Posts Tagged ‘ Hope ’

A STARK VIEW OF LIFE, HOPE, MIRACLES AND DEATH THROUGH THE EYES OF TWO HEART SPECIALISTS

NOTE: I WROTE THIS STORY TWO DECADES AGO. IT’S ABOUT TWO GREAT CARDIOLOGISTS WHO ARE STILL SAVING LIVES, INCLUDING MINE.

 

CARDIOLOGISTS JACKSON AND KISSEL REVEAL INTIMATE REALITIES OF THEIR PROFESSION

 

by Boots LeBaron

                                

     Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, even Muhammad Ali, couldn’t take the kind of punishment that Gary L. Kissel and Bruce K. Jackson have endured over their 18-year partnership in Redondo Beach.

     God knows how many times they’ve been on the ropes, or found themselves flat on the canvas, struggling to get back on their feet, trying to save a life before the ten count.

     Rolling with the punches simply doesn’t work when you’re in the business of invasive cardiology.  

     Whenever Jackson, 48, is asked what he does for a living, rather than talk about the trauma of a Code Blue, or the frantic seconds of trying to save the life of a person who’s in the midst of a massive heart attack, he prefers to tell strangers that he’s a pump mechanic.

     “We fix broken pumps and broken hearts,” he’ll say. Besides, who wants to hear about implanting pacemakers, intra-aortic balloon pumps, angioplasty or other intra-cardiac procedures at a cocktail party?  

     Jackson, a man with an outrageous sense of humor, confesses that “in this business, you’ll go nuts if you don’t have a sense of humor. Cardiology is stressful. It’s painful. It’s a hell of a lot of fun. I’d pay good money to do this. There’s absolutely nothing in life I’d rather do.

 

     “During my second year of practice,” said Kissel, 53, “I felt a real burnout. I wept for a couple of days. I didn’t know if I could cope with so much life and death. I still break down when my patients die. Crying is a way to relieve grief and express your own sorrow. But I feel truly blessed to be in this business.”

     “Double ditto for me,” said Jackson. “Sometimes when a patient dies, I go home; shed a tear for them; toast the ghost, and wish them off to a better place than they’ve been. I try very hard to leave the sorrows and heartaches back in the office. Sometimes that doesn’t work worth a hoot.”

     Unlike people suffering from cancer, AIDS or other fatal diseases, Jackson noted that cardiac patients “have a notorious habit of dying at very inconvenient times. Very suddenly and dramatically. It’s like god suddenly snatches them away.”

     For Kissel and Jackson, practicing cardiology is like flying through hell on angels’ wings. The view is miserable but enlightening, tragic but captivating, mystifying but miraculous.       “Almost every day of my life, I see tragedy,” said Jackson. “Tragedy is dying alone, being sick without anyone to hold your hand to comfort you. Ironically, people handle stress best under pressure. When we’re squeezed against the wall, we’re forced to be courageous.”

     Many times, says Kissel, as a patient is dying, “when they are gasping for breath or are on a respirator and are incapable of talking, they speak with their eyes.

     “Looking into their eyes, you know what they’re thinking. Their eyes tell you, ‘I know you’re trying, but I’m dying.’ Their eyes show compassion, fear, resolve and courage. They say, ‘Thanks,’ or, ‘It’s okay, I’m ready to go.’ Or, ‘To hell with all this. I give up.’

     “Eyes, soul, spirit,” said Jackson. “When people die, you can almost sense the physical departure of the soul from the body.    “In our business,” said Kissel, “you have to be blind not to recognize that there are unexplainable powers. There is a god!

     “Bruce and I sometimes joke about situations where patients, with no help from us, seem to miraculously regain their strength. After that, we say we gave them an injection of Lazarine mixed with a dose of Resurrectine,” said Kissel, referring to the biblical account of Lazarus being brought back to life by Jesus Christ.”

     “There are factors that go beyond our ability to heal,” added Jackson. “Many times, we could sure use a nice little vile of Lazerine and Resurrectine to make this experience more productive.” “We have a number patients who are walking miracles,” said Kissel. “For reasons we can’t explain, they have survived despite technology and expert opinion.”

     He recalled an elderly man who “already looked like a cadaver when Bruce and I admitted him to the hospital. We thought for sure he would die there. Next day, he was walking. Finally, he left the hospital and went on to live for a long time.”

     Jackson remembered a Code Blue when “This lady was in full cardiac arrest. She wasn’t breathing.

     “Had no heart beat for four minutes. We worked on her for about a half hour. Couldn’t bring her back. As I was telling her surgeon there was nothing we could do, she started breathing. Her heartbeat restored. She came into the office three weeks ago. Walking slower, but she’s fine now.”

     Kissel also had patients who are too busy to die. He recalled a middle aged stockbroker whom he admitted to the South Bay Hospital suffering from a heart attack. “He insisted on having a phone in his room. He acted like his heart attack was nothing more than a major inconvenience, seriously interfering with business. It was like, he simply could not afford to die.

     “When I visited him the next morning, he was on the phone chewing on a cigar. The bed was cluttered with papers. He actually waved me off, telling me to come back later. What a character.” Kissel laughed. “I’m sure he did just fine. Never came back.”

     Kissel believes that “people have a right to die. And under certain circumstances, withdrawing all treatment is not only logical but compassionate. If our culture reaches a point where it’s considered okay for a physician — like Dr. Jack Kevorkian — to assist a patient in dying, I’d find that extremely difficult.” The most neurotic patients, observes Jackson, are physicians themselves. “You run across one in the hall and he’ll say, ‘Got a minute? I got this pain in my chest. Make it go away, will you? “You have to grab him by the wrist and put him on a treadmill. “Believe me,” he went on, “doctors are more neurotic than regular patients who have no medical smarts. Of all people, they should know that denial will kill when you have heart disease.”

     Do the partners ever feel that since they literally hold the fate of their patients in their hands, they possess god-like powers?

     “Every day we are reminded that we are all in the same boat,” said Kissel. “We are no more invincible than our patients. We share the same feelings, we get just as sick as they do, and there’s no doubt that, inevitably, all of us will die.

     “I can only hope that what I do as a physician,” he continued, “will enhance the quality of someone else’s life and will give them a few extra years of happiness.”

     Although Jackson says that his wife, Susan, is his best friend, Kissel is more than a pal. “At 2:15 in the morning, when you’re double teaming, trying to bail a patient out of a deadly tailspin, and you look over and see your partner in action, that’s another view of the soul. No doubt about it, Gary is also my best friend.”  

     Some physicians, says Jackson, believe that the MD after their names stands for Minor Deity. “Luckily, Gary and I have made a clean getaway” from the god syndrome that plagues some physicians.

    “When I get up in the morning, I put my trousers on one leg at a time. I don’t know about Gary, but I’m getting old with as many twinges in the hinges as anyone else.

     “I can testify that I’m just as mortal as the next guy. Maybe even more so.”

     With partners Howard Abrams, Eric Castleman and Steven Weinstein — all cardiologists — Kissel and Jackson operate Cardiology Associates of the South Bay with offices in Redondo Beach, California.

     It wasn’t until Kissel was attending the University of Washington on a football scholarship that he decided on pursuing a career in medicine. He began his medical career working in a M*A*S*H rescue unit as an Air Force flight surgeon in Vietnam. The only thing he found tougher than his two-year stint in Nam, which included flying into combat zones, is practicing cardiology in the South Bay.

     Vietnam, he admits, wasn’t easy. “But private practice is a different world. We are part of the community. We make lasting friendship with our patients. Unlike Vietnam, they are not strangers when they die.” Kissel is the father of two grown children.

     Jackson, also an Air Force surgeon, and his wife, Susan, an accountant, are both working on second marriages. Between them, they have five children and six grandchildren. “The reason we’re so young and have so many grandchildren is we started mating in grammar school,” he joked.  

     “I never realized it would require such personal sacrifice,” he said. “Yet, I feel blessed. I believe that what I’m doing is very important. It seems like you spend half of your life learning to become a doctor.”

     What he’s learned about life facing death is: “Whatever you do in life, whatever livelihood you pursue, it should make you happy. Don’t go strictly for the money, fame, power. None of those can buy happiness! I’ve seen too many people who realized that too late.’

     “Life is very fragile,” agrees his partner. “Very short. Very precious. It should be treated accordingly.”

     On Friday, May 6, both Kissel and Jackson, Associate Clinical Professors at the UCLA School of Medicine, will be honored by the American Heart Association at a fund-raising banquet at the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza.

     Unless their beepers go off over the weekend, on Monday Kissel and Jackson will be back in the ring, dancing on the canvas soaked with their own tears, jabbing, weaving, bobbing and punching; hoping for a miracle and trying their damndest to knock their ominous opponents on the ropes one more time.

          ————————————-

Boots LeBaron is a freelance writer who lives in Manhattan Beach.

 

End

The Human Race by Boots LeBaron is available on Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Human-Race-Boots-LeBaron/dp/1494218526/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1465608125&sr=8-1&keywords=BOOTS+LEBARON

TWO UNIQUE VIEWPOINTS ABOUT HOMELESSNESS

HOW TWO VERY DIFFERENT MEN SAW LIFE ON THE STREETS

 

     I’ve had the opportunity to spend time learning about life from two very different homeless men: The late Mitch Snyder who spoke for our nation’s homeless, and Doug Grindeland, who spoke for himself.

     Mitch, in his forties, was a tough, angry, pensive activist. He had gained notoriety when he went on a 51-day fast losing 60 pounds, reaching an emaciated 118 pounds.

     That same year, 1983, the CBS-TV show “60 Minutes” made his plight famous. The objective of his fast was to force the Reagan Administration to renovate an empty federal building into an 800-bed shelter for homeless people in Washington, D.C. It worked.

     Several years before he committed suicide (1990) he told me: “Human beings are basically decent and caring creatures. But because we are a highly competitive and individualistic society, we’ve learned how to step over the broken bodies of our neighbors without seeing them.”

     The gaunt face and those dark, narrow-set despairing eyes bore the conscience of a man who had slept with hunger and degradation. Mitch literally walked in the shoes of the homeless.

     When I asked, if there was one meaningful statement he’d most like to make to the American public, what would it be? Here was his reply:

     “I was about 48 days into my hunger strike and was prepared to die when ’60 Minutes’ asked me a similar question. I knew I had millions of people out there listening to my last words. After I thought about it, I realized it was something we always say.

     “The public must reduce the distance between themselves and the suffering and lonely. The next time you see somebody sitting in a doorway, on a curb or wandering aimlessly, someone you know is alone and hurting, do something. Reach out in your own way and say to that person, ‘I care about you!”

     Mitch, at least in my book, was a rogue angel and the voice of America’s homeless.

     Doug Grindeland could have beat Mitch handily in an arm wrestle. He was a tall, thick-shouldered man with a graying goatee, clear blue eyes, and a salty sense of humor.

 When I met him, he was sitting at the counter of a Manhattan Beach restaurant having a cup of coffee. He was in his mid-fifties and had a “Want to Neck?” badge pinned to his sweater.

     The two men had never met. Each had their own skeletons to rattle. Mitch was riding a newswave while Doug, with his own set of loose marbles, lived on the beach. After he was layed off as a packaging designer at Hughes Aircraft Company’s Radar Systems Corp., the twice-divorced one-time B-29 Air Force crew chief with three years of college, “just gave up.”

     He blamed some of his woes on industry bottom liners. The saying he quoted was this: The purpose of life is finding your gift. The meaning of life is giving it away.

     “Because of greed,” he said, “the financial community today is too busy lopping off heads not really considering what’s inside of them. Sure that bothers me. Sometimes in life, you are given no alternatives. I put my time in grade. I want to enjoy life. For me, being homeless is still an adventure. I have no complaints.

     “People come to California on vacation to sleep out under the stars. I do it every night. I live off my bike. It’s not that easy. I don’t think a lot of people could handle this. When I’m out of money, I’ll go into a bin behind Winchell’s and pull out about 30 pounds of doughnuts. I’ll eat a few and feed the rest to the sea gulls.”

     A few years ago I ran across Doug at the beach. He was no longer homeless. He had spent a year at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in West Los Angeles being treated as a manic-depressive. He was drawing disability and taking medication for what he describes as his “mental short-circuit.” But his opinion about the human race hadn’t changed.

     Here’s what he learned after living homeless for more than three years: “Before the VA took me in, I looked at people going to work every day, putting up with office politics, job abuse and other social pressures. They had to make a living wage to pay the rent. Me, I didn’t have to answer to nobody!”

     He admitted that surviving as a homeless person on the beach wasn’t Paradise. “I was mistreated, even bullied. One time three young men took my bike and the cans I was collecting, and threw them off the pier. Then they tried to egg me into a fight. I might have been a little touched, but I wasn’t crazy!” He laughed at that.

     As a homeless person he discovered that humanity has different faces. “You find good and bad. There are people who detest the fact that you’re not working. There are many more compassionate people than vindictive ones!    “So you learn humility. You learn how to survive on doughnuts. When you dig into a trash can because you’re hungry, you learn to discard your ego. Ego is such a handicap. When you’re homeless you see life from the streets on a day-to-day basis. The pretty little house with the white picket fence is like shooting for the moon.

     “There were a lot of things I appreciated,” he continued. “Every single day at the beach, you look up at the sky and it’s like a beautiful picture. Every day is different. People will see you digging for cans. They’ll come up, talk, give you some change. There were people who gave me twenty dollars. Despite the rotten eggs, you see a lot of caring people when you’re down.”

     Today, whenever Doug runs across a homeless person, he might say a few friendly words. “Usually, I’ll give them some money. Maybe a few bucks. Whether they spend it on food or booze, that’s up to them.”

     One time, during his homeless period, he met a woman in a saloon. “When she asked where I lived, I told her, I live at the beach. When I brought her home with me, was she surprised!”

 

              — Boots LeBaron

 

 

BEAUTY QUEEN TELLS ABOUT HER ADVENTURES IN LIFE

THE HUMAN RACE

LIFE’S REALITIES FROM A FORMER BEAUTY PAGEANT WINNER

 

     Lee Turner was one beauty pageant queen who wasn’t afraid to tell her true story,  looking at life and death as she lived it.

     Here’s the still-timely interview I wrote 26 years ago:

     Despite their years, the expressive brown eyes are youthful and unmistakable trusting. As we sat across from each other in a corner booth at Buffy’s coffee shop in old downtown Torrance, California, Lee Turner revealed what those eyes had seen in 74 years of life.

     I’ve never used the word sweetness to describe a woman’s face. But in Lee’s case, it was a perfect fit. Even before she spoke, her eyes would reveal the emotional thoughts behind them.

     It wasn’t all good. It wasn’t all bad. Yet there were moments of terror that still lingered in her memories. There were moments of love, restlessness, confusion — and times when she felt “on top of the world.”

     For Lee, motherhood was one dream that never materialized. After several miscarriages, she could never have a baby of her own.

     The last pregnancy lasted six months.

     “It broke my heart,” she remembered. “But looking at the world today, maybe it’s just as well.”

     Although she shrugged away those memories, she recited “My Great Desire,” a poem she wrote after she lost her last child, as if it happened just yesterday.

     “I wish I had a darling boy to tuck into his bed,

     To put away each baby toy and smooth his tousled head.

     I’d walk so proudly down the street

     And take his chubby hand

     And smile at ever one I’d meet

     And look upon his face so tan!

     God, is that too much to ask,

     A favor which seems quite small?

     I would try to master the heaviest task

     If you would heed my call.”

     A half-century before we met, in the former Torrance Auditorium, Miss Leila (Lee) Mae Combs, a striking 24-year-old brunette paraded across the stage in a one-piece swimsuit and high heels.

     In competition with nine other young women, she won, selected as the first Miss Torrance in that city’s history.

     “The country was still very poor then. The Torrance Moose Lodge sponsored the beauty contest. I came prepared to sing a ‘song poem’ I wrote. But it wasn’t necessary.

     Lee walked away not only as Miss Torrance 1939 but was awarded a new swimsuit, a beach towel, a robe, a free hair shampoo and set at a local salon, and the opportunity to compete in the Miss California beauty pageant in Venice, Calif.

     “I lost that one,” she said, smiling.

     Beauty contest winners, Lee noted, “have it made today. If they were asked to compete for the kind of prizes I won, they’d say, ‘Forget it!’ In my day, the honor of being selected as a pretty woman was important.”

     As a young women, her favorite actress was Clara Bow. “I wanted to be like her,” Lee said. “In 1940, she moved into a girlfriend’s apartment in Hollywood, worked as a waitress and taught ballroom dancing while pursuing an acting career. But Hollywood never beckoned.

     “A couple of producers offered to show me their etchings,” she said, giggling. “I told them, ‘No way!'”

     She would never forget the Sunday morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. “Even now when I think of it, I break out in goose bumps.”

     On that fateful day, Lee and her first husband, Eddie Guillow, a crane operator, were newlyweds living in a small house near Honolulu Airport.

     “I was sitting at a breakfast table writing a note to my mother on a Christmas card when I heard the sound of a plane,” Lee recalled. “It kept getting louder and louder. Suddenly, the house seemed to explode.”

     A Japanese Zero riddled her home with machine gun fire, the bullets penetrating the breakfast nook only a foot from where she was sitting. “I ruined the note,” she said, laughing at the irony. “I dove for a door jam, thinking it might be an earthquake.”

     Then a second plane zoomed overhead, dropping a bomb that exploded across the street, sending chunks of shrapnel into her house. About the same time, her husband was operating a crane near the battleship USS Arizona, which was under heavy attack. “When the Arizona exploded and sunk, Eddie had to dive off the crane and swim under the burning oil to safety.”

     A year later, back in the U.S. while walking with her sister-in-law, Lee said she “hit the dirt” when a plane passed overhead. “I felt embarrassed. But when my sister-in-law started laughing, I told her, ‘It’s not funny!'”

     Her husband was killed in a crane accident in 1947. Five years later she married Ken (Buck) Turner. A maintenance supervisor for the Torrance Parks Department, her husband died several months later.

     “It seems that everywhere I go, something drastic happens,” said Lee, who grew up in Torrance in a family of eight children and graduated from Torrance High School there.

     Another calamity she found herself in the midst of was the devastating Long Beach earthquake in 1933. “It was a very foggy Friday afternoon,” she recalled. “I was in the kitchen of my second-story apartment fixing french fries when the building began to sway and shake.

     “Polytechnic High School was right next door. It’s tower collapsed and fell onto my front yard. I was 18 years old and terrified. When I sat down at the breakfast nook, a second temblor tore the gas stove from the wall and knocked me out! When I came to, I was covered with french fries.

     “I was trapped in the kitchen. Rescuers had to break into the room to get me out. Other than a bump on my head and being scared half to death, I was fine.”

     At that time, I asked, “At your age, with all these experiences, what have you learned about survival?”

     “I live today as if it were tomorrow. I have girlfriends. I like to go places. I was a liberated women long before my second husband died. I don’t like to see what’s happening in the world. But I love visiting downtown Torrance.

     “I plan to be around long after everyone else is pushing up daisies,” she said with  that sweet-faced smile.

     Suffice to say: Lee Turner, if she’s still alive today, was my favorite beauty queen.   Ever!

 

                        — Boots LeBaron —

 

 

ODE TO BERT LEBARON, HOLLYWOOD STUNTMAN

THE HUMAN RACE  

 

ODE TO MY DAD, A SWASHBUCKLING ACTOR-STUNTMAN


     

 

Buried under piles of paper, I had just found the eulogy I had written for my dad, Bert LeBaron, who had died under mysterious circumstances on a handball court at the Hollywood Y.M.C.A. on March 3, 1956. At his memorial service, Rev. John C. Donnell had read these words before a packed house inside a musty chapel at Callanan mortuary in Hollywood, California:

 

     By instinct I hold back the tears, for I am a man of twenty-three years. And a man should be strong physically and emotionally. That’s what he taught me and that’s what I believe.

     He was my dad. He’s dead now, but his lessons are beginning to come to life. We all make mistakes. But today we remember his good deeds.

     It’s hard to be a poor man and a proud one, too, but he was both.

     A man’s body broken down into the chemical elements is worth 98 cents, but his soul, personality, and experiences with life can’t be bought at any price.

     He had been poor, rich, strong, young, and old. He had seen war, death, life, happiness and misery. He had loved and had been loved. He was truly a man in every sense of the word.

     His friends respected him for himself, not for his material position in life. I loved him for the irrefutable love and respect he gave me. He was warm and understanding. I felt secure in his presence.

     My dad was in the motion picture business for over 35 years. It was his life and he loved it. He was part of Hollywood and Hollywood was part of him. He was always waiting for the “big break” that never came. “Things are quiet now, but wait till next month!” he’d say.

     He was a great athlete, active in sports all of his life. His reflexes and coordination were beyond reproach. I know, because a week before his death, he beat me at handball. He died at the game.

     An adventurous soul and an aged shell cannot survive together in this life. If there is a life beyond death, he will have his young body and will be unburdened once again… I’m grateful to have had a father like Bert LeBaron, Hollywood stuntman.  

 

                          Signed: Boots

WEATHERING LIFE’S STORM!

THE HUMAN RACE

FACING THE RIGORS OF A THUNDEROUS EXISTENCE

 

Like columns of attacking Roman legions,

waves smash against the pylons

of the Manhattan Beach pier then charge

the shore with a suicidal fury.

One after another they strike.

Threatening. Magnificent.

Big invincible bruisers crashing

recklessly, angrily spewing mist

high into the air as they break.

The shore must fear the pounding.

For each giant wash kidnaps the sand,

wrenching it from its mother’s embrace.

Beyond the dark horizon a tempest is

brewing. Its rage has not yet ebbed?

You can feel it in the air.

Humanity goes through life

bracing for turbulence,

then weathering it.

The threat alone forces us to

fear, fret, worry, cower, think.

We do our damndest to batten down the

hatches. Some of us face the unknown

boldly, ignorantly, hopefully. When

tumult strikes, we must ride the waves.

Many become forever lost in the

unrelenting grip of a riptide.

Ironically, storms are like

waves, they never end.

So survivors may rest assure

that somewhere out there,

another rampage is brewing

and heading for shore.

 

       — Boots LeBaron

(Boots’ book, “THE HUMAN RACE,’ speaks of

life, courage, art, religion, love, war, etc.  It’s

available on Kindle and in paperback on Amazon)

HOPE MAY NOT ALWAYS SPRING ETERNAL, BUT IT’S A POSSIBILITY!

THE HUMAN RACE

NEVER SURRENDER HOPE

 

Never surrender when you’re faced

with nothing more than hope.

Don’t give up your very own impossible

dream. You own it exclusively. Whether

we understand the logic of it or not, there’s

an inner strength that exists in every mortal.

Despite the ferocity of adversity,

the pomposity of naysayers, the magnitude

of force inside you can be tapped.

Surprise yourself. Experiment

with possibility… With chance.

If you refuse to test the philosophic

muscles that are capable of giving you the

boldness to capitalize on the power

of your humanness, then you may never

reach the dignity and potential

greatness that belongs to you alone.

Never fail to probe what you’re

convinced you can accomplish in life.

Lock on to hope now, damn it!

Do it soon before the chance of triumph,

no matter how big or small, becomes

lost in the futility of self-doubt.

 

— Boots LeBaron –

 

(Boots’ book, THE HUMAN RACE, contains

interviews, essays and light poetry focusing

on the essentials of life.  Available on Kindle

 and in paperback on Amazon, it contains

philosophic people stories interspersed

with essays,  light poetry and humor)

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