Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

The stomach flu has been going around at work, and today I have it. As a result, tonight I'm missing the first Christmas eve service at church since I joined my church several years ago. The service is always beautiful and inspiring and thought provoking and when at the end we sing "Silent Night", the last verse a capella, it sends a chill up my spine. Instead, here I sit at home remembering services of past years and bracing for that run to the bathroom that is sure to come.

On a more positive note, my unit at work adopted one of our own as our Christmas family. My friend Rose and her fiance's house was flooded up to the rafters last summer during the Flood of 2008. Last Friday 12/19/08, one of my coworkers needed a three tiered cart to haul all the gifts out to her car to deliver to Rose at her home, which was just recently cleared for occupancy by a city inspector.

So Rose and her fiance are truly home for the holidays.The gifts were a blessing not only for them, but also for those who gave. Wishing you a most blessed and merry Christmas. For now, good night.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Want to be a surgical nurse?

Last week my hospital got a Da Vinci robot. This machine allows surgeons to operate through three small incisions in the abdomen. Through one goes a remote camera, and through the other two go robotic arms that the surgeon manipulates via video game like controls and can rotate 360 degrees. As part of our orientation to this new surgery, the staff on my surgical floor watched a video of a surgery being done with the Da Vinci robot.

Imagine looking inside the human body while a diseased or dysfunctional part was being cut away and removed, and you get an idea what the video was like. I'm not trying to gross anybody out, but I am trying to make a point.

There was one nurse there who had no surgical experience. She turned a shade of green; but the rest of us were munching on chips and dip, our eyes fixed on the video. Although as a nurse tech I have limited knoledge of the anatomy, I got there early to snag the best seat and watched, fascinated. Surgical nursing is not for the squeamish. You will see blood and open wounds that require treatment.

On the other hand, one patient we had who had the Da Vinci surgery actually went home the same day. Keep in mind that her surgery usually requires at least a three day stay. She was up and walking, urinating, and passing gas all of which are requirements. She went home feeling fine and never came back with any complications.

This is amazing to me. I've been a tech on a surgical floor for twenty years and have never seen anything like this, apart from laparoscopic gall bladder surgery. So if you don't mind some blood and gore and want to work in one of the most dynamic fields of nursing, my coworkers and I welcome you with open arms. I truly believe that the changes are just beginning.

For now, good night.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Understanding surgical patients

Apart from a hernia repair I had done as a kid I've never really been under the knife until recently. I don't remember much about that surgery except lying in the hospital bed and wanting nothing so much as to go home. When I did go home I pestered my mother with questions. Can I do this? Can I do that? It was summer, and I was a very active little boy: running, riding bikes, playing football and basketball, jumping off what looked to me like a cliff into a pile of dirt. Okay, I didn't really ask her about that last one and didn't do it; but it remained an opportunity long after I recovered. I still remember yelling "Geronimo!" as I made the jump. Makes me smile to this day.

My recent surgery was minor, an office procedure to remove two small cysts that were embedded in the tissue beneath the skin in my cheek. First she numbed my face with a local anesthetic, then made an incision and excised the cysts. She then did two deep sutures which will be absorbed by my body and then sutured the incision itself. The wound sutures will be removed next week. All went well, but it got me thinking. I knew it was necessary to solve a problem that had been vexing me for some time.

On the other hand it felt like a violation of my body. Just imagine how patients who have had much more serious surgery feel, people I care for every day. This experience has given me a clearer understanding of what those folks must be going through.

For now, good night.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


I was remiss in my last post for not mentioning my friend Don's web site at There you'll find a wealth of information about costless programs as well as a link to his ezine, which I've subscribed to and enjoyed for several years. Take a look at the link I'll be adding, click around, and subscribe to his ezine. You won't be disappointed. For now, good night.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A sad day and a couple brighter ones

It was a sad day when my buddy Doug received a letter in the mail from the president of our Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge chapter saying that he was disbanding the group. He and his wife are moving to an assisted living facility in a far distant community to be near one of their daughters. I fully understand his need for help in caring for his wife, who is wheel chair bound. He can walk only with the aid of two canes. What bewilders me and some of my friends in the group is that he canceled the September meeting, which was to take place long before he and his wife moved. Why not hold one last meeting, announce his decision, and give someone else the chance to assume leadership of the group or at least take a vote on disbanding? I have enjoyed these meetings immensely, as my friends and family can attest. I'm disappointed that our VBOB chapter is to be no more, and I'm just a bit bitter that our president handled it the way he did. Can you tell?

On a brighter note, my web sibling Don down in Texas came across a Battle of the Bulge board game and, thinking of me, put it in the mail. If you're old enough, think of the board game "Risk", except on a smaller scale. Thanks Don.

Another happy day occurred when I discovered a Canadian nursing student's blog at http://running aka Running Wildly I read a lot of nursing blogs, and this is the best one I've read so far. She is passionate about her life and about nursing, and it shows. I look forward to reading about her journey in the months and years to come. Look for the link on the right. For now, good night.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

One hell of a weather season

After the devastating flood of the Cedar River here last June, from which we are only now beginning to recover and rebuild, I am horrified to to see that Hurricane Gustav seems to be heading straight for the Gulf coast. Please God, not again. I hope and pray that Gustav will veer off course or by some miracle weaken or pass over this devastated region quickly and thus deliver only a glancing blow. Sometimes all our prayers can't alter the course of nature. In that case it is our duty to do all we can for the victims of unavoidable disaster, as I hope you have done for my city of Cedar Rapids. And as I will do if the unthinkable happens again to the Gulf Coast.

For now, good night.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The face of a professional clown

Have you ever met someone who seems to have been born to be a professional clown? I did, just recently in fact. This woman has a face perfectly suited to that profession. Her eyelids turn down at the outer corners. As a result, she looks as if she's ready to burst into tears, which coupled with a gentle but perpetual frown, only serves to strengthen the impression. Even when she smiles or laughs, which she seldom does, she looks as if she's about to cry. I can easily imagine her wearing that clown makeup: the exaggerated smile, the painted tear drops rolling down her cheeks. The old cliche says that clowns are laughing on the outside and crying on the inside. She seems to fit that old saw perfectly.

In no way is this meant as a criticism of this person who has been very nice to me. Rather it's to point out that I'm endlessly fascinated by people, and she is an interesting person I've met recently. I'm looking forward to getting to know her better and learning why she seems so sad. Or maybe she's not, and I'm totally misreading things. We'll see.

For now, good night.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

My beloved library

At the risk of this becoming a blog about nothing but the 2008 Cedar Rapids flood, I really need to alert you to the link I've added to the Cedar Rapids Public Library. When I clicked the link I was filled with hope but also sadness. Hope because the library obviously plans to come back better than ever and provides a secure link to donate to their foundation, as well as a promise to provide a link in the future to donate books online.

Sadness because I clicked on the photos link and was taken on a tour of what this flood did to my library. It was gut wrenching to click on the first photo and see my library underwater and then to click through the rest of the photo tour. I saw empty spaces that were once filled with books, magazines and newspapers, CDs and DVDs, computers, and comfortable chairs. I've said it before, but it bears repeating. It breaks my heart. Nevertheless, I encourage you to take the photo tour. You'll see what my library has become: a shell of its former self. Maybe it will even move you to donate to the library foundation or to donate books when that comes online.

Now the question becomes, where should the new and improved library be located? The current site is just across the street from the Cedar River. There is no guarantee that this disaster won't recur next year or the year after. On the other hand, I've lived in this area for over 30 years; and nothing even close to this has ever happened. I love the downtown library location and its proximity to some low income neighborhoods. This is sure to be one contentious issue among a multitude facing my city in the future.

I'll keep you posted, but for now good night.

Friday, July 18, 2008

TV coverage of the Cedar Rapids flood of 2008

The flood of 2008 devastated my city, my friends' homes, my hospital, my downtown, my public library, even my favorite place to go out for breakfast on Sunday mornings after church. During the flood and into the aftermath one of our local television stations, KCRG, was on the air nearly 24 hours a day without commercial interruption providing news. Things have returned to at least subnormal as opposed to disastrous, but they continue to report on the continuing issues of recovery and rebuilding.

That's why I've added the link to to my blog. The site is a bit busy, but read carefully and you'll find links to photos, videos and stories of what this flood wrought. If you weren't here or just have an urge, as I do, to not relive this catastrophe (God forbid) but to review it, the site is a wonderful resource.

That's enough for the moment so for now good night.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

29,000 books

My public library has lost its entire adult collection of 29,000 books to the great Cedar Rapids flood of 2008, and there is a question of whether the children's collection is salvageable. Take a moment to think about that. 29,000 books destroyed, the library contaminated; and nothing I can do to help at least for now.

It breaks my heart. Like all professionals, I'm sure the librarians and other staff felt a sense of ownership about their space. I can't imagine what they're going through. Looking at my own modest library I try to imagine what it would be like if a flood destroyed them all. There are books I've had since young adulthood, books my mom left me after she died, books I've bought and cherished since. I've read them all and many of them multiple times. To lose them all to a flood? Unthinkable. As a friend said to me tonight about his personal library, he'd be sobbing. So would I. My books are like old friends looking back at me from the shelves. They are a comfort in difficult times and therefore irreplaceable.

For now, good night.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Flood of 2008 Part III

So ... I went home and fell into bed about 6:00 AM, dead to the world, after setting the alarm for 11:00 in case they needed me that evening. In fact, I slept so deeply that it wasn't until after the alarm went off that I discovered a message on voice mail telling me that no one would be working on Friday or through the weekend. I never heard the phone ring.

The following days became a concern financially. I work the evening shift, and we weren't needed in the clean up effort at Mercy. I am not a morning person. My usual bedtime is well after midnight, and I haul my butt out of bed around 10:00 AM. I am also slow to wake up and so enjoy drinking coffee and reading the newspaper and checking my email before leaving for work shortly after 2:00 PM, by which time I'm finally fully awake.

The problem was that I wasn't heading to work. I was sitting at home feeling useless. Because of my uncertain work schedule - I never knew when they'd need me to come back on evenings - I didn't feel able to volunteer and make a commitment I might not be able to meet. So the next time I talked to my nurse manager I volunteered to work a day shift to get our unit ready to accept patients again. Then for the next two days Mercy offered a series of educational sessions across the street at a middle school which kindly allowed us to use their facilities. I was able to renew my CPR certification and attended a myriad of inservices that were for the most part very useful. Of course, both sessions were on the day shift. Grr. My unit reopened on Monday 6/30/08. We had one patient who had put off his elective surgery until our unit reopened. An old friend, he told me he wouldn't have it done anywhere but Mercy. We now have 15 or 16 patients, still far below our usual patient census; but it's a start.

More generally, the flood waters have receded which leads me to a rant. I find it somewhat aggravating that because the Cedar River is now below flood stage we've fallen off the national news media radar. If you haven't been following this story on or on one of the local tv stations web sites you might think everything is hunky dory here in Cedar Rapids. It most definitely is not. Downtown is filthy, as are the surrounding neighborhoods. Trash is everywhere, waiting to be hauled away. As has been said many times at my church, this is not a sprint. It's a marathon. My efforts and those of hundreds of others at Mercy and elsewhere throughout the city were only the starting gun.

We are now in clean up and recovery mode. My beloved public library and the rest of downtown probably won't be able to achieve the "new normal" for at least a year. Homeowners and residents in the 100 and even the 500 year flood plains
are anxiously waiting for word on when or if they will be allowed to rebuild their homes. They are living in limbo. The word here is that all the homes in the 100 year flood plain will be demolished which would mean a FEMA buyout, but that could take up to 2 years. Meanwhile those in the 500 year flood plain deal with even more uncertainty. My friend whose home was flooded up to the rafters lives on the edge of of the 500 year flood plain. She was allowed by the city to go in and clean. Her house is now gutted to the studs and the sub flooring. There it sits while she waits for the gears of government to grind oh slowly.

Next comes the rebuilding mode. Truthfully, I hope and pray that our city council, mayor, and city manager are looking that far ahead in this marathon; but for most of us it's a matter of what we can do right now. I have contributed to legitimate charities and encourage you to do the same. I have provided food to a local program feeding the hungry and volunteer there as well. I made a promise to my friend whose home was flooded to help with painting once she is finally allowed to rebuild. Yet it still doesn't seem like enough.

I'll write new posts as things progress, but for now good night.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Flood of 2008 continued

The flood of 2008 is so truly monumental for my adopted home town of Cedar Rapids that this city will be forever remembered by those who lived through it as a before and after image. It is so overwhelming that for now all I can do is provide a brief overview interwoven with my own small part in it. Also know that the past three weeks have become a blur, so some things to follow may not be exact.

On 6/12/08 I went to work at my hospital at 1:00 PM. It was raining, hard. The news was that the Cedar River was expected to crest at 25 feet, above flood stage but within the limits the levees were able to handle. But it kept raining and raining some more. Then came news that the gauge measuring the river level had been disabled by the increasingly swift current. By around 4:30 the ambulance garage next to the emergency room was flooded. Looking out the windows of my unit where we were doing patient care as usual I could see about 50 people vainly trying to hold the flood waters at bay with sand bags. At that point things ground to a halt.

We still cared for our patients, but there was a sense that things were not going well. About 5:30 an administrator came to our floor and told us to get everything together we needed to care for our patients during an evacuation whether it be medications, IV fluids, bandages, or things too numerous to name. That took about an hour. Then came a long wait. During that time I was asked to run a list of all our patients down to the evacuation command center. After doing that I took a moment to peek out our main entrance where the windows are two stories tall. I was greeted by this sight. Hundreds of people, young and old, were standing in waist deep water outside piling sand bags against the windows while many more were stacking sand bags inside to protect against the onrushing flood. I felt the urge to go help them, but I had things that needed to be done on my unit so I returned. By that time the elevators had flooded, so I climbed the 80 stairs back home.

Then came an even longer wait. While still doing patient care and taking care of things at the nurses' station, it wasn't until about midnight that we were told to get ready to evacuate our patients: prioritizing which ones should be evacuated first, placing wheel chairs outside the rooms of patients who would need them, and most importantly, calmly telling the patients that we might have to evacuate.

Finally at around 3:30 AM came the call that there was a fear that a levee would break and that the flood would overwhelm the emergency generator. We were told to evacuate all our patients immediately. By that time, they had managed to get one elevator out of nine working so immediately became an agonizingly slow process. We lined the patients up in the hallway, the majority in wheel chairs but the most critical still in bed. It took an hour to get them all on the elevators and down to the first floor and another hour to get them half way to the exit, where buses, Humvee ambulances, and regular ambulances from as far away as Illinois were waiting. By that time I had been there well over 16 hours, a double shift. I would have tripled if they let me, but legally they couldn't of course. I protested that I was tired but okay, but after 16 hours I was running on adrenaline as anyone would be. I had to go home.

It's a matter of personal pride that as I left, I heard a chorus of thank you's which started with my nurse manager and continued down the line of my coworkers. But truly, I want to and have thanked not only the people on my unit but my colleagues throughout the hospital. Just as one example, a friend's house was flooded up to the rafters. She evacuated but came to work anyway. When I asked her why she said she had to come. She would rather be helping people than sitting at her in-law's obsessing about her house. Just as importantly, it would have been easy to panic in this crisis, but nobody did. Everyone stayed calm and in the process helped our patients stay calm as well. I am so proud of the way my hospital and everyone who was there that night responded to this disaster. I've always been somewhat cynical about advertising, but in this case it truly was the "Mercy touch."

Writing this is both therapeutic and exhausting. There's much more to tell, but at this point exhaustion has taken over. For now, good night.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Flood of 2008

After 10 days of keeping family and friends updated on the flood and the sure to be long cleanup and recovery process, I am spent. I have worked only one day since that fateful night of 6/12 through the day of 6/13/08. Although fiances are a worry, I know several people who lost everything. Homes, pets, cars, jobs: all are gone. I am one of the fortunate ones. My home is high and dry. For the time being, that is more than enough. If you can afford it, I encourage you to donate to the Red Cross, The Salvation Army, or any charity your church, synagogue, or mosque might recommend. All have been doing a superb job of helping in my city, and all will need more resources as this disaster flows downstream along the Mississippi River.

I promise a more complete entry once I'm finally able to process all this. For now, good night.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


I had vowed never to write anything about politics here, but as the long Democratic nominating process is drawing to a close I have to write this. I am a lifelong Democrat and have never voted for a Republican for President, not out of blind loyalty but because I believe the Democratic party has charted the best way forward for our country. Thus I will be voting for Obama or Clinton, whoever is the nominee, in November.

On the other hand, should McCain be elected, I think I will at least be freed from the eternal campaigning which shoved crap in my mouth and tried to convince me I should not only swallow it but like it or be declared an enemy of my country. To hell with that. McCain will at least be honest with us.

Still, I urge you to vote Democratic in November.

For now, good night.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Honor Flight

As you may have noticed, I've added a link to over on the right. It comes courtesy of my friend Wayne in the VBOB group. Wayne recently returned from an all expenses paid trip to see the WWII Memorial in Washington D.C. It was paid for by Honor Flight; and Wayne, in his email to me, was prolific in his praise of them as well as the memorial. I am eagerly looking forward to our next meeting so that I can hear all about it as well as engage in the give and take that is so essential among friends.

Folks, we owe these vets a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid; and by some estimates they are dying at a rate of 900 per day. Honor Flight is aptly named. They are doing what they can to honor them for their service. I urge you to click on the link if you have a relative however far removed who would like to see the memorial. The WWII Memorial also has a website at It's very much worth checking out. You won't be disappointed.

For now, good night.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Teaching history

I have fond memories of the advanced placement history course I took in high school, not least because I earned 4 college credit hours by taking the AP history test. Beyond that, the class taught me to think critically and thus to write well. This blog at details the struggles, triumphs, and research of a high school history teacher. I read it regularly and urge you to do the same.
For now, good night.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Went to the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge meeting here in Iowa last week. It was really kind of sad. There were about a half dozen vets there. The rest of the group consisted of wives and what one vet described as second generation members which numbered all of three, one of whom lives in Wisconsin. At the end of the meeting that same vet told my buddy Doug and I that everyone in the group, including us, needed to attract more second and third generation members so that the group doesn't die as the members become unable to attend for whatever reason. So this is a general shout out. Do you know anyone here in Iowa who fought in the Battle of the Bulge or whose parent or grandparent did? If so, I hope you'll respond here; and I'll get back to you.

My friend Wayne was unable to attend, but I forgive him . Thanks to he was on an all expenses paid flight to Washington D.C. to see the WWII memorial. I've added Honor Flight to my blog roll. Very much worth a look.

Again, do you know anyone in Iowa who might be interested in joining a VBOB group? If so, please post here. I promise to follow up.

For now, good night.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Blog roll

As you may have noticed, that is if anyone is actually reading this, I've added a couple of blogs over on the right side of my blog. The first, "somewhere on the masthead" comes to us from Magazine Man. I've been reading his blog for a couple of years now. He is consistently funny and often thought provoking. I would be a happy man if I could write half as well as he does.

The second comes from "disappearing john" who works as a Registered Nurse in an emergency room. If you want to learn about what it's like to work in health care, John's blog is a good start. He also provide links to many other good nursing blogs. Check it out.

Finally ... oh geez I really need to work on not making my writing sound like a term paper ... I thought I'd clue you in to how my fascination with history began.

My parents always encouraged me to read, but until 6th grade it was mostly fiction. Then Mrs. Halleck, my 6th grade social studies teacher, gave us an assignment to debate who was the better general: Grant or Lee?That sent me straight to the library, and there I discovered the joy of reading and researching history. My opponent's thesis was that Grant was a drunk. My response was that there is some question about that, but the bottom line was, who won the war?
A bit simplistic? Sure, but that's the way an 11 year old mind works. That spark, lit by Mrs. Halleck grew to an unquenchable fire; and the only way to keep the fire in check was to read all the history I could get my hands on. That quest continues to this day. So God bless you Mrs. Halleck. I am forever in your debt.

Enough for now. Good Night.

Addendum: In a shameless bit of self promotion I've added a link to my personal web page dedicated to the veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. I started it about four years ago when a good friend took me to a Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge (VBOB) meeting. His dad fought in that WWII battle, the largest ever fought by U.S. land forces, and regaled his son with more stories of that horrible but necessary war than a still maturing boy should probably hear.

On the other hand, my dad fought in the Pacific navy aboard the USS San Francisco but refused to say anything else about it. My friend knew that I was eager to meet some vets, not out of any morbid desire to hear about death, maiming, and other carnage; but rather out of the need to hear their experiences and how they affected them, something my dad never talked about.

That first meeting was a revelation. My dad died before he was 50. I only wish he had lived long enough to tell his stories in the same calm tone as the vets I met that day. I'm proud to count a few of them as friends, and I encourage you to visit the site. For now, good night.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Understaffed and overworked

There's an old joke about a nurse who is retiring. "What?", she's asked. "Are yo tired of doing the job of two people?"

It doesn't seem so funny to me now. My unit is now so understaffed that we have only 45% of the nurses, techs, and unit secretaries required to properly care for our average daily census of 21 patients. We have been averaging 25-30 patients. As a result, the entire staff has been working both voluntary and mandatory overtime. There's been a lot of discussion on the web about nursing unions, notably at, but I feel sure that if my hospital were unionized this problem would not be occurring. Not all nursing staff are so fortunate as to have an administration who truly care about them as John seems to. The rest of us are left at the mercy of hospitals who care more about the almighty dollar, whether they be for profit or not for profit, than they do about patient safety or staff recruitment and retention. That's enough. For now, good night.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cabin fever

This is an oh so tired subject, but this has been the snowiest and coldest winter here in over a decade. I have cabin fever!

I want the spring rains to come and to splash in the puddles like I did when I was a kid. I want to feel the warm sun on my face as the grass turns green, the trees leaf out, and the flowers bloom. I want to bask in the sunshine, go swimming outside, and fish on the river bank. I want to get outside!

I enjoy the change of seasons, but enough is enough.

For now, good night.

About Me

I work in health care, love books, love music, enjoy the internet, my friends, and my routine. 8-)