Thank You For Your Service…..

soldiers-assault-usa-flag-american-army-military-grunge-concept-51778450Last week I went to a veterans dinner here at Harbor Ridge. It seems this has been a long standing annual tradition for the Marines in this enclave. This year they opened it up. Not through all inclusiveness per se but they were running out of old leathernecks to attend. It was an fascinating evening.There were actual tanks and Jeeps at the door. Probably from some museum although you never know what is going on here behind closed garage doors. How did they get those things past security? Participants ranged from their thirties to their nineties. There was a slide show of sorts from various members who submitted photos. I did not.

I couldn’t help but think of all the veterans, many of whom had gone to war and the hours, days and years we have all given up in service to our country over all these years. Most notable was a 93 year old who gave a stirring talk. He had been at the Battle of the Bulge and had become a prisoner of war. Couldn’t hold a candle to this buck private. And there he was in a natty shirt and blazer. He like all of us had answered the call whether it was a sense of duty or your friendly draft board that summoned you.

Yesterday I went to Hospice orientation. By some miracle of guile I made it through the background checks and yet I am still worried because they took a full set of fingerprints. I looked around the room at a group, both young and old. Probably from mid 20’s to mid 70’s. All ready to help. I thought they should also be thanked for their service.

In “pondering the imponderables” I wondered why we and so many others volunteer? Mine is simple. I used to tell Father Mike that this might be my only chance to get extra credits to allow me to sneak past St Peter unnoticed.

As a nation we count around 60 million of our fellow travelers who give of their time at no cost. Everything from food banks, meals on wheels, tutors, mentors, blood donors, board members, builders and thrift shop entrepreneurs, to name a few. That is a huge number but still only 25% of the adult population. Are they special and does the other 75% just not care? That is not accusatory but observational and worthy of consideration.

volunteering-crowd-three-young-people-raising-their-hands-45121913Several studies have been done. It seems first and foremost is that some say volunteering isn’t cool. We see stereotypical pictures of do gooders and in a fascinating way we say we cannot relate to them. They are old. They are dorks. They are not of my ilk. They have nothing better to do with their time. Mine is valuable.

Another aspect is that many are unsure of what they can do. Successful people don’t like to look stupid or pedestrian. If you need a CEO or CFO or someone with a doctorate in nuclear physics I am your man or woman. Otherwise as they say on Shark Tank, “I am out.”

The time factor seems daunting except for one fact. A majority of volunteers today are between the ages of 30-60. In their prime, they have kids and demanding jobs and yet still find a few spare hours on weekends or whatever. Some would be volunteers will argue they can’t stick to a fixed schedule. Almost every organization can tailor to one’s spare time.

Other than my Catholic guilt as one harsh critic told me once, I thought about what is it that makes me want to help? They say much of your proclivity to charity is a result of what your parents taught you. As a kid I remember going over to shovel the elderly Mrs Cook’s driveway after a snow storm. It wasn’t a suggestion from my mom but a very gentle command…and don’t you dare take any money from that poor lady. Not exactly enthusiastic, I did my duty to God ,country and of course my mother.

climber-helps-friend-giving-helping-hand-mountains-day-alpinist-submits-cliff-concept-mountaineering-80904842I guess you have to have an innate empathy for others. When you see someone in trouble you can’t look the other way. Many years ago, dashing down the stairs to the PATH at the old World Trade Center, I happened upon a man siting on the floor with blood all over him. The poor devil had slit his wrists in front of the waning commuter crowd. No one had stopped to notice or if they had, they decided they had more important things to do.

I wrapped a handkerchief around his wounds and asked another guy to find a Port Authority cop. I tried to calm him until help came. Riding home on the train after that I was stunned that no one stopped to help. Was I overly virtuous? Hell no, I was just being a human being. It was an automatic response. Why had so many chosen otherwise? Dunno.What would you have done?

Some people are beyond exemplary. Everyday you have good Samaratins who risk their lives to save another human being. Invariably they brush adulation aside when confronted afterwards. You have Doctors Without Borders who get in harms way with no compensation. You have soldiers who are on their umpteenth tour to a war zone. A donor of a kidney to some unknown person. These are the real heroes.

There are cops and firemen, teachers, nurses, social workers, soldiers, sailors and airmen and the like who serve with compensation but probably not nearly enough. Think of all the people you and I don’t notice who make our world a better place. Think of waiters and waitresses, bussers and landscapers, janitors and delivery people. When you stop and just look around your little burg or fiefdom the number is astounding.

This is not a call to action. That would be haughty on my part. But for me, just cogitating

says upon introspection that maybe I should do more.For all of those  60 million plus and beyond I just want to say thank you for your service. I owe you a lot. We all do

.As always,
Ted The Great


Psychologists can demonstrate volunteering helps you look outside yourself and your problems, allowing you to see the world and other people from a whole different perspective. Might be that endorphin thing or that you are not as bad off as you thought. Works for me.

A study by the Journal For Philanthropy noted that a survey among wealthy people showed more that half said that volunteering rather than just writing a check did more for underprivileged people.

One statistical reason people don’t volunteer is they are not asked. This is both wealthy and poor. We tend not to ask clients, fellow workers or friends. We feel we are intruding. We assume less fortunate people have no desire to better their surroundings. Not true at all.

On a percentage basis Utah,Idaho and Minnesota lead the pack with over 35% participation. The bottom are Florida, Nevada, New York and Louisiana which are at or below 20%. Best city, Salt Lake City. Worst Miami.

Correction: Last week in my “Numbers”blog I stated that 15% percent of the town of Sutherland Springs had been killed. Of course a numbers man pointed out to me that the 26 murdered was 6 percent of the population which would have meant only 40,000 in Denver and 540,000 in New York would have died by extrapolation. Thank you Neil. Did anyone else notice that?



By The Numbers….

As I thought about those poor people in Texas two numbers stuck in my mind, 26 and 400. There were 26 killed and the population of Sutherland Springs was 400 give or take a few. Unfortunately today we look at this and shrug our shoulders because the slaughter that many people becomes commonplace and even mundane.

But it becomes altogether different when you realize that was approximately 15% of the town’s population. That percentage in Denver would have been 90,000 mowed down. In New York City the toll would have been 1,500,000 defenseless people. What would we have thought then?

We are influenced everywhere by numbers. It is quite fascinating to dwell upon how they interact with our daily lives. Perhaps a zillion times but I can’t tell you if such a number exists. I use the hyperbole because my poor brain can’t even fathom 456 to the umpteenth power. Mathematicians, actuarials, nuclear physicists always scare me. Probably because I feel so inadequate as I muse as to what is going on in their brain at any given point in time. Much more than mine.

We use numbers in sports ad nauseam. You have batting averages, point spreads, over unders and yards to the hole. Swimming race victors, pole vault champions and gymnasts are determined by one one thousandth of a second or point. Can we really cut it that close? Numbers definitely help in point shaving and fantasy whatever. Is it just me as it really gets annoying as you watch a football game. All I want is a score but we have to go through on screen every detail of the game with individual statistics to curry favor for this that play the game within the game.

Wall Street loves or hates numbers. GDP, unemployment rates, the average temperature on Gdansk, Poland all determine whether our personal fortunes go up or down. The unemployment rate is actually the result of a survey. They make phone calls to companies and say “How you doing?” They reply, not too good or not too bad and that determines our financial health as a nation. But then there are hidden numbers which tell you the real situation. How can we parse through all this to get a straight answer? Analysts come up with earnings estimates with is mean between 5 and 30 cents let’s say. Of course if the company beats estimates by 5 cents then they are geniuses and if you miss you are in stock market solitary….until the next set of numbers.

People bet on the numbers and have done so for decades. The Mafiosa in our queen cities throughout the country have lived the high life through their rackets. Of course we in our wisdom saw a chance for getting in on a good thing and created state lotteries and the infamous Powerball. In either case the poor are being promised wealth and fortune if only the can come up with the right number. Damn I missed last week by only three numbers. I think I am getting on a roll.

Numbers are a wonderful source of identifying places and things. Streets, interstates, parking spots and zip codes bring clarity to our lives. Seems our area codes keep changing and any vestige of personal identification is gone. I used to date a girl whose phone number was Eldorado 6 4938. I was on Long Island and that was in the New York City. Plaza 9 5000 was just that, the Plaza Hotel. The Lex subway is now the number four. Main Street is now Rte 24. I guess that is progress.

The Armed Services love numbers from your dog tag to the guided missile frigates to the platoon or division you are assigned to. We kept track of KIA’s in Nam but the really great thing was when you had actual body count. The higher-ups really got off on that. Almost like the Indians taking scalps. I kid you not. We also show convicted movie stars and Wall Street thieves with their mug shot and whatever their prison number is. It feels so good to see them degraded and sniveling.

Which of course brings us to the haves and have nots. The top 1% or those that live below the poverty line which in both cases is an estimate. As we have travelled the world and have seen yachts and condos and mansions in the multi, multi million dollar range Kath and I often wondered who can buy all these things? But if you really think about it, with a world population nearing 7 billion then the there would be 70 million people in that top 1% If you are not in the top 5% then you are really a piker.

As my head is spinning with all these numeral I have to look to numerologists.They go beyond seeing patterns. These people feel our whole lives are preordained by the alignment of this or that set of numerals. They see numbers in everything and the certain of them are completely taboo. In Chatham, New Jersey I had a business and had the phone number 201 635 6666. I thought it was pretty cool until someone told me it stood for the devil. Maybe it was an appropriate one at that.

Whether it is the number 13 or 7 or whatever they are just numbers. Someone said numbers don’t lie and they may be right. I for one do not put all my stock in them and in no way wanted to be considered as just a number. Our beauty as a person and our hearts and souls has got to be more than a formula or equation. Inside it is what makes us, us. You can’t put a number on that. At least not yet

As always
Ted The Great

• The numerical digits we use today such as 1, 2 and 3 are based on the Hindu-Arabic numeral system developed over 1000 years ago.
• Different names for the number 0 include zero, nought, naught, nil, zilch and zip.

What comes after a million, billion and trillion? A quadrillion, quintillion, sextillion, septillion, octillion, nonillion, decillion and undecillion. My favorite is still a gazillion.

• The name of the popular search engine ‘Google’ came from a misspelling of the word ‘googol’, which is a very large number (the number one followed by one hundred zeros to be exact). Which is probably why the company is worth so many hundreds of billions.

We have seven deadly sins, and seven wonders of the world. Not to mention colours of the rainbow, pillars of wisdom, seas, dwarves, days in the week…This might be because when these things came about there were celestial bodies visible in the sky (the Sun, the Moon, Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn).

That’s all folks!


Speaking Of Hospice…

My sister in law died earlier this week after a long illness. In the end she was in the care of hospice. As I discussed this with her kids it came to mind how little we know of this wonderful mission. Yet almost a million and a half people a year avail themselves of this part of medicine that is rarely talked about.

As some of you know I have worked in hospice as a volunteer for over five years in the Denver area. When I mention that to people they cringe and say,”I could never do that.” Maybe yes, maybe no. The fact is I am not an oddity, at least not in this. There are almost 500,000 volunteers who share with me a special calling I guess.To me it is just a part of life.

The derivation of the word hospice is from the Lain for visitor or host. In the early 1100’s it became known as a way station or inn for tired or wounded travelers. The present day institution is the brain child of a British nurse, Dame Cecilia Saunders. The basis is simple. You treat the person not the disease. In order to gain access you have to have a written document from a medical doctor saying you have six months or less to live. You state you will not ask for any extraordinary procedures to prolong life. It is that simple.

We are not too good talking about death. My old buddy John Horan, aka The Body Snatcher, and I have had several lengthy talks about this. John is a funeral director extraordinaire in Denver as well as my cigar smoking and drinking buddy. . The best answer seems twofold. First our medical industry has taught us that they can cure you of anything.

That might be true but no one discusses what you might be like at the end of the treatment. In our era of specialization the surgeon is just supposed to get rid of whatever. Then a cadre of others from physiotherapists to psychotherapists, dietitians, pulmonologists fall in line. We have done a lot to have case mangers et al but the myriad of professionals sometimes seems quit daunting and even dehumanizing.

The second part is that we are not exposed to death as in days of old. People live longer. When I was in grammar and high school parents or siblings died. You went to Gallagher’s funeral home for a wake. You could have been 8 or 18. It is what you did. Not today.

Hospice tries to comfort you in every way possible from physical to psychological to spiritual. Palliative care tries to ease the pain. We work with the care givers to assuage any fears they might have and yes, give them a break. In totally crazy way, people have a better quality of life and in many cases survive longer but in a better fashion. I know that sounds like a sales pitch but when all involved feel some sense of control over the process it really does bring relief.

When I talk with patients I don’t have any specific agenda but am just there to talk…or not. For once in my life it is not in way shape or fashion about me. No one pats you on the back because they have too much else on their minds. You do what is asked but I tell the family, the patient and no one else calls the shots.

I happened upon a woman patient one day. She had a legal pad and I asked what she was doing? She replied, “I am planning my funeral” I said “That’s cool, do you want to talk about it?” She then related in a very upbeat way how she wanted it to come off with a few exceptions. When I asked why the problem, she said her daughter told here she either couldn’t or didn’t want her to do it that way. Really? I said, “Honey you do what you damn well please”. She said,”I like you” At least some one does.

I won’t bore you with any more stories but if I did they would be ones of an incredible connection with another human being. I am always in awe they trust me to that extent. For the most part they know exactly what is going on and are comfortable with it. That is not always true for the family. The most common concern is of what will it be like when the time comes? Every one is different.

I have been there several times at the time of death. All I can tell you is that is genuinely peaceful. I remember when my son Scott was born too many years ago. I wanted to be in the delivery room which was taboo back then.The Ob/Gyn wanted to meet me to make sure I was not going to go to my knees at the big moment.

In a wonderful way he told me there are five people in the room and then there are six. I thought about that during one of my patient visits. There are six in the room and then there are five. It is the ultimate demonstration of the cycle of life. Don’t know why people don’t get it? I don’t know anyone who has beat the rap though of course we will always try.

Two thirds of hospice patients choose to die at home. I get that but residences also offer an inordinate amount of flexibility. You want to bring pictures or furniture? No problem. Your dog or cat? Can be arranged. No visiting hours. we are always open! You want an ice cream sundae at three in the morning? At your service. you can even have a drink or tow.

That does remind me of one last story. A patient wanted ice cream. I said, “With Chocolate Sauce?” Why not! I threw in a couple of chocolate chip cookies. As I served him I said with a wink,”You know all this sugar isn’t good for you.” We both laughed heartily and it was as it should be. I am irreverent to the end. It is life.

As always
Ted The Great.


The cost of in resident hospice care ranges from a little over $225 a day to $450 for extreme care. Just the basic part of a day in the hospital can range anywhere from $1500-5000. Intensive care is a whole other story.

At the beginning most hospices were not for profit. Of course the entrepeneurs of the world saw an opportunity. Today there are many both large and small. Unfortunately many have questionable practices. One of the largest,VITAS just paid $75 million to settle a question of overcharging. They of course did so without admitting guilt.

The average stay in hospice is 17 days. That is really quite sad because the majority of families I have worked with said they waited too long. There is a sense of giving up and guilt that really shouldn’t be there. We had one patient who was with us for over a year.