Anesthetist on a Plane!

If you’ve been following me via my blog, you know that I travel quite a bit. As in, I’m on a plane every week. Traveling as a healthcare professional has its difficulties, but the amazing people I meet on my travels always surprise me.

And this week was a surprise indeed.

On my flight from Chicago to Boston, there was a sudden announcement over the speakers asking for anyone in the medical field to please press the attendant’s button. Someone on the plane needed medical assistance.

Oh shit.

Oh shit.

I waited a second to hear if anyone else was pressing the button as I was going through my CPR training in my head. After a few seconds went by, I quickly reached up and pressed the button. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in a code, but dog gone it, here we go.

I was escorted back to a wonderful older married couple and was explained the situation. She had a seizure that lasted a few seconds, followed by another shorter seizure. I was relieved and concerned at the same time. No CPR today, but a seizure can be a very serious sign of something wrong.

What is a seizure? Find out here: https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/about-epilepsy-basics/what-seizure

 

First and foremost, I needed a little background. Any history of seizures? Any history of recent falls? Any funny feelings or nausea? When did you last eat? She was answering all my questions and seemed very mentally aware. Nothing was out of place.

Diagnosing what caused the seizure was way above my pay grade. The next best thing I could do was keep her comfortable and safe.

I explained to them that a seizure can be a sign of something serious and that they should get it checked out pronto. (As in head to the ER as soon as we land.) I told them about the possible tests – an MRI and an EEG.

After the medical talk, I eased up. Cracked a few jokes. I told them I’d like to sit with them for the rest of the flight to keep an eye on her and they agreed. I really wanted to be there in case she had another seizure – keeping things cool and calm became the name of the game.

So we chatted for a bit about her grandkids and where they lived. It’s amazing how human we all become when you just talk with a person. I could tell she was a wonderful lady and by the end of our conversation, I felt like adopting her as a second mother. (She gives great hugs and I’m sure she’s an awesome cook! I got a vibe of love-filled casseroles from her 🙂 )

I gave them a list of don’ts and directions shortly before landing – she should take a wheelchair out of the airport, she shouldn’t drive, and she shouldn’t be hauling any luggage. No need to put herself in harm’s way.

Traveling leads to journeys big and small

Once we landed, I helped them off the plane and to baggage claim. I had given them my name and number in case they needed anything, and I truly hope they reach out.

Medical emergencies can be scary, especially when you’re trapped on a plane. I could only hope that someone is willing to help if the same situation happens to myself or my family.

So for all travelers out there, love your neighbors. Everyone has their own bubbles and travel tends to challenge those bubbles. But please remember that outside of that bubble is a person sitting beside you. A person with a family and grandkids and problems just like you and me.

Be kind to your neighbor and pay it forward. You may need their help one day.

My Recent Battle with Back Pain

The universe acts in mysterious ways, they say. Sometimes we need just a little sprinkle of life to realize we’re only human.

So the universe sprinkled a little bit of a challenge into my life. About a month ago, I herniated a disc in my lower back. I actually became a potential back surgery candidate.

That’s the irony of the situation. I work with surgeons and patients during spinal surgery and suddenly the tables had turned. Instead of helping patients, now I am suddenly the patient in the surgeon’s office!

I have no idea when exactly I herniated the disc. There was no instant pain. One day I just woke up with numbness in my foot and excruciating pain when I bent over.

My 10 years of experience in spine surgeries told me that this was serious. The likelihood of a herniated disc in someone so young was rare, but completely possible.

But there was another voice in my head that was nagging me. That was the dreaded cancer voice. The feelings of anxiety and fear crept into me once again. I was overwhelmed with the possibility that the cancer had returned from the depths to take over my body.

I called my oncologist and he sent me for an MRI. There were only a few days between the beginning of my symptoms and my MRI, but it felt like an eternity. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t sleep. I was a mess. (Not even a hot mess – just a flat out mess!!)

The MRI results were very clear that I had herniated a disc, which was pushing against one of my lumbar nerves. I was relieved that I ONLY had a herniated disc. Isn’t it funny how a little perspective changes things? I’d take a herniated disc any day of the week over my melanoma returning.

My herniated disc!

This one incident opened my whole view of the life I’m living. For one, it made me relive my fears and realize that I’m not out of the woods. Melanoma may still come back to get me. I firmly believe that we beat cancer when we overcome the fear of cancer. I clearly still have some work to do in that ‘fear’ category.

It also opened my eyes to what my patients are going through. The pain of that herniated disc was unbelievable. At points, all I could do was try to catch my breath and let the tears roll. It was pain with a capital “P”. I would do ANYTHING – and I mean A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G – to get a little relief.

I can now see how people get hooked on pain medication due to back pain. For a period, I was afraid to miss a dose because the pain would hit me like a freight train. I was watching the clock and as soon as I felt the tiniest twitch of pain, I’d be hunting down that little orange bottle.

But I forced myself to start weaning off the pain meds as soon as I could. I know the harm they can cause and how addictive they can be. According to some data, opioids can be addictive within just FIVE days. Not even a week and you can be hooked. It’s scary!

Even with all my knowledge on the subject, it took some serious willpower to ween off the pain meds. It’s not fun. But I made sure to ask my healthcare team for other nerve pain medications that weren’t opioids and I set daily goals for myself.

Pain medications can be HIGHLY addictive

It all comes down to being in control of your own health. It’s a priority for me, and I had to make sure I was doing the right thing for my body in the long run. I refuse to be a victim of circumstance – I’d rather make lemonade out of these darn lemons. And I PLEAD with you all to discuss pain medication with your doctor before taking them. The more you know, the better.

So as of now, the plan is lots of physical therapy to regain the strength in my right leg. If I have progress over the next month, then I get to avoid surgery. I’ve seen surgery (hundreds of them, actually) and I’m doing everything in my power to avoid it.

To all those who are battling cancer or battling back problems, I’m there with you. In mind, body, and soul…I’m there with you.

My Newest Inspiration

Little known fact about me: I LOVE podcasts. Love, love, love them. I listen to them while traveling (which I do a lot of) and they make traveling so much more enjoyable. I feel like I’m expanding my brain AND being entertained all at the same time.

PLUS it feels like I’m just listening in on an intimate conversation between two people. There are so many times I’ve laughed out loud on a plane and the person sitting next to me must think I’m crazy. (Tom Bergeron is incredibly funny when being interviewed, BTW!)

I listen to podcasts about everything from real estate investing and entrepreneurship to meditation. Anything that can help me learn in different areas of my life. Tony Robbins, the TED radio hour, the Tim Ferriss show, and the 10% Happier podcasts are my absolute favorites, but I have close to 10 that I listen to intermittently.

Recently, Arianna Huffington has been making the rounds on my favorite podcasts.  She is one AMAZING woman! Not only has she written 15 books, she also started the Huffington Post.

She has some very compelling thoughts on self-care. She felt so strongly about helping others handle stress and prevent burnout that she started a wonderful website called Thrive Global (check it out here!) that gives all kinds of healthy living tips.

One of Arianna’s MANY books

Her story and her spirit are inspiring. During one of these podcast interviews, she said something that really resonated with me. She was talking about how times have changed in terms of technology, and she said, “We are drowning in data and starved for wisdom”.

Drowning in data and starved for wisdom. Repeat it. Think about it.

This is such an eloquent description of our times. Not just in the field of business – in the field of healthcare, too.

We have gone down the rabbit hole of data and pharmaceuticals and SCIENCE and we have forgotten our purpose. We are a country leading the way in cutting edge trial studies. But we are also a country leading in obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

According to the National Academy of Medicine, the US spends over $200 BILLION a year on unnecessary tests and treatment. Talk about drowning in data! What do these excessive medical tests give us besides an empty wallet??

Why not empower people, educate people, and incentivize a healthy lifestyle? I haven’t seen a meaningful public health drive since the “Just say no” campaign. Creating an education campaign would not be that hard, and it would cost a LOT less.

We should start with the basics before spending billions of dollars on data that doesn’t mean anything. Or better yet, use the data that IS available to create meaningful change. Educating people on stress, sleep, and healthy eating habits would be money well spent.

Sometimes on our path to greatness, we forget why we started down this path in the first place. We forget the essentials. Health care is an industry built on the premise of helping people improve their health.

It is just that simple.

So thank you, Arianna, for being my inspiration this week. You are a breath of fresh air.

Hiking with Heart

This past weekend, my husband and I went on a hike. We live in the mountains, so we try to do this often.

But this hike was different. This hike was with hundreds of our friends.

JEEZ, does this girl REALLY have hundreds of friends?? Well, in a way, yes! We hiked with an amazing organization called Jen’s Friends and it was an all-out community effort.

One of the many inspiring signs along the hike

I was first introduced to Jen’s Friends when I was going through cancer treatment. I had heard of the group, but I had never really taken notice until I was going into the local hospital for hydration therapy during treatment. The nurses practically shoved the paperwork into my bag to sign up as a patient.

Of course I didn’t really want to be labeled as a cancer patient (although I certainly looked the part after losing 20 pounds). I reluctantly signed up thinking I might need the support in the future.

I quickly found out that this group does it all! They help local people with ALL things related to cancer treatment. Groceries, gas, transportation, bills, EVERYTHING! They ought to be a part of the “Miracle Network”, because they are truly a life saver for many people in the area with cancer.

The organization was first started to help a girl named Jen with her cancer treatment. It grew to be a completely non-profit volunteer organization with 100% of the proceeds going to help people with cancer throughout all stages of treatment and healing. They provide monetary and emotional support in ways I wish ALL communities would provide.

So last weekend, my husband and I climbed a mountain. It was a tough climb, but the few hours we spent huffing and puffing were nothing compared to the climb we had through cancer treatment. If we could hike this mountain last weekend, we could hike any mountain, big or small.

And we did it with hundreds of our friends.

To find out more about Jen’s Friends, please visit their web page at http://jensfriends.org/wordpress/

Career vs Cancer

Before cancer, I was a self-described work-a-holic. I moved from Georgia to Boston for work opportunities and then back down to Florida 3 years later for anesthesia school. I took on everything and anything that would advance my career, with a 60 hour work week becoming the norm.

Late nights, TONS of unmanaged stress, a poor diet and lack of sleep all began to creep into my daily life. My weekends and relax time became shorter and shorter. I found myself wishing for a different job, a different life that I could enjoy.

But I trudged on, thinking that this was what people did to get ahead in life.

My career was my life. It was my personality. It involved everything I stood for and everything I wanted (or THOUGHT I wanted) in my life.

In Santiago, Chile for a neurosurgery conference

But when I was diagnosed with cancer, I really had to rethink what I wanted in life. Do I want a career? Or do I want a life? I knew that it was a decision that would change the direction of my whole being. I had the chance to rewrite my future chapters before they got away from me.

And the most important question boiled down to this: Did I want to make a life or make a living?

I knew that if I dedicated the same amount of time and energy to fighting my disease as I did to my career, I’d win the fight. I’d been a work-a-holic, and that took time and dedication. If I switched that time and dedication over to fighting cancer, how could I NOT win?

It became a clear decision for me – I quit my career to fight my disease full-time.

This decision wasn’t easy. But for me, it was the best decision I could make for my health. I dedicated my time to a healthy diet, yoga, meditation, and researching everything I could on the immune system, cancer, and holistic health.

I’ve never looked back.

Once I was through treatment and had a clean set of scans, I began to think about work again. What did I want in a career? This diagnosis had changed my life, my mindset and my future. I wanted a career that was rewarding, but I needed it to work with my new way of life and my new normal.

On a mission trip in 2007

I didn’t want to go back to the life I had before cancer. My “career before self” mentality had passed. I chose to make a life rather than a living when going back to work.

Perhaps this is what people mean when they say they want a “work life balance”. Balance is a choice – you have to mentally decide what you want in life. Cancer forced me to make a lot of tough choices, and my choice in career was one of them.

After cancer, you have the ability to rewrite your future. There’s something about looking at death that makes you reevaluate life.

Do what you love, make life worth living, and create your own happiness.