Medical Emergency + Preparedness

A Guide for Married Women

Health Seminar Advice: Make Gradual Changes & Plan in Advance August 13, 2012

Have you ever attended a seminar or lecture and left feeling transformed by your newfound knowledge?  It can be more exhilarating than a high school pep rally!  You find yourself sharing everything you learned with anyone willing to listen.  Eventually you return to your former daily routine.  The seminar materials get filed away in a drawer or start gathering dust amongst the piles of papers on your desk.  Either way, the knowledge and enthusiasm you once had for the subject matter is laid to rest.

Reducing the risk of cancer and other chronic illnesses is within everyone’s grasp.  I can not and will not let this important message languish.  I must reiterate the advice from The New American Plate seminar I attended at Michiana Hematology Oncology on 4/19/12:  Making the transition to better health is achievable through gradual changes and planning ahead.

Let go of the “all-or-nothing” philosophy.  Think more “slow and steady wins the race.” Incremental changes lead to lasting changes.  You don’t have to eliminate everything unhealthy from your diet.  Start by reducing portion sizes.  Then limit frequency and introduce substitutions little by little.

When you go on vacation, you plan ahead, don’t you?  If you didn’t, you’d probably end up without enough money or a hotel to stay in.  Plan meals in advance and buy everything you need for the upcoming week.  This way you will be less likely to buy unhealthy fast food when you are tired or pressed for time.  Better for your health and for your wallet—now that’s what I call a win-win situation!


Creating a V.I.B.E. (Vital Info Binder for Emergencies)

Most of us realize we should expect the unexpected.  But short of purchasing auto, home and life insurance, few of us know how best to prepare for the unexpected.  In a medical emergency, having certain information can become a life or death situation.

I recommend creating a V.I.B.E.Vital Info Binder for Emergencies.  Using a three-ring binder, organize the following information for every family member:

  • Full (legal) name
  • Date and location of birth
  • Height, weight, any distinguishing features (e.g. moles, birthmarks, tattoos)
  • Social Security number
  • Employer name, address, phone number
  • Schools attended and names & dates of diplomas or degrees earned
  • Insurance coverage (carrier, policy number & coverage for medical, dental, life)
  • Bank name and account number
  • Internet accounts and passwords
  • Doctors’ names, addresses and phone numbers
  • Medical history – record of all conditions and dates of surgeries, major procedures, hospitalizations and immunizations
  • List of allergies
  • List of all medications and supplements, including dosage amount, frequency and condition prescribed for
  • Religious beliefs and church affiliation
  • Military service – branch, rank, dates enlisted, commendations
  • Lifestyle information – alcohol and tobacco usage, sports and physical activities, hobbies, membership in clubs or organizations
  • Advance directives

Also within the binder have a separate section for pertinent household information that includes:

  • Mortgage records: lender, account number and monthly payments
  • Automobile records: lien holder and account number, name and phone number of repair center, maintenance schedule and service history for all vehicles
  • Insurance records for home, property and autos
  • Manuals for appliances and other household items
  • Receipts for major purchases, especially ones needed for warranties
  • Monthly bills: credit cards, magazine or newspaper subscriptions, utility bills, etc.
  • Location of important documents or items (e.g. will, deeds, birth certificates, Social Security cards, marriage license, certificates of title, tax returns, keys to safe, valuables or collections)

A WORD OF CAUTION:  Treat your V.I.B.E. like gold.  If it ever fell into the wrong hands, the consequences could be disastrous.  It is tempting to put it in a bank safety deposit box, but don’t.  You need to have it at home for easy access and updating, so store it in a fireproof safe along with your other important documents.

Having a V.I.B.E. will reduce your stress during an emergency.  It will give you more time to focus on your family.  It may even keep the emergency from escalating into a crisis.  When used in conjunction with a M.E.A.P. , it may help reduce your risk of facing a medical emergency!


Cancer 101: What Every Person Should Know August 12, 2012

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FACT: Cancer accounts for one in every eight deaths worldwide.

That’s more than the number of deaths caused by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined!  In the year 2012, with all of the advanced knowledge, medicine and technology at our disposal, such a fact seems downright preposterous.

So how is it possible that in the U.S. alone this year about 1,638,910 new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed, and of those, about 577,190 are expected to die?  Adoption of behaviors and lifestyles associated with economic development and urbanization (tobacco and alcohol use, physical inactivity, highly processed and nutritionally poor diets, excessive sun exposure) account for much of the increase.  A growing population, especially those over 55, is another factor.

FACTEnvironmental (versus hereditary) factors account for an estimated 75-80% of cancer cases and deaths every year in the U.S.

Environmental factors, which include behavioral choices, are potentially modifiable.  That means many of the 2 million skin cancers diagnosed every year could be prevented if people wore sunscreen and avoided indoor tanning.  That means most of the 200,000+ cancer deaths related to obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and poor diet could have been prevented.  That means the 173,000 cancer deaths caused by cigarette smoke and by heavy alcohol consumption could have been entirely prevented.

FACT:  You can significantly reduce your risk of developing cancer by making a few simple changes.

Even though anyone can develop cancer, the majority of cancers can be prevented by following the recommendations below:

1.  Achieve and maintain a healthy weight throughout life.

2.  Adopt a physically active lifestyle.

3.  Consume a mostly plant-based diet that limits red and processed meats and   emphasizes a variety of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

4.  Limit consumption of alcoholic beverages (no more than 2 per day for men and one per day for women).

5.  Do not use tobacco products and limit exposure to cigarette smoke.

6.  Protect skin from intense sun exposure and avoid indoor tanning.

FACT:  Many cancer prevention resources and tools are widely available and free of charge.

American Institute for Cancer Research

American Cancer Society

National Cancer Institute  (very comprehensive)

Reducing Obesity Coalition website sponsored by St.Joseph County health dept that features an event calendar, recommended resources for staying healthy, toolkits and health assessments

A.D.A.M. general health risk assessment tool for assessing disease risk based on lifestyle and health conditions

Now that you know the facts about cancer, take a break from the internet and take a nice long walk!  Just don’t forget to put on your sunscreen…and make sure you eat an apple (instead of a candy bar) when you return.


Never Too Late to Improve Your Health August 11, 2012

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When it comes to improving your health and reducing your risk for disease, even a little goes a long way.  Let’s face it, change is hard.  Research says it takes 21 days to change a habit, whether it is breaking an old one or adopting a new one.  Going “cold turkey” by throwing out all the junk food in the house and buying only raw veggies and rice cakes for nourishment will only leave you feeling deprived.  We all know where feeling deprived leads us back to: square one!

Start with small changes, one at a time.  For example, to switch from whole milk to skim milk, mix whole milk with 2% milk and drink that for a week or two.  Then switch from the 3% mix to 2% milk, then 2% to 1%, then 1% to ½%, and finally ½% to skim (non-fat) milk.  Sure it takes a lot longer this way, but gradual changes will end up becoming permanent lifestyle changes.   

Some planning ahead improves your odds of success.  Having the ingredients for healthier meals doesn’t happen by chance.  Being tired or busy makes it very tempting to choose fast food, which is often unhealthy and more expensive.  Planning meals a week in advance, making a shopping list, stocking up on staples when they are on sale, and preparing extra food on the weekend will make new dietary changes a little easier.  The easier you make any changes, the more likely you are to stick with them.

The New American Plate is just one of the newest and easiest ways to help prevent cancer and other chronic illness.


A Stroke is No Joke: How to Prevent the Leading Cause of Adult Disability in the U.S.

Why should you know about strokes and how to prevent one?  Because as the 4th leading causing of death, if a stroke doesn’t kill you, it will definitely disable you and alter your life forever.  Just ask one of the 795,000 Americans every year who suffer from stroke. 

Strokes kill over 137,000 people each year—that is one person every four minutes.  Here is what you need to know to keep from becoming a statistic.

What a stroke is

A stroke is an emergency.  A stroke occurs when an artery in the brain becomes blocked or ruptures, cutting off vital blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Any deprived part of the brain will start to die, and the body function controlled by that section of the brain will be affected.

The most common areas affected when brain cells die are speech, vision, movement, and memory.  To what degree these areas are affected depends on where the stroke occurred in the brain and how much of the brain was damaged.

Types of stroke

There are two major types of stroke:

 ischemic (blockage) and hemorrhagic (bleeding)

Ischemic strokes are the most common, accounting for 85% of all strokes.

Risk Factors

80 % of all strokes are preventable.  Most stroke risk factors are modifiable (within your control to change).  There are many things that may increase your risk of having a stroke.  Risk factors that cannot be managed include age (65 and older), gender (female), race (African American), heredity (family history of stroke), and prior stroke.  However, there are many risk factors that can be managed:

High blood pressure – hypertension is the most common cause of stroke because it puts unnecessary stress on blood vessel walls, causing them to thicken or break open

Smoking – smoking doubles your overall risk of stroke

Diabetes – diabetes increases the risk of stroke by 2-3 times

Heart disease –coronary heart disease or heart failure more than doubles the risk of stroke

High cholesterol –high levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fats) increase the risk of stroke

Diet & exercise – drinking too much alcohol, having a sedentary lifestyle, and consuming too much sodium strain the circulatory system often lead to the diseases that increase the risk of stroke

Warning signs of stroke

Two million brain cells die every minute during stroke, so recognizing symptoms and getting medical attention can save a life and limit disabilities.  The most common symptoms of stroke are sudden numbness or weakness or the face, arm or leg; sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding; sudden blurred vision, dizziness, loss or balance or coordination; sudden, severe headache with no known cause.  Think “FAST” and know the test for signs of stroke:

F = FACE        Ask the person to smile.  Does one side of the face droop?

A = ARMS      Ask the person to raise both arms.  Does one arm drift down?

S = SPEECH  Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence.  Are the words slurred or unclear?

T = TIME        If you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately.                                        


Excellent internet resources 

The American Stroke Association

The American Stroke Foundation

The National Stroke Association  

The CDC – section on Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention 


MEAP – A New Acronym Worth Knowing (An essay for public radio) August 6, 2012

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With more than 82 million people texting regularly, acronyms have become a part of our daily life and vocabulary.  FYI and ASAP have been used for ages and come in handy, I must admit.  However, I am fairly confident I could live without ever using LOL or BFF.  Nonetheless, thanks to technology, the use of acronyms is here to stay.   So I’ve created one that I believe everyone should know about and use: MEAP.  M.E.A.P. stands for Medical Emergency Action Plan.

My father suffered a hemorrhagic stroke in January.   The entire right side of his body was paralyzed and he had to be catheterized and tube fed.  He could not communicate or do anything for himself.   Even with medication and ongoing therapy, he will never be able to do even a fraction of what he once could.  My mother was totally unprepared to handle the responsibilities and issues thrust upon her as a result of this medical emergency.  It’s a fact that women have a longer life expectancy than men.  It is also common for the division of labor in marriage to be based on stereotypical gender roles, so women can expect to bear a heavier burden in a medical crisis.  My goal is to educate married couples about what challenges they will face if their spouse becomes disabled or incapacitated, and to convince them of the importance of creating a Medical Emergency Action Plan (or M.E.A.P., as I like to call it).

So here’s a quiz for all of you married folks out there…

When should you create a M E A P?

            A.  By the time your 1 year wedding anniversary rolls around.

            B.  When your spouse’s health starts to decline.

            C.  When your spouse reaches age 65 or retires, whichever comes first.


The answer, of course, is “A.  By the time your 1 year wedding anniversary rolls around.”

Now I know most of you are probably scratching your head, wondering why I’m telling you this.   The last thing you are usually thinking about when you are still in the “honeymoon stage” of marriage is a medical crisis.  The trouble is that soon after the honeymoon stage, life tends to gets busy with children, and work, and regular day-to-day stuff.   Unfortunately, almost 1 out of every 2 adults have had at least one chronic illness, and heart disease, cancer and stroke account for more than 50% of all deaths each year.  So statistically speaking, there is a high probability that you will have to face one of these illnesses sooner or later.  And believe me, you do not want to be blindsided.  Facing a medical emergency is more disruptive than you could ever imagine.  Just like auto or homeowner’s insurance, it is better to have an action plan before something unexpected happens!    

There are six main areas you want to address as part of your M.E.A.P.:

            FIRST:  Current health status   

Knowledge is power.  Knowing about the most prevalent diseases like cancer, heart disease and stroke can help you to recognize the symptoms so you can get early treatment.  But knowledge also helps with prevention.  Take a look at your diet, the amount of exercise you get, your weight, and your level of stress to see where you can decrease the odds of a medical emergency.  Better yet, plan to see your doctor for a complete health assessment every year. 

            SECOND:  Financial status  

46% of all US bankruptcies in 2001 were attributed to major medical expenses.  Do you have adequate medical coverage?  What about an emergency fund (which is at least 6 months of living expenses)?  Could you pay all of your bills if your spouse could no longer work?

            THIRD:  Legal documents

 The absolute essential legal documents you should have before a medical emergency happens include an advance directive, a living will, and a durable medical power of attorney.

            FOURTH:  Support system

Stress during a medical emergency is both emotionally and physically draining.  Do you have a network of friends and family you can fall back on?  Do you have “me time” or relaxation built into your daily routine?

FIFTH:  Household IQ

Where is the key to the safety deposit box?  Do you know all of the computer accounts/passwords?  Who should you call if the car breaks down? 

Creating a binder with this and other important information vital to running your household is the best way to keep everything organized and accessible.

SIXTH:  Communication system

 It is critical to talk to your spouse so you know what is going on in all aspects of their life.  Just like cross training at work, you have to know how to do their responsibilities in the event they are unable to.  It is also the same as being on any team—you have to be able to perform the role of each member in case you ever need to fill in for them.     


Chronic illnesses are among the greatest threats to our health.  More than 133 million Americans—or almost 1 out of every 2 adults—have at least one chronic illness.  So think of a Medical Emergency Action Plan like you do homeowners insurance or auto insurance:  an absolute necessity.  Ben Franklin said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and I believe that is certainly true when it comes to medical emergencies.  There is no way to prepare for every possible medical crisis that may arise.  But if you have a MEAP, you will be able to cope better.  You will be empowered instead of crippled. 


Incremental Changes and Planning Ahead are the Secrets to Better Health (Revised Event Wrap) August 5, 2012

I have exciting and wonderful news:  you do not need to give up all tasty food or exercise three hours a day to become healthier.   In fact, one of the secrets to reducing your risk for cancer and other chronic illnesses doesn’t require you to read a book, drink some weird juice, or spend $79.95.  By making just a few small changes and planning ahead, you can significantly improve your health.  How do I know this?  I attended a free seminar at Michiana Hematology Oncology in Mishawaka, IN on April 19, 2012 called “The New American Plate—Not Your Mother’s Sunday Dinner!

Speaker Heather Borsa, a Registered Dietician also Board Certified in oncology nutrition, works with recently diagnosed cancer patients and cancer survivors at Michiana Hematology Oncology.  To determine what changes we needed make to our diet, we had to first examine our current eating habits.  We were given a paper plate and colored pencils, then instructed to draw what we ate last night for dinner.  Thankfully our artistic ability (including color choices) was not scrutinized.   Only the honest disclosure of actual food consumed and real portion sizes was important.  Then we were asked to compare our plate to a picture of a meal that followed The New American Plate template.  In other words, did our plate have only one-third or less fish, poultry, lean meat or dairy, and two-thirds or more vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans? 


The nutritional guidelines followed in The New American Plate are based on scientific evidence, as described in a report authored by the American Institute for Cancer Research called “Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective.”  Researchers concluded that if everyone ate a healthy diet, was physically active every day, and maintained a healthy weight, approximately one-third of most common cancers could be prevented worldwide!  But knowing why we should eat healthier is the easy part.  How to eat healthier, especially from a practical perspective, can be more challenging.   Anyone who grew up eating the typical American “meat and potatoes” diet should not expect to change their diet overnight.  Making the change from the traditional plate of meat, potatoes and starchy vegetables to the new plate of less meat, whole grains and mostly colorful vegetables will be an ongoing process of many small changes.  Here are a few of Ms. Borsa’s suggestions for making the transition to The New American Plate:

  • Evaluate the size of your plate – a paper plate is a good template to use.  Plate sizes have grown over the years and it can be hard to eat appropriate portion sizes if your plate is bigger than it should be.
  • Cut back on meat portions – the goal should be 1/3 or less of the plate, or a 3 oz. portion (which is the size of a deck of cards).  A typical piece of meat from a grocery store or restaurant is often more than one serving size!
  • Choose more vegetables and fruits – include more plant-based foods at each meal, try to include a fruit and vegetable at each meal, and pick a variety of colors to maximize the phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals.
  • Go for whole grains instead of white – try brown rice, bulgar, quinoa, whole grain pasta, and barley, which are full of fiber and other nutrients.  Try to avoid boxed mixes because they tend to have excess fat, sodium and preservatives.
  • Replace processed meat with fresh meat – meat with nitrates and nitrites (known carcinogens) are linked to cancer.  Limit red meat (pork, beef and lamb) to less than 18 oz. per week.  Lean poultry and fish are good choices; eating cold-water fish twice a week has heart benefits.  Beans (legumes) make a great meat substitute.
  • Increase the number of textures – satiety research has determined that meals with 3 to 4 textures are more satisfying than meals with only 1 to 2 textures.  So increasing the variety of food in your diet is not only healthier, it is also more satisfying, which means you will eat less.


Even though all of this sounded great, I had to ask Ms. Borsa one question:  How is it possible to follow The New American Plate model if you work full-time, have children with busy schedules and lack the energy to prepare such varied meals every night?  While she acknowledged the extra challenge it presents to working mothers, she believes that planning ahead is crucial.  She recommends using weekends to plan meals and to shop for the upcoming week.   By doing so, we can take advantage of sales and seasonal produce.  We can also reduce dinner prep time by chopping up food ahead of time and making large batches of whole grains and beans, which can be refrigerated and  then easily reheated when need.  Freezing meal-size portions of cooked food or commonly used ingredients can also help save time and money for busy families.


Just as “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step,[1]” our journey to better health must begin with a few small changes and a bit of planning.


[1] Lao Tzu, philosopher and founder of Taoism.