Saturday, May 24, 2008

Spent a wonderful day on the water

The view from the hull: spent the day paddling around West Branch State Park in my new kayak

If it's gotta be summer, this is how I want to spend it: floating around silently in the water on a bright day. This is how I spent today. Kayaking is wonderful because, like dog sledding, it is silent and eco-friendly and allows one to get an up-close-and-personal view of wildlife and be close to the earth.

Today, two sandhill cranes sqwaking at each other on an embankment caught my attention so I paddled toward them. One, obviously frazzled by the other, suddenly flew across the alcove into a tree; the other soon followed. I paddled silently, the orange kayak cutting the dark water until I was right underneath the cranes. I watched them for a few minutes and they looked down at me floating on the water. Then, in one swift movement, one flew away toward the north end of the lake, and the other followed.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Happy Birthdays!

Happy 4th Birthday, Elise!

Happy 9th Birthday, Sophie!

Friday, May 16, 2008

A birth in the family

Friday, May 9, 2008

Not with a bang, but a whimper

I am cleaning out eight years worth of my life's work right now with a heavy heart: certifications from accredited treatment programs; years and years worth of research from hours I spent in medical libraries; notebooks and binders full of notes and committee meeting minutes; health education tools, handouts, copies of powerpoint presentations; hundreds of names of physicians I've worked with over the years.

And, in the end, eight years of my life ended, as T.S. Elliot said: "not with a bang, but a whimper."

He was referring to the world, but in many ways, I feel like the world I've known -- that of sterile hospital walls, patient charts and illnesses -- has ended amazingly anticlimactically. Hardly a soul noticed me as I passed through the corridors of the hospital one final time to drop off my key and pick up one remaining box in my office. There was no celebratory party to wish me farewell from my coworkers, no tears, no laughter. Nothing. It just happened like any other day.

Just like that, I've rounded a corner into another phase of my life. Quietly, but still, completely.

Healthcare is an industry, a big business, and greedy and self-serving, just like any big business. I have emerged a different person than when I entered this world on February 28, 2001.

When I entered, I was na├»ve, hopeful, still believing whole-heartedly that physicians and other healthcare providers genuinely care about helping people. Afterall, all physicians still take the Hippocratic Oath before practicing medicine. Written by Hippocrates in the 4th century B.C., this statement became the cornerstone of modern medicine that states, essentially, first “do no harm.”

But in 2003, my viewpoint abruptly shifted, thanks to a candid conversation with a physician I was working with at the time. I talked openly with him about my frustrations with launching a program at the hospital to engage smokers in a dialogue about the dangers of smoking around their children. These children typically had some form of breathing diagnosis and needed desperately to be freed from the bondage of breathing their parents’ 4000 + chemicals from smoking.

My logic was simple: take the few extra minutes to address this issue during a patient visit, and in the long run, it will save both provider and parent the stress of another sick visit.

What this physician said in response to my logic was like an anvil of understanding smashing down on my head.

“Frankly,” he said, “I make more for a sick visit than a well visit.”

In one sentence, I suddenly realized this monster -- the healthcare industry -- I was immersed in, his motivations becoming clear to me. And I believe that was the beginning of my separation from the healthcare industry.

That was over five years ago. Monday, I begin a whole new chapter in my life, closing the book on healthcare, the business of sickness. And while I clean out years of paperwork and things that seemed important, from where I sit at this moment, they don't seem all that important. And now, I feel like that anvil has lifted.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

End of nearly 10 years of resources for smokers who want to quit in Ohio

Yesterday, I ended a smoking cessation class at a local hospital with a group of people who particularly touched my spirit. Many of them were hard-core smokers; many of them had smoking-related health issues. Many had doubts about their ability to succeed in quitting smoking.

Last night was the last class for this group, but also the eve of a turning point in tobacco cessation resources for the state of Ohio, and for me.

The Ohio Senate voted almost unanimously yesterday to clear out the remaining tobacco funds, a proposal that began suddenly two weeks ago by Ohio's governor Strickland. The funds, originally earmarked for tobacco cessation education for smokers who want to quit, were won in 1998's historical tobacco settlement which forced the tobacco company's to fork over $2.3 billion in damages to 14 states for years of lies about the health effects of tobacco use.

What this means now is, many thousands of people who have successfully quit and stayed quit because of this programming and funding will now be without resources, and many people in hospitals and health departments all across the state will be without work.

At the end of the class last night, I informed the group of this passing legislation. They then gave me cards of thanks for the class, looks of gratitude in their eyes.

Last night was particularly sad because I will not see those looks of gratitude and appreciation from the people in my classes any more, and it is likely no one else will have the opportunity to have these free resources and reduced-cost medications for quitting smoking.

After having worked nearly eight years in healthcare and with addictions, tobacco addiction is repeatedly said to be the toughest to kick.

I've seen a baby who weighed 13 ounces because she was born prematurely to a sixteen-year-old mother who smoked.

I've seen people fighting for every breath from COPD and other smoking-related illnesses, still going outside for a smoke -- a testament to this addiction.

I've seen a woman blow herself up because she was drunk, had gasoline on her skin and tried lighting a cigarette over a stove.

It is a sad day for me, and for all smokers who want to quit in Ohio. It's a sad day for lots of health educators in the state who will now be without jobs. Last night as I left my group at the local hospital, I wept on the drive home.

Saying goodbye of your own accord is hard enough. But saying goodbye because of a greedy government who can't balance its books and continually raids funds set aside specifically for helping people quit tobacco leaves me feeling helpless and with little faith in a government that's supposed to be run "by the people, for the people."