Friday, May 1, 2015

Granny Takes an Art Class

My Journey with Elizabeth Layton

Although it was nearly 40 years ago, I remember seeing Elizabeth Layton's drawings for the first time as if it were yesterday. I was a young reporter for The Herald newspaper in Ottawa, Kansas, when I saw two of these drawings. They made me laugh and cry at the same time. Drawings of an old woman with big green eyes that reached out to me.

Then, I learned from her art teacher at Ottawa University that Elizabeth Layton was 68 years old and taking her first art course. This, I realized, would be a good story for my newspaper, "Granny Takes Art Class." Meeting her, however, I realized that this was more than a one-time story for the Ottawa Herald. It would be my life.

When the story appeared in The Herald, I had also arranged for a dozen of her drawings to be shown at the local library. Visiting her weekly, I learned more of the story. She had been depressed half her life and undergone shock treatments. Learning to draw helped to cure her depression. It was gone six months after she began drawing by looking at herself in a mirror and drawing not only what she saw but what she felt.

I was able to arrange for one-person exhibitions of her work in about 160 museums across the country, including the Smithsonian. And I was able to get coverage of her in Life, People and Parade magazines, as well as NPR and Good Morning America.

She and I had an understanding and a mission. We knew that viewing her drawings could and has helped people – people dealing with their own aging, their own depression, their own families. And the drawings could help people better understand the social issues around them – racial injustice, homosexuality, the environment, homeless, and on and on.

Elizabeth had to draw and I had to get those drawings "out there." It was my therapy during the last 16 years of her life and the 22 years since.

By Don Lambert, Curator

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

ODE TO A BLONDE BOMBSHELL

When I first met Bonnie Peterson 30 years ago, I thought, “Wow! You’re the nurse guys dream about!” She was young, blonde and beautiful. What I couldn’t tell at first blush was that she was also one of the smartest and most tenacious nurse leaders I have ever had the privilege of working with, and without question, the strongest advocate for nursing, nursing ethics and bioethics that I have ever known.    

Bonnie and I both had new jobs. She was the new Vice President of Nursing/Clinical Care at Children’s Mercy Hospital (CMH) here in Kansas City, and I was the Executive Director of a brand new freestanding bioethics center, Midwest Bioethics Center (now the Center for Practical Bioethics). The year 1985 was a great one for Bonnie. That year she married her Pete Peterson, an attorney who knew how lucky he was to have landed Bonnie. They adored one another.

Ethics Committee Pioneer


CMH was one of the Center’s “early adopters.” There was a group of physicians there who had met regularly for a number of years and included one of our founders, Hans Uffelmann, a philosopher at the University of Missouri – Kansas City. It was sort of a “journal club.” They would all read articles, and then meet for breakfast to discuss them. Hans convinced the group that they should transition into a hospital ethics committee, which was quite the thing for hospitals to do at that time, and that he and others at the Bioethics Center should consult with them in this transition and provide ethics education to them. 

They agreed, and Bonnie was the administrator with whom we worked and who oversaw this transition. Ultimately, however, CMH established an ethics committee under the authority of the medical staff. Unfortunately, to them this meant that, although nurses were welcome to participate in the educational activities, they could not serve as committee members. (There was a lot of brouhaha about legal protection from disclosure regarding  intimate case conversations.) Having come to know Bonnie and being aware of how much effort she had put into this, I thought she would be furious, but not so. That was not her style.

She let the guys proceed (and they were all male physicians), and she established a “nursing ethics forum” where nurses met monthly to also discuss difficult cases. It could not be called an ethics committee because there already was one in place and it was for physicians only. In a short time, however, physician members of the ethics committee became open to nurses presenting cases before their group and, eventually, nurses and others were invited to serve on the ethics committee. That’s the way Bonnie did things. Unlike me, she never stomped her feet or demanded anything. She simply decided what she thought best, and then she made it happen – quietly, unrelentingly….

Leader, Teacher and Mentor Extraordinaire


And what she thought was best was very impressive. She was part of the team at CMH that planned a new wing of the hospital with a Kaleidoscope theme. She was involved in CMH opening auxiliary clinics and ultimately a second hospital in the Kansas City metropolitan area, bringing hospitals together to support air ambulance services that none of them could afford separately, and establishing a neonatal ICU at another hospital. She was also an active and dedicated member of the Bioethics Center. It was rare for us to hold any event that Bonnie was not present. She even participated in a week-long nursing ethics intensive seminar hosted by the Center, although she could have taught the course herself and actually served on the faculty for nursing leaders that followed her group. 

After more than a decade, Bonnie left CMH. She accepted executive positions in a couple of other KC hospitals, but Bonnie loved children. That’s where her heart and passion were and that’s where she went – to the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. And when she called, we went to “do ethics” with them, and whenever she was in Kansas City, she called and came by the Center. 

Fortunately, for us Bonnie ultimately returned to Kansas City, in part, to pursue her life-long dream of completing her PhD in teaching at the University of Kansas. None of her friends could understand why she thought she “needed” a PhD. Bonnie Peterson was one of the best teachers I have ever encountered, and her students LOVED her. She served on the Advisory Board for the School of Nursing as did I. 

Colleague and Friend


One of my greatest honors was to have been recognized as an honorary alumnus by the School of Nursing. It wouldn’t have been like her to share that she was the one who nominated me. I learned that later from someone else.

Bonnie also came home because she was having some health problems. I can’t remember when Bonnie was diagnosed with cancer; it seems like a very long time ago. However, I do remember when I was diagnosed with cancer. It was in January 2011. Bonnie was right there for me. I got phone calls, notes, books, love and encouragement from her. In thinking about how to express my respect and admiration for Bonnie Peterson, I decided to share that Bonnie Peterson was the one person in my circle of family, friends and colleagues with whom I cried and told her how frightened I was. In her inimitable way, she said, “We’ll be okay. Nobody is better prepared than are you and I to deal with these issues. We’re good at making tough decisions about healthcare, and I’ll be there when you need me.” 

Like many others, I feel blessed to have known Bonnie Peterson, PhD, RN, and I will miss her. 


By Myra Christopher, Kathleen M. Foley Chair for Pain and Palliative Care
Center for Practical Bioethics

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

LIVING WILLS, GREYHOUNDS AND GOALPOSTS

National Healthcare Decisions Day – April 16, 2015

By John G. Carney, MEd, President and CEO
Center for Practical Bioethics


For years, I’ve been curious to know whether people fail to complete living wills and avoid naming a healthcare agent out of procrastination or a false sense of confidence that they have plenty of time to do it later.

Reality is, if you don’t do it when you don’t have to, it’s not likely to go well when you do. Naming someone during a time of crisis to speak on your behalf can be downright cruel, especially when you’ve not shared much about the things that are really important to you.

Share What’s Important

What are those things? Well, they aren’t scary or monumental. They include things like how important laughing, talking, sharing and “just being” are to you. Don’t get all tied up in feeding tubes. Instead think about what sharing a meal means to you. Is it a means to an end or an end in itself?

I once shared a house with an older-than-me bachelor and swore when he ate at home he never cooked anything that didn’t come in a box and could go in a microwave. I, on the other hand, started just about every meal sautéing fresh onions and garlic in olive oil. Food had entirely different meanings to us, and that became starkly evident to me when we talked about his dad’s early onset Alzheimer’s and how differently he approached the question of feeding tubes when the difficult question arose in his family.

So stop worrying about a tube in every orifice! Instead think about the sharing what you want more than anything – even at the end. Don’t obsess about completing a living will (aka healthcare directive) to the point that it paralyzes you from acting. Instead, take the time to share with someone who loves and cares for you what’s important to you as you think about life in general and especially its final stages. Focus on the positive - the most fulfilling aspects of your life. This isn’t a “bucket list” of items to do, but rather a sharing of values and convictions. What do relationships, solitude, faith, nature, self-expression and art, work, music and family mean to you?

Then, when that’s all done, ask that person to be your agent. And then promise that person that you’ll do it again in a year or two down the road – or whenever you have a major event in your life – from the birth of a child to the diagnosis of a serious illness. Life happens and, while our wishes and dreams may alter, you’ll be comforted by the fact that values – real bedrock beliefs about life and love – pretty much stay the same. But don’t assume even those close to you know all that.

Recognize Greyhounds and Goalposts

Over the years I’ve learned about two very important syndromes that all of us deal with differently. One is called the “Greyhound Syndrome.” It’s the phenomenon that sometimes we experience a great freedom of anonymity sitting next to a perfect stranger (on a bus traveling cross country) and share our deepest thoughts more freely than we do with those we’ve shared a lifetime with. Hospice volunteers can regale you with stories they’ve heard, never to share again, by a dying patient. These are not necessarily dark secrets of our past so much as unvoiced hidden treasures. Some are worth sharing before we die; others are worth taking to the grave. Think about which is which.

The other syndrome is what’s called “Moving Goal Posts.” This phenomenon deals with how some future state or health condition may appear unacceptable at one point in our lives and much more acceptable at another. That’s why checking boxes and lists on living will forms doesn’t work for people in states of relative good health. But stories, treasured thoughts, values and convictions work at every level.

Have a Caring Conversation Today

So take a leap and share your stories with someone you love. And, this April 16, on National Healthcare Decisions Day, have a caring conversation. Name an agent. Start talking about what matters most and don’t make it a somber depressing discussion. Think about it as a gift to those you love that will lead to peace of mind – for you and them. Because it likely will – far more likely than leaving it to chance. Close to 85% of us will have to rely on someone else to make our final wishes known. 

If you need help getting started, we’ve got a little booklet that will help you do just that. Download a free Caring Conversations workbook or order a printed version from the Center for Practical Bioethics’ website.

Seize the moment and turn what you thought was morbid and ghoulish into the marvelous and glorious. You may just discover something about a loved one that will serve you both in the moment and for a lifetime.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Gratitude for Rev. Gardner C. Taylor

Remembered by Dr. Robert Lee Hill, Senior Minister
Community Christian Church, Kansas City, Missouri

When a comprehensive American religious history of the 20th century is finally compiled, the magisterial preaching eloquence of the Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor will be remembered with astonishment and abiding, awe-struck admiration. Dr. Taylor died on Sunday, April 5. He was 96.

For more than 70 years, Dr. Taylor held forth among African American Baptists and a panoramic array of religious adherents throughout the United States and around the world as an orator with few if any peers.

MLK’s Favorite Preacher

As the pastor of the Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn, New York, for 42 years, and afterwards in retirement, Dr. Taylor engaged the issues of his community, the nation and the world with passion, insight and effectiveness. He artfully combined the necessary durative dynamic of transcendence with the equally necessary punctiliar character of incarnation.

With Martin Luther King, Jr., who called Dr. Taylor his “favorite” preacher, he helped found The Progressive National Baptist Church in order for congregations to better address and overcome the ravages of racism and segregation in the U.S. Working from the North, he led the Concord church and many other congregations to raise funds for Dr. King’s efforts in the South.

Dr. Taylor also served on the New York City Board of Education and was always involved in issues that arose in the “public square” of Brooklyn and greater New York. In his later years, Dr. Taylor worried that many religious leaders and their congregations had lost their “prophetic edge” and might fall into the trap of merely mirroring a consumeristic culture.’’

Compassion Sabbath in Kansas City

Whenever he spoke and wherever he travelled, Dr. Taylor dealt with ethical issues and matters of public significance, including when he came to Kansas City.

The Center for Practical Bioethics will remain abidingly thankful for Dr. Taylor’s presence in Kansas City in 1999 at the launching of “Compassion Sabbath,” which engaged more than 80,000 faith community leaders and members in hundreds of congregations in an interfaith initiative to increase the quality of care for those facing the end of life. At a breakfast gathering at Union Station, he spoke compellingly of the need for honesty and compassion in relation to the experience of debilitation and pain at the end of life.

During the time of a sabbatical journey in 2010, I was privileged to share a long interview/conversation with Dr. Taylor in his home in Raleigh, North Carolina. In retirement, Dr. Taylor echoed in his meditations what he put forth as a preacher, pastor, and activist for the betterment of humanity. Well into his 90's, Dr. Taylor spoke plainly and with swift clarity about the process of aging. When asked about what he prayed for, he said his personal prayers were "to get out without too much pain." And he added, with a chuckle, "And I'm ready to get out, I'm ready to go."

People in the pew, the academy of homileticians, and awe-struck fellow clergy regarded Dr. Taylor as a singular personality whose like only comes around once every century or so. We would agree and only add that we’re so glad that he came to Kansas City to share his extraordinary voice for the intertwining for what is “good” and what is “right.”

Note: The Kansas City Star published an article about Dr. Gardner on April 11, 2015, describing his pulpit as “the most prestigious in black Christendom.”