Author Archives: Carey Goldberg

Aid-In-Dying Loophole: Advocates Want You To Know You Can Stop Eating And Drinking

Lee J. Haywood/flickr

Lee J. Haywood/flickr

By Nell Lake
Guest contributor

One sunny day in the spring of 2012, Kathleen Klein sat in a car by the California coastline with her 84-year-old mother, Jackie Wilton. The two women had been quietly gazing at the view, watching seagulls along the shore. “I’m ready to go,” Klein recalls her mother saying. “Not go home…Go.”

Klein didn’t need the clarification. Her mother had been speaking of wanting to die for years, ever since Wilton was diagnosed with an unspecified dementia a few years before. Wilton’s memory had become significantly impaired. But even before her diagnosis, Wilton was clear: She wanted to die before she became severely incapacitated.

Not long after the conversation by the water, Wilton asked Klein explicitly for help in ending her life. In interviews and a recent blog post, Klein remembers wanting to help her mother, but of being unwilling act illegally.

Even if Wilton had lived in one of the five states with an aid-in-dying law, she would not have qualified for such aid from a physician. That would have required a doctor’s determining that she would likely die within six months. Given the usual course of chronic, progressive dementia, Wilton would likely have lived much longer.

So Wilton needed another option for ending her life. Soon Klein heard a radio interview about “the possibility of helping someone die by letting them stop eating and drinking,” she wrote. “The way I understood it, it was the only legal form of assisted suicide.”

Klein mentioned the scenario to her mother. Wilton said she would think about it. A few days later, Wilton again mentioned wanting to die. “I asked her if she remembered the idea I had run by her. She didn’t, so I told her again. I suggested we give it a try (a ‘dry run,’ we called it) for a day and see if she wanted to continue.”

Wilton began the “dry run” on April 28, 2012.

No Food, No Drink

Most often referred to as VSED — voluntary stopping of eating and drinking — the practice of giving up food and drink in order to hasten one’s death is being increasingly publicized by aid-in-dying advocates as a legal alternative to physician-assisted suicide.

VSED is legal everywhere, even in states without aid-in-dying laws, and in cases in which a person, like Wilton, would not qualify for assistance with dying even in those states.  Compassion and Choices, a leading “death with dignity” organization, is beginning to more actively promote VSED as an option because “it’s something that patients can openly pursue, in open dialogue with their physicians, with the support of hospice,” says Barbara Coombs Lee, the group’s director. “We do want to make it more public. We want to make it more visible because it upholds the truth that ultimately patients should be and are in charge. That’s kind of a consciousness-raising task. Continue reading

Mom’s Memo To Schools: Please, Make These Random Half-Days Stop

May I share with you the delights of my children’s April school schedule? They get out at 12:40 because of parent-teacher conferences on these days sprinkled through the month: Tues., April 1; Weds., April 9; Tues., April 29. Oh, yes, and just when you thought it was safe, one more on May 7. (Plus they’re off April 18-25 for spring vacation.)

That’s in addition to our new regular Friday early dismissals at 1:40. When we got word of that, one mother I know said to the superintendent, “You must really hate parents.”

I don’t think the administration hates us, but I do think that perhaps we haven’t spoken up loudly enough about the logistical stress these half-days create. And they’re common around the state, from year-round early-release Tuesdays in Newton to April half-Wednesdays in Westwood.

They’re an old tradition. Many of us remember the joys of occasional half days from our own school years. You know, back when our mothers were mostly housewives. Now, virtually all mothers work, and I venture to say that virtually all working parents wish that all our public schools provided universal, affordable after-school care.

(Photo: Rachel Zimmerman)

(Photo: Rachel Zimmerman)

Or at the very least, reliable after-school care on random half-days. At our school, a team of mothers has created a “half-day matinee,” gathering all the children who need looking after for a movie that runs until the normal 2:30 dismissal time. But their altruistic efforts are in danger of being overwhelmed by demand: More than 200 children have been coming to the movies this month, straining even their heroic volunteer powers.

“First-world problems,” you may say, and I’d agree but go a step further: This is specifically a first-world middle-class problem. Continue reading

Project Louise: When The Best Thing To Do Is … Nothing

Stress can get in the way of doing the right thing. But stopping to breathe can help. (skyseeker via flickr)

Stress can get in the way of doing the right thing. But stopping to breathe can help. (skyseeker via flickr)

By Louise Kennedy
Guest contributor

Some days, all you can do is keep breathing. At least that’s what it feels like this week.

Both my work and home lives chose this particular moment to ratchet up the pressure by about 100 percent; I had some completely unbreakable deadlines, with a ton of work to be done in order to meet them. The professional ones I’ve (mostly) met, and the home-front ones I’m still working on, but so far things are more or less under control.

Meanwhile, the Project Louise commitments – you know, exercising three days a week; eating well at least five days a week; learning to love, trust and respect myself all the time – well, something had to give. And, as seems to be my lifelong pattern, when I have to choose between my obligations to others and my obligations to myself, it’s Louise who has to give.

I confess there’s a big part of me that considers this the right way to live. Selfishness is one of the sins I find hardest to forgive in others, so it’s also one I strive hardest to avoid myself. But I do know – and coach Allison Rimm keeps reminding me – that there’s a difference between selfishness and self-care. Continue reading

What Teens Say Teens Should Know About Sexually Transmitted Diseases

(Planned Parenthood)

(Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts)

By Joey Boots-Ebenfield
Guest contributor

I’ve gotten used to hearing myths and misinformation when I talk about sex with fellow teens.

And I talk about sex often in my role as an 17-year-old peer educator with the Planned Parenthood Get Real Teen Council (GRTC) — a year-long high school sexual health program for 10th-12th graders who are trained to facilitate sex education workshops and serve as resources for peers, families and communities.

If teens are uncomfortable talking about topics related to sex and sexuality, or don’t have a trusted source of information about their health, it’s easy for all kinds of misinformation to spread. And of course, there’s the Internet, where bad information is often rampant, so it’s not always a reliable place to find accurate health information.

The subject of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) is no exception. I’ve heard some pretty interesting misconceptions about what STDs are and what it’s like to get tested. One myth is that STDs have obvious symptoms, like localized pain or some other physical sign.

In fact, this is quite the opposite! STDs often show NO symptoms. This myth is especially dangerous because it means that someone can have an STD and not even know it. As a result, many STDs go untreated, which can cause cause some pretty nasty complications. Continue reading

Study: Young Adults’ Casual Marijuana Use Causes Brain Changes

(prensa420/Flickr)

(prensa420/Flickr)

A new study by Boston researchers is believed to be the first that shows that young adults who even occasionally smoke marijuana could be damaging their brains.

The study, just published in The Journal of Neuroscience, found abnormalities in areas of the brain related to emotion, motivation and decision-making.

The researchers say the degree of brain changes appeared to be directly related to how frequently the study’s participants smoked pot.

The authors write in their paper:

The results of this study indicate that in young, recreational marijuana users, structural abnormalities in gray matter density, volume, and shape of the nucleus accumbens and amygdala can be observed. Pending confirmation in other cohorts of marijuana users, the present findings suggest that further study of marijuana effects are needed to help inform discussion about the legalization of marijuana.

The study comes with a plurality of Massachusetts residents supporting the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, and as the state is in the process of opening medical marijuana dispensaries.

Here & Now has more on the study this afternoon.

And hat-tip to The Boston Globe, which has more on the findings.

My Mother’s Surgery And One Doctor’s Substance Abuse

By Karen Shiffman
Guest contributor

USA Today reports more than 100,000 doctors, nurses, technicians and other health professionals struggle with abuse or addiction. This wasn’t news to my family.

Some 20 years ago, my mother was mauled by a dog. She was on vacation in Florida and went over to a friend’s house for dinner. To understand what happened next, you need to know a few crucial facts about her: She is afraid of dogs and barely five feet tall. When her friend opened the front door, her daughter’s dog — an Akita- tore out of the house and lunged . My mother turned away quickly. The dog lunged again. Because of her short stature, his teeth sunk into her calf. He all but ripped it off.

(Alex E. Proimos/flickr)

(Alex E. Proimos/flickr)

Blood everywhere. Screams. Tears. Ambulance. Thirty-nine stitches at the ER. She would need a skin graft.

And then there was the drama with the friend. Turns out, this wasn’t the first time the dog had bitten someone. Still, the family didn’t want the dog put down. Eventually, he was. My mother and her friend of 30 years never spoke again.

Back home in Boston, my mother was referred to a plastic surgeon at what is now Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He was kind and I agreed with my mother that he should do the surgery.

The operation went well. I went with her to the post-surgery checkup. We both thanked the surgeon for doing such a great job and for taking such good care of my mother.

So, imagine my shock, in 2008, to read in The Boston Globe that my mother’s surgeon was fired for being impaired in the OR. And that he had been struggling with substance abuse for the past six years. Continue reading

Boston Hospitals Reflect With Pride On Marathon Bombing Response

A Boston Strong banner hangs at the Boston Harbor Hotel on Tuesday. (Bill Sikes/AP)

A Boston Strong banner hangs at the Boston Harbor Hotel on Tuesday. (Bill Sikes/AP)

Early in the afternoon last April 15, Dave Reisman was laughing as he left a meeting to update hospitals around the city about conditions at the Boston Marathon. It looked like a light year for patients. The weather was sunny, but not too hot.

Reisman, an emergency preparedness director at Mass General, told a group gathered Tuesday to review lessons learned the day of the bombings that he will never forget walking out of that meeting, hearing his pager go off, and reading the message.

“Reports of explosive devices in Copley Square: one detonated, another suspected,” Reisman recalled the message saying. MGH treated 97 patients that afternoon, in an emergency room equipped to handle 44.

“The environment in the [emergency department] was intense,” said Maryfran Hughes, nursing director for emergency services. “Many people were arriving and people didn’t know what was going on. The professionalism and compassion of the nurses really transcended their own fears. They didn’t know what was happening out there.”

None of the Boston hospitals, including MGH, lost a patient that day or in the days and weeks that followed, even though the pressure did not let up. Trauma surgeon David King says for hospital staff, it was a marathon week.

Continue reading

Marathon Reflection: How To Raise Secure Children In An Insecure World?

Police clear the area at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon as medical workers help injured following the explosions. (Charles Krupa/AP)

Police clear the area at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon as medical workers help the injured following the explosions. (Charles Krupa/AP)

One year ago, on the day of the Boston Marathon bombing, Dr. Gene Beresin shared advice on how to talk to children about the frightening event. Here, a year later, he and Dr. Paula Rauch, a fellow professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, help parents draw broader lessons about how best to help children face such stresses and even grow through them.

By Drs. Paula K. Rauch and Gene Beresin
Guest contributors

For the most affected families, April 15th, 2013 was a life-changing event. For many in our community it produced a lesser, but still significant, set of challenges, and for some facing other family adversity or chronic stresses, it may have seemed like a minor event with little personal impact.

Regardless of how personal or significant the marathon bombing and its aftermath were for you, every one of us will face life challenges within our families and in the larger community. How can we face stressful experiences in ways that support our children’s resilience, and help them grow through those challenges? How do we raise secure, confident children in an uncertain world?

Start small

Children develop confidence and competence by facing new experiences, difficult transitions and unavoidable frustrations throughout childhood. Life continually presents a child with developmental challenges, such as falling asleep alone in a crib, saying goodbye at a new preschool, facing the first day of school with a sea of unfamiliar faces, dealing with a relentlessly annoying peer, being cut from the travel team, and, for some teens, making this month’s tough decisions about college.

It is often tempting as a parent to want to smooth over these challenges, alleviate uncertainty and facilitate a child’s comfort and success. But it is important to recognize that these age-appropriate frustrations and disappointments are essential for building lifelong coping skills. Children need to learn how to manage new and difficult situations, and while parents cannot solve the challenges for a child, they can provide appreciation and emotional support for that child’s efforts. Living through a multitude of such experiences makes the normal feelings of distress more familiar and less frightening.

Face serious challenges together Continue reading

Bittersweet Marathon Anniversary: Lost A Leg, Gained Cherished Friends

Heather Abbott, left, and Roseann Sdoia are both amputees who developed a friendship after last year's bombing. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Heather Abbott, left, and Roseann Sdoia are both amputees who developed a lasting bond after last year’s bombing. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

On the evening before the one-year anniversary of the day that changed their lives, Roseann Sdoia and Heather Abbott met up for dinner. The two women had been acquainted before shrapnel shredded the lower part of Abbott’s left leg and most of Sdoia’s right leg.

Now they’re fast friends who push and inspire each other and offer support and counseling. The close bonds among many of the bombing survivors, first responders and their families are a reminder that Tuesday’s anniversary is mixed.

‘It’s Still Kind Of Surreal’

Abbott was waiting to get into the Forum on Boylston Street last April when the second bomb went off. Sdoia had just stepped out of the restaurant to look for a friend nearing the finish line.

Abbott and Sdoia had come to the Forum with separate groups of mutual friends. The two women didn’t realize they were both amputees until they saw each other at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. They still have a hard time accepting what happened.

“I’m getting a little bit closer, but it’s still kind of surreal to me,” Sdoia said Monday evening.

“Sometimes I’ll wake up in the morning, to get out of bed, and I’ll look down and realize I have to put my leg on,” Abbott said. “And I think, this is never going away.”

Abbott looked down at her left calf and foot. She was wearing a wedge sandal on her dress-up leg. Dress legs come in different heel sizes. There is an adjustable heel, but Abbott said it is not very stable.

“When I inventoried my closet,” Abbott recalled, “four inches was the most popular one, so that’s what I went with.”

Sdoia wore black sandals. The toenails on both feet were a deep purple. Sdoia’s testing a new way to keep the sandal on her carbon fiber foot.

Walking is “not very smooth,” Sdoia said with a laugh. “At any moment, that sandal could come off. I mean it’s velcroed on right now, to the bottom of my foot.”

Sdoia joked about being jealous that Abbott was back into her tight jeans first, wearing heels first and running, again, first. Sdoia, whose amputation is above the knee, has had a more difficult recovery. But each women feels like she’s constantly being fitted for a new socket as her limb shrinks. Abbott has gone through five different-sized sockets and is due for another. Continue reading

After Bombs Hit, Spaulding Moved Front And Center

In this 2013 WBUR file photo, marathon bombing survivor Mery Daniel works with occupational therapist Becky Buttiglieri outside the new Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

In this 2013 WBUR file photo, marathon bombing survivor Mery Daniel works with occupational therapist Becky Buttiglieri outside the new Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

When the twin explosions hit the Boston Marathon last April, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital was 12 days away from moving into its new building at the Charlestown Navy Yard.

Among the first patients on Spaulding’s move-in day were more than a dozen marathon survivors — some just released from acute care hospitals. They’d lost limbs, suffered burns and nerve damage, and some still had shrapnel embedded in their bodies.

“What happens in great places like Mass. General, they save people’s lives that would have otherwise been lost. We like to say once they come to rehab we give the quality of life back after that life’s been saved,” said David Storto, president of the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network and Partners Continuing Care, which includes three other hospitals, as well as 23 satellite facilities.

“People just generally, at the onset of a significant disability, they’re more concerned about the basic things in life,” Storto said. “Are they going to be able to walk again? Are they going to be able to dress themselves again? Are they going to be able to brush their teeth again without being dependent, and requiring support of other people?”

Thirty-two marathon survivors were treated on an inpatient basis at Spaulding  TWEET , including 15 of the 16 who suffered amputations and had to learn to walk on prosthetic limbs. Among them: first-grader Jane Richard, the youngest of the marathon amputees; and Mery Daniel.
Continue reading