Category Archives: Medical Writing

Nancy Kanwisher: A neural portrait of the human mind | Talk Video |

If anyone had asked me if a TED talk on neural imaging of the brain would make me cry…I probably would have laughed.

But this TED talk by Nancy Kanwisher did just that.  In the last 2 or 3 minutes of this fascinating talk, Kanwisher popped some images on the screen and I cried, instantly, spontaneously.

I won’t spoil it for anyone who wants to watch this talk but, having lost both of my brothers to brain tumors, I found the information and the imaging absolutely brilliant.

And the final images stunned me.  I hope you enjoy it, too.

Nancy Kanwisher: A neural portrait of the human mind | Talk Video |


Filed under arm wresting, Death & Dying, Healthcare, Life & Death, Medical Writing, World Changing Ideas

Defy Gravity with Caroline Myss

I just finished reading Defy Gravity: Healing Beyond the Bounds of Reason  by Caroline Myss but I don’t think I will ever be finished with this book.

Myss is a long-time practitioner of intuitive healing who is, also, well-respected within the traditional medical community.

Myss is also an amazing writer with an extraordinary talent for taking sometimes difficult and obscure teachings on self-healing and translating them into concepts that are clear and concise.

That doesn’t sound like much lot but it is.  In fact, it’s a huge accomplishment because it makes these otherwise arcane approaches and methods readily available to anyone who has 20 minutes a day to read Defy Gravity!

Teresa of Avila, Muhammad, Buddha, and Saint John of the Cross are all woven into this tapestry of intuitive understanding and healing.  Myss doesn’t espouse one spiritual approach over another; she moves through them, finds common ground within them and expands their sometimes parochial meanings into universal truths

Myss may well have found the path that Joseph Campbell spoke of when he said religions in the 20th century would NOT be able to help anyone until all religions found a way to bring their myths into the modern world — the world in which you and I live, work and try to get along.

There was so much to learn and think about and play with while I was reading this book that it’s hard for me to choose what to share but here are some of my favorites:

Forgiveness is NOT releasing the aggressor nor is it telling them that what they did was okay and all is forgiven.  Forgiveness takes place inside where my disappointed, abused, angry ego confronts my soul and releases its hold.  The goal of forgiveness is shattering the myth that maintains that suffering is deserving of recognition, reward and/or righteous vengeance.  Understanding the essence of forgiveness is one of the most deeply healing and liberating gifts you can give yourself.

Working in harmony with the universe influences all life; dominating just one life destroys you.

See clearly. Recognize illusion. You can visit your wounds now and again (like we all do), but you can no longer, mentally or emotionally reside in that place, continually processing wounds that are decades old.

Keep your soul intact at all times.  Look for God or the Universe in the smallest details of your life.

Stay where you belong, in the present moment.

This one is mine – born in the crucible of my own search for joy and peace:

All of the stories of my life – the ones I tell myself, my friends, my loved ones – are ingrained but….when I drop them I can see the beautiful world all around me – right in front of me – in the present moment.  And I can, literally, breathe in joy and peace.

Buy the book; borrow it, read it and just feel yourself opening up to the universe and all the potential for wonder, love and joy that are already inside you!


Filed under arm wresting, Book Reviews, Gifts, Healthcare, Inspiring People, Life & Death, Medical Writing, Religion, World Changing Ideas

About Hospitals…and Doctors…and Illness

We were back in the hospital last week.

I say “we” because when my husband goes in, I go in.

And once again, we experienced the “hospital” mentality that says they know best and we know nothing.

Once again, we were proven right but, once again, at the expense of my husband’s health and the cost of 3 days of our lives!

Here’s the deal.

My husband has been hospitalized 40 times since 2001.  The first 15 of those hospitalizations were for surgeries due to bladder cancer.  The rest of them have been the result of repeated infections resulting from his urostomy.  When he gets sick, his fever runs straight up the thermometer and we run straight for Chester County Hospital.

My husband goes septic not in days but in hours and sometimes in minutes.  But we both know the drill and so does our General Practitioner.  Visit the doctor; give a urine sample.  Get a prescription for an antibiotic.  Take one with two Tylenol and take the temp every 30 minutes.  When the temperature hits 101 degrees, head for the hospital.

At the hospital, the same one he has been admitted to over 20 times, the one with the au courant Electronic Medical Records (EMR), the one where they should know EXACTLY what to do, he is admitted, quickly, put on IV fluids and almost immediately, put on IV Zosyn – the antibiotic that is specifically designed to hit the bacteria that make him sick.

At least that’s the way it’s supposed to go.

Every once and awhile we get a doctor (or two or three) who maybe can’t read EMRs or have their hearing aids down and can’t hear me or my husband when we tell them what he needs.  We got “those doctors” this time.  And from Tuesday evening to Thursday evening, my husband was subjected to the wrong antibiotics — antibiotics that made him even more sick, antibiotics he had an allergic reaction to and antibiotics that made him vomit.

During this time, the two of us must have asked, pushed for and demanded Zosyn a dozen times.  Every time we were patronized, told they had to wait for the cultures and ignored.  On Wednesday, I bet the doctor $50 that the cultures would show enterococcus, klebsiella and/or ecoli.  He smiled, shook his head and said we had to wait and see.

Miracle!  Thursday!!

The cultures showed enterococcus and klebsiella.  Then and ONLY then did they hang Zosyn (actually Unisyn but the same drug).  Less than 24 hours later, my husband was back, feeling good, able to sit up, read, eat.  Which leads me to some questions for the medical team at Chester County Hospital.


Why do you know this man better than he does or I do?  Why can’t you LISTEN?  Why didn’t you do “Ctrl F, find and read instance after instance of hospitalization to learn that — duh — he cultures the same 3 bacteria every single time?  Why didn’t you believe he needed Zosyn?  Could this be why health care costs are so high in this country?

Are our doctors really deaf and dumb?  

Patients and their families can be troublesome.  They can be demanding and upset and blah, blah, blah.  I get it.  But NOBODY knows the patient or the patient’s history like the patient and the patient’s family.  Our input shouldn’t be ignored; it shouldn’t just “be considered.”  Our input should be factored in to all the other information now readily available via EMR to the medical staff and someone, anyone or how about just one of them, should listen to us.

A letter will be going to the new President of Chester County Hospital.  I love the changes he has brought, the energy and the warmth the staff now exhibit.  But they still have a few things to address….like involving the patient and his family in decisions regarding treatment.  This is a big problem that’s still open even though it is written as a policy in their patient handbook.

Maybe they should all read that before they start their shifts!



Filed under arm wresting, Death & Dying, Healthcare, Life & Death, Love and Marriage, Medical Writing

Trying To Lose Weight? What Really Makes Me Mad

So, I already whined about just how heavy a lot of Americans are.  And I whined a bit about the responsibility we each have for our  own weight loss.

Now let’s talk about what I call the real villain in this battle of the bulge.

Follow the Money
This is America.  If you can make money off it, no matter what the cost to other people, other businesses and even other countries, we do.  Want some examples?

  1. When there were no other loopholes to crawl through and the state’s attorney generals finally insisted that big tobacco companies pay up for all the damage they did with their products, didn’t we just export cigarettes to 3rd world countries?
  2. Didn’t a very large consumer brand deliberately develop and implement a marketing strategy t sell its baby formula to 3rd world countries where the formula needed to re-hydrated with clean water and under sanitary conditions, neither of which existed?
  3. Isn’t one of the multi-national agri-businesses being allowed to genetically modify basic food crops like corn and wheat and quite possibly adding a deadly bacteria into the mix?

The business of weight is no different.

The Road To The Fat Farm
Companies build brands — supposedly brands we can trust to bring us healthy products or at the very least, products that do no harm.  These same companies then create products with ingredients that are cheaper for them, almost always refined and, if you look carefully, almost always contain at least two types of sugar, one of which will be high fructose corn syrup.

Next, these companies develop strategic marketing plans designed to make all of us (and I do mean all of us) reach for their particular corn chip or soda or cereal.  And reach for them we do.

According to the CDC, one half of the US population consumes sugary drinks…every day.  People drink this dressed up sugar-water even though they know it is linked to Type II diabetes and to cancer.

And we snack…man do we snack.  In fact, it’s estimated that almost 100% of us snack.  And all that snacking is not helping us with our weight problems.   According to a 2011 CNN report, we snack more, now, than we ever did.  Americans are eating constantly.  The same  study showed that the size of the snacks we eat has grown by 12%, right along with our waist lines.

What Really Makes Me Mad
Right behind the companies that make products infused with sugar, refined flours and high fructose corn syrup are the companies hawking easy weight loss.  I don’t like brands that market junk food; I hate companies that market diet aids.

But we buy these products, too.   In 2010, revenues for companies selling weight loss products was $60.9 billion dollars.

And according to the FDA, these weight loss pills and potions don’t meet any of their promises.  Worse yet, the FDA says they often contain dangerous prescription drugs that can cause real health problems like stroke or heart attack.  Anybody old enough to remember Fen Phen?  It worked, if it didn’t kill you first.

How To Lose Weight
So, I’ll go back to my original premise, the one I posted about first, the one learned because my husband has Type II diabetes and we both ended up on his diet.

  1. Stop eating all the time.  Did you now it only takes 100 extra calories a day to gain about a pound a month?  Or to put it more positively, as the American Diabetes Association ways, Did you know that it only takes 100 extra calories a day to gain a pound a month?
  2. Stop eating snacks that contain high fructose corn syrup, refined flour and sugar.
  3. Read labels!  There is sugar in everything and usually in 3 or 4 and sometimes 5 different names are used in the ingredient list including just plain sugar to corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, honey (yep, it’s good for you but it’s still sugar).  In fact, Harvard has a published list of all the variations on a theme of sugar so you know exactly what you are eating when the label says maltose or crystalline fructose.  Yep, that’s right, they’re both sugar.
  4. Stop drinking soda!  If you can give one thing up, give this up.  But if you have to drink carbonated brown water, go for diet.  At least you won’t be pouring white sugar down your throat.
  5. Cut down your portions.  It is not hard.  Just start measuring so you know what a cup really looks like.  You’ll be surprised.
  6. Learn what foods are good for you and instead of having 3 cups of sugar-coated cereal, have oatmeal with a bit of almond butter or peanut butter.
  7. Eat fresh and eat local – support your neighbors and get the freshest, best foods for you without supporting an Israeli or California grower who ships thousands of miles and uses some pretty fancy tricks to preserve produce so it can do so.
  8. Start walking or riding a bike or dancing, skating, even jumping rope.  You may find out that you like it…and your joints and organs will thank you.

I know it’s hard to think about and even harder to do.  It was for me.  I wanted to lose weight the easy way.  But when my husband got a life-threatening illness, I decided it was time to take the plunge, change my eating habits, clean up what I cook and how and start enjoying the very healthy way of life that we both, now lead.

Give it a try.  You might find out that it costs less, feels better and, in the long run, improves your life immeasurably.


Filed under Death & Dying, Healthcare, Life & Death, Medical Writing, Saving Money

Trying To Lose Weight? My Gripe!

Okay, so there are some people in the United States who, legitimately, have to have help losing weight.  Some people truly have glandular problems.  Or genetics makes it more difficult for them to control their weight.  But really…

Look around.  Very young, teenage, mid-20’s and on up through the ranks…Americans have tipped the scales and more are overweight than not.

Here’s the bad news.  Being fat is just the beginning of this tale of woe.

Behind all those extra pounds are billions and billions of dollars being spent on diseases that are directly linked to carrying extra weight – diseases like Type 2 diabetes, hip, knee and ankle wear requiring replacements, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and yes, even cancer.

The numbers are there – how many obese, how many associated diseases, how much faster death is going to arrive at your door if your favorite foods are large portions — all fried, dipped in sugar or laden with high fructose corn syrup.  And still, people plow through refined foods like white bread, pasta, and french fries and wash them down with soda.

The numbers on how much obesity is costing this country are almost as staggering as the numbers of people who are overweight.  We spend more on obesity than we do on smoking.

In fact, it’s estimated that, if something doesn’t change,  in just 6 years, we will be spending just under $200 billion (that’s billion with a b) treating the results of overeating.  More than 1/3rd of the US health care budget is going to be eaten up by the preventable diseases resulting from obesity.

If it’s preventable, why are so many people in this country not…preventing it?

That is the big question.  And some of the answers are almost as disturbing as the  problem, itself.

I’m not a doctor.  Not a nurse or a health care professional of any kind.  I am old…er.  I have gained and lost the same 20 pounds for more than 40 years.  I blamed my lightly padded hips on my daughter for 40 of her 45 years of existence.  But I was lying to myself.  You see, I know what caused my overweight condition and, I’m willing to bet, most of the excess weight the rest of us are dragging around.

You aren’t going to like the cause.  I didn’t either.

I kept opening my mouth and inserting food – granted not french fries or hoagies or even donuts (although I dreamed about eating donuts) but I wasn’t eating healthy foods.  Bottom line?  I was, am and always will be the only person responsible for how fat or how thin I am.

This is not a revelation.  It is a fact.  Instead of opening my mouth and shoving food in it, any food, food I thought tasted good, food to fill an idle moment or a sad moment or a lonely moment….I decided to shut my mouth, stop thinking of food as solace and start thinking of it as fuel, energy, a  way to power my body, not soothe my brain.

Guess what?  It worked.  In 12 months, I lost 38 pounds.  And I really didn’t think I had 38 pounds to lose!  But I did and it was easier than I thought it could be.  And my hips don’t ache anymore.  My food bill has gone down because I’m not buying $5 bags of corn chips or cases of sugar water…I mean soda.  And I like walking, riding my horse, gardening  and doing yoga without any pain.

Guess what else I learned?  There are no magic pills that let you eat all you want of everything you want and “…still lose weight.”

Anyone else wake up and realize your weight is directly tied to your hand which is directly tied to your mouth?  Share your story.

And in my next post, I’ll share what really makes me mad about obesity!  Warning: You may not like what I have to say.


Filed under Death & Dying, Healthcare, Life & Death, Medical Writing, Saving Money

Speaking of Strokes & Life

When Jill Bolte Taylor speaks, a whole lot of people listen.

She is a phenomenal speaker.  She strides on stage, no notes, no teleprompter and for 70 minutes, holds the attention of the  audience.  Animated, funny, and so crystal clear when talking about neuroscience and our brains that I get it,

Dr. Taylor is a joy to listen to.  She should be difficult to understand, a Harvard trained neuro anatomist, a pointy-headed intellectual with credentials that would make most of us take a step back.  Instead, she is someone who draws people in, makes them laugh and opens up her world and her life to us.

Her rise to fame has been quick; her journey to get there was incredibly difficult and long.

In 1996, Dr. Taylor,  had a massive stroke.  This brilliant scientist was so disabled that she could not walk, talk, read, write or recall any of her life.  Putting on shoes and socks became a challenge.  Figuring out why 1 + 1 equaled 2 took her years.  All linear processing was gone. For many, this would have been the end; for Dr. Taylor, it was the beginning of an amazing transformation.

All in all, it was 8 years before Dr. Taylor could reclaim her life, herself.  But in returning to her life as a neuro anatomist, she brought something else with her.  This left-brain scientist was now totally, completely in touch with her right brain.

During her now famous TED Talk, Dr.Taylor describes the two halves of her brain warring for her attention – left brain screaming, “…hey, you’re having a stroke.”  Right brain saying, “Hey, wow, we are perfect, we are whole and we are beautiful.  And we’re all connected.”

Jill Bolte Taylor is a medical phenomenon because she defied the common diagnoses that says you only have 3 months, 6 months 12 months to recover functions like speech and walking.  She is also a phenomenon because she returned to her life changed by the spiritual experience of connecting with her right brain.  Scientist and artist live together inside her now.

She is among Time Magazine’s 2008 top 100 most influential people in the world.  Also appearing as  a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Soul Series and on Charlie Rose’s show, Dr. Taylor’s life caught the attention of Hollywood mega-director, Ron Howard who is making a movie based on her book, My Stroke of Insight.

Spend 18 minutes with her on TED and if you get a chance, read her book or see her speak or do both.   Or just answer her question:  You are the life force power of the universe; how will you spend your energy today?



Filed under Book Reviews, Healthcare, Life & Death, Medical Writing

Goats In The Hospital Halls

There a thousands of people working in the major metropolitan hospital my sister almost died in — many doing their jobs then going home at night.  And there are a handful of heroes in most hospitals, even this one.  But there are also goats, herds of them, wandering the halls, bleating their value to the world.  These goats graze at the top of the healthcare food chain; these goats will kill you.

One of our goats was a Resident — what I call a “baby doc.”  In one 24 hour period, without touching her and undoubtedly without reading her Electronic Medical Records (EMR), this Resident – I shall call him Dr. X, managed to take a person who was in for surgery and reduce her to a patient teetering on the brink of death.

Here is the short story of how Dr. X almost killed my sister.

Friday morning, my sister complained of excruciating pain in the gall bladder area but no one listened.  Just 8 hours later her kidneys started to fail – urine the color of iced tea and very little of it in the catheter bag.  I told the nurse, and asked for a consult with someone right away.

The nurse paged Dr. X 3 times with no answer.  By then it was 6PM and there was no urine output.  At shift change, the night nurse was really shocked by her condition, paged Dr. X and finally got him to commit to come down.  The baby doc appeared at 8PM but he wasn’t there to help, he was there to dismiss.

I asked him if we could consult a urologist; he said no.  I asked for a consult with a nephrologist; he said no.  The nurse specifically asked about getting “a visualization of the kidneys.” He said no.   Four hours later, at 12:40 Saturday morning, the nurse told Dr. X his patient was in full kidney failure and asked if he could take cultures to measure my sister’s kidney function, Dr. X said no.

When paged again, Dr. X showed up again at 3:30AM to “talk with us” and was about as helpful as a plank – not listening, dismissing the problems and both of us.  In full kidney failure and literally drowning, with creatinine levels that had almost tripled and hyper bilirubin anemia, my sister was clearly heading for a casket but Dr. X didn’t seem interested.

I followed him to the Nurses’ Station and demanded a consult with urology.  What I got was a consult with another Resident – this one from Internal Medicine.  Dr. X thought this might shut me up.  It made Dr. X shut up.  This Internal Medicine Resident read her EMR, talked with Ryan and me then examined Meg, who was beyond words.  Then he did what most doctors would never do – he literally removed my sister from Dr. X’s care.  He saved her life.

In Intermediate Care Unit, he put together a team that included all the consults I had asked for and then some — nephrology, urology, pulmonology, cardiology and gastroenterology — and they got to work fast.    Surgery occurred that afternoon and the Chief Surgeon told me they just got to her in time – she had less than 12 hours to live.

This is the proverbial cautionary tale with one moral.  No matter how big the hospital is, no matter how great its reputation, people just like my sister die there NOT because it is “their time” but because goats like Dr. X get a hall pass.


Filed under Healthcare, Life & Death, Medical Writing

Finding Heroes In Hospitals

Six weeks in hell in a hospital with my sister has taught me many things but one of the most important is who really are the heroes.

Are they the surgeon? The cardiologists? The specialists who swoop in, make their cuts and move on?

In some cases, yes, but there are many more heroes who travel the halls of today’s hospitals, many of them unnoticed by administration or management but it is these heroes I want to say thank you to.

There was the housekeeper who found me collapsed, in tears, watching transport wheel my sister’s gurney off to the OR. Without a thought, she dropped her mop and wrapped her arms around me, held me, told me it would be okay. A hero, a human being who touched my soul for a few moments and gave me comfort.

There was the nurse who watched me watch you, who listened to me and started slowly, bravely and repeatedly pushing the Resident, asking for tests and finally telling him that my sister was in full renal failure. A man who risked his career for my sister, him I will not forget.

The housekeeper who stopped what she was doing and walked me to the cabinet to get a warm blanket, the nurse who pushed away from the computer and came down the hall with me to soothe my sister’s pain, the security guards who welcomed me, smiled and said good morning, the cashiers in the cafeteria who always asked how I was doing and how my sister was doing — all of them are heroes, the underpinnings of the hospital that make the work of the technicians – read doctors – possible.

These are my heroes, men and women who come to work every day and see sorrow, pain, loss, played out in every corridor and every room and still they reach out to touch, to help, to care.  These are people I will not soon forget and will never be able to thank.


Filed under Life & Death, Medical Writing

In Love, With Cancer

It always starts the same way…a phone call, a finding, “We’re hopeful that…”

Cancer has been my constant companion for more than 10 years now.  It tapped my husband first and took me to my knees as the hours, days, weeks passed.  He survived but at a series of terrible prices which I will share over the coming weeks and months.

Four years ago, my oldest brother was diagnosed with a malignant cytoma in his brain.  The Cyber-Knife showed a sister tumor and they sewed him up.  He died in two months.

Last May, my brother Bob had a cerebral hemorrhage brought on by a large, malignant tumor in his brain.  He died in two weeks.

Today, right now, my older and dearer sister is battling for her life, a 25 centimeter ovarian tumor taking over her abdomen and her every conscious moment.  She is in an ICU, on a vent and still has another surgery to go.

With each of them, I have suspended my life, shut it down to the 10 foot by 12 foot white prison cell called a hospital room.  Watching, caring, calling out what I see and demanding attention when it was needed.  Day after day, and in many cases all through the night, I have lived with them, breathed for them, watched them, prayed for them and advocated, always advocated for them.

Everything else fades away and life narrows to the hospital bed, the pinpoint that demands all your attention.  You are tired to the bone and still you stay, you watch, you help, you cry.  You ache in your joints and in your heart and still, you stay, soothing, calming, trying to reassure.  You forget what day it is, when you last ate, what a hot cup of tea tastes like, what it’s like to lie down in a bed to sleep instead of a chair and still, you stay.

That’s what it means to be in love…with cancer.

Heading back to the hospital to hold her hand, tell her where she is, what is happening and what will happen next.  I will write more about this, about the nurses who are heroes every day and about the good, the bad and the ugly of health care and hospitals.

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Filed under Healthcare, Life & Death, Medical Writing

One Writer’s Mistakes – Buying But Not Reading

Writing has been in my blood for decades.  Words dance in my head from the moment I wake up to the moment my head drops onto the pillow.  Successful as a writer for magazines, professional groups and web sites, I still long for success as a writer of the Great American Novel — a wonderful goal that, at my current rate, I will never reach.

Why?  Because I persist in making all the mistakes that novice writers make starting with a common one — buying books — not reading or writing them.  I consider this…

Mistake #1

I am surrounded by books — on my desk, in the bookcase, on my nightstand, even in my car!   Pick a day or an hour and you will find me with two or three books “in progress.”  But somehow, with all that information filling every space in my rooms and in my head, this reader and writer has managed to ignore some of the best advice in the world.  I buy books on writing…but I don’t read them.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s book Steering The Craft languishes on my shelf beside Artful Sentences, Writing Dialogue and Modus Operandi.  I could start a lending library with all the books I own.  But instead of reading them, I dust them , look fondly at the titles and think about cracking one open until life intercedes and the books go back to gathering dust and fading in the sunlight.

Well, they did until last week when I idly picked up James Cross Giblin‘s Guide to Writing Children’s Books.  Giblin  has authored twenty-five books of his own and in his years at Clarion Books helped grow its titles to 400 books in print.  The man knows the children’s book market and he shares ideas, resources and just plain common sense advice in his guide.

I wrote my whole YA novel with that book sitting about six feet from my elbow.  Three hundred pages, three rewrites and my novel is still in the “shopping” stage.  Now, only two words dance in my head…if only.

So while I wrestle with the fact that I had insight and wisdom sitting on my shelf and chose to ignore it, here’s hoping that other, aspiring authors can learn from my mistake.  Don’t just buy books – read them!  Even the bad ones have something to offer.

There are many more writer’s mistakes to explore.  In the coming weeks, a few more mistakes that can derail your writing and a few more ways to avoid them.

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Filed under Business writing, Copywriting, Freelance Writing, Medical Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Articles, Writing for the Web, Writing Resources