The Power of Ash Wednesday in a ‘Thin Place’

chaplain-ogBy the Rev. Clayton Thomason

Symbols have the power you invest in them, and Ash Wednesday is marked, literally, by a symbol that people of different faiths can invest with different kinds of power and meaning. On Wednesday, as we do every year around this time, Christians worldwide will observe the beginning of Lent — the 40-day period of penitence and self-denial in preparation for Easter — by receiving the sign of the cross marked on their foreheads with ashes, accompanied with the admonition to “remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

It sounds daunting, I know, yet this ritual is in great demand at Rush, and probably not only among Christian believers. In fact, Ash Wednesday is the busiest day of the year for me and my fellow chaplains at the Medical Center. This Wednesday, we will distribute ashes to somewhere between two and three thousand people at Rush, including our patients, visitors, employees and students.

We will give out ashes to standing room only congregations at three services and provide what we’ve come to call “ashes to go” by visiting inpatient units and outpatient clinics on request. Once, I even provided “drive-by” ashes when a Rush parking employee requested them as I was exiting the parking lot.

We are part of something much greater

As the number of people seeking ashes has grown in recent years, my colleagues and I in the Rush Department of Religion, Health and Human Values have pondered what makes this sacramental, visible sign of penitence so compelling. The other Abrahamic faiths certainly place great importance on the idea of self-denial and atonement, too. It’s the function of Ramadan for Islam and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for Judaism.
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‘We Have Come a Long Way’

When she was looking for work back in the 1960s, Eva Wimpffen had a hard time finding any at first.

“I was refused jobs, not because I didn’t have the qualification, but because of the deformity of my hands,” says Wimpffen, who has rheumatoid arthritis. “I was told point blank that I was not suitable.”

That was years before the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which provided employment protections, along with increased access, for people with disabilities.

“We have come a long way,” says Wimpffen, who eventually landed a job at Rush, where she was a patient. ”Buses that are accessible. Taxicabs that have a lift, and you can get up there in a wheelchair and be able to get around and continue your lifestyle.”

What, Exactly, Is an Interventional Radiologist?

osman-ahmedBy Osman Ahmed, MD

During my training as an interventional radiologist, my family, patients and colleagues in other specialties would ask me exactly what it was that I did. Only after training another six years after medical school, I’ve come to realize that the answer is far more complex than the question would imply.

In the simplest of terms, interventional radiologists use cutting-edge imaging equipment to perform minimally invasive procedures. We are part radiologist because we must interpret imaging studies like X-ray, computed tomography (CT) and ultrasound to diagnose abnormalities inside patients. But we are also part surgeon (or more aptly coined “interventionalists”), as we use this imaging to guide a combination of needles, wires and catheters to treat these abnormalities.

While this explanation provides insight into how our specialty works, it still doesn’t answer what it is that we do. Herein the answer gets even more complicated because, we in interventional radiology, at the risk of sounding arrogant, believe there is very little that we can’t do. The Society of Interventional Radiology lists over 32 generic types of procedures done by IR, but this only scratches the surface of the services we can provide to our patients and referring physicians at Rush University Medical Center.

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Doctor at Rush: Start Breast Cancer Screening at 40

breast-imagingThe U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has announced its updated recommendations for breast cancer screening, reiterating 2009 recommendations for fewer mammograms. Peter M. Jokich, MD, director of the Division of Breast Imaging at Rush, disagrees with the newer recommendations and believes women 40 and older should continue annual exams, as the task force recommended in 2002. Here, he explains why.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women: It accounts for 29 percent of female cancers, affects one out of eight women in their lifetime, and killed an estimated 40,000 people in the U.S. last year alone. Of the breast cancers that occur each year in the U.S., approximately 75 percent will be invasive, potentially fatal, cancers. Until we can develop a screening blood test or assay that is sensitive for tiny or early breast cancers, screening breast imaging — mammography — is the best means of very early detection.

If breast cancer is detected small and early stage, the chance of successful treatment is extremely high, and the chance that a woman will require a mastectomy or chemotherapy is very small. Since 95 percent of breast cancers occur after the age of 40, starting annual screening mammography at 40 is the wisest thing a woman can do.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations are putting the risks of anxiety due to false positive mammography results and the risk of over-treatment above the benefits of potentially finding a small cancer. Adding to this problem, the task force is basing its recommendations on old randomized controlled trials using outdated technology (film/screen or analog mammography as used in the 1970s and 1980s). There has never been a randomized controlled trial using modern digital mammography as practiced in the United States.

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‘You Have to Give People the Chance’

Despite his visual impairment, Muhammad Ullah and his family didn’t even know he had a disability when they immigrated to the U.S. Once his condition was diagnosed, it enabled him to receive help on his way to becoming a medical student at Rush.

Ullah credits the Americans With Disabilities Act, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last July, with opening doors for him. “You have to give people the chance,” he says. “It might not work out, but they can come in and they can do their best and contribute. … That’s what the ADA does … it really gives people opportunities.”

A Few Words From Our Patients

We frequently hear from patients and their family members who want to thank the doctors, nurses and other staff members for their care at Rush. And every so often we seize the opportunity to share them. Here are just a few of the kind comments Rush received in 2015.

From Helpless to Helping Against Epilepsy

epilepsyThere are 2.2 million people in the U.S. with epilepsy, which causes seizures that can range from mild involuntary movements to uncontrollable convulsions. Most people don’t know what to do, and unintentionally may hurt the person having the seizure by providing the wrong kind of help.

Kevin Muldoon, 50, has epilepsy and suffered from seizures until he underwent brain surgery in 2007. A patient at the Rush Epilepsy Center, he is sharing his story to help people better understand the disease and what to do in response.

I want to raise epilepsy awareness. I was born with epilepsy, and I was diagnosed when I was 2 years old.

My mother told me I had my first seizure when I was six months old. Growing up, I would have as many as three seizures a day. They lasted five minutes at least. I would be tired afterward from all the shaking. It takes a lot out of you.

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