Conjoined Twins

Chang and Eng Bunker. Born 1811. Thailand.


One might wonder how conjoined twins manage to survive – physiologically, mentally, and emotionally – after surgical separation. While some sets of conjoined twins, for medical reasons, cannot be separated, as in the somewhat famous case of Brittany and Abby Hensel, since 1987 several have been successfully separated. In some cases, conjoined twins, who are old enough to make thoughtful choices, have refused to be separated. Lupita and Carmen Andrade, who were expected to live only three days after they were born, not only defied the odds, but are now living together, literally. Both refused the option to be separated. According to the Deccan Chroniclethe twins say “it would be like cutting them in half.”

The decision to surgically separate conjoined twins is not one to be taken lightly. Inevitably, ethics comes into play. The most urgent question of all: What if one twin must be sacrificed? Do we allow one twin to die to save the other? Which twin’s life matters more? The questions are endless, questions I can’t imagine having to face if I were the parent of conjoined twins.

You might be wondering why I’m writing about conjoined twins, why I’m sharing with you this extremely rare and mind-blowing phenomenon. I’m sharing all this with you because I cared for a set of conjoined twins as a neonatal intensive care nurse. Though decades have passed since I held all *fourteen pounds of sweetness in my arms, fed them, changed their diapers, and held my breath as I waited for the then eight-month-old twins to come out of the hours-long surgery, I’m still awestruck. So what does a writer do with all that awe? Naturally, she writes about it. Which is exactly what I have done in my essay, “After,” published today at Intima, a literary Journal dedicated to promoting the theory and practice of Narrative Medicine. Created in 2010 by graduate students in the Master of Science program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University, Intima has featured writers in the literary and medical fields from around the world.

Thank you for reading “After,” and feel free to follow-up with thoughts, questions, and, of course, your own awestruck moments.


*fourteen pounds is a guesstimate.

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Meet Nathalie Kelly: Daring Dreamers Radio

Nathalie Kelly

What is it like to live with a traumatic brain injury (TBI)? Maybe you feel as if you know longer know who you are. You might say that your identity has been “stripped” away, that your independence has been ripped from you. You feel utterly lost. In an interview with marketing consultant Angela Treat Lyon on Daring Dreamers Radio, this is exactly how Nathalie Kelly, a TBI survivor, describes how she felt in the days, months, and years after her sailboat toppled over during a storm on Lake Champlain in Vermont and smacked her in the head, leaving her bobbing in the cold water for forty minutes, until the coast guard arrived.

A brain injury advocate, writer, inspirational speaker, and board certified hypnotherapist, Nathalie speaks with eloquence and candor about her post-TBI road-blocks, set-backs, growth-spurts, and more. The motto of Daring Dreamers Radio is “to dare you to live free, inspired, and in constant delight.” And that is precisely what Nathalie does in the interview: She has come to understand that living with a TBI means learning to accept that you are “perfectly imperfect,” and, though our culture frowns upon anything less than perfection, she “dares” us to embrace it, to “embrace vulnerability,” to let yourself be the person you are now, to shed all expectations of others. “That’s living an authentic life,” Nathalie says.

To be inspired and awakened and free, I dare you to listen to Nathalie’s interview at Daring Dreamers Radio.







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Autobiography of my hungers: Rigoberto González

“Like many Mexican children, I cleaned the piedritas out of the uncooked beans before they went into the pot – my meal-prep duty to help my overwhelmed mother as she spun around in the kitchen. The process was simple, but time-consuming: a pile of beans was placed at the edge of the table. I’d hold a bowl just below the edge to drop in the clean pieces, and I’d pick off the debris – dried-up seeds, miniature twigs, tiny stones – all the undesirable, inedible stowaways. These would be set aside in a pile of their own, to be tossed at the conclusion of the cleaning.

“I refused to dispense with my pile of detritus too soon since these were the fruits of my labor, the nuggets minded out of the sack. They were much more interesting than the beans which huddled in the bowl, boring as clones.”

Award winning author, poet, fiction writer, memoirist, editor, professor of English, and more, Rigoberto González, who identifies himself as a gay Chicano, delivers that compelling narrative in the opening chapter of his book, autobiography of my hungers. The chapter, “allegory,” could not be better titled, for it’s the peidritas, or stones, that are emblematic of Rigoberto: He sees himself as the “debris,” the “undesirable,” “the dried-up seed.” But he refuses to “dispense” with himself, to give in, to give up. Through breath-halting poetry and affecting prose, each vignette in this slim yet lasting memoir portrays Rigoberto’s tumultuous journey through his childhood and beyond. His literal hunger growing up poor morphs into other kinds of hungers – hunger for love, and a lover, for acceptance and recognition, for an attractive body, and a healthy body, for quiet comfort, and for sustained empathy and understanding. Along the way, though, Rigoberto fills the “uninhabited rooms” of his existence with refreshing self-awareness and enduring vision.

Autobiography of my hungers will leave you sated, yet craving more – more of Rigoberto’s “gallery of tiny gems, colorful and edible as gumdrops.”



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“To Be or Not to Be”

To be or not to be. MLK day. 2016

Every day, at least eight black people, three gay people, three Jewish, and one Latino person is a victim of a hate crime. A hate crime is defined as “crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, gender identity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.”

In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Ilyasah Al-Shabazz, a community organizer, social activist, and motivational speaker, brought a church full of wide-eyed listeners to a standing applause as she articulated the byproducts of injustice: “Hatred is a learned behavior we are teaching our children, and if we teach them to hate others, we teach them to hate themselves.” The daughter of Malcolm X, one of the most influential African Americans in history, Ilyasah made it known that her father was “misunderstood” when he was criticized for his violent approach to resolving racial injustice. In defense of his more violent protests, he would quote Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “‘To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?”’ As Ilyasah said, her father, “was reacting to the injustices around him.”

Ilyasah was only three-years-old when her father was assassinated in 1965. Her mother, Betty Shabbaz, an educator and civil rights advocate, was in her twenties and pregnant with twins, yet went on to raise six daughters. She eventually received a master’s degree, then a PhD. “She never accepted no or I can’t,” Ilyasah said about her mother. Ilyasah does not accept “no or I can’t” either, but as she declared, “Forget what they say about pulling yourself up by your own boot straps. We need one another.”

It’s true what Ilyasah said: “Just one life, just this one time, then we go elsewhere.”

But how do we mark the one life we have been given with “yes” and “I can,” rather than with “no and “I can’t”? Ilyasah’s answer: “Knowledge of historical information prepares us for leadership and instills in us self-respect, strength, compassion, reminds us of who we are at our core – to be or not to be, that is the essential question,” she said. In other words, we have the choice to act or not to act.






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Medical Literary Messenger

I’m happy to share with you that my essay, “A Faded Scar with Palpable Edges,” is now available to read in The Medical Literary Messenger, a web-based journal associated with Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, and whose aim is “to promote humanism and the healing arts through prose, poetry, and photography.” The essay is about my struggle to overcome Anorexia Nervosa, an eating disorder affecting between one and five percent of female adolescents and young girls. The deeply contemplative and inspiring creative works published in the journal can’t help but make one pause to reflect on health, illness, and the human condition. So, while I hope you take a moment to read my essay, I also encourage you to read, and view, the other “voice[s] for the healing arts (Medical Literary Messenger).”

“A Faded Scar with Palpable Edges” was previously published in Humanthology, website devoted to real life chronicles connecting writers and readers to causes they embrace. Though I’m sad to share that Humanthology is no longer in publication, you can still access my essay, and others, on the website.



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What is Orthorexia Nervosa?


You’ve heard of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia,  right? Anorexics restrict their eating whereas Bulimics go through cycles of binge eating followed by purging. But what is Orthorexia Nervosa? An eating disorder currently not recognized in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Orthorexia was first coined in 1996 by a physician who used it to describe patients who were overly concerned with their health. Orthorexia, which literally translates into “fixation on righteous eating,” begins with one’s attempt to eat healthy foods. But orthorexics then become obsessed with food quality and how much to eat. The more restrictive the diet, the greater one’s health suffers. Like anorexia and bulimia, there is no exact cause to orthorexia. Though the desire is to eat healthfully, there are other deeply rooted motivations, such as the hunger to be thin, the determination to be in control, and the need to improve self-esteem.


Rachel Levine, a kindergarten teacher in Denver, Colorado, and an advocate for those suffering from eating disorders, has been in recovery from both orthorexia and anorexia for more than seven years. In the March 2015 issue of Self Magazine, she shares her raw story of how orthorexia “almost killed her,” starting from the very beginning, when her heart nearly stopped beating from nutritional deprivation. To learn more about how Rachel got her appetite for life back, I invite you to read her story, “What it’s Like to Care Too Much About Eating,” here.



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