Living with Intention

Last spring I found myself in the midst of my normal chaos. Too many jobs, too many projects and too little balance. That was when Ben told me he thought we should plant a garden.

A garden that needed weeded, watered and looked after. He said that to the girl who could barely keep a “no one can kill this kind of plant” alive.

I think I laughed.

We were rarely home as it was. It is hot in the summer and I have an aversion to mosquitoes which happen to be Michigan’s state bird.

The pessimist in me obviously wasn’t convinced. We decided to start it late in the spring and had everything else going against us. Poor soil, a local covey of deer, and two hunting dogs that like to dig. Did I mention the mosquitoes?

I reluctantly began to buy in to his hair-brained idea and figured the act of working up the plot of yard would be exercise at a minimum. What I didn’t realize was that spending an afternoon working manure into the soil would be the beginning of my finding balance, patience and a reconnection with the many life lessons my mother taught me as a child.

I remember the day we first found plants coming through the soil. Vivid memories of green bean plants popping through the dirt in our family garden were floating through my mind as I stared at our rows in wonder. The veggies I despised as a child were now a thing of peace as I spent time determining what was growing by intention and what was growing by opportunity.

Ben and Garden 2009 Ben & our garden last spring, just after planting

I was still at war with the mosquitoes.

And the deer.

I almost cried the morning Ben walked in the house and broke the news. Our tender shoots were devoured by deer in the night. A tasty snack for them supplied by hours of our hard work. The look of disappointment on his face was something I hope to never see again. It would have been easy to quit. We overcame the odds and grew plants from seeds when everyone said we should just by plants. They were now just green stubs. Instead of quitting, we pushed more seeds into the soil.

And put up a fence.

We learned a lesson in patience. We learned a lesson in persistence and were rewarded with new shoots.

Throughout the summer, we took the time to walk around our creation in the morning and work the soil when we had time.

I learned to love the garden.

New possibilities began to present themselves as I recalled the rows and rows of beautifully preserved vegetables, fruits and meat my mother canned. I remembered the huge binder twine loop that we threaded through the Ball canning jar rings and the piles of lids which were ever present in the dishwater.

I began to ask my mother questions about when during the year she canned certain things. Her cherry jam, which was preserved in the freezer, was my favorite. Chemotherapy wracked her body during that time, but not her mind. We spent hours talking about what to plant and what we should do this spring.

As summer turned to fall, and our first garden went from beautiful plants to baskets of broccoli, peas, green beans and peppers, becoming more self sufficient didn’t seem like such an insurmountable undertaking. Instead, it became a passionate winter time conversation.

PeppersFirst of our Peppers last year

This morning, I checked on our chickens, excited about Ben finishing the chicken coop this week. I admired the beautiful dark soil we worked last night in our garden.

First Day with Chickens 003 Lucy watching our chicks the day we brought them home

My sisters express their shock at my “domestication.” I view it more as living with intention. It takes time to plan, plant, harvest and preserve. As I look forward to buying my first pressure canner and seeing shelves lined with vegetables and jams, I realize that my life has lacked intention. I grew up reacting instead of being proactive. This new found perspective on life is bringing peace, happiness and balance.

And lots of fresh vegetables.

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Peanut Butter Fudge and Tradition

We would fight to scrape the pan and eat the melt-in-your-mouth fudge bits left after mom was done.  After it cooled, the fudge squares were dumped over a huge bowl of popcorn which four small children devoured during the annual playing of “The Wizard of Oz,” on television in the days before VCRs or streaming video.

As an adult, who moved back home against all odds, my life is now more about reliving the traditions created for my siblings and I by my mother.

This winter, I spent countless hours with Ben trying to remember the names of the birds which swarmed our feeders.  With my mother’s cancer treatment wrecking her body this summer, I took the time to sit with her and relearn to knit.  Time normally spent writing or engrossed in social media, I spent remembering why small things are important.

I helped plant a garden, canned pickles, and visited 93 year old Grandma Millie and her live-in boyfriend Chuck.  I worked on my quilt, finished knitting a stocking cap and a scarf.  I baked bread.  I relearned how to bobber fish, caught my first salmon down rigger fishing, and cut my first hole to ice fish.  I watched Meteor Showers with Ben while floating on Lake Michigan.

I went skydiving, read books, and simply sat.  Sat and enjoyed sunsets.  Sat and enjoyed the Scottville Clown Band.  Learned to play a C Major scale on my guitar.  I cleaned out closets, decorated our first Christmas tree, learned to play Marbles, and enjoyed hundreds of cups of coffee.

As I look forward to the imminent spring frog symphony, and celebrate the first song of the Red Winged Black Bird, I know that a summer of insanity awaits.  I also know that before summer comes the first green shoots of flowers my mom would call me outside to witness.

Mom still calls me to announce the first Robin sighting of Spring.  It never fails.  She is always the first to see one.

As I cut the peanut butter fudge into little squares and share the first piece with Ben, I acknowledge that life is about the small, ever important moments in which you take the time to appreciate the song of a bird, the sweetness of a homemade treat, or the beauty of a sunset.

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Funeral Services Set for MAJ John Pryor, M.D.

I was humbled a few nights ago to have received an email from Dr. Richard Pryor, brother of MAJ John Pryor, M.D., who died while serving in Iraq on Christmas Day.

Thank you to everyone who left comments, and sent emails. As per Dr. Pryor’s request, here is the link to a web site created to honor his memory and spread the word as to his public wake, visitation and funeral mass.

Although I will not be able to attend in body, I will be in uniform this weekend, thinking of him, his colleagues and family often.

I challenge each of you to honor him by thanking a soldier for their sacrifice. And if the opportunity presents thank their family as well.

 

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Threes

I’m becoming more aware of a larger role I play in the grand scheme of simply living and breathing. SFC Rodriguez would tell me that no matter how few days you have left of something, never allow yourself to become an oxygen thief. Sometimes I don’t realize why things happen. To me, it just is. Later is when the understanding dawns. My former belief in coincidences diminishes further.

Threes: An airport in Atlanta. A chance meeting at my unit. A tech at my house to fix my DSL.

A physician in uniform returning from Iraq was my chance meeting in a bar/restaurant in the Atlanta airport. We spent an hour or so discussing his time in Afghanistan. His frustrations at being unable to save a pilot injured by enemy fire. The fact that he gave up his private practice to serve and the lack of regret which permeated his countenance.

The flight medic who happened to have a class on a day which I happened into my Army unit on my day off. We few, we flight medic few. Unless you have spent part of your soul on others—so they may live—understanding is virtually futile.

My lack of Internet almost drove me crazy. By relenting and scheduling a repair appointment, I met a communications NCO from the National Guard. Not long home, while on deployment he lost as many have. A roommate and a friend who would never again set foot on the soil they gave their lives for.

All three I was destined to meet. All three shared their stories, parts of themselves they will relive until the day they too fade into an unknown.

Maybe not the unknown. Most hopefully not the forgotten.

Definitely not the forgotten.

I recounted the acts of fate and what these encounters meant to me while visiting an old Infantry Soldier, who served in a time before me. It was comforting to realize that a soldier is always a soldier, no matter the time, or the war. Explaining the details and what these experiences did to my soul could be expressed in a few simple sentences.

He just knew.

Knew that I was meant to simply be.

So now, I sit in an unexpected bar at an unexpected moment, leaving myself to the encounters of fate. I sit reflecting on the past year as only a girl, drinking alone in a bar on New Year’s Eve can do. Okay with being alone, in a crowd, knowing without a second of doubt, that the next 365 days are about to be mine. But, also comfortable knowing that my life has never truly been mine alone, but one of service and sacrifice in both small snippets and intense circumstance.

So Others May Live.


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The Essence of Flight Medicine

The end of October marked a turning point in my flight career.

In the midst of many complicated and intense life milestones, I was scheduled to speak at the Air Medical Transport Conference in Minneapolis. With all that was whirling in my life, another trip was not a welcome addition to my schedule.

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Schedule for the
auditorium I lectured in

For those of you unfamiliar with AMTC, it is the conference for the air medical transport community. Exhibit hall was littered with state of the art helicopters and ambulances. There was a constant swirl of new faces, lectures, flight suits, and business cards. My apprehension at attending diminished slightly as I met some of the finest minds in HEMS research and military transport circles. Those in attendance represented the best of nurses, pilots, paramedics, communicators and physicians in the medical field. I realized, almost immediately, how lucky I was to be included among their numbers.

During the first few days of the conference, an intense group of flight suit clad individuals stood out, traveling in pairs through the crowd, sporting game faces. I noticed one particularly serious paramedic headed to various stations of the METI competition. I was drawn to his bald headed, goatee sporting, confident swagger from across the room. While his aura brushing mine was perceptible, I was completely unaware of the difference he was to make on who I am as a flight nurse.

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(l-r) Mark, Flight Paramedic
Jason, Flight Nurse
Mercy Air METI Team

Unfortunately, other than this particular paramedic, not much else registered with me the first few days of the conference as my apprehension remained quite high. I was wrapped up about giving my pelvic fracture lecture which seemed like a great idea a few months prior when I submitted it for consideration.

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Me speaking

The day after I successfully survived my unwarranted stress and actually giving the lecture, I spent hours enjoying showing off our aircraft, in exhibit hall. Toward the end of the day, I decided to take a break and stroll through the booths walking tall in my flight suit.

As I passed the METI competition stage, he had his back to me, engaged in a relaxed conversation with some of his co-workers. As with everyone else whom I had passed, I walked by and said hi before realizing, for the first time consciously, that he was the same intense paramedic I was drawn to from afar. As my greeting jumped from my mouth, he stopped, turned mid-sentence, and stuck his hand out. “Hi,” grinning in his easy way, “I’m Mark.”

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Mark in competition mode

I don’t put much stock in destiny, or fate, but now, almost two months later, I think I could be convinced otherwise.

Since that first, simple, conversation, we have spent countless hours discussing, debating, and brainstorming about our chosen profession. Pathophysiology, kinetics, homeostasis, equipment, management, flight safety . . . the topics are a continuous stream of consciousness that bounce and carry over for sometimes days. Mainly, it seems, I sit with my eyes and ears open as I have learned more in five minutes absorbing his knowledge, than I have in weeks worth of lecture or clinical.

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Mark in his element

Talking to someone and seeing them in their element, however, are sometimes two entirely different experiences. With Mark one simply flows into the other. Just a few short weeks after our chance meeting, I found myself hot off loading an aircraft with Mark and his partner at a hospital in Southern California. Two shifts working with him in his world cemented my opinion of Mark and my admiration for his professionalism.

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Me (white helmet in aircraft)
taking a photo of Mark taking a photo of me

My last day in San Diego intensified these opinions as we spent the morning walking along the beach, engrossed in yet another profession based discussion. In this conversation, he allowed me to see just how deeply the passion in which he approaches flight medicine is intertwined with who he is at his very core. His words rendered me speechless. He described that which I had been searching for but unable to completely capture.

Mark’s passion for flying, for medicine, is not just lip service because it is an exciting job. He loves it for what it is. A profession in which he aggressively grasps every chance to make a difference.

Not the chance to save a life.

No.

The chance to give someone an extra two minutes of living for the family. The chance for a tragically lost life to carry over as a gift of organ donation. The opportunity to challenge the next generation of EMTs to excel by using his status as a flight paramedic to snag their attention and imagination for a few short minutes.

He knows saving a life will happen, when fate deems it so.

Flying isn’t about credentials, or classes, or certifications, or degrees. It is about possessing the passion necessary to continuously choose the path less traveled. In flight medicine, that particular path isn’t less traveled because it is unknown. It is less traveled because it is the difficult one. The one that requires you to make ten times the effort of your peers. The one in which you must sacrifice a part of yourself to each patient. The one in which you instinctively reach for medications and tubes without hesitation or indecision because you trained that much harder. The path down which you able to confidently act when faced with a mother screaming for you to save her child while they hover near death.

He didn’t simply choose path less traveled expecting a final destination. Mark thrives on the journey itself, knowing that to experience the journey is to capture the essence of flight medicine.

Many of you have asked what it takes to be part of this profession.

He showed me what it means to be part of this profession.

Each of us have defining moments in our careers.

It seems that I have found one of mine.

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Mercy Air Flickr set here.

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Five Short Years of crzegrl.net

Many people use their birthdays, or the new year to ponder their accomplishments, their goals, and their failures.

Today is my day for self-reflection.

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My first post here at crzegrl.net was five years ago today. It seems a lifetime ago, yet just yesterday that I decided to write about Danny.

As some of you know, this blog has undergone an evaluation, so to speak, by my main employer. The employer who shall-not-be-named from here until eternity.

With the attention I received, and the days I spent sweating the outcome, my blogging passion has been stifled. When writing here my approach, in the past, was simple. “What you see is what you get.” Blogging anonymously killed my creativity when I first started writing. The new guidelines from my employer include no mention of where I work, or photos/multimedia naming the corporation at all. Ack.

My first knee jerk reaction was to delete the entire blog. Why write if I can’t present what I do the way I do it? Then the professional part of me took the creative, passionate me by the shoulders and began shaking real hard.

It takes one small incident to smear years of work and millions of dollars worth of marketing in creating an appropriate corporate image. That small incident can be a viral, just like a bad strain of VRE or MRSA in an ICU where the staff doesn’t wash their hands. Trust me when I tell you that I understand the concern behind the “man” that is the corporation. If I were the one sitting in the hot seat, I would want control of my employees as well.

After the initial panic and the last few weeks of readjusting my thinking, I have come to the conclusion that not writing would be like cutting off my arm. Not hanging out with the medical/nursing blog community would be like losing part of my family. Not giving my friends a way to keep up with me without calling a damn SHAME!

*pointed looks*

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So as I continue to contemplate my past, my present, and my future, the blog will evolve. My creativity will need to be, well….more creative. Capturing the essence of what I do will need to have more substance, and less bright shiny objects. If nothing else, I still have the view from my office window.

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Happy five years dearest blog. I’m glad I still have you.

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“From the Flight Nurse’s Seat” Remembering September 11th

This installment of “From the Flight Nurse’s Seat” is, quite simply, my raw emotional thoughts regarding the anniversary of September 11, 2001. This was done in one shot, taped with the camera balanced on a clipboard. I have on no make-up, am wearing a simple t-shirt and did not worry about lighting. This is about my thoughts, not some “finished product.” This is an uncensored look at another side of me.

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My Only Real Fear is Dying Alone

As a healthcare provider trained to diagnose, I understand very well that there are things you say and things you do not say. There are things, if uttered, which will label you as a “threat to self or others.” We, as healthcare providers, expect ourselves to be the strong ones. We refuse to expose chinks in our armor through long hours dealing with patients, many times, close to death. Or, even worse during the times our patients die despite our best efforts.

Recently I had an out of body experience. No, I wasn’t the one facing death. My patient was the one close to it. I stood in the family waiting room, listening to myself in a surreal moment, tell a son and daughter, barely out of high school, to brace themselves for the fact that their father was never going to wake up.

When did I become that person?

After sleeping on this post, I made a decision.

If Sam and Sean have the guts to write about this so do I.

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Before I go on, I want it known that this is not some cry for help. It isn’t a scream hoping for someone to look in my direction and throw me some trite attention. I am in no mood for psycho-babble-bullshit.

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It is a Friday night. I sit here, behind my laptop at 9:42 p.m.

I should be at a bbq.

Instead, I am hiding behind my computer.

A friend once commented that he had no idea how I do my job. How I could constantly expose myself to such trauma and heartbreak.

I wonder that myself.

Today, I realized that constant exposure to the most horrible tragedies is possible when the rest of your life is solid. When you are emotionally, physically healthy.

Enter in a helicopter crash. A divorce. Friends scattered all over the globe. Uncertainty with my Army career. Rumors of deployment. Family that doesn’t understand. Someone closer to my heart than anyone, who decided to judge me. A life I have allowed to be reduced to overgrown flower beds, three inches of dust and a cracked driveway. A car that needs new tires, and a checking account that needs balanced.

I go to work to forget.

For a brief moment, all I have is that flight. That one patient. That person who, on my stretcher, reminds me that my life is okay.

That is why I jump from airplanes. Why I get tattooed. Why I go faster than I should in my car, on my motorcycle.

I need to feel. I need to be reminded that I am alive. In those moments I feel alive.

The psychiatrists of the world—piss off.

I don’t need therapy.

I don’t need medications.

I need balance.

I constantly wear a bracelet etched with my name, allergies, birth date. It contains a code linked an account which lists my emergency contacts.

The only thing I fear is dying alone.

That is why I have to fly.

Why I constantly expose myself to the heartache. Expose myself to pain. Expose myself to death.

I face my fears with passion and conviction.

I sacrifice for my patients. By doing so, I ensure they won’t face pain or in the most extreme cases, face death . . .

. . . alone . . .

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As healthcare providers we need to talk about our pain. The pain we feel as we grieve the lives lost, not of our loved ones, but of the ones we have given a personal commitment to protect, to care for. As nurses, EMTs, physicians, we dance the extremely fine line between burnout and professional fulfillment.

The irony? If we no longer sacrifice a piece of ourselves, no matter large or small, for each person we care for, we are no longer able to effectively do our jobs. An emotional connection keeps you sharp when you are exhausted. Keeps your mind to the task at hand when the small crises of your personal life are begging for attention. If we completely protect ourselves from the pain, we miss the most important aspect of our profession. An aspect that cannot be taught. It must be felt, endured, suffered, accepted.

Sometimes the pain becomes hard to bear.

However, I refuse to live in fear.

I refuse to let it vanquish me.

I need to fly. I HAVE to fly.

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Time after Time, and why I owe so many of you an apology

Pier
Ludington Pier—lost in the fog
Summer 2008

For me, writing is something that carries me closer to self actualization. It is from my heart and part of my soul, not just a passionate hobby. I write my best when experiencing amazing times of elation and deep periods of pain which are professionally related. The past few weeks, however, have found my heart and all of my conscious effort forcibly placed in taking care of myself at a basic level. Writing, answering emails, and responding to my social sites have not fit into that priority scheme.

As JS so graciously mentioned not too long ago, my crazy life has recently hit the red zone, if a gauge measuring it existed. One of the pilots I work with expressed his amazement at how much of myself I offer up on the Internet. My response? I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. As I make my way though this spike into the extreme zone of my life, however, you won’t find the details here.

I am amazed at how the relationships around me, which normally fluctuate to maintain a state of equilibrium, are thrown out of alignment. Some I rely most heavily upon have remained solid, others have not. That unfortunate reality is compounding the heartache.

So, as I wade through the next few weeks and my world begins to right itself, I ask for your patience. I will answer your emails. Each time I hear my phone chirp telling me I have new email, or a new comment, my day gets a bit easier.

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Stolen from Aforementioned PJ blog: I peed myself a little laughing

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Okay, this one is for “The Club”

Oh, and Checky, don’t know the source, but couldn’t resist stealing it off your blog. You REALLY don’t know how badly I needed this today.

Ben, Paul, and Kev—-thought of you guys IMMEDIATELY!

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