From the category archives:

Everyday Hopkins

Trivia Biscoe

I am a clinical customer service coordinator in Johns Hopkins Children Center and I work to build positive communications between patients, family, staff—the entire medical team. I round every day with the patient to make sure they have an exceptional stay, so I track the patient experience with the HCAPHS survey.

Patients and their family members tell me that the best patient experience they can get is being communicated with, understanding what’s going to happen, knowing the next steps.

I spend more time with the families since our patients in the pediatric unit are 0 to 22 years old. Before I step into the patient’s room, I evaluate what they may be going through. I try to put myself in that family’s shoes.  I have a great understanding for people coming into the hospital for the first time, under very stressful situations. Yesterday they may not have planned to be here, and now they’re here looking toward an unknown diagnosis. I really embrace empathy and compassion.

I am excited about what we call the “warm welcome” because it really bridges any gaps in communication about a patient’s care. I normally go into the room, greet the patient and family, give them a tour of our unit and just assist them from the time they arrive to the time they’re discharged. I make sure they receive all the services that we have from parking assistance to daily meals, picking up prescriptions from the Arcade Pharmacy, connecting them to social work, Child Life and even an interpreter if necessary.

Sometimes these families just need someone to listen to or to understand them with a non-bias opinion. I’m available to do that for 20 families on our unit. I become their navigator. Families tell me that just having me when they enter the unit releases the anxiety.

I was born and raised in Baltimore. I graduated from Morgan State University with a degree in family and consumer sciences. The degree is about educating people about health disparities in the community. I worked with people with intellectual disabilities for seven years, running houses for the disabled and operating programs. A friend told me about the job.  June 6 will be one year that I’ve been at Hopkins.

People might be surprised to know that I am a seamstress. In my spare time, I make jewelry, pocketbooks, clothes, pillows, draperies. I made the fashions for the fall fashion show at Morgan State in 2013.

What I enjoy most is spending time with my children. I have two boys, 17 and 10. We like to go to the movies, take a drive to York, Pa., and eat dinner together. This job has allowed me to see the blessing I have in having healthy kids.

Hear Trivia's advice on delivering patient-and family-centered care.

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Matt Norvell

 

My dad was in the army. I grew up a lot in Texas, and then lived in Germany for a little while. My dad was also a chaplain in the military.

My specific assignment at Johns Hopkins is to provide spiritual and emotional support to the patients, families and staff of the Children’s Center.

I sometimes think: I’m not helping someone get all the way across the creek or the river, but I can help them find the next stone that they need to get across.

I am ordained in a Baptist tradition called the Alliance of Baptists. However, hospital chaplains are trained to provide spiritual support to whomever we meet. I recently worked with an observant orthodox Jewish family that I really connected with. Certainly we had some spiritual and religious conversation, and there was a lot of general emotional support for a family facing the difficulties of having a sick child. When I meet a family who is Muslim or Baha’i or whatever specific faith and they say, ‘I really need to talk to, for example, an Imam,’ we have resources on our staff to cover these other individual belief system needs. We also have resources in the community that I can call on.

One thing on my list of “hard things to have to witness” is seeing parents having to make choices when they know their child is not going to live, and to have to make a choice to stop things. For me, those are some of the most difficult, courageous, deep, caring parenting moments.

There’s a lot of literature about resilience—how do you build resilience, avoid burnout, etc? And the reality is that most people—if you’ve made it to adulthood—are pretty resilient. And what happens is when people get put into a crisis situation, they maybe temporarily forgot those things that support them and keep them afloat. So a lot of what I do is evoke from people what it is that keeps them afloat and remind them that they’re resilient, strong, smart people.

One of the personal things that I’ve had to learn to do—and I don’t always do it successfully—is that even with the most horrific, saddest stories that I might be suddenly thrust into, I am able to remember that this child is not my child that’s sick or hurt. It would be impossible to carry the emotions of all the particular situations I witness.

One of the ways I stay emotionally healthy is I’ve got a garden that is maybe 20’ by 20’, and I’ve been growing tomatoes and peppers and a variety of other things. One of the things I’ve found is I have to have activities that I can be completely immersed in that have no emotional consequence. If I get more crab grass in the garden, that’s okay. Nobody gets hurt.

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Charles Carter Meat Cutter

Charles Carter is an assistant Cook in the Johns Hopkins Hospital kitchen, which is located underneath the Orleans Street parking garage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My name is Charles Carter. I’m classified as an assistant cook, but I just say “meat cutter” because I don’t do too much cooking. I slice the meat.

Like today, I’ll process these 20 turkeys—these weigh about 18 pounds each—so 300-some pounds of turkey. On an average day, I process anywhere from 800 to 1,000 pounds of meat. You have cheeses cut first: cheddar, Swiss. The machine is cleaned, and then I did turkey, smoked turkey. Cleaned it, and did corned beef, cleaned it, then roast beef.

Most people don’t understand the health nature with hospital food. Some people have to learn to eat again, so they puree. If a person can’t have salt in his diet and gets something that’s salty, he’ll be sick. You don’t want to come to the hospital and get sick. That’s why we spend so much time on safety cleaning.

Early on, a lot of the people I met taught me how to work and stay employed because I had never had a job more than a year. I was working with Ryan Homes before I came to Hopkins... I started here, I was 33. Twenty-seven years ago… I started out working in the store room. Then for unseen reasons, I started slicing meat.

It’s physically demanding because you’ve got to stand, and you’re in cold conditions. The process of cleaning machines… carrying boxes, cases of meat, load’em up, bring’em back, it’s a lot of work. One reason I took the job is because it offered all holidays and weekends off. That was really inviting.

The beauty of it is I’ve been doing this for 20-some years and only cut myself once. That was by accident, stupidity.

My father used to say whatever you can be, be the best at it. That’s what I try to do. You can tell by way I talk, I enjoy it. It’s a good job, you get the bills paid. I don’t go hungry. Plus, you eat pretty good when you’re working here. I met a lot of good people and good friends coming here.

One thing about Johns Hopkins is overall, it’s prestigious. So you put that on your application, it means a lot. That’s why when people ask about certain things, I say: Johns Hopkins doesn’t owe me anything. They really don’t, because I came here not knowing anything, and look what I gained. I got a trade I can take anywhere in the world.

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George LeVay

Hungary native George Levay, a Fulbright Scholar, overcame meningitis to develop a prosthetic control.

 

I’m here on a Fulbright scholarship. I work specifically on prosthetics control, and my research involves pattern recognition-based control of prosthetics.

It’s easier to look back now and talk about the meningitis. I was very lucky. I have no internal organ or brain damage from the bacteria. Both my father and mother were constantly there, supporting me, and my friends, too. There were so many things that worked in my favor that I got through it.

By the time I got to the hospital, I was almost completely out of it. They realized my internal organs were shutting down. They put me in an artificial coma.

After a week, they had to wake me up because I contracted pneumonia. That’s when they started removing first the skin, then doing smaller amputations, then larger amputations. The first instinct of the doctors normally would be to cut off everything. But my father—he’s not a doctor but he’s very well versed in medicine—he didn’t let them amputate everything. And after two months, I walked home.

I was basically bandaged all over, but those bandages had to be replaced every two days. I wanted to die a lot of times. But my psychiatrist took me on and took a lot of risks with me; for instance, she ordered the doctors to sedate me every time I was rebandaged.

My depression was over pretty rapidly, in about 7 or 8 months. I reached the point where I had to decide: okay, I’m either going to sit and stare at a wall my entire life—because that was an option, and no one would have faulted me for that—or I do something about it. So I finished my bachelor’s degree and shifted into robotics and control theory.

I was very happy when I got the Fulbright scholarship and was accepted to Hopkins; I'm finishing school in May.

We had a lot of fun developing the hands-free controller. The most enjoyable part was taking it from idea to where it is now. This was the first such experience I’d had, and it was really great. For me, this would be unimaginable in Hungary simply because there isn’t the money or education to allow people to do these kinds of projects and work on them until they’re done.

I think the main takeaway from my time here has been seeing how working on a team, listening to and considering all opinions can lead to creating something that could not have been possible individually. The whole experience will stay with me. It’s been a life changing two years.

 

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Andrea Brown

I will say this is kind of difficult for me to share, because anybody who knows me knows I’m a very private person. I’m now realizing that in order to help others, I need to be okay with my journey and pay it forward.

I’m a systems administrator in the facilities department. I’ve been working at Hopkins for 10 years. We have a small department within facilities that serves the IT functions of the work management system for the entire hospital.

Last year in March, I found a lump. I got a mammogram and I got a call back. You’re not supposed to get a call back. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was petrified. There was no family history of breast cancer. I remember telling myself, I have to go to work and I have to tell my supervisor. I have a daughter. I’m her primary care giver. So it’s a scary situation to be in.

I was also scared because I work at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. I don’t care where you are, you see the side effects of what cancer can do. I told my supervisor, Tom Lentz, about my diagnosis and he was the one who encouraged me to go to the Managing Cancer at Work program.

I went to the very first Managing Cancer meeting, which was the first of each month. While I was nervous, the way the meeting was run put me at ease. Marie Borsellino, the oncology nurse navigator, was so helpful. The disease makes you vulnerable. It exposes you. I remember just tearing up, telling my story, not knowing what to expect. But then the people who were around me were a mix of survivors — those who were going through it, through treatment. People just like me.

I made the choice not to go through the chemo. I didn’t have to do the radiation. I chose a double mastectomy. My biggest fear was not being able to do my job when I came back at the same capacity that I did before I left. There were side effects from the surgery alone. There are times where I’m in pain. One of the challenges is not being able to physically do some of the things that I was able to do prior to surgery. I need help to lift things now.  I used to be fairly independent, and that is a constant reminder that I need help from others.

If you go to work and you don’t have that support, it makes things so much more difficult. I have such a respect my supervisor. I thank him on several occasions. The support was helpful also with the two senior directors. They maintained my privacy, as I wanted. Sometimes they just sat with me. I remember one time I was in the conference room, and I just balled my eyes out. Everybody does not have the benefit of having someone who understands. And I think in the workplace it’s very important because this isn’t something you ask for — to all of a sudden get this life-threatening disease.

My daughter is 13 now. She surprised me because initially I kept everything from her. Now she’s helping with the laundry. She’s helping do things I couldn’t do.

I’m coming up on one year of survivorship. I remember the exact date of my diagnosis was April 14. It will be a year. I’m definitely going to do something to mark that day. Not only that day, but the day I actually had surgery, which was the May 18.

One of my friends sent me a quote: “Cancer is a word, not a sentence.” I remember I kept looking at it. I get it. You have to live your life.

Hear, in Andrea's words, how she will celebrate her first year of survivorship.

Note: If you have been diagnosed with cancer or are a caregiver to someone diagnosed with cancer, and would like to  find out more about Managing Cancer at Work, visit managingcanceratwork.com (employee site PIN-6229, manager site PIN-6229) or call 410-955-6229.

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"Sometimes they hear me, and sometimes they don’t, but I know deep down that they feel my presence." -Carol McLeod

"Sometimes they hear me, and sometimes they don’t, but I know deep down that they feel my presence."

I have spent the last 30 years of my life with people in the very last moments of life. I know this would be uncomfortable for some people, but I believe it is my calling.

I spent my early adult years supporting my husband in graduate school, raising three wonderful children and singing in local musical ensembles. When my children graduated from college, I went back to school — first exploring music therapy, and then nursing. I graduated as a registered nurse at age 50 and went on to be what I was meant to be — a hospice nurse.

Back in those days, in the early years of the AIDS epidemic, we were unsure of what we were dealing with, but there were so many patients who needed our care, and we did our best to keep them pain-free and comfortable.

An inpatient hospice facility isn’t a frightening place. It’s actually quiet and loving, and the family members of the patients tend to bond together to form a village of sorts. They share their pain and grief in ways that many people never understand.

But family can’t be there day and night, and sometimes patients pass away when their loved ones are at home getting much-needed rest or dealing with the reality of their lives. Without fail, these family members always wanted to know who was with their loved one at the end. It was important to them that nurses and other hospice staff members were there to gently guide their family member to the other side.

Now I’m 82, and I’ve been volunteering at Suburban Hospital for almost 10 years. My “day job” is in the Emergency Department, where I’m a greeter, gopher and helper. I also serve on the Patient and Family Advisory Council.

I am also proud to serve on the No One Dies Alone Committee. NODA is a special program that provides dying patients with a companion if they don’t have friends or family nearby. No medical care is involved, so NODA volunteers come from many different departments here at Suburban.

What a privilege it is to sit with people who are in the last hours of their lives and help them find peace. I hold their hands and hum my favorite songs to them. Sometimes they hear me, and sometimes they don’t, but I know deep down that they feel my presence.

I truly believe there’s nothing more fulfilling and meaningful than helping a person die peacefully and quietly. It is a true gift.

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170301 Bryan Rexroad_7849

Bryan Rexroad handles dozens of calls every day from patients or doctors seeking appointments and information.

I’ve always been a really open person. I can talk to anyone. Whenever I train somebody to be a patient access specialist, I always tell people: Just talk to patients as if they’re people. I think that’s the biggest key — to be open and treat everyone almost like they’re your friend.

When people find out I work in a call center, they usually ask me what kind. I’ll tell them “Johns Hopkins,” and that kind of explains most of it: making appointments for doctors, triaging calls, stuff like that. So it’s not something unimportant. You’re actually making a difference in people’s lives by doing it.

The call room I work in is pretty small. It’s located inside the Wilmer Eye Institute, and there are five of us in there, and I’m training someone, so six total. We have our own little fridge and microwave and our desks. That’s about it. We walk in there straight in the morning, and walk out straight at night.

I’d say the average person here does 70 to 100 calls a day. That’s just a guess. It probably takes about 10 seconds to figure out whether a call is going to be easy or challenging. We get anything from somebody who must have a routine eye exam, so they just want glasses, to someone having an urgent issue, like they’re seeing floating spots, flashing lights — all these symptoms that could lead to something.

It’s always nice to have someone in good spirits when they call. A lot of the elderly people like to tell really bad puns and jokes, which I do as well. Just small-talk jokes. I’ll ask them if they have a good callback number and they’ll say, “No, I just have a regular one.”

Every once in a while, people will hang up on you. They’ll be like: “Okay, bye.” And just hang up. You have to understand that patients can be upset and frustrated. You have to have empathy and understand where they’re coming from. I know if I was losing my sight, I’d probably be frustrated with many things.

My favorite types of calls are, honestly, providing the appropriate information. That’s usually a big stress relief. It’s always really nice when somebody starts off super grumpy, and then you help them out and they’re the most thankful people that you’ve helped.

Call centers are hard to describe. I had no idea what this work would be like. I certainly didn’t know much about the eyes, and now I train people. I’ve been here almost a year. I’m 23 years old. I feel like once you get past that six-month point, that’s when you stick around for a bit.

Know someone who'd make a great story for Everyday Hopkins? Send us your idea here.

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Charles Odonkor

"Trying to be nonjudgmental when interacting with patients and finding a common point of shared humanity helps me bond with a patient." Charles Odonkor, M.D.

 

 

'Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation opened up a whole new world for me.'

I left home in Ghana at age 18, by myself, to come to this place with promise and opportunity.

My mom is a caterer in a high school. My Dad is a retired bank clerk. I’m the oldest of five kids, so I always had to lead the way. I am the first person in my family to go to college.

My interest in medicine sort of evolved naturally. My grandfather was knowledgeable in herbal medicine and had an influence. I think that sort of planted the seed for later on — having that curiosity and understanding how medicines work with the human body.

I came from Ghana to Tennessee, then went to Washington University in St. Louis for graduate school. From there, I went to Yale University for medical school.

I had been away from home almost eight years. In my second year at Yale, my dad had a stroke. That put me on a different course. Initially, I thought I would do neurosurgery, but when I went home and saw my dad, he was a shadow of himself. He could not talk. His whole left side was not functional. I asked, “What can we do for him?” I was told: “I’m sorry — it’s an act of God. There’s nothing else to be done.” If my dad had been in the States, a lot could have been done. Unfortunately, by virtue of geography, his options were limited.

That had me thinking again about want I wanted to do with medicine. That’s how I decided to do physical medicine and rehabilitation, which really focuses on function, functional outcomes and quality of life. My dad was actually the impetus for me wanting to go into physiatry.

Since then, I’ve been drawn to patients who have impairments and disabilities. It opened a whole new world for me. I was glad the specialty found me.

I was lucky this past year to be appointed as the national president of the Resident and Fellow Council of the Association of Academic Physiatrists, which is the leading organization for academics, research and mentorship for our specialty. I had the opportunity to go to the Capitol to do some advocacy for disability rights and advocate for more National Institutes of Health funding. That’s one of the things I’m passionate about.

When I came to Baltimore, I found that we didn’t have a very organized group for minority residents. It was really surprising!

I rallied my colleagues, and we started the Diversity Residents and Postdocs group, DRAP, in 2014. One of the ideas we focus on is cultural competency and helping to change the perceptions that may exist. We’re also addressing the mentorship gap with minorities.

I also helped found a group called the PM&R Interest Group at Johns Hopkins. Most people go through four years of medical school, and nobody talks to them about people who have disabilities. There’s such a huge need for it. We have all these veterans who return from war with amputations and chronic pain. Even a simple thing like accessibility, we take it for granted. Medical students must be exposed to these types of things. It also gives us an opportunity to recruit the best of the best in this specialty.

Note: Read Odonkor’s blog posts on the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Biomedical Odyssey.

Also, listen to Odonkor's story about a patient with whom he built trust and help enhance her care experience.

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Assistant cook Jennie Humbles slices and dices the fruits and vegetables that end up on the dinner plates of Johns Hopkins Medicine patients, family members, faculty and staff. She also sings with Unified Voices, a choir made up of Johns Hopkins employees and community members that sings at, among other events, our yearly MLK Commemoration.

Assistant cook Jennie Humbles prepares the fruits and vegetables that end up on the dinner plates of Johns Hopkins Medicine patients, family members, faculty and staff. When she's not working at The Johns Hopkins Hospital central kitchen, she's singing with Unified Voices, a choir of Johns Hopkins employees and community members that sings at, among other events, our yearly Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration.

We prepare the produce: the fruit, salad … everything gets washed. We have to weigh everything to make sure it’s the right amount. We have cantaloupe, pineapple and honeydew. On onion day, you’d be crying, honey! We also do food prep for Suburban and Howard County General Hospital. Yeah, Johns Hopkins does it all.

I’ve been in Unified Voices for over 20 years; it’s a community choir. We even have police, nurses, doctors, an intern. Anybody can come and join. Johns Hopkins sponsors us. It’s like a spiritual choir that helps people when they’re in need of a little love, you know? It’s like a pill — you have to take your medicine today. It’s like a pill that will heal your soul.

I’ve been singing ever since I was small because we used to have shows on the weekend for my father and mother. My parents would say make a joyful noise — whatever you sing, sing from your heart. My special song when I’m down and I’m feeling low is “I want Jesus to walk with me.”

When we sing for patients [at the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration], it’s telecast to The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Johns Hopkins Bayview. See, that’s why I love working at Johns Hopkins, that’s why I love being with the patients. Because you know, they say thanks — no, don’t thank me! I thank you because we can share this moment together. And the patients, you should see their smiles. I like it when they smile. Some of them just got off of not eating anything by mouth. You know the first time they eat, they have to eat slowly; you’ve got to take time. We can open our refrigerator, go in there and get what we want out. But these patients can’t. They’ve got to wait for the food to be delivered to them. It’s like we’re their guardian angels to hear, to soothe their souls. So we can help them. That’s the way I see it.

Know someone who'd make a great story for Everyday Hopkins? Send us your idea here.

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“Setting a daily goal is what works best for me.” -Samantha Simmons, NICU nurse

“Setting a daily goal is what works best for me.”
                          -Samantha Simmons, NICU nurse

My dad loves racquetball. He brought it with him to the East Coast. It’s much bigger on the West Coast. Initially, my sisters and I weren’t very interested; we’d go to the gym with him and play hide and seek. We’d usually hide in the women’s locker room, inside the lockers.

When we were 10 to 12, we started getting interested. In my junior career, I made the U.S. team four times over the course of six years. Last year in Seattle, I took the No. 4 player to four games and almost won the tiebreaker game. It felt great!

You can tell when someone is at these tournaments to have fun and loves the sport versus someone for whom it’s a job. My fiancé asked me, “What would you choose if you could choose one career?” I would choose nursing. Nursing makes me sane enough to go train. I love working in the neonatal ICU. I get to potentially save lives and change people’s lives here at work, and I also get to take personal satisfaction in sports.

Everybody in racquetball is for the most part very sociable and awesome to hang out with at the tournaments. My fiancé, Sebastian Franco, is a men’s professional racquetball player. We met and took an interest in each other at the junior world racquetball championships in 2009 in the Dominican Republic. He’s currently No. 8 in the world — he kicks my butt! He’s my coach right now.

Before a tournament, normally, you want to get to the gym at least four or five times a week, if only for at least an hour or two. Setting a daily goal is what works best for me. When I train and exercise, I have already planned which skills I want to work on and which cardio I am going to do.

Racquetball is 80 percent — some say 90 percent — mental. My junior coach said, “If you’re about to take a shot and you think you’re going to hit a bad shot or skip it, you are going to skip it or hit a bad shot.” And she’s right.

In general, I think it’s always best to think optimistically. It’s always calming to the parents when a nurse is positive. I don’t think we see this work as heroic. Obviously, it’s our job, but we just see it as something we love to do. I think my favorite part is when the babies finally get to go home. We have some babies who come for a week and some who are here for three to six months. These parents experience such high stress, and to see the excitement on their faces — there’s nothing more exciting than walking a baby downstairs to the front door and putting them in the car.

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