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Friday, April 30, 2004


Destin, Florida

Gulf Sunset

It was a rainy day, but we made it. By evening, the rain let up and we were treated to a lovely sunset over the Gulf. We are enjoying good rum, good food, and good times. The time share pitch is in the morning from 9:00 to 10:30 AM. After that we will do the usual tourist things, which are eat, drink, and rest.

I'll post more tomorrow. I hope you have a nice weekend where you are.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sweet April

The first day I met you we laughed more than once. You were so pleasant and refreshing after enduring a long winter. The days we spent together were light and happy. I will always look back on the time we shared and remember your warmth and freshness. I so appreciated the love you freely gave. Your touch renewed and revived me. Your gaze gave me confidence and once again caused me to look ahead to future days. There were plans to be made and dreams to realize. it was your inspiration and confidence I drew from. You made me a better man.

We have met now some 47 times. Some of our encounters I remember vividly. Do you recall our time in 1985 when my son was born? I was warmed and bathed in a pride I had never before known. How sweet was that time. I often reflect on those moments we shared.

Baseball begins during our time. It is with you I hear that first crack of the bat and the ball popping as it hits the leather of a fielder's mitt. The smell of the grass and youth are symbols of you. Perpetual spring, freshness, and beauty are your traits. I love the flowers that adorn you. The sweet melodies of song birds feed my ears. Such beauty often stops me when I am out. I stand still and listen in awe to their hypnotic sounds. I remind myself how lucky I am to sense such things. I often wonder how heaven can improve on your days.

Our time has come to an end, on this, our 47th meeting. This year, along with the joy and beauty we always share, were tears we shed for the tragic loss of young people to traffic accidents. It was all a contrast of joy and sorrow, and love and grief.

Thank you April for sharing your familiar things. I will miss you and look forward to our meeting next year. It is with you I often begin things. Your memories give me the courage to try. Your warm days are a balm that heals a worn down soul. Today is our last embrace. We will part and walk away from each other, but I will hold your memory in my heart. It will mingle with my other memories of you and cause me to smile when I remember you. Goodbye April, until we meet again.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, April 29, 2004


Rules, Rules, Rules


Have you ever thought about how we are surrounded by rules? They are everywhere. Everything from laws to unwritten societal expectations, there must be a zillion of them.

We are taught as little children to follow rules or get into trouble. Observing rules is necessary to make society work and to ensure order.

Some rules must be followed to the letter while others can be broken without incident. Computer programmers must follow rules exactly or face failure. Writers can break rules of grammar and receive praise for their innovation.

Virginia Satir was a family therapist who talked a lot about rules in families. She made a distinction between types of family structure. She referred to family structure as being either an open or closed system.

The closed system has rules which are inflexible, inhuman, and arbitrary. They are not up for negotiation. There is a belief the rules must be followed at all cost. People have to adapt to them not the other way around. The rules do not have to make sense, they are not to be questioned, only blindly followed.

The open system makes more sense. Rules in this structure are flexible and exist to bring order and predictability to the family. A rule is a guide. Sometimes a situation calls for breaking a rule or altering it a bit.

Here are a few examples:
Open system: "Bedtime is at 9:00, but you can stay up until 10:00 since we have company."
Closed system: "Bedtime is at 9:00 dammit, get to bed, I don't care if your grandpa hasn't been here for two years."

Career choice:
Open system: "Son, you can be anything you want to be and I will help you any way I can."
Closed system: "No son of mine is going to be an actor. We Smith's work with our hands, get that acting crap out of your head."

In open systems the love is unconditional, communication is direct, and people are important. In closed systems, love is conditional, secrets are held, communication is indirect and vague, and the family as a whole is more important than the individuals. The closed system sends messages like, "what would people think" and makes that more important than any one person's wishes. The closed system tries to project a good image even if underneath there is nothing but fighting and tension. You would be amazed at how many captains of the football team and head cheerleaders are from this kind of family. People in these systems are driven to achieve, but inside they may be a wreck.

The way you look at rules is greatly influenced by the type of family in which you were raised. Coming from a closed system, you may resent rules and find it hard to follow them. Folks coming from an open system see rules as a tool to be used not a mandate to follow to be loved.

Some rules I am OK with:
Traffic laws
Rules in games, I don't even cheat at solitaire
Health rules
Most rules in general which cover safety, assembly, and numerous processes like recipes

Some rules I hate:
Rules of political correctness - thought police
Do not remove this tag . . .
Subdivision rules from tight asses like, you can't have your garage door up or no political signs in your yard.

What rule do you break without apology?

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, April 28, 2004


Crazy Day: Part II

Tabasco SauceDesperate times call for desperate measures.

The Screamer: Some things you get used to. While in college, I worked summers with Gene, a brick and block mason. We took a job at a local pig farm to build more pig pens. At first, the smell was atrocious. The smell of pig poop was bad enough, but the Missouri summer heat intensified the odor to something more akin to a boxing glove hitting you in the face. At first, Gene and I complained profusely about the pungent air, but as time passed, so did the smell to our awareness. Case in point, one day we were siting at ground zero of "piggy poo" eating our lunch. One of our friends stopped by and saw us. His comment was, "man, how can you guys eat with this smell around?" We looked at each other and laughed - the smell had lost its power over us. In the case of the screamer, however, no such tolerance seemed to be wired into my brain. The more she screamed, the more on edge I got. Thankfully, my behavioral modification training came through for me.

I devised a little treatment plan and it worked within about 15 minutes. I took a regulation squirt gun and filled it with Tabasco Pepper Sauce. Tabasco is a staple down here. I instructed a psych aid to sit with the screamer and every time she opened her mouth to scream, squirt a little Tabasco in her mouth. The theory upon which I was operating, was the screamer would associate a hot, uncomfortable mouth with the urge to scream. She would soon learn that screaming brought discomfort and not screaming brought comfort.

Just when things looked like they were working fine and the screams were getting farther and farther apart, the psych aid accidentally shot Tabasco into the lady's eye. She really started screaming then, only this time in pain. The attendant, following orders, kept squirting the lady in the mouth when she screamed. When I went over to check on the situation and to find out what all the yelling was about, it looked like a gang land hit in progress. The aid was shooting the screamer all over the place. The screamer was screaming wildly, even worse than before. Tabasco sauce was running all down her face. The situation was not without serendipity. Crippled for years, the screamer stood and walked. The Tabasco squirts in her eyes awakened muscles which had been dormant for years. It was a true miracle.

Amongst her screams were distinguishable strings of curse words along with words of surprise - "I'm walking, I'm walking." We helped her to the sink and rinsed the Tabasco off of her face and out of her eyes. Aside from what looks to be a bad sunburn, Ms. Screamer will be OK. The whole ordeal exhausted her and she slept the rest of the day. A day we spent in quiet.

OK, so none of the above happened, but I day dreamed it that way. Actually, the screamer continued her assault on our hearing most of the day. We have discussed ways of quieting her. Dick's sock idea was one. Duct tape was another. I leaned toward over medicating her myself.

Does anyone have a bark collar? I believe those in the dog business call them trainers. Somehow, a collar is fitted with a device which can deliver an electric shock when triggered by noise - a dog's bark. I would think, such a collar would work on people as well. I could do some research on it. Perhaps the study could correlate incidence of whiplash and collar shock. The article could be published in my penitentiary's newspaper. Well, on second thought, maybe not.

It also makes me wonder what kind of a geriatric patient I will be. I have a hunch I may be a grabber. Let me apologize in advance to any nurse I may grab in the future. We had a grabber once. The nurse victim was standing next to the gabber who was seated. Mr. Grabber had just been admitted and must have taken a shine to the buxom blonde nurse. He grabbed her right in the crotch. She let out a yell of the "I did not appreciate that" variety. She then proceeded to scold the grabber as he laughed in his raspy heh heh heh that only dirty old men have perfected. He jolted Ms Blonde right out of her professionalism. If this seems remotely humorous to you, believe me when I say, it was a lot funnier in person.

Enough silliness for this post, I must spread silliness elsewhere.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, April 27, 2004


Crazy Day

While it is still fresh in my mind, I am going to attempt to describe my crazy day. The day started innocently enough. I made coffee, surfed around the net, then went to work. Our census is higher than usual and my case load is nearly double what it is normally. Add to that a lady from a nursing home who screamed all day long. She let out a yell every 10 seconds or so. Only brief respites were granted to those of us praying she would contract laryngitis. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!! Try it at home. Yell out about 60% your maximum volume. Then pause for 10 seconds and do it again. If you keep this up, you are well on your way to recreating the soundtrack of my life today.

She was one of the lesser problems though, she was in a wheelchair and could not roll herself around and get into trouble like some of our other denizens. She had to settle for throwing her blanket on the ground to reenact the Sharon Stone courtroom scene from Basic Instinct. Sometimes I thank God my vision is bad, today was one of those days. So we have an immodest, screaming senior citizen. Add to that a man who is a dead ringer for Billy Bob Thornton's character in "Sling Blade." This guy is the same size and body type, but mostly, he had the voice. He sounds just like Billy Bob. Only our Sling Blade guy was not meek and gentle. He was agitated. He wandered and got into things not unlike a 200 lb 2 year old with an altered sense of reality and a bad attitude. His voice was loud and constant. He was the harmony for the immodest senior citizen's screaming. In addition to that, he required constant attention and redirection to keep him from trouble.

We refer to the patients as the community or the milieu. For a long time, our milieu has been quite manageable. Now, however, we have one of those difficult milieus that come around every now and then. Like a category 5 hurricane or triplets. This is the kind of group that tries the patience and skill of even the most seasoned staff. I worked 10 hours today, when I left, I felt as though I had been freed from a revolving door. I started the day putting out fires and never got caught up. I have paper work waiting for me when I go back tomorrow.

A routine day is full of obligations. Today threw a few more my way. Unexpected discharges, unexpected chats with family members, unexpected individual sessions with patients, unexpected complications to already difficult situations, changes in plans I thought were settled, more phone calls, faxing, copying.

It was one of those days when I would be in my office and need some information. By the time I got to the nurses station to get the desired info, I would forget what I was there for in the first place. Partially because I was stopped by several folks on the way and partially because my brain was fried. Phone calls, questions, pages, faxes, AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That was me this time.

I would like to tape some of the conversations I have with patients. One person in particular answers questions with questions. He tries to reverse our roles, asking me how I feel about something or telling me the subject I introduced is not important, we should talk about another topic. On a good day he is exasperating. Today, he is worse

I manage some laughs though to ease tension. Passing by one of the nurse's offices, I saw RN X sitting at her desk with her back to me. She sneezed. I said "bless you," using the Sling Blade guy's voice. She sneezed again and I repeated the words, "bless you." Then I added, "you're a perty lady." She nervously said, "why thank you" as she turned to see me, she wore a concerned look on her face. When she realized it was me she started laughing, then she threatened me. "You sounded just like Sling Blade Guy. You scared me to death."

So here I sit. Tired from a long day. Thankful I can walk away from the mad house. Grateful I do not have their affliction. They were there too today. I wonder how this day played inside their heads?

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, April 26, 2004


Fun Times Ahead

I know it's Monday. When I get to the hospital, there is plenty of work waiting for me. All things being equal, I would rather not go to work. I was doing just fine with the weekend. It is much more enjoyable doing what "I" want than it is to do what "they" tell me to do. Still, I have grown accustomed to a roof over my head and food in my belly. Work seems to be a necessary evil. It's not all that bad, I enjoy what I do and the people I do it with, and I have fun just around the corner to keep me going.

As I mentioned yesterday, I am going to have a workstation built. Below is the drawing. I have ordered the material and in about a month, it should arrive. By my calculations, I would say it will be completed in mid June. I will do some before, during and after pictures when the time comes. This kind of thing is expensive, but very gratifying.


The next thing I have to look forward to is I have Friday off and we are going to Destin, Florida for the weekend. About two years ago Barbara and another friend Faye purchased one of those, "get a weekend in a condo and all you have to do is listen to our time share sales pitch" promotions. So for $89 we are staying two nights on the beach. The catch is we have to listen to an hour and a half pitch on Saturday morning. I have never done this before, so I will see if it is worth it. How bad could it be? I mean, the sand, the sun, spring break still going on, hehe.

Destin, Florida

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, April 25, 2004


Sour Notes and Rain

So much for a nice evening of symphonic music under the oaks at the park. Instead, nature played its own music, complete with light sprinkles of sound building to a crescendo of thunderous bass and a very rushing fluid sound of water. In other words, it rained and the concert was canceled. I didn't want to go anyway.

Plan B: We met at our house and ate the cheese and drank the wine as planned. That part of the plan was a sure thing. Then we went out to dinner also according to the original plan. Our plans may change here every now and then, but we always enjoy ourselves.

It was a shame though, the day had been beautiful up to the evening. Then when everything was set up, the skies opened up, washing away any hopes of music in the park of the orchestral variety.

Today, I need to get a 10 miler in, then I am going to Home Depot to have my workstation designed. Yes sir, I am going to have a countertop and cabinets built in to my little corner to make my computing a more enriched experience. I am looking forward to having more desk space. The ability to spread out is essential for the video projects I tackle. Storage is another thing I crave. I can have all of my cables, disks, cameras, microphones, and assorted things all neatly packed into their own drawer or cabinet. There will be just the right amount of light and no cable clutter. I will make sure there are enough power outlets and phone lines.

Here is a picture of what I am imagining. I like this configuration, but not the color. I will go with a dark oak most likely to match other furniture in this part of the house.


Next week we are taking a little trip to Destin, Florida for the weekend. Once back, the next project I want to tackle is liquidating clutter and junk. Something and a lot of somethings must go. I have come to the conclusion our clutter is a result of placing, what would be the equivalent of 10 lbs into a 5 lb bag.

I better get at that 10 miler, the temperature is not getting any cooler.

Have a nice Sunday
Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, April 24, 2004


Saturday Chores

While I am mowing my lawn, weed eating, picking up limbs, watering plants, picking up dog doo, and blowing off the driveway (that always gets me out of breath), I will try to think of something either profound or funny to write for today's post. If I am unsuccessful, this will have to do.

This evening the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra will perform in our local park. This is an annual event. Looks like I am in for a little culture. Not too much though, this is low key on the culture side. It is cultured music for the masses. We sit under lazy oaks sipping wine or beverages of choice with an ice chest nearby. Some set up candelabras and elaborate blanket settings. I settle for my lawn chair in a bag and bar on wheels. It is just one more yearly event which marks time for us. It is my reward today for doing the yard.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, April 23, 2004


Love Those Westerns

Grace Kelly and Gary CooperMaybe because I watched a western the other day (Open Range), but I was thinking about westerns today. I grew up watching Gunsmoke, Branded, Roy Rogers, The Big Valley, Bonanza, even F Troop. I watched westerns at the Aztec theater in Shawnee, Kansas on Saturday matinees. Fifty cents bought two movies, a cartoon, previews to coming attractions, and an afternoon in fantasy land. My mom would pop corn and fill a Wonder Bread bag with it. We were allowed to take food into the theater. It is hard to believe they let us do that, but they did.

Unlike the gray areas of life and complicated problems, westerns were black and white. There were good guys and bad guys. The bad guys wore black hats and had bad manners. The good guys were quiet, polite, and wore white hats. The good guys always won. The bad guys always lost. At times, it did not look like it though. The bad guys would have the upper hand for a while, but would always be out smarted in the end, proving that good always beats out evil. Some may feel westerns are sappy and do not reflect reality. I say to that argument, that's the point. Turn on the news and you will soon be depressed, angry, or both. Turn on a western, and you will get a happy ending. Our hope requires the fuel of a happy ending every now and then.

Open Range had everything, except indians. There were cowboys, a crooked marshall, the evil rich rancher, who owned the town, an innocent cowboy who had secrets and a past hard life, an innocent, fresh faced woman who had never found love, an old salt, saddle tramp with more politeness than Miss Manners, gunfights, fist fights, killing, poignant moments, the senseless killing of an innocent dog, and a sprinkling of humor along the way. The movie was filmed in Calgary. The scenery was breath taking.

I welcome the unrealistic stories told in westerns. I believe that is the point of movies. You can have what you want. I would rather watch good triumph over evil and see hard work pay off than I would to see the reverse. I see that enough in real life anyway.

Another thing I like in westerns is the simplicity and the rules. For instance, the worst thing one man can say to another is, "you're a liar." When those words are uttered, the piano player stops playing, men and women scatter and a gunfight follows. Another huge insult is for one man to throw a drink in another man's face. The ultimate worst thing a man can do is spit in another man's face.

More rules: Horse thieve are hanged. Fights are to be fair. If your opponent does not have a gun, either throw him one of yours, or throw yours away. The school marm is always young and pretty. The guy who runs the general store is a sissy. Every movie has a smart horse. If two people start fighting in a saloon, everyone present is obliged to join in. The mirror in a saloon must be broken in any fight. After you punch someone in the face and they fall down, you must pick them up and get them to a standing position before hitting them again.

Some of my favorite westerns are:
The mini series, Lonesome Dove
Dances With Wolves
Anything John Wayne
Paint Your Wagon
High Noon

Here is a site which lists the 30 greatest westerns

Happy Trails Gang and have a nice weekend.

Here is something totally silly. Have you ever wanted to control a giant chicken? Well, now you can. Go to this site and type in your commands. He will do anything you wish.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, April 22, 2004


How Accurate is the Press?

I am on the Planning and Zoning Commission for our town. I have served on the P&Z for 8 years. Meetings are on the third Monday of each month and I go to most of them. I skipped the April 19th meeting since it was my son's birthday and we had dinner plans.

Wednesday, I was talking to one of my friends. Claude said, "I see you are raising hell at the P&Z meetings." "What are you talking about?" I said. He explained, I was quoted in the paper. I found that interesting since I was not at the meeting. I was chowing down on Mexican food in New Orleans that night. And I have witnessess.

Here is the proof: Wednesday edition New Orleans Times Picayunne, St. Tammany section

 Newspaper article

It got me to thinking about the accuracy of the media. It seems to me, when I have had first hand knowledge of an event then read about it in the newspaper, the story was usually grossly inaccurate.

Yet we form our opinions, get angry, sad, and everything in between by reading these inaccurate rags. I will generalize out and hazard a guess this phenomenon is pervasive throughout all forms of media.

When you have had first hand information about something reported in print or otherwise, has the reporting been correct?

See you in the funny papers
John Strain


Wednesday, April 21, 2004



Sometimes when I am conducting interviews with patients, they say something that just flat cracks me up. Case in point, Tom was telling me about an escapade with one of his running mates. Tom was driving Sam to the place where he had to be drug tested. Evidently, Sam had gotten on the wrong side of the law. Anyway, when the duo arrived at the clinic, the establishment was closed. No problem, Sam urinated on the door of the clinic. I guess he was going to leave a urine specimen one way or another.

Misguided as Sam may be, I admire his attitude. I like people on the bottom who have a swagger about them usually reserved for top dogs.

As I thought about his attitude, I remembered some comics illustrating attitudes I admire. They follow below.

The Last Great Act of Defiance

This mouse is not going out like a cry baby or by trying to hide in futility. He realizes the situation and wants the owl to know how he feels about it. If more mice were like him or her, they would no doubt move up the food chain.

Never Give Up

As a marathon runner, I subscribe to this attitude. "Never give up" is a mantra I often recite. I derive inspiration from this frog. He won't go down (the throat) easy, if at all. I figure if frogs and mice can be this defiant and persevering, then so can I.

Last night, Barbara and I watched the movie Open Range. I loved that movie and it showcased other attitudes I admire. Stand up to bullies and injustice. Defend yourself. Fight for what is right. Do not become what you are fighting against. I know, it is just a movie. In today's world, right and wrong is not always so clear.

So on this Wednesday, maybe one of these attitudes is just what you need to help you make it through the day. Never give up, Friday is coming.

I will leave you with one more attitude. Hang in there baby!

Hang in there baby

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, April 20, 2004


The Brink

19 years ago our only son was born. Those of you who are parents know the elation. You know the relief too, because in the back of your mind there is a fear something may go wrong. In our case, the birth went normal as far as we knew. John was born in the evening and after he was weighed, cleaned, and all of the things they do, Barbara and I called our families and friends to share the good news.

Barbara's mom, dad, and sister were on their way to Rock Island, IL from Mississippi. They would arrive the next day, Saturday. The whole event was emotionally draining for me and physically and emotionally draining for Barbara.

That evening when I left the hospital, I snapped this photo of my new son. I stood there staring at him, feeling very responsible. I had a little person depending on me. It felt good. I had so much to teach him and prepare him for, but I was tired, so I decided to begin the next day.

LJ a few hours old

Saturday was a great day. I went over to the hospital to see Barbara and John. On the way, I stopped at the gift shop and bought John a small, white, Scottie stuffed animal. They brought John in the room for a while, then he had to go back to the nursery. Barbara's family arrived in the afternoon and they were thrilled to hold their new grandson and nephew. Life was good.

At the time, I was a minister and had preaching responsibilities. Sunday, I went to church, then beat it over to the hospital to see the family. When I arrived, I heard a nurse's voice say, "there's the father." The way she said it let me know something was wrong. One of the nurses stopped me in the hall and told me John had developed a fever. It was 101 at present, but has climbed since it was first discovered. They had Barbara sign a release for a spinal tap so they could determine what was happening.

After the nurse briefed me, I went into Barbara's room and I could tell she was scared. Things had been so good, now I was getting concerned. The nurses were serious in their speech and mannerisms. Something was definitely going on. Barbara said when she tried to feed John last night, he was a bit listless, but she only recognized it in retrospect.

Barbara's parents arrived and we waited together only having conjecture to occupy the time. Finally, the doctor came into the room. He told us to sit down. "Your son has meningitis. If he lives, he could be blind, deaf, paralyzed, mentally retarded . . ." The doctor went on with a list of maladies that had our head spinning. He further explained, that newborns often are not strong enough to fight off this disease. The fever rises, the brain swells, and they eventually die. Many times, the condition is caught too late. Fortunately, the nurses were on the ball. They called the doctor, penicillin was started immediately, then the spinal tap was ordered to confirm their suspicions.

I was scared now. After what the doctor said, I had very little hope. John was going to take a helicopter ride to Peoria to another hospital. This was necessary in case he needed a white blood cell transfusion. John's white count was getting dangerously low.

By now, the baby had a significant headache and was generally miserable with the fever. I saw him lying in the incubator. I reached my hand in and his little hand grasped my index finger. All of a sudden he jerked and began crying loudly. Then when he cried himself out, he would loosen the grip and be out of it. Soon the pain would grab him again and the process was repeated. I would have taken his pain or traded places with him if there had been any way, but there was not. His first battle, he had to fight alone. I could not help and I felt the intense helplessness.

We had support from our family and our church family, but the fear, disappointment, sadness, and grief was heavy. Barbara was recovering from a grueling birth and felt bad enough all other things being normal.

The flight team prepared John and the incubator for travel. The helicopter arrived and we had to say goodbye. We watched as they wheeled him outside down the sidewalk to the helicopter. Then the rotars began to turn and in moments the noise of the helicopter was at peak. As it lifted off, Barbara and I held each other and cried. Our joy had been transformed to deep sadness and uncertainty. That night would be one of the most difficult I have ever experienced.

Back in the room, I looked at the stuffed animal I had bought John. His goodie bag with the name tag which adorned his bed was taped to it. Everywhere I looked, I saw, what were supposed to be happy things, but they only made my fear and sadness greater. I could hear other babies on the floor. Other families were happy like we were only a few hours ago.

We packed Barbara up and went home for the night. In the morning, we were going to head to Peoria. Hopefully, Barbara would be better suited for travel in the morning. I tossed and turned all night. By morning, the news had begun to change. His white count stopped the slide. The fever did not increase. He never needed the transfusion or oxygen. The doctors were sounding more optimistic.

Traveling was quite uncomfortable for Barbara, but we made it to Peoria. St. Francis Hospital had a state of the art neonatal intensive care unit. I learned how to gown and scrub up. This was necessary to enter the unit. The rest of that week, I fed John every chance I got. He continued to improve and the fear of losing him was gone. The doctors ran tests to assess any other damage. They could not find any. At the end of the week, we were transferred back to the Rock Island hospital. John would spend one more week there to finish his antibiotics.

ICU Days

Long story short, he made it. No damage of any kind. He is a normal kid. That was one heck of a scare, but now it is the corner stone of my gratitude to God for restoring my son to me. My life has been enriched with the experiences of fatherhood and getting to know this fine young man God gave me to raise.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, April 19, 2004


Happy Birthday LJ

I became a father 19 years ago today. The birth was without incident on a Friday. By Sunday, John was fighting for his life and our joy turned to fear of losing our new baby.

I will tell the story tomorrow, but it has a happy ending.

LJ on his 19th birthday

Today is for celebrating number 19. All you can eat Mexican at Pancho's.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, April 18, 2004


Retreat to Manresa


The retreat to Manresa was wonderful as always. I am back and ready to hit the routine again. I have said it before, but you really should look into something to renew yourself, it works. Make it a tradition to push your reset button annually by taking a weekend away from it all. Here are a few thoughts I had there. No great revelations, just peace and quiet.

Check out the photos here:

Friday, April 16, 2004
This is the seventh time I have come to Manresa. It has become a part of my life and my yearly routine. I look forward to the time here, because it is equivalent to pushing my own reset button. Things slow down. The rush of the world is gone and I have three days to do as I choose.

There is a full schedule of things to attend. I used to try and attend as many events as I could. Now, I do not attend anything but meals. I was not getting anything out of the instructions or the other worship events. Maybe it is because it is Catholic and I am Baptist, but I found I got more from walking the grounds and staying in my own thoughts. That is what is nice about Manresa, men can do their own retreat, or follow the schedule prepared. I think men who have grown up Catholic, get more from the scheduled events, because it is tradition for them. It is a link to their past, their parents, and childhood.

After breakfast on Friday, I ran 6 miles on the Mississippi River levee. I rarely experience a runner’s high, but I did today. I suppose it is because there was no time pressure. I could run without thought about hurrying to get to work. The weather was spectacular. The sun was bright and the sky was blue. The air was still cool. I ran along the levee watching a flock of snow white egrets. They were on the ground eating and doing whatever egrets do, then as I approached, they flew further down the levee. This continued for a long time before they finally flew into some heavy brush between the river and the levee. I was rested and content. Running was effortless. When I turned to come back, I found out why the running was so effortless, I had been enjoying a tail wind. No matter, the trip back was just as easy. I accelerated as I came back. Everything was in synch. As I ran, my breathing was steady and my footsteps pounded a rhythmic beat in the levee gravel. The sun and cool breeze surrounded me and I seemed to float along without feeling winded or tired.

From the levee to the river is a flood plain, but this year, it was pretty dry. River Road follows along the levee on the other side and there are a few houses and mobile homes between the road and the levee. It seems when I run, the same guy is out in his yard cutting his grass. The smell of fresh cut grass, the smell of grain from barges make the air pungent.

After the run, I came down off of the steep levee. It is probably 15 to 20 feet high. I walked in the shade of an avenue of live oak trees filled with birds singing their morning songs. The air smelled sweet and the morning haze was beginning to lift. I stopped at one of the 200 year old giants to stretch. I took my time and enjoyed these marvels of nature.

From there, it was a stop by the cafeteria for a fresh cup of French roast coffee and a bottle of water. I went back to my room to shower and shave. Back outside, I walked the familiar ground admiring the roses and other flowers, which were blooming. I still have two days to enjoy this beauty. My mind and body will be completely renewed. My thoughts and feelings are of gratitude, serenity, and calm.

Another thing I like to do here is walk around with my camera and video camera. I did a video about Manresa two years ago so I have plenty of photos and video, but there is always something new to photograph. I hope to see some egrets, squirrels, or even a snake. I look for unique photo opportunities. I was doing this at sunset and got some nice shots of the sun setting on the Mississippi.

I watched a movie on John’s laptop, then took a walk and hit the sack around 10:30 PM

Saturday, April 17, 2004
Silence is a nice thing. We become accustomed to noise, television, traffic, chatter, telephones, and so many other things. Here at Manresa, all of that is gone. It took some getting used to silence. The first two years were a bit of a challenge. Now, I look forward to it and I hate to see it end. It is not completely silent. Last night, the guy in the next room was snoring so loud, the walls were moving. I wish Barbara had been here, she could have given him an elbow in the ribs like she does me. Then at meals, there is a lot of noise even though people do not talk. The coughs, sneezes, throat clearing, and blowing noses are far from silent. Someone please tell these guys it is considered poor form and gosh to blow your nose at the table. Sheesh. To drown out some of this racket, soft music is played during meals.

I went for two runner’s highs in a row today. I came pretty close. The day was a bit warmer, but I felt good. I ran for 13 miles. I decided to take advantage of all of the time. This time I ran the other direction on the levee (north). I ran all the way past Convent to a big chemical plant. The river between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is affectionately known as cancer alley. There are a number of chemical plants along that stretch and a statistically high incidence of cancer.

The food here is wonderful. At home, we make the food, dish up from the stove, then scatter to the table, television, or anywhere in the house. Here at Manresa, they bring salad. Then they bring the main course, then they bring the dessert. There is time between the courses and I like it. It would be a lot of work to eat this way at home, but I bet it is better for you and you could talk with the family. Certain things about our culture have changed since WW II. One is the elimination of the front porch. People used to sit on their porch and folks would walk up and down the street stopping by for a visit. The front porch has virtually vanished and often times, we do not even know the names of our next door neighbor. The other change is meal time. Families used to sit down to a meal. Now, due to schedules, fast food, and television, meals are more individual and a matter of function. Things change, but when we lose ways to relate, we better find alternatives.

Sunday, April 18, 2004
Today is another beautiful day on the banks of the Mississippi River. I went on another camera safari and managed to get some more video of egrets. The little devils must know when I have a camera, because, later on, when I ran, there were dozens of them flying around. I captured them in my memory though and there they will stay whenever I want to come back to Manresa, they will be but a thought away.

I only ran four miles today. That will give the old body a chance to strengthen.

This year at Manresa, we are living in modular housing. St. Mary’s Hall is more than 165 years old. It began as Jefferson College, a school where the sugar cane plantation owners could send their sons to be molded into proper gentlemen. When the civil war broke out, the Union army used it as a barracks. It became a school again, but was eventually sold to the Jesuits, and it has been a retreat center since 1931.

Anyway, the brick in the building was wicking moisture from the ground, and slowly decaying. The interior of the building is being gutted, repaired, and rebuilt. We will have to stay in the modular rooms one more year since the completion date is somewhere in the summer of 2005. It should be good for another 160 years after this 6 million dollar facelift.

Manresa: The house of silence and sacred sod, where nobody speaks to anybody, and everybody speaks to God. –Louis Yarrut.

Retreat number 7 is in the books. Now, it's back to work, but I am ready for it though, bring it on.

Until the next time,
John Strain


I'm Back

I am back from my retreat at Manresa. Stay tuned for photos and details.


Thursday, April 15, 2004


What's In Your Pocket?

My pocket contents

I can wear pink shirts and my socks match my shirts. I can watch a chick flick and get choked up if the theater is dark and I get a warm fuzzy feeling when I look at babies, puppies, and Kittens. When it comes to carrying a purse, however, I draw the line. I do have a camera bag I carry that functions as a purse, but that is only for tourist functions. Some guys carry a purse. I guess they are more comfortable with their masculinity than I am. What I do instead is put things in my wife's purse. The draw back there is I hate going into her purse. It is full of makeup covered kleenex and all sorts of things that change my manly smelling hand into something from the makeup counter at a department store. Another option is to stuff things in my wallet. It is amazing how many things a guy can stuff into a wallet. I have the requisite credit cards, business cards, a restaurant gift certificate, phone numbers, old photos of my son, and $9. The cash figure varies from $60 to $0. I love it when I go to the store, get to the checkout, reach for the wallet, open it, and SURPRISE - someone cleaned me out. Thank the Lord for debit cards.

OK, here is how I arrange this stuff. I am left handed, so the bill fold goes in the back left pocket. I need a new wallet, but I have needed a new one for several years. Men hold on to wallets and underwear until it disintegrates or the wife takes it on herself to replace it. The handkerchief goes in the right rear pocket. This is much more than a handkerchief. It is a handy cloth to offer a lady or to lay over a mud puddle for her so she can walk over on dry land. Of course if the handkerchief is too small, I throw myself in the puddle instead. The cloth is a magnifying glass cleaner, a parts holder (screws don't roll off my desk if I put them on the handkerchief), and it is an emergency rag for cleaning up any sticky, oil, grease, whatever. Now these uses are limited during cold season. During this time, the handkerchief is mainly used as a handkerchief.

In my left front pocket I keep the keys and Swiss Army Knife. I am not sure if Swiss Army Knife should be capitalized, but I am doing it here out of honor and respect. A man MUST carry a knife. Men need no explanation for this, but for you ladies, I will give you a few reasons. My favorite story about the knife goes back two Mardi Gras ago. We were in New Orleans for a Sunday night parade. Prior to the parade, people are set up in little camps complete with chairs, ice chests, blankets, and picnic baskets. A group of homosexuals were situated next to our spot. (I only mention they were homosexuals to add flair to the story, not that there is anything wrong with being homosexual.) Anyway, they were trying to open a bottle of wine and someone forgot the corkscrew. Before they started slapping each other, ripping each other's clothes and criticizing hairstyles, I offered my Swiss Army Knife. They were so appreciative, they gave us a glass of wine. I love Mardi Gras. I also use the knife to open packages, fix drawer handles at work, strip wires, peel oranges, and conduct minor surgery if I get a splinter or something.

Keys are keys. Of course, since I am a blind guy, there are no car keys, but I have enough hospital keys to give me more of a lump in my pocket than I would like. I keep a spare bottle opener as a key chain after I had to cross the causeway with a Heineken I couldn't open. That was sheer torture. I will never be in a situation where I can't open a bottle of wine or beer again, that is if I can help it.

My right front pocket is where my magnifying glass is carried. I use it to read and write. I hold it with the right hand and write with my left hand. I have glasses for the computer, but the magnifying glass functions better for writing. If I wore glasses, I would be constantly putting them on and taking them off. One side note about the magnifying glass. I cannot use it outside. I used to, but on sunny days, I kept setting my work on fire.

Pocket change is a tool of the devil. It increases the lump in my pants and makes noise. The spare change clanks on the Swiss Army Knife and keys. I sound like a tambourine walking down the hall. Therefore, at night, all the change goes into a bowl on my dresser. It never gets full, because my son steals all the quarters out of it. Sometimes, I just throw the change in the container at the checkout. You know the container, Kids with Cancer, Dogs with mange, Lost sock fund, tips, you get the idea.

The last item is my pen. I actually have a brand of pen I like enough to stick with. It is a Focus Flying Colors .7mm. Check it out. I do a lot of writing in charts. This pen writes dark, which I like, and it is comfortable.

I used to carry a comb in the right rear pocket with the handkerchief. Since I started buzzing myself, the comb has become obsolete.

Now the secret is out. People won't have to wonder what John Strain carries in his pockets. Now they know the real secret behind the lump in his pants - it's just a gob of keys and a Swiss Army Knife.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, April 14, 2004


If I Can't Solve The Problem, I'll Laugh At It

A Better Health Plan

A prominent Canadian doctor was visiting an American hospital. During his tour of the floors, he passed a room where a male patient was openly and vigorously masturbating.

"My GOD," said the visiting MD, "that's disgraceful. What is the meaning of this?"

The local doctor that was leading the tour explained; "I'm afraid this man was diagnosed with a very unusual, yet serious condition where the testicles rapidly fill with semen. If he doesn't relieve himself in this manner at least five times a day, he has to endure incredible pain and the potential rupture of his testicles."

"Oh, yes... of course," replied the visiting doctor, as if he were quite familiar with the condition.

On the next floor they passed a room where a young nurse was giving a male patient a blow job.

"GOOD GOD!" exclaimed the Doctor, "How do you explain this?"

The American doctor replied, "Same illness, better health plan."


The High Cost of Medicine

Freddie was a patient I had in my case load. His psychiatrist put him on a new drug named Consta. Actually, Consta is just an injectable, long acting form of Risperdal. Injectables have certain advantages for patients who are often unwilling to take their medication regularly or are unable to take their medication properly due to their thought disorder. Therefore, Consta was a good choice for Freddie.

It is my job to make sure patients have a place to live once discharged along with continuing treatment AND a steady supply of their medication. In Freddie's case, he had Louisiana Medicaid, and it was the kind that pays for medication. This scenario is the best I can hope for, because we just have to call his prescription into a pharmacy and he can pick it up with a $3 copay. Now Consta is not a medication a patient can administer themselves. Since Freddie attended the local mental health clinic, they could take care of that little task. I have been doing this job long enough to know not to take anything for granted. I called Medicaid just to make sure Consta was on their formulary (list of drugs they administer.)

What follows is the typical "catch 22" where healthcare and medication are concerned. Medicaid did not cover the medication yet. No surprise, they just put aspirin on the formulary last week. Now I had to dig deeper into the social work playbook. I called the drug company and told my story to the requisite 5 people before I got transferred to someone who could help me.

Most of the time, drug companies sample new medications. They give it away so MD's will try it. The thought being, if you try it you will like it. Consta, however, was not sampled because it cost $500 per dose. A dose can last from 2 weeks to 1 month. Freddie needed $1000 worth of Consta per month. I am not sure, but I think crack cocaine is cheaper and their customer service department is more user friendly. The catch 22 is that there was no patient assistance program for Freddie because he had drug benefits (Louisiana Medicaid.) I explained to the nice lady that LA Medicaid did not have Consta on the formulary. She said, "I know, it's kind of a catch 22 huh?" I am no stranger to situations like this. Deeper into the social work playbook I dove. "If I call our drug rep could she help somehow?", I fished. "No sir, at this time, we are not sampling Consta because it is too expensive." I knew I was defeated at this point unless I could pull, either a large sum of money or a large supply of Consta from my ass.

"Ok," I continued and thinking ahead, "this patient cannot stay on Consta. What is the equivalent of regular Risperdal, since we have to convert him to that drug?" So we talked, and after her disclaimers about she couldn't really say, and the doctor really needs to be the one to do this, and I am not really saying this, but. . . (lawyers are responsible for this crap) . . . she finally gave me an answer. Freddie was switched to regular Risperdal and the great Consta experiment was over. Consta may be a fine drug, but the population it is designed for cannot afford it.

I have talked to drug reps and they always give me this line how they spend so much on R&D. They say a drug takes years to develop and the cost is a means of recovering their investment. It seemed rational, but I do not believe it anymore. There is nothing wrong with making profit, but don't masquerade as a human service organization when you are only about money and drug companies are only about money.

Why are drug costs less in Canada? Because the United States subsidizes them. Canada has national healthcare. They say in essence. We will pay X for this drug, take it or leave it. The drug companies take it, because they can bilk the US citizens to make up for it.

Here is an interesting little chart I found here.

Drug Companies expenditures R&D vs Marketing

Drug companies spend almost twice on marketing what they spend on R&D. I knew the cute girls in short skirts bringing lunch and passing out expensive pens could not be cheap. Drugs do not need this kind of marketing. If the drug is good, MD's will find out. The drug compainies pay physicians consulting fees, which is just money under the table to Rx thier drug over some cheaper, equally effective version. The devil is in this I know it.

I do not have the answers. This is a huge problem. I have health insurance and medications are expensive for me. Those without insurance and not eligible for government programs cannot afford medicine. They get sick and go to an emergency room. The emergency room must treat the person or be in violation of EMTALA laws. The government loves to penalize hospitals. We are in a quagmire of policy, law, free enterprise, politics, and a lot more. Bush can't fix it, neither can Kerry or any president or party. They are part of the problem.

The drug companies are companies who answer to stock holders and are profit machines. It is not in their best interest to sell medicine cheaper if they can get higher prices. Still, if they could see Freddie, a guy who lives in a group home and has nothing to his name except a drug bill greater than the drug executives annual green fees. Who will help the Freddies of the world?

I don't know.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, April 13, 2004




I am still in my first year of blogging. I like it when I have a thought or a memory which sparks a post. Today's post is a result of just being outside and because of the windy weather and the smells of springtime, I thought about kites.

Kites conjure happy images of childhood. I was born in March, so pictures of kites were always on the big wall calendar at school. Kites are signs of springtime and playing outside without coats. Do you remember the feeling of a kite pulling on the ball of string you are holding? Can you smell the sweetness of the fresh grass and flowers? If you try, you can see a dancing kite in your mind's eye, darting about in the bright blue sky, with its tail flowing behind. If you try, you can hear children's voices and happy screams. Those were the days.

When I was a kid, kites cost about 10 cents. They were made of paper which tore easily. A string ran along the perimeter of the kite and it served to hold the balsa wood frame in place. Some kites never made it past the assembly stage. Either the stick would break or the kite would tear. Few things devastated me more at the time than my dreams of kite flying dashed, due to such tears and breaks.

Assembly was not complete without a trip to the rag pile to fashion a proper tail. Any decent tail had a series of knots tied into it about every 8 to 10 inches. My dad was called in for technical support to tie the string on the front of the kite and to tie the ball of string to the kite itself.

With the kite ready, one only needed a windy day. In Kansas, spring held many windy days. Some days were too windy. The gusts would come and go. The wind that cooperated in lifting the kite might also slam it in the ground shattering the kite and any hopes of kite flying for that day. The best days were with a steady wind from one direction. If I had help, I would go into the backyard or on the street. The friend would hold the kite in the air and I would run. If the kite climbed, I would let out some string. Before long the kite would be flying and I would be in the magic zone. Looking up into the blue heavens watching the flying speck tethered to my ball of string.

Those moments were short lived and most of the kite flying experience was running with a kite behind me rising to heights of 10 feet, then back to the ground. I usually got enough success to keep me at it for a while - long enough to sear pleasant memories in my brain to recall now. The wind and the smells of spring make these memories fresh again.

I never got one of the box kites. They were bigger and had more pieces. My dad said they did not work anyway, so we always got the 10 cent kite. As I got older, they began to introduce plastic kites with plastic frames. I had a few of those. It seems they had super heroes on them like Superman and Batman.

Today, kites have gone high tech. Made of space age material and engineered in wind tunnels, they practically fly themselves. They are nearly indestructible. Kids today may not ever know the feeling of having their prized kite dashed to splinters and scrap paper by an ornery March wind. What will they ever do to build their character?

So that is my walk down memory lane. I feel like flying a kite now, maybe I will.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, April 12, 2004


Manresa On The Mississippi

I am going on another road trip this week. Thursday through Sunday is my annual pilgrimage to Manresa on the Mississippi. This beautiful place of 130 acres is located in Convent, LA, which is midway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge on the Mississippi River.

It is a Jesuit retreat center. The unique thing is these retreats are silent. After dinner on Thursday there is no talking until lunch on Sunday. This will be my 7th time to attend. At first, the silence was difficult, now I look forward to it.

The grounds are magnificent. Oak trees several hundred years old with spanish moss are plentiful. Egrets lazily fly along the river. It is a peaceful, serene place.

I will write a bit more about Manresa. Check out their website I referenced above. Here are some photos I took two years ago.

Statue with Cafeteria in Background

St. Mary's Hall

One of several avenues of oaks

Here's to a three day work week

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, April 11, 2004


He Is Risen!

He is not here; He is risen, just as he said. (Matthew 28:6)

Think for a moment. You saw Jesus crucified on Friday. There was no question he was dead. Your hopes were killed along with him. Still out of love and sorrow you are going to his grave Sunday morning. On your way to the tomb, there is an earthquake, then when you arrive, a messenger from God tells you Jesus has risen just like he said he would. How would you feel? Confused, disbelief, shock, happiness, elation, all of these?

Easter morning for Christianity is what sets it apart from other religions. "We serve a living Savior." "Because He lives, I can face tomorrow." As the songs go.

A Christian is told how to live and how to die. As Paul said, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Being a Christian is a life of joy. When sorrow comes, there is a foundation of hope. When death comes, there is the promise of new life.

May your Easter Sunday be a happy and meaningful one.
John Strain


Saturday, April 10, 2004


Things To Do Today

Run 11 miles
Go to work
2 social histories
2 discharges
Come home
Cut the grass
Write something clever on my blog
Reward myself with rich food and alcohol
Watch the Royals game
Keep my eyes open for fun

John Strain


Friday, April 09, 2004


Dental Dams and Sexual Harassment

Disclaimer: This post deals with material of a sexually explicit nature. So if your response is "hot dam" read on, but if your reaction is "oh my" proceed at your own risk. I am trying to be funny not vulgar if that helps any.

"Do you know what a dental dam is?" the nurse asked me. By the look on her face, she was betting I did not know. She was right. I was guessing something to do with sex, but rather than take a few wild guesses, I confessed ignorance. I don't think she knew what a "dental dam" was 15 minutes earlier herself. For those of you who do not know, a dental dam is what dentists use to isolate a tooth. It is a piece of latex. It is perhaps better known today as an implement of safe sex. That is, the dental dam functions as a barrier between one partner's genitals and the other partner's tongue. This gives new meaning to the phrase, "have your cake and eat it too." Why the question and talk about dental dams and oral sex? No special reason, just another day at the psych hospital. No topic is off limits. The raunchier the better is the way we see it. Actually, the nursing group today covered sex and safe sex. You cannot do a group like that with folks who are, for lack of better words, low functioning intellectually, without getting basic. With sex, talking basic is a treasure trove of straight lines - for me at least.

Incidents and conversations like this occur every day. They are opportunities for laughter and camaraderie. I love the people with whom I work. They are all good sports and get into humor that might shock others. Case in point. Later that day, someone went out for coffee and smoothies. The nurse who asked me about the dental dam was inadvertently left out. When she saw my strawberry smoothie, she said, "how about giving me some of that smoothie?" I said to her, "do you want some of this smoothie?" She replied, "yes." "OK then," I continued, "bring your dental dam and meet me in my office." We all had a good laugh. Then she asked bystanders to join her in a sexual harassment law suit rather than working until retirement. Of course, I wanted to know what my cut would be, after all, it was my comment that made it all possible.

Every hospital I worked at has been the same way. The staff curses and swears at a rate much higher than the national average. It may be due to the fact we see some pretty strange things. The sights we see and the conversations we hear are, at the very least, unique. It is not uncommon for a male patient to whip out his tool and start going to town right out in the open. Nurses have phrases in their daily vocabulary like, "Glen, stop masturbating and put that thing back in your pants." Other patients often feel the need to walk out of their room in their birthday suit. Now couple incidents like these with an adolescent mind such as my own and others like me and you have the ingredients for some great humor. I really love my job.

It would be difficult to win a sexual harassment suit at our hospital. On any given day, there are probably dozens of violations to the harassment policy, by a strict interpretation. I know other businesses are much more serious about acceptable language and humor. A friend of mine once related a story about harassment which occurred at his office. The build up he gave had me expecting a story about rape, but when he finished the tale I said, "and? when are you going to get to the sexual harassment part?" We were obviuosly accustomed to different standards.

What I have said above does not apply to state psychiatric facilities. Those places are where casting companies get their actors and actresses for movies like "Night of the Living Dead." State facilities don't play. They are quite serious. I would probably not last long in a state facility - as an employee. I might do better as a patient.

What of your place of business? Are people cool or are they tight asses? Can you be normal or do you have to adopt that BS professional facade?

I hope you have a Good Friday, get it "Good Friday."

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, April 08, 2004


The American Pass Time

1902 New Orleans Pelicans
One of the most relaxing, soothing sounds I recall from childhood is the hypnotic sound of a baseball announcer calling a game on the radio. Many an evening, I sat in my backyard listening to the Kansas City Athletics games. The descriptions of the announcers fueled my young imagination. When I got to attend the games in person, it was like going to my own fantasy land. Oh, the view of the grass as I emerged from the stadium tunnel. A beautiful sight as any baseball fan would attest. I loved the sound of the crowd and the smell of hot dogs. Ahhhhhhh! These are memories of summers past, locked safely in my head.

As the years passed, baseball changed. It seemed players and owners were ruining the game. I was so angry a few years ago, I vowed never to spend another penny on baseball. I wrote letters to the MLB website and even got a reply. Last year, though, I came back to baseball. I guess my love was greater than my hurt.

This year, I spent $99 to have live access to most all games right on my computer. I know baseball has lost fans and lags behind basketball and football. Our ADD generation finds it difficult to watch or understand the intricacies of the game.

My Uncle Tom sent me an email a few years ago telling me about a relative who was influential in New Orleans baseball. His name was Abner Powell. I happened on to his photo in a book about Baseball in New Orleans. Abner Powell is wearing the suit. He managed the 1902 New Orleans Pelicans. Abner invented the tarp for covering baseball infields. He had taken the idea from the New Orleans docks. Huge tarps were used on the docks to keep goods out of the weather. In addition, Abner Powell started Ladies Days and rain checks. He is most noted for the following incident which occurred on August 22, 1886:
In a game with the Louisville Colonels, with the score tied 3 - 3 in the bottom of the 11th inning, William "Chicken" Wolf laced a line drive toward the right field corner. A stray dog that had been napping in the outfield awakened and joined outfielder Powell in a chase for the ball. When it appeared Powell was winning the race, the dog bit into his leg and refused to let go, allowing Wolf to run out an inside-the-park home run.
From "Baseball In New Orleans" by S. Derby Gisclair

Baseball is in its third century now. It is part of our national fabric. The old photos scream "Americana." There is something comforting about them. I like the stories about the good players who left the game to fight in W.W.II, like Ted Williams. I was watching the World Series when the big earthquake hit the Bay Area in California. So many of my memories and historical markers involve baseball. It is part of my personal fabric.

My other post about baseball: I Have Fallen In Love Again

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, April 07, 2004


Procrastination List

One of these days when I get some time I will make a list of things on which I have been procrastinating. On that list, between driving a dull spike through my head and joining the Democratic Party will be completing my income tax.

Every year it is the same thing. I reluctantly pull things together, fill out a form my CPA sent me and get the material to her right around April 15. On January 1, I thought this year would be different. I guess because by the time the end of January rolls around my resolve has rolled away. The W2's and assorted papers sit in a pile awaiting my last minute rush in April.

There is always something in my life that needs attention. If I am exercising and keeping the house up, my finances are in shambles. If I am writing letters and making phone calls to friends and family, my grass is three feet high. One problem is work. At least 40 hours per week at that hospital, seriously cuts into my personal goals. I can't quit though, because I have grown accustomed to paying bills and living in a house. Another amenity I have come to appreciate is regular meals.

I suppose in the grand scheme of things, this is all nothing. I am healthy, I am alive, and I live in a country that values freedom. Most of the people I encounter each day are pleasant and polite. I am watching my son grow into manhood. It is really hard to find something to complain about. Most of my problems are self-inflicted.

I will just keep counting my blessings. I hope this Wednesday finds you happy and fulfilled. I hope you are on your way to realizing a dream. If not, I hope you are warm, dry, and sitting comfortably with a full stomach.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, April 06, 2004


Death in the Spring

Hug your children today, because you never know what will happen. Spring symbolizes new life and promise, but for three Covington teens it was the time of their death. Saturday morning my son called from work to tell me about the accident. Three boys from the local high school ran off the road and hit a bridge pillar at 2:30 AM. All three were instantly killed. One of the boys was my son's friend and basketball team mate from last year. The boy was a few weeks from high school graduation. John knew the other two boys, but not as well as he did Corey.

John struggled with all of the mysteries of death that day. He eventually left work and came home due to the shock. How is it a person is alive one moment, then the next moment they are forever gone? Why did they die at such a time in their life? It is all so sad and such a waste, but it is.

The three had been down on Bourbon Street that night. Of course everyone suspects the boys were drinking, but the results have not yet come in. Regardless, they are gone and area teens are learning a lesson in life. Death is part of life. It hurts. There are no answers that satisfy.

As a young seminary student in March of 1982 I had occasion to preach a funeral. One of the professors was the interim pastor for a New Orleans church and one of the members had been killed tragically in an auto accident. Dr. Hubbell could not preach the funeral because of a conflict and passed the torch to me.

I was nervous. It would be my first funeral. I did not know the people, they did not know me. The family were fringe church members and the person who died was only 19. It was one of the more difficult things I have done, but it taught me some things. I was worried about myself. What would I say? Would the people be angry with me - God's representative? But it was not about me. It was about them and their grief.

Here is what I wrote after the events of that day March 13, 1982.

I preached my first funeral today. Until yesterday, I did not even know that Paul G. existed and today I preached his funeral. I arrived at the funeral home knowing what to expect from text books I had read and advice people had given me. When I passed through the doors into the quietness of the funeral home I could taste sorrow- I could hear sadness - I could see grief - I could feel anguish. I wanted to touch the sorrow and take it away, but I had no magic words. My concern allowed me to keep silent. When I did touch it was with a firm handshake and a steady look in the eye to say, "I am sincere." I wanted to do more. I wanted to somehow take those suffering people in my arms and wipe away their tears. But death is an exclusive club and today I was not a member, but someone on the outside wondering how I could help. The family was taking their last look at their son and I was in the hall adjusting my tie, thinking about what I had to say and where I was to walk. I felt less than inadequate - less than humble. I presented a positive message which spoke of death as victory for the Christian. I also left room for the expression of grief through tears and the weightiness of sorrow. I read scripture which affirmed the love of God. I have the feeling that the effect was positive, but that aspect will probably never be known to me. I was reminded of the seriousness and the responsibility which comes with the ministry. I was reminded that God is there to help. And I was reaffirmed in my call - I felt useful and I felt used. I was reminded of how precious the life is we possess, because I saw the grief and sadness of those who had lost some. I hope I never allow this act of conducting funerals to become mechanical. I think that would lead to a damage beyond my comprehension reaching into several realms of existence. My last thought is this: It is far better to say I love you to living ears than to say I loved you to ears which no longer hear.

It is just sad, no getting around it. As a parent, I cannot fathom the level of grief these boy's families are feeling right now. I pray God would comfort them during this time of great loss.

I am counting my blessings.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, April 04, 2004


Festival Sunday

It was a beautiful day for a festival in southeast Louisiana. The 33rd Annual Strawberry Festival was blessed with perfect weather. The day began early. We were up at 5:30 AM in order to get to the race on time. The old body clock felt like 4:30 AM due to the time change.

The morning was cool and just perfect for a 10K race called the Strawberry Strut.

John with trophy

This is a picture of me holding my trophy for 2nd in my age group. I ran the 6.2 miles in 46:04 which works out to about 7:25 per mile. After the race, I cleaned up and changed clothes. Before I left the house, I put a damp wash cloth in a ziploc bag and packed a change of clothes. After the race, I had a couple of fresh strawberries and two beers. Some may feel 9:30 am is too early to drink beer, but something about a race makes it OK.

crawfish pie

The festival was just getting underway for its third day of fun. I had run the race, got my trophy at the award ceremony, which involved me getting to stand between the Strawberry King and Queen. How much better could things get? Hungry now, I ate some crawfish pie.

Alligator sausage sign

I was still hungry, so I ate an alligator sausage sandwich with peppers and onions.

Strawberry Ice Cream

Topped off the meal with some strawberry ice cream.

Flats of Strawberries

One of the most interesting things about a festival is the people. There are people in all shapes and sizes. One motorcycle rider had a rebel flag on his leather jacket. Beneath the flag was this: "Try burning this one asshole."

About 3:00 PM we left the festival. We swung by a seafood place and picked up some crawfish for supper. A nice conclusion to a beautiful spring day.

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, April 03, 2004


Strawberry Festival

I am getting up early on Sunday to run in a 10K at the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival. Check back in the afternoon for photos and descriptions of the fest.

John Strain



Dandelion Seeds
Have you noticed the television commercials hawking products to eliminate weeds from your lawn and your life? Spring is the time of year weeds are most plentiful. A weed is defined as something out of place. An oak tree, for instance is a weed if it is growing in a patch of monkey grass or a bed of marigolds. It gets plucked and thrown away. I kind of feel sorry for weeds. They are only doing what they were programmed to do millions of years ago. Man comes on the scene and makes new rules. Don't grow here or don't grow there. Weeds have absorbed full scale attacks of chemicals and armies of weed pulling, unappreciative people. Some clever weed haters have gone so far to invent special contraptions to yank weeds from the ground by their little roots.

Look at this photo of dandelion seeds. Beautiful. One does not see this sort of beauty out of the corner of their eye, or as they mow their lawn. A photographer, however, saw this weed differently. We often hurl platitudes about like "everything is beautiful," but rarely follow suit with our actions. I am not saying let weeds take over your lawn. I am saying some things may need to be viewed closer or differently to be appreciated.

Some people are like weeds. They are out of place and others seek to pluck them out and get rid of them. Maybe if the little pluckers were to look at the weed / person differently they would see unexpected beauty, charm, humor, maybe even learn something.

I suppose this is a post about tolerance and looking at something again before you decide it needs to go. I would hope I could do that. I would pray others would do that to me.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, April 02, 2004



I deal with all kinds of crazy.

Funny DogCrazy number one: This is the traditional sense of the word. The people with whom I work, patients, are often thought disordered. They may hallucinate, hear voices, see things. Their ideas may not make sense to most people. Their actions and behaviors may be bizarre. All of this I am prepared for and expect. I am comfortable with it and it is certainly my job. Calling them crazy may not sound politically correct, but it cuts through a lot of jargon. I often use the term talking to them. Here is an example, "Jerry, if you get out of the hospital and stop taking your medication, you will get crazy again." If I use the term, it is usually in a way to evoke humor, never to be condescending.

Crazy number two: These past few weeks at work have been so busy it has been crazy. In this sense, crazy refers to the demands and unusual situations one finds themselves in. "It is freaking crazy around here." Our expected length of stay is about 11 days and we get one to three admissions per day. Each patient represents a lot of work to admit, treat, and discharge. Priorities shift depending on admissions and discharges. Treatment often lags and I wind up processing people in and out. I am often left feeling I am neglecting my patients even though I am working my ass off. It can feel like being inside a whirlwind. Crazy is when I am not controlling my work, but my work is controlling me. It has been CRAZY lately, but a certain part of me, the sick part, likes it.

Crazy number three: Things that do not make sense are also crazy. I received a call from another hospital wanting to transfer a patient who had taken an overdose in an attempt to end their life. The caller had already been on the phone with the insurance company, who notified her, that their policy does not cover overdoses if they were suicide attempts. Talk about a catch 22. I encouraged her to call them back with a different approach. First of all, a complication of depression is suicide attempts. Some people kill themselves out of a decision not related to depression, but the majority have something going on which could be considered a mental illness. I wondered if she heard the insurance company right. Maybe they did not cover self-inflicted overdose if it was part of a substance abuse pattern, but maybe they did. At any rate, it is crazy when an insurance company says, "We will cover depression, but if you become so depressed and suicidal you actually attempt to kill yourself by overdose, then we will not cover you." These same assholes will tell you on the phone when you are trying to get a depressed person in the hospital, "You say they are depressed, are they suicidal? do they have a plan to kill them self? is their gun loaded with hollow point ammo?" If the answer is no, they say, "well, it is just a gesture, they are not serious, refer them to outpatient." So they are referred to outpatient and that night, they take an overdose. Now they aren't covered. That is crazy.

Using their same logic, smokers should not be covered for lung cancer. Over eaters should not be covered for diabetes. People who eat french fries do not get cardiac treatment. Insurance companies are the devil. I heard one person say they are like a casino who do not want to pay off. We buy insurance betting things will go wrong. They sell it betting things won't go wrong. To cover their end, if things do go wrong, they just don't pay. What an industry. I pay a zillion dollars in insurance, then when I file a claim, they read me the fine print. "Oh, Mr. Strain, your policy says you can only go to the emergency room on MWF's. You should have waited." I know you know what I am talking about.

There are many more forms of crazy. Why don't you drop me a comment on one you have noticed.

Here's to hoping your Friday is only good crazy.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, April 01, 2004


The April Fools Day That Backfired

In the mid 90's I had an idea for April Fools Day. In February I posted a sign outside my office door. It read: ONLY _____ MORE DAYS UNTIL . . . The blank was a countdown. I had made little hooks and cardboard numbers so I could reduce the count each day. Slowly, coworkers made comments about the countdown. They did the math and figured the countdown was for April Fools Day. They were right, but I would not tell them what was going to happen. I tried to build the suspense. "Oh, you'll see," I would say. This went on and on as the days counted down to April 1. The joke was going to be there was no joke. I had some experience already with anti climax and knew how it would be the perfect April Fools result. All the time, I would laugh to myself when people would try to find out what I had planned for the fateful day. Many, however, did not want to give me the satisfaction of asking me what I was going to do. I knew they wondered though and I could not wait to pull the string. It was like one of those really long jokes that had no punch line. They would be so disappointed. Hehehe.

All I succeeded in doing was organizing an opposition to myself. My coworkers figured the best defense was a good offense. April 1 launched an offensive against me and I was unarmed.

It started with a few weak attempts to get me. Phone calls from the corporate office trying to make me think I was in trouble were good ideas, but I was far too bright to fall for them. I do not react automatically with fear so the attempt was fruitless.

The best string of events orchestrated by the opposition transpired in the afternoon. I was walking to my office and negotiating a locked door when I heard my office phone. I rushed to unlock and lock the door then get to my office to answer it. My door knob had been greased with something which gave me the initial "yuck" response. When I went to lift the receiver, the entire phone came with it because some person with too much time on their hands had taped the receiver to the phone body. I set the phone back down and ripped it from the phone body. Holding the phone carefully now so the tape still sticking out in several directions did not affix to my beard I began saying, "hello, hello," when I noticed the phone cord dangling from the receiver unattached from the phone body. Once I plugged it in I was instructed to come to the administrator's office by Harriet the marketing director.

Still playing it cool, I did not acknowledge anything was wrong. However, I was slightly paranoid. Were they watching me? Was this whole thing on some twisted kind of candid camera? I would play their little game, but I would win, hahaha.

I walked to the administrator's office and he made a weak attempt at accusing me of doing something and being in some sort of trouble. He couldn't keep a straight face though so it all ended there.

It was a fun day, but nothing like what I had envisioned. I hope you have some laughs today. I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve. Later today, I am going to have the operator phone the director of nursing and inform her inspectors from Medicare are in the lobby. That will cause an immediate panic response. I like to do things like that, then pull the string quickly. I consider it poor form to let the victim suffer more than a few moments.

Happy April Fools Day everyone

Until the next time
John Strain