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Graduation Day at TCC

Note: Patients names were changed for this post

On June 11, 2012, Eileen and I had the privilege of attending the graduation of
one of Terence Cardinal Cooke’s residents, Aaron Palmer, a 21-year-old young man who
suffers from anoxic brain damage sustained in an accident six years ago. Aaron is almost
completely immobile and has no ability to respond except by way of an occasional tear
from his left eye. This small celebration on the Pediatrics Unit of the facility was to
mark the end of Aaron’s studies with the New York City Department of Education, as he
has turned 21 and will no longer be having classes with the teachers who come to TCC to
work with the children residents. It was a time to celebrate the care Aaron’s parents have
provided throughout his life and the care facility staff have provided during Aaron’s one
year in the facility. During the celebration a few short speeches were made by Aaron’s
teacher and other staff members, as well as by his parents who tearfully accepted the
diploma on Aaron’s behalf. After the speeches a rose was given to every one of the
women present to thank them for their devotion to Aaron.

Two days later we were able to see Aaron’s teacher in action with his students:
reading to them, singing to them, allowing them to touch different kinds of objects to
stimulate their brains. Mr. Elliot, Aaron’s teacher, comes in everyday to meet with “his
boys”. All are young men in their late teens. None of them are capable of response.
We discovered later on in this visit that fewer than half of the parents visit the children
residents. But the staff takes on the role of caring with gusto. They realize that while
these children may not be able to express themselves, they can still recognize voices and
understand love and care. The nurses beam as they talk about the children and say which
ones are real gossips, flirts, or sweethearts.

The experience of seeing this unit in action brought to mind a quote from Mother
Theresa that I read recently: “We are called upon not to be successful, but to be faithful.”
Does Aaron learn in the two hours that his teacher spends with him daily? Does he hear?
Does he understand? All of these questions are important, but perhaps not fundamental.
Even if no progress is made and no change is noted, these teachers are still committed to
faithfully come daily and stimulate these student’s minds, to show them love and care.
Grappling with the difficulty of accepting this kind of lack of response and progress is
one of our most difficult and valuable lessons at TCC and we are constantly challenged
by the commitment and devotion of these staff.

Ron

Note: Patients names were changed for this post

Eileen Yung and I, both medical interns at TCC, met Ron the day he and his family made the decision to receive hospice care. This kind of care emphasizes maintaining the comfort of a patient with a terminal prognosis.  Ron’s deterioration to this point had been fairly swift but decisive.  Ron suffered from HIV/AIDS and was experiencing a host of infections.  Ron was sleeping for most of that first day while we sat with him for hours.  But his sleeping was punctuated by anxious moments of being awake.  In the few moments that we spoke to him that first day between his hours of sleeping, he often asked if his computer was safe, if he’d missed his meeting with his grandma.  When we inquired about the pictures on the wall—smiling moments with his friends and tender moments with his mother as a young child—he simply cried out in distress that he wasn’t sure what they were, that they only confused him more.  At one point he said in the midst of his frustration “I can’t remember my name!”  But over the next few days Ron had calmer moments when we learned that he had loved to dance before his diagnosis—mostly modern and contemporary.  When I commented on how graceful and beautiful his hands were he flourished one in the air and smiled at me.  We spent many hours with Ron the few days that we knew him.  He floated in and out of sleep, in and out of worry, in and out of reminiscences of the past—but always with so much sweetness.  He was sometimes worried that we might need to be somewhere else or that he perhaps ought to be doing something to entertain us.  We did our best to reassure him that he had nothing to worry about; that we were just visiting to spend time together. 

 

The last day we saw Ron he was laying in his room with two friends and his niece.  He had just had what his loyal friend Alan lovingly called “a bad day.”  He looked terrible.  His eye was swollen from edema and his breathing was slow and labored.  He opened his eyes once or twice but never talked.  So instead we all talked about him.  His friends laughed about the way Ron clung to his sense of humor—still rolling his eyes at ridiculous comments and scoffing at everyone thinking he couldn’t hear them just because he had his eyes closed.  They said he was still sharp—even remembered to ask his friend about her exam on the 27th.  After a little while we took our leave.  The next morning we discovered that the nurses had been called just five minutes after our departure and he had been declared dead within the next hour. 

 

Ron’s death was the second in the facility since our arrival and by far the most personal.  It was a moving experience for both of us to watch Ron and his family journey through the process of his passing.  All I can really say of the experience was that it was a privilege to have known Ron even for such a short time and we will continue to think of him often throughout the rest of our weeks here.

 

– Rachel Schenkel   

CSSR Spring Seminar Series 2012

Thursday, April 19

To RSVP: http://cssr.ei.columbia.edu/?id=rsvp

 

“Where Has All the

Caring Gone?”

A talk presented by

Anthony Lechich, M.D.

Medical Director, Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center

As physician, teacher, administrator and writer, Dr. Lechich has focused on defining issues in quality of life for those institutionalized with HD. This message has been carried to the staff of local hospitals, medical students, fellows-in-training, families, and the care teams within the home Center. Empowerment of family, bedside caregivers and improving the formulation of highly individualized comprehensive approaches to care has been his passion for many years.

Seminar begins at 6PM in Davis Auditorium,

Schapiro Building

Columbia University in the City of New York

Professor Reflections (taken from Spectrum)

by Robert Pollack

Robert Pollack, current Director of University Seminars, and a former Dean of Columbia College, reflects on the introduction of coeducation during his time as Dean and looks to the future of the College.

Springtime thirty years ago changed my life.  I was a member of the College Faculty Committee on instruction, and a relatively new professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. I had come back to Columbia to run a lab and to teach in the Core.

I was turned away from teaching in CC, and offered instead the chance to create a course on science for non-scientists, with a grant to me from the University President, Michael Ira Sovern. The course was fun, the grant was nice to get, and I thought that was the whole story.

Then, the Faculty of Columbia College voted to admit women to the College.

The mechanical and emotional responses are well described in the long essays in this week’s Spectator. I will add here that for me, the vote led to another conversation with the President, followed by my appointment as the Dean, replacing Arnold Collery.

In these days we read about Deans being replaced all too often—in those days a new Dean of the College was a rare event. As Dean, I was given the task of making coeducation work. I used whatever arguments I could think of.

Sometimes I would have to be a bit more clever than is right: For instance, there was no immediate move by Facilities to renovate the dorms, so I made an appeal to the administration on the grounds of the delicacy of girls, and that did work, to the benefit of all students who would thereafter find cleaner facilities, a better health service, and an altogether less gross set of common rooms in the dorms.

I think my greatest personal accomplishment was shepherding the merger of the Barnard Honey Bears with the Columbia Lions, to generate the Athletic Office that ran men’s and women’s athletics here. NCAA rules required parity, and it was great fun to get the various women’s teams going. I think it was the case then and it remains the case now, that the availability of coaches and teammates as part of one’s life on campus is a poorly appreciated gift of intercollegiate athletics.

Yesterday’s Spectator has an article by the Dean of GSAS making the case that the Core Curriculum of the College cannot be used as the reason why College Alumni gifts should go to College needs. I respectfully disagree— until the Arts and Sciences Faculty has a transparent and workable structure to fund and manage the College’s core into the future, alumni cannot be expected to act as if it were so. I believe VP Dirks intends to reach that golden mean, and I hope I will be able to join many colleagues in helping him.

Hello friends of the CSSR!

The CSSR would like to announce its spring seminar lineup and ask you to please come join us in hearing a variety of speakers speak about their experiences and the connections they’ve made between their scientific work and other social, moral, or theological ideas. We have an eclectic schedule that will begin in early April, so make time to come out for an early evening seminar and the question and answer that will follow the talk!

 Spring Seminar Series 2012

“The End of War”

John Horgan, CAL, Stevens Institute of Technology

co-sponsored by Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity and the Earth Institute 

Thursday, March 29, 4 pm, Teachers College

“The Business of Genomic Medicine” 

a film documentary

Stephanie Welch 

University of California

Tuesday, April 3

“Grave Matters, on the Role of Death in Life”

Sheldon Solomon

Skidmore College, Professor of Psychology

Wednesday, April 11

“Where Has All the Caring Gone?”

Anthony Lechich

MD, Medical Director, Terrance Cardinal Cooke Hospital

Thursday, April 19

“Race and Genomic Medicine”

Ann Taylor, MD, Dept Cardiology and Dean, CUMC

Thursday, May 10


All seminars are free and begin at 6PM at Davis Auditorium, Schapiro Building. For more information, visit http://cssr.ei.columbia.edu/?id=news_events.

Hope to see you this Spring!

You might think that such a header would be followed by a passionate if perhaps overwrought appeal from a well-meaning but naive blogger.  Not so: this is the title of a new article on the Project Syndicate website by our colleague Jeff Sachs, the Director of the Earth Institute.  You can find it at http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/sachs184/Englishand you will quickly see that it is passionate but calm, and anything but naive.

Professor Sachs makes the case for distance-learning and web-based education as a force for social and economic justice. This is an important article for anyone who takes teaching a seminar to be an intrinsically valuable form of face-to-face communication.

Without arguing the likelihood of market forces replacing what I now do with what his argument would have me do in a web-class, the question I have is, what happens to the development of the sense of self in a student who knows him or me only as a web presence?  A similar question in medical care would be, how does a person engaged in web-based medical diagnosis experience the trust and personal concern I now experience with my doctor, who will call me back when I send her an email or call her office?

In both cases a human relationship is replaced by a screen behind which is an economic value. The problem that I see is that we are as individuals reducible neither to goods nor to services.  We must get and give each other our personal attention even if that remains expensive, or else we suffer.

Bob Pollack

The Columbia Earth Institute Center for the Study of Science and Religion Seminar Series presents:

Dr. John Loike: A Jewish Perspective on the New Science of Gestational Surrogacy

Thursday, December 1st, 6:00-7:30PM
Davis Auditorium, Schapiro CEPSR Building
Morningside Campus, Columbia University
530 W. 120th St., New York, NY 10027

Dr. John Loike is the Co-Director for Graduate Studies in the Department of Physiology Cellular Biophysics and the Director of Special Programs in the Center for Bioethics at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He also serves as faculty editor of the Columbia University Journal of Bioethics, and the course instructor for Frontiers in Bioethics, Ethics for Biomedical Engineers, Stem Cells: Biology, Ethics, and Applications, at Columbia College and Graduate Physiology at the Medical Center. His research focuses on how human white blood cells combat infections and cancer.

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