Heart of a Lion, Hands of a Woman: What Women Neurosurgeons Do
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Monday, March 28, 2011

The Apple Doesn't Fall...

As a woman neurosurgeon, I wear the simultaneous hats of surgeon, mother and wife (along with chef, businessperson, volunteer, leader...) so I am thrilled to announce that my daughter has started her own blog called College Kitchen.  Even if you are well beyond college, she has a great insight into cooking healthy, fast and inexpensive meals-just what every college kids needs but also what so many of us that juggle hectic lives need too.
It will be very interesting for me to watch her evolution as a blogger.  I have already shared with her the few "tricks" I have learned during my time in the blogosphere but more importantly, I have shared with her how my own blogging has transformed the way I think about each day and each encounter.  I wonder if it will have the same impact for her.  Perhaps her blog will catapult her to fame and fortune-like Julia (and Julia), maybe it will help others learn how easy it is to prepare fast but healthy food, perchance she may gain insight into a new part of herself or her future...all I know as  mother is that I am so proud of her, and specifically tickled that she now also has a blogspot address.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Blogger Reunion

Nearly a year ago, my mother and I traveled to Poland on a roots trip and after we returned, I decided to write about our adventures (Poland-Germany Travelogue).  This blog event has had some remarkable ripples I would like to share-the power of the Blogosphere.
Several months after our trip, my mother's first cousin read the blog before he made his own trip back to Poland and was able to use our experience to help his own.  In fact, he was able to dig deep enough to identify the exact house where my great-grandfather lived and worked (and where my grandfather was born!).  He then sent us my mother photographs of this house which my mother forwarded to me.  I know this all sounds complicated but the end result is that this cousin lives very near to me and we have made plans to meet each other to exchange Poland stories! So around the globe and blogosphere to meet my second cousin!
My blog was also read by a woman who created the site on JewishGen about Smigrod and Dukla.  She has asked that she be able to link my travelogue to this website-which I gladly agreed to.  But then a few days later, she wrote and asked about an inquiry she had about a family that sounded much like mine.  While this is another fairly convoluted tale, the result was that I have made contact with one of my first cousins, who I have not seen since my grandmother died more than a decade ago.  I have now seen photos of his two lovely children and we have chatted about a number of topics.
Perhaps a generation ago, families were closer and there was more regular contact between distant cousins, I can't say, but I do know that this wild and wacky electronic world has brought me in contact with family in a whole new way.  I am sure others have similar stories.

Friday, March 11, 2011

What are we Scared of?

Listen carefully-I have an important secret to reveal (we as physicians often hold our medical wizardly very close to the chest so this may be a rare opportunity).  One inescapable fact of life is that ultimately we all die.  It is the final outcome for us and for all our patients.  Of course, neither I nor other physicians need be fatalistic-there is much we can do to help our patients live long, happy and healthy lives BUT we do always have to keep this basic tenet in mind.  It is as basic a medical principle as those of circulation, respiration, and digestion which most second graders have mastered.
So why have we, as Americans in 2010-2011 decided there is some crazy taboo about discussing end of life issues with our patients?  During the recent Health Reform Debate, this topic became politicized as "death panels" (bipartisan debunked by PolitiFact).  Then just last week, the subject was again stirred up by inflammatory headlines such as The Hill's:

Medicare chief: Keep gov't out of end-of-life care planning

By Jason Millman 02/09/11 12:55 PM ET

I can honestly say that in my many years as a neurosurgeon, I have done more good for my patients through such end of life discussions that I have done with my scalpel. That doesn't mean I have spent my career rationing or withholding care, it doesn't mean I have easily given up on difficult cases, and it certainly doesn't mean I have been lazy (done well, these types of discussions are more time consuming and difficult that alternatives). But it does mean I am honest and realistic, I am willing to broach challenging subjects with my patients and their loved ones, and I have learned to carefully use words such as futile. In doing so, I know that I have helped these people begin the challenging process of grieving in a way that will help them emerge on the other side whole. In doing so, I have gained invaluable inner riches that provide me sustenance.

It is rare that someone feels it is a "right time to die" and no wants to be cheated (for themselves or their loved ones) of a treatment that could allow them to live for a day/week/year/decade. However, I also believe that no one wants to be kept ignorant of critical health decisions or to suffer needlessly because hopeless treatments are administered. On one level, the politicians got it right-we need to take politics out of death-but that doesn't mean we can ignore reality.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Birthday Mom

Once a year, I have a week in which I celebrate the birth of both of my children.  They had the same due date, just one year apart and ultimately just a year and four days separate my oldest and youngest.  So when the last week of February nears, I am taken back to those challenging days-the end of pregnancy when the anticipation and anxiety of childbirth (especially the first time) are nearly overwhelming.  I worked full-time up until the very end with both and I think that actually helped distract me but it also meant I was utterly exhausted.
Fast forward 21 years and I am relaxing on Amtrak traveling from New York to Washington, DC-a far cry from the 13 plus hours of labor.  Wand then on Saturday a lovely jaunt to the Phillips Collection in Dupont Circle on and then a special dinner at Citronelle.  I think every parent-daughter relationship has its good and bad moments-right now we are all in a nice place and the time shared was a joyous celebration for all.
Somewhat in contrast, my son turned 20 on the day we left DC.  He is currently on a volunteer project in Tanzania, after 3 months of work in Ghana, and we were not able to reach him in any way around the time of his birthday. Mail takes 3-4 weeks to arrive (and succeeds only about 75% of the time), his nearest internet cafe seems on-line about half the time when he gets there (infrequently), and he lost his phone...Finally a week letter, we did make contact and were able to extend him a "virtual" hug.
For me, it is always a week of introspection, thinking about the early years of my marriage, the decision to have kids, the financial struggles intrinsic to most young families, and the many, many challenges of raising children simultaneous with building a career in neurosurgery.  Despite the challenges, I have found both to be extremely rewarding.  I look forward to many years of reaping the rewards of both of these essential parts of my life.
Happy Birthday Dina and Daniel!