Thursday, 11 December 2014

Poor in Relationships

ONE of the key stories on which Australians base our national identity is that of the convict who was desperately poor, stole a loaf of bread and ended up slaving his life away in a new British colony on the other side of the world. None of us condone stealing bread, but we feel compassion for the unjust situation that convict finds himself in.

Now if we were living in London at the time and happened to read a newspaper story from that time suggesting that the solution to the high rate of bread theft in London was to punish the offenders with a life of hard labour in hellish conditions, we might ask if there are better solutions available. 

Centuries of hard experience have taught us that clothing, feeding and educating that man, and providing the opportunity to work for his bread, not only reduces bread theft, it clearly pays big dividends for society in the long run. Scowling at a homeless and desperate poor man and telling him to get a job is hardly helpful. Neither is disproportionately increasing the legal penalties for his misplaced attempts to get by.

While considering some of the problems with family and relationships which are common in our Western society, it struck me that we may be facing a similar problem, and that some of our present solutions may be just as unhelpful and uncharitable as those used in London all those years ago. If a man is hungry and he can see no legal means to fill his need, he will become desperate and likely commit a crime.

The Church teaches that it is not enough to merely provide some bread to help a poor man survive through the day. The aim of charity is to help him find a dignified way out of his desperate predicament so that he can eat bread every day with dignity and joy. So far so good, but there are more needs than hunger for bread. Human beings need relationships. Real, lasting and fulfilling friendships and especially marriages and families.

 There are many studies that clearly show that our ability to form and keep healthy relationships are heavily influenced by the relationships into which we were born, and the way we were treated growing up. If someone has grown up with a poor experience of relationships they will find it far more difficult to form healthy relationships of their own. Being raised in a broken family, or with one parent absent is a factor influencing relationships.

That is not to say that someone raised in a broken family is doomed to fail in relationships. There are many people who have forged great relationships and have admirable families. The statistics tell us, however, that a history of broken families tends to make life much more difficult for some people. What if a person has been raised in a love poor family? What if, in spite of their family’s wealth, a child was starved of attention, love and affection by parents who were too busy, or who had a similarly impoverished upbringing themselves and don’t know how to change that? What if a person were loved poorly and felt driven to desperate measures to obtain the attention and affirmation they keenly lack?

Any counsellor or pastor will tell you that a desperately low self-esteem can be behind a great deal of self-destructive behaviour. How many men and women post carefully posed pictures on social media, involving clothes and/or poses that would not be fit for a public place, yet are on display for the entire Internet? How many young men and women commit crazy acts, sacrificing their own dignity and worth in a desperate bid for attention, acceptance and affection?

Yet perhaps the answer is not to condemn the selfies or punish the promiscuous behaviour. As in the case of the poor convict who stole the loaf of bread, we can see the desperation driving the behaviour.

Without condoning or encouraging such things, we can feel compassion for the circumstances that drive these people to such desperation. If we are truly Christian, then we should not resort to scolding people for trying to find what they need in all the wrong places. Rather, we should first seek to show them the right places to look for loving attention, genuine acceptance and love.

People make bad decisions because they think it is the best option available for them. The way to help them make better decisions is to show them that there are better options. That begins by giving them attention and treating them with genuine Christian affection and affirmation.

Only Christ can supply what they hunger for.

(Published by the Catholic Leader, November 25, 2014)

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Home again!

Albert is home. We now begin the task of learning his new feeding routine, mapping out a plan for his swallowing lessons, and all the grabbing lessons we have been holding off, and figuring out some way for one person to feed him and keep his very active hands and feet away from the tubes. 

Albert will be back at the hospital in two days to have his external stitches out, (his internal stitches will eventually dissolve), and he is already on the waiting list for at least three more surgical procedures, possibly four. We have set the wheels in motion to arrange these operations to happen in twos, so Albert only has to go under a General anesthetic and recovery twice more. The hospital are keen to go along with this plan since it saves them a great deal of time and money in the long run. 

For now, Albert is home. There is not much more to say today. That is what matters.

Monday, 8 December 2014

The Road to Recovery

Albert remains true to form. All three aspects of his surgical adventure last week have been deemed successful by the various medical specialists involved. Albert's recovery time, however, has been longer than expected. He seems to do everything on Albert time, which is about as punctual as a teenage boy in the shower!

The exploratory probes that went down his throat as far as his stomach and lungs, (a Laryngo Broncho Esophegoscopy and a Nasoendoscopy), found what may be a problem in Albert's esophagus. The ear Nose & Throat specialists have reported "a partition problem" which may be contributing to Albert's swallowing difficulties. I am no specialist but it seems that this problem is located in the pharyngeal stage (the swallowing process) since it involves the partition between the windpipe and the gullet (trachea and esophagus). We are waiting on more information.

The problem is that a high percentage of people with Trisomy 21 experience some degree of difficulty in swallowing, largely due to poor muscle tone. This makes it difficult for the specialists to accurately predict the degree of improvement a particular surgical intervention can be expected to achieve. In simple terms, the doctors cannot guarantee that fixing the problem they have spotted will make much difference to Albert's ability to swallow. Hence they are reluctant to attempt major surgery on Albert's throat without further confirmation that the risk is worth it. The plan, at this early stage, seems to be a minor procedure where the surgeons will inject a small amount of fluid, temporarily fixing the problem they have found. This injection will only affect Albert for a few weeks, but it will give us a clearer indication of how much this specific problem is affecting his swallowing. If, after this simple and relatively safe procedure, the barium swallow texts show that Albert's ability to swallow has significantly improved, we will consider a more permanent surgical solution.

The good news is that it seems that the majority of Albert's problems are related to this swallowing problem. It seems very likely that his episodes with pneumonia and other respiratory infections were caused by silent aspiration (the liquids going down his throat going straight into his lungs, and his coughing reflex not operating properly to warn us or expel the the liquids.) If we get this sorted out, the future looks far brighter.

The feeding tube placed in his stomach is working as planned. The only problem so far is that Albert, not unlike other babies, loves to bounce around and pull at anything his hands find to grip. It is very difficult, with only two hands, to restrain both of his hands, convince him to remain relatively still, and operate the feeding tube. We are working on solutions.

Unfortunately this delay has meant that we had to postpone our anniversary celebrations for a week. Please continue to pray for Albert, and for Susan, who is struggling with a lack of sleep and a great deal of boredom as we wait for Albert to recover sufficiently to be discharged.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Round Two to Albert

First things first, Albert is recovering well in a hospital ward this evening.

He was admitted to day surgery about midday today and, after a briefing from three separate medical staff and the signing of consent forms, was carried away from us about 1:15pm. The procedures were fairly straightforward but, because there were two separate procedures scheduled, there were two full medical teams to coordinate, which takes time.

So what happened to Albert today? In technical terms he had a Laryngo Broncho Esophegoscopy, a Nasoendoscopy and a Laparoscopic Gostrostomy. This means that, once Albert was sedated, the ear, nose and throat specialist team sent a tube down his throat to discover if there are any issues with the tubes that Albert uses for breathing and eating which may be causing his swallowing problems. When the ear, nose and throat team removed the camera tube and cleared away, the surgeon moved in and put his own tubes down Albert's throat which assisted in locating the best place to place a gastric tube. The end result is that Albert now has a tube directly from his stomach to a valve/peg on his side. We will be feeding him through this valve from now on.

The operation was smooth and (so far) seems successful, so the doctors did not put Albert in the intensive care unit as planned, but moved him directly from the recovery ward to his regular ward. In fact he has been moved back into the exact location he started in so many months ago! Three of the nurses from that ward (where we spent a couple of months after his heart surgery) were delighted to see Albert again and spent some time playing with him and competing to see who could get him to smile most.

Albert himself seems delighted with all the attention. He is very alert and interested in his surroundings, if a little tired. The foot probe the nurses place on his foot to monitor his blood oxygen level emits a strong red glow, so he has been waving that foot above his head, watching the light move about. I suspect his parents and the staff will have their hands full keeping him distracted over the next few days.

Albert will be in hospital under observation for at least the next couple of days.

Thank you for all your prayers and well wishes! We will be begging for them again next year when Albert returns to the surgery for round three! (More on this to follow.)

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Albert v The Knife (Round Two)

As many of you already know, we have been waiting for some time for Albert to be given a stomach

tube for feeding. A few days ago we had a call from the surgeon, and Susan has taken Albert to the hospital today for pre-surgery appointments. All things going according to plan, Albert will go under general anesthetist tomorrow, (Thursday), and will have a gastric feeding tube put in place. Although this operation is fairly straightforward, and is considered 'safe' by the surgeon's standards, anything that involves a general anesthetic, cutting a hole in Albert's side and in his stomach and placing a permanent tube there, still carries the usual risks. On the one hand, Albert has a history of serious cardiac and respiratory problems. On the other hand, Albert has survived open heart surgery and two bouts of pneumonia, so this should be a cake walk!

Albert will need to remain in hospital for his recovery and will be under observation until the surgeon is satisfied he is well on the mend. He expects Albert will be released in 3-5 days. 

Even though we have been through all this before, even though the car could probably find its own way to the children's hospital by now, even though Albert has survived much much more dangerous situations and even though we have wanted and waited for this operation for months... we will still be nervous as we walk him in tomorrow. The very familiar corridors, the distinctive sound of the peculiar architecture of the hospital foyer, the unmistakable smell of alcoholic hand wash all take us back to the vivid and painful memories of weeks and months spent anxiously in those haunts.

Hopefully, God willing, this stay will be short and sweet. Please join us in praying for Albert's swift recovery. Particularly that we are home and safely in routine by Tuesday evening, so that Susan and I can slip out to celebrate our twentieth Wedding anniversary on Wednesday! 

The incredibly young and naive young people huddled against the cold in this picture were just dating at the time. They had no idea that they would be celebrating their twentieth wedding anniversary under such circumstances.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

St Albertus Magnus

Today is the feast of St Albert the Great.

Shortly before I was received into the Church I was asked to nominate my patron saint. After a lot of searching, I stumbled on the story of a truly remarkable man of God.

One of the first things I read about him was the claim that he had read almost every book printed on every academic subject. He was a Master of every known discipline at the time. His collected works (those that we still have) include masterful commentaries on logic, theology, astronomy, astrology, geography, justice, law, zoology, physiology, mineralogy, botany, relationships and love, and on his strongest and most passionate discipline, philosophy.

Centuries ahead of his time, he is the man who claimed that "the aim of [science] is not simply to accept the statements of others, but to investigate the causes that are at work in nature." Some of his commentaries in botany are still the most important in that field, over seven hundred years later!

Despite his magnificent achievements, and his service as a competent provincial in his order and later as a bishop, he is best remembered for his careful nurture and promotion of one of his finest students. When some of his students were teasing a quiet member of his class he declared "You call him the dumb ox, but ... one day he will produce such a bellowing it will be heard throughout the world!" That student was St Thomas Aquinas.

I chose St Albert for my patron for his inspirational search for understanding, for the fact that his immense learning enhanced his faith in God, for the fact that he never allowed his great learning to treat anyone as less than an equal, and most of all, that he was humble enough to see greatness in one of his quietest students, and he devoted the latter stages of his life to defending that student's brilliant work.

Once I had chosen St Albert, I was told that his feast falls today, the 15th of November, which is my own birthday.

Our dear son Albert is, of course, named for him.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Joy and hope

What a joy and a privilege it was to witness the installation of the new Archbishop of Sydney!

It was a joy to see so many good people gathered to celebrate the occasion. In fact the only negative of the day was not having the time to chase them all down for a decent chat. 

In the midst of this joy, however, spare a thought, and a prayer, for our new Archbishop who sits down in his new office for the first time today and begins the work which will probably take up the next twenty years of his life. It is hard for us to imagine the weight of facing such a huge task in these first days, so our family will be praying a Novena for the new Archbishop. We will be praying specifically that God grant him the supernatural graces of courage and hope at this time. Please join us in this prayer, or your own prayers, over the next nine days.

We will be praying the prayer believed to be penned by St Patrick in the fifth century, commonly known as "St Patrick's Breastplate." 


I arise today 
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,Through belief in the Threeness,Through confession of the Onenessof the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgement of doom.
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,

I arise today 
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.

I arise today through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.

I arise today with
God's strength to pilot me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.

I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul;
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation