Monday, September 28, 2015


Making a stressful time a little easier

When you think about it, one of the toughest jobs in any hospital has to be the staff member who sits just inside the front entrance at the information desk.

There is a continuous stream of people who may be feeling stressed, vulnerable, sick, weak or in pain.

Sometimes it is a concerned family member, neighbor, or friend accompanying a person in need of emergency care. Some people arrive for scheduled tests or surgery. Some have come to visit an inpatient. Whatever the reason, nobody comes to the hospital in pursuit of a fun time.

I asked Debbie and Rose, longtime information desk receptionists at Backus, for some words of wisdom. Both of them are unfailingly helpful, kind, and friendly.

Rose's immediate reply is, "Be assured your family member or loved one is safe. Patient care and safety is truly our No. 1 priority."

Debbie encourages people not to be afraid to ask questions. "We want to make sure your or your loved one's needs are being addressed,” she said.

Staff is always here to help and can address concerns right from the front door, making referrals to auxiliary staff if needed.

Rose was a Patient Care Technician and knows firsthand how hard staff members work to deliver the best care possible. She reinforces that by saying, "My motto is to treat each person walking through that front door as if they were my own family member."

Both have often been told that just seeing a smiling face when they walk in the door has helped get through a difficult time.

Another point they want to convey is, “please re-consider bringing food in from outside. Many people have special or restricted diets and our food and nutrition staff strive to meet their dietary needs."

As Rose says, "Life is a circle — don't be a "C" — complete the circle."

While working in one of the toughest jobs around, they sure seem like they are doing their part.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, September 21, 2015


Opening the discussion on suicide

Ever since the tragic suicide of beloved actor and comedian Robin Williams last year, the discussion about this previously taboo subject has opened up. It seems that everyone knows someone personally who has committed suicide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collects data about mortality in the United States, including deaths by suicide. In 2013 (the most recent year for which full data are available), 41,149 suicides were reported, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. In that year, someone in the country died by suicide every 12.8 minutes.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and a good source for information on suicide is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). The mission of this organization is understanding and preventing suicide through research, education, and advocacy.

People who kill themselves exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do. The more warning signs, the greater the risk. Here are suicide warning signs, from the AFSP website.

If a person talks about:

• Killing themselves.
• Having no reason to live.
• Being a burden to others.
• Feeling trapped.
• Unbearable pain.

A person’s suicide risk is greater if a behavior is new or has increased, especially if it’s related to a painful event, loss, or change.

• Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
• Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online for materials or means.
• Acting recklessly.
• Withdrawing from activities.
• Isolating from family and friends.
• Sleeping too much or too little.
• Visiting or calling people to say goodbye.
• Giving away prized possessions.
• Aggression.

People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:

• Depression.
• Loss of interest.
• Rage.
• Irritability.
• Humiliation.
• Anxiety.

I recently took a suicide prevention training class called QPR Training, offered by South Eastern Regional Action Council (SERAC). QPR stands for Question-Persuade-Refer.

An attendee at the training asked, “Will asking someone if they are considering suicide plant the idea in their mind?” The QPR trainers explained studies show that people do not start thinking about suicide just because someone asks them about it. If you suspect a friend or loved one is suicidal, tell them that you are worried and want to help them. Don’t be afraid to question whether they are considering suicide, and if they have a specific plan in mind. Having a plan may indicate that they are farther along and need help right away. Sometimes people who are thinking about suicide won’t tell you so because they don’t want you to stop them. Your direct, non-judgmental questions can encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings.

Regardless of their response, if you suspect that the person may be suicidal, the next step is to persuade them to seek professional help, and ultimately, to refer the person to emergency services.

What should I do if I am worried about someone who seems suicidal?

• If you are in a life-threatening situation, call 911.
• In Connecticut, if you or someone else is in crisis, call 211, and press 1 for emergency crisis intervention. Someone is available to talk 24/7, as this line is a suicide prevention hotline.
• Outside of Connecticut, if you or someone else is in crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

For more info on this subject, visit

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, September 14, 2015


Challenging ourselves to try new and different things

At least once a year my husband and I visit our son, Russ, who lives and works in the majestic mountains of Moab, Utah. It's a very lively and dynamic community with so much to offer in the way of activities — everything from apricot picking to zip-lining.

Each time we visit Russ plans an adventure that is new and different for us. In past visits we have gone mountain climbing, off-road Jeeping, canyoneering, and — my personal favorite — rappelling off 100-foot cliffs. It has become a family joke that Russ may be trying to collect his inheritance a little prematurely.

This year our daughter Shelley, son-in law, and 7-year-old grandson joined us from California. My grandson had only one request: To do rappelling again with Uncle Russ. His parents enthusiastically support his pursuit of outdoor sports and activities. I asked my daughter if she was fearful for her young son given the potential dangers inherent with rappelling off a mountain. Her reply? She and her husband feel strongly that it's a good idea to challenge ourselves by trying new and different things, and they try to encourage their son to do the same. But, she added, we should also be wise and recognize there are safety precautions to be aware of and follow. She assured me that her brother had explained all the safety measures he would take. After all, he was an experienced mountain climbing guide and didn't take any unnecessary risks. Suffice it to say they all had a fantastic and fun time.

This had me thinking: Isn't that a good lesson for all of us? So often we settle into a routine and stay in our comfort zone, never trying anything new and different. We tend to eat the same familiar foods, and turn up our nose at anything strange or unusual. But isn't that the way we could discover a new and healthy food that becomes a new favorite?

When it comes to trying a new activity, there are so many options for safe yet fun ways to incorporate healthy exercise into our days. Of course it doesn't have to be rappelling down a mountain, but something as simple as swimming could be new and different for some. For couch potatoes, it might be a challenge just to walk for 15 minutes, slowly progressing to a brisk half hour walk. Either way, like Shelley said, we should be challenging ourselves to do new and different things in our life.

That opportunity presented itself on our last day in Moab. Russ signed us up for a whitewater rafting adventure down the Colorado River. Initially reluctant to try such a potentially dangerous activity, I couldn't let my 7-year-old grandson see my fear. All precautions would be taken. Well, it turned out to be one of the most exhilarating and thrilling adventures ever. Who knows what fun awaits us if accept the challenge and just try new activities?

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, September 07, 2015


The concussion discussion

As the weather cools (at some point it will) and school begins, local sports seasons take off in full force. With these fall sports comes the potential for injuries. One of the most common health issues that arises during youth sports seasons is concussions.

Concussions are defined by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons as “an injury to the brain that results in temporary loss of normal brain function.” This can have an especially pronounced impact on the developing brain of children and adolescents. Therefore, it is extremely important to learn the signs and symptoms of a concussion and what to do if your child or adolescent exhibits these signs.

Signs of a concussion.
Concussions can occur in many ways -- from a collision with another player, with equipment, or with a fall to the ground. If your child experiences a blow to the head, it is important to monitor them for signs of a concussion for the next several hours.

Dr. Anthony Alessi, a neurologist practicing in Norwich, explains that early signs of a concussion can include “headache, dizziness, nausea, a change in consciousness, memory difficulties and confusion.”
While one sign of a concussion is a change in consciousness, this is not a requirement for a concussion and should not be the sole determinant. A child can still have a concussion without a loss of consciousness. Additional chronic symptoms can include “persistent headache, difficulty concentrating, altered sleep, light sensitivity and dizziness,” according to Alessi.

You think your child might have a concussion. Now what?
If your child exhibits symptoms of a concussion it is important to take action. First, do not allow your child to continue playing in the game or participating in physical activity. If you are concerned about a concussion it is important for your child to be seen by a medical provider. Dr. Alessi explains that if the child’s primary care provider is available that should always be your first option. However, if that is not an option, the emergency room can be utilized. If the child’s symptoms continue a referral and evaluation by a neurologist is the next important step.

Treating a concussion.
It is important to follow the instructions of your child’s physician. The most common treatment is rest. This includes not only a break from sports but also from other mentally stimulating tasks such as video games and reading.

It is especially important for children to go back to playing gradually as additional concussions can have a significant impact on the brain. The child should only return to play with physician approval.
Once approved, the child should begin with light activity and only continue if he or she does not experience any symptoms. A discussion with your child’s coach is also important to assure that everyone is on the same page and doing what is best for your child.

How to prevent concussions
There are important preventative measures that you can take to lessen the risk of concussions in young athletes. The Institute of Medicine recommends making sure children have the correct equipment for their sport, that it is in good condition, and that they wear it properly.

Ensure that the field is in good condition, including looking for any holes or uneven surfaces. In addition, encourage children to learn and play by the rules of their sport. While these measures will not eliminate concussions, they can help keep the number of concussions and other injuries to a minimum.
Further information

If you would like to learn more about the signs and symptoms of concussions, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention offers a free 30-minute concussion training course for parents, coaches, and anyone else who is interested. It can be found at:

Katelyn Cusmano is a Backus Hospital Volunteer and a UConn Medical School MD Candidate for the class of 2018. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Cusmano or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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