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Health & Fitness Special Section — The Altamont Enterprise, January 26, 2006

Doctor and nurse share medical knowledge in new book

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — Most people are intimidated by hospitals and doctors, says Lynne Golonka. So, she and her husband wrote a book to prepare people for hospital stays and to provide them with questions to ask and basic medical knowledge.

"Most people go in the hospital very inactive," Golonka said. "They don’t know what to ask. People should be knowledgeable about their care. This book will lessen their anxiety."

The retired Guilderland couple knows the medical profession. Lynne Golonka was a nurse, nursing teacher, mediator, and counselor. Dr. Joseph Golonka worked in internal medicine and endocrinology, and as a medical director at an insurance company.

Their book, Hospital Battlefield: A Field Manual for Survival, uses the metaphor that patients are soldiers.

"You are literally in a battle for your life and you need to rally all of your resources — cognitive, emotional, and communicative skills for success," Lynne Golonka wrote. "Soldiers approaching a battle do it carefully, are well trained, and are always fully aware of the great danger they face."

"The book stresses that you accept that you’re vulnerable, but not helpless," she said.

This is why she used the solider metaphor, she said. Soldiers are prepared for war, but are still vulnerable when thrown into a combat situation, she said.

The book is divided into four sections. Lynne Golonka wrote the first three — "Preparation for Battle," "Deployment," and "Engagement." Joseph Golonka wrote the last part, "Being Shipped Home," which is mostly about dealing with insurance companies.

Lynne Golonka got the idea for the book a couple of years ago, she said, when she thought of how frightening it was that so many medical errors are made.

"Every time I pick up the paper, I see accidents, error reports, deaths that occur in hospitals," Golonka said. "You don’t have to know everything about medicine to be safe. You just have to know your rights and how you should be treated."

Asking questions

"I wanted it to be readable," Lynne Golonka said. So, she said, the book is "not overwhelmed with text." It is interspersed with questions and illustrated with cartoons.

Throughout the book, in italic font, are questions that patients should ask of hospital staff.

"It’s so people can be safe in the hospital," Lynne Golonka said. "People always say, ‘Ask questions.’ This book is designed with example questions."

The questions, she said, force doctors and nurses to think more about what they’re doing, rather than get locked into a routine.

The book helps patients establish a dialogue with the hospital staff, she said. She’s highlighted in the book the medical procedures that the majority of people will face, she said.

Hospital Battlefield includes stories about patients the Golonkas have known.

"It also brings in the role of family," Joseph Golonka said.

"The patient is not always capable of making decisions," Lynne Golonka said. "This uses the team approach for safety. The enemy is the illness, not the staff. Real change comes from the bedside."

Along with questions, the book tells patients how to ask them, so as not to offend a doctor or nurse. For example, it says, "I know I seem obsessive-compulsive about germs, but all the stories I’ve read are scary. Please wipe off the stethoscope before you use it."

For patients that don’t understand what’s happening, a sample question is, "In order to get well, I need to know what you’re saying, and I don’t understand...Please explain it to me. It’s still unclear, let me write it down."

Asked what audience the book is geared toward, Golonka said it’s for everyone. It’s for older people who are more likely to be admitted to the hospital and younger people who don’t think they will, but can have accidents.

"People who’ve had experience with hospitals will know instantly they should read this book," she said.

While the Golonkas haven’t had much experience with hospitalization themselves, Lynne Golonka said, "We’ve seen the health-care system from that dimension."

The Golonkas then told a pregnant reporter about how to prepare for childbirth in a hospital.

"Check the safety record of the OB department," said Lynne Golonka of the obstetrics unit. "Ask if there’s been any infections in the nursery and what they do to prevent infections. Ask if your doctor will do the delivery and not interns or residents."

She added that expectant mothers should ask their obstetricians how many babies they’ve delivered; how many of those babies have been healthy; and why they got into the field.

"Consumers need to ask questions; that’s the only way accountability occurs," Golonka said.

"Interesting journey"

The couple have been married for 45 years; they have six children and 19 grandchildren.

Joseph Golonka retired in June and Lynne Golonka still does mediation.

"I like to think we bring wisdom to the book," Lynne Golonka said. "We’ve gotten to watch the system in action."

It took them two years to write the book, the couple said. It was published by authorhouse.com, a self-publishing company. The book can be purchased on the website.

It was difficult to write, Lynne Golonka said, because she had to set her own deadlines.

"The whole process was very interesting," she said. "As a new author, big publishing companies aren’t interested in you. Through authorhouse.com, we were able to control what we wanted to go in the book. It was a very interesting journey."

Lynne Golonka was able to edit the changes to her book several times, she said. She also chose the design for the cover of the book.

"My husband read every word of it and proofread it," she said. "We’re very pleased and proud of it."

She did the same for the last section of the book, which Joseph Golonka wrote.

"Mack read and approved of it, too," Joseph Golonka said, referring to the friendly family dog that he played with during the interview; Mack is featured on the book jacket with the Golonkas.

"It’s a revolutionary book," Lynne Golonka concluded. "We’re talking about change from the bedside up, as opposed to from the hospital down."

Yu writes to guide patients,
helping them understand newly-diagnosed diseases

By Jo E. Prout

VOORHEESVILLE — Local health writer Winnie Yu’s latest book has hit the shelves.

Yu wrote What To Do When the Doctor Says It’s Early-Stage Alzheimer’s with Doctor Todd E. Feinberg. She has co-written two other What To Do books, as well.

"They’re basically patient guides. It’s really for the person who’s newly-diagnosed. They’re confused. They’re frightened. ‘What kind of doctors do I need to see"’ " Yu said. "Here’s what the disease is; here’s what it’s about. Now, what do you do with it""

In each of her books, Yu included patient profiles.

"I found the patients illuminated me in ways that Pub-Med, a research engine, couldn’t," she said. "One doctor said he didn’t like the profiles, but I think they lend a more personal touch."

Yu talked to and met several couples affected by Alzheimer’s disease. One woman told her about her husband. "It was so, so sad to listen to what her days are like. It was like watching her grandchildren. They’re getting older and he’s getting younger," she said.

Yu’s other two books in this five-book series deal with diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. The two she did not author cover asthma and irritable bowel syndrome.

Yu said that 21 million people are estimated to have diabetes now, and that a third of them do not know they have it. Vision and kidney function loss are related to diabetes, she said, and so is Alzheimer’s disease.

The number of those diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis shrinks to a still-appalling 2.1 million.

"The potential audience is huge," she said. "I don’t even know the size of the audience, unfortunately."

For each subject, Yu tries to answer the question, "What are your treatment options"" she said.

She said that rheumatoid arthritis is difficult to diagnose, and that Alzheimer’s cannot be diagnosed with a great deal of accuracy.

In her book on Alzheimer’s, Yu writes that the dementia associated with the disease can actually be other forms of dementia. Patient histories, neurological exams, and blood tests contribute to the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, she writes.

Yu also tries to help new patients discover what medicines or surgeries are available.

"These books, hopefully, provide people with some direction. The best thing you can do for yourself is to educate yourself about what you have," Yu said.

What To Do When the Doctor Says It’s Early-Stage Alzheimer’s from Fair Winds Press is available from Amazon.com or at local bookstores.

"I’ve always been personally interested in health," Yu said. A friend at Walking Magazine years ago asked her to write an article, and her career in health issues began. After the assignment, Yu took nutrition classes. "I just really enjoy the topic," she said.

Her next book is The Everything Health Guide to Fibromyalgia by Adams Media. The guide is slated to come out in July. In the meantime, Yu is working on a nutrition book for Fair Winds Press, titled What to Eat for What Ails You. She said that this book will include advice like battling colds by eating warm soup.

Yu joked that she force-feeds her children a lot of fruit. She and her husband, Jeff Scherer, have two daughters — Samantha, 8, and Annie, 6. Scherer has illustrated 11 children’s books and written and illustrated one, Yu said. He also works for the Times Union as an on-line producer with the advertising department, creating animated ads for the newspaper’s website. Yu is a former general-assignment reporter for the paper.

Of Scherer’s children’s books, all but one were illustrated using computer graphics. The other was done by hand, Yu said.

"We have a book together," she said. They have been too busy to try to sell it, she said.

"I’m still writing for magazines," Yu said. She has a regular column in Women’s Day about children’s health, and she will have another article in Parent’s Magazine in December. She has contributed to Women’s Day since 2001, and to Redbook.

"I have never veered from journalism," Yu said. "I’ve done it in many ways."

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