Friday, May 13, 2011

Parking With the Pastor

I have returned, tired but inspired, from "Harvest University," an intense three-day conference in Elgin, Ill. It was hosted by Harvest Bible Chapel, the exploding string of Bible-based churches worldwide that has a branch in Decatur, Ill., which I am proud to attend.

At a Harvest church, everybody works in service to God's glory; I am a member of the Hospitality Team at Decatur, and in between the University's exhilarating worship services I took workshop courses designed to help me do what I do better.

The church was founded in 1988 by Pastor James MacDonald, a simply amazing man of God. Funny yet fearless, passionate and unapologetic, he is one of the finest Biblical scholars and ministers it has been my privilege to hear.

I'm always thrilled to see him preach in person, so I was anxious to get from the hotel where 17 of my fellow Decatur parishioners and I were staying over to Harvest Elgin for the final day of classes and Pastor MacDonald's closing sermon. Because we all had checked out of the hotel and were going our separate ways at the end of the conference, I was driving by myself.

About a quarter-mile from the church, I found myself stuck alongside a bald, burly biker in a black leather vest who was slowly putt-putt-putting his Harley in the right-hand turn lane leading to the entrance. "This guy can't possibly be going to Harvest University!" I grumbled. "What the heck is he doing in my way?"

I had the option of either slowing waaaay down and slipping in behind the motorcycle or hitting the accelerator, gunning it a bit and zipping in front of him.

Did I mention that I drive a 2011 Camaro?

There was no option. I stepped on the gas, made a sharp right and pulled in front of the biker. "That's more like it!" I grinned.

I looked in my rear-view mirror to make sure I hadn't cut him off too severely. "Man, does that face looks familiar," thought I.

Then I took a closer look. The joy-riding biker was none other than...Pastor James MacDonald.

Oh, Lord.

Scanning his eyes in the mirror for any trace of anger, I felt relieved that (a) he seemed OK and (b) thankfully no one from my church witnessed my moment of sheer idiocy.

I was half right. The moment I opened my door after parking in the Harvest lot, my pastor in Decatur, Tony Caffey, was standing next to my car. "You know you almost ran over the founder of our church?" he asked.

I heard the raucous laughter of my fellow Harvest Decaturites in the background.

Well, perhaps an apology might be in order.

As I entered the lobby I spotted MacDonald – he's a hard man to miss, especially in a black leather vest – surrounded by members of my church. I walked over and shook his hand.

      A grinning Pastor James MacDonald with Harvest Decatur attendee Lori Nelson, apparently uninjured.

"I'm really sorry about cutting you off," I said.

"That was you? In the Camaro?"

I nodded sheepishly.

"Man, I couldn't help but check out that car! That is one sweet ride!"

Saved by the sports car.

As we later learned, MacDonald was dressed as he was because the church was giving a new Harley to assistant senior pastor Rick Donald for his decades of faithful service to the church, and MacDonald actually rode the bike into the sanctuary to present it to him. I don't think that was the bike he was riding into the parking lot, but I can't be sure. Had I cut my steering wheel a split-second sooner, I might have ruined a thoughtful, expensive gift and derailed a marvelous closing sermon from MacDonald. Harvest Holy Enemy No. 1.

The takeaway for me that day? God's grace even extends to impulsive drivers. And you can't judge a biker by his "vest"-ments.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Making a PACt With Baxter

I spent a few days not long ago in scenic Waukegan, Ill., home of Baxter Healthcare worldwide, where I made my first appearance as a member of the company's Patient Advisory Committee team, or PACt. (As a professional editor it drives me batty that the "t" isn't capitalized too, but I try hard not to think about it.)

As another wonderful outgrowth of these wacky blog blatherings, I was invited last year to sit on the patient panel for Baxter, the company that manufactures my dialysis machine and supplies, in the off chance I might have something to contribute.

These meetings are highly confidential, as deep-dark details of products in production and yet to come are discussed freely. I could tell you some of the things we talked about, but then Baxter would have to kill me.

No, seriously.

In fact, it was kind of funny. Before the PACt confab, I was asked by my great and good friend, Trisha Daab of Baxter, to speak to the global marketing group she recently inherited. She wanted me to crank up my standard song-and-dance routine to a new audience and share firsthand feelings and experiences about being a kidney patient on Peritoneal Dialysis (PD). Sadly, the corporate workers who manage and market Baxter's goods almost never get to talk to the end users whose lives depend on their labors.

After that lively session I opened my laptop to check my e-mail. Because the PACt meeting was to be held in the same conference room, I left my computer open to mark my seat.

Minutes before the PACt was about to convene, one of Baxter's marketing bigwigs walked over and gently put his hand on my shoulder.

"Uh, Jim," he said warily, "you are aware that these PACt meetings are confidential?"

"Of course," I replied.

"Oh, OK. I saw you had your laptop out and I wanted to make sure."

Dude, this isn't like a baseball game where I need to cover the play-by-play action of the meeting as it happens! If I was going to reveal company secrets, don't you think I'd have enough sense not to do it inside the company? I was mildly offended! But apparently some of the bigger wigs at Baxter were slightly ruffled by my unvarnished honesty in describing my Baxter-sponsored trip to LA to speak to their annual sales convention (see "Shelter From the Storm" here).

I'm told somebody even asked if there was a provision in my speaking agreement with Baxter that gave the company any editorial control over this blog! I will not be censored! I cannot be controlled or muted! I will always tell the truth of kidney disease, dialysis and my life as I see it, without compromise! You loyal Just Kidneying readers deserve nothing less!

(The strains of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" should be coming up in your mind right about now.)

For me, the best part of the PACt meetings was the opportunity to meet and interact with everyday people who have dealt with the same affliction that I have – and in some cases, suffered far more pain and damage. It's a comforting feeling to know somehow that you're not alone in this sickness, and a blessing to realize that as bad as it feels sometimes, it could be far, far worse.

The most surprising part of the day was the realization that, of the dozen or so participants relating their experiences with Peritoneal Dialysis, I was the only one who uses the Baxter "FlexiCap Disconnect Cap with Povidone-Iodine Solution" on a daily basis.

You see, the way the Baxter PD cycler works is, old dianeal solution is drained from the peritoneal cavity surrounding your innards, fresh solution is pumped in, then it "dwells" in your body for a couple of hours to attract and filter out all the impurities it can. During the "dwell" period, the cycler is essentially inactive.

Guess I had some wonderful and understanding dialysis nurses to train me, led by my Angel Who Walks on Earth, Diane King: I was taught that if you're careful and maintain sterility, there's nothing wrong with detaching yourself from the machine, capping off the fluid tube with a FlexiCap and going about your business during that time.

                                    The "FlexiCap Disconnect Cap With Povidone-Iodine Solution" at Work.

During the day I run errands, have lunch, work out – just so I'm back and reattached to the cycler before the next drain begins.

When I said this out loud to my fellow advisors, they looked at me like I just fell out of Uranus. "Oh, NO!" they cried. "You must only use your FlexiCap in the most extreme of emergencies!"

Really? Really, folks?

After that, I pretty much just PACt it in.

Until the next advisory meeting in June, that is.