Thursday, May 28, 2009

True Stories of Life in a Foster Family by Ralph Berry

This story aired on WMRA's Civic Soapbox.

"There was once a little girl who was sexually abused by someone in her family. Child Protective Services removed the little girl from her home and placed her with a foster family. The wise foster mom knew she had to help the little girl feel safe so that she could win her trust and help her to heal. The little girl was afraid of taking a bath in the bathtub (this is where the sexual abuse had taken place) so the foster mom said she could take a sponge bath in her bedroom instead. Every night for months the foster mom would spread a towel on the little girl’s bedroom floor and help her take a bath.

One day the foster mom asked the little girl what would make her feel safe taking a bath in the bathtub. The little girl replied that she didn’t want any lights on in the bathroom and that she wanted her foster mom to stay with her and to lock the door once they were inside. The foster mom asked if she could at least put a candle in the corner of the bathtub so that they wouldn’t fall over something and the little girl agreed. Every night for months the foster mom would go into the bathroom with the little girl and lock the door behind them, while the little girl took her bath.

One day, while the little girl was taking a bath, she said she had something to tell her foster mom but she wanted her to turn around and look the other way first. So the foster mom sat down facing away from the little girl and the little girl told about the abuse she had suffered. She asked her foster mom not to tell anyone. The foster mom explained that she had to tell the little girl’s Children’s Services worker but would not tell anyone else. Every night at bath time the little girl told her foster mom the same story about the abuse, for this is one way children heal from their hurts. The little girl’s therapist and Children’s Services worker realized that the little girl might never tell anyone else about the abuse so they trained the foster mom what to do to help the little girl heal. Whenever the little girl would tell about the abuse her foster mom would put her story into words and feelings. “That would have scared me,” “That would have made me angry, how did that make you feel?” the foster mom would ask the little girl.

One evening, a year later, as they were preparing for the little girl’s bath the little girl told her foster mom that she didn’t have to come into the bathroom with her when she took her bath anymore. The little girl turned the light on in the bathroom, went in alone and closed the door.

The little girl’s parental rights were eventually terminated and the foster family was able to adopt her. The “little girl” has since grown up and graduated from high school last spring. She was accepted by four different universities!!!!"

This story is a bonus one for the WMRA website from Mr. Berry.

"As we concluded our training to be foster parents the Children’s Services worker started indicating to us that they thought they had a child who would fit well in our home. This little boy was eight years old and had been back and forth between birth parents and foster families--but they were really hoping for a "forever" home for him. We got very excited and were hoping this would be the right match. How do you ever really know about these things except to trust and pray? Well, after a difficult several weeks waiting for my finger prints to clear we finally got the "thumbs up" to take this little boy. Now, as is true for many foster kids, his stuff came to us in garbage bags. We had a few hours to get his stuff unpacked before he arrived with the Children’s Services worker. As we were unpacking his stuff we found a number of stuffed dinosaurs. As we set these around his room I came upon one that stood out. It was a teal colored stegosaurus made of chintz fabric. As I tossed it onto the bed I commented to my husband that it looked like one our birth daughter had had many years ago. Once the room was put together I sat down on the bed to think about the changes that were about to happen in our life. After being empty nesters for almost 8 years we were opening our home to a hyperactive 8 year old boy. Once again, I wondered, how do you know if it's the right match? I picked up the teal dinosaur and held it as I thought more about this. At that moment I noticed the tag on the teal dinosaur--written in sharpie were the initials A and B. Well, I had my answer--this WAS the dinosaur that had belonged to our daughter years ago--those were her initials. It had migrated to a thrift shop when she cleaned out her room to set up her first apartment and now it had found its way back to us in the few things owned by this little boy. Over the years we faced some hurdles, but the joy he has brought us has far outweighed these challenges. We are glad to say he found his 'forever home.'"

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Medical Perfection by Dr. Ben Brown

At the end of last year, then president-elect Barack Obama’s health care transition team asked citizens to organize Health Care Community Discussions. Their purpose? To gather ideas from Americans across all walks of life about how our health care system could be reformed. Having been a rural family doctor for over 25 years I think such discussion is urgently needed. Each day I see my patients struggle to pay medical bills. I also see the losses they suffer when they cannot.

Eighteen people with a variety of experiences and interests came together in our community health care center in Nelson County, VA. to work through the Obama transition team’s agenda.

We first focused on the need for elimination of the greed motive in medicine. It seemed fair to us, that the profit motive should be limited when applied to the relief of human suffering. We recognized universal health care coverage as a right, much as education is considered a right. We also saw a public health campaign to improve diet, physical activity and living attitudes as key to reducing health care costs. I was surprised and pleased to hear broad support for a single payer system.

As I left the meeting, I felt there was still a difficult issue which we had not touched: the question of overuse in health care. There is an unrecognized trend in modern medicine which occurs at the nexus of media, doctors, courts and patients and leads to a significant and growing waste of health care dollars.
Of course, doctors want to give the best possible care, and also worry about being sued for neglecting to run more tests and procedures, many of which are expensive and make little difference. Patients want to believe they are getting the latest in health care, and are heavily influenced by the popular media. The media feels it is doing a public service by reporting about medical advancements and the newest drugs.

We, as patients, now expect a lab or radiology study in order to make medical decisions once made on the basis of clinical judgment. Whereas once we relied on a primary care doctor to reassure us, we now want a specialist to answer the questions raised by friends or from what we read online. And finally, malpractice juries understand one person's loss more easily than the statistics of evidenced-based medicine.

This all leads to patients receiving excessive, inappropriate and overly expensive medical care.

When do we reach the point of diminishing returns? What about treatment plans that lead to very little improvement in health care despite their excessive cost? Could those extra health care dollars, save and improve more lives if used differently?
In the real world, dollars spent on one person's quest for medical perfection cannot be spent on another's basic needs, and dollars spent in extending the last few days of life cannot be spent on helping others have healthier and more productive lives. These trade-offs matter.

Yes, let’s take care of the greed motive, simplify our system and give everyone a basic health care plan. But there is a component that the media, the malpractice system, the doctors and the people as patients have to face up to as well: When we demand too much for our single self, it means less for others.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"Serial Churchgoer" by Carolyn O'Neal

I am a serial churchgoer. A pious, non-threatening version of the serial killer. Like my dastardly counterpart, I have a specific pattern: I stalk my victims, plan my attack, collect mementoes and then move on to my next target, leaving confusion in my wake.

I began my life of serial churchgoing when I moved from the San Francisco Bay area. Church in California is different from church in Charlottesville. In California, I considered myself an oppressed minority. I didn’t go to one of the hundreds of Catholic Churches in the Bay area. Nor did I belong to any of the innumerable cults, sects or whatevers. In California, I was a Protestant. The Episcopal Church I belonged to campaigned for gay rights because we knew what it felt like to be outsiders.

Then I moved to Virginia and began attending a local Episcopal Church. It was packed. I was greeted with smiles and welcomes and please come backs. The church was beautiful. Actually, everyone was beautiful. Lovely and trim with perfect hair and teeth. Except me. In the pew was a little card for visitors. I dutifully filled it out and about a week later received a post card from the church. It was beautiful.

I next tried one of the big Baptist Churches downtown. It was packed. Again, smiles, welcomes and please come backs. I dutifully filled out the visitors’ card. A few hours later, I received a phone call, then a personal visit in my home from two nice smelling gentlemen with full heads of hair. They gave me literature and asked if I had questions. I told them I thought Jesus was wrong when he condemned both divorce and washing your hands before you eat and that I believed in legalizing gay marriage. They never came back.

Seeking anonymity, I decided next time I would not fill out the visitor’s card. I stalked another large downtown church. Its parking lot was full of BMW’s and giant range rovers. Oh my. I’d have to buy a new wardrobe. I’d have to park blocks away from the church. This was a real problem. How could I park blocks away and still wear high heels?

I had to find either a laid back popular church in which I could wear my Nike’s or an unpopular church where I could park close to the front door and wear high heels. I drove around searching for my next victim. Oops, I mean my next visit.

I finally found one--a quiet church with few cars parked in the lot on Sunday morning. It wasn’t packed. I was greeted with smiles and welcomes and please come backs by elderly ladies with blue hair. I looked around. Everyone was twenty years or more older than me, and since I’m over fifty, that’s saying a lot.

My search continues.

What have I learned from this experience? Protestant Christianity in the south is too easy. There are too many churches and if you don’t like one because of the preacher or the parking or the people, you can drift away and find another a block down the road. Maybe if there were only one or two Protestant Churches in all of Albemarle County, I could settle down. Maybe then I’d be happy because I’d be oppressed minority again.

Maybe I should become Catholic.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Young Women and Body Image by Colleen Whitney

We all know her: The thin friend who always thinks she looks bloated; the obsessed friend who freaks if she misses her routine workout; the “healthy” friend who prides herself on not having eaten junk food in two years. Yes, she’s the friend who on the outside looks as though she’s happy as can be, in her size two dress dipping her carrot sticks in fat free, watered down ranch dressing. 75% percent of the female population (in America? ) struggles with eating disorders and/or distorted body images.

I was once that friend. Go ahead! Shudder. Roll your eyes. Smile contemptuously. I would if I were still that girl.

So let me give you some insight into how I got to be that girl.

It will come as no shocking surprise that the media has got a lot to do with it. A short while ago, I would have never admitted that something so “out there” as the media could affect me. But really, if you stop and think about it: how could it not?

As a rising college senior, it has taken me years to realize that the glossy pages of my favorite magazines contribute to the constant nagging, ugly, self-doubt that has plagued me for so many years. How are we, the normal people, supposed to compete for physical perfection with the celebrities that cover these pages--people with an entourage of personal trainers, personal makeup artists and personal stylists?

Also, the majority of these magazines, at some point, have featured articles that showcase “real women” with “real beauty.” I admit it, I want to see what this said “real women” look like – see if I can measure up. And, although, these articles show pictures of women who are not exactly in dire need of a meal, but it’s uncanny that they all still look fabulous in their white underwear. If I were a gambler, I’d bet that no “real woman” ever looks that good in her unflattering skivvies.

I feel strongly these publications rob young females of self-assurance and of the ability to feel beautiful in their own skin. These publications should communicate that a size two is not synonymous with beauty, sex does not equal love and that it’s okay if you don’t score well on the “Are You a Social Butterfly?” quiz.

My generation should not be the self- starving generation, but the self-confident generation. I know far too many successful young women who are their own worst critics—a critic whom they will never satisfy. I have beautiful friends who can’t enjoy the taste of a delicious dessert, and I know smart girls who have stupid obsessions with the scale. I urge other young women to embrace their blessings, stop trying to fight genetics and be proud of the life they lead. We, as young women, need to stop coveting a model’s body—stop feeling so physically inadequate. As Judy Garland said, “It’s always better to be a first rate version of yourself, than a second rate version of someone else.” Think about it.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

"Being Neighborly" by Jeff Holt

I don’t really consider myself a community activist, but I had an idea I thought I’d share with you because it seems particularly timely. Today is Cinco de Mayo, a day of celebration in Mexico and for many Mexican-Americans here in the US. As President Obama pointed out from the White House yesterday, historically, it marks the day, in 1862, that a rag-tag Mexican Army defeated Napoleon III’s Army at the Battle of Puebla. The victory was a turning point that led to the eventual defeat of the French and ensured economic independence for Mexico.

Today, we are all aware that Mexico is facing another historic battle: The enemy this time is the Swine flu! Our neighbors to the south have suffered both human and economic loss due to the recent outbreak. Businesses, restaurants, travel, tourism, economic activities of all forms, have been significantly curtailed since the outbreak began. Swine Flu is taking a tremendous economic toll in a country already faced with the world-wide economic challenges of the Great Recession.

We share our North American continent with only a few other countries and as such we are all Americans. It occurred to me that since our southern neighbors have fallen upon hard times, wouldn’t it be the neighborly thing to do for us to figure out some way to help our fellow Americans south of the boarder. Shouldn’t we send them our neighborly best in this, their time of extraordinary need?

But how can we do this? Travel to Mexico has been restricted because of the current threat, yet I couldn’t help but wonder if there still wasn’t some way to lend a hand? Something simple, yet meaningful, that we Americans can do. Then it occurred to me: Why not help celebrate Cinco de Mayo—Mexico’s big national holiday— by buying Mexican? So I’m proposing that we look beyond our own economic woes for a moment, suspend the current buy American campaign for just one day, and instead, for Cinco de Mayo, we all buy Mexican! Eat at a Mexican owned restaurant, buy some Mexican products at a Mexican Market, support a Mexican charity, and so forth. Just do something to lend a hand to our southern neighbors! Anything. Even by supporting businesses owned by Mexican-Americans it is highly likely that some of that money and goodwill will be exported to Mexico, as many Mexican-Americans send money to relatives back home. By doing this, in some small way can support our southern continental neighbors as they battle this new deadly enemy.

So what I’m proposing is that today we celebrate Cinco de Mayo by buying Mexican. Have a margarita, drink a Corona and let’s toast to our neighbors to the south.

If you don’t get a chance to buy Mexican today, do it tomorrow. I’m sure Mexico would be happy if we celebrated Cinco de Mayo on the Seis de Mayo too! So, Mis Amigos, Vaya con Dios!

My Name is Jeff Holt. I am an Associate Professor of Neuroscience at the University Of Virginia School Of Medicine.


About Me

I write for lots of different venues, so this blog provides links to those places. Plus, occasionally, stuff that appears no where else . . .