Monday, January 31, 2011

Last Supper

One of my Church Health Reader columns from several months ago -- which you can read here -- is now the featured article on CHR's homepage, with the image I've shared here: perfect!

This piece means a lot to me, so I'm glad it's getting a bit of extra exposure.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cloud Nine

I've caught up on some work this weekend -- which means I was justified in canceling the fiddle lesson and the hospital shift -- but I've also wasted some time.

My latest toy is Google Docs. I'm coming late to this whole cloud computing thing, see (although, come to think of it, blogging is a form of cloud computing). Last night I downloaded a free Blackberry app that automatically keeps all of my data backed up on the web, making the prospect of sudden phone failure a little less scary. I always tell myself I'm going to back everything up with my USB cable, but I never do. (My sister had to get a new phone after inadvertently dropping hers in the sink, which is what inspired this particular project.) After watching the app dutifully back up my BlackBerry last night, I asked Gary, "Hey, are there any, like, web-based word processors?"

"Google Docs," he said with a yawn. This morning, I checked it out.

I'm in love. Now the documents I'm currently working on can live on the web, which means that I can access them from any computer -- at home, at work, in libraries or computer cafes in other cities, in the houses of friends or family -- without having to worry about cables, thumb drives, the horrific possibility of overwriting a new version with an old one, and so forth. When I'm done with them, I can download them onto my desktop.

To be sure, this system isn't perfect. Google Docs can't handle WordPerfect files, so I have to download in another format (doc or rtf). Since WordPerfect's better about converting to other formats than from other formats, the easiest way for me to get the text back into WordPerfect is to cut and paste everything into a new WordPerfect document, which is, admittedly, a bit of a pain. But the ease of access -- and the fact that there's only one version of the file I have to worry about before downloading, rather than the plethora of backups I used to keep on home and work computers and thumb drives -- makes that hiccup worth it.

Unfortunately, my netbook's a bit big for me to lug everywhere (it won't fit in my purse), and I can't edit Google Docs from either my BlackBerry or my Kindle, although I can view them. On the mobile front, they can only be edited from Android devices or the infamous iPad, all of which are currently a bit too pricy and a bit too lacking in anything I'd call a real keyboard. So I'm going to be keeping my eye out for some sort of small, affordable clamshell device, basically a browser with a decent keyboard. As cloud computing grows in popularity, though, those should start hitting the market.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tolkien and Trauma

So I said (or implied) in my last post that I probably wouldn't be blogging for a bit, but something really neat happened today, and I wanted to write about it.

Background: I've been having some trouble with job satisfaction lately. Partly this is because I've been through a lot these last few years and am simply tired. (That sabbatical can't come soon enough!) Part of it comes with the territory: all teachers have spells when they can't see if anything they're doing is making any difference to a soul. And part of it -- a lot of it -- is because of the hideous state budget situation, especially in terms of education. Our "no new taxes" governor is talking about cutting higher education by twenty-four percent, after a series of cuts that's already been disastrous.

I've long argued that our society claims to care about kids and education, but clearly doesn't, based on spending priorities. The current leadership of Nevada couldn't say any more clearly that it doesn't care about education. If you're a teacher, that's bound to make you feel, well, a little . . . undervalued? I think my job is safe -- lots of students major in English, and we're responsible for several courses all students need to graduate, and we're so understaffed right now that we're actually being allowed to make some new hires -- but let's just say that university morale in general isn't terrific at the moment. My personal fatigue, against that community background of despair and paranoia, has been a fairly toxic brew.

Fortunately, I'm teaching my Tolkien course this semester, which is always one of my favorites. (Tolkien's a great antidote to despair and paranoia!) Today my students read, among other things, part of the Foreward of Tom Shippey's J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. Shippey begins by claiming that the fantastic is the dominant literary mode of the twentieth century, and goes on to observe that many fantasists are survivors of combat or other traumas, a fact he calls "strange." Talking to the class, I said that I don't find it strange at all; I gave them a brief overview of my theories about fantasy and trauma (basically, that the "strangeness" of fantasy allows writers to represent the strangeness of trauma more realistically than realism can). I mentioned that there's well-established research about writing and trauma, which I could talk about more later were anyone interested.

I'd thought there wouldn't be time to talk about that material, but it was one of those days when discussion never took off. I wound up with about ten extra minutes at the end of the class. All teachers know that this happens, but it can also make you wonder what you're doing wrong. Today, a bit desperate, I said, "So, is anybody interested in hearing more about writing and trauma?" (All teachers also know that we tend to keep material in reserve for just such moments.) To my relief, a few people nodded.

So I gave them the condensed version of my speech about why writing is the opposite of trauma, even though it wasn't strictly on topic. Most of them looked interested. One student actually seemed teary-eyed, but I assumed that was allergies or a speck in the eye or something.

After class, though, that student came up to me -- openly weeping -- and thanked me for the trauma lecture. This is someone who plans to go into healthcare. "My friends have been asking why in the world I'm taking this Tolkien class, because it has nothing to do with my field, but now I can say, 'Hey, she has some really interesting ideas about trauma!' Now I know that I'm supposed to be here." The student has experienced personal trauma, which made the lecture especially applicable (to use a favorite phrase of Tolkien's!).

During my office hours, another student showed up and thanked me for the trauma lecture. "That was really moving." This student, too, has a personal history with trauma, and has dealt with it partly through writing.

So, hey. Just when you think you aren't getting through and have nothing to contribute, it turns out you're saying something other people need to hear. It's a good feeling, I have to say.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I'm now officially snowed under with grading, committee work and meetings (although the weather here's been warm and sunny!). As a result, I've canceled my fiddle lesson and hospital shift for Saturday. I can certainly use the extra five hours to dig myself out from under, and it seems wise not to repeat last week's pea-soup fiasco. I hate to skip my "electives," as it were, but I don't have time to get my work done in through here, let alone to do anything even remotely, by any definition, non-crucial.

Which includes blogging: yeah, I know. (And we're going to a concert tonight, since it's a friend's recital, but I'd already committed to that before the current crunch descended.) Two quick notes. One is that today's my mother's sobriety anniversary: she stopped drinking on January 25, 1964. Even my sister remembered that date, although she's not nearly as aware of anniversaries as I am. It was a huge turning point for our family, for obvious reasons; I've always found it ironic that it's also the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.

Secondly, outside my chiropractor's office today I met a ten-week-old Great Pyrenees puppy who was about the cutest thing in the world (and who's going to be gigantic when he grows up). I should've taken a picture, but didn't. You'll just have to take my word for it!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Well, Nertz!

Back when I learned that the 2011 World Science Fiction Convention would be held in Reno, I invited some friends to stay with us for the convention. My friend Claire from New York and my friend Inez (an old student who's now teaching in Iowa) said they were interested.

Now it turns out that neither of them can come.

I'm sad. Gary and I were really looking forward to having them here, and we've been hanging on to some extra beds (survivals from the great Alan-and-Fran-Move-to-Reno Project of 2008) in anticipation of houseguests. I guess we won't need those after all.

On the other hand, my friend Arthur Chenin tells me the convention hotel booked up the second the room block became available, so maybe we'll have some takers anyway (although if there's anything we have lots of in this town, it's hotel rooms).

Oh well. I'll certainly see lots of old friends at WorldCon, even if I won't have the fun of hanging out with Claire and Inez. But I'm still sad!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Peas and Pinballs

I had to reschedule yesterday's fiddle lesson because of meetings at work (the same will be true next Friday). Charlene was willing to meet this morning, so I went for a 10 a.m. lesson before my hospital shift.

I'm not aware that lessons are especially draining, but for whatever reason, I was just exhausted at the hospital. It was one of those days when I was dragging myself from room to room, re-visiting patients I'd already seen because I didn't remember that I'd already seen them, forgetting names, and generally being spacey. Sometimes I'm on and sometimes I'm not; today I definitely wasn't! The department was really busy, and all the nurses and techs were bouncing around like pinballs, looking grim and harried. (One of the ER docs somehow found the time to leave the hospital, go to a fast-food place, and come back with several huge bags of drinks and burgers and fries, which she walked around sticking under the noses of frazzled medical staff. "You're all working your butts off and not eating, and you need to eat!") I, on the other hand, felt like I was swimming through pea soup.

Early on, I'd had a brief visit with a patient who, despite looking very ill indeed, had been funny and cheerful. After my own lunch -- which was longer than usual, since I kept hoping the food would kick in and I'd get some energy -- the case manager told me the patient had died. One of the staff chaplains had been called, but would I go talk to the family until she arrived?

Of course I would, although the swimming-through-peas sensation kept me from feeling fully present. I offered a generic prayer; at my best, I'd have tried to learn more about the patient to personalize it more, but I wasn't at my best. A relative asked for coffee -- a need I felt able to meet! -- so I went to get it. When I got back, the staff chaplain was there. I was very relieved, since I knew she'd be more helpful to the family than I could be in my muddled state. (I probably should have just gone home early, but my attitude is that whatever I can do is better than nothing.)

Later, after the staff chaplain left, the family wanted help with release of medical records. I asked the case manager, who didn't know anything about the issue, so I went to the relevant department, talked to the manager there, got the form the family had to sign, and brought them that with the records. (From my point of view, this was the best moment of the shift; I've gone to that department before, but have always wound up wandering through eerily deserted hallways, unable to locate a soul. Today someone in the hall sent me through a nondescript, unlabeled door, and I finally located the nerve center of the place. I'll know where to go if I need anything there again!)

As I left at the end of my shift, the case manager asked if I'd gotten the records, and when I said that I had, said, "You've been really helpful today." (I'd gotten a bit of other info for him earlier.) I laughed and said that was good to hear, since it wasn't a day when I felt helpful.

Upstairs, I found a note from the staff chaplain, written on a Post-It she'd stuck to my timesheet. She said she hadn't known I was working today, and thanked me for my "compassion and help." It was very sweet of her. I'd have been more helpful if my brain hadn't been running down like a depleted wind-up toy, but again, I guess anything's better than nothing.

I was on my way to my car when I realized that I hadn't actually filled out my census sheet or signed out, and also that I'd left my notepad back in the office. So I had to turn around and go back, shoving aside peas. Sigh.

Now I'm trying to get work done, with mixed success. Time to get back to it. But I'm going to bed early tonight, I promise!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Away We Go!

I taught my first two classes yesterday; I think they went well, and I'm looking forward to the semester.

On Tuesday, one of my grad students handed in her 193-page thesis and 19-page annotated bibliography, along with a portfolio that's forty pages or so. And yesterday, I received the sixty-plus essays resulting from the med-school class I taught last week (I graded twenty-two of those last night). So even though the students in my two undergrad classes haven't started handing in work yet, this weekend will actually be one of my heavier grading sprints; for various reasons, I'd like to have all this material read and evaluated by Monday, although that may well be overly optimistic. I'm kind of glad this is happening now, though, when I'm still in the flush of that beginning-of-the-semester burst of energy.

Today's open, so I'm trying to get a lot of work done. Tomorrow's so crammed with meetings that I can't even get to my lesson with Charlene; that's deferred until Saturday, when (with luck) I'll also get to the hospital.

I worked all morning doing class prep for Monday. After I finish this post, I'll go swimming. On the way home, I'm going to splurge and buy a new grade book, since I've been using my old one for nine years and it's gotten a bit grotty.

Heigh ho, heigh ho . . . .


Monday, January 17, 2011


Today I worked a busy shift at the hospital -- I had a census of ninety-nine, including two patients who reminded me poignantly of my mother -- and then went to work to grab some course materials I needed, and then went for a chiropractic adjustment (I think maybe it's starting to work, although I'm still sore), and then came home and worked like mad on my syllabi, both of which are now done.


Thank God for Gary, who always proofreads my syllabi for me and catches errors I can't see because I've been staring at the documents for so long.

Tomorrow I'll go to school and photocopy for hours, jostling around all the other people who'll need to photocopy for hours -- at least I don't teach until Wednesday -- and I have a meeting with an honors student whose thesis I'm supervising, and I need to work on revising my Tolkien essay, which should have gotten done last week but didn't, and I need to write two letters of recommendation and . . . I'll need to swim. And tomorrow night I'll need to prep my first classes for Wednesday. As often as I've done this, I still get nervous.

Welcome to the beginning of the semester.

Our trip down to Minden on Saturday was lovely; I adored the music, although Gary was less than thrilled with the sound system. I spent some money at the yarn store, of course. We both liked the restaurant where we had dinner, which was conveniently across the street from the concert hall. We sat behind some other students of Charlene's -- a mom and teenaged daughter who are both taking fiddle lessons, and who'd brought along dad and two brothers -- and chatted. The entire expedition was a nice little end-of-break break.

But now winter break's over. Time to start the countdown to the Mexico cruise!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

Small Stone Mother

Loyal blog readers will remember that I love interesting rocks, especially beach rocks, and will recall how happy I was when a friend sent me some beach pebbles a few months ago. You can imagine my delight, then, when today's mail brought an unexpected package from Tiel Ansari in Oregon, with one of her beautiful poems, a lovely white beach pebble, and the rock shown above.

That rock looks like a goddess figure to me. Does it to you?

I have a history, not only with stones, but with stone mothers. One of my very favorite places is Pyramid Lake here in Nevada, which features this famous Stone Mother; according to legend, her tears over the fragmentation of her family became the saline waters of the lake.

During the summer of 2005, my sister and I took a road trip through central Nevada, to research one of the books I'm still writing. Just past Austin, we stopped to explore the Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area. Along with cool petroglyphs, we found a figure that immediately looked to me like another stone mother. (I may have been inclined to look for female figures by the fact that many of the petroglyphs depict female genitalia.) My sister took this photo of me standing next to the rock: can you see the Stone Mother's face above me? It's so clear to me when I look at it. (And oh, if I only I were that slim now! But I digress.)

When I saw the Hickison Stone Mother, I'd immediately thought, "I should make some kind of offering." I became absorbed in exploring the landscape, though, and didn't. I was wearing a pair of turquoise earrings my mother had sent West with my sister as a gift for me. After hiking around the park for an hour or two, we went back to the car, and I discovered that one of my earrings was gone. The Stone Mother had taken her offering!

Now I feel as if the Stone Mothers of the world, via Tiel, have made an offering back to me. This Small Stone Mother is ideally suited to wilderness adventures because she has an eye in the middle of her back. No one can sneak up on her, and she sees the past clearly, so she can't be fooled about causes and motivations.

Ever the lady, however, she's also done her hair up in a swirling topknot.

I put my Small Stone Mother in my pocket and headed off to my fiddle lesson, where I'm learning Liz Carroll's beautiful (and haunting, fittingly enough) tune "The Ghost," the first tune in this set. Charlene was a geology major in college, and her husband Josh is getting his masters in geology here at UNR, so I showed Charlene the rock.

She thought it was very cool, and immediately ran with it into Josh's study to show it to him. He grabbed a magnifying glass and we all piled into the bathroom, which has the brightest lights in the house, so he could examine it. He and Charlene turned it back and forth, speaking incomprehensible geologese, until I said, "Hey, that swirl on the top: isn't that a fossilized shell?"

Josh looked at the top and said, "Yes! That's exactly what it is." He explained that the Small Stone Mother is actually half of a gastropod shell (a gastropod is any critter like a snail) which got filled in with stone; the white stripes on the rock are the remaining curves of the shell, and the face in front and eye in back are glimpses of the shell. "Whenever you see curves like that one on top," he said, "you're looking at something biological, not something geological." But of course, the Small Stone Mother is now both.

I'll keep her in my purse, with my cross rock, for luck and guidance. This is why my purse is so heavy: I'm literally lugging rocks around.

Tiel, thank you so much!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Best. Scrabble Move. Ever.

Playing Scrabble with my computer, I just used all my letters to make the word "flaxseed" across a triple-word score. That's 110 points, ladies and gentlemen.

Yeah, and that and two bucks will get me on the New York subway (or is it $2.50 now?). Time to go do some real work!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cucumber Gravy

The story's now up here. And there's an interview with me here.


Monday, January 10, 2011


I just finished teaching a two-hour class on Narrative Medicine to the first-year medical students. I always enjoy this; I even enjoy reading the sixty-odd papers that result from the assignment. My regular classes won't start until next week, but now I feel like I'm warmed up. It's a great way to start the semester.

This week I have to prepare course materials for this semester and revise my essay on using Tolkien to teach trauma theory. On Saturday, instead of going to the hospital, I'll attend a two-hour presentation on mental-health issues in pastoral care, offered by a local priest who's also a psychologist. I think the audience is primarily clergy offering pastoral care in parish settings, but the information should help me at the hospital, too.

Saturday evening will be a real treat. Yesterday, Charlene sent e-mail to all her fiddle students saying that Vishten will be giving a concert in Minden, a small town about an hour south of here. She can't go, but urged all of us not to miss it. So Gary and I ordered tickets online and made a reservation at a restaurant a few blocks from the concert hall. I've driven through Minden several times, but I don't think I've ever stopped there. Maybe for a regional church meeting? I can't remember if that was in Minden or neighboring Gardnerville. Anyway, I like little towns, and it's a very pretty drive, so I'm looking forward to the trip.

Best of all, Minden has a yarn store I haven't visited yet. Bliss! I've told long-suffering Gary that we have to get there early so I can shop.

Today I saw the chiropractor for the first time. He's a nice guy, low-key and matter-of-fact, and what he said made sense to me. He did a physical exam and took x-rays; tomorrow I go back for a discussion of the test results and my first treatment. I'll be curious to see how this goes!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Housekeeping Difficulty

We couldn't make the bed today, because it was occupied.

Saturday, January 08, 2011


Today's hospital shift was both slower and busier than last week's. My census was lower (70-ish rather than 119), but I had more to do. Several nurses asked me to visit with specific patients, and more patients asked for prayer.

One of these was a bewildered, disoriented individual who gazed up at me from the bed, squinting, as I gave my hi-I'm-the-chaplain spiel, but who then asked for a prayer. I'm always happy to pray with patients, so I went into my preparing-for-prayer spiel: 1) "What's your name?" 2) "Obviously we're praying for your medical condition, but is there anything else, or anything more specific?" 3) "What's your faith tradition?"

I ask this last question so I won't, say, offend someone who's Jewish or Hindu or Muslim by using Christian language. But today the patient squinted up at me and said, "I'm Satanist."

I've met several other Satanists in the ER. None of them have been in the least alarming; indeed, they were clean-cut, earnest individuals who very politely explained to me that while Christians believe in love, Satanists believe in vengeance. (My standard response to this is, "Well then, a lot of people I know who call themselves Christians are really Satanists without knowing it," a line that makes both Christians and Satanists laugh.) But this was the first time a Satanist has ever asked me for a prayer, and I wasn't sure what to do. We aren't supposed to pray anything that contradicts our own beliefs, so I wasn't going to start chanting to Beelzebub. After a moment of thought, I offered my standard prayer, stripped of references to God or Christ; I opened with "Dear Ruler of the Universe" instead. The patient squirmed a little at one of my standard lines -- "Help this patient know that in every darkness, you are the light" -- but I've had Christian patients who became much more upset when I used some translation of the Lord's Prayer they didn't like.

The prayer mostly seemed to go fine. Afterwards, I helped the patient use a phone to contact a family member, which was probably the more important of the two tasks.

My standard intellectual response to Satanism is that it mainly reveals a lack of imagination; to me, although I'm admittedly not too well-versed in the subject, it's simply an inversion of Christianity. And if you don't want to be Christian, there are plenty of other paths out there: Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, and so forth. Why embrace a pale, anemic inversion of Christianity when there are so many richer, more authentic traditions?

The Satanists I've met in the ER, however, have been much more relaxed and polite than the Wiccans I've encountered there. This is odd, because Wicca's a peaceful, neighborly faith -- "An ye harm none, do as ye will," and the Rule of Three, and all that -- and the Wiccans I know outside the hospital are lovely people. In the ER, though, every Wiccan patient seems to assume that as a Christian chaplain, I want to burn her at the stake (I haven't had any male Wiccan patients yet), until I display enough familiarity with the tradition to allay those fears. Then the patients are usually delighted that I know that the winter solstice is a High Holy Day, or whatever. But Satanists don't seem to have that initial terror that I'll be mean to them. Maybe it's because they really do know, and believe, that my faith is about love, even if they don't subscribe to this quaint notion themselves?

Of all the religious, non-religious and irreligious folks I've met at the hospital, the ones I have the most trouble talking to are that specific segment of right-wing Christians who seem to believe in the Devil more firmly than they believe in God: who are grimly on guard against "The Enemy" -- an entity they believe can show up at any time in any form -- and who ascribe any ill that befalls them to demonic interference. The folks like this I've met seem to view life as a war. They don't seem to have nearly as much faith in the efficacy of love or kindness or prayer as they do in the efficacy of evil. My own Christian tradition doesn't believe in literal supernatural demons, and I never know how to respond to this kind of rhetoric. I usually just smile, nod, and keep my mouth shut.

I'll take a Satanist over one of those any day.

One reason demon-professing Christians make me so uncomfortable is because there often seems to be such a thin line between them and my least favorite group of patients. Everybody in the ER has a least favorite group of patients. Sometimes it's homeless people, or addicts, or even kids, because it's sheer misery to start an IV on a howling toddler. My own least favorite group is paranoid shizophrenics.

This isn't because I don't like and feel for these patients as people, but because their belief systems make them so miserable and are so impervious to any reality check anyone can offer. I've seen three of these folks in the past few months. In each case, the patient arrived at the ER seeking help, with a frightening story of stalking and persecution. In each case, the patient was intelligent and articulate. In at least two of these cases, the story initially seemed plausible (and in at least one, the paranoia had probably been triggered or intensified by a history of real, grim domestic violence). But in all three cases, the inevitable "they" showed up.

Them. You know them. They tap phones; they hack into computers; they have landlords and the police and yea, verily, even ER personnel on their payrolls; they can walk through locked hospital doors and tamper with records. They're everywhere. The patient can't say who they are or why they're doing this, but knows for sure that they want to deprive the patient of home, livelihood, friends, freedom, life: "They're trying to kill me, but in the meantime the goal's to get me locked up in a mental hospital where no one will believe me, and I know this sounds crazy, I really do, but I'm not crazy, I swear to God I'm not, please tell me you don't think I'm crazy, and you can't tell anybody what I just told you because then they'll lock me up."

See how easily We morph into Them? See how automatically any effort to help the patient gets turned into another instance of persecution?

This kind of terror is absolutely heart-breaking. It's real fear, but it's impervious to logic, comfort or reason. It's profoundly isolating, both because non-paranoid folks tend to avoid anyone who talks this way and because the patients themselves often, with the noblest of motives, break ties with the people they love. "I've cut off any contact with my family, because I have to protect my kids from Them. If They have a list of the people I care about, They'll hurt those people to get at me."

When I'm talking to a suicidal patient, I can say, "You aren't seeing things straight, because there's a biochemical imbalance in your brain. When that's treated, life will seem brighter." Suicidal patients get that. They understand it, and it makes sense to them, and at least sometimes, it comforts them. But if you tell a paranoid patient, "There are no They; They are a symptom; you're safe here," you become one of Them yourself. All efforts to tell the patient that this is a safe place make the patient feel less safe, less understood.

So instead I just say, "I know how scared you are. How can I make you feel better?" But so far, neither the patients nor I have found any successful strategies.

(And in the back of my mind, I have to admit, I'm often thinking something like, "Okay, what if there is some conspiracy against this patient?" The scenario's such a film cliche: nobody believes the person talking about vampires or ghosts or UFOs or microscopic cameras in the teabags, but guess what? Cue ominous film music. They're really there.)

As frustrating as this situation is, it's also infuriating. C'mon, Patient: this is an ER, and I know you're smart. When patients show up talking about spy satellites in the light fixtures, we call in a psych consult. You have to know that. Why else did you come here? What did you think we'd be able to do for you?

As often as not, these patients -- and the folks I've seen in this category are harmless, not violent to themselves or others, and we can't put people in the hospital against their will just because they're completely terrified of something that doesn't exist -- wind up walking out AMA, having added the ER staff to the growing list of Them. This condition seems viral to me, with every previously untouched environment becoming contaminated on contact. The patient walks into a new place full of potential friends and allies, but by the time the patient leaves, all of those folks are Them, all over again.

These patients make me feel hopeless and helpless, which is why they're my least favorite group. And demon-professing Christians talking about how Satan lives in their car radio often seem dangerously close to sliding into that other category. At least, though, the demon-professing Christians usually feel better when they leave, since they're happy to accept treatment for whatever medical condition brought them in.

Really, though: if I've had to deal with patients in the other two categories, a calm, polite Satanist can be a positive relief.

Lap Cat

I got this shot while Bali was sitting on my lap today.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Chaplain Sighting

Y'know how I gripe a lot about how TV medical shows rarely show chaplains, and when they do, the depictions aren't very accurate?

Gary and I just watched the HBO documentary Baghdad ER. It's an incredibly powerful film, and you'd better believe that ER has a chaplain. Of course, it's a documentary, not fiction, so that's why.

If you know anyone who still has a romanticized view of war (is that even possible now?), make sure that person sees this film. For good measure, show it as a double feature with Alive Day, which shows what severely wounded soldiers -- saved by dedicated medical personnel and remarkable technology -- face when they get home.


I'm now the proud owner of four new winter tires, mounted on four new wheels. This little project came to over $700, but that's much less expensive than either a new car or an accident.

I decided not to get studded snow tires because they're a) really noisy and b) offer less traction on dry surfaces than regular tires do. Winter tires offer better traction on all surfaces, but also wear out more quickly than regular tires. The solution's to switch back to regular tires in warm weather (as one would have to do with studded tires, allowed only from October 1 to April 1). Having the tires mounted on their own wheels will make the switching process much easier and less expensive, so the wheels will pay for themselves after a few seasons.

I haven't noticed any difference driving yet, but of course right now, the roads are perfectly clear. I told my mechanic, "Since I now have winter tires, we won't see any snow for the next five years." He laughed.

Meanwhile, my back's been hurting again -- a lot -- for the past few days, even though I've been good about swimming and stretching. A friend recommended her chiropracter, so I have an appointment there on Monday. I went to a chiropracter once in New Jersey and wasn't impressed, but the only time I've been completely pain-free since this whole mess started (and it started in early October, so this has been a haul) was for a few days after my physical therapist did an adjustment-type thing to straighten me out, and my friend says this chiro does small, gentle adjustments.

I'm trying to stay off pain meds, but I took one muscle relaxant yesterday and an ibuprofen tonight. Obviously I'm not in really awful pain if that's all I need, but I'd rather not need any. If a chiropracter can address the structural cause of the discomfort, I'll be most grateful!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

January Column

Yesterday I swam for an hour (go, me). Checking my e-mail in the locker room after I got out of the pool, I found e-mail from John Shorb saying that this column had been posted.

Great timing!

My long swim, unfortunately, meant that I overslept this morning. Feh!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Success Story

My department chair forwarded this video to faculty. It's a very happy story about a family who's been staying in the shelter where we'll be teaching poetry. We can all use good news, so I wanted to share this with my Loyal Readers (or viewers, in this case).

Monday, January 03, 2011

Poetry in the Shelters

Shortly after classes ended last semester, one of my honors freshman e-mailed me to ask if I'd be willing to help out with a project she and a friend were working on for the Honors Program: teaching poetry in homeless shelters.

Of course I said I'd help. I was so proud of her for taking the initiative to do this! I also sent her a list of the bonafide poets in the department, folks more qualified to teach poetry than I am.

Last week, the chair of my department sent an e-mail to all faculty saying that the department, along with Americorps/Vista, is now involved in this project, and asking professors to sign up to teach one of the eight sessions. Today I went to work to hand in my annual-evaluation materials, and I signed up for one of the slots. I was only the second person to do so, probably because so many people are still out of town, but I told our administrative assistant that if there are any remaining openings, I'd be happy to do more.

My chair was in his office, so I stopped by to say hi, and we chatted about the project. The target audience is homeless families; he said he'd been shocked to learn how many schoolschildren in Washoe County are homeless. I'd known that for a while now, the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population has been children. (See, for instance, this site, claiming that 27% of the homeless population consists of children under eighteen. I'm skeptical of statistics in this area, for obvious reporting reasons, but however you look at it, the numbers are scary.) My chair told me he'd been shaken to hear that schoolbuses in Washoe County make regular stops under highway underpasses to pick up the kids who live there.

He hopes the poetry program will do even a little to help these kids. So do I.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Lucky Paw Curl

Kinda like a rabbit's foot, but much better, because the critter's still alive!

And isn't he just the cutest thing? Not that I'm biased. Who, me?

Saturday, January 01, 2011


My ER census today, in four and a half hours, was a whopping 119, tied for the highest ever. Mind you, that's just the number of people to whom I offered chaplaincy services, and includes anyone at the bedside, not just patients; also, most of those folks politely declined a visit. Like every other department of the hospital, though, we're asked to do basic bean-counting.

The shift did include one critically ill patient who left the ER only to code upstairs (but who'd stabilized when I left, thank goodness). Overall, it was actually a pretty quiet shift, for being so busy: quiet for me, anyway -- certainly not for the medical staff! -- since only a couple of people asked for prayer. I kept busy ferrying warm blankets and cups of water, though.

Anyway, I'm certainly glad I went in. The weather was moderately cruddy this morning, and I thought about staying home, but my car managed to handle the few inches of snow, only skidding once. A few inches of snow may sound laughable, but this town's bad about plowing and sanding at the best of times, and of course today's a holiday. A friend from Vermont, who swears by her SUV, says she thinks it's more important to have 4WD here than in New England, where everyone's used to snow.

My car handles so badly in snow that I've started to think about getting 4WD myself, or at least getting snow tires. I really don't need to be making car payments now, though. Also, I really want my next car to be a hybrid, and I don't want an SUV. On the other hand, I also really want to be able to get around town from December to May (last year it snowed on May 21, the night before we left for our Alaska cruise).