Look for the Helpers

by Justin Triemstra

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news,

my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers.

You will always find people who are helping.’”

                                                                                                                                                   -Fred Rogers

 

Scary things in the news…

Look for the helpers…

You will always find people who are helping…

These 3 phrases could not be more descriptive of our current world, nation, state, city, and health systems. We have all seen the scary things in the news over the past 3 months and have watched our colleagues care for the ill and vulnerable who have been affected by this pandemic. At first, it seemed like a distant threat, yet, we all knew it would come to our institutions in time.

New York City, Seattle, New Orleans, Detroit, and countless other cities have already seen the waves this pandemic can bring to a community. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, the pandemic has now reached our doorstep. Our frontline colleagues have begun to see the first set of ripples, and now, we all wait for the waves that may follow.

This period of waiting brings out emotions of nervousness of what is to come, worry about whether we as health care providers will get infected or even worse, bring it home to our loved ones, or fear over the possible lack and rationing of PPE.

Nonetheless, we know our helpers have begun helping. Nurses. Physicians. Advanced Practice Providers. Respiratory therapists. Physical Therapists. Occupational Therapists. Speech Therapists. Patient Care Technicians. Pharmacists. EMT’s. Social Workers. Pastoral Care. Medical Assistants. Environmental Services. Food Services. Operation staff and leaders. And all other health care workers are being the helpers.

So, when we hear (or see) scary things in the news (or in the hospital), look for our helpers (colleagues) because you will always find (your friends) who are helping.

 

Justin D. Triemstra, MD, FAAP is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Human Development and Associate Program Director and Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.

What do Advent and Christmas Have to do with Medical Education, Anyway?

By Virginia McCarthy

As a Jesuit, Catholic medical school, we have had several preparations for Christmas that may not be as “front-and-center” in other institutions.  These traditions are deeply engrained in our culture and expected by our students.  With the flurry of academic activity in the final weeks of the semester, the true miracle of Christmas might lie in the simple fact that anyone shows up to spend time together at all.  In the busy-ness, we pause, but what exactly is it that we are trying to remember about ourselves, the community, the world?
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How Do You Deal With Death All the Time?

By Shannon Tapia

My husband the Anesthesiologist came home one evening solemn, affected, not himself.  His patient died in the recovery room.  It was sudden, unexpected for my husband, and despite the team’s swift efforts and perfectly executed code, the patient died anyway.  It’s relevant to note that his patient was an almost 90 year old man with significant Congestive Heart Failure, probably Chronic Kidney Disease, and complete occlusion of one of his carotids who sustained hip fracture and thus required the surgery to pin his hip for both healing but also comfort.  This is the ultimate Catch 22 in medicine (or at least in Geriatrics).  Someone who really should not be having Anesthesia or surgery due to their life-threatening chronic medical conditions has an accident and now requires a surgery to make their remaining life bearable.  My husband and the surgeon delivered the bad news together, and as the patient’s wife understandably fell apart, my husband cried in front of patients (family) for the first time, ever.  As we processed this together, he asked me, the Geriatrician, “How do you deal with death all the time?”

I won’t pretend to have all the answers.  However, I don’t think my husband or any doctor is alone in needing help or any tips at coping with death. So here are some ways this mother, family physician now Geriatrician copes with death, an ever-present part of Geriatric medicine…
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The Aftergift

“… and maybe then you’ll hear the words I’ve been singing;
Funny, when you’re dead how people start listen’n…”
If I Die Young (2010), The Band Perry

By Michael Dauzvardis

It was in the fall of 2015 that I received a call from a Mrs. Jones.  She went on to detail how her husband, Robert, had died from cancer and donated his body to our anatomy lab in 2006.  She further explained that she and her children had finally come to terms with his passing and now, 9 years later, were finally ready to spread his ashes at the family cemetery plot.  She stated that she wanted to hold a ceremony and perhaps have the students that worked on her husband write something about their experience that could be read at the service…
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Lessons Learned from a Beatbox Heart

By Tim Lahey

Two days ago, Jimmy stuck a used needle into the soft skin of his forearm, and released 20 milligrams of black tar heroin and a bolus of bacteria into his blood.

The bacteria floated from vein to artery as he nodded, eventually sticking themselves to the ragged edge of his aortic valve.  There they multiplied and burrowed until each systole whipped a two-centimeters of snot back and forth in his atrium.

Fevers came first, which Jimmy ignored while buying more black tar at a rest stop on I-91.  A day later, little red stigmata appeared on the palms of his hands as plugs of snot lodged in small vessels there.

When he couldn’t breathe, Jimmy went to the ER.  My medical student and I met him there as he shook in bed.  A snarl of IV lines snaked under the covers.

Jimmy gave one-word answers to my questions, and did not open his eyes…
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Educating for Resilience and Humanism in an Uncertain Time

By Darrell G. Kirch

We face a crisis of well-being in medicine. From the acceleration of science to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, rapid change has become the “new normal” for our profession.  While many of the changes have the potential to revolutionize health care, they also create stress and uncertainty within our community about our personal futures and the future of academic medicine.  At its worst, this stress contributes to the high levels of burnout, depression, and even suicide we are seeing in health care professionals.  As a psychiatrist who has treated physician colleagues, I have seen depression interrupt promising careers in medicine and science.  As dean of two medical schools, I saw the impact of burnout along the entire continuum, from students to senior clinicians…
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