Get Motivated!

       The motivation seminar advertised above came to our town recently, and, having attended a previous session a few years ago, I decided I wanted to attend again. Although I am now retired and hopelessly out of work (and enjoying it), I was anxious to see how the Power People had progressed in the years since I last visited them. If you have never been to a “motivational seminar,” it is a mixture of exceptionally useful information concerning leadership, salesmanship, motivation, goal setting, business skills, and finances blended with homilies concerning patriotism, religion, and family delivered by speakers possessing the dedication and passion of a Pentecostal preacher. In other words, it’s really entertaining. The speakers, as in this case, are usually the tops in their particular fields and with their wealth of acumen and experience demand a certain amount of respect and admiration and serve as suitable role models for us commoners who aspire to greatness. These people are the movers and shakers in their professions and have left an indelible mark on the fabric of the nation…and some continue to do so. These people also tend to be fairly conservative and Republican, since the bottom line of just about every message is that you can make it with perseverance, hard work, and God’s help. That message pretty well excludes any middle of the road to liberal Democrats serving as motivation speakers, because the concept of individuals pulling themselves up by their bootstraps conflicts with their philosophy of putting anyone who needs help on the government dole.
     Two of the speakers were gentlemen whom I had heard before: General Colin Powell and Mr. Zig Ziglar. Others were notable, but having never heard them in person, I wanted to get my own reaction to their message, primarily Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin. So, bright and early on a cool Monday morning, I left home and headed to the Toyota Center in downtown Houston. As usual, I wanted to get there early, so I left home about , arriving at the Toyota Center parking garage about 45 minutes later. I realized my expenses for the day were just beginning when I had to pay $20.00 to park my car. But park it I did, and entered the center about 35 minutes before the service was to begin. I was in the “Premier” seating area as compared to the “Executive” seating area, both of which were not to be confused with the “Exclusive” seating area down in front of the stage. If it had been a football stadium, I could say I was in the end zone, but it actually was good, because when Sarah Palin used a podium, she faced us, and she wasn’t too far away to make it distracting. Getting a cup of coffee (small) for $3.00, I made my way to my seat.
     At the lights dimmed and a young guy came on the stage and sang a really beautiful Star Spangled Banner, followed by our master of ceremonies for the day welcoming us. The Toyota Center was absolutely packed, and I hear there were overflow attendees at the Reliant Center and even a nearby church. I would guess the Toyota Center seats 8,000-10,000 people, so one can say without too much controversy that the turnout for this gig was good. The master of ceremonies was the type you would expect at a seminar for business people, a young, blond (dark roots) photogenic lady with a dazzling smile who could probably sell icemakers to Eskimos. With a gush of praise and introduction, she brought to us the former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin.
     When Palin appeared and walked onto the platform, the place went wild. I wanted to see and hear Sarah Palin in person because whether you like her or not, she is going to make an impact of American politics for at least a while into the future. Ridiculed and judged by the liberal media as a political lightweight, I wanted to get a feel for her commitment. This was her very first speech given in the venue of a motivational seminar, and it was obvious she was a little nervous. Stylishly dressed in a red double breasted jacket, black skirt and high heels (probably left over from the presidential campaign,) she was the only one of all the speakers who spoke from a podium and used notes. She spoke with the peculiar speech pattern that is apparently very Alaskan in nature, very similar to a Yankee from Minnesota (sorry.) It wasn’t irritating; it just doesn’t soothe a southerner’s ears. Her message was pretty generic…put family first and be inspired. She mentioned husband Todd and children and used Bible inferences to illustrate points, such as the story of Esther. Her most quotable quote was, “You have to do today what others won’t, so that you can do tomorrow what others can’t.” She endeared herself to us Texans when she said Alaskans considered Texas their “little sister state.” All in all, it was a rather tame Sarah Palin we heard without a single political stab at anyone.
     The next speaker was Rick Belluzzo, former President of Microsoft and previous to that a 23 year veteran of Hewlett Packard. He spoke of the tremendous challenges and opportunities of the information age. He did not get the excited response of Sarah Palin, but his message was much more substantive.
     The third speaker was a fellow named Krish Dahnam. Born into poverty in Southern India, he immigrated to the United States and achieved the American dream. He was probably the most powerful speaker of the day and could step into many church pulpits and preach a fine sermon. Openly and proudly Christian, he invited us to repeat a prayer to the Lord Jesus Christ asking for divine guidance and leadership in our lives. Besides that, he had a sharp wit that made you laugh while it pounded home his points. He had two quotable quotes: (1) “Political correctness will be the death of this country.” (Big applause) (2) “At the end of your life, will you say, ‘I wish I had…or… I’m glad I did…?’” I would pay to hear this guy again.
     The fourth speaker wasn’t on the advertised list of speakers, either. Phil Town is a best selling author of a book advertised as “demystifying the stock market.” All I can tell you is that this guy talked fast and solid for 50 minutes about the stock market, and I sat there wishing I understood half of what he said. He made it sound so easy to make money on the stock market in the worst of times. He was the first speaker to be there for a reason, however, besides motivating us. He was also selling his own stock market training course. His course is a several day event coming up soon in Houston. Selling for nearly $3,000, he offered the course to attendees of our motivational seminar for…$99.00! When he told interested attendees to sign up in the hall, I am not exaggerating when I say that nearly half of the audience stampeded for the exits. I don’t know, but it seems to me that the sticker price of $3,000 might be inflated just a bit. Since he has a web site, I think I’ll check it out first. But I will admit the stock tracking program he has developed is pretty impressive. He had five volunteers from the audience use his program to follow an example stock shown on the large screens. Over a six month charted period in which there were highs and lows, the volunteers had to choose when to buy and when to sell. Using his program, in a period of overall stock market down turn, they more than doubled their investment. Thought-provoking, anyway.
     The next speaker was half of the duo who brought to us this seminar. Tamara Lowe, along with her husband Peter, created the Get Motivated! Seminars 25 years ago and now exude the confidence that a successful endeavor can create. We never saw Peter, but Tamara spoke smoothly about the strategies for motivation. Growing up in New Orleans (she mentioned the Saints) she was a drug addict, pusher and eighth grade dropout who is now working on her doctorate. Her quotable quote was, “I went from LSD to PHD!” If I were still a salesman, I would have taken extensive notes about her closing techniques. Her pet term was “motivational DNA.” Though her voice and word inflection irritated me a bit, her presentation was substantive.
     By then it was time for lunch, and therein existed the biggest problem of the day at Toyota Center. We were given 65 minutes for lunch, so imagine 8,000-10,000 people exiting the seating area and all pushing at the same time to the encircling walkways for lunch. The snack serving areas were overwhelmed instantly. The entire walking area was shoulder to shoulder with 150 people in every food line. The menus on the walls were disregarded and all that was available were snack stuff like cheese and chips, hot dogs, and chili. I pushed my way through people for about 20 minutes and found a guy selling popcorn and Diet Cokes with only 20 or so people in line. I waited 15 minutes and then paid $9.00 for a box of popcorn and a 20 ounce Coke. I figured that would hold me till I got home. Back to my seat to await the next speaker. Promptly 65 minutes from dismissal for lunch our lovely master of ceremonies bounced back on the stage to introduce General Colin Powell.
     I have the deepest respect for General Powell. Born in the darkest regions of New York City, he brought himself to the top through work, dedication, and the influence of his parents. His message was that true leadership comes when a leader is able to convey a sense of purpose to his/her followers. To do that, a leader must treat his followers with respect and honesty. I enjoyed his anecdotes concerning him and President George Bush (43) and was surprised that he spoke very highly of the president. During his service with the president, the media made great issue that he and the president did not always see eye to eye about policies, but General Powell made no mention of any past conflict. In his retirement, he has loosened up a bit. The last time I heard him he was pretty straightforward and did not crack may jokes. This time he was much more laid back and relaxed. That’s what retirement will do for you.
     The next guy up to plate was somebody named James Smith, and when he had finished everyone was asking, “Who is this guy?” Where Krish Dhanam was evangelical and powerful in his presentation, James Smith was just as powerful, but funnier and far more irreverent. The subject of his diatribe was money mistakes common people make, but his underlying message was how to make money in real estate without spending any money. His pet peeves were parents who do not teach their children how to be successful and adults who wallow in self-pity over their situations but make no effort to change. His quotable quote was, “Turn on the GPS in your soul and ask God to guide you.” His name was not in the “training book” we received upon entry and I still don’t know how to reach him or his organization. I would pay to hear him again, though.
     Zig Zigler, the Grand Guru of Motivation, was next and it was heartbreaking to see him. I watched Zigler videos back in the seventies when I was in real estate and in the eighties when I was in automobile sales. He was an absolute master at motivation and could give the most depressed salesperson a glimmer of hope to keep pressing on, but now he was a shell of his former self. He was introduced by his daughter, who announced that her daddy had fallen a couple of years ago and suffered a severe brain injury. As a result, he had difficulty staying on task and in maintaining his balance. She would “guide him along.” Zig shuffled onto the platform with assistance and began to speak. 84 years old and with a shaky voice he began to speak, and he did pretty well for about 5-6 minutes. The familiar arm waving, the slow methodical speech, and the pattern of delivery were all very Zigleresque, but then he began to wander and repeat, and his daughter would remind him, “Now, Daddy, we’ve already talked about that, how about let’s mention…” As he talked, he walked (or, more accurately, shuffled) and I believe if his daughter had not turned him occasionally, he would have walked right off the edge of the stage. Perhaps because they expected this may happen, the daughter suddenly said, “Daddy, let’s let the people see some videos of your past presentations.” To which he replied simply, “Okay.” He and his daughter left the stage, the lights darkened, and we watched about fifteen minutes of Zig Zigler in his prime. The whole episode was depressing. He should have not been there; he should have been home on his back porch sipping an iced tea. He has paid his dues; he deserves a rest. I hope he is not being exploited by those who make money on the Zig Zigler name.
     Lou Holtz, the legendary football coach of Notre Dame University (and the University of Arkansas) was the next speaker and spoke of the Four Things Every Person Needs: (1) Something to do, (2) Someone to love, (3) Something to believe in, and (4) Something to hope for. He confessed to not being an intellectual. In fact, he joked that he was probably the only person there who had written as many books as he had read (3). He cracked a joke that he said he told the University of Texas coach while he himself was coaching the University of Arkansas Razorback football team. He said UT fans can wear orange all week because Saturday is game day, Sunday they wear orange to go hunting, and Monday through Friday they wear orange while they pick up trash on their jobs. There were a few groans in the audience.
     And then came Rudy. Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, became a household name after the events of September 11, 2001. His face was everywhere in the days and weeks after 9/11, so much so that he made an unsuccessful run for the Republican Presidential nomination. He served eight years and helped change the image of New York City. His message was the importance of keeping up in the information age. Under his leadership, the crime rate dropped dramatically, and he credited this to computerizing and networking the police stations to pinpoint areas of high crime and concentrate policemen in those spots. The welfare system was computerized, and welfare workers who previously were paid based on the numbers of new welfare recipients they signed up, were now rewarded for the number of recipients they were able to find jobs for. Welfare recipients dropped from 1,400,000 to 900,000. The genius of America, he proposed, was our emphasis on the individual, rather than the group.
     He told a couple of anecdotes concerning 9/11. His office had received an alarm that a twin engine plane had crashed into the North Tower, and his group had rushed to the building. He said he got out of his car, and the first thing he saw was someone jump from the 109th floor of the Trade Center. He realized then that this was not a normal emergency. He then told how President Bush, having arrived and given a speech at the site of Ground Zero, was scheduled to leave the city in an hour, but instead stayed for six hours speaking to victims and encouraging city workers. At the end of the six hours, Giuliani was invited to ride with the president in his limousine. As they drove down the dusty streets of New York, thousands of people waved and yelled, “God bless you, Mr. President!” He asked the president, “Mr. President, do you see all these adoring people?” The president replied he did. “Well,” said Rudy, “Probably not a one of them voted for you!” He said President Bush laughed.
     By this time it was . Unbelievably, another speaker was introduced, but it was an unknown, and I felt sorry for whoever it was because there was a mass exodus from the arena, including myself. I knew the traffic going home would be bad, and I had heard the people I wanted to hear. Getting out of the downtown area was a bit of a chore, but I made it smoothly to about the Hardy Toll Road and Beltway 8 when the monsoon rains came. It was a wet drive the remainder of the way home. For me, the day was well spent. Although I have sort of stepped back from the mainstream of business and sales, the instruction and advice I heard today is just as applicable toward daily life and family interaction. It reminds me again for how much I have to be thankful for. Many of the goals and aspiration that the speakers talked about and gave advice for attaining, I began to realize that I already have. God has been especially good to me.

Wonder Woman, Part 1

     As Shirley and I have entered into our Golden Years, we have discovered that our bodies have startling similarities to automobiles with high mileage…things that worked for years without a thought or consideration have suddenly begun to fail at the most unexpected and inopportune times. For years we considered our bodies to be as dependable as a Maytag washer or a Honda Accord, only to discover that we may be running around now in the physical equivalent of a ’54 Buick. Of course, we have long since passed the Age of Indestructibility, that period of time in one’s life when one feel impervious to disease and hardship, but it is a sobering adventure to realize just how delicate the mechanisms of the human body are and how the wish that one had “taken better care of him/herself” can become a nagging condemnation.
     A few years ago, humans were cursed to live with nagging physical afflictions sort of in the same way that a person in a tight financial squeeze handles an old car that needs a tune-up…you just lived with it and drove it anyway. People with bad teeth, bad hearing, bad eyesight, bad hair, bad backs, bad knees, or bad shoulders carried their afflictions with a certain dignity and pride, and sometimes turned their problems to advantage by claiming all sorts of derived talents, such as predicting weather changes based on how much their hip hurt. However, we have now entered the Body Repair Era. This has no relationship to Gonzales’s Body Shop that you may see on a local street. We have been doing repairs to automobiles since the first fender bender took place in Chicago in 1896. We have also been doing repairs to human bodies for many years, but usually because some damage had taken place and a life was at stake. Broken bones, injuries, and severe sicknesses required medical repairs to be done, and we were fortunate that skilled medical practitioners were available to save life and limb. But now we have taken the next logical step which is to attempt repairs to a relatively healthy body simply because we just don’t like it the way it is. “Cosmetic” surgery is all the rage today as we attempt to keep a death grip on that youthful physique we all possessed when we were in our twenties. The results of our Quest for Eternal Youth are marginal at best. For every sixty year old who looks forty thanks to cosmetic surgery there are nineteen others who look like they got great deals at the local mortuary and were pre-embalmed.
     This brings us (albeit in a somewhat circuitous route and only indirectly related) to the subject of this essay. For the last few years Shirley has been nagged with an increasingly irritating right knee problem. A touch of arthritis and vanishing cartilage in a knee joint is a recipe for pain and suffering, and Shirley finally reached the point that about a year ago she visited an orthopedic doctor and asked for his analysis. After some examination, he performed a “cleanup” surgery where he went in and looked at the joint and removed some bone chips, but his prognosis after surgery was that in the not too distant future a knee replacement would be in order. In the next few months we made our move to our new home area, but her knee continued to irritate, and finally about a month ago she visited another orthopedic surgeon, and knee replacement surgery was scheduled for January 20. On January 19, she visited a cardiologist for a stress test and was pronounced good to go for the knee surgery the next day.
     Wednesday morning, January 20, she checked in to Willowbrook Methodist Hospital, and by 9:00 she was on her way to surgery. We were told that the surgery would last around three hours with an hour in recovery, and then she would be wheeled to a private room. Surgery was on the second floor, but we were told to go wait on the third floor because that was where she would be brought. About noon we were told she was out of surgery and would be up on the third floor shortly. We waited…and waited…and waited. 1:00 pm…2:00 pm…3:00 pm. One of us went back to the second floor and the nurse said she was still in recovery. 4:00 pm…Finally we saw her being wheeled into her room and her first words were, “Where were you? I’ve been awake since 1:00 pm” She had been told that we apparently had left the building because we were not outside in the second floor waiting area, even though we had been told to wait on the third floor. Though we were a little irritated at the miscommunication, we were glad enough to see her that it was soon forgotten. She was in no pain because they had placed an epidural into her back for a quick and regular injection of pain killers, so she was feeling pretty well. I knew, however, that epidurals are wonderful…until they pull the needle out and your body tries to handle the pain on its own. I was given an epidural when I had my heart surgery in 2008, and three days after the surgery I was ready to come home because I had no pain and felt really great. But then on the fourth day the epidural came out and my days five and six were awful. I hurt so that I could barely breathe. So I knew that Shirley was going to have a rough day in 48 hours or so.
     On Thursday morning she had her first physical therapy and was able to get out of bed and shuffle around the room a bit. Having some experiences with Methodist hospitals (San Jacinto, Baytown, and Downtown,) we noticed a couple of quirks about Willowbrook. The nurses would bring Shirley her medications in a cup and just leave them on the tray while they went about their business. At the other hospitals, they watched you like a hawk to make sure you swallowed what was given you. If Shirley rang the bell for a request, the response time was a little…um…relaxed. Eventually, someone would show up. The nurses were all very nice and professional, but the management seemed a little less efficient than what is expected in a Methodist hospital.
     Toward noon, I began to notice that Shirley was beginning to slur her words a little. An hour later she began falling asleep in mid-sentence. About 3:00 pm her therapist came in to do his activities, and she was practically comatose. He gave up and reported it to the desk (we had already done so) and a nurse and her anesthesiologist came in the room. He looked at the metering device on her epidural and asked the nurse, “Has it been this high all day?” He turned Shirley over and removed the epidural immediately. Nothing else was said, but I think she was given too much painkiller and was nearly unconscious because of it. She slept for the next four hours and barely moved. She awoke about 7:00 pm and was finally conscious of her surroundings again. Amazingly, however, Shirley made it through the night quite well without the epidural. She had some pain, but she was given sedatives in capsule form and the pain never became severe. The next day (Friday) she had only moderate pain and survived her physical therapy sessions with hardly a strain. I was very thankful she did not have to endure a great deal of discomfort. Friday night was a quiet night for her.
     Saturday morning, however, she began to complain of chest pains. She had been laying on her back for three days and eaten very little, so she attributed it to that, but the pains became more pronounced. When the nurse came in about noon and asked how she was, she said he knee hurt a little but her chest hurt a lot. Needless to say, that raised a red flag to the nurse. They checked her vital signs and her pulse rate was 140 and she had a fever. Within a matter of minutes, an EKG was done, and suddenly the room was a beehive of activity with nurses and doctors flitting around. Shirley was whisked to the Intensive Care Unit (a precaution, they said.) A heart echo was done (like sonar) and then a CATscan. There was a flurry of professional opinions of what could have caused the heart pains, but even as the doctors conferred, the pains had already begun to diminish. By Saturday evening late, the pains were only occasional and fleeting. For the first time since Wednesday, I went home and Kimberly stayed with Shirley for the night.
     On Sunday, Shirley had only a couple of twinges in her chest during the day, but she was kept in ICU to be closely monitored. She had a restful day and seemed to relax. The knee was practically a none-issue. She had only very moderate pain and it was doing very well. On Monday, as a precaution (you hear that word very often in a hospital) she had an angiogram (heart catharization) and the cardiologist came to us afterward smiling broadly and announced that Shirley’s heart was “beautiful.” So whatever the source of the chest pains was, it remained a mystery, but at least we knew it was not heart related. That in itself was a certain amount of relief. Additional tests were done to identify any potential blood clots, but they were all negative. Monday evening she was transferred back to a regular room and the focus of activity went back to the knee and therapy. Tuesday was another quiet, non-eventful day.
     On Wednesday, January 27, a week after she entered Willowbrook, Shirley was transferred to Tomball Rehab Center for a few days of physical and occupational therapy. For those who do not know (and I didn’t, either) physical therapy involves various exercises to strengthen the knee and leg muscles, whereas occupational therapy involves practice in doing the everyday activities that everyone does, but now has to be done with a handicapped knee or whatever. It was very interesting to observe. There was a kitchen with various kitchen arrangements that the patient had to prepare a meal, use appliances, etc. There was a bath with various styles of showers and baths for a person to practice entering and exiting. In one room was a part of a car with the passenger compartment complete with a door, passenger seat, and dashboard so that a patient could practice getting in and out of a car. There were several kinds of steps and ramps for patients to practice walking. It was all very useful to someone who had to adjust to a different way of living.
     Tomball Rehab reminded us a little of Willowbrook. The medications were distributed without much monitoring, and a ring for assistance brought an eventual response. Supposedly, there was a schedule for daily therapy, but we never knew what it was, and Shirley would be wheeled away to O.T. or P.T. (Occupational Therapy or Physical Therapy) sometime between 8:30 and 10:30 a.m. The staff was friendly but pretty laid back, if that’s the term to use. Each day that Shirley was in rehab, however, she improved, and on Thursday, February 4, fifteen days after leaving home, she came home with a new right knee. She still has about four weeks of in-home therapy, but…at least she’s home. There’s something therapeutic about being home. Thursday night we both slept like logs. Why nurses in hospitals feel obligated to wake patients up every morning at 4:00 a.m. to take their blood pressures is beyond me.
     I had mentioned on my Facebook page that the plan was that Shirley would get a new body part every six months for about ten years, and then I would be married to WonderWoman! Having gone through getting this first new part, I’ve decided I’m going to be happy with just the way she is. After all, as someone reminded me a few days ago, I’m ALREADY married to WonderWoman!