Sunday, April 27, 2008

Peace of Mind for Parents of Teen Drivers

My son's first solo drive – ever – turned out to be during the deluge last weekend. He called me on the phone to say he was starting out, and that he was already soaked from walking the 20 feet necessary to get in the car. It was 9 o'clock at night; he was leaving from Remington where there are no street lights and where it tends to flood during a light rain shower.

They were not the circumstances I would have chosen for his maiden run.

His dad and I worried in Goldvein for the next 50 minutes or so. When we heard the gravel crunching on the driveway, we tried to pull ourselves together and pretend we had forgotten he was even out of the house.

We had fretted, but not half as much as we might have. Carson had, just the day before, received his certificate from the New Driver Car Control Clinic for teenagers, sponsored by Fauquier Hospital. Carson had absorbed some practical knowledge -- and some valuable practice -- through the clinic, and was a better driver for it. I know that because I saw for myself what he learned. Carson and I attended together; it's a requirement of the course that parents attend with their teenagers.

The clinic began Friday night, with an abbreviated version of the usual hour and a half presentation in the Sycamore Rooms of Fauquier Hospital. The session was abbreviated because our instructor, an astoundingly upbeat young man named Brennan Lollar, had suffered through a plane debacle in Baltimore and had been wrung through the wringer of a Northern Virginia rush hour.

Brennan won the restless crowd over immediately with his sense of humor and obvious commitment to helping new drivers escape fatalities. His Friday night offering consisted of a multi-media presentation that related practical advice about how to avoid the fastest-growing dangers to drivers -- off-road recovery and median-strip rollover accidents.

The sometimes deadly results of off-road recovery accidents (when one wheel of the car slips off the road's shoulder and the driver over-compensates by jerking the car back onto the road) were illustrated by the story of one teenage girl who was left permanently crippled, told from her wheelchair. Of course, we all knew the story was meant to make an impression, and of course, it did. I wanted desperately to know that Carson would have the tools to handle an emergency situation safely.

The presentation was well done. It explained the physics of each scenario and the simple steps that would help to avoid disaster. Brennan explained that in most accidents, drivers have about 3 seconds to identify the danger, develop a plan and execute it. Typically, drivers take 1 ½ seconds, reacting by slamming on the brakes and/or jerking the wheel. That's because most of us have never had to react to such a situation before; the brain has no information about how to handle it. The purpose of the New Driver Car Control Clinic is to program the brain through learned experience.

That's where Saturday's lessons came into play.

Each teen driver was driving his or her own family car. Walkie talkies allowed Brennan to communicate with all cars simultaneously as the cars lined up and performed the exercises one at a time. Driving “coaches,” (an honorary title only) were told to sit in the passenger seat and refrain from offering advice or criticism. Duct tape for the parents was optional.

I think I had the tougher job. Sure, Carson had to slalom the car among tightly placed cones, brake quickly and safely on wet, slippery pavement and steer to avoid a (simulated) truck. But I had to keep my mouth shut through it all. And I didn't even get a certificate.

Carson had a lot of fun learning about our car's brakes and how they would react under different circumstances. He and the other teens enjoyed making skid marks in the parking lot of Lord Fairfax Community College. Carson also understands a lot more about steering now. Brennan pointed out that most drivers only use a third of the turning radius on a car, but in an emergency situation, sometimes you have to use it all to steer yourself clear.

Drivers completed a number of runs for a half dozen or so exercises and began to feel more confident. All were smiling, even the coaches, who had been sitting in the cars – (mostly) silent – for four hours. Brennan made the time fly with jokes, raucous encouragement and funny stories about previous clinics.

Just before handing out the certificates to the drivers, Brennan allowed the coaches to take a turn at a couple of the exercises. It was just as much fun for us parents, and I think we learned a thing or two as well.

I pray that my son will be one of the lucky ones who never has to face a potential accident. But I feel better knowing he's had this experience to help him through it.

Fauquier Hospital brings the New Driver Car Control Clinic to Warrenton twice a year. It's tremendously valuable and should be mandatory for all new drivers.

To find out more, go to

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Fauquier Hospital's excellence is no mystery

I love it when I’m reading a book and find references to places I know. I always compare the author’s descriptions with personal mental notes of my home turf. In one of Janet Evanovich’s books, Stephanie Plum, a spunky heroine from New Jersey and her handsome man of mystery take a trip down to Northern Virginia. They talk about the dreaded Beltway and nearby environs.

Jody Jaffe, another popular mystery writer, is a newspaper reporter living in Virginia’s Horse Country. Makes me feel right at home.

I was delighted to find out that the new Michael Palmer book, “The First Patient,” published in February, mentions Fauquier Hospital prominently. How cool.

In the book, two of the characters are riding horses in Flint Hill. Shots are fired and the woman falls off her ride. She is badly hurt – with a broken shoulder, a punctured lung, severe bleeding and shock – and is rushed to Fauquier.

The hero of the story is the President’s personal physician. He says to his boss, “I stayed at Fauquier Hospital in Warrenton with her until they had inserted a chest tube, given her a pint of blood, and she was stabilized. For a small place – or even a big place for that matter – that hospital’s really quite terrific…. If you could send out a presidential something or other to them, I know they’d appreciate it.”

“Done,” said the President.

OK, so it’s only fiction, but that’s pretty neat.

I’d never read any Michael Palmer before, though he’s written about a dozen mystery novels -- that’s my favorite kind of story.

I found “The First Patient,” like many modern popular thrillers, long on plot but a little short on character. Personally, I prefer it the other way around.

Oh, I like a good, fast-moving plot, but I love quirky, funny characters that you get to know through the choices they make and the things and people they care about: Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Whimsey; Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak; Hiaasen’s The Governor, Robert B. Parker’s Spencer (better than the TV show).

Call me simple, but I love these characters because they are all perfectly principled and perfectly consistent. I have never said to myself about any of these characters: “Oh, they wouldn’t do that.”

There are plenty of surprises in every book, but the main players are always true to themselves – or the “selves” that have been carefully constructed by their creators.
In Palmer’s book, I didn’t feel that I got to know any of the characters well enough to see their actions as either consistent or inconsistent. The twists and turns of the intricate medical drama took center stage and didn’t leave room for real (OK, fictional) people.

Perhaps, for inspiration, Palmer should spend a couple of busy evenings in the Fauquier Hospital Emergency Room, or watch a few new lives come into the world up in the Birthing Center. There’s enough “real life” there for a couple of novels – or a couple hundred.

Plenty of interesting characters and medical wisdom to pass on, too.
It’s like he said, “that hospital’s really quite terrific.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Massage Therapy for Sore Muscles

In my continuing quest to explore my new workplace thoroughly, I signed up for my first massage at the LIFE Center, Fauquier Health System’s fitness center off Walker Drive in Warrenton.

It took me a couple of weeks to decide to take advantage of this particular offering, because I couldn’t figure out how to have a massage while fully clothed. (I’m shy.)
A sore back finally drove me to make the appointment.

I’m glad I did. It was very relaxing, and the whole without-clothes thing wasn’t nearly as stressful as I thought it would be.

Heidi Leavell, the massage therapist seemed to understand my initial reluctance. She told me to lay face down under the sheet on the massage table, and place my head in a sort of a cradle at the head of the table. Then she left and let me get comfortable.

The bed was heated! I lay down and my resistance faded. What a nice feeling to be enveloped in warmth, with soft music playing and the lights turned low.

Heidi was gentle as she worked out the kinks. I think I could have fallen asleep.
I was curious about Heidi’s background and she told me she had been with Fauquier Health System for two years and had completed her training at the Virginia School of Massage in Charlottesville.

She has taken special classes in deep tissue massage and hot stone massage. She explained, “Some people just place the warm stones, but I was taught to use the stones themselves while doing the massage.”

Heidi said she is looking forward to taking instruction in pregnancy massage very soon. Special techniques she will learn will allow her to make the mother-to-be more comfortable while protecting the baby.

I remember being pregnant. Whatever anyone can do to make a pregnant woman happy and relaxed is a boon to mankind.

Don’t know much about massage? Here’s a quick rundown.

Swedish Massage: A form of massage using long strokes, kneading and friction applied to the superficial muscle layers to promote relaxation and circulation.

Deep Tissue: Massage that uses deep pressure and slow strokes to chronic areas of tension and contraction.

Myofascial Release Therapy: A technique that manipulates the fascia that connects and surrounds muscles.

Reflexology: Pressure point massage applied to various reflex points on the feet, hands and ears. Reflex points correspond with organs and other parts of the body. A relaxing foot scrub is included with a one-hour appointment.

Pricing for Swedish, Deep Tissue, Myofascial, and Reflexology Massage*:
30 minutes..........$33.00
60 minutes..........$66.00
90 minutes..........$99.00

Stone Therapy Massage: Uses stones of different temperatures on the body to bring about healing responses. Stone Therapy comes in two forms: Relaxing meditative form and a Deep tissue form for tired and sore muscle relief.
Pricing for Stone Therapy Massage*:
30 minutes..........$37.50
60 minutes..........$75.00
90 minutes..........$112.50

Chair massage: Neck and shoulders
Pricing for chair massage:*
15 minutes..........$16.50

*Life Center members receive a 20 percent discount on massages.

Anyone who would like to make an appointment with Heidi can call the LIFE Center at 316-2640.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Driver Safety Comes First for Teenagers

Those of us who are lucky enough to have teenage children are burdened with one or two extra little worries.

Are they getting enough sleep? The right diet? Are they studying enough? Who are their friends? Do they have too many piercings? Will they get sprained thumbs from too much video gaming?

One of the biggest worries, though, comes when they slip behind the wheel of a car.

It is with great trepidation that most parents hand over the keys. Even the best teenage driver is still an inexperienced one. We trust our kids, but what about the “other guy,” the driver who speeds down narrow country roads, the one who passes against the double yellow line or has a few drinks before getting in the car?

Our kids need all the protection they can get, and we can’t all afford armored Humvees for them to drive.

A New Driver Control Clinic, sponsored twice a year by Fauquier Health System, is one protection parents of teens can afford; there is one coming to Warrenton, April 18-20.

The clinic teaches defensive driving skills, accident avoidance maneuvers, brake management, steering management, eye management and wet weather driving skills. The program is for teens who already have a learner’s permit, and includes an hour and a half of classroom teaching and four hours of behind-the-wheel training. The behind the-wheel instruction takes place in the family car, so that teens can have real practical experience in the car they are going to be driving.

The course costs $159 and a parent must attend with the teenager. Classroom instruction is scheduled for Friday, April 18, 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Fauquier Hospital’s Sycamore Rooms. For the behind-the-wheel training, parent-student teams have a choice of the morning (8:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.) or the afternoon (12:45 p.m. to 5 p.m.) on Saturday, April 19 or Sunday, April 20. The driving sessions will be held at Lord Fairfax Community College.

Some who have already taken the class had these comments:

“I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated the Car Clinic … My daughter enjoyed it and learned a lot of valuable information to take with her while driving. In fact, later that afternoon, … [she] had to use her new skills to avoid someone cutting in front of her in Warrenton.”

“… the new driver control clinic was simply wonderful!... I only wish all new drivers could have the same informative, hands-on experience offered through this class. I truly believe this clinic has set the proper tone/attitude for him as a new driver. … I’d like to heap praise on the instructor. He was well versed in his subject, related to the kids right from the start, and let them have fun in the process… I have been driving for over 30 years and I learned a few things too.”
“I honestly would recommend this class to every new driver because I have been driving for two years and I learned things about my car that I never knew. The class taught me how to use my brakes based on what kind I had. This class will hopefully save my life someday!”

To register for the clinic, parent-teen teams can go to to register. There are still some spots left.

Because I am one of the many who can’t afford a Humvee, I have signed up myself with my 16-year-old son, who is just a week away from his driver’s test. On April 21, I’ll share with you the inside scoop about the clinic – just in case you’ve got a teenager approaching driving age.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Mini-Medical School draws a crowd

The stream of visitors to last Thursday’s edition of Fauquier Hospital’s Mini-Medical School was steady – and damp.

It was a cold, rainy night, but most of those who had signed up for the six-session course on “Wellness and Prevention: Living Long and Living Well” managed to make it to class in the Sycamore Rooms at Fauquier Hospital. The topic of the day was “The Skinny on Health and Nutrition.”

About a third of the participants arrived early enough to take part in the free blood pressure screening and nab some free packets of Fiber One cereal, but it was clear the crowd was eager for the main event.

So was I. Although I was present to help with the logistics of the evening, I was eager to hear some definitive advice on diet and nutrition. In 2008, it’s impossible to read a newspaper, magazine or go into a book store without being bombarded with miracle products and get-thin-fast schemes. How do you sort out the truth?

Dr. Steven von Elten did not disappoint. With humor and passion for his subject, he shared his keys to health and fitness with the attentive audience. Dr. von Elten is board certified in family practice, emergency medicine and clinical lipidology, and has very definite opinions about health and nutrition.

Well, you may say, a lot of people -- medical and otherwise -- have very definite opinions about health and nutrition. Dr. von Elten, however, backed up his opinions with data.

During the course of his 90-minute talk, he debunked a number of myths and revealed a few surprising facts, all based on credible medical studies.

Among the surprising facts:

75 percent of adults are now overweight or obese.

The life expectancy of our children and grandchildren is now expected to be shorter than their parents – for the first time in history.

Metabolic Syndrome – the clustering of distinctly different diseases, all due to the increase of intra-abdominal fat – can cause long-term complications like vascular disease (heart disease and stroke), cancer or dementia. This syndrome is rarely diagnosed.

The most healthy diet is a vegan diet. (No animal products of any kind.)

Supplements and vitamin pills are not the answer. (They represent “a panoply of choice based on hope, not fact.”)

There is no evidence that vitamin E, cinnamon, garlic, chromium or beta carotene offer any health benefits.

Fish oil is loaded with Omega-3s, powerfully healthy fatty acids.

You should eat fish twice a week. The benefits of eating fish far outweigh concerns about mercury deposits.

In order to lose weight, you must exercise vigorously for 90 minutes a day.

The 21st-century diet is deficient in: Omega 3 (from fish, fish oil, and other sources), fiber, vegetables and Vitamin D.

For those of us who need to lose weight, Dr. Elten offers these suggestions:

Eat smaller portions. (Dr. Elten said that super-sized meals were the beginning of the end for the American diet.)

Eat more vegetables and fruits.

Eat foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids.

Avoid trans-fatty acids.

Watch the glycemic index of foods!

Learn to deal with stress.

EXERCISE. And stay active.

Fad diets always fail, although Weight Watchers, which offers a balanced approach, can be effective.

Losing weight requires not just a change in diet. You need to make a lifestyle change.

If you follow the rules 80 percent of the time, you’re doing OK.

During the question and answer period, Dr. von Elten answered queries, but deflected some about nutrition, deferring to the next speaker, Aren Dodge, a registered dietician. Dodge spoke after a short break, during which the audience enjoyed fruit and veggie platters provided by The Bistro on the Hill at the hospital.

Dodge opened her discussion by showing the audience what a pound of fat looks like – she passed around a thoroughly unattractive slab of mustard-colored rubber. Good thing we had all eaten our fruits and veggies. That thing could really take away person’s appetite, especially after Dodge told us that our hearts had to pump an extra mile of blood for every extra pound we carry.

For anyone who needed a little more motivation to lose weight, Dodge said that “Virtually every chronic medical disease carries a contribution from physical inactivity and poor nutritional habits.” and… “seven of the ten leading causes of death in the U.S. each year have a nutrition or alcohol-related component.”

Dodge covered a lot of territory in her presentation – the difference between good and bad fats (olive oil vs. bacon), cholesterol (“bad fats” contribute to high cholesterol), sodium (it’s everywhere!), portion sizes (keep ’em small), BMI (body mass index), and the importance of reading labels.

Dodge also touched on the psychological aspects of trying to lose weight. She spoke of “mindful eating,” which means slowing down, chewing thoroughly and enjoying every morsel of food. If you take your time over a meal, you are more likely to enjoy it and get full faster. No watching TV or working through your meals. Multi-tasking is out.

To prove her point, Dodge gave everyone one Hershey’s Kiss. She instructed us to savor it – no chewing – and all agreed it was a more thoughtful and satisfying way to enjoy a forbidden treat.

Dodge’s talk was well-received, and a dozen or so audience members lined up afterward to ask more specific questions. It was a full evening, with lots of good information being passed around with the veggies and fruit.

So what’s the final result? If I had to guess, I’d say a sharp spike in the sale of fish oil and health club memberships.