Wednesday, March 31, 2010


A few years ago Jo Anne had surgery on both of her feet. The first couple of days she experienced severe pain and I told her she was a bit wimpy, and that I would have been able to endure the same procedure without even any anesthesia. Well, given the circumstances she didn't respond very well to my paralyzed humor. She recovered quite quickly thankfully, but for a few days she had to roll around in a wheelchair and we looked like a very interesting couple to say the least.

She actually had the same surgery about 10 years before this latest and new procedure, but the doctor didn't do it correctly and so she had to have it redone. Fortunately for the public with feet problems this doctor quit the medical profession, under some duress I believe. His former partner however, agreed to do the new surgery at no charge and it seems as though he did as good a job as he possibly could given the circumstances. You don't find that kind of a person around much anymore.

Don't you just love people who have paid the price to gain knowledge and training in their special fields and then who have the integrity to do it "... with [their] might....?" I suspect if we were suing kinds of people, we could have sued the first foot doctor for malpractice.
A couple of days before the surgery, we drove out to Riverside County to watch our son, Mike, give his opening argument in a death penalty, serial killing case. Mike was a deputy district attorney at the time. This case involved a particularly heinous crime committed by two extremely evil and wicked individuals. Mike had been preparing for this trial for several years. Although he is our son and we are very prejudiced, he did a masterful job in a 2 1/2 hour opening statement to put the case in proper perspective in the eyes of the jury. He seldom glanced at any notes and everyone in the courtroom was riveted on every word he spoke. We went back two days later and observed him skillfully question witness after witness as he began to build his case. I was very impressed with his intense preparation and desire to see justice done for the victim -- a young 14-year-old girl -- and her family and young friends. The young friends who, at the time of the trial, were now in their late teens and early twenties were absolutely overwhelmed that anybody would care enough about this one, little, seemingly insignificant girl, to invest so much time and effort into bringing her murderers to justice. The trial went on for over six months. The jury finally came back with a death penalty verdict which was unprecedented because one of the serial killers was a young woman. Based on what I observed in that courtroom, I don't think Mike could ever be accused of malpractice. If so, it wouldn't ever be because of a lack of effort on his part, as he works with all his "might" to see justice done.

The contrast between the first foot doctor, the second foot doctor, and Mike has caused me to reflect on the fact that almost anybody in any walk of life is susceptible of being guilty of malpractice. I believe malpractice is more a question of motive than knowledge and training most of the time. A respiratory therapist, a caregiver, (I am especially concerned that these vital people in my life are never guilty of malpractice) a painter, a wallpaper hanger, a carpenter, an auto mechanic, a wedding coordinator and caterer, and even spouses and parents, etc., could all be guilty of malpractice if they don't do with all their "might" what they have promised and are supposed to be doing.

What about teachers? I am quite sensitive about this, having been a teacher for most of my life. I still am always asking myself if I have prepared sufficiently and pondered deeply and long enough to teach an adequate lesson regarding significant gospel topics. I hope I am never guilty of malpractice because of a lack of preparation or effort and that I could only be blamed for stupidity. I am sure there have been a few students over the years that perhaps would have been justified in suing me for malpractice. I have always tried hard ;however, to never be guilty, as a teacher, of slaying my students, as Samson did the Philistines. "And Samson said, With the jawbone of an ass...have I slain a thousand men." [Judges 15:16]

I suspect the quotation from Ecclesiastes at the top of this Observation cuts across every aspect of our lives --"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might..." [Ecclesiastes 9:10]

In our professions, as students, in our church callings, as spouses and parents, and citizens of this great nation, we must never be so negligent and sloppy in what we do that we could ever be rightfully sued for malpractice.

Perhaps an important thought in all of this was given by the transcendentalist author (1817-1862) Henry David Thoreau: "Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it."


Saturday, March 27, 2010

March Madness III

I have been an avid follower of "March Madness" for many years – the men’s basketball NCAA tournament. I hate to admit it, but I am a basketball junkie. Even at my age, I must confess there is still a fire burning inside me regarding this sport. My love for basketball is irrefutable evidence of a misspent youth playing basketball anywhere and everywhere I could and as often as I could. In fact, up to the time I was hurt, I played basketball with co-workers, on church teams, with my kids, neighbors and relatives at family gatherings.

Jo Anne, who could not understand my passion for this sport in the early years of our marriage, is now as grateful as I am for the entertainment it has provided me following my injury. Since being paralyzed, it has brought me hours of enjoyment that, had I not been a fan, would perhaps of been filled with self pity and boredom. While involved in a game, I actually lose my sense of self and become fully involved in what I am watching. For a short time, my body becomes irrelevant and there is no distinction between me and the other fans that are also caught up in the moment. My love for this sport has only intensified through the years.

I must tell you about the time that "March Madness" almost cost me my life. My wife, Jo Anne, and my youngest daughter, Jackie, and I had gone to St. George to visit some of Jo Anne's family. It was toward the end of March and I was a little nervous that I would not be able to see the NCAA championship game. My whole trip brightened considerably, however, when Jo Anne's brother, Danny, who lives in Mesquite, Nevada, invited me to come over because he was going to be watching the championship game between the University of Arizona and the University of Kansas on his big screen TV. I eagerly accepted his invitation, but wouldn’t you know the day before the great event the battery to the ventilator on the back of my wheelchair died. Jo Anne tried to locate a new one, but the right battery could not be found in all of St. George. The medical supply store found a garage who said they could order one, but that it might take a few days to get it.

The ventilator worked just fine as long as it was plugged into an outlet in the wall. I figured since breathing is better than not breathing, I really had no choice but to stay put. Not much fun for a vacation. Then a light went on in my head -- pure revelation. My ventilator is equipped with an internal battery. It is a safety feature in case the main battery dies and one is not close to an outlet. If fully charged, it is supposed to last about one hour – something we had never yet put to the test. Well, I knew that it was less than an hour from St. George to Mesquite, and the way Jo Anne drives, it would even be a shorter time period than that.

I finally convinced Jo Anne to take me and promised her that it would be okay. So late in the afternoon of the game, she and her youngest daughter, Jackie, loaded me into the van and off we went. However, I did not calculate in my plan the unexpected.

Just as we were about to get on the freeway, Jo Anne realized we needed gas. As if that wasn’t enough, we took the wrong off-ramp to get to Danny's home and got lost. We were still some distance from our destination when the internal battery ran out of juice. At that moment we discovered that when the ventilator dies, it gives a big, sickening gasp - its last breath and mine – and completely shuts down. The next sound is another safety feature – an alarm begins ringing. It is quite a gut wrenching sound to the person who is depending on the ventilator for his air. With Jo Anne at the wheel, we had prepared Jackie in advance if the worst case scenario should happen. Standing, ready and able to help her Dad, she pulled out the trusty ambubag (a hand operated air pump) and began pumping air into my lungs via my trach attached to my neck. As Jackie, not quite 12 years old at the time (we train them young at our house) began pumping air into my lungs, she realized that she had me in a very compromising situation – to her advantage. While pumping like a good daughter, the questions started coming - “Dad, could I have a new bicycle?" "Yes,” I gasped out. “Yes, anything, just keep pumping!" "Dad, how about a year's pass to Disneyland?" "Yes,” I agreed again. “Just keep squeezing that bag!"

We finally screeched to a stop in front of Danny's home and he came running out into the driveway with a long extension cord. Soon the ventilator was happy once again as it took over the job of pumping air into my lungs to the relief of us all – especially Jackie who had done such a good job. In fact, she had this incredible smile on her face. I could just picture visions of bicycles and Disneyland dancing in her head.

Plugged into the wall, munching on chips and dip, drinking root beer, and watching Arizona beat Kansas on the big screen TV, I was truly in heaven. I temporarily put out of my mind the fact that later that night -- it turned out to be midnight -- we would have to make the mad dash back up the gorge to St. George to the safety of another extension cord and wall socket. Jo Anne, giving a great imitation of an Indy 500 driver, got us home safely.

Well, am I crazy or what? Was it really worth risking my life to be able to watch that game on the big screen TV? Any normal rational person would say of course not! But for somebody infected with the "March Madness" disease - yes, it was worth the risk.

It is so hard to get basketball out of your blood. I think I am in pretty good company though. I love this passage from President Spencer W. Kimball's Journal which he wrote as a young man: "It is a great occasion. Many people came tonight who have never been before. Some of the townsmen say basketball is a girl’s game but they came in large numbers tonight. Our court is not quite regulation. We are used to it, our opponents not. I have special luck with my shots tonight and the ball goes through the hoop again and again and the game ends with our High School team the victors against the college team. I am the smallest one and the youngest on the team. I have piled up the most points through the efforts of the whole team protecting me and feeding the ball to me. I am on the shoulders of the big fellows of the Academy. They are parading me around the hall to my consternation and embarrassment. I like basketball. I would rather play this game than eat." (Edward L. Kimball and Andrew E. Kimball Jr., Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City Bookcraft, 1977), 65)

I can totally identify with President Kimball's sentiments regarding basketball. From President Ezra Taft Benson's biography comes the following incident: “Ezra remembers his father swearing only once. The Oneida Stake Academy was playing Brigham Young College in Logan, and late in the game Oneida trailed by a point after failing to convert on several attempts. Ezra suddenly got the ball and an exasperated George yelled. ‘Hell, T. put it in!’ It was shocking to the local citizens coming from George Benson, but apparently they understood his enthusiasm and anxiety.” Ezra continued, “When we finished with a one-point victory, Father was overjoyed.” (Sheri L. Dew, Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987), 39)

Have I ever been tempted to utter a cuss word during a Lakers or BYU basketball game? Well, hopefully those of you with sound minds will have mercy on those of us who are smitten by "March Madness." If you unfortunately happen to be married to someone with this affliction, let me give you the following counsel. As you offer your prayers for your loved one, use as a pattern the words of the distraught father who brought his son to Jesus to be healed. "Lord, have mercy on my son [husband]: for he is [a] lunatic..." [Matthew 17: 15] And then we must never forget Paul's counsel to the Thessalonian Saints: "... comfort the feebleminded..." [1 Thessalonians 5: 14]

On the bright side, "March Madness" comes only once every 12 months!


Saturday, March 13, 2010


A while back, after a particularly difficult day, Jo Anne said to me, "Jack, we really ought to write a book about our experiences together since your accident." I agreed that it would make for some interesting reading. She then said, "And if we write that book I have the perfect title for it. We will call it "The Work and the Glory!" I looked at her in amazement and told her that really was a good title but a very famous author (Gerald N. Lund) had pretty well used it up. She responded, "I know that, but it would still be the perfect title for our book because for some reason I seem to do all the work and you manage to get all the glory."

For the past 20 years I have been unable to do one thing for myself physically. All my physical needs have had to be met by family and friends. Primarily the responsibility has fallen upon Jo Anne who has worked tirelessly in my behalf. I believe she has done it out of love but also out of a sense of duty.

Although I really can't do anything of a physical nature to repay her for all she has done and continues to do for me, I have felt I have a "duty" with regard to her as great as she has to me. And so you might ask, what is my "duty" toward her as my wife in this unusual situation? I believe it is, among other things, to be as pleasant as I can be, totally open in my communication with her, complementary, filled with gratitude for every act of service she performs on my behalf, and never being critical of her in any way. I believe this is my "duty."

The dictionary says of duty: "Duty: Synonym -- respect...
Obligatory tasks, conduct, service, functions that arise from one's position... a moral or legal obligation ... the force of moral obligation." [Merriam Webster Dictionary]

I have gained a great appreciation for the importance of duty in our lives by reading a most interesting book entitled, Nelson's Trafalgar, written by Roy Adkins. Reading this book has been a sobering, but at the same time, an inspiring experience. The author has quoted extensively from the journals of the captains and seamen. There were 17,000 British sailors who fought in this bloody and horrific sea battle -- the last major sea battle fought by wooden ships with sails. The blood and carnage is a bit difficult to read about, but at the same time it heightens one's appreciation of sea life and war in the early 1800s and the courage of those involved.

Of the many things I could share with you from this book I will confine myself to the importance of "duty" that enabled Admiral Lord Nelson and his captains and seamen to win the important battle of Trafalgar.

The Battle of Trafalgar was fought on October 21, 1805, off the coast of Spain near the large Spanish city of Cadiz, and at a point near the coast called Trafalgar. Napoleon had his French army poised on the coast of France ready to cross the English Channel and invade England. He couldn't do this however, unless he knew that he had destroyed the British Navy and could cross the Channel unmolested. The French and Spanish were allies and had a vast combined fleet of French and Spanish warships that was much larger than anything that Great Britain could put together at the time. France and Spain had the ships and the manpower but they didn't have Admiral Lord Nelson.

The British Navy had been blockading the harbor at Cadiz for months, but finally the combined French and Spanish fleet was able to escape which led to the showdown at Trafalgar. The leaders of the British Empire knew that if the British fleet was defeated by the French and Spanish that a French invasion would be inevitable. Admiral Lord Nelson, the Admiral of the British fleet, was given the assignment by his government and King to destroy the French and Spanish Armada. Nelson was a brilliant tactician and had gained vast knowledge of how to successfully conduct a sea battle between wooden ships with sails. He had been wounded in a previous engagement, losing one of his arms and an eye, and never again experienced robust health. Much of his life was spent at sea where he had also suffered from scurvy and other diseases incident to sea life in those days. He was only 5'4" tall but seemed so much bigger in the eyes of those he led.

Just before the English engaged the combined fleet, Nelson signaled from the flagship Victory the one and only message his captains and seamen would receive from him before and during the battle, "England expects that every man will do his duty." When this message was received it had an electrifying effect among the men on the ships. Seemingly, the desire in the heart of most of the British sailors that day was to do his duty come what may. Severely wounded men and officers remained at their posts doing their duty until victory had been gained and their beloved England saved.

In fact, Nelson's final famous words (as related by Victory's Surgeon, William Beatty, who was with Nelson when he died) were "Thank God I have done my duty." According to Beatty, he repeated these words several times until he became unable to speak. To do their "duty" seems to have been at the heart of all that was important to Admiral Lord Nelson and his men. Doing their duty they saved England from Napoleon's armies and ultimate domination of the Western world as we now know it by the Dictator-Emperor.

I believe that "Heavenly Father expects each one of us to do his/her duty." To be able to say at the end of one's life, "Thank God I have done my duty!" would undoubtedly be the crowning achievement of a life well lived. Or as the Apostle Paul said, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith!" (2 Timothy 4:8)