Miracle Work on 38th Street: Connecting a Family at Life’s End

In my work at Seton Healthcare Family, I had the privilege of interviewing this family about their experience in one of our hospitals. All they wanted was time for the father to say goodbye. They got a great deal more.  

“We expected to visit the hospital, get him stabilized and then take him back home. Suddenly, everything changed.”


Eduardo’s sister, Cecilia, holds a photo of him at school.

On a humid Sunday morning, a young man with Down syndrome entered the emergency room at Seton Medical Center Austin (SMCA), part of the Seton Healthcare Family, Austin, Texas. Accompanied by his mother and sister, he struggled to breathe. Thirty-two-year-old Eduardo Martinez had recently been diagnosed with kidney disease and was told he had six months to a year left. Within the hour, the prognosis changed dramatically. Eduardo was given less than two days to live.

“We were floored when the doctor told us the news,” said Cecilia Martinez, Eduardo’s sister. “We expected to visit the hospital, get him stabilized and then take him back home. Suddenly, everything changed. I started calling family to come to the hospital.”

Though Eduardo’s mother is local, his father lives in Mexico and had not seen Eduardo in 16 years. The family asked Seton to help the father cross the border and say goodbye.

Enter Dr. Truly Hall and Eileen West. Dr. Hall is the director of the Seton Adult Inpatient Medical Services (SAIMS) program at SMCA, which is on 38th Street in Austin. She is board certified in internal medicine, with seven years at Seton under her belt. Eileen West is a medical social worker at SMCA, spending every other Monday through Friday in the 4-North unit. On the weekends her role expands to “the whole house,” meaning she covers all cases that are not in the Emergency Department or labor and delivery.

Around 2 p.m. that Sunday, West received a call from Dr. Hall about a family standing vigil in the ICU for their terminally ill son. The request for border crossing assistance was not a surprise. “Maybe once a year we have a case like this, and I’ve written to the Mexican Embassy for an emergency visa,” said Dr. Hall. “But never on a Sunday.”

Given the political upheaval at the Texas/Mexico border, West was concerned. “I said I’d get right on it, but then realized the Mexican Embassy was closed,” she said. West spoke with Cecelia and decided to contact the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, since the family knew which one of the 26 crossing stations the father was going to enter.

How did she know where to start? “I just Googled it,” she said nonchalantly. “I got a phone number, then was transferred and passed around a bit, but I ended up on the phone with a humanitarian care unit.”

To cross the border on such short notice, Eduardo’s father required detailed paperwork. Dr. Hall and West compiled six pages of materials outlining the situation. West provided Border Patrol agents with her personal cell phone, work phone and home phone. Then she hit a snag.

“The Border Patrol told me that I needed to give the paperwork to the family, and that the family should deliver the documents to the father at the border,” said West. “But I told them,  ‘No. This young man is dying and the family is not leaving his side.’” Several faxes later, the paperwork was approved.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services allows foreign residents to apply for humanitarian parole for emergency situations. Handled on a case-by-case basis, approval generally takes between 60 and 120 days. With West’s tenacious prodding, it took mere hours. West attributes her success to “A bit of luck – and someone must have taken pity on us!”

Meanwhile, Eduardo continued receiving comfort care. “Every single doctor, nurse, all the people we met – they are great people,” recalled Cecelia. “We moved Eduardo to the third floor, and the nurses brought us pillows, blankets and a folding bed. Someone from the ICU made sure that we got a bigger room so we could all be near Eduardo. Even though it was a tough situation, the doctors and nurses never treated us or Eduardo dismissively. They knew it was hard.”

A fitful night passed as the family waited. At 9 a.m. the next day, Eduardo’s face split into a grin when his father walked into the room. As Cecilia described it, “I kept saying, ‘Wow.’ We didn’t expect him to cross the border at all, especially on a Sunday. I am so impressed by Eileen. She was an angel for us.”

Cecilia isn’t the only one impressed by West’s actions. “A lot of social workers — especially on a Sunday — they wouldn’t even have tried to help the family, and no one would have batted an eye, considering she was also covering the whole house,” said Dr. Hall. “The chaotic border situation didn’t deter her; Eileen took care of everything. I don’t know how she did it!”

Garry Olney, vice president and chief operating officer at SMCA concurred, adding, “This is amazing! It is what Humancare is all about. Eileen did a great job.”

Lifted spirits were short-lived, however. Over the next few days, Eduardo’s condition deteriorated. In his final hours a nurse noticed the family focused on the plummeting numbers and screeching beeps of the monitors surrounding him. She disconnected the monitors and encouraged the family to focus on Eduardo, adding, “He is more important than any numbers.”

Thanks to West’s thorough initial work, Eduardo’s father was able to stay in town long enough to attend the burial. When asked why she went to such great lengths for this family, Eileen’s answer was simple: “The most important thing I could do for the family was to get the father here.”

She downplayed the significance of her actions, adding, “Every social worker does this; it’s not out of the ordinary in our department. In fact, this is what many social workers accomplish before their first cup of coffee or morning rounds!” Caffeinated or not, West exemplifies Humancare, going above and beyond her required duties to impact lives.

Cecilia has a message for the staff at SMCA: “We are very thankful for Seton. From the ER to the final day in the hospital, everybody treated us like family. A lot of people discriminate against people with disabilities, but Seton showed great love and care for my brother. There are several hospitals we could have gone to and we ended up at the right one. We received so much support. I don’t have the words to describe the experience. Please tell all the Seton staff thank you.”

About Humancare

Humancare challenges the status quo of healthcare. By adding humanity back into a system that seems to have lost its human touch, we’re moving closer to being able to provide person-centered care. This recommitment to the people we serve modernizes our mission to care for and improve the health everyone in Central Texas, and beyond. Humancare is how we bring our mission to life, everyday. On this page you’ll find resources to help you understand, experience and share Humancare. setonhumancare.org

The Best Store-bought Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

As a kid, my mom made THE BEST chocolate chip cookies. With pecans, oatmeal and semi-sweet chocolate chips, they were tall and sweet with crunch and substance. No mansy-pansy, half-baked sagging middles for us!

These days I don’t have reason – or need – to bake two dozen cookies. But every once in a while, a warm cookie is all I can think about.

Enter a new front runner in the cookie baking battles: Immaculate Chocolate Chunk Cookies. I don’t know if they’re actually new to the market but they’re new to me. 

Described as, “A true classic, our Chocolate Chunk cookie dough is chock full of chocolate chunks and maple-y brown sugar.”

These babies are luscious. No no oatmeal or pecans, but the trade-off in consistency gains simplicity – they’re soft and ooey-gooey, baking in 10 minutes. All hail the cookie!

Pickled Peaches

I bought 12 peaches. One molded and attracted a hoard of fruit flies that made me nearly gag. I didn’t want to throw them all away (expensive!), so I stuck them in the freezer to bide my time and kill any remaining flies. That was 5 weeks ago. Here’s my plan: pickled peaches from Saveur. Any tips for a first time pickler?

INGREDIENTS

3½ cups sugar
1½ cups white vinegar
14–16 ripe medium peaches, peeled
8 whole cloves
2 sticks cinnamon
1″ piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Bring a canning pot of water to a boil. Submerge 2 one-quart canning jars and their lids and ring bands in boiling water; sterilize equipment for 10 minutes. Remove from boiling water with tongs, draining jars, and transfer to a clean dish towel.

2. Combine sugar, vinegar, and 1½ cups water in a heavy medium-size pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Working in batches slide peaches into the pickling liquid and cook, turning once or twice, until peaches soften but before they turn fuzzy, 4–5 minutes per batch. Transfer peaches to a bowl as done.

3. Divide cloves, cinnamon, and ginger between the 2 jars. Cut any peaches with brown spots into halves or quarters, discarding pits, and trim away the brown spots. Spoon peaches into the jars, filling the gaps with the halves and quarters and packing the jars as tightly as possible.

4. Return pickling liquid to a boil, then pour boiling liquid into each jar, covering peaches and filling jar to 1/4″ from the rims. Let liquid settle in jars, then add more boiling liquid as necessary. Discard any remaining liquid. Wipe jar rims with a clean dish towel, place lids on jars, and screw on ring bands.

5. Transfer filled jars to a canning rack, submerge in a canning pot of gently boiling water (jars should be covered by at least 1″ of water), and process for 10 minutes. Carefully lift jars from water with jar tongs and place on a dish towel at least 1″ apart to let cool undisturbed for 24 hours. To test that jars have properly sealed, press on center of each lid. Remove your finger; if lid stays down, it’s sealed. Refrigerate any jars of pickled peaches that aren’t sealed; use within 4 weeks.

MAKES 2 QUARTS

No Cook Main Meal: Chicken Caprese Salad

It’s summer. They tell me we’ll hit 100 here in Austin for the next 3 months. For the sake of our electric bill and my sanity, I’m hunting for low-to-no cook dinners. I found this lil’ beauty on The Skinny Chick Can Bake, and made a few changes.

You’ll spend time on the prep side with chopping and dicing, so pour a glass of wine and carry on.

Ingredients:1823189

  • 2 pounds fresh tomatoes, chopped (or halved grape/ cherry tomatoes )
  • 12 – 16 oz. fresh mozzarella, cubed
  • I.5 cups diced celery – this sounds odd but it’s necessary for the crunch and color
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cubed
  • 1 cup sliced basil (or combo of dried, paste and nearly-dead leaves from your patio plant)
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup+ balsamic vinegar
  • Salt to taste (like guacamole, don’t under-salt)
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups diced, cooked chicken (optional)

Instructions:

1. Chop tomatoes, mozzarella, celery, cucumber and basil. Combine them one bowl. If adding chicken, put it in too.

2. In a smaller bowl, combine garlic, vinegar, salt, pepper and olive oil. Whisk together and pour over vegetables and chicken. Toss gently.

3. Eat! We ate it straight up with forks, but pita pockets or naan would also work well. I might add avocado or chilled pasta next time. Taste and see what you think. A pinch of sugar?

Copycat Chick-Fil-A Honey Mustard Sauce (with Chicken)

Though the source recipe is focused on the chicken, the best takeaway on this dish was the sauce. Seriously, it was amazing. My first bite took me back to a Superbowl party with a Chick-Fil-A chicken tray. I kept the sauce leftovers and poured it over salad the next day.

Honey Dijon Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup dijon mustard

4 tablespoons spicy mustard – I used brown

salt & pepper

1. Heat a skillet on medium high heat and add olive oil. Pat and press chicken with paper towels so it is very, very dry. Season with salt and pepper generously. Add chicken to skillet and brown on both sides, about 6-8 minutes each, depending on the thickness.

2. In a bowl, combine honey and both mustards. Whisk well. Taste, adjust to heat/sweet preferences.

3. Remove chicken and while it is still hot, brush on mustard.  Serve!

Salmon with Roasted Peppers

Easy summer supers, Take 1. A girl can only eat so much lettuce and call it satisfying, but there’s no way I’m leaving the oven on for longer than necessary. Enter fast salmon with roasted red peppers. Thank you, Turkish and Mediterranean recipes!

Ingredients
4 salmon fillets
1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 bell peppers, sliced (red and orange look best)
4 slices of lemon
2 TBS olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

1 c plain Greek yogurt
2 tsp dried dill
Juice of 1 lemon

Serves 2-4 | Preparation time: 15 minutes | Cooking time: 25-30 minutes

1. Preheat the oven to 350F.

2. In a heavy pan, heat the olive oil. Stir in the onions and red peppers and cook until soft (for about 5 minutes). Season with salt and pepper and leave to cool.

3. Spread the foil (that is large enough to enclose all the fish) on a baking tray and place dethawed salmon fillets on it. Spread the sautéed onions and red peppers on the fillets evenly. Place a slice or two of lemon on each fillet, season with salt and ground black pepper. Wrap the foil to make into a packet by pulling up the sides and pinching the edges tightly, leaving a little room for the steam to escape. Place the tray in the preheated oven for about 20-25 minutes.

4. While salmon cooks, whisk yogurt, dill, lemon juice, salt and pepper together in a small bowl.

5. Once cooked, open up the packet, and serve the salmon hot with the onion, red pepper and lemon garnish. It really looks like the picture! Top with a generous dollop of Greek yogurt sauce. We served it with steamed broccoli and jasmine rice.

5 Things I Learned About Food This Week

In no particular order…

1. Switching to a low-carb diet results in brain fog (stupidity), flu-like symptoms of blarg, fatigue like mono, irritability and spending lots of time thinking about food. Apparently this allll goes away, and with it, pounds! It’s magic, they say! But here in the land of low-carb day 8, I just want to sleep and get my throat to stop hurting.

2. The term ‘alcohol sugar‘ is just a fancy name for ‘artificial sweeteners.’ There’s not even alcohol involved. Examples of sugar alcohol to look for are:

  • Erythritol
  • Glycerol (also known as glycerin or glycerine)
  • hydrogenated starch hydrolysates
  • isomalt
  • lactitol
  • maltitol
  • mannitol
  • sorbitol
  • xylitol

3. There’s a guy who wants to make food – and eating – obsolete. Given the vast energy I spend making, planning and feeling bad about food decisions, this appeals to the utilitarian in me. But not to the gastro-bliss fairy who sighs over hot bread and fresh butter. (I’m HUNGRY). For more thoughts on the irony of creating soy-based fake ‘food,’ check out this piece on the ethics of food in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx & Crake.

4. The infamous ‘Dirty Dozen’ may not be so bad. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the following have the highest pesticide load, making them the most important to buy organic versions:

  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Nectarines
  • Cucumbers
  • Potatoes
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Hot peppers

However,  the Journal of Toxicology folks disagree over the significance of the pesticides, “We concur with EWG President Kenneth Cook who maintains that “We recommend that people eat healthy by eating more fruits and vegetables, whether conventional or organic,” but our findings do not indicate that substituting organic forms of the “Dirty Dozen” commodities for conventional forms will lead to any measurable consumer health benefit.”

5. Which pulls me full circle back to Michael Pollan’s thoughts: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Impress-Your-Guests Chocolate Bundt Cake

This easy breezy chocolate cake is a total hit. Every time. Everywhere. With everyone.

I first sampled this delectable happiness when a friend made it for bookclub. She, in turn, says, “I got the recipe from my Aunt. She makes it for special occasions. It is probably a cake doctor recipe from 10 years ago. It’s always a hit with chocolate fans!”

IngredientsImage

1- Devil’s food cake mix (make sure it does not already have pudding in the mix)
1- 5.9 oz pkg chocolate pudding (if you can only find the 3.9 oz, that’s fine, just reduce the bake time 5 minutes)
4 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup regular or light sour cream
12 oz semi-sweet mini morsel chocolate chips (you can use regular chips but the minis distribute a bit more evenly)

Directions
Mix the first five ingredients together. Stir in the chips and mix another minute or so. Pour batter into a greased bundt pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes. Cool at least 15 minutes in the pan before inverting and removing the cake from the pan. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired. Ooh and ahh. 

Saying the word “bundt” brings to mind this vignette from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPvO53JHnmY 

10 Lessons for Your 30’s

I liked this piece from Mark Manson, “10 Life Lessons to Excel In Your 30’s” — even if the title doesn’t roll off the tongue. I’ve captured the 10 points below, and encourage you to read the full piece.

1. Start Saving for Retirement Now, Not Later

2. Start Taking Care of Your Health Now, Not Later

3. Don’t Spend Time with People Who Don’t Treat You Well

4. Be Good to the People You Care About

5. You Can’t Have Everything; Focus On Doing a Few Things Really Well

6. Don’t Be Afraid of Taking Risks, You Can Still Change

7. You Must Continue to Grow and Develop Yourself

8. Nobody (Still) Knows What They’re Doing, Get Used to It

9. Invest in Your Family; It’s Worth It

10. Be Kind to Yourself, Respect Yourself