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Sightlines

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Last Thursday, I went to the eye doctor. I thought I would spend an hour ish there and have an eye exam and find some new glasses after breaking mine a few weeks ago. 3+ hours and several tests and scans later, I left with a referral to a retina specialist because the doc found some spots.

In our family, we have this thing about diagnoses that aren’t good. Like trying to take things step by step by step while researching symptoms, providers and trying to strategize a plan. Having been on the receiving end of a “You have to have this done – NOW!”, order from a Doc at the NIH when I was initially diagnosed with a rapidly spreading melanoma, I’m always a little more neurotic and emotional then my parents whose illnesses usually progressed a lot slower then mine.

So my super thorough retired Air Force Doc, said he wanted to refer me to a retina specialist. He said this referral would take a few days. Interestingly, it took only a few hours and they called Friday morning to schedule an appointment for Monday afternoon. While I was glad to have the follow up appointment, the anticipation and “what if’s” took over.

It wasn’t an easy weekend. I drove down to see mom and went to Home Depot as we thought it would be good to find her a small Christmas tree. When I found the perfect tree on display on a high shelf, I asked the sales clerk where the boxes were that had the trees in them (as opposed to the display model). He asked me to show him where the tree was and walked with me as I pointed it out.

There were no boxes below the shelf and as he looked at his little hand held inventory thingy, he asked me to read the model number (on the tag of the tree on the shelf) to him. I looked at the tag and couldn’t see it. Nuthin’. This is the point where I started to get a little emotional as normally, my vision is really good.

No, I mean really, really good. Like “look at that small spot on the fly on top of that tall building 100 yards down the street through thick fog” type good.

I walked to the car and cried a little more before checking 5 other stores to find the perfect Christmas tree. Nuthin’.

Then I drove home and mom and I strategized on how to navigate the appointment with the retina specialist and then we formulated a plan with a range of having everything work out to the worst case scenario. Throughout the discussion we managed to only use the term “ocular melanoma” (my biggest fear) once.

On Monday morning, Nate and I had a conversation with God about how to handle the next few hours and yes, we listened to “Be Thou My Vision” just to anchor the anticipation of it all and not lose sight of faith. I left for my appointment at 2:00. Nate offered to drive but I told him, “No” – that I didn’t think his small paws would reach the accelerator of the Lexus.

The Doc, a very tall YNNH trained physician looked at the test results from my super thorough Doc and said “You have (insert very long, hard to pronounce 4 word clinical term here).

“Okay so now tell me in English.” I said.
He told me “this term isn’t anything you need to know or remember and all it means is ‘you have a really large spot on the back of your eye’ and if you didn’t have a history of melanoma, I’d thank you for coming in and send you on your way. But because you do, I’d like to see you again in 2 1/2 months and we’ll use the tests and scans that Dr. Johnson sent as your baseline.”

“Okay, that works for me!” I told him. Happy that the “Plan B” worst-case scenario that mom and I had developed would no longer need to be considered.

The rest of the day was good. Mom’s tree was ordered via Amazon when I arrived home and Nate was very happy he would not have to learn to drive.

See? Vision is a good thing.

The Legacy of Grey Stewart

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I don’t know how it happened. The woman from LL Bean called to say that we had a rebate from returning some of mom’s clothes that didn’t fit.

I was telling her about my challenges with boots for her and then realized that, as it’s getting colder, some nice, toasty flannel pj’s would help. So I gave her the number and the size and then it came down to color..Blue MacKellar or Grey Stewart. I couldn’t decide, I think the Blue is prettier but for some reason I do not understand, I say “Grey Stewart,, please send the Grey Stewart.” Not sure why, as I generally prefer blue.

So I order the pj’s and go into my closet and right there in front of me is Dad’s Grey Stewart flannel nightgown. It didn’t even occur to me that I had it. (I’ve been carrying around some of his clothes hoping to have a quilt made from the material).

I don’t even know why we still had it – especially after he and mom had lived in Florida for so long, There’s no flannel in Florida right? But I think we all had memories of some of the clothes he wore that made us “remember that time when…” that we just kept a lot of them.

They arrived the other day and feel wonderful and toasty on this cold, rainy night in New Hampshire. Thanks Dad (in the picture – his is the worn one in the bottom of the photo). Gotta just love LLBean.

Cascade

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A few days ago, one of my Facebook buds, Gail, submitted a post about cancer on her Facebook page. I’ve been thinking about it since I saw it.

This past weekend, I decided to stay home instead of driving to Middletown to see mom. But as I was hanging out, I thought about how beautiful it was to be back in New England in the Fall. So I grabbed my camera and started driving and ended up at Killington, on the Gondola looking out of the window at the foliage and the mountain bikers tackling the trails. It was weird to be there in the Fall with no snow on the ground. But then I looked down and saw this (photo).

This is the top of Cascade – my all time favorite ski trail which I love because of the trail’s long and very steep pitch. I used to ski it all the time with my uncle whom, along with my aunt Karen, taught ski school in their 60’s. At that time, My uncle Walt had this thing for “jetstix” – those hard plastic things you could attach to your boots to be able to sit back on your skis. He would fly ahead of me doing turn after turn and usually end up at the bottom of the trail before I would… about 10 minutes later. He skied on shorter skis and would rag on me about my unwillingness to give up my 195’s. And – because the moguls were cut by smaller sized skis, I would fall frequently – and a fall on cascade just went on forever because there was that pitch and not a lot of flat surfaces to land. It was always a very fun and amazing time skiing with him – even given the bruises from falling so far for so long.

Sitting there on the gondola looking down at the fall line, it was hard not to get emotional as I miss him and those times we spent skiing. So I sent the short text and photo to Karen, my aunt, who is in Maine and we have since reminisced about those great memories.

Walt lost his battle with cancer several years ago and in a few weeks, it will be 3 years since Dad lost his. These great memories of skiing with Walt and with my mom and dad came back full force when I looked out the window and saw the black Cascade trail sign.

And the more I thought about these memories and the strength and endurance that both Dad and Walt had in fighting their illnesses, the more I realized where part of that strength and endurance came from – a long, steep, snowy mountain trail on a beautiful afternoon in Vermont, skiing, laughing, and spending time with the people you love the most.

Ella (Poetry)

Ebb & Flow

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http://www.SALeysphoto.com

My favorite photo of mom and dad taken just before their evening at the Newport Hospital Ball many years ago. Today would have been their 63rd wedding anniversary (dad died in October after their 60th). We still laugh daily about some of the things he used to say.

My favorite is still the way he would say “oh jeez…that guy!” whenever we were on the boat in Block Island and Aldo would be out in his boat early in the morning with his fresh baked muffins and doughnuts. He’d be singing at the top of his lungs . “Andiamo…andiamoooohhh!!”…which because of the way voices carry when you’re on the water, would wake dad up. But there was normally about a three second delay before I would hear “oh jeez…that guy” in his tired, exasperated tone.

Mom’s favorite was the morning she saw the ad for a calico kitten while reading the classifieds in the newspaper here in florida. She read the classified to him and asked “do you wanna go look at a cat?”

“No, not especially” he said “but I will if you want me to.” (He was cool like that – also a sitting duck whenever it came to anything having to do with cute kittens in our family).

“How much?” He asked my mom.

“A hundred dollars” she answered. (insert long paws here).. and then he said “you shouldn’t have to pay for cats, people should GIVE you cats..” (it was a little variation from a few years before that when he had said “you shouldn’t have to pay for cats; people should PAY YOU to take them from them.” .. at least he was steadily evolving).


Needless to say – the Calico came home with them and “Callie” became his cat. It was like she knew he had this opinion of kittens and carried her little “yer gonna love me!” catitude throughout the 6 years she has been with us. – She was lying next to him all afternoon on the day he died.

I’ve always wondered about (and admired) the components in a relationship that keep people together for fifty and sixty years. Lately we’ve been watching a lot of Fixer Upper on HGTV. Whenever mom sees Chip’s crazy antics my mom sort of scoffs and says “I could never be married to him.” – but what she doesn’t seem to realize is that the “balance” in Chip and Joanna’s relationship is extremely similar to mom and dad’s – the way they compliment each other because of the skills they both have that the other one may not and the way that they seem to ebb and flow into one another.

To me, that is what makes a great relationship.

Happy anniversary kids! – and to all of my Facebook buds who make great relationships work.

What’s Most Important

This afternoon, I looked at the clock on my nightstand to see what time it was; my brief afternoon siesta had come to an end.

Then I really looked at what was on my nightstand: a clock given to me as a 5 year anniversary gift at a hospital where I had worked. A watch – given to me by the emergency department team from the same hospital when I left. – I remembered the charge nurse in the Pediatric ER saying “I remembered you said you love a white watch face and Roman numerals”  – it was perfect.

As I have gotten older, I realize that time is the most important thing – money is fun, but having the time to spend with family and great friends is critical.

Two iPods – one to take over while the other is recharging. And speakers that can connect directly to the iPods. You don’t need a “boom box” or a ginormous stereo system, just a great set of speakers and music, audiobooks or podcasts that you love.

My glasses are on top of the iPad that was sent to me at no cost from Verizon, my wireless carrier. Apparently when you are a long term customer, as I have been, they send you free stuff. Who doesn’t love free?

So as I spend time listening to great music and using my iPad to navigate my next career path, it occurs to me that I have also been lucky to have worked at some wonderful hospitals with some really great teams. Quite the rewarding way to spend quality time.

A Year, A Memory

This afternoon my mom asked me what time it was. I told her it was “almost noon” and she responded “time for Kate Smith!”

Usually when this happens, I know what year we’re in – but not this time and not this year.

See the Wave, Be the Wave: The Ebb and Flow of Life, Love & Loss


This was taken 3 years ago on the beach – Anna Maria Island, Fl. – my last Vacation before moving to Florida full time. It’s very strange when your life just stops as mine has; kind of like a full control / alt / delete reboot that makes me think I can predict and navigate my life. But when you add wind and waves (and currents and tides), navigating anything isn’t always easy.

“See the wave, be the wave” – right now this is my coping strategy; going with the ebb and flow of whatever comes my way.

My position at the hospital where I worked was eliminated.  I quickly started looking for another career endeavor but after a month or two of not being successful, my mom called and asked me to come to Florida to help care for my dad who had been battling cancer and other autoimmune illnesses for the last several years.  I agreed and, with the help of very good friends, placed every thing I had in storage and left for Florida a few days later.

I was here for three weeks before dad died, upending our little family.

As he had been sick for quite awhile, we knew this day would come. But here’s the thing: even when you know in your heart that autoimmune illnesses do not end well, death is not easy to prepare for. Thankfully, we had a great hospice team and a lot of faith – which did not let us down.

After dad’s death came the transition of “mom and dad” to just “mom” – and all of the paperwork and changes that go with it.  Slowly – very, very slowly, our lives fell into a routine that became more manageable over time.

And, over time I noticed that Scott, our outdoor lawn and pest guy would start talking to me more frequently about our overly dry lawn. As I still had a little anxiety about trying to keep up with things that Dad used to take care of, I drove to Ace and picked up a nice sprinkler and started doing what I could to keep our lawn green, then slowly worked with him to fix our watering system.

A few months turned into a year, and my life had transcended from helping suicidal, anxious, depressed and / or addicted patients in our very busy ER to strategizing the repair, pressure and “zones” of our watering system and hanging orchids in baskets from the trees in the back of the house so that they could grow better outside and get watered naturally.

I thought there was no hope to ever see things grow – let alone be green again, but in the ebb and flow of our lives, we developed a routine and after awhile (a long while), the green grass returned and our orchids bloomed. I was totally shocked at how beautiful they were and how they seemed to blossom overnight.

Seeing their beauty took me further away from the grief I felt and the overwhelming emotions that accompanied the life changes that have continued to evolve.

In addition to that was having to let my twenty year career in emergency psych go as I realized that staying with it would not work as it would blanket the grief and emotions I felt and the healing that needed to follow. But letting go of this part of my career also meant letting go of all of the patients and families I had met and the many insights and lessons that accompanied them.  It’s not that I would forget them – because you don’t / can’t forget the immense experiences and challenges that patients face every day.

And you don’t forget the surpise of your Emergency Department colleagues when they ask if you really think a 5 y/o patient can be suicidal with a plan to kill himself with a gun that he says he has access to or the 8 y/o who tells you she doesn’t want to go to school because she’s afraid the same terrorist group that flew planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon are going to come for her family so she would rather stay with them instead of go to school. You don’t forget the teenager coming into the ER who overdosed on pills after being bullied at school because she was gay – and who now needed the understanding and support of her mom who was holding her hand and crying having just listened to her disclose her emotional pain.

You don’t forget patients coming into the ER talking to you about wanting help for drugs and then dying in front of you minutes later.

Patient after patient, day after day, month after month, year after year for twenty five years, you learn life is short and very fragile – and that there’s an ebb and flow to it. You learn that the more grounded and congruent you are, the easier it will be to navigate all of it.

But then everything comes to a full stop, as it has with my career. And suddenly I’m looking at beatiful orchids blooming, a nice green lawn and feeling the warm sun on my back as I pull the weeds from the flower beds and I realize this is what dad used to do; which makes me miss him more while at the same time wanting to make everything better and more beautiful in celebration of the legacy he has left for us.

There is an ebb and flow to life.

“Everyone Deserves Love”

Yesterday I read a Facebook comment from a friend of mine that has stuck me with because of its poignancy:  “It’s easy to tear down, to hate, to refuse. Much harder to build up, support, look for the good in unfortunate situations. Everyone deserves love.” – Dr. LA Morrison

Let’s Just Think…

Welcome to the “Let’s Just Think” blog!

As a child growing up, whenever I would get stuck with trying to resolve an issue or challenge, my mom would say “Now let’s just think…” and together we would weigh the pros and cons of finding a resolution.

Over time, her “Let’s Just Think” comment became a mantra that was used frequently; and yes, there were also times when it was the punchline for a funny story or memory. But it always had a moment of clarity or insightful resolution as well.

Worthy of a blog and worthy of inspiring stories or quotes to accentuate the positivity of life, the insights from experiences and the wisdom we all gain every day.

Here we go!

Breathe Out Anger; Breathe In Faith

This is my favorite bench overlooking the intercostal waterway near Sarasota, Florida.

If you’re like me, sometimes stress can get to you. Without warning you may feel tense, frustrated, hopeless, angry, resentful…like an internal bomb is about to go off and you’re not sure why, what caused it, and what the best coping strategy is.

My recommendation, is to find a bench like this one and start with the basics. 

Figure out which emotions you need to let go of; and the positive emotions you would like to replace them with. Like all things, there is an ebb and flow to life; this is true in this situation as well. Here’s the other thing – only you know how to navigate the ebb and flow of you feel.

Only you know what emotions you need to let go of; and which are the best ones to “take in”. AND – take them in, don’t just say them, FEEL them. Life is short, there’s no time to fool yourself or diminish your potential.

Here are just a few suggestions you may want to consider:

  • Breathe out anger; breathe in calmness
  • Breathe out frustration; breathe in serenity
  • Breathe out fear; breathe in faith
  • Breathe out self-centeredness; breathe in love
  • Breathe out shame; breathe in hope
  • Breathe out sadness; breathe in joy
  • Breathe out pain (no matter what type it is); breathe in strength
  • Breathe out vindictiveness; breathe in compassion
  • Breathe out loneliness; breathe in trust
  • Breathe out turbulence; breathe in contentment

Most importantly just breathe, take the time you need to redirect your emotions and your thoughts to make them work for you instead of against you and, most importantly, remember it’ll all be okay.