We Are (UNMC) Family

Even though I’m a writer, I have no words for what happened in Newtown, Conn., last Friday. What I do know is that the first thing I thought of when I heard the news, probably like many of you, was my family. How much they mean to me. And how quickly all that can be taken away. I have a husband, a 2-year-old daughter and another baby on the way. But they are not my only family.

During the week, I spend just as much time at work as I do at home, not counting when I’m asleep of course. Five days a week for the past five years, I’ve been greeted by the same faces when I arrive at 8 a.m. each day. So it’s no surprise that my co-workers are like family members to me. Just as I’m sure yours are to you.

Sure, there might be a “Crazy Uncle Eddie” or a weird cousin, but at the end of the day they’re still family. And I wanted to take this opportunity to tell my second family how much they mean to me. I encourage anyone else reading this to do the same. Sort of a “happy holidays/pay it forward” project if you will. You could send a quick e-mail or please feel free to write something in the comments below and send them a link to this story.

Without further ado, I’ll get to it.

Bill: I’ve never had a boss who asked a question about my personal life and actually cared about the answer until I met Bill. Also, my daughter is in love with his son, Jack, so this “work family thing” could be an “actual family thing” if she has it her way. :)

Chuck: Not everyone gets to work with a comedian. I feel fortunate to have Chuck as a friend who makes me laugh out loud on a daily basis. And yes, Chuck, you kind of are the Crazy Uncle Eddie.

Dawn: Dawn is fairly new to the family, and I’m still getting to know her, but I think the best compliment I can give her it to tell her she’s “vital” to us.

Jake: It’s always great to have a reminder of your youth in the office. Jake’s ability to eat fast food at any time of the day and be up at odd hours keeps us all young.

Jessica: Jessica is someone we should all strive to be more like. I really respect and admire her work ethic, but am most moved by her kindness to others.

Jo: I love swapping kid stories with Jo. Our children were born just two months apart and she is truly an amazing mom.

Julie: This woman makes the world’s best brownies. I couldn’t help but break the news to my stepmom once. Honestly, I want to nominate them for Guinness.

Kacie: My running buddy. Thankfully, Kacie is able to talk when she runs, so our jogs on Field Club Trail are a lot less boring. She also knows how to spice up a photo. Here’s us at the Color Run last summer.

Kalani: Without him, I wouldn’t be able to keep this blog going. I envy his writing style and am just glad he didn’t apply for the opening I did five years ago!

Karen: If you need a good book recommendation, or just an article that will make you cry, Karen is your supplier. She’s also a fabulous listener who manages to look like this after a half-marathon.

Lisa M.G. My fellow pet-lover. When we thought we might have to put my dog down last year, Lisa was the one I turned to. Her support got me through that tough time.

Lisa S. Most holidays, I get a text message from Lisa telling me “Happy Thanksgiving” or what not. A lot of my friends send mass texts like this, but Lisa’s reminds me to give my daughter a hug for her, so I know she wrote it just to me.

Liz: She asked the toughest questions during my interview here five years ago, but Liz has the softest heart. Here’s the hat she knitted for my daughter that came with a matching blanket.

Mary: This is a woman who never stops smiling. Every day when I enter the office, she’s got a grin for me and everyone. All employees on campus should be so lucky.

Ryan: During the Spirit Week scavenger hunt, this pregnant lady on our team was getting really hungry, almost to the point of low blood sugar. Ryan zoomed into a building and up a flight of stairs to get her a candy bar. That girl was me. Thanks, Ryan. And yes, you’re the weird cousin. Kidding!

Stacie: Not only did Stacie orchestrate the picture that makes me crack up every time I look at it, she also brought me back the sweetest souvenir scarf from her trip to China.

Tom O’Connor: Tom would probably prefer I use this space to promote the Omaha Press Club, but I gotta tell him how much he’s taught me about PR and just being a good friend.  And thanks for always rooting for my Cyclones Tom O!

Tom Waples: Not only is Tom a professional designer (whom I credit with my last year’s Christmas letter) he also has a knack for guessing the size of a pregnant woman’s stomach with caution tape.

Vicky: Vicky’s done many things for me over the years here, but giving me a Prilosec before our office holiday party so I could eat the Cheesy Irish fries at Barrett’s is the most recent.

So that’s my work family. Aren’t they great? I couldn’t have asked for a better one if I hand-picked them myself. Hope you all have a very happy holiday. Please consider telling someone in your work family how much they mean to you!


Holiday sounds from Wittson Hall

Robert Binhammer, Ph.D., had started to sweat and it wasn’t because of his red, green and white holiday sweater.

The legendary anatomy professor was on edge because it was 11:59 a.m. on Tuesday – one minute before the annual Wittson Hall holiday carol event that Dr. Binhammer has led for decades – and the student who volunteered to provide piano accompaniment had yet to appear.

As more than 100 students settled into the Wittson Hall Amphitheater seats, cookies and sodas in hand, ready to sing their hearts out, Dr. Binhammer pondered a piano-less carol session.

“We’ve never done it a cappella before,” Dr. Binhammer said. “We’ve had some bad accompaniment, but never no accompaniment.”

In the St. Nick of time

But right at the strike of noon, the student and some others walked in the door with a Yamaha keyboard and a Marshal guitar amplifier.

“We really need the music,” said Gordon Todd, Ph.D., professor of cell biology and anatomy. “Some of the songs he picks are not-that-well-known.

“It really helps to have the music.”

A holiday tradition

The carol session started on campus more than 30 years ago with the then anatomy department director, Dr. Kenneth Metcalf. Dr. Binhammer continued the tradition when Dr. Metcalf left.

“We just think it’s a nice thing to do, a diversion at the end of the term,” Dr. Todd said.

All together now!

After about 10 minutes, the pianist finally was set up and Dr. Binhammer called for the first tune, “Deck the Halls,” and they were off.

“There are some good singers this year,” a UNMC staff member noted as another nodded.

They rolled through song after song – often just singing a verse, but sometimes, when it struck him to do so, Dr. Binhammer would shout out, “one more verse!”  The students would laugh then oblige.

From the bottom of their hearts!

“This one never goes well,” someone said just before the group started “Feliz Navidad.”

And it didn’t.

To start with anyway.

But after some butchered Spanish and oddly sung lines, the student voices came together in the refrain.

“I want to wish you a merry Christmas, from the bottom of my heart!” They sang in a way that sounded nearly rehearsed.

Something for everyone

They sang nearly 30 carols – at least parts of them anyway.

Among the selections was “The 12 Days of Med School,” in which the names of several anatomy and College of Medicine faculty were evoked by students who were given, among other things, three germy layers, two rubber gloves and “five hours of sleep!”

A holiday torch to pass

Dr. Binhammer officially retired this year but continues to work for free – which is another story that we’ll tell another day very soon. But the time when he won’t be here to lead the carols is on the horizon.

When asked if he’d pick up the torch when Dr. Binhammer steps away, Dr. Todd shook his head quickly.

“I can’t sing a note,” he said. “It will have to be someone with actual musical ability.”

Curling up with a rare book

Ask John Schleicher, associate professor and head of special collections at the McGoogan Library of Medicine, what he’s got in the rare book room. And the answer is: “How many things do you want to see?”

Oh, he’s got stuff. A fourth edition (1730) of Optiks, written by Sir Isaac Newton. Yeah, that’s right – the guy of the apple-bonking incident fame.

A book from 1517, its binding sewn by hand, its illustrations of military surgery (there’s some dude getting his leg sawn off).

Yes, this guy is being treated via hacksaw. But don’t worry. They put a towel over his head, so he’ll be fine.

Medieval text from the 1300s, one of the works of Albertus Magnus. Fittingly, UNMC’s copy was hand-written by university scribes, not monastery ones. The style of script confirms it.

Look at the pictures in this one: “They’re kind of dressed like … they’ve got Christopher Columbus hats,” I said.

“They look like the Montagues and Capulets,” Schleicher said.

What penmanship!

It’s an impressive collection. Some of the best stuff was acquired in the 1920s, when a doctor would make an annual pilgrimage to Europe in search of antiquities to add to the university’s library. But it’s grown since then and continues to grow. Physicians have donated their collections. Schleicher attends a history of medicine (and rare books) conference each year, and when people see his name tag they still stop him and tell him their Dr. McGoogan tales.

In the library there are book covers made of velum – goat skin or sheep skin. Here’s one with an illustration of a guy who looks like he’s got some problems. He’s got crabs and scorpions and goats and cows and people crawling all over and seemingly inside (!) of his body.

In spite of — or perhaps in some cases because of — their age, many of these books are as beautiful as they’ve ever been.

“We have a translation of this,” Schleicher said. “They thought depending on when you were born, what month, the sign of the zodiac, you should or should not do different things that time of the year.”

Schleicher enjoys telling the stories behind some of the library’s most treasured items.

Let’s see. He says mine says when the moon is in Leo it’s a good time to start building a castle, to establish relationships with princes and to “conclude a marriage.”

To conclude one? Like to end one?

What does that mean? If you’re going to get divorced, do it around your birthday?

Anyone in ortho recognize this?

So, were a lot of things in these books way off, compared with what we know today?

“Not really,” Schleicher said. “Some things yes, some things no.”

A lot of what is found in these books was on the cutting edge. (Um … so to speak.)

Childbirth in the 1500s. She’s about eight minutes from the “I don’t care what it says on my birth plan, I want the epidural” stage.

A good portion of UNMC’s collection deals with obstetrics, thanks to the personal interests of a couple of its big donors, Dr. McGoogan, and Dr. Charles and Olga Moon.

The McGoogan Library has a copy of Eucharius Rösslin’s 1513 classic “Der Rosengarten,” a pregnancy and childbirth guide. It was revolutionary, as it was written by a medical doctor. It swept across Europe, and was published in several languages. It was the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” of its day.

Apparently, this Isaac Newton guy was a pretty big deal.

Likewise, Madame du Coudray had similar success a couple centuries later. She dedicated herself to reducing infant mortality in rural France in the 1700s (outreach to an underserved population!), and even came up with the kind of simulation mannequin you might find in the Sorrell Center’s Sim Lab today. We’ve got her book, too.

And look at this: “Inside of it this says – I don’t know if we could ever prove this,” Schleicher says, “this is French for: ‘Library of Louis XVI.’ ”

An important text which describes the study of the possibility of vaccination against smallpox. Also — ewwwww.

Uh huh. Well, maybe. But the library did have an appraisal done in 1997, and at that time it was noted to be a $3-4 million collection. How many visitors come to see all this stuff?

“Not enough,” Schleicher said. So there you have it. Give them a call at 559-7094 to set up an appointment. Come see some pretty cool stuff.