Update. We are alive and thriving…. but largely elsewhere.

Because I have increasingly posted pieces with photo albums and videos, I have used Facebook more and this blog platform less as 2018 has proceeded.

We also have the ability there for readers to freely comment to me and one another. I am appreciative that so many community members do write me and each other.

The link is https://www.facebook.com/healingwoman/

It is public, meaning you do not need to have a Facebook account to access the page. You simply need to type the web address.

I will try to reorganize this page so it is useful as a library for articles, while the Facebook page remains an interactive community. I should also update people that work is progressing, although slowly, on updating the website itself.

Thank you to everyone who has helped me move a dream of people bringing their gifts and limitations to the assistance of one another to life. We have grown from a handful of my personal friends to a living community of over 26,000 people on Facebook.

Whether you read here or read and look there, I am thankful for you and want to help. Please — always feel free to leave a comment or to write.

Best wishes as we move to the end of 2018 and continue the journey of balancing body, mind and spirit in lives and a world that always changes.

Here is a photo of one of the dearest and most unexpected friends I made this year, the swan who bonded to me (and me to him) after his mate was killed this summer at the local lake. The three of us had formed a friendship after she noticed I rested from the heat on a bench by the pond on which they lived.

Readers gently nudged me over the months to give him a name. Eventually I realized I had. I had come to call him Sweet Heart, so Sweet Heart he is. As we move into mid-December, he has found a spot on the deep water where the surface hasn’t frozen over, but he is still there, he still waves his wings when I call “Hello,” and I still realize love in any form is a true wonder.

Elizabeth Coolidge-Stolz, a healing woman

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Thought for the Day. Fate versus Destiny.

We may not be able to prevent disease or injury or life challenges ranging from job loss to family deaths to war, but whatever fate comes, we control our destiny— We control how we respond to what happens in life.

We write our story.

I thought I was writing mine when I received my medical degree shortly before my 25th birthday. I really started discovering myself and my possibilities after the accident and brain injury that ended that budding medical career.

Decades later, I am still writing a story that includes experiences of more and more people and, I hope, helps more and more people.

Together, and with time, we can do great things. We can write great stories even if we are not great in and of ourselves. I know.

Join us.

Elizabeth Coolidge-Stolz, MD/ (c) HealingWoman

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Spirit/Essay. For Whom the Bell Tolls.

U.S. Senator John McCain will be buried today, one of many people throughout the world: some famous, many little known, too many unknown except to families or to God. Some people will have no one to bury them.

When I heard the senator had died, I was reminded of a magazine columnist from my childhood, Stewart Alsop. I didn’t always agree with him, but he made me think and push past the simple response, just as Senator McCain did.

After an unexplained break from the magazine, Mr. Alsop wrote a short column explaining he was dying from cancer. It concluded with lines I will always remember:

The dying man needs to die as much as the tired man needs to sleep, and the time comes when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist.


In considering the death of one person or many, I think of Senator McCain’s favorite novel, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” by Ernest Hemingway. I have read it many times, although not with the understanding that either Senator McCain or my father, both combat veterans, would have had. I have also read the passage from which Hemingway drew the title. Whoever or wherever you are, these words have unique meaning for you.

John Donne wrote this in 1624, as part of a longer religious devotion on emergent occasions. The words are as timeless as are emergent occasions—

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:

Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.


Death reminds us of life, including ours, and the importance of what we do with our lives. Whatever grief, loss, or death humbles and haunts you today, do NOT be diminished by it. Instead, draw strength to consider how much you CAN do with your life and how much we can collectively do.

No one is an island, and if it is time for someone’s eyes to close for the last time, surely it is time for others’ eyes to open and for their hands to stretch out to serve and work. The most important way to honor the dead is to live more fully in a way that serves more than ourselves and our personal interests. Be kind. Work for the greater good.

A small chain of good can come around over time and across numerous people to create a circle, the strongest shape nature knows.

One act can echo with force years from now. We may never know how long or how many people one act of kindness may touch. We do not need to know. We need to serve.

The photo is courtesy of my friend and fellow brain injury survivor, Daniel Mollino. Sometimes it isn’t our accomplishments or even those of others that open our eyes, it is tragedy. John McCain was not destroyed in Viet Nam. He found what he could be and he became that man.

May we do the same — may we see and become the best of what we can be.

Elizabeth Coolidge-Stolz, MD/ (c) HealingWoman

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Spirit/Essay. The greatest teacher, failure is…. Yoda. Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

My breath caught when Master Yoda’s spirit gently said this to the man who had once been his pupil. The power was not in the wording of the line, but in how it was said.

It was said simply, in the voice of someone who had lived long, known much success, and although he was not known for it, failure.

We do not simply have the chance to learn from our mistakes. Our failures, both each experience and the experience of falling short itself, provide our greatest opportunity to know that we are all mortal, human, imperfect.

Even the most legendary among us are human. We all fail. What will define us at the end of life is how we responded to failure.

I have fallen short at a number of things recently, from projects that didn’t meet goals I expected to a relationship that fell apart without my realizing it had faltered or understanding why it had.

In each case, the answer is not simply in realizing there was a failure, but, what comes next?

There is something of value to be gained from every loss, every mistake, every failure.

Direct lessons? Sometimes it is to ask for help or realize whom to ask for help. Sometimes it is to know we can be in the position of needing help and still be able to help someone else.

There may be an even bigger life lesson in recognition of our inevitable human imperfection, our inability to be what we should be every time, to do what we should do.

We need to know how to ask forgiveness of those we hurt or disappoint. We need to take responsibility for what we do and for what we did not do when we should have.

And, because all of us are equally imperfect, we need to learn how to find it in our souls to forgive others, even as we want to be forgiven.

And so, I write this reflecting not on what I have done well, but on the many times I have not done well.

From those experiences, may I learn to do my best on the day, every time I am called on.

May I see clearer, listen more mindfully, not that I become a Jedi master or a master of anything else, but that I move toward the greatest goal l can imagine… becoming the best version of myself, a unique human among humankind.

For me, this means remembering a Bible passage I have loved since I was a little girl, with its simple but powerful message:

And what does the Lord ask of you, O Man, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

However you see the infinite, the perfect, What a world we could live in if we started each day not by taking stock of our abilities, possessions, and successes, but our mortality, our imperfections, and the little kindnesses done to us the previous day.

What if we focused on our ability to grow from every experience, including the embarrassing and painful?

We wouldn’t need a disaster to know human chains are collectively powerful enough to save a person, from a car caught in a flood or desperate loneliness after a death or loss of a job.

We would instinctively reach out rather than shrink in; we would stop judging by superficials and start judging people at a level beneath the superficials— their body language, the places we find them, their manner with other people and animals— the way they live rather than the way they look.

I do not strive to be perfect. I strive to learn from my imperfections. I will continue to fall short in life. May I learn each time. May you, too.

May we live, fail, learn, and grow together.

Elizabeth Coolidge-Stolz, MD/ (c) HealingWoman

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Mind/Spirit. Learning from Living. What is Wellness?

Once I was asked to define wellness and realized it was not only more than physical health, it might be beyond health, at least at some times or for some people. I struggled until I found words that fit—

Body, mind, and spirit: Find Your balance.

I have been HealingWoman as a writer and speaker since 2009. That identifies what I am as well as what I do. I trained as a doctor, even though my firstI injury meant I never practiced.

I will always be healing. I will always help others. Healing is not returning to the past, which is impossible. It is finding wholeness within and possibilities for the future, of what you can become.

Two weeks ago I had an emergency admission while doctors sorted out current challenges, which include multiple brain injury, a small hormonally active brain tumor, and a control system for heart rate, blood pressure and other functions that is more than a paperweight but definitely did not get a passing grade when tested last week.

So, this morning I had a check-in with my doctor and came home to eat, stay as flat as possible, and be thankful I have air conditioning.

Today is a day in many ways of DIS-, not ability. My goal is to stay conscious, comfortable, and out of the hospital.

When I washed my hands at the sink, I saw the cup my son decorated for Mother’s Day (he does not have enough finger control to draw, a less obvious but significant part of his problems, with his autism the dramatic part). He told his aide to draw a honey bee, and she did.

Why? Because I have taken Joseph on nature walks since he was little. I could never tell him the history or biology I was told because he could not understand it, but my son (age 23) remembered I said God has given us responsibility to take care of nature, to share with the birds, bees, chipmunks, and other animals and plants.

When he walks, he falls often, but he tries to avoid flowers. Long ago at school, he had a friend in a wheelchair. He picked flowers to make her happy when she moved into his three-apartment house but asked his aide first which ones he could pick without hurting the plants.

And without prompting, he wanted this Mother’s Day gift to show that he loved me and he listened to what I said.

I took a short walk before the appointment to look at some of my neighbors’ flowers. I share them with you.

If you take a walk, remember to be safe: Think about where you go, whether you have challenges within yourself with balance or ability to concentrate, or outside yourself with temperature, issues of public safety with lighting, time of day, etc.

If you are inside, you can move beyond your skin without an electronic device by letting water drip slowly into the sink to wash your hands and feeling the flow of your blood in time with it or watching a clock hand and feeling the beat of your heart. Both give you connection.

If you walk with your dog, consider not only cleaning up after your dog but caring for the environment by picking up extra poop or trash. When I regularly walked my dog I carried extra bags and picked up leftover deposits near where my dog went if I could bend over safely to do it.

Just remember, every act matters. We simply do not know how much or for how long. My son last saw his friend about 5 years ago. He saw “The Bee Movie” years ago.

What he remembered when he was given a flower to put in a cup was that we took walks in the woods. When the weather is cool, we must do it again, even if I need a walker and we choose a new path.

Finding new paths when known ones close is part of life, of healing. We accept moments we cannot change, times we must adapt to survive.

Acknowledge ability and disability. Find possibility.

I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to be a mother. I am both. In a way, I am neither, certainly not as I understood both identities as a child.

Yet, I also have possibilities I never imagined, so many identities yet to explore. So do you.

We are a diverse, healing people. For all our wounds and scars, we are the ones who can change the world for the better because we have seen the worst. We are the ones who have done it before. Join us.

Elizabeth Coolidge-Stolz, MD/ (c) Healing Woman

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Mind: Learning from Disability and Disaster.

What can we learn from Hurricane Maria and the long-term loss of both roads and electricity in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean islands?

Most of us do not live on an island or area readily isolated from help, yet it happens. It can happen to many of us if the right (or very wrong) circumstances happen.

Please begin to think before a hurricane, tornado, mudslide, wildfire, or industrial accident happens near you.

1. Do you have an evacuation plan? We all should, thinking not only of natural disasters common to our areas but also unnatural disasters such as fires or explosions at local industrial plants that might occur.

Keep vital supplies ready and easily accessed. Have a written plan ready. Practice packing a car or readying what each person would carry to a bus or other means of evacuation.

Does your plan include not only supplies for family members, including pets, but also the steps you need to take for people with behavioral disabilities (such as my son’s autism or my late mother’s dementia) or physical needs, including medications and equipment?
Have you done any drills? Have you thought whether your plan or drill should be updated because the small child you could carry is now tall child and could scream and run away from you?

2. On the flip side, do you have a plan and strengthened place prepared to shelter within your home or somewhere nearby in your neighborhood? Could you stay in your home if it were partially destroyed?

A recent report on deaths after Hurricane Maria suggested many involved people who had no electricity, lacked functional roofing, and could not evacuate.

Think about all of your medical/health-related equipment and every medication or other material that requires refrigeration or freezing. Also,can you keep medicine or other material dry if needed, should flooding occur? Can you keep dry?

Do you need a generator for electricity if an emergency happens in hot weather? Could you prepare battery or other backup for up to 3-4 weeks, if necessary?

I don’t have all the answers. In many cases I am still asking the questions.

However, I know we need to ask the questions, as we get older, move to different places, and as many kinds of storms become more catastrophic due to building in areas prone to flood or wind damage, as well as unchanged areas with aging roads and electrical grids.

In my case, I know the drill for hurricanes and blizzards as they have historically occurred in New England, but I have not thought of myself as living in tornado country. Yet, there have been two tornados with localized but significant damage in my state in the last 15 years and one in my town, the other side of town, but still— my town.

We all need to be ready for disaster. We all need to consider our greater vulnerability if we live with disability or other personal or family challenge, and we should all be open to what we can do both for our local neighbors and those whom we will never meet….

Elizabeth Coolidge-Stolz, MD/ (c) HealingWoman

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Mind: Talking about suicide so we decrease the number of people who die by suicide.

Suicide is not reversible. Stop before you do it…..

I wanted to post on mental health in May but did not because I wanted current statistics: When I last researched mental health five or six years ago, the World Health Organization estimated over 40% of people in developed countries fit guidelines for a mental health diagnosis at least once in life. THEY are US.

I write because of recent high profile suicides. I have lived with major depression. I have been suicidal. I am THEM.

Neither psychiatric disorders nor addiction are character flaws. Vulnerability to both are combinations of genetics and environment. I am prone to depression and my brain injury set me up for other problems.

There are millions of people like me. You may be one of us. You may love someone like me. You may be one of us who has decided you can’t keep living like this anymore.

Please do not die in despair, giving in to the urge to find peace in death. Everyone dies, but dying because you cross a line where you can’t stand living one more minute is not a good death.

Telephone Numbers for Suicide Prevention:

USA English — 1-800-273-TALK 1-800-273-8255

USA Spanish —1-888-628-9454

These lines are confidential. The caller can hang up. If you call, you do not need to fear that someone will take you away against your will. If you and the person you talk with develop a plan, you develop it together.

If you live in another country, check your phone book or go online and look up suicide prevention line.

If you are afraid someone you love or a work peer is at risk of harming themselves, consider asking a teacher or supervisor what to do or calling your first-responder number and asking for advice.

If you are thinking about how to kill yourself, remove the means from your home. If you have a gun, have someone remove the ammunition. When I was suicidal, I collected the alcohol and medication that would be lethal in combination, and had my husband put it somewhere I could not find it.

Many people who have been suicidal or tried to kill themselves and gotten help have been glad they survived. I know from personal experience and medical articles. The key is to recognize what pushes someone over a line and to support them and then make sure they get the medical, family, and social support they need afterward.

Part of the problem in my country, the United States, and in other countries, is that the suicide rate for almost all age groups has risen sharply over the last decade and longer for a lot of reasons:

(1) poor access to medical (especially psychiatric) care,

(2) the feeling among many people that mental health issues are less real than those seated in organs other than the brain

(3) the feeling among many people that mental health issues reflect laziness, selfishness, or poor character,

(4) personal and family insecurity since the financial setback of 2008 in employment, housing, food, payment of monthly bills, etc.

and other causes.

The combination of reasons that pushes someone into depression or pushes a depressed person to the brink of suicide is as individual as each of us.

Each of us matters infinitely, whether society says we are worth more or less depending on where we were born, our color, religion, or any other single factor that doesn’t reflect what we are as a person.

In the same sense, the loss of a person to suicide, the grief of an avoidable death, is infinite, too.

Because of the need for recognition of our personal and collective self worth and the need to support all people, please consider sharing this post or a similar one with access information on where and how to get help. Personalize it for your region or for a community that you know well, be it military veterans, abuse survivors, people living with chronic illness or injury, people living with depression or other neuropsychiatric illness, those with pressing family or social challenges. We all matter. Even if you need help, you can be someone else’s help.

Elizabeth Coolidge-Stolz, MD/ (c) HealingWoman

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Mind/ Patient Advocacy. No one is an island, nor is any swan. A new perspective on discovering that we all need help sometimes.

On April 23rd, 8 days before the cygnets hatched, I made my daily visit to the mute swans who live near me. Mama was on the nest and Papa was swimming in deep water, the morning routine I knew. While I was there, she rearranged the eggs before settling again. Then something happened that I had never seen. He swam to the nest and they switched places.

She left and swam to the quieter water behind the front part of the lake. I saw her puttering and eating. When I walked back the footpath about 20 minutes later, she was still there and he was on the nest.

Why is this remarkable? I checked two references on mute swans, and neither indicated males typically tend eggs. One said females only tend them, while the other said male tending is rare.

Here are some general reflections, first from my disability niche, then from a broader medical/health spot.

When someone tells you something authoritatively, if your instincts or experiences say otherwise, ask how they arrived at their conclusions. This isn’t oppositional, it is a learning and communications exercise.

It is possible a doctor (or birding book) is based on a much broader, more regional, or older set of facts than you have, and that explains the difference.

In medicine, ‘facts’ may have been come from data that were predominantly drawn from men, adults only, or people of one race or nationality, and those people don’t match you. That CAN make a significant difference, although certainly not always.

It is not rude to ask on what basis a conclusion was reached. It is not wrong to want to understand WHY something is apparently true, or if a conclusion is probably true but waiting for more time (more observations, more time to watch for change) or getting the second opinion of someone with a different perspective in training or experience might add more to the development of a better reasoned conclusion and a plan.

The key, as in every effective communication, is to get your thoughts together and present them as clearly as you can— with as much fact and as little emotion as possible.

Listen for understanding, not just for your turn to talk again, and ask someone to repeat what you said if you don’t think they heard it in the way you said it. If they ask you to repeat something, try to understand what they are asking of you.

If it becomes clear you need help, ask for a pause and figure out what to do next in a way that burns as little of a relationship (with a single provider or institution) as possible.

Many institutions have customer representatives, ombudsmen, or patient advocates who listen to both sides when things fall apart (or before they fall apart) and who can help remove the emotion to arrive at a plan that helps everyone.

Never be afraid to ask for assistance. Personally, I’m afraid of people who are sure they never need assistance.

The photo is of Mama and Papa in their delicate dance around the eggs as they switched places without squishing anybody.

Elizabeth Coolidge-Stolz, MD/ (c) HealingWoman

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Mind. Living with Disability: A reintroduction to HealingWoman.

Well, it only took me 34 years after my first major accident, a traumatic brain injury, to finally figure out that living with disability is living…. just more so.

The daffodils are out. It has been three days since I wore my winter coat. I needed an antihistamine this morning for my seasonal asthma because the grass is greening.

I have never been in a Gap or Aeropostale store but tried on size 6 jeans of both brands in the second hand shop and both fit (bought the Aeropostale, the Gap were too far down my middle-aged hips for my comfort).

Hormonal problems from the small brain tumor found in December are active but I have learned how to eat despite no appetite and record meals and snacks to make sure it is appropriate over time. I have trimmed down but stabilized after profound weight loss even while adding muscle.

I used my hiking poles to walk 4 + miles on the Eastern Greenway trail Sunday afternoon, a walking meditation made joyful by chipmunks and a small running stream that ran parallel most of the way. I met a few cyclists. A red tailed hawk hovered overhead much of the time, doubtless looking for careless chipmunks.

Five years ago at this time I could not walk short distances without a walker, was on narcotics constantly for the pain after spinal surgery/infection/repeat operations and rehab, and weighed over 200 rather than my current 150 pounds.
Mind you, my cumulative disabilities, including impaired balance and poor peripheral vision, are greater now than then, but I am more alive by far. If I need a wheelchair, I will try to find one that can do the fairly level fire trails used by trucks and I will still get the forest experience.

Blessings to all of you, wherever you are literally or in your life journeys. Treasure the good moments and put those memories away to keep. When it hurts too much to live an hour, live a minute, and if that is too much, take one breath, then one more. I’ve been there, too.

I have finally learned that living with disability is not just living with constant limitation and reminders of mortality. It is living with everything enhanced. If we can be mindful of all— living with dis-, ability, and possibility — it may bring at least some days of living with more, not less, than those who live with less awareness of limitation, and less awareness, period.

That does not mean disease, injury, or early death are good things. That does not mean life is fair.

I mean there are sometimes quiet blessings to be found in painful and sorrowful moments and in the people we meet during awful times.

For me, this is what I found in the prayerful state of my long walk. For me, speaking for myself alone, this is what I have recognized through the decades as God’s will.

It is not that he chose me, among my husband, his best friend, and me, as the one to be hit in the head with the chunk of rock and paving kicked up by a speeding car to hit my skull and injure my brain so badly it was the end of my fledgling career as a doctor. That was random chance.

God’s will was in the quiet reflection that I could find within myself, how I could re-examine my childhood dream to help people and make a difference, and then use those dreams and my knowledge to become an advocate for healthcare, disability rights, and patient advocacy, educating people how to become effective voices for themselves iwith healthcare providers and in making their decisions and setting goals when life isn’t fair to them, either.

Whether you are more in the corner of random chance, Karma, or a guiding hand of God, you are welcome here, to read my musings (Spirit), my articles on health literacy and patient advocacy (Mind), and articles on health conditions themselves (Body).

All I ask is that we recognize we are one family, whether we are living more aware of our dis- or our ability. For those who question the nature of mental illness, I firmly believe that illness seated in the brain is no different than illness seated in any other organ, it simply manifests through brain-based functions, and those include thought, memory, emotion, and behavior. When I use the term MIND, I mean the mental/conscious person who is the pilot of their body, and sometimes that means someone who is trying to pilot a body whose very brain sometimes works against them.

And with that, welcome spring, friends in the northern hemisphere. I hope your summer is ending well, friends in the southern hemisphere.

We share the same Earth. We are pulled by the same tides, lulled by the same soothing beats of our beloveds’ hearts.

Elizabeth Coolidge-Stolz, MD/ (c) HealingWoman

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Spirit/Essay. Of mirrors and marathons. Reflections five years after Hell came home.

It is April in New England, and the marathon has come again. Since 2013, race day is not a simple joy anymore. It is the anniversary of a bombing.

It is the day we learned how strong we really were, how resilient we could be when we locked arms and hearts with one another. I watched strangers pick up limbs from the sidewalk, wrap them in T-shirts and run toward ambulances, use belts as tourniquets, and never worry about the insanity of it all, just a need to do everything right and as quickly as possible.

I was already in a different era of life, watching from a padded chair, having graduated from a hospital bed to wheelchair at a rehabilitation hospital to home.

A spinal injury had led to surgery to a long hospitalization for antibiotics when infection set in along my spine and near my brain. I had an all new appreciation for people who could push a specialized wheelchair, let alone the elite athletes who propelled theirs like shells through the water.

The race started with its traditional rhythm of wheelchair racers, then the elite men and women, then streams of athletes and dreamers coming across the finish line, each a true victor in their distinct way.

Suddenly there were two flashes, obscuring clouds of smoke, then fuzzy images and a lot of red everywhere. I recognized the site of the second bomb as a building in which I had once worked as a medical book editor.

With time, we do not remember the faces of most people we meet briefly, but rather what they were like. Were they smart, kind, competent? Did they know that real authority, real leadership is based in responsibility and service?

It is not the buzz of sudden terror that endures, be it from an accident, fever, or even a bomb. What endures is the loving, the humane, and the constructive — a gentle touch, the murmur of a prayer, the simplicity of someone who will not leave us, to be in pain or even to die alone.

Be strong, be fair, be kind. That is how we run the marathon of life, whether it flows as expected or is blown apart by illness, violence, or death. That is what makes a true victor when we find our finish line.

We do not run the race, to persevere, because we know that life is fair, people are good, or endings are happy.

We run the race because we know that people can be kind at the cost of their comfort, sometimes their lives, that life can throw amazingly beautiful moments in the midst of horror, and that memories of true grace can endure from days of illness, accident, even hate.

We run the race not because of what we are, but because we know what we can be.

That is where the power to run the race comes from, from within, from knowing what we can do, can become, may be able to contribute to the world in the moment it needs us most.

Elizabeth Coolidge-Stolz, MD/ (c) HealingWoman

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