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May 21, 2013


One False Move

Recently, my son Tyler and I went to Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama to drive a NASCAR race car, in celebration of his nineteenth birthday. Under the watchful eye of a professional driver in the passenger seat, we took turns driving a race car around the world’s fastest track. Standing five stories high and banked at 33 degrees, the Talladega track allowed us to reach speeds that topped 170 miles per hour. Driving that fast felt just like my early experiences in the operating room; I was both exhilarated and frightened. One false move would spell disaster.

When I was a young doctor, the drama of life-and-death situations appealed to me. Adrenaline coursed through my body as I directed the operating room team, scalpel in hand, barking out orders like a sergeant to his troops under enemy fire.

I think as a young man I enjoyed feeling important.

I’ve never liked braggarts, so I hope I projected some modesty. But I was charged up by the drama and my role in it, and in retrospect, I suspect I swaggered around the operating room despite myself. Nowadays, I never swagger, and I don’t feel important, either.

Mostly I am highly concerned to the point of being terrified.

Racing To Save a Life

This Wednesday morning, a call from the delivery room nurse woke me up at four. A laboring patient had just arrived at hospital. She was bleeding, nowhere close to delivering, and her baby’s heart rate was faltering. Her baby was dying. I told the nurse to set up the operating room for an emergency c-section. I ran to my car and screeched out of my driveway.

It was Talladega time.

I am careful when I drive fast. I gathered speed, hazard lights flashing, punching a few red lights along the empty road before finally opening up my engine. My speedometer crawled into some high numbers. Already this week I had witnessed the unexpected loss of an 18-week-old pregnancy, and the pain a mother and family experience when hope is shattered.

I didn’t want to see any more.

This wasn’t fun like a birthday lap around the racetrack with my son. When I reached the hospital, I ran up the stairs, arriving just as the patient was being placed on the operating room table. By the time I had washed my hands and caught my breath, the anesthesia team had done their job. I could make the incision. In less than a minute, the baby’s head could be lifted free. The baby’s arm, when I grasped it, had the muscle tone of a live baby, not the terrifying ragdoll floppiness that signifies unconsciousness, or even death.

This baby was okay. I breathed a sigh of relief and profound thanks.

However, my blood pressure remained elevated the rest of the day.

Grief and Joy

I became a doctor because I wanted to be in people’s lives in those moments I believe really matter. I was drawn to OB/GYN because I am awed to witness the miracle of birth, and drawn to help in the sudden emergencies that require my utmost concentration and ability. The moment when a baby is ready to leave his or her mother’s body, so much is at stake.

Will we celebrate the miracle or grieve the tragedy?

But as I have matured, I have come to understand this: every moment of our life hangs in the balance. We are just as much at the junction of life and death in this very moment as we are in any surgical emergency. We live biologically mortal lives, and none of us are promised tomorrow. We are racing around a track, always at that point of losing control, never knowing when our lives will be shattered.

Life is fragile. The image of the baby’s death earlier in the week, and my patient’s grief, dogged my thoughts that day like a fragment of a song I couldn’t shake from my mind. How does a family survive the loss of a baby, just before the baby shower?

As we endeavor to relieve our suffering, we reach out for answers. When we pay attention, God does answer, and the answer is always the same. Our lives are not biological accidents – they are spiritual inevitabilities. We are each a manifestation of God’s Love, and we are thus each blessed with spiritual immortality.

Grief – no matter the pain – is a spiritual gift, once we understand.

As we heal, we see this simple truth: the tears we shed at funerals are the confetti used in Heaven.

-Dr. Mike Litrel

May 16, 2013

One of the most exciting parts of the baby-planning process can be finding just the right baby shower theme to help celebrate your little one’s arrival. With the extreme success of Pinterest, soon-to-be Moms can plan out every single detail, including the color scheme, food served (cupcakes or cake pops, anyone?), games played and the overall theme of the event.

So without further ado, Cherokee Women’s Health Specialists has put together some of our favorite baby shower themes from Pinterest and a few other great internet sources: Baby Shower Theme - Duckies


Owls, giraffes, elephants and other wildlife have and will continue to be a huge trend in baby shower themes. Baby animals typically incite an uncontrollable “Awww” from even the manliest of men, and it’s no surprise that baby animals are a favorite for baby showers. Modern color combinations like aqua and soft pink and yellow and gray keep the theme updated and oh-so-cute. Birds have been a popular theme, with a play on words of “feathering the nest” for Mom and Dad.


For vintage-themed baby showers, think a Radio Flyer wagon, a bright red tricycle or charming silhouettes of Mom and Dad on the invitations. You can get creative with vintage alphabet stacking blocks, spelling out the name of your new baby (if you’re not keeping the name a secret, of course!). Other options include just spelling out either “Boy” or “Girl,” or “Baby.”


Did you have a favorite book as a child? Many expectant mothers are creating baby showers themed after their favorite books as a child. Favorites include Goodnight Moon, Where the Wild Things Are, and Green Eggs and Ham. You could even stay generic with a book theme, asking guests to bring a copy of their favorite childhood book with an inscription for the new baby in lieu of a card.

If you’re currently planning a baby shower for yourself or for a friend, what theme are you considering? Share with us by leaving a comment below!


May 8, 2013

Yesterday on our Facebook page, we asked our fans how they came up with their baby’s name, or how their mom came up with their own name, and we received some great responses! Naming your child can be one of the most exciting parts of having a baby, but for some, it can be a difficult process trying to choose between the Megan’s, Melissa’s and Morgan’s or the Jesse’s, Jake’s and Jasper’s.

Cherokee Women’s Health Specialists wanted to get in on the baby-naming action so we scoured the internet and found a list of Nameberry’s 13 unusual and surprising names that are attracting significant attention from Moms and Dads around the country in 2013: Sitting babies


1.) Marnie

2.) Marlowe

3.) Nelly

4.) Mavis

5.) Severine

6.) Phaedra

7.) Linnea


1.) Christian

2.) Thor

3.) Bruce

4.) Wilder

5.) Mingus

6.) Finnegan

Which name(s) are your favorite? Be sure to head over to our Facebook page to share with us how you choose your baby’s name, or if you’re still trying to choose, what contenders you have so far!


May 6, 2013

Fear is our Friend-Water

Why Are We Afraid?

It used to trouble me when a patient became nervous before surgery. Maybe she doesn’t think I will do a good job? Maybe I haven’t explained myself well enough? Maybe she doesn’t trust me? But after twenty years of being a surgeon, I now welcome a patient’s anxiety before she undergoes an operation.

Fear can be good for your health.

When my son Tyler was two years old, we took a family vacation to Jekyll Island, one of Georgia’s coastal isles that had been my wife Ann’s and my honeymoon spot a decade earlier. Tyler was thrilled at his first view of the ocean. The winter sun was warm as we slowly walked the sand to the water’s edge, and he grew more excited, pointing his chubby finger and saying “Water, water, water!!!” Tyler walked between Ann and me, and we each held one of his hands, swinging him high to prevent his feet from getting wet in the waves. But Tyler didn’t just want to get his feet wet. He fought to pull free of us, his intention clear: he wanted to walk into the ocean.

At first, Ann and were laughing as we enjoyed Tyler’s insistence that he be allowed to walk freely. But a spectacular temper tantrum soon followed, and our morning family stroll was ruined.

Tyler is now nineteen, finishing his first year of college, but in some ways things haven’t much changed. Three months ago, I taught him how to drive a manual transmission on my old 2004 silver Corvette; the car accelerates like a rocket ship. Tyler is a good driver. But when he asked to borrow the car to visit his buddies, my answer was an emphatic ‘no.’ There is no way I will put my son in a car that will go 160 MPH, so he can visit his teenage buddies. What good can come from that?

I’d just as soon let a two-year-old walk into the ocean.

Good Choices Can Cause Temporary Unhappiness

The reason parenthood is difficult is because that inexperienced human being you love more than life itself will do stupid things and hurt himself, if given the opportunity. Not only that, but when you rightfully say ‘no,’ he will express his anger adamantly – no matter that your heart and mind are in the right place.

The longer we are on this planet, the more we learn. If we look at the experiences we share as human beings, we see that each of us is born into this world as a helpless newborn, and a hundred years later – give or take – we die. In the process, we lose everything and everyone we love.

The truth is actually brutal. Anyone paying attention has a right to be terrified.

Surgery reminds us what we have to be afraid of. Every patient thinks about the same thing: “In a few moments I will be lying unconscious on a table while the surgeon cuts on my body! Who knows?!! I could die here today! ”

Yesterday my patient gave me a big smile before her operation. But I saw right through her poker face: her eyes clearly telegraphed her fear. I smiled at her, shook her husband’s hand, and asked her and her husband if they had any questions or concerns. They did not.

But it was obvious they did. We are all afraid of suffering. And although surgery always hurts, we know that when we wake up, there are narcotics and other drugs that will take care of the physical pain. Simply put, what we are really afraid of is not waking up.

What We Care About

I’ve had thousands of conversations with patients in the intense moments before an operation, and as I listen and try to comfort each patient before they go into the operating room, there is an additional truth my patients have shown me. We don’t want to say good-bye to the people we love.

In the moments when we brush with death, what matters to us is not our money, our home, our job or possessions – it’s the people we know and experience life with. Admittedly, they may sometimes annoy us – but they make our lives worth living.

Fear is good for our health because it serves as a spiritual reminder. God does not grant eternal biological life for any of us. As mortal beings, we lose all that is most important to us – our loved ones and our lives. So as experienced human beings who have suffered during our short time here, our spiritual lesson is fairly obvious – to love those around us more and more each day.

This is the path of a healthy life.

The more we love others, the more we understand the heart of God. This understanding brings us courage and comfort as we face the terrors of life. This courage is called faith. It is the understanding that true life is eternal.

I held my patient’s hand and said a prayer of gratitude. Together we asked God to be with my patient and her husband so their hearts were at peace, and with me and the other doctors and nurses and staff, so once again we would be blessed to witness the miracle of healing grace.

When I looked at my patient again, I noticed that now her eyes were smiling too. Already my prayer had been answered.

-Dr. Mike Litrel

May 2, 2013

May is officially here! The birds are singing, the flowers are blooming and the pollen is (mostly) gone. The team at Cherokee Women’s Health Specialists thought that May would be a perfect time to celebrate babies (especially with Mother’s Day right around the corner), and we’re henceforth calling May Babypalooza!

What is Babypalooza? CWHS CBC

Babypalooza is a term coined by some of the staff here at Cherokee Women’s, with a goal of celebrating everything about babies. This month, our goal is to make everyone say, “Aww” at least once.  Here on the blog, expect informative articles, testimonials from our patients, news on baby names, and a whole ‘lotta baby photos!

We’re kicking off Babypalooza with a Cutest Baby Contest on our Facebook page, with a grand prize of a free 30-minute photo shoot with Clear Creek Images. Interested in entering your baby’s photo? Head on over to our Facebook page to enter and vote! And make sure you tell your friends about the contest so they can enter their babies as well.

Do you have an idea for a post during Babypalooza? Share with us by leaving a comment below!


April 26, 2013

If it’s been a while since your last SexEd course, here’s a quick refresher – the ovaries are the two small reproductive organs located inside a woman’s body. The ovaries make hormones, including estrogen, which trigger menstruation. Every month, the ovaries release an egg that travels down the fallopian tubes to potentially be fertilized. This cycle of egg release is called ovulation.

Sometimes, the ovaries develop cysts, fluid-filled sacs that are particularly common during a woman’s childbearing years.

What causes ovarian cysts? woman-consulting-doctor

There are several different types of cysts, with the most common being a functional cyst that forms during ovulation. This formation happens when either the egg is not released or the sac–follicle–in which the egg forms does not dissolve after the egg is released. Other types of cysts include:

  • Endometriomas – In women with endometriosis, tissue from the lining of the uterus grows in other areas of the body, including the ovaries.
  • Polycystic ovaries – In polycystic ovarian syndrome, the follicles in which the eggs normally mature fail to open and cysts form.
  • Dystadenomas – These often fluid-filled cysts form out of cells on the surface of the ovary.
  • Dermoid cyst – This type of cyst contains tissue similar to that in other parts of the body, including skin, hair and teeth.

What are the symptoms of ovarian cysts?

Most ovarian cysts are small and don’t cause symptoms. Large cysts may cause a dull or sharp ache in the abdomen and pain during daily activities. Larger cysts may cause pain and twisting of the ovary. Cysts that bleed or rupture may lead to serious problems requiring immediate treatment.

Diagnosis and Treatment

At Cherokee Women’s Health Specialists,we diagnose ovarian cysts through a number of ways: during a routine pelvic exam, during a vaginal ultrasound, laparoscopy, or blood tests. Treatment of ovarian cysts include the use of birth control pills to shrink the size of the cyst, or your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the cysts depending on your age, the size and type of the cysts. To discuss diagnosis and treatment of ovarian cysts with one of our doctors, please don’t hesitate to contact us to schedule an appointment.


April 19, 2013

Midlife Crisis Mug

Both Ann and I are early risers. Since the first days of our marriage, we have sat most mornings in the darkness before dawn, talking together and enjoying our morning coffee. It’s my favorite part of the day. Communication is the foundation of any healthy relationship, and I have been blessed with a spouse whose conversation I (usually) find interesting.

But last month, that suddenly changed. No longer was Ann the scintillating woman to whom I had been married for over twenty years. Almost overnight, she had become… Boring.

As a rule, our morning “coffee talks” have held my interest. The topics of conversation range from thought-provoking spiritual insights to friendly verbal fencing that leaves us both laughing.

I was worried. Why did my wife suddenly seem so dull?

Secretly I pondered possible causes. Maybe I had fallen victim to a low-grade, sub-symptomatic virus. Could being bored by your loved ones be a symptom of the swine flu? Indeed, a virus would explain the fatigue and irritability I was experiencing throughout my work day, tempering even my usual enthusiasm for practicing medicine. But on the other hand, a virus didn’t seem to fit, because overall I remained fairly healthy. Besides, I had already received my vaccinations.

Then the headaches began. Each time a patient of mine suffers from a new pain, my underlying concern is cancer. Likewise, I worried about myself. Was this the first symptom of a brain tumor? But just as I was entertaining the idea of getting a CAT scan, an even more disturbing diagnosis occurred to me.

Maybe I was having a Midlife Crisis.

A midlife crisis is no laughing matter. I have watched friends and patients suffer through these things, and I’ve read about celebrities’ lives ruined as tabloids expose every last detail of their midlife indiscretions. A midlife crisis seemed an even worse possibility than a brain tumor. When you are confused about yourself, about the meaning of your life, when you have no connection with the higher purpose for your existence, you can make bad decisions that cause a great deal of pain down the road.

I was reasonably certain I was not having an extramarital affair. But Tiger Woods took me by surprise, too, so I guess you never know. I was thinking about checking my cell phone records just to make sure.

But before I did, one last diagnosis occurred to me – a diagnosis that could explain every one of the symptoms I was experiencing. But I just couldn’t imagine Ann would betray me in this way. Sadly, when I confronted her, she had to confess.

Clandestinely, Ann had changed my morning coffee to decaf.

It was an outrage! A tumult of conflicting emotions washed over me: anger, relief, disbelief – and then concern. Is it possible my marital relationship is not based upon love, respect and admiration – but rather on caffeine? Was my wife the source of my morning happiness – or was it Starbucks?

As a physician, I endeavor to be a role model for my patients. I can say with certainty that couples who make time for each other – even if it comes with coffee – grow healthier marriages than those that don’t.

Certainly decaffeinated coffee is healthier for you than the hi-octane I prefer. But the way I see it, divorce is not healthy either – particularly from a loving, supportive – albeit surreptitious – spouse such as mine.

So Ann and I have since compromised on the coffee, now brewing half-caffeinated, half- decaf in the mornings. And even with this diluted morning mix, my marriage has never been better.

I just make sure I drink two cups.

-Dr. Mike Litrel


The other day I saw a pregnant patient whose ultrasound showed a healthy baby the size of a peanut, tiny heart beating rapidly. My patient’s young husband stood nearby with a happy grin on his face, clutching the photos of his unborn child. The expectant mother was smiling too, but she obviously didn’t feel well. I asked her what was wrong.

“I’m nauseous,” she answered. “And no matter what I do, I – belch all day long.”

“Oh my gosh, Doctor, does she ever!” her husband chimed in, his smile fading. “You’ve got to help her!”

“She’s pretty miserable, I imagine.” I observed.

“It’s not just that,” he explained. “She belches during mealtime. Breakfast, lunch, dinner…it’s making me sick!” Eyebrows knitted, he placed a hand on his stomach as the memory of unpleasant mealtime sounds brought a green hue to his complexion.

His wife nodded her head sympathetically. “Yeah, he’s really having a tough time,” she said seriously.

Once again, I was reminded why I like taking care of women more than I do men. I have seen women sometimes embody a selflessness akin to Divine Love. It’s rewarding to give them the medical care they so often postpone while taking care of others.

But I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit some empathy with the young husband, too. My marriage was wonderful before Ann became pregnant. All that female generosity, focused like a laser beam right on me: meals, laundry, a clean house, even someone willing to listen to all my boring conversation and pretend to be interested.

All that changed when Ann got pregnant. Ann suffered profound nausea – off and on all day, every day. This was confusing. Something called “morning sickness” should end by noontime, no? I was a recent med school graduate in my first year of OB/GYN residency, knee-deep studying the physiology of pregnancy. The 20th edition of Williams Obstetrics clearly stated that “this so called morning sickness of pregnancy usually commences during the early part of the day but passes in a few hours…” Obviously Ann wasn’t reading the same textbooks I was.

I informed Ann that although no one knows what causes the nausea or what purpose it serves, it’s a sign of a healthy pregnancy. Hunched over clutching the toilet bowl, she didn’t seem appropriately reassured.

As a young husband with a pretty, talented wife, I had become accustomed to being surrounded with beauty and the sounds of music in our home. Not to sounds of retching.

I remember this was a tough time in our married life. Nevertheless, I tried my very best to encourage Ann, and despite my youth, made sure I was extra solicitous and loving in my communications with her…

“Sweetheart, what’s for dinner?

“Sweetheart, do I have any clean underwear?

“Sweetheart, does this tie match this shirt?”

In retrospect, I can see that my early approach to husbandly love had a few limitations. But I was genuinely befuddled. What happened to the rosy, happy glow of motherhood I had been expecting… you know, the one that graces all those pregnancy magazine covers? I was pretty sure that the fairy tale of marriage didn’t include the beautiful princess running to the bathroom, hand covering her mouth just as the prince was sitting down to enjoy his supper.

Ann threw up one last time the day before her cesarean section. She was at work and made sure not to bother anyone. The next morning I stood beside her in the operating room as one of my obstetrics professors removed our son from her uterus. Tyler’s cries soon filled the operating room. The surgical team focused all efforts on stopping Ann’s bleeding. As a young surgeon, I knew the blood pouring from her body was par for the course. But there was still a lot of it.

I looked at my beautiful wife as the surgeons were closing her abdomen. Ann smiled at me weakly. It had been a tough nine months.

I suppose it had been rough on her, too.

Understanding how much mothers and wives sacrifice, compared to what we husbands offer, is one of the stepping stones toward manhood. A boy thinks first of himself and expects others to give to him again and again. There are plenty of smiling boys with grey hair who remain self-centered and are certainly unhappy. A man appreciates what he has been given, understands what God wants – and dedicates himself to giving to those around him. It’s an uphill walk, but it’s the path we climb to happiness and fulfillment.

-Dr. Mike Litrel

April 18, 2013

We’ve seen our fair share of cute baby photos. How cute? Really cute.

If you follow us on Facebook, you probably saw our post earlier this week about our upcoming Cutest Baby Contest. The team at Cherokee Women’s Health Specialists is gearing up for this contest and we would love to see your entries! Starting on May 1st and going through May 31st, 2013, we want to see your cute baby photos!

Prizes include a FREE 30-minute photo shoot for any (or all) family members by Clear Creek Images, and a Chick-Fil-A prize! Plus really cool bragging rights and your baby will take center stage on our FB page!

Here’s How to Enter CWHS CBC

Can’t wait to enter your baby into our Cutest Baby Contest? Read these rules now to get a head start:

1) Instructions on how to submit your photos will be provided May 1st on our Facebook page. (Hint: It’s simple!)

2) Your baby must be between 0-24 months old to be eligible for this contest. The photo can be a current pic or a pic of your baby from many years ago. (In other words, your “baby” can be 30 years now as long as the pic was taken when he or she was between 0-24 months).

3) Choose one favorite photo, and please submit it just once. Things to keep in mind: be sure your photo is good quality. If it’s too small, blurry, dark or bright, we can’t use it.

4) The most important rule: Make sure it’s not any ol’ picture. We want to being “oohing” and “ahhing” in unison when we see it!

5) Include your baby’s name, age, hometown, D.O.B., and something cute they do (i.e., “Kelly loves to play Peek-a-boo with her daddy”).

**Submission Rules:

NOTE: All photos submitted to Cherokee Women’s Health will become property of Cherokee Women’s Health Specialists. Upon submission, you grant Cherokee Women’s Health Specialists the right to use the photo(s) in all forms of media, including throughout any of our publications (printed, online, or otherwise) and in our partners’ publications and websites.

  • We’re looking for photos of babies ages 0-24 months. While we know that babies and kids of all ages are wonderful, for this particular feature we’re focusing on this age range.
  • Each photo must be submitted by a parent/legal guardian over the age of 18.
  • The parent/legal guardian must give a valid email address.
  • Please keep images close to 100KB in size.
  • We accept photographs sent in JPEG format only.
  • Once your image is chosen you are ineligible to enter again.
  • Parent/legal guardian warrants that the photo submitted is original and that the parent/legal guardian owns the copyright in such photo.

Voting and Winner Announcements

Users will only be allowed to vote once. Any violations of the submission rules will be cause for disqualification. Other contest changes to be determined by Cherokee Women’s Health Specialists. The winner(s) will be determined by the highest number of votes each photo receives.

The winners will be announced the week of June 3rd. The winners will be contacted via the email that is provided at the time the photo is submitted.

Prizes Available

The winning baby will be featured on Cherokee Women’s Facebook page along with some other exciting prizes, including a FREE 30-minute photo shoot for any (or all) family members by Clear Creek Images, and the runner-up with receive a prize from Chick-Fil-A.

Now, get ready to scour your favorite photos of your little ones and get them ready for May 1st! And don’t forget to share the contest with your friends so they can enter, too!

April 11, 2013

Pelvic pain – a giant pain in the ovaries.

In all seriousness, severe pelvic pain can keep women from enjoying family outings, spending time with friends, shopping, sleeping, and other daily activities. The type of pain varies from woman to woman, but includes pain that ranges from mild to severe, pain that ranges from dull to sharp, severe cramping during periods, pain during sex, or pain when you urinate or have a bowel movement.

What’s Causing Your Pelvic Pain?

There are a variety of causes for chronic  pelvic pain, including:
  • Endometriosis, adenomyosis, and uterine fibroids
  • Scar tissue in the pelvic area after a pelvic infection or surgery
  • Urinary tract or bowel diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome or bladder irritation
  • Ectopic pregnancies
  • Psychological factors

What You Can Do Young woman in pain

If you’re experiencing any type of pain described above, your OB/GYN will do a complete pelvic exam at your next visit to look for problems with your reproductive system. To help ease pelvic pain at home in the meantime, try one or more of the following:
  • Diet – What you eat can effect endometriosis and fibroids due to changes in your estrogen levels. 
  • Exercise – Exercise reduces stress and can help alleviate cramps. Try yoga, which stretches the back and helps relieve lower back pain that many women experience.
  • Massage – Massage can help your stomach muscles relax, lessening abdominal pain.
At Cherokee Women’s Health, we strive to offer the best solutions for women’s health. One of our patients had this testimonial to share about her treatment of an ectopic pregnancy:

“When I went through an ectopic pregnancy, Dr. Hwang gave me her personal cell number, and she would call and check on me. I have never had a doctor be so compassionate about what I was going through. And of course, the staff rocks!” Erica M.

If you’re currently suffering from pelvic pain, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with one of our doctors for diagnosis and treatment.

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“Dr. Litrel was a fantastic doctor. I had my first exam with him, although at first I was skeptical about a male doctor for my GYN. But after I met him I’m glad I kept an open mind, and I couldn’t have dreamed up a better doctor. He cares about you as a person and not just a patient. The front desk ladies and nurses were very friendly and it’s a great office, very clean and not intimidating. I highly recommend Cherokee Women’s Health.”
– Vicki