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Apr
06

Yep. Still Here.

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In case you missed it, we had our annual Fancy Hat Party last week.  It was a great success, and everyone seemed to have a fantastic time!  The hats this year were as amazing as ever, and Lynn Sherr was a remarkable host.  She regaled us with stories about her exciting career, and we’re certain that many will be anxious to get their hands on her new book, Swim:  Why We Love the Water.  We should have some juicy photos and some donation results in the weeks to come.Fancy Hat

And today?

Today we’re at Hospital Hospitality House of Richmond.  Just about every room is full, we’re low on laundry detergent,  and we’re waiting to hear back from some volunteers for a dinner next week.  In other words: “Business as Usual”.

When the hats were put away, Sherr headed back to New York, the chairs were stacked, and everyone went home, we went back to The House.  Guests were coming back from treatment, we met some guests grabbing some fresh air, and some of our folks were getting ready to roll over some rooms for new arrivals.

We were fortunate to have some great volunteers this past week.   Folks from the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown Richmond came by to serve a delicious meal.  Our guests were very thankful, and eagerly filled their plates.  When the Hilton crew left, there were some board games, some watched American Idol, and we recommended a book for one of our newer guests.  We’ve gotten to know our library pretty well.

We have a great deal of fun at Hospital Hospitality House, and we meet some great people.  It can be very rewarding, and hearing the stories of our guests puts our lives into perspective every day.  The pollen on the car isn’t so important when you’re waiting for a heart.  Your favorite jeans being in the wash is small change if your child is in the hospital and you’re away from home.  Our relationships with others take on a much bigger meaning when we see the fear and the loneliness in the eyes of our guests.

The Fancy Hat Party was for them.  It was to raise awareness of what we do every day, what they face every hour, and to hopefully raise funds to meet the very real and immediate needs that they have.  But they didn’t come to our party.  They stayed at The House.

For better or for worse, for right now it is their home.

Dinner at The House

 

 

 

 

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Mar
28

Have You Got Your Hat?

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Have you planned your ensemble yet?  Our Fancy Hat Party is coming up this Friday, and we still have tickets available!  Last year we raised over $40,000 towards the House.  We’re hoping that this year is equally as successful.  It will certainly be as fun!A Fancy Hat

“Round or square

Or tall and flat,

People love

To wear a hat.”

William Jay Smith

Jenna at Fancy HatWe always have a guest at our Party.  A few years ago Jenna Bush, daughter of George W, joined us.  The evening didn’t have a hint of politics, but was all about fancy headwear, smiles, and sharing for our guests at the House.  Last year we spent some time with Steven Cojocaru.  Cojo gave us some fashion critiques, had us roaring with laughter, and even donned a Fancy Hat himself.Cojo

This year we are being joined by Lynn Sherr.  Perhaps you’ve heard.  Ms. Sherr was a reporter for WCBS-TV, and gained a national reputation with PBS at WNET in New York and WETA in Washington.  She even hosted the ‘MacNeil-Lehrer Report’.  Pretty heavy stuff!

Sherr is probably best known for her work on ABC and the years of fascinating reporting that she did for 20/20.  While working with the news magazine show, she won several awards.  She had notable pieces about anorexia, a young lady from New York who went from homeless to Harvard, and a great interview with astronaut Sally Ride.

Many of her reports have focused on her favorite topic:  women.  She is a proud feminist, and has even written two books about a personal hero, Susan B. Anthony.  While covering the “Women’s Lib” movement early in her career, she realized that she kept referring to the participants as “they” and “them”.  It wasn’t really they or them as much as it was “she”.  She was a woman striving for equality in a man’s world.

Sherr has also written about another type of hero for her:  giraffes.  She is rather tall, and blonde, and in 1997 wrote Tall Blondes:  A Book About Giraffes. In 2006 she published Outside the Box:  A Memoir about life on television, losing her husband to cancer, and her own battle with the disease.  Very funny, very insightful, and very poignant.

She has a new book, Swim:  Why We Love the Water that should be out any minute.

We hope that you’ll be joining us at the Fancy Hat Party.  It is always a great time, always festive, and we get the second greatest guests in Richmond.  The first greatest are obviously the ones that we see every day.

Favorite Guests

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Mar
15

Have We Met? Maybe you know my kidney.

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Swiss psychologist Carl Jung was trying to define the relationship that seems to connect us all.  He coined the word “synchronicity” in the 1920’s to describe “temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events.”

Simply put, he felt that there was a relationship between everyone’s minds, ideas, and events.

Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy wrote a series of short stories in 1929 where he hypothesized that our world was “shrinking.”  Advances in communications, travel, and friendship networks would connect any two individuals through five acquaintances.  Con-artist David Hampton bilked a group of wealthy New Yorkers out of thousands of dollars in the 1980’s by pretending to be a famous actor’s son.  He was able to name-drop enough that his story was plausible.  The tale became the inspiration for the stage play and movie Six Degrees of Separation.

Have you ever played the Kevin Bacon game?  You can do it with just about any actor, but for some reason it’s more fun with Kevin Bacon.  Name an actor and connect him to Bacon in as few steps as possible.  We were watching Phineas and Ferb with the little guy and the special guest was Jake Gyllenhall.  The next episode featured an appearance by Taylor Swift.  What the heck.

Taylor Swift is selling tons of albums (if you still want to call them that).  She appeared on Phineas and Ferb, who also featured Jake Gyllenhaal, of the movies Brokeback Mountain and Jarhead.  In Jarhead, his father was played by James Morrison, who had a recurring role on the television series 24, starring Keifer Sutherland.  Sutherland starred in a movie called Flatliners with Oliver Platt and, you guessed it, Kevin Bacon.  The Taylor Swift-Jake Gyllenhall link is somewhat of a stretch, but you get the point.

Kevin Bacon has taken all of this with a great sense of humor, and has actually turned it into something good.  Using the concepts of Karinthy, Jung, and a popular college drinking game, he started SixDegrees.org.  He says that it really is a small world, and we all make a difference.  His website allows anyone, anywhere, to donate, fundraise, or volunteer.  You can purchase a “Good Card” that can be redeemed as a donation for one of over a million charities.  They’re pushing the $4 million mark.

We posted earlier this week on Facebook about a remarkable series of kidney exchanges.  Rick Ruzzamenti was at his yoga studio and the desk clerk mentioned that she had recently donated a kidney.  It wasn’t like she didn’t have another one.  Ruzzamenti learned that 400,000 Americans need dialysis every day to survive, and found that almost 100,000 were on a waiting list for a transplant.  Kidneys are somewhat unusual in that you can safely donate the entire organ, success rates are high, and most people can function quite well with just one.  So he jumped on board.

What he set in motion was a chain-reaction organ swap involving 60 people, 60 separate operations, in 17 hospitals across 11 states.  A woman in Long Island got a kidney from a donor in California.  Her friend donated his kidney to a woman in Ohio.  The Ohio recipient’s daughter-in-law donated hers to a young man back in California.  The best friend of the young man in California donated hers…

And on it went.

All of these folks became forever linked through the National Kidney Registry.  It is a large database of donors and those awaiting transplant, and was started by Garet Hil.  Hil saw the immediate need when his own daughter was diagnosed with kidney failure at age 10.  He found out that he would be incompatible for her as a donor less than two days before a scheduled surgery, and his frantic search was on.  He has an extensive background in finance and data logistics, and his service as a United States Marine gave him a perseverance and grit to get things done.

These 60 people will forever be linked by the decision of one man to selflessly donate a kidney, and by the ingenuity of another to give him an avenue to do so.  But what of the little acts that we do every day?  When someone helps out here at Hospital Hospitality House of Richmond, they interact with our staff, our guests, and their families.  Each of those people reach out to their friends, families, and co-workers.  Each of THOSE people reach out to their friends, families, and co-workers, and on it goes.  One small act creates a synchronicity that makes our world just a little smaller, but extends a net of goodwill a little wider.

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First, the bad news:  As much as we’ve been looking forward to it, our guest for the March 30th Fancy Hat Party has been forced to back out.   We had been eagerly anticipating hanging out with one of our favorite actresses, breast cancer survivor Marcia Wallace, but an unrelated illness has left her unable to travel.  Our best wishes and hopes for a speedy recovery go out to Marcia.  Bart Simpson still needs her direction.

The good news is that Lynn Sherr has stepped in to don a Fancy Hat!

Lynn was a long-time correspondent for ABC News, and has won a slew of awards for her work on 20/20.  Lynn has won great acclaim for her coverage of everything from political conventions to NASA.  She has hosted a number of PBS specials, and is the author of several books.  Tall Blondes:  A Book About Giraffes was published in 1997, she has written a couple of books about Susan B. Anthony and Women’s Rights, and published Outside the Box:  A Memoir in 2006.  In Outside the Box she talks of her life both on and off camera, about losing her husband to lymphoma, and her own battle with colon cancer.

We really appreciate Lynn for stepping in at the last minute, and we hope that she’s able to bring come copies of her new book!  It is supposed to be coming out any day now, and is titled Swim:  Why We Love the Water.  Hey, a Fancy Hat/Book Release Party sounds perfect!

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Mar
07

A Fluffy Guide to Better Health

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We read a couple of stories over the past week that made us think about our “other” loved ones:

It’s just a fluffy animal, right?

The first story related the cases of three pet owners who were previously healthy, but ended up sick because of exposure to dangerous bacteria from their dogs and cats.  One lady licked a dropper used to feed a sick dog, and one held her dying cat and allowed it to lick her hands and arms.  All three of them ended up in the hospital, received antibiotics, and got better within a few days.

The biologist in the second story has been doing research into toxoplasmosis and why we behave in strange ways.  Toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite that is transmitted from cats.  His research showed that people who tested positive for the parasite had different reactions to frightening situations, different inhibitions, and different emotional responses to stimulus than people who tested negative for the parasite.

That animals can be bad for our health is certainly nothing new.  We’ve been conditioned and warned our entire lives about rabies, fleas, mad cows, and the host of other scary things that they can bring to our lives.  But what about the good things that they contribute?

According to the Humane Society, there are over 78 million dogs and 86 million cats owned in the United States.  That doesn’t include the strays and feral animals that are skulking around, these are pets in homes.  Over a quarter of these owners had more than one dog, and over half had more than one cat.  We guess they all need playmates.

The Centers for Disease Control seems to think that pets are good for you.  They say that pets can decrease your blood pressure, cholesterol, and provide more opportunities for exercise and socialization.  Studies have shown that people with pets have higher survival rates after heart attacks, maintained healthier weights, and even exhibited better mental acuity.

And we haven’t even started talking about service animals.

Man first domesticated dogs about 10,000 years ago, and the Egyptians domesticated wildcats about 3500 B.C.  Pets were considered as therapy in the mid-1700’s.  It has been shown that playing with a pet increases your body’s production of serotonin and dopamine, chemicals that provide the brain with pleasure and calming properties.  Caring for a pet can decrease depression, and contribute to a sense of purpose for those dealing with diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Some avoid pets for fear of allergies.  Studies have shown that infants who were exposed to pets were actually less likely to develop allergies and asthma.  Pets have also been shown to respond to changes in a human’s body chemistry that are precursors to diabetic episodes and seizures.

There is a certain breed of dog, called a Xolo, which only an owner could love.  It is a hairless dog that is known for generating intense body heat.  The dogs are not known for being large, and owners have been using them to snuggle up against aching joints to combat the pain of chronic arthritis and other lingering pains.

There are some things to know about owning a pet, and not all of it is good.

Pets can be carriers of disease.  Many homes with children choose a low-maintenance pet like a turtle or a lizard, but they can carry salmonella and are not recommended for homes with infants or anyone with a weakened immune system.  Furry pets can also be disease carriers, and you should be vigilant in protecting them from parasites like ticks and fleas.  Fleas were to blame for the rapid spread of the Bubonic Plague in the Middle Ages, and it is estimated that the pandemic killed 60 percent of Europe’s population.

Though many are loathe to admit it, pets have feelings, and a pet that is angry or scared can be a real physical danger to an unwary owner.  Make sure that your little ones know the boundaries with pets, and make sure that pets are not too large for children and elderly owners to handle.

The risk of toxoplasmosis for pregnant women is real.  It isn’t necessarily the cat, though.  The risk is coming from the litter box, and like everything else in life, you should be careful.  Pregnant women should not handle litter, and anyone handling a pet should be sure to wash their hands.

At the end of the day, though, don’t they make you feel better?  If they didn’t, would we still waste so much time on the computer watching them?

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Mar
01

The State’s Health State

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United Health FoundationHow’s that for a headline?

We like keeping up on current events, and a good poll or study always tickles our fancy.  Gallup is one of our favorite sources.

Gallup studies everything.  Consumer Confidence, Who Do You Like for President, What Kind of Phone Do You Have, Have You Seen Any Oscar Movies…these are all the sorts of things that Gallup asks people.

Their latest research examines the general well-being of our country, state-by-state, city-by-city.  They didn’t just look at sickness and disease, but also looked at general well-being from a physical, mental, and social state.  Over the course of four years they surveyed 1.4 million Americans.

Virginia ranked 15th out of 50.  Some other highlights were Alexandria/Arlington (It’s one big city now.  Who knew?) ranking in the top ten for large cities, Charlottesville ranking number one for small cities, and Virginia District 8 (The Alexandria to Falls Church corridor) ranking number two for Congressional Districts.  Charlottesville, Lynchburg, Roanoke, and Richmond all made the top 100 (Roanoke and Richmond were 96 and 84 respectively).

We suppose that this is good news for Virginia.  After all, we could be writing from West Virginia or Kentucky.   No offense to any transplants from Appalachia, but they got clobbered on emotional, physical, and access to health care, and they took a beating on healthy behaviors.

The other good news is that no states increased in obesity in 2011, even us.  Southern states are notorious for fried foods and the drive-through, and the region that brought us Paula Deen can sometimes make it hard for one to manage weight.  Deen did recently announce that she’d dropped two pants sizes since changing her diet to deal with her diabetes, but her cheeseburger-on-a-donut will live on.

Not everyone has such a rosy picture, though.

The United Health Foundation created a report based on information from the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Commerce, Education, and Labor, along with the Environmental Protection Agency, the American Medical Association, and others.

They say that our overall health has declined by almost 70% over the last decade.  Over a third of us are still technically obese, and with an aging population, these numbers may not get much better.  Their data says that we rank 26th in the country for health, 25th in diabetes, and too many of us still smoke.  We’ve done well with reducing violent crime as a health determinant, and we’ve reduced the number of children living in poverty, but almost 1 in 10 of us has diabetes and over a million of us are still hanging on to cigarettes.  While we are a State with a strong tie to the tobacco industry, Ceres carries wheat on the official State seal, not nicotiana tabacum.  Just saying.

The Virginia Department of Health is a great advocate for healthier living in the Commonwealth.  They helped to spread the message about February being American Heart Month, they have a ton of tips for healthy living, and have a program called Community Immunity.  Community Immunity is a push to make sure that at-risk members of neighborhoods and groups get a flu vaccine.  If they can prevent one person from getting sick it will protect a larger population.

They also have a public awareness program called “95210”.  We suppose it’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to the hit television show “90210”, and the number doesn’t really have a Virginia connection.  The zip code is for Stockton, California, home of the annual Asparagus Festival, but that’s neither here nor there.

The basic premise makes sense for our little ones.  With an aging population and trying to break habits that we’ve had for 400 years, it makes sense to go after the youngsters.

  • Get 9 hours of sleep per night.  No kidding.
  • Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables.  Ketchup doesn’t count.
  • Limit screen time to 2 hours or less.  This means tablet and Gameboy.
  • Get at least 1 hour of physical activity.  Other than your thumbs.
  • Zero sugar-sweetened drinks or tobacco.

If you want your softball team to win, you need someone who can hit.  If you want to build a computer, you need someone who can understand code-gibberish.

Maybe what we need to improve our health rankings is a ringer.  A youthful ringer.  You might have one around your house.  If they’re not head-first in your refrigerator, check the couch.  It’s spring training, and we need to get in shape.

 

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Rosie the RiveterThere are over 600 muscles in the human body.  You have biceps, triceps, quadriceps, and the cool ones like the orbicularis oculi, the sternocleidomastoideus, and the extensor retinaculum.  Then there are the super-important ones, like, oh gee, the heart.

As we end the month of February, we near the end of American Heart Month.  The American Heart Association is using this month to bring awareness to the dangers of heart disease in women, a disease that kills more women in the United States than cancer.

We normally think of heart disease in the context of a heart attack.  Our version of the heart attack victim is an overweight, middle-aged, stressed out man.  But anyone can have a heart attack.  Certain things may put you at a higher risk, but recognizing the dangers and symptoms of a heart problem are the keys to your survival.

The first line of defense in the fight against heart disease is what you put into your mouth.  Maintaining a suitable weight is the first step.  While being overweight puts you in grave danger, being underweight can also put undue stress on your ticker.  Being underweight or malnourished is a common problem with the elderly, as eating habits become less important.  Your diet should be heavy in fruits and vegetables, low in saturated fats, and low in sugars.  These measures will not only reduce your risk of heart disease, they will help to lower your cholesterol and manage your glucose levels.  Having diabetes as an adult raises your risk of heart disease almost 4 times than that of someone with normal glucose levels.

Some other things to think about in your mouth are cigarettes and alcohol.  While many say that alcohol is alright in moderation, we haven’t found anyone who has pointed out a beneficial aspect to smoking.  Some said that it made them look cool, but that idea went out with 8-tracks and mood rings.

Once you’ve made the commitment to eat healthier, you need to do something with your nutritious calories.

Many of you may have made the decision to join a gym after New Years.  Some of you may have actually kept that promise.  But joining a gym takes money, requires time, and some are intimidated by the prospect of beginning an exercise program.

How would you feel about an exercise program that was easy for a beginner, safe for all ages, had a low dropout rate, and was free?  Have we got a health club for you!  Take a walk.  Walking as little as 30 minutes per day can improve your health.  It is estimated that you add 2 hours to your life for every hour that you spend walking.  In addition to walking around your home or neighborhood, you can walk around a mall, find some walking buddies to team up with, or just choose the stairs instead of an elevator.  Walking is also good because it doesn’t require any equipment or fancy clothing.  Jeans and smart shoes are fine.

Much of the focus of this year’s AHA campaign is striving to educate women about the symptoms of heart disease or a heart attack.  Dr. Nieca Goldberg of NYU’s Langone Medical Center says that women notoriously ignore the warning signs “…because they are scared and because they put their families first.”

While the classic scenario shows someone clutching their chest and gasping for breath, the symptoms are often much more subtle.  In addition to shortness of breath or chest pains, women might experience pain in the lower chest, upper back, and fatigue.  The AHA just released a wonderful PSA starring Elizabeth Banks where she portrays a busy mom who just can’t believe that she could be experiencing a heart attack.

If you think that you are in danger or have experienced worrisome symptoms, get to your doctor, quickly.  Studies have shown that more heart attack victims survive if they call 911 than if they try to get themselves to a care provider.  Emergency services generally transport more quickly, and patients in the hospital are seen sooner if brought by a medical professional.  Other studies have shown that taking an aspirin at the first sign of a heart attack can improve your chances.  But if you think that you’re having a heart attack or a stroke, trust us, call someone.

We started this week’s blog by describing some of the muscles in the human body.  It takes a few muscles to move your computer mouse, and not much more than a bicep to pick up your phone.  You use over 72 muscles to speak.  Get some real exercise and share with someone what you’ve learned here today.

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Got big plans for Valentine’s?  Maybe some dinner plans?  Take the honey to a movie?  Perhaps you’re busy, or have no sitter.  Just make a quick trip to the mega-mart and grab some flowers and a box of chocolates.

Did you know what over 100,000 people will be hoping for this Valentine’s Day?  An organ.  About 4,000 people get added to this guest list every month.  And tomorrow, while you exchange heart-shaped gifts with your loved one, 18 people will die for the lack of an organ donor.

While these are every-day numbers for those who are part of these statistics, tomorrow is special for them.  February 14th is National Donor Day.  Saturn and The United Auto Workers started this special Valentine for those awaiting an organ in 1998.

At the Hospital Hospitality House of Richmond, we have a special floor set aside for patients either waiting or recovering from an organ transplant.  We like to give these guests their own floor because their bodies are at a very high risk of infection, and an organ transplant puts that risk into overdrive.

We also are witnesses to the remarkable gift of an organ donation.  We see it every day here at the House, and we saw it last year at our Fancy Hat Party when we hosted Cojo.  In case you forgot, Steven Cojocaru is a fashionista who has appeared on Entertainment Tonight, the Today Show, and American Idol.  He is also the recipient of two kidneys.  When his first donor organ became infected he got a second from his mother.  That was in 2005, and he’s been doling out laughs and fashion critiques with gusto ever since.

So what do you have to do to be a donor?

Not much, really.  You can talk to your physician, or discuss it with your loved ones.  You can go to organdonor.gov and fill out the form.  In Virginia, you can check the box on your Driver’s License and you’re good to go.  Do you think that you’re too old?  There are no age restrictions.  Do you think that you’re too young?  You can sign up to be an organ donor as young as 13, but you need a parent or guardian to do it before you’re 18.

Let’s say that you’re fighting a disease, but still want to help.  Can you still be a donor?  You may have a disease that affects one organ but not another.  You may have skin, bone, marrow, a cornea, or cells that would be a gift of life for another.

Are you worried about the cost?  It’s pretty much free.  If you donate your body, and in most cases as a living donor, the recipient’s insurance covers the cost of any medical care.

“Wait, did you just say ‘living donor’?”

Why yes, yes we did.  It can be as simple as giving blood, or a full-on invasive surgery.  In addition to blood, you can donate a kidney, part of a liver, part of a lung, intestine, or pancreas.  The human body is a remarkably robust and resilient machine, and most people have more than enough of certain organs than they need.

You should know that offering someone the life-giving gift of an organ involves anesthesia, blood loss, pain, and some scarring.  It is a surgery, and as such it carries some risk.  You may also have to deal with the psychological effects of recovery and the sense of responsibility if your recipient rejects your organ.  These risks are generally quite low, though.  The reward for your donation is the life of the person receiving your gift.  People receiving these sorts of donations generally go back to normal activities, and 90% or so live out a normal lifespan.

So who does it?  Well, everybody.  Slightly over half of all living donors were women, and that number reverses itself for deceased donors.  Most were white, with blacks, Hispanics, and Asians pretty fairly represented.  The demographics of organ donors pretty closely matched the demographics of our population.  And most religions allow some sort of organ or medical donation.  It’s compassionate.

And who gets your special Valentine’s gift?

Over 100,000 people just like us.  You won’t even have to buy flowers, cook dinner, or light candles.  Though it is a nice touch.

 

 

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Feb
08

Just Sleep On It

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Image from anankkml

Image from anankkml

It’s usually the same routine:

  • Pick up the little ones.
  • Home for homework and a recap of their day.
  • Dinner with some crying about vegetables.
  • Bath time and a story.
  • Put them to bed.
  • Do laundry, answer emails, prepare lunches for tomorrow, pay some bills, call the sister…

Did you notice that we missed something?  The kids have a bedtime, but what happened to ours?

 

Ask yourself some questions:

  • Does the alarm scare you awake every morning?
  • Do you wake up every day still feeling tired?
  • Do you fall asleep during movies or while watching TV?
  • Do you go on vacation to sleep late?

Maybe YOU need a bedtime.

Studies have shown that sleep is a fantastic cure-all, and a lack of sleep does the body no good.  From the sweet feeling of rest, to the peace of mind, to the physical effects:  sleep is necessary for health and happiness.

Most experts say that the average adult needs somewhere between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.  Some people function well on as little as 4 hours, but some may need at least 10.  Several hours of uninterrupted sleep has been shown to reduce fatigue, improve memory, help to deal with emotional trauma, and perhaps even boost the body’s immune system.  A study in the medical journal The Lancet said that nearly a quarter of all adults feel as if they don’t get a good night’s sleep, and a full ten percent of our adult population would qualify as suffering from insomnia.  Insomnia and other sleep disorders (like sleep apnea) have been shown to increase the risk of depression, hypertension, and heart disease.

A recently published study reported the link between sleep and certain cells in the body.  Your body produces a sort of white blood cell, called a natural killer cell, which your body will release to fight invasions of foreign cells, like cancer.  Subjects who were kept awake or had disrupted sleep patterns had lower or depressed levels of these cells in their body.  So in an age when almost anything can cause cancer, a good night’s sleep can help you fight it!

Do you dream at night?  Many of us dream of flying (means something), of being naked in a crowd (means something), or being trapped (means something).  All Freud aside, many of us dream of talking to loved ones past and present, and re-live emotional situations in our lives.  Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley have been looking into the relationship between sleep and emotions.  What we dream may help us to resolve emotional issues, help to ease painful memories, and may be a key to lessening the devastation of post traumatic stress disorder.

So how do you dip into this fountain of youth?  Try starting with these five simple steps:

  • Give yourself a bedtime.  Every day has to end at some point, and it should end when you say so.  Some things may get put off until tomorrow, but you’ll be better equipped to deal with them if you have a clear and rested noggin.
  • Turn everything off.  That means everything.  Some people benefit from a sound machine that simulates crashing waves, and some relax to the whir of a spinning fan.  That doesn’t mean a television, a radio, or a phone.  Almost half of all smartphone users check their social media updates after they’ve gone to bed.  You go to bed to sleep, not to network.
  • Eat for sleep.  It is never a good idea to eat and then fall out.  You should give your body some time to digest before you hit the hay, and avoid items with caffeine or lots of sugar.  These items make you stay awake.
  • Relax.  A common cause of insomnia is anxiety triggered by what you have on your plate tomorrow.  You should review your day and plan your tomorrow before you make the decision to catch some shuteye.  Before you strap into your jammies you should do something to clear your head, like meditation, deep breathing, or perhaps reading something that is totally unrelated to your anxiety-inducing plans.
  • Exercise.  We seem to slip this into every “wellness” blog or post, but it’s true.  Some time during your day, you need to exercise.  A perfect routine would find you enjoying a brisk family walk after dinner/before bedtime.  We know, good for your heart, reduce the risk of stroke, maintain a good weight, etc etc etc.  Truth be told, when you exercise your body releases a chemical called dopamine.  Do you know what dopamine does?  It drives learning, controls some voluntary movements, and helps to combat depression.  Your body should like dopamine.

So pull out the comfy sheets, fluff up the pillow, and grab your favorite pajamas.  We like the ones with the feet in them.  To quote Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast.”  We’re going to need for you to be at your best.  Get some sleep.

 

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We came across an article in the New York Times about Operation Mend.  It’s a program to help service members who have been injured in combat.  It uses the staff at the UCLA Medical Center, the resources of one of the best reconstructive surgery centers in the world, and the military to rebuild these battlefield heroes after they’ve been severely burned in combat or battle-related accidents.  Many of them have lost limbs or other body parts due to their injuries.  Most, if not all of them will undergo weeks, months, and years of surgery, therapy, and rehabilitation in an attempt to put their bodies and lives back together.  The Operation Mend website tells some compelling stories, and there are some pretty graphic “before and after” pictures of some of the vets who have been helped.  We couldn’t help but notice the many smiles in the after pictures.

The article (and our limited medical knowledge) made us wonder about one aspect of dealing with medical crisis:  There is such a thing as “surgery fatigue”, and you don’t have to be a burn victim to have it.

Anyone who has had a catastrophic injury may need repeated surgeries to repair what has been damaged.  This could be for shattered bones, to repair nerve damage, or to replace a damaged organ.

Perhaps the crisis is the result of a genetic anomaly?  Do you remember our friend from Belize?  She had a series of surgeries over the course of seven months to correct a birth defect that restricted her ability to walk.

If you’re someone who is getting an organ transplant, you will probably have to endure a series of procedures before, during, or after getting your new lease on life.  Heaven forbid that your body rejects your new organ.  It will be back to the drawing board.

This says nothing of the physical and emotional effects of having to endure multiple procedures.  Your body develops scar tissue, you develop a resistance to certain drugs and medications, and some have developed life-threatening allergies to things like latex.    A recent report in Pediatrics points to a possible link between multiple exposures to general anesthesia and learning disabilities.

How about the emotional fatigue?  You wake up in the same rut every day.  Still sick, still tired, still scared, and it’s already tomorrow.  It’s like Groundhog Day, but instead of waking up in Punxsutawney you’re packing for another trip to the hospital.  You lose your appetite, you have a constant apprehension, and healing becomes that much harder.

People in the medical profession know these things.  And they want to help.  The doctors who volunteer for Operation Mend, the orthopedists who worked on our friend from Belize, and the therapists that work with many of our guests have one goal in mind:  get you healthy and home.

Science is coming up with some wonderful tools to speed this process.  The military is doing amazing research into the use of artificial skin and special bandages to promote healing and fight infection.  A program at Rush University in Chicago is developing a “growing prosthesis” that allows children with bone disorders to have fewer surgeries.  An implanted bone can be adjusted to “grow” with a young patient.  Fewer and less invasive procedures!

If your loved one is seemingly trapped in this cycle of treatment, you can help.

Everyone should know what is coming up.  There should be a realistic expectation of the procedure, how long it’s going to take, and what it’s going to feel like afterwards.  Will there be a cast?  Will there be a long period of bed rest or limited activity?  How long will it be before we can swim or play?  Will we be able to bathe or brush our hair?

There may be pain, and we’re going to deal with it.  It may just be a little stick, or perhaps a pain that requires medication.  People dealing with pain will need to know how to deal with it and how to communicate their level of pain.  There is no such thing a “too brave” to admit to hurting.  And knowing that the pain will get better can be very reassuring.

If your loved one is in medical crisis then everyone becomes a patient.  The stress of procedures and treatments puts stress on the rest of the clan, too.  They may not need the same level of care as someone who is sick, but they need the same level of attention.

Lastly, just be there.  Some of the most difficult aspects of going through a series of procedures are the uncertainties, fears, and the disruption of life.  Pack a smile as a part of your wardrobe, keep laughter on your daily menu, and make tomorrow #1 on your “things to do” list!

 

 

 

 

 

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