October 22, 2014

How laziness got my son to work harder: Middle-School Logic

Last year, my son was Third Chair of Violins II. He lost a Chair Challenge, so ended up being Fourth Chair for a bit. But he worked hard to get back to Third Chair.

Why don't you challenge for Second Chair? I wondered.

He laughed at me. No way, because the even numbers turn the pages in the music. I'm too lazy.

This year, he was assigned Second Chair.

For the last couple weeks, he's been practicing his violin more than I've ever witnessed.

I'm going to Challenge, he told me.

And today, he became First Chair.

His teacher then informed him of all the responsibilities he now has as Section Leader.

But... he's just relieved because he's too lazy to turn the pages of music.

"Laziness" has triumphed!

--

Edited to add: My son wants to make sure folks know this is a joke. While it is true he doesn't enjoy page-turning, that reasoning was not truly behind the motivation he had to become First Chair.

October 20, 2014

What Other People Think

We aren't supposed to worry about what other people think of us, right?

And yet, we are expected to dress fashionably. Or wear make-up. Instead of recovering after spinal surgery, I was supposed to make sure my house was presentable for the visitors that would come to wish me well. We're told "you never get a second chance to make a first impression" and of course there are entire industries dedicated to improving one's looks or one's social skills. The stats talk about how people need people to survive. We are social beings. People do need people to like them.

Certainly not all people are going to like any given person. But there is definitely both a need and a desire to be as attractive (inside and out) to enough people.

I'm a woman with short hair, and I #StandWithJetta. Please #StopBullying this gorgeous girl!Being teased hurts. It means someone doesn't like you and has encouraged others to hop on the bandwagon.

At the age of nearly 41, I would have thought that my days of being made fun of would be over. But, even adults are not immune to others' taunting disapproval. When my oldest was very young, there were many situations that came up in which I was considered a "bad mother" and shunned appropriately. I simply didn't join playgroups or anything of that nature when my second son came along. Now, it is my youngest son's teammates who have decided that I'm deserving of pointing and laughter.

I'm not sure what set them off (my weight? my hair? my clothing? that I enjoy watching workout at the gym so am there more than other parents?) but they enjoy whispering, laughing, and pointing up to where I sit. My son was in tears during the last workout because he told me his teammates were saying mean things about me. (And no, this wasn't just a round of "Yo Mama" jokes; I know they've done that in the abstract and my son found it funny. This time it was "serious.")

Then today, I learned of a girl in Ohio who is being bullied for cutting her hair for a cancer charity. Her newly short hair isn't societally-acceptable, apparently. Her family has set up a #StandWithJetta Facebook page to support their daughter and to raise money both for Wigs for Kids and for an Anti-Bullying non-profit group.

I #StandWithJetta to #StopBullying: Girls can have short hair too!I definitely feel for Jetta, because I remember what it was like to be looked down upon as a child. I was called "Pig Nose" and worse. I was harrassed for having a large early-developed chest. Of course, my chest size has never stopped being an issue, as it has gotten me lots of unwanted attention. And right now, my hair isn't quite right, so I have to wait for it to fill in a bit. I'm sensitive about it, and so can relate to Jetta. (Although, she's very confident with her new haircut - and it is gorgeous on her.)

Just a few days ago, my son asked if he could get one ear pierced. He's a fifth-grader. I got my ears pierced in the fifth grade. I have no problem with him wearing pink or enjoying sparkles. When he was younger and wanted his hair long, I let him. And when he decided last year that he wanted to go super-short, I let him. It is his hair, after all. (And yes, he got plenty of comments when it was long about how he should cut it; and plenty of compliments when he did cut it short.)

But I admit that the idea of a young man having his ears pierced at the age of only 10 has given me pause. If he were a girl (and not less than 2 months away from gymnastics season where earrings result in a uniform deduction) I wouldn't hesitate. I admit this is the first time that traditional gender roles have swayed me. Now - when he's a bit older (16? 18?) then, yes, I think getting an ear pierced could be pretty cute. (And, it would give him time to make sure he really wants to do it. Because, hair can be cut or can grow, and we can change the clothing we wear, but piercings are more permanent.)

But in some ways, it is like Jetta's case -- because she's 10 and got a pixie haircut. Lots of teenagers and older women have short hair, but most elementary-aged girls have nothing shorter than a chin-length bob. If my son were to get his ear pierced, he'd probably be the only guy in the school with a pierced ear. What would happen, I wonder?

Because at the core, we're worried about what other people think.

October 14, 2014

ViaCord: Future lifesaver for someone you love?

14 years ago I was pregnant and a neuroscience grad studentFourteen years ago, I was a graduate student in neuroscience living in New York, and I was pregnant with my first child. As part of my education, I attended classes and special talks about a variety of scientific topics. Stem cells were seen as a possible research tool and a promising future way to assist treatment of a variety of conditions. Meanwhile, filled with the typical jitters about becoming a mother and wanting to protect my child at all costs, I researched cord blood banking. I wanted to save my son's umbilical cord blood in the event that the newborn stem cells may someday save his life.

Thanks to a special trip hosted by ViaCord from PerkinElmer, I recently found myself back in New York to learn about the current status of cord blood research and treatment. As I had hoped so many years ago, there have indeed been some exciting developments in the field. In fact, cord tissue may eventually become a promising source of treatment support for neurodegenerative diseases.

So what are cord blood and cord tissue stem cells, anyway?

The phrase "stem cells" may strike some initially as controversial. Many people automatically think of embryonic stem cells, and the political and bioethical debates surrounding the source of these cells. But newborn stem cells are present only at birth, and --if not collected-- are simply discarded as medical waste. The potency and flexibility of newborn stem cells may give these cells benefits that adult stem cells don't, like bone marrow, which has a lower likelihood of a successful match.

What can these cord blood and cord tissue cells do?

Newborn stem cells are essentially a blank slate. One of the speakers at our event, Kate Falcon Girard, RN MSN, likened stem cells to vanilla ice cream that can in turn be used to create chocolate chip ice cream or a fancy sundae. Stem cells can differentiate into different tissue types. They can create another stem cell, or differentiate into another cell or tissue type. There are two general types of stem cells: hematopoietic stem cells can differentiate into blood and immune cells, while mesenchymal cells can differentiate into different tissue types like bone, cartilage, muscle, and even neurons.


"Traditional" stem cell transplants: Exist today


"Traditional" cell transplants are hematopoietic stem cell transplants. These are the types of transplants available today, which assist in the treatment of nearly 80 conditions: from cancers to blood disorders to immune disorders.

Perhaps one of the most exciting treatment examples is that of a girl with sickle-cell anemia who received her brother's cord blood stem cells. She's been cured and now has a healthy blood system. 

Research with autologous cord blood stem cells

ViaCord is currently supporting research with the hope that soon cord blood stem cell may assist in the treatment of conditions such as cerebral palsy, Type I diabetes, brain injury, hearing loss, and autism.

At the moment, these therapies are autologous (getting back one's own stem cells that were banked at birth). Perhaps in the future -- like with organ transplant -- the complexities of rejection and graft-versus-host disease can be mitigated such that allogeneic (from a donor) transplant may be possible.

Pre-clinical research with cord tissue

Viacord's supports research in ways cord blood tissue may assist in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. "Tissue" means extracting the cells from the umbilical cord itself (rather than just the blood inside.) Back when I was pregnant, only the cord blood was preserved. Now, families can preserve cells from the cord tissue as well.

Research is currently in pre-clinical trials, which means animal models are used to study the possibilities that such procedures may be possible in humans. Pre-clinical trials studying neurologic hypoxia (complications of oxygen deprivation) are promising. I'm particularly interested in how cord tissue may someday assist in the treatment of Parkinson's disease. 

Isn't cord blood and tissue banking expensive?

When I was a graduate student fourteen years ago, I knew that the field was still young. At the time, I was thinking about setting aside stem cells in the event that my child developed leukemia. I wondered what the possibility would be that my child would end up being sick. How could I spend so much money on something that might not be used?

Today, there are many more conditions in which stem cells can assist treatment. As time goes on, that list will grow. The value of the banked cord blood and cord tissue will only increase.

ViaCord wants to make cord blood and tissue banking more affordable. They have reduced their upfront fees by 40%. Customers pay an annual fee, of course, so over time the cost of collecting, shipping, and storing the cord blood and tissue is recouped. ViaCord also recommends GoFundMe, an online registry tool where families can set up their own personal page and invite friends and friends can help contribute to this cost. After all, how many itchy little newborn outfits does your baby really need? He'll grow out of those tiny overalls, but his banked newborn stem cells will be there for him his whole life.

There are lots of costs to caring for a newborn. Some of the high-end strollers out there these days are much more expensive than cord blood and tissue collection and storage! It seems extravagant on the surface, but in reality, the investment of banking newborn stem cells can be life-saving.

ViaCord also has a Sibling Connection program that is truly wonderful. Any expectant family who currently has a child with a condition treatable with sibling cord blood may collect their newborn's cord blood and tissue, plus store for five years, at no cost. There are many diseases currently supported by this program, so please spread the word to your friends or family who may be eligible.

Why Choose ViaCord?

There are many cord blood banks out there. Many have come and gone throughout the years, but ViaCord has remained strong for 20 years. ViaCord is also one of the few companies to offer treatment-ready cord tissue collection. While some companies store a small section of the baby's umbilical cord, ViaCord extracts all the cells from the surrounding tissue so that the cells are already primed for treatment before the time comes to use them.

Cord blood newborn stem cell banking: ViaCord demonstration of collection and storage materials

The ViaCord collection kit provides the materials for collecting the cord blood at the hospital and transporting it to the processing lab, where the cells are then preserved in the method they believe will be most beneficial should you need the cells in the future. For example, they have a 80/20 storage bag which enables a small portion of the unit to be used without contaminating the whole sample.

ViaCord is the only bank in the industry that publishes survival rates. This shows that their banked cells actually work! At this point there is 88% unit survival 1 year post-transplant. Take a look at ViaCord's Quality Defined by Outcomes page to learn more. 

But ViaCord is in Massachusetts!

ViaCord's corporate headquarters is in MA and their processing and storage lab is in KY. But, their secure methods of collection, shipping, and storage mean that expectant families from all over the United States can bank through ViaCord. Collection can be done at a home birth, too! Likewise, when a unit is needed to assist treatment, a ViaCord representative will work with the physicians involved in the patient's treatment to ship and prepare the cells.

Please visit ViaCord's website and parentsguidecordblood.org for more information about cord blood and cord tissue collection and storage, and to learn more about the research that may further expand the utility of newborn stem cells.

Thank you to the ViaCord representatives who hosted me. I enjoyed learning more about current research and was pleased to know that the field has indeed evolved tremendously in the fourteen years since I first visited the topic!

September 26, 2014

I will be voting NO on Prop 46.

No-on-Prop-46-California.pngPeople in my area know the Pack Family story (which is behind this Proposition.) It was indeed a tragic situation.

BUT, the way Prop 46 is written, it will NOT prevent what happened to Troy and Alana Pack from happening again.

It will be difficult for people to separate the personal connection to the Pack Family with how the Prop is actually written, and thus, what the actual impact would be. But, I urge people to really look at the consequences this proposition would have should it pass.

The desire to improve patient safety is commendable, but the proposed ways of doing so are not feasible. The consequences of Prop 46 will actually make it more difficult for people to access safe and affordable healthcare, and may put our personal information at risk, too.

Prescription Database: While on the surface it seems logical to check to see whether someone has an open prescription elsewhere, people who abuse drugs have other ways to obtain them. The database used for this "check" is outdated (so patients may have a delay in obtaining necessary medications) and must be accessed via computer. Not all medical offices have the necessary technology to comply. The database contains highly sensitive, personal and potentially stigmatizing details about a person's health. This ballot measure provides no funding to improve functionality or security, and contains no security standards to protect patient information.

Raising the Medical Liability Cap: If doctors' malpractice insurance costs rise, then many physicians will go out of business. Many of the "small town" doctors are those who are needed the most, and yet will be the least likely to be able to sustain this increase in mandatory insurance. Patients are already entitled to unlimited economic damages for medical costs, lost wages, and lifetime earning potential. Patients are also already entitled to unlimited punitive damage (punishment awarded for malicious or willful misconduct.) Patients are currently entitled up to $250k for "non-economic" (pain and suffering) damages; there is no reason to increase this cap given that the other damages are unlimited, and raising the cap will put medical organizations out of business.

Drug-testing Doctors: This is yet another aspect of the Prop that appears on the surface to be a good idea, but in practice is nonsensical. Prop 46 would require physicians to be drug-tested within 12 hours of an "adverse event." One problem is that an "adverse event" can occur at any time, even when the doctor is off duty. For a complicated birth, per Section 1279.1 of the Health and Safety code, any reaction up to 18 years of age is considered an "adverse event." In other words, if a child who at age 14 suffers an injury that is related to a birth condition, the physician who delivered that child 14 years ago must be drug-tested within 12 hours of the current event.

Patient safety is important - which is exactly why I'm voting NO on Prop 46. Because, although Prop 46 on the surface appears to benefit patients, in reality it will harm them by decreasing access to healthcare, delaying the time it takes to obtain medication, and potentially compromising the security of our personal medical history.

Please visit http://www.noon46.com/ for more information.

In July, I attended a luncheon during which I learned more about No on 46. They paid for my lunch, but that is not the same as paying for my vote.

September 11, 2014

tempus fugit

We're wrapping up the third week of school, the first full week. Only three weeks, though it feels as though I've lived three months during that time.

On the second day of school, my physical therapist found a "burn" on my leg. I didn't have time to get it checked out right then, though, because I received a call from the middle school that my son was vomiting and wanted to come home. One thing led to another, and he ended up in emergency surgery for testicular torsion. (Look that up if you have sons; be prepared to act fast!)

While my son recovered from surgery, I examined my "burn" only to discover a bullseye rash. Yup, so I'm now on antibiotics for possible Lyme Disease. (I'll know in a week whether I actually contracted Lyme.)

I received word that a friend had passed away. And last night I prepared dinner for the family of a friend who just had heart valve replacement surgery.

I said goodbye to my dear cat Becca, but now have two tiny kittens in my life. I couldn't remain pet-less for long.

This morning I took a reflective walk. As I passed the home of my younger son's classmate whose paralyzed mother died this summer, I thought about how I can walk. I thought about how I am alive. I passed the home of my older son's classmate, whose cancer came back this summer. I can't even imagine.

Passing yet another house -- this belonging to one of Those Women Who Like to Judge -- I was reminded that "important" things are sometimes fleeting: she and I have had very little contact for many years. It used to be that dread would fill me when I saw her. But now, I wouldn't care. And so, I think about the current Arrogant Thorn in my Side, and realize that five years from now, she will matter zero percent. Zero.

As today happens to be 9/11, of course I thought of the enormity of everything that happened that day. I wrote much of my 9/11 story out in 2011. Last year, we took the boys to New York. For my oldest, it was a chance to visit his birthplace. For my youngest, it was a brand new city to check off his travel list. (Of course, the first time I went to NYC, I went to the top of the World Trade Center to gaze down on life below.)

Life is certainly funny. There are so many horrific things going on in the public realm right now, and many stressful or unexpected things happening in my social circles. But there are also some tremendous positives. I'm absolutely thrilled with both my sons' various teachers this year, and I've enjoyed seeing my younger son's strides in gymnastics. I've heard stories that touch my heart, and have been relieved when "close calls" turn out just fine.

I enjoy actual roller coasters at amusement parks, but I admit that life's roller coasters recently have exhausted me. But, I'm thankful that for the most part things are looking up, even though so much has happened in such little time of late.

August 20, 2014

The Final Selfie with my Cat

Goodbye, sweet kittyThis is my final selfie (or maybe an "us-ie") with my cat, Becca. I'm smiling because although I'm saying "goodbye," I'm also telling her exactly why she was such a kick-ass cat. I'm thanking her for over 16 years of love. I'm recognizing that she was uncharacteristically tender with me post spinal-surgery, knowing that I wasn't up to her usual exuberant jumps on my lap or shoulder. I whisper that she's been the best cat ever, because she was. She hated pretty much everyone, but she loved me. I'm smiling because I want her last moments with me to be happy.

I got her from a hockey teammate in Boston in 1998. There were six kittens from which to choose. The other kitties had various gashes on them. It didn't occur to me until later that by choosing the non-injured cat, I was choosing the fighter. And -oh heavens!- was she a fighter. (Apt, given that she came from a hockey family, yes?)

She moved with me to New York (two apartments), then to four different places in California. The only beings on this earth who have lived longer with me under the same roof have been my parents. (Yes, I lived 16+ years with Becca, but only 14 years under the same roof as my brother.) I've known Becca longer than I've known my kids. When my husband and I started dating, Becca was already my family.

When her health declined rapidly, the vet explained how ordinarily a cat with her astronomically-horrific kidney function would be completely comatose. But, she's always been a fighter. She fought very, very hard, but it was time for her to rest.

I will miss her. But she had one hell of an awesome life.

August 14, 2014

Speak Up!

When I go places with my parents, inevitably one of them has a complaint: whether a food order is slightly incorrect, or there is some sort of perceived safety issue in a venue. It isn't that they are negative people --they really aren't-- but rather that they want mistakes corrected.

They speak up.

I often cower a bit, OMG Dad don't... because I know it is impossible to be perfect. But, I also know I take things personally. Still, with the Golden Rule and all, I figure other people probably also take things personally, so I seldom criticize. (And, if I do so, it is with the most understanding, polite way I possibly can.) Yeah, I'm a wimp.

I don't want to make waves.

And yet, my mom always says, "If you don't open your mouth, then you open your purse." (True, not everything is a financial error - but if you ordered a cheeseburger without ketchup and are given one with, then that mistake has changed your enjoyment of lunch - unless you are assertive and send it back. But... then I'll feel guilty because I had to be "that person" and so that affects my enjoyment even more in some ways, but I digress...)

This morning I was treated rudely.

Afterwards, I couldn't hold back the tears. I was genuinely hurt. And angry.

I backed down from escalating the situation in person --because it was in public after all-- but upon reflection, decided I'd file an official complaint.

--

About fifteen years ago, I filed an official complaint against a nurse who was rude. He dismissed my concerns, and didn't listen to the symptoms I was reporting. Ultimately, I ended up in a non-plan ER (I was out of state, so had no choice) because I had a severe infection that the nurse had not caught, despite my expressed worries to him earlier.

I filled out a grievance form.

The plan wrote back with the nurse's statement, all of which were lies. The wording of the rebuttal was condescending. "The patient is confused."

I wrote back to defend myself.

They never responded.

From a legal standpoint, I get it. They didn't want to "apologize" in any way, because it could open them up to malpractice.

And yet, I just wanted them to know that this particular staff member had missed the boat by a mile and should probably be aware that sometimes patient's "hunches" should be taken seriously. (In this particular case, I had severe pain and tightness in areas of post-surgical incisions. It was clear to me that there was an infection under the skin. BUT, because I didn't present with an overall body fever, the nurse dismissed the possibility of infection.)

Not all patients are going to have 100% of their symptoms "checked off" on any given condition. (In fact, that's why I'm still running around trying to figure out what's behind the original pain I complained about years ago.)

I already know that my body doesn't necessarily respond the way the "typical female" body reacts. But, the nurse many years ago simply didn't believe me. No fever = no infection in his mind. But in reality, I had a massive infection in several parts of my body.

Speaking up didn't help me in that case. I was just told to shut up, because I was "confused."

--

Today, a medical receptionist treated me as though I were stupid. I had walked the "wrong" way to check in for my appointment.

I had been to that particular department before many times, and every single time my appointment was at "Station C." Therefore, when she pointed towards "Station C," it made sense, and so I walked that direction.

Instead, she was pointing towards a basket on the other side of the wall to check in at "Station B."

When I realized my error, I laughed in good humor and remarked by way of explanation, "Oh! I've always had appointments at Station C!"

She immediately pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes as she announced, "NO. Mary Jones, Physical Therapist has NEVER been at Station C. She has ALWAYS been at Station B!"

But I had never had an appointment with Mary Jones, Physical Therapist. How would I know what Station she is?

Rather, all my appointments were with a different provider.

In Station C.

The receptionist was rolling her eyes and speaking to me very slowly, "PUT YOUR PAPER HERE AT STATION B."

I was so shocked at her condescension that I didn't speak up.

I just put my slip in the box and sat down, fuming.

But, I've filled out an official grievance form to complain about her behavior, just in case. Will I get any benefit from this? No, not really. But, if this receptionist thinks before she speaks, perhaps another patient will be spared her negative attitude.

That's why I've decided to speak up, even though it is out of character for me.

August 13, 2014

Suicide, Part II

I wrote a bit about suicide the other day.

But I realize I have more to say.

Yes, I linked up my posts on two former classmates who have died via suicide. (Plus I remember now that the younger brother of one of my friends took his own life, too.) And I mentioned that a friend's father died. I love (in a tragic, heart-breakingly poetic-but-accurate aspect) the way she puts it: "[He] set his soul free from his body." Indeed, that is what suicide is: freedom from unmanageable, unbearable pain. (But, for anyone reading this who finds that notion romantic: it is final. There is no going back. Please reach out for assistance, if you can. You ARE valuable, so tip off a friend or family member to get help for you.) My friend's father had tried many different treatments to no avail. Again, my friend's words, since she explains it perfectly: "His brain chemistry simply would not let him live." But he tried. He fought. He did everything "right."

So, yes. I mentioned a few personal connections to suicide.

But I didn't mention some people who are alive but who came very close to not being alive:

There is a friend who tried to set herself on fire, but her husband found her just in time. (She was ultimately assisted with electroshock therapy, a treatment that people find "barbaric," and yet it can be absolutely life-saving. Ask me about it and I'll explain more. Alas, for my friend's dad, the ECT did not work. But, for this friend, it was the answer.)

And there is another friend who paused during our collegiate career to spend time in observation at a psychiatric hospital. (I am extremely proud of her for then returning to college and graduating!) She had some periods of great success, and then other times of great struggle. She disappeared after attending my wedding, but unexpectedly resurfaced five years later. (It was an amazing moment: she phoned me to say she was in the area! She visited my home and met my kids. How magical!) She promised she wouldn't disappear again, but I haven't heard from her in eight years. I sent a holiday card to her parents' home for many years in a row, but with no answer. In a way, no answer was good, because I feared that I'd receive a note back with terrible news. (If you are out there, please come back - I miss you!)

Last night, I learned of another friend who had apparently come close to suicide. But, I didn't know it at the time. She only revealed her story as an anecdote to highlight how important the right support is in helping someone suffering from depression.

I imagine I have other friends who have experienced depression or who have come close to taking their own lives. But, because such things are very private, I do not know.

There are many cultures and religious belief systems that simply don't accept suicide. (And then there are some for which suicide is actually an integral part.) Interestingly, some of these same organizations had negative thoughts about other illnesses "back in the day." (Which makes me hopeful that depression --and other illnesses that happen to affect behavior/mood/mind-- will eventually lose its stigma too.)

I remember my grandmother tearfully asking me if my grandfather had done something to "cause" his Parkinson's. She told me she had been taught that a condition like that was a result of a "weak mind." But he went to church, and I fed him well, and he's a good man, isn't he? My grandmother had been a nurse, but when I went to medical school long after she retired, she trusted me to tell her about advances in the way various conditions were being treated. She was relieved to hear about the very physical condition in the brain that just happens to cause Parkinson's. Not a "weak" mind, at all. My grandfather could not have "willed" himself from not having it.

Just as people cannot "will" themselves away from depression or thoughts of suicide.

There is so much that yet has to be learned about "mental" illnesses. It is all so very complex. Research is made even more difficult because of the stigma attached to these conditions.

Please be understanding of others. You don't know what's happening inside them, and they are likely too scared to tell you.

August 12, 2014

Goodbye Camp G! (But Hello Summer Quest!)

My email box is filled with school registration details for my two sons: one set from elementary school, one set from middle school. Amazingly, next year those both ramp up to middle school and high school, since both are in their final years of their respective schools. Everything is going so fast: it is amazing that summer is nearly gone.

And next summer, neither of my boys will be eligible for Camp Galileo.

Water Day at Camp Galileo 2014

I'm shocked at how quickly our time with Camp G passed. It has without a doubt been an enormous part of my kids' elementary summer experience. My oldest was in Camp G for a single magical year (and at Summer Quest for three years) and this summer, my youngest officially graduated from Camp Galileo after four years as a Camp G kid.

The good news is that he has Galileo Summer Quest to look forward to next year!

Still, I admit having a very hard time holding back tears during the Closing Ceremony this year as my son received his official graduation sweatshirt. As he's worn both his Camp G T-shirt and the sweatshirt (on cold mornings!) he's spread the Galileo Innovation gospel.

Galileo Innovation Camp Graduation 2014

Just yesterday, a friend of mine who is a science teacher remarked on how important it is for kids to understand innovation, creation, and collaboration. For those familiar with the Galileo Innovation Approach, these concepts are familiar! As my friend explained the type of instruction (and free-reign for exploration and problem-solving) she provides her kids, I couldn't help gleefully telling her about Galileo Innovation Camps. She happens to have a toddler son, so I wonder if she will consider Camp G for him when he is old enough? I have many friends with younger kids, and of course I will encourage them to attend Camp G. So even though my boys are no longer eligible, I'll still sing their praises!

Galileo_Logo.jpgI have been so impressed with the way Galileo encourages its campers to think and to really wonder about how to accomplish a challenge. I adore that mistakes are not feared, but instead encouraged as a learning tool. There is no shame in getting something wrong, especially if it helps hone in on how to accomplish a better solution.

One afternoon I was doing my usual adult trying-to-accomplish-everything routine as I waltzed into camp to pick up my son. Of course, we'd then be off to get a snack, then go to gymnastics, then dinner, then.... I had lots on my plate, with no room for error. As I sped-walked towards my son's area, I overhead a conversation.

Behind me, I heard another mother apologizing for something. Immediately, the Camp G counselor quipped, "Don't be sorry; be silly!" I allowed myself pause. After all, the staff at Camp G is always so jovial and fearless. Conversely, we moms are ALWAYS apologizing for things, even circumstances out of our control.

So much of what Camp G teaches the kids about innovation coming through mistakes, being proud of one's efforts, and taking constructive criticism gracefully are so very important for us adults. We frequently take ourselves way too seriously. That particular afternoon was during a tough day for me, so the concept of choosing "silly" rather than "sorry" was very welcome. (I love that Camp G can "teach" us adults, too!)

Along that vein, although the various art and science projects are educational in nature, Camp G is at its heart about fun. There are rubber chickens, enthusiastic songs, silly dances, and spirited group cheers. Camp is of course a place to just be oneself, and to "let loose." It is summer break, after all!

Here is a less-than-two-minute video of some of the action at Closing Ceremony to give just a taste of the Camp G experience. I love the controlled chaos: the jubilation and freedom to just be!

Even though our experience with Galileo Innovation Camps is over for the summer, it won't be over forever. My son anticipates majoring in Chefology next year at Galileo Summer Quest. We wonder which sorts of dishes will be on the menu?

We'll see you again in 2015, Galileo!

--
I've written about Camp Galileo and Galileo Summer Quest several times:
- posts of mine from a Spectrum of Reviews about Galileo Innovation Camps
- posts of mine from The Karianna Spectrum about Galileo Innovation Camps

Disclaimer: Galileo provided my son one week of camp in exchange for my publicity of their program. Back in 2011 I had already paid for Camp G before they approached me, so it was a natural fit. Since then, I've paid for additional weeks of camp on my own dime, since I'm such a fan of the program! 

August 11, 2014

Suicide

Today I had lunch with a friend whose father died via suicide. Our conversation spanned other topics, but I didn't know that my thoughts would turn to suicide tonight.

The last time I saw her --when we were both 17-- I didn't know much about suicide.

But since then, I've seen it happen again and again.

When I learned of Robin Williams' suicide this evening, my heart broke. I felt sick for the precious, talented, tormented actor and his family. I was still on a high from enjoying lunch when I heard the tragic news, so of course thought of my friend. I realized how she likely has strong feelings this evening as many people are discussing suicide prevention, depression, and other illnesses that carry an unwanted and unhelpful stigma.

Right after I officially selected which college I would attend, I did what most kids do, and read up on the various goings-on at the place that would soon be both my home and school. It turned out one of the students was in Dead Poet's Society - cool! How fun to go to a school with a real actor! Of course, Robin Williams stars in said movie, and said movie includes a suicide. While also reading about my new school, I learned a student had recently committed suicide. Nearly a year later, I heard her name repeated again and again by the brothers and sisters of the co-ed literary society that I pledged, since she had been a member.

My sophomore year in college, I participated in a group independent study project. Our topic was suicide. Of course, people's reactions to this were shock: was I simply morbidly curious? (To be fair, I had just completed a course on cemeteries, so I can understand some of the quizzical looks.) The reactions I received highlighted exactly why suicidology is so important. People were very uncomfortable when I explained what I was studying. I learned a tremendous amount about prevention, intervention, and postvention. (Most people don't "get" postvention: the family deserves plenty of support after any death, but particularly as suicide carries such a stigma.)

That year I presented at the American Association of Suicidology's convention. (I bet you didn't know such a group exists! And yet, "The American Cancer Society", "Leukemia & Lymphoma Society," and "National Parkison Foundation" all sound very familiar and normal, as do other organizations supporting various illnesses.) It was my very first professional scientific convention.

(Then later that night, I met a handsome guy unexpectedly in a rather funny chain of events. But shortly thereafter made a fool of myself, so that relationship fizzled.)

Of course, learning about suicide from an academic perspective is much different than having any personal experience with it. But, that came, too.

You know that "perfect" girl who is bubbly, intelligent and popular? The one who "has it all?" Well, apparently, she didn't, as I learned 10 years after we graduated from college. I also recently learned of another classmate's death. Although I cannot confirm it was a suicide, the obit has those non-confirming terms that are sadly trying to mask stigma.

(I understand that cancer used to carry a similar stigma: but these days it is an "acceptable" label. Perhaps suicide will soon also become something seen as a tragic illness rather than "selfish" or "shameful?" And then there are inappropriate jokes, making light of the notion of a dramatic girl harming herself for attention.)

Tonight my mind is half stuck on what an amazing person Robin Williams was - and how that loss is so deep. And it is half stuck on anger that getting successful treatment is so difficult for things deemed "mental" in nature.

I'm furious that while I had a bout of post-partum depression, the counselor seemed disinterested when I answered "no," to "Do you want to kill yourself." I was no longer worth his time, but what if I were lying? He explained that I was therefore "fine." And, he further told me that the stress I was exhibiting indicated that I'm "not cut out to be a stay-at-home mother."

And I hate that the impetus is always on the suffering person to "get help." It is difficult to jump through hoops to get medical attention for mental illness. It is much easier to be seen for a cut lip or strep throat. But mental health services involves a series of screening phone calls. The people most in need of help are the least likely to obtain it. They will not be motivated enough to pick up the phone! They cannot ask for help from family or friends because they do not want to be a burden. It takes too much effort to find assistance, and it doesn't seem worth it. This is part of the whole profile of depression - it is like asking someone with a broken foot to "just get up and run a marathon, dammit, because then your foot will heal!" You cannot just snap out of it, and -- because of your symptoms -- it is difficult to reach out for help.

I'm angry when I see people call suicide "selfish" or if they wonder why people "just" don't go get help. It truly isn't that simple. People cannot "will" away depression. And the depression itself creates a barrier to finding possible help.

But even people who have access to the best medical care won't necessarily be cured of depression. That's the rub. Mental illness is an illness. Brain chemistry is very complex. (And, I should know: I have a Masters of Medicine in Neuroscience. And... one of my favorite subjects was neuropharmacology. This stuff is interesting from a research perspective but devastatingly complex from a clinical perspective. There is so much to learn, and a great margin of error.)

People who commit suicide suffered from an illness.

That illness is not easily cured, especially not given the barriers to care and stigma that surrounds suicide.

If someone commits suicide, they are not a failure. They had an illness that turned out to be fatal. Perhaps they did seek medical treatment, but perhaps the treatment didn't work. Do we blame people with malignant cancer if they die for not fighting hard enough?

It is "nice" that people are at least thinking about the effects of suicide because of Robin Williams tonight. But I hope that they will really stop and think about it rather than just brushing it off as some sort of selfish act.

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More thoughts on suicide

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