Saturday, May 17, 2008

Time Out for a Baby Miracle

Well, I finally did it. I finally wrangled myself an assignment that would give me an excuse to go up to the O’Shaughnessy Family Birthing Center.

I really do love babies. Each is a tiny miracle, reminding me that life isn’t all about rushing around trying to accomplish as much as possible in a 24-hour period.

This was infinitely clearer to me while visiting new parents Jeff and Megan Rash and their new son Adian Gabriel Rash. Once I stepped into their room, time stopped for a bit. Each leisurely moment was spent admiring this new life, watching his tiny fingers curl around his mom’s, laughing when he yawned, and agreeing that, for sure, that was a smile we all just witnessed. Things will be a little more hectic for the family once they return home, but for a day or two, it was all about Adian.

My transparent excuse to visit the fourth floor of the hospital was to guide a Fauquier Times-Democrat reporter to the Birthing Center and listen while she interviewed a nurse about low weight births and the importance of folic acid in pre-natal care.

In an effort to spread the word about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and how it can be prevented, Fauquier Health System will give out specially printed baby onesies to new parents at the O’Shaughnessy Family Birthing Center. The baby T-shirts will have “This Side Up” on the chest to remind new parents to place an infant on his or her back to sleep.

On the backs of the onesies, recommendations to prevent SIDs will be printed.

The gift to parents of newborns is made possible through a grant secured by the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District through the March of Dimes. The grant is called “Reaching Out for Healthy Babies” and will focus on preventing SIDS, preventing preterm labor and low-weight births, and increasing the amount of folic acid consumed by women of childbearing age.


The reporter, Alexandra Bogdanovic, had a good discussion with neonatal nurse practitioner Deborah Fischetti. A devoted baby nurse, Deborah really knows her subject. She said with a smile, “I just take care of the little ones. I don’t take care of the big ones. In fact, I may climb right over the big ones to take care of the little ones.”

We wanted to get a photo of a newborn in one of the new onesies, so we asked the Rashes if Adian wanted to model.
They graciously agreed (after checking with the prodigy, I can only assume).

Jeff was nice enough to put Adian’s photo shoot wardrobe on and I snapped a few pictures. Then Jeff cranked up his laptop on a side table and showed me some of the photos he had taken of his new son since making his appearance the day before. I immediately put away my suddenly inadequate camera and let dad do the shooting.

One of Jeff Rash’s photos appeared in the newspaper last Wednesday, accompanying Alex’s story.

All in all, I was pretty unnecessary in the process. Alex wrote a good story. Jeff took a great picture.

But at least I got to spend a few minutes soaking up the miracle.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Earning kudos, a patient at a time

Fauquier Hospital has gained a reputation for taking good care of its patients. The results of a recent Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) patient survey shows the 86-bed community hospital rates above state and national averages and meets patients' expectations better than any other hospital in the area. The ten-question survey was developed jointly by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

Questionnaires were given to patients after they were discharged and included queries about how well doctors and nurses communicated with patients; how quickly hospital staff responded to patient needs; how well was pain managed, and would they recommend the hospital to others.

Complete results can be seen at, where you can pick three hospitals at a time and compare them according to the HCAHPS criteria.

It is gratifying to the administration and staff at Fauquier Hospital to have scored higher numbers than surrounding hospitals, but not astonishing. They know they have a talented staff, dedicated to providing the best possible environment for healing.

This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Mrs. Lillian Carrico, 84, one of Fauquier Hospital's most enthusiastic customers.
Gerry, as Mrs. Carrico likes to be called (her middle name is Geraldine), and her friend Sharon Spates couldn't say enough about the excellent care Gerry received when she was brought in as an emergency department patient April 18.

“Did you have to wait long in the emergency department?” I asked.

They both laughed and shook their heads vigorously. “The attention she received was immediate and constant,” said Sharon. “She never had to lay and wait. Someone was always monitoring her, always checking on her.”

Gerry got to laughing again when she remembered the man who wheeled her from the ED to her room. “He made a train sound as he pushed me along, 'toot-toot!' I ordinarily would have been tense, being admitted to the hospital and all, but he had me laughing. He was a real sweetheart. He put me at ease on the way up. He gave me a good ride.”

Sharon added, “I watched him with some other patients and he adjusted to their needs. If someone was upset or in pain, he didn't laugh or tell jokes. He adapted to each individual. He could see that Gerry was ready to laugh.”

“How about the nurses?” I wondered.

Sharon piped up, “They have been very attentive. They are monitoring her constantly, so they know what Gerry needs before she does. They have been giving her blood tests, checking her medication.

Whenever she calls, they come right away. They even come when she accidentally rolls over on her button,” Sharon joked.

Sharon in particular appreciated what she called the welcoming feeling on the ICU floor. “I can come and go the hours I please. One night I had to go home, so I left a note with the night nurse to call me if Gerry needed me. There's a lounge with a refrigerator; I can bring my lunch and I don't have to leave Gerry.

“The staff never makes you feel like you are in the way, or that you're not welcome. Gerry asked me if I could give her a bath one day. I didn't mind at all, so I did. The staff actually thanked me!”

Gerry added, “Sharon likes her coffee. I like that she can get her coffee if she wants some. And I like that the nurses wear easy-to-read badges that say RN. In some hospitals, you never know who you are dealing with, whether it's a nurse or an aide. If you want to ask a question, it's nice to be able to tell who is a nurse and qualified to answer.”

What about the medical care?

Gerry is being looked after by Dr. Yemisrach Mulugeta, a hospitalist. Hospitalists are doctors who work only in the hospital, treating patients on a daily basis so that patients' attending physicians can be at their practices. They know their hospitalized patients are being cared for round the clock.

When Gerry leaves the hospital, she'll have to have shots, which Sharon will administer. Sharon said, “A nurse came in. His name was Jerry. He explained everything in layman's terms, so we could understand. He was very thorough. When he gave Gerry a shot, he explained everything step by step, so I really understood what to do. We asked questions and he gave us straightforward answers. He was wonderful.”

In the middle of my interview with Gerry and Sharon, Sheryl Vollrath, the Pet Therapy Program coordinator, stopped by with Samantha, a gorgeous white Samoyed who is a certified pet therapy dog. After being invited to do so, she put her paws daintily on the edge of Gerry's bed while the patient petted and cooed over her. Gerry's face lit up while she fussed over Sam. Five minutes with a sweet dog made a big difference in Gerry's day. Sharon said it was the third visit from a pet therapy dog since Gerry's admission.

Sharon said, “I live in West Virginia, but if I ever need to go into a hospital, I'm leaving orders to bring me here.”

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Snakes Alive!

It was an ordinary day at the Stone House, a quaint little building behind Warrenton Overlook Health and Rehabilitation Center, up on Hospital Hill. The house turned office building has a bucolic view of the farmland along Route 211 and offers a pleasant working environment for the hospital’s non-life-saving branch.

There are about 13 of us working at the Stone House – the community outreach department, physician referral staff and the Fauquier Health System Foundation, in addition to marketing.

We are all women, all very friendly, caring and hard-working.

Except Tuesday.

On Tuesday, everybody stood around in the hallway for an hour in a state of nervous excitement.

It had been an ordinary day, until Kay found a snake on the copy machine.

A small snake, the brown and black reptile was about as big around as a pinkie finger, longer than a foot but less than two. But the sensation it caused was anything but small.

When Kay McClure of the Foundation sounded the alarm, every office emptied and the hallway filled with the curious and the nervous. Toni Evans of marketing jumped up on a chair and marketing director Amy Petty called her husband Glenn and her father, Bob Thomas to come rid us of the scourge – right now!

Someone called maintenance. Gayla Vandenbosche in marketing, always practical, sought to contain the reptile to the copy machine's corner. I grabbed my camera and helped Gayla stand guard.

The hallway chatter included speculation about the approximate size of the snake (a foot to a foot and a half); its species (copperhead, black snake, rat snake ... anaconda); other snake stories (There are apparently snake sightings at the Stone House about four times a year, usually on the porch.). There was also considerable discussion about any little snake siblings that might be hanging about. Would snakes materialize in the supply closet among the paper clips, get tangled up with computer power cords, or drop down on our heads from the ceiling vents?

By this time, it was pretty much decided among the residents of the Stone House that the snake was a highly poisonous copperhead.
We thought about opening the door, pushing the copier out and ordering a new one. None of us were going to touch that copier again anyway.

Before this course of action could be acted upon, Glenn showed up and set about trying to get a visual on the snake. Shortly thereafter, Amy’s dad and Delmer Clarambeau from maintenance arrived and with Glenn, took things in hand.

The hallway was still crowded with tense women when the three males located the snake inside the radiator behind the copier. He was rousted and stepped on, although he continued to wriggle feebly.

Del measured the intruder at 16 inches and said that he thought that the snake was a year-old black snake. Young black snakes have distinct patterns, he said. They don't turn black until later in life.

By the time the party broke up and everyone returned to their offices, nobody was buying the harmless black snake theory. We were hanging on to our copperhead with both hands (figuratively, of course).

I took a few closeups of the snake before Del put him back into the woods that line the driveway. Many of the worried women wanted the snake sent to the crime lab for positive identification. Instead, I sent one of the closeups to Doug Harpole of the Extension Office. Doug is a wildlife expert with a special affinity for snakes.

While talking to Doug about the need for his help, he told me his favorite snake story: He was in the Fauquier County Library one day when he saw a four-foot black snake traveling across the floor near the front desk. Doug walked over to the snake, calmly picked it up, and asked the astonished library clerk, “Can I check this out now?”

Upon seeing my very excellent photograph, Doug immediately replied, “Your maintenance man was correct. A happy, harmless, helpless, lost juvenile black rat snake.” I don't think Doug was happy about the fact that the snake met its demise in the Stone House.

It's understandable. Doug is a snake sympathizer.

The women at the Stone House are not. (Except Gayla. She had been rooting for the snake.)

It was an entertaining bit of drama for a routine Tuesday, and the episode will continue to be discussed for weeks, I am sure.

I do regret that it was not I who came up with a name for the snake.

He will forever be known in the Stone House as the Copier Head Snake.