Category: inspiration

Miracle Work on 38th Street: Connecting a Family at Life’s End

In my work at Seton Healthcare Family, I had the privilege of interviewing this family about their experience in one of our hospitals. All they wanted was time for the father to say goodbye. They got a great deal more.  

“We expected to visit the hospital, get him stabilized and then take him back home. Suddenly, everything changed.”


Eduardo’s sister, Cecilia, holds a photo of him at school.

On a humid Sunday morning, a young man with Down syndrome entered the emergency room at Seton Medical Center Austin (SMCA), part of the Seton Healthcare Family, Austin, Texas. Accompanied by his mother and sister, he struggled to breathe. Thirty-two-year-old Eduardo Martinez had recently been diagnosed with kidney disease and was told he had six months to a year left. Within the hour, the prognosis changed dramatically. Eduardo was given less than two days to live.

“We were floored when the doctor told us the news,” said Cecilia Martinez, Eduardo’s sister. “We expected to visit the hospital, get him stabilized and then take him back home. Suddenly, everything changed. I started calling family to come to the hospital.”

Though Eduardo’s mother is local, his father lives in Mexico and had not seen Eduardo in 16 years. The family asked Seton to help the father cross the border and say goodbye.

Enter Dr. Truly Hall and Eileen West. Dr. Hall is the director of the Seton Adult Inpatient Medical Services (SAIMS) program at SMCA, which is on 38th Street in Austin. She is board certified in internal medicine, with seven years at Seton under her belt. Eileen West is a medical social worker at SMCA, spending every other Monday through Friday in the 4-North unit. On the weekends her role expands to “the whole house,” meaning she covers all cases that are not in the Emergency Department or labor and delivery.

Around 2 p.m. that Sunday, West received a call from Dr. Hall about a family standing vigil in the ICU for their terminally ill son. The request for border crossing assistance was not a surprise. “Maybe once a year we have a case like this, and I’ve written to the Mexican Embassy for an emergency visa,” said Dr. Hall. “But never on a Sunday.”

Given the political upheaval at the Texas/Mexico border, West was concerned. “I said I’d get right on it, but then realized the Mexican Embassy was closed,” she said. West spoke with Cecelia and decided to contact the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, since the family knew which one of the 26 crossing stations the father was going to enter.

How did she know where to start? “I just Googled it,” she said nonchalantly. “I got a phone number, then was transferred and passed around a bit, but I ended up on the phone with a humanitarian care unit.”

To cross the border on such short notice, Eduardo’s father required detailed paperwork. Dr. Hall and West compiled six pages of materials outlining the situation. West provided Border Patrol agents with her personal cell phone, work phone and home phone. Then she hit a snag.

“The Border Patrol told me that I needed to give the paperwork to the family, and that the family should deliver the documents to the father at the border,” said West. “But I told them,  ‘No. This young man is dying and the family is not leaving his side.’” Several faxes later, the paperwork was approved.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services allows foreign residents to apply for humanitarian parole for emergency situations. Handled on a case-by-case basis, approval generally takes between 60 and 120 days. With West’s tenacious prodding, it took mere hours. West attributes her success to “A bit of luck – and someone must have taken pity on us!”

Meanwhile, Eduardo continued receiving comfort care. “Every single doctor, nurse, all the people we met – they are great people,” recalled Cecelia. “We moved Eduardo to the third floor, and the nurses brought us pillows, blankets and a folding bed. Someone from the ICU made sure that we got a bigger room so we could all be near Eduardo. Even though it was a tough situation, the doctors and nurses never treated us or Eduardo dismissively. They knew it was hard.”

A fitful night passed as the family waited. At 9 a.m. the next day, Eduardo’s face split into a grin when his father walked into the room. As Cecilia described it, “I kept saying, ‘Wow.’ We didn’t expect him to cross the border at all, especially on a Sunday. I am so impressed by Eileen. She was an angel for us.”

Cecilia isn’t the only one impressed by West’s actions. “A lot of social workers — especially on a Sunday — they wouldn’t even have tried to help the family, and no one would have batted an eye, considering she was also covering the whole house,” said Dr. Hall. “The chaotic border situation didn’t deter her; Eileen took care of everything. I don’t know how she did it!”

Garry Olney, vice president and chief operating officer at SMCA concurred, adding, “This is amazing! It is what Humancare is all about. Eileen did a great job.”

Lifted spirits were short-lived, however. Over the next few days, Eduardo’s condition deteriorated. In his final hours a nurse noticed the family focused on the plummeting numbers and screeching beeps of the monitors surrounding him. She disconnected the monitors and encouraged the family to focus on Eduardo, adding, “He is more important than any numbers.”

Thanks to West’s thorough initial work, Eduardo’s father was able to stay in town long enough to attend the burial. When asked why she went to such great lengths for this family, Eileen’s answer was simple: “The most important thing I could do for the family was to get the father here.”

She downplayed the significance of her actions, adding, “Every social worker does this; it’s not out of the ordinary in our department. In fact, this is what many social workers accomplish before their first cup of coffee or morning rounds!” Caffeinated or not, West exemplifies Humancare, going above and beyond her required duties to impact lives.

Cecilia has a message for the staff at SMCA: “We are very thankful for Seton. From the ER to the final day in the hospital, everybody treated us like family. A lot of people discriminate against people with disabilities, but Seton showed great love and care for my brother. There are several hospitals we could have gone to and we ended up at the right one. We received so much support. I don’t have the words to describe the experience. Please tell all the Seton staff thank you.”

About Humancare

Humancare challenges the status quo of healthcare. By adding humanity back into a system that seems to have lost its human touch, we’re moving closer to being able to provide person-centered care. This recommitment to the people we serve modernizes our mission to care for and improve the health everyone in Central Texas, and beyond. Humancare is how we bring our mission to life, everyday. On this page you’ll find resources to help you understand, experience and share Humancare. setonhumancare.org

10 Lessons for Your 30’s

I liked this piece from Mark Manson, “10 Life Lessons to Excel In Your 30’s” — even if the title doesn’t roll off the tongue. I’ve captured the 10 points below, and encourage you to read the full piece.

1. Start Saving for Retirement Now, Not Later

2. Start Taking Care of Your Health Now, Not Later

3. Don’t Spend Time with People Who Don’t Treat You Well

4. Be Good to the People You Care About

5. You Can’t Have Everything; Focus On Doing a Few Things Really Well

6. Don’t Be Afraid of Taking Risks, You Can Still Change

7. You Must Continue to Grow and Develop Yourself

8. Nobody (Still) Knows What They’re Doing, Get Used to It

9. Invest in Your Family; It’s Worth It

10. Be Kind to Yourself, Respect Yourself

 

Red Lobster Cheesy Biscuits

Recently given a  choice between dining at a hole-in-the wall Cuban restaurant, a Mom ‘n Pop Indian food spot and a local Irish pub, I chose Red Lobster. It’s inexplicable. Folks, I haven’t been to Red Lobster in…[counts on both hands]…6 years? Yet all I wanted in that moment were baskets of cheddar bay biscuits.

After appropriately stuffing my face with four course for $14.99 including unlimited biscuits, I was quite happy –  and also curious. How hard is it to make their famous biscuits? A Google search reveals a host of copycat recipes but I wanted one with instant gratification. Enter this super easy recipe from Love Bakes Good Cakes.

raw biscuits
Faux cheese, plus biscuit dough topped with margarine.

Drawback: that whole lactose intolerance thing means I don’t keep dairy milk or shredded cheddar cheese around. Turns out, it doesn’t matter! The almond milk and veggie shreds incorporated perfectly, along a few tweaks for personal preference.  I just ate 3 of these babies, 2 with ham and mustard and honey, and one straight up. Ho boy, this is going in the stack of new favorites:

Ingredients
2 cups Bisquick mix
⅔ cup milk – I used almond
½ cup cheddar cheese, shredded – I used Go Veggie! Parmesan, Mozzarella and Romano blend
1 TB butter, melted
2 TBS margarine, divided
1 tsp. olive oil
⅛ tsp. Old Bay seasoning
1 tsp. parsley flakes
⅛ tsp. salt
⅛ tsp. garlic powder – I used onion powder

finished cheese biscuits
Picture 2: Ta da! Finished, delicious cheesy biscuits

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the Bisquick, milk and cheese until a soft dough forms. Drop by 9 spoonfuls onto an ungreased baking sheet. Top each biscuit with a spread of margarine (see picture 1).
3. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown on the tops and sides. Remove from oven. top each biscuit with another sliver of margarine. (I’m not going for health here, people, and these biscuits need salty tops).
4. In a small bowl, combine the melted butter, 1 TBS margarine, olive oil, Old Bay, salt, garlic or onion powder and parsley. Brush the butter mixture over the warm biscuits.
5. Eat! Repeat.

Next time I’ll probably use faux cheddar cheese to obtain that classic orange color, and garlic powder in the butter topping blend. But I am very pleased overall. To boot, the entire process took 15 minutes!

I wonder how many I can eat before the bf notices?

Broccoli Cheese Quinoa Casserole

I generally consider casseroles to be sad, overcooked, under-spiced concoctions served lukewarm at church dinners with low expectations.

But lo! It is not so!  This recipe changed my mind and I can’t get enough of it. No… really, I try not to eat the whole pan in one sitting. After trying this at a friends’ home where two kiddos live, I modified it from the original recipe for a more adult palate. My significant other tops it with hot sauce for a bit more punch.

Ingredients

It’s not gonna win any beauty contests, but it is a fiiiine piece of comfort food eating.

10 oz can condensed cream of broccoli OR cream of mushroom soup
– 1/3 cup mayonnaise (I use canola mayonnaise to avoid trans fats)
– 2 TBS milk or milk-product
– 1 1/2 cups-ish reduced fat sharp cheddar shredded cheese
– 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
– 1 TB white sugar
– 1 tsp black pepper
– 4 TBS+ whole grain mustard (Don’t skip this)
– 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (Don’t overdo this)
– 1 tsp+ salt, to taste
– 32 oz bag of frozen broccoli, thawed in the microwave and coarsely chopped
– 1 1/2 cups  COOKED quinoa (see below)

Directions

1.  Cook quinoa: combine 3/4 cup quinoa, 1 1/2 cups water and 1/4 tsp salt. Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to low and cover.  Cook for 18-20 minutes, or until fluffy and the white ring/tail is visible.  Fluff with a fork.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and coat a shallow 9×13 casserole dish with vegetable cooking spray.

3. In a large bowl combine the soup, mayonnaise, milk, shredded cheese, sugar, pepper, mustard, 1/2 cup Parmesan and nutmeg until well mixed. Stir in the quinoa and chopped broccoli.

4. Spoon mixture into prepared dish.  Top with remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until bubbly on the edges and golden. Let it cool for 10 minutes before serving — or dive in and scald your tongue.

Makes 6 adult-sized portions.

Superbowl Leftovers Revamped

I don’t know about you, but our Superbowl Party averaged at least 1.5 bags of chips per person and awesome amounts of nachos, hummus, baby veggies, bean dip (two kinds!) and beer. Needless to say, we brought home leftovers. Up for a challenge of re-purposing cheese dip for something other than consumption with  corn chips, I created the following recipe.

Before: Half a crock-pot of cold Rotel dip, which – for the uninitiated – consists of a block of Velveeta cheese + 2 cans of Rotel

After: Spicy  Macaroni and Cheese with Broccoli

Process: I bought 2 boxes of elbow pasta (buy one, get one free!) and brought one box to a boil. With about 6 minutes left, I dumped in a bag of frozen broccoli. Why use an extra pot when it’s all mixing together anyway?

I drained the pasta/broccoli mix, and scopped out half of the leftover Rotel dip into the bottom of pot. I topped this with the pasta/broccoli mix and then added the rest of the leftover Rotel dip on top. I let it sit about a minute or so to start melting. Stir, stir, and viola! 5-6 servings of mac ‘n cheese with a side of broccoli thrown in for healthy good measure.

Rating: 5 stars. I ate 3 bowls of this before pulling down the Tupperwares and freezing the rest.  Quick, easy comfort food.

TIP: You could thrown in other vegetables or meat you have on hand, and use any dried pasta that’s languishing in your cabinet.

Hmm, apparently I’m not all that innovative. Check out this list of recipes for macaroni and cheese with Rotel.

Chicken ‘n Pineapple Coconut Curry

I have a thing for Thai and Indian food flavors – I love the (medium) heat, the complexity of the spices, the warmth and comfort. Yet in spite of owning 5 cookbooks on the methods, I just haven’t yet duplicated any restaurant quality recipes at home.

This one comes close.

Originally created by my big sister as a crockpot dish, I ran out of time and decided to wing it and make it in the oven. Below is the recipe I’ll use next time, with adjustments included as I went along.

Ingredients
6-8 Chicken tenderloins
1 can coconut milk – not the light stuff, people
1 can pineapple chunks
1 small can tomato paste (do they even make large cans?)
1 large green or red bell pepper, chopped
3 TBS curry powder
1 TB minced garlic
4 TBS chopped fresh basil, divided
Juice of ½ lemon
2 TBS olive oil
1 TBS salt – for real, it needs it
pepper
prepared Rice (optional)
baby spinach (optional)

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place olive oil and chickens in a baking dish.

2. Using an immersion blender or other device, blend together coconut milk, juice from pineapple can, ½ of the pineapple chunks, tomato paste, ½ of the chopped bell pepper, curry powder, garlic, salt and pepper. The sauce is a festive orange and feels slightly thick.

3. Pour the pureed mixture over the chicken, flipping the chicken to coat it. Bake uncovered for 35 minutes.

4. Remove from oven. Stir in remaining pineapple chunks, remaining chopped bell pepper and 3 TBS basil. Cook another 10 minutes or until chicken is cooked and sauce bubbles around the edges of the pan.

5. Remove pan from the oven. Squeeze lemon juice and top with basil. Serve over rice and baby spinach.

To make it in a crock pot, place oil, chicken and blended sauce in a crock pot on low for 6 hours. The final 15 minutes or so, complete step 4 — just long enough to warm everything up.

I enjoyed this dish, though it was a tad bitter for my tastes. What would you recommend to make it even better? Sugar? Butter? Flaked coconut?