Another February

“Without Valentine’s Day, February would be well, January.” 

Jim Gaffigan

Why do I celebrate Valentine’s Day?

Sure – I love to express my love to my family and friends… and I get Hallmark points. But I also celebrate the day because it keeps me from thinking how much I dislike this month.

“Even though February was the shortest month of the year, sometimes it seemed like the longest.” 

J.D. Robb

I try and get as much sun as I can this month to help my mood. My valentine tree is put up for me to enjoy. No one else needs to see it. Anything to keep me going.

February is typically the month I should take a week off but in pediatrics it is the time of the year we are busy with RSV, pneumonia, ear infections and general sick guck with kids. This year the pandemic has changed what we are seeing. Thankfully this strain is not causing too much illness in the pediatric population and the number of sick kids is not as high as it usually is for this month.

“Why does February feel like one big Tuesday?” 

Todd Stocker

I feel like ever since March 2020 we have been waiting for our normal lives to come back. I say we but I am used to having my life forever changed since Nolan died. Pandemic life is another layer of change on top of my world already flipped over, mashed on, and overall kind of unenjoyable.

I try not to spend too much time remembering the sad or hard anniversaries of this month. Maybe you have a month that you know is your hard one. February is not my worst month, but the cold weather and gloomy short days paired with usual long hard work days makes it a month I wish would speed up and move on.

If you get too down you push yourself to look up right? You do things with people. You exercise. You listen to music and get a hug when you need it. And you try to not work too hard.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

It is a good day because love is the focus. And love is love.

Love ya!

Christmas #6

Those that follow my blog know what I do every Christmas since Nolan passed.

Christmas day is one of the hardest days for me in missing Nolan. On Christmas day your family should be together. This is the day where the hole in my heart aches and yearns so much for him. Ask anyone who is grieving the loss of a close loved one.

I have hung Nolan’s stocking since the first Christmas without him. Why not? He is still my child, right? No candy, toys or gift cards fill his stocking now. Instead I place a letter I write to him. I have done this every year since my first Christmas without him, since 2016.

Here is part of my letter to Nolan. Christmas #6 without him.


Dear Nolan-

I was going to write a dreary letter lamenting how much I miss you. But this sunny winter day puts my mind more in the direction of reflecting.

Lately it is a challenge to keep a positive mindset. I am reminded that each and every one of us here on earth is common in spirit and we are all made from God. Lately my feeling of hope for humankind feels pushed down by all the suffering and divisiveness I see daily. Our human experience is now globally changed due to a virus that reminds me why I found virology and immununology so interesting in medical school. I am intrigued but terrified of the biology of this pandemic. I research as much as I can to help my patients and serve in my purpose.

Living in the present is my goal. Too much dwelling on the past is a waste. I acknowledge it but I can’t stay thinking about it too long. The future is so uncertain. A year ago we were hopeful that 2021 would be better than 2020. It had to be. Nope – same old pandemic world. I know 2022 will be different – but better?

Only God knows.

Nolan I think about the family and friends of the over 800,000 Americans that died so far from COVID infection. And those that passed from cancer, chronic illness, accidents, suicide and overdose. They are missing a loved one or ones this Christmastime. For some it will be their first without their loved one. If I had an empty chair at the holiday dinner table for every close family member I have lost since your Nana and Grandpa passed almost eleven years ago- I would have too many chairs to stare at. I don’t want to do that. I want to be present and enjoy time with our family who are still here.

Do you remember Christmas Nolan? For a child it is such a happy time. Weeks of preparing and counting down the days until the BIG DAY. Such joy, love and family time together. I can keep Christmas a day of brilliant wonderment and joy if I remember that Christmas means HOPE. Jesus came to end all suffering. On Christmas day his birth gave hope to people in an occupied country. Jesus told us “Have faith in me.” I absolutely do.

At the end of most days I can say I tried my best. I am not perfect for sure but I do remember why I am here and how I can show people I love them. I go to sleep hoping you will be in my dreams, where I can hear your voice and your laugh …. see you smile. I wake up and in the first minutes I thank God for another day. A day where I sometimes question what the heck we humans are doing and where we are heading – but I know what I have to do.

I love you and miss you everyday son. Please watch over your brother Sam. And your father. And me.

Until I hug you again…. Love, Mom

The present – no, not a gift

One year later and I can’t say I am super optimistic, but I guess I am beaten down enough by work and bad news and our pandemic life to just plod along. Taking it day by day like everyone else. It will get better someday…… just not for a while.

The Grieving Doctor Mom

Today is my birthday.

Remember when you were a kid and your birthday was THE best day of the year? Right next to Christmas?

I am not feeling that way today. And the prior days were not great either.

Yes – the present really sucks!!!!

I’m not upset that I am a year older. It doesn’t suck at all. It means I am getting a year closer to joining Nolan.

Five years ago the night of my birthday was when Nolan attempted suicide when he was at Purdue. Thankfully he did not succeed. Two days later he texted me what he had done, asking for help. That was how he told us he was depressed.

Prior to today I have been thinking a lot about what I assume we all have –

When are we going to get back to “normal”? When will we be done with physical distancing, where…

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Is it five years?

I remember my first 365 days without my son Nolan.

I counted by day of the week, then by month, then each holiday without him. It was all very new and different.

Now years later my memories are less crisp and ripe with detail. I have to think hard to remember some things. When did I see him last before he took his life? Was it six days before? or longer?

What was the last thing he text to me? I remember the message but what were the exact words?

I can look back and search for the answer if I want.

I guess it is my mind saying the specific details don’t matter. It is love, the soft caring memories and emotions I carry when I think of him.

Five years later I don’t miss him any less. My love for him is not diminished. I miss him every day,

I wake up and he is in my thoughts. I talk to him in my head. I know he is with me and sees I sometimes struggle with grief. His spirit sees I am still living and serving my purpose.

You were here for a moment but left a lifetime of love

Protect your child

I wrote this op/ed and unfortunately it was not selected. I believe in the power of vaccination. I will get my word out here.

The flu vaccine is recommended for infants and children 6 months and older. Multiple factors point to this season potentially being a concerning one for our pediatric population. This past fall and winter were unusual with COVID-19 circulating as the predominant virus. Our efforts to keep the spread of COVID-19 down ultimately made the past influenza season almost non-existent. We pediatricians are asking parents to get their children vaccinated against the influenza virus as we are potentially expecting more wide spread influenza this coming season.

Last year many children had school remotely or had COVID precautions in place at school with masking, social distancing and frequent hand cleaning. This school year will potentially be different. Currently many schools in Northwest Indiana are not mandating children to wear masks in school. Even in schools where masks will be mandatory, the influenza virus has the potential to circulate and cause infections in children.

In a recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report by the CDC (Weekly / July 23, 2021 / 70(29);1013–1019 Sonja J. Olsen, PhD,  et al.) concern is raised regarding this upcoming influenza season. With such low circulation of influenza virus this past year we might see more widespread disease this coming season. The pediatric population, especially the very young, may be left more susceptible to influenza infection as they do not have the prior exposure and thus immunity to the virus.  

Just how effective is the flu vaccine in children? Studies show that children who get an influenza vaccine have a reduced risk of needing ICU care by 74% and significantly reduced risk of dying from the flu. In the 2019-20 flu season 188 pediatric deaths were reported in the US. Vaccine efficacy rates can vary due to which strain is circulating, but the efficacy for children is similar to that of adults at 40-60 %. The flu vaccine is given to reduce risk of infection and, as we are seeing with the COVID-19 vaccine, its power to reduce the possibility of severe illness and death is significant.

It is estimated that influenza infections in children cause 12,000 to 46,000 hospitalizations each season. I fear that this coming flu season children will need hospitalization for non-COVID-19 illnesses and those with rare COVID-19-related serious illnesses may not have a bed available at their local hospital. There are no pediatric intensive care beds in Lake County Indiana. Only two Lake County hospitals have pediatric units with a total of less than twenty beds.  Last winter season the hospital I admit to in Northwest Indiana was closed to pediatric admissions. This was in response to the high bed volume needed for adult patients specifically with COVID-19 infections. If other community hospitals in the Chicagoland area need to do the same, we will be relying on our Chicagoland children’s hospitals to take on the number of ill children needing inpatient care. There are only so many beds available.

Influenza infection and COVID-19 infection have similar symptoms. If a child (regardless of having a history COVID-19 vaccine or not) presents with fever, sore throat, cough and runny/stuffy nose, it is likely they will be tested for both viruses if they are living in an area where COVID-19 virus is high in circulation. If a child gets the influenza vaccine, they will be less likely to get flu infection and so less likely to need evaluation and testing for a virus infection.  Parents tell me they don’t want their child to wait in the urgent care or the ER with other sick people. 

Silver not Gold

Happy 25 year anniversary to me!

To celebrate my 25 years of service as a general pediatrician I share with you 25 of my thoughts in no particular order. These thoughts are mine and are not supported by my employer.

When I celebrated twenty years of working it was two months before my world fell apart. I am acknowledging my 25 but not celebrating it. These past five years feel like twenty and are not the best ones of my life.

I am sorry to say my profession is slowly eroding in respect. Pediatricians are at the bottom of the pay scale for physician salaries but we take care of the most important patient population. (I am biased I know) I have been called horrible names by angry parents, told I am stupid and selfish and that I work just for the money. (huh?)

God made puppies and babies cute because they poop and pee a lot and many times in places they are not supposed to.

Being a parent is the hardest job in the world. Sometimes you feel rewarded. Sometimes you get your heart broken.

I think I hold the record for the most newborn circumcisions performed in my hospital in a 24 hour period.

Don’t tell me you understand how it is to grieve the loss of a child. Until you bury your son due to suicide don’t tell me your perspective. I don’t tell people how to grieve. I listen. That is what I ask people to do.

Kingdom, Phylum, Class , Order, Family, Genus, Species. If you don’t get it you did not major in Biology.

Practicing medicine would be so much better if I didn’t have to spend hours at my computer charting and justifying medications, studies/labs and therapies to insurance companies.

When you make a mistake in medicine you can cause permanent damage, have a patient suffer or have a fatal outcome. I do not take my job lightly. I ask people to honor my 25 plus years experience when I recommend a treatment or give advice.

In my early twenties I used to attend Friday night lectures at Fermilab, a particle physics laboratory in Batavia, IL. Yes – I loved physics and I am a science geek.

Don’t expect another 25 years of work from me. How many I have left I don’t know. I DO know it is time to retire when nobody wants to see me or listen to my advice.

If I knew back in 1996 what life was going to be like in 2021….

I think all women have been sexually harassed at work sometime in their career. My most memorable event was in med school when I was invited to “help” a senior resident in his call room. Hell. No.

It is not an emergency at 2 am if your child has not pooped in a week and you feel now is the time to get advice.

Goldfish crackers are not a protein food.

The medical profession had been waiting for a pandemic to happen. It was never if – but when. I thought it would be a super strain of influenza. I never thought it would be so politized.

Our brain is the least understood organ of our body and obviously the most important.

I feel I will still need to defend vaccines and discuss how they do not cause autism until my last days of work and up to the end of my life.

The first child I ever saw die was carried into the emergency room crying and fully awake. 30 minutes later meningococcemia took his life. The worst sound is hearing a mother wail when she is told her child is dead.

You don’t need to tell me I am strong. I know I am. I also know people who are much stronger than me.

The parent who rubs you the wrong way, the one who makes you feel frustrated during your visit with their child, is the one who you need to listen to and spend more time with.

The worst recurring thought is when you remember your child is dead. Every morning you awaken and are reminded of this.

Pediatricians have the best patients and even on my saddest day I feel joy when I see them. Ok – maybe not 15 month olds – they hate being at our office no matter what and scream and cry the whole time.

It is my honor to be a doctor. I worked hard and thank God for my talent. I am grateful that I found my purpose.

Every day I wake up and pray my intentions: I pray for others and for our world, I pray to serve God thru my work, I pray to share and be present for those that are suffering like me, and I give thanks that I am one day closer to being Home.

I had no idea I could cry so many tears in 5 years.

I don’t know why we are here on this earth at this time 2000+ A.D. But I do know we all are really strong spirits living during this time on this blue ball in this big universe.

Thank you for allowing me to be your child’s doctor

(That was 26. You got a bonus one.)

Eyes without a face

Can you tell if I am happy? sad?
How about now?

Are you sure you guessed correctly?

My eyes

1980’s Lisa

They used to be young and vibrant. My husband Scott even wrote a poem about my blue eyes before we were engaged.

And now? Well – my eyes show my age and the work, trauma and grief I have endured.

My eyes can’t hide my truth.

These last weeks I can’t hide the sadness in my eyes. Crying make my eyelids so puffy. The mask hides my bags partially but you don’t have to be close up to me to see how bad I look. It is convenient to not have to wear makeup with a mask covering up most of your face. Why bother putting eyeliner on- it can’t fix these fifty something year old eyes.

I wish my patients could see my full face. See my smile. I would be happier if the smile that I DO get when I see my patients was apparent to them and their parents. I now have to rely on my voice to be the way to share my emotion.

I know it will be a long time before I can be at work without a mask. How long? Who knows.

My mask won’t show if I am smiling or frowning. But my eyes….

I found my special purpose

(I love this movie- ok – he had a different special purpose- but this saying makes me laugh)

I wrote this blog entry in honor of National Doctors’ day, today, March 30.

“I always knew I was going to be a doctor”

Some people can say this – but not me.

I didn’t always know what I wanted to do. In fact, in high school I liked photography, flower arranging and since I really loved staying at hotels as a kid, I thought being a hotel manager would be fun. Yes – the girl voted “most intelligent” in school had great aspirations didn’t she? I excelled in the sciences and math was easy (but I didn’t like calculus – still don’t} and my GPA and ACT scores were stellar.

So off to Loyola I went and with my parents and teachers suggesting the medical field I thought a biology major would be good. My freshman year I volunteered at a small Chicago hospital spending time in the ER and I liked it. Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Philosophy, Logic, Religious studies – I was educated in the Jesuit tradition. My love of science, of the complexity and care of the human body and mind were fueled and shaped.

Yes – I want to be a physician. I will do this.

When you commit to becoming a physician you know you are giving up some things. You have very delayed gratification. You see the completion of your goal is many years away. When I used to talk to junior high students interested in medicine the two questions I was asked consistently were #1- how much does a doctor make? and #2 how many years does it take to become a doctor? When I told them it was 11 years minimum to become a practicing primary care physician and as many as 15 years to become a neurosurgeon, many of the students dwelled on that timeline.

If you went straight through from high school to medical school and completing your residency with no break, you started your practice – really your career – at age 29 or 30. You spent your 20’s studying and learning. Yes – many physicians in training get married and start their families during these years, but the truth is the study of medicine is really first and most important. Your profession is your life.

Can I say I am thankful I know my life’s purpose? God gave me these gifts of knowledge, of love of medicine, the drive, devotion and stamina to succeed and continue to practice caring for the most important population I believe I am honored to serve – our children.

Yes – Yes I am so very thankful. Grateful. I state my gratitude in my morning prayer and intentions.

I know many people go through their life feeling they have not found their purpose. We have this pressure put upon us by our society and our educational system. Starting around age 14 our kids are asked “what do you want to be?” They are asked to pick a career- no commitment- but still the pressure. They are put on career paths and told college is the goal. Both of my sons took career aptitude tests during high school yet after given their result it still was not clear to them what they wanted to study or pursue as a career.

I pray our children feel they can do whatever they desire. I pray that they continue to dream. I hope they also understand they might wait half or most of their lifetime to understand why they are here. Dreams can be big or be small but they are of equal importance.

You may not know your purpose in life until you spend most of your life searching, only to discover the search is the purpose – and that is ok.

The sun is coming up. I need to stop writing and go to work. I have patients to see.

Emotional soup

The Class of 2020. Well they sure will have a lot to tell their kids when they are older. We can think of many ways to describe the year 2020. For me, it was the year of anticipation with Sam graduating and going off to college. But the pandemic changed everyones plans and I remember it felt like we were (and still are) working on a two week timeline. Lockdown in March and time passed by in two week increments. When will school open? Update in two weeks. You are in quarantine? Two weeks.

Yet it still was a shock last August when two weeks and two days before Sam was to leave for Chicago the school announced the dorms would not be open. He understood but the disappointment was so difficult for him and for us. Friends left for college. He stayed. Time marched in weeks and months.

And here we are- today he leaves.

Sam wanted zuppa toscana last night.

I love this soup too – lots of bacon and a rich cream base. As I am prepping the ingredients I have my thoughts wander…

Finally he gets to experience college, although rather modified. All but one class online. He has to screen twice a week for COVID. Mandatory two week quarantine for all students living on campus. No roommate. Social distance, masks and all organizations meet virtually.

Mixing in the chicken stock I feel a chaos of emotions. I am happy, scared, anxious. I am sad. Nolan should be here enjoying this soup with us, having our family dinner.

I know he is ready. Am I? Am I going to be able to have him gone and not worry about him all the time? I am fine with an empty nest. He will be back.

Nolan left for Valparaiso University and he never finished the semester. One month later he was gone.

He never came back.

I try to not have my mind go there but I can’t help it.

It is in a mother’s nature to worry. College should be a time of independence. Meeting new people. Exploring the campus and for Sam, the city. The will be so different for him.

But then again – he never experienced what college should be like.

Nolan should be here but he is not.

In my heart I know he will be with Sam, a big brother watching over his little brother.

Will I still worry? Hell yes. But work keeps me occupied. I have my patients to care for and worry about. I guess that is what makes me a good doctor.