My foundational stories: 1980’s to 2000’s

This is a continuation of a series of posts about the evolution of my foundational stories, which are related to the intersection between my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography. The dates in the title are approximations of this time when many things seem to have reached a plateau.

I moved from one rented apartment to another, all in Indianapolis. The criteria were being on a city bus route and close enough to the children’s hospital that I could run to and/or from there because I preferred that to riding the bus. And within walking distance of a grocery store, and laundromat. None of the places had air conditioning. These things were what protecting Mother Earth looked like then.

I didn’t do much with photography during this time before digital photography.

There wasn’t a Quaker meeting in any of these neighborhoods. This being the times before Zoom, which meant I didn’t have much contact with Quakers. The exceptions being attending Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) each summer. And making monthly trips to Scattergood Friends School for the several years I was on the School Committee.

But there were two other things going on that occupied my time and efforts during those years. This was the time my godchildren were growing up. Roller-skating was the main source of fun and social interaction for kids in the neighborhood. We would go there nearly every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday night. They were at an age when they couldn’t be left alone, so I spent a lot of time there myself. We also went to the Indianapolis Zoo almost every weekend. And Brandon was very active in baseball from the age of four until about fifteen.

The second major thing going on during these years was my career at Riley Hospital for Children. I recently wrote an extensive story about my experiences at Riley.

Quakerism played a pivotal role in leading me to work at Riley. It was my Quaker faith to oppose the military draft that led me to join VSM in Indianapolis. I previously wrote about my time at Friends Volunteer Service Mission (VSM), including being trained on the job in respiratory therapy at Methodist Hospital.

I left the hospital to work full time with the kids for my second year at the VSM project.

After that I got another job in respiratory therapy, this time at the Indiana University Medical Center/Indiana University School of Medicine (IUSM). I became aware of the role of respiratory therapists at Riley Hospital for Children, part of the IUSM, and transferred there.

I really enjoyed working with the babies in the NICU at Riley. Since they could not tell you how they felt, we had to become very adept at observing them, knowing what signs to look for, what they meant, and how to intervene to fix problems. We had to assess skin color and perfusion, and respiratory patterns. Listen to breath sounds. And interpret the readings from the various monitors and other equipment attached to the baby.

Me in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (publicly published photo)

I frequently cupped my hand around the baby’s head to communicate care.  We don’t take photos of patients without their parent’s permission. This photo was part of an article published about Riley Hospital. (That’s me in the photo.) 

Rich Schreiner, director of the NICU, and I edited the book, Practical Neonatal Respiratory Care. My brother, Randy, a graphic artist and drew these pictures of the Hope self-inflating bag for the book.

Working in a research hospital, I was involved in work we published in numerous articles about neonatal care, and then the research studies we performed in the Infant Pulmonary Function Lab. A bibliography of these publications follows:

Faith played a role several times in my continued path related to respiratory therapy and research. Faith led me to apply to work in the Infant Pulmonary Function Lab that was just being established at Riley. Not only did I not know much about research, but the new job, funded by grants, would require a fifty percent pay cut.

Faith gave me confidence that was sorely needed as I began to learn how to write computer software to read, display, and do calculations from the many signals being read by instruments involved in our research studies. These signals had to not only be collected at a rate of 200 samples per second for each channel, but also displayed in real time. Every data point and all the calculated results were also stored in databases we created.

One of the major contributions our Infant Pulmonary Function Lab made was the development of a system to measure the diffusion of gases in the lung. It took a concerted effort of all of us in the lab, for three years, to develop the DLCO (diffusion of carbon monoxide in the lung) test. Ours was then the only lab in the world that could make these measurements.

That allowed us, for example, to document the changes of a newly defined disease, pulmonary interstitial glycogenosis.

Appreciating and using the ideas of a classical physiological study and combining this with the results of modern molecular biology, they demonstrated how, at the crossroads of two completely different scientific fields, an added value is created that brings forward in understanding one of the most fascinating phenomena in respiratory medicine: lung growth and repair.

Obviously, “classical” and anatomical studies have been regularly used to confirm anatomical and pathological concepts, using lung function data to assess growth of the lungs and airways in healthy children, children with asthma, or preterm infants. However the study by CHANG, is far more advanced because it introduces new applications of novel infant lung function techniques and incorporates these with classic physiological concepts while combining them with advanced subtyping of progenitor cells.

Standing on shoulders, Peter J.F.M. Merkus, Paediatric Pneumonology, 2014

Wicked problems and sensemaking

I have so many questions.

  • How can the government do everything it can to increase oil production and exports, when our extinction is assured if greenhouse gas emissions are not radically decreased immediately?
  • How could the atrocities and utter destruction have happened? In Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, United States?
  • Wouldn’t nonviolent responses against the invasion of Ukraine have been better, even if that meant Russian occupation for a time?
  • How can sanctions be a good thing when they result in the impoverishment of millions of people?
  • Why is it possible for everyone to buy and carry a gun?
  • Why do culture wars prevent teachers from teaching?
  • How did we allow healthcare workers to be overwhelmed by COVID cases?
  • How is it possible for so many prescription drugs to be too expensive?
  • Why have we allowed the militarization of police?
  • Why do millions of men, women and children live in poverty? So many without shelter? So many hungry?
  • Racism?
  • How can the military budget greatly exceed all other government programs combined?
  • How can the government control women’s choices? So many choices of all of us?

These questions stem from the difficulty of making sense of what’s going on today. Which reminds me of the concepts of wicked problems and sensemaking that James Allen writes about. I try to refrain from using so many quotes, but the entire article is well worth reading.

One thing he writes about makes more sense to me now from my experiences with Mutual Aid. What he writes here is a good description of Mutual Aid.

Something important happens when we gather in pursuit of a common goal. First we form rituals that help us relate to and negotiate each other, everything from a civic tradition that allows anyone with a voice to be respectfully heard, to sharing food and music in the local town hall every Friday night, to a labour system that fairly distributes the burden of work. Then, those rituals that stand the test of time become embedded in daily life. The ritual activities themselves and the good they produce help a community identity take root. As identity strengthens, so too does our sense of connectedness — our sense of affection, responsibility and obligation — to one another. When this happens, we then share a greater capacity for coherence and cooperation. And where we share greater capacity for coherence and cooperation there is also greater resilience: the ability to mobilise skills and resources to support the emergence of collective intelligence in response to crisis, enable rapid adaptation and ensure the continuity of the most important functions and structures of the community. This coherent togetherness and the collective intelligence that emerges out of it is the source of human strength and ingenuity. Within it lies our ability to transition from one evolutionary niche to another, even against the odds.

Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, originally published by Medium, June 18, 2019

…there remains the most existential risk of them all: our diminishing capacity for collective sensemaking. Sensemaking is the ability to generate an understanding of world around us so that we may decide how to respond effectively to it. When this breaks down within the individual, it creates an ineffective human at best and a dangerous one at worst. At the collective level, a loss of sensemaking erodes shared cultural and value structures and renders us incapable of generating the collective wisdom necessary to solve complex societal problems like those described above. When that happens the centre cannot hold.

The jumping-off point for this essay is a regrettable acceptance that a forthcoming energy descent combined with multiple ecological crises will force massive societal transformation this century. It’s hardly a leap to suggest that, with less abundant cheap energy and the collapse of the complex political and economic infrastructure that supports our present way of life, this transformation is likely to include the contraction and relocalisation of some (if not most) aspects our daily lives.

The problems before us are emergent phenomena with a life of their own, and the causes requiring treatment are obscure. They are what systems scientists call wicked problems: problems that harbour so many complex non-linear interdependencies that they not only seem impossible to understand and solve, but tend to resist our attempts to do so. For such wicked problems, our conventional toolkits — advocacy, activism, conscientious consumerism, and ballot casting — are grossly inadequate and their primary utility may be the self-soothing effect it has on the well-meaning souls who use them.

If we are to find a new kind of good life amid the catastrophes these myths have spawned, then we need to radically rethink the stories we tell ourselves. We need to dig deep into old stories and reveal their wisdom, as well as lovingly nurture the emergence of new stories into being.

Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, originally published by Medium, June 18, 2019