Happy New Decade!

Several years ago, one of the New York City daily papers published the responses of passers-by in response to the question, “What is your New Year’s Resolution?”  Many of the answers were fairly predictable –  better health, more exercise, improved diet – but one stood out.

“Next year, I’m going to daydream more,” answered one woman. It was a notable response because it was less intended toward making oneself “better,” and more intended to make oneself “happier.” What a novel concept!

The good news is that the link between happiness and good health is no secret and ongoing studies continue to support the connection.

Here are some great articles on the matter.

The Health Benefits of Happiness, Psychology Today

Six Ways Happiness is Good for Your Health, Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley

Take a look!

And, as we embark on a new year and a new decade and as you ponder and practice your 2020 Resolutions, we hope you’ll consider your happiness as an important force and guideline for your time and your energy.

Happy 2020!

A Hospice Patient Revisits His Boyhood Past

On a tour of his boyhood in Danbury, Ed Siergiej look out the window of an ambulance at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, where he, his parents and brother were parishioners.

Above: Edward Siergiej looks out the window at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, where he, his parents and sister had been parishioners since 1925.

World War II paratrooper. Educator. Grandfather. Loyal friend. These are just some of the words that come up in conversations with Edward Siergiej’s friends and family.

Since August 2019, Ed Siergiej has also been a hospice patient with RVNAhealth. He has been homebound due to a hip fracture and other health issues this year that brought him back from Florida to live in Danbury with his son, Ed Jr., and daughter-in-law, Joanne. But he recently embarked on a special journey: A tour of some of the places and sights that framed his past in his hometown of Danbury.

“His desire was to revisit his early boyhood home, school and church in Danbury,” explains RVNAhealth Hospice Social Worker Cindy Merritt, LCSW. “This was about memories for both Mr. Siergiej and his family.”

Tour of Memories

The journey began on an early December afternoon when Mr. Siergiej, his son, and RVNAhealth Hospice Case Manager Kim Babson, RN, were transported by Danbury Ambulance Service to some landmark sites. 

One stop was the house in downtown Danbury that Mr. Siergiej’s father built in 1925 – and where Mr. Siergiej lived until he married Mary Alma Taylor in 1954, his wife of 53 years. They also visited Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, where he, his parents and sister had been parishioners since 1925.

The “old” Danbury High School – now part of Western Connecticut State University’s White Hall – was another significant stop.

“My father was president of his class at the Danbury State Teachers College in 1948,” says Ed Jr. “He later went on to graduate from WestConn’s education program, and then taught and became a school administrator on Long Island.”

The Uncle Sam statue, a 38-foot monument previously located at the Danbury State Fairgrounds, and since transported to the Danbury Railway Museum, was another destination.

“My father earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star when he served as a paratrooper and glidertroooper in the 194th Glider Infantry Regiment of the 17th Airborne Division during World War II,” says Ed, Jr. “He is a proud military veteran, and the Danbury Fair was part of his childhood, so this statue is an important part of his past.”

Make a Wish

Other places visited included Jimmie’s – a deli where Mr. Siergiej enjoyed coffee with friends for more than 20 years – and JK’s (famous for hot dogs). 

“My father was very grateful to everyone who made this trip possible, especially his nurse, Kimmie, and Rosa Ramirez, his nursing assistant.” says Ed, Jr. “It was a highlight of the last weeks of his life.”

Made possible by the Ridgefield Thrift Shop Hospice Fund at RVNAhealth, the outing was a gift to the Siergiej family.

“Since 1937, when the Thrift Shop was created to support the work of the District Nursing Association, now RVNAhealth, we have been grateful for this partnership,” says MJ Heller, RVNAhealth director of philanthropy. “This special hospice fund, established by our Thrift Shop friends, makes wishes and memories possible for hospice patients and their families at their most vulnerable time.”

Giving Thanks and Giving Back

Theresa, Katelyn, Gladys and Michelle hoist RVNAhealth's Thanksgiving donations for needy families in Ridgefield, Southbury, Danbury and Wilton!

To celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, the RVNAhealth team put together plentiful Thanksgiving baskets and took to the road, partnering with local community organizations to deliver meals to those in need. In addition to our basket tradition, RVNAhealth has a food pantry that supports our own patients who are short on supplies and food.  Schools, civic organizations and individuals make contributions and host food drives to help us keep the shelves stocked. Interested in helping out? Learn more and get details on making a donation at rvnahealth.org/support-us/food-pantry/.

RVNAhealth President & CEO Theresa Santoro, MSN, RN, with a meal for a family in Ridgefield.
Marketing & Programs Coordinator, Katelyn Scribner, who organized the local donations, heads off to Southbury.
Home Health Navigator Gladys Llantin-Tucci, RN, makes her delivery to Stamford look as easy as pie. (Pumpkin pie, to be precise.)
Strong and undaunted (that turkey isn’t light!), Home Health Navigator Michelle Stewart makes haste to Wilton.

It’s a Beauty, but is it Safe?

According to the CDC, handling poultry (chicken and turkey) incorrectly and undercooking it are the most common problems that lead to foodborne disease outbreaks linked to poultry. These outbreaks increase every November and December due to improper food handling at holiday parties and dinners.

Follow these five tips to safely prepare your next holiday turkey meal:

  • Thaw your turkey safely.
    • In the refrigerator in a container, or
    • In a leak-proof plastic bag in a sink of cold water (change the water every 30 minutes), or
    • In the microwave, following manufacturer’s instructions

NEVER thaw your turkey by leaving it out on the counter. Bacteria can grow quickly if left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. The danger zone for bacteria to grow is between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F.

  • Clean all surfaces that the turkey comes into contact with – including your hands! Raw poultry can contaminate anything it comes into contact with and the germs that cause food poisoning are stealthy — they can survive in many places and spread around your kitchen.
  • Separate raw poultry from ready-to-eat foods by using different cutting boards, utensils and plates while preparing the meal, and by separating raw poultry from other foods in the refrigerator.
  • Cook poultry to the right internal temperature. Place the turkey in a roasting pan that is at least 2″ to 2.5″ inches deep and set oven temperature to at least 325 degrees F. Cooking times will vary according to the weight of the turkey and whether it contains any stuffing. Use a food thermometer to be sure that the internal temperature of the turkey AND the stuffing is at least 165 degrees F. You cannot determine if a turkey is safely cooked by checking its color and texture. Check by inserting the food thermometer into the center of the stuffing and the thickest portions of the breast, thigh, wing joint. Even if your turkey has a pop-up thermometer, still use a meat thermometer to be absolutely certain that your turkey is safely cooked. Let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing or carving the turkey so that it can finish cooking.
  • Chill to the right temperature. Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible and within 2 hours of preparation (within 1 hour of preparation if outside temperature is greater than 90 degrees) in order to prevent food poisoning. Slice or divide big cuts of meat into smaller quantities for refrigeration so they cool quickly. Reheat all leftovers to at least 165 degrees F.


Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Hospice Music Therapy Provides Comfort and Memories

RVNAhealth Hospice Music Therapist Tammy Strom strums her guitar.

Above: Tammy Strom, MA-MTBC, plays her guitar at RVNAhealth’s headquarters on Governor Street in Ridgefield.

When Tammy Strom, MA-MTBC, visits RVNAhealth hospice patients, she’s equipped with a distinctive set of clinical tools. A guitar. Piles and piles of sheet music and songbooks. And a variety of handheld musical instruments (think tambourines, shakers, bells and other fun accessories).

As our hospice music therapist, Tammy also brings healthy doses of compassion and positivity, alongside a dedication to helping patients experience the best possible quality of life in their final months, weeks and days.

“Many people have the misconception that working with hospice patients is somber,” she says. “But as a music therapist I get to see, and be a part of, a lot of life and creativity.” 

Individualized Goals and Approaches

When hearing the term “music therapy,” you might think of listening to music performed by someone else. Or the opportunity for a patient and perhaps the family to play, sing or even write songs. The reality is that it depends – on what goals are appropriate for the patient and family. 

Tammy shares how, in the case of a patient who had difficulty speaking, the simple act of slowing down a beloved song so she could sing brought “great joy” to both the patient and her family.

“If you’re with them for several months, as their condition progresses, it might be more about soothing with music that carries meaning,” she adds. She recalls this being the situation with a patient who was no longer alert, but the husband requested their wedding song from long ago.

“Musical interventions aren’t about being note-perfect, and it isn’t about teaching music,” explains Tammy. “It’s focused on providing comfort and memories. The goal might be to alleviate isolation; help a family connect with a patient who is unable to speak due to dementia; or distract from the patient’s physical discomfort or soothe the emotional pain the patient and family are experiencing.”

Music therapy can also be used as a restorative therapy in the bereavement process, especially with children mourning a loss.

The Science Behind Music Therapy

Hospice music therapy is administered by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program and passed a national exam offered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists. In addition to being board certified in music therapy, Tammy holds a master’s degree in expressive therapies with a concentration in music therapy and mental health counseling.  A lifelong musician, she has sung with the Ridgefield Chorale for two decades, and has performed with Troupers Light Chorale in the past.

“Music stimulates many parts of the brain – from auditory to motor to emotional – and it is often one of the last memories to remain intact,” she stresses. “Many studies have found that music therapy positively affects patients’ quality of life by addressing their spectrum of needs: Physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, social and family support.”

Also, as she is fond of saying, in the words of Hans Christian Andersen: “Where words fail, music speaks.”

Read More Hospice & Palliative Care Month Articles
Hospice is for Living
How Spiritual Care Providers Help Hospice Patients and Their Families

Why You Really Don’t Want to Get the Flu

A middle-aged man is in bed with the flu, sneezing into a tissue.

It’s been a short-standing family tradition to get our flu shots together at Vote & Vax© on Election Day.  So efficient and fun! We leave the polls with the rare feeling that, ‘We are a family who does the right things!’

This year, however, our tradition was interrupted by the flu itself, which arrived in our home a week earlier.  My husband was diagnosed on October 29 and our eight-year-old daughter on Halloween morning.

How rude is that!?  

It’s been a while since we saw the flu up close and it was a good reminder that it’s not nearly as fun and relaxing as you might think.  I myself daydream of catching up on reading, cleaning closets, perusing catalogs, shopping for the holidays, and relaxing in a plump, clean, well-made bed. 

Please note: This is a fantasy and couldn’t be further from the truth. Here is a glimpse of what the flu is really like.

The Flu is … All Consuming

The flu steals your health, your humor, your ability to do anything, your desire to shower, your ability to think straight, and really your ability to think about anything much at all.  Which wreaks havoc with your conversational skills. But who cares. You have high fever, chills, weird dreams, a cough that keeps you (and everyone within a half-mile) up all night; body aches, sore throat and medicine that irritates your stomach.  Some poor souls get stomach flu as well which seems unfathomable. The days are long and the nights are longer and you develop a sneaking suspicion that you might never actually get better. 

For the first few days, your family is sympathetic, but after a few days, they become less generous.

The Flu is … Long

While everybody experiences the flu in different ways, expect to feel poorly for a long time. Seven to 10 days is optimistic.  And even then, you’re a shadow of yourself. As our doctor told my husband, you’ll hover at 30% for a long time. Indeed. You’ll no doubt return to your life and work before you’re ready and that’s no fun. But neither is using up weeks of vacation time and returning more wan and tired than ever.  

The Flu is … Lonely

When you have the flu in your home, nobody is prone to visit and you’re not allowed out. You’re in quarantine. You will miss things that are important to you and you don’t even have the energy to care.  Until you’re recovered.  Family members keep their distance. If you’re not the stricken ones,  there’s nobody to go out with or even chat with. They’re all in bed. And when they begin to feel better, they’re glued to football highlights. You all begin to feel isolated, and bored, and more than a little cranky. Which really isn’t the best nursing style.  

The Flu is … Humbling

There are four people in our family. Two got the flu. Two didn’t.  Sure, we’re more obstinate than they are, but only by a little. Although we’ve all scoffed at the idea of the flu for years, recently we have a new refrain ..  There but for the grace of God go we.

In Closing, a Few Short Tenets

DON’T UNDER-ESTIMATE THE FLU.  As my husband brightly announced when clarity began to return several days later:  “This is horrible.” He’s right.

IT’S MUCH EASIER TO GET A FLU SHOT THAN GET THE FLU. Plus, when you have the flu, the first question people ask is, “Did you get a flu shot?” And when you say, “No,” or “Not yet,” they stop feeling sorry for you. Even though you were just about to get it next week!

IF YOU GET THE FLU SHOT, AND THEN STILL GET THE FLU, it will be greatly reduced in intensity and longevity. 

IF YOU WANT A DAY OR TWO OFF TO RELAX, JUST DO IT. Just don’t bring the flu along with you.

WE’RE ALL BETTER AND STRONGER THAN THE FLU.  After we get the flu shot. 

Get vaccinated soon. It takes two weeks before it’s effective and the holidays are upon us. Here to help you is RVNAhealth’s Flu and Pneumonia Vaccine Schedule.