Thursday, January 29, 2009

Second time around

I visited an older gentleman and his wife this morning, along with my favorite coworker RN Beth. I had the wife bring out their wedding picture to show Beth. Her wedding dress and flowers were gorgeous! The man filled Beth in on the details of their wedding and their 62 years of marriage. Beth then told him, "And you wouldn't change a thing."
The patient replied, "The second time you just shack up! Isn't that the point?"
We all cracked up at the idea of this feisty man living in sin with a new lady friend. I'm not sure his wife shared our amusement!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Today I found out that a patient is requesting a different social worker because she thinks I look too young. I met with her briefly in May to discuss some insurance issues and spoke with her recently by phone to address some questions about hospice services. At no time did she appear concerned by my age or youthful looks. She only lets the nurse come once every 2 weeks and has not wanted to receive visits from any of the other disciplines. Now that her condition is worsening, she apparently is open to a social worker. Per the nurse, while this pt. enjoyed the visit we had in May, she is concerned that I wouldn't be able to understand her particular situation since I'm close to the age of her stepsons (who incidentally do not live in the home.) Clearly because I'm 30 years younger than her I would have no clue on how to counsel her and my masters degree and 4 years of hospice experience mean nothing. I feel like I need to record testimonials from the hundreds of patients I've helped over the years that did not let a silly thing like my age get in the way of the service I provide. I respect this patient's ridiculous choice and hope she doesn't find some inane fault with the next social worker.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Adventure Known as Paul's Life

"Paul" is a cute 96 year old man who believes I am writing his life story. Mind you, I didn't do anything to encourage this belief. He is mostly alert and oriented across the board but ocassionally he'll mix up a few details. In this case, there was a woman who was recording his life story; however, she was writing it while he still lived in assisted living in Washington 3 years ago. I always encourage my patients to tell me their story, either the long or short version, and Paul has taken me quite literally on this offer. After the first visit, he started telling his family how I was writing his story and then he told me I could collect any royalties because he'll be gone by that time. Well, I couldn't help but think I really should start writing his story down. He's had an interesting life, from his 72 year marriage to saving his stepfather from drowning when he was 9 years old to encounters with gangsters named Pretty Boy Floyd. Last week I started videotaping these stories, as a keepsake for his family. I'll ask him a question or two but it doesn't take much for him to take a trip down memory lane. His wife died 2 years ago but he's still in love with her. The way his face lit up while describing their wedding day! It's been a beautiful thing to witness. His family appreciates having someone else listen to the stories he's been telling his whole life. Paul appreciates my visits. (In fact, yesterday he told me I could stay all night!) And I appreciate gleaning wisdom from someone who's been through it all.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

This is why I love my job

The patients I've met in the past few months have been extraordinarily interesting.
A couple married for 70 years and still radiantly in love

A man who helped build the Sears Tower (I was in awe of his courage)

A woman who was heavily involved in promoting a woman's right to vote and began several activist groups in her town...and continued to do her part after suffering a stroke at age 40...after the birth of her 6th son. Talk about strength!

A Holocaust survivor

A man with early onset Alzheimers who was vice president of a Fortune 500 company prior to diagnosis. He then became involved with the Rush Alzheimers support group, spoke around the country about early onset, and was involved in a research study. He was passionate about doing his part so that we can someday find a cure.

A man who was a steeplejack, a trade he learned from his uncle that no longer exists

A man whose father was shot in a bar fight (picture a typical cowboy Western saloon) two months before he was born...and his life grew ever more interesting after that (I'm going to videotape his story starting this week- he is a fascinating storyteller!)

A woman who married losers twice before finding the love of her life- third time's the charm!

An African refugee who got HIV after being raped by camp guards. She's one of the most inspirational, positive people I've ever met.

A man who served with the Marines for several years and loves showing me the yearbooks featuring their missions. Despite struggling with ALS, he always has a smile on his face.

And the list goes on...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cancer blog

I read the obituaries every day, just skimming for patients names. A couple of weeks ago, the obit for Kindra McLennan caught my eye. She was only 30, pretty, a clinical counselor, and she died of cancer. Today the Chicago Tribune ran a story about the blog she started when she was first diagnosed. Often patients and family members begin blogging as a way to update family and friends but it sometimes turns into a therapeutic tool. Kindra's blog holds great insight as to how she coped with each triumph and setback; she writes with candor and humor. The Tribune article noted that even on her sickest days, she would hold unofficial counseling sessions for her friends, always trying to help others. The article and the blog are very inspiring.
If you don't have time to peruse the whole blog, these are of note:
First Meeting with Radiation Oncologist
Week 1 Complete
Notice of Eviction.
I heart New York City!
Our worst fears confirmed.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Are the holidays slower?

This past Christmas I was asked quite a few times if hospice work slows down over the holidays. The underlying assumption must be that people are busy with their own holiday celebrations and don't want to dampen the occasion by making a decision to start hospice or, if already a hospice patient, have staff around. This is certainly true of some people but it seems to be the exception to the least this year. I asked the other 3 hospice social workers at my organization how their work was going and we all had the same answer: We've been inundated with new patients in the past month making it very difficult, if not impossible, to follow up with the rest of our caseload. Sadly some of my "once a month" visits are becoming "once every month and a half." I know that if something urgent was happening the family would call or the hospice RN would let me know but it is important to me to visit regularly and build the relationship that we have. I'm hopeful now that we're into 2009 that I'll be able to settle back into a routine. With a forecast of snow tomorrow, I'm not sure that I'll be able to see everyone on my schedule but I promise to do my best and to drive slowly. Or as I tell my patients- sometimes you have to take it an hour at a time, when a day at a time doesn't quite cut it.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Top 29 Books of 2008

I couldn't celebrate my 29th birthday properly without compiling a new list of favorites. Last year was top 28 CD obsessions, the year before: 27 top books. Nerd that I am, I keep a list of the books that I read each year. I am a voracious reader and it's nice to see what I've accomplished. This year I read 77 books- go me! Granted there was a bit of fluff in that list but sometimes mindless brain candy is just what you need after a long day of work. I'm sparing you the pain of a bad book (although you might not agree with all my favorites) and letting you in on my favorite reads of this past year, presented in order read. Enjoy!

1. The Divide- Nicholas Evans (1/4/08)
Haunting tale as a family pieces together their estranged daughter's life when she is found dead.

2. Splitting Harriet- Tamara Leigh (1/14/08)
I like Leigh's version of Christian chick lit. They're easy, engaging reads that keep me laughing and commiserating.

3. The School of Dying Graces- Dr. Richard Felix (1/27/08)
I read a few books after Grandma died but none spoke to me as much as Felix's experience through his wife's battle with cancer. His examination of the gifts we gain from persevering through suffering was both inspirational and encouraging.

4. The Princes of Ireland- Edward Rutherford (1/30/08)
Interesting blend of fact and fiction tracing Ireland's origins.

5. Dumping Billy- Olivia Goldsmith (1/31/08)
Dump Billy and you get married...but what happens if you don't want to dump Billy? Funny chick lit.

6. Immediate Family- Eileen Goudge (2/1/08)
Friends reconnect at their 15-year college reunion; the choices and decisions they face lead them to see what friendship is really made of and, inevitably, how they define family.

7. Fifth Seal- Bodie and Brock Thoene (2/6/08)
Vivid picture of Mary, Joseph, and the birth of Jesus. The Thoene's bring familiar Bible stories alive.

8. The Story We Find Ourselves In- Brian McLaren (2/6/08)
A continuation of A New Kind of Christian, McLaren delves more fully into the creation vs. evolution debate. I didn't agree with everything but he definitely gave me some things to ponder.

9. Silence- Shusaku Endo (2/11/08)
We read this for Book Club and had a very thought-provoking discussion about apostasy and what might cause us to deny our faith.

10. The Boy Next Door- Meg Cabot (2/12/08)
Cabot's novels are light, frothy reads about the trials and triumphs of our every-day heroine. However, this particular tale is told through a series of emails, journal entries, etc.

11. Now and Not Yet- Jennifer Marshall (2/14/08)

One of the best books written for Christian single women written by...a Christian single woman. Marshall looks at singleness with a fresh, more sociological perspective.

12. Ireland- Frank Delaney (2/22/08)
Delaney focuses on Ireland's fading oral tradition, "telling the country's tale to her people in stories handed down since God was a boy." A beautiful tale.

13. Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World- Bill Clinton (3/13/08)
I was heartened to learn more about Clinton's philanthropic endeavors and his efforts to mobilize each of us to do our part and celebrate those who already are.

14. East of Eden- John Steinbeck (3/29/08)
Another Book Club read. The first 100 pages were torturously slow but my perseverance paid off.

15. The Wheel of Life- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (4/18/08)
Many people are familiar with Kubler-Ross's work in the field of loss and bereavement but know litle about her life. Her biography and her life choices are intriguing, as well as perplexing at times. I scratched my head in confusion a couple of times but was still left grateful for her contributions to my field.

16. Persuasion- Jane Austen (5/1/08)
This was the only Austen novel I hadn't read and it turned out to be my favorite! I loved seeing the characters' lives intersect and how a misplaced or purposeful word here and there could alter the course of their lives.

17. The Thirteenth Tale- Diane Setterfield (7/28/08)
Simply fascinating from start to finish! The mystery kept me guessing the whole way through and when I finished I felt the need to go back through and figure out what clues I'd missed the first time around.

18. Chasing Harry Winston- Lauren Weisberger (8/16/08)
Not quite as good as The Devil Wears Prada but one of the main characters is named Leigh.

19. The Song Reader- Lisa Tucker (8/21/08)
A woman uses music as therapy- by reading a person's favorite song, she unlocks the key to their happiness. Inevitably, her gift fails her and everyone is affected. An interesting premise and believable outcome.

20. Mercy- Jodi Picoult (9/11/08)
You might be firmly against euthanasia but, as always, Picoult turns the issue on its head.

21. How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls- Zoey Dean (9/20/08)
Imagine my delight when Privileged (WB) debuted this fall a week after I'd finished the book it was based on! I had no idea a series was in the works and, true, they changed some important details but the show is entertaining. Of course, the book is better!

22. Special Topics in Calamity Physics- Marisha Pessl (10/11/08)
You will need to talk to someone when you finish, so call me! Very unusual writing style and unique main character. Add a huge plot twist and you'll see why discussion is a must.

23. Stuff White People Like- Christian Lander (11/4/08)
The best of Lander's entertaining blog in book form. See how many categories you fall into, whether you're white or not.

24. Many Waters- Madeline L'Engle (11/16/08)
If you loved A Wrinkle in Time, you'll love this continuation in the series.

25-28. Twilight series- Stephenie Meyer (11/20/08-11/28/08)
Clearly I sped through this series that I resisted reading in spite of a year of recommendations. I'm obsessed and wish there would be more! I never thought I'd like a book about vampires but it truly is so much more than that. I could identify with some of Bella's hopes and fears and fell in love with Edward along the way.

29. The Historian- Elizabeth Kostova (12/26/08)
I didn't intend to read another book about vampires (I've certainly never read books about them in the past!) but I was mesmerized by this fictional account that traces the history of Dracula, leading our heroine to believe that he lives even today. The sociologist in me appreciates a good research project and what we can dig up when we search our past.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Video fun

I can't listen to even a few notes of the Britney Spears song "Womanizer." Even thinking about it makes me shudder. That's what makes this cover by All-American Rejects even more impressive...I watched the video the whole way through and I liked it. If only they would play this version on the radio, the world's ears would be in a better place. In the meantime, enjoy the addition of the accordian and other found objects in this unique take.