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Woman Loses Hearing Following The Birth Of Her Child

Can you imagine giving birth and then immediately discovering that you couldn’t hear anyone? That you were completely deaf? That’s exactly what happened to Heather Simonsen, a mother of three who lives in Utah. Simonsen noticed after each previous pregnancy that sounds would come and go and her ears felt clogged. She saw an ear, nose and throat specialist who advised her that she was gradually losing her hearing in the left ear. She also began to hear a ringing in her ear.

Simonsen didn’t realize that she was developing a condition called Otosclerosis, a disease of the bones of the middle ear. The bones of the middle ear (the maleus, incus and stapes) are usually flexible and transmit sound but with Otosclerosis, this is not possible because the bones become fused together. Simonsen is one of the Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Linda Burke-Galloway*

Mourning The Death Of Strangers

I was about to leave work a few nights ago when EMS was dispatched to a 10-50, which is a motor vehicle accident.

Enough years in emergency care and that tone makes your radar, but doesn’t create much of a blip. Many of those crashes have EMS arrive, only to discover no injuries. Some have patients transported, with minor problems that lead to their speedy evaluation and discharge from our ER. A few have serious, life-threatening injuries. They take all our speed, skill and attention to save life and limb. And often, require transfer to other facilities.

But this last call was none of those. Around 1AM the radio traffic crackled back to dispatch (which we could hear in the emergency department): “Probable Signal Nine.” Signal Nine means the victim is dead at the scene. Not “Dead On Arrival” (DOA) at the hospital, but no hospital necessary.

I knew the paramedics were finished when they asked dispatch to call for the coroner. And my heart sank a little. For all that a multi-trauma is work, I’d rather do it anytime than have someone die, and someone learn of the death. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

The Planet of Widowhood

This post begins with an ending. On February 27th, 2010, my beloved husband died in his sleep. His life ended and, in a way, mine did, too. Widowhood is a lonely word with a dark meaning, but life goes on. A new life begins when your old one ends.

Sorry I’ve been away so long. I missed my blog but I just didn’t know where to begin. I feel like I’ve just moved onto a new planet called Widowhood. Everything is different here. I’m walking on a landscape where everything is out of place. I’m filling out unfamiliar legal forms almost everyday, and I have to carry David’s death certificate in my handbag everywhere I go. Daily tasks are overwhelming. Cooking? What’s that? David cooked all of our meals at home so now I’m eating out. I feel insecure and that’s just not me. I don’t like living on this planet. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Nurse Ratched's Place*

How Lack Of Healthcare Reform Kills The American Dream

It appears that the American Dream is dead as the Democrats have essentially no chance in passing some sort of healthcare reform package. The stunning loss of the senate seat held by the late Ted Kennedy has now given the Republicans the ability to filibuster any significant healthcare legislation.

More disappointing is that Americans seem willing to accept the fact that they can live without healthcare. In a blog at US News and World Report titled 21 Things We’re Learning to Live Without, besides abstaining from cable TV, a home phone, prepared foods, and lattes, healthcare was also on the list. Millions of Americans are apparently “simply hoping they don’t get seriously ill or hurt.” How can this happen in supposedly the wealthiest nation in the world? Too many Americans are literally one illness or accident away from financial ruin as medical costs are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Saving Money and Surviving the Healthcare Crisis*

Accepting The Death Of My Mother

20010921-babbaFor years my friends and patients have told me how surprisingly shocking the death of an elderly parent can be.  We know it’s inevitable yet the finality is jarring.  But knowing and KNOWING are two different things.  So her son the doctor reacted just like so many others when my mother died unexpectedly last March at 86 after falling and striking her head.  I found it hard to get my arms around the idea that my mother was no longer alive.

I received an outpouring of beautiful condolence letters and contributions but have only written a handful of thank you notes.  My undoubtedly over-simplistic armchair psychiatrist explanation is that if I don’t write the notes then maybe she didn’t die.  And I’m not alone in my behavior.  My 90-year-old father, married to my mother for over 66 years, asked me a few months after her death if it was ok that he was pretending she was still alive.  “Absolutely,” I replied.  “That’s why God invented denial.”

My mother lived totally in the moment.  She’d start to peel an orange and would say “at this moment this orange hasn’t seen the light of day.”  Every morning she would look out the window at our breakfast table and say, “Good morning, dogwood tree.”  More often than not, whatever she was experiencing was “the best ever.”  The best ever sunset was the one she was watching.  The best ever salad was the one she ordered at our last lunch alone together a few weeks before she died.  Her best ever meal was the one she had just finished.  She did not want to waste a single second, as was reflected in a hilarious essay she submitted to the New York Times upon turning 75.  It was rejected; so here is the world premiere {link to NYT submission below}.

My wife had the idea to plant a dogwood tree on the top of the beautiful Vermont hill where we had sprinkled my mother’s ashes.  Yesterday my family gathered under cloudy skies for the ceremony.  One of my two sons sang a beautiful song he had composed using the lyrics of a poem called “Growing” that my mom had written when my three sisters and I were little.


Goodnight sweet baby and goodbye
I’ll see you as you are no more.
For dusk has settled in the sky
And you have wondrous dreams in store.
As you sleep, a magic hand will touch you
And you’ll grow more wise.
Tomorrow morning you’ll awaken
New and different in my eyes.

This morning my father admitted that he still finds it hard to accept she’s gone and sometimes imagines that “she’s just out shopping.”  But we’re both starting to accept that we’ll see her as she was no more.  This afternoon I’m going to start writing thank you notes in earnest.  Well, maybe tomorrow.


Dear Editor:

I just celebrated my 75th birthday, and do you know what?  I’m better than ever!  Well, I guess you could say I’m stronger than ever.  No, not in my muscles, which can be developed and maintained during regular workouts in the gym, but in my mind, which gets a daily ongoing on site workout.  I now have the strength of my convictions, something I never had when I was young because in those days I always aimed to please, so that everyone would like me.  I have now become much more assertive, more determined, more stubborn, and more aware of the passage of time, and as I calculate how much of it I have left, I have made a firm decision not to waste one moment of it.

With that thought in mind, here are some resolutions I’ve made to myself for the New Year:

1. I will not open unsolicited advertisements in the mail.  This includes 10 million dollar lotteries and free trips to the Caribbean.  Into the garbage they go!

2. I will not make dinner dates with boring people.  This includes people who didn’t used to be boring but are now.

3.  I will not put off doing things that I want to do.

4.  I will not attend meetings out of a feeling of obligation.

5.  I will not play singles rather than doubles in tennis or play an extra hour because I’m afraid to say no.

6.  I will not ride when I can walk or walk when I can ride, depending on how I feel at the time.

7.  I will not take part in long phone conversations with talkative people who are boring.

8.  I will not dress up to go out if I feel like wearing a shirt, sneakers and jeans.

9.  I will not shop ’til I drop.  I never did and I certainly won’t start now.

10.  I will not agree with someone unless I really do.  I won’t be afraid to express my opinion.

11.  I will hang up instantly on phone solicitors with no apology whatsoever.

12.  I will remove the tag from each and every mattress that I own with absolutely no fear of penalty of the law, and when I make the bed I won’t always do hospital corners.  Sorry, Mom!

13.  I won’t be afraid to break a date if something better comes along.

14.  I plan to make a lot of money selling something on Internet.  Don’t know what yet.

15. I will not be intimidated by a surly maitre d’ or waiter. I won’t be afraid to send something back if it’s not to my liking, and if the rolls aren’t hot, back they’ll go.

16.  I’ll squeeze the toothpaste from the top of the tube–so there!

17. I’ll watch every Seinfeld rerun, all Frasier episodes and all Woody Allen movies.

18. I will wear white before Memorial Day and after Labor Day if I want to.

19.  I will always remember that health takes priority over everything, and I will guard it carefully.

20.  I will keep smelling the roses and seeing, tasting, touching and hearing the world about me for a long, long time.

Happy New Year!!

Elsa LaPook

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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