The Pilgrimage.

My journey with bedside nursing is ending. Rather, it is evolving. I have a handful of shifts remaining until I start my new job as a nurse practitioner. I always knew this transition would happen. I planned for it and entered nursing ready to make this change. Now that it is here, my soul is feeling a little uneasy. The comfort of the bedside, of my home, will be gone. This new role brings an abundance of new responsibility, pressure, and expectation. I am ready. Maybe. As I embark on the new beginning, I want to reflect back on what the last few years have meant to me. Grab a beer, some tissues, and a puke bucket (sorry in advance).

I was 18 when I touched my first dead body. I was working as a nursing assistant and the patient died within 15 minutes of my first shift. A coworker whispers to me:

“Grab some wash clothes, a body bag kit, and gloves. Make sure the toe tag is in the kit.”

My heart retracted into my belly and I tasted the acidic fluid of impending vomit. I went to the bathroom, washed off my face, and took a deep breath. If I could do this, I could do anything. I met my coworker back in the room and we began washing the patient’s body. It was eery, beautiful, peaceful, and scary all in one moment. We turned her over, only to hear one final exhale as her lung collapsed. It sounded like a sign of relief. The pain was over. She may rest now. I slipped the toe tag over her toe and starred. My eyes felt wet and stingy, but I didn’t comprehend those tears until minutes later. I went back to home to my dorm, snuck a beer out from under my bed, and reflected back on the day. I knew I would wake up tomorrow and go back for more.

Nursing school was weird. My first clinical rotation consisted of about 10 overly stressed type-A ducklings wandering aimlessly around a hospital unit. I still recall one of my first patients. He was a anatomy professor who recently was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. His shaky hands frightened me. I did not know whether to try to help or just watch him struggle to open his juice. He sensed my unease and talked me through most of his care. He is a very vivid memory for me. He told me about the famous Patch Adams quote that set the precedent for how I wanted to treat patients:

“You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.”

Ok, so I am surviving nursing school and things are looking up. I am learning everyday and I got a job as a nurse intern for the summer. The position was in the ICU. I felt prepared! I bought new scrubs and a clipboard. I figured that combination would make me invincible! Let me tell you about the first day on the job. About two hours into the shift, I heard an overhead page for “Code Blue.” A chaos ensues and you can feel the shift in energy in the air. A patient is wheeled into the ICU. A guy grabs me by the arm and says:

“Go stand at the head of the bed and help bag the patient. Then, jump in for a round of compressions.”

I have been in the ICU for two hours. Two hours, people. So, I run over to the room and wedge myself between the headboard and the back wall. I can feel the hot fluorescent light beat down. My gelatinous legs barely hold me up. The patient looked up at me and asked:

“Am I going to die? Please, please don’t let me.”

I did what I thought was right. I looked down, our heads opposite one another, and I told her that she would be ok. She died about 15 minutes later. I am still haunted by that encounter. That was almost 5 years ago, and I see her face in my dreams.

Ok this is getting heavy. Let me lighten things up.

Fast forward to working as a new graduate nurse. Everything I learned in nursing school was lost and I trudged through the dark waters…trying to simply avoid killing someone. The first few months were terrifying as I was trying to find my footing as a nurse. To this day, I have never made a med error. I think a lot of that has to do with me checking the medication/patient 10333259 times before administering the dose. A classic moment in those first few months involved a sweet patient and a not so sweet move by me. The patient could not eat, so she received food through a tube in her stomach. We use a pump to administer the food into the patient’s stomach. One day, I set up the pump, hit the “start” button and left the room. About an hour later, I returned to check on the patient. When I entered the room, I see a chocolate milkshake-esque substance all over the floor. I had forgot to attach the tube feeding to the patient and it ran onto the floor for an hour. I laughed at my blonde moment and quickly became friends with our lovely environment service team for clean up.

“Clean up on aisle 3. Please don’t hate me. Where are the mops?”

Fast forward a few years. I like to call this story “Cat verses chest tube.”

It is time for hourly rounds. As I enter the room, I hear meowing. Depending on what floor I am working on, meowing could potentially be coming from a patient. Weirder things have happened. Anyway, the meow sound is getting louder. I start looking around the room, doing visual checks on the bedside foley bag, IV fluids, chest tube….OH LORD THE CHEST TUBE. Ladies and gentleman, there was a kitten gnawing on the patient’s chest tube like it is slathered in catnip. I don’t have time to process where this fluffy beast appeared from because I needed to focus on the patient. I picked up the kitten, inspected the chest tube for holes (none!!) and assessed the patient. Everyone was stable. Cat. Patient. Chest tube. To this day, I don’t think anyone believes this story. I wouldn’t even believe this story.

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Tis real. You’re welcome. We became quite close.

 

Nursing has taught me a lot about myself. I believe most people that are called to this profession are called because they also need healing. It is a symbiotic relationship. I heal as they heal. They heal as I heal. We journey through this madness together.

There you have it. A small glimpse into my nursing pilgrimage. There were dark times, sensational times and everything in between. I am humbled by this journey and I am anxious to continue it in a new role.

Love and Light.

*** I value and respect HIPAA. No patient information (name, location, etc) or identifiers were used in this post. Some information was changed to keep upmost privacy and anonymity.

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Putting out fires and saving lives, people!

 

 

 

Hybrid.

Modern medicine tends to fixate on diagnosis and treatment, whereas a wellness lifestyle focuses on education, self-awareness, and prevention. Instead of merely treating disease, the wellness lifestyle addresses its causes-what lies beneath the disease and its symptoms.

-The Essential Life

In 5 short months, I will be a family nurse practitioner. My journey in medicine started a decade ago when I began volunteering at a local hospital. At the ripe age of 16, I learned about getting my hands dirty. I mean that metaphorically and literally. Seeing patients in the hospital fascinated me. During a lunch break, I ate my stale bagel and reflected on my experience.

Why did she wait so long to get a check up? Why did he give up on his health? Why doesn’t she seem to care about what is happening to her body?

My thoughts were, perhaps, non-traditional lunch break thoughts. However, I was truly curious why people waited until the brink of death to seek help. I grew up going to the doctor for annual check-ups and learning that preventative health was important. I understood that physical fitness and healthy foods were important. I have carried those core values into my professional life.

So, the question of the hour is this…can you achieve wellness by practicing both complementary and traditional medicine? Is there a market for the nurse practitioner who will prescribe:

  • increased physical exercise
  • essential oil diffusion for stress management
  • antibiotics for strep throat

The hybrid of preventative medicine, wellness, and disease management is possible. I’m just not sure how to achieve it. I see the value in both practice styles. The benefits of holistic, complementary medicine:

  • patient autonomy
  • inexpensive interventions
  • 1,000s of years of anecdotal experience
  • natural
  • less extreme side effects

Let’s play devils advocate and discuss benefits of traditional medicine:

  • societal support
  • greater amount of evidence based practice
  • variety of double-blind research studies
  • mainstream education through medical school
  • quick support/treatment of a variety of illnesses

Healthcare is broken in this country. Again, that is a post for a later time. Could a hybrid of eastern/western medicine be the answer to change our health? As Americans, we are some of the most unhealthy people in the world. Participating in a culture of prevention, rather than treatment, will augment longevity. In a perfect utopia, this is how I want to practice medicine:

55 year old patient presents to the clinic with an acute upper respiratory infection. The patient is very physically active, eats a balanced diet, and denies smoking/drinking. My plan for this patient would be to diffuse Doterra On guard+Breathe at night and prescribe traditional pharmacology (inhalers, steroids.)

Is it possible to create this crossbreed of medicine? If any incredibly rich people want to fund my research, do not hesitate to reach out 🙂

My greatest wish is to see people take care of mind, body, and spirit. Treat yourself kindly and create a body that is strong and healthy. When you do get sick, I am here for you…but take the first steps towards prevention and wellness!

Fleeting.

“Unbeing dead isn’t being alive.”
― e.e cummings

I have heard that you can not escape death. It might be a rumor, but it seems to be a popular one. Lately, death has been sprinkled throughout my professional life. As a nurse, we do our best to stall the inevitable. We pause death, we push it back, we scare it away for a few more days. Eventually, the greater plan outweighs our own and the patient transitions to the after life. Some people spend 99 years on this earth and some spend a fraction of that time. Certain lives are long lived and others are fleeting. What determines your journey? Why does one person live to be 100 and another dies as a child? Existentialism aside, that is probably a discussion for another time. For now, I want to share what I learned from people dying. I am shooting for “morbidly uplifting.”

When a patient dies, it makes me question my journey. I question my priorities, my stress, my choices, and my soul. It changes my perspective. When I reflect back on years of journeying with anxiety, it seems so small in comparison. I feel lucky my heart rapidly beats and my anxious mind processes at a rapid pace…because that means I am still alive. Anxiety sucks. We know this by now. However, when I see a deceased patient, I pinch myself because I feel so grateful that my journey continues. A minor panic attack feels like a blip on the radar screen when you see a grieving family member choke back tears. It is all about perspective. Something that feels overwhelming in your life may not seem like anything to another person.

Health can be fleeting. You don’t know what next years physical might find. You don’t know what disease might manifest in ten years. So…why not embrace today for its perfection. Life is unpredictable, so focus on the beauty of today. Be mindful of your energy, breath, and body. Do not let feelings of anxiety or panic dictate your happiness. In the big picture, it is not that serious. Try to minimize your experience and see if that helps with perspective. Yes, you panicked today but that means you are still energized and breathing.

Take your right hand and place it on your chest. Feel that? It is a constant reminder that your work is not done. You have potential to make today the best day of your life. You have a heart that works hard to fulfill your body, mind, and spirit. Embrace each day with an unprecedented desire to find joy in the simple things. You can not predict the future, but you can savor every minute on this divine earth.

Love and light.

 

 

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My favorite spot to reflect and create.

Mellow out with mindfulness.

Our society craves speed, instant gratification, and intensity. You wake up early, get dressed, hop in the car, and roll into the rat race. My (old) typical morning before a shift looks a little something like this:

  • wake up suddenly to a loud alarm at 4:30am
  • jump out of bed in a panicked and frazzled state
  • hop in the shower
  • throw on some mascara/hair in a pony tail
  • scramble to find clean scrubs
  • chow down on breakfast, normally in 2-3 minutes
  • make coffee and chug it as I’m headed out the door
  • get in the car and immediately turn on the radio
  • start/stop through traffic
  • arrive at 6am
  • rush to my unit and throw my bag down
  • get report

Ok. Whoa. I’m stressed just reading that and reflecting back on how I used to greet the day. It felt more like a fall into the chaos of the day, rather than gently greet it. I’m assuming a lot of you wake up with a similar routine. Rush, rush, rush. It creates a hectic energy and starts the day with a heavy mind.

I read a book on mindfulness. It was a 10 week course that teaches you how to incorporate a mindful practice in every part of life. It was a process, but I started to integrate the strategies into my daily routine. This is what my morning looks like now:

  • wake up to a waterfall themed alarm at 4:15 am
  • take 3 deep belly breaths before I sit up
  • feel my feet hit the floor and embrace the blessing of waking up
  • take a hot shower, feeling the water trickle down my skin
  • use dim light to finish getting dressed
  • make a cup of loose leaf tea and breakfast, enjoying the taste of each bite for 15 minutes
    • I’ve made my breakfast a meditative experience
  • sit for 5 minutes, setting my intention for the day
  • 10 sun salutations to bring heat and energy into my body
  • walk to the car and drive to work
  • listen to an insightful/funny podcast to learn something on my commute
  • arrive at work
  • use aromatherapy (peppermint oil) to energize and a short meditation to clear the mind before the shift

You have 24 hours in a day. You choose to make them chaotic or calm. Things will happen that shift your experience, but YOU control how you feel.

Slow down. Be mindful. Be present. Do all things with love. IMG_8249

Googlephobia.

I am the queen of Google.

I have removed the Google app from my phone because I morphed into the Dictator of Google.

I feel anxious, therefore I must Google the shit out of these feelings.

Scenario:

I was sitting on a beach with Kemp last summer. We were paddle boarding, drinking cheap beer, and having a blissful time. I left anxiety at home for the day…or so I thought. All of a sudden, I got a cramp in my right calf. The logical side of my brain should have processed the fact we went running earlier and I was probably dehydrated. But the logical side of my brain is boring so clearly I spiraled down the black hole of catastrophic thinking. I immediately took out my phone and started googling “cramp in calf.” Guess what came up? Something along the line of blood clot, cancer, imminent death, etc. Let me casually reiterate something. At this point, I had been a nurse for a few years and had 4 years of medical courses. My logical brain knew that these google revelations were wildly inaccurate. My panic, freak the fuck out, brain had other plans. Five minutes had passed and I was attempting to convince Kemp to chug his beer and take me to the SeaCoast Medical Building. He looked at me, smiled, took my hand and led me into the water. And that was that. I bounced up and out of the dreaded Google hole.

End scene.

I write this in jest, but I imagine a lot of you have been there. The anxious thoughts arise and we seek validation from an external source. My logical brain knew I did not have a blood clot, but my panic brain thought that was reasonable and wanted support by googling ridiculous things on the internet. I also have googled “anxiety quiz” numerous times to simply confirm that I am not losing it. My results always indicate mild-moderate anxiety and that gives me a few minutes of relief, knowing I must be ok compared to others. Why can’t I just process these thoughts without external validation?

We all need someone to look at us and say, “you are calm, you are fine, you are doing well.” I often use Google as that voice, because I’m too broke for therapy every week. Cheers!

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Status post the blood clot meltdown of 2014. Yes, I do have full formed legs. I have not mastered the art of the standing ocean paddle board experience. I can’t help but laugh at that one 🙂

Be cool.

Be cool. This phrase means two things to me:

  • Your body is starting to feel hot and tingly. The symptoms are present and the fear is rising. The wave of panic is swelling, ready to engulf your scared little soul. The pinpricks are warm and electric in your hands. There is a fire burning its way through your psyche. My internal monolog of “be cool” begins. I repeat it, feeling the heat dissipate. Be cool, Sara. Be physically and emotionally cool. It is a reminder to calm my body down, stop the rapid thought firing, and engage my parasympathetic nervous system.

 

  • Anxiety often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I might feel anxious, therefore I feel anxious. I might have a panic attack, therefore I have a panic attack. What if _____happens??!!  A lot of my time has been eaten away by negative thoughts about this big bad imaginary fear that I can not control. As a relatively type A perfectionist, being out of control is daunting. I am learning, slowly but surely, that I can be cool with my feelings. I can accept that my anxiety is part of what makes me that woman I am today. I can be cool knowing that I might feel uncomfortable at times. I am able to be cool with my thoughts, recognizing that they are just thoughts.

For me, being cool with anxiety is the catalyst to my healing journey. Anxiety is a part of my being and my hardworking brain. I do not believe I would be as successful without it gnawing at me. Because of an anxious mind I have:

  • graduated nursing school cum laude from Emory University
  • maintained a 4.0 in a Masters program
  • worked full time as a nurse/charge nurse at a catastrophic care hospital
  • worn the hat of daughter, friend, sister, lover, step-mom, aunt

It’s ok to see anxiety in a positive light. I believe we are so quick to file it in the “holy shit this is not ok” folder. I’m not sure that is always the most productive way to view this journey. It is ok to be cool with your anxiety, it has probably led you to some incredible experiences. My wish for you is to be cool…be cool with your soul, spirit, heart, and mind.

 

Love and light. FullSizeRender

Be cool. Be a Spiritual Gangster.

Gratitude

I’m grateful for panic.

I understand that gratitude is an odd emotion to coincide with anxiety. However, I believe healing is about perspective. Anxiety often feels like a huge dark cloud that permeates through my life. It feels like the biggest struggle and it only happens to me. It’s a very isolating process. I feel anxious and I think, “no one else probably feels so weird/scared/panicky.” I have learned throughout this journey that changing my perspective towards anxiety helps me heal. I have panic attacks. I have mind numbing repetitive thoughts. I have a catastrophic thinking pattern. But…I also have a phenomenal man, great family, loving friends, and a rewarding job.

I am a nurse and I work with a patient population of people that have suffered traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries. My perspective on life has changed dramatically since I started working with these patients. My “problems” seem a lot smaller when I reflect on the fact that I can walk, talk, laugh, eat, drive, hug, kiss, smile, and breathe on my own. Anxiety feels so small when I look at the positive aspects of my life and for that, I’m grateful.

I am grateful to have panic attacks. WHAT? I know, right. Sounds odd? I feel gratitude when I panic because my body is allowing my mind to practice a new relaxation technique. My body is trying to tell me something when I panic. It’s an alarm that I need to practice loving self care. My post-panic attack routine often consists of a cup of tea, meditation, and aromatherapy. It’s a period of forced relaxation and for that, I’m grateful.

Anxiety has taught me about the delicate interweaving of the human psyche. I did not have a mind-body connection before I developed anxiety. I was in auto-pilot mode and rarely processed my emotions. Anxiety has been the liaison between my soul and mind and for that, I’m grateful.

I can empathize and connect with my patients who deal with anxiety. I have a genuine emotional connection with them when they say they are struggling. As a future Family Nurse Practitioner, I hope to combine my empathy and knowledge to create treatment plans that improve the lives of my clients. I can hold the hand of an anxious patient and say, “I understand.” I will treat the mind, body, and spirit in my future practice and for that, I’m grateful.

What are you grateful for today? Try starting the day with a mantra of “I’m grateful for______.” It will change your perspective!

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I had a mild panic attack this morning. It was a bummer. As I reflect on what my body was telling me, I realized I needed to practice self care. I will enjoy some wine, a good book, and a view of photos from our favorite adventures. I am grateful.

Smell ya later.

 

[Aromatherapy] seeks to unify physiological, psychological and spiritual processes to enhance an individual’s innate healing process. — National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy

 

Essential oils are a great way to hit the pause button during a toxic stream of consciousness. I have recently started incorporating them into my healing journey. The limbic system controls a lot of our emotions and aromatherapy has been proven to calm that center of the brain.

I’m currently working with these scents:

  • Lavender
    • It is my favorite “go to” scent to calm my brain when I feel the wave of anxiety ascending
  • Peppermint
    • Nausea is a common side effect of anxiety and I’ve had my fair share of gastrointestinal issues
    • This oil is great to calm the butterflies in the tummy!
  • Eucalyptus
    • I feel my chest expand and my heart open after using this oil
    • Picture a lovely natural version of Vicks vapor rub
  • Panic Button
    • It’s a combination of rose and orange flowers
    • I’ve used this in the height of a panic attack and it is helpful

Other helpful scents:

  • Clary Sage
    • It has antidepressant effects and has been proven to work even better than lavender!
  • Bergamot
    • A study showed that 10 minutes of aromatherapy with this oil decreased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Angelica
    • This fresh scent is very popular in the natural healing world to treat anxiety

How do you use the oils?

  • My skin is used to the oils, so I place a few drops on the inner part of my wrist
  • You can also put drops on your fingertips and rub the oil on your temple/behind your ears
  • A diffuser is a tool that allows you to make an aerosol version of the oil and diffuse the scent around your house, similar to a humidifier
  • Mix the oil with a coconut oil base to create a balm

 

This information has come from my personal experience and also from the source: http://www.naturallivingideas.com/anxiety-and-essential-oils/

These are personal tips for what works for me and is in no way affiliated with any medical advice/brand promotion.

Go forth and breathe yourself to calm.

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Some of my oils with a chakra flag in the back.

I Don’t Have Time To Panic. I’m Busy.

I had my first panic attack in 2011. I was in nursing school at Emory University, a place where anxiety is cultivated. I was taking a pharmacology exam in a large lecture hall when all of a sudden my whole body started to tingle. I looked down at my hands and they looked foreign. I broke into a sweat and my vision became blurry. My heart was pounding so hard that I was convinced the professor could hear it from 15 feet away. I circled random answers on the exam and got out of there as quickly as possible. Congratulations, Sara! You have earned yourself a panic attack! Welcome to the lonely club of high-achieving, anxious, perfectionists!

I immediately pulled myself together, put on some yoga pants, and trotted over to the student health center. As the astute nursing student I was, I calmly informed the nurse that I was dying and needed a chest x-ray to rule out a thoracic aneurysm. That’s logical, right? Welp.

A panic attack can often sneak up after years of chronic stress and a lack of proper self-care. Many people go to the emergency room after the first attack because it can mimic a heart attack. After a month of similar experiences, the student health center nurse told me that I was suffering from panic attacks. I was a 4.0 student at a prestigious university with a budding social life and perfect life! I was not having panic attacks! I did not have time to fit panicking into my schedule! I was not even stressed! Right? Oh, wait. I get it now.

I believe a panic attack is our body’s way of saying, “Hey you…slow down and listen to me. I need you to breathe. I need you to relax. I need you to sit the eff down and watch Netflix.” After about 5 years of this journey, I am finally learning to listen to my body and chip away the chokehold of perfection.

dream-beautiful-bomb-brain-Favim.com-773379My brain was churning out gunk left and right during my first panic attack. The thoughts “I’m dying”, “I’m going crazy” were quite loud in my chaotic hippocampus.