It Takes a Community

Posted under: community, health.

I recently joined the American Red Cross as a volunteer. I have been in Illinois for several months and will continue to be for an undetermined amount of time before I return home to Maine. I’ve been looking into several charity and humanitarian organizations in which to volunteer while I am here. I always felt that the Red Cross was a really great organization–particularly when it comes to aiding in disaster relief–and decided I really wanted to be a part of it. I applied online, took a couple online courses, and interviewed with a Pam, the gregarious and vivacious volunteer specialist in the South Central Illinois Chapter located in Decatur.

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I was surprised to find out how many different types of volunteer opportunities there were for the Red Cross; however, I am especially interested in working in disaster services (which I was told needed the most help). Until this past week I haven’t done anything besides go to the weekly meetings. Kirk, our volunteer leader, has been helping me get familiar and acclimated to the processes. At our meeting this past Monday he invited me to go down to Kincaid on Wednesday with him and another volunteer, Bruce, to assist in day-long program helping flood victims of Kincaid gain access to various resources. I was thrilled to go help, and I rescheduled my doctor appointment I had scheduled for that day. Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (1) Jan 17 2016


The Other Side of the Call Bell

Posted under: family, health, nursing, philosophy, psychology.
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I work as a nursing unit secretary in both the intensive care and the step-down cardiology units at the hospital. I think I’m more cynical than I used to be. It’s easy to become complacent, and even judgmental toward patients. During one of my shifts an obese patient requested donuts, cookies and pie. Even if we did stock those items in the cardiology unit, I would not have given them to him. After receiving chest compressions and a defibrillator treatment in CICU, a patient sat up and asked for a cigarette. One night we had a patient suffering from alcohol withdrawals and undergoing detoxification. He kept yelling at everyone to get out of his house, and I had to call security when he jumped out of bed and threatened the nurses. Two rooms over another patient was constantly yelling…all night. She would scream “I want to go to sleep!” and “I want my meds!” After the nurse gave her some, she screamed “That ain’t enough!” Do these patients realize why they were admitted in the first place? I would like to say to them, “You brought this on yourself. I have no sympathy.” Nurse_BettyBoop

I answer the call bell when patients ring out. Patients push a button in their room which rings a box on my desk. I pick up the receiver and ask them what they need, then respond appropriately. It is often frustrating when the same few patients ring out constantly for seemingly trivial matters, monopolizing the time and attention of the RNs and CNAs. As often as I can, I try to help the patients myself rather than to call for the CNAs or nurses. I’ve noticed that the more I interact personally with the patients, the more compassionate and empathetic I feel toward them, and the more eager I am to help them. I understand how a nurse can develop a special bond with his/her patients. When the nurse takes on the responsibility of certain patients, he/she is accountable for them, takes ownership, and forms a connection with them. Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (2) May 21 2013


A Slow Decline

Posted under: health, nursing, philosophy, psychology.
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Brent has done a wonderful and thorough job recounting my health problems this past year through his blog. However, I wanted to share my experience from my own perspective, so here it is.

In early June of last year my endocrinologist diagnosed me with diabetes insipidus, in which the body doesn’t hold onto water as it should. Later that month I saw my primary care doctor for a gash on my shin that wasn’t healing.Zebra After taking my blood sugar, doing some lab tests, and consulting with my endocrinologist, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I went through the entire gamete of keeping close track of what I ate, counting my carbs, recognizing the symptoms of hyper- and hypoglycemia, checking by glucose levels, and giving myself insulin shots.

This was not the end of it. I was experiencing an onslaught of symptoms: problems with cognitive function (thought process/memory/concentration), lethargy, fatigue, muscle weakness and atrophy, abdominal fat accumulation, mood swings, anxiety, dizziness, loss of balance and coordination, easy bruising, slow healing wounds, weight loss, and increased blood pressure. Finally a state of severe confusion and disorientation in mid-August prompted my doctor to call an ambulance to take me to the emergency room. Apparently my ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) levels were excessively high, causing high levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. This resulted in a diagnosis of severe cushing’s syndrome. Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (17) May 14 2013


Finding Truth Through Fetal Cells

Posted under: education, health, philosophy, science.
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I enjoy listening to Radiolab, a podcast about science, philosophy, and human experience. In the episode “Fetal Consequences” (which can also be read on the NPR blog), hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich discuss how fetal cells remain in the mother for decades, possibly having effects on her body. Originially it seemed that that fetal cells were solely beneficial to the mother. The hosts shared a story about sheets of fetal cells turning into healthy liver cells and healing the mother’s damaged liver. It was later proposed that perhaps fetal cells might actually be harmful to the mother in some cases due to a variety of causal factors.

I found the study about fetal cells fascinating, but what I thought was especially significant was what Tufts University professor and scientist Kirby Johnson said regarding his personal stake in the work:

Of course I wanted to help out, but if I find out that’s not the case [that my fetal cells made no difference when my mother was ill], well, that’s the truth. And as a scientist, I want to find out the truth; whether or not the truth is wonderful or the truth is horrible…at least I know what the truth is, and both as a son and as a scientist, that would be of value to me.

This is true science. The scientific method can, and should, be applied to all aspects of life. Too often people stop asking the questions when they find the answers they are looking for. Any new evidence or ideas that challenge one’s beliefs, or cause discomfort or uncertainty are discounted or completely dismissed. As skeptics, scientists base their opinions on good evidence, and are not afraid to have that evidence challenged.

The strength of the scientific method is found in its ability to detect error as well as its ability to detect truth. It describes a way of obtaining knowledge that is based on observation, repetition, transparency and correction. It would behoove everyone–individually and as a society–to value and engage in scientific thinking: Deep curiosity about the world, rigorous and critical examination and testing, unbiased and objective scrutiny, and openness to new ideas and perspectives–regardless of the palatability of the outcome.

Comments (0) May 28 2012


What I Learned in Nursing School

Posted under: education, health, nursing, philosophy, school.
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I made it! Today I graduate from the University of Southern Maine with a Bachelor of Science in nursing. It is time to begin vigorously studying for the NCLEX and to find a job. There are so many things that have interested me. Now that I have finished my clinicals I am most drawn toward mental health and neurology.

One of the biggest challenges with nursing is connecting everything together. It’s difficult not to get caught up in the minutiae and consequently missing out on the big picture or other significant details. Throughout nursing school we have been assured that with time and experience, we will move from being task-oriented and routine-focused to seeing everything as an interconnected, fluid process, and being able to anticipate and manage rapidly changing non-routine events. I feel that I’ve gained extensive knowledge and learned valuable skills throughout my lectures and labs. However, until interacting with actual patients in a real clinical environment, I could not fully understand, appreciate, and apply all those concepts. My clinicals significantly increased my understanding and have hopefully prepared me for the complexities of nursing practice. I have included some excerpts from my journals of my various clinicals throughout the nursing program:
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Comments (6) May 06 2012


A Good Run

Posted under: health, psychology.
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Running ShoesI decided to go running this morning. I haven’t been for about two and a half years, but I remember how good I felt when I used to run regularly. I especially enjoyed running after we moved to Maine, because the climate is perfect and the scenery beautiful. After I figured out the confusing winding and dead-end roads, and no longer had to ask fellow runners for directions, it was a breeze. Since I started going to school and working full time, I’ve been feeling too overwhelmed to fit exercise into my busy schedule. Plus I haven’t been eager to brave the cold temperatures in the winter. I know. How can I call myself a “Mainer?” Anyway, anyone who gets out of a routine or habit knows how difficult it can be to get back into it.

My first motivation to get back into running was the gorgeous spring weather. Another incentive is the three grueling flights of stairs I have to climb at school. As I clear the last flight, using the railing to help pull me along, I try to feign complacency for those who may be watching. I work in the cardiology unit at the hospital which is on the ninth floor. For obvious reasons I use the elevator. One night my co-worker convinced me to take the stairs with her from the cafeteria. Midway up I wanted to punch her, kind of. As if that weren’t enough, my best boyfriend mentioned that I appear to be “squishier” than I used to be. He wasn’t trying to make me feel bad, but it got me thinking. Although I’m not overweight by any means, I am less firm than I once was. :-{
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Comments (2) Apr 13 2010


Stitched, Screwed, and Glued

Posted under: health.
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Ready to roam the hospital corridor

Ready to roam the hospital corridor

Now that my neurosurgeon has removed a significant amount of my pituitary tumor, screwed the front of my skull back into place, and properly stitched the skin around the side of my face together; I feel like a new woman. Either that, or Frankenstein. I think it merits super powers or something. So far though, I haven’t noticed anything extraordinary.

On August 25th I went in for my supra orbital craniotomy. The operation lasted three hours. Amelia, who went through the CNA training course with me, was my CNA again. She took care of me when I was admitted for my transsphenoidal surgery in May. Brent was great at keeping me company. Dr. Florman suggested he bring the girls to see me before my face started bruising up. I guess he thought it might scare them. It was nice to have them there, and they were great, as usual. My friend Maggie came to visit me several times. She helped teach my CNA training course, and she also works with me in the cardiology unit. She made me a delicious strawberry shake and got the girls treats as well. She is awesome! Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (12) Sep 23 2009


Supra-Orbital Craniotomy

Posted under: health.
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The transsphenoidal operation I had this past May was unsuccessful in removing the tumor (a macroadenoma) from my pituitary gland. According to my MRI, the tumor had moved up, and Dr. Florman, my neurosurgeon, wasn’t able to get to it through the nose.

We previously discussed having radiation therapy to slow down the tumor growth. However there is a risk of damaging the surrounding healthy cells and nerves. The optic nerves in front of it are especially sensitive. Dr. Florman strongly recommended that I have a supra-orbital craniotomy so that he could effectively remove enough of the tumor to allow for safer radiation therapy. Before agreeing to this type of surgery, I decided to get at least one other opinion. I saw Dr. Christensen, a neurosurgeon in Lewiston, Maine, who concurred with Dr. Florman. He held high regard for Dr. Florman and believed him to be the best for this particular surgery. I was discouraged that I really do need to undergo the surgery, yet I felt reassured that I am in good hands.

Dr. Florman explained to me the operation process, complete with the drilling, and insertion of plates and screws. It made me a little apprehensive, I admit. I am scheduled for surgery this Tuesday, August 25. This particular type of craniotomy is a subfrontal approach, so no (or very little) head shaving necessary. :-) Oh, and if someone asks me if I have a screw loose, I’ll simply say, “Uh, maybe.”

Comments (9) Aug 23 2009


Successful Surgery

Posted under: health.
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The transsphenoidal surgery to remove my pituitary macroadenoma went well, and I am happy to be home. Dr. Florman anticipated my hospital stay to be at least three to seven days, but I was discharged after only two days.

Dr. Oppenheim, the endocrinologist following me during my hospital stay, wanted to closely monitor my urine output and my salt-water balance. I stayed in the unit for post-operative and head trauma patients. It was a long corridor of beds separated by curtains. A head trauma patient was in a separate room next to me. She had been there a month after having been in a car accident. The nurse said that being young (early 20s), this patient would recover fairly quickly. She was still confused though, and was constantly yelling out which made it difficult for me to read or sleep. The nurse was kind enough to give me earplugs. :-)

Pituitary TumorI believe I benefited from having an ENT surgeon, Dr. Makaretz, assist in the nasal portion of my surgery. I was very apprehensive about his removing the nasal packing the next day because I still remember the painful, drawn-out process it had been when my neurosurgeon had done it a couple years ago. But when Dr. Makaretz removed the packing, it was hardly worse than a sneeze! After my first operation I had a cerebrospinal fluid leak which put me flat in bed for a week. Prior to my operation this time Dr. Makaretz took a fat graft from my abdomen to block my nasal sinus in order to prevent the leak. I don’t know how significant the fat graft was, but I did not have a CSF leak this time. When Brent asked why he left such a big scar on my belly, Dr. Makaretz explained that he had to dig deeper because there wasn’t enough fat. Sure, I bet that’s what he tells all the patients. ;-) I will see him in a week so that he can remove the sutures and shunts from my nose.

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Comments (12) May 23 2009


The Pollyanna Principle

Posted under: food, health, philosophy, psychology.
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I often wondered why I recall events in my life as mostly happy and positive. PollyannaThen this last semester as I was taking a sociology course, I came across a theory called the “Pollyanna Principle”. This is named after the book Pollyanna, about a young girl who fervently held a naively optimistic and grateful outlook on life. According to the Pollyanna Principle, the brain processes information that is pleasing and agreeable in a more precise and exact manner as compared to unpleasant information. We actually tend to remember past experiences as more rosy than they actually occurred.

In 1978 researchers Margaret Matlin and David Stang provided substantial evidence of the Pollyanna Principle. They found that people expose themselves to positive stimuli and avoid negative stimuli, they take longer to recognize what is unpleasant or threatening than what is pleasant and safe, and they report that they encounter positive stimuli more frequently than they actually do.

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Comments (4) May 20 2009