Saturday, April 25, 2009

Swine flu?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its instructions for the public, for health professionals, and for laboratories regarding the swine influenza A virus (H1N1) that has been identified in Mexico and in parts of Texas and California.

There is a story in today's New York Times about the possible swine flu infection of students at a school in Queens, NY. Some students were reportedly in Mexico recently.

Now is the time to remind ourselves about lessons learned from the SARS outbreak in 2003 -- just in case the N1H1 virus turns out to be highly contagious and an international threat.

On March 7, 2003, different SARS patients reported within hours of one another to different hospitals in Vancouver and Toronto, Canada. According to the subsequent report by a Canadian Commission, the health care personnel responded differently in each city. As I have written before:
Because the Vancouver hospital followed strict precautions, there was no SARS epidemic in British Columbia. In Toronto precautions were inconsistently used. As a result, 44 people died in Ontario and 375 became sick with SARS. 'Of the…people who contracted SARS in Ontario,' says the [Commission's] report, '72 percent were infected in a health care setting….[and] 45 percent were health care workers.' In Vancouver only one health care worker contracted SARS.
If standard precautions are not used consistently by health care workers, we put ourselves at risk. Worse, we become part of the chain of infection for others.

With a new strain of swine flu in the news, it seems a good time for all of us in health care to remind ourselves about the importance of following standard precautions 100% of the time.

Friday, April 24, 2009

From the heart

Last weekend I wrote about members of the Community General family who participated in the 2009 Heart Walk. They raised more than $2,500 in support of the American Heart Association. Thank you!

You make us better

For National Volunteer Week we thank and honor the 475 volunteers at Community General Hospital. That, I believe, is the largest team of volunteers at any hospital in Syracuse.
Last year Community's volunteers donated 55,000 hours of service for the patients of our community. They truly are "People in Action."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Thank you, earthlings

On Earth Day, a team of Community General employees celebrated by helping to clean the hospital’s 42-acre campus after the winter months. There were 30 large trash bags filled with with junk, including everything from car mats to dentures. All items were properly disposed of. Four members of the clean-up crew were awarded raffle prizes, which included gift certificates to local restaurants. Thank you, earthlings!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Doug Smith has something to say

Douglas Smith has worked at Community General Hospital for 12 years. He's part of the team in food services, easily recognizable by his broad smile. Many know Doug by his trademark thumbs-up and his friendly wave with fingers spread wide.

Some may be surprised to learn that this quiet man has just published his second volume of poetry, called Wake Up The Ghosts [1]

Doug's poems show a thoughtful and sensitive observer who cherishes both his solitude and his friendships. Some poems refer to events of ordinary life -- for example, the warmth of a holiday in “Christmas at the Williams’s.” Others are filled with longing. Some, such as "Bad Brunch," use wry humor:

"If only"
Is a bitter dish to swallow
That leaves an empty hollow
In a hunger that won't end.

"What if"

Is a side dish served cold
With a spoon to add to the
Sour after taste when chewing
On the meal you have cooked
For yourself...

Both Ghosts and Doug's earlier book, The Window at the Top of the Door [2] are available on

Doug writes about the difficulties and importance of communicating. "In a Cold Rain” (from Ghosts), a reflection on the death of his grandfather, he considers the meaning of silence:

I have found that silence is
The most and the least you
Can say to show respect

In one poem from Ghosts, the poet tries desperately and unsuccessfully to communicate:

"Wake up the ghosts!”
I scream silently with
A smile toward the cobwebs
No one else seems to see.
“Wake up the ghosts!”

After getting no response from the ghosts, “I pleaded," says the poet, "in a voice no one can hear.”

For Doug, the poet is an observer. He explains that "…life is lived and enjoyed through/ the Eyes of the Beholder." But the observer does not necessarily say what he sees. Doug writes in Window:

My tongue never follows
The path I see with my eyes,
Leaving me to speak softly
In wishing sake.

If the poet does not always say what he sees, he is sometimes frustrated when others don't listen. “I rage," he writes, "in a voice no one seems to hear” (“The You I Never Met?”).

Doug's voice may be quiet, but his poems speak clearly. We have only to listen.

* * *

[1] (Outskirts Press, Denver CO, 2009, 127 pp.)
[2] (Outskirts Press, Denver CO, 2007, 69 pp.)

Walk this way

To Community General employees who are participating in today's American Heart Association’s 2009 Heart Walk -- thank you.

Heart disease and stroke are among the top three killers in the country, and we're proud to help the American Heart Association encourage walking exercise to promote heart health.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Check it out

Here's Community General's new homepage offering streaming video and links to information about hospital services, including orthopedics, the Jim & DeDe Walsh Family Birth Center, and daVinci robot-assisted surgery.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A second chance

In my job, I don't usually have the opportunity to interact with patients and families with the same degree of intimacy and privilege as caregivers. But some time ago my life was touched by the death of a young woman, by the questions of her grieving husband, and by the response of an OR nurse.

I remembered that young woman this week when I looked out my window to see the "Donate Life" flag in front of the hospital. We are flying the flag during April in honor of organ recipients, who have a second chance at life, and in honor of the donors, whose organs, eyes and tissues give them that chance.
A young woman was pronounced dead in Community General's emergency department, and her husband immediately agreed to organ harvesting. Married just a few years, the young couple had talked about donating their bodies to help others "if something should ever happen.”

After the woman's body was prepared for the operating room, hospital staff worked throughout the night. Surgical teams from other medical centers came and went as various organs and bones were harvested, then carried to other parts of the country.

On a Monday six months later, the widower called and asked to meet with members of the hospital staff who had cared for his wife the day she died. “I want to thank them,” he said, “and I have some unanswered questions, some things I am wondering about.”

I did not know what to make of this request. The man was heartfelt. What did he mean “unanswered questions?”

I arranged for him to attend a small reception at the hospital several weeks later. I invited to the reception those clinical staff who had been involved in the care of his wife and in harvesting the organs.

The reception was scheduled for mid-morning when staff would be taking coffee breaks. I wasn't sure how many caregivers would actually be able to attend -- or how many would have an interest in doing so.

"Hospital people are very busy," I said, beginning an explanation in case only a handful showed up.

Many caregivers came. They greeted the widower, introducing themselves and shaking his hand. “I cared for your wife in the ED,” one said. “I was with your wife in the OR,” said another. They all said, “We're sorry for your loss.”

The man said, “I remember you," and "Thank you so much for all you did.” He thanked everyone for stopping to see him that morning.

One OR nurse was especially prepared. She had done some homework, and she held a small paper with numbers on it. “Let me tell you about some of the people who benefited from your wife's gifts,” she began.

“There was a 15 year-old girl in Virginia with bone cancer. She received your wife's long bones.

"There was a middle-aged man in St. Louis who received her heart. I was in the OR when the harvest team arrived from St. Louis. The team left, and we continued to work on your wife. Hours later there was a phone call to the OR, and it was put on the speaker in the room where we were working. The caller said, ‘The heart is in the patient, and it is beating.’ We all cheered.”

The nurse continued, “I tried to count the number of patients who were helped by your wife's gifts - they received the eyes, the kidneys, the skin, the bones, the heart." She glanced at the paper with numbers. "I counted more than 150 individuals who were helped.

"The harvesting took many hours," she continued. "When it was over, we were all exhausted. We all said a prayer for your wife, right there in the OR.”

"I had no idea,” the widower said. “I had no idea that so many people were helped. Thank you for telling me this. You have no idea how much this means to me.”

* * *
Each us us can prepare for organ donation now "if something should ever happen." For more information, visit Donate Life, a not-for-profit alliance of national organizations and state teams that encourages organ, eye and tissue donations.

[I wrote about this experience in a somewhat different form in an earlier posting.]

Saturday, April 4, 2009

For 40 years...

Last week week (March 27) Community General honored 116 employees for a total 2,065 years of service.

That's Helen Banyas, Operating Room surgical technologist, pictured on my left. Beside her is Dolores "Dee" Doughtry, who recently retired as unit secretary on Two West. Both were honored for 40 years of service. Helping with the celebration was Dr. David Halleran, Medical Staff President, along with some 300 who attended the service recognition dinner.

My thanks and congratulations to all who, working together, provide extraordinary care and service for the patients of our community.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Thank you, Gabriel

Congratulations to Gabriel Briggs, a senior physical therapist for Rehabilitation Services at Community General Hospital, winner of a recent WOW Award for excellent customer service.

Gabriel was nominated by a patient who complimented him for being "totally concerned" with her well being. She also commented on his care and concern for other patients.

If you've seen a member of the Community General family provide outstanding care, please make a nomination for the WOW honor. You can use a form available in the hospital lobby or online.