Driving Miss Norma- why saying yes to life matters

When faced with death, Norma chose living. And in doing so, she and her family learned what really matters at the end. Through this book, they share what they learned with us.

a review of Driving Miss Norma

By Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle

When I first reviewed this book the tag line was

One Family’s Journey Saying “Yes” to Living

the most recent edition now calls it

An Inspirational Story About What Really Matters at the End of Life

And it’s both of those. When faced with death, Norma chose living. And in doing so, she and her family learned what really matters at the end. Through this book, they share what they learned with us.

(This post contains affiliate links.)

I first learned about Norma Bauerschmidt on Facebook when a friend shared a video about her. She was a 90 year old woman who decided to spend the last months of her life “on the road” travelling with her son in a motorhome. She was diagnosed with cancer but decided to forgo treatment so she could enjoy her remaining time.

I didn’t learn more about her until I saw this book.  I decided to read it, expecting a feel good entertaining read. The story turned out to be far more complex than the little I knew.

Driving Miss Norma tells the story of Norma Bauerschmidt, a WWII WAVE veteran, wife, and mother. She was still in good health at 90 years of age, until she was diagnosed with cancer.

Her doctor recommended surgery to be followed by chemotherapy, and warned her the treatment and recovery would be long and difficult. She told him no, she would rather “hit the road” with her son and daughter-in-law and enjoy her life, seeing and doing things she had not had a chance to do before. And her doctor agreed, saying that is just what he would do.

Tim, her son, and Ramie, his wife, had already been living a nomadic life, travelling the country with their standard poodle Ringo in an Airstream travel  trailer they parked in campgrounds and  Walmart parking lots. They enjoyed travelling, seeing new places, meeting new people. They wondered how adding a 90 year old woman to their wandering lifestyle would work.

By the time they completed arrangements for Norma to join them, she was already frail, and as her illness progressed she needed even more attention and care. Tim and Ramie soon realized that this might be more difficult and complex than they imagined.

In the book, co-written by Tim and Ramie, they tell their stories also; the mid-life challenge of caring for aging parents, making end of life decisions and plans, and coping with parents’ death and  their subsequent grief. Having chosen not to have children, the role of caregivers was foreign to them, and one they had to painstakingly embrace and navigate.

By coincidence, Ramie had recently read the book Being Mortal  “a critical examination of end-of-life medical care.” Until then she had not thought much about the subject. But when she finished the book

“I knew my life had changed. The way I looked at the end of life had been flipped upside down and backward. I knew now it was time to have those tough conversations.”

(I reviewed this book at this link)

As they travelled, Ramie began writing about their adventures and posting on Facebook to close friends and family. She thought that other people might also be interested so she started a Page, Driving Miss Norma. They attracted a handful of followers initially, as she expected.

up close look at a hot air balloon
Norma went on her first and only hot air balloon ride (complimentary stock photo from Pixabay)

But after Norma’s story was reported on the Good News Network, followed by a CBS Evening News Story , the Page began adding  followers by the thousands.

The were alarmed, even fearful, of what they perceived as an intrusion on their privacy. Until now, they had deliberately avoided media in their isolated lifestyle. Then they began noticing how Norma’s story was resonating with people in a way they had not expected.

“We had suddenly and dramatically found ourselves in the middle of an international conversation about the meaning of life, illness, dying and love. We were learning on the fly how to open ourselves to holding so much raw emotion.”

Her story opened their lives to new people and situations they never imagined would happen. Rather than being a burden, Norma’s growing fame became the vehicle for them to grow closer to her, each other, and a whole new set of friends all over the country and the world.

“We had the support of people all over the world and that was breathing new energy into our days. Here were so many people pouring out their deepest fears, losses, and desires to us. They told us of their caregiving struggles. They shared with us their innermost desires- to make peace with their recently deceased father, to tell someone “I love you.”

Throughout the story Tim and Ramie share about the places Norma visited (see map), people she met, from the common to famous, the foods she tried, sometimes for the first time, and activities she tried, also many for the first time, like riding a horse. They and the new friends they made shared food, fun, love, and laughter.

map of the United States
Norma visited all the sites marked on this map

But they also touch on the serious issues we all deal with sooner or later- aging, frailty, complex illness, terminal illness, end of life decisions, palliative care, death, and grief. They learned some important lessons about human relationships which they illustrate beautifully in their transparent writing.

“We learned how to greet people with open minds and open hearts…the lines that separate people into different boxes-religion and politics and race and age-blurred and faded and eventually disappeared. We got to see the truth in people, including in Norma: her glow, her tenacity, her joy, and her confidence.”

Tim and Ramie wrote the book after Norma’s death. They each took turns writing different chapters, and Ramie took all the photographs that illustrate it. But in a way Norma herself wrote the book, since it was the way she faced the final months of her life that produced the lessons her family learned and share with us in this book.

Norma kept a journal during their travels and after she died Tim and Ramie, with close friends, read it, and were somewhat surprised at what she wrote. Or rather, what she didn’t write.

“She did not write about cancer or fame- the two big themes of the trip for us. She did not write about the fear of dying or illness at all. Instead, she talked about life, living, and the things that brought her happiness:a sturdy wheelchair, mama and baby goats, a good hair perm, and her trusty sidekick Ringo.”

I feel sad that Norma’s trip did not bring her though my town so I could have met her. But there will be “Normas” in my life that I will meet, and perhaps someday I will be a Norma myself. When that happens I hope I remember the lessons this book teaches.

“Joy begets joy, love begets love, peace begets peace.”

Continue to follow Norma’s family at the web site Driving Miss Norma

sharing the HEART of living well

I hope you enjoyed this look at Norma’s book and will share this post on the social sites you meet up with friends. Please check out some of my other book reviews. Links are in the menu on the side bar (may be below if on a phone or tablet).Or just search.

Dr Aletha

Can medical knowledge make you a better patient? Take this quiz.

The purpose of board certification is to make sure you, the patient, are getting the best care possible from a physician.

Parents and educators in my state have been debating the merits of standardized testing for school children and maybe where you live also. And it’s not just a question for children, adults can be subjected to professional testing also.

After I finished my family medicine residency, I took an 8 hour paper multiple choice written exam to become certified by the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM). The tests were held at several large cities across the United States.

Every 10 years I tested to re-certify. (Originally it was every 7 years) and I always had to travel at least 500 miles to one nearest my home. Eventually the Board transitioned to a computer based exam taken at a local testing center, still 8 hours long.

The purpose of board certification is to make sure you, the patient, are getting the best care possible from a physician. According to the ABFM,

We promise that board certification means that the family physician you choose for your care meets high standards. 

American Board of Family Medicine, ABFM
I passed the recertification exam in 2019 for 10 more years!

In 2018 they offered something new- doctors could take the test on their own computer or tablet whenever and wherever they chose, called The Family Medicine Certification Longitudinal Assessment (FMCLA)

Launched in December 2018 as a pilot program, FMCLA quickly earned an overwhelmingly positive reputation as the preferred option for most physicians and was approved for permanent use in April of 2021.

a male doctor using a tablet while working
Doctors can answer questions on a computer or tablet any time of day or night.

This exam consists of 25 questions posted quarterly over 3 years, with a 5 minute time limit for each question . Besides being able to take the exam in my pajamas, I can research the answers online if I need to-as long as I can do it in 5 minutes. The rules prohibit me from discussing the questions with another person, based on an honor system that I attest to before beginning each session. Being able to look up information is more like actual medical practice.

More aligned with adult learning principles, this approach allows for use of references and promotes greater retention of new knowledge to be applied in daily practice.

ABFM web site

You can learn more about the value of board certification at this link

American Board of Family Medicine Patient Page

While board certification is a voluntary process, many organizations prefer or require the physicians they hire or work with to be board certified.

Take an “exam” designed for patients

I thought I would give you a taste of what I am doing by creating a patient certification exam for you. The rules prohibit me from sharing actual test questions so I have written my own, in simple medical terms, but using a format similar to the questions I answer.

When I answer questions, I get immediate feedback if my answer was right or wrong, with an explanation and a reference. So I have done the same for you. In this case, the reference is from a blog post I have written.

There’s no time limit for each question and for this exam, feel free to discuss your answers with someone else, I encourage you to. Choose the single best answer. Check at the end for the correct answers.

I had fun writing these questions so I hope you have fun answering them. Good luck! I hope you pass.

Question 1

A woman came to her doctor with a skin rash soon after starting to take a new medication. The medication is most likely

  1. An Antidepressant
  2. A blood pressure lowering drug
  3. An anti-inflammatory drug
  4. An antibiotic

Question 2

A 25 year old woman notices that the skin on her face has darkened over the past several months. This condition is called

  1. Melasma
  2. Eczema
  3. Psoriasis
  4. Tinea

How common meds hurt skin

Skin: Epidermis and Dermis illustration
Line drawing showing cross-section of dermal and epidermal skin layers. National Cancer Institute Creator: Unknown Illustrator This image is in the public domain and can be freely reused. Please credit the source and, where possible, the creator listed above.

Question 3

A mother brings her 8 year old daughter to her family doctor. The child has a cough, runny nose, and mild sore throat. Her temperature is 100.2 degrees. The doctor diagnosed the illness as a cold, or upper respiratory infection and explains this is caused by a virus. She does not prescribe an antibiotic because

  1. The child is allergic to penicillin
  2. The family does not have health insurance
  3. The mother has left over antibiotic from another child at home.
  4. An antibiotic will not help an infection caused by a virus.

How to cope with winter illness

Question 4

A 30 year old woman comes to her doctor because she is losing an excessive amount of hair. She is afraid she will become bald. Most likely she

  1. Started using a cheap shampoo
  2. Delivered a baby
  3. Needs vitamins
  4. Should investigate hair implants

Effective solutions if you experience hair loss

Question 5

Dr. Oglesby believes that certain medications should be used more often because of their benefit to patients. These drugs include all except

  1. Antibiotics
  2. Vitamins
  3. Sleeping pills
  4. Stop smoking drugs

7 underused drugs

Question 6

A young man who is a computer programmer has difficulty falling asleep. His doctor may recommend

  1. Buy a new mattress
  2. Taking a sleeping pill an hour before bedtime
  3. Regular exercise and relaxation techniques
  4. Watching television until he falls asleep

Expert advice to sleep

a simple bed, window shade down, small lamp on a side table

Question 7

Author and motivational speaker Nick Vijucic was born with amelia. This term means he lacks certain parts of his body which are his

  1. Limbs
  2. Eyes
  3. Ears
  4. Teeth

Light and life without limbs

Question 8

A woman sees her doctor because she researched her symptoms online and believes she has endometriosis. She thinks this because

  1. She does not have regular periods.
  2. She had a miscarriage.
  3. She has not been able to get pregnant.
  4. Her sister has it.

Women’s health update

Question 9

The HPV (human papilloma virus) causes cancer. Vaccination against this virus decreases the risk of cancer of the

  1. Cervix
  2. Uterus
  3. Breast
  4. Ovary

Women’s health update

Question 10

Kristin Chenoweth, Tony Award winning actress and singer, suffers from Meniere’s syndrome. She was born in a small town in Oklahoma named

  1. Muskogee
  2. Broken Arrow
  3. Ada
  4. McAlester

Kristin Chenoweth– a review of her memoir

a letter jacket, bag, and shoes, belonging to Kristen Chenoweth
Kristin’s jacket from high school on display at the Performing Arts Center

ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS

  1. The most common drug that causes a skin rash is an antibiotic.
  2. Melasma
  3. Antibiotics do not help a cold or any other viral infection
  4. delivered a baby; hair loss is common after pregnancy
  5. Stop smoking drugs can be useful to help smokers quit. The other drugs listed are often overused.
  6. Exercise and relaxation can improve one’s sleep.
  7. Nick was born without limbs.
  8. Infertility is a common symptom of endometriosis.
  9. Cancer of the cervix is caused by the HPV virus.
  10. Broken Arrow. The other Oklahoma towns produced Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton, and Reba McIntyre.

testing the HEART of health

Thanks for testing your knowledge with this first ever Watercress Words Certification Exam. If you liked it, let me know, maybe we’ll do it again.

Dr Aletha

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Go to this link to try RoboForm Free; if you like it you can upgrade to RoboForm Everywhere version with all the features I mentioned above. With Roboform, you will have one less thing to feel stressed about.

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