Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the month “May, 2018”

Remembering Our Fallen

Growing up in a small town, Emmaus, Pennsylvania, every Memorial Day, most would gather for a military processional that would conclude in a specially dedicated memorial garden.  There would be speakers, a moment of silence, and conclude with a 21-gun salute by the honor guard representing the various branches of our military.

It was a sad day, though as a child, I really could not grasp the true meaning behind the day.  But the fact that it was normally a damp and dreary day, nearly every year that I can remember, seemed to fit the mood.  We would leave the memorial service with a hand crafted poppy flower.

The tradition of the “poppy memorial” now goes back nearly 100 years and is attributed to the World War I poem, “In Flanders Fields.”  It is believed that a field of poppies were the first flower to grow in the cemetery for fallen military during World War I.

Memorial Day for me has never been about picnics, days at the beach, or the unofficial start of Summer.  Sure, I do partake in these more enjoyable activities, but first and foremost, Memorial Day for me is about remembering those who fought for this country and gave the ultimate sacrifice.

I learned about war from history being taught in school.  I was born just before the Vietnam War, so I clearly have no memories of that conflict.  The first war that would actually catch my attention would be the Persian Gulf war, where the United States took the position to help liberate a middle east country from a neighboring dictator.  Since then, there seems to be a new war starting every year.  Though we as Americans can have opinions as to whether or not we belong in an international conflict, that is not what Memorial Day is for.  Because one is certain, no one enlists with the hopes of going to war.  And whether we have enough information to deem for ourselves if the war was worth it, whether we belong in that conflict, does not change the fact that each and every one of our service men and women deserve our respect and support.

The very first military personnel I knew, were both uncles.  One served in the Air Force, and the other served in the Navy, for decades, including time in Vietnam.  As an adult, it became too common however, to know someone who would end up being sent overseas to fight for Democracy and humanity, whether it be a friend, a co-worker, or now a nephew or niece, or even your own child.

War has seemingly always been a part of our history in the United States.  Since 1965, when I was born, here is a list of most, if not all the conflicts:

  • Vietnam
  • the Cold War still in full force
  • the conflict at the demilitarized zone of Korea (yes, we are still dealing with the actions of North Korea)
  • Dominican Republic civil war
  • Cambodia
  • Bolivia
  • Zaire
  • Iran hostage crisis
  • Gulf Of Sidra
  • Lebanon
  • Grenada
  • Libya (still dealing with today)
  • Panama
  • First Gulf War
  • Somalia
  • Bosnia
  • Haiti
  • Kosovo
  • Sudan
  • Afghanistan
  • Iraq
  • Pakistan
  • Somalia
  • Uganda
  • Syria
  • Yemen

This list is staggering.  And again, while we can have our opinions whether the wars were worth our involvement or the sacrifice of or service men and women, today, we MUST honor and remember those who gave all.  And for those who have come home, we MUST take care of them and improve the VA system.  It is unacceptable to have those who fought for our freedom, not get the care or the assistance that they need to survive what will stay with them a lifetime, something that we who have never served, can even imagine what they are dealing with.

So please, before you head to your picnics, parties, or beach, take a moment to remember what Memorial Day is truly about.

No, I Don’t Glow… But I Should

I remember back in my childhood (late 60’s to early 70’s), getting warnings from my grandmother “Don’t sit so close to the T.V.” or “Don’t stand in front of the microwave.”  Today, we get warnings about excessive cell phone usage and brain cancer, as well as the big “sun exposure”.  These things all have the same concern in common, radiation exposure.  While there are things that are assumed that can happed due to exposure,  there are still many things unknown.

Then of course, there was the core problem at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant about an hour from my house.  A movie titled “The China Syndrome” chronicled a potential nuclear disaster.  Our world would experience just how serious nuclear crisis at power plants could be with Chernobyl and Japan.  And of course, there is the potential an previous use in warfare.

But under a controlled situation, it was learned that certain cancers could be cured, in particular, the cancer that I am now 28 years in remission from, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  And today, the dosages of radiation are much less, and more precise than what I, and many, many more were treated with.

This is a picture of a linear accelerator.  Not the one that was used on me thirty years ago, but similar.  With pinpoint precision, this machine shoots the ionized radiation to the specific tumor or cancer site.

To really appreciate how far treatment with radiation for cancer has come, I will refer you to treatment with Cobalt, something I have only heard of, from fellow survivors who were treated in the decades before my more modern treatments.

I was treated with the linear accelerator, however, unlike the fine-tuned procedure, I was treated with “scattered field.”  So, what does this mean?  Once the radiation entered my body, it scattered beyond the areas meant to be treated.  As I mentioned, radiation treatment was not just about the method, but also the dosage.

The comic superhero “Incredible Hulk” was created when Dr. Banner was working on a treatment with radiation.  He made the decision to test the process on himself, which of course went wrong, and as a result, the side effect, whenever he got angry, a metamorphosis occurred in his blood, changing his appearance and physiology to a creature of super human strength.  The problem was, Dr. Banner could not control or reverse what had been done to him.

In February of 1989, I laid on the table in the room with the linear accelerator.  On my first day, I laid down on the table.  “Tatoo” markers noted the spot to line up the cross hairs of the machine.  Lead blocks had been placed over my breast bone to protect my heart and spine.  In all, I would go through thirty of these treatments, lasting about a minute in duration.  Except, that did not happen.  The machine malfunctioned with me on the table.  I could not help but wonder if I was going to make the transformation into a giant, strong, green, super hero.  I was not given much time to think about that, because with the machine repaired, the treatment commenced.

Side effects for my treatments, were minimal, potential for pericarditis (inflammation of the lining of the heart), and perhaps a secondary cancer.  Truth is, long term studies were never done.  And with many Hodgkin’s survivors living beyond the magical five year mark, many would develop side effects that would end up teaching medicine, there was more that needed to be learned.  And in 2008, I would join the other guinea pigs in the research of long term side effects from treatments of cancer.

This is a picture of my death, or what should have been.  Radiation that I had received twenty years before, had remained inside my body, continuing to do damage internally.  My particular condition is called a “widow maker.”  Radiation scarring to the left anterior descending artery was about to be the cause of a fatal heart attack.  And without being followed up for my heart, something that was never a concern, I should be dead.

Instead, I am now followed up by some of the top doctors in the country for this cumulative damage from both radiation and chemotherapy long term effects.  And my body is riddled with these issues with more than a dozen other diagnosis.

But before this new health surveillance began, my doctors needed as much information as they could get about what, and how much I was treated with.  For the purposes of this post, I am going to just deal with the radiation.  It was revealed that I was exposed to 4000 grays of ionized radiation over the course of my treatment.  What does this mean to the average person without knowledge of radiation?  The limit of exposure today in general, are approximately 100 grays per year.  PER YEAR!!!  That means that I was exposed to 40 years worth of radiation in a 30-day period, well beyond a life-time limit.

To put this in perspective, I have two conversations to share.  The first, was with a friend who happened to work at a nuclear power plant who was curious about my exposure to radiation therapy.  By the end of the conversation, he was in tears when he heard about the level I was treated with.  Neither he, nor anyone who works in the nuclear industry is really ever to be exposed to the 100 grays per year exposure.  He knew, and I knew from his expression, this was something quite serious.

The other story, occurred during radiation training while working for my former employer.  We were required to take this training every year.  At the end of the session, the instructor would open the floor for questions.  I have to admit, I already knew my answer to my question, but as many around me doubt the seriousness of my side effects, there was a shock value to bringing my exposure limits public.  My question pertained to “half life” of radiation, simply put, how long radiation lasts inside of your body after exposure.  It amounts to the time it takes for half of the radiation to be gone.  Needless to say, the half life of exposure to a dental or medical x-ray pales in comparison to the radiation I was exposed to.  But I wanted to ask the question.

Me:  Hypothetically (I was being nice), what would be the half life of being exposed to 4000 grays of ionized radiation?

Instructor:  That would be impossible.

Me:  I know, but that is why I am asking hypothetically.

Instructor:  That would be impossible.  No one would ever be exposed to that level.

Me.:  But I was, twenty years ago.

Instructor:  awkward and heartbreaking silence

Yeah, I knew from his reaction, I am going to be dealing with this the rest of my life.  I have other radiation damage that will one day need attention, once it becomes more of a risk than the surgery to correct it:  mitral and aortic valves, both carotid arteries, muscle and bone damage, lung damage including spots on my lung, currently unidentified but being watched to develop into lung cancer.

It is for this reason, many of my fellow long-termers and I call radiation “the gift that keeps on giving.”  I just wish I could save someone with the radiation modification of my body like a super hero.  And no, I do not interfere with televisions, microwaves, radios, or garage doors.

Time Has Run Out

Though this post can apply to the senseless violence as it occurs anywhere in our country, I am keeping the talking points strictly to that of the violence in our schools.

Twenty years ago, it was Columbine High School that the unthinkable occurred.  Two students walked into their high school and slaughtered or injured fellow classmates.  The shock and horror gripped our country, and the world.  Honestly, at the time, I never thought I would have seen another senseless massacre like Columbine.  And then over five years ago, Sandy Hook proved to us that violence in our schools would have no limit.  Five and six year olds, along with teachers were murdered.

Everyone was outraged.  Well, almost everyone.  There were those who felt backed into a corner who felt that instead of being concerned for the lives of our children, the bigger priority needed to be paid to constitutional rights, and if children died in the process, then it was a sacrifice that had to be made.  But surely, this would be the final straw to get us to pay attention to making our schools safe.  And to be fair, many schools did react.  But some did not for whatever their reason – denial, money, etc.

I remember when I campaigned for school board many years ago, it was right after Sandy Hook, and the investigation took place as to what possibly might have helped to prevent such a tragedy, from an engineering standpoint, was an issue that existed in my daughters’ elementary school.  Sure, most schools’ doors are locked, requiring electronic entry from a secretary inside of the office of the school.  But for many in this situation, the visual equipment was either insufficient or outdated, and upon entry through the doors, was the hallway, directly to the path of the classrooms.  Under normal circumstances, the camera lens of the security system might only have been able to view the face of someone entering, not what they might be carrying.  But my daughters’ school district made the changes necessary, and yes, it did cost money.

Sandy Hook was to be the wake up call.  But it was not.  In fact, school massacres are occurring at a horrific pace, and because we, as citizens, we, our government, we as parents, are not willing to do the right thing.  So, just a few months ago, another massacre, this time in Parkland, Florida, a movement has grown, this time led by students.  But as adults know, students are not given a voice, so students are ignored.  But if you listen to them, they do have solutions, and it is not all gun restrictions.  All the attention given to gun laws is a dog whistle, that we end up wearing blinders, refusing to look at anything else.  But just as has occurred EVERY time since, the energy, the momentum wanes, until the next massacre.  Now, we have Santa Fe, Texas.  Again, there are many more schools that have been witnessed to similar violence.  There seems no end in sight.

I hear many of my friends complain about “liberal Hollywood” or others who should really “stick to their acting or singing”.  Athletes should stick to their sports.  Well, our government is doing nothing to even slow the occurrence of these massacres let along stop them.

As a parent, I do have a voice in the fight.  And my opinion is just that, opinion.  Some of it is based on fact, which I will clearly state as fact.  But before I get into that, I want to make perfectly clear, while I may not understand certain aspects of gun ownership, I do support the 2nd amendment as well as the rest of the constitution.

Investigations Are Needed

I used to work for a large corporation.  And in my department, we had many accidents, some avoidable, some not.  But our safety record was a big concern.  And since all that seemed to be done, was writing one injury report after another, it was determined that maybe, we needed to form a committee to investigate, beyond what was being reported by the employee.  This committee would be charged with determining the root cause, was everything done possible, to avoid being injured, and of course possible corrections.

Sticking to the most recent event, two things stand out – the murderer (a student) was wearing a trench coat in Texas in ridiculous heat, and while the guns were legal, they were not handled appropriately.

The trench coat, also similarly used in Columbine, was able to conceal the weapons.  But the weapons did not belong to the student, and the parents definitely share in the responsibility for not having the weapons secured.  There are other factors coming out, but those are two of the biggest factors.

Acknowledge What Does Not Work

Are you offended by these two photos?  You should be.  You should be offended by the fact that we are willing to sacrifice our children.  You should be offended by the fact that the cycle repeats and repeats.  Even the president who called out members of Congress for not standing up to the gun lobby, would eventually cave after his tough talk.  In any case, this does not work.

Now I mentioned the need to investigate injuries that occurred in my work place, in an effort to reduce or eliminate injuries.  We need this same level of detail when it comes to this horrific epidemic.  And the only place it can start, is the one place that it is not allowed to, the Center For Disease Control And Prevention.  Why the CDC?  Because violence in schools, with the majority of the violence, gun related, is an epidemic.  It is a violent disease that needs to be stopped and prevented.   So, if what is needed is for the CDC to launch a study, why is not being done?  Our representatives passed a law many years ago, preventing the CDC from doing any studies relating to violence and guns.  Our government simply will not allow it.  And why?  The National Rifle Association (NRA) lobbies our government with ridiculous amounts of money under the guise of protecting the 2nd amendment.  But there is nothing in the 2nd amendment stating that the lives of innocent children and others must be sacrificed in order to do so.

The NRA at one time, was an honorable one, dedicated to gun safety and responsible gun ownership, the “good guy with a gun.”  And I do fault the NRA for not only enflaming these latest tragedies with their rhetoric, but I also blame them for not even attempting to come up with a solution or than the same old talking points.

  • “guns don’t kill people – people kill people”
  • “why don’t we argue for knife control when knives are used, or cars when they are used”
  • “need more guns”

Again, I want to focus on what should be done at this point.  Because the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.  As it was revealed during the early investigation of this massacre, it was discovered the guns were legally owned by the killer’s father, but they were not secured.  Here is where I am going to call out the NRA.  Here is your chance.  The NRA is about responsible gun ownership and safety, and this incident is a clear failure of both.  Where is your voice NRA?  Here is your chance to speak to your membership to prove that you are more than just a lobbying group lining the pockets of our government.


It is only after the event occurs, when we play Monday morning quarterback.  And those close to the horrific event have a-ha moments and epiphanies, recalling signs that should have been warning enough when they became evident.

This year alone, I have received 4 emails from my daughters’ school about “threats” or concerns that were dealt with, that if carried out, would most certainly have been tragic.  But somewhere along the lines, students got involved, and spoke up.  Tragedies were most likely prevented.

The killer in Santa Fe wore a trench coat, in Texas, on an extremely hot day (yeah, I know, most of them are that hot).  I am not saying that trench coats are uniformly a sign of guilt, but clearly in certain climates, it goes beyond being a fad.  But the other big issue, the connection to the alt-right movement, or more commonly known as the support of the Nazi theology.  And I will not hold back.  If you even admire the word Nazi, you are a racist, hateful, bigot.  There is nothing redeemable about respecting anyone who takes up their beliefs.  It is believed that this murderer some how discovered Naziology.

Mental Issues

My psychology professor in college used to state that it was a ridiculous concept for a murderer to claim insanity as a defense.  Because, of course only an insane person would kill another.  But mental health is another roulette wheel that just spins and spins every time one of these mass shootings occur.  The reasons may be related to bullying, physiological, anger, or any other issue.  No matter, those that need help and guidance to deal with their issues should have that help before it gets to this violent level.

It is now being reported that, while not necessarily his motive was sparked by the spurning by a girl he had romantic intents with, it has been stated that he clearly avoided shooting at people that he had no problem with.  While I do not consider this a mental health issue, somewhere along the lines, he believed it was okay to resort to violence because he had been turned down.

The Weapons

It does not matter what weapon gets used, a semi automatic, pistol, knife, car, rope, if someone wants to kill, the will use something.  But, that being said, we need to stop denying that the type of weapon used determines the body count.  And I find it strange that the NRA is being quiet during this event, because this time, a pistol and shotgun appeared to be used, instead of the usual semi AR.  Where the normal argument from the NRA has always been that a knife kills just as a gun will, the silence by the NRA over the weapons used in Santa Fe is noticed.  Clearly the killer did not want to kill anyone unplanned by spraying an unlimited amount of bullets with not aim or control like would have happened with a semi-automatic or AR.

I stated before, I do respect the 2nd amendment.  I believe all of my friends are responsible gun owners.  And I believe that most believe in common sense gun controls.  Gun controls do not mean the same thing as confiscation.  Seriously, we need to register to drive a car, register to vote, purchase care insurance, be a certain age to drink alcohol, etc..  Why shouldn’t there be responsible laws for guns as well?

The one question that I cannot seem to understand the answer to is this… I respect the right to defend yourself.  I also enjoy venizen so I respect the right to hunt.  But I do not understand the need to posses a weapon with limitless ammunition capability.  Face it, if you use an AR15 to defend yourself, you are going to hit other targets besides the intruder, assuming you even hit the intruder.  And face, it, if your aim is that bad for hunting that you need to spray the animal with gunfire to hopefully hit it once, then maybe you should not hunt.  But, seriously, I would really like to hear the rational answer to having to own a military grade weapon.  They have plenty of them in the armed services, where they are intended.

And let us take a look at the age of the killer just a moment.  He is 17 years old.  In Texas, the crime he committed he was charged as an adult, and therefore eligible for the death penalty.  Rightfully so.  But here is the problem.  Federal law, which overrules state law, says that a 17 year old cannot be executed.  I do not understand this.  There are those who argue there should not be age limits on guns, driving, alcohol, but when it comes to a punishment, age matters and for the most confusing reason of all… their brains are still not truly capable of understanding the gravity of the crime committed.  While I agree with that, all the more reason to support age limits.  It is not that they are being denied forever, just as voting, driving, and drinking, they will get to have guns, when they are mature enough to handle them.

Preparedness Does Not Matter

Many schools in Texas had already prepared for such a vile act.  It had armed guards, even armed teachers.  It led active shooter drills (ah… remember the good old days of just an occasional fire drill?).  But that did not stop the shooter from carrying the weapons into the school.  And the killer kept his recent behavior quiet so as not to draw attention.

I am afraid there is really only one way to prevent a shooting inside the school, or at least, prevent it from going beyond the door.

No one wants to see our schools with police and metal detectors.  But here is the fact, my generation was the last generation able to attend school without the fear of being shot.  Today’s children, this is all they know.  And it has become some common, and so accepted, that this is their normal.  And many children now have accepted that it is only a matter of time before their school is next.  This is unacceptable.

But there has to be common sense here.  There is a reason why we protect adults at a courthouse, or in an airport?  Why do we not provide the same level of protection in our schools for our children?  We cannot keep thinking that our kids are safe in school.  THEY ARE NOT.  Yes, this is not only a disappointing atmosphere to have in our schools, it is also going to be expensive.  But there is no option.

Some want to complain about the #neveragain movement.  But even our youth are tired of us adults doing nothing except pointing fingers, and denying any responsibility.  In the meantime, more die, and will die.  I am willing to bet that there is not one child who would not accept this level of protection in exchange for knowing that they will go home from school every day.

What Does Not Work

Prayers and thoughts do not prevent school shootings.

Congress will do nothing as long as they are in the pockets of the NRA.

Facebook arguments go nowhere.

Arguing with false dog whistles.

Forgetting til the next incident.

Blaming video games, certain music, lack of religion.  There is no scientific proof to back up these claims.  And just like needing a study by the CDC, an actual study would have to be completed to prove those activities or lack of faith play any role.

What We Need To Do

As proven in my daughters’ school, children who get involved, when they see something or hear something, they say something.  There is no wiggle room to determine if it is meant as a joke, or a serious concern.  Our children need to be made aware, this is no longer a joking matter, and words and comments need to be taken seriously, just as we would a student contemplating suicide.

Parents need to be more involved with their children.  Follow their grades.  Show an interest in their activities.

Do not ignore signs which are not normal.  Any loving parent should know their children better than anyone.  The slightest deviation should always set off an alarm and open a door of communication.

And yes, children need to be taught respect for everyone, regardless of race, creed, or gender.  There is no place in our society to teach  racism and bigotry as an acceptable way of living.  And racism and bigotry are taught.  Kids are not born to hate.

Schools need to make sure environments to not encourage or tolerate isolation.  Bullying must be dealt with (a post for another day), and the restoration of zero-tolerance is a must.  Sadly, zero-tolerance was in place in Florida before the Parkland massacre, but strangely, the sheriff of Broward County was one who lobbied for the lessening of zero-tolerance because he department had become so overburdened with dealing with minor issues that he felt could have been dealt with at the school level.  And here is the problem with leaving things up to the schools.  School administrations are scared of lawsuits.  Therefore they are more likely to look past infractions that may seem minor, only to have them escalate to a more serious level.  If the school tries to come down on the bully, the parent sues, and if the parent loses, they appeal, an expensive process most schools would rather avoid.

But you know what would be less expensive, prevention.  And that starts with a controlled entrance with metal detector and armed officers, not teachers.  Let the teachers teach.  And let the officers who are trained for these situations do their job to the best of their ability.

But we have to stop relying on our government to help.  If there is one thing that I learned as a school board candidate, and in particular, dealing in local politics, you can make a much bigger impact on the lower level of politics.  You can make the difference.  And there is no price you can put on the life of our children in the one place they should feel safe.

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