Adios, winter (5×8 – 2/10/11)

The joy of cold, the joy of sandbagging, the joy of breakthroughs, the joy of the iPhone, and the nurse who allegedly stole a surgery patient’s pain med.



I know what you’re thinking: This winter can’t end soon enough and thank goodness it’s warming up. It was -10 this morning, and we may not see that again until next year. Winter is a punch-drunk fighter; that was his/her last shot. Now that I know it’s leaving, it’s easier to miss it already.

Here’s a picture I took of the area just south of Moorhead earlier this week. Look at the blue of the sky. Feel that sunshine. Listen to the snow squeak as you walk on it. It was about 9 below — the kind of temperature that gives you a sense of accomplishment when you walk from the house to the car and live to write about it.

You can’t turn the heater on “high” because of the whine of whatever mechanics are going on under the hood that protest the burden. But it’s OK, because the sun coming through the car windows provides enough heat to survive, even though your toes let you know you’re still alive.

You can’t do that when you’re standing on a crowded light-rail car with broken air conditioning… as we’ll soon find out.

Write if you get work, winter.


I didn’t find sandbagging to be a horrible experience during the Red River flooding of 2009, but I was still new to it and even pulling weeds can be interesting the first time you do it.

But it’s drudgery for its repetition. In Fargo, where sandbag preparation is about to begin, they’re working on ways to make the experience more entertaining, the Fargo Forum reports.

They’re adding art to the bags.

“Imagine you’re on that sandbag line at 3 in the morning and all of a sudden a pink robot comes by on one of the bags.

“At that moment, it might be just what you need as a National Guardsman, or a community member,” said Strand, who, along with some of his students and other volunteers, spent part of Wednesday stenciling thought bubbles on empty sandbags.

I wrote a few days ago about the social aspects of preparing for a flood. The flooding in the valley is getting to be quite the industry. MPR’s Dan Gunderson, for example, took in yesterday’s flood-fighting took expo in Fargo.


Timing is tragedy, sometimes. There’s a breakthrough in the fight against spina bifida. It’s an awful birth defect that is quite common, and leaves children paralyzed and often with brain damage. My twin brother’s daughter died at age 31 last year after a life with spina bifida.

Maybe that won’t happen again. Researchers have announced they’re now able to treat spina bifida with prenatal surgery, and can limit the risk of paralysis:

But doctors who treat spina bifida say there’s something even more important: Fetal surgery reduces a child’s need for a lifelong shunt — a tube to carry cerebrospinal fluid from the brain to the abdomen. Without the shunt, fluid can build up, causing devastating brain damage or death.

More than 80 percent of the children who had the surgery after birth needed shunts, compared to 40 percent among those operated on prenatally.


Tech heads have gone to DEFCON 1 today. The new non-AT&T iPhone is on sale today, but people who ordered it by mail have already gotten it. Kate Elenberger of Moorhead got hers on the first day of her doctor-ordered bed rest.

“I’ve been laying on the couch by my front door all day waiting for the FedEx truck,” the expectant mom told the Associated Press, which described the region as ‘gadget starved.’ “Getting the iPhone is the highlight of my day.”

Meanwhile, the new iPhone “confession app” is getting panned by the Vatican. “It’s essential to understand that the sacrament of penance requires a personal dialogue between the penitent and the confessor, and absolution by the confessor who is present,” Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told reporters today.

Maureen Dowd of the New York Times has tried it:

The app also tailors the questions if you sign in as a priest or a “religious.” For instance, if you say you’re a female and try to select “priest” as your vocation, a dialogue box appears that says “sex and vocation are incompatible.” So much for modernity.

Under the Sixth Commandment, men and women are asked: “Have I been guilty of any homosexual activity?” Priests, however, are not. They are asked if they flirt.


The Star Tribune reports a nurse took the pain medication of a patient about to go into surgery, and shot herself up with it, then told him to “man up.” The tip-off, according to the article, was the patient’s pain during surgery. The nurse told him to “go to your happy place.”

The hospital would not comment about who reported suspicions that the nurse was a junkie. But the larger question is also unanswered: How does an allegedly junkie nurse get to the point of stealing a surgery patient’s pain medication in the first place?


Bonus: An effort is underway in Mississippi to issue license plates honoring a leader of the KKK.


In his State of the State address, Gov. Mark Dayton said the way to create a better future for Minnesota is to invest – in jobs, education, transportation, health and the delivery of public services. Do you agree with the governor’s call for investment?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour:Gov. Mark Dayton.

Second hour: In his new book, Pat Conroy pays homage to the literature that transformed his life.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Tom Brokaw at the JFK Library in Boston about President Kennedy, on the 50th anniversary of his presidency.

Second hour: Tom Brokaw speaking at the Ronald Reagan Library in California on the 100th anniversary of President Reagan’s birth.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: How to write a new Constitution.

Second hour: How we age.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Denny Hecker finds out how much longer he’ll spend behind bars later today. Marty Moylan looks back at the show that Denny put on en route to prison.

A locally made documentary about the challenges facing deaf women diagnosed with breast cancer gets a preview screening on Saturday. The experience of cancer for ASL speakers is described like facing a serious disease in a hospital where no-one understands your language. MPR’s Euan Kerr will have the story.

MPR’s Elizabeth Baier goes along with landowners in the chronic wasting disease “target zone” around Pine Island to shoot deer on their property with a goal to kill hundreds of animals for tissue sampling.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Re The Joy of Cold: Beautiful writing, Bob. You transported me from 73 and sunny at the beach to memories of the best place I’ve ever lived. Thank you.

  • vjacobsen

    The part of the story about that nurse stealing the narcotic was the part where the nurses and doctors had to hold the poor man down to finish the procedure. Why wasn’t THAT enough of a red light right then and there? Do they have to hold down patients often enough that it didn’t worry them or make them think something was wrong?

    What the nurse did was wrong, yes, but I need to hear more from the doctors and nurses who were in the room at the time not to want to place blame on them as well.

  • Joanna

    From sad family history, I understand how junkies will do absolutely anything for their next fix, especially as their use escalates. But like vjacobsen, I am flabbergasted that the procedure continued while the patient was clearly in so much distress. Has this happened before?

  • Jim Shapiro

    A doc friend responded to the story of Nurse Junkie in the following manner: “Welcome to modern health care. Like modern warfare, when enough people die, things change”.

  • Carmen the Nurse

    @ Joanna,

    I am guessing the team working on that man assumed that the man was given the correct amount of pain meds.

    Would more pain killer be an over dose or cause other complications? The problem lies with Nurse Ratchet who stole his meds.

    Recovery is no stranger to the medical field. Tons of nurses go through recovery due to easy access to the medicine cabinet.

    I think better screening nurse applicants might be part of an answer. Your life is literally placed in their hands and who is to say that all of them are playing with a full deck.

    I would also comment that nurses these days-not all- but some that I have encountered have alot to learn in the category of bed-side manner.

  • Suzanne

    A) Winter can’t end soon enough and if the sky is a duller blue in summer, I’ll take it;

    B) I love everything Maureen Dowd writes about the sick, male-dominated political machine that is the catholic church (“catholic church” not capitalized on purpose).

  • Jim Shapiro

    Thanks Suzanne for your comment on Maureen Dowd’s piece. As a recovering catholic, I refrained form saying anything myself in an attempt to keep my blood pressure down. 🙂

  • Jamie

    Really enjoyed your piece on winter, Bob! :o)

    About Nurse Ratchet: I too find it odd that the rest of the medical team didn’t do anything.

    I can sort of imagine what that guy experienced because I had to have a lumbar-region steroid injection one time and they told me I wouldn’t feel much but it was extremely painful. I wanted in the worst way to tell them to stop, but I considered the injection an investment of a sort on the diminished back pain the injection promised so I stuck it out. I had to have a second injection a few weeks later, and that time they knocked me out first.

    Can’t they “knock out” the patient in the middle of a procedure if s/he is having a lot of pain?