Friday, October 17, 2014



Spencer Dryden

What does it say about my mental function when the first time I sat down to write this post I wrote Qwest? I guess I have been fully enveloped by marketing. ET phone home.
My first thought on quests was on big ones. I just spent a month at my adopted home of Summer Haven, Florida (USA). Summer Haven is on the Atlantic side between Daytona and St. Augustine. It turns out Summer Haven is very close to the place where the Spanish crossed from the ocean to the Matanzas River on their way to what would become St Augustine. Along the way they had to dispatch a French colony, more or less by murdering them. Later, they built a little fort along the river to guard this back door. The fort is still standing.
The Spanish conquest of the new world was certainly a quest in the classic sense. I would say romantic, but plenty of it is ugly by twenty first century standards. Next September, St. Augustine is celebrating the 450th anniversary of its founding. The king of Spain is coming. There are no indigenous people left to invite. But as I say, it's futile to impose twenty first century sensibilities on sixteenth century people. Besides they had God on their side.
Over the years, a glorious quest requires that God is on your side. Start with the Israelites and march through time.  Hitler thought God was on his side in his quest to reestablish the supremacy of the Arian race.  Putin is claiming that he is reestablishing Russia's Christian heritage in his quest to reunite the former Soviet Union. Saddest of all, God is apparently on both sides in the Middle East.
Yes I'm playing pretty loose here.
On further thought, I turned to personal quests. I have been on several personal quests over the last few years. I think a guy on a broken down horse charging wind mills with a chamber pot on his head is the proper image for my quests, but please indulge me for a moment. They have been transformative.
Our first son was born with a congenital heart defect. Thanks to the quests of many others in treating this most common of fatal birth defects, he has lived to early adulthood. We have always allowed him to pursue what ever he wanted to try, except (American) football. Among his many achievements, he became an outstanding goalie in youth hockey. He is certainly not the greatest goalie to have ever come from the hockey community in Minnesota, but he is, hands down, the greatest goalie ever produced by the Minneapolis Children's Heart Center. Never mind he's the only one.
Years later he had to have a pacemaker installed to correct irregular rhythm and to increase the pumping strength of his heart. About the same time he got interested in welding as a career. His cardiologist advised against it. A pacemaker could be disrupted by the Electro Magnetic Interference (EMI) that is emitted by a welder. Old guys with pacemakers are told to put the tools down.
That simply wasn't a good enough solution for me. I set out on a quest to find a way.  I went in two directions at once-investigating the claim that EMI induces pacemaker failure and looking for a way to diminish the effect of the ambient EMI by protecting the device. At the beginning of a quest, ignorance is your friend.
I won't bore you with the details. What amazed me, and I even amazed myself- a quest brings knowledge to your door. I don't have enough medical or physics background to even begin pondering the question, much less proposing a solution. I just kept asking, why or why not? I'd learn a little and then ask better questions. At one point I connected with a manufacturer in China, who shipped me some of their conductive fabric at no charge. I met, via the internet, some of the greatest minds in the new science of conductive fibers. I learned about electro-magnetism. EMI's effect on sensitive electronic equipment is nothing new. Solutions abound. Most involve some application of a 'Faraday Cage' which diverts EMI around the object to be protected. I envisioned a simple vest impregnated with conductive fibers. I researched advanced medical journals, communicated with makers of industrial clothing. Badgered cardiologists.
A quest isn't about knowing the answer or the outcome. It isn't even about asking the right question. It's about constantly asking better questions.
In the end I learned it was possible, but not practical, to construct the protective vest I envisioned. On the flip side, I learned there wasn't a singe incident where a pacemaker has ever been disrupted by a welder or any other environmental source of EMI. The pacemaker manufacturers who promulgate the stern warning against welding or exposure to EMI have done rigorous testing and found nothing. They scare the shit out of people for no good reason. If I had listened to them my son wouldn't have played hockey, or done much of anything else. Living in fear is not living.
Ironically, my son completed his training, then pursued a completely different line of work. I folded the tent on my quest with no regrets. I'm both smarter and wiser for the effort.
My advice: put the chamber pot on your head and charge that windmill. Maybe God will be on your side.


  1. The thing about a quest is that it requires passion. You may not even know what you're seeking, but you're moved to look.

    I love the tale about the pace maker. Heck, I love this post, because it's pure Spencer Dryden.

  2. This premise reminds me of an essay/prose poem titled God On Their Side, which I scribbled down back in the 90's. Wish I could find that floppy disc.

    Everybody has claimed God-- from George Bush to Bobby Sands to Mother Theresa to Osama bin Laden, Christian extremists, Jimmy Carter, and parish priests--imperfect as they are--from Christopher Columbus, to the pope and the poor peasants who believe they see the Virgin in a pizza and send their money to the church.

    You're the one with the smarts and passion to learn about your son's issue and invent that vest. Give yourself some credit, dude. If you don't, you'll have to divine why god chose to give your son the defect in the first place. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but you've done what thousands of men of intelligence, learning and clear thought would have done despite their faith (as long as their religion permitted it.) or lack of it. Why does a good man have to claim it was all because of some fairy tale. God is within you, not an abstract 'other' we fabricate.

  3. Hi Spence!

    You've been through a lot with your son. I'm always amazed at the strength of people, and a little thankful that whatever my troubles have been so far, they're much smaller than what others have gone through. everybody is a hero once you hear their story. Everybody is fighting a tough fight. We are surrounded by beauty,


    1. Amen
      That which does not kill us makes us stronger. Sort of. For me the ultimate flavor of life is bitter sweet. Celebrated 26 years with my bride the other day. Don't think we'd have had the richness we share without the trouble.

  4. Thanks for this post, Spencer. I love the way you describe trying to figure out that vest, and I love your Don Quixote imagery. The Don Quixote of Man of La Mancha has always appealed to me more—he's more clearly lovely in his misguided chivalry than the confusing figure of the novel—but there's something about that character and his need to have a quest that has always rung true for me.

    The end result of your quest re the vest is an interesting sort of knowledge—that there is a seemingly baseless fear that is restricting people's lives, probably because some companies are trying not to get sued. I'm hoping your son's new line of work pleases him, though, and I admire your efforts with the vest very much.


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