Category: woes

Everything is bigger in Texas

…Including the bug bites.

Deep Ellum’s Neato Bandito

Last night I enjoyed a 45-minute walk with some ladies, followed by a juicy lamb burger at Black Star Co-op and pint of Deep Ellum’s Neato Bandito. A delicious and satisfying evening all around.

This morning, I woke up with a robin’s egg-sized itchy, raised welt on my forearm. Four hours later, it’s grown in itchiness. I’d call it goose egg-sized now too. If it gets softball size, I’ll hit the urgent care clinic.

arm500x680I swear, there is something in the spit of these damn Texas bugs that makes me puff up like a balloon. And thisTexas  guide to diagnosing mysterious bites isn’t helping.

Swelling from mysterious nibbles isn’t new.  I have distinct memories of waking up in the twin bed in my grandmother’s house in Houston and counting 20 bug bites on myself before waking up Dad, who made a midnight Benadryl run.

From the time I was a little kid, I related perfectly to this Calvin & Hobbes strip:

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

Kindness Is Free

I’m not a mom but I am a woman, and I am embarrassed to admit how often I contribute to catty commentary and girl-on-girl meanness. Mostly it’s limited to internal dialogue or snarky comments; I’m not one of THOSE girls who actually writes cruel internet posts or insults someone to their face (see, it just comes out). Anyhooo… I dug this piece from the Huffington Post about what we can teach young girls – and ourselves – about treating others with respect.

Are You Teaching Your Daughter to Be A Mean Girl?
by Lyndsi Frandsen

One night, during my senior year of high school, I received a text message from a group of girls telling me I was fat and needed to lose weight.

At the time I felt bad and embarrassed for them. It honestly stunned me that people could be so downright mean and insecure. Now that I am married with a daughter of my own, my thoughts about it have slightly shifted. I find myself wondering about those girls’ moms. Where were they? And why didn’t they teach their daughters to be kind?

Years later, I ran into one of those girls at the store. We both had our young daughters with us. I didn’t have ill feelings toward her and honestly assumed that we had both moved past the petty immaturity that tends to accompany those high school relationships. We were both wives and mothers now. Surely things that happened then would seem silly now — even laughable. So, in passing, I said hello.

Nothing.

With a cold glance, and without a word, she walked away.

I was stunned.

It was at that moment, I realized two things:

1. Mean girls grow up to be mean moms.
2. Little girls learn from their moms how to be mean girls.

This “mean girl” gene doesn’t come on intentionally. I don’t think there are many people who pride themselves on being mean. However, we live in a technology-driven world that, in my opinion, breeds competitive feelings and makes that mean behavior all too common.

Social media has created an atmosphere where people feel entitled to peek in on every aspect of your life. People feel entitled to say whatever they want. I cannot tell you how many times I have observed mothers, via social media, being downright nasty to one another about anything and everything. It is shocking and sad. But if it starts with us, it has to end with us. It’s our responsibility, as mothers, to do everything in our power to make sure we aren’t (even unknowingly) raising mean girls.

Be aware of yourself. Being a teacher, I can assure you that your children hear you. (And often quote you.) They observe you. They mimic you. They hear you tell your husband how that woman on Facebook “is so full of herself.” They listen when you are on the phone with your girlfriend gossiping about the mom down the street. They even take in the critical things you say about your own appearance. They hear you. And then they become a product of everything they hear — a product of you.

Teach them how to give a compliment. Doesn’t this seem so simple? Complimenting is a lost art. We live in a self-centered society, and it shows. By teaching your children how to compliment others (and themselves), you are encouraging them to find things they like about other people.

Encourage positive conversation. I am a firm believer that when we start being pessimistic and negative, we train our brains to automatically think that way. By encouraging and participating in positive conversations with our daughters, we can help train them to think in an optimistic way. It’s hard to be mean when you see life and see others in a positive light.

Teach them to root for the underdog. I have my mom to thank for this life lesson. When we were growing up, my mom would always remind us to “root/cheer/vote for the underdog.” Whether it was during student council elections, team tryouts or just a regular day, she would always say that to us as we got out of the car. Promoting this message teaches children to be aware of others. It will teach them kindness and empathy. And think of it this way: At some point in time, we will all be the underdog. How would you want to be treated?

Praise niceness. Nice is a simple world. So simple, its powerful meaning often goes unnoticed. Growing up, “Because Nice Matters” was our family motto. My mom plastered the phrase all around the house, and now I have done the same. Being nice does matter. We need to make kindness a conscious lesson. We need to compliment our daughters when they demonstrate kindness. In a world that values looks, achievements, accomplishments and awards, let your home value kindness.

I hope one day, if I run into that high school acquaintance again, she will accept the smile I throw her way. But even if she doesn’t, I’m just going to keep on smiling. After all, nobody is perfect. But everyone can be nice.

Facebook in a Time of Divorce

I found out I was getting divorced through Facebook. Well, kinda. This is what I learned about online etiquette for really big life events.

Monday started like any other: snag coffee, check work email, putz around online. I signed into Facebook and stopped breathing. There, in the center of my news feed, broadcast to absolutely everyone: “He has changed his status. He is no longer married.” My heart thudded, my stomach dropped, my eyebrows shot up. I mean, yes, we’d had the conversation but this felt like a kick in the gut; it was so public, so final, so soon.

I swallowed a small hysterical snort of realization that I was now married to someone not married to me. Is that even possible? I clearly needed to fix it, pronto. Frantically I sought out our barely 21 year-old colleague and explained in a rush of words, “Hi I need your help I’m getting divorced and he just unmarried me now I need to change my status but not broadcast it and I don’t really want any status posted at all but do you know how and can you show me?” A nervous laugh, the briefest of apologies and in 15 seconds we were done. I feebly thanked him and promised to buy the next round of coffees.

Like the wave of an unwelcome fairy wand, I went from married to unmarried with a deft stroke. I mean, we knew each other for over 10 years, were married for 5-plus years, our families lived 45 minutes apart for crying out loud! Isn’t there some decorum, some etiquette, a precedent on how to publicly dissolve your joint lives? Apparently not. Somehow surprise un-marrying your spouse with a global announcement hardly seems the ticket.

Advice in five online spaces:

1. Emails to Socialize – as a Couple. Our former friends and housemates sent us an email announcing their engagement and asking us to come out for a drink to celebrate. I stared at the email and in a very toddler tantrum way, internally declared that I would NOT be the one to reply because I didn’t create this situation, why should I have to craft some benign excuse? He put his degree in English literature to use and wrote a brief, poised email explaining that we were no longer together, but wished them the very best. I laughed at the kindness in his words which for so long had been absent from our conversations. But really, it was fine. I just wish we’d made a game plan, but then again, I didn’t know that I needed one….

Read the other tips on The Huffington Post Divorce Blog

On Good Girls and Sexism

Woot! I get a wave of excitement when something I write actually makes it into the blogosphere. Here’s part of a new piece I just wrote for Huffington Post, Why Do I Have to Be Nice to Everybody?

“I grew up in the South, and nurtured habits die hard. I was once grounded for saying “damn” to my sister. I wore white gloves and bonnets to Easter mass and crossed my ankles when sitting in skirts. I didn’t know what the word “horny” meant until one of my girlfriends took pity on my naïveté in eighth grade. (Sexuality is inherently tied to a woman’s value and virtue, you see).

“Even today, I wear slips under dresses and send hand-written thank you notes. I don’t discuss bodily functions in mixed company and consider it an honor to be asked for a recipe after a dinner party. I smile even if I don’t like you and am one of four people on the metro who says, “Pardon me.” In sum: I was raised a good girl.

Read on and tell me what you think!

Why I’m Not Skinny

I eat. Yup, there it is. Not novel in my world, but apparently eating is a bit unusual among certain women. Check out this interview with someone famous and skinny (Kelly Wearstler?) in Bon Appetit:

How do you start the day?

Kelly Wearstler, aka “Chewing Is Overrated”

I go to Barry’s Bootcamp at 5:30 a.m., seven days a week. It’s me and a bunch of Hollywood hot-shots. I’ve heard we burn 800 calories per class.

Sounds intense. Do you hydrate?
KW: I drink water mixed with Miracle Reds or Miracle Greens, with drops of plankton. Later in the day, I drink water with lemon, and alkaline water with cayenne extract.

You must be starving after that workout!
KW: Not for a while. After I drop my sons off at school–they still let me walk them into class–I get a double dry nonfat macchiato at Urth Caffé. And for the rest of the day, I juice.

What about real, solid food?
KW: Besides almonds or granola, I don’t eat a lot during the day–juicing is what gives me energy.

As Jezebel aptly captures it, “Although the interviewer tries to engage Wearstler in a conversation about food — since it is, after all, a FOOD MAGAZINE — she declines.  She is not interested in chewing!”

Perhaps chewing is overrated. Too much work. Doesn’t burn enough calories. While filming Batman, Anne Hathaway joked about the unforgiving nature of the catsuit, saying “And right now, I’m, like, living on kale and dust.”

As a woman with curves who struggles with weight, I snort at the mere thought of subsisting on lemon juice and dust motes – with cayenne flakes! I get hungry, people. No, I get ravenous. To help communicate the sincerity of this, I’ve trained my family and significant others to understand my hunger zones in stop light colors:

GREEN ZONE: I’m good to go right now, no hunger pangs. Thumbs up.

YELLOW ZONE: I feel hunger creeping up. I’m still cool but will need to eat within the next hour or so.

RED ZONE: I need food, NOW. Don’t speak to me until we eat. Take me directly to calories. If food takes more than 15 minutes I will dissolve into an angry, grumpy, tummy-aching, headach-y mess.  Ignore the red zone at your peril.

Since we’ve established that eating is in fact a necessity in my world, other options for crazy skinnyness include:
1) Smoking. Gross. It’s expensive, smells bad, is disgusting and will kill you. Plus you look like trailer trash.

2) Diet Pills. I hear that people live on diet pills laced with caffeine. Maybe speed? I tried some weight loss pills for about 3 days in college, which resulted in me feeling nauseous, anxious jittery and with a killer headache to boot. Nope.

3) Eating Disorder. Anorexia is out since ya know, chewing is important to me. And I don’t have 8 hours to spend at the gym each day. Bulimia involves too much horribleness to even contemplate. I like enamel on my teeth.

Which brings me back to the basics of eat less and do more. Or, as Michael Pollan famously summarized in The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

10 Ways to Mess Up Your Kids Through Divorce

Thanks to Huffington Post Divorce Blog for publishing this piece!

Recently I had the chance to spend 20 hours in a car with my favorite big sister. In between chugging Dr. Peppers, snatching cat naps and consuming Peachie-O’s, our conversation invariably turned to family, relationships and our parents’ divorce. Memories and many miles of open road led to the creation of this list.

1. Take a family vacation amidst the throes of divorce, preferably to a faraway destination before either child can drive. This is a good way to test their independence and coping skills while you’re busy yelling at your soon-to-be-ex spouse for the duration of the trip. It also helps your kids make friends when strangers express concern over their sobs on the ski lift. Don’t forget to take lots of forced pictures.

2. Allow your children to meet their soon-to-be stepparent exactly one time before the wedding. It’s not like they’re going to live with them 90 percent of the time or anything. It’syour choice who you marry, after all. Related, be sure to include your new spouse in the children’s discipline immediately.

3. Refuse any and all culpability. This divorce is not your fault, ergo, it must be your spouses’. Act accordingly.

4. Require your kids to report to you about child support checks. This isn’t about your meal ticket; it’s about following the judge’s orders. Besides, they likely spent the weekend fa-la-la-ing and rolling around in money with your ex-spouse. The least your kid can do is bring back the check.

5. Bash your ex-spouse, even years after the divorce is final. Keep the message clear: Their other parent is a complete and total, unrepentant lying sack of sh*t with zero redeeming qualities. Repeat ad nauseum.

6. Communicate about the divorce to everyone your child knows. Include teachers, coaches, the tennis team, your friends, their friends, their friends’ parents and the deli counter guy. This will ensure your children feel thoroughly supported in the community. People will talk anyway, so it’s best they hear “The Truth” from you.

7. Threaten suicide– in front of your kids. This works best when followed by additional rash acts like driving too fast while screaming, standing on the balcony railing at midnight, or telling your kids goodbye and not returning home for hours.

8. Use guilt, manipulation and anger to communicate how much time your kids should spend with you during the holidays. Do this every year, preferably in public places. You are the parent and they should respect your requests. Period.

9. Recreate a family history that conveniently excludes any problems existing prior to the divorce. If they challenge your version of history, stand your ground. They were just kids.

10. Put your child on the stand to testify at your divorce. No divisiveness could possibly result from this.

We’re thinking about getting matching tattoos of this Doctor Who quote, “We have fought monsters together, and we have won.”

January is Eat-at-Home Month

As usual, I was a bit overzealous in my holiday gift buying, leaving my budget a bit depleted. It’s hard not to buy things that make me think of people! And by extension, not to treat myself along the way. The thought process goes something like this:” Well, they asked for fun socks and it’s a better deal to buy this large pack, so then I can keep several pairs too because I also need socks.”

Fortunately, there are solutions. Like a diet, little decisions to change add up to bigger results. Bar hop after work? Nah. Pick up a $3 hazelnut coffee? I can have free coffee in the office. Running late and tempted to say f– it? I can always pack peanut butter. And despite what Target thinks, I really don’t NEED another pumpkin spice candle, even if it’s on clearance. So this month is eat-in month.

The Plan: At my house we’re alternating being in charge of dinners – flipping chef or sous chef titles – by each selecting 2-3 recipes for the week and purchasing the necessary ingredients.  We also have some flexibility to eat out one lunch a week, and a dinner out with limited beverages. DC martinis cost something ridiculous like $12 each. So far, eat at home month has turned out a couple new standby’s. A few recipes so far:

  • Easy Tomato-Vegetable soup with rosemary crackers and hummus
  • Crock Pot Beef Stew – held the peas and wine, added tomato juice
  • Fun-shaped Pasta with Vodka Sauce and Lemon-rosemary White Bean Dip
  • Pad See-Ew (literally “soy sauce stir-fry“) with Chicken — An eating out splurge, though I do dream of having Thai noodle cooking skills
  • Chicken and Vegetable Potstickers with soy sauce and sesame oil — The  frozen potstickers were so-so, but I am a huge fan of mixing 2 parts soy sauce: 1 part sesame oil. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and/or garlic and it’s a party in your mouth.
  • Chicken Gumbo with Sausage soup — canned, with oddly crunchy white rice

On the menu this week:

It’s great being an omnivore, isn’t it? Updates to come! Other simple but tasty dine-in dinner suggestions welcome.

Why Does America Lead the World in School Shootings?

Many people are talking about gun control. But White House spokesman Jay Carney isn’t joining in for now:

I think it’s important on a day like today to view this as I know the president, as a father does and I as a father and others who are parents certainly do, which is to feel enormous sympathy for families that are affected and to do everything we can to support state and local law enforcement and support those who are enduring what appears to be a very tragic event.  There is, I’m sure, will be, rather, a day for discussion of the usual Washington policy debates but I don’t think today is that day.

It’s horrible to imagine, but there exists a plethora of literature and opinion and debate on school shootings. Here are a few informed thoughts by Dr. Frank Ochberg, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Michigan State University and former Associate Director of the National Institute of Mental Health:

School shootings are far more frequent in America than in other countries, although terrible massacres have occurred in Russia, Israel, and several European nations. In the high-crime neighborhoods of inner cities, school turf is relatively safe. We have learned to harden the target and patrol with vigilance.

And even in those suburbs and small towns where spree killings have occurred, the rates, per capita, are lower now than in previous decades. School is a safe place – until, as in Chardon, Ohio, the unspeakable happens. Then, even though the risks are low, it is fair to ask, why does this still happen? Why here, in America?

Let’s be clear. There is no single, certain answer to these questions. The possible factors include failure by classmates, parents and school officials to see the warning signs; bullying and revenge; serious mental illness; violent role models; drugs; access to guns, and a culture that condones extremism.

America has its share of these factors, but which are significant and which are more prevalent here than across the Atlantic? Read the full piece. 

Sadly, terror at school is not limited to America. In an eerie coincidence, at almost the same time that gunfire broke out at Newton School, 22 children were stabbed in a Chinese elementary school.

As one commentator stated, “Who can understand why someone kills children? There is no answer to the question of why.”