Friday, March 17, 2017

Nurses are angels on Earth

I had quite the experience a couple of weeks ago.

My son was born 5 weeks premature at Lockport hospital via an emergency c-section. He started off screaming when he came into the world, but when removed from the operating room his breathing became problematic. His retractions were strong and you could see his little ribs as he struggled to get air.

The STAT team from Women and Children’s Hospital was brought in. They had to intubate young Warren and squeeze a bag attached to that tube to help him breathe. He was then whisked away to W&C where I later joined him for a few days while my wife had to stay back at Lockport and recover.

It was a stressful time, but it had a happy ending as mom and son were reunited 3 days later and they were able to come home the next day.

How does one manage those stresses, seeing his newborn son poked, prodded, and hooked to oxygen while his wife was 45 minutes away unable to leave her room?

It was tough, but through those 5 days between 2 hospitals there was one constant that helped us greatly: nurses.

They cheered me on through Warren’s birth; consoled me while Warren was in his moments of crisis; gave me hope for his recovery; gave my little boy tender loving care; nursed him to health and regularly checked on Warren – and me.

They showed love and interest for their littlest patient while doing the same for his doting, half-scared dad. Their care and concern were genuine and done while doing the duties that comes with bringing Warren into this world, checking his vitals, feeding him, testing his blood, making sure his IV and oxygen took, and so much more.

These multifaceted women were truly special. They eliminated my despair and made me feel good about, and trusting of, people and modern medical science.

This wasn’t my first positive experience with nurses.

I try to stay out of the hospital but I ended up in Lockport Hospital back in 1999 after appendix exploded, which I had ignored, chalking it up to food poisoning. That led to a real poisoning of my insides and I came close to dying. I needed emergency surgery and spent almost a week in the hospital while losing 30 pounds which I didn’t have to lose to begin with.  

All of the nurses took really good care of me, day and night, making sure I was battling infection while being kept comfortable – I needed special comfort because after the first day I told them no more pain killers, despite the open 6 inch wound in my abdomen and tubes inside my torso. They were incredible. I can especially remember one nurse, Mrs. Struckman, wheeling me out at the end of the week with a tear in her eye, so happy that I survived what many people wouldn’t have and that I was able to go home.

In both the recent adventure and that one 18 years ago, we were truly and fully cared-for. But, the most remarkable thing was – we weren’t their only patients!  They did a lot not only for my family, but also for other patients and families in those hospitals. Those nurses balanced upon a stressful tightrope over their 12-hour shifts taking care of all of us with our own unique problems.

That’s something nurses do every day, all year, all their working lives, with limited fanfare other than an appreciative smile or tear from a patient’s parent, or the joy that comes with that patient being better and heading home.

In my darkest days when I almost died or when I thought my son might die, nurses were there to save us and give us hope.

That’s more than a career choice; that’s a higher calling!

For that, one cannot help but think that nurses might just be angels on Earth.

I’m so thankful that those wonderful angels are here with us, performing their miracles, small and large, every day.

From the 20 March 2017 Greater Niagara Newspapers 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

EXPLORING THE NIAGARA FRONTIER: Peepers – coming to a spring near you

After getting spring fever during February’s unusual warm spell we were brought back to reality by this week’s winter storm.

As you peer out your window it doesn’t look like spring is less than a week away. But it is. As a matter of fact it has been to a certain extent with the return of good numbers of robins, bluebirds and other songbirds and their symphonies.

By the end of this month, Western New Yorkers will be greeted by another melody but from an entirely different creature – a diminutive amphibian, the spring peeper.

Late-March to late-April marks the breeding season for peepers in the northern portion of Western New York. The southern half, especially the southern third closer to the Pennsylvania border, might see peepers breeding into the first week of May due to the cooler temperatures associated with the higher elevations and the deep valleys.

While this breeding season is underway, peepers court one another with, well, peeps. If you live near a pond, marsh, or slow moving stream, head outdoors a few hours before sunset and for forty minutes after. That birdlike pee-eeep, a half-second long in duration, sound comes from these male treefrogs.

If that watering hole is the pick-up joint for dozens if not hundreds of peepers, the collective sound (which some have compared to sleigh bells) is amazing. Together, it becomes a high-pitched trill which can be deafening. This year, to prove my point, I will be bringing home from work my newfangled noise meter to measure how loud their calls are. Last spring’s cumulative chorus at our pond was overwhelming. Could it exceed 90 decibels? We’ll see, and I’ll be sure to follow up with a note in this column.  

It’s truly amazing how much sound can come out of a creature so small. Spring peepers are three-quarters of an inch to an inch-and-a-quarter in length. They are wee animals, far smaller than their cousins, the toads and frogs (as a matter of fact, most frogs could eat them). They are light brown to grey with a dark diagonal cross or “x” on their back.

You’ve likely never seen a spring peeper – they are not only small, but they are timid. If you get close to their breeding pond, they will stop singing and hide.

Next month, when they are done increasing their populations, the peepers will leave those ponds and head into the woods to climb trees and grasses to spend the rest of the year feeding on small invertebrates.

Despite their secrecy, they are among the most abundant amphibians on the Niagara Frontier, as made evident by their calls alone.

If you live in the city and never had the chance to listen to spring peepers, make it a point to drive out to a wetland like the Iroquois Wildlife Refuge or Tifft Nature Preserve to catch the spring peepers in action in the coming weeks. Their choruses are interesting and one of the true, honest-to-goodness signs of spring.

From the 16 March 2017 All WNY News

New rules will change the trucking industry

Tractor trailers are ubiquitous in Niagara County. That’s because we are one of those rare communities that still makes and grows things. Factories such as General Motors and farms like Bittner-Singer Orchards ship their products and produce all over the country and it takes a steady flow of big rigs to move their wares to and fro. On top of that, the Buffalo-Niagara international bridges serve as a conduit for more than $80 billion of trade annually.

That said, for many of us working in the county, our jobs are directly impacted by trucks on a daily basis. So, it’s imperative that we be kept aware of changes in regulations that ultimately affect every one of us.

Among them is a critical one that changes the way that records are kept.

By December 18 of this year, all long-haul truckers must ditch the old paper logbooks and equip their vehicles with electronic logging devices (ELDs) per regulations issued from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

This is the government’s way of eliminating the cheating that was occurring on some paper logs. Fudging reports allowed many long-haul drivers to exceed the legal daily limit of 11 hours a day on the road. The ELDs take the human factor out of the equation, by hooking directly to a truck’s engine and recording movement and time.

It won’t be a cheap endeavor to implement. It is estimated that there are a half-million trucking firms in the US (many of them being independent operators) with a total of 3 million drivers falling into the long haul category. Due to the purchase cost (most units exceed $500) and installation costs of the devices, the FMCSA believes the changeover will cost $1 billion. They also say that there will be net savings for the trucking industry because it will save, per their statisticians and economists, a total of $2.4 billion in paper logs over time. 

The FMCSA believes that no matter the cost it is worth it for the lives saved. They estimate that ELDs will cut back on driver fatigue and in turn prevent 1,800 crashes, 600 injuries and more than two dozen deaths every single year. 

This new mandate does not impact the countless drivers who are not required to maintain logbooks right now. The short haul truck drivers who keep time cards and make deliveries within a 100-mile air radius can stick with business as usual.

While the ELDs represent a necessary rule change that has been a long-time coming, the Obama Administration never addressed the domino effect. With many truckers breaking the rules regarding service hours now, the loss of hours will equal less product moved and slower deliveries; it already has for Arkansas companies that had to meet that state’s 2010 mandate.  

To overcome that the industry will have to recruit more drivers, something they’ve been trying for years with limited success. You can chalk that up to an education system which for too long overemphasized college over the trades and certificates. Support for trucking went the way of mechanics, machinists, electricians and plumbers.

We need government and schools to institute a culture change to ensure that our goods are moved in a timely, efficient and cheap fashion for the long run. You like your Amazon Prime. You love having fresh produce at the grocery store. Those items get there because of truck drivers!

Remember how sexy truck driving was in the 1970s during the oil embargo and CB radio craze? How do we make it that attractive again to today’s students and tomorrow’s workers?   

From the 06 March 2017 Greater Niagara Newspapers 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

EXPLORING THE NIAGARA FRONTIER: In appreciation of the dandelion -- the Rodney Dangerfield of wildflowers

Whole industries have been built upon the destruction of the dandelion.

Think of how often you see the Lawn Doctor’s trucks staged in a neighbor’s driveway; or ponder the advertising and packaging at your local hardware store that’s focused on dandelion eradication through the likes of sprays like RoundUp.

That poor little flower is like the Rodney Dangerfield of the wildflower kingdom – it don’t get no respect!

Let’s buck the trend and take an appreciative look at that plant, and hopefully change your outlook on the flower that so many dismiss as a lowly weed.

Dandelions brighten our early-spring landscapes

When the snow melts and Western New York is a conglomeration of mud and brownish grass it seems like it can take an eternity before the trees leaf out, the fields flourish and the lawns turn green. Sometimes, it does – we can go two whole months before color returns in earnest.

Thankfully, the dandelion arrives and makes our March and April a little more bearable. They, along with the similar-looking coltsfoot, are typically the first flowers of spring. The bright, circular yellow flowers brighten any dull landscape.

When they do this in great numbers in a lawn, most people look at them as a threat. A threat? I enjoy the sea of yellow that will take over my yard within the next month while awaiting my maples and tulip trees to open their buds. It’s beautiful.

Need further a perspective of beauty? Take into consideration the unusually warm February weather that we enjoyed last week. That got everyone outdoors, hiking on nature trails and gallivanting in parks. But, it was, for the most part, a sterile, dead landscape. Not surprisingly, though, some dandelions were in bloom. Think about that – on Feb. 19 , in normally arctic Niagara County, brilliant wildflowers reached to the sky to share their beauty with us!

Dandelions are the flowers of early childhood

I don’t care if you live out in the sticks, in the ‘burbs or in the Big City…dandelions are everywhere. That omnipresence and their delightful, sun-like appearance makes them the first flowers to be identified by most any kid.

That coupled with the fun they bring to those kids makes them a beloved wildflower.

Think about the fun you had as a youngster, picking the flowers and following this routine: “Momma had a baby and its head popped off.”

Or, how many times have you seen your children grab the white, puffy heads once the flowers have hit seed-stage, blowing on that cotton cuteness and sending the seeds all over creation?

All of that makes the dandelion a gateway plant of sorts, as it introduces kids to the wonders of wildflowers.

Dandelions are good to eat

From mid-March to Memorial Day, dandelion leaves provide excellent table fare. Later in the year, they are acidic and bitter in taste and need some extra handling to make them palatable.

But, for the next few months, dandelion greens can bring flavor, attractiveness, and nourishment to your salads. The same can’t be said for other plants like iceberg lettuce which has almost zero nutritional value. The dandelion is the complete opposite of lettuce, as it is absolutely chock full of
healthy goodness: One 100 gram serving sports 14,000 international units of Vitamin A, 0.19 mg of thiamine, 0.26 mg of riboflavin, 198 mg of calcium and 397 mg of potassium.

That’s an impressive slate of natural goodness. It’s a veritable superfood…one that you can cultivate from your own backyard with no gardening necessary!

Dandelions are good to drink

I am a teetotaler, so I can’t state unequivocally that dandelion wine is something special, but I’ve read enough praise about it to know that it is. With a flavor close to sherry, the beverage – which is more appropriately a liqueur than a wine -- is revered, especially by those in rural environs where they can pick dandelions by hundreds in any hay or alfalfa field or pasture.

A cursory search on the internet will show dozens of wine recipes using the flower heads, and the most popular ones use ginger, lemon, and orange rinds on the ingredients list. The recipes seem easy enough and it appears that even the least accomplished homebrewer can make a decent batch of tasty dandelion wine. It might be something for you to experiment with this spring.

If you’re not into alcoholic beverages, you could also dig up the deep, strong roots and roast them in an oven. From there you would pulverize them and use them as a coffee substitute. That root is as healthy as the leaves and has long been respected as a herbal remedy for liver problems and anemia.

I could write many more pages defending the lovely dandelion but I think you get my drift – the disrespected yellow sprite is not something to despise. It’s something to love. Dandelions are nice to look at, play with, eat and drink. Not many plants can share such a versatile claim to fame.

+Bob Confer is a Gasport resident. His column, Exploring the Niagara Frontier, is published every Thursday on All WNY News.

From the 02 March 2017 All WNY News

Friday, February 17, 2017

2016 was a big year for local Boy Scouts

Some readers may not know that I am the president of the board of the Iroquois Trail Council, which serves the cub scouts, boy scouts, and explorers in eastern Niagara, Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming and Livingston counties.

Last weekend, the council held its annual dinner at which we celebrated the 2016 accomplishments of our scouts and the volunteers who deliver quality programming and mentorship to them. It was nice to reflect on such a great year and share with them the good news of what they did and who they impacted.

That got me thinking that perhaps I should share the same with the readers of this paper because everyone, in some way, is a stakeholder in the Scouting movement. You or your organization might have donated to the BSA. Your son or grandson might be a scout.  You might have bought popcorn from a scout, which helped him go to summer camp. Your community might have been impacted by a service project or food drive. You might have even been a scout yourself at one time and place value in what that contributed to your development.

You can rest assured that your investment, be it monetary or emotional, in the local scouting program paid huge dividends in 2016.

This can be said with certainty because the Iroquois Trail Council was officially recognized by the BSA as a gold level council last year. The BSA’s Journey to Excellence system rates each unit and council on a wide array of metrics that ensure effectiveness and sustainability of their programs. Less than a quarter of all 272 councils nationwide achieve the gold ranking in a given year and 2016 was the second time in 3 years we reached the pinnacle.

The council’s gold status was based on a cumulative effort of our small regular staff, our summer camp staff and our army of 1,000 volunteers working hard to develop tomorrow’s community leaders through Scouting’s unique outdoors-oriented program.

Just check out these amazing numbers:

20: That’s the percentage that fall recruitment exceeded 2015’s numbers. We recruited an incredible number of new scouts despite the local population of available youth having tailed off dramatically in the past few years as young people have left WNY. Boys want to be scouts!

20: That’s also the percentage of cub scout-aged boys in our five-county region who are cub scouts. It’s pretty awesome to think that one out of every five boys is a scout.

55: That’s how many young men earned the Eagle Scout award in our council in 2016. Each one oversaw a public service project that impacted a community or non-profit. These scouts and their peers renovated veterans’ museums, outfitted parks with bird houses and bat houses, and brought flag retirement boxes to local town halls.  

80: That’s the percentage of our scouts who camped in 2016. We led all 9 councils in upstate New York and Vermont by a wide margin…for the tenth year in a row. Our scouts love the outdoors, which offers a stark contrast to the world we live in which is so addicted to computers, phones, and televisions.

100: This is the number of local organizations that host our units’ meetings. It might be your church, fire hall, conservation club, or police headquarters.

400: That’s how many scouts and leaders from the Mormon Church visited our beloved Camp Dittmer in one week as a part of our new Zion’s Camp program which has made Camp Dittmer an international destination for the Church of Latter-Day Saints thanks to its proximity to their holy ground of Hill Cumorah in the Finger Lakes. 

2,500: This is the number of scouts and explorers now served by our council.

20,000: That’s how many recorded hours our scouts gave in terms of service to projects that weren’t necessarily Eagle projects. I wouldn’t be surprised if just as many hours went unrecorded. These scouts cleaned up the Letchworth Trail, participated in Veterans Day ceremonies, and ran food drives.

25,000: That’s how many pounds of food the scouts collected in those food drives. Those 12.5 tons of canned and boxed goods were then distributed to food pantries throughout the region.   

While all those numbers are pretty significant, their impact can’t be measured. The scouting program has an incredible transformative effect on boys and young men; the foundation of character and maturity that it gives them puts them on the path to becoming great husbands, fathers, and leaders -- God knows we need that in this day and age.

To learn more about what we do at the Iroquois Trail Council, visit our website at

From the 20 February 2017 Greater Niagara Newspapers