition via feeding tubes? Does this qualify as extraordinary?

Pope John Paul II in 2004 stated: “The administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act. Its use, furthermore, should be considered,in principle, ordinary and proportionate, and as such morally obligatory,insofar as and until it is seen to have attained its proper finality, which in the present case consists in providing nourishment to the patient and alleviation of his suffering” (as cited in National Catholic Register,2006).

Again, the key to this principle is not to will the death of the patient, but accept the inevitable. Therefore, if, as in the case of Terri Schiavo, death is not imminent, withholding nutrition and hydration, even if administered via artificial means such as IV's or feeding tubes, is morally unacceptable. Can IV fluids or nutrition fall into the category of "extraordinary"? If the administration of fluids will exacerbate a condition, as in those who suffer from congestive heart failure in which fluids fill the lungs and cause swelling to the extremities, and causes more suffering than it alleviates, then it may in this case and in others like it be seen as extraordinary. Nutrition, for example, may be seen as extraordinary in the case of the patient who is unable to digest or process food because of diseases of the digestive tract, such as blocking tumors or obstructions, where the only end to administration is vomiting, putting the patient's airway at risk.

Even with these guidelines, men and women are dehydrated and starved to death at alarming rates in hospitals and hospices throughout our nation. They are denied the ordinary care that is due to them. Terri Shiavo was not an anomaly; she was a benchmark in the fight for euthanasia. Our brothers and sisters are thirsty. It is time to take a stand.

How can we take a stand? We can protect our wishes by utilizing a Health Care Proxy or Living Will with specific instructions, choosing someone who will make decisions when we cannot who will honor our faith and follow the guidelines of the Church. We can consult trusted clergy and Catholic medical ethicists for assistance and guidance. We can assist with the end-of-life decision making of our family members and friends. We can insist our legislators and leaders honor the necessity of ordinary care for the ill and disabled.

Most especially, we need to pray. Pray for ethical leaders, physicians, nurses, and decision-makers. In this way and in the actions listed above, we can make a difference in the lives of the ill. Our brothers and sisters, even in their suffering, thirst.

St. Camillus, as we pray for the ill who are approaching the throne of God, we pray that those who deliver care and those who decide on the treatments administered may do so with the love of Jesus. May the care given to the dying be marked with compassion and respect the dignity of the human person. We ask all this in the name of the Merciful Jesus. Amen.


Roberts, J. (2006). Is Hospice movement going beyond end-of-life care? National Catholic Register. Feb. 2006.

Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997). Second Edition. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City. Page 550.

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival

Greetings Snippers! It has been two weeks since I joined the carnival...Swine flu has completely stolen the life of this Emergency Room Nurse; the ER has been BUSY, BUSY, BUSY! but thankfully the flu seems to be waning, and we are getting back to our normal routines. I am hoping to work 40 hours this week, as opposed to 70 or 80.

On the subject of hospitals, this week I began our novena to St. Camillus de Lellis, patron of hospitals, nurses, and physicians, with a reflection on the Corporal Works of Mercy. I continued on day two with an essay on the first, Feed the Hungry. Finally, a tongue-in-cheek ode to Tim Horton's Coffee rounded out the week's submissions.

Here's a link to our hostess with the mostest! Have a great week, everyone.

Ahhhh, Timmy...

I love Tim Horton's coffee.

There are many of you out there who are wondering, "Who is Tim Horton and why should I really care if he makes a fine cup of java?". Well, truth is, Tim died a while back. He isn't making coffee any more. He was a hockey player for many years; played defense a total of 24 seasons for the Leafs, Rangers, Pens, and Sabres. He died in an automobile accident back in '74. But before he died he put his name on a string of coffee shops in Canada that slowly but surely spread to the US over the last several years, and those shops are like a streetlamp in a swamp - every bug from miles around is buzzing around, waiting for their coffee. I read an article that the first Tim Horton's opened in New York City, the Starbucks capital of the world. With that news my inner-voice said, "tell them. They must know." I will tell.

I am not a Starbucks fan. I don't like my coffee tasting like someone burned it slowly over a fire fueled by crude oil. Not to mention the price. I pay less for my daughter's private Jesuit college education than a Cafe Au Lait. Then there is the snooty factor. I live in Buffalo. There is damn little to be snooty about. Sure, we've got an art museum or two, a couple Frank Lloyd Wright bungalows, and such. But for the most part we watch football, cut our lawns, and consider Swiss Chalet doggone good eatin'. Starbucks just doesn't fit in. Tim Horton's does.

First of all, Tim was a hockey player. You gotta like that in a guy. If he makes a cup of joe, you instinctively trust it isn't going to make you want to wear skinny jeans, pierce your nose and dye your hair black. It tastes like a working-man's coffee, full of flavor, smooth, and easy to drink on the run. When you order you simply say COFFEE, and no foreign language skills or accents are required. And they have donuts. Oh, yeah. Good ones.

The second reason I like Tim's coffee concerns the shops themselves. Simple, easy-going, friendly, not trendy and sassy with background music featuring indiginous Paraguayans playing native instruments. Want to skip the whole walking part? Drive through at every location. You can go barefoot in yesterday's t-shirt smelling like a carnie. I do all the time. Well, sometimes. Anyway.

Before this sounds like an infomercial (and if you order in the next twenty minutes, cause we can't do this all day...) there are some negatives. First, too doggone many people get their coffee there. I hate waiting for caffeine. Second, the traffic can stretch for several miles. Sure, they move pretty quick. But I need my COFFEE. Third, I can't drink any other kind now. I buy the big cans of coffee in their shop for my daily home brew. Anything else tastes like warm mud. Other than that, there isn't much not to like.

So if you see a Timmy's in your travels, do yourself a favor and grab a cup. Have a honey crueller. You'll be glad you did. But I drive a silver Ford Econoline van, and would appreciate if you ordered quickly and got out of my way, or, ideally, let me go first. Thanks.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Novena Day Two: Feed the Hungry (July 11th)

The week before Thanksgiving and Christmas are very busy times at St. Luke's Mission of Mercy. Hundreds of volunteers from throughout our community and beyond descend upon the Mission and assist with the packing and distribution of thousands of bags of groceries, including all the fixings for holiday meals. Poultry, pies, potatoes, and other staples are organized and prepared for thousands of needy families and individuals.

It is an incredible scene: men, women and children packing, moving, wrapping, and carrying food meant to brighten the lives of those in poverty's grasp. The amount of manpower required for such an endeavor is incredible, and our volunteers step up to the proverbial plate. I, on the contrary, have the very best job anyone could ask for on such a day: I greet our volunteers, prepare them for service, and then spend a considerable amount of time sitting doing nothing. Oh, sure, I occasionally take a picture or two, sign service sheets for the students fulfilling volunteer requirements for their schools, direct wayward wanderers and such, but primarily I guard the donuts and coffee. They tend to be safest in my belly.

I am continually amazed at the enthusiasm of our volunteers. Youth groups, scouts, business teams, churches, hockey clubs; you name it, they're working. Sure, thousands will benefit directly from their service, and the community will get their fill of good, wholesome food. But the miracle is in the preparation. These are folks who have not known the pangs of hunger; they do not know the anguish of being unable to provide for one's children. They live comfortably by society's standards. They have jobs, cars, homes. And yet, despite countless other activities they could be doing, they come on a cold Saturday morning to spend hours working to provide food to someone they will never meet. They become selfless, full of charity and mercy for others. The busy-ness of the scene is a little glimpse of the strength of God's love manifested in service. It is amazing.

Throughout our community men, women and children go to bed without eating. They do not have the means to provide for their families. They hunger. Praise Jesus Christ for the gift of the poor, giving us the opportunity to love and serve him through the least of our brothers and sisters. God calls us to feed the hungry. This is not an abstract command; he asks us quite literally to put food on the table of those who have none. There are many ways to do so, whether personally assisting in projects such as the food give-aways like those at the Mission, assisting in soup kitchens and pantries, or giving of our own bounty to assist the good works of others.

Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food...Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you...? And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.' Matthew 25:34-35, 37, 40

Prayer: St. Camillus, you selflessly put others before you, subjecting your needs to the needs of those you cared for. Pray that we, too, may recognize the face of Jesus in the poor. Help us to recognize the call to provide for the basic human necessities of our brothers and sisters. Give us the courage to look beyond our own comforts, needs and wants and be our companion as we walk with the love of Christ, serving those less fortunate. We ask this in the name of the Merciful Jesus. Amen.

Alone again, naturally...

She's gone.

I knew it was coming. I saw the signs. I should have been better prepared. I should have anticipated this moment. Yet here I am, sitting alone in a pile of toys, wondering what to do next. What will I feed the children? Do they have any clothes to wear?! Will the toilet paper run out?!? HOW DO YOU MAKE KOOL-AID?!?!?

My wife is on retreat. Pray for me to the Lord our God.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Novena to St. Camillus de Lellis - Day One (July 10th)

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Isaiah 58: 6-7

On a typically frigid Buffalo evening a young mother brought her three children to my emergency room. The oldest of the children, a boy of about eight or nine, was noticeably ill, with a congested cough and a runny nose. I took little note of them, other than to observe their unkempt appearance. They were dressed in shabby coats and lacked gloves or hats; their hair was tangled and stringy, and their faces were marked with dirty smears. They were led to a treatment room and dropped out of my thoughts...they were but a few in a crush of patients, and each of us working that night struggled to maintain our composure in what appeared to be a losing battle.

Later that evening as I ran from task to task, a small girl, no more than five or six, waved to me meekly, trying to get my attention. "Do you have a microwave?" she asked, while holding a cellophane-wrapped breakfast sandwich in her hand. I brusquely told her I couldn't spare a moment at present; I promised to retrieve the sandwich a few minutes later and prepare it for her. She thanked me politely and returned to her room.

Shortly after I looked for the little girl to help her heat-up the sandwich; when I reached the room I found all three children sitting on the gurney. Mom was sitting opposite them with her back to me, and she was clutching a paper grocery bag tightly. As I looked at the children, I was moved to pity; they knew the pangs of hunger. They knew what it was like to be cold and on the streets. They new want. My heart ached for them; they were no older than my own small children.

I asked for the sandwich, and inquired about the last meal they ate. "French fries!" smiled the littlest, a girl of four or five. "We got fries at McDonalds!" Before that, I asked? None could remember. Mother muttered, "I feed them". She put her grocery bag on the floor, and I saw its contents: some empty soda cans, a towel, and two more wrapped sandwiches. I knew then that these children had not eaten a good meal in a long time. I quickly sped to the pantry and filled two bags with cereal, sandwiches, milk and juices, cookies and crackers. I brought each of the children a bag lunch, and they devoured them! They soon broke into the bags I brought for home and ate much of the contents, but I didn't mind. I just filled them again. All the while, mom sat quietly, refusing any food offered. I saw the weight of the world pressing on her.

I sat near mom and asked quietly, "where are you staying tonight?" She began to cry. A few tear-filled moments later I learned of her abusive relationship, her flight with the children, and the nights on the street the four of them spent looking for warmth and food. As I shared this with the physician and social worker, the team mobilized and we located shelter and assistance for the little family that night. As they entered the cab we provided to take them to their warm shelter they loaded the bags I provided and sped off into the night. I never saw them again, but I pray for them often, and I thank God that He slowed me down enough to see the need.

To our left and to our right, in our neighborhoods and throughout our community exist men, women and children who need comfort, love, and attention. They are hungry. They are thirsty. They lack adequate clothing and shelter. They are sick and lonely; they are broken and in prison. They are living and dying alone and forgotten. As we speed about in our daily routines we often turn a blind eye; we are too busy, too consumed in the needs of our own lives. There is just too much need, and it can seem overwhelming. Yet God calls us to reach out, to comfort those in need. For some, this can mean heroic selflessness, devoting ones life in the service of others; for most, it is simply being present and compassionate to those God sends us. There is no shortage of opportunity to be merciful to others, to provide comfort and relief, to show love and compassion.

Throughout this novena to St. Camillus de Lellis, I will reflect on the Corporal Works of Mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick and imprisoned, and bury the dead. I will share the heroic stories of those who have given all to the service of others, as well as the little gifts of love shared in common ways that each of us can do every day. Most of all, I will reflect on the call each of us has received, by virtue of our love of Christ, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and practical ways to do just that.

Prayer: St. Camillus, you gave yourself in service to others with no concern for the cost. Pray for us that we may be given hearts that see the need all around us, hearts that yearn for the good of our neighbor. It is from God's infinite love for us that we are able to love; pray that we, too, may give freely of ourselves, serving the God who has loved us as we reach out to those in need of hope and compassion. We ask all this in the name of the merciful Jesus. Amen.