Hospital Volunteers: Unsung Heroes

We tend to think of hospital volunteers as elderly, gray-haired Pink Ladies who sit behind a reception desk in the lobby giving directions. Or we imagine young female Candy Stripers who staff the gift shop, selling flowers or teddy bears to patients’ families. Yes, those are volunteers, and we love them for caring and donating their time. But the modern hospital volunteer fills many other rewarding and sometimes surprising roles.

dsc_4336These days, candy striper outfits only see the light of day at Halloween parties, but most hospitals do require volunteers to wear uniforms that allow them to be easily identified. In spite of the lack of financial compensation, there are many ways that volunteering in a hospital can be rewarding. Men and women of all ages and walks of life are participating in this vital and generous form of volunteer work. They are vibrant, productive and priceless assets in the health care world.

The American Hospital Association’s website mentions a host of volunteer roles that many of us have never imagined. One hospital uses volunteer doulas, trained professionals who provide hands-on physical and psychological support during and just after birth: or who provide emotional and practical support during the postpartum period. That hospital estimates that 23 percent of its 1,500 births annually are attended by volunteer doulas.

And volunteers need not be involved directly with patients. In other hospitals and outpatient facilities, volunteer artists have painted calming scenes on ceiling tiles, providing creative art as a distraction for patients awaiting procedures, lying in hospital beds or undergoing other tests and therapies, as well as for families sitting in waiting rooms.

In another setting, volunteers staff a freestanding bookstore in the center of the hospital, which lends and re-sells new or gently used books and uses the proceeds to fund scholarships for the hospital’s teen storycatcher-1-3volunteers.

A meaningful project for writers is practiced in a hospital where volunteers obtain the life
stories of patients and share them with hospital staff, physicians, family and friends. The stories or poems capture the essence of the patients’ lives and allow patients to restore and/or enhance their relationships with loved ones.

Examples of many more hospital volunteer job descriptions are listed on the Sutter Health Memorial Medical Center website:

Breach CoverIn Breach of Ethics, book three of the Aimee Machado mysteries, two senior volunteers, a widow and a widower, find satisfaction and purpose by volunteering in Aimee’s domain, the hospital library. The volunteers work their shifts on alternate days, but their common interest in the library soon brings them close together and promises to light up their golden years.

WRITING THE NOVELLA: A Guest Blog by Sasscer Hill

High Resolution 4Today I’m pleased to welcome a talented guest author to the Sharon St. George website. As a horse lover and a mystery writer, I’ve read everything written by the beloved Dick Francis, as have his scores of loyal followers. Although he is no longer with us, we are fortunate to have talented authors like Sasscer Hill following in his footsteps. Sasscer is the author of the multiple-award-nominated Nikki Latrelle mystery series, as well as author of the “Fia McKee” series forthcoming from St. Martins, Minotaur. The first book in the Fia McKee series won the 2015 Carrie McCray award for Best First Chapter of a Novel, and was the 2015 Claymore Runner Up. Her novella, RACING FROM EVIL, the prequel to her Nikki Latrelle mystery series, was released in May of 2016.

It is my pleasure to welcome my guest, Sasscer Hill, to the Sharon St. George website to provide insights into a topic she knows well:


As a wild-eyed teenager, there was one quote that touched my soul.

“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time.” – T. S. Eliot- 1955

Eliot’s words describe so many of life’s adventures, and for me, none so much as my journey as the writer of the Nikki Latrelle series. When I started this series, though I could write, I knew nothing about being an author, and nothing about writing a mystery or suspense novel. So I read several how to books and took some mystery writing courses at the Bethesda Writer’s Center in Maryland.

Following the suggestions of my instructor and various gurus in the how-to books, I wrote a whole backstory for Nikki. The idea was to learn who Nikki was, and what made her that way before I started writing FULL MORTALITY.  It was a huge effort, but it paid off. FULL MORTALITY was nominated for an Agatha and a Macavity for best first novel.

Over the next few years, I wrote two more Nikki Latrelle books, before finally being forced to abandon her. I was searching for a big five publishing contract and my agent and everyone else in the industry said I had to write a new series if I hoped to accomplish this. So I did. My new heroine, Fia McKee, landed me a two book deal with St. Martins, a thrilling and heady moment, for sure.

But then reality set in as I saw the huge gap between the last Nikki Latrelle, published in 2013, and the not-available-until 2017, FLAMINGO ROAD. I’d planned to immediately start a third in the Fia McKee series. But I woke up one morning and realized if the first two books in this new series don’t sell well, St. Martins will drop me like a hot potato.

I was aware that some publishers are asking their authors to write novellas and short stories to keep themselves in the public eye during the intervals between their full length novels. I decided it was time to produce another Nikki Latrelle. And so, after the long journey of writing five books, I returned to my notes about Nikki Latrelle’s early years. Like the Eliot quote, I came back to where I’d started and knew the place for the first time.

So what if it was backstory? This tale of Nikki’s early years was both poignant and loaded with reader satisfaction.  Imagine a fatherless thirteen-year-old girl whose mother dies suddenly. In a sense, this mother has abandoned her daughter, leaving her in the hands of a lewd, malevolent stepfather. What happens to this girl after she flees from her stepfather through the streets of Baltimore and climbs the razor-wire fence into Pimlico Racetrack? Nikki’s drawn to horses, knows how to ride, and dreams of being a jockey. But how can a runaway with no ID, no family, and no income survive?

The fact that she does survive and succeed makes, in my opinion, a great story. So I recently wrote and self-published the Nikki Latrelle novella, RACING FROM EVIL. The novella has sold well and I’m very glad I wrote it. But now we come to the next phase of my writer’s journey.

In my heart I believe the St. Martins/Fia McKee series will sell well. After all, the unpublished series has already won the Carrie McCray (South Carolina Writers) Award for Best First Chapter of a Novel, and been nominated for a Claymore Award.

I wanted the next Fia McKee to take place at Santa Anita Park in California, and even took a trip out to the track, touring it and the Hollywood area nearby. I wanted a murder mystery set at this well-known track surrounded by the glitz and deceit of Hollywood. But still, suppose the first two don’t do well? What good will this idea be then? If I want to sell to another big five publisher, any book I write has to be something new, which means yet another series and a new set of characters.

Since I can’t afford not to hedge my bets, I’ve already started a new book–a murder mystery about the Irish Travelers here in America. By happy coincidence, the largest enclave of these people is Murphy Village, not more than forty minutes from my home in Aiken, South Carolina.

Travelers have a fascinating culture. The children are taken out of school by eighth grade, if not before, and the girls are married by contract and usually as young teens. Travelers stick to themselves and have little dealings with outsiders. Society believes the Travelers are scam and con artists. What would it be like for a girl who grows up in this atmosphere? What if she wants out? Where would she go? What would happen to her?

And so, another story evolves, and another exploration begins. Only time will tell which way I travel, but at least I’ll be as prepared as possible for whatever happens next.


AA Cover Teresa racingevil-coverproof4 (1)Nikki Latrelle’s mother dies suddenly, leaving the thirteen-year-old girl in the hands of her lewd, malevolent stepfather. Nikki has no other family, and when the stepfather forces his way into her bedroom, she flees. Her best times were spent with her mom at the racetrack, so this is where she runs, climbing the track’s razor-wire fence late at night, in Baltimore. Nikki’s drawn to horses, knows how to ride, and dreams of being a jockey. But how can a runaway with no ID, no family, and no income survive? She needs money, but must hide from the police and her stepfather who relentlessly search for her. As these men close in, a groom named Carlos helps her escape. Carlos has problems of his own, but through him, she meets the old horse-trainer Ravinsky.  Will the old horseman take her under his wing? Risk his status and reputation to help her? And what evil has befallen Carlos’s young son, Pedro? The boy is missing, and Nikki senses evil forces are at work. Because she knows too well how it feels to be alone and frightened, she risks her life to find Pedro.

“Could Sasscer Hill be the Dick Francis of her generation? Count me among those who would vote yes.”
Margaret Maron, New York Times Best Selling Author and Winner of Edgar Best Novel, Edgar Grand Master, Agatha, Anthony & Macavity Awards

FIVE STAR REVIEW. “RACING FROM EVIL, a fast paced exciting work of writing and proverbial ‘page turner’ of the best mystery style. Sasscer’s way with words makes the story unfold in a clear concise manner that’s believable, and accurate to details. I love her portrayal of the horses in the book. A horse lover’s delight, a mystery lover’s thrill. I would recommend this novella to all readers for it’s quick pace, as well as a look into some of the real life dangers of being a young girl.”
Bishop, Amazon Reviewer

Follow Sasscer Hill at:
Twitter: @SasscerHill


When you anticipate a trip to the hospital, does your pulse quicken? Does your blood pressure rise? Does your throat go dry with dread? Then you’re probably hospital-phobic.DSC_4332 When I set out to write this post, I did an online search of the term hospital phobia and found 480,000 results. I knew the phobia was real, but I didn’t know it had a name. The medical term for this condition is a mouthful. It’s called nosocomephobia.

What is it that strikes fear in the heart? What causes that panicky sensation? If you’re about to be admitted as a patient, it may be the latest headline about deaths caused by medical errors. If you’re a visitor, it may be something as simple as the thought of all those nasty germs floating around. Ick!

Even worse, you just watched a TV show about a crazed shooter running amok in the corridors of a hospital.

So what are you to do? If you’re a potential patient, you need to be admitted. Your appendix is about to burst, and it isn’t going to heal itself. Or perhaps your loved-one is in the hospital, needing you there by his or her side. You have little choice but to face your fear and go into that terrifying place filled with germs and other potential threats.

Let me try to reassure you. I worked in an acute care hospital for seven years. My administrative position sent me to every floor and every department in the hospital complex. The worst danger I faced in all of that time was . . .

Actually, I’m having trouble thinking of even one example, but I can think of endless examples of how hospital administration and staff are involved in keeping patients and visitors safe.


The welfare of patients involves a complex system of safety protocols designed to cover not just the care provided by physicians and nurses, but by every department and hospital worker. These include: emergency, pharmacy, radiology, pathology, dietary, infection control, and many more. Safety protocols are in place for every aspect of patient care.

But what about the safety of visitors? How are they being protected? From fire? From shooters? From other disasters? Fire and disaster drills are conducted regularly. Each department knows its procedures and assigned duties, and stands ready to assist. Hospital security protocols are in place, and personnel are constantly on alert for the very rare occasion when a patient or visitor becomes unruly or dangerous. As an added protection, more and more hospitals are requiring visitors to show photo ID and wear a visitor’s badge during their visit.

If you’re hospital-phobic, don’t give up or give in. There are treatments that can help. You can find a wealth of helpful information by doing a search using the key words hospital phobia.

Here is just one of the 480,000 links I found for information about this condition.

Book 3 Cover00020002In BREACH OF ETHICS, the third book in the AIMEE MACHADO MYSTERY series, the issue of patient and visitor safety is on the mind of Timbergate Medical Center Administrator Jared Quinn. His concern for the wellbeing of patients and visitors results in a locked room murder mystery for Aimee and her team of amateur sleuths to solve.

The first three books in the AIMEE MACHADO MYSTERY series, published by Camel Press, are available in print and eBook formats from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, or by request from your local bookstore.



Sorry, trick question. Ethical Norm is not the husky man from Cheers who sat at the corner of the bar. Norm’s ethical boundaries might have been compromised by his appetite for beer, a proclivity that, on more than one occasion, caused him to behave in an unethical manner.

Ethical normCorn or Wheat is a term I first heard in a college fiction writing course. Shirley Jackson’s short story, The Lottery, was assigned to be read by the class. During the discussion that followed, the professor pointed out that the ethical norm of that setting was an integral part of the story in which a small farming community participates in a ritual to ensure a good harvest.

I recently refreshed my memory by searching out a definition of the term. I found that Webster tells us norms are standards of proper or acceptable behavior; ethics are rules of behavior based on ideas about what is morally good and bad. When these are combined, we have standards of acceptable behavior, not necessarily mandated by law, but based on that particular society’s ideas of what is morally good and bad.

Some of literature’s most memorable works have used the concept of a given society’s ethical norm to startle readers’ minds into active thought about the behaviors they expect from themselves and others who share not only their community, but their nation and their planet.

Tropical islandAnother example, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, demonstrates what happens when a group of young boys become castaways on a tropical island. Does their survival depend on establishing an ethical norm different from what governed their behavior before they became shipwreck survivors?

This important element of setting reaches beyond fiction. A 2016 Academy Award-winning documentary short subject film titled A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness is a stunning example of the concept of how one society’s ethical norm differs from others. Set in Pakistan, it sheds light on the practice of honor killings, and involves a 19-year-old woman who survives an honor killing attempt by her father and uncle for marrying the man she loves. It brings to light the statistic that approximately a thousand Pakistani women are murdered each year by male relatives for dishonoring their families. The film has already prompted Pakistan’s prime minister to address the need for a stronger law against honor killings in his country. In her Oscar acceptance speech, courageous woman filmmaker Obaid-Chinoy stressed the “power of film” to bring about social change.

So when we consider the setting for our novel, short story, or work of nonfiction, we’re not looking only at time and place, but we also consider the ethical norm of that setting, whether it be a country, a community, or even a business or profession such as law or medicine. We know that the standard of acceptable behavior will affect the main characters, it will affect the other characters in the story, and it will affect the reader’s reaction to the work. It is inspiring to realize that writers who expose unacceptable ethical norms can do more than entertain and inform, they can make a better world possible.

Book 3 Cover00020002In Breach of Ethics, Sharon St. George’s third novel in the Aimee Machado Mystery series, a troubled surgeon faces an ethical dilemma while operating on a ten-year-old girl. His efforts to save the life of the child prodigy pianist result in ominous consequences involving Aimee and her band of intrepid crime solvers.

Breach of Ethics will be released by Camel Press on May 1, 2016. It is available now to preorder from Amazon and Barnes and Noble in paperback and eBook format.


CIMG1315It is possible that the practice of taxidermy dates all the way back to the beginning of man. Although there is no clear record of its start, it is known that the art form has  been around for centuries. A mount of a rhinoceros in a museum in Italy, believed to have been done in the 16th century, is said to be the oldest in the history of taxidermy.

Long before that time, Egyptians were mummifying their cats, dogs, and other animals at their death. This practice was actually a form of taxidermy.

CIMG1319Outdoor sports enthusiasts who enjoy fishing and hunting make up a large part of the taxidermy business. Many invest enormous sums of money and risk life and limb in remote and treacherous parts of the world.

In some cases, a hunt is a means of eradicating an animal that is doing great harm, as in the case of feral hogs that now do two billion dollars annually in agricultural damage and related problems. As one hunter explained it, “Taxidermy helps to preserve the memory of an experience that may happen only once in a lifetime.”

Hunters and fishermen are not the only clientele of taxidermists. Moviegoers who have enjoyed the NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM franchise will recall the vast assortment of animals that came to life each night. Museums give taxidermists a great deal of business, and will continue to do so.

CIMG1321Modern taxidermists use forms placed inside the preserved skin of the animal instead of the original method of stuffing with straw or other materials. The forms have realistic shapes that are designed to look how the animal would appear if seen in the wild.

Taxidermy remains an art form that people continue to enjoy, either as reminders of memorable hunting and fishing experiences, or as displays in museums.

A word of caution though. It’s probably best to exit the museum well before closing time. That wild boar isn’t looking too happy.

Taxidermy plays a role in CHECKED OUT, book two of the Aimee Machado Mystery Series. Published by Camel Press, it is available both in print and ebook format from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or by order from your local bookstore

AMA? Bad Idea, Sherlock!

An online resource called Acronym Finder lists 123 meanings for AMA, and makes note that there are another 250 definitions in their Acronym Attic. Perhaps the most recognizable definitions are the American Music Awards, the Automobile Manufacturers Association, and the American Medical Association. Lesser known are the Academy of Magical Arts (sorry, Harry Potter), and the American Mule Association (nice site, lots of great mule photos).

Another lesser known definition of the acronym AMA is the term, Against Medical Advice. This definition applies specifically to the situation that arises when a patient decides to leave the hospital against the treating physician’s advice.

If the patient wants to go home, what’s the problem? It’s not a prison, after all. We see it on TV often enough. Last year, BBC’s Sherlock Holmes took off from his hospital room after being admitted with a gunshot wound to his chest. No one mentioned that he should have signed an AMA form before leaving. But maybe it’s different in London. We’re here in America. Besides, it was Benedict Cumberbatch, and he’s so loveable, we’d forgive him anything.

It turns out there are a number of potential problems related to patients who sign out AMA. Problems for the patient, the treating physician, and the hospital. For the patient who bolts before allowing a full evaluation of his or her care, the consequences can be dire. That nagging pain between the shoulder blades could develop several hours later into a full-blown and fatal heart attack. For the physician who signs out an angry and hostile patient without fully explaining the dangers in leaving without treatment, there may be a medical liability lawsuit on the horizon.

Doctors are cautioned to try every avenue to avoid the AMA discharge situation. If all else fails, the patient must be asked to sign the AMA form. Even then, there have been many cases where plaintiffs successfully sued hospitals and doctors following AMA discharges.

If you are the patient, it would be wise to consider your treating physician’s advice, even if you’re either angry enough or fearful enough to want to escape from your hospital room to the imagined safety of home and hearth. Patients who leave AMA have a four times higher rate of readmission within thirty days than other patients. Often they are in far worse shape than they were on that initial admission. So remember that exitichecked_out_300 (1)ng your hospital AMA could be the worst decision you ever make—in spite of what you’ve seen the hero do on your favorite TV show. (We know it wasn’t your idea, Sherlock. The writers made you do it.)

In CHECKED OUT, rodeo cowboy Cody O’Brien suffers the fatal consequences of leaving Timbergate Medical Center against medical advice. Published by Camel Press, this second book in the Aimee Machado Mystery Series was released October 1, 2015. It can be purchased online in paperback and as an eBook through via this link:  Checked Out is also available online from Barnes and Noble, or by order at your local bookstore.



What is a Medical Staff?

119543789489042057caduceus_ryland_sanders_01.svg.thumbNot a question that comes up often in conversation, but when it does, many people will envision the caduceus, a staff associated with the messenger god, Hermes, in Greek mythology. With two wings at the top and entwined with two snakes, it is often mistakenly assumed to be a symbol of healing. In fact, Hermes, known as the  god of commerce, moved between the world of man and the world of gods, acting as a messenger and the link between mortals and the Olympians.

Sodownloadme may be familiar with the more correct, but lesser-known symbol, the Rod of Asclepius, which is entwined with a single serpent and wielded by the Greek god, Asclepius, a deity associated with healing and medicine. In spite of the symbols carried by these gods, there is a more down-to-earth meaning to the term medical staff.

When a health crisis occurs, most patients put their lives in the hands of the doctors in the nearest hospital. They do so in good faith, without knowing what goes on behind the scenes in order to protect them from unqualified medical practitioners.

If you’ve ever been a patient in a hospital, you were probably admitted by your primary care physician. And that’s where the hospital’s medical staff comes in.

Hospital-based television shows are unlikely to demonstrate the rigorous process your doctor went through to earn the privilege of admitting you to a specific hospital. It would not pass as entertainment.

The process began when your physician was required to provide proof of medical education and training as well as letters of reference from any former hospital where he or she possessed privileges. A credentialing committee then scrutinized the request for membership and privileges and verified the physician’s credentials. Once privileges were granted, the physician spent a period of time being monitored by a senior member of the medical staff. And that’s just the beginning.

To remain on the medical staff, your doctor must regularly fulfill continuing education requirements by attending pertinent educational programs. To retain treatment privileges, he or she must serve on medical staff committees and must attend mandatory medical staff department meetings. On top of that, all physicians who are granted medical staff membership must abide by the medical staff bylaws and are subject to having the quality of their patient care scrutinized by their peers.

The next time you’re in a hospital, either as a patient or a visitor, rest assured that hospital’s medical staff organization is working in the background. Let the television version of hospital life entertain you, but be grateful for real life, where the less entertaining work of upholding the quality of the medical staff goes on, ensuring that you and your loved ones are in good hands.

checked_out_300 (1)CHECKED OUT, book two of the Aimee Machado Mystery series, will be released October 1, 2015. Available for pre-order now, it introduces Aimee’s colleague Cleo Cominoli, Director of Medical Staff Services at Timbergate Medical Center. When Cleo becomes suspicious of a controversial and potentially dangerous woman surgeon on the medical staff, she enlists Aimee’s help and the excitement begins.