I have heard it said that the first rule of writing is to write what you know. Well, I know me, so, that subject has never really been interesting to me. I imagine it is the same for most everybody. We are taught not to brag, so most people resort to self-deprecation in order to appear humble. Conversely, we charismatics have learned not to speak negatively, so we just avoid ourselves as a topic of conversation altogether. Throw in the ever-growing threat of identity theft and it’s a wonder anyone ever talks about themselves at all.
So, in the interests of being reserved (and very vague) about sharing things that could compromise the security of my digital self, I hope to present a balanced view without being overly boastful or belittling of myself. “Just the facts, ma’am,” as they used to say on Dragnet.
I am what is lovingly referred to as, a Hoosier. That is, I was born and raised in Indiana, and not in the fanatical sense that I enjoy Indiana University sports. I am not a fan of any sport anymore, to be honest. I used to watch professional football, but as a veteran, we parted ways when they allowed the National Anthem to be used as a whipping post for social justice. For my family, friends, and followers outside the United States, I am referring, of course, to gridiron football and not soccer.
As you have probably already surmised, my explanations can be rather long-winded. Not because I like doing so, but rather because I’ve found that people often jump to conclusions if others don’t adequately explain themselves. This is sad, and quite annoying really. I couldn’t tell you how many friendships I have lost because someone took offense rather than taking a moment to ponder what I said. Asking for clarification naturally humbles oneself, so… yeah. That rarely happens. Assumption becomes their reality and the relationship dissolves. Oh well.
Blaise Pascal famously apologized for the great length of a letter he wrote because he didn’t have time to write a shorter one. I think that is what I am doing now: apologizing for not taking longer to be brief. The thirteenth rule in the Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White (of Charlotte’s Web fame), says to “Omit needless words.” Well, I would if I felt that fewer words would be interpreted as I intended them to be 100% of the time. However, given that the English language can have multiple definitions for one word, and that one definition can be shared by multiple words, clarity of intent is likely to diminish as word count does, respectively.
My first book, The Character of Faith, took me three years to write and it is only 83 pages long. The first several drafts were much longer, but I went to great lengths to remove all personality from it. I wanted it to be clinical because it is meant to help diagnose issues we may have with faith. It is neither meant to be a chronicle of my experience, nor an apologetic diatribe, because to have waxed poetic about faith would have made me feel as if the book would have been less relevant to you, and more aggrandizing of me. That is my definition of irrelevant. And there is no point in doing something if it isn’t going to make a difference in the life of another.
The Character of Faith is as sterile and pristine an example of how faith thinks, speaks, and acts as I could muster. I do plan to do a revised and expanded version at some point in the future after other projects are done. In that version, I will include personal experiences and anecdotes that will hopefully be enjoyed by those who best connect with a book when the author does a little self-exposition. For now, The Character of Faith is like a control sample that is universally referenceable.
I wrote two pages of my work history before I realized that I was just journaling my resume for you in excruciatingly boring detail. I will share how my former career came crashing to a halt later, but for now I will just give you the gist of my earlier life experiences for brevity’s sake.
For most of my teenage years and early career, I fixed things. TVs and VCRs with my dad as a kid; electronics in the military; tool & die setup and repair, pneumatic, hydraulic, mechanical, electrical, and electronic installation, maintenance, and repair in various factories; I programmed PLCs, vision systems, lasers, and robots in others; then finally, as a technical writer and software administrator for a medical device manufacturer before medically retiring at 45 years old. During that time, I also created preventive maintenance programs to gain either ISO9000 or QS9000 certification in multiple locations as well as maintaining TS16949 certification in another.
I even briefly worked as an electrician in a locomotive repair shop. That was a dirty job, but I got to test the effectiveness of my repairs by running the engine up and down the track. That was fun!
One day, when I was about 35, I awoke barely able to breathe. I was slurring my words and panting like a dog. I couldn’t get enough to drink and felt like passing out. I called my apartment manager and asked her if she could take me to the hospital. She declined but called for an ambulance and sat with me while I waited. The first person to arrive was a policeman who kept asking me how much I had to drink. “I don’t drink,” I always responded, but he kept asking as he inspected my apartment for empty bottles. He never found any.
When the paramedics arrived, they asked me the same question, but quickly began asking if I was diabetic when I never wavered. When I got to the ER, they gave me a finger stick test and I pegged the meter. For those of you unfamiliar with a glucose meter, that means my blood sugar was greater than 600 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl). Normal is between 70 and 100.
They immediately drew a blood sample, and I pegged the lab test, too. The result came back >1000 mg/dl. My hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) was 14.7%. That’s more than twice the maximum recommended level of 7% or below for diabetics and nearly three times the max normal level of 5% for non-diabetics. The doctor told me that I was lucky I wasn’t in a coma and immediately admitted me to the ICU ward. When they finally released me, my blood sugar was still over 200 mg/dl after four days of fasting. I spent the greater part of the next two weeks recovering before returning to work.
I was referred to an endocrinologist, assigned a dietician, and given a handful of prescriptions to begin taking. Little did I (or my doctors) know just how insulin resistant I was. I began with a regimen of Metformin, but that did nothing, so I graduated to injectable insulin. Basal (long-acting) and bolus (fast-acting).
I didn’t need much at first. My doctor called it “the honeymoon period” – a brief moment of normality after my body had recovered from a major incident. In the weeks and months that followed, I found it hard to adjust to a regimented diet and fell back into my unhealthy habits. I used insulin as a crutch because I could always use more to stabilize.
At my worst, I was taking 150 units of basal insulin every night, and as much as 180 units of bolus with every meal, two or three times a day. At 540 units, I was using almost 2 full insulin pens a day. “That’s enough to kill an entire stable of horses” as one ER nurse put it. And that was in addition to taking 2000 mg of Metformin, which was supposed to help my body use insulin.
In a matter of 6 years, I gained over 170 pounds because I failed to understand that insulin reduces your blood sugar by converting it into fat. I am sure my doctor told me this, but I was so bombarded by information overload that it didn’t register.
At my heaviest, I tipped the scales at nearly 400 pounds. This, obviously, compromised my health even worse than diabetes alone. As I write this, I am down about 45 pounds from that mark, but I have a long way to go to achieve my health goals and I am well prepared for the journey. I have a family doctor whom I regularly see, a general practitioner with the veteran affairs department I see annually, an endocrinologist whom I wouldn’t part with if you paid me to that I see quarterly, and I am looking to add a cardiologist to the mix for good measure.
Back to my work history.
The last place in which I worked was the most stressful. Without naming the company or individuals involved, I will only tell you that I caught my former boss falsifying company records. And it wasn’t the first time. For the purposes of this story, I’ll call him Bill (not his real name). Anyway, Bill had a habit of cutting corners to meet the overly demanding dictates of his boss, and the proverbial mess rolled down hill.
My main duties were that of technical writer and as our department’s lone enterprise software system administrator (brand name omitted). This also meant that I was the only one authorized to train people on it’s proper use.
As the gatekeeper of a federally regulated and validated system, it was my job to be a junkyard dog. The problem was, Bill wanted a concierge who would cater to the whims of everyone’s demands. Much to his chagrin, when you define how you are going to use a system, the validation of it locks in the terms of its application. Any changes to the way you do things must go through the same rigorous process it did when introduced. The integrity of the system and the information it safeguards must be inviolable.
Well, Bill interpreted this as if I were the one who was making this assumption and told me that it was his intention to get rid of me and replace me with someone else. Someone who would be the yes-man (or woman) he wanted me to be. For the last year of my time at this unnamed company, he undermined all my efforts to do my job, even going so far as to shift the standards by which I would be judged. I was no longer given credit for the improvements I made to the system. Instead, I was told I had to participate in activities outside of my department and those would be the sole measure of my performance.
Shortly after this, I awoke one morning barely able to move. I was shivering uncontrollably, unable to focus, and soaked with sweat. I called in sick, took a couple of Tylenols, and went back to sleep. When I got up later that day, I went to the emergency room where I was diagnosed with what would become my first bout with staph infection compounded by cellulitis. I was out for the next few days. When I returned to work, the mood was hostile.
A few months went by and Bill handed me a training form and asked me to sign it. If he were the one performing training, this would be normal, however, he was asking me to sign as the person having performed the training – past tense. I asked what the training was about, and he told me that it was a new part of the system he wanted to gain access to so he and a group of others (all in my department) could try using an untested function of the software.
I explained to him that we do not test theories in the validated system, and I do not sign off as having trained people I haven’t trained. I added that we had a “sandbox” system that was a clone of the “live” one where we can train people and test hypotheses. The validated system must remain secure.
He didn’t like this, so he called a system administrator from another department, a new IT guy, and asked him to sign it as having trained everyone – again past tense – without ever having done so. In extreme defiance of my warning, he had the IT guy sign the training form on my desk right in front of me. Incensed by my refusal, he took the paper and was off to get it processed. I explained to the IT guy how wrong this was, but he didn’t understand.
I then contacted the training coordinator for our department, and she promised to prevent the form from being acted upon, but she never saw it. Bill circumvented her, too. Instead of taking the form to our department, he went to the administration building and had the central training department manager input the form. He then contacted yet another person in IT, different from the first, and had them activate access to the system.
This normally takes a day or two to take effect since major changes (like user access) get processed once every 24 hours and that day’s cycle had already occurred. The next day, I was watching to see if those users had gained new access and sure enough, they did. I immediately called the head of IT and had their access revoked and began filing my own form to report Bill for having falsified company records.
After an extensive investigation, I was called in for a meeting to discuss their findings. They agreed that Bill was in the wrong, but they failed to conclude that his actions were intentional, opting instead to say it was “a misunderstanding” of the way things are supposed to happen. I disagreed with them and explained that it was a complete understanding of the rules that allowed him to sidestep each safeguard along the way until he got what he wanted. They were unmoved by my argument.
My former boss could best be described as unscrupulously kind. By that I mean he was manipulative in the nicest possible way, so I can only assume that Bill “Golly geed” and “Aww shucked” his way out of a lawful termination. His “Opie Cunningham” routine. He was given a slap on the wrist, put on a performance improvement plan, and sent on his merry way. I, however, was returned to an even more hostile working environment now that he knew I reported him.
For those not familiar with highly regulated environments, the governmental rules are such that he could have (and should have, in my opinion) been fired and prosecuted for having done what he did. The company could have been fined millions of dollars by the federal government and other international regulators and endangered the validated status of the system. It could have shut down production at the facility and mandated the ongoing presence of external regulators to monitor all activity for several months, if not years afterwards. All of which the company would have been financially responsible for.
But no, they chose to shoot the messenger instead. A couple of months or so after all this, Bill gave me an unfavorable review. As a result, I didn’t get a raise and my annual profit-sharing bonus was forfeit. Doing my job cost me thousands of dollars. Never mind the fact that I could have received a percentage of the fines collected had I turned Bill in to federal regulators instead of trying to resolve the issue in-house.
I couldn’t handle the stress and got sick again. This time I was out for two weeks.
When I returned, I was required to write a user manual that described how to do my job in precise detail. It took me a month or so, but I did exactly that. I then passed it around for review, as required, and began the paperwork necessary to submit it for internal publication (and thereby regulation). Bill prevented me.
I spoke with several people about it, but there is no recourse for control of an unpublished document. Even though we were told that every scrap of paper we wrote on was a company record and should be protected as such, nobody wanted to confront this particular issue, or Bill.
I was out sick for another two weeks.
When I returned, things had gotten much worse. The person who was tasked to replace me (from the beginning), did exactly as Bill wanted and had been catering to craze rather than code. I performed a simple record search and found hundreds of errors, all of which could have been prevented had the procedures I created been regulated. I reported these to Bill and for my trouble I was tasked with “fixing” them.
They were not fixable.
When you alter a record in a regulated system, you compromise its integrity and put the status of its validation at risk (as well as your employment). Bill knew this, and I wasn’t going to fall for his trap.
I didn’t change a thing, went home, and was out sick for a month.
My doctors were hesitant to let me return at all. Diabetes, morbid obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, compounding stress, and the recurring infections all formed a perfect storm of poor health and my career was suffering its chaotic wrath.
When I did return, it would be for the last time. The first thing I did was search the system for errors. It returned pages and pages worth. I became visibly ill, went to the on-site nurse, and she sent me home a couple of hours later.
I burned through the remainder of my paid FMLA, which transitioned into short-term disability, and then finally long-term disability. I was required to file for Social Security disability as per the terms of LTD and was approved for total compensation a few months later. A year and a half after walking out the door, the company and I officially parted ways.
I don’t tell you this to garner sympathy, they are simply facts. Take them however you wish. My life experiences (or anyone’s for that matter) are waypoints on my journey through life. That is also why I have so many doctors. You see, in order to map out and plan where you want to go, you must first know where you are. And to know that, you must acknowledge where you’ve been.
My doctors and I have a plan, and it is for me to be healthier than I have ever been. It is to become a contributing member of society again. I keep them apprised of all my concerns and changes in health and see them regularly. I also keep the Social Security Administration informed and updated about my health and finances as often as they request. I don’t want to be a drain on the system.
That being said, I have earned and paid taxes on more than $1M in my life, so I will continue to use the benefits afforded to me for as long as is necessary, but this is not the last chapter of my financial book. I will return to the workforce one day as an entrepreneur. My writing is the key, and it is especially important to me because it helps me exorcise the demons that have haunted me. And the ones I just described are the ones I am happiest to be rid of.
I don’t care if those who have wronged me ever get their due comeuppance, but I do care if I ever let my voice be silenced by manipulation and deceit again. It is not my responsibility to care about what others think. I will do my best to accurately express the eternal truth, even if I need to use an inordinate number of words to do it. The better I can explain a thing, the better it can be understood, and therefore, the less likely it is to be misunderstood.
In Matthew 13:19, Jesus explained that when we fail to understand kingdom principles, that is the moment when the devil comes to steal them away from us.
One morning, in that lingering moment between sleep and awake, I heard God call me, “Guardian of Truth.” That is what I am here to do. Everything else is a distraction. That is why I wrote The Character of Faith in such a sterile voice. The truth is what needed expression, not my impression or use of it. You take the expression and let it impress upon you a way to use it. Only then can the words I’ve written truly help you. The truth will free you, but only to the degree you free it to do so.
Blessings to you and yours.