Other Side of the Bed

Luckily I have not spent much time truly on the other side of the bed as a patient. And those moments have been brief, though worth being snapshot vignettes in this post.

There was the time at 18 years of age that I had surgery on my tail bone. When I went to the post operative exam, the surgeon had three medical students shadowing him that day (males all of them, not much older than I). The nurse put me in a room, noting I had sweat pants and a t shirt on and would not need to change to a gown.  When the surgeon and his students entered, there was a brief exchange:

“How’re you doing?”

“I’m fine.  Can I go back to work?”

“”Well, let’s see, bottoms up!” he exclaimed as he tipped me into leaning over the exam table as he pulled down my sweat pants, exposing my surgical incision (and buttocks) to the students. To this day I wonder. Was he doing a bravado thing for the students? Was it an attempt at funny, with me included and not as the object?

A few years later, when I was in grad school, I was hospitalized at UC Berkeley with a pneumonia. I was 21. Thought to be a bug called mycoplasma, the treatment those days was tetracycline.  That stay was notable for several things.  Because the hospital was right on campus, friends could visit at all hours- and bring me things I needed, like cigarettes.  In those days the only reason I could not smoke in the room was because I was on oxygen.  Can you believe it, pneumonia and no policy against smoking?  You could often find me leaning out the window with my oxygen off, having my smoke.

While there, my face, arms, chest and back all broke out in the most amazing case of an acne like rash.  It hurt, it burned, and it itched.  None of the doctors seemed concerned, though they would say “Hmmm, I wonder”  or “Hmmm, have you been sweating a lot when your fever breaks?” I was  a relatively compliant patient (other than the smoking), sitting there, taking what medicines they gave, asking very few questions. There were also had medical students on a “student health” rotation from UC San Francisco.  One day, in came the attending doctor, white coat pocket’s full of papers and gadgets. With him were 5 young men.  Yes men…few women yet.  They had on short white coats, with pockets stuffed more that those of the attending doctor.  By the time of this incident I was very close to the same age as them.  Most medical students went straight from college into med school.

They circled the bed with the attending at the center looking at me from the foot of the bed; the students, two or three to each side, were at his side with “What new exciting thing will I learn” expressions on their eager faces.  I, the specimen, was asked to raise the head of the bed and sit up.  This was not hard (I mean, really, I had just been at the window, hanging half way out to satisfy my nicotine urge).  I complied.  While they did not have beards and those big white collars, I could not help but think of Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.    I almost laughed out loud.  If I had any inkling I would be heading for medicine, I might have been more understanding, but no, I was going to be a social policies person, community advocate extraordinaire. So these fellows amused me with their devotion to, well I was not sure what.

As the attending spoke about my case with words that were at that time a foreign language, he reached across the bed and with aplomb, he pulled down my gown, dropping it at my waist. There I was, sitting, at age 21, bare breasted with this horrific acne like rash, facing these eager students and their teacher as he lectured about my skin condition, tying it to the fevers and sweats I had in the previous days. This monologue was probably only a couple of minutes. It felt like an eternity.  I sat there dutifully.

We teach differently and hopefully our students and residents know to attend to patient comfort.Knee Device_2

This is me, 2009, fractured tibial plateau, post repair by a surgeon who held my hand while they put me under anesthesia.  I cannot tell you how much that meant to me.

Knowing that there is so little I can know about another’s experience is one thing; life reinforcing that knowledge hits it home.

All the time, I start patients on lisinopril and other medications that are called ACE Inhibitors.  Some significant proportion of them come in saying, “Change it. The cough is unbearable.”  When they say “cough,” I am all over it.  I change their medication to something else.  I ask questions about the cough to convince the patient and me that the cough is not from an illness rather than a side effect of the medication.  I ask about fever, cold symptoms, smoking, sputum production, timing of the cough, things that make it better and worse.  Inevitably the patient has stopped the medication and the cough has vanished, poof, just vanished. That’s enough for me; I suggest an alternative.

This past month my doctor and I have been discussing my blood pressure.  From the 14 hours I could tolerate the 24 hour blood pressure monitor, it was clear.

OK first, to any of my patients who I have subjected to a 24 hour blood pressure monitor, my heartfelt apologies.  I thought it was a nifty high tech device that silently and unobtrusively recorded blood pressures as the day went by. NOT.  It is a clumsy cuff with a big fanny pack to be worn.  I was more or less ok with that.  BUT it beeped every time it was going to take a blood pressure, leaving me explaining it to co-workers and then awakening every 20 minutes during the night, to finally throw it across the room at 2AM. I thought I would have a hypertensive crisis from wearing the thing.

My results were clear:  to manage my blood pressure all I needed to do was not work and spend a lot of time in bed. I like that idea, but I could picture the bills mounting, so opted for a very tiny, almost homeopathic dose of lisinopril, 2.5 mg for any of you who might be in the guild.

Sweet, I thought. Days 1 and two went fine and I even remembered to take the pill.  I was getting over a cold and was not surprised by the occasional cough.  (For those who do not know me, I do not any longer hang out windows smoking; I quit 28.5 years ago, but am sure, when I have a cold, that my lungs remind me of those days.) Then came day three.  At about 1030 that morning I felt a tickle in my throat.  No big deal.  A tickle is a tickle.  Thing to do: clear my throat.  I coughed once and went into this several minute spasm that went from gasping for air to wanting to reach down and tear the tickle from my throat to knowing that some more coughing would not solve it. With a drink of water, it settled down.  At 2PM there was a repeat, and again at 5 and 9PM.  The next three days were no different.  NOTHING prevented them; this was like nothing I had ever experienced, even in my smoker’s cough or whooping cough days.

I stopped taking the lisinopril and still need to tell my doctor.  That very weird cough is gone.  The real test would be to take it again and see if it has come back.  I actually have suggested that to patients with whatever med they are not tolerating, to prove to them (and me) that it really was a side effect to the medication.  I did that with tetracyline.  Guess what: same rash, I am allergic to it.  With this lisinopril, I am not sure I want to take my own recommendation.

What I cannot believe is that I have never really understood from what patients described to me that this cough is really beyond annoying.  There is no way I could see patients, teach or even concentrate with it!

The last of recent lessons has to do with cataracts.  I have probably had over a thousand patients get cataract surgery, almost all very very happy with the results.  NOT ONE has talked about the 5 weeks of 4 times a day drops (four different ones, spaced 5 minutes a piece) Have you ever tried to do something and know that in five minutes you have to do drop #2 and five minutes after that drop #3 and after five minutes later drop #4…only to repeat 4 times that day? That requires a lot of focus.

And not one person talked about the challenge of how do you see when you cannot get your new prescription for six weeks?  My surgery on my right eye was a piece of cake.  For the first time since age 13 I can see 20/25 without glasses.  Cool. Here’s the catch!  I cannot read anything out of it.  If I put on my glasses, my left eye is happy and can see mid, far, and near.  For my right eye nothing is right. I have to wait six weeks to get that script. If I have my glasses off, my left eye is not good at near, mid, or far distances, but my right eye can see far.  How did I not know this from all our patients?  I am fine.  My brain has adjusted and luckily I have not had a complex tear to repair for a woman having a baby or other need for both eyes to work together.  Tomorrow I get a pair of glasses that will be right for both eyes until the left eye is done and then I will have six more weeks.

To my patients:  I now know better how to ask about your experience.  And I celebrate your resilience and how your carry on and adjust, regardless!


Parent is a noun, not a verb.  In late twentieth and the current centuries it has been relegated to verb status by many who speak to the art of being a parent, as in “to parent.” Leaving the semantic argument aside, there are developmental challenges along the way of being a parent.  How we spend time with, coach, and nurture a two year old is different than for a five year old, twelve year old, twenty-five year old.

One quote I found: “Parenting isn’t a noun but a verb–an ongoing process instead of an accomplishment.  And that no matter how many years you put into the job, the learning curve is, well, fairly flat.” Jodi Picoult House Rules

When our children are little we are in active verb mode. We nurture our kids not just by our presence; we set the standards, the expectations, the family values.  We guide, we play with, we love our children.  We do their laundry, buy, cook and serve their food, coach their teams and attend their games, help with homework, be sure the homework is done, take them and their friends places, teach them to ride bikes and practice reading and math, celebrate their accomplishments, wipe tears from their eyes, and tuck them in at night with stories and hugs.

Then they start to shun our verb like presence in their lives, brushing it off like they brush off lint on their dark sweaters with the apparently emerging demonstration that they care about how they look (even if that look isn’t one we particularly like).  Well, actually, it’s all the better from their perspective if it’s a look we won’t particularly like. The practice we got with our two and four year olds, hearing “no, I do it myself” should serve us well when not a decade later their cry is undeniable.

I don’t know about you, but for me I was in boot camp training to transition from verb to noun.

“Mom, why are you bugging me about my work?”  “Mom, are you going to come to college and make sure I get enough sleep and eat the right food?”  These were all good points, but in my mind I had the answers ready, even as I tried, often unsuccessfully,  to avoid sharing them: “I am still paying the bills.”  “Maybe you don’t know how important this is.” “You think you are older than you are or act.” My thoughts did not dampen the push back, nor should it have.

I admit to jealousy that  some parents have an easier time with this transition than I did. A concept and an image both helped me.  The image is of those bobble head dolls that sit on dashboards.  My job: imitate them as much as I could.  The concept:  stop parenting as a verb and embrace parenting as a noun.

My sons are adults now.  Unless I am asked or it involves my resources, there really is no need to be a verb.  Sometimes it is hard.

The other night I was giving my son a ride somewhere. All day I had been worrying about something that (1) was not really my business and (2) was really not worth worry and (3) did I mention it was not my business? So I brought it up in the car and the words floated, no rushed from my mouth in a torrent I couldn’t stop soon enough to prevent them reaching my son’s ears. As the sound waves were traveling, I realized I had just taken a giant step backward. Verb, giving advice that was not asked for or needed. And my son’s radar is finely tuned for sniffing out parental back sliding. He called me out, suggested (with amazing tact, given the visual darts coming my way) alternative wording. And I apologized.

Some kids are more tolerant of their parents and some maybe even enjoy frequent meddling (verb) by their parents.  I guess I can thank my kids for the hard core training they give me.  Wait, that’s a verb!  Can I look forward to noun from them some day?

The vote

I started three different posts tonight and cannot decide on the order.  Which first?  Which second?  Which third or not at all.

This blog has 150 “followers.”  Now is your chance to weigh in.  Here are the choices for the next few.  What do you want to hear?

1. Parenting as a noun (vs verb), a back slide (car ride Wed night)

2. life on the other side, eg in the bed as patient

3. Counting on the Latino vote

4. Getting quiet with yourself

Tomorrow will be one of those. If you weigh in, that will decide which.

Awakening in the USA

Some ask, what do all my posts,  health policy mixed with family, memoir,  have to do with moments?  We live in them!  Moments have content.  These current times will be remembered when most national elected officials from both parties share some of history’s lowest approval ratings. Moments, where we live, how conscious and intentional we are, how we use them, are really all we have.  Relationships happen within them.  Relationships end within them.  Both lead to change and either forward or backward movement. I am a generalist and have many domains in play at any given moment.  There are many who can attest that I cannot be narrowed: my parents and grandparents, my college advisor, my grad school advisor, the specialists who wanted me to pick their field during med school, and on and on and on.  For me the threads connect. My hope is that readers will see what the moments mean when I write (and maybe want to read the book if someone takes it and it moves from manuscript to book, Life Lessons, What Our Patients Teach Us)

Today and this week  the press is reminding us of 1863 and 1963.  The events they remember were touchstones in my life. 1863 was having its hundredth anniversary in 1963 when many moments were pivotal for me.

There I was, a recent transplant (August 1962) from California to Virginia, sophomore in high school.  Me: a pudgy teen with acne and a decent brain in the throes of who am I, though I did not know it.  There were existential crises like when I found out my friends would think I was a snob when I did not recognize them because I was too vain to wear my new glasses.  I had my first real boyfriend, a congressional page.

My world turned on the events of 1963 in ways that shaped me.  I am sure there were the foundations laid by other circumstances in our lives, like having an older brother whose brilliance I accepted and being a young girl in the 60s whose guidance counselor told me, because I was female, that my aspirations should aim at state teachers college “and not higher” or my mothers flight of fury to take on this woman for trying to limit my dreams.  I can write more about all of that and my development in those contexts, but tonight is about 1963.

To get there we need to fast forward to 1964.  It was the World’s Fair in New York.  My brother was off to college. My parents, my two younger sisters, and I boarded a bus to NY to meet my mother’s parents, see New York, and do the World’s Fair. On the bus, I was working on a talk for my “expository speech” in debate club.  Titled “Building Bridges,” I called for racial equality and inclusivity. I showed it to my mother.  She actually asked if I had written it or copied it from somewhere.  I was taken aback, furious, and with a typical 15 year old posture, I cried, “How could you even think that?” silencing those in the seats nearby. This was the most original piece I had ever written. How dare she? Did she know me so little that she could not understand from where this came?  She imagined I plagiarized it?  Really? It came from her upbringing of me…and 1963.  She raised us with  “all are equal; we are the same.” The 1963 opened my eyes.


January of 1963 was the 100 anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation (1/1/1863).  We were studying the civil war in class.  It was on the news.

I was that teen with my first boy friend, that Capitol Hill Page whose dad was a congressman from somewhere.  We would go to DC for dinner, me with my fake id, have steaks and wine and cigarettes.  There was the luau at LB Johnson’s house, then Vice President, because Lucy Bird was also dating a Page. That made me a grown-up, right?

June of 1963: John F. Kennedy issued a proclamation ordering the Governor Wallace of Alabama to comply with the 1954(!) law of school desegregation. When Wallace blocked the entrance to the University, JFK brought in the National Guard and Wallace stepped aside.

Dulles Airport had been built and sometimes my friends and I would drive out there, all dressed up, just to be in that space, new with driver’s licenses, acting adult.

August of 1963, with the 100 year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation (1/1/1863) and of the Gettysburg Address (11/19/1863), Martin Luther King and 200,000 others marched on Washington.

August of 1963, my brother was leaving for college on the left coast and I was convincing my parents that I could have his room and paint it pink, (which by the way was on a different level, allowing me to both sneak out and smoke cigarettes with the window open and, I thought, be undetected.)

Also in 1963 the Beatles hit the US.  They were not on Ed Sullivan until 1964, but as my musically talented brother validated my more visceral very positive response and said:  “this is very talented and complex music.”

November of 1963: I was sitting in a class when the announcement came.  “The President has been shot.” JFK was dead, just weeks before he could have hoped to have the civil rights bill passed, or would it have been?  How did that moment bring history forward with a big tradeoff?

Regardless of that answer, for me it was a year of awakening to a larger world, to the imperfect union we have, to the work we still face, as Lincoln noted in the Gettysburg address. In this week and year 2013, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address and the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death, I sit here knowing what the cumulative moments of 1963 did to grow me and they feed me still.  And you?

Students’ eye towards the future

What we know from many studies is that most medical students enter medical school with a stated altruism, many wanting to work for social justice, to serve the underserved, and in primary care careers. And then the attrition starts, moment by moment, and it is down hill from there.

By graduation, the students going into rural and underserved careers drop the majority of those initially interested.

Think of it as a pipeline.  It has a diameter to hold all of the students going who, at entry, want these careers.  At graduation there is a much smaller trickle of those going into primary care and of those, a few drops choose rural or urban underserved practices. I won’t bore you with all that we don’t know about how to impact this; suffice it to say that it matters to some of us medical educators and health policy nuts and so we keep trying.  There are of course the extrinsic factors (like “specialty bashing” or remuneration differentials that select procedures over time spent with a patient in life style conversations) and we don’t control those. And we keep trying to impact what we can.

Tonight, maybe seventy-five people were in the room, ranging from deans to first year medical students with faculty, staff, and second, third, and fourth year students in between.  Two thirds were students. The states of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho (WWAMI) were represented with both deans, students, and staff.  A few “out of states” students were there as well, at least one from California.

Some of us have spent a good portion of our work lives developing and feeding that pipeline I mentioned above and then nurturing the students in it to continue their commitment to careers caring for rural and urban underserved communities.  The WWAMI states have 28% of the US land mass and only 3.5% of the population, of which 35% are rural residents.  And what we might call rural in Washington is considered urban in Montana, Wyoming, Alaska.

The University of Washington Medical School serves those five states, through the WWAMI Program.  Two recent initiatives to nurture that pipeline are the Underserved Pathway  (UP) and the TRUST Program. The UP is a program any student can join, providing structure to students for planning their curriculum, mentorship, and on-line educational modules.  The TRUST program admits a cohort of students to be scholars (now 10 a year in Montana, 5 in Eastern Washington, 5 in Western Washington, 5 in Idaho, and soon some from Alaska and Wyoming) from an applicant pool who have both the credentials for admission to the school of medicine and those that support a stated desire to have a career in rural or underserved health care. TRUST scholars have a longitudinal relationship with one rural community for the entire four years of medical school. They spend two weeks in their community before first year classes even begin, visit during the years one and two, a month in the summer after first year, and 4-7 months in third year, returning for elective work in fourth year.  All complete the UP.

The regional deans from Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Eastern Washington and Western Washington are in town this week for a variety of meetings purposely packed into one week.  As part of this visit, they like to spend time with the students from their state and we (TRUST and UP) want to pull them all together for an educational session.  That was tonight’s gathering.

After a Kaiser Foundation video on the ACA and a clicker response quiz, small groups formed to discuss hopes, fears, impacts, and real stories these students have already witnessed.  Each state dean gave an overview and update of what is happening in their state.  While Washington is the only of the five with medicaid expansion, several are on board with exchanges and several are having ongoing medicaid expansion discussions with strong support from groups like physicians, hospitals, business, labor, and others.

In the wrap up it was clear that these medical students see their lives as having a social context and contract to improve health and  access.

They worry about their capacity and acknowledge we need new models of care.

They know that whether they are activists or not, they are being political, which opens a discussion of how to be active effectively.

Many believe that universal single payer insurance will be the only thing that will work.

They are realistic that change is hard and will be incremental.

I worried that this would feel like a downer.  From the energy in the room and the comments after, I think it was energizing.  Lesson for me:  hard topics with no easy solutions are less so with the support of others.

And me:  I am deeply touched by the realism, passion, energy, and clarity of these students.  They seem up for the task.  And there are more of them than were in my generation. If our programs keep their fire kindled, I will feel success.  If one of each of us elders fosters two or more who take on the mission, I will feel success.  Tonight I am grateful to be part of the effort and to our students who keep me with some modicum of focus and youth.

The US Health Care System

From Aaron Carroll from JAMA

“From JAMA. I reformatted the abstract, and broke it up into paragraphs to make it easier to read:

Health care in the United States includes a vast array of complex interrelationships among those who receive, provide, and finance care. In this article, publicly available data were used to identify trends in health care, principally from 1980 to 2011, in the source and use of funds (“economic anatomy”), the people receiving and organizations providing care, and the resulting value created and health outcomes.

In 2011, US health care employed 15.7% of the workforce, with expenditures of $2.7 trillion, doubling since 1980 as a percentage of US gross domestic product (GDP) to 17.9%. Yearly growth has decreased since 1970, especially since 2002, but, at 3% per year, exceeds any other industry and GDP overall.

Government funding increased from 31.1% in 1980 to 42.3% in 2011. Despite the increases in resources devoted to health care, multiple health metrics, including life expectancy at birth and survival with many diseases, shows the United States trailing peer nations. The findings from this analysis contradict several common assumptions. Since 2000,

  1. price (especially of hospital charges [+4.2%/y], professional services [3.6%/y], drugs and devices [+4.0%/y], and administrative costs [+5.6%/y]), not demand for services or aging of the population, produced 91% of cost increases;
  2. personal out-of-pocket spending on insurance premiums and co-payments have declined from 23% to 11%; and
  3. chronic illnesses account for 84% of costs overall among the entire population, not only of the elderly.

Three factors have produced the most change:

  1. consolidation, with fewer general hospitals and more single-specialty hospitals and physician groups, producing financial concentration in health systems, insurers, pharmacies, and benefit managers;
  2. information technology, in which investment has occurred but value is elusive; and
  3. the patient as consumer, whereby influence is sought outside traditional channels, using social media, informal networks, new public sources of information, and self-management software.

These forces create tension among patient aims for choice, personal care, and attention; physician aims for professionalism and autonomy; and public and private payer aims for aggregate economic value across large populations. Measurements of cost and outcome (applied to groups) are supplanting individuals’ preferences. Clinicians increasingly are expected to substitute social and economic goals for the needs of a single patient. These contradictory forces are difficult to reconcile, creating risk of growing instability and political tensions. A national conversation, guided by the best data and information, aimed at explicit understanding of choices, tradeoffs, and expectations, using broader definitions of health and value, is needed.

My frustration? That anyone treats any of this as news. At some point we need to stop diagnosing the problem and start doing something about it.”

And then factor in the uninsured, the health disparities, and social determinants.  Are we having the wrong conversations? Are they even conversations?

Halfway photo break

trees sculp garden

It is November 16th, past the midway point.  As a thank you for sticking this out I am going to simply post some pictures from around here in the Northwest.  And I am going to sit back, pretend it is summer, finish being on call, and tomorrow read the New York Times, wishing I were sitting in a raft on Lake Sutherland. MtR arboretumThe photos above are, starting from the top, woods on the Olympic Peninsula, Space Needle seen through Cloud Cover by Teresita Hernandez (Olympic Sculpture Garden, Seattle), Mt Rainier sunrise from Lake Washington (taken by my son), The Arboretum in fall.


Code status continued

Sharon M. posted a comment that I had informed Eva’s son and it was ultimately up to him.  True that he was key in this process.  He was the voice for Eva. If he chose, is everyone who cares for Eva bound by his decision?  What if the harm of resuscitation outweighed the benefit? What if it is a different story and the patient was in an accident and is in a coma.  The doctors think aggressive treatment can save her, return her to a functional life with quality (and who gets to decide that anyway)?  The surrogate says, no, do not intubate.  Whose decision should carry the weight?  How would YOU decide?

What could I do?  What should I do with Eva’s case?

We were taught certain key values in ethics classes:

Autonomy: Every person has the right to self determination.  This would include the surrogate decision maker, like Eva’s son, acting on her behalf.

Beneficence: We are to act for the good of the patient

Non-Maleficence: “Primum no nocere”  or First, do no harm

Justice: This calls for the fair distribution of scarce resources and fairness and equity in delivery of care (not a hallmark of the US Healthcare System)

Respect:  Every person should be treated with dignity

Honesty and clarity: Informed consent comes from this concept.

There is a four box methodology for sorting through all this, which is copied from here 

The Principles of Beneficence and Nonmaleficence

  1. What is the patient’s medical problem? Is the problem acute? Chronic? Critical? Reversible? Emergent? Terminal?
  2. What are the goals of treatment?
  3. In what circumstances are medical treatments not indicated?
  4. What are the probabilities of success of various treatment options?
  5. In sum, how can this patient be benefited by medical and nursing care, and how can harm be avoided?
The Principle of Respect for Autonomy

  1. Has the patient been informed of benefits and risks, understood this information, and given consent?
  2. Is the patient mentally capable and legally competent, and is there evidence of incapacity?
  3. If mentally capable, what preferences about treatment is the patient stating?
  4. If incapacitated, has the patient expressed prior preferences?
  5. Who is the appropriate surrogate to make decisions for the incapacitated patient?
  6. Is the patient unwilling or unable to cooperate with medical treatment? If so, why?
The Principles of beneficence and Nonmaleficence and Respect for Autonomy

  1. What are the prospects, with or without treatment, for a return to normal life, and what physical, mental, and social deficits might the patient experience even if treatment succeeds?
  2. On what grounds can anyone judge that some quality of life would be undesirable for a patient who cannot make or express such a judgment?
  3. Are there biases that might prejudice the provider’s evaluation of the patient’s quality of life?
  4. What ethical issues arise concerning improving or enhancing a patient’s quality of life?
  5. Do quality-of-life assessments raise any questions regarding changes in treatment plans, such as forgoing life-sustaining treatment?
  6. What are plans and rationale to forgo life-sustaining treatment?
  7. What is the legal and ethical status of suicide?
The Principles of Justice and Fairness

  1. Are there professional, interprofessional, or business interests that might create conflicts of interest in the clinical treatment of patients?
  2. Are there parties other than clinicians and patients, such as family members, who have an interest in clinical decisions?
  3. What are the limits imposed on patient confidentiality by the legitimate interests of third parties?
  4. Are there financial factors that create conflicts of interest in clinical decisions?
  5. Are there problems of allocation of scarce health resources that might affect clinical decisions?
  6. Are there religious issues that might affect clinical decisions?
  7. What are the legal issues that might affect clinical decisions?
  8. Are there considerations of clinical research and education that might affect clinical decisions?
  9. Are there issues of public health and safety that affect clinical decisions?
  10. Are there conflicts of interest within institutions or organizations (e.g. hospitals) that may affect clinical decisions and patient welfare?

Back when I first was a student and resident, we involved patients and families in discussions of code status.  Usually we agreed.  If we did not, we would continue to talk with patients and families and tell them if we thought the person was a “no code.”  This process became more formalized in the places I practiced, but there still were still times when the patients and their families did not agree with us, the doctors.  We talked and inevitably we agreed, always, in my practice, erring on the side of letting someone stay in the full resuscitation category.

Never before Eva had I reached this block.  Take a look at the four boxes.  What do you need to know in Eva’s case?  How would you approach this?  If it is totally Eva’s son’s right to decide, do I have an obligation to perform CPR and advanced life support measures, even if they go against what I think I took as a physician’s oath?

In all ethical crises, two or more values come into conflict.  In this one it is where autonomy comes into conflict with beneficence/non-maleficence. Can you weigh in?

Code Status

Curled up like a little child taking a nap, she seemed even smaller than her ninety pounds.  She was clean, her hair in a tidy braid, her skin soft and moist, and she had no signs of skin breakdown or bed sores, the absence of which told us that her son clearly took time bathing her, using moisturizers, and frequently turning her to prevent prolonged pressure on any one area.  Sometimes she would open her eyes but they did not register any recognition — even of her son, even when he called her name, Eva.  Mostly now at 88 years of age, she just lay there all curled up, no longer able to uncurl, eyes closed.  https://i0.wp.com/farm5.staticflickr.com/4080/4823054554_b0ebf60d20.jpg

 We could get no response from Eva unless she experienced pain.  Turning her would sometimes bring a cry and trying to stretch her contracted limbs always brought one.  She wore a diaper that was changed regularly by her son at home and by our staff when she was in the hospital.  A few years earlier she would wake up and could be fed.  That ability had slowly vanished and her son elected to having a feeding tube placed as her sole way to receive nutrition.  He wanted to keep his mother alive as long as he could.  Her diagnosis?  Advanced and advancing dementia, a combination of Alzheimer’s and small strokes.

Eva’s caregiver was her son, a man in his fifties who immigrated with her, leaving his position in their home country. His only income was the state support as his mother’s caregiver.  Every few months Eva would develop some malady—a cough, a urine infection, or mysterious fevers. We would hospitalize her, noting that during her stays, her son rarely visited. This limited our ability to form a relationship, a partnership with this important person in Eva’s life, but we believed everyone needs a break. For that reason, his absence did not bother our interns and residents or me and the other faculty doctors. Usually after several days, we would pronounce Eva well enough for discharge and he would come and get her or be at home to receive her when the cabulance brought her home.

When Eva’s condition progressed to the unresponsive curled up, unable to uncurl or respond being, we initiated a conversation with her son who had durable power of attorney for health matters. If her heart stopped, what would he want for her? What would she want?  He was adamant that he wanted full resuscitation.  We talked with him about how she was in the terminal stages of Alzheimer’s and asked him about the quality of her life.  He remained firm:  resuscitate her if she needed it.

There often are family fears around this discussion of what we call the “code status” (the do or do not resuscitate).  Will we give antibiotics if needed?  Are we stopping all treatment?  Will we be less attentive to someone who is a “DNR” (do not resuscitate) than to someone who is “full code” or do resuscitate? Where is the line drawn?  We emphasized that our care would be ongoing and we would aggressively treat the reason she was in the hospital. The question was a what if.  What if her heart stopped?  What if she needed to be intubated?  He did not change his mind. He wanted her to be a “full code.”

Medical futility is a situation when intervening is not likely to have a good outcome or to produce good quality for the person.  There are easy examples: should a person with advanced lung cancer, with spread to other organs, be given an organ transplant?  When we think about the rususcitate or not question, age and other medical conditions influence the predicatbility of success. For Eva, if her heart stopped, indicating she was basically trying to die, the likelihood of surviving a full resuscitation was less than 1%.  And “codes” are brutal:  ribs get broken, livers and spleens lacerated, lungs punctured.  This is certainly not all the time, but the older and more frail a person is, it is more likely that it will result in what feels to us like torture and it is least likely that the person will survive.  Some states allow a physician, with certain protocols to say it is medically futile.

There have been times when it is clear to me that a family knows they do not want to prolong suffering and yet are incapable of making the decision to have an order of “do not resuscitate.”  When I talk about the odds for the patient as being exquisitely low and say I can sign the form saying and documenting why it is medically futile, they are grateful.  This was not the case with Eva’s son.  He wanted the “full code.”

What could I do?  What should I do?


The image is a sculpture by Ron Mueck called Old Woman in Bed can be found here. 


Ethical questions

Why did I write that story yesterday?

Several conversations brought it back to mind.  One was with Steph Cooper, the ER doc I mentioned, who told me about the piece she wrote on “ethical crises in clinical care.”  (I am still waiting for the link Steph to share it here and increase your readership.)  A second was with some faculty and students with whom I am working to address needed development of our “learning environment.”  We have ongoing discussions about how to make it safe for students, staff, faculty, and residents to report what they perceive as unprofessional behavior, abuse, or mistreatment.  Even defining what is abuse and mistreatment or unprofessional behavior is fraught with large gray zones.  Add to that the differential ranks and our students often don’t feel they can directly give feedback to someone who is going to grade them, especially before the grade is submitted.

I understand that vulnerability and that is why we are creating many avenues for conversation and/or reporting.  At the same time, maybe all people have a line in the sand where, if crossed, they would be willing to stand up in the moment and speak.  Many ethical dilemmas are much smaller than the story I told yesterday and some are larger. Each asks us as individuals to make a determination whether to stand, where to stand, how to stand, speak and walk, and about the direction action or inaction will take us as individuals and as communities.

 These challenges happen in everyone’s lives. I will have some more examples from clinical care over the next few days. Please,  share ones you have faced.

Maria did not have tubal ligation surgery that day.  My colleague and I definitely wondered if we were outliers, which is what the chief resident wanted us to believe. I have no way of knowing how other students would have responded, but would have liked to believe, would still like to believe that my classmates and others would have the same response that we had.

In those days, at that hospital, the on-call attending faculty doctor was not always in the operating room with the chief resident. He was however in the hospital.

One of us stayed in the operating room, threatening to lie across Maria and prevent the surgery.  The other went to call and find the attending doctor and report the incident.  He came immediately, stayed for the cesarean section, and told the chief that he could not perform a tubal ligation. He later spoke with us individually and with the chief resident, making it clear that this incident could not be repeated and that the impact on our performance evaluation from this incident would be neutral from the chief’s perspective and positive from his.


It was a typical night on call, if you can name any night on call for a third year medical student as typical. And as much fun as our obstetrics rotation was, this night was would turn out to be neither fun nor typical.

There were probably a couple of patients in labor. Though I don’t remember, that would have been the usual scene.  What I do remember is one woman I’ll call Maria.  Maria arrived having painful contractions three minutes apart for the prior several hours.  This was going to be her 7th birth, which had the other student and I almost gleeful that one of us would actually get to help with a vaginal delivery that night.  If we were lucky, it might even be early enough to get a little sleep in the call room. The “call room” would be better named the bunk-house, with its four bunks and central location a few uninsulated feet from and not out of earshot of anyone in labor.

When she arrived, Maria said her pregnancy had been quite normal although she didn’t have all the prenatal care that was recommended back in 1977.  She recently moved from El Salvador to San Francisco with her husband and 4 of their children, leaving two behind living with grandparents.  They spoke no English.

She was indeed in labor and her cervix was starting to dilate and with each contraction she would concentrate, close her eyes, wipe some sweat from her face and breathe slowly.  The thing we students could do best was coach a woman in labor, but Maria was a pro and clearly could have taken over our job if she were not busy right in those moments. After a bit she and her husband went for a walk around the ward, stopping for each contraction, hoping the labor would speed up. She went from bed and some fetal monitoring to walking every hour or so for many hours.  She did not dilate further.  After many hours and into the middle of the night, “we” (that would be the resident on the service) decided to augment her labor with oxytocin, a medicine that strengthens uterine contractions. Her contractions got closer together and the continuous fetal heart monitoring showed the baby to be tolerating the stronger and closer together contractions.

The head would not descend in her pelvis.  That’s not too unusual for a woman who has had several pregnancies and births, but at some point the cervix needs to dilate and the head needs to descend.  She made it to 6 centimeters dilation and we realized the head was not in a great position to descend.  Usually the head is either occiput anterior (the baby facing the floor if the mom is on her back) or occiput posterior (the baby facing the ceiling, or sunny side up, if the mom is on her back).  This baby was facing one side, or occiput transverse. Babies in this position often have difficulty navigating the birth canal.  We were not able to rotate the head and the head remained too high to safely break her bag of waters and see if then we could rotate the head or if it would descend on its own.  There was another aspect to this labor. Her other babies, born in El Salvador were in the 6-7 pound range and we estimated this baby to be about 9 pounds.

The senior resident discussed the lack of progress with Maria and her husband and she signed the consent for a caesarian delivery.  The operating room was set up and she was taken back and given an epidural anesthesia. I was a bit glum that there would not be a vaginal birth, but along with my fellow student, I was glad to be there and assist with the surgery.  While walking to the operating room with the chief resident, he was talking us through the steps of the surgery.  And then he said, “While she is open I am going to tie her tubes.  She has had plenty of children and does not need more.”

Game changer.  Here we were mere mice in a sea of dragons.  We had been trained to accept our position in the pecking order (though the women in my class were a bit rebellious about this and the many comments made about women invading medicine).  But we KNEW where the power was.  He was in his fourth or fifth year of residency, a full 6-7 years ahead of us.

And he was saying he was going to sterilize a woman who had not given consent.

The year our class entered medical school 3% of the classes nationally were women.  My class at my school was 30% women.  And we were an older and proud to be there and cantankerous group who knew the laws about reproductive health.  Maria had Medicaid and the federal law had been passed a few years prior that required a 30 day period between signing a consent for tubal ligation and the surgery happening (unless for instance there was a premature delivery).

This is called an ethical crisis in medicine.

What should we do?  What could we do?

We told the resident he could not do this.  He told us it was not our decision.  We told him he could not do this.  He said he would have us fired, kicked out of school if we tried to stop him.

What should we do?  What could we do?

I was visiting with a friend, Steph Cooper, an ER doc who writes beautifully about this work we do and its challenges (she has a great piece in the manuscript I am trying to publish). I hope she will send me the link to the narrative she published recently about ethical crises.  They can be big or small.  They are real.

This story:  to be continued.


Choosing Wisely

Yesterday I mentioned that Doctors estimate our country spends $6.8 billion in unnecessary tests.  Who can fix this?  We all can, doctors, health systems, patients, and insurers.https://i0.wp.com/ih.constantcontact.com/fs011/1101428692505/img/279.jpg

In 2011 The National Physician’s Alliance (NPA) published work on the Good Stewardship Project, a pilot  which was developed with funding from the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation.  The initial effort worked with physicians in three specialties to “define 5 things “you can do in your practice” to provide excellent patient care while appropriately conserving health care resources in the fields of internal medicine, family medicine, and pediatrics.”

Subsequent to that pilot the NPA continues to work with specialties to take on both looking at the evidence and the education of patients regarding tests that have no evidence and should be considered unnecessary.  The aim is to engage physicians in conversation with their patients to choose “care that is:

  • Supported by evidence
  • Not duplicative of other tests or procedures already received
  • Free from harm
  • Truly necessary”

Consumer Reports is on board helping to develop materials for patients.  By 2014 more than 30 specialty organizations will have created evidence based lists of care that is not supported by evidence and/or may be unnecessary.  This represents over 500,000 physicians who are represented by these groups who commit to work with their patients to make wise choices. The link to all of the specialty organizations, with links to their lists is here.

The Family Medicine list, as an example, is below. The data and evidence is here.

1. Don’t do imaging for low back pain within the first six weeks, unless red flags are present.
2. Don’t routinely prescribe antibiotics for acute mild-to-moderate sinusitis unless symptoms last for seven or more days, or symptoms worsen after initial clinical improvement.
3. Don’t use dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) screening for osteoporosis in women younger than 65 or men younger than 70 with no risk factors.
4. Don’t order annual electrocardiograms (EKGs) or any other cardiac
screening for low-risk patients without symptoms.
5. Don’t perform Pap smears on women younger than 21 or who have had a hysterectomy for non-cancer disease.
6. Don’t schedule elective, non-medically indicated inductions of labor or Cesarean deliveries before 39 weeks, 0 days gestational age.
7. Avoid elective, non-medically indicated inductions of labor between 39 weeks, 0 days and 41 weeks, 0 days unless the cervix is deemed favorable.
8. Don’t screen for carotid artery stenosis (CAS) in asymptomatic adult patients.
9. Don’t screen women older than 65 years of age for cervical cancer who have had adequate prior screening and are not otherwise at high risk for cervical cancer.
10. Don’t screen women younger than 30 years of age for cervical cancer with HPV testing, alone or in combination with cytology.
11. Don’t prescribe antibiotics for otitis media in children aged 2–12
years with non-severe symptoms where the observation option is
12. Don’t perform voiding cystourethrogram (VCUG) routinely in first
febrile urinary tract infection (UTI) in children aged 2–24 months.
13. Don’t routinely screen for prostate cancer using a prostate-specific
antigen (PSA) test or digital rectal exam.
14. Don’t screen adolescents for scoliosis.
15. Don’t require a pelvic exam or other physical exam to prescribe
oral contraceptive medication.

Needs, wants, resources, responsibility

     Trolling the blogosphere I came upon a blog that had me thinking for several days, trying to sort through my initial reactions and to form some understanding of both my gut and of reasoned approaches that might help this blogger.  Her story raises questions about need vs want, how we understand need, the ways need can be met, and an ethical dilemma for the doctor. How do we both respect patient autonomy and voice in managing their lives and at the same time be stewards of health care resources, using them wisely when they are known to improve the health related result for the patient and not using them when they do not meet this mandate?

     Imagine you are a young woman who had a pregnancy loss at 23 weeks.  https://i0.wp.com/www.radiologyinfo.org/photocat/popup/ob-us-fetal-profiletri1.jpgThe tests on the fetus did not show any chromosomal or structural abnormalities.  There were neither knots in the umbilical cord nor anything abnormal about the placenta.  Now you are pregnant and nervous.  In fact you have so much anxiety that you want to have a Doppler machine (the little machine that lets you hear heart tones) so you can hear the heart tones whenever you feel anxious, to calm your fears.  A prescription was not given to you because it was not felt to be medically necessary.  This has been upsetting you and your anxiety increases.

     You call your doctor and ask for a same day appointment with an in-office ultrasound to reassure you.  You are told the ultrasound is not necessary and given an appointment later in the week.  Since you had been promised immediate access if there were problems with the pregnancy, you are angry and even more worried.  Why are they treating you this way?  Why can’t they understand that you deserve care that gives you what you need?

     You leave your next visit reassured that you are still pregnant and with the prescription for the Doppler. What is it that you need, really?  A Doppler to take home?  An ultrasound that day? How often will you used the Doppler?  How often do you think you need a view through ultrasound?  No one commenting on this blog was asking these questions.  There was an outpouring of empathy around the prior fetal death and the current nervousness.  And virtually all shared her anger about not getting what she “needs.”  No one questioned her being nervous.  (I don’t either).

     Everyone accepted at face value what she said would help. That I do question. And on that subject, what role do we each play in the high cost of medical care in the US?  Just looking at medical tests and whether they are necessary or not, current estimates suggest that we have about $6.8 billion spent annually in unnecessary medical tests.What’s necessary?  Whose responsibility is it to be stewards of smart choices?  We know new technology woos doctors, often long before there is any evidence that using the technology has any impact on the health of individuals or of communities. We know tests are often done because a physician is nervous of being sued if something is missed or has delay in diagnosis.  And a family asking for tests or treatments sways doctors as well.

     What the patient in the above example needs to navigate this pregnancy is a lot of support and understanding about her loss and her anxiety about this pregnancy. Certainly she would be helped with quick access to her providers when she has either worrisome symptoms or a rise in her anxiety.  She also would benefit from evidence based strategies to manage her anxiety. There is evidence that suggests that regular ultrasounds (and that would include frequent at home Doppler following of fetal heart rate) does not improve the likelihood of a healthy baby born at term.

      It would be great if those tests calm her.  And if they do not?  Then what?  Whether she got the Doppler or the ultrasound, she still can take well proven steps to be less anxious. These include exercise, good diet, and training thoughts to have a more balanced and accurate view of the situation.  Mindfulness also has and excellent track record for managing anxiety. Many cities have Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) sessions based on the work by Jon Kabat-Zinn. In the case of this pregnant and legitimately worried woman, what she thinks she needs may not be what actually helps her.  What is the responsibility of her doctors?  Give her what she wants? Or give her what they think she needs?

The image is from radiology.org

All in a flash

Here is your assignment “class.”  Take a look at this sequence of pictures and write the story.  Let’s see how many variants you can develop.  Have fun with it.  Just hit comment and narrate the pictures.






     The quiet in the house on this early barely light fall morning allowed in the sound of rain on the metal gutters.  I could feel the chill and see the ground covered with leaves shaken loose during the night. Appreciating the silence, my mind wandered to a few moments of anticipation.  It has been a long time since little feet ran across the wood floor and preschool laughter filled the air, delighting at the smallest and simplest pleasure.  Occasionally a young colleague or friend will be by with a young child for a work event but bed times and awakenings are distant.  When I tried, I could almost bring the memories forward, and closing my eyes, allow them to fill today’s space.

     Tonight that changed.  Three little boys fill the house now for too short a stay, bringing their stories, their hugs and laughter, their happiness to be here, to see I have legos and books and cars.  Even Allie the aged canine seems energized and did a few rapid runs around the hall to entertain and as the boys settled, they  enticed her close for a petting frenzy.

     In bed now, likely not asleep yet, I know they will be the alarm clock I forgot to bring down to where I will sleep, letting their parents have my room close to them. Tomorrow morning’s early light will be different than today’s.  That much I know.


Pia and Zach posed some interesting questions. Thanks for those.  Here is what they asked:

“i’m interested in hearing your take on the intersection of gender and race. my impression is that race and gender become important in situations of vulnerability, that is when these categories are noticed — what do you think? in my experience, a narrative has to arise in order to explain this position of vulnerability/inferiority, but do you think it could also arise out of a situation of perpetuating superiority/privilege? for me, race and gender are often interchangeable categories of hierarchy, and are hard for me to separate, but perhaps they are separate. additionally, do you think that we (even the learned liberals ;) ) perpetuate disparities in health, in salaries, in social position? what’s your take on that? lotsa questions!”

Race and gender in my mind are not interchangeable but they can definitely intersect.  Is race real?  We all have a racial identity and that colors both opportunities and perceptions of self and others and is often a major contributor to policies that differentiate access, opportunity, and position in the social structure.  Given what we know now about biological diversity, is there good science behind race?  We know that most racial classifications are based on pheontype (skin color, hair type) and not on genetics and that there is more racial diversity within “racially classified groups” than between two different groups. Race is better understood as a social construct from which other policies and definitions have emerged.

There are social constructs about gender and there is a biologic basis for assignment in most cases, but not for beliefs about differences in capabilities.

Both gender and racial beliefs can play into health and health status, because much of what makes up health is from the social determinants. Health, defined by the World Health Organization in 1948, is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease of infirmity.”

If by vulnerable you mean at risk for poor health outcomes, less opportunity for optimal social and physical health, yes both race and gender can result in some group relegating based on “race” or gender to a status that has vulnerability.  First around the world, racial designation and gender are factors in what is being called social exclusion or having a lesser relationship than another group in the social, cultural, political, and economic domains.  This exclusion  results in less access to opportunities and resources, which impacts health.  Second, gender inequalities result in poor outcomes for women and children of both genders and we know that education of women plays a major role in improving the economic health of a country.  The drawing below from Dalgren and Whitehead (1991) outlines what impacts health; clearly there is much more than from genetic burden of disease.https://i0.wp.com/www.scattergoodfoundation.org/sites/default/files/social_determinants_of_health.jpg




· .



Why are there health disparities?

It is getting late and I want to post this soon.  I brought up race yesterday and implied (with the study I did) that is is not likely about biology when we think about the differences in the health of different communities.  Today, let’s look at some of the differences in health, just in our country.  To what might you attribute these?

The following is a cut and past from the Center for Disease Control

“Health Disparities – Examples

    • African American women and men 45-74 years of age in 2006 had the largest death rates from heart disease and stroke compared with the same age women and men of other racial and ethnic populations.
    • From 2005-2008, people with the largest prevalence of hypertension were 65 years and older, African American adults, U.S.-born adults, adults with less than a college education, and those with public health insurance (64 years and younger), diabetes, obesity, or a disability compared with their counterparts.
    • Among many sex-age groups, the prevalence of obesity from 2005-2008 was lower among White Americans than among African Americans or Mexican Americans. Among females aged 20-39 years, the prevalence of obesity was largest among African Americans.
    • Infants of African American women in 2006 had death rates twice as large as infants of White American women.
    • Adolescent and adult African Americans ages 15-59 years in 2007 had the largest death rates from homicide, as compared with other racial and ethnic populations of the same ages.
    • HIV infection rate among African Americans in 2008 was the largest rate compared with those of other racial and ethnic populations.

Mother and Child

  • Hispanic American and African American adults aged 18-64 years had substantially larger percentages of uninsured populations compared with Asian/Pacific Islander and White Americans.
  • Colorectal screening obtained in 2008 by African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indian/Alaska Natives was lower than screening obtained by White Americans.
  • During the 2009–10 influenza season, lower influenza vaccination coverage was observed among African American and Hispanic American adults than among White adults.
  • In 2009, high school completion among African American adults was the second lowest (second to completion among Hispanic adults and similar to the completion among American Indian/Alaska Native adults).
  • In 2009, the percentage of African American adults living in poverty was among the largest compared with other racial/ethnic populations (similar to percentages among American Indians/Alaska Natives and Hispanic Americans).
  • In 2009, African American adults more often lived in inadequate and unhealthy housing than White adults. The percentage of African American adults living in inadequate housing was similar to percentages among American Indian/Alaska Native and Hispanic adults. These populations had the largest percentages of adults living in inadequate housing.”

From where do some stories come?

      One of my Hedgebrook friends wrote me and said, “Great blog. I’m interested in the medicine and social justice side. it’s intriguing. If I landed on it and didn’t know you that would draw me. and thanks for plugging us all.” I said I would answer questions so I guess we seque to talk about a topic that will come soon, maybe even tomorrow unless I take a twist to a different direction: health disparities and stories found there. First though, what do you think about when I mention the word RACE.  I do not mean marathons, or automobiles, or Olympic sprints.

     Do you personally identify with a race?  What is your narrative about race? Not an ethnicity, either, but a race? What makes up race in your mind? When were you aware of race?  How?  How do you think beliefs about race influence policy? Is there good science behind that?

     A few years ago I did a study with colleagues.  It is well known that African Americans are more likely to die from colon cancer than their White peers.  The prior two hypotheses were:  1) they get diagnosed later (hmm is that lack of access, cultural beliefs about screening, not being offered screening at the same rate as Whites?) and 2) there is a biological difference.  Our study found that controlling for stage (so all those with stage II and III were in the same boat, presumably found at the same time), IF African Americans received the appropriate treatment (the “standard of care” of the right surgery and 6 months of chemotherapy), their 5 year survival was the same.  Now the question of why some do not get the standard of care is still open, but I think the biology question has at least one response. Health disparities is a huge topic for discussion, but first, where do they come from?

     If you live in the Puget Sound Region, listen up.  Currently the Pacific Science Center is hosting “Race, Are We So Different?” We are one of 25 or so cities to host it, and we are, so far, the only city/county to host intentional conversations about race, diversity, inclusion that draw viewing the exhibit beyond the individual experience.  The exhibit presents conversation about race from three perspectives:  history, human variation, and lived experience.

     King County and the City of Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) are supporting groups to meet before viewing the exhibit and again after viewing it.  They have trained facilitators who will come and meet with any group for the two sessions, for free.  I participated in the pre-exhibit session, will now go to the exhibit, and then participate in a post-exhibit session. While the material might not be new for some of us, the conversation was invaluable and the more conversations we have, the more we might move ourselves forward as humans.  

     It is easy to register groups. 

              From the website:“Each Group Workshop has two components: a 75-minute pre-exhibit session and a two-hour post-exhibit session.These experiences are designed for groups to use the exhibit to expand and apply their understanding of racial equity. There are many ways that groups can use Group Workshops, including: to initiate or deepen work around racial equity, diversity and inclusion; as a training or team-building activity; to lay the groundwork for new or revised programming, policies or initiatives.To register for a Group Workshop please visit RSJI site.”

     If you are in the area:  invite a group from work, family, community and let’s get the conversation going.  If you are not close enough, you can visit this site and pull groups together to watch and discuss the material.  www.understandingrace.org.


     The blogging world has NaBloPoMo or National Blog Post Month.  According to this site, it started as a joke.  It is now every month with November being the big month in conjunction with NaNoWriMo.  Sponsored by BlogHer and WordPress, bloggers have until 11/5/13 to sign up and commit to a post a day.  There are almost 1800signed up at this time.

     Are you wondering what this has to do with you? Well, I apologize for the 30 emails you will get telling you I have a new post and for the fact that writing one a day will probably mean that the moments I talk about are going to be all over the place.

     If you have any particular moments you want to share, pass them on and I will post them, well maybe I will.



Annie, Mieko, Claire, me, Elin and Olumide (in front) on a break from our literary mission, after watching one of the presidential debates

Do you have an interest in writers you may not know?  if you want to support women writers, take a few moments and read about these women, and buy and support their work.

Each of them was at Hedgebrook for at least a week overlapping with me in the Fall of 2012.  They are brilliant, funny, insightful and very able to put all of that to paper in poetry, drama, essay, fiction, memoir, and science writing.  Humbled in the presence of their talent and enriched by their generosity, I hope my work is informed by their wisdom.

Olumide Poopola (poetry, drama, fiction)

Annie Holmes (political history, memoir, fiction)

Donna Hemans (fiction)

 Simha Evan Stubblefield

Claire Dederer  (essay and memoir)

Mieko  Ouchi (drama)

Karen Joy Fowler (fiction)

Elin Kelsey (environmental science)

And another plug for Hedgebrook Cookbook: celebrating radical hospitality

heading home

Three residents heading home to their cottages after dinner, their baskets full with breakfast, lunch, and treats for the next day


Radical Hospitality

What would epitomize “radical hospitality” to you?Image

Some people asked about the trees in the header.  They are at the corner of Double Bluff Road and Milliman on Whidbey Island in Washington State and these trees take me back to last year, taking the picture on a bike ride during a 3-week residency at Hedgebrook, a woman’s writers’ retreat. Picture 6 cottages spread out on a 40-acre property of old growth forest, meadows, gardens, and a farmhouse and barn.  Each of the six cabins houses one woman writer who was offered a residency of two to six weeks. Fir, which was mine is the pictured one. The women who come to Hedgebrook are from all over the world and the founders wanted women from dense urban areas to not feel too alone or frightened in the woods. Designed with exquisite intentionality, each handcrafted cottage is in view of one other cottage.

Each has a work area, a cozy chair with blanket and light for reading, a wood stove (and unlimited wood and kindling cut to size for the residents), a small kitchen and implements for one.  Each has a half bath and a sleeping loft up a ladder with an arched window that opens to all the night sounds of the forest.  The bathhouse, in a central clearing, has two shower rooms, a claw foot tub room, and a washer and dryer.  The founder, Nancy Nordoff believed in the power of nature to inspire, in the importance of women having a room of their own, and of the need for more women’s voices to come forward in print.

Imagine getting up each morning, building a fire, fixing breakfast from the food foraged in the farm house kitchen, making a pot of French press coffee or putting the kettle on the wood stove for tea and settling in to write, undisturbed by anything other than your own thoughts.  The night before you brought up your foraged food and a lunch, specially prepared by last night’s chef, ready to heat and eat when you are ready.  More time to write fills the afternoon, or maybe you will include a walk, bike ride, or reading and researching.  Then it is dinner, at the farmhouse with the other 5 residents and the chef.  And oh the food: most often local, beautifully prepared, and delicious.  Check out (and buy) Hedgebrook Cookbook; Celebrating Radical Hospitality.  Conversations over dinner are far-reaching and rich with reading suggestions, thoughts about writing, and life.  After dinner you might go back to your cabin to work more, read, spend the evening in continued solitude, or reconvene with the other five residents at one person’s cabin to share readings from everyone’s work.

The place, the women, the nurturing by the staff…what an idyllic and protracted moment.   Can you imagine radical hospitality now?

Shifting Perspective

At any given moment we stand somewhere.  We live, work, and play connected (or disconnected) from where we stand.  And we create the narratives about our lives.  I often wonder how often we stop in a moment and look around to actually see where we are, to understand the stories, connections, and shared stories being created in that moment.

I have been thinking about margins with personal lens shift.  What are the ways that being in the margins or of the margins or working in the margins impacts you?

In much of my adult work life I have tried to keep an eye on social justice, ways to be involved in initiatives that increase access and equity. My work started in the Jim Crow era, in Virginia in college in a town where the schools were not yet integrated.  We formed a student group to work with the NAACP and the town housing authority to begin discussing strategies to approach the housing discrimination. We worked with the African American schools to tutor kids in preparation for integration. Later as a social policy planner in California, working with the mayors within a county to forecast further employment growth, we defined fields where training programs could be intelligently planned and implemented. Subsequently as a physician I worked first in a community health center and then on a medical school faculty with programs to nurture students to make career choices serving the underserved.

Last fall I went to a conference called Grace in the Margins.  It was put on by the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center (http://www.ipjc.org), a group formed by a number of Roman Catholic religious communities with a mission to work for “justice in the church and world.”  I know individuals within these communities and of their peace work and their work for equity and justice in many areas:  housing, immigration, and health care.  My assumption was the conference would be about work we could do for people marginalized in our society to bring about more social justice.

This was definitely a focus.  However, and this blog is not about the Catholic Church, there were many subthemes that day. The several thousand of us were seated at round tables of about ten participants, mostly women.  At my table when we shared why we were there and our hopes for the conference, it became clear to me that all but a couple of us felt marginalized as women in their church.

This moment in history  coincided with a recent history where the roles of women within congregations were being restrained from expanding.   Most recently the Vatican sought to exert more control over and to modify the statements and activities of a number of women’s religious communities, including those of the IPJC. (http://www.usccb.org/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&pageid=55544)  Hmm, that marginalization seems to me to true, just one with which I did not strongly identify as a personal issue and one I figured would not change.

My little table also had a friend who is African American who spoke to racial inequity. A keynote speaker, Valarie Kaur (http://valariekaur.com), talked of a key moment in her life when a Sikh man was murdered in a hate crime in the aftermath of 9-11-01.  She left college to talk with and film Americans and what happened in their lives, who was “us” and who was “them,” producing Divided We Fall (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0867599/)

Those moments at that conference did not shift my views about my social responsibility, yet they did enlarge my understanding of margins.  When have I been in a margin?  What has it meant?  Does it matter whether I perceived those times as marginalized or not? Have I spoken from within the margin and to whom?  The center or the margins or both?  Which is more effective (that is if I am not just speaking into a non listening void for the sake of hearing my own voice).  What does it mean if I see  myself standing not in the margins, yet I speak to the margins?

What about you?