Complimentary Detour from Normal Audiobook!

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If you would like a complimentary copy of the new Detour from Normal audiobook narrated by the talented Michael Rubino, contact me via the Contact page of this website and I will send you a redemption code for Audible.com and instructions on how to download it with no strings attached! Only 25 copies available, so act fast before they are all gone!

“Scary, life-changing and inspiring!”

“Powerful and gripping.”

“A story you will want to share with the people you know and love.”

 

 

The Three-letter Word That I Will Never Forget

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Years ago, after an unexpected surgery, I became manic. At the peak of mania I experienced life like a child living it for the first time.  Back then, I frequently felt goosebumps, chills and wonder despite the fact that I was confined in a high-security psych ward.

Eventually, court-ordered medication “cured” me by thrusting me into an emotionally flat state I referred to as “the verge of tears.” Under the drug’s influence, my world lost its former vibrancy. Adrift and dispirited, I longed to feel goosebumps, chills and wonder once more.

Desperate to escape my passionless prison, I sought passage back to those manic pleasures. I read books, watched videos and browsed the internet to find a pathway. Was it the touch of God? A spiritual awakening? What contemplative sages had sought for millennia? Months passed without an answer and I eventually accepted my numb life—until my heart began to fail.

Without warning, I found myself in an ambulance with sirens wailing and lights flashing rushing toward an emergency room. Upon arrival, the medical staff whisked me away as if I were at death’s door. Tests revealed that my heart rate was a mere thirty beats per minute—when it beat at all. In no time, a doctor delivered the diagnosis: the atrium of my heart had ceased functioning.

With defibrillator pads affixed to my chest and side and a plethora of electrodes tethered to the lifesaving equipment surrounding me, I gravely awaited the root cause. When the answer came, I was not surprised: the medication I had grown to hate was killing me. A cardiologist abruptly discontinued it and admitted me to a telemetry ward where nurses monitored me for three days while my body detoxified.

Once freed of the medication, my mind soared once more and I relived the feelings I had so obsessively sought. I told no one for fear of being committed again or forced to endure yet another poison. When I finally stabilized, I described my temporary ecstasy to my wife as “a state of grace.”

No longer numbed by drugs, I subsequently felt the feelings regularly. As I basked in their glory, I wondered: could meditation take me increasingly heavenward? Or would I, like countless addicts, wind up chasing an unsustainable high? Reluctantly, I eschewed temptation.

Over time, I noticed what triggered them: seeing a beautiful photograph; reading a moving story; watching an inspiring movie; riding a motorcycle through snow-capped mountains; standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon; witnessing the splendor of the Taj Mahal.

Recently, I read an article in which people described similar feelings: being unaware of day-to-day worries; a deepening of the senses; a feeling of oneness with life; goosebumps; chills; tears of joy… The word that they universally used to describe their experiences jumped from the page and I knew that my search was over. I could not believe that three simple letters could embody what I felt: awe.

Is Time the Greatest Healer?

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As I dressed for work on the morning of June 2, 2016, my wife, Beth, informed me that she had awoken earlier with a severe migraine. A morning swim, breakfast, and medication failed to give relief, so she returned to bed to sleep it off. At 9:45 a.m., she telephoned me at work with news that she could barely move her right arm or open her right eye. I rushed home immediately.

As I drove her to the emergency room, I dreaded what awaited us. Our experiences with hospitals were often disheartening and in some cases appalling. By the time we arrived, paralysis had spread to her right leg and she could not walk without help. I wrapped my arm around her waist and together, we hobbled into the emergency room.

Accustomed to six-hour waits in emergency rooms, my discomfort diminished when I noticed a sign that said, “Skip the Wait.” An attendant pushing a wheelchair hurried in our direction. We moved aside assuming that she intended to aid someone else. She surprised us by stopping beside Beth, then lowered an arm on one side of the wheelchair and helped her into it. In no time, we were in a treatment room and no one had even asked for ID or proof of insurance. Apparently, they had figured out that in emergencies, people skip reading the forms and go right to signing at the X.

As specialists conducted neurological evaluations, CT scans, x-rays, EKGs and recorded vital signs, I could not help but marvel at how courteous, compassionate and informative everyone was. A screen saver on a nearby computer monitor gave a clue about why. Every twenty seconds a new slide touted the benefits of Humankindness. I noticed that the term was trademarked.

I wrote my first book, Detour from Normal, to expose the horrifying practices of some of the facilities who admitted me to during my ordeal and press for better patient treatment. A sizable portion of Part 4 implores medical and mental health professionals to make reforms and includes the following statements.

 “View each patient as your spouse, mother, father, or sibling and ask yourself what course of action you would take if that were the case.”

“If you really want to help patients, you have to interact with them on a personal level.”

“We are people just like you, and you can make such a difference in our lives by getting to know us and accepting us in our compromised state.”

“I especially hope that this information will lead to more effective treatment and compassionate care by medical and mental health professionals.”

Now, I was seeing my vision in action. Medical professionals bent over backwards to make sure that we weren’t afraid and understood all of our options, detailing the benefits and side effects of medications and giving us informed choices for Beth’s treatment plan. Throughout the day, the kind treatment continued. A chaplain even offered to contact our church and put in a prayer request.

While Beth underwent a contrast CT scan, I grabbed a hasty lunch at the café near the emergency room, appropriately named Café Kindness. While eating, I wondered if by chance some of the nearly 50,000 copies of Detour from Normal in circulation had made it to key administrators and sparked a revolution in hospital culture. Perhaps I really had made a difference in patient treatment after all.

In any case, the experience moved me to tears. It thrilled me for Beth’s sake that things had turned around, but I wished that it had been like this for me back in 2011 during my ordeal. It would have saved me years of piecing my life back together. On the other hand, perhaps my struggle and determination to write about it was necessary to open eyes and find a better way.

Whether that is true or not, I am optimistic that I each of us can have an impact. If you know any medical or mental health professionals, please recommend Detour from Normal to them and continue to spread the word. In a huge and growing number of Amazon reader reviews the message is clear: it should be required reading for all medical and mental health professionals.

Kudos to you, Chandler Regional Medical Center, for getting it right. I hope that you are but one of many institutions making sweeping changes for the benefit of patients, having found that in every situation from preemie to retiree, kindness is the greatest healer.

Although doctors never found a definitive cause of Beth’s stroke symptoms, the quick response, and expert and compassionate care by the emergency room, stroke, and telemetry units resulted in a rapid recovery. Beth returned home to our relieved family on June 4, 2016. Although she is not yet her energetic former self, I have no doubt that she soon will be.

 

Image courtesy of Laurarama, Flikr Commons

Together or Alone?

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This morning, I pondered the differences between my two novels: Detour from Normal and The Road to Amistad. Joined at the hip in many regards, these novels are nonetheless as different as night and day in a certain respect: one is about being alone and the other is about being together.

In Detour from Normal, I was thrust from normalcy into a life of cold, heartless professionals and the tragically mentally ill. A normal person in my place would feel frightened and alone, and many of the experiences I described are from a solitary perspective. Instead of feeling terrified, I felt at peace, and at times, blissful. A mysterious process had freed me from judgment, expectations, worry and fear.

That mindset allowed me to befriend people who were toothless, foul-smelling, crippled, rude or unable to communicate—people I would never associate with before. My best friend was a drug addict recovering from his eighth relapse who had lost his job, savings, car, home, wife and family because of addiction. Through different eyes, I found these people funny and interesting, and for those among them who felt frightened and alone, I became their guardian angel. It was an immensely freeing experience and I could not help but imagine what the world would be like if everyone could live life as I did then.

The Road to Amistad explores just such a scenario. People from all walks of life were spontaneously freed from their mental prisons and introduced to my world overnight. Unfortunately, their changed mindset more often than not led to heartache as family and friends demanded the return of their absconded loved ones.

A few managed to avoid that struggle and find a unity of spirit with others like themselves. Friendship and trust thrived regardless of former walls that separated them. They were magnets to each other, formed strong friendships and accomplished great feats together. None among them ever felt separate or alone.

Nowadays, it is difficult for me to tread the line between alone and together. I have a wife, children, friends and a full-time job. There are many rules and walls that impede me and I have limited time and resources.  It would be easier to abandon my vision and rejoin my former world, but I don’t want to close doors—I want to open them. I don’t want to be alone—I want to be together. I want to be part of something big.

I hope that you will read both Detour from Normal and The Road to Amistad and open your mind to possibilities that are ours for the taking. If my message rings true, press the button; twist the throttle; swing; jump; do whatever it takes to begin your own journey, and as you go forth, spread the word so that you may do it together instead of alone.

Kissed by a Hobo

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I stopped to pump gas at a Circle K in Tucson a while back and as I pulled up to the pump, I noticed a homeless man pushing a cart full of his meager possessions toward me. Hoping to discourage him, I left my door open blocking his way as I entered my credit card information at the pump. I didn’t want to say no to this man, but that’s what I normally do in such situations, not because I am uncaring, I just didn’t what to support a drunken lifestyle, believing that by withholding my generosity, I will somehow change his life for the better. Not to be deterred, the man made his way around the pump and caught me just as I reached for the nozzle.

“Excuse me, but could you spare eleven cents?” I scoffed at his request. Who would beg for eleven cents? “I’m eleven cents short to buy a boodie.”

“A  footy? “ I asked, clueless of what he was talking about.

“No, a boodie.”

“A booty?”

“No, you know, a boodie.” He repeated louder in frustration. “One of those big beers.”

“Oh.” I said, unable to make the logical connection. I reached into my pocket and pulled out what little change I had. “Looks like I only have two cents. Tell you what…” I paused, realizing I had no idea what was in my wallet. I pulled it out and opened it to reveal a five and a one dollar bill. I reached for the one and pulled it out. “I’ll give you a dollar.”

Before I knew it, the man wrapped me in a powerful bear hug. He was so happy that you’d think I’d offered him a million dollars. “You are so kind.” He said, hugging me even harder. Despite my reservations over hugging a hobo, I returned the hug equally strongly, laughing at the absurdity of the scene. Then, he did something really over the top: he kissed my head.

A dollar means nothing to me. I make that much in minutes at my job. I probably have a hundred dollars in change sitting in my piggy bank at home from emptying my pockets every day just so that I don’t have to lug it around the next day. It accumulates like dirty laundry until there is enough to warrant me bothering with it.

Eventually, the man stopped hugging me and with tears in his eyes, thanked me once again before continuing on his journey, clutching his dollar close to his heart. I proceeded to pump over fifty dollars of gas into my van in roughly the same time as our total interaction. I replaced the nozzle, screwed the gas cap on, and headed to spend another thirty dollars on pizza with my wife and children.

Surprisingly, that hobo’s hug and kiss made my day. I wished I’d given him the five instead, or even both bills. After he left, I realized that this is his life. I wasn’t going to change it one way or another with money, but maybe I could make a difference by treating him like a human being for a moment, by sticking around and listening to his stories. I can only imagine the places he’s been and the things that he’s seen. Perhaps talking with him would make a bigger difference in my life than his.

I’m crying as I write this thinking of the unfairness of it all. That hobo is equally the miracle that I am, blessed with the same extraordinary machine and unlimited capacity to thrive and succeed at anything he wishes. The only thing that makes us different are the beliefs and thoughts that fill our minds and the choices we make because of those thoughts. We are all capable of so much if only we knew how to get out of our own way.

Image courtesy of Vit Hassan, Flikr Commons

An Email from Tunisia

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Recently, a young blogger from Tunisia emailed me on Goodreads requesting a copy of Detour from Normal for review. My first thought was: “What do I have to gain by spending $30 for costs and shipping to send a book to a total stranger in Tunisia?”

Then, I remembered a salesman that rang our doorbell not long ago. When I opened the door, he entertained and pitched me so convincingly that I bought his product, despite the fact that I didn’t need it. I wrote back and asked the kid to sell me on the idea. The next day, I received a reply.

“Well, Mr. Ken, when I first read the information on your book, I said to myself: ‘This is definitely a book I should read before dying.’” The young man described his love of mystery, madness and engineering and went on to say: “…and guess what sir, your book matches exactly what I love and I’d be extremely happy to have it.” He informed me that he would have bought it online, but that he was only seventeen and not allowed to do so, and that the local libraries only carry books in Arabic and French. His email ended with this statement: “I don’t have any means of getting the book but from you, sir.”

Part of my message in Detour from Normal is that the internet erases all differences of race, culture, language and belief and connects us as human spirits with the same basic dreams and desires. How cool is it that a seventeen year old from Tunisia won me over just like that salesman? On top of that, this young blogger has nearly 400 followers already and his blog is barely started. He must have something positive going on.

“Good for him!” I say. I’m supporting his passion and encouraging him to keep connecting with humanity, breaking down barriers as he goes. I hope there are many more young people in the world equally willing to fearlessly broaden their horizons by contacting someone separated by oceans, continents, language, culture and beliefs, and become part of their world, if only for a moment.

Mohamed, your book is on the way.

 

Image courtesy of Giuseppe Bongiovanni, Flikr