Friday, May 24, 2013


Brenna looks pretty afraid just thinking about being a dental patient

In ninth grade I ran track. I was a distance runner and competed in the 1600 (mile) and 3200 (two mile).   For practice we would run all around town. I remember thinking during the agony of some of our high mile runs, come on one more mile, or just "go the extra mile." I realized then how many of the common cliches we encounter in real life had literal meaning. Things like going the extra mile or lengthening your stride. Maybe I'm just not as clever as everyone else but it always catches me off guard when a phrase is said in its literal context.

My favorite cliché would have to be, "It's like pulling teeth to..." Pretty obvious the reasoning, right? The other day a friend and I were chatting and she said this. I thought, "Great then! If that's all it takes, we are set."

Yes pulling teeth can in many instances be challenging. But I also have the knowledge and skill set, along with the tools to get almost any tooth out with some perseverance.

So great! Anything in life that is like pulling teeth makes me one happy gal (oral surgeon).

Sunday, May 19, 2013

I live in a cornfield

We recently went on a trip to California. We have been some beautiful places but somehow the sunshine and warm weather in the midst of a long Iowa winter had me seriously wondering why we weren’t living there.

2013-03-04 16.32.45

A warm day in April (40 degrees warmer than back home) had me convinced it probably really is the happiest place on earth.

2013-03-05 10.25.14

Too cold for swimming but there were palm trees!

2013-03-07 11.23.05

Can you tell who the photographer in our family is? Lots of pictures of me.

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Wildlife…we don’t see anything like this back home.

 2013-03-08 18.10.42

Another “cold” day at the beach.

I didn’t see enough traffic to convince me otherwise I suppose. I know we both felt bad we had to head back to the cold lingering winter of the midwest. And it really did linger this time around.

Yesterday I was invited on a bike ride with some friends while Abe was at work. We started in Solon, IA, about 10 miles outside of Iowa City. It was a beautiful spring Iowa day with comparable weather to our California trip (about 2 months later!). Within minutes we were out of town and pedaling along the rolling countryside of rural Iowa. I can’t say I have much interest in photography at all, but riding along the countryside with its quiet roads and quaint farms I found myself wishing I could capture the beauty. My frustration in my lack of ability led me to take a grand total of three photos.


I found myself feeling a great deal of pride for our state. These beautiful hills of corn and soybeans. The old barns and silos. The families who work so hard to produce so much of the world’s food. The kind people I get to interact with every day. I felt like at this moment, I hadn’t seen seen much prettier a place. Even the happiest place on earth didn’t seem to compare to the heartland.

(At least not in May.)

Most of my exploration of Iowa has been by bike. I think it is an amazing experience to be able to hop on a bicycle and within 10 minutes be out in the countryside, away from it all and seeing a side of America that few get to experience.


Places like Sutliff, Iowa, where a historic bridge runs to an old tavern that has been there for over 100 years. It still serves food, plays local music, and you can enjoy it all from picnic tables on the bridge.


Part of the bridge washed away in the recent flood but was restored.


I hope to continue to enjoy Iowa throughout our upcoming hot and humid summer. We are lucky to live in such a wonderful country with amazing places to see and enjoy.

And I hope to get out on my bike a little more this year to experience it while I am here.

Courage Ride 2012

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Dr. Erin Sheffield

This picture is of me late at night on call earlier this year.

Dr. Erin Sheffield

And this picture is hours later (about 4 am), still awake on-call that same night. Yawn! Appropriately blurry to represent how you feel at that time of night on-call.

Only two more nights on-call (including tonight)…

And then, I am done with “primary call” forever. In other words, after two more nights of being on-call I will have completed my nights on-call not as a “chief” resident. No more patient phone calls, working up consults, pre-rounding on patients, being bossed around by senior residents…and lots more OR time. After being on call hundreds of nights (over 100 my intern year, probably another 150 over the past three years) I am almost done with that chapter of my life!

What’s next? Tomorrow I begin my first work-up on a patient for major jaw surgery where I will be the primary surgeon on the case. Come June, I will be the “clinic chief” in charge of all of the elective surgical cases for the entire month. Come July, I will officially be a fourth year resident! It is strange to think how fast and also how slow the past four years have gone by.

I look forward to helping newer residents learn. I look forward to new experiences in the OR and clinic.

I am also a bit nervous. But I think I’m ready!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Are you my mother?


I come from a long line of mothers. This is my maternal grandmother Merline…


and my paternal grandmother Lucille.


My pretty mamma Susan. Looks like she’s always been good at “kissing it better.”


My sisters are contemporary examples of wonderful mommies, Amber above (with her baby on the right) and Brenna below, with her husband and child.


I’m lucky to have married into a family with more good mommas, including my MIL Kristin,


Abe’s grandma Jane,


and my SIL Abby


It’s Mother’s Day and it seems like it deserves an obligatory post. The obvious choice would be to talk about my amazing mother. She really is great and I could talk a lot about her. But I hope she will forgive me if I share her praise with her privately this year and write about something a little less flowery-- the darker side of Mother’s Day. For all of the joy and appreciation that comes with Mother’s Day (and the get out of cooking dinner and dishes pass that seems to come on one day and one day only each year), there is a potential for a lot of sadness on Mother’s Day as well. I am certain there are many women who have not yet become mothers, may never become mothers, or were once mothers that feel a pang of sorrow on this day. And there are certainly children who feel the sadness of having a mother snatched from them prematurely or even those who may never have known the joy that comes from a loving or good mother.

Luckily for me, I haven’t shared in this darker side of Mom’s Day beyond some minor awkwardness. I think it has been awkward for awhile now, at least 10 years. At church it is usually a day of celebration of mothers, traditionally followed by a token of appreciation for mothers such as a small potted plant given to all the adult women. The talks often make me feel a little awkward as they tell me how awesome I am as a “mother” and I am then forced to take the plant which seems like a glaring reminder that I am a poser who is getting credit for something I haven’t done and everyone knows it.

But I am becoming more like a mom and learning to appreciate potted plants. In fact, I’ve been looking at them a lot lately. Back to the point:

This year I chose to focus less on the awkward feeling I get and more on praising womanhood in general. I feel as a woman we are often judged primarily on our bodies and our sex appeal or on our ability to measure up to men. I often get praised at work for being “one of the guys” rather than for my unique traits as the only female. Professionalism is often considered being aloof, non-emotional, and tough rather than more “feminine” traits like being open, emotionally in tune, or a compromiser. Shrewdness and competiveness are often praised over intuition or team work.

But today, Mother’s Day, I feel like we get a free pass to celebrate womanhood in all it’s glory. Rather than celebrating our potential for sex appeal (which looks pretty laughable and degrading when this behavior is modeled by men as below)


we celebrate the power of our bodies to create and give life. The physical sacrifice women make to bring a baby into this world.


The sickness, the pain, the swollen ankles and stretch marks women have been suffering through for generations.


The sacrifice that continues on as mothers continuously choose to put their families ahead of their own desires and needs. Traits that are often overlooked such as kindness, sweetness, hard work, charity, resourcefulness, self sacrifice. And the ability of women, whether mothers or not, to foster and embody these traits and to act as mothers to those around them.

Like the “mother” who stopped me (at the risk of seeming “weird”) the other day in the grocery store to give me a $1.00 off coupon she saw I had a product in my hands that would qualify for its use.

Like the “mother” who sent me a card of encouragement anonymously in the mail when she must have sensed life has been a little hard.

Like the “mother” who gets me off the couch and out for walks multiple times per week, lets me dump all of my problems on her, and tells me I’m okay and to keep going.

Like the many “mothers” at work who give me kind words, a cookie, or a friendly nudge when they can tell I’ve had a stressful day.

Like the “mother” who gave me a hug and thanked me for a comment I made at church when I was wondering if I sounded like a wacko.

Like the mother who birthed me, the mother who raised my wonderful husband, and the mother I hope to one day be. Whether I have children of my own or not.


Happy Mother’s Day!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Another story (from SE Asia)

It’s been awhile since we revisited the “mommy issue.” And I’m tired so I thought I would let someone else do the (blogging) work today. Except for one quick personal story: I ran into an acquaintance from years ago, mostly from my single time here in Iowa. He moved away but was back visiting. When he saw me, he greeted me pleasantly. After some friendly chit chat, he asked if Abe and I had any children. I said a simple, “not yet.” He responded with, “Well, it’s a personal decision, isn’t it?”

Something about that rubbed me the wrong way. I wouldn’t say I was offended but it did feel a bit unsupportive. For all he knows it isn’t a personal decision. Maybe I struggle with infertility. Maybe I am pregnant now. Maybe I just had a miscarriage. Regardless of the case, I think the world often needs a little more sensitivity, even with catch phrases like, “It’s a personal decision.” Luckily for him, I wasn’t experiencing any of these situations or he could have really caused some grief. No harm, no foul…but good blogger food for thought.


This one is from my friend Michele. I met Michele in Iowa when I started dental school. She was one of the women I found so much inspiration from in our little single’s branch (church congregation) pursuing her graduate degree. I feel that this experience of being around educated, spiritual women really influenced me in my future family/career choices and it sounds like it had an effect on Michele as well. I was really excited to get her input, especially considering the fact she (and her little family) is living an adventurous life in Cambodia! I love reading the evolution of these stories. It reminds me that so often our lives don’t turn out how we expect…and often times better.

Happy reading!



From Michele Bowen Hustedt

I, like Erin, am a Mormon and I grew up in a Mormon community. All growing up I was taught by my church, my parents, and by the examples of women around me that a righteous woman's most important role is that of mother and wife. But as I grew up and moved farther and farther from home I learned that many successful and important women have degrees and careers and earn money.

I believe what my church teaches about women--that their most important role is found in motherhood and marriage. But there's another teaching that almost always gets tagged onto that one: a woman's place is in the home. And I'm not sure if I'm on board with that one because I also believe what sociologists, economists, and those in favor gender equality have taught me: that having more women in the workforce has had incredibly positive outcomes for communities.

As a child, I don't think that I felt strongly one way or the other about being a stay-at-home mom or being a career woman. But I do know that I had lots of encouragement (epecially at church) to work towards a goal of marriage and children and no encouragement to work towards a career.

After high school I attended BYU. My desire for education slowly evolved into me getting a degree so that I could be a full-time SAHM and use my education to enrich the lives of my family members. I had many female classmates who had this same plan and that plan has worked out nicely for them.

But by the time I graduated from BYU I wasn't married, so I decided to continue my education. I went to graduate school at the University of Iowa. For the first time in my life I had encouragement to work towards a career. Both at school and at church.

I continued my education with each passing year that I didn't get married. I earned a masters degree and then a doctorate degree. I got my first job, teaching at Georgia State University. I was becoming a career woman. But that's not what I really wanted. I wanted to get married and have kids. The more time that passed the more desperately I wanted it.

And then, FINALLY, it happened. I got married.

I quit my job, we moved to New York City, and I had a baby. I was completely in love with my perfect little girl even though I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I struggled with serious insomnia and I struggled to keep her happy all the time. Sometimes we would go on two-hour subway rides just so that she could have a nap and I could get some rest. Motherhood was not the dream come true that I thought it would be.

Then my husband got a job with the World Health Organization in Cambodia, so here we are in Cambodia. Our money goes a lot further here and we were able to hire a full-time nanny to cook, clean, and help take care of our daughter. And that has allowed me to start working again. It's only part-time for now, and when I'm not working, I have time to sit on the floor and play with her because I'm not cleaning or cooking. I'm happier, less stressed, and a better mom all around.

These experiences have caused me to re-think what it means to be a good mom. Before I thought that being a good mom meant saying to my children, "I have a doctorate degree, but YOU (and cleaning the house and cooking dinner) are more important to me than that." But now I think being a good mom could also mean showing your children the value in having outside interests and working hard to benefit your community.

I do feel pressure in some circles to have more children and stay at home with them. And I feel pressure in other circles to become a successful and important career woman. I don't know if I have it in me to be either of those and I don't know how things will turn out but for now, this is what's working for me and my family and we're happy.

Michele I think has made an unconventional choice, at least in terms of the Mormon Mommy Model (I’m creating all kinds of catch phrases here) in using a nanny but I think it is another example of a capable and smart woman doing what she feels is best for her family. And (it sounds like) without guilt!

I would love to hear from more mommies or future mommies. And what do you all think about nannies vs. daycare, etc?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Come and listen to a prophet’s voice


photo from

Twice per year the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hosts its General Conference. This is a big event where thousands of members gather in the Conference Center (aptly named) in SLC for 10 hours of instruction and teaching from the leaders of the church (many considered apostles and prophets like those in the Bible), with live broadcasts across the world. For many LDS families, this is often one of the favorite weekends of the year. I personally enjoy it as it is a time to stay home and watch church in my pajamas with my husband while eating his yummy coconut rolls, panipopo which he seems only to make on this occasion.

So what do apostles and prophets have to say, you ask? It is hard to narrow down after hours of material but here are a few things that struck a chord with me. Please note these may not be direct quotes but were the message that spoke to me:

  • You can depend on the Lord to draw closer to your family when you serve Him. He will raise you up as you serve others. (Eyring)
  • Put away electronics and distractions and interact with your children (Wixom)
  • Obedience to law is liberty! (Perry)
  • Never underestimate how driven Satan is to succeed (Perry)
  • Murder, stealing, lying are still frowned upon, but we have routinely dismissed the other 10 commandments as a society (Perry)
  • Fan the flame of your faith, acknowledge doubts but focus first on faith (Holland)

And a few of my absolute favorites:

  • Imperfect people are all God has to work with [so be patient, kind, and forgiving] (Holland)
  • How would women be treated if everyone remembered the statement, “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father” (Dalton)
  • A man cannot fully use his priesthood without a wife. In the eternities, both partners share the power of procreation and the priesthood (Ballard)

You can read, listen, or watch more if you are interested. I would be interested to hear from friends who watched what struck a chord with them this time.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Be the Match

Robert Guerrero
photo from

I find that I complain about the local news here in Iowa. More often than not, the feature stories are about blue ribbon pies or showcases on the school spirit of a local high school. While perhaps heartwarming, it is often overwhelmingly boring.

And then I think how foolish I am for complaining about this. I’m pretty lucky that we hardly ever get to hear about murders or robberies or burglaries. We get to highlight events in the community and our crazy Iowa weather.

I realized this while reading an article in the national news earlier this week about a student athlete who was asked to donate bone marrow to a dying stranger. Rather than focus on the Boston bombings, North Korea missile threats, or Syrian uprisings, I was inspired to read the story of hope and sacrifice by a young college athlete. The timing of the donation was devastating to his career as a college shot putter. It would be right in the midst of his senior season and put him out of the running for the regional championships. In a society that tells us to “go for your dreams no matter what,” this boy realized that saving the life of another, even a stranger, was more important than his own personal dream.

I may never have the opportunity to do something like that, but over 4 years ago I also joined the Be The Match Registry. I usually forget all about the registry (until reading articles like this) as the chance of being called upon to donate is very low. But, knowing there is a chance I could be the only person (except maybe my twin sister!) who can save someone from their cancer, I hope I will be willing and able to help. I can’t imagine the agony a patient and their family must go through hoping to find a match that is out there but maybe not on the registry. If it were you or your kid, I think you’d want as many people to join as possible.

If you are interested in joining the registry to help save the life of a dying patient, go to their website to get more information about joining. I’m going to set up a poll on my blog and hope to track any new members to the registry. It’s not every day you get to feel like you are making a difference by basically doing nothing! I hope we can get 100 readers to join.

Here are a few of the FAQ from the website I thought could be helpful:

Q: Why is there a need for people to join the Be The Match Registry? A: Thousands of patients with blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, sickle cell and other life-threatening diseases depend on the Be The Match Registry® to find a match to save their life.
Patients need donors who are a genetic match. Even with a registry of millions, many patients cannot find a match. Donors with diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds are especially needed. To learn more, see The Need for Donors.

Q: What is my commitment if I join?
A: When you join the Be The Match Registry, you make a commitment to:
  • Be listed on the registry until your 61st birthday, unless you ask to be removed
  • Consider donating to any searching patient who matches you
  • Keep us updated if your address changes, you have significant health changes or you change your mind about being a donor
  • Respond quickly if you are contacted as a potential match for a patient
You have the right to change your mind about being a donor at any time. Donating is always voluntary.

Q: How likely is it that I will donate to someone?
A: Doctors choose donors based on what is best for the patient. About 1 in 540 members of the Be The Match Registry in the United States will go on to donate bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) to a patient. We cannot predict the likelihood that an individual member will donate

Q: Does race or ethnicity affect matching?
A: Racial and ethnic heritage are very important factors. Patients are most likely to match someone of their own race or ethnicity. Today, there simply aren't enough registry members of diverse racial and ethnic heritage. Adding more diverse members increases the likelihood that all patients will find a life-saving match. Members of these backgrounds are especially needed:
  • Black or African American
  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • Asian, including South Asian
  • Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Multiple race
Q: What is the donation process like?
A: Adult donors may be asked to donate in one of two ways:
  • Bone marrow donation is a surgical procedure in which liquid marrow is withdrawn from the back of the donor's pelvic bones using special, hollow needles. General or regional anesthesia is always used for this procedure, so donors feel no needle injections and no pain during marrow donation. Most donors feel some pain in their lower back for a few days afterwards.
  • Peripheral blood cell (PBSC) donation involves removing a donor's blood through a sterile needle in one arm. The blood is passed through a machine that separates out the cells used in transplants. The remaining blood is returned through the other arm.