Unmasking Masks – Intermezzo Guest Blog by Dr. Peter Weiss

“Don’t wear masks, now wear masks. Wear two masks, since two is better than one. Vaccines will set you free, until they don’t. Therapeutics that can treat COVID-19 are frowned upon, and you must be evil if you even suggest the possibility.”

2021-08-12 Unmasking Masks

Surgical masks mainly protect patients from droplets from the surgeon and the surgeon from blood splatter from the patient. They were not designed to protect against viruses. We upended our world with ineffective policies that have unintended consequences.
by Peter Weiss, August 11, 2021

I admit, I was nervous. I had about 30 minutes before I was needed in the operating room. My patient had active COVID-19, but needed emergency surgery. This was back in August 2020, pre-vaccine and mid-hysteria. I pushed the button for the basement. I hate basements.

As I walked in, the nurse was ready for me. I had to be form-fitted for my N95 mask. Form-fitting is critical for preventing any viral particles from sneaking in from the sides of the mask. I put the first one on. She then had me put a plastic hood over my head and upper body. She hooked up a tube and asked me to let her know if I sensed any bad smell or had any sour taste in my mouth [testing the mask]. Within five seconds, I was sick from the sour taste in the back of my throat. She quickly stopped and we repeated the same test with another N95. This time, it took 30 seconds. Luckily the third N95 fit, with no sour taste or smell even after three full minutes.

I was ready. I donned a form-fitted N95 mask, a bubble suit, double gloves, and goggles. It felt like I was in a bad movie, but this was really happening.

It’s now a year later and what have we learned about masks? Everything and yet nothing.

I was a co-author of a paper on N95 masks that was published in 2007 in the American Journal of Public Health. It was written by my brothers and niece, as well as myself. Yes, we’re all physicians. Dr. Martin Weiss was the lead author. It was titled “Disrupting the Transmission of Influenza A: Face Masks and Ultraviolet Light as Control Measures.”

One takeaway message from that article, which was written during the H1N1 scare, was that N95 masks can block 95 percent of particulate aerosols from penetrating into the mask, and we need to manufacture them now. They can block particles as small as 300 nanometers in size, which could block the COVID-19 virus.

Even though COVID is small enough to slide through the N95, the mask still has dense nanofibers that can catch droplets. In the operating room, it’s the best we have unless we have a full N100 respirator. Still, the N95 can capture the virus when expelled from an infected person, according to an article published in Nature Medicine in April, 2020.

The sad part is that our call for mass production of these masks back in 2007 went unheeded. We also stated that the goal is vaccines and therapeutics. While we have vaccines, therapeutics are lagging far behind. Even discussing therapeutics is frowned upon now.

Today, we’re constantly bombarded by recommendations and even orders to wear masks when outdoors. Los Angeles County, New York, and St. Louis all are implementing indoor mask mandates — again.

There was a time when we were told to wear them outside, even if alone. The problem with the best of intentions is that they can often lead to poor judgment. What constitutes a mask in the setting of COVID-19 restrictions? It’s worth unmasking masks.

Let’s start with N95, as I described above. To be effective, it has to be form-fitted. Not all N95’s fit properly, and they can leak viral particles. They’re actually called respirators, not masks. A mask mainly keeps the wearer from ejecting droplets or spray that affect others. A respirator provides two-way protection and can keep the wearer from catching aerosol particles from others.

There is even a N100, which does what it implies. N100 can block out the COVID, but good luck wearing it for any length of time. N95 respirators aren’t comfortable, and I have trouble wearing them for long periods of time. You really don’t want your surgeon uncomfortable. A number of colleagues and I have had to stop surgery to wipe our faces and readjust our masks.

Surgical masks are made of three plied layers of synthetic microfibers and extra-fine synthetic fibers, which block out much larger particles, but do a poor job of blocking the much smaller particles associated with COVID-19 viral transmission. The COVID-19 virus is extremely small, 60-140 nanometers, which is 1/1000th of a micron. A paper, “Filtration Performance of FDA-Cleared Surgical Masks,” stated that “The results suggest that not all FDA-cleared surgical masks will provide similar levels of protection to wearers against infectious aerosols in the size range of many viruses.” It was published in the Journal of International Society of Respiratory Protection in 2009.

Surgeons wear surgical masks for two reasons. First, we don’t want any blood or bodily fluid to hit us in the mouth, and second, we don’t want our saliva or drool to spill into the wound. We don’t wear them for viral protection. To be fair, there are a few articles that claim some surgical masks reduce viral transmission, from the person wearing the mask, but that’s assuming that droplets are the main cause of transmission when they may not be. Some believe aerosol spray is the major factor.

Those studies also assume that there’s no leakage from ill-fitting masks, since those were controlled environment studies. Aerosol spray is the extremely small viral particles that an infected person would give off when breathing. Droplets would be slightly larger, but still minuscule, and found in the kind of spray you see in a sneeze or when someone is speaking or coughing. (A side note: Masks with ties are more effective than masks with loops since they give a better seal.)

We hear a lot about “droplets.” Droplets aren’t some raindrop-size spit coming out of a person. Scientists usually mean something less than five microns (1/5,000 of an inch). The vast majority of COVID-19 is spread in much much smaller aerosol spray of 1/1,000 of a micron.

Dr. Kevin Fennely published a paper in The Lancet in 2020, stating that most viral pathogens are found in small particles. This conflicts with the view that larger droplets are responsible for most viral transmission. There have been other studies showing that very small particles (under 5 microns in size) may contain as much as nine times as much virus as larger particles (droplets). It’s also postulated that these smaller particles may be more dangerous, since they can penetrate deeper into the lungs. As a side note, when a droplet falls to the ground, it becomes aerosolized and is still a problem.

Those who believe that droplets are the main source for COVID-19 infections should also then support social distancing, but not the six feet we’re told. To be accurate, it should be anywhere from 18 to 27 feet. No one really knows where this six-foot social distancing “rule” came from. It most likely arose from the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends social distancing at one meter (39 inches). This was based on work by a researcher from 1930 who studied the spread of tuberculosis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently changed the social distance requirements in schools from 6 feet to 3 feet (slightly less than 1 meter).

So, in effect, we’ve upended our entire world to enact policies with limited impact, meaning that the cost associated with implementing them isn’t offset by the proposed gains.

COVID-19 is bad. It’s absolutely horrible, especially if you’re older and have underlying medical conditions that make you more vulnerable. The good news is that, for most of us, it will only be a mild infection, such as the flu. The chance for a young person under 40 to die from COVID-19 can be as low as 0.01 percent and even lower if vaccinated.

The unintended consequences of the draconian measures from this pandemic are tragic. A recent report by The Well Being Trust says there could be 75,000 more deaths by what is called “death by despair” (suicide, drugs) because of COVID-19. Those 75,000 will be young people, not the elderly. In other words, people who aren’t really at risk from COVID-19.

We’re beset by misinformation and confusing recommendations from our government. Vaccines are amazing, I’m a believer, yet some politicians, such as President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, publicly stated that they wouldn’t trust any vaccine coming out under former President Donald Trump, until they were in charge. Don’t wear masks, now wear masks. Wear two masks, since two is better than one. Vaccines will set you free, until they don’t. Therapeutics that can treat COVID-19 are frowned upon, and you must be evil if you even suggest the possibility. This isn’t a reliable information environment.

How we tell a medical story is critical for success. It’s the way we tell a cancer patient or a surgical patient how we’ll treat them that sets up a plan for success.

And that plan should be based on a rational balance of cost, reward, and freedom. We don’t force a cancer patient to get a treatment that will make them suffer and a similar argument could be made for the vaccine.

Even though I’m a believer in the vaccine, I understand those who aren’t and respect the right of a healthy 18-year-old woman to decline receiving it. For the 36 million people who have had COVID, there’s no need for them to get the vaccine, since they have natural immunity. For how long, we don’t know, but research suggests durable immunity. It’s simple to test and find out if you still have antibodies against COVID-19.

Back in 2007, we suggested that the nation stockpile N95 masks. No one listened. We’re now incapable of manufacturing those masks. They’re all made in China. So now, we can wear a cheesecloth mask, and we’re told that we’re saving our nation.

I personally have no problem with wearing a mask if and when it’s truly needed. It just has to be the right mask, an N95 or greater. And yet, these masks are distinctly uncomfortable and add an additional strain on your system. They make it harder to breathe, or in research terms, impede gaseous exchange. I often have to stop surgery to adjust my mask and “catch my breath,” I’ve been wearing masks for all of my professional life, so it’s easier for me. I’m not everyone, though.

The issue we have is defining when is mask-wearing warranted? Forcing vaccinated people, or those who have recovered from COVID-19 to wear a mask, makes little sense, other than making some people feel more secure. Forcing a 2-year-old to wear a mask is asinine, to say the least.

On top of that, mandates don’t work. The implied new goal of reducing the COVID-19 death rate to zero is unrealistic and will never happen. This is now endemic. If we mandate mask-wearing to “save” lives, then we might as well mandate prohibition, since there are an estimated 95,000 deaths per year from alcohol-related incidents. Many of those are from drunk drivers killing innocent bystanders or passengers. The same argument can be made here. Solutions need to be realistic, not ridiculous.

Our nation should be able to mass-produce something as simple as N95 respirators and distribute them to the nation when and if needed for some future catastrophe. There will surely be more pandemics coming. My point is, if we need a mask, make it something that works.

Cloth masks, or even surgical masks, are like tying a rope around your waist while driving and claiming it’s a seat belt.

It also isn’t too much of an exaggeration to say wearing a Gucci style face-covering, such as Nancy Pelosi has, is like asking an X-ray technician to wear their grandmother’s kitchen apron when taking X-rays.

Dr. Peter Weiss has been a frequent guest on local and national TV, newspapers, and radio. He was an assistant clinical professor of OB/GYN at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA for 30 years, stepping down so he could provide his clinical services to those in need when the COVID pandemic hit. He was also a national health care adviser for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Life In Abundance, Even In Death

2021-07-24 Fall in Kentucky

“A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” (John 10:10 (CSB))

It always intrigues me when discussing death with some ‘Christians’ that they demur and say, “Let’s talk about something nicer.”  And I wonder, what is ‘nicer’ than death?  True, I do not look forward to debilitating disease or pains and problems of aging, but the end of this life on earth is not something awful for us to fear.  Even in death, there is abundance of LIFE!

The Christ-follower daily faces paradoxes.  Jesus announced very clearly, For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35)  The “sermon on the mount,” Matthew 5-7, has many of these oxymorons, starting with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-12).  The most pointed of these are the last two: “Blessed are those who are persecuted (?)” “Blessed are you when others revile you (?) and persecute you (?) and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely (?)  What kind of invitation is this to follow this guy!?

Far too many Christ-followers have been sold only half of the bill of goods.  Prosperity preachers abound with promises that if you just buy their books and listen to their sermons, you will have unending health, wealth and comfort.  If things do not work out to make your life its very best, it must be your lack of faith, or something wrong with you, because God only wants to do good for you.

But just thinking of how the love of parents requires them to sometimes do something painful to their children should eliminate any confusion here.  No child ever said, “Oh, goody, I get to have a vaccine shot today!”  But a loving parent will vaccinate their children against DPT (Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus) to protect them from these much more harmful diseases, no matter how much the child may scream.  Love constrains parents to make their children eat their vegetables even though the dessert cake is sweeter.

So, yes, our Father only wants what is good for us.  C.S. Lewis began to understand this as he matured in his trust in God, writing “We are not doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”  And “there’s the rub,” as Shakespeare’s Hamlet said.  The maturity to which Jesus calls His followers is not the nursery school comfort of warm milk and cookies.  It is the challenge to come to Him and DIE so that you can truly live.

The Christ-follower, like Jesus, lives in a culture of life-affirmation.  Thus abortion, the unwilling taking of an unborn child’s life is anathema to His people.  Euthanasia, the execution of those who no longer are “contributing” to society (whatever that means), is also viewed as something more demonic than beneficial.  Suicide, in societies that have honored God’s word, has always been viewed as counter-productive.  Even suffering, when viewed as a means to draw us closer to the One who suffered more agonizingly than we can imagine, becomes life-affirming and a channel for God to bring glory to Himself.  Our rewards will wait, but they will come.

Thus, we are instructed that when we are persecuted, we can move to another place (Matthew 10:23), but not to retaliate against our persecutors, but to pray FOR them (Note: NOT against them).  We are not to fear death or its agencies that try to murder us (Matthew 10:28).  Francis Chan, just as he headed to Hong Kong to set up ministries in Southeast Asia, noted, “It is crazy to me that it is perfectly normal to be a Christian in America and to be obsessed with staying alive.” (February 7. 2020)  Jim Elliot penned in a letter to his bride, He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Someone observed once, that unless one is willing to die for something they can not really live for it.  We who follow Jesus view death not so much as an enemy of life, but as a ferryman who will one day transport us out of his reach.  Following Jesus may involve pain, suffering, or apparent loss in the world’s eyes.  We may lack in comfort or have greater difficulties than those who just go with whatever cultural stream is flowing.  But there will come a day when it will all be worthwhile.

We must not serve God just for His rewards (another blog coming soon), but He does promise great rewards for those who give up their lives to or for Him.  Our confidence in Him assures us that there is nothing for the Christ-follower to fear.  He came to give us LIFE, and that promise is as certain as His resurrection!  There is no historical event more certain than that Jesus arose from the dead.

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

 

 

The Answer Man? – Not Me!

2021-06-12 Struck Down But Not Destroyed
Rick Warren once said, “When someone thinks he knows all the answers, one has to wonder if he knows all the questions.”

When one goes on a date, he or she showers, puts on nice clothes, preens in front of a mirror for a while, checks to make sure teeth don’t have spinach between them, and preps their brightest smiles and best chuckles.  The same goes for blogging.  When we get on our computers, we take time to evaluate our words; we check for grammatical errors, examine links and think seriously about the topic: i.e., we put our best foot forward in both cases (at least most of us do!😏).

We tend to be experts when we get online, because no one can see all the background work we do to make a nice blog.  We check our resources and polish the blog and show off how smart, informed, and perceptive we are.  Most of us try to avoid harsh words or crass language (at least the blogs I follow; too much cursing or four-letter words and I will not follow).

Well, I am not that smart or “together” all the time.  I sincerely try to be nice in my comments or just don’t comment (my mother’s words are still there in my head, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”)

But sometimes I do not “have it all together.”  Depression sometimes surprises me with lonesomeness that makes me feel even the sun is dark, as if I am under a rock wi2021-06-12 Pinnedth no light.  I make solitary time either after my bride leaves our bed, or in places where I can get away from everyone, and I cry. . . And I cry. . . And I cry some more.  So many folks in my family are wonderful and I know that I am loved, but loneliness still stands over me like an angry wrestler ready to push me down and hold me to the mat even after I say, “I give up.”  He won’t let me up anyway.

I am not suicidal (See  ).  As my brother is fond of saying, “That ship has sailed.”  But many times I feel like the days are just passing me by, and I am just waiting either for Jesus to return or for Father to call me Home from this world.  Depression makes you question whether anything you do matters; whether your life matters.

But the bottom line is it is not about me . . . or you.  Life is about Him!

Like the man in John 9 born blind, just as we are all born spiritually blind, “Once I was blind but now I see.”  As C.S.Lewis put it, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”  The world, the universe, the animals, the oceans, the mountains, the people; it all makes sense when I begin with the Cross of Jesus and the Bible.  Rick Warren put it this way: “You were made by God and for God and until you understand that, life will never make sense.”

In no other system, no other world leader, no other religious figure claimed to BE GOD.  And if Jesus is not God, then nothing makes sense in the world, the universe or people.  But sinse He IS God, it all does make sense.  I was born spiritually blind and sinful.  Jesus came to bear the penalty for my sin.  He lived a sinless life and died an ignominious death on a mechanism for capital criminals at the hands of the Gentiles and Jews.  But He rose from the dead after three days and three nights in the tomb.  And now He lives to make intercession for any who will put their faith in Him.  It’s ALL about Him!

I do not intend this blog to be a ‘downer,’ but just to encourage you if you are feeling low, if you feel pressed into the ground by a boulder, or if you fight with the angry wrestler who tries to push you down; perhaps you wonder about your value, your worth, whether your life matters.  It DOES!  You matter so much to God that He sent Jesus to the Cross!  And I know that my Redeemer lives, and THAT is all that really matters.

“I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last He will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold Him, and not another’s.”
  Job 19:25-27

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in YHWH.
  Habakkuk 3:17

Suicide? Don’t Do It!

 

Several blogs I have written address suicide, e.g. , but to get a really helpful handle on suicide I recommend the book, Hope Always, by Dr. Matthew Sleeth.  It is an excellent guide for both professionals and lay people interested in helping friends at the end of their rope.  It is a wonderful addition to any library with 24/6 or Reforesting Faith already on its shelf.  (Note, I do not have any affiliates or compensation from books or items I recommend in my blog.)

2021-05-29 Hope AlwaysHope Always is Dr. Sleeth’s latest.  With the insight of a director of a large hospital emergency room and the traumas endured there, he writes with an understanding of the pathos that drives people to consider suicide.  His personal experience with friends who have chosen this route to end this life did not drive him to despair, but instead to forge deeper into faith that God is the author of Life with a capital “L.”

Written in an easy reading style that will be informative for lay people, without pedantry or complex medical terminology, he presents an argument for life and a plan for preventing suicide, whether the “final option” is one you are considering or you know someone who may be thinking about it.  In all likelihood you have been touched by suicide, either a family member, friend or acquaintance who took their own life.  It may have haunted your thoughts, or you may have even attempted it, and from Dr. Sleeth’s perspective, many are glad you failed.

The timing of this text is significant, as I expect sequel printings to probably include more on the “culture of death” into which the whole world is moving.  Nine states in the USA as of 2019 have legalized PAS (Physician Assisted Suicide). Germany has recognized PAS and suicide itself as a non-criminal act for 150 years and in 1942, Switzerland determined that if a suicide was assisted for non-self seeking motives, the assistance was not a crime.  The Netherlands and Belgium seemed to be racing each other in 2002 to be the first to explicitly legalize PAS to go beyond just suicide for the terminally ill, but to make euthanasia an acceptable way for one to end one’s life simply based on a person’s decision without regard for medical reasons.  Luxomberg, Canada and Spain have joined this morbid club in the last 12 years, though with some constraints, though these are likely to be challenged in courts.  Columbia authorized PAS in 1997 and in 2017 extended this to minors so that even “children could die with dignity.”  Taiwan and Australia since 2015 have both passed laws allowing for PAS.

After a brief overview of suicide statistics, The “Life Continuum Scale” he presents in chapter 3 is alone worth the price of the book.  It scales from the left side at -10 (Has a plan with deadly means) toward the middle of -1 (Experiencing melancholy and pessimism).  Then to the right it scales up to the extreme of +10 (Sacrificially giving one’s life for others).  It is the clearest presentation I have ever seen of essential mental health in relation to suicide and gives readers a clear tool for evaluating themselves or others with whom they may be concerned.

Dr. Sleeth then takes us on a tour of the psychology of suicide examining this uniquely human activity.  Not even lemmings commit suicide, though this myth persists in popular culture.  He reminds us that “There is no one-size-fit-all approach to examining and treating people.  Medicine and psychology, like spiritual care, are a combination of art and science.”  Yet, “50% of those who commit suicide suffer from a mood disorder.”  Thus, he recognizes that while spiritual issues need addressing, the religionist who only tells the suicidal to read the Bible and pray more may miss some critical elements to help the hurting.

However, he goes on to address the real source of suicide, even if it is worked through psychological disorders.  As Dr. Sleeth points out, there is one source for the desire for death: “Satan is always for death.”  While examining many of the psychological and social factors surrounding desires for suicide with the intelligence of a highly trained physician, Part 2 of the book examines the Biblical worldview of suicide.  Beginning with the first recorded suicides of Adam and Eve, Satan convinced our parents to trade Paradise for death!  Though the devil claimed they would surely NOT die, Father had told them they would, and they chose to take that chance; to believe the Lie from the father of lies. 

I suspect many suicides are still in this vein: someone decides to get attention and “attempt” suicide, expecting to be saved at the last minute, but miscalculations on when someone is coming home, the speed of a train, how severe a pill will be, etc., and they buy into the Lie that the enemy told them, “You will not certainly die.” (Genesis 3

In contrast, Paul’s announcement to the Philippian jailer prevented his suicide.  Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”  Speaking on this passage to a group of prisoners, Dr. Sleeth told them, “When Jesus is in the house, people don’t kill themselves.  They live.”  Though many characters in the Bible voiced a desire to end it all, God shows us through them what He really thinks about suicide.  From Moses, Elijah, and Jonah, he reveals that even God’s best can feel hungry, angry, lonely and tired (HALT), low enough to throw in the towel and die.  But then Dr. Sleeth leads us through the process whereby God brings saving life into the picture.  And he notes, “Jesus is still healing the hopeless!” and that He is always FOR life and against death!

Towards the end of this very readable book, Dr. Sleeth provides many helpful links, including the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255).  Beyond this, he has solid advice for church leaders and participants who want to help people struggling with depression and suicidal intentions.  If the Life Continuum Scale is worth the price of the book, he should double the price for including chapter 10, The Hope Always Toolkit!  From a simple 12-step program anyone can do, to a list of scriptures to help us “take every thought captive to obey Christ,” to music, movies and books that can lift one’s spirit, he provides practical resources to assist one if you are depressed, or that can be used to help others raise their hopes.

If you have felt like ending it all, do not buy the lie!  There is Hope Always!

Guest Blog: Elva Craig Shows How To Live Forever

Elva, July, 2017

Anita, as a new international student, met Elva Craig back in 1984 at the University of Iowa.  Meeting with friends for a weekly Bible study, Elva led Anita in understanding that following Jesus was not just a “Western religion,” but a matter for every heart in the world.  And as they say, the rest is history.

Now Elva is facing the time we all will come to someday, some of us sooner than others.  But there is no escaping that we will all come face to face with our mortality.  Last week’s blog shared the decision we each must make before that moment, What will you do with Jesus, called the Christ?

Last week I asked Elva’s permission to share her latest newsletter with my blog, to show what it is like when you are walking with Jesus and facing what most people fear most.  I added links for your convenience.  What a delight, what a joy, what a hope those who know Jesus have!  Death has lost its sting; the grave has lost its victory!  Because He lives, we will live also!!  Enjoy reading Elva’s testimony.
_________________________________
From:
 Elva Craig
Sent: Sun 1/31/2021 9:54 PM
To:
Subject:
Feb. 2021 Prayer Letter

Dear Friends,
I know I haven’t written for a while,but I kept waiting until I had something definite to tell you.

2020 is almost over and most are very thankful.  Many things have happened since the beginning of the year.  Retirement has not been good to me.  In early January I had spine surgery.  My lower disks were deteriorating and squeezing a nerve that caused pain in my hip and leg.  They put four small titanium rods in my spine to keep the disks from squeezing the nerve.

One Saturday night I had a seizure, but I did not know what it was.  I contacted my co-worker (a nurse), and after she brought me to the hospital, the doctors saw something that looked like tiny tumors.  It was at this time we started the nation-wide quarantine.

Because I had a seizure I could not drive for six months and then another seizure took away all hopes for driving.  As a result of both of those things I stayed home lot.  I made a lot of cards to send to church people and others I knew who were also home alone.

In April the hospital took another MRI and determined that I had three small tumors in my brain, in the optic area.  Two were close together in the front and one in the back.  On April 24 I had brain surgery, where they actually drilled a hole in my head and took out a piece of one of the tumors to see what kind they were.  The tumors are what they call glioblastoma, a kind that cannot be killed.  I began taking chemo (pill) and radiation therapies.  The chemo was every night and radiation was five times each week.

Then I signed up to help out with a research project to see how large doses of vitamin C might effect the brain tumors.  For this they put a port put in my chest so they would not have to stick me with needles every other day.  The vitamin C infusions were three times each week.  It is a slow drip that takes 2-½ hours.

In between all these I met with doctors, had MRI’s, x-rays, and stayed away from people.  This all went on for six and a half weeks.  Actually the vitamin C part goes on much longer, but I have a month break.

On top of all that, came the covid virus when everyone stayed home.  The tumors have affected my eyes so I cannot see small letters or numbers when they are close together (e.g., telephone numbers, check books, etc).  Also I have trouble writing things clearly as well as memory problems.  So if there are problems with spelling or grammar, forgive me. [very few, but c.a. fixed these.😉] After going through all these things, the doctors told me they had done every thing they could for me and it was now up to God, but he did not think it would be much longer before I went Home (not his way of saying it).

Now on to the brighter side of things. Through all of this, God has been very good to me in many ways, as He has promised.  Ann, my co-worker, went to many of my early appointments and helped me understand what they were saying in plain English, not medical terminology.  She also arranged for me to have rides to the hospital every day with different ladies from our church.  I thank the Lord that so far I have not had any reactions or pain from chemo or radiation.  I do get a little unsteady and tired.  Also, now I have more time at home to enjoy longer devotional times.  Because of my musical background, God somehow puts a song in my head, out of the blue, which usually stays with me all day.  Two that I really enjoy are “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Take My Hand Precious Lord.”

In regard to CBF (Campus Bible Fellowship), we know things will be different at all the universities because of the virus.  We did not have our Furniture GiveAway this past year and we do not know where we will get new contacts.  I am having my own GiveAway, trying to give away most of my things.  If you were here you would be welcome to them.

I told one of the social workers here at Iowa that we work a lot with international students.  Some of the ones I worked with have gone back to their home countries.  I have many contacts from the International Women’s Club where I taught English.  I do not know if they will meet this coming semester.  Our CBF group was so small, that losing some to graduation and jobs, we do not have much to work with.  We do not even know if groups will be allowed to meet on campus.  This semester we met by Zoom so we could see and talk to everyone.

I will close with another thing that has been very special. The doctors do not know how much longer I might live on earth.  I have been able to live my life serving the Lord, so now when I think of dying, all I can think of is seeing my Savior and my whole immediate family.  What a joy that will be!  Every time I think about it I tear up.

Thank you, Lord, for your goodness and provision of salvation so we have no fear of dying.  I said that to a social worker and she said, ”Are you thinking of committing suicide?”😄  I have been able to talk to some of the nurses about the promises God has given us.  And I am looking forward to the Lord’s return.  Here is a song that I sang with one of the ladies from church.  It seems to fit the situation.

Chorus:
He leadeth me, He leadeth me! By His own hand He leadeth me!
His faithful follower I would be, for by His hand He leadeth me!

1.He leadeth me O blessed tho’t! O words with heav’nly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be, Still ‘tis God’s hand that leadeth me.

2.Lord, I would clasp Thy hand in mine, Nor ever murmur nor repine,
Content, whatever lot I see, Since ‘tis my God that leadeth me!

3.And when my task on earth is done, When by Thy grace, the vict’ry’s won,
E’en death’s cold wave I will not flee, Since God thro’ Jordan leadeth me.

Please keep praying for me, that I will remain strong.
Looking forward to meeting you all in heaven.  Hope to see you there.
Elva Craig

To Be or Not To Be . . . addendum

Please keep in mind as you read this, my heart.  I am not in a position to judge or condemn anyone, if you have read last week’s blog.  And my heart breaks for the suicidal and the problems that take them to the brink of this tragedy.  I also weep for the families and friends affected by the suicide, but we must be clear in our understanding of what the Bible teaches, as painful as that may be: suicide is never God’s will. 

There are those who think “killing” is always against the will of God, but both Hebrew and Greek have different words for “kill” and “murder,” and it is “murder” that is forbidden in the Bible.  As a wise friend of mine says, “Don’t be impressed; you can look it up.”

Suicide world wideSuicide comes under the narrower heading of “murder,” and not the more generic “killing,” because it qualifies as an act of planned slaying of oneself.  Just as the accidental killing of another person would come under the legal term of “manslaughter” and not “murder,” one’s accidental death does not involve the planning and intention required to make it “murder.”  (More on this in a minute.)  But the planned and intentional taking of another’s life IS murder, and the planned and taking of one’s own life IS ALSO murder.

The Bible never excuses one from suffering or difficulty in life, and in fact, promises that endurance of suffering can merit rewards equal to the suffering (1 Peter 4:12-15; Hebrews 12:7-11).  Furthermore there is a promise that The Creator will not test you beyond your ability to bear it (1 Corinthian 10:13).  And if that relief is to come by dying for The Name of Jesus, there is even a promise of special reward that assures the martyr that his/her death is not in vain (Revelation 6:9-11).  Paul was willing even to die for the name of Jesus (Acts 21:13) which, in fact, tradition holds that he did when he was beheaded under Emperor Nero.  In fact, all the first apostles, except John, died because of their testimony of Jesus.  It is important to note, none of these men were rebellious or troublemakers to the local government; none of them sought to take the lives of others; and none of them sought death as though they were looking for a reward.  But each of them faced death with the assurance that Jesus would be standing at the right hand of Father to greet them, just as Stephen had seen (Acts 7:54-60).

However, this bring us to another conundrum with regard to suicide.  It is my opinion that many suicides are “accidental.”  That many people “attempt” suicide and do not succeed suggests these are actually looking for help and hoping that somehow the “suicide attempt” will catch someone’s attention and bring relief to whatever problems are causing this person to tempt fate.  This may leave room for hope, even for a suicide, as his/her death may not have been as intentional as we or legal authorities may assume.  And we do not know the full extent of God’s mercy, even to one who is struggling with life problems that may have them acting foolishly.  So we must be very careful in judging if a suicide was really “self-murder.”

Suicide 1The fact is that suicide is really very simple.  That anyone would “attempt” suicide and “fail” suggests he/she really was not serious about murdering himself/herself.  The tragedy for many of these is that they over-estimate their ability to survive and such tragic deaths occur as a result of miscalculations on how many pills to take or how close to come to the railroad tracks.  So we must leave such determinations of eternal outcomes in the hands and mind of Him who knows the secrets of every heart (Psalm 44:20-22).

We are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), and really very fragile.  Destroying a life is so much easier than living through one’s troubles, that it is hard to see how someone who seriously reaches that point of deciding to kill oneself would not succeed.  Recall from last week, that suicide is not an act of bravery or selflessness (with the exception of one who willingly dies to save another).

Suicide 2For someone on Warfarin (a blood thinner), a simple overdose would cause significant bleeding, and simply planning to take it before bed would assure that one would die before waking. Tylenol can be effective if one takes enough, but that is a painful and slow death, even if the overdose is discovered.  Most drugs are poison if taken in adequate quantities, and a simple online search will reveal which ones are most effective and at what dosages.

Some auto accidents are survivable, but there are very few cities that would not have precipices that would guarantee a certain death if the auto were to be driven over one of them.  I have only heard of one person who survived a self-inflicted gunshot, and that was because he chose to try a .22 caliber pistol, which left him unconscious and brain-damaged, but alive.  Any shotgun or a higher caliber pistol, like a .45 or .38 or 9mm can be very effective.

Cutting, such as slashing a wrist, is a very risky way to die, as it usually involves some time, where reconsiderations or interruptions may occur, plus you need to understand somewhat of anatomy to make sure you cut the right direction and artery.  Of course, a jump from a tall location or a step onto train tracks in front of a locomotive are also effective ways of ending one’s own life. Hanging is also a very risky way to die, as people have been known to survive for hours, and this method fails in more than 30% of attempts.

Of course, as fragile as we are, there are many other techniques for suicide, from drowning to carbon monoxide poisoning, but the last consideration is how selfish and cowardly suicide is.

Suicide 3However, as we ended last week’s blog, again, I make the appeal: If you know someone who is seriously despondent, do not fear his/her reaction to your question: “Are you thinking of hurting yourself?”  It could be a question than will save a life!

And if you are thinking about ending your life, please, I appeal to you, get help!  It is available, and your situation is not as hopeless as it seems.  As huge as your problems may be, I encourage you to see them as one would see his thumb if you held it just a few inches away from your face.  Your tiny thumb could block the entire sun, and that is what is happening when you allow problems to take you to the brink of suicide.  Take down your hand and let someone guide you to see the life that you are missing.

Most of all, consider Jesus, who for the joy before Himself, did not consider even the suffering and death on the cross to be too much to handle (Hebrews 12:2).  He offers you that same joy, if you will allow Him to enter into your life and lead you.

 

 

To Be or Not To Be . . . That Is Not The Real Question

Suicide or notSome notes on suicide and an autobiographical narrative.  (First note: though strongly considered, and through no fault or credit of my own, I did not commit suicide.)

Hamlet’s most famous speech begins with these words: “To be or not to be, that is the question.”  (See the entire speech at the end of this blog.)  But as he goes on in his soliloquy you can see this was not his question at all.  And it is not the question that haunts the suicidal.  It is clear to Hamlet’s mind that he exists and will continue to exist into eternity.  After all, “He [the Creator] has set eternity in the human heart.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Rather the real question comes in lines 64 and 65:
“To sleep, perchance to dream – aye, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come?”

And THAT is the question!

“The rub” was a sportsman’s name for an obstacle in a game similar to bowling, but played on a lawn.  The rub was anything that diverted the ball from the bowler’s intended course.  Lawn BowlingSo the “rub” for the person who is suffering “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” or for one considering taking up “arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them; to die,” is not whether or not he/she will continue existing.  What diverts many from committing suicide is a fear of what may be beyond.  What “dreams may come” when one leaves this world?  No matter how miserable life is, some people prefer it to death, because there is a chance that the life after death could be worse.

However, in spite of fear of Shakespeare’s “dread of something after death,” every year over 1,000,000 people choose his “undiscovered country, from whose [borders] no traveler returns.”
• The global suicide rate is 16 per 100,000 population.
• On average, one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds somewhere in the world.
• 1.8% of worldwide deaths are suicides.
• Global suicide rates have increased 60% in the past 45 years.
And most of these are in developed nations, not third-world countries where one might expect poverty and hopelessness would prompt such drastic action.

So what would convince someone to take this leap into the unknown, and end his/her own life?  Have you ever been so sad that the sunlight shining in your bedroom window seemed like an intrusion?  Did you ever feel like you were completely alone, even in a crowd of friends and associates?  Were you ever pinned in by choices, and not one of them seemed acceptable?  Has your future ever appeared so unlike what you first imagined it to be that you wanted to change course in almost any way you could?  Where did all my hopes and dreams die?

We have all experienced moments of depression from the affirmative answers to these questions, but somehow, most of us find the strength to soldier on through the rough times and we experience the relief that eventually comes, like Billy Joel’s Second Wind.  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhxjNYvJbgM)  If the depression continues for some time we may find help in a professional counselor, or through medication that brightens our outlook.

But there are those of us who through circumstances of our lives or our choices experience a hopelessness that dims any chance of ever brightening; a bleakness that blocks out any sunshine; a dryness that wilts even the root of anticipation that anything will ever get better.  And there I was.

Let me be clear that it is NOT self-hatred nor bravery that motivates the suicidal, though that is what popular psychology and psychiatry will tell us these days.  Either the psychologist is wrong or the Bible is wrong, and I would place the odds highly in favor of the Bible knowing more than the psychologist.  Ephesians 5:29 says “No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.”

Then how do we understand the guilty or impoverished who commit suicide?  Think about this compartmentalization of our personalities.  When I consider taking my own life, I am divided in my understanding of myself.  The view of the suicidal is that my circumstances, whether self-inflicted or exogenous, are more than I should have to bear!  There must be some relief to this misery, and death appears to be it!  Furthermore there is no consideration for anyone other than oneself; no thinking of how one’s death will affect others, only self-interest.  Thus suicide is an absolute and complete act of self-love, not self-hatred.

As for bravery, which is worse: slowly burning to death in a high-rise building or jumping to one’s death?  For the suicidal, remaining here on earth is a slow torturous death, and the suddenness of a gunshot, needle, pills, or bridge jump is a much easier way out.  Thus, it is not courage that makes it possible to commit suicide, but cowardice of the greater pain.  And there I was.

At 33 years old my life was in the toilet.  Thirty years of trying to be better, of attempting to trust God for something, of hoping that someday I would not be a hypocrite and stop living a double-life . . . it was all crashing in.

Train tracksThe specter of the damage I had left in others’ lives and the lack of any way to make anything right again was like a thumb stuck in front of my face that blocked out the entire sun.  I found myself walking along these train tracks in Iowa and wondering what I would do if a train came along.  The world would be a better place without me in it, would it not?  Would my death be enough vengeance for those I had injured, the lives that were tattered to shreds by my selfishness and disobedience to what I knew to be right?  Who would care, beyond a very few family members, if I was no longer around to be an embarrassment?  Why should I keep wasting oxygen by breathing?  Wasn’t it better to give something back to the world, even if it was only the chemicals of my body to feed the grass?

That is hopelessness.  That is suicidal.  That is selfish.  That is cowardly.

I was fortunate.  A police cruiser happened to drive by the railroad crossing where I was in sight.  Too depressed to even run, I thought maybe the officers would lock me up for trespassing and I could die in jail.  But the perceptive policemen took me instead to a clinic where a godly counselor began to work with me.  (Note, one has about a 50-50 chance of getting a good psychologist, as many go into this field to compensate for their own short-comings; i.e., they were helped so they want to help others, but may lack the intelligence or perspective to do so.  But many are wonderful guides to understanding life’s complexities and seeing past one’s blind spots so that one can grow in mind and spirit.)

Eventually, the thoughts of suicide began to fade over the next two years.  A dark fog still lingered around me for another year, and like a prisoner in a dungeon I marked the days passing; but not to count how many days since I was captured; only to mark one less day the world had to endure me being in it.

What saved me from the “final solution” after the police delivered me to a counselor’s office was less of the advice of the psychologist, good though it was, but a verse of the Bible that came out of my memory, even though I did not remember memorizing it: Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.(Proverbs 18:13)

So with a good counselor’s help, I began to find that God really is merciful, even to me, running a close second to Paul’s confession of being the foremost of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).  At times the guilt and shame of my actions, attitudes and assumptions still overwhelm me, and the darkness begins to crowd into my mind again, and I wonder if the world will be better when I am gone.  But at those times, I return to my Lord, who took all my shame (YES! even mine!) and nailed it to His cross so that I could be forgiven.

So if you know someone who appears depressed, try a smile and kind word.  Be direct: ask, “Are you thinking about harming yourself?”  You do not have to be a psychologist to care about someone, and most of all, that is what a suicide wannabe is hoping for.  If you are discouraged beyond hope, let me tell you from my narrative, the fires may be hot, but they will not destroy you.  There is mercy.  Get help.  (Next week, February 15, 2016, some last thoughts on the worldwide epidemic of suicide and preferred methods.)

“My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

Hamlet Act 3, scene 1, 55–87
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream—aye, there’s the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause—there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of dis-prized love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.