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Monday, September 24, 2007



I pushed a few buttons on the electronic time clock and it beeped like it had on thousands of previous occasions. Only this time, it was the last beep. It was the beep that signaled the end of my career at the hospital. It was 2:05 on a Saturday afternoon. I loaded a few boxes into the car and we drove away.

I am always amazed how something can affect me so much, either emotionally or substantively, yet the world goes on as if it were nothing. Firsts and lasts are always meaningful to me. I am given to thought. I try to make it make sense. I want to learn something from the experience. I have learned a lot at the hospital. I made many friends. It was my life, but it won't be anymore.

I am not sad. It was time to go and I am looking forward.

Today was my first day on the new job - sort of. I spent half a day in an orientation, then more orientation at the clinic where I will work.

I am going to like the work. It is primarily a clinical job and I will get to hone my counseling and diagnostic skills further.

For now, the task is to settle into new routines. I have to leave the house about 1 hour and 45 minutes earlier now. That makes running in the morning a matter of getting up at 3:30 or 4:00 AM depending on how many miles I have to go. All of that will work out in time.

Now that I am a state employee, I will have more of a role in disaster response. I like the thought of that. I may get to go help even if the hurricane or disaster is not in my immediate area.

I'll write more in a few days when things sink in a bit more, but all is well.

Onward and upward.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Changing Jobs

The season is changing and so is my employment. After nearly 16 years at the hospital, I am moving on. It is funny how things happen. I wasn't really looking to move, but all at once I had a choice between 3 jobs. There was the one I had; there was the administrator position at my hospital, and an opportunity with the State of Louisiana.

My hospital was looking for an administrator so I applied. The next day, I heard from someone who worked at one of the state mental health clinics telling me about a crisis counselor position that was open. I went through the interview process with both jobs, weighed the options, pros, and cons - and then decided.

It wasn't an easy decision. On the one hand, being the administrator meant more money, an ego boost, and the challenge of a demanding position. However, to whom much is given, much is expected. Administrators longevity approximates that of pro football coaches. What have you done for me lately? I am well liked and respected now, but the honeymoon ends when the census goes down. I would be responsible for lots of things I have no control over.

Lots of stress, no win situations, being the blame for everything that happens, and on call 24/7. I knew I would be throwing myself into the pressure cooker.

On the other hand, I could work for the state in a clinical position. I would still make more money - 6K more a year. I would have better benefits, 8 to 4:30 hours, and no on call responsibility.

Maybe if I were 40, I would be up to the challenge of administrator. It would be good for the resume, blah, blah, blah. But I am 50. With the state, I am eligible for retirement in 10 years. I would be doing the kind of work I have been trained to do and the work I chose years ago.

How many times have you seen someone promoted to his or her area of incompetence? How many times have you seen someone who is good at a job take a job they are not so good at because it pays more or because it is management? I suppose I went against conventional wisdom and turned down more money and prestige. I think I chose a path that will still provide for our family financially, but keep me in the area I know best and I am best at.

So now I will be working with people who walk in to the clinic and in some sort of crisis. I evaluate them and refer them to the level of care they require. I also have the option to keep seeing them - up to 2 times beyond the initial evaluation.

I was getting tired of the inpatient population. Patients are getting more and more disrespectful, angry, and violent. Maybe that is because of crack cocaine. About two weeks ago (after I had turned in my notice) I was stabbed in the ear with a ball point pen by one such individual. The pen went clear through my ear. That little incident only confirmed to me I was making the right decision.

I suppose someone could walk in off the street and be violent too, but odds are the ones who walk in on their own volition want help and are not out to attack a therapist. I am starting to get used to it though. Since last October I was attacked in my office, bitten by a patient I was trying to pull off of a nurse the patient was attacking, and now stabbed by a patient who didn't want to be in the hospital - that's quite a trifecta.

Monday is my first day at the new job and I am excited and energized by the change. I will have a whole new group of folks who haven't heard my jokes.

As they say, one door closes; another door opens.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, September 17, 2007



Sunday, Barbara and I were driving back home from New Orleans. I had my iPod plugged in and I was listening to Kelly Sweet. She has a silky smooth, breathy, angelic voice and as I listened to her, some thoughts occurred to me.

I thought about how amazing is a voice. Kelly's voice is beautiful, but there are many pleasant voices and all different and unique. It seems a miracle to me that our ears can discern someone's identity by listening to the sound of a voice.

Then after our ears hear the voice, our minds can comprehend the meaning they convey. Both the package and the content can impact us greatly Some voices may be sweet, but they are trying to deliver poison, while other less pleasing voices may convey untold treasures. I thought about how often the thing that is beautiful to our senses is not always the best thing for us. Like the Sirens that lured the Greek sailors to their death on the rocks, some voices are illintentioned.

In the Bible, Elijah listened for God in the wind and then in an earthquake, and finally in a fire, but God did not speak from those powerful and majestic displays; He spoke to Elijah in a "still small voice." We have to slow down, wait, and listen to hear this kind of a voice.

Then I thought about my voice. What kind of voice do I have? Is it a voice that conveys laughter, joy, solace, and peace? Is it a pleasant voice? Like the voices to which we listen; the voices we use are a matter of choice.

Think how a few simple words to which you give voice can impact another for good or for bad. Think of the power you have.

"My sheep know my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27).

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, September 10, 2007


Why not send Social Security checks directly to the drug dealers?

It may sound absurd for the US Government to send money to drug dealers, but they are only one middleman away from that very scenario.

I work in a hospital and many of our psychiatric patients have a little problem with crack / pain pills / alcohol / insert any illegal drug here. These folks typically live in a group home and attend what is known as a partial hospitalization program. Medicare covers the costs for the daily psychiatric treatment and a lot of the medication, and the Social Security Disability check covers the $400 or so for the room and board at the group home / supervised housing.

This setup of housing and treatment works for some, but for others, it is not enough. These people are in the revolving door of hospital admission, discharged to outpatient, decompensation, and return to the hospital. The folks who are on this merry-go-round either are non-compliant with their medication, use drugs, or both.

As a hospital worker, I see people admitted time after time. Most of these folks have a chronic mental illness and by definition, they are never cured. Hospitalization is a part of their life, even when they do everything right. However, there is an element - a large element - that abuses the system. They have serious drug problems. They often spend their entire check on drugs. When the money is gone, they show up in emergency rooms stating they are suicidal. They are then committed and sent to a hospital that has to take the patient or be in violation of the federal EMTALA (anti dumping law).

I am often amazed at the grandiosity many of these people possess when they arrive at the hospital. Recently a patient pointed out that he was the customer and would do things in his time. He did not like being woke up early in the morning for a blood draw. He did not appreciate being locked up and his cigarettes limited. He had an extensive list. "I pay your salary," he said.

Hmmm. He receives a check drawn from tax dollars taken from people who do work. The truth is, I pay his salary. I usually bite my tongue, but if they persist, I explain who is paying whom.

Some people need help and I do not begrudge their getting help from the government. Others only need help because they continually choose the wrong thing.

So instead of getting into a "who really needs help and who does not" debate; I think I have a solution.

If you qualify for disability - fine. The benefits exist, you are eligible, then take them. Just know that you are accepting a pretty crappy income. You may not have to work and you may have a lot of time, but other than watch mind numbing daytime TV, what will you do to make life interesting?

I think a lot of folks on disability become drug addicts out of boredom and a lack of an interesting life. Think about it. If you were off all day, whom would you hang out with? Most folks are working. The only people not working are the retired, the disabled, and low life slugs who use drugs.

I take exception to the low life scum that managed to get on disability. I hate to see the government check going to the local crack dealer. They tend not to be good citizens.

I am sure you understand the problem. What about solutions? If you think about it, welfare and entitlements kind of go against the laws of natural selection. The weak and feeble are allowed to live. My solution is not to let natural selection take over - I'm just saying.

My idea is to do this: If you receive a check from the government and end up in a hospital because you are using drugs, then you will no longer receive cash directly. Because you have demonstrated irresponsibility with money, the government will have to become even more of a daddy to your undisciplined self. You are still eligible for help, but it will be in the form of vouchers.

Payments will go straight to your landlord or doctor. You will not be given one cent.

I know, critics will say that these people will only be forced to steal and crime will increase. Stealing would be too much work for a lot of these people.

Disability means broken. I am broken and qualify for disability, but I found something to do. Everyone may not be able to work in spite of a disability, but many who are getting that check are able bodied enough to do some kind of work.

It is hard to believe our welfare system has only been around since the 60's. Prior to that, families had to live together to get by. The check has allowed people to be independent enough to live in a rundown apartment or trailer. It has allowed people to have enough money to get by so they don't have to work. Not working robs people of pride. It was an idea with a good sentiment, but it is a major failure and has only intensified social problems.

Is Social Security Disability a good thing? Yes for many who truly deserve it, but many are pretenders, many are nothing more than government subsidized drug addicts.

There I said it and I feel better.

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, September 08, 2007


How to spell "arithmetic"

When I was in grade school we had a hard word in our weekly spelling list. It was the word "arithmetic." Our teacher Mrs. Doer (good name for a teacher) shared an acrostic to help us remember the word.


It has all of the elements to make a kid pay attention and use it. First of all, it is a catchy phrase, and second it has a hint of rebellion without crossing the line. This is similar to a song we sung in Boy Scouts where one of the choruses had the phrase "Amstra, Amstra, dam dam dam." It was very close to legalized cursing and we all loved it.

Anyway, back to "arithmetic." I think of Mrs. Doer and her memory aid to this day every time I spell the word. Otherwise I might be tempted to spell it with an "R." You know, reading, riting, and rithmetic.

Too bad about this ancient tidbit. I am sure if it were used today in a public school, it would prompt action from the ACLU. They would have the phrase changed to something like this:

H-uman colored
N-ative American
C-hewing gum
A-place where s/he finds spiritual comfort

So then "arithmetic" becomes "ahntsmecia."

Maybe that's what they mean by "new math."

That's what I get for thinking about stuff at 4:00 AM.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Labor on Labor Day

The other day I thought about making an exercise contraption in my backyard for doing chin-ups, pull-ups, dips, rows, and sit-ups. I thought about it for a while, developed a plan, went to Lowe's for some materials, and then over Labor Day, I put it all together. It came out just the way I had planned.

It was fun building and I was pleased to get the angles square and level. Part of the fun is simply taking an idea from my head and making it a reality. Dips and pull-ups are tough exercises. I like that they employ several muscles at one time. They build real world strength. There is no gimmick to a dip or a pull-up. Either you do it or you don't.

This morning, I did a set of dips and then I threw the ball for Bear. I repeated that a few times and really enjoyed it. I like the fact that I am working out outdoors. At the gym I do 3 or 4 sets of 12 dips and I am up to about 4 pull-ups. With my backyard torture rack I can do them all day long. I am going to shoot for 10 or more sets on a weekend day.

Since I have been laid up from running, I have been going to the gym and working my upper body. Now that I am getting back to the running, I don't have the time to work the upper body. Now with my exercise station, I can have the best of both worlds.

The first photo is of the materials I used to make the dip/chin station.
The materials
The Materials

The finished product. Notice the sit up bench I made. It rests on the bottom pipe. The middle pipes slide out of the way so I can do pull-ups or chin-ups.
The finished product
The plan comes together

At the top of the exercise station is a brace with special meaning. As a surprise a few years ago, mom and Rocky brought me their piano from Missouri. Rocky had it packed really good and the two screwed together 2x4’s were part of that packing. Now they serve to add stability to my machine. So he is with me in spirit and I know he would be happy to be a part of something that makes people stronger.
A special brace
A piece of Rocky

So that's what I did on my Labor Day weekend. It was fun building and now I have a nice piece of outdoor workout equipment.

Until the next time
John Strain