Kids · Non-Writing · Randomness

Miracles: Dave & Carole’s 16th Annual Miracle Marathon

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed the past few days I’ve retweeted a bunch of things from the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Specifically about why you should give to the Miracle Marathon.

A little background. Growing up, I wasn’t sick enough to be what I think of as a “sick kid” – always with a runny nose, or wheezing as I fumbled for my inhaler. I certainly wasn’t as sick as the classmate who underwent chemo and an eventual bone marrow transplant for leukemia, or my friend’s sister who was born with a heart defect that required multiple surgeries. But I wasn’t quite healthy, either.

I always had some phantom pain. I self-diagnosed a zillion sprains when I’d never actually injured myself. I know my friends, teachers and parents wrote me off as an attention-seeking kid. But when I was 14, after a several months of body-wide pain, I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA). Fortunately the doctor put me on methotrexate and the pain went away. I had no lasting damage to my joints, and – thankfully – like the majority of kids with JRA, I outgrew it when I was 20.

But, during that same timeframe, I was also diagnosed with Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma, aka thyroid cancer. So at 16 I had my thyroid removed. Since then, I’ve had multiple body scans and doses of radioactive iodine. Thankfully, every scan shows nothing and of all the cancers out there, PTC has about the best prognosis of all of them.

So I think of myself not as someone who was a sick kid, but as someone who had health problems.

MissA Years later, my beautiful little girl, MissA was born. I had placenta previa, which has a risk of the placenta rupturing and causing massive bleeding if you go into labor. So I had a scheduled c-section at 37 weeks. So when MissA was born, she had gunk in her lungs that normally is squeezed out during labor and childbirth. She was born at Froedtert Hospital, and was shortly transferred to the NICU at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, which is attached to Froedtert. It was scary for my husband and me, but we knew she was in good hands at Children’s. And they assured us that after they got her through this little blip, she’d be fine, with no lasting health problems. One of the hardest things I’ve done in my life was go home from the hospital without my baby girl. Fortunately, she came home 3 days later, after a week in the NICU. But during our short experience there, what really impressed me was not just how well they took care of my daughter, but how well they took care of my husband and me, and of our parents. They made the experience as painless and low-stress as it could possibly be.

1 year and 364 years later, MissA’s little brother, G-Man, joined our family (yes, my kids’ birthdays are a day apart). gmanI had another scheduled c-section. And starting a trend that continues, of wanting to do everything his big sister does, my son had gunk in his lungs and was admitted to the NICU. It was a lot less stressful for us this time since we knew he would be OK. Again, the staff, especially the nurses, took as good of care of us as they did my son. And what really impressed me was how much they went out of their way to make sure my daughter was comfortable. One nurse spent almost an hour helping MissA get comfortable with first just looking at and later holding her new baby brother, even though he was connected to all kinds of wires. When they found out her birthday was the day after G was born, the nurses got her a balloon from the gift shop and gave her a teddy bear. It was one of the most touching things I’ve ever seen.

Fortunately, the doctors were right. Now 17 months and 3 1/2, G-Man and MissA are perfectly healthy.

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This is all my long-winded way of saying I have a special place in my heart for children’s hospitals, and especially for Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. In addition to my kids’ experiences at CHW, my sister is finishing up her 3rd year of residency there, and next year will be a Chief Resident. I also work at Froedtert, and have cause at least once a week to walk through CHW. I’m always touched by the great care I see while also so thankful that (so far) my kids haven’t had to go back.

So, what’s my point? Every Thursday and Friday before Memorial Day for the past 16 years, the local classic rock station, WKLH 96.5, has the Dave & Carole Miracle Marathon for Children’s Hospital. The usual morning show hosts broadcast for 2 days straight – fueled only by coffee and compassion – sharing the stories of the kids this hospital serves. They talk to the parents, the doctors and most of all the kids. These brave little warriors share their stories. Dave & Carole bring back some of the same families year after year. Sometimes it’s the parents returning, even if their children didn’t make it. They sit in the lobby of CHW to broadcast, and nearby is a phone bank of volunteers. You can make a 1-time donation, or join the Miracle Club with a monthly donation. The stories are touching, sometimes hopeful, sometimes heartbreaking, always inspiring.

I joined the Miracle Club a few years before my kids were born, when the idea of having kids someday was just starting to form in my mind. When my motivation was more abstract, more related to my own experiences as a kid than the idea that someday my own hypothnow3etical kids would be patients at CHW. And I admit, when they told us MissA needed to go to the NICU, in the back of my mind it registered that I was glad I’d made that small investment in the care my baby girl would receive. My $25 each month doesn’t make a huge impact on its own. But my money, along with all the other people who donate to the Miracle Club and the Miracle Marathon, combine to add over $1 million each year to CHW’s budget. That goes a long way toward improving the care there. It buys couches for stressed parents to relax on. It pays the salary of Child Life Specialists who help kids adjust to having a serious illness. It funds the lab of the geneticist who does groundbreaking research that solves the puzzle of a seemingly untreatable illness. It’s part of the mix that makes CHW the 4th best children’s hospital in the country.

It buys a balloon as a birthday present for a little girl whose newborn brother is in the NICU.

nowThis blog isn’t asking you to donate to CHW and the Miracle Marathon (although by all means, if you’re inclined, please do). I just wanted to acknowledge this amazing thing this radio station does every year. They don’t have to. But it’s part of the reason they’re my go-to radio station – that and playing awesome music.

I know my little blog is barely a blip on the internet radar, but I still wanted to give Dave and Carole a shout out for this incredible thing they do each year. Most mornings they make me laugh, but during the Miracle Marathon they also make me ache, they make me cry, they make me love.

Most of all, they inspire me.

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Book Reviews · Non-Writing · Reading

How Not To Do It

I used to have a nearly impossible time giving up on a book I was reading, even if it was awful. But as my reading time has gotten less and less, so has my tolerance for bad books.

Recently, I gave up on a romantic suspense I was reading. At first, it was just interesting enough to keep me reading. Which, in some ways, annoys me more than when a book is so bad I stop reading. But tonight, just shy of the halfway mark, I gave up.

Because reading tastes are so subjective, and because it is not my intention ever to bash another author, I’m not going to say the book’s title or author. It is a best-selling, multi-pubbed author. This is the first book by her that I’ve read. It wasn’t so awful I threw it at the wall, thinking, “I’ll never read trash by her again.” I simply wasn’t engaged. The book wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t good. Maybe she had an off book. Or maybe the things I found wrong with it are things most readers don’t notice or care about. She obviously clicks for many people or she wouldn’t have multiple bestsellers. Maybe the problem is simply when I read, I’m also a writer. Many writers I know have the same problem. We can’t turn off our mental editor and therefore can’t read a book without part of our brain critiquing it.

So, instead of bashing her or her book, or lamenting about how her crap is selling and mine isn’t, I want to talk about what didn’t work for me. Hopefully writing it out will 1) help me internalize these lessons so I can make my own writing stronger and 2) do the same for you. Keep in mind, this was a romantic suspense. So as a reader going in, I expected a suspense plot along with a romance.

What I found problematic:

-tension must rise, but it has to exist in some form at the beginning

-red herrings with neon signs

-no dead body for 50+ pages. This means the suspense plot doesn’t get going until after 50 pages.

-barely any hero (love interest) in 75+ page

-the 2 above, taken together, means the 2 key elements of the book – romance and suspense – are almost entirely absent from the first 50 pages.

-no 2nd body until midpoint – yet from reading the back cover the reader knows it’s a serial killer

-by the midpoint, the romance is lukewarm and the 2 characters haven’t shared so much as a kiss. While this isn’t strictly necessary, there should be some tension building between them, and at least the desire for kisses by halfway. This was lacking.

-More time was spent developing the heroine’s continued (platonic) relationship with her ex than her relationship with the hero.

-slow as molasses pace, even after the suspense and the romance are introduced.

-scenes written in the unnamed killer’s point of view are cliché. The vague references to his motives aren’t strong enough to justify serial killing, even in a disturbed mind. They display a misunderstanding of mental illness and how it intersects with criminality. Which not all readers will pick up on. But a writer who is writing about characters like that has a responsibility to understand that.

-scenes written in the victims’ points of view don’t make them sympathetic characters. I felt like “eh, so they died. So what? It was probably better for humanity this way.” Personally I’m not a huge fan of scenes from the victim’s point of view. But if the writer is going to do it, they need to make me care enough about this person to care when they’re killed.

So, at the halfway mark, I was almost certain I knew whodunnit and if it wasn’t him, it was the other character screaming “Pick me! Pick me!” I couldn’t handle it, but I wanted to know if I had guessed right on who the villain was. So I read the last few pages. I will admit, it wasn’t the one I was almost certain about. So at least there was that. But it was #2. And his motive was weak. The kind that if I’d gotten to it sooner, before I gave up on the book, would have been a give-up-and-throw-it-at-the-wall moment.

As I said, I’m not giving up on this author. Could have been an off book. But if the adage about how the opening sells this book and the ending sells the next book is true, this author didn’t do her job selling me her next book. As a writer, I’m more critical of the books I read, but I also try to be more forgiving when there are mistakes, because I know how hard it is.

What are some of the things that make you give up on a book? And what will make you keep reading even if there are obvious flaws?

Non-Writing · Randomness

Nurses & Teachers: Appreciating the Under-Appreciated

I know today is a popular day to blog about Mother’s Day. And certainly being a mother and having a mother play a big part in my life. But I’m going to skip that topic in lieu of 2 other groups we’re appreciating this week. Teachers and Nurses. I suppose they go together, because both professions have a lot of elements they share with mothers. Plus, a lot of mothers I know are teachers and nurses, including my own mother.

Confession: I’m not a huge fan of these awareness days/weeks/months. I think they give people a false sense that they’re doing something when they’re not (sorry, I know, this is not a popular opinion). Wearing pink in October doesn’t actually do anything to help my friend who has been battling metastatic breast cancer for years. Putting a purple lapel pin on my lab coat doesn’t help my patients with pancreatic cancer. And, frankly, I think we’re all aware enough of the various diseases we have awareness events for.

But this is really a different issue for a different blog post. And professional appreciation holidays are different than disease awareness. But they fall into my same sort of beef. We should appreciate nurses and teachers every day. Because they works their asses off every day. So, I’m going to give my own variety of shout out to the men and women in these professions, but I do this with the very large asterisk that I do my best to appreciate nurses and teachers every day, and I think we all should strive for that.

*climbs off soapbox. Gets to point of post.*

NURSES

I work in healthcare and have been a consumer of far more health care than I’d like in my life. So I have been touched by many nurses over the years. Some fabulous nurses got me through some hard, scary times as a child. I probably didn’t appreciate them fully at the time, because I was a kid, but looking back I can say with certainty that a few stand out as making my adventures with sickness a little bit easier. And I know a few of them also went out of their way to make things easier for my parents. Which is so important, because I can’t imagine anything scarier for a parent than to know your child is sick.

NOTY Nurse Nicki hard at work (NOTY=Nurse of the Year, but sounds so much dirtier).
NOTY Nurse Nicki hard at work (NOTY=Nurse of the Year, but sounds so much dirtier).

Now that I work in healthcare, specifically in surgical oncology (ie, cancer surgery), I work with a lot of nurses and nurse practitioners. They make my job easier every day and I am eternally grateful for this. And I know my job, as a research coordinator and manager of our tissue banking program, only adds to their workload.

They say they understand that it’s important work – and it is – but I’m sure there are moments they curse my name because I add to their already huge to-do list. Because, of course, their patients’ immediate care comes first. And my research is stuff that will hopefully benefit hypothetical patients somewhere down the road. Yet, as much of a pain in their asses as I must sometimes be, they are nothing but friendly, helpful and gracious to me.

Much more important, they are amazing with their patients. The people we see are facing one of the most horrible diseases known to man: Cancer. And not just any cancer, but often pancreatic cancer (I work with all GI cancers, so liver and some colorectal, but pancreas is our focus). Which has one of the worst prognoses of any cancer. So these patients face a huge uphill battle. Many of them get very sick. Almost all of them eventually die.

Yet these incredible women (I say women because, although we have male nurses at our hospital and clinics, I work only with women) are cheerful, friendly and positive. I can only imagine that they are a bright spot in an otherwise dark journey for these patients and their families. I’ve witnessed patients telling the nurses and NPs as much, and I’m sure many more feel that way. I can’t say enough good things about the nurses and NPs I work with, and the many others I know but don’t work with directly.

I also have many friends who are nurses, and they too display nothing but dedication and compassion for their patients. I don’t witness them firsthand with their patients, but from the conversations we have about our jobs, I know they (mostly) love what they do, and do it because they genuinely care about their patients.

So nurses, thank you for doing what you do and being awesome at it. I appreciate you this week, and all the other 51 weeks out of the year (although maybe slightly less during my 3 weeks of vacation, since I avoid work and doctor visits doing those weeks).

TEACHERS

I have an extra-special place in my heart for teachers. Probably because I was raised by 2 and am married to 1. My mom was an elementary school reading specialist (who raised a voracious reader and writers – go figure) who went on to get a PhD in elementary education. My stepdad was a high school social studies teacher. So between home and school, it’s fair to say 95% of my life up to age 17 was influenced by teachers. Of course I had a few bad ones. But mostly they were good and a few were phenomenal.

teacher
Dan hard at work, enlightening young minds.

Now my mom has turned her teaching skills on my kids, and is making sure the next generation of her offspring is readers. MissA knew her alphabet before anyone else in her daycare class (yes, blatant bragging – but that’s all Nana and not me). And my husband has taken his not-quite-PhD in physics and become an instructor at UW-Milwaukee. And my kids are in daycare part time, so they, too, have teachers. So I’m going to acknowledge here a few of the best teachers I had over the years.

Mrs. Worf, in 4th grade, was the first to really nurture my writing. Because of that, I started writing my first “novel” while in her class. I finished it a year later, 124 handwritten pages with about a girl named Lindley. It had a romance. It had a kidnapping. Some things are destiny, I guess.

My 7th grade language arts and social studies teacher, Mr. Kennedy, saw something in the shy, awkward girl in his class. So he sat me in the back of the room, then called on me and insisted I “speak up” and “be dynamic.” Because of him, I came out of my shell and evolved into the raging extrovert I am today. So, if I’m too loud or talk your ear off, it’s Mr. Kennedy’s fault.

I had a lot of other great teachers over the years, from kindergarten all the way through my masters degree. But Mrs. Worf and Mr. Kennedy are the ones who made the biggest impressions.

And now, many years after Mr. Kennedy brought me out of my shell, I’ve seen Miss Anne, one of my daughter’s daycare teachers do the same for her. My own MissA blossomed in Miss Anne’s classroom and I hope as she grows she continues to find teachers who nurture her the way Miss Anne did. And the way so many of my teachers did for me.

And, of course, just like I have many friends who are nurses, I also have many friends who are teachers. Like the nurse friends, I don’t see them in action, but I know they are passionate about what they do and care about their students.

So, this weekend, while you’re thanking your mom for all she’s done for you, remember to thank a few more who go through life doing often thankless jobs. Teachers and nurses get shit on, figuratively and too-often literally.

And remember and appreciate them the other 51 weeks each year. They deserve it.