Exit, stage right

The last blog entry described a cardiaversion for a-fib, or atrial fibrillation, and the procedure worked for a couple of days until it didn’t. On May 7, Raleigh Mann, my dad, had a friend take him to the emergency department after a night of prolonged shortness of breath. That afternoon, he had a sudden-onset hemorrhagic stroke. Though he retained his cognition, he lost the use of his right side. The therapy would have been arduous, and his cardiothoracic health not up to it.

On May 13, Dad, my sisters and I, and the medical teams agreed that hospice was the right next step. By that evening, he was installed as a guest in the SECU Jim and Betsy Bryan Hospice House in Pittsboro. It was eminently fitting that he had been banking for decades with the SECU, or State Employees’ Credit Union, and that years ago he and Jim Bryan sang barbershop harmony together.

He made his exit quietly, comfortably, glad of the company of his family. He died in his sleep at 4:15 a.m. on May 19, at the age of 87, just three months shy of his birthday and his sixtieth anniversary.

His memorial service will be held on Saturday, June 25, at 1 p.m. at the United Church of Chapel Hill. Blog readers may make donations to the choral ministry of the church or to the Raleigh Mann Scholarship Fund (#242843-J0037) at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media Foundation Endowment at Campus Box 3365, Chapel Hill, NC, 27599-3365.

I will close with the old newspaper journalism symbol for “end of story.”


Afib adventure

That my heart skips a beat now and then is not an unusual occurrence. Many others have this condition. But recently this gentle hiccup was joined by persistent shortness of breath that kept me awake all night one night. Next morning I took myself to a clinic to check into it.

Good thing I did. My cardiologist, Dr. M, confirmed what the clinic doc had found: I was experiencing atrial fibrillation, commonly called Afib.

“So,” she told me,” you have Afib,” then she smiled and said, “We can fix that.” She then described a procedure called cardioversion, in which a patient is placed under anesthsia, his heart is very briefly stopped, then is restarted by a charge from electrical paddles. In most cases, the heart immediately resumes a more regular rhythm, replacing the erratic Afib pattern.

This sounded great to me, but before I could undergo such a procedure, I had to take a blood thinner for three weeks or more to eliminate the possibility of blood clotting. During that period, I felt miserable, weak and constantly tired. I struggled to catch my breath. Following one especially bad night of trying to breathe, I wound up in the hospital’s emergency department. A few hours later, I was being prepped for my cardioversion procedure.

It was successful, I’m happy to report, and now I am home again, feeling much better with a regular heartbeat and so very grateful for modern medicine, the many compassionate professionals who practice it, and the loving family members and friends who have rallied to my side to help.

Respect for Coach K

One can’t adequately measure the depth or the quality of one’s loyalty as a fan of a sports team. True fans, we all seem to agree, are unyielding in their loyalty to and love for their team. Equally strong is our distaste for our team’s particular rival, its fans, and especially its coach.

Thousands of fans of the UNC Tar Heels, therefore, have taken special pleasure in raining on Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s parade, defeating his team in his final game before his retirement on his beloved home court. Not supposed to happen, not in front of so many adoring fans or countless TV watchers. Humiliating it was for the coach, and the embarrassment continued as UNC went on to defeat Duke in the Final Four game.

I can’t claim to be a Tar Heel born, as the fight song goes, but I became an enthusiastic fan the first day I set foot in Chapel Hill 45 years ago, and so I have remained. I yield to no one in the strength of my loyalty as a fan, and yes, I confess to occasionally feeling as much pleasure in a Duke loss as in a Carolina victory.

But something these past few days has brought me up short as I have joined thousands of my fellow UNC fans reveling in the Tar Heels’ victories over Duke and the dark cloud it has draped over the conclusion of Coach K’s 42-year career.

This man deserves the dignity and respect of a champion. He has proven repeatedly his excellence as a teacher, coach and leader. Consider the many lives he has influenced for good.

So when at the conclusion of two important basketball games that his team lost, I’m not joining in laughter or derisive remarks directed at him; instead I am applauding, respectfully and with appreciation, for his contributions and all the good he has accomplished.

Carolina or Duke? It’s personal

Forty-five years ago, Betsy and I, our three daughters, and our cat Rosabella arrived in Chapel Hill several days ahead of the moving van. We were moving from our home in Pembroke Pines, a South Florida community between Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

We had a new house but no furniture until the moving van arrived, so friends lent us sleeping bags until the moving van arrived. These generous folks were a Duke professor of economics and his wife, a potter, friends of friends we’d known in Florida.

One of my best friends in musical theater was a math professor at Duke. We performed together in several Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. He’s now retired, as I am, but we still see each other frequently as fellow actors in an amateur theater troupe. At my church, come to think of it, many of my most cherished friends are Duke-connected in some way.

For several years, I sang with the Choral Society of Durham. Its director serves on the music faculty at Duke, and many of its members are Duke students or former students. The chorus gave concerts in Duke Chapel. What an inspiring place in which to sing.

My love for singing also has taken me about 30 miles east to Raleigh, where I enjoyed singing in an award-winning barbershop chorus, most of whose members were either faculty members, students or former students at N.C. State University. Some Tar Heel fans like to make fun of what they perceive as a rural tilt of N.C. State students.

But then, some UNC fans believe that they sense an arrogance among Duke people. This certainly is not true among the people I know, but I was confronted by this on one occasion. Hired as a consultant by the staff of The Chronicle, Duke’s campus daily newspaper, I coached the staff on editing and writing skills. I recall my encounters with these bright, engaging students as pleasant and stimulating. But one conversation with the student editor remains lodged in my memory. She was trying to describe what she saw as a difference between students at Duke and those at UNC. Duke students, she told me, are more evolved. She was serious.

When it comes to sports, I am a devoted fan of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. That’s natural, I suppose. For 22 years, I served on the faculty of UNC’s School of Journalism. That doesn’t change my love and respect for my Duke-related friends and acquaintances. But when Duke and Carolina meet on the basketball court or football field, I want UNC to win.

Friendships consist of respect and love, in my view, and many of them nourish us for a lifetime. This is more important than a game. Sometimes I need to remind myself: It’s only a game.

Today’s Grand Old Party

“I told you so” is one of our least popular phrases. We hate to hear it, yet I find it hard to avoid today.

A few years ago, I wrote in this blog that the Republican Party is the greatest threat to America. Some, possibly including you, thought that a tad too strong, too sweeping. The party does include good and principled people. Certainly true. Today our question is why are they silent? Or is it silenced?

Today, more than ever, the Republican Party remains the greatest threat to America. Our nation, yours and mine.

This once-great political body has transformed itself into a cult worshiping at the feet of one colossally unprincipled man, doubtlessly the most unprincipled in the history of America’s politics. His army of minions grows daily and has infiltrated the seats of power.

Tantrums and reprisals greet legitimate pursuit of truth or accountability. Dissenters are punished. Efforts to get at the truth are strenuously blocked. The Grand Old Party defines its attempt at its violent overthrow of the government as “legitimate political discourse,” which is absurd. Can we detect a whiff of treason?

This is America’s Republican party today. This is the party led by a single amoral hedonist who holds sway over millions. Note the irony of the party that cherishes personal freedom marching lockstep behind such a person.

Yet Americans, we are reminded, can change their leadership by voting in elections. But wait.

Republicans are against that, too.

Remembering Dachau

Certain images remain in our memory longer than others, tucked deep inside where, we hope, they never leave. Last Thursday, January 27, a day set aside to remember the Holocaust, brought me back to my visit to Dachau in June of 2003.

In a succession of several tours to Germany with United Voices of Praise gospel choir, Betsy and I lodged as guests in the home of Hartmut and Edda Linsel in Köln-Pesch, part of Cologne. When the choir’s performances had ended, the Linsels took us on tours of various parts of Germany, and in 2003, we headed for Munich and environs. This included a visit to the concentration camp at Dachau.

Tourists know Munich as a large city in Bavaria, home to the annual 18-day Oktoberfest. Few think of Dachau, a charming small town 12 miles northwest of the large city.

There, in 1933, Nazis converted an old munitions factory into a concentration camp, intended to house political prisoners. The camp expanded to include Jews, homosexuals and various criminals and became a notorious center of forced labor.

At least 32,000 died, and many more that were undocumented at the camp, where prisoners lived in constant fear of brutal treatment. American military forces liberated the camp on April 29, 1945, and found 30,000 prisoners, 10,000 of them sick.

The Dachau camp served as a model for other concentration camps that followed. It was in operation the longest, from 1933 to 1945. Records tell us that in those 12 years, more than 206,000 were housed there.

I recall that Betsy and I fell silent as we walked through the buildings and grounds, and certain specific images remain burned into my memory — a wooden table over which prisoners were forced to bend while being whipped, crematoria for burning the dead, bars on windows, barbed wire atop fences.

Time seemed to stand still that day, but Hartmut had become impatient to leave, sooner than we wanted to. I felt a tug to remain longer, see more and think about that I was seeing. But we understood Hartmut’s impatience. In the car, no one spoke about what we’d seen.

But I remember.

A better way

This recent weekend, watching professional football games provided me a peek at my inner feelings about the “other.” Made me uncomfortable. Some of my favorite teams won; others lost. I expected this. No big deal. I didn’t lose any sleep over it, but I confess to feeling some disappointment.

That’s not important, but my perceptions of the opposing teams trouble me. Why do I consider them — their players, coaches, and especially their fans, more than simply opponents.  Enemies. I’m talking about sports teams, mind you.

Do I hate them? Of course not, yet I find myself not wanting to associate with the likes of them. I don’t like them.

Harvey Cox taught me something about this. About 40 years ago, Cox, the respected theologian, addressed a conference of clergy in Fort Lauderdale, which I covered as a reporter. We have become a society of competitors, Cox told the group. We insist on declaring winners and losers, and separating them. We praise and honor the winners and demean the losers. Shouldn’t we simply cooperate instead? He asked. Treat everyone as equally worthy?

Equally worthy.

Cox’s point has stayed with me since. The way we regard others, whether fans of sports teams, or those whose whose language, culture, political preferences are the opposite of our own, is crucial. Why do we distrust, shun, even hate them?

There is a better way. Let’s be honest with ourselves. These people whom we find different are more like us than they differ from us. They love their children, just like us. How shall we regard them? Interact with them?

Cox was right. There is a better way, and we know what it is. I believe this. I know it.

Resolution worth keeping

After our three daughters had grown and left the nest, Betsy and I observed the changing of the year by treating ourselves to a dinner at a fine restaurant. Relaxing with these meals, we sipped wine, quietly reflected on the year that was ending, and ventured our predictions of what the new year might bring for us and our family. We loved this custom and its intimacy.

We don’t do this anymore. Since the summer of 2018, Betsy has suffered medical challenges that render such outings infeasible. We do continue to have such conversations, though, and enjoy them.

How do you mark the changing of the year? The way you approached this year’s celebration probably differed from previous ones. Covid and its variations made certain of this. We differ about so many issues now, but most of us seem to agree that we have had our fill of 2021. What will change in 2022?

In this new year, how many of us will die at the wrong end of a gun in the hands of a fool? How many will die or grieve the death of a loved one because we or they refused to let the government tell them how to protect themselves and others from disease? How many of us will know hunger? Live on the streets? Be deported?

Long life has taught me the folly of making resolutions that are too hard to keep. But like you, I have tried. This year, I will try again — this time by following my own advice that I have shared with others.

When a daughter or one of my students on occasion approached me expressing frustration because of a personally unpleasant situation, I would advise her or him to search for some other person who also is going through a rough patch. Concentrate your energy on helping that person, I would suggest. Make it your mission. Find a way. You know you can do this.

When we do this, truly work at it, our own problems feel less important. That’s desirable, of course, but the best part is that we help someone else.

Ourself, too, and this is the real payoff. This is how I will celebrate this new year.

What’s that name again?

We whose parents gave us an unusual name know that this can be a mixed blessing. Others misspell or mispronounce our name, often both. Many, on learning my name, will ask about it. My name Raleigh is the same as the capital city in the state in which I reside: North Carolina. This often prompts the question, “Oh, were you named for the city?” I usually reply that I was not, nor was the city named for me, which tends to bring a laugh.

My parents named me for Raleigh Colston, a French-born officer in the Confederate Army. Colston rose to the rank of brigadier general and, in retirement, taught French on the faculty of Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, Virginia. My ancestral family admired the general, and his name Raleigh showed up in two generations in my family, an uncle, Raleigh Howard Mann, who became a Methodist pastor, and me.

I can’t speak for others with an unusual first name, but my own experience has varied from cruel teasing by schoolmates in childhood to misspelling and mispronouncing in adulthood.

Especially mispronouncing. Radio and television announcers, reporters, and anchors, as a group, favor RAH-lee, which to me feels incorrect and jarring to my ears. My family and I prefer to pronounce the first syllable more closely to rhyme with Laura, or Paul. That’s the way my parents, grandparents, and everyone else in our family has chosen to pronounce this name. I appeal to others to respect this. I’ve lived with this name for more than eight decades, which should qualify me to know how it should be pronounced.

We all have encountered others whose unusual first names have caught our attention. My bride Betsy once had a childhood friend at school whose name was Shirley Worley. Makes you wonder what her parents were thinking when they choose this name. I also find curious the parents’ choice of a name of a woman I knew in Florida. I remember her as a smart, attractive and musically talented high school student. Her friends called her Joy. Her parents chose to name her Joi-Phyle, presumably expecting others to pronounce it “Joyfully.” Yes, that’s the correct spelling. A beautiful idea, but one suspects that Joy has by now grown weary of having to explain her name to others.

So parents, when you thoughtfully choose a name for your beautiful child, consider what your choice will mean for your child to deal with throughout life.

As a child, I hated that my name was unusual, but through the years I’ve grown to like it, particularly when others pronounce it correctly.

Hoping for moving day

Last Wednesday, Betsy, my dear bride, fell in her bathroom and fractured both bones in her right leg below the knee. This is the leg that stopped growing when she was 12 and contracted polio, just before the Salk and Sabin vaccines were discovered.

After a long day on a stretcher in a corridor outside the busy Emergency Room, she spent a full week in a room on the fifth floor of UNC Hospital, during which doctors and others decided against surgery and instead tried various braces on her broken leg to stabilize it and encourage healing.

Meanwhile, the assisted living facility where she lives required that we equip her room there so she could be cared for properly on her return: a new hospital-style bed, bedside commode, over-the-bed table. But on her return, the demands of her around-the-clock care were too much for the staff to manage, so the decision was made to transfer her to a skilled nursing facility, a step up in her care.

We found such a place, one with a good reputation about a 20-minute drive away. It has a room available, and as I write this, we are awaiting approval from our insurers before we can move her there for the next several weeks for her rehabilitation.

At her present assisted living facility, she, in her dementia, tried several times to climb out of her bed, creating a big problem for her caregivers, so we now are financing someone to sit in her room around-the clock to protect her from harming herself in this way.

Today was to have been moving day to the skilled nursing facility, but the day passed without any word from the insurance company, so we needed to hire another overnight sitter and hope that we can move her tomorrow.

During the day today, she complained of chest pains, leading to the assisted-living staff to summon paramedics, who recommended another ER visit, which we declined as her distress subsided, and her heart test looked good.

Our family is working together in every way we can, along with dedicated others, to care for this woman, the most important person in my life.

Tomorrow is another day. We hope it will be her moving day. Your prayers are invited.