Great Christmas Expectations

A couple of Decembers ago, Joe and I were waiting in a long line at the Fellowship Community Church, to see their giant outdoor Christmas Nativity.

Unlike most church-run Nativities, which involve a few farm animals, and assorted church members wearing bathrobes, this one promised more. I’d been told to expect 12 live scenes from Christ’s life, a cast of 100, and elaborate sets and special effects, including angels that would appear suddenly above the tree line. I was curious to see how a local community church could pull off a production this elaborate.

Directly behind us, a young girl, about four years old, was sobbing. Her parents tried to shush her, but to no avail.

“I don’t want to go,” the girl sniffled.

“Shhhhh,” whispered her mother, looking embarrassed. “Stop being silly.”

“But I don’t want to do it!” the girl went on.

In front of me, another girl, of similar age, was watching all this, with a look of concern. Motioning toward the sobbing girl, she asked, softly, “Is she very worried?”

Then she added, seriously, “is she worried about Herod?”

King Herod the Great, after all, was a tyrant, and to a kid, he was right up there with the scariest of the Disney villains. To protect his own position of power, Herod needed the Baby Jesus gone, and to assure that the baby did not slip through his grasp, Herod also ordered his soldiers to kill ever single baby boy, that was close to Jesus’s age.

Fortunately, in the spirit of a good Disney film, the Baby Jesus escaped. But in a very very un-Disney twist, Herod’s henchmen murdered countless innocent babies. Pretty scary stuff for a kid.

“No, it’s not Herod,” the mom told us. “I think it is stress.”

She went on to explain that she and her husband had been talking up the Nativity event, all week.

“But somehow, I think we made this into too big of a deal, and now she is overwhelmed, before it has even started.”

This sounded a lot like the Christmas stress that happens to many adults.

Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. We fill our homes with music, and festive decorations. We gather with our favorite people, and eat decadent meals and desserts. We retell the stories of Jesus’s birth, and tales of Santa and elves. We exchange gifts, and if we are lucky, we see real wonder in the eyes of the young.

Christmas has so much potential to be uplifting, but in our high pressure world, we can build the holiday up too much, and put unrealistic expectations on how our homes should look, how our family gatherings should go, and how elaborate our gifts should be.

Suddenly, we feel like the crying girl, saying, “I don’t want to do it.”

The Hallmark Channel does not help. Beautiful people, in beautiful homes, tell us that we deserve to have a perfect holiday, and to find true love. Every single Hallmark movie ends in happily ever after, and more often than not, the male lead turns out to be a prince, in disguise.

But real life is not Hallmark or Disney. Sometimes the turkey is overcooked, and sometimes, our families bicker during dinner. Sometimes, we can’t afford the gifts that we want to buy. And always, there is no undercover prince.

Sometimes, it is just too easy to focus, not on the magic of the season, but on what we think is lacking in our lives.

“Don’t make me go!” the little girl wailed.

But soon, young shepherds collapsed in a field, awed by the angels that rose suddenly above the trees (thanks to a hydraulic lift of some kind). The crowd gasped in amazement.

The Magi came to pay respects, and explained that it had taken them years to reach the baby king. An adorable toddler Jesus stumbled into view, and in unison, the crowd said “Awwww.”

Bethlehem was bustling. Herod was scary. And when Jesus finally ascended (thanks to another hydraulic lift), the crowd burst into applause.

If we looked deeply enough, of course, we would have seen imperfections in the performances, but instead, we focused on the Christmas magic. And that little girl, initially anxious and overwhelmed, was quietly amazed, along with the rest of us.

So this December, try to manage your Christmas expectations. Your house may not be decorated as elaborately as those Hallmark houses, but it keeps a roof over your head. Your family might be flawed, but they love you. The food might not be perfect, but it feeds your body.

And in those moments, when the stress seeps in, try to remember that two thousand years ago, a baby was born, and he taught us to love our neighbors and take care of the needy, not to buy expensive gifts and throw elaborate parties.

Happy Holidays, my friends!

Christmas, Pine Cones, Candles

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Stress Relief and the Sheep Barn

After a stressful day at work, I sometimes need to unwind and turn off my brain. Netflix helps, of course, and a couple of glasses of wine helps even more, but nothing compares to the Sheep Barn.

The Sheep Barn is at Farm Sanctuary in the New York Finger Lakes, and tuning in to their live webcam prepares me for a restful night of sleep, by allowing me to watch a hundred or so sheep, as they settle down for sleep, themselves. Some sheep lay down quickly, closing their eyes, while others lay down, but remain alert, munching on a bedtime snack of hay, and always, there are the restless few, pacing around in the dark, their eyes glowing on the infrared cameras, after all of the other sheep have turned in.

There is something calming, and almost meditative, about watching that Sheep Barn, especially at night. I can’t explain the whys or the hows of it, but I know, that as I am watching a sheep chew his hay, with that oh-so slow, circular, jaw movement, and as I listen to the periodic guttural growl or baa, that the electrical and chemical systems of my brain are coming into a nice balance, giving me a sense of contentment, and for some reason, a little reassurance about the world.

A few weeks ago, Joe, Jake and I got to meet the sheep, and all the rescued farm animals at Farm Sanctuary, in real life.

After we followed our guide through the wet grass in the cow pasture, avoiding cow pies, which were literally everywhere, we patted the largest cows I have ever seen, met a bunch of goats, and finally made it to the Sheep Barn.

As we approached their pen, the sheep were all outside, gathered at the top of a hill. When they saw us approaching, though, the sheep moved together, almost stampeding, down the steep hill. At the bottom, most turned into the safety of the barn, but many came to greet us.

Sandwiched between two sheep, I carefully patted their wooly backs, with an open, flat hand.

I was warmed by how enthusiastic the sheep were for human visitors. They were paying particular attention to our guide, and it was clear that they recognized her, among the humans. No one was spared their affections, though, and each of the eight people in our group was immediately surrounded by at least two or three sheep.

“Dig in more, Lis,” Joe called out to me, holding up his hand and making a scratching motion with his fingers. “They like you to scratch their skin.” He turned his hand to show me his black, oily fingers.

“Lanolin,” he said, smiling.

Just then, I felt something tap the back of my calf, and was surprised to see one of my sheep friends had lifted his hoof and had gently tapped my leg. I continued with my open hand pats, not quite ready to dig in to his wooly coat, as Joe had suggested, and my sheep friend tapped my leg again. Soon, he sauntered off, sidling up to another human, because apparently I was not doing a very good job of petting him properly.

At Farm Sanctuary, each of the resident animals has been rescued, some from the difficult life, and certain death, of the factory farm, and some from smaller, family farms, where they were not getting adequate care. Many of the animals suffered abuse, malnutrition, neglect, isolation, or heartbreak, before coming to these rolling hills and quiet pastures. Our guide continued to tell us the back stories of the animals that surrounded us, and how they came to be living in this bucolic setting.

Looking at Joe, who was now petting the sheep that had abandoned me, and still smiling a giant smile, I think I could actually see the electrical and chemical systems of his brain, coming into balance.

Next time you have a stressful day at work, check out the Farm Sanctuary’s live web feeds at

It’s cheaper than Netflix, works faster than wine, and it just might will leave you with a little reassurance about the world.

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It is better to have loved and lost…..

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” – Dr.Seuss

Three of us had entered the emergency department at the University of Pennsylvania’s Ryan Veterinary Hospital early that morning, but when we walked out at 5:30 pm, there were just us two.

Seven short days earlier, our twelve year old greyhound boy, who had lived with us for ten years, was still healthy and whole, at least in appearance.

Inside him, though, bone cancer had been quietly and eagerly consuming our sweet boy, and stripping away our hope before we even knew we’d need it.

RoofTop Chalie had been his racetrack name and our Charlie had run eighteen races, all in Birmingham, Alabama. He had done well, but not well enough, and when he was only two years old, the Greyhound Gods decided that RoofTop Chalie was meant for better things. Like his namesake in the Chocolate Factory, our Charlie boy had stumbled upon the coveted golden ticket, and he was granted a whole new life, full of possibilities.

During his first week on the outside, RoofTop Chalie became just Charlie, and like most greys, he struggled with the civilian world. At his temporary foster home, he was excited to explore the back yard and he innocently thought that the world was a controlled and predictable place. With happy enthusiasm, he ran straight across a swimming pool that was covered for the winter and fell right in, leaving his foster parents to frantically jump in after him, and hoist our floundering and leggy dog from the icy cold water.

The pool incident was just one of Charlie’s many missteps and learning experiences, as he adjusted from the regimented life of a race dog to the role of a family pet.  But adjust he did, and Charlie learned all about soft beds and doggie treats, and people food. And he quickly understood that his new pack was a human one, and as we fell in love with him, Charlie fell in love with us, and with Joe in particular.

Over the years, Joe and Charlie became truly inseparable friends and like fine wines, they aged well together.

From his track days, Charlie was accustomed to having someone accompany him whenever he went outside to toilet. In the beginning, Joe obliged him, hoping to ease his transition to suburban life, and would head outside and wait patiently by, whenever Charlie went out to toilet.  But years and years later, in rain, or snow, or sleet, the habit persisted, and Joe continued to slide on slippers or maybe snow boots and a coat, and he headed into the backyard whenever Charlie did.

Over the years, Charlie needed to toilet more frequently, and as is so common with many men in their 50s, so did Joe. 

So in recent years, every night, at about 2 am, the two friends would get up together to use the bathroom. Charlie always showed Joe the respect that a good friend should, and would wait patiently outside of the half-open bathroom door,  knowing that once his friend had done his business, then the two of them could head outside so that Charlie could do his. 

Laying in bed, that first night after Joe and I left the Penn Vet office without our sweet old boy, I listened as Joe climbed out of bed at 2 am, and walk down the hallway, alone.  I wondered if I should get up and follow him, but I laid quietly, not sure what to do. I heard the bathroom door close sharply, and I knew that Joe, and me as well, had some significant grieving to do.


Today, it is nineteen months since our Charlie boy went home to a heaven of expansive fields for running in circles, bottomless bowls of popcorn to share, and hours and hours of neighborhood walks. 

Today, one of my family members lost her own sweet fur baby, and during a video call tonight, I offered the best advice I could.  I told her to talk and talk about her sweet dog. I told her that even if it makes her cry, that she should tell the stories that make her laugh and smile, and that she should honor her beloved pet by remembering and by sharing.

And I realized then, that I still need to do a bit more of this for Charlie. Here are a few things you might not know: 

  • Charlie liked to smell flowers. He would wander around my garden, sniffing.  The vegetables were interesting, but the flowers really got his attention. 
  • He could not climb steps.  When he vacationed with us, we always rented a house with a first floor bedroom, since he slept in our room. If we ended up with a second floor bedroom, Joe had to carry all 80 pounds, of Charlie, up the stairs every night. 
  • Charlie ate like the Cookie Monster. If he had something crunchy, like a Milkbone, he would crunch it up with his mouth open, and crumbs would fly everywhere, just like the Cookie Monster.  And he had no interest in eating the crumbs off the floor, even if we pointed them out to him, so we had to vacuum it all up. 
  • Charlie ran in his sleep. His legs would twitch and flex, and he would whine and softly bark, whenever he slept. We always wondered what he was dreaming and where he was running. 
  • He was a slow and ineffective thief.  At a party, he once considered stealing snacks from a buffet table. He gingerly touched his tongue to the food items, but did not take them. When he saw that he was being observed, he skulked away.
  • He was a sight hound, and loved to watch and clumsily chase the rabbits and squirrels in the yard.  He never caught a single one, though, but did chase a rabbit directly into a chain link fence once. 
  • If he wanted to wake us up during the night, Charlie never barked or made a sound. He was so tall that his head was the same height as our sleeping heads, on our pillows, so he would simply rest his head Joe’s arm, or chest, or right next to Joe’s face. Imagine waking up to a Charlie face right next to your own! 

Our pets are our family.

I wrote almost all of this blog the weekend that Charlie died, but did not finish it, probably because of the tears. Today, finishing, I still shed tears of grief, but now they are mixed with tears of real happiness, celebrating that we had Charlie dog in our lives. 

I am proud to tell his stories. 

If you have lost a love one, either human, or furry, tell their stories too! 


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Be a Patriot – Wear a Mask!

COVID-19 has wrecked havoc on my way of life. In the past four months, I have barely seen my family, and when I have, it has been with the most careful social distancing protocols in place. I have had no in-person contact with my dearest friends, have not eaten in a restaurant, and haven’t seen a single movie in a theater. Times have been so crazy that both Jake and Joe even submitted to my cutting their hair – and twice!

The efforts to contain this virus have put people out of work and have shuttered countless businesses. As the pandemic drags on, some folks have started to speak out against the government guidelines and restrictions, and are pushing to reopen our businesses and to return to normal, in spite of rising infection rates.

Among the messages of those speaking out against state mandates, one sentiment has repeatedly befuddled me. My social media streams have been rife with comments raging against mask requirements. Anti-maskers have argued that masks are unnecessary, and they have lamented that their civil liberties, and even their actual physical health, are threatened by masking.

“I’m so tired of wearing this Petri Dish on my face!”

“I am not old and don’t have any health issues, so why would I wear one?”

“Stop believing what you see on the fake news.”

“I haven’t worn a mask yet, and don’t plan on doing so. Keep drinking the kool-aid!”

“I’m totally against them. You are re-breathing your own air which is not good.”

“Masks are un-American.”

The logic of these anti-maskers eludes me. They seem to focus on conspiracy theories and to disregard science. And I really don’t understand the “masking is un-American” angle. What is un-American about valuing safety? What is unpatriotic about enduring inconvenience for the greater good of our communities?

Historically, Americans have been repeatedly called upon, by our government, to value the greater good of country over our own convenience and personal benefit. This pandemic is not the first time we will be called, and it won’t be the last.

During World War II, major inconveniences were imposed upon all Americans. Foods and common items were rationed, and each person was given a book of government-issued ration coupons that limited their purchases of coffee, sugar, meat, cheese, butter, canned foods, dried fruits, jam, clothing, stockings, shoes, and more. Gasoline was also tightly rationed and most families were allowed to purchase only three gallons per week, which made even essential travel to work difficult. Construction of nonmilitary housing was banned and production of most household appliances was ceased until after the war. Automobile production was also halted, with auto factories being repurposed to making tanks and munitions for the government instead. There was a major labor shortage and although housewives went to work to fill some of the openings, businesses still had to get creative on how to operate with limited staff. Income taxes were raised and workers were also asked to spend at least 10% of their paychecks on war bonds. Folks living in coastal cities were even required to turn off their household lights after dark due to concerns that offshore u-boats could use the back light of residential areas to locate ships leaving an area.

Every day life was completely upended and people were not just asked to make sacrifices, they were required to, by their government.

Ask your grandpa about these restrictions. He will likely tell you how his family had to do without so many things, and that they made major sacrifices.

He might tell you about how his family gave up most of their pots and pans, so the metal could be used in airplanes. He might tell you about how his mom had to make some of their clothes from old feed bags and flour sacks, since clothing for purchase, and also fabric, were so hard to come by.

Grandpa will likely talk about hardship and compromise and ingenuity, but he won’t complain. In fact, he will likely tell his story with heartfelt and genuine American pride.

So how did wearing a simple face mask stop being a safety measure and become a divisive political statement instead?

When did folks start valuing politics over the safety and greater good of our families, communities, and country?

If you are lucky enough to have a WWII era grandpa or grandma in your life, cherish them, and listen to their stories.

And please be a patriot and wear that mask!

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Quarantine Haircut

“I trust you,” Joe said.

“You have no reason to trust me on this,” I replied, and meant it.

“But I do trust you, babe,” Joe went on.

“Honestly, please stop saying that you trust me,” I said. I took a gulp of my beer to try to steady my nerves. “There is no logical reason that you should trust me and we are only in this situation due to absolute desperation.”

“But I trust you,” Joe said kindly.

“Please, just stop speaking.”

Back when the pandemic shut down first started, in mid-March, I think I adjusted pretty well to not being able to go out to a movie, or to a restaurant, or to the mall. I missed getting out and about, of course, but I added Hulu to my streaming services and caught up on the Handmade’s Tale, and I found new local places for contact-less food delivery.

I was adapting to our new normal, but then just two weeks after the stay-at-home order went in to place, I missed an appointment that hit me unusually hard.

I have had a standing appointment with Paige, every six weeks, for about ten years. Paige is one of the most deeply trusted professionals in my life, along with my dentist and my family doctor. Paige knows me, and she knows my routine, so she always delivers exactly what I need.

Paige is my hair stylist and, in these difficult times, I might just miss her more than I miss a lot of my family. I have regular Zoom calls with my family, after all. We talk over the computer, or by phone, and we stay connected.

But Paige and I are straight up broken up.

And my hair is showing it.

A week ago, Joe came to me and asked me to participate in the ultimate act of trust. He was in a bad way, with his hair sticking out at angles that made no sense. So he asked me to cut his hair.

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I want to be clear. Home haircuts are a bad idea.

When I was a child, lots of kids got at-home haircuts, and the results were not usually great. Although I have no memories of my parents cutting my own hair, my elementary school pictures tell a cautionary tale. Because if my parents were paying for those haircuts, they were getting ripped off.

If you think a DIY pandemic haircut can’t go wrong, just jump on Google and do a quick search. The pictures don’t lie. Or better yet, if you are brave, and are armed with a mask, gloves, and hand sanitizer, just visit a Walmart and take a close look at the haircuts of some of those around you. Trust me, the evidence is out there.

So I hesitated. I wasn’t ready. I pictured Joe going to work, with a Dumb and Dumber hairdo, by my hands.

But today, Joe asked again, more persistently, and I knew that unless the world was going to change soon, I had no choice. If he ended up looking like Will in Stranger Things, with a Dorothy Hamill cut, then so be it. Necessity called.

So I watched three You Tube tutorials on how to cut hair and I pulled out a pair of sharp scissors and those old clippers, purchased twenty five years ago, back when Josh was a toddler and refused to let anyone cut his hair.

“I trust you,” Joe said, as I started to use the clippers.

People go to school for years to learn the art of hairdressing, and then spend many more perfecting and refining their abilities. This isn’t something one can simply learn on the internet.

But this is where this pandemic had brought us.

Joe’s DIY haircut took forty five painstaking minutes, and to my surprise, the final product turned out pretty okay. I felt like I dodged a bullet. I am not sure how it will hold up as it grows in, though, and I expect that Joe’s regular stylist, Scott, will be required, later on, to undue the damage I have done.

Joe suggested that I use my new found YouTube learned skills to direct him in cleaning up my hair, which is also starting to stick out at angles that just don’t make sense.

Joe is a smart and capable man, but on this, I have to take a pass. I just don’t trust him.

I will hold out for Paige. After all, we are not broken up; we are just taking a break.

Paige – Please come back into my life soon! I miss you. I need you.

And above all, I trust you!


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Here is Joe’s finished quarantine haircut.

Not bad for an amateur, right?

But I humbly acknowledge my luck. Cause in my unskilled hands, he could end up with a Mo, or a Mugatu, or worse, a Boris Johnson!

And I don’t want to let him down.

After all, he trusts me!

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Protecting My House

Woman Wearing Face Mask

Today was the first day that every single patient was required to wear a mask or facial covering in my office. If they arrived without a mask, one was provided, and they were instructed to wear it throughout their visit.

For almost a month and a half, we have been living a new normal.

We only see essential or urgent medical visits in person, and any staff member that can do their job remotely is now working from home. Onsite staff give each other a very wide berth and all staff, even receptionists and administrators, are masked, all day, every day. Staff and patients are stopped at the thermoscanning station for a quick temperature check and are queried about symptoms before entering the building and the lobby furniture is carefully arranged, with most seats marked as reserved, to assure at least six feet between waiting patients.

But in spite of our efforts, we know that work place exposures can happen, and as testing has increased, more patients have tested positive, and more and more staff have headed into periods of self monitoring, or at-home quarantine. A few unlucky colleagues have tested positive themselves, and the rest of us hoped, very very quietly, that they were exposed at the store or at home, and not at work, where we have our masks and goggles and disinfectants and carefully arranged lobby to protect us.

Looking out into that lobby, on this first day of required masking for patients, I saw two patients sitting close together and I reviewed the map of the reserved and open seats in my head. I know the arrangement well, since I have to recheck and correct the spacing every single morning, as the nighttime cleaning crew doesn’t always get the room reassembled quite right.

The man was wearing a mask, but had it down far below his nose. The woman, who was talking loudly to him and laughing, was wearing her mask pulled down under her chin. Watching them interact, and looking at the room map in my head again, I realized that he was sitting in one of the chairs that is clearly marked as reserved.

“Do you think we should say something to them?” a coworker asked.

“Absolutely,” I replied. “This is our house and we need to protect it.”

For those of us in healthcare, this new normal makes us hyper aware of the statistics and the patient interactions that those numbers represent.

As of yesterday, there were 88,806 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Jersey and 4,377 confirmed deaths.

Those confirmed cases are 88,806 real people who received real care from real healthcare workers.

There was nasal swabs administered in cars, chest x-rays, ER evaluations, breathing treatments, EKGs, blood gases, supplemental oxygen, blood draws, IVs, intubation, and mechanical ventilation. This care was administered by healthcare workers in sometimes inadequate PPE, in units that were understaffed, and these workers did their jobs while standing in for the family members who couldn’t be there, and while simultaneously keeping those same family members posted. These workers came to work every day, in spite of fear, anxiety, and profound exhaustion, all because they believe that these 88,806 patients deserved the best care, even in these terrifying times.

4377 deaths were real people, who died without family at their bedside. They did not die alone, though, because of the dedicated nurses and aides providing medical care, while also using IPads to facetime the loved ones who were not allowed in.

Those workers went home each night and although they had so carefully removed their PPE to prevent cross contamination, and although they had left their scrubs at the hospital for laundering, they still undressed in their garages or backyards, and headed straight to the shower. They said a quick hello to their kids from a distance and headed to the isolation bedroom where they have been staying while at home, since they can’t risk exposing their family to this deadly virus.

After all, this is their house and they have to protect it.

“I know the masks are uncomfortable,” I said to the man and woman, smiling from behind my mask, “but we really need you to wear it up over your nose to keep you safe.”

“Okay,” the woman said, pulling her own mask up. “I guess I didn’t think they’d really want me to wear it all the time.”

For those of you outside of healthcare, you might just want your old life back and you might be feeling that the social distancing rules are getting old fast. But I want you to think about protecting your house.

And if you think that maybe you really don’t need to adhere to the guidelines all the time, I want you to think about protecting your house.

Because tonight, a nurse in New Jersey got undressed in her backyard and rushed into her house without hugging her kids because she has seen, with her own eyes, how horrific this virus can be.

This nurse hasn’t hugged or had dinner with her kids or her husband, in nearly six weeks, and although she is exhausted, she doesn’t sleep well. But she will soldier on, because she knows that 88,806 patients deserved quality care and she knows that there are many more patients to come.

Photo of Person Wearing Face Mask

But this isn’t her war. This is our war.

And when you protect your house, you protect hers too.

So protect your house and do this right.

There are still people to save.


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Not Another Normal Day at Work

Supermarket, Shopping, Empty, Shelves, Hostess

The checker at the Acme was aggressively moving my groceries across the laser scanner, his lips pursed and a look on his face that I could not quite place. I watched him work, grabbing food items from the belt and pushing out a loud breath with each beep of the scanner.

He looked angry, but I suspected that was not quite it.

The lines at this market, like the lines in every food store, Walmart and Target, were twenty deep. There was no toilet paper, pasta, or canned soup to be had. This virus and the Governor’s executive order, for us to essentially shelter in place, flipped on the hoarding instinct in so many. My cart, though, was filled with convenience foods because, unexpectedly, my college age son is now back home until September.

“How are you holding up?” I asked the checker, as he roughly grabbed the pop tarts.

He did not answer and sighed. He looked at me and slowly shook his head back and forth, lips pursed. I saw tears fill his eyes and I knew, that if he spoke, his voice would crack and more tears might come, betraying his attempts at pretending that this was just another normal day at work.

I definitely know the feeling. This past week was stress-filled and emotional. In healthcare, our efforts at protecting ourselves and our patients have evolved drastically over the past week and each day is definitely not another normal day at work. Patients are screened for symptoms when scheduling and at the door, staff are screened for fever before even clocking in, and zero visitors are allowed in the facility. Masks, gloves and disinfectants are now stored under lock and key, to protect our limited resources, and all nonessential appointments have been cancelled indefinitely. Staff are fluctuating between the fear of being at work, with the risk of contracting the virus, and the fear of being sent home from work, and the financial uncertainty that would bring. But we know that our stress in the outpatient setting is just a fraction of what the hospital workers are facing.

Yesterday, a patient called to complain. Her call was escalated to me and I listened, truly sympathetic, as she lamented about our zero visitor restriction and its impact on her family.

“This is my first baby,” she pleaded emotionally, “so please, please, let my husband and mother be with me during my ultrasound.”

I patiently explained the whys of our new policies, about social distancing and flattening the curve, but she was not hearing. What if she got bad news, she asked. Who would support her then? Or what if the baby was just so sweet and beautiful, and no one was there to share her joy?

I apologized that this was happening. I apologized that this virus was breaking her heart. I apologized and apologized and apologized.

But I didn’t say what I was really thinking, what scares me, like that if this doesn’t improve quickly, it is likely that she will be alone, not just during this ultrasound, but during labor and delivery too, and that given the possibility of physician shortages, as illness increases, she will possibly be delivered by an overworked and exhausted doctor or resident, that she doesn’t even know.

Not a normal day at work.

On Thursday, I left work after an eleven hour day and seeing my car in the distance, I felt the tears fill my eyes. I just made it to the safety of my Nissan when the sobs overcame me.

But I know many of the doctors and the hospital leadership that are responding to this crisis, and I know their resilience and commitment. And I know, in spite of shortages of equipment or staff, that these innovative and gritty folks will find ways to continue to deliver quality, safe healthcare, to everyone who needs it. The reason our policies continue to evolve is because these stellar healthcare leaders continue to plan, even for the worst. They aren’t just flattening the curve, they are working around the clock to get ahead of it.

And I also know the resilience of my family, my neighbors, and my friends. We are strong and we will support each other, although remotely, through these strange and stressful times.

“Hang in there,” I told the checker, softly. “The work you are doing is really important. Thank you for being here.”

It is likely that most of us will not have a normal day at work for some time.

So stay safe. Wash your hands. Practice social distancing.

And if you are still working, take care of your mental health. Focus on your blessings, stay connected to those you love, and keep a schedule. Get enough sleep, eat some vegetables, and get some exercise. And have a good cry here and there, if that is what you need.

And please, show your love and appreciation to those supermarket workers.

They are definitely NOT having a normal day at work.


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For the Love of Pete, Tip Your Waitresses!

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The patient’s husband was acting crazy.

In the medical office waiting room, it was clear that the doctors were running behind. The lobby was chock full of patients, some accompanied by husbands, wives, parents, kids, or in this case, one loud, grumpy, and confrontational husband.

Sometimes, for various reasons, medical offices get behind, and when this one runs late, it is not uncommon for a staff member to emerge with a basket full of snacks, hoping to offer some small explanation, apology, or consolation for those stuck waiting. After all, waiting patients can get hungry, and while a snack won’t fix the delay, it might help prevent some hangry feelings.

This day, though, when Maggie, the spunky 60-or-so receptionist, came out to pass out bags of pretzels, granola bars, and lots of “I am so sorry,” a particular husband decided to let her have it.

“We don’t want your stupid snacks,” yelled the grumpy husband, bellowing through the lobby. “We’ve been waiting too long. “

The next ten minutes involved grumpy husband pacing like a zoo tiger and sharing various mean spirited comments about the shortcomings of the office, all for the crowd’s benefit, and all indirectly pointed at the receptionists.

“When I am dead,” was his best comment, in my opinion, “will you give me back all of the time you have stolen from me today?” For this one, he had approached Mag’s desk, finger pointing.

So, as observers here, there are some important things that we should consider as we watch this 260 pound angry man yell at the sweet and kind front desk receptionist, who weighs in at about a buck fifteen.

First, Maggie is not a director of operations or a healthcare executive. She has no seat at the table where the powers-that-be decide how many appointment slots should be in the daily schedule or how many staff are needed to keep the office running. And she also has no control over how quickly or how slowly the doctors actually work.

So why is this guy barking at her? Why not ask to talk to a manager, or a physician, or anyone who might have greater leverage in addressing his issues?

The simplest answer is that grumpy husband is just a big ole @#$!% (insert the foul word of your choice here).


But I think the real answer is deeper. Grumpy husband targeted his frustration directly at someone with limited power; someone who wouldn’t push back. Why would he direct his frustration there? Cause if grumpy husband sent that same tirade at someone with a bit of power, like a physician, or better, at a security guard, it would not have been met with silence.

But because he targeted the powerless, grumpy husband got to leave that appointment feeling self assured and maybe even powerful.

So it seems to me that grumpy husband has some big work to do and needs to do some self-exploration. Clearly things have gone askew with his communication abilities and maybe with his deep-down ideas about what makes for a strong, successful or assertive man.

But grumpy husband’s behavior is not at all uncommon. How often do you see this same BS- power mongering- machismo-anger management type behavior in your daily life?

Think about the exchanges you have seen firsthand between those with perceived power and those without, like restaurant customers and waitresses, or grocery shoppers and check-out clerks. Have you seen people communicating with these service workers in a way that was impatient, sarcastic, or just plain mean? Have you seen people irrationally taking out their frustrations on others who were just trying to do their jobs?

And more importantly, have you ever, personally, yourself, treated a waiter or waitress, a supermarket checker, the worker at your dry cleaner, a medical office receptionist, or anyone in a service position badly? Did you make a small scene at the market, or the mall, or the bank, or Starbucks? Did you treat that person like they were unintelligent?

If so, you, too, might have some big work to do.

You might need to look deeply at your own feelings of self-worth and might want to evaluate your communication skills. You might consider reexamining your beliefs and ideas about what makes for power and success.

Or maybe its not that complicated.

Maybe you are just a #@%&!

But seriously, I don’t really think you are a big ole #@?&#.

I do think, though, that we need to start treating each other better and need to stop taking out our life’s frustrations on one another. Life is too short for all this negativity and public exchanges between strangers should be cordial, not hostile. I want to be able to go out shopping or to dine, and to never, ever, see a customer creating a scene, yelling and humiliating a service worker, in a public place.

So love thy neighbor, for Christ’s sake. Literally.

And for the love of Pete, please tip your waitresses!


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Traffic Jam Jammin

Sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, I looked around me. It was 5:30 pm and some cars, like mine, were just trying to get home from a normal day’s work. Others, like the car in front of me, with the kayaks strapped to the roof, or the car to my right, with four bikes on a rack in the back, were heading off for a holiday weekend.

But we were all stuck, in traffic, almost at a stop, on Interstate 295.

I looked to my left, at a driver holding his forehead, and then hitting his steering wheel in frustration. To my right, the driver had a look of defeat, and was actually slumped down in her seat as she inched along. An ineffective horn blasted from far behind us, like a cry of exasperation.

But then, another driver let the stress break him down and he suddenly jerked his car onto the shoulder, speeding up and passing two or three cars, and then unexpectedly cutting back into traffic. Cars veered away to avoid a collision and horns blasted all around.

As my heart rate slowed, I let out a sigh of relief that the road ragers were in front of me, at least for now. Aside from this hellish traffic, I was having a particularly stressful day and for a moment, I embraced the reaction of my fellow drivers, and let my forehead rest briefly on my steering wheel.

But then, I glanced in my rear view mirror and I saw something wonderful. The driver, in the car behind me, who looked to be about 25 years old, was singing, and with incredible zeal.

I wondered what he was listening to, and took a closer look at him. He was wearing a short sleeved button down checkered shirt and chunky Buddy Holly glasses. His hair was messy, and was sticking up on one side, like he had just gotten out of bed without brushing his hair. A bedhead cool guy persona was emerging in my mind for him and I imagined that he bought that shirt in a thrift shop and that those glasses were just for show, and probably had no lenses. He probably had a messenger bag in the passenger seat, and I was willing to bet that he was vegan.

My new hipster traffic jam friend was tapping out a beat on his steering wheel and bobbing back and forth in his driver’s seat. And unlike the other drivers, he didn’t look frustrated, or the least bit impatient. Instead, he looked happy. I was liking him more and more.

We were at a dead stop, so I had the time. I quickly started flipping through the radio stations on my car stereo, determined to find the song he was singing. What would my milennial pal like? Would it be Weezer, or Modest Mouse, or maybe some broody Pink Floyd?

After about ten tries, I found it. I stared into my rear view, intently watching his mouth move, as he waved his arms around, dancing in his seat. As the words coming from my radio and the movement of his mouth lined up, I started laughing with surprise.

“Wake me up before you go-go
Don’t leave me hanging on like a yo-yo
Wake me up before you go-go
I don’t want to miss it when you hit that high”

Wham finished up and the next song queued up, and Whitney Houston’s smooth and charismatic voice began.

“Clock strikes upon the hour
And the sun begins to fade
Still enough time to figure out
How to chase my blues away”

I felt giddy with anticipation. Would hipster guy stay with Whitney, or change the station?

To my joy, he snapped his fingers and started singing, still happy.

I looked to my left and the driver there still gripped his forehead. To my right, the driver now looked downright despaired.

But I had no deadline, so why entertain the stress? I turned up my radio and started belting out the song, knowing that that my buddy behind me was doing the same.

“Oh, I wanna dance with somebody
I wanna feel the heat with somebody
Yeah, I wanna dance with somebody
With somebody who loves me”

I wondered if the driver in front of me might glance in her rear view mirror and see me singing. What would she imagine about me and would she scan her own radio to find my song? And above all, would she chime in too?

In this world, with very real troubles, disease, and loss, we really need to be more selective about which things we allow to cause us stress. Traffic is usually just an inconvenience, and is not worthy of the stress-inducing power we give it.

After all, what exactly is a traffic jam? Its a chance to sing my jam, that’s what!

So next time you are stuck in traffic, look around. You just might see me, or my new traffic jam friend, defying the stress, and embracing our inner Whitney!

Join us! Choose happy!


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Surviving Summer, 70s Style

A friend of Jake’s got a minor burn, while working on an engineering project in our backyard yesterday. As his pointer finger developed a small blister, Joe provided burn cream and band aids and, in a show of support, Joe and I shared stories of the minor burns we have experienced over the years.

Surprisingly, most were in our youth.

As a kid, I experienced small burns many times while baking, both in my Easy Bake Oven, and in the real oven, which I used on my own, stretching my eight year old arms to reach the cake pan or cookie sheet deep in the hot oven.

Joe described getting minor burns while starting a fire in one of the forts in the woods that he and his preteen buddies loved to build. In this case, they had dug a deep, wide hole, covered the top with pieces of plywood and tree branches, and then sat around in the hole, summer day after summer day, shooting the breeze, and of course, starting fires.

“It’s a real miracle we didn’t die from carbon monoxide poisoning in that hole,” Joe said, thinking back.

“It’s a miracle we survived summers in the 70s at all,” I responded.

Here’s why:

  • Television: Nowadays, we worry about the risk of too much screen time. Back in the 70s, though, we had only seven or eight channels to choose from, and no internet, video games, dvds or on-demand programming. So while our screen time was limited by lack of options, we did carve out dedicated time for gems like the Banana Splits, Johnny Quest, the Partridge Family, and Underdog. But although our parents repeatedly told us to back up, back up, back up, we sat right on the floor, less than one foot away, from our radiation producing cathode ray tube television set.
  • No Supervision: With nothing on TV, we went outside, all day. We roamed the entire neighborhood, unsupervised, and with no cell phones or GPS tracking, our parents had no idea where we were. They went on good faith that we’d be safe, even if we were running around in the woods (which we were), climbing trees (yes), jumping on slow moving freight trains (not me, but my friends), or if you were Joe, setting fires in a hole in the woods!
  • No Seat Belts: Were cars even equipped with seat belts back then? We would sit on a grownup’s lap, or we stood up in the back seat, and we loved to climb from the back to the front to the back seat again, all while the car was in motion. If we were lucky enough to ride in a pick up truck, we rode in the open bed, sitting on a wheel well or even better, sitting on the open tailgate, swinging our legs and watching the road pass by under our feet.
  • Playing in the Street: Kick The Can, Wire Ball, Box Ball, or even just having a catch, we did it all in the middle of the street! The playground, luckily, had no risk of passing cars, but there, the monkey bars and sliding board were ten or twelve feet high, and if you fell, your landing would be met only by a cushion of gravel or asphalt.
  • Our Toys: Lawn Darts could impale a slow moving kid, Clackers might cause a concussion, Super Elastic Bubble Plastic produced toxic fumes, and molded plastic Legos contained the heavy metal cadmium. Saturday Night Live even did a skit in 1976, where Candice Bergen, as a news reporter, exposes a toy company for manufacturing unsafe toys and Dan Ackroyd comically defends his products, like the oh so safe, Bag O’ Glass. I am sure some of our own 70s toys provided the comedic inspiration for that bit!
  • Heavy Metals Everywhere!: Our bedroom and living room walls were painted with lead paint, which was not restricted until 1978. What better places to play with those colorful and contaminated Legos?
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  • Eat Your Vegetables: In the 70s, a kid who didn’t eat her vegetables might still be sitting at the kitchen table, hours after dinner ended, in a battle of wills with one or both parents. 70’s parents were convinced that without canned or frozen brussel sprouts or asparagus spears, their kids would surely have stunted growth. They were not concerned, though, that we were bathing those veggies in butter and salt, and that for breakfast that morning, we had filled our bellies with sugar cereals like Cocoa Puffs or Captain Crunch. Later, at the little league field, our carefree folks would hand us a quarter, knowing that this would buy a bounty of sugar and carcinogen Red Dye #2, in the form of pixie sticks, goldfish, shoe strings, and candy buttons, all washed down with orange soda.
  • Haze of Smoke: Every adult I knew smoked cigarettes. They smoked in the house, in the car, in a restaurant, and our teachers even smoked in our school, although they mainly kept it to the teacher’s lounge. A childhood friend would regularly ask her parents to not smoke when we were riding in the car and like the good parents they were, they would laugh and tell her she was being silly.
  • Bugs or No Bugs: We all know that mosquitoes can carry disease. In the 70s, we combated that risk with the ever popular Mosquito Truck. That truck drove all around Oak Valley, traversing every street, and we were called to follow, on bike or on foot. We laughed and we frolicked in the greenish, sweet smelling mist, like mice following the Pesticide Pied Piper. Somehow, however, I was always covered with mosquito bites!

Amazingly, most of us got through our 1970s childhoods unscathed, but not due to skill or smarts, and mostly due to plain dumb luck.

But I do think we learned a lesson or two along the way. At a time when our parents were practicing free-range parenting, not by choice, many of us learned to be independent and confident problem solvers. And I learned, by trial and error, to NOT climb all the way to the top of the too-tall monkey bars.

Plus, if nothing else, Joe and I both learned how to treat and care for minor burns.

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