Digging Through the Ashes, Searching For the New Normal

It’s now been a week since the fires began in San Diego City and County. Most of the fires are either out or will be soon. In the good news department, it appears all of my patients are back in their homes; the exception is the patient who lost his home but his family was able to move him to a new location where he can receive the care he needs. Two of my teammates were in danger of losing their houses; one is back and safe in her home while the other is still evacuated but her home is still intact.

The toll this week has exacted on all of us will take much longer to determine. The latest information tells us that 1,589 homes have been lost and they are in for a long process of rebuilding. But thousands were also evacuated and spent hours and days unsure if they had a house to go back to. The difficulty is that the first week brings a plethora of attention but the body reacts with a plethora of adrenaline; we’ve been flooded by stories of people who have lost everything and are cheered for their “positive attitude.” My prayer is that if their attitude has taken a few hits in the next few months, they will have resources they need (emotional and spiritual as well as financial).

By and large the politicians did well this week, but it wouldn’t be politics without some boneheaded moves. I’ve collected two:

  • On Wednesday our City Attorney Mike Aguirre suggested that all 1,000,000 residents of San Diego evacuate because of poor air quality. He gave no suggestions on how to evacuate, where to evacuate to, or how to determine the air was once again safe. In fairness he hasn’t been in the way as much as usual, but Mike wouldn’t be Mike if he didn’t have something stupid to say.
  • FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, held a press conference on Tuesday to give out information on how the Agency is responding to the fires. Normal press sources were given 15 minutes notice of the press conference to ensure they wouldn’t show up. The could call in and listen to the press conference but they could not ask questions. If the questions asked of Deputy Director Harvey E. Johnson appeared to be softballs, there was a reason: the “reporters” were actually FEMA employees who were instructed to ask easy questions. You have to give credit to Harvey though: he later admitted this fraud was “an error of judgment” but that the information given was correct. I guess that makes it OK.

San Diego On Fire

It’s hard to imagine anyone doesn’t know this, but as I write this large parts of San Diego City and County are on fire. Late last week we learned that a Santa Ana was going to blow in on Sunday. Santa Ana’s are a mixed blessing around here; they are winds that blow from east to west (against the prevailing winds) and blow hot and dry air into our area. It’s good for people who like warmer weather (like Nancy) but bad for people who have asthma and/or allergies (like me) because they blow dust from the desert into our area. They also create fire dangers because if a fire starts it has the tools to be really bad (dry air and wind). On Sunday afternoon we noticed clouds of dirty air which are normally a bad sign.

We didn’t know how bad it was. By Monday morning we learned that several places nearby were threatened. My territory with San Diego Hospice includes Poway, Rancho Bernardo, Escondido, Valley Center, and Fallbrook. The first wave was the Witch Creek Fire that started east of Ramona (near San Ysabel) but was heading west with a vengeance; several of my patients were in areas that were under mandatory evacuation. I spent virtually all of Monday on the phone trying to find where the evacuees went; one was not hard because her next door neighbor dropped her off at our headquarters. I spent the next three hours with a few of my coworkers trying to find a place for her to stay with her cartons of cigarettes and her dog. Once the statute of limitations is over I’ll have a great story to tell.

Others took a few days to find. Waking up in the middle of the night and being told that you have 10 minutes to grab what you want to save and evacuate is incredibly stressful. It’s even more stressful if you need a pail of medication and oxygen tanks to survive the day. That’s what several of my patients (and their families) faced. In all the confusion they weren’t able to call us and tell us where they landed.

One of my first jobs entailed tracking them. Sitting in an office talking on the phone doesn’t sound like stressful work but it was. I spent the last three days scrambling to find cell phone numbers for patients whose home phones no longer work or were not being answered. Some are with relatives, others are with hotels, and some are in shelters who are not equipped for hospice needs. At least one has lost his home along with all his books, journals, and correspondence. He’s in his 90’s and I can only imagine what has been lost to the ages, but he’s philosophical and ready to start over. I wish I had his perspective.

A bright spot in this tragedy has been my hospice. I’ve had the chance to talk with and work with people from all levels of management at SDHPC. They’ve been, without exception, overwhelming in their support of the staff and the patients. It makes me more more and more convinced that I work for a good place.

A dark spot has been the impact on the lives my teammates. I live in La Jolla, several miles from any of the evacuations, and am safe. But many of my teammates live in these same areas as the patients. About half the team was evacuated and a few may have suffered the loss of their homes. I ask for prayers for them.

I’ll have more to say in the next few days but I ask for your prayers during this painful and difficult time.

The Diocese of San Diego Wants You (or at least your checkbook)

Last month I wrote a post on the sex abuse settlement with the Catholic Diocese of San Diego. In the negotiations with the victims Bishop Brom stated that the diocese could only afford to pay out $95 million without hurting the mission of the church. The final settlement was for $198 million and the share of the diocese will be about $107 million (the rest will come from insurance) which means that the diocese needs to close a gap of $12 million.

Most other dioceses have closed this gap by selling property or other assets; some have closed parishes. Bishop Brom doesn’t want to do this and appears to have come up with another solution: shake down your people. Last week he sent a memo to all the priests in the diocese; there is a link in an article in the San Diego Union Tribune. He asks all the priests of the diocese to donate a month’s salary to a campaign called “Embracing Our Mission” (though “Saving Our Mission” would probably be more accurate). This is the excerpt from the memo:

Since we cannot ask of others what we are unwilling to do ourselves, the deans [priests who represent a given geographic grouping of priests in the diocese] accepted the recommendation of the Presbyteral Council [a council of priests who advise the bishop] to invite every priest to contribute one month’s salary toward Embracing Our Mission. Retired priests will be asked to contribute according to their means. In this regard, you will soon hear from your dean.

The memo goes on to say that each pastor will receive a packet that they will mail to their parishioners “inviting them to make a generous contribution.”

The astounding part of this isn’t the fact that Bishop Brom is asking for money. Since we, the faithful, are essentially the only source of income for the church he really has nowhere else to go. The idea that the bishop can strongarm his priests in this manner is what astounds me. I, as a layperson, am asked to make a “generous contribution” but am left to myself to decide what it is. I certainly have no intention of donating a month’s salary because, simply put, I have bills to pay. But so do they. The mood of this letter to priests makes it sound like it’s far from a suggestion.

As for me, I doubt we’ll give the “generous contribution” but not for the reason you may think. It’s not a matter of “I didn’t cause the problem and shouldn’t have to pay for it.” I find that excuse a little thin. My primary concern is that the victims be compensated and that’s already taken care of. This “generous contribution” is to reimburse the diocese and I’m not sure that should happen. Bishop Brom (to my mind) doesn’t seem to “get it” in the sense of understanding why we are so upset with him. Perhaps the diocese should go through some penance and this may entail some selling of property. While I certainly want the mission of the church to go on, it should not necessarily be easy for Bishop Brom.

And by the way, Bishop Brom never states he will donate a month of his salary.

End of the Season

As the baseball playoffs begin the Padres are home for the first time since 2004. That’s right, they don’t have the opportunity to get trounced in the first round of the playoffs. It’s been nothing if not a turbulent year for the home team. At the beginning of the year the “smart money” said that this would be the year for the Padres or the Dodgers. Many expected that one would win the division and the other would be the wild card; instead the Padres placed 3rd in the NL West. Now the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies are heading toward the World Series.

All season the Padres have relied on their pitching and have suffered from mediocre hitting. Unfortunately toward the end of the season when the arms started to get tired they had nothing to back them up. Jake Peavy was wonderful and is probably the strongest contender for the NL Cy Young award. But the last game against the Rockies was one of his worst outings and he just looked tired. I think Chris Young will be the pitcher who will finally give the Padres their long awaited no hitter. He had a strong start but he just couldn’t bounce back from a strained oblique in late July. Greg Maddux has always been a great pitcher to watch but he’s clearly in the sunset of his career and may have made his best contribution in working with some of the younger pitchers. The saddest part of this season may well be future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman. He had 42 saves this year and holds the Major League record of 524 saves over his career but two of the Padres’ last three defeats were because Trevor blew the save. Unfortunately if you’re the team’s closer you’re either the hero or the goat and nothing in between. Trevor has been crackerjack because he relies on only two pitches: his fastball and his changeup. They are essentially the same pitch but have vastly different speeds; I’m beginning to wonder if he isn’t losing a few miles per hour on his fastball thereby diminishing the difference between the two pitches.

In any case I will chant the baseball fan’s mantra of “wait till next year.” I categorized this as “celebrating” because every baseball season is a celebration and I’m glad I came along for the ride. Pitchers and catchers report in four months.