Friday, September 29, 2006


Friday, September 29, 2006 Observation:

I believe it happened in February when I was spending an inordinate amount of time in bed because of a pressure sore.  Thankfully, when I spend time in bed I am able to work on my laptop computer making the downtime not as "down" as it would be otherwise.  For some reason I was spending a lot of time reading the Old Testament.  I just couldn't seem to get enough of it.  I was reading 2 Samuel one afternoon when some words just leaped off the page at me.  These words were David's final words recorded by the author or authors of Samuel, preserving a metaphor regarding Jehovah, Christ, The God of Israel. "Now these be the last words of David...The God of Israel...the Rock of Israel spake to me [saying]...And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds..." [2 Samuel 23:1-4]

I think David's metaphor concerning Christ struck such a responsive chord in me because of my love for the precious rising of the sun I have witnessed and enjoyed during my lifetime.  For the past 17 years I generally haven't arisen until the crack of 10 a.m., but before my accident I was very much a "morning" person.  I believe my love of the morning began when I worked for Kennecott Copper Corp. each summer as a young man.  I would make enough money each summer working for Kennecott in Eastern Nevada to pay for two semesters at BYU the following fall and winter.  I invariably worked what was known as the "Graveyard Shift" which began at 11:30 p.m. and ended at 7:30 a.m.

The summer I worked as a drill helper I will never forget.  The drill was mounted on a rig that could be driven slowly from site to site depending on where holes needed to be drilled.  We would drill holes all night and then in the morning the powder crew would come and fill the holes with explosives, ignite them, and the entire town would shake, rattle and roll for just a few minutes during the moment of explosion.  Immense electric shovels would then scoop up the shattered earth which contained the precious copper ore, and deposit it in large trucks for ultimate transport to the smelter.

Once the drill began its work the driller and his helper didn't have much to do but watch the drill and correct any problems that might occur.  The Liberty Pit in Ruth, Nevada, where I worked is located in a mountainous area which is more than 7000 feet in elevation. I remember standing and shivering outside in the very cold Nevada night air, hour after hour and night after night, anxiously awaiting one thing -- the arrival of morning.  The Nevada nights were beautiful, full of stars, but I felt a great joy inside me as I looked at the Eastern Mountains and could discern them against a graying sky.  The dark would reluctantly and imperceptibly give way to the powerful light of the rising sun.  The morning star would still be visible, and then the sun would just seem to explode above the mountains and bathe me in its warm, life-giving rays.  The long, cold night was over, and one of God's greatest gifts to his children, a new day, had dawned.

In the mission field I became an "early morning Nazi"(translation -- fanatic).  I made it part of my mission to always be out of bed before any of my companions.  I felt so righteous (self-righteous) as I would sit at my desk studying Spanish and searching the scriptures for an hour or so before my companions would begin to stir.  Those hours, undisturbed by the awakening world, became precious to me.  I would always make a point of going outside, or looking out the window as the sky would begin to gray to witness another glorious morning burst upon the world.

Arising early did not end with my mission.  My most productive time of day was in those early hours before the sun would break over the horizon.  While I served as bishop my two oldest children were in early morning seminary, but not old enough to drive.  We had an old Volkswagen bus and I would take my two children and pick up three or four of their friends and drive them to the chapel each morning.  While they were in seminary I would run from the chapel up Browning and into the foothills.  My run would begin in the dark, but as I would return, the sky would begin to gray and by the time I reached the chapel to pick up the kids, the warming rays of the sun heralded that indeed, once again, a new day had been born.

I could go on with many more sunrise experiences, but suffice it to say, I think I know why David chose to describe Christ the way he did: "... He shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds..." David was a shepherd boy who cared for his father's sheep in the hills surrounding Bethlehem.  How many long nights did he spend guarding those precious sheep, anxiously awaiting the glorious sunrise and dawning of a new day? How he must have enjoyed the warming and life-giving rays of the sun that would come each morning bringing life to him, the sheep, and to the earth.

Christ himself said: "... I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."  [John 8:12] Christ disperses darkness, the darkness of sin and of death.  Light and darkness cannot occupy the same space at the same time.  David's metaphor is very powerful in teaching us that Christ is as the "light of the morning, when the sun rises, even a morning without clouds", dispelling the cold darkness of night and symbolically reassuring mankind that just as the night of death will come to each one of us, so will their come a glorious and literal "morning" of resurrection.

The scriptures reveal the following significant truth as well: "... in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made. And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings... Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space— The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things..." [Doctrine & Covenants 88:7,11,12-13]

I believe when Christ comes to usher in his millennial reign he will come as the "light of the morning, when the sun rises, even a morning without clouds." I hope we will all be "morning" people then.

Yes, mornings are special as they remind us of the "light and life of the world".


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Cuffed Trachea

Thursday, September 21, 2006 Observation:

I believe one of the most frustrating and terrifying experiences a person can have is not to be able to communicate, and because of it, to not get the help or reassurance needed to be comforted, and at peace.  The Lord gives little babies the ability to cry, really the only way they can communicate their needs, in order for them to receive the help or reassurance they need to be comforted and at peace.  A baby's cry, though oftentimes annoying to adults, eventually gets their attention and is a vital tool of communication given to each baby by a wise Heavenly Father.

While I was in the hospital a week or so ago the doctors felt it important to put me on a "cuffed trachea" while they put the scope down my throat to see what was going on inside my stomach.  A cuffed trachea has a little balloon-type device which when inflated allows no air to escape between the ventilator and the lungs.  The problem with it is that no air goes by the vocal cords making it impossible to speak, nor can one eat when on a cuffed trachea. 

Being paralyzed from the neck down and on a cuffed trachea makes any form of communication almost impossible, except for the blinking of the eyes which doesn't really work very well.  Approximately 18 years ago I was on a cuffed trachea for almost a month, and not being able to communicate almost cost me my life several times.  Early one morning, for example, I was running a fever and when I get overheated I begin to experience an anxiety attack similar to claustrophobia.  I was in the ICU of a trauma center and nurses were everywhere, but because I couldn't communicate my need to them, they really weren't paying much attention to me. I got to the point that I thought I would die if I did not get some kind of relief.  Just at that moment a good friend walked in, came to my bedside and looked into my eyes, felt my face, and instantly knew the problem and how to resolve it.  She got a container of ice water and with a washcloth began to bathe my face, arms, and legs.  The nurses quickly caught on and began to assist as well, and as my temperature went down so did my anxiety and I was soon comfortable and at peace once again. 

It is impossible to describe the desperate feeling that accompanies the feeling of needing help badly, and not having the power to express that need.  Several weeks ago now when they put me on a cuffed trachea to do the scope it was "deja vu all over again".  The doctors felt it would be wise to leave me on the cuffed trachea until the next day in case I started bleeding profusely once again.  Imagine being totally paralyzed, unable to communicate in any way, and then having Jo Anne finally asked by the nurses to go home.  The nurses were attentive thankfully, but I felt extremely vulnerable all night long -- a very long night -- and was so grateful that I did not experience any pressing need or life-threatening situation.  What joy to finally have the cuffed trachea removed later that day, and to be able to talk and even cry out for help if the need were to arise.

Our good friend Ken Rogers, fellow Central American missionary, BYU roommate, and best man at our wedding, during a conversation several months ago, perceived how dangerous it was for Jo Anne to leave me alone in the van while running into a store, even for just a few minutes.  Ken, an electrical engineer, wanted a day or two to think about the problem, and then he drove to our home in Tustin from San Diego with some small handheld radios that are able to transmit an astonishing distance.  Mine is voice-activated as I speak into the microphone which is part of my headset. Now, Jo Anne can leave me in the van with confidence for a few minutes, while she takes care of business in her favorite stores.  It is comforting to me to be able to say, "Jo Anne, where are you?"  More often than not she replies, "I'm at the return desk!"  I ask, "How long will you be there?"  She responds, "Just a couple of minutes" -- translation -- probably 20 or 30 minutes.  We are even getting the hang of radio talk.  I usually say "ten four" (I have heard radio people use that phrase; I'm not sure what it means but it sounds very authoritative and knowledgeable).  Jo Anne responds with "seven eleven" which to me makes more sense than "ten four".  When I am finished talking I always say "Roger, over and out!"  I don't know what that means either, and I like Jo Anne's response better than mine as she counters with, "Roger, In N Out".

As I have thought about our need as human beings to communicate, to be heard, and to receive a response, the principle of prayer has come powerfully into my mind.  Even with a "cuffed trachea" we can thankfully communicate our gratitude, and the needs we have to a loving Heavenly Father.  When on a "cuffed trachea", my prayers, though silent, have been fervently offered, and I have been blessed with peace and comfort beyond my ability to describe.

One of my favorite biblical figures is Joseph who was sold into Egypt by his brothers.  He was a young teenager at the time, torn from the loving arms and influence of his father, and placed in a radically different and worldly culture from which he was accustomed.  I would imagine there were those days that Joseph would have given anything to have talked to his father, Jacob, and to have received his assurance that all would be well.  However, Joseph was in Egypt and Jacob was in Israel, and no communication between them was possible.  Joseph prospered in Egypt as we know.  Although the scriptures are silent regarding the frequency and intensity of Joseph's prayers, there is one verse that explains his success, and I believe the peace and comfort he must have experienced as a slave and prisoner: "And the Lord was with Joseph..." [Genesis 39: 2]   

I believe the Lord "was with Joseph" because Joseph plead with the Lord in faith for his help.  Prayer can bring to us the comfort, sense of well being, and assurance we need so that we never have to experience the terror of not being able to communicate our urgent needs to someone who can help.  Not even a "cuffed trachea" can keep us from calling upon Heavenly Father from the depths of our souls.

What the Lord told ancient Israel applies to all of us today: "But if ... thou shalt seek the LORD thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. When thou art in tribulation ... if thou turn to the LORD thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice...he will not forsake thee..." [Deuteronomy 4:29-30]


Friday, September 8, 2006

ICU stay

Friday, September 8, 2006 Observation:

Yogi Berra, the great philosopher, baseball player, and manager, said to one of his malingering players, "Are you dead yet?"  About a week ago in the ER I put that question to the doctors in the first person and asked them "Am I dead yet?"  Thankfully they assured me that I wasn't which was very comforting.  They asked me what my blood type was before giving me a transfusion and I told them "Ephraim".  This threw them off for just a minute but they quickly recovered and got me the blood.  Thanks to good doctors, marvelous medicine, and lots of fasting and praying by family and good friends, coupled with priesthood blessings, I am home and out of the hospital with a positive prognosis for the future.

However, a terrible thing has happened during the week I spent in the hospital.  Black Strap Molasses sales have plummeted in health-food stores all over the United States.  My week in the hospital even damaged the sugarcane market in the Caribbean and a number of plantations are on the verge of going under.  A consortium of health-food stores has asked me to rise up in defense of Black Strap Molasses.  I also think my son-in-law, Matt Riley, was a little off base in writing that Jimmy Durante, Groucho Marx, and Danny Kaye were not reliable nutritional experts.  They all lived to a good old age by eating "Black Strap Molasses and the wheat germ bread", and they all lived so long that others probably wished they were dead.

I have already told you more than you would ever want to know about blackstrap molasses, but to strengthen the sugarcane market, as well as blackstrap molasses sales in health-food stores across the nation, I must punish you with the following information.

"The George Mateljan Foundation is a non-profit organization free of commercial influence...Our purpose is to provide you with unbiased scientific information about how nutrient-rich World's Healthiest Foods can promote vibrant health and energy and fit your personal needs and busy lifestyle."

"Blackstrap molasses is a sweetener that is actually good for you. Unlike refined white sugar and corn syrup, which are stripped of virtually all nutrients except simple carbohydrates, or artificial sweeteners like saccharine or aspartame, which not only provide no useful nutrients but have been shown to cause health problems in sensitive individuals, blackstrap molasses is a healthful sweetener that contains significant amounts of a variety of minerals that promote your health. In addition to providing quickly assimilated carbohydrates, blackstrap molasses can increase your energy by helping to replenish your iron stores. Blackstrap molasses is a very good source of iron."

I promise never to mention Blackstrap Molasses again -- unless sales in health-food stores have been irrevocably and permanently damaged.

On a more serious note, let me share with you some random observations regarding my latest brush with death as a result of a bleeding ulcer that the doctors described as Mount St. Helens.

My faith and testimony in the "tender mercies" of the Lord has been strengthened.  The day the ulcer erupted was the day Jo Anne and my daughter Rachel and her two little girls were to fly to North Carolina to join Rachel's husband Matt who has begun a new career there.  Due to some extenuating circumstances, the trip was postponed and Rachel, an RN, along with her perceptive mother called 911 when I didn't think it was necessary.  Had I been put to bed that night without going to the ER, I doubt I would have lived to see the morning.  Some would say these were just coincidences, but I call them the "tender mercies" of the Lord.
My appreciation of my fellow human beings has been greatly expanded as a result of this experience.  I have never been treated so well by so many people for such a long period of time, that I can recall.  All of my nurses were from the Philippines -- I call them the Filipino Relief Society.  They treated me with great love, tenderness, and respect.  They couldn't do enough for me.  They were also very teachable, and although they were highly trained ICU nurses, they let Jo Anne teach them how to care for somebody in my condition.  The doctors were competent, compassionate, and did everything in their power to get me over the hump.  There are lots of good people out there!  Yes, we live in a very wicked world, but I believe there are still so many more goodhearted people then there are evil.  Instead of my injury making me cynical it has had the opposite effect.  I have a great love for people of all races and religions.  I have been treated so kindly by so many for so many years that to not love my fellowmen would be a sad reflection upon my own character.

My love and appreciation for my family was greatly enhanced as a result of this experience.  My sons and daughters and sons-in-law and daughters-in-law rallied behind me and were an incredible source of strength.  My son John, the ER doctor, was with me for three days questioning everything the doctors did, but I think really keeping the doctors on their toes.  My son Mike, the district attorney and prosecutor, was constantly cross examining the doctors, and I learned some things about my case through listening to those conversations that I would have not known otherwise.  It was reassuring to have all my children care so much.  In the ER room, my sons, Richard and Mike, gave me a special blessing that was very comforting at a very uncertain and difficult time.

The highlight of my stay in ICU however, was when my four oldest grandsons -- two priests, a teacher, and a deacon -- held a special sacrament meeting for me last Sunday afternoon.  They are all in the same ward and my son Mike is their Young Men's President.  Two of the boys are Mike's and two are my oldest daughter Jolene's oldest boys.  For me, it was one of those paydays that are unanticipated and therefore that much the sweeter.  They sang hymns, blessed and passed the sacrament, and then each one bore their testimony.  Each one recounted a sacred experience in which the Spirit had come to them and powerfully touched their hearts in such a way that they knew The Church was indeed true.  I do not have the verbal ability to accurately recount this experience, but it was one of the highlights of my life.  It was worth a bleeding ulcer to have had such an experience with my grandsons.  These kids are light-years ahead of where I was at their age.

I was also touched by the many friends that have expressed love and concern.  I have had reinforced in my heart that the only thing that really matters in life is the relationships we have with family, friends, and the Lord.  Nothing else really matters much at all.

Life is precious.  Each day is to be savored.  The most common things are really very special.
If there is a theme to this observation, in my own mind, it is that we have a kind, loving, Heavenly Father who pours out his "tender mercies" upon us constantly. "And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things..." [Doctrine & Covenants 59: 21]