health care, religion, spiritual journey, Uncategorized

Spiritual Darwinism

Yellowstone Church

Yellowstone Lutheran Church

I remember church being something foisted upon us by our parents at the behest of Grandma Hanson, mostly so we would not later “burn in a lake of fire.”  Wow.  That sounds like a hateful way to go.  If all I have to do is attend church once a week on Sundays, then yeah, I would happily opt to avoid such a tragic and preventable end.  Of course, Grandma was talking about my spiritual self, not just my here-and-now mortal self. Perhaps she was a believer, perhaps she knew that this mortal life is but a precursor to an eternity with Jesus.  Mostly, I think she just wanted us children to stop cursing so much.  Ah, the sequelae of a mother who could swear to make a sailor blush.  Maybe Grandma believed that if we got a little Jesus on us that she could use shame effectively whenever we let loose on an expletive tirade.  Her strategy worked.

burn in lake of fire

Burning in a Lake of Fire

In my teen years I would take confirmation classes and be confirmed in that church.

Erik at confirmation age 14001

Confirmation at Yellowstone Lutheran, age 14

But so what?  Who wants to belong to a group of so-called Christians who would bad-mouth my father right within the church walls and in front of me?  Although my kin had been buried in that cemetery since Ole Elgstuen got off the boat from Norway 140+ years ago, I dismissed the current Yellowstone Church congregation as a bunch of pseudo-Christian occupiers.


The pseudo-religious

During my college years I was too busy defining and discovering myself, drinking beer and chasing girls to be concerned with eternity. My only religious experience to date was dealing with those sanctimonious, opinionated Lutherans back in Argyle.  I dated a troubled young lady from the Latter Day Saints when I was working in Payson, AZ.  I witnessed a LDS baptism and saw the outside of the Mormon Temple in Mesa, AZ.  I learned enough and witnessed enough to not want to drink that Kool-Aid.  Growing up excluded, I had learned to reflexively back away from any group, religious or not, that valued exclusivity above nearly all else.

exclusive club

Exclusive Club

A vast amount of time passed before I was married and ready to start a family.  Sara grew up Baptist and I grew up Lutheran so we sought a nice happy medium for a church, which we found in Community Heights Alliance Church in Newton, IA.  I got into church league softball and got to know our pastor a bit more.  We felt strongly that children need structure, the more of it the better, and without it…they begin to unravel.  Soon Sara and I realized that this was the ONE hour of each week that we could sit and hold hands and be just Erik and Sara–not “mom! dad! mom! dad! MOM! DAD!”  Simultaneously, I was growing closer to God, coming home.  I began to listen to pastor Cory’s sermons and take in the message, take it to heart. I began to pray, silently, in my bedroom, in my car.  I didn’t want things, material things from God.  I had a physician’s income as a nurse–I had all the things I wanted and needed. I wanted God’s love and guidance.  I wanted to feel Him with me, in my heart and mind.

presence of God

In God’s presence

In late March of 2008 I started to have chest pain–nothing terrible but nagging pain at the left sternal border. I decided to be seen in the ER and my cardiac enzyme troponin was slightly bumped and there were non-specific changes on my 12 lead ekg.  As soon as I mentioned that my father had an out-of-hospital arrest at age 39 (I was 41 at the time), they whisked me right to the heart catheterization lab.  I prayed.  I had conversations with God and felt his presence.  Many hours later Dr. Ianone, the cardiologist, was sitting in my room, post-cath, and explaining that my coronary vessels were “pristine.”  What had caused this then, I asked?  Likely it was a bout of pleurisy, he said.  It was an $18,000 day just to learn that I need to take motrin every six hours until the bottle was gone.

heart cath

Heart catheterization

Pastor Cory visited me at home in the days that followed this scare.  I remember his line of questioning growing too personal, too invasive for my comfort–and I told him so.  I explained that my relationship with God was mine.  It was personal, not to be questioned or dissected by any mortal being, pastor or not.  Honestly, I resented his intrusion.  I explained that I think of faith and religion like I do a tooth-brush.  My tooth-brush is mine, not yours and just like I expected pastor Cory not to use my toothbrush, nor would I ask to use his.  My tooth-brush works for me–it will not work for him or vice versa.


In October of 2012 Sara and I began scoping out Hidden Valley Community Church in Dodgeville, WI.  We made a plan to get in, get out, and leave no trace or identifying marks–just in case the church smacked of kookiness or our cult alarms went berserk.  We had just moved to rural Hollandale and were thrilled to find a church akin to CHAC in Newton. Never before had I felt so at ease.  We both took to HVCC quickly and easily.  By August of 2013, I was baptized in Cox Hollow Lake at Governor Dodge as Jesus had been by John the Baptist in the River Jordan.  I felt honored to be baptized as Jesus had been, rather than simply the sprinkle of water upon my forehead as a baby.

Baptism of Jesus

Jesus being baptized

There are many in the scientific community who believe that science and religion are mutually exclusive, that the two cannot be reconciled.  A truly inspiring book by Dr. Eben Alexander called Proof of Heaven addresses how scientific minds can also be believers, and shares this physicians’ spiritual journey through e. Coli meningitis back to good health as a neurologist. In the words of Dr. Alexander, “my experience showed me that the death of the body and the brain are not the end of consciousness, that human experience continues beyond the grave. More important, it continues under the gaze of a God who loves and cares for each one of us and about where the universe itself and all the beings within it are ultimately going” (Alexander, 2012).

Alexander, E. (2012). Proof of Heaven. New York: Simon and Schuster.

health care, higher education, medical school

“C” Equals MD, but “D” = Door

KU med

Certain jokes are thrown around in med school to help ease those things that you cannot control–like failing an exam that you studied so hard for.  “C” = MD is one such saying, and “what do they call the person who graduates lowest in his MD class?  Answer:  Doctor!”  In 2003, 15 physicians met in a little room and decided my fate in medical school. I was suspicious that they were heavily influenced by the Dean of Student Affairs–a tiny-handed, effeminate man who governed through the Marquis du Sade playbook.  Sometimes tiny gloves just mean tiny hands, but he seemed to have something to prove and worse, seemed to delight in student attrition from the program. It is not accurate to say that I failed med school. I failed one class–medical biochemistry! I missed a passing grade by 5 questions on the final.  My younger MD brother with a photographic memory would later say “had I failed one more question on my biochem final, I would have failed also.” His words meant to soothe, to ease the heartache, but I still felt hollow in the center of my chest. Heck, I still feel hollow in the center of my chest when I think of that terrible day now. Ten years later, I have a new wife, 3 sons by her, am back to being a nurse, have finished a 4.0 masters in health administration and have a perfect start in my doctorate of health care leadership and organizational behavior.  I will lead a health care organization soon. I haven’t had a grade other than an “A” in ten years–but then, nor have I had to endure a standardized multiple choice test either. I write my way to academic perfection lately.

newton house

In 2006, we bought a lovely home–a 1916 one and a half story arts & crafts style bungalow–in the original Maytag town of Newton, Iowa. How could we have known that Whirlpool would buy the plant and then shut it down when union bosses failed to concede $5 per employee, per paycheck, for their own health insurance coverage. 1,800 jobs soon left a town of 16,000 people. Then the house of cards that was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac collapsed, mere weeks after my wife and I bought our first ‘flip’ house. Our flip house was lovely when we were done and the Altoona, IA city council said that we single-handedly took the town’s most unsightly home and made it one of the most enviable. We spent $25,000 in 17 weeks and sold it for a loss of $7,400. At least we had our pride to hang our hats on–the house was gorgeous, sandstone vinyl siding with black and white trim.

altoona house

before pic of Altoona house

In 2010, Sara and I began to think our Newton IA home had been built upon an ancient burial ground–my job was changing and not for the better and Sara was silently enduring yet another miscarriage. The Wisconsin grass seemed greener, so we packed up and moved that May. I wanted to rent in a nearby small town, but Sara insisted our kids should play with my brother’s kids on the farm. “Hey–didn’t Adam once have a mobile home parked on the farm? Wouldn’t the septic and utilities still be in place?”

a cabin

the “cabin”

 Although the impetus for the move was to escape the heartache of Newton, the prospect of a job put the move in motion. I quickly got a lesson in how poisonous some healthcare organizations could be. I was given an opportunity to bail and I did. Debt deepened. The ‘cabin’ as we not-so-affectionately referred to it was overrun by mice and even a floor-breaching “ugly cat” or o’possum. The fiberboard floor would become wet, sag, and then put life and limb in jeopardy until I fixed it. What a hateful chore that was! The pipes froze in the winter, often, and I actually set a mouse trap once and before I was out of the tiny bedroom–it snapped with a freshly-dead mouse in it! Meanwhile, it seemed that our professional indoor paint job in the Newton home did little to bait any prospective buyers. We let an associate pastor and his new wife stay there for $1 a month–just to have the utilities paid, the grass mowed, or the sidewalks shoveled. Then a land-contract buyer sought us out, a hard-luck story ensued, and we were hooked. Hey–at least I would not be hemorrhaging around $1500 per month any longer.

academic failure

In 2004, still reeling from the sting of a failed run at med school, I started down the nurse practitioner tract through the University of South Alabama.  Although my first course, pathophysiology, was an “A,” my next term included a course in nursing theory.  While I love being a nurse and the life it has given me, I loathe nursing theory.  It is an entire ‘language’ thought up by nursing academia to justify their own existence.  The argument is that nursing theory promotes the professionalism of nursing. What hogwash! I am of the opinion that this nonsense denigrates the profession. I submitted my first work for the nursing theory course and was graded 3 out of the 15 possible points.  Wow.  Here I am in a sham course, then draw an instructor who thinks she is God’s gift to technical writing…she would not budge.  I lodged a formal complaint with the university and withdrew from the program. Note to self: be something more than lukewarm about a career path before starting in that direction again.

academic success

In the summer of 2010, Sara and I and two boys were living on Adam’s farm when it was as though a switch was flipped on.  I wanted to return to school, earn my masters, and ascend the health care hierarchy.  A career nurse, I feared my knees or my back would fail me and I had better have something else to fall back on.  I looked into A.T. Still University, home of the original doctor of osteopathy program–the same program my maternal great-grandfather Franklin VanNess De Vinney graduated from in 1917.  Great grandpa De Vinney was the first physician in our family, either on mom or dad’s side.  Although A.T. Still had been weakened by a stroke in 1914, I often wonder if my great-grandfather knew the founder of the American School of Osteopathy, as it was known then.

early doctor]

I started my masters in July of 2010 with one class called U.S. Healthcare Systems.  I realized the pace was fine and thought I would be able to handle more, so I doubled up the next term.  I spanked those two courses as handily as I had the first one.  At last, I was on the right track.  Two years and one month after starting, I stood on stage in Kirksville, MO with Upsilon Phi Delta honors after earning a 4.0 Master’s in Health Administration! My wife and sons where there to witness my achievement. I remember thinking that this is how a bride must feel on her wedding day, except I was prancing around campus sporting a mortar board with my gown.  Oh, the irony, this juxtaposed with the crash-and-burn at KU.  What a tragedy that I chose that wretched, unfriendly place to attempt an MD.

Masters ceremony ATSU

ATSU Master’s Ceremony
Me, bottom right

I have roughly completed my first year of three in the doctorate in health sciences program with an emphasis in leadership and organizational behavior.  When I am done, I will be primed to head a healthcare organization.  As an ATSU alum I drew a 20% tuition discount for my doctorate whereas the U. of Phoenix wanted to charge nearly $60,000 for the doctorate in health administration.  I will pay $26,000 for this degree and with my work subsidizing the degree, the net cost to me will be a paltry $14,000! I remember drawing all kinds of criticism when I was starting medical school about how costly the tuition would be.  Usually this was mentioned by folks who hadn’t bothered to go to college at all–a point that really had me scratching my head.  Had I stayed in Argyle, WI and recycled automobile parts for the remainder of my life at $8 per hour–how expensive would that ignorance have been? Imagine the income lost, had I stayed, and compare that to the career I have provided myself and my family. Ignorance may be bliss, but it is far more expensive than a good education!

cost of ignorance

Feed My Starving Children, higher education, hunger

18 Years of Hunger

     oxygen tent

     My earliest memory was of waking up in an oxygen tent in a La Crosse, WI hospital recovering from pneumonia at age 4. A buxom blonde nurse lifted me from my crib and held me up to the 2nd floor window just as my parents were walking in, my dad holding up a football that was meant as a gift for me. What did I know about a football, except that it obviously meant something to him? We seemed to do okay then, financially, but those times were brief. Dad moved our family to Omaha in 1972 and was to take the place of a Blue Cross and Blue Shield executive who was taking an early retirement. However, when we arrived in Omaha with all of our earthly possessions, that executive opted to not leave the company after all. Dad, being dad, told the BC & BS folks were to put his promotion and so they did.

willie lowman

Dad preferred to bounce from sales job to sales job for the next 7 years, in spite of the growing family. Before long there were nine children, 9 mouths to feed, and seemingly…not much in way of thought as to how these mouths would be fed. Welfare and food stamps helped round off the rough corners of the “Doug H” world, along with an occasional USDA box of gubment cheese, powdered eggs and milk, and canned green beans. Mom could be cunning like a fox, and soon devised a plan to send her sullen, failure-to-thrive oldest children out to apartment buildings and bars to collect change for charities like the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation and Easter Seals. Those charities would never see a dime of that money. The first portion came off the top to buy dad’s cherry-flavored Borkum-Riff pipe tobacco and then mom’s candles and incense to do her black magic witchcraft rituals with. Then, we could buy food for the family with the remainder of the change. How we managed to never be molested or taken is beyond me. Hans was 11, I was 9, Thurston was 7. We made the rounds, the two or three of us, sans parent.

begging child

Mom and dad didn’t like to pay their rent very much, so we had the opportunity to move a lot.  I hated moving because it would mean a new school, often in the middle of the school year.  Neither parent seemed to mind subjecting us children to that.  Dad had an out-of-hospital arrest in February, 1978, at age 39.  Dad weighed 315 lbs then, on a 5′ 11″ frame and was a 2-pack per day smoker, plus the pipe.  Omaha had a big snowfall that day and dad managed to get the car stuck in a snow bank and had to shovel himself out of it.  He later ran out of gas and had to walk 8 blocks (something he was not accustomed to doing) to get more gas.  He was selling Rainbow vacuum cleaners at the time, considered the Ferrari of vacuums then, due to their price tag and ability to clean carpets.

Rainbow vacuum

As mom and dad would later tell, dad left a meeting at the office about 6 p.m. but announced to his parting co-workers that he had forgotten his briefcase and returned to the office.  Dad no sooner reached the back of the office when he collapsed.  God was watching over this man with nine children at home and a wife with no means of providing for them because another salesman, a recent Vietnam Vet and medic, also returned to the office mere moments after Dad, found him down, and began CPR!  What are the odds, circa 1978, that this impossible scenario of events would play out this way?  Dad’s office happened to be 2 blocks from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The movie “Beyond and Back” was in the theater in the months after dad’s near-death experience and dad told me in detail about how he watched CPR being done on him by his co-worker while looking down from above.

out of body experience

If it weren’t for the kindness of church elders, our Wisconsin family, and complete strangers, we likely would have starved to death. I remember going to bed hungry for 18 years, except this improved once we moved closer to our WI family in 1979.  Funny term–“failure to thrive”–we were thriving just fine.  The alternative was dying, and as long as we weren’t dying of starvation we were thriving.

Today I am a masters-educated RN, working on my doctorate in health care leadership and organizational behavior, and my wife and 3 sons spent yesterday and today making 5 baked goods & treats to raise money for Feed My Starving Children at our church.  My sons will never know the lean times I did growing up, and for that I am most grateful and blessed.

divorce, higher education, medical school

The Practice Wife


Reading the F seeking M ads one day, I came across an ad by a 6th grade social studies teacher who had placed an ad on a dare. The ad made her seem normal enough. Returning to Johnson County Community College for afternoon classes, I couldn’t shake the words from that ad out of my mind. When I returned home that evening, I began drafting my response. I was in nursing administration at a local hospital, looking for a life partner who also liked to breathe, drink water, et cetera, etc. Soon we were seeing other daily, cohabiting in the 1950’s style by maintaining two separate residences.


Although I had always enjoyed running, Michelle soon showed me how to train for and complete a marathon. In return, I taught her how to ski and we skied in 6 countries. Our true passion, however, was making a fine art of getting into medical school. Almost two years after we met, she would have a seat in the Des Moines University class of 2005. I had been unconditionally accepted at the allopathic (MD) program at Kansas University on February 8th of 2001 and Michelle and I were notified by phone from DMU on February 22nd, 2001 that we were both accepted to DMU’s osteopathic program. But…I already had the golden ticket! I had been trying to gain a seat in KU’s program for 4 years, then suddenly I had one.

downhill skier

No way was I not going to be an MD like my little brother. Soon I was waiting for Michelle to be woman enough to say “you are my husband, we both have a ticket to DMU–you belong with me in Des Moines.” She was waiting for me to man up and do the right thing by joining her at DMU. We failed each other…and convinced ourselves that we could keep our marriage strong and study together on the weekends. How could I have known then that I married a woman like my mother’s mother La Verne–a social climber who would inevitably reject me when I got the boot from KU’s program and therefore would not become a physician?  I had been an RN for five years at KU–I knew it was a poisonous, unfriendly campus–but I wanted the MD degree anyway.  It makes me sick to my stomach to think that I missed some little cue that would have told me who she was and who she turned out to be.

Des Moines U

Michelle and I had fun.  We danced, ran, skied, and enjoyed being young and having too much money.  But that was all just a stage, a practice run at the institution that is marriage.  Michelle bailed on our marriage the moment the fun and easy part was over.  At that time of my life I was working in Des Moines on the weekends, staying at the Holiday Inn between shifts, and then returning to our marital home in eastern Iowa three hours away.  Lesson number one for thick-headed Norsemen: don’t choose a different medical school to attend than your young wife, 3 hours away.  Lesson number two for thick-headed Norsemen: don’t gut an entire home and then start the renovation over from that point–covering and uncovering the marital bed each day is a great way not to stress a marriage.  I was an idiot, and worse, I had invested in the wrong woman.

money pit      One September day in 2004, I returned home in eastern Iowa from my brother’s farm in SW Wisconsin to a manila envelope from Michelle.  She had moved out three weeks earlier and had sent me the divorce papers with a note asking me to attend to this because her clinicals demanded her time each day during normal business hours. I made a list of 12 errands to run that day, the last being to remove Michelle from my life insurance as the benefactor–keeping her in that position no longer seemed prudent.  I was standing in the doorway of the State Farm office in Maquoketa, IA making an off-handed remark to the secretary about going through a divorce when a young couple with a small child came through the door. I remarked what a big, beautiful girl she was and her father replied “yeah, you’d never know she got the start in life that she had.”  Sensing he was wanting to talk more about this, I took the bait.  We got started talking about little Lucy and Tetrology of Fallot, when her mother remarked about my ‘divorce’ comment.


“So, you’re going through a divorce, Eh? Well, I just happen to have this sister…” I cut her off.  “No, you don’t understand–I just came from the judge’s office right before coming here.  I am in NO WAY ready for this!” I protested.  Amy would not back down.  “Oh, she’s a good cook, she’s tall, comes from a good family.”  State Farm closed and pushed us out onto the sidewalk where Amy continued planning my future.  It was a heated election year and I knew 2/3rds of the registered voters in the county drank the blue Kool-Aid.  “Well, I am a Republican.  A staunch conservative, to be even more precise!”  I bellowed, hoping she would give up and walk away in disgust.  Instead, Amy’s face lit up and said “Well, so are we!  I mean, so is she!”  “Ah, crap” I thought.  Finally Amy added “wouldn’t it be nice at the end of a long day of renovating that old house if you had a friend in this area to go see a movie with?”  Bam.  She had me.  I was mighty lonely, reeling from the biggest, most personal type of rejection a human being can suffer.  “Okay, when do you plan to talk with her next?”  Amy, being Amy, said “oh, I’m gonna step around the corner and call her right now!” Many months later Sara would enlighten me to the real content of that conversation: Amy called Sara and said “I just met the father of your children.  Don’t eff this up!”

first date 2

The amazing part of this exchange is that after only about forty minutes of talking to me, Amy could discern that I was a suitable mate for her older sister.  Not just a suitable mate, but a life partner.  Wow.  That still makes me shake my head in wonder.  Later that same night I had three hours of windshield time with which to call Sara.  Although it started on an awkward note (Hi, I’m Erik–some random dude your sis was totally crunching on for you earlier at the State Farm), soon each of us loosened up and we arranged to talk again on the phone Saturday morning, Sunday, and then even Monday evening when I picked up an extra shift due to an ill call.  By the time I ever laid eyes on her, Sara and I had spent about 8 hours talking on the phone, sharing values, dreams, hopes, desires.  We agreed to meet in Davenport at the Border’s bookstore on 53rd at 5:30 p.m, 9/24/2004.  I was perusing Ann Coulter’s new book Treason when a tall drink of water with short brown hair and brown eyes came up to me and softly said “Erik?”  She bought my coffee, she insisted, because she didn’t want to feel ‘beholden’ to me at the end of the evening. I sat there, enjoying adult conversation with a kind woman with big, soulful brown eyes. It was great to not be so lonely, if only for a little while.  There were a handful of patrons sitting there when we sat down.  Three solid hours later, deep in conversation, we looked up and noticed older women quilting at every single table–as if a flash quilting mob had enveloped us.  We chuckled in wonderment at where they all had come from, us so completely unaware.

quilting bee


Light Years of Evolution–From One Hunt!

majestic buck
Looking back, I don’t know what first possessed me to try my hand at bowhunting.  At that time my dad did not hunt, nor did my uncles or anyone else close to me, but I picked up a compound bow and decided to learn a lot of things by trial and error.  The first deer I ever took was a forked buck that I took in 1983 with a 17 yard shot to the aorta as he was on the trail of a hot doe.  I knew to draw the arrow back when his eyes were obscured behind a large oak tree, then wait for him to step out.  He ran 80 yards before finally falling.  I remember feeling a cacophony of emotion, including elation but also a sense of remorse, thinking “who the heck am I to take the life of this beautiful creature?”  The best way to honor my first deer was to make sure he went to good use providing nourishment to our family.  A few of my eight siblings ate venison along with me, but the rest preferred the no-kill type of red meat, neatly packaged under cellophane wrappers at the local grocer.  Since that first buck, I have taken about 100 more in the last 24 years of deer hunting.  Always a meat hunter first, I have only one trophy on the wall–a 153-class 9-pointer with a 22″ spread and main beams that are the circumference of my wrists.
forked buck forked buck
      There are hunters out there who are better shots than I am and certainly there are those who spend a great deal more on their equipment. Two Christmases ago, my wife gave me a new deer rifle, a 7 mm Rem. Mag with a 3 x 9 scope mounted upon it.  It came in camo paint and I added a manly leather strap for a sling.  The rifle makes the hunter, I am telling you.  The first season I used it, I had only 3 opportunities on 3 does and took all three.  This past season I had seven opportunities and 7 fewer white-tailed deer graced my brother’s farm when I was done shooting, including one 8-pt buck trying to sneak along the fence line at 130 yards out.  I gave the rifle most of the credit for a super season.  Add in the 8-pt buck I took November 8th with my bow at 20 yards and I had my best season to date.  Yes, our party had that many tags.  Between us, we likely had 40-60 tags because our hunt falls in a Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) zone.  The party put 14 deer on the ground, not bad for 10 grunts in the Orange Army.
CWD deerCWD-affected deer
     Years ago we were stand hunters who hardly knew what to do with ourselves after being on opening morning stand.  We would linger back at the house, enjoying good food, libations, and fellowship. Then a random event changed all of that and our party evolved by light years.  One day about 14 years ago I was visiting my grandma Dorothy in Argyle, WI, up from my work as a House Supervisor at Kansas University Hospital.  I was sitting there one October afternoon, drinking in the quiet time in grandma’s living room as she drifted in and out of her afternoon nap on the davenport.  Uncle Sam came home and soon shook his finger in my direction and said “hey–whatcha doin’ right now?”  When I replied “nothing” he suggested that I take my bow and we would drive up to his 185 acres of woods where he would then attempt to ‘drive’ deer toward me by walking through his woods and chase them out the other end, toward me.  Clearly Sam did not understand deer, or deer hunting and how it is done.  The odds that I would get a deer with this proposed method approached the same odds of me bagging a deer by continuing to hold down the other end of the davenport in place with my rump.  However, touched that he cared about my hobby enough to do this for me I decided that it would be gauche to refuse his offer.
IMGP2635 Skyline Camo
     We drove to his acreage about 8 miles out of town and reviewed our plan.  I donned some of the most effective head-to-toe camo money can buy called Skyline Camo, developed by a hunter in New York state.  I picked a brushy ravine opposite of where Sam would start his deer drive and in the direction the deer would want to go, given the wind direction.  I made a point of asking him to wait 10 minutes before starting so I could be in position.  I had not been there very long at all, fumbling to get an arrow knocked when two does shot past me about 20 yards away, going at the speed of light.  I quickly finished readying myself and knocked an arrow, still in awe of the speed of those does.  Moments later four more does came tearing out of the woods on nearly the same path as those first two.  Until this moment I had never in my life attempted a shot of any kind at a moving animal.  I had never even considered it.  In an instant and in one fluid movement I swung my York bow up and sighted down the shaft of the arrow at the last of the four deer–a big doe.  As if I had done it all my life, I swung the arrow with her as she streaked in an arc about 20 yards from me, the tip of my broadhead pointed just behind her front leg, halfway between her back and her belly. At 225 feet per second–“thwunk!” the arrow reported, as I watched it disappear inside her–right where I had aimed it!  I was astonished that I took that shot–I don’t know what had come over me.  I was ashamed that I pulled back on a running animal–especially with a bow!  Yet I was simultaneously stunned and thrilled, knowing I would find her dead further down the ravine a few minutes later.  I swung back around and knocked another arrow in time to see two more does run out 50 yards away along the fence line, also going at Mach 7. I felt like an indian brave on horseback, arrowing a buffalo.
indian brave on horseback
     Uncle Sam emerged from the woods about 10 minutes later and said “see anything?”  “See anything?!” I shrieked excitedly.  “I saw eight deer run out of there like their tails were on fire and we’ll find one very large doe about 100 yards from here, lying dead further down the ravine!”  “No kidding?” Sam said, incredulously.  I replayed the last fifteen minutes for him, including how he started in too quickly and I wasn’t ready for the first two deer that ran out.  Then I thanked him profusely for what instantly became my most favorite, and most improbable hunt ever. When asked what he was doing while walking through the woods that startled the deer so effectively, he shrugged his shoulders and said he was listening to the Badgers football game, shaking a pebble in a can, and from time to time would stop and clap his hands real loudly. I tried to picture Uncle Sam, his six-foot-two frame, ruggedly handsome like Jed Clampett, portable radio laced around his neck with twine and britches held up the same way, an old PBR can pinched between his knees while he stopped to clap like a lunatic in the woods every few minutes.
Jed Clampett
     I recounted this story to my brother, my hunting buddies, and anyone else who would listen.  They most likely thought I was Loony Tunes, or exaggerating, but it really happened this way.  I implored that we needed to change our way of thinking about deer hunting.  We started shooting clay pigeons, not just because it is intense fun to turn the blaze orange clays into a cloud of gray dust, but also to train our hand-eye coordination on finding a target quickly and delivering a fatal blow.  All these years later, our group is some of the area’s finest sharpshooters, unafraid to knock them off their feet when they are running full bore.  My niece Sonja even tagged a running 8-pointer at 200 yards two seasons ago!  Some in the group have delivered a single, fatal shot to a running animal 300 yards out.  We began to study our ballistics, learning the muzzle energy and the energy remaining in the round out to 300 yards, the trajectory of the round, as well as the known minimum 900 foot-lbs of energy needed for a lethal shot on a grown white-tailed deer. By understanding the science that accompanies our passion, we have evolved as deer hunters to the point where our fun and our success is optimized.
Sonja and her buckNiece Sonja with her buck
     My wife gets me.  Sara understands all of this, it’s importance to me, and my drive to instill this in our sons. When we met, I wanted to say one sentence that would help her understand who I am.  I said “for me, there are two times of the year: 1) deer season; and 2) all the rest of the year that I am looking forward to it! Deer season IS my Christmas.”
Eriks trophy001my only trophy
health care

A Life Time of Serving

Argyle, WI

During my high school years, I kept busy by bagging groceries at the local Rossing’s Fine Foods. My boss was a grumpy old fellow of few words who was as fiscally tight as the bark on a tree. I was paid a whopping $2.90 per hour (less than the minimum wage of $3.25/hr then) to bag groceries, stock shelves, and listen to the endless wit and banter of our 80-something year-old cashier, Hazel.  She knew every soul in town and the surrounding area, never missing an opportunity to subject a stranger to 20 questions if she did not recognize them.  Ruth was another cashier, a pleasant, portly woman who talked ad nauseum about her husband and children.  At least Hazel’s monologue was interesting.  The accountant for the grocer was a woman named Russie, a vibrant, passionate woman who also helped run a 90-head dairy farm nearby.  It was at Rossing’s where I came to know Russie and would later be asked to help out on the dairy farm, doing chores, cleaning calf pens, assisting with milking, taking pickup loads to the on-site dump, and mowing hay in the summer.  Many hours were passed pitching forkfuls of matted calf scours and straw into a manure spreader while listening to the Doors, the Rolling Stones, Kansas and other bands of that era.  Paint it, paint it, paint it black! One day my older brother and I were riding back into town with Russie, listening to the radio, when I started unwittingly bellowing “I want you to want me, I need you to need me.” My brother was embarrassed for me, he would later mention. During our junior year of high school, I asked Russie’s daughter Amy (also from the class of 1985) to homecoming court when our class elected me to the role of Duke.

Duke Erik and Duchess Amy

Amy, the duchess, would many years later be know as “The Noah Whisperer” by my wife when Amy was able to get our oldest son interested in school in a way that no one else had been able to get through to him.

The Noah Whisperer

The Noah Whisperer: Amy & Noah (right)

     Had someone told me the day I graduated high school that I would spend my entire adult life in health care, serving others, I just would not have believed it.  On the spectrum from Selfish to Selfless, I was busy high-fiving Selfish while preening in the mirror with my free hand. After a seasonal stint at UPS as a sorter/preloader in Dodgeville, WI, I beat out 35 other guys for a $3.50/hr job as a psychiatric aide at the Garden Court Group Home in rural Lancaster, WI.  I was a criminal justice major at the UW-Platteville, with an eye on joining the FBI upon graduation.  After a year of A’s and B’s at Platteville, I became restless about being on the right path for me.  A chance meeting with my second cousin Rosann during her mother’s funeral in Argyle, WI, had me head out to Phoenix in April of 1987 to explore ASU and find a job.  After a month of floundering and becoming more homesick, I returned to WI for the summer.  My official move to Phoenix came in August of 1987, just as my next younger brother was graduating from Marine Corps boot camp.


     Cousin Rosann suggested nursing as my new major since ASU’s criminal justice program seemed poorly developed.  I wrinkled my nose at that prospect since I was heterosexual, but Rosann reassured me that the notion was part of an old stereotype.  How else would I turn a four-year degree into a paycheck to afford graduate school?  I can be won over with logic, so I looked into the BSN program and my path was set. My first semester at ASU was spent being homesick and distracting myself with endless games of pool.  Did you know it is possible to get a 1.0 GPA and remain in college? After another bump in the road by the name of Marie Eicher, a Nurse Rachett type of an instructor who was all about squelching the dreams of young people, I was soon petitioning the Standards Committee for additional semesters in adult ICU, pediatric ICU, and Neonatal ICU.  I finished with the last four semesters on the Dean’s List and graduated with Sigma Theta Tau honors (the international nursing honor society) and the ropes over my shoulders to prove it.


     After sixteen years in intensive care nursing, I dabbled in the float pool caring for medical-surgical patients and came to know I really wanted to be in the emergency room, where all the action is.  Through the years, I had volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House in Phoenix, Special Olympics in Missouri, and for the church elderly.  One day in April, 2013 an opportunity came up to go to Haiti with a medical mission with a group called Schools4Haiti, started by an older gentleman named Len Demert from Cassville, WI.  Len had recently passed, but his daughters eagerly took up his cause in Haiti.  I found his daughter Penny easy to like and she and her sisters had been to Haiti enough to know how to navigate the country safely while still meeting the needs of the children in the orphanages.

Schools4Haiti Schools4Haiti

     I suppose we all have our biases and mine tend toward lazy people and smoking, but hating someone for their skin color has always seemed simply stupid to me. I was called “ghost,” “whitey,” and “Casper” when I was young, to which I would reply “I am Norse–I’m supposed to be this color!”  Obviously, if I had any hang-ups about skin color, I would not immerse myself in Haiti.  Before I ever traveled to New York City for the first time, the best piece of advice I got was “just get used to streams and streams of people on the street–no matter what time of day it is.”  This advice also came to mind when I landed at Port au Prince. My brother, an ER doc, came along on the trip and we saw hundreds of orphans and members of the community on four separate days at four different locations. Some treated our arrival like a social event, eager to put on their Sunday best to meet the American team of nurses and doctors.

Haiti missionaries

Haitian missionaries @ New Life International, Mirebalais

me (far left) & brother Adam (far right)

The pastor of my church is fond of saying that the only things you take with you to heaven is those which you have given away.  While I absolutely love foreign travel for it’s ability to expand my horizons, in one hundred years absolutely no one will know that Haiti was my 19th country I have visited since pulling away from my provincial roots. If my kin remember one thing about me a century from now, I hope it is that I was of a giving heart, always eager to help those who need it most.

bad date

The Bigger Purse

I don’t know what I would have done right after high school if I hadn’t gone to college.  I was too hot-headed to go into the military back then and would have laid out the drill instructor breaking me down to build me back up (or died trying).  But I wasn’t ready to be in college right away.  I had a less-than-desirable childhood and little of it prepared me for being on my own.  Don’t misunderstand, I was ready to have a different identity, rather than the moniker placed upon me by my Argyle peers “Doug-Hanson-the-welfare-man’s-son.”  Crippled from years of emotional and mental abuse by parents and my peers, I was woefully shy as a young man first out on his own.  Looking back, I was actually handsome and very well built due to years of body-building.

muscle Erik002

I attended UW-Platteville for my first year of college as a criminal justice major, my eye on becoming an FBI agent.  Before long I realized that career was incompatible with a stable family life, the only thing I wanted as much as being a college graduate.  I grew restless in Wisconsin and packed my Renault Alliance with all my earthly possessions and Dad, and made the trek to Arizona.  A few years later I was the Manzanita Hall Council President at Arizona State, an older student among the teens and early twenty-somethings.  Heads full of ham surrounded me.  One older gal stood out, not just because she was more mature, like me, but because of her blue eyes and long, wavy dark hair.  In the elevator one day, I finally summoned the courage to ask her out on a date.  “Hi, I’m Erik.  How would you like to go for some Thai food and see Isaac Stern at the Gammage Auditorium?”  To my delight, she smiled and said yes, then scrawled her phone number on a torn off piece of paper.

blue eyed brunette

On a Wednesday night, I picked her up in my brother’s program car from work, a Pontiac Grand Prix.  I took Buffy to the Pink Pepper, a more classy Thai restaurant with white tablecloths and fine crystal.  The food was to die for–very exotic and yummy!  I was stoked.  I had a very attractive woman on my arm and a world renowned violinist to top the evening off.  I held the door for my date as we entered the Pink Pepper and the hostess soon led us to our table.  As Buffy looked around the establishment, I could tell that she had not been there before.  She seemed pleased, but slightly uncomfortable.  The moment the hostess walked away, Buffy said “Just look at that crystal!  I wish I had brought my bigger purse!”  I waited for her to laugh, or make any indication that this was just a really bad joke.  Nope, no such luck.  My heart sank.  I thought “oh, a classy dame!”

classy dame

I don’t have a poker face.  It must have shown how truly disappointed I was in her and that comment.  I don’t remember anything she said after that.  When dinner came, I gobbled it up like a cowboy at the evening campfire.  Manners be damned–there was no one to impress here.  My quietness must have been disconcerting to her because half-way back to the Gammage Auditorium, Buffy or Tiffany or Bunny or whatever-her-name was, suddenly remembered that she had to study for her history mid-term that was tomorrow…on a Thursday!  What BS!  I happily drove her white trash buns back to the loop drive in front of Manzanita Hall, made a point of remaining silent as she got out, and then peeled away.

I was 23, handsome, had a nice ride, and had two tickets to a show that would be like no other.  I called up a few different friends, but all had something going on and could not join me for the show.  So I went to see Isaac Stern, front and center, all by myself–except for the few thousand other strangers who filled the seats at Gammage.  What a show it was!

health care

So, you’re a male nurse?


I work in a busy emergency room in a mid-sized city in the Midwest. We see approximately 50,000 patients per year between our ER and our free-standing ER in an adjacent community, our lil’ sister ER. From a numbers-crunching standpoint, ERs don’t really make money–they are the “loss-leaders” for the organization. In short, if we call ourselves a hospital, we have to have an ER. This is how and why I became a nurse: I had been a criminal justice major at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville my first year of college, headed down the path to becoming a G man.

FBI agent

Looking back, UW-Platteville was a fine place to earn my first degree, but wanderlust set in. By chance, I met my cousin Rosann in my home town in December, 1986 at her mother’s funeral. She invited me to come visit her in Tempe, Arizona where she lived and practiced law. We were having dinner one day in Mesa, AZ at TGIFriday’s and she asked me what I would be majoring in at ASU. I replied that ASU’s criminal justice program was not well-developed so I thought I would major in business, for lack of a better plan. Rosann knew I wanted to go to grad school some day so she suggested I look into the nursing program. I wrinkled my nose, confused, since I was a male…after all. Rosann, a master reader of non-verbal cues, said “oh, those are old stereotypes! Besides, how else do you plan to pay for graduate school?” I can be won over with logic, so I checked into nursing program at ASU and set a new course.

Man enough

I floundered at first, even had one wretched bitty tell me that I was not fit for nursing (who squelches the dreams of the young and boundless)? I petitioned the Standards Committee to take an additional independent study in adult critical care and pediatric critical care and chose the neonatal ICU for my leadership and management rotation. I went right into the pediatric ICU in Phoenix upon graduating in 1994. Since then I have cared for a hemicorpectomy patient (cut in half), post-op Norwood procedure babies born with non-functioning left ventricles, meth lab ‘victims’ with 90% burns, and gunshot victims.

sick picu babe

How many hands have I held while another soul breathed his final breath and no one else was there to comfort him?

soul leaving body

I have spent the majority of my time in the intensive care setting while dabbling in leadership roles along the way. I have held the title of Nursing Administrative Coordinator, Charge Nurse, Preceptor, Unit Coordinator, and Assistant Nurse Manager.
Most people don’t make much of an issue of me being a nurse and a male. The Neanderthals who do cause the soundtrack from “Deliverance” to play in my mind…with a banjo accompaniment.

john voigt deliverance

When elderly ladies coo over me being a “male nurse” it causes a moment of wonderment while I ponder what part of me exactly looks feminine (I resemble a balding, blonde, grizzled polar bear with a nice smile). To me, the ‘male’ is obvious.
Nursing is not the underpaid profession it once was, unless you practice in Guam or Iowa…or in a clinic setting. In Madison, WI, new grads start at around $32 per hour. Some handily make a six figure salary as a nurse, working full time. I happen to be the type of person who does not need accolades from on high–my reward is the work itself. My work earns me a first-hand look at my fellow man at his best, at his worst, and all shades of gray in between.

male nurse

I get a front-row seat to witness the human condition. To me, at this point in my career, it does not matter that I happen to be male–choosing a career in nursing remains the single best decision I have ever made.