Listen to Dr. Wes Ely, MD on Talk Radio Europe Discuss His Book: Every Deep-Drawn Breath

Listen to Dr. Wes Ely on the show Talk Radio Europe as he talks about the devastating consequences of severe disease that results in admission to critical care units, specifically in the context of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

The title of the presentation is “Understanding the Long Shadow of COVID and ICU Care.”

Taming the Juggling Balls

As of November 7, 2022 it has been 22 days since I purchased the Learn to Juggle kit from Barnes and Noble. So far, my learning experience reminds me of a story by Mark Twain, “Taming the Bicycle,” which was published posthumously—obviously after he succumbed from his injuries in the attempt to ride the high-wheeled bicycle in the early 1880s.

Just kidding of course, about his death from the bicycle riding adventure. He did mention using about a barrel of something called Pond’s Extract, which was a liniment for scrapes and other wounds.

Twain was writing about learning something new—a thing all of us are called on to do many times in our lives. He didn’t try to learn to ride the bicycle until he was over 50 years old.

I didn’t try to learn how to juggle until was well past my mid-sixties. How do you account for decisions to embark on new hobbies, adventures, and other nonsense at an age when most people would be content vegetating on the porch or in front of the TV?

I just answered the question, in case you didn’t notice.

Anyway, I am making some progress as juggling, although it’s uneven. It’s hard to believe, but sometimes I think I juggle better as I wander around. I think it might be because there is a natural tendency to throw the balls away from you. That way, I look more adept simply because I’m making a frequently observed beginner’s mistake. But I seem to be steadier even when I walk backward a few paces.

 When I stand firmly in one place and attempt to juggle, I can often barely make it past half a dozen throws. Wandering a little, I have made thirty throws.

But then, randomly, the opposite occurs and the theory fails.

Counting the number of each throw seems to help—occasionally. I also notice that unscheduled, short practice episodes for 10 minutes or less work better than struggling along for a half hour or so at set times.

I don’t dread the practice sessions; in fact, I have a sort of itch to juggle at various times during the day. Sometimes I believe I do it to help me collect my thoughts, to keep my hands occupied, or just to pass the time.

I remember learning to ride the bicycle for the first time when I was a kid. I fell down a lot, just like Twain did—until I got the hang of it. Maybe juggling will turn out to be the same.

But I won’t need Pond’s Extract for juggling mistakes—as long as I don’t try juggling while climbing or descending stairs.

Sena Grows Peonies!

Sena has a peony shrub growing dazzling red blossoms. The red ones are said to symbolize love, respect, and honor. The peony genus classification is Paeonia, which is taken from the Greek word Paean. At least a couple of flower web sites say the origin of the name peony comes from a Greek myth involving a deity called Paean (pronounced “Bud”).

According to the flower web sites version of the myth, Paean was the physician of the gods. He was a student of Aesculapius or Asclepius, whose friends just called him “Bud.”

Paean used a peony root to heal Pluto, which was the Roman name of the deity Hades. I don’t know what was ailing Pluto. Maybe it was the gout. Anyway, Aesculapius got wind of Paean’s treatment, and became really jealous. He tried to kill him, but Zeus wasn’t having any of that baloney, intervened and turned Paean into a peony.

I couldn’t find this version in any scholarly source of Greek mythology. In fact, Edith Hamilton, a Greek scholar who wrote a book entitled simply, Mythology, says Paean was just another name for Apollo or Aesculapius, also known as Asclepius—or “Bud.”

In fact, a paean is a song of thanksgiving or triumph addressed to Apollo.

Hamilton’s version is kind of a soap opera. Greek gods always seemed to be having torrid affairs with humans, often leading to drama involving the transformation of humans into various plants, animals and whatnot—and maybe even destroying them.

This is what happened to a human female named Coronis, who had a fling with Apollo who got her pregnant. She snubbed him for a human guy, which annoyed Apollo so he killed her. However, he saved his baby by tearing Coronis open and plucking him out right out of the womb—really extreme.

Apollo than adopts the kid out to an old fart of a Centaur named Chiron. Apollo ordered Chiron to name the child Aesculapius, or Asclepius, “Bud” for short. He was never named Paean, according to Hamilton.

Chiron was pretty slick with healing arts and taught Bud everything he knew. Then Bud got too big for his britches and brought a guy back from the dead. I can’t recall exactly who got resurrected; it was either Hippolytus or Elvis. Gods got mad about it because making zombies is their business, not Bud’s.

Consequently, Zeus killed Bud by slinging a thunderbolt at him. Contrary to flower shop lore, Zeus never even considered turning him into a peony. In his opinion, you had to teach these pups a lesson.

How do you think Apollo felt about this? How would you feel? What would you do? Apollo got on the phone with his lawyer, and before you could say “peony,” he got a court order authorizing Apollo to kill the Cyclops who were manufacturing all of Zeus’s thunderbolts.

If you think it ended there, you’re wrong. Zeus, not to be outdone, sued Apollo, who lost big time and was sentenced to slavery to King Admetus for one to nine years in solitary confinement.

Bud, on the other hand, even though he was slain, was honored by thousands for hundreds of years. Those who came to his temples were invariably healed of various ailments including but not limited to the gout. Snakes were involved in the treatments, though, and some preferred to live with the gout, so declined to sign the informed consent forms.

Hamilton and other scholars don’t ever mention Bud getting turned into a peony. But Sena’s peonies are still beautiful.

Reference: Edith Hamilton, Mythology, Little, Brown and Company, 1942.

The Written Word is Blurred

I ran across this quote the other day: littera scripta manet. The English translation is, I think, “the written word endures.”

Not to dwell too much on the prosaic side of the issue which is that, for me, often the word has been blurred because of problems with my vision. I just had retinal detachment surgery a little over a month ago and I’m making a good recovery. But early on I had a lot of trouble with blurry vision, tearing, and light sensitivity.

Just the other night though, I was able to read a section of a book without having as much blurred vision as I did before the surgery when I looked up from the page at something distant. I’ve been wearing progressive lenses for many years and it probably got worse because of the detached retina, which was chronic or maybe acute on chronic.

Now to get beyond trivialities, I saw the quote above in an issue of the University of Iowa publication, Iowa Magazine. It was in the last Old Gold column of University Archivist, David McCartney. He retired in March of this year. The title was “Old Gold: The Enduring Power of the Written Word.”

He notes the Latin expression is on the seal of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. McCartney’s point is that technology can undermine as well as strengthen the power of the written word. He identities Horace as the originator of the expression, “the written word endures.”

I went pecking around the internet and found out that a lot of people think an educator named Neil Postman was the originator of this quote. What makes me doubt this is that the original is in Latin, which suggests a much older origin. He was born in 1931 and died in 2003. Interestingly, Postman criticized the effect of technology on thought and culture.

A website that seems dedicated to explaining English translations of Latin indicates that the quote comes from a longer expression: Vox audita perit, littera scripta manet, which translates to “the spoken word perishes, but the written word remains.” One contributor says the originator was Horace. Another insists that “littera” does not mean word at all, although concedes that the proposed translation is correct, nevertheless.

Further, there is a Wikipedia entry which cites the Latin expression differently, “verba volant, scripta manent,” which in English is “spoken words fly away, written words remain.” The author says the proverb originated from a speech of senator Caius Titus to the Roman Senate.

Anyway, McCartney points out that the world is becoming increasingly digitized and that the average website lasts only a little over two and a half years. Some important digital records have been lost, unreadable (blurred?) because of improper management.

My previous blog survived about 7 years but is lost. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. My current blog is a little over 3 years old. So far, I’m beating the odds as far as typical longevity, but is it worthwhile?

Both written and digital records have strengths and weaknesses in terms of durability. And deciding what to preserve and how is essential to any society. We need good stewards to help us decide.

Good luck in your retirement, David McCartney. I’m sure the University of Iowa treasures your stewardship. Let the written word endure unblurred.

Looking Back on Gunslingers and Chess Masters

I was looking at an early version of the handbook of consultation-liaison psychiatry that eventually evolved into what was actually published by Cambridge University Press. I wrote virtually all of the early version and it was mainly for trainees rotating through the consult service. The published book had many talented contributors. I and my department chair, Dr. Robert G. Robinson, co-edited the book.

In the introduction I mention that the manual was designed for gunslingers and chess masters. The gunslingers are the general hospital psychiatric consultants who actually hiked all over the hospital putting out the psychiatric fires that are always smoldering or blazing. The main problems were delirium and neuropsychiatric syndromes that mimic primary psychiatric disorders.

The chess masters were those I admired who actually conducted research into the causes of neuropsychiatric disorders.

Admittedly the dichotomy was romanticized. I saw myself as a gunslinger, often shooting from the hip in an effort to manage confused and violent patients. Looking back on it, I probably seemed pretty unscientific.

But I can tell you that when I followed the recommendations of the scientists about how to reverse catatonia with benzodiazepines, I felt much more competent. After administering lorazepam intravenously to patients who were mute and immobile before the dose to answering questions and wondering why everyone was looking at them after the dose—it looked miraculous.

Later in my career, I usually thought the comparison to a firefighter was a better analogy.

The 2008 working manual was called the Psychosomatic Medicine Handbook for Residents at the time. This was before the name of the specialty was changed back to Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry. I wrote all of it. I’m not sure about the origin of my comment about a Psychosomatic Medicine textbook weighing 7 pounds. It might relate to the picture of several heavy textbooks on which my book sits. I might have weighed one of them.The introduction is below (featured image picture credit pixydotorg):

“In 2003 the American Board of Medical Specialties approved the subspecialty status of Psychiatry now known as Psychosomatic Medicine. Long before that, the field was known as Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry. In 2005, the first certification examination was offered by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Both I and my co-editor, Dr. Robert G. Robinson, passed that examination along with many other examinees. This important point in the history of psychiatry began many decades ago, probably in the early 19th century, when the word “psychosomatic” was first used by Johann Christian Heinroth when discussing insomnia.

Psychosomatic Medicine began as the study of psychophysiology which in some quarters led to a reductionistic theory of psychogenic causation of disease. However, the evolution of a broader conceptualization of the discipline as the study of mind and body interactions in patients who are ill and the creation of effective treatments for them probably was a parallel development. This was called Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry and was considered the practical application of the principles and discoveries of Psychosomatic Medicine. Two major organizations grew up in the early and middle parts of the 20th century that seemed to formalize the distinction (and possibly the eventual separation) between the two ideas: the American Psychosomatic Society (APS) and the Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine (APM). The name of the subspecialty finally approved in 2003 was the latter largely because of its historic roots in the origin of the interaction of mind and body paradigm.

The impression that the field was dichotomized into research and practical application was shared and lamented by many members of both organizations. At a symposium at the APM annual meeting in Tucson, AZ in 2006, it was remarked that practitioners of “…psychosomatic medicine may well be lost in thought while…C-L psychiatrists are lost in action.”

I think it is ironic how organizations that are both devoted to teaching physicians and patients how to think both/and instead of either/or about medical and psychiatric problems could have become so dichotomized themselves.

My motive for writing this book makes me think of a few quotations about psychiatry in general hospitals:

“Relegating this work entirely to specialists is futile for it is doubtful whether there will ever be a sufficient number of psychiatrists to respond to all the requests for consultations. There is, therefore, no alternative to educating other physicians in the elements of psychiatric methods.”

“All staff conferences in general hospitals should be attended by the psychiatrist so that there might be a mutual exchange of medical experience and frank discussion of those cases in which there are psychiatric problems.”

“The time should not be too long delayed when psychiatrists are required on all our medical and surgical wards and in all our general and surgical clinics.”

The first two quotes, however modern they might sound, are actually from 1929 in one of the first papers ever written about Consultation Psychiatry (now Psychosomatic Medicine), authored by George W. Henry, A.B., M.D. The third is from the mid-1930s by Helen Flanders Dunbar, M.D., in an article about the substantial role psychological factors play in the etiology and course of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and fractures in 600 patients. Although few hospital organizations actually practice what these physicians recommended, the recurring theme seems to be the need to improve outcomes and processes in health care by integrating medical and psychiatric delivery care systems. Further, Dr. Roger Kathol has written persuasively of the need for a sea change in the way our health care delivery and insurance systems operate so as to improve the quality of health care in this country so that it compares well with that of other nations (2).

This book is not a textbook. It is not a source for definitive, comprehensive lists of references about all the latest research. It is not a thousand pages long and does not weigh seven pounds. It is a modest contribution to the principle of both/and thinking about psyche and soma; consultants and researchers; — gunslingers and chess masters.

In this field there are chess masters and gunslingers. We need both. You need to be a gunslinger to react quickly and effectively on the wards and in the emergency room during crises. You also need to be a chess master after the smoke has cleared, to reflect on what you did, how you did it—and analyze why you did it and whether that was in accord with the best medical evidence.

This book is for the gunslinger who relies on the chess master. This book is also for the chess master—who needs to be a gunslinger.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”—Sun Tzu.”

References:

1.        Kathol, R.G., and Gatteau, S. 2007. Healing body and mind: a critical issue for health care reform. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers. 190 pp.

2.        Kornfeld, D., and Wharton, R. 2005. The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychosomatic Medicine. Psychosomatics 46:95-103.

The Chicken Finally Lays An Egg

Below is an old post from a previous blog that I published on June 6, 2010. Although the title in my record is simply PM Handbook Blog, there must have been another title. Maybe it should have been more like The Chicken Has Finally Laid an Egg (you’ll get the joke later).

There are two reasons for posting it today. One is to illustrate how the Windows voice recognition dictation app works. It’s a little better than I thought it would be. The last time I used it, it was ugly. I’m using it now because I thought it might be a little easier than trying to type it since I still have problems with vision in my right eye because of the recent retinal tear injury repair. So, instead of doing copy paste, what you’re seeing is a dictation—for the most part.

On the other hand, I’m still having to proofread what I dictate. And I still find a few mistakes, though much fewer than I expected.

The other reason for this post is to help me reflect on how far the fellowship has come since that time. It did eventually attract the first fellow under a different leader. That was shortly after I retired. It was a great step forward for the department of psychiatry:

“Here is one definition of a classic:

“Classic: A book which people praise but don’t read.” Mark Twain.

When I announced the publishing of our book, Psychosomatic Medicine, An Introduction to Consultation Liaison Psychiatry, someone said that it’s good to finally get a book into print and out of one’s head. The book in earlier years found other ways out of my head, mainly in stapled, paperclipped, spiral bound, dog eared, pages of homemade manuals, for use on our consultation service.

It’s a handbook and meant to be read, of course, but quickly and on the run. As I’ve said in a previous blog, it makes no pretension to being the Tour de Force textbook in America that inspired it. However, any textbook can evolve into an example of Twain’s definition of a classic. The handbook writer is a faithful and humble steward who can keep the spirit of the classic lively.

We must have a textbook as a marker of Psychosomatic Medicine’s place in medicine as a subspecialty. It’s like a Bible, meant to be read reverently, venerated, and quoted by scholars. But the ark of this covenant tends to be a dusty bookshelf that bows under the tome’s weight. A handbook is like the Sunday School lesson plan for spreading the scholar’s wisdom in the big book.

Over the long haul, the goal of any books should mean something other than royalties or an iconic place in history. No preacher ever read a sermon to our congregation straight out of the Bible. It was long ago observed by George Henry that there will never be enough psychiatric consultants. This prompts the question of who will come after me to do this work. My former legacy was to be the Director of a Psychosomatic Medicine Fellowship in an academic department in the not-so-distant past. Ironically, though there will never be enough psychiatric consultants, there were evidently too many fellowships from which to choose. I had to let the fellowship go. My legacy then became this book, not just for Psychosomatic Medicine fellows, but medical students, residents, and maybe even for those who see most of the patients suffering from mental illness—dedicated primary care physicians.

My wife gave me a birthday card once which read: “Getting older: May each year be a feather on the glorious Chicken of Life as it Soars UNTAMED and BEAUTIFUL towards the golden sun.” My gifts included among the obligatory neckties, a couple of books on preparing for retirement.

Before I retire, I would like to do all I can to ensure that the next generation of doctors learn to respect the importance of care for both body and mind of each and every one of their patients. That’s the goal of our book. And may the glorious chicken of life lay a golden egg within its pages to protect it from becoming a classic.”

Chicken picture credit: Pixydotorg.

Scrabble Babble

The other day Sena and I played a close game of scrabble—close that is until I challenged her play of the word “Xi.” I lost a turn because in our brand spanking new Scrabble dictionary it’s defined as a Greek letter.

Later, I knew better than to challenge her play of “Ka,” which I looked up after the game. It means the spiritual self of a human being in Egyptian religion. I ended up losing the game.

She plays a Scrabble video game and got a Bingo recently, which got her 80 points. On the web a Bingo is defined as playing all seven tiles, and you get 50 points. I guess that’s the difference between playing the video Scrabble game and playing a human being, whether of the Egyptian religion or not.

We also used a brand-new Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, during a different game. We used that and I challenged her play of “dic.” I guess you know what’s coming.

As you can probably guess, “dic” is not a word, but those of us with dirty minds know full well that “dick” is a slang term that can mean penis, detective, or surprisingly, nothing. The nothing definition reminded me of the Men in Black scene in which the soon-to-be Agent J is riding down the elevator with Agent K, explaining that because he was chosen by the MIB organization, that means they recognize all of his skills. Agent K makes the deflating remark that all of his skills mean “precisely dick.”

I know you’ll be fascinated to learn that the nothing meaning of dick is not in the Scrabble dictionary nor is it in the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

So, remember that the next time you play Scrabble. On the other hand, if you don’t play Scrabble, this means precisely—detective.

Calpurnia’s Lesson

I finished To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee a couple of days ago. Calpurnia’s line toward the end of Chapter 12:

It’s not necessary to tell all you know. It’s not ladylike—in the second place, folks don’t like to have somebody around knowin’ more than they do. It aggravates ‘em. You’re not gonna change any of them by talkin’ right, they’ve got to want to learn themselves, and when they don’t want to learn there’s nothing you can do but keep your mouth shut or talk their language.

That stuck in my head until the end of the book. It reminds me of my time at an HBCU, Huston-Tillotson University (then Huston-Tillotson College) in Austin, Texas. I was the only black child in my classes in grade school while I was growing up in Iowa. Nobody noticed how I talked because I sounded like everybody else.

But I didn’t have a Texas twang at H-TC. I also tended to talk too much. Finally, one student asked me, “Why do you talk so hard?” Those were her exact words. I don’t remember my reply, or if I even had one. I hope I just shut up.

That doesn’t mean that black students all had a drawl or were terse. One of them I remember called himself Malachi. He didn’t have a drawl or twang. He pronounced it Ma-Lah-Chee, emphasis on the second syllable.  He had an ordinary English name. One of the English professors tried to tell him that, if he was trying to model himself after the Hebrew prophet in the Bible, he should pronounce it Ma-Luh-Kai. He didn’t buy it.

And there was the guy I had to debate in philosophy and logic class. He talked way too much—which is a big part of the reason I lost the debate. I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. My professor hinted that being too polite by not interrupting was unlikely to help me in debates with bombastic opponents.

I have sometimes found myself either staying clammed up or talking too much, often at the wrong times with the wrong people.

I think there must be a happy medium somewhere. If I can’t talk the talk, is there a way to walk the talk? If I respect others, and believe we should all show respect for one another, I don’t have to drone on forever about it. I can hold the door open for them.

Elevator Pitch for a Very Slow Elevator

This is a follow up to yesterday’s post about elevator pitches. I’m using one of the standard formats below. The first step is to find a really slow elevator.

Who am I?

I’m a retired consultation psychiatrist, slowly evolving beyond that backwards in time to something else I’ve always been. I’ve been a writer since I was a child. My favorite place was the public library. I walked there from my house. I stayed there as long as I could. It was place of tall windows where I could look out and see trees which swayed like peaceful giants. I borrowed as many books as I could carry in my skinny arms and walked all the way back home. Then I picked up a pencil. I wrote short stories which I bound in construction paper. I read them to my mother, who always praised them and called me gifted whether I deserved it or not. I lived inside my head. My inner world was my whole world.

What problem am I trying to solve?

The problem was that I forgot who I was as I got older. I forgot for a long time about being a writer. I evolved into the outer world, adopting other forms. I put down the pencil, but never for very long. I changed what I did and made, but I always lived in my head. People told me “Get out of your head.” I tried, but didn’t know how. I wrote less and less. When I did write, I realized that I was no genius, not gifted—but still driven to write. I was so busy in college, medical school, residency, and in the practice of consultation psychiatry, I didn’t write for a long time. But later I returned to it as the main way to teach students. I even co-edited and published a book, Psychosomatic Medicine: An Introduction to Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry, with my former department chair, Dr. Robert G. Robinson. On the Psychiatry Department web page, in the Books by Faculty section, the book is in the subsection “Classic.” Inside the cover of my personal copy is a loose page with the quote:

A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.

Mark Twain

I’m pretty sure I put it there. Part of the preface was my idea because of my admiration for Will Strunk, who I learned about in an essay by E.B. White (“Will Strunk,” Essays of E.B White, New York, Harper Row, 1977). We informally called the work The Little Book of Psychosomatic Psychiatry:

The name comes from Will Strunk’s book, The Elements of Style, which was, as White says, “Will Strunk’s parvum opus, his attempt to cut the vast tangle of English rhetoric down to size and write its rules and principles on the head of a pin. Will himself hung the title “little” on his book and referred to it sardonically and with secret pride as “the little book,” always giving the word “little” a special twist, as though he were putting a spin on a ball.”

I guess our little book was, in a way, my own parvum opus.

Obviously, I don’t write the way Strunk would have wanted. But it’s my way, and I’m finding my way back to it, back to the path I was on in the beginning of my life, back to who I am.

What solution do I propose?

Almost two years ago, my solution to the challenge of rediscovering who I am, I suppose, was interrupting my medical career, but that would be dishonest. I did it because of my chronological age or least that was what I told myself. Burnout was the other reason. That said, despite my love of teaching students, I missed something else. And I knew if I kept working as a firefighter, which is what a general hospital consultation psychiatrist really is, I might lose what I loved best, which was writing for its own sake and for sharing it with others. It sounds so simple when I say it. Why has this been so hard, then? Obviously, I’m not going to recommend to those who are writers at heart lock themselves in a garret and do nothing but write. We would starve.

I think this is where mindfulness helped me. I couldn’t ignore my love of writing. I was better off just accepting it. But until I learned mindfulness in 2014 as a part of a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which I took mainly because I was struggling with burnout, I would either just ruminate or act on autopilot. I still do those things, just less often. Mindfulness is not miraculous. It’s not for everyone. It can be a part of transitioning to a healthier life. I exercise too. I don’t rigidly always without fail adhere to my schedule. I miss some days. I accept that and just go back and try again.

What is the benefit of my solution?

I think the benefit of adopting mindfulness and other healthy practices, at least for me, is that sooner or later (in my case much later), I made a sort of uneven peace with the loss of my professional routines, my professional identity, my work, as the single most important way to live. I still have a lot to learn, including how to be more patient, how to listen to others, how to get out of my head for what I know will be only a short time. Most of all, I’ve reintegrated writing into my life and it brings me joy. If you’re going through anything like that, then maybe seeing my struggle, my wins and losses, will help you keep going. It gets better.

This elevator pitch is way longer than 45 seconds.

Featured image picture credit Pixydotorg.

Putting the Exley in X-Files

A couple of nights ago Sena was looking at some old X-Files episodes on the web. It was on the Dailymotion site. For some reason, we could see them without login registration. I think it’s usually required. We watched the full length, The Unnatural episode two nights in a row without ads. It was an inconsistent experience. We saw it in both HD and non-HD modes and got slammed by ads at times and other times couldn’t access the show at all unless you logged in.

The weird thing was that all the subtitles and captions, and even the scenes were shown in mirror image. It turns out this mirror issue is not uncommon. I googled it and others have noticed it on YouTube as well as Dailymotion. You can flip the video out of mirror mode—often for the price of software being peddled for that purpose. The most common reason I saw given for the videos being mirrored was to avoid copyright strikes.

OK, so other than that, a lot of the old X-Files shows were available and Sena watched a little of the brutal episode “Home.” Sena can do a hilarious mimic of part of Mrs. Peacock snarling “I can tell you don’t have no children. Maybe one day you’ll learn… the pride… the love… when you know your boy will do anything for his mother.” Sena always ad libbed “the joy” to the “the pride, the love” phrase.

We used to watch the X-Files regularly, making popcorn downstairs in the kitchen and getting upstairs to watch it in bed just in time.

Anyway, we could watch the mirror version of “The Unnatural,” comfortably despite the backwards captions. This is one of our favorite episodes. There are many obvious references to racism and identity. I looked all over for a simplified plot summary, but found a lot of them have glaring mistakes, are too long, and wouldn’t fit with my simple-minded geezer interpretation. So, I’m going to cobble together something from reading a number of them. I’m not saying it’ll be straightforward.

I have to call it a Monster-of-The-Week (MOTW) episode because that’s what a lot of writers do.  It refers to X-Files episodes that usually feature some paranormal creature or a criminal with a supernatural ability.

Here’s a tangent I can’t resist because we just watched Mountain Monsters Sunday night for the first time, and I think it was the first episode of the new season of this show which has been on for 8 seasons. It is surely a parody of several shows of the Bigfoot adventure type. It’s basically an ongoing MOTW series featuring a cast of characters who survive on sasquatch snacks and cryptid colas and stage uproarious, slapstick comedy searches for legendary creatures (some of which are apparently part of genuine local folklore) like Spear Finger, the Smoke Wolf, the Cherokee Death Cat, and a dozen others, some of which are unfortunately prone to violent attacks of diarrhea, which Wild Bill (arguably one of the funnies members of the cast) did a side-splitting impression of by hanging on to a couple of trees and sticking his butt way too far out in a stunningly hysterical pantomime of projectile Hershey squirts, all the while getting more and more bug-eyed, cursing a blue streak and brandishing a gun which looked like a kid’s toy you could find at Walmart. The camera angles are all too perfect. We laughed until we cried.

Anyway, getting back to The Unnatural, the show is basically the reminiscence of an ex-cop named Arthur Dales who was assigned to protect a black baseball player named Josh Exley from being killed by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Actually, Josh is an alien who shape-shifted into a black man because he loves the game of baseball. He can also sing the old Negro Spiritual “Come and Go with Me to That Land” on the team bus so well that it was recorded on YouTube and one commenter said he’d pay $100 for a full version of it.

The episode starts with Fox Mulder finding an old newspaper clipping about a baseball game in 1947 in Roswell, New Mexico, the site of so many UFO crashes that the local landfill could not keep up with all the debris local ranchers were trucking in from the fields. He finds a story which shows a picture of an Alien Bounty Hunter in it. This is an executioner who also shape shifts and knocks off other aliens who misbehave by threatening to expose the alien colonization project going on at the time.

The KKK is threatening the team of black players and the head of the gang is the Alien Bounty Hunter. He’s after Exley because he threatens to expose the project simply because he loves to smack home runs and, even though Exley thinks the game of baseball is meaningless, it’s perfect because you can chew tobacco and get knocked out by wild pitches—which leads to him getting beaned and bleeding green blood on the catcher’s mitt. He wakes up speaking alien but because he remembers he’s from Macon, Georgia, everybody thinks he’s OK. The catcher’s mitt is sent to the lab guy for analysis.

Officer Dales finds out Exley is an alien after he breaks into his room and sees him in his alien form. After Dales wakes up from fainting a half dozen times, Exley tells him that he’s an alien; he’s forbidden from intermingling with humans, and he masquerades as a black baseball player because he loves the game and to escape notice. The way Exley puts it, “They don’t like for us to mingle with your people. The philosophy is we stick to ourselves; you stick to yourselves—everybody’s happy.”

Where have you heard this before? It sounds like Jim Crow to me.

The Bounty Hunter, masquerading as Exley, kills the lab guy and Exley is now fingered as the murderer.  Exley and Dales have a short talk while playing catch in the ball park in which Exley says it’s time for him to face the music and go back to his family. When Dales basically asks him why the human race can’t be his family, Exley takes either a surprisingly Green Supremacist attitude or just states the facts saying, “We may be able to look like y’all—but we ain’t y’all.”

In the end, the Alien Bounty Hunter executes Exley. But just before he kills Exley, he tells him to show his “true face” so he can die with dignity. Exley says simply, “This is my true face.”

 And while he dies in Dales’ arms, despite Exley telling him to get away because his green blood is poison to humans, Dales sees that it’s red and says “It’s just blood.”

I don’t know exactly what this means and some have called it ambiguous. I speculate that this might have been the culmination of a transformative process and it reminds me of Atticus Finch telling Scout (in To Kill a Mockingbird), “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

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