Wednesday, October 30, 2019

ME. The Poster Child For What NOT To Do

If you are a regular reader, you’ve noticed the focus of my blog this month has been on my late husband Tom. He died on October 29, 2014.  Five years. Unreal. So please bear with me for one more story. It is as much mine as it is his.

I come from a long line of farmers. As a child, I lived on a farm and now I am blessed to live in a house built on a piece of my grandparent’s farm. Tom grew up in Florida. His family raised a few animals but farming wasn’t ingrained in them as it was in my family. 

When Tom started working for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), his research focus was on preventing musculoskeletal disorders. His inquiries eventually led him to the area of farm safety. He was particularly interested in safety for children and adolescents working in agriculture.

I was pretty excited. Finally, Tom was speaking my vocabulary. I even forked over the money to attend a farm safety conference with him. I learned quite a bit at the conference. 

Mostly, I learned that I could have been the poster child for what not to do

Seriously. I remember helping my dad by “driving” the truck while the men threw bales of hay onto the flatbed of the vehicle. I actually only guided it. Dad had the truck idling fast so it would creep down the field. My job was to peer through the steering wheel and when I saw the trees coming, to pull up with all my strength and throw both feet down on the brake. Dad would then get inside and turn the truck around for me and we’d head back the other direction. I was eight-years-old.

When I was nine, I helped my dad remove fence posts. By then I could actually drive the tractor. I’d back it up to where Dad could put a chain around the post. He’d stand by and wiggle the post and I’d slowly ease out until the post came free. I learned at the conference we could have both been killed.

I thought nothing of running the beams in our three story barn, climbing into the nearly empty silo during a game of hide-and-seek, or sliding down a mountain of corn in the corncrib on a piece of cardboard.

At the conference I learned I was lucky to be alive. I thought nothing of doing those things as a child. To me, the farm was a big playground. But now I was a mother…and a researcher. The statistics on children injured or killed on farms was frightening. One loss was one too many. 

Tom was interested in how children often stress their musculoskeletal frames through lifting, twisting, and such as part o their “chores.” Farming, you see, is for many states, their most hazardous occupation. And children are a big part of it.

I was convinced. Following the conference, I crafted three children’s books centered on safety. One was about tractor safety, one on lifting, and the other on slips, trips, and falls. This was before I retired and decided to become a writer. I wrote these books and shared with my first grade students. A few of them were farm kids.

I’ve considered trying to publish those books to raise money for Tom’s scholarship fund. I need to learn a lot more about publishing children’s books to make that happen. It’s a thought.

Until I hit on that magic formula, I’ve put out a plea to my readers to give to the scholarship fund created to honor Tom and the work he did. The campaign to raise $15,000 is over in October even though your tax deductible gifts can continue to be received for years to come.Thank you to all who have given to the Thomas R. Waters Memorial Scholarship for Ergonomics Research. 

The online gifts reached over $5000.00 while the mail-in gifts exceeded that. I don’t have the final tally, but I trust the fund will reach the endowed status before the end of the year. Now my hope is that it will be a strong scholarship. One worth each applicant’s time to pursue. 

If you still want to give, CLICK HERE and it will take you to the page. 
If you prefer to mail in your gift, CLICK HERE to download a form to guide you.

Again…Thank You… And Stay Safe.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Lifting, Handling, and Road ID

October. Autumn is finally here. Colorful leaves and cooler temperatures have arrived. Friday night high school football and Saturday college games define the season.

If you follow my blog, you know it is also National Ergonomics Month. Ergonomists look at how people interface with their work environment. They look for ways to improve work places so that people can perform their work safely and efficiently. 

For me it’s personal. “Tom Waters” and “Ergonomist” are virtually synonyms. My late husband, Tom, was passionate about his work. He made it interesting. Good thing. Our three little girls grew up learning a bit about the Revised NIOSH Lifting Equation around the dinner table. 

It’s not that he monopolized the conversation. He was equally interested in everything that went on in my day as well as that of the girls. It’s just that ergonomics was his bailiwick. Of particular interest to him was workplace lifting. Moving boxes, handling construction materials, or lifting patients…it didn’t matter, he cared for people in all job situations.

Though Tom had retired, he was often consulted about research issues in his area of expertise. He continued to review papers and offer advice to other researchers. I decided ergonomics was just part of his DNA.

We were nearing our second full year of retirement when on October 29, 2014, Tom left the house for his daily bicycle ride. It was a beautiful, sunny day. He hadn’t been gone long when my phone rang. 

The voice on the other end told me the front tire of Tom’s bicycle had slipped off the pavement and he had been thrown into a tree. The paramedics were on their way. So was I.

The "ID" Bracelet Tom Received as a Graduation Gift Had Long Gone By the Wayside. It was Replaced with A Road IDGo to
The man said he recognized Tom’s Road ID bracelet on his arm. It’s how he found my phone number. The Road ID was a gift from our youngest daughter and her husband. It had emergency contacts and medical info on it. 

I arrived on the scene just as the paramedics were assessing him. Though he was having a hard time breathing, there were few visible physical injuries; a few scratches on his left forearm. He had been wearing a helmet so his head was protected.

I watched helplessly as Tom told the paramedics, “Can’t breathe.” They told him they were going to lift him up and see if that helped. He nodded. Like them, I assumed the wind had been knocked out of him.  As soon as they lifted him, he passed out. I watched as they loaded him onto a gurney. 

He opened his eyes and looked at me. The unspoken message was one I didn’t want to hear. I smiled and assured him he was going to be okay. “They’re going to get you to the hospital,” I told him. “You’ll see. You’re going to be fine.”

What is curious to me, even now, is that as the paramedics were loading the gurney into the back of the life squad, I was watching how they lifted him. I noted the uneven ground and the awkward stance one of them had to use because of the landform, the road, and the tree. 

I watched very carefully because I was sure Tom would ask me about it. “Safe Patient Handling” was one of his areas of interest. I knew that once he was well enough, he would consider how the equipment or task could be modified to protect the paramedics.

I was certain he would ask. But he didn’t.

Two hours after I received the call, my husband of forty-three years was gone… from this world. The internal injuries were extensive and the blood loss was simply too great. He died of cardiac arrest. 

Before he started wearing the Road ID, Tom carried a card in a pouch that hung from his neck, tucked under his shirt. The medical team didn’t find that pouch until they cut his shirt off of him at the hospital.

You see, if it hadn’t been for that Road ID bracelet, I may not have been called in time to see him alive. Someone on the Road ID website wrote of a similar accident. He couldn’t respond, but when he heard someone calling his wife after finding her number on his Road ID, he was able to relax and let the paramedics do what they needed to do. I know I was able to bring comfort to Tom. That brings comfort to me.

I have two calls to action for my readers. You can see I’ve put Road ID in bold print everywhere in this post. Everywhere it is mentioned, I’ve hyperlinked their website to their name. Simply click. Everyone in my family has a Road ID bracelet. Everyone in your family should have one, too. Think Christmas gifts.

One day, a researcher trained under that scholarship will address safe patient handling for paramedics. I’m keeping my notes.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Feet Under Our Table

Last week I shared a bit about my husband Tom and how losing him has impacted me. In a couple of weeks it will have been five years. 

Tom was a good man. He cared about others. Always. 

When Tom was seventeen years old, he pulled a man from the deep water of the lake where he lived in Florida and breathed new life back into him. 

The night he asked me to marry him, we drove from my house to tell his parents.  Someone was stranded on a country road. Tom stopped to help.

He was always like that. Always looking out for other people. Always caring. It was something that made me love him all the more.

But he had this one thing. 

It was not unusual 
for Tom to invite people
over for dinner.
It was not unusual for Tom to come home from work and tell me about someone who was visiting his branch of NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health).

“He’s in the city for a few days and alone,” he’d say. “So I invited him over for dinner tonight. I hope it’s okay.”And it was.

 “They’re in town for a training session and don’t know anyone,” he’d tell me. “So I invited them over for dinner tomorrow night. I hope it’s okay.”And it was.

“He and his family just moved here from Taiwan, [Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong, India, China, or some other part of the world] and they don’t know anyone, so I invited them over for dinner tomorrow night. I hope it’s okay.” It was. Of course he frequently followed up with “I don’t know if they speak English or not.” It was still okay. 

Tom cared about people. He always looked out for their wellbeing. As a result, people from all over the United States and from all over the world have put their feet under our table. From the head of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) all the way down to college students studying engineering and everyone in between. Tom was always bringing people to our house for a home cooked meal and an evening of conversation.

It wasn’t only at work. If Tom sensed someone was alone or broken, he reached out.  Tom cared about others, but never to the exclusion of his family. He was well loved because he loved well.

Tom died on October 29, 2014. It was a Wednesday. We held his services the following week to allow travel time for our family and friends from out of town. The night of his visitation a thousand people filed past Tom’s casket and greeted me, then Tom’s brothers, and then our three daughters on the other side. They offered words of comfort, hugs, and expressions of the sorrow they felt for this loss. 

Two of those coming through the line stand out to me even today.

The first was a homeless man we had befriended through church. Warren had cleaned up nicely and found his way to the church building. He had long gray hair and wore a rather ill fitting sports coat he had borrowed for the occasion. He was short so the sleeves were a bit too long.

Yes, That Little Guy is Tom
With His Two Older Brothers
As Warren walked through the line, I introduced him to Tom’s two older brothers standing beside me. Warren thrust out his hand and shook their hands heartily. 

“You’re brother was a good man,” he told them with tears in his eyes. “He always treated everybody the same. He was always good to me. He was a friend.”

A few more people passed through before Bill Marras, a fellow researcher in Tom’s field, approached. Bill is tall in stature and clean cut. He, too, has long gray hair. His coat fit. Bill had waited for nearly four hours to reach us and when I introduced him to Tom’s brothers his words were nearly the same. 

Bill shook hands with Ron and Rick and said, “You’re brother was a good man. He always treated everybody the same. We worked together, but more than that, he was a friend.”

When we returned to the house that evening, my brothers-in-law asked me about the two men. All I could tell them is that both men were right. Tom was a good man. And the fact that a homeless man and a renowned researcher stated the same things about him demonstrated that Tom did indeed treat everybody the same.

I’ve been working to memorize the twelfth chapter of the book of Romans. It is a description of how we are to live our lives. Phrases from the chapter pop out at me. Words like “share with God’s people who are in need,” or “practice hospitality,” and “be willing to associate with people of low position.” There’s more there. Much more that describes the man I married. 

I married a good man.

Last week I shared that the CDC Foundation has a scholarship in Tom’s name. The Thomas R. Waters Memorial Scholarship for Ergonomics Research. We are working hard to raise the monies to make that an endowed scholarship that lives on. It is not too late to donate. So, yes, I’m asking. I’ve provided links below. The first allows for online giving and the second is if you want to mail a contribution in to the foundation. 

Since October is National Ergonomics Month, the deadline for this campaign has been extended to the end of the month. Monies can always be donated but up to $15,000.00 received this month will be matched dollar for dollar. 

All I can offer is “Thank you.” So I thank you ahead of time for your generosity.

CLICK FOR A FORM TO DONATE BY MAIL (or simply use the address on the form and write "Thomas R. Waters Memorial Scholarship" in the memo line on your check)

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Five Years

Downhill, cross country,
and snowshoeing in Tahoe.
We did everything together.
October 29thwill mark the fifth anniversary of Tom’s very sudden death. Five years. No wonder I’ve been in a funk for the past few weeks. I never expected to outlive my husband by…well…any amount of time. I guess I never considered we wouldn’t “go” together. We did everything else together.

Five years. And when I say, “funk”, that’s what I’m calling the emotional exhaustion I experienced. Not depression. I checked it out with my favorite go-to doctor, Dr. Google. 

You see, for a few weeks I had low energy levels, no motivation to write, sleepless nights followed by naps during the day, crying at the drop of a hat and the big one…forgetfulness. I’m not talking about forgetting to eat or forgetting to check the mail. I do that stuff all the time because I get busy. Engaged in my writing and such. 

No. This was bigger. I forgot to pick up my grandson for his golf match. Three times. He’d call and I’d jump in the car, race to get him, and each day manage to drive him to the course before his tee time. I’m sure he was flustered by not getting there early. I was devastated. 

He was forgiving. I cried.

Late one night…or maybe it was in the wee hours of the morning…I consulted Dr. Google. If I was going through some kind of depression or mental illness I wanted to confront it head on. I listed my symptoms and the good doctor took me to several pages. 

I decided I was emotionally exhausted. It is real. I decided to take steps to care for myself with more walking, less television, eating a more balanced diet, and following a strict schedule (which did not include midday naps). I asked my personal secretary, “Alexa,” to remind me of appointments. I picked my grandson up on time thereafter (with an M&M McFlurry in hand I might add…his favorite), and went to bed at the appropriate hour. 

Five years. I didn’t experience this feeling with any other “anniversary” of Tom’s death. (I put anniversary in quotes because the word connotes celebration to me…maybe I should use the word “remembrance” or something. 

I digress. 

Tom's Colleagues Campaigned to Have a Scholarship in His Name
As Well As This Lifetime Achievement Award
I think the reason this upcoming day has hit me so hard is because I simply thought I would never live this long without him. And it could go on for years. And years. And more years.

So I decided to do something even more positive. 

You see, Tom’s research to protect people in the workplace was impactful. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has referred to him as a “public health hero.” After his death, the CDC Foundation set up a scholarship in Tom’s name. They established it and told me then that if it reached the $50,000 mark in …yep, Five Years…it will be an endowed fund. 

That means it will go on forever. Young men and women seeking to follow in Tom’s footsteps will have access to financial aide for their education. 

tireless leadership...
fierce determination"
For me, it isn’t that some deserving student will receive funds. For me it is that every applicant will read Tom’s story, look at his body of research, and hopefully, seek to serve others the way Tom did. Tom’s work was, in effect, his ministry. He was passionate about what he did. He sincerely cared about people. 

I want what Tom did to inspire others to conduct research with a sense of “mission” and harbor a deep care about worker safety. 

Five years. It’s coming up.

The fund is short by several thousand dollars. So, here is my proposition:
October is National Ergonomics Month. I will match monies donated in this month. I have limited funds, so there is a cap on how far I can go, but if donors give $15,000 I’ll match it and the scholarship will be firmly established. 

You see, when Tom died, we had just purchased a camper. We were able to use it three times. We talked of our future travels and planned to live in it in Naples, Florida for a couple of months in 2015. 

It was a plan. A dream.

I put the money aside from the camper to use in a way that would honor Tom. This is it. Any amount helps. Twenty-five dollars? Yes. Fifty or a hundred? Of course. It’s all tax deductible. So if you won the lottery and want to donate a couple of thousand, I won’t discourage you! 

And I’ll make it easy. Click onthe following to donate on line. 

If you prefer to write a check, you'll find the form at the following link. Simply print it out and mail it in with your check.  The address is on the form.

And if you already give to the CDC Foundation, you can designate this year’s gift to go to the Thomas R. Waters Memorial Scholarship.  

Thank you. For bearing with me through all this. Holding me up. Reading to the end. But most of all...for giving.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Friendship Set to Music

Friendship Set to Music.  That is what the brochure said.  I looked at my husband of thirty-five years.  I could not imagine a day when he would even suggest we take dance lessons. And these weren’t just any kind of dance lessons.  The brochure he held in his hand was advertising square dance lessons.  The lessons were free.  Three dates were listed starting the first Tuesday in January. Attending one of the sessions would be at the very least, a cheap date.

I smiled.  “Sounds like fun.” 

I doubted that when the date rolled around he would follow through. Sometimes, something sounded like a good idea at the moment, but when the time arrived, Tom would balk and grumble about going to an event.  

We had just entered a new season of our lives.  Our youngest daughter had married. We were official empty nesters.  The process had been a long one.  Years earlier, when Kendall initially left for college we had a taste of the empty nester experience.  I remember the first Friday night we were not headed to a high school football game to watch Kendall cheer.  We quickly realized that many of the people we would have called friends were actually acquaintances; parents of Kendall’s friends.  

For most of our daughter’s college career we had found our social outlet through activities designed for us as individuals.  Tom enjoyed his golf league and playing a round or two with friends from church.  I had taken on a more active role in our Women’s Ministry team, including a weekly Bible study.

We had fallen into a rhythm of sorts that seemingly met our individual needs. When the first Tuesday of January arrived, I casually mentioned the lessons to Tom. 

“Are we going to try this?” I asked.  

“’Sure, if you want to,” he replied.  I was surprised.

“Okay,” I answered, “but I am not wearing a fluffy dress or big hair!”

The lessons were held at the county park in a real barn.  A long table boasted a bowl of popcorn, cookies, pretzels, water, and coffee.  The atmosphere was “wholesome.”  I smiled to myself at the thought.  It would be a descriptor I looked for in planning activities for my kids.

That night we learned the person directing our movements was referred to as the caller. We learned a few basic moves. We also learned that square dancing was declared the national folk dance by President Reagan.  I loved the free lesson but I couldn’t read Tom’s reaction. The caller invited all newcomers to return the next week.  I was ready. However, I told myself, if Tom didn’t like it I would not whine or beg.  As we walked out to the car, Tom surprised me by naming all the other people we knew we should ask to join us the following week.  He was hooked.

As it turned out, square dancing is more involved than I remembered it being in my sixth grade physical education class.  Our lessons extended over a period of nine months.  We then joined a square dance club.  We found ourselves going out to eat with fellow dancers, traveling to weekend events, and sharing our joys and sorrows with our newfound friends. Square dancing is, by its very structure, a social activity.  

When my husband died in October 2014 our square dance community rallied around me. They brought food to our family the night of the visitation. Cards and letters poured into the house. Dancers delivered meals. I looked out one snowy day in winter to see one of our square dance friends shoveling my driveway. 

It has been nearly five years now since Tom left this earth for heaven. A couple of weeks ago, I headed back to “the barn” where square dance lessons are held. There were a lot of new people there but many familiar faces. I was greeted with hugs and smiles. One of the men offered to be my partner for the night as I brushed up on some of the basic moves. 

I thought it would be hard to walk into that space again. I thought it would be challenging to dance without Tom. In the end, though, I discovered that the brochure was right in the first place. Square dancing is Friendship Set to Music. 

Through these past few years I’ve learned the friendship remains even when the music fades. Maybe that is the greatest gift of all.