Thursday, May 6, 2010

If Oglethorpe County were still my beat...

I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent in Oglethorpe County this semester. I wish I had had more time there to explore different story ideas. Being there made me miss small-town journalism and all the simple stories (and way-too-complex issues) that can exist there. That being said, here are a few ideas I picked up on, but didn't have the time or ability to dig deeper into:

1. People living in buses and sheds (what some call Butler houses, by the brand name). Seriously. There are people in Oglethorpe County who live in these structures, and it seems from talking to first responders and EMS that many choose to live there. It would be interesting to see why, and to see the health issues that may come from this - or the lack of health issues. Maybe these people are more in touch with nature and live a more healthy lifestyle. Both are possible.
2. ATV accidents. These are a big problem in rural Georgia. My husband has a student who was just in his second four-wheeler wreck and who still won't wear a helmet, even after the 10-plus stitches the first one cost him. But the issue isn't just helmet use, it's ATV safety in general. And, hey, ATVs are fun. It's hard to get most people to realize the dangers.
3. A ride-along with emergency services. They mentioned it. I should have taken them up on it. How cool would it be to ride an ambulance for the day and see what it's really like?
4. A day in the life of a rural school nurse. There are probably stories galore if you can get them to talk.
5. Lack of doctors in the county. There are only two, if I can remember correctly. However, it may not be as huge a problem as it could be because the county is located so close to Athens. But what about people who lack transportation?
6. Health issues related to number of grocery stores/types of restaurants in the county. I love down-home cookin'. Mmm, cheese grits, blackeyed peas and chicken. But when the only options are butter-loaded, fried in fat options at restaurants, the population will feel the effects. If you're interested in nutrition, there's a gold-mine of stories related to food served and consumed.
7. Community Connections meetings. I hear from my fellow students that these are great places to meet community members.

So, those are some story ideas. Here are a few people I would have liked to have talked to about other possible story ideas:

1. The two pharmacies in town. I bet those pharmacists have a wealth of information.
2. The MedLink nurse practitioner. Who she sees, what she does, how she helps, etc.
3. The school nurse(s) at Oglethorpe elementary, middle and high schools.
4. Organic growers. Yeah, sounds like a stretch in a rural county, but there's actually a growing number of these people. It would be interesting to see how they might (or might not be) changing their community's eating habits. New Moon Farms and Backyard Harvest are two that come to mind.

You better hurry if you want these ideas. I may just send them to the Oglethorpe County beat reporter at the Athens Banner-Herald. Wait, I think you're in luck. There may not be one. ;)

Finally, these are people you should talk to:
- Nancy Bridges (and her husband Mark). She's the county family and consumer sciences Extension agent, and she's so helpful. Like SO helpful. It was cool driving out to her office and just talking. Mark is a volunteer everything (first responder, fire department, head of the rescue unit), and he's just a cool guy.
- James Mathews. He's the guy pictured at top left along with Mark Bridges. James is the EMS director and coroner. So helpful. So is his staff. They're all nuts. Fun, but crazy.
- Lisa Vaughan. She is AWESOME! You'll notice my multimedia piece with her. She's wonderful. So happy and cheerful and full of life. Totally full of life. I had so much fun talking to her.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

When my classes collide

The perfect time to take epidemiology in Grady's health and medical journalism program is when you're also taking health and medical reporting, part 1. I've thought this numerous times throughout the semester, and it's hitting home again tonight as I cram diligently study for my epidemiology final (which will continue after I finish this blog post).

The above thought may apply even more this semester though. Through her book, a lecture and a dinner, Rebecca Skloot brought us The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and, with it, a tale of life, science and exploitation. And, in the last few weeks of my epidemiology class, I've learned more about the dark side of science, particularly in public health. That's Rebecca signing autographs. Please excuse the camera phone shakiness.

I'm currently memorizing what my epidemiology professor Christopher Whalen has outlined as the top sentinel events in shaping federal regulations about research on humans. This was discussed during a lecture on ethics and professionalism in epidemiology - a lesson needed because of all the scientists, researchers and doctors who have been unethical and (to say it very, very lightly) unprofessional.

His top three events? The Nuremberg doctors trial, the thalidomide tragedy and the Tuskegee syphilis study. My heart breaks as I try to memorize the descriptions.

Nuremberg involves Nazi experiments on Jewish and other prisoners. They tested people (without consent) to learn more about human survival rate at high altitude by simulating an altitude of 65,000 feet (Athens is about 725 feet above sea level). Forty percent (80 people) died. They then tested people's survival in the north Atlantic by immersing them in cold water and giving them salt water to drink. 30 percent (90) died. They also inflicted people with common battlefield wounds (gunshots, amputations, stabbings, burns, etc.) and studied the natural history of different treatments. Finally, they tested poisonous gases, drinks and cyanide-tipped bullets on prisoners. 25 percent died.

Thalidomide was given to pregnant patients worldwide to help with their morning sickness. They took it without knowing, really, what it was - without informed consent. It was deemed safe for the women beforehand, but it caused horrible birth defects.

Finally, the Tuskegee study, which is where Skloot comes in. Thalidomide was bad enough, but Tuskegee was intentional. In this study, scientists studied untreated syphilis in black men. These men weren't informed of their disease, and they weren't informed that the research being done on them would also not benefit them.

But, here's the kicker, the piece of all this that makes me really want to cry - and makes me doubt many of "the greatest generation." In 1943, penicillin was discovered as the best treatment for syphilis. By 1951, it was widely available BUT IT WAS WITHHELD from treatment participants until the 1970s. They were even kept from joining the military so they wouldn't receive this miracle antibiotic.

The Atlanta Constitution summed up the tragedy in a way that is both objective and shows the sadness behind it: "Sometimes, with the best intentions, scientists and public officials... forget that people are people. They concentrate on plans and programs, experiments, statistics - abstractions - that people become objects, symbols or mathematical formula or impersonal 'subjects' in a scientific study." I googled the statement, and Whalen has it almost word-for-word.

Skloot mentions Tuskegee in her book, but her real focus was the people, the person of Henrietta Lacks, behind the science and abstractness of human tissue. We are made up of a bunch of cells. But we, as humans, are also beings. We're ultimately much, much more than firing neurons and sloshing cytoplasm.

I knew this, but thanks to a book and a powerpoint, the point was hit home with an intensity that will seal this semester - and ultimately stamp it as a good one.

I hope my generation has learned compassion as well as science. I hope by writing and reading about the past that we can avoid such atrocities in the future (although Whalen points to current studies gone wrong - or unethical in the first place - to prove otherwise). I hope we're bigger than that. That's my hope. I guess I'll wait until the books of the next generation come out to see how well we did.

Friday, April 30, 2010

AHCJ2010 (part due) and the lack of veggies

Due (pronounced du-ay) is Italian for two. It's also the name of the restaurant where we ate deep dish pizza the second night at AHCJ2010.

Two was also the day sessions started. And they were some of the best sessions I've ever attended at a conference. The first session's title wasn't all that attractive (Incorporating social determinants into your local health coverage), but it's content was solid. Much of the conversation was on food deserts - and what defined or did not define this term. I liked Mari Gallagher's comment (that I tweeted): "The food desert is also a verb - to desert, to abandon - Chicago has seen abandonment over the past 30 years. #ahcj2010"

The main gist of her part of the session was about how the USDA isn't keeping tabs on stores it allows to accept food stamps, such as liquor stores that also sell junk food.

The next speaker, Bianca Alexander of Conscious Planet Media, showed the segment that won her and her husband a third place AHCJ award in multimedia for "The Color of Health, Part 1: A Growing Solution to the Food Desert Crisis." What stuck out to me wasn't her narration, although it was wonderful, but the video and quotes from a few of the people she interviewed.

One woman's quote stuck out in particular: "We can buy fried chicken all the time, but we can’t get no vegetables and fruit."

A man showed his plate of chicken and fried potatoes (and probably another starch, but I don't remember), and commented that "I think if we had vegetables and fruit in our neighborhood, I think people would be more interested in eating right...If I had a place where I could get bananas and fruit and things of that nature, then that would be helpful to me."

These are foods I take for granted. Most days out of the week, I'd be happy living off of vegetables, fruits and various starches (and butter. Don't forget the butter). I am not a meat and potatoes kind of gal. I'd be a vegetarian except for bacon and really good steak (and Zaxby's fried house salad). My stomach and tongue craves green - and carrots. But there are so many who don't have that as an option.

The point of Bianca's video wasn't the lack of good food, however, it's what poor neighborhoods in an inner city (Chicago, I think) are doing about it. I like, particularly, seeing kids plant a garden - and the hope of one man as he plants another. It's hope that something can be done, not handouts, I think, that will get people moving and eating better foods. It's encouraging to see teens interested in growing their own vegetables.

Now that I'm thoroughly craving brussel sprouts and green beans, here's a not-so-green pizza - my first Chicago deep dish pizza. And, because I hate pepperoni, the guys were nice enough to order sausage - and pesto for the vegetarian crowd. Mmm (unfortunately, I discovered that the deep dish was more bread than cheese and toppings. I was a little bit disappointed. And, thus, I'm more of a NYC kinda thin-crust pizza gal myself).

And, for good measure, a photo of the group that ate at Pizzeria Due (everybody but me is in the shot - the hand belongs to Sonya).

Monday, April 26, 2010

AHCJ2010 (part uno)

Stepping off the plane into a new city is one of my most favorite things to do. It doesn't matter if it's Mexico City or Traverse City (Michigan), I'm all for going places. I once even jumped out of a plane in Waycross, Ga. (home of the Ware County High School Gators. Yeah. UGA allegiance and use of the mascot wanes the further you get into south Georgia).

Landing in Chicago for the first time was pretty cool. An added bonus was that it wasn't really windy - or too cold. We (Lori and I) arrived in Midway about 9 a.m. and, with no checked luggage, we made it out of the airport pretty quickly. Next was an adventure on Chicago's metra and then a really long walk from the stop to our hotel located in the mammoth McCormick Place. It was here that we entered another dimension of the world of health and medical journalism - through the Association of Health Care Journalists' conference.

Pat Thomas has tried to show us the world of possibilities this master's program can open up, but it's hard to see it until, well, you see it. And when AP medical reporters and Reuter's health director and an editor from Self are there, you see it. Not to mention a media briefing by Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius and CDC director Thomas Frieden.

That's Sebelius answering reporters' questions. I know, I know. She's kind of far away.

The conference just swung up from there, from meeting people who have made this kind of journalism their lives to nervously discussing my ideas for articles while pitching for the first time ever to editors as a maybe-someday-but-today-I'm-just-trying-it-out freelancer.

I fully intended to blog every day of the conference, but the bootleg Internet was beyond spotting back in the hotel each night, and, despite my love for the few of you, dear readers, I wasn't about to spend $10 a day for Internet. I am cheap.

So, in the next few days, I will recap what I've learned, and recall some of the time in Chicago through photos.

 But, before I go, a photo of the cutest schwag (or swag) that I ever have seen. Let it be known that I receive no money benefit from advertising through a photo of their owl. :)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The multimedia project

Today, I will attempt to embed a movie into my blog. It's not true video. It's a slideshow. But I hope you enjoy (provided this works. Usually I have to try new things a few times first before finally beating my computer into submission. Poor thing).

So, I gave up trying to embed it and instead got a YouTube account. I now officially have too many accounts. But maybe the YouTube html coding will work. Crossing my fingers!

It's there, but it's jumping off the edge of the column and cutting some off. What to do?

And, I've added it again. Cross fingers that audio will work!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Moodle/Ning OR First Responders?

I was faced with a hard decision Monday afternoon. I potentially had TWO decent story ideas for my looming-way-too-quickly feature article (and multimedia project - both are due this Wednesday at midnight), but I only had time and grades allotted to write one of them. And, in my indecision, I ended up at not one, but two, meetings.

I've done an article on Moodle and Ning (Moodle is an online learning site, and Ning is an online password-protected social networking site) - and how UGA faculty are using those sites and in-person meetings to train childcare providers who work with babies. I enjoyed that article a lot. Unfortunately, their next (and last) round of in-person meetings happen after my article is due. Grumble.

And then there was the unknown, the unwritten, the hardly-thought-of, the notes from a 2-hour phone interview with an energetic young lady who loves her volunteer work in Oglethorpe County.

That's Lisa. She's awesome.

Ah, gotta love indecision. Quite thankfully, one meeting left me looking for the exit. The other meeting was crazy. And awesome. And fun. And again made me miss community journalism.

First responders win. I think it's a good choice. It's a program that hasn't gotten much attention anywhere (google "first responder" and maybe add "Georgia" for good measure. You won't get much). I think part of the reason for lack of attention is that most first responder programs function in rural counties. Urban counties, like Clarke, don't need these volunteers because they have emergency personnel everywhere.

Now that I've made my decision, I've got another one. I need to pick 10-15 photos from the 45 I like (I took over 100 and narrowed it down from there). Decisions, decisions.

That's the old bell. Fortunately for people in Oglethorpe County, the EMS station has a new building - and a new bell. And first responders. Without them, a few less people would be walking around.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

About hearts (part 2)

I promised yesterday to overwhelm you with photos. Get your scrolling finger ready, because here we go!

I arrived yesterday at the ACC.10 conference in time to meet up with Lori and Kirk, get coffee, meet Ed Susman (formerly of the National Inquirer and now a medical journalist/editor - how cool is that?) and attend a late-breaking clinical trials press conference packed with reporters.

The first few photos are from the press conference:

 Dr. Ralph Brindis moderating. I also got to sit in on one of his sessions later.

Where's Kirk?

 Dr. Van Gelder. She spoke about individualizing care for high heart rates to the individual patients. "We should treat the patients and not the heart rate," she said. "...Being comfortable having a patient with a higher resting heart rate is huge. We have permission not to be that aggressive." I'm sure the drug companies cringed.

 In line at the mic.

Kirk and Lori, waiting to ask questions after the press conference.

With their game faces on.

The Expo. The EXPO. They had a sign about no cameras, so I tried to comply. Mostly.

At the poster sessions. It was lunchtime, so the place was abandoned. We learned then that those scheduled times for the poster sessions actually meant something - that that was when a person would be there to talk about his/her research.

I was hoping to talk to this invisible guy. Then I checked my printout again and realized he left at 10:30. It was noon.

Lori and I got to play doctor for about two minutes. And then the media police busted us. This particular drug company was making posters for doctors who stopped by. I guess this is a new type of gimmick since they can no longer give them pens, cups and clocks (my dad, a pharmacist, brought home the coolest stuff when I was a kid). We were happy, and then we were sad. Life smacked us in the face.

Last moments as a doctor...

To recover, we headed back to the press room, where the free food was yummy. On the way, we passed a TV broadcast - being shown on the conference's closed circuit system. TV for cardiologists. I'm guessing they were also streaming the interviews online.

In case you were wondering, I did not use a flash.

Pat talking to Ed Susman back in the press food room. The work room was next door.

Contemplating our next moves.

Deciding was hard.

The AWESOME press room. Most of the spots were claimed by stressed, sleepy-eyed journalists clacking away at their computers. It was INTENSE in there.

The crowd flow was pretty smooth.

Random guy posing. I think I startled him.

The Murphy Ballroom. Empty. That should have been a sign. We sat down anyway.

Kirk getting ready to write.

Dr. Jack Lewin looks like a certain TV personality. I think it's his mustache.

My handy-dandy audio recorder. It also doubles as a tazer - and a space ship.

Me and a sea of empty chairs.

They had carpets made for the event. I am still in amazement of how the other side lives and the money poured into it (can't you tell?). On the same note, medical writing seems to also be a lucrative profession. Interesting how they work hand-in-hand, right?

At the afternoon poster session. People were there. The posters I ended up hanging around had to do with vitamin D deficiencies. According to Ed, it's a hot topic. I like hot topics. I can usually understand them a little better because the researchers have, by now, learned to translate their work a little more smoothly for the general public, of which I am a part.

I like this photo. It's not completely in focus, like my eyes at the end of the day. The lady in the white jacket is a reporter talking to Dr. Joseph Muhlestein. She had some great questions.

And now, congratulations! You've reached the end of my very long photo post on my first day at a medical conference. Oh, what fun!