Saturday, May 26, 2012

Be Still My Beating Heart, Part 2

Here is the second and final part of the saga of my lengthy stay in the hospital and subsequent heart surgery about six weeks ago.  At this stage, I had been in the Intensive Care Unit for four days with my heart racing steadily at 170 beats per minute, and the doctors being quite confused as to why…

Trying to maintain some normalcy through the whole procedure, I decided to try and keep up with my work via the internet and my cell phone.  I even participated in a Skype conference with my radio team. I also did a fair amount of personal correspondence online, and had regular phone visits with my sister, Joyce.  She kept saying she wanted to come down from northwest Indiana, but I felt like they were going to let me go home any day and didn’t want her to break away from her busy schedule if there was no serious importance on my part.

Being one of those folks who likes to count things, I kept track of what was being done to me while under this hospice during my extended stay: seven shots in my stomach, four in my arms, two in my hiney; blood taken sixteen times; blood pressure taken 112 times; and five electronic wires attached to my chest non-stop for 185 hours with countless readings.

By the end of the fourth day, the doctors began to see some stabilization with the heart speed through a combination of multiple treatments.  And at the end of the fifth they moved me to a regular room that had less complex monitoring equipment, but was still wired-in to the nurse’s station down the hall.  However, the flutter was still a bit wobbly.

When the sixth day rolled around, they were beginning to think that surgery might be a solution.  Another day of scrutinizing was ordered, resulting in me having to stay over Easter weekend.  Internally, I was frustrated by this, but tried not to let on to anyone.  The visits from folks continued, as did things like a pizza party while listening to a Preds’ game, and several folks bringing waaay too much candy via Easter baskets on that “Great Gettin’ Up Sunday.”

For the previous four days, I had been giving myself a sponge bath every day, and even washing my hair.  It was quite the complex ordeal seeing that I had to be continuously wired-up to my heart monitor and I.V. tubes while doing this standing next to a sink.  But I hated feeling so greasy, and I always was refreshed after finishing. I was hoping once I got to the regular room I could take a shower, but that was forbidden due to the non-stop monitoring, so I still had to mop up as best I could each morning before breakfast.

I figured I would be able to finally go home on the following Monday, but when the head doctor came in, she wasn’t smiling.  She felt that they needed at least one more day to observe in order to make a final determination on surgery.  She could see that I was visibly disappointed, and I tried to reason with her that I could maintain the same levels of moderation in my home.

She then looked at me sternly and said, “Mr. Hollingsworth…we nearly lost you five days ago.  You have made a remarkable turn around, but we would feel so much better if you would allow us a bit more time to fully asses all the options, and to make sure you a clearly out of the woods.”  This was the first time anyone had been that direct with me.  I did not realize that I had been on death’s doorstep, as it were.   I hesitantly nodded my assent, and decided to grin and bear it.

The next morning, my primary cardiologist and his assistant came in and we met for half an hour with him explaining that I would, indeed, be having transesophageal echocardiagrahy and catheter ablation for an atrial flutter. Basically that meant they would put a probe down my throat into my chest to observe sound waves of my heart, then insert several fiber optic lasers thru the major arteries of both my legs up thru my stomach and into my heart to fix the chamber valve that was off kilter.

Since I seemed in pretty stable and healthy condition, they felt I could go home for a week and return the following Wednesday for the three hour procedure, and then have one day of observation and therapy before returning home the following morning, provided everything went well. They then told me that after all the paperwork was finished, I could finally go home after eight days of being cooped up. I hadn’t even been able to open a window and experience any of the glorious spring weather that was going on all that time. To say I was giddy would’ve been an understatement.  Cora came from my church to help me get home.  I was dressed and everything was packed and ready when she arrived.

That initial shower in my home must’ve lasted a half hour.  It reminded me of how good it felt when I finally took a hot shower after almost three weeks hiking through the bogs and north woods of Wisconsin at a stress camp before my freshman year at Wheaton.  There had been moments during that survival march that I wasn’t sure I would make it, and here I was thirty-nine years later glad that I had written another intriguing chapter in my book of life. 

With the cardiology staff’s permission and with plenty of medications still being taken into my body, I was encouraged to go about my life normally that next week while tracking my pulse rate regularly.  So I went to Game One of the Stanley Cup first round playoff series between my beloved Predators and the hated Detroit Red Wings the next night.  I yelled my head off and felt great.  It was like a primal scream after being bound-up for so long.  The following night I attended the Nashville premiere party of the film Blue Like Jazz. Then the following evening went to Game Two of the playoffs, then The Village Chapel that Sunday, etc. etc.   I felt terrific.  I figured the more I could maintain some regularity, the less I would worry about major surgery the following week.

Once again, my sister wanted to come down, but I assured her that everything was going to be fine. She remained at the ready if she was needed.

Before I knew it, the surgery day was upon me. One again, Cora taxied me to the hospital at 5:30 AM and waited patiently throughout the prep-time, surgery, and initial few hours of post-op.

Another funny thing happened as they were getting me ready: they determined my pulse was now too low for receiving anesthesia.  The nurses and surgeon were concerned, wondering why it was in the 50-60 range, but this was very normal for me, and has been my entire life.  It makes one frustrated that they never looked any of this up with my medical records prior to a major operation.  I guess they figured that it had been so off-the-charts the previous week that it didn’t make sense that it was now “so low.”  But it was my normal state.

They tried a few things to get it to increase, and I joked that I would focus on images of Elle McPherson in a swimsuit in order to get my blood pumping a bit more. 

Finally they rolled me into the frigid operating room and proceeded to jab and inject me with various things that would allow me to stay awake while they put tubes down my gullet and yet have no memory of the invasive procedure that was about to occur. Indeed, I have no recollection of anything for the next several hours after that point.

I do have faint recall of chatting for a few moments with Cora and the surgical staff around 10 AM when I was back in my room recovering, but it’s pretty hazy.  They informed me that they felt things had gone quite well, and that if all continued according to plan, I should be able to return home the following morning.  She told me later that I was making wisecracks wondering if, while poking around inside my chest, the doctor noticed how black my heart was because of my hatred for the Red Wings.  Oddly, I have no memory of this whatsoever. 

Around noon I awoke again and was starving, so I ordered some lunch, and after devouring it and numerous bottles of fruit juice, I dosed off again, or at least I thought I did.  Turns out that my buddy Robin called to see how I was doing, and we had a half hour conversation.  The next day, I noticed on my phone that he had tried to call me, so I called him back and as we were visiting, he informed me that I had told him much of the same stuff the day before.  Once again, I was oblivious to that memory.  Weird stuff, that anesthesia.

After one final nap, I was fully coherent by late afternoon.  I decided to take some walks up and down the hallways, and communicate with friends and family.  There were more visitors and an overwhelming amount of positive feedback online and via phone calls.

Restful sleep filled most of my final night in the hospital, and I met with my surgeon, his assistant, and the head nurse the following morning.  They were very pleased with all my monitoring and energy level, and felt I could head on home.  My longtime friend Carmen sat in on that meeting with me, taking notes in case I didn’t keep up with all they were recommending in my home recovery. She then helped me get loaded-up in her convertible and I was resting in my house by noon. 

The Village Chapel meals ministry team began doing their good work right away with terrific dinners being delivered to my front door for the next several weeks. I jumped right in to my normal routine as quickly as possible, realizing that the four post-op medications I was on would continue to make me feel a bit woozy at times.  An afternoon siesta seemed to help a lot each day.

The very next night, I was thrilled to be able to attend the Preds’ Game Five victory over Detroit, thus eliminating the Red Wings and advancing to the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was hard to “pace myself” as I bellowed with abondanza.  Thirteen years of pent-up emotion came out as our boys were finally able to best the Wings and send them back to Michigan for early rounds of golf in April.  People were amazed that I was in such kinetic spirits, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Just five days later I flew to Grand Rapids for a Compassion Radio Marathon with our good friends at WCSG. The week after that I was off to Colorado Springs for some marketing meetings at Compassion, then a few more playoff hockey games right after that.  Even got some workouts at the YMCA in under my belt, as well as cutting my lawn several times.  A few weeks ago marked the one month mark since the surgery, and I met with my surgeon to go over my progress.  He was pleased and is starting to wean me off the various meds.  We’ll meet again in a few months to see if I’m completely back to normal. 

All in all, it’s been quite the experience.  I have to admit that when I “get my sweat on” during one of my workouts or while pushing the lawnmower in Nashville heat, that I worry a bit about getting the ol’ ticker pumping too fast, so I am closely monitoring myself. But there have been no repercussions during those moments, nor any side effects afterwards.  I figure I might as well enjoy every minute that is given to me while I’m roaming this earth. As Mr. Lewis once sang, “the heart of rock ’n’ roll is still beatin’.”

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Be Still My Beating Heart, Part 1

Through all my years of physicals I have always been blessed to hear that I’m in great health.  When it comes to my heart, the report was always that everything was solid…no rare ailments like Marfans Syndrome, which took my brother in his early thirties.  No bad cholesterol, or high blood sugar counts, or strange heartbeats.  In fact, my various doctors over the decades have always marveled at how low my blood pressure is (not sure how that correlates with my temper, which has been known to boil at times). 

Additionally, I’ve been fairly blessed with only a couple visits to the emergency room, and one outpatient surgery for a hernia last year.  In fact, I’ve never stayed at a hospital overnight in my lifetime.  So, imagine my surprise when I was cold-cocked by a major cardiac discombobulation that featured ten days in Nashville’s Baptist Hospital (half in the Intensive Care Unit) and subsequent heart surgery just a month ago.  Many have asked for a recap, so here it is:

I believe it all started a few days before I left for the Middle East.  A strange, bright red rash began forming in my armpits.  An odd occurrence, because I have used the same Mennen Speed Stick deodorant for at since the 80s.  I tried another brand for a day but that only seemed to make it worse, and by then there was no time to set up an appointment.  I just figured I would deal with it as best I could on the two-week excursion by just washing my underarms several times a day.  But the discoloration and sensitivity didn’t diminish.  In fact, it even spread to my chest.  Additionally, I somehow picked up an inner ear infection of some sort the final few days.

Once I got back to the States, I had less than a day at home before having to turn right around and fly to San Diego for Kurt and Anne Andress’ wedding.  This was none too helpful for the earache and adjoining fever.  To say I was feeling lousy would be putting it mildly.

I got in to see my doctor pretty quickly once I got home from the Left Coast.  He flushed my ear canal with some antibiotic fluid, and surmised that I had some sort of yeast infection on my skin.  He prescribed a medication that would help clear that up along with some eardrops.  I noticed on the instructions for the pills that they might “cause discoloration, pain, and odor during urination.”  Little did I know, but this was the really going to be the root of my later issues, because, alongside the ear infection, I picked up a urinary tract infection somewhere in the previous week. And unbeknownst to me, three of the primary symptoms of a U.T.I. are discoloration, pain, and odor during urination. 

But because the rash under my arms was disappearing with each passing day, I was willing to take those symptoms from what I thought was just the medicine in exchange for the annihilation of armpit aberration.   I also credited the low-grade fever I had to road weariness and the pills. I had no idea that a U.T.I. was growing worse with each passing day. 

A week later, just as that skin prescription was running out, I was awakened at one in the morning by horrific lower back pain. I rolled out off my mattress and hobbled around my bedroom complaining to no one in particular, “how the hell did I pull a muscle in my sleep?!”  You see, I have a history of lumbar issues tied-in to muscle spasms. We tall guys tend to have these, as we grow older. It can be quite painful and somewhat debilitating for three to five days, and then, usually, it fades along with some thorough stretching and appropriate rest.  Of course, some painkillers don’t hurt either.  So the next morning, I called my doc and asked if he could prescribe some Hydrocordone to help me deal with the knifing throb.  He’s quite familiar with my plight in that realm, and went ahead and sent the word to my pharmacy to get me set up.  This was strike number two in my unfortunate at bat with destiny, because Hydrocordone simply masks pain…covers it up completely, as well as deadening the side effects of a fever.  Most likely I hadn’t pulled a muscle in my lower back.  Rather, my kidneys and bladder were barking because of the undetected U.T.I., and it just felt very similar to a twisted back.

So, several more days passed with the U.T.I worsening, but I was oblivious to it other than a general sense that I just wasn’t feeling right.  But, as they say, the chickens finally came home to roost the evening of March 31st.  I went to watch an exciting Predators game vs. the hated Chicago Blackholes.  Somehow, the Preds managed to dig themselves into a 4-0 hole halfway into the game.  But they stormed back to tie the game midway into the third period.  I, along with the rest of the sellout crowd was in full throat urging the guys onward.  We “emptied our buckets” screaming and yelling our support (as well as disdain for the Chitown fans in attendance). Unfortunately, Nashville ended up losing on a goal late in the game, and as I was sulking along my normal six-block walk back to my car, I was feeling physically drained…even ill.  It was a tough loss, but I normally don’t get that vaklempt after a negative result. Several times I stopped and truly felt like I was going to keel over.  I noticed my heart was racing, and I was covered in clammy perspiration.

When I arrived at home, I went directly to my room and collapsed into my bed, where within minutes I started shaking uncontrollably.  The chills overtook me, and my teeth were chattering like one of those wind-up false chopper toys, and my entire body was vibrating beyond my will to stop.  I somehow got my clothes off and crawled under the covers, but the quaking continued unabated for nearly an hour. Eventually it faded, but within minutes a sever fever swept over me.  I was burning up.  I had a baking headache, and started making the first of many runs to the bathroom as the heaves started.  Hardly anything chucked-upward, which is never helpful…I find the dry heaves to be much more difficult that full release of a Technicolor rainbow.  This oven-like existence persisted for another hour, and then segued into voluminous sweats…perspiration flowing out of my pores as if I were running a marathon in thru the Okeechobee Swamp in July. My hair was soaking wet, my t-shirt was sopped, and the sheets of the bed were moist.  It was unlike anything I could ever recall.  This element was about a few hours in length, and then it began to fade. I started feeling remarkably better, even normal about four in the morning, and actually slept for a few hours. 

I awoke fairly refreshed at daybreak, and thought I had just suffered through some intense food poisoning of some sort. I thought it might be good to get cleaned up and go to church and give thanks for that being over with.  But just as I began shaving, the shakes started again.  I tried to work through it, but was afraid I was going to cut myself.  I went to the kitchen to try and take my temperature, but my jaw was flapping so wildly that I feared I would bite the thermometer in half. I lay down, and the entire sequence of chills for an hour, fever for an hour, and profuse sweats for an hour began again. 

In fact, this vicious cycle happened four more times that day.  During the fourth one, I was doing some research online, because I had ruled out food poisoning by this time. It also wasn’t the same cycle that I would get with severe migraine headaches.  This was a different animal.  After scrolling through several possible ailments, I came to the conclusion that I had contracted malaria.  Now this isn’t far-fetched in that I have traveled to fifty-four countries, and malaria can take up to twelve months sometimes to manifest itself.  I had, in fact, been to several regions where malaria can be passed on by mosquitoes, so, there was a decent chance I could be right in my self- analysis.  Even though I take anti-malarial drugs, something might’ve gotten lodged into my liver and was finally hatching. I had nine of the ten symptoms listed on the malaria sites going for me…so it seemed as plausible as anything.

By this time it was evening, and I thought, I’ll just try to slog through the night and see my doctor tomorrow, and we’ll get this figured out.  I know, I know…I should’ve gone to an emergency room.  But by this time, the cycles were so predictable, and, even though I felt lousy, it didn’t seem to be getting any worse.

I did not sleep very well, and what down time I did find was influenced by some rather hallucinatory dreams.  9 AM came much too slowly, but that is when I was able to get through to my physician’s office and set up an appointment for early afternoon.  I was greeted with yet another dreaded cycle of chills, fever, dry heaves, and sweats. In the midst of that, I got a call from good friend, Carla.  She’s a very sunny sort, and was bubbling away in her invitation for me to join her for the annual Easter feast she was hosting at her home the upcoming Sunday.   I was sort of grunting responses to her when she stopped and asked, “Are you feeling alright?”

“Honestly,” I groaned, “I feel pretty bad.”  I then proceeded to give her the litany of what had gone on in the previous twelve hours.  She asked if I would like her to drive me to the doctor?  At that moment, it dawned on me that I probably wasn’t in very good shape to be steering a 3,000-pound vehicle, so I gladly accepted her offer.

A few hours later she picked me up and took me in for the predetermined time to meet.  Within minutes, my doctor knew I was quite sick.  I told him I thought it might be malaria, and he certainly didn’t discount that.  But after an hour, several blood and urine tests came back with the results of an U.T.I.  “The good news is that it isn’t malaria,” he explained, “but you are one very sick dude, Mark.  We are going to put you in a wheel chair right now and get you across the street to Baptist Hospital where they are going to try and get this infection and fever under control.”

To Carla’s credit, she stuck right by my side through this whole ordeal.  As matter of fact, she spent over ten hours making sure I was properly taken care of.  I was borderline delirious at this point, my fever spiking at 104, and was severely dehydrated.  It was a bit of a comedy of errors and C.Y.A. (Cover Your Ass) finger pointing with some of the admitting nurses once I arrived at the hospital.  I was in severe need of hydrating saline, and even though I was prepped to receive it, none was actually being administered.  Carla got in several peoples’ faces about it, and finally the head nurse on the floor came in along with the attending physician and they quickly surmised that I needed to be taken to the Intensive Care Unit.

Within minutes of arriving at I.C.U. there was a flurry of attendants and docs buzzing around me trying to figure out why my heart rate was at 170 beats per minute.  From what I could figure, it had been that way since the hockey game nearly two days before. But before that could be fully addressed, they needed to work on getting the infection and fever out.  They had two saline machines running into each arm at the highest flow rate possible within minutes. I joked that I was “a two fisted drinker” at that point (and would be for the next four days).  In fact, they pumped over four gallons of various saline blends into me during that stretch, which I’m told, is a lot of fluid.  I could’ve floated a battleship with the amount of peeing I did the next several days to compensate for the intake.

As I mentioned earlier, I had never spent an overnight in a hospital before, and wasn’t even sure if this would just be a day or two stay.  I certainly hadn’t planned on anything…I was just going in to see my doctor initially.  So, once it looked like the I.C.U. was fully on top of my needs, Carla raced home to get some supplies for me.  I was exhausted, but there was no way of getting sleep as I was continually poked, prodded, and examined in one way or another through the night. 

The word started to get out that I was in this state, and so calls started coming in from family and friends, which I felt I needed to take care of.  I think it was finally around 3:00 AM that I got a bit of restful sleep, and then again around 10:00 AM on Tuesday.  Later that afternoon, the visitors started coming by, which was terrific.  And I was also able to hook-up my laptop and begin communicating online.  Despite being all wired up in both arms and my chest  (I believe there were normally about seven devices pumping me with something-or-other or monitoring me at any given moment), and looking rather disheveled from lack of a shower for a few days, I was feeling increasingly better as the fever was dropping, the headache dissipating, and the nausea fading. My hydration was improving.  Indeed, the infection was beginning to fade.

But my heart rate was of continued concern.  Honestly, it was a mystery to the doctors and other staff as to what was happening.  It stayed frenetic at 170 b.p.m. (Which is just about max capacity for human survival) for a third straight day under their surveillance (and probably at least five straight including the days before my arrival).  It was also erratic in that it was fluttering wildly instead of keeping a steady 4/4 beat.  I cracked that my love of progressive rock and all the odd time signatures had made my heart “go all Gentle Giant” with the 6/8, 9/8, 11/8, 7/8, and 5/8 beats per measure.

But I could tell it was not a laughing matter for the cardiologists who were observing me.  My room had two large sliding glass doors and curtains that separated it from the primary nurses’ station out in the hallway.  Usually after staff would tend to me, they would close the curtains and then the doors to give me some respite from the outside noise and activity.  However, after one visit with three of the doctors, they closed the doors but forgot to pull the curtains. I could see them looking at my graphs and charts outside pointing at me and making gestures with their hands, shrugging their shoulders, and pointing to the sides of their heads. I couldn‘t read lips, but it sure looked like they were expressing the sentiments of “I have no idea what’s going on with him, I’m seriously befuddled.” 

Strangely, though, this didn’t panic me.  The physical improvements were helping me sleep, and even though I had this galloping heart rate, my appetite, thirst, and bodily functions were good.  It’s just that my blood pressure was quite high, and the heart speed was out of control.  Once the fever and infection were relatively stable, they began pumping various things into me to see if they could harness the heart.  At one point on the third day in I.C.U. it nose-dived suddenly from 170 down to 38 (which, as you might imagine, is not good in the other direction).  The head nurse came sprinting into the room when her outside monitor picked up on the nosedive.  “Are you alright?!” she gasped.

I looked up at my heart monitor and started to laugh.  “You know, I feel exactly the same as I did when it was at 170.”  She did not find it funny, but it was true.  I believe God was helping me keep a sense of humor and an even keel about everything throughout my stay.  And, truly, I did feel the same. It was not lost on me that thousands of people were praying for me at my church, and amongst listeners from radio stations where I had a relationship through my work with Compassion.  I was receiving hundreds of encouraging messages via Facebook, e-mail, and phone calls.  Flowers and cards were coming, and dozens of friends were visiting…all boosting my spirits and keeping me smiling.

I was kidding with one of the cardiologists that they might need to name a new disease after me since they were so stumped.  He was only partially amused as he responded, “Well, we have to find a cure first.” 

Stay tuned for  Part Two of this saga coming soon…

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Writing is on the Wall: Messages from Palestine

I spent two weeks in Palestine during March.  The first half at a peace conference sponsored by Bethlehem Bible College that had over 600 particpants from various realms of the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic faiths, as well as representatives of Palestinian and Israeli governments.  In all, there were people from 21 countries exchanging ideas, discussing, debating, and working on plans for the grwoing peace efforts that are so crucial if this conflict is ever to be resolved.

The second week of my stay was with a lovely Palestinian Christian family in their home with many daily trips around the occupied territories as well as into Israel.  It was enlightening to see what pressures this family and their neighbors are under from the apatheid state that the Israeli government has put them under.  Over 250,000 brothers and sisters in Christ live in Palestine, alongside close to 3 million Muslims, and their rights have been curtailed, land taken from them, and freedom of movement strongly discouraged. The prime example of the latter is the ever-growing "security wall" that is three stories tall and stretches hundreds of miles to seprarate the territories.  In many cases, homes and businesses have been destroyed to make way for the barrier, and excesses have been demonstrated by the Israeli government taking over thousands of additonal square miles beyond aggeed-to borders for thier own gain.  Additonally, the checkpoints allowing Palestinians to enter Israel, or to re-enter their own occupied state are often overcrowded, and there can be delays of 5 hours just trying to get to their jobs or hospitals, etc.  

Now don't get me wrong, I believe Israel deserves to live in peaceful security.  I love the Jewish people and want them to have a homeland.  There just needs to be a better system in place than this.  I hope, pray, and believe there will be a day when this wall will come down and there will be peaceful co-existence.  That's one of the reasons I follow "The Prince of Peace."  

By the way, there is no freedom of expression via painting allowed on the Israeli side of the wall, but I met many Israeli citizens who are disgusted with this severe partition and feel it is has gotten out of control. I was able to walk along the wall on  thePalestinian side for just a few miles, and here are some of the messages I saw expressing views on what has happened, and hopes for a better tomorrow through peaceful reconciliation. Let me know which ones resonate with you:

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Dubious Existence of Dubai

Recently I led a group of broadcasters on a trip to Bangladesh, literally on the other side of the globe, twelve time zones away from the Eastern U.S. On our excursion we had stopovers in each direction in the United Arab Emirates’ capital of Dubai, which is what I like to call a “made-up city.” 

Much like Las Vegas, it was basically a dot on a map for centuries.  Up thru the middle of last century, its population was basically hovering in the 40,000 range, made up mostly of fisherman and nomadic shepherds who had grown tired of wandering the vast expanses of desert that makes up the Saudi Arabian Peninsula. But when oil was discovered in the neighborhood in 1966, it quickly took off.  By the mid 70s it had ballooned to 200,000 people. By the mid 90s it had more than tripled to over 700,000.  And now, it is nearly 2 million souls.

When the oil boom came, the economy was built around export of that fuel source.  But as experts began to declare that the oil resources were drying up, a shift has been made to information services, retail, and tourism.  The first time I visited there in ’93, I was struck by two things: 1) I taken aback by the ridiculous opulence of the place.  It struck me as more gaudy than Beverly Hills; 2) the construction boom it has become infamous for was in its earliest stages.

Since that time, there have been 170 buildings constructed over five hundred feet tall.  Twenty-six of those over a thousand feet tall, including the Burj Dubai, the tallest building in the world at nearly 2,700 feet (a half mile high).  By contrast, NYC has 35% fewer structures over five hundred feet and just eight of those are over a thousand feet.

The shopping malls are massive.  The retail districts full of shops that make Rodeo Drive look like Branson, MO in comparison.  The high tech Metro Train system has dozens of stations that look like Cylon bases from Battlestar Galactica.  Four huge resorts full of palaces have been built on manmade island conglomerates offshore. One of them is called The World, and features hundreds of little island paradises that when viewed from above looks like a map of the earth. 

Ridiculous attractions like the planet’s largest indoor ski resort further cement the reputation of people who have more dollars than sense.  Having been there in late July one year, I can attest that the outdoor temperatures rise above 120 degrees.  So keeping appropriately frigid air temps for such an endeavor are exorbitant.  But Dubai is all about being ostentatious for the sake of it.  It has become the eighth- most-visited city ion the globe, and certainly the most desired place to live for Arabs with means.

But the dirty underbelly of conspicuous wealth is becoming more apparent in the past decade with the introduction of casinos, horse tracks, dog racing, and gambling of all sorts on just about anything you can imagine. And the prostitution trade is growing by leaps and bounds.

A further proof that human nature has no real capacity to keep from being self-centered, the rich Arab populace and likewise well-to-do out-of-towners don’t seem to care about the bulk of the citizenry which is there to service their desires. Over half of the population is made of imported poor from India, The Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and Ethiopia working in below minimum wage conditions.  Human Rights Watch claims that hundreds of thousands of these folks live in “less than human” conditions with eight people existing per room.

What is particularly intriguing is where all of this flamboyant extravagance is located geographically.  Directly across the Persian Gulf, at its narrowest passageway known as the Strait of Hermuz, less than a hundred miles away, is Iran.  Yes, that Iran…the home of the Khomeini clan that started referring to the United States as “The Great White Satan” thirty-five years ago.  The same Iran featuring a theocratic government that has fostered Islamic radicals out to destroy anything and anyone that stands in the way of their most conservative interpretation of Koranic law.

And just 120 miles to the south, the United Arab Emirates borders on Saudi Arabia, the Sheikdom that practices some of the most horrific human rights abuses under the guise of religious purity in the name of Mohammed.  The same Saudi Arabia where 80% of the Al Qaeda conspirators involved with the 9/11 attacks were born and raised.

It would seem that this glistening city of wanton consumerism and grandiose selfishness that sits betwixt these two inflexible kingdoms has been given a free pass.  The modern-day Towers of Babel that dominate its skyline demonstrate that human hypocrisy knows no bounds.  You would think that before these jihads against westernized infidels be carried any further, that they should remove the Burj Dubai out of their own eye. Now, I’m not defending the luxuriant hedonism that has characterized much of Americana over the past several generations.  And, likewise, I’m certainly not advocating terrorist attacks of any sort in any locale on any people.  But the irony of Dubai’s swank and pretentious existence is monumental in proportion.

Perhaps there is some poetic justice taking place under the guise of the Great Recession sparked by the international real estate fiascos the past four years.  The tentacles of that downturn have affected Dubai’s overbuilding, creating a glut of half-empty skyscrapers and abandoned construction sites.  It will be fascinating to see if, like Las Vegas, this “made-up city” survives over the next twenty years, or will it succumb to the ravages of unbridled greed and copious consumption. 

Personally, I’m hoping for the latter.