Monday, November 29, 2010

Aliens Among Us

I just read an article which discussed how the teenage brain is wired differently than the brains of other normal people. Apparently, there was a study done that proved this difference; a fact that has been obvious to parents for ages, probably since the days of Cain and Abel.

That teenagers function on a different level when compared to younger children or adults is more than the result of “different wiring”. No, it is the consequence of a much more sinister plot; a plan that could eventually lead to the end of civilization as we know it. Recent observations out of Roswell, NM have clearly demonstrated that during a child’s thirteenth year aliens visit and our sweet innocent children are replaced.

Every parent has had the experience. That sweet child that loved to be with Mom and Dad, be it a simple walk or a game of catch, suddenly can’t be seen with parents. But it’s more than this. There is no question that teenagers are not human.

For example, years ago I had a simple surgery scheduled on a fifteen year old girl, excising a cyst from her scalp. It was too big to do under strictly local anesthesia in the office, so I scheduled the surgery to be done in the OR utilizing local anesthesia along with intravenous sedation. The procedure started uneventfully; the area on her scalp numbed adequately and her peaceful snores indicating an appropriate level of sedation.

As I made my incision she became agitated and started to scream that someone was trying to cut off her head. I have to comment at this point that local anesthesia will eliminate most sensation, but pressure feelings and awareness that something is being done still are maintained. As she became more agitated the anesthesiologist gave her more sedation, actually enough to stop a charging elephant. My patient tried to jump off the table.

Needless to say the surgery was stopped, she was given general anesthesia and we finished the procedure without incident. At that time I chalked it up to a single paradoxical reaction. But, about six months later I had another similar occurrence. A minor procedure on a sixteen year old boy, once again under local anesthesia with IV sedation yielded the exact same outcome. This time we were better prepared and as soon as it was apparent that the sedation was not effective, general anesthesia was induced and we finished the operation without further mishap. After these two episodes I decided that teenagers were not like normal people and since then all operations on this subspecies of humanity have been done either with straight local anesthesia, that is, sans sedation, or with full general anesthesia. I have to add that, at the time, my own kids were all sweet, innocent toddlers and young children. They’ve since grown and I am older and wiser.

But, what is the underlying mechanism for this devious transformation? Prevailing theories are that rapid hormonal changes coupled with the growing social pressures of the teen years lead to the instability of the teenage specimen. This explanation is at best inadequate. No, there is much more to the phenomenon and the answer, undoubtedly, is alien invasion.

During the seventh grade, usually a few months after the start of the school year the exchanges begin. Our teenage children are snatched away as they sleep and transported to alien space ships hovering just outside the Earth’s atmosphere, shielded from any prying military probes. Exact physical copies of our precious children are created and, unlike Stepford, where the wives were replaced by docile, compliant androids, the replicants are programmed to disrupt the lives of all the sane adults and younger children they encounter.

Because they are artificial they have no fear of driving too fast, or drinking excessively and, being perfectly engineered machinery, they believe it is beneath them to fraternize with imperfect biologically based beings like parents or younger siblings. Instead they prefer their own kind, congregating at malls, particularly around the Apple Store or in arcades where other machines can be found.

Oh, they are devious, that’s for sure; pretending to be sweet and innocent for a moment, filling their forlorn parents with hope that their baby has been returned, but it’s all a trick. Once rewarded with spending money and car keys, they revert to their real selves, congregating together to prowl the streets in packs and wreaking havoc at every turn. Of course it isn’t all bad. These alien creations have remarkable central processors that can soak up Shakespeare or trigonometry like a dry sponge. When properly motivated they are capable of performing a Vivaldi Violin Concerto or winning Olympic Gold in gymnastics. Through all this we cheer them on, pray for them and hope, deluding ourselves into believing that these ‘replacements’ are truly ours.

Is there hope for humanity; will we ever be released from these thorns in our sides? I don’t know what happens to the real children as they are held prisoner on these alien ships, but most of them manage to escape shortly after they enter adulthood. The vicious, unpredictable beasts are dismantled and our children, now responsible adults, return.

So, if your teenager is getting you down, acting in bizarre ways and causing you to reach for the Ativan two or three times a day, relax. Just say to yourself: “They’re not human, they’re not human, just be patient, just be patient”.

In a few years it will all be over. But, until that time, keep a stiff upper lip, hide the car keys and keep the Ativan close at hand.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Jesus was a Wino...Like Me

A few weeks ago, in the midst of some heated discussion in the OR, my assistant made an interesting, perhaps profound comment. I don’t remember the topic, but the conversation must have wandered into religion and somehow the person of Jesus came up. Sometimes we actually have deep and profound discussions while slaving over hot gallbladders; this must have been one of those times. Anyway, as the conversation heated up, she blurted out:

“Jesus was a wino…like me”.

It sounded funny at the time, and I don’t think anyone in the room really believed it. First of all, although my assistant enjoys a fine glass of Chardonnay on a regular basis, in moderate amounts only (except on the rare occasion when she is celebrating something, when she allows herself a bit more), she does not fit the definition of a wino. There are various definitions of “wino”, but an amalgamation of them all would probably be: “an indigent person, usually homeless, who drinks alcoholic beverages, usually to excess”.

But what she said in the heat of discussion actually contains a great deal of theology and, if examined closely, one can find the gospel. So, let’s deconstruct this simple phrase and uncover its truth.

Jesus refers to Jesus Christ, the remarkable figure on whom the various Christian religions are built. Over two thousand years ago he was an itinerant rabbi hiking around ancient Palestine, trailed by twelve disciples, whose purpose was to deliver the “good news”, a message of God’s love, hope and salvation for all His people; the Gospel. During his three year mission He had no home and it is well documented that he drank wine, although never to excess. He performed many miracles; the first was changing of water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. But, whereas his disciples may have become drunk on at least one occasion, (they seemed to have a hard time staying awake at Jesus greatest time of need in the Garden of Gethsemane), Jesus never drank inappropriately. Drunkenness would be considered a sin and he lived a perfect, obedient, sinless life, which uniquely qualified him as the perfect sacrifice to satisfy God’s wrath and to take our sins upon himself at the Cross.

So, he does not meet all parts of the definition of wino. Homeless, yes, indigent, yes, drank wine, yes, excessively, no. But, what about the Gospel? At the Cross, the sins of the world were heaped upon Him and by this act of love we are saved. When the believer stands before God for judgment,
God will see the righteousness of Jesus instead of a wretched sinner. This is the heart of the Gospel. At the Cross Jesus takes all the sins of the world upon himself and we, the sinful winos, are cleansed. Jesus becomes the wino in our place.

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” -2 Corinthians 5:21

In this sense one could say that it’s true; Jesus was a wino. Perhaps it’s better said, “Jesus became a wino…for me”.

But, what about “…like me”. Can anyone say that Jesus is “like me”? Jesus left heaven; separating from all his glory, and became human, assuming all the frailties and weaknesses of humanity. He suffered all the temptations that we suffer and more. He was offered bread when he was starving, but rejected it, preferring God’s word. He was offered all the world, but chose the promise of God and Heaven and, finally, He refused to put God to the test, holding on to His faith and rejecting Satan. These temptations make Jesus “like me”, except he succeeded where we all fail miserably.

“Jesus was a me”. The Gospel shouts from these words and, as a result, hope and truth are offered to all of us.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Grown Up

This post talks about "Toy Story 3 and contains spoilers, in case you haven't seen that movie

Last night I watched “Toy Story 3” with my wife and daughters. I thought the story was very touching and I found my eyes filling with tears at the end. Since then I’ve been wondering: what is it about this story that I found to be so moving? The ending was a bittersweet, but it was the best of all possibilities for the motley crew of toys. And, yet I felt far more sadness than anything.

As I reflected on everything the wonderful story contained I realized that “Toy Story 3” wasn’t about the toys at all. Just as “Ben Hur” was really about Jesus (the complete title is “Ben Hur, a Story of the Christ”), “Toy Story 3” is about Andy. Sure, the majority of the time the focus is on the plight of the toys, but at almost every moment it is the plight of Andy that is in the background.

We start with video of Andy playing with his beloved toys, games of make believe that demonstrate the unashamed imagination that is special to young children. But, the screen cuts to Andy preparing to leave for college. What will become of the toys; trash or attic or worse? At this point the viewer gets only a glimpse at Andy’s thoughts. He cares enough to put them away in the attic and he plans to bring Woody to college where he would likely end up as an ornament on a desk, seen, but not to be played with. It is a better fate than the attic.

If you’ve seen the movie you know about the plight of the toys, but one of the most revealing scenes is that of Andy searching for the toys he wanted to save and learning that they were accidently put out with the trash. Andy is visibly upset and then we don’t see him for a while. At that point perhaps he realizes that the childhood memory that he thought he was shuffling off to storage has been lostforever and we feel his loss.

The toys go through a number of misadventures until they find themselves, in a Jonathan Edwards moment, on the brink of annihilation, only to be grasped from the fire by the giant, divine “Claw”. They all make their way back to Andy who gets a second chance at redemption. Through the intervention of Woody he decides to give his toys, except for Woody, to Bonnie, a girl who we know will truly appreciate them and play with them just as Andy had done.

At the point when Andy stops at Bonnie’s home to give her the toys he demonstrates that he has not forgotten what the toys are, what they meant to him and what they still mean to him. He could have just handed the box to Bonnie or her Mother and drove off to college, but that wouldn’t have been right. He takes each toy, one at a time and lovingly hands it to Bonnie, making sure that she knows the true story of each one. And in the end he is left with Woody, who still plans to bring to college. But, Bonnie already loves Woody, just as Andy loved Woody when he was that young age. And Andy sees her love and gives Woody to Bonnie.

At this moment Andy finds redemption, just as Judah Ben Hur found his redemption through his three encounters with Jesus. Because, it is expected that Andy, having been true to his toys, would have left, gone on to the more important task of moving into college. After all he’s seventeen and playing with toys just wouldn’t be proper for someone moving on in this world. But, he stays and for the rest of the day he plays with his beloved toys and with Bonnie, recapturing the childhood he thought he had lost forever. And, it is at this moment that the tears start to flow, because for all of us we realize what we have lost. The childlike innocence that we used to have, imagination that can turn a piggybank into evil Dr. Porkchop, is lost; buried beneath the day to day routine that we call growing up and adulthood.

One of my favorite songs, since I was about eight or so, is “Puff, the Magic Dragon”. Years ago someone wrote that this song is about drugs, but if you read the lyrics it is clear that this song is about the losses we suffer when we grow up. Jackie Paper plays with Puff and the two go on the greatest adventures together, until Jackie grows up, Puff is replaced by other toys and forgotten. Without a little boy to bring the imagination there may be a toy dragon, but that is all there is, a lifeless stuffed animal. The imagination of a child brings toys and us to life.

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee

Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff,
and brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff. Oh

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee

Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail
Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff's gigantic tail,
Noble kings and princes would bow whene'er they came,
Pirate ships would lower their flags when Puff roared out his name. Oh

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee

A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave,
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave. Oh

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee