Archive for Health Talk


What to Bring?

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While many of our guest make plans to spend some time with us at Hospital Hospitality House, being in medical crisis is generally not a planned thing.  We also try to provide the comforts of a home-away-from home.  That being said, there are certain things that we can provide, and certain things you might like to bring.

While we provide linens for your room, and you can certainly exchange them each day, we also provide a laundry room.  Any favorite towels or blankets can certainly come with you.  You can also bring detergent, but we have donated detergents should you need them.

Bring your favorite book or magazine.  We have a library, just off of our lobby, and it’s relatively well stocked.  We may not have the latest blockbusters, so be prepared.

Toiletries are another item that we receive through donations.  Bring what you think you’ll need, and we can help to fill in what you’ve forgotten.

We have a communal kitchen stocked with supplies and donated food.  We also have meals that are prepared on a regular basis by our volunteers.  If you have favorites, or a restricted diet, you may label, store, and prepare it in our kitchen.

We also have a dedicated pediatric floor.  Our volunteers have decorated and stocked it to make it as kid-friendly as possible.  It is, however, for pediatric patients. If your little one is with a guest, make plans to keep them entertained.  We keep a decent supply of board games and such for our general guests, but perhaps not enough for the littlest visitors.

Bring your attitude – the good one.  We’ve provided Hospital Hospitality House as a place of healing.  We love what we do, and you have our support, but it will be up to you to get better!

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A Pathway to Healing

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People come to us for one reason:  They or a loved one are in medical crisis and need someplace to rest during treatment.  Around 150 guests call Hospital Hospitality House of Richmond “home” on any given evening.  And that’s very much our mission – to create a “home away from home.”

The benefits of a stay at the Hospital Hospitality House of Richmond go far beyond finances and temporary housing. Hospital Hospitality House guests find in one another what guests at other temporary housing (like hotels) may lack: companionship.  In times of crisis, people in similar situations band together to overcome both physically and emotionally taxing situations. We see this happening every day here at the House, and firmly believe that something as simple as having someone to talk to is a crucial part of the healing process.

Don’t just take our word for it, though. Studies have shown that physical contact can increase the body’s production of serotonin, a chemical neurotransmitter that is thought to contribute to feelings of happiness.  Physical contact also promotes the secretion of oxytocin, a hormone that has been shown to aid in physical healing.  As you can see, even a small gesture such as a loving embrace can make a world of difference.

One of our guests told us, “The staff and other guests were so helpful when my husband had his liver transplant.  They became my family.”  Another said, “I was there for a few weeks.  You were like family to us.”

It’s comments like these make us look forward to coming in to work each day even more than we already do.

We often have friends who stop by with gifts of donuts, paper goods, or food for our pantry.  We maintain a solid wish list of things that are always needed, and donations go a long way towards making things a bit easier.  When our friends stop by, they don’t dash in and out.  They say hello, and often stay for a while to help prepare a meal or play a board game. Although they’re technically our friends, we view and treat them as family.

We’re also reliant on friends for funding.  We’re the largest Hospitality House in the nation that exists solely on donations.  Your donations recently helped to pay for the replacement of some aging air conditioning.  Our new cooling tower is much more efficient and environmentally friendly, and should keep our guests comfortable for many years to come.

Closing the streets around our building for an entire day to lift tons of equipment 7-stories caused quite a commotion.  In addition to our volunteers and staff, many of our guests took some time to enjoy a moment of good weather and take in the spectacle. This brought our Hospital Hospitality House family even closer for the better part of a day.image_2

A week ago, we walked past our library and parlor areas while pondering the thousands of appreciative guests who’ve passed through over the years, thankful for a respite from the worries of ill health.  This quiet workspace for our volunteer social workers and librarian has always been a particularly peaceful area of the House.  We remarked about how peaceful we felt whenever we walked down that particular corridor, and our volunteer librarian replied, “I understand.  It’s a pathway to healing.”

Perhaps that’s what we are.  A bit of respite, a bit of family, a home away from home, and most importantly, a pathway to healing.

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Have a Heart

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There are a wide variety of guests who stay with us at Hospital Hospitality House.  They are young and old, small and large, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, and from all over the world.  Our guests have had medical emergencies, are dealing with a genetic defect, fighting cancer, and more.  Ill health isn’t very discriminating, you see.

Some of the folks who stay with us are awaiting a new organ, either due to illness, injury, or disease.  A while back, we met an amazing woman who was awaiting a heart.  When a heart replacement first became a reality, the device that kept you alive during the wait for a donor organ was about the size of a small room.  This woman was one of the first in the country to test-drive an innovation from VCU – the Freedom Driver.  It was (and is!) a heart machine that pumps for you, and it fits in a small backpack.  While this lady was waiting for a donor heart, she took her Freedom Driver to Waynesboro to do some fly-fishing.  That’s about 100 miles from us.

That being said, it’s American Heart Month.

Spearheaded by the American Heart Association, and begun 50 years ago, Heart Month uses February to educate and raise awareness about heart-related illnesses and disease.  The American Heart Association, founded in 1924, has become our nation’s leading advocate for promoting heart health.

This year, President Obama issued an official proclamation recognizing February as the month to improve our heart health.  He and the First Lady encourage all of us to wear a bit of red to show our solidarity and promote the message.

And it’s a real issue.

Each year, around 600,000 people die of heart disease.  That’s 1 in 4 deaths.  It’s the number one killer of women, and kills more than cancer.  While some are the result of the infirmities of old age, some are entirely preventable.

The easiest way to start protecting your heart is with a healthy diet – one that is low in salt, and includes lots of healthy fruits and vegetables.  The second way is to get a bit of exercise.  We’re not recommending that everyone go out and join a gym, and you may need to consult with your doctor first, but the Centers for Disease Control suggest a brisk 10-minute walk, 3 times a day, 5 days a week.  You can start slowly, and then build up to that marathon or iron man race.

Lastly, schedule a checkup.  A trained professional can evaluate your blood pressure, monitor your heart rate, and suggest a proper course of action.

Former President Clinton, known for his addiction to sweet and fatty foods, discovered in 2004 that he had coronary artery disease.  Fearing a looming massive heart attack, his physicians suggested and performed quadruple bypass surgery.  He began a more regimented exercise schedule, switched to a vegetarian diet, and told CNN that he felt better and had more energy than ever.  His weight dropped to 185; a number he’d not seen since he was 13.

As much as we enjoy our time with our guests here at Hospital Hospitality House, and are thankful for being able to provide a home away from home, we wish we weren’t needed.  Take stock of what you have today, and take steps to protect your heart.  Truth be told, we hope that we don’t see you.

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We do this because we have a great passion for helping others.  We strive to provide some comfort to those in medical crisis.  But every once in a while, it’s nice to hear a “Thank You.”

On June 24th, the World Pediatric Project (WPP) announced the recipient of their Julian C. Metts Jr. Humanitarian of the Year at their Annual Board Meeting.  The recipient of this distinguished award was none other than our very own President & CEO, Babs Jackson and the Hospital Hospitality House of Richmond!  This honor is “awarded to the individual or group who during the year has best exemplified the passionate heartfelt dedication to healing children who other have no hope of receiving help.”

WPP empowers children, families, and communities through their four-tiered approach.  First they send highly trained teams of pediatric specialists to provide critical medical services for patients in need around the world.  Second, they develop health education prevention programs that are open to the public programs and targeted at reducing birth defects and preventable diseases.  Third, they coordinate care for children in need of especially complex care and transport the children to US-based, or advanced regional facilities that are capable of providing the services they need.  Finally, they work with local healthcare providers to come up with sustainable solutions to provide healthcare resources.

For WPP children and their guardians, we provide a home away from home.  WPP Patient Care Coordinator sees us “as the provider not only of amenities and a safe place to stay, but also a space where a sense of community is created and able to flourish amongst the families” staying at the House.  Closeness and bonding form between patients, families, and our staff.

WPP’s blog post announcing the Humanitarian of the Year mentions our very own Ms. Ethel, our 8th Floor custodian, for her ability to provide a loving and comforting presence for families staying at the House:

“They all love her, she takes care of them, and the relationship she builds with the families is a strong one.  She asks about patients and remembers them if they have to come back for further care.  She is just one example of why our partnership (HHH and WPP’s) works.”

Although Babs is retiring this year, the WPP points out she is leaving behind an incredible service and that her legacy will remain the solid ground and culture for HHH.  She has certainly enriched all of our lives, and we’ll try to live up to her example.


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Making a Life

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A few of us were sitting in the library at Hospital Hospitality House the other day.

First: Yes, we have a library, full of wonderful donated books and games. Secondly: This is not something that we get to do very often.

It was a day much like any other, and as we discussed our plans for the upcoming Fancy Hat Party and Hats Off shindigs, we heard some discussion from around the corner. At the start of the meeting we had noticed a few folks checking in and the voice we now heard seemed to be giving a sort of tour:

“That’s the library. If you’d like something to read and maybe pass the time, there’s a pretty good selection in there. If you go through those doors, you’ll find the dining room. We’ve got a group coming in tonight to make spaghetti for everybody, and they’re nice ladies. They usually get a good Bingo game going after supper.”

The person leadVolunteer chefsing this tour? The gentleman who drives our courtesy van. He works for us, driving people to and from their appointments and visits with the doctors nearby. But he seems to have expanded his list of responsibilities. In addition to knowing which building houses chemotherapy and which reconstructive surgery, he knows where to get a good sandwich, where to find a newspaper or toothbrush, and where to sit and look at the Governor’s mansion in the afternoon sun. And every time he brings a new guest to Hospital Hospitality House, he offers a little guided tour.

This made us think about how things sort of operate here at The House. While few of us are really full-time “employees,” we all have some sort of title or job description. But everyone who “works” here does a little bit of everything. Volunteers perform many of the tasks that keep our oars in the water. The spaghetti dinner was provided by volunteers. Songs and concerts during holidays are sung and played by volunteers. Things like Bingo are organized by volunteers. They are all people who have chosen to give, and to give to us.Music at The House

We always look forward to annual events like our Fancy Hat Party, and they are always a blast, but they are a necessity. The funds that are raised at these events pay for things like detergent and new bed linens and electricity and indoor plumbing. It is your generosity that keeps our doors open.

Winston Churchill said,

“We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give.”

It sometimes seems that we live at Hospital Hospitality House, and many of us make our living here, but for our guests, it means their life. When we pause for a moment and think of it that way, we’re living pretty large.

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You know…For Kids!

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It should come as no great surprise that we have a soft spot for our little guests.  If you look at our cover photo on our Facebook page, you’ll see a picture of Maria and Teresa – The Twins.

Our Twins.

Granted, they didn’t come to Richmond to see us.  They came to see the fantastic doctors at the VCU/MCV Hospital.  The Twins were born conjoined, and stayed with us for a while as they prepared for their eventual separation.  Students from VCU made dresses for them to wear before and after their surgery, art students made plaster casts for the doctors to use during planning sessions, and everyone connected to the project seemed to take a personal interest.  And it was quite the project, there were hundreds of people involved, and it was quite interesting.

Maria and Teresa are from the Dominican Republic.  They came to Richmond through the hard work of World Pediatric Project.  WPP actually started here in Richmond, and help find solutions to healing critically ill children in developing nations.  Sometimes that means initiating programs in those countries, and sometimes that means sending children to a hospital here in the United States that has the staff and knowledge to help them. A young guest

Maria and Teresa are, by the way, not the first young guests of Hospital Hospitality House of Richmond who arrived with passports.  We’ve seen children and families from Honduras, Belize, and many other foreign countries.  Our only rules for guests is that they must live outside of a 30 mile radius of downtown Richmond and be receiving care from an affiliated hospital.

That often means children.

It is for this reason that an entire floor of Hospitality House has been designed for children.  They come to us for chemotherapy, for treatment of birth defects, for emergency care, and more.  But they’re still kids, and this floor provides them with a kitchen where family members can whip up homemade meals, with a family room where they can sit around like at home, and a play room furnished with enough toys to invite much-needed play time.

Even if you have cancer or a heart defect – if you’re a child you need your family and you need to play.  That’s an unwritten Hospitality House rule, but one that we never, ever, ever break.

We’re fortunate to be located in a town with such amazing medical facilities.  We’re practically across the street from the main campus of VCU/MCV, and they are one of at least a dozen world-class hospitals that each provide cutting edge care to patients.  These patients are often youngsters.  VCU/MCV has even broken ground on The Children’s Pavilion, a huge facility dedicated to providing care for our little ones.  They already have Children’s Hospital of Richmond, but this will add a new spot to meet the growing need here in town.

Civic leaders here in Richmond recently debated creating a free-standing Children’s Hospital in our city.  They invited leaders from some of the most innovative children’s hospitals in the country.  Many argued that we have a distinct need for one in Richmond, and many argued that hospitals like VCU/MCV are already meeting that need.

We’re not sure either way, but we know that there will always be room for their patients here.

I see you!

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Going to the doctor is scary, isn’t it?  When you meet with a medical professional, what they tell you can be scary.  And it carries some gravity, because they are, after all, professionals, right?

Sort of.

Your doctors are the best source of information and should be relied on when making decisions about your health.  Remember that they are, after all, human beings first, and can make mistakes.  In fact, over 100,000 people will die in America this year from a medical mistake.  They can be as drastic as a mistake during a surgery to something seemingly careless like a miss-read prescription.  Sometimes it is a doctor’s physical action, and sometimes it is inadequate care.

But there are things that you can do to help reduce your risk (and your doctor’s risk!) and improve the quality of your care.  And it’s really very similar to talking to your auto mechanic.

When you take your car in for service, you tend to be pretty specific about what’s going on.  You describe a certain sound, a vibration, or colorful smoke spouting off from under the hood.  When you meet with your doctor, you should share everything.  Your discussion should not be limited to what you immediately think is wrong with you.  One symptom may be linked to another and may be an indication of a larger problem.  Doing this is easier if you prepare a list of what’s ailing you.

You also question your mechanic after he’s made his initial diagnosis.  When your doctor offers his or her opinion, start asking your questions.  “What causes this?”  “How will you fix this?”  “Are there any other things that could cause this to happen?”  This is partly for your own information, but it will often make your doctor think outside of the box, and perhaps realize that they’ve diagnosed incorrectly or overlooked something.

Use your common sense.  If your transmission is slipping and the garage wants to sell you brakes, you would certainly question that.  You are truly the best judge of how you feel, so take that confidence into your doctor’s office.  If you are used to certain medications, question the side effects and interactions of any new ones.  Ask why a doctor recommends a certain medication or procedure.

When you’ve gone to a doctor, or to your mechanic, you have formed a relationship.  It’s a partnership of sorts, with one of you needing service and the other providing it.  Keep this in mind on your next visit, and help your doctor make the right decisions for you.

After all, doctors don’t offer rentals.

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CVBC Group PhotoWe spent some time over the recent holidays watching football.  Don’t ask, don’t judge, and we were sorry, like everyone else, when the Redskins lost.  But this is not about that.

One of the things that we caught during the Holidays was the Rose Bowl Parade.  That’s the big one in Pasadena, California.  What made it kind of nice this year was seeing Hannah Storm.  She’s a big-time ESPN anchor and sports junkie.  We were kind of worried about her.  Storm, you see, had an accident and was severely burned.  During her Rose Bowl appearance, she had fake hair and eyebrows, and you could clearly see one of her hands bandaged.

Hannah Storm was trying to light a gas grill when it sent a fireball into her face, leaving her with first and second-degree burns on her face, hands and chest.  She lost most of her hair and is still battling an infection.  She was glad to be back on the air, but still has trouble with her hand, making it difficult for her to pick things up or flip through cue cards.

Seeing Storm made us think of some other burn victims.  Most are like her, and never expected to get burned.  It was some accident or moment of carelessness.  And sadly, it frequently happens to children.  Perhaps it’s childhood curiosity or the fact that they don’t yet know what qualifies as dangerous?

Later that evening, while trying to digest too much turkey and tired of football, we saw something inspiring on PBS.  It was a profile of a camp designed specifically for young burn victims.  Or as they like to call them, burn “survivors.”  We like that better.  You can see it for yourself here.The Rules at CVBC

The Central Virginia Burn Camp (CVBC) was established around 20 years ago in Charlottesville by the Charlottesville Professional Firefighters Association.  Firefighters, like burn survivors, have some first-hand experience in the dangers and perils of dealing with fire and its destructive nature.  For those who have been injured, this destruction is in the form of scars, loss of hair, and often involves months and years of surgery and rehabilitation.  CVBC was created to provide youngsters from 7 to 17 a place to be kids, among people who have had similar experiences, and free from the worry of stares and questions.  For a week every summer, they just have to be kids.

The Camp is staffed with counselors, therapists, nurses, and firefighters from throughout the state.  They engage their young charges in swimming, boating, horseback riding, arts and crafts, and other fun summertime activities.  Just like every other kid.  And yes, they have an evening bonfire.  What would summer camp be without one?

Fishing at CVBCThe best part about it is this:  Central Virginia Burn Camp is free.   They receive sponsorships from a ton of firefighter associations, the University of Virginia Health System, and other like-minded groups.  They also are like us, a non-profit, and as such count on donations from individuals to keep stocked up in sunscreen and marshmallows.   Many of the kids who go there have been treated right here at VCU and we’ve met some families as their kids go back and forth for therapy and reconstruction surgeries.

You probably know that we’re pretty passionate about the “littles” that spend time here at Hospital Hospitality House.  And we genuinely need and appreciate your donations of time, money and goods.  But we had to share this story.

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We love the holidays.  It’s a wonderful time.  Even here at Hospital Hospitality House of Richmond!  Last week Love Limousine and New Market/Afton Chemicals joined forces to take a bunch of our guests on a tour to see some of Richmond’s tackiest holiday lights and displays.  In a limousine!  That was great and everyone had a great time.

But the holidays can be tough on people, and especially the folks who stay with us here at Hospital Hospitality House.  This time of year often brings on bouts of depression and anxiety.  Imagine dealing with this when you’re already dealing with a physical medical crisis!

There are many different forms of depression, and they manifest themselves in a number of different ways.  But there are some common signs that you may notice in yourself or others.

A common sign of depression is irritability.  You’re worried about holiday shopping and visits, or you’re stuck here with us and miss your family, and you begin to lash out.  Feeling short-tempered?  It’s common, but may be a sign of something deeper.  During this stressful time, learn how to say no.  Take a moment to yourself.  It’s important to understand that you can’t be everywhere doing everything for everyone.  You can’t really control everything, and understanding that will help you to control your emotions.

Another sign is losing interest.  This may mean losing interest in eating, interacting with others, or quitting a hobby that one enjoys.  It’s important to move forward.  As much as we like to stuff ourselves during this time of year, move forward with your healthy eating.  It gives you energy and is important to your health.  If you play bridge every Wednesday, then play bridge.  We often have volunteers here at Hospital Hospitality House who engage our guests in games.  Keeps things interesting.  Likewise, if a friend or loved one seems to fall out of touch it might be a good time to reconnect.  Just a check-in.

Understand that your current feelings or medical condition are something that you experience but are not who you are.  There might be a loss of self-worth if you cannot do some of the things that you were used to, like household chores or a sport.  But these feelings and conditions can change.  Sure, you may have to make modifications to your life, but being depressed or sick isn’t who you are.  Just like that feeling of control, you can’t control these feelings any more than you can cure your own heart disease.Â

Which brings us to the most important point:  There’s always help.  No matter how much you think that you might know about yourself, there’s someone who probably knows better.  Those of us who are parents understand this.  And this help may mean taking a medication to treat your symptoms, just like a physical disease.  You often face rehabilitation after a medical crisis, and you may for your depression as well.  Instead of physical therapy it’s mental therapy.  This means sitting with a professional and talking through your worries.  They may help to bring some clarity or sense to what you’re feeling.

Not everyone has the leisure of a stress-free holiday.  And some may experience more stress than others.  This stress may cause issues with mental health.  Get to know the warning signs and tackle it head on.

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So, we had a pretty good Thanksgiving.  Saw some friends, kissed a baby, and ate too much.  Survived Black Friday without going to the Mall, bought a book from a local shop on Small Business Saturday, and clicked some buys for Cyber Monday.  And now we’re getting ready for Christmas and the Holidays.  But it’s different here.

The folks who stay with us over the Holidays didn’t visit with family, and most had to watch their diets.  They didn’t go out for Black Friday, most didn’t wander Carytown for Small Business Saturday, and they won’t be decorating a tree.  They’re here with us for the Holidays, far from their families.Young Helpers

Not that they’re without a Holiday.   We have some wonderful volunteers who come to Hospital Hospitality House of Richmond every year to decorate, put up a tree, and serve meals during the Holiday Season.  We get pretty close with our guests, and many of them make great friends while they’re here, and so they’re not completely without friends, and to a certain extent, a sort of family.  During Thanksgiving week, we had meals prepared by the VCU Community Health and Wellness Network and the Hanover Youth Council.  Last year the local group Offering came by and sang to our guests.  The year before that, a whole gang of kids from Midlothian High School came by to help decorate and make sure that Hospitality House was appropriately festive.  And we try each year to get as many folks out of the Hospitality House as we can to stand on Broad Street and watch the Richmond Christmas Parade.  No matter where you are, everyone loves a parade.Holiday Helpers

And these volunteers bring more than turkey, tinsel and musical instruments.  They bring smiles, hugs, and a sense of camaraderie.  They pause and talk to our guests, and more importantly, they listen.  “Where are you from?” will bring a story of neighbors and missed pets.  They wonder about their homes and missed mail, and the folks who come help out around here listen.  They care about the feelings of those who are stuck here in Richmond during a time when everyone should be around loved ones.

Maybe that’s why they do it?  That’s kind of why we do it.

“To give patients and their families a place to call home during their stay in Richmond.”

We’re a non-profit, and survive mostly through the largesse and goodwill of our volunteers, our donors, and, well, people like you.  We don’t do it for money or recognition.  We do it because we realize that there are people who come to Richmond because they’re in medical crisis, and we’re blessed with some of the best health professionals in the country.  Our guests aren’t here to go sightseeing, and their trip is often unplanned.  Would anyone choose to stay with us on Christmas day?

Santa paid a visit!As you gather with your friends and family this Holiday season, remember Hospital Hospitality House of Richmond.  Sure, there are many of us who will be here on Christmas Day, and New Year’s and Hanukah; but we’ll kind of be working and will go home at the end of our day.  For our guests, though, they won’t have a choice.  They didn’t really come here of their own volition.

Perhaps to get into the Holiday Spirit you could volunteer at the House?  Organize your group to come down and prepare a meal, sing some songs, or just hang out with some guests.  Our wish list stays pretty full, and some new decorations or some fresh board games could go a long way.  Maybe instead of fighting the crowds at the Mall you could give a gift to Hospital Hospitality House of Richmond in your loved one’s name?

We all get a little break during the Holidays, but medical crisis doesn’t get a vacation.  It will be right here.

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