Pain and Inflammation: Your Body’s Message

At some point in your life, you’re going to experience pain. Maybe you’re already there and it’s something you struggle with every single day. Chronic pain is a symptom of a bigger problem. This article addresses pain and inflammation: Your body’s message.   The purpose is to increase your understanding of the pain and inflammation messages your body is sending and learn how you can help.

Important Note: I am not writing about severe, sudden onset, acute pain, such as chest pain, abdominal pain or injury-related pain. Nor am I writing about pain accompanied by numbness or weakness. These are true medical emergencies that require prompt attention and intervention by your health care provider.

When your body talks to you with a pain message, do you listen?

When your body talks to you with a pain message, do you listen?

The Automobile Analogy

If your family automobile developed an unusual clink, noise or grind, which would you do?

  • Crank up the radio loud enough to drown out the noise
  • With the proper knowledge and tools, repair it yourself and save some money
  • Find a trustworthy mechanic who won’t take your wallet to the cleaners
  • Ignore the problem until your automobile experiences a costly break down, leaving you stranded in the middle of nowhere
  • Get upset because of the inconvenience (even want to kick it?)
  • Repair it, whatever the cost, then commit to preventative maintenance

Automobiles can’t fix themselves but the human body has an amazing capacity to heal if you make the effort to eliminate problems early rather than continually make yourself numb with painkillers.

What Pain Really Means

Be glad your body is talking to you! It’s telling you the troops are engaged in combat and need reinforcements. Seriously though, pain is caused by inflammation. Inflammation is your body’s own combat team (immune system) defending you against foreign invaders (like bacteria) and its way of repairing damage.  You might notice redness, heat, swelling, or pain in a particular region of your body.

When your own troops are fighting to defend you and are calling for help, do you send help or do you gag and silence them?

Pain Relievers Silence the Message

When you consistently choose over the counter (OTC) pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, it is the equivalent of pressing the “mute” button (silencing the troops) and ignoring the message. You may be muting the message, but the message isn’t going away. Inflammation that caused the pain never actually got fixed because you silenced the alarm.

Keep ignoring your body’s pain message and the troops will eventually grow weary fighting the battle alone.  Eventually your troops will lose the battle unless you listen and respond. The “breakdown” will occur unless you become a good listener to your own body’s pain messages. The timing will be inconvenient and the repair (if even possible) will be costly.

The Problem With Conventional “Remedies”

Every time you choose OTC pain medications, you are adding chemicals your body must break down and detoxify either through your liver (acetaminophen) or filter through your kidneys (ibuprofen).  If you move beyond OTC pain medications to stronger narcotics, your problem just got bigger.

It’s interesting that the Greek translation of the word narcotic actually means to make numb or cause stupor (lethargy, daze, insensibility). I doubt this is the way you want to experience your life!

Sooner or later, the same narcotics that silenced the pain message, no longer work and you require more and stronger ones to keep the pain message silent. (Addiction becomes a whole new problem.)

Over a period of time, as with chronic pain, this continual bombardment with chemicals only stresses your body further, possibly causing more harm.

In summary, you are losing the battle when you continually silence the messenger and are not addressing your body’s call for help.

Be sure to read:  

Pain:  Responding to Your Body’s Call For Help

A Nurse’s Perspective on Pain

Pam Baker, RN

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A Natural Repellent for Black Flies

This article (thanks to my Appalachian Trail section hiking son) is a follow up to Ticked Off: Repelling Ticks Naturally (which I recommend you read first). Black flies are small enough to pass through window screens or come indoors on or in your hair. According to University of Florida Entomology and Nematology, “DEET” formulations are not very effective. In fact individuals wearing “DEET” may even have more black flies attracted to them than individuals not wearing “DEET.” Permethrin products cannot be applied to the skin. This article focuses on a non-chemical natural repellent for black flies that can be applied directly on the skin.

Black fly feasting on a human

Black fly feasting on a human

Flies on the landscape

Flies in the air

Flies in your whiskers

Flies in your hair.

Flies up your nostrils

Flies down your neck

Flies on your eardrums

Flies by the peck.


Black flies are such a hateful and insidious problem for trail hikers, wilderness adventurers, and fishermen a lamenting song was even written about them!

Black fly bites

Black fly bites

Who wants to be a human feast for blood-sucking female black flies? From about the middle of May to as late as July, black flies can make being outdoors miserable, especially in the Midwest, Northeast, Florida and Canada. Black flies tend to swarm the faces of their prey, attracted to the exhaled carbon dioxide from breathing.  Their bites are painful, itchy, slow to heal and in some cases cause severe allergic reactions (and even death). Bite reactions include headache, nausea, fever, and swollen lymph nodes in the neck.


Unfortunately, black flies are small enough to pass through window screen or come indoors on or in your hair. Their preference is to bite you outdoors during the daytime.

They are attracted to dark colors, so light-colored clothing such as khaki, tan or white is best. A long sleeve shirt, long pants and fine over-the-head screen netting helps prevent feeding, but what will repel them on the areas they manage to find exposed?


My son Shad on his recent 131-mile hike from New York to Connecticut.

My son Shad on his recent 131-mile hike from New York to Connecticut.

My son is a section hiker on the Appalachian Trail and recently completed a 131-mile hike with 2 of his backpacking companions, crossing from New York into Connecticut. Because he was venturing into the epicenter of Lyme’s Disease, I wanted to make sure he was protected so I prepared a blend of essential oils based on my own research. My review of the literature focused on natural alternatives to chemical repellents that were effective against ticks.

My son is brutally honest and I knew he would not sugar coat the truth when giving me an unbiased field-testing report. I mailed his blend (dubbed Baker’s Blend 131 in honor of the mileage he covered on this trip) to the motel where he stopped to pick up trail supplies he had shipped to himself in advance.

This is what he reported: Prior to using Blend 131, he had been pulling off 7-8 ticks daily despite treating his clothing with permethrin. Not only did the ticks not bother him, but a totally unexpected benefit was that Blend 131 was a natural repellent for black flies also! The swarms of black flies he encountered wouldn’t even touch him, much less bite him. I honestly believe he was more excited over the fact that Blend 131 repelled black flies than ticks!


My original purpose as a mother (and a nurse) was to eliminate the chemicals (and the side effects they cause) and to provide some natural protection for my son against ticks and Lyme’s Disease. I am extremely pleased that my vigilance paid off and a natural alternative was effective.   I am even more pleased (and surprised) that my essential oils blend worked to repel black flies as well!

In my original article Ticked Off: Repelling Ticks Naturally, I mentioned the essential oils I used in my blend. I posted links to where those essential oils are available and why it is important to buy the most potent grade essential oils. However, it only takes a few drops of each of those essential oils listed if you only plan to use the oils as a natural repellent. (Example: A 15 ml bottle of each of the oils contains 250 drops)

Among he oils I used in my original Blend 131 are rose geranium, lavender, cedar wood. have since extended my research to repelling black flies. (A good product can be made even better.) I am adding a new oil and an additional ingredient to potentiate the repellent activity of the essential oils and increase the protection time.

If you don’t want to buy multiple bottles of essential oils and are only interested in purchasing the premade Baker’s Blend 131 (enhanced for black fly protection), please complete the contact form below, and I’ll be in touch.

Pam Baker, RN

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Little Granny’s House Part 2

Hand milking may be a lost art.  I'm sure it was better for the cow than milking machines that cause mastitis.

Hand milking may be a lost art. I’m sure it was better for the cow than milking machines that cause mastitis.

This is Part 2 of a 3-part story. Little Granny’s House Part 2 contains memories of my childhood visits to Granny’s farm on Beefhide Creek in Pike County, Kentucky.

Milking the Cow

Being a “city girl,” I was pretty sure milk came from a glass bottle until I spent a week at my Granny’s house. Until then, I had taken a lot of things for granted. When my uncle Vernal (who all kids called “Buddy”) grabbed a milk pail and headed to the barn to milk the cow, I was right behind him.   I watched with interest as he sat down on a little stool and placed a pail under the cow’s udder. So that’s where the milk comes from, I thought! I watched but still nothing happened.

Before I could wonder why the cow didn’t know to turn on the faucet and let the milk flow into the pail, my uncle reached up and took hold of an udder. In a rhythmic motion, he moved his hand in a downward stroke on the udder until the milk began to squirt into the pail. I was smart enough to realize he wasn’t just yanking her udder. His wrist had a unique motion I couldn’t quite figure out. He went from one udder to the next, making the whole process look extremely easy. Then he turned to me and asked whether I’d like to try my hand at milking. I quickly shook my head, realizing where I’d have to place my hand. After the experience with the hen, I wasn’t at all sure the cow would be cooperative and I wasn’t taking any chances.   My uncle laughed a hearty laugh and continued the milking process until the pail was nearly full.

My mother told me the story of how she had once ridden one of Grandpa’s best cows bareback when she was a child.  Grandpa swore she had nearly killed his cow and my mother had gotten in a lot of trouble.  As I surveyed the size of this cow, it didn’t look like something I’d want to repeat.

There was no pasteurization or homogenization of milk. To my knowledge, there was only straining and refrigeration. Milk has never tasted as good (or as rich) as it did then. (There was no such thing as skim or 2% milk.) Nobody got sick from unprocessed milk and it was the best nature could give.

Hand churn

Hand churn

Along with the fresh milk came hand churning and making fresh butter. If there is anything better on hot homemade biscuits than freshly made butter, I haven’t discovered it.

The Barn Loft

After the cow was milked, my brother and I got acquainted with Vernal’s niece Mae, who was a little older than my brother. The three of us gathered butternuts from a tree on the path to the barn then climbed a ladder to the barn loft where we discovered a vice. We cracked and ate nuts until we had our fill.

The Outhouse

Granny had a 2-seater

Granny had a 2-seater

There was no indoor plumbing. Perched on the edge of the creek opposite the road from little Granny’s house was a 2-seater outhouse constructed of rough-hewn lumber. After quickly surveying for spiders, (and splinters), it was time to choose your seat. Sometimes a friend joined you and nobody thought anything of it. That’s the way life was in the country. There was no toilet paper; instead the outhouse was well-stocked with Sears and Roebuck catalogs. A lot of reading and catalog shopping happened while sitting in that old outhouse. The “paperwork” happened after the shopping was done.

Wading and Swimming

We always looked forward to wading in Beefhide Creek.   The water was cool, and the pebbles were rounded.   We either wore shorts or rolled up our pants legs and took off our shoes. (Nobody bought swimsuits to wade a creek.) Regardless of the half-hearted effort, we always come out soaked.

Our favorite past time was wading barefoot in Beefhide Creek

Our favorite past time was wading barefoot in Beefhide Creek

We were very smart about where we waded. We always made sure we waded above the flow of our Granny’s outhouse. The thought that there were outhouses on up Beefhide Creek never entered our minds, yet here I am, still alive to tell this story!

Just above Granny’s house was a narrow footbridge about 35 feet long that spanned the width of Beefhide Creek to the houses on the opposite side where my uncle Vernal, his wife Billie Sue, her sister Mae and Granny’s step-dad Lee lived. The bridge was constructed of logs and boards, just wide enough to allow one person at a time to pass. It swayed as we walked across it and it took me a long time to get up my nerve to cross the bridge to go visit uncle Vernal’s house.

Uncle Vernal and Billie Sue had a pick up truck and they were also rural mail carriers. Nobody we knew owned a convertible, but we got the same pleasure riding in the bed of their pick up catching the breezes while they delivered the mail up Beefhide Creek. Vernal also had a horse, which he tried his best to get me to ride. I would have no part of it. Perhaps it was the memories of the time I tried to ride a horse at Girl Scout camp. The horse reared on its’ hide legs with me on top and tried to throw me. I was terrified and I have never been back on a horse since.

Be sure to read Part 1 first.  To Be Continued with Part 3

Pam Baker, RN

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Little Granny’s House Part 3

This is Part 3 of a 3-part story.  Little Granny’s House Part 3 contains memories of my childhood visits to Granny’s farm on Beefhide Creek in Pike County, Kentucky.

Flying June Bugs

Who dreamed up the childish past time of flying June bugs on strings?

Who dreamed up the childish past time of flying June bugs on strings?

Who needs toys when you can play with bugs? June bugs were plentiful and a form of entertainment. I never knew you could actually fly a captive June bug until Granny taught me.   Mae and my brother were already flying their June bugs and it looked like fun. With a June bug in her hand, Granny carefully tied a string around one of its legs and handed it to me. The June bug flew all around but couldn’t fly off because I had the other end of the string.

I was having fun until the June bug decided to fly completely around me and land on my back. When I felt its barbed legs against my bare skin, I started to scream. “Get it off!” (More laughter from my Granny!) That was the end of my June bug flying experience.

The Wash Tub

There was no indoor plumbing.  We bathed in an oval washtub.

There was no indoor plumbing. We bathed in an oval washtub.

By the time evening came, I was wearing a dirt necklace and it was time to wash off the grit from a hard day of play.   There was no bathroom, no shower, and no bathtub, but there was a galvanized steel oval washtub and my bath took place in the back yard under the supervision of my Aunt Brenda where I could splash all I liked.

The Inspection

After my outdoor bath, it was time to look each of us over for ticks. Granny carefully parted my hair, inspecting my scalp. Without saying a word, she gave a tug and told me she was finished. What she held in her hand was a live tick with its legs still moving.   Without a word, she ran it through with a safety pin and pinned the impaled tick to her dress.

I have long since had children of my own and have pulled live ticks off them and smashed them with rocks but I have never impaled one and pinned it to my clothing like a brooch.

Lightning Bugs


Evening entertainment had nothing to do with television. There was no television, only a floor model wooden Philco radio (with tubes) that I never remember being used.

Instead, we used what nature gave us as evening came. The lightning bugs began to blink off and on and we went outdoors to make a game of catching them.


When nightfall finally came, we were lulled to sleep by the sounds of a symphony of bugs outside the bedroom window.  I never knew which bugs were making these sounds, so I’ll just refer to them as the “night critters.” There were no sounds of automobile traffic, honking horns or ambulances in the distance.  There was only a sea of stars as we gazed out a window. A warm breeze blew through the open, screened window. There was no central air-conditioning, but there was the luxury of a plush feather bed.

Sleep was deep and restful and night soon changed to morning.  The gentle breeze blowing through the window was cooler now and carried the fresh smell of fallen dew.  We were awakened by the smells of bacon, homemade biscuits and gravy as Granny was preparing breakfast.  Nobody had to encourage us to get out of bed and start a new day of adventure.

Final Reflections

The scents, sounds, tastes, and memories of the times I visited Granny’s house (and those who were part of those memories) have become more precious to me as I’ve grown older. Maybe it was because of the simplicity of the way life was then that I miss most.  Granny has now gone to meet Grandpa and her 49-acre farm is now a new highway.  They call that progress.  As I travel the road that cuts through Andy Wright Fork, I can no longer recognize that small farm where so many memories were made.  Nevertheless, my life is richer and I treasure the memories that forever changed this small town “city girl.”

What special memories do you have of your grandparents and your childhood?  I’d love to hear your comments.

[Be sure to read Parts 1 and Part 2 first]

Pam Baker, RN

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Little Granny’s House

My "little" Granny:  Eliza Wright

My “little” Granny:
Eliza Wright

I grew up in a town so small it didn’t qualify to have a traffic light, yet my rural relatives teased that I was a “city girl.” I treasure the memories when I got to spend a week at my “Little” Granny’s house in rural Pike County.

I had two Grannies and since I didn’t call them by their first names, I had to have some way to distinguish between the two. My “little” Granny (Eliza) was petite while my “big” Granny (Martha) was taller and heavier. In the coming years, my “little” Granny gained weight and eventually was bigger than my “big” Granny, yet I continued to refer to her my “little” Granny.  [This is Part One of Three]

My Grandpa “Big Andy” Wright (a direct descendent of “Devil John” Wright) passed away when I was only 8, leaving behind 11 children. There were 5 sons and 6 daughters, my mother the oldest.   Of these children, 1 son and 4 daughters remained in close proximity to their Pike County roots for the season of my early childhood. The others were called away by World War II and later to seek their fortunes in the auto industry. The 2 daughters who left followed their husbands to urban areas.  (This story shares my childhood memories of “little” Granny’s house.)

The Farmhouse

During summer break from school, I got to spend a week with Granny Eliza. Her house was far up Beefhide Creek road in Lionelli, KY. Beefhide Creek was a long gravel road that extended for miles. As I neared Granny’s house in our ’57 Ford, we passed an enormous barn and then the huge, solid white farmhouse came into view. It had wrap around porches that extended across the front, right side and a short distance around the left side. The property was surrounded by a rough-hewn wooden slat fence and gate, all made by my Grandpa. There were wooden screen doors and a tin roof. Nobody had concrete sidewalks. Wooden boardwalks went around much of the house.

The Hand Dug Well

Out back was a hand dug well and a well house. The first “chore” I always begged to do upon arrival was drawing water from the well using a galvanized steel bucket with chains and a pulley. I carried the fresh water to Granny’s kitchen where a small table and common dipper awaited. We all drank from a common water bucket, using a common dipper and nobody thought anything about catching the other’s germs. We were all family and that’s what families did when I was a child.

Common water pail and dipper

Common water pail and dipper

The Well House

A well house just beyond the hand dug well housed a drilled well with a pump. Rows of shelves held Mason jars of food Granny had canned. The well house was also a cool storage place for her potatoes.

The Hen House

White leghorn chicken

White leghorn chicken

Dominique chicken

Dominique chicken

Another fun chore I always begged to do was gather the eggs from the hen house. The lot was filled with red and white leghorn and black and white Dominique hens (and of course a crowing rooster or two to make sure the hens stayed busy). It didn’t take me long to learn to watch my steps after I entered the front gate! Once inside the hen house, there were rows of straw nests all around the wall, some with more than one egg. It was like opening a treasure chest to the “city girl” as I carefully gathered them and placed them in the metal pail Granny had given me.

Now I know what the expression "madder than a sitting hen" means!

Now I know what the expression “madder than a sitting hen” means!

I eyed one particular large red hen contemptuously. Unlike the others who were off their nests and wandering inside the lot, pecking at whatever bug or cracked corn they could find, she remained on her nest, stubbornly refusing to move. I could see several eggs beneath her so I tried to “encourage” her to move by gently poking her with a small stick.   I didn’t understand, nor was I prepared for the objection she gave. I don’t know which scared we the worst, her squawking, trying to peck me, or flapping her wings as she nearly flogged me.   My heart pounding from fear, I raced from the hen house grateful for the eggs I had already gathered.

When I reported back to Granny what the hen had done, she started to laugh. This was a teachable moment for me and she took time to explain “sitting hens.” As she sorted through my eggs, she laughed again. Among my pail of eggs were a number of “hen foolers” used to encourage the hens to start sitting on their eggs to hatch out baby chicks. She said “These must be little girl foolers too!”

(To Be Continued with Part 2)

Pam Baker, RN

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Childhood Reflections From Eastern Kentucky

We didn’t travel often when I was a child. An automobile, might remain parked an entire week (or longer). My world was a one I could usually explore only by walking, on a bicycle or by reading books. Summer vacations did not involve traveling to a lake or a beach. My childhood reflections from eastern Kentucky are from a simpler time when people seldom traveled away from home.

Purposeful Activities

Summer vacation seldom meant travel further than 20 miles from home when I was a child. Amusement was created out of childish imagination and I don’t recall ever saying the words “I’m bored.” My entertainment involved such purposeful activities as picking wild blackberries with my brother while trying to avoid snakes and briars in a thick grove of vines.   Our reward for braving the thorns and the heat was the fresh blackberry cobbler our mother made that evening.

Our Natural Playground

After our berry picking, we escaped the hot summer sun by playing in a “mining break” (sinkhole subsidence) in Bronx Hollow.

Mining Subsidence

Mining Subsidence

There was no fear of further earthen collapse or that our natural playground would swallow us. There was only the adventure.   The subsidence had existed without visible change for decades because of a cave-in beneath the earth from underground mining. There were many such sink holes in Bronx Hollow and they grew the finest gardens because of the richness of the topsoil.

One such subsidence area was our favorite spot to play. We simply called it “The Spring.”

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace

The path down to our “mining break” playground was strewn with wildflowers such as Queen Anne’s lace and Speckled Jewelweed.

Speckled Jewelweed:  My favorite wildflower

Speckled Jewelweed: My favorite wildflower

Often I would collect of bouquet of Queen Anne’s Lace and wild clover blooms to take home to my mother.  (She always placed them in a glass of water and placed them on our kitchen windowsill.)

A thick canopy of trees surrounded most of the area, filtering out the heat and light from the summer sun.

Over a wall of boulders, a natural mountain spring flowed over the rocks and afforded us cool drinking water. Hidden in a crevice between stones and concealed by the lush growth of water thistle was an empty glass jar with a lid our daddy had stashed there on a previous visit. We collected spring water in this glass or from one of Daddy’s empty metal Prince Albert tobacco cans.

On either side of the natural spring was a natural clay bank, also surrounded by wildflowers. Often we collected small rocks and dammed up the water below the spring, creating seals with the clay to construct a wading pond for our bare feet.

Rock Climbing

To the right of the natural spring was a steep incline of large boulders amidst an entanglement of thick grapevines. I resisted the urge to use the grape vines as swings once I surveyed my certain landing on the bed of boulders below. (I remembered my mother’s precautionary story from her own childhood.   The vine had broken, landing her hard on a pile of rocks. I didn’t have to repeat her experience to learn her lesson.)

If Daddy happened to be tending a garden nearby, he usually joined us at the spring for a cool drink of spring water. While there, he made each of us whistles from the long straight stalks of speckled jewelweed.

Ripened seed pods of Speckled Jewelweed

Ripened seed pods of Speckled Jewelweed

When the seed pods ripen in the Fall, they are the best ever touch-me-nots, and now my granddaughter and I “play” with those same wildflowers. I delight as much watching her experience one of the favorite memories of my childhood as I do joining her in the fun.


With no watches and no thought for time, my brother and I played for hours until berries weren’t enough and hunger called us home. There were no neighbors nearby, no cell phones, and sometimes no adult supervision. Nobody thought you were a bad parent if your children went off to play in their natural environment. We were protected by the remoteness and size of our small town.   There were few things we had to fear, and crime was not one of them. My childhood was one of exploration with innocence and without fear, and for that I will always be grateful I grew up in a small town.

The tradition continues with my granddaughter.

The tradition continues with my granddaughter.

A Childhood Without Fear

We never locked our doors at night, much less during the daytime. On a rare trip when we all traveled to visit a relative in neighboring Pike County and were gone for most of the day, we still didn’t lock our doors. Nothing was ever missing or stolen. Neighbors watched out for each other’s children. Neighbors talked to and helped other neighbors.   It was a real community.   There was a sense of pride and trust I learned there that has helped mold the person I am today.

Changing Times

Even when my children grew up in the same area roughly 20 years later, things were different. People changed. I’m not sure when it happened that people could no longer feel safe without locking their doors.   Highways were built and people traveled more. The world outside the protection of those eastern Kentucky hills finally found its way into my tiny hometown. With it came ideas, changed values, habits and crime that I wish had stayed out forever.

I left my hometown in the late 1980’s.   It had changed then, but is even more changed now.  Can we ever turn back that clock?

A friend recently shared a fitting and thought-provoking reflection:

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” (Heraclitus of Ephesus, c. 535 BC-475 BC)  Perhaps I’m a changed person as well.

What memories do you have of your own childhood? I’d love to hear your comments.

Pam Baker, RN

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Hurricane Katrina Disaster Volunteer

Red Cross Feeding Station in Slidell, Louisiana September 2005

Red Cross Feeding Station in Slidell, Louisiana
September 2005

It was August 29, 2005 when Hurricane Katrina touched down on the Gulf Shore causing mass devastation and loss of lives. I was with a locker room full of gym friends that morning as we watched a live news channel and anxiously waited to hear how Louisiana and Mississippi survived Katrina’s landfall. It was an intense feeling of helplessness and anxiety as each of us wanted to rush to help. None of us had a clue where to begin or how to prioritize help where it was most needed. This is a story of my experience as a Hurricane Katrina disaster volunteer.

A Cry For Help

In the weeks following Katrina, the world watched as desperate people literally begged for help without an immediate and coordinated flow of relief and aide. Most of us have learned something from that event and fortunately it has changed how the world views and trains for natural disasters.

Bureaucracy and the Call to Volunteer

Appalled by the slow response and lack of coordinated effort, churches and small teams of volunteers all over the U.S. began descending upon Mississippi and Louisiana to help meet the urgent need for Hurricane Katrina disaster relief volunteers. Our church was one that committed to send groups of volunteers on a weekly basis over a period of months to help with recovery work.   Volunteers were based at First Baptist of Slidell, an official Red Cross Feeding Station and a hub of recovery activity.

The Journey

Porter Memorial Baptist Church Team #2

Porter Memorial Baptist Church Team #2

I was with a team of 13 volunteers, the second sent from my church, departing the week of September 19th, 2005. We journeyed by church bus, packed in with supplies and luggage like sardines. It was an 11-hour, almost 800 mile non-stop journey with all of us upbeat for the tasks at hand. We were eager to roll up our sleeves and give those unfortunate survivors our best efforts, hoping to accomplish miracles in the process.

We watched in amazement as the scenery around us changed in route from huge trees snapped off like toothpicks to near-total devastation.

The Accommodations

Co-ed accommodations inside church sanctuary

Co-ed accommodations inside church sanctuary

Upon our late evening arrival in Slidell, we were greeted by scores of other very weary-looking, but none-the-less smiling volunteers. We were then shown to our spacious co-ed accommodations, a sea of cots completely filling a recently flooded church sanctuary.

I have no idea how many of us, mostly total strangers, who slept side by side on those tiny army cots. Later, when I heard volunteers were still finding snakes from Lake Pontchartrain’s breach of the gymnasium roof, I was grateful for that tiny cot.

Psychological Effect on Volunteers

There were watermarks over 3 feet high on the walls throughout the church. Wet insulation had been recently torn out and the walls treated to prevent the formation of mold.

All disaster work is intense. Disaster relief workers themselves are often running on empty both emotionally and physically as they reach out to help others.   Faced with the enormity of the tasks at hand, it is hard to shut your mind off even to get a few hours of sleep. It is very humbling to feel equivalent to the size and strength of an ant compared to the magnitude of the need.

If you’ve ever studied ants at work, they are a visual lesson in the teamwork and personnel required to accomplish disaster relief work.

Like colonies of ants, volunteers can accomplish amazing things when they work together in a well-coordinated effort. Desire alone though, is simply not enough.

My mind refused to shut off, flashing images in my head of desperate, broken people who had lost everything. My desire to help was so intense, the task so enormous, who could possibly be selfish enough for the luxury of sleep? The workdays easily stretched to 16 hours, leaving us fatigued to the point of exhaustion. Still I could not sleep. There were too many tasks to be accomplished to sleep.

The “Colony” of Volunteers

We had little time to tour the devastation around us as our team was assigned a variety of tasks, subject to change at a moment’s notice to accommodate fluid priorities. (If you’re not flexible, disaster relief work is probably not for you.)

Tearing out to rebuild

Tearing out to rebuild

Men helped tear out walls and insulation, treating for mold afterward. Some helped feed the masses and give out food, water and cleaning supplies to the disaster victims.

Serving up hot meals to be delivered to disaster victims.

Serving up hot meals to be delivered to disaster victims.

Some helped unload and organize donations as they arrived in a continual flow of tractor/trailers from all across the U.S.

I happened to be the only nurse on our team, so my initial task was to render any necessary first aid to our team of volunteers. That too was a fluid assignment. St. Tammany Parish (Slidell) Health Department was out of commission and only the emergency room remained open at the local hospital.


There were names and faces of both volunteers and disaster victims we never had time to learn. Regrettably, there was contact information we never had time to exchange. Photos are my only reminders of the temporary bonds made as each of us was gripped by the power of the same disaster that brought us together.


Preview of Coming Attraction

Be sure to subscribe for the follow up story: “If You Build It They Will Come”

This is the story of how my initial assignment as team nurse evolved into something far bigger.

What has been your experience as a disaster volunteer? Have you ever been impacted as a survivor of a natural disaster?   I’d love to hear your stories.

Pam Baker, RN



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Homebound With Ingenuity

Few things inspire a road trip like the craving for a bucket of fried chicken.

Few things inspire a road trip like the craving for a bucket of fried chicken.

Every nurse should write memoirs of their memorable patients. Some of the stories I could tell from my home health nursing days you probably would never believe. Still others could only be appreciated by another health care professional that has spent some time in the “trenches” of home care. It’s not the health condition, but the environment and the personality attributes that often make the person memorable. This is the story of one such lady who was homebound with ingenuity.

 “Miss Ella” was a large, matronly African-American lady around 72. She resided in a bustling housing project near downtown Lexington.   Her neighborhood (aka. “the hood”) was located in subsidized public housing.  Residents “came to life” around 3 p.m. in the afternoon. All our nurses made certain we scheduled our home visits in this neighborhood prior to 11 a.m. In doing so we could avoid being witness to drug trafficking, hustlers and other neighborhood riff-raff.

Miss Ella required close health care monitoring because of her diabetes and inability to see the markings on her own insulin syringes.   For this reason, one of the services our agency provided was to pre-fill her insulin syringes, monitor her labs and redress a small wound she had developed on her foot. She had severe arthritis and therefore had managed to obtain a motorized scooter.

She was primary babysitter for a brood of grandchildren in her tiny 2-bedroom ground level apartment.   Every morning she sent the older grandchildren off to school, watching as they caught the bus from the corner of her street. Every afternoon, she rolled to the front door waiting for the school bus to drop off her grandchildren. She dutifully watched to make sure they arrived safely to her apartment. They remained indoors (or closely supervised from her doorway) until their mother came to pick them up.

Miss Ella’s chief concern was to make certain her grandchildren didn’t become caught up in a life of crime from the negative influences of the neighborhood where she lived. She told me she wanted a better life for her grandchildren. She seemed apologetic that her financial circumstances had left her with few choices. I remember her as a kind, polite and respectful lady, teaching those same attributes to her grandchildren.

I sadly recall Miss Ella’s financial dilemma of whether she should use her limited resources to buy her medication or instead buy the groceries she needed.  No patient should ever have to make choices like that. She took a variety of medications such as cholesterol lowering drugs, high blood pressure medications and a fluid pill in addition to her insulin and blood glucose monitoring supplies.

As nurses, we spent a good bit of time teaching Miss Ella the importance of monitoring her diet and keeping her blood sugars under control in order to help her wound heal and prevent further complications. We could of course tell by her 270-plus pounds, that once we were gone, Miss Ella was going to eat what she liked, what was available, and what she could afford.

Some days, we realize that, regardless of all that teaching and effort, a patient will just get a craving for fried chicken and nothing else will satisfy until they get it. Homebound status was no match for the ingenuity created by desire.

On one such day, around the first of the month, there was a temporary cash flow with the arrival of her Social Security check.  I happened to be driving up Winchester Road, several miles from Miss Ella’s house on my way home from work. There was a very popular chicken restaurant chain about 50 feet from where I spotted her, close to 3 miles from home, doing the spend limit in that motorized scooter, with a large bucket of fried chicken tucked under one arm.

How could I resist laughing? Miss Ella technically met the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services criteria for homebound status in that she wasn’t driving—at least not an automobile. Homebound status and medical necessity criteria can be interpreted in different ways. Miss Ella had her own interpretation.

The language in the Health Care Financing Administration’s (HCFA) home health coverage guide, (HIM-11) states that a person may be considered homebound if leaving the home requires considerable and taxing effort. Absences from the home are acceptable, provided they are infrequent, of short duration or to receive medical treatment. Words such as “taxing”, “considerable”, “infrequent” and “short” may have very different meanings depending on the interpreter. Miss Ella won this battle of semantics.  (I suppose I can appreciate how her intense craving for a bucket of fried chicken might be interpreted as an “emergency”, justifying her ingenuity in obtaining it.)

The next time I made a home visit to see Miss Ella, I admonished her, pretending to write her a speeding ticket. I asked her what she would do if she ran out of battery power on her scooter? Would she simply call Triple A for roadside assistance or a jumpstart? What if she had a flat tire on her scooter, what then?  Could Triple A fix her flat?  Did she have a spare?

It has been many years now since my nursing career changed course and I left home care. I’ve provided care for the homebound in 26 Kentucky counties; yet I’ll never forget this lady’s devotion to her grandchildren, desire to keep them safe and determination to protect them from their environment. I seldom ever drive up Winchester Road that I don’t remember Miss Ella. The vision of her speeding on her scooter, bucket of chicken in tow, will always bring a smile to my face.

If you’re a nurse with a funny story about one of your patients, please share (just protect their privacy by changing any identifying information.)

Pam Baker, RN



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Moringa Oleifera Nutrition

Moringa Oleifera Tree also known as the "drumstick" tree.

Moringa Oleifera Tree
also known as the “drumstick” tree.

Moringa Oleifera is referred to a “the miracle tree.” Unlike the supplements found in your typical super store vitamin aisle, Moringa Oleifera nutrition is completely absorbable and plant-based.  Moringa Oleifera contains over 90 verifiable, cell-ready vitamins, minerals and amino acids as well as 36 anti-inflammatories and 46 anti-oxidants (which fight cancer).

When I began using Moringa Oleifera in November 2012, I had been taking anti-depressants for 12 years and was in constant daily pain from arthritis.  I typically bought ibuprofen and acetaminophen in the largest bottles I could find available because I alternated between these 2 over-the-counter pain relievers every single day.


All this nutrition packed into a single plant:  Moringa Oleifera

All this nutrition packed into a single plant: Moringa Oleifera

A nurse/coworker introduced me to the health benefits of Moringa Oleifera because I was constantly drinking coffee at work just for the stimulation of the caffeine to keep me moving.  My coworker had had positive benefits from taking Moringa Oleifera (this was a real person I knew personally and not some paid actor or actress giving a phony product endorsement).  I trusted her enough to give Moringa Oleifera a try. At first, I had no idea what personal health benefits I would experience but I was encouraged to give my body the nutrition it really needed and allow it to heal itself.

As a Registered Nurse, I know that healing takes time. Nothing happens overnight. Every 120 days your body is making completely new red blood cells based on the overall health of your body at the time those new cells are made. With that in mind, I knew I would need to give my body at least 3-4 months to experience the positive benefits of Moringa Oleifera on my own natural path to health.

Those who take Moringa Oleifera nutrition experience health benefits based on their consistency of use. Results come from giving your body the nutrition it lacks and needs.  What I experienced after about of month of daily use surprised me.  I realized that I was no longer reaching for ibuprofen and acetaminophen on a daily basis because I was no longer in pain!  Eventually I threw the remainder of my over-the-counter pain medications away. It had been so long since I needed them that their shelf life eventually expired.

Despite taking anti-depressants for 12 years, before Moringa Oleifera, I still battled feelings of depression. My doctor wanted to increase the dosage and add additional drugs. Instead, I resisted and made my own informed decision (using Hippocrates’ philosophy) to let my food be my medicine. Within 3 months I was completely off antidepressants (with my doctor’s approval).  I did not stop anti-depressants suddenly.  My doctor and I worked on tapering the dose over a period of weeks.  (Always, always get your doctor’s opinion and guidance before making a decision to change or discontinue a prescribed medication.)

I no longer have the dark clouds of doom sailing over my head on an otherwise sunny day. It has been 2 years, (February 2014) since I totally came off antidepressants and I have never felt better.

This is my true testimony of the health benefits I experienced from Moringa Oleifera. Every body is different. Because it is natural and plant-based, your body absorbs Moringa Oleifera, within 15 – 20 minutes after you drink it. (It is not a pill or capsule; it comes in a packet that mixes in a 20 oz. glass of water.) What will having the plant-based nutrition your body needs do for you? I’d love to hear your stories after you try it!

Pam Baker, RN



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Laundry Day Memories From a Little Girl’s Heart

As soon as I awakened and entered our kitchen, the epicenter of where my mother could always be located, I knew it was laundry day. Our Browning wood stove was fired up to serve the dual purpose of making breakfast and heating water in the large galvanized steel tank mounted on the back. Periodically mom would step over and brush her hand lightly across the tank to see whether the water was hot enough to begin the weekly wash chore. Mountains of presorted laundry were already piled up in anticipation on our screened back porch.

1960's vintage Maytag wringer washer

1960’s vintage Maytag wringer washer

From a child’s perspective, I enjoyed washday.   As soon as mom filled the tub of our old Maytag wringer washing machine and poured in the powdered detergent, I asked if I could pull the knob that set the agitator into motion. Soon there were mountains of suds rising from the lid of the washer and the fun began as I smacked the soap bubbles between my hands, causing bubbles to fly in every direction. This usually continued until I got caught in the act of making a huge mess.

“Can I put the clothes in?” I eagerly asked.

“Yes,” Mom replied, “but keep your hands away from the agitator and the wringers.”

She instructed me that white clothes were always done first to keep the whites white and prevent dinginess. Since the water wasn’t always changed between loads the white clothes were washed before the darker clothes.

Nothing smells better than clothes dried by sunshine and fresh air.

Nothing smells better than clothes dried by sunshine and fresh air.

Nothing smells fresher than the fragrance of sun and wind-dried laundry!   Additionally, the invention of the wringer washer was a major advance over doing laundry by hand on a washboard.   Wringer washers conserved both water and energy. For people who had drinking wells, water conservation was a must to prevent running their wells dry of vital drinking water in drought seasons. However, none of this mattered to a 10 year old girl who wanted to be any place her mother was, doing anything she could to “play” with her mommy, even by “helping” with a chore on wash day.

I’ll never forget the loud sound of that agitator. Dirt didn’t stand a chance against a wringer washer. As long as you liked, you could keep those clothes agitating to remove heavy soil. The cleaning cycle ended when you pushed the knob in on the agitator. The next fun step was retrieval of the washed clothes from the tub. My mother used a long handled galvanized steel spoon with holes (which I still own) to fish out each article of clothing. I stood peering overtop of the tub and begging her to let me put the clothes through the wringer.

“No, you might get your hand caught in the wringer.” She replied. “People have gotten their whole arms caught in the wringers.”   She continued. “Just stand there and watch me.”

I stood fascinated, watching the soapy water squeezed out of the freshly washed clothes as they passed through the wringers and dropped into a waiting bin of rinse water. I waited expectantly as my mother put a pair of my brother’s heavy jeans through the wringers and water became trapped in the pockets. As the jeans continued through the wringer, water squeezed out and sprayed me in the face. Even more fun, I thought!

Once the clothes were in the rinse bin, mom would lift each piece up and down in the rinse water a few times, and resend the rinsed article back through the wringers to a waiting clothesbasket beneath. As soon as the basket was full, she would fill her apron pockets with wooden clothespins, pick up the basket of freshly washed clothes and head out the back door to the clothesline my daddy made for her. He had sawed, felled and carried the locust posts on his back out of the hills behind our eastern Kentucky coal camp home.

Heavier towels, blankets and jeans always went on the line first to catch the full sunshine and summer breeze.   My brother’s jeans were hung with adjustable pants stretchers to give them a simple crease and smooth out wrinkles.

Pants stretchers added a crease and all but eliminated the need for ironing.

Pants stretchers added a crease and all but eliminated the need for ironing.

Lightweight “unmentionables” (underwear) were always modestly hung in the center of 3 lines and out of public view. Before the evening dew fell, the laundry was done and the last load retrieved from the clotheslines.

I was allowed to unhook the hose from the tub and dump the dirty wash water into the sink drain. “Helping” my mother with the laundry task was now completed. It may have been a chore to my mother, but it was complete delight to me.

The bonding experience of this routine chore became a way I was able to both play with and help my mother.   My memories of her are not of a glamorous lady. Instead they are memories of a strong woman, the oldest of 11, struggling through the Depression years as a traditional homemaker in a small coal camp town. The vision of her wearing a simple cotton print dress and an apron, with her mouth full of wooden clothespins while using both hands to pin clothes on a clothesline has been “photographed” and stored many times in my memory. These are the cherished but simple laundry day memories from a little girl’s heart.

Do you have stories you’d like to share about your mother? I welcome your comments.

Pam Baker, RN

If you enjoyed this story about my mother, you might also enjoy Simple Memories of My Mother and The Tale of Three Drivers


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Simple Memories of My Mother

Lunah Mae Wright Mullins. I had my mother for 19 very short years.

Lunah Mae Wright Mullins.
I had my mother for 19 very short years.

Writing or sharing stories about my mother has never been easy.  It has been hard to separate the simple memories of my mother from the pain of losing her when I was only 19. Just 3 days before the birth of my first child, I lost my mother when she was only 52.   She had lived her short lifetime with polycystic kidney disease—a hereditary disease that is terminal without a kidney transplant. Because she was not physically well throughout my childhood, simple details of her daily existence are now bittersweet memories.

Personality and Traditional Roles

 My mother had an uncanny knack for making people laugh. Despite her traditional stay-at-home homemaker role, she had a wealth of friends. Most of her friends were telephone friends in the 50 – 60’s era before email and social media. Occasionally she chatted across the fence with a neighbor on a late summer evening.  Often she chatted with a neighbor across the road from her front porch swing where she sat wearing a homemade short-sleeved shirtwaist style cotton print dress. She wore an apron with large pockets to keep “essential” treasures (such as a pack of cigarettes and lighter) close by. A large towel draped across her lap as she strung and broke green beans for the evening meal and exchanged small town gossip and laughter as our home cooled from the summer heat.   There was no air-conditioning then, and I suspect neighbors became better acquainted because of it. Forced outdoors due to the sweltering heat inside, neighbors bonded with each other every evening.   A fly swat was a close companion until hungry mosquitos ran her indoors.

Physical Attributes

My mother’s short, naturally wavy, raven black hair, hazel brown eyes and olive skin evidenced her Native American (Cherokee) heritage. She was 5’8” tall and heavyset. Her weight was a lifetime struggle. When I asked why she started smoking, she told me she was advised by her doctor to start smoking to help her lose weight.   I’m amazed that doctors actually used to give their patients this advice!  The weight stayed despite the negative habit, but the cigarettes contributed to other health problems, including the asthma I developed in childhood from breathing secondhand smoke.

I never thought my mother had time for vanity, but she had few exceptions. She had a personal philosophy about gray hair. “As long as there’s a bottle of dye on the shelves, this head is not going gray.” She insisted. Consequently, I ran many errands on my bicycle to purchase Jet Black Tintz Color Shampoo. I watched her apply it with fascination, then scrub the excess dye off her forehead and temples with scouring powder afterward. You didn’t see gray roots showing on my mother’s hair! (The process costs more now, but I have adopted her philosophy concerning gray hair.)  When asked her age, her automatic response was “27!”

I used to love to watch her get dressed up to go shopping with a friend who could actually drive a car.  [Refer to The Tale of Three Drivers for a story about my mother’s driving experience.]  My mother always wore dark pink, almost red lipstick.

This was my mom's old fashioned Maybelline Mascara.

This was my mom’s old fashioned Maybelline Mascara.

The mascara she wore was velvet black Maybelline and came in a slide out red plastic tray with a small brush.

Face powder, mascara and lipstick were her only makeup products. The only other adornments she wore were a Lady Elgin wristwatch and a pair of screw backed hollow red glass ball earrings. (I treasure the remaining unbroken earring to this day.)

Her one remaining hollow red glass ball earring.  These looked so pretty with her black hair.

Her one remaining hollow red glass ball earring. These looked so pretty with her black hair.

Mom not only didn’t wear fingernail polish, she strongly opposed it and imposed that objection on me. She believed brightly colored nail polish made a woman look cheap and there was no dissuading her on the issue. Toes, however, were exceptions. As long as someone else was painting them (me for example), colored toenail polish was permissible. She wore size 10 shoes and I believe I know why; women’s shoes simply didn’t come in size 11.   Consequently she constantly suffered with ingrown toenails until her sister Brenda periodically had her lie across the bed at Granny’s house and began the painful process of prizing them out. Open-toed footwear readily accommodated her true foot size and the multiple pairs she owned were a welcomed relief.

She never wore long sleeves or pants.   She complained that long sleeves made her hot and the “personal summers” of menopause were nightmares for her.  Pants were not considered acceptable attire for women during this era. She wore short beige nylon hosiery, rolled below her knees with garters.  (These were often visible below her hemline when she sat, but surprisingly this didn’t seem to matter to her.)   The stockings helped conceal the severity of the broken (varicose) veins in her legs. The back seam of the stockings, my mother pointed out, had to be precisely straight; otherwise your reputation would be called to question as a woman who had dressed in a hurry.  [wink, wink]  What a relief it must have been when those seams were no longer popular!

Personal Business

My mother’s purse was the “holy grail” and the only allowed touching of her purse was when she personally requested I hand it to her.   There were no filing cabinets for personal business, in those days. There was just my mother’s purse. It was large, black and with multiple sections. To this day I couldn’t tell you its contents. I was on a “need to know basis” and I simply didn’t need to know.   If I needed money for school, my mother would either ask me to hand her purse or direct me to a specific coat pocket in a closet. Unless I was instructed, both these areas were out of bounds to me.

My mother didn’t always carry a purse. Sometimes she traveled lightly and her storage compartment was inside her bra. I will never forget the time we went shopping at one of our small town grocery stores and she made it all the way to the check out counter, forgetting where her money was stashed. Had there been security cameras in those days, they would surely have seen my mother walk away as though she had forgotten an item, round an aisle out of sight of the cashier and reach inside her bosom to retrieve her cash.

Sentimental Treasures

Her favorite flower:  A bleeding heart given by her dad.

Her favorite flower: A bleeding heart given by her dad.

Her favorite flower was a bleeding heart, given to her by her dad, planted just outside our back door. She protected it every spring from early frost. It was a simple gift, but a treasure to my mom. Eventually I planted a bleeding heart at my own home, over 30 years later. Of course mine wasn’t a sprout from the one given by my grandpa.  Nonetheless it was a way to remember my mother and the simple things that mattered to her.

I kept silent the simple memories of my mother because of the pain of losing her at an early age. I buried many of those stories deep inside, depriving my children of a vision of the grandmother they never met.  It took me years to realize that this 19 year old young mother felt abandoned, and even resentful at times.  She was supposed to be there to hold my children in her arms and to teach me how to be a good mother.  As a wounded child, I buried her memories so I wouldn’t continue to feel the pain of losing her.  It didn’t help me heal and it wasn’t fair to her grandchildren not to hear about her through the retelling of those memories.  As an adult, I realize it would never have been my mother’s choice to leave me.  I had 47 years with my dad, compared with the 19 I had with my mother.  I regret that I never got to have a relationship with my mother as an adult.

I can’t change the past Mom, but I treasure your memory.   Happy Mother’s Day.

Pam Baker, RN

Do you have memories of your mother you’d like to share?  I welcome your comments!



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