Monday, November 26, 2012


Putting your faith in someone else's hands

We recently returned home from visiting our son who lives and works in Moab, Utah. 

He earns his living as a mountain guide, leading people on extreme mountain-climbing adventures. My idea of an exciting outdoor adventure is trying a new food to grill on the backyard barbecue. 

Our son had a different idea for adventure. He brought us “canyoneering” near Arches National Park and belayed us from the top while we rappelled down a 100-foot cliff into a canyon. 

It was the most terrifying and exhilarating experience we ever had. I was sure we were going to die, but halfway down that cliff a feeling of calm came over me. If this was where my life would end, it was a pretty beautiful place after all.

Standing on that cliff edge and propelling oneself off backwards and downwards is not a natural instinct. Our son assured us that the belaying rope and harness would keep us safe.

Once I reached the bottom I unharnessed myself and knelt to kiss the ground. Then it occurred to me just how much trust I had placed in my 28- year-old son, some ropes, carabiners, a harness and a helmet. We didn’t really know what we were getting into. In this case our lack of knowledge didn’t negatively affect our experience.

I thought about all of the times we need to have faith in someone — literally putting our fate in someone else's hands. We depend on the protection of a police officer, the competency of an airline pilot, the sobriety of other drivers on the highway, the wisdom of an attorney.

Patients who are hospitalized must place enormous trust in all of the healthcare providers. While we can reassure our patients that the treatment the physician is prescribing is indeed safe and appropriate, and that the medication the nurse is administering is the correct one, perhaps more inside information would instill confidence. 

There are numerous mechanisms in place to insure the safety of hospitalized patients.

Scanning devices match the correct patient's wristband with the correct medication. Oncology and Tumor Boards review each case so that multiple minds reach a consensus of the correct diagnosis and treatment plan. Hardly any decision is made without multiple professionals checking and reviewing for accuracy. There is a safety committee that reviews policies and procedures, and seeks to remediate and rectify any problems that arise. All of these mechanisms are in place to make sure that our patients are safe and receive the best possible care.

These safety measures are the carabiners and ropes of the health care system.  Placing trust in health care providers is important, but becoming knowledgeable and actively involved in the health care treatment plan enhances the recovery process and increases the chances of a more positive outcome.

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at   

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Giving thanks is healthy — mentally and physically

At age 92, my Aunt Clara is computer-savvy and writes emails to friends and family frequently.  She always signs off with the line, “In gratitude, love and joy, Clara.” 
Thanksgiving is approaching, and we will all soon be taking time to acknowledge what we are grateful for.

It’s a nice gesture, but Aunt Clara practices gratitude year-round.  Every morning she recites a short poem that she wrote about gratitude.  She feels there are health benefits to practicing her gratitude exercise. 

Clara is a big proponent of Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher at the University of California at Davis.  I wasn’t convinced that there was scientific evidence proving gratitude exercises were really beneficial until I Googled “Robert Emmons.”

For more than a decade Dr. Emmons has been studying the effects of gratitude on physical health, on psychological well-being, and on our relationships with others.  He has studied more than 1,000 people from ages 8 to 80 and found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:

• Stronger immune systems
• Less bothered by aches and pains
• Lower blood pressure
• Exercise more and take better care of their health
• Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking

• Higher levels of positive emotions
• More alert, alive and awake
• More joy and pleasure
• More optimism and happiness

• More helpful, generous and compassionate
• More forgiving
• More outgoing
• Feel less lonely and isolated

Dr. Emmons feels that gratitude is an affirmation of goodness.  We are grateful for the gifts and benefits we’ve received. It doesn’t mean the world is perfect, and there aren’t hassles, pain, and burdens in our life.  It just means we affirm the good things in the world. And as we look around, there is so very much to be grateful for every day, sometimes we just take it for granted. 

To quantify the good things, Emmons recommends keeping a gratitude journal.  Count your blessings, and write them down, if you will.  List five things for which you’re grateful every week.  I think it would be a good practice to post this list on the refrigerator. 

Let’s all start writing a gratitude list this week, continuing it year round, and begin to reap the health benefits.  Happy Thanksgiving to all.  Signing off in the spirit of Aunt Clara:  In gratitude, love, and joy, Alice.

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at  

Monday, November 12, 2012


A campaign for good health starts with kids

Four simple numbers can help parents raise healthy kids – 5-2-1-0. More on that later. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports obesity now affects 17% of all children and adolescents in the United States — triple the rate from just one generation ago.  Healthcare providers are seeing data indicating that our obesity rates are even higher locally, and overweight children tend to become overweight adults.

Preliminary data from a recent health needs assessment phone survey shows that 65.5% of residents in New London and Windham County are overweight or obese, compared to 58.8% in  Connecticut and 63.2 % in the nation.

But there is an initiative called 5-2-1-0, a campaign that is catching on everywhere, mostly because it is straightforward, easy, clear, and science-based. It provides simple daily guidelines for healthy eating and exercise every day.

5)  Fruits and vegetables…more matters!  Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Juice does not count as a fruit or vegetable serving.  Eating the whole fruit is preferable.
2)  Cut screen time to 2 hours or less a day. This includes TV, texting, computer time and video games.
1)  Participate in at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.
0)  Restrict soda, sugar-sweetened sports and fruit drinks.  Instead, drink water and 3-4 servings/day of fat-free/skim or 1% milk.

Kathy Sinnett, APRN, Family Nurse Practitioner at Kelly Middle School Health Clinic, reports that they have initiated this program in school and encourage parents to continue the guidelines at home.

She reports that they are pleased with the response.

“The 5-2-1-0 program gives a simple and clear message for all ages,” she said.  “Our students learn this message at school and take it home for their families.  In addition we encourage everyone to have at least one meal together as a family each week.”

Now this is a campaign we can all get behind! More information about this campaign can be found at

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, November 05, 2012


Encouraged by human spirit at local shelter

When Hurricane Sandy was predicted, the American Red Cross activated the plan to mobilize regional shelters, joining forces with the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) to provide health services.  As a volunteer nurse for the MRC, I agreed to assist in providing medical services, for my very first time. What an experience! 

Most of the hallways of Groton's Fitch High School were lined with cots, some of which were already occupied by early Monday morning when I arrived.  A steady stream of people continued to arrive, from infants to teenagers to octogenarians, some wheeling portable oxygen tanks, some with walkers, some with toddlers in tow and some with babes in arms.  The Groton shelter welcomed pets, to be housed and cared for at one end of the school.  Quickly there assembled an assortment of large cats, barking large and small dogs, a pet rabbit, caged birds, even one family’s beloved gecko.  It was a cacophony of noise, to be sure.

Soon, the number of people exceeded the number of cots set up, and the Red Cross had to open and assemble 93 more cots from the contingency supply. There was barely eight inches between cots.

From a health perspective, that could have been an infection nightmare. For example, someone with early flu symptoms should not be  placed in a cot inches away from someone with a compromised immune status due to chemotherapy treatments.

That was the responsibility of the volunteer nurses. A fairly comprehensive entry questionnaire was designed to elicit this information.

At the height of the hurricane there were more than 260 individuals, not counting pets. Some of the medical problems presented were insulin-dependent diabetes, emphysema, rheumatoid arthritis, breast cancer, asthma, morbid obesity, autism, traumatic brain injury, and congestive heart failure.

And did I forget to mention psychiatric illnesses like severe anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, and dementia?  Those problems might have resulted in a disaster were it not for the excellent interventions of a mental health worker and a licensed clinical social worker from Southeastern Mental Health Authority. 

Out of this controlled chaos emerged a fascinating dynamic.  People really rose to the occasion to help their neighbors through this crisis. One burly, bearded, young man was seen supporting an elderly stooped woman as they walked slowly to the cafeteria. Another young woman offered her adjustable cot to a frail woman whose cot was flat, less comfortable, and had no backrest. The young woman even offered to bunk with her son if we ran out of cots.  A youngster with severe autism was crying at times due to the overstimulation of noise and light, yet the people all around were supportive to the mother and helped in any way they could. Asians were sleeping next to African Americans, Hispanics, and Caucasians. Heavily tattooed and pierced men were sleeping next to elderly veterans. 

It was actually very heartwarming to witness the spirit of cooperation of so many people in this stressful situation.

There were a few minor incidents involving some teenagers, but that was easily squelched with the presence of the Groton Police who remained at the shelter for the entire time.  Their presence was key to maintaining an atmosphere of calm and safety.

From this experience comes a few lessons learned:

  Alcohol-based hand sanitizer should be available everywhere, and encouraged upon entry and before any meal is served.

  Those on a special diet need to bring the required food with them.

  Pillows and blankets should be brought from home.

  Those requiring continuous oxygen should bring their concentrator in addition to one portable oxygen tank.

  All medications should be brought from home, and the person must be independent, or someone must be responsible for administering them besides shelter nurses.

The Red Cross has conducted disaster drills recently, and this was evident in the relatively smooth operation of this real emergency situation of Hurricane Sandy.  It was exhausting yet exhilarating to be a part of this experience.

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?