Summer Air

As I travel this path of practicing mindfulness, I am often struck by how naturally being mindful comes to children. Of course, it comes more easily to some children then others.

About a month ago, I took my older 2 children to see a movie. Being the multitasking, ever-efficient person I am, this treat was paired with a trip to Costco (because the movie theatre and Costco are next to each other). The kids were very patient during our shopping trip on this hot day. As we were leaving, Aurora was riding in the cart and after I loaded the groceries into our car, I went to lift her out. I realized she had been very quiet for a quite some time (very unusual for my chatty girl). So I asked her if she was ok. Her reply:

“I’m fine Mummy. I am just feeling the summer air on my skin”.

There you have it. On a hot summer day, in a shopping cart, my daughter was feeling the summer air. So I stopped to feel it too. It was wonderful.

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A Child’s View of Tragedy

Grampie died peacefully earlier this week. Tim was at his side as the life left him.

In medicine, we often speak of good deaths and bad deaths. This is usually referring not only to the nature of the cause of death (for example, traumatic accident vs. old-age) but also to how well prepared the family was for the passing.

My Nanny, my mother’s mother, used to say “There are worse things than dying”.
My Granny, my father’s father, after the passing of her husband of 60 years, “It is very, very sad, but it is not tragic”.

Grampie’s death was a good death. And his extremely poor quality of life at the end, meant that there was some blessing in his passing. But it was still a tragedy. He was only 65. He had been ill and debilitated for the entire lives of his grandchildren. And it feels like he, and we, were a bit robbed. But Grampie himself, used to say long ago: “If I died tomorrow, it would OK. I have had a great life. I have seen my sons grow and be successful”. And so, Tim felt very sad, much sadder than he expected, but he was at peace with the loss of his father. It was time, he felt.

However, as much as we adults can know about bad/good deaths, sadness vs tragedy, to children it is completely different. Our 2 younger children have taken this in stride. I am not sure they even quite realize what has happened. But Micah, Micah is sad. This is a tragedy in his young life. We learned, that to him, his relationship to Grampie was the same as with his other grandparents. Even though Grampie was never able to really play with him, read to him, chat with him, Grampie was able to LOVE him and that was all that mattered. Micah cried and laid his head on Grampie’s chest when we took him to say goodbye. Even though it made him so sad, he wanted to return several times. When I was talking with him afterwards, he told me that was so sad that the only grandparent that lived where we lived, was gone.

This was such a lesson about love for me. Children really do love purely and unconditionally. It doesn’t really matter what you do with them, as long as you show up and are present in their lives. For Micah, Grampie was present. He came to celebrations, he shared his favourite Aero bars with Micah, he love listening to Micah play the violin. Grampie was his Grampie.

Tim and I struggled a lot with how much to include the children in what was happening. Our own personal experiences with death came at a much later age. But Grampie was dying on a weekend, we were all focused on being there for him and for Tim. Relatives were coming and going and children are very astute observers. We decided that we should tell them the truth. And we didn’t want them to be afraid of death. And so we took everyone over to see Grampie, to cuddle him, and to say good-bye. They all did this. They all climbed into bed with him and spent time with him. They weren’t afraid, amazingly.

I think Grampie had a “good” death, if you can understand what I mean. And I think the children had a peaceful, non-threatening experience with it, I hope they did. If there was anything positive to come out of the loss of a grandparent at such a young age, perhaps it is this: Micah is sad, but not scared. And he has another memory of his Grampie and I have learned another lesson about love.

Through the doors…

In the OR suite where I work, there are 2 big sets of double doors that patients must pass through to get to the corridor where the operating rooms are. They say good-bye to their parents just outside the first set. Both sets of doors are automatic doors, so there is a brief interlude where both sets of doors are open and families can watch their children walk away from them toward the operating rooms.

Recently, I have started noticing these moments. They are beautiful, sweet, sad moments all rolled into a few seconds of actual time. Luckily, most children coming for surgery are well, they only need a minor operation and will be on their way to happy, healthy times. Of course, some are not well, and may never be healthy again. But for families that moment of saying goodbye and watching their child walk away is so very, very hard.

As a mother, my heart hurts for them as I think about what that would be like: sending your child into the unknown with a stranger…it would just feel wrong. But so many families do this time and again and they do with strength and grace.

As a doctor, I am struck by the sweetness of the moment. I watch as a nurse walks slowly through the doors holding a small hand, chatting with their patient and pointing out all of the interesting thing that are painted on our walls. This is a beautiful image. A child trusting this nurse enough to walk with them and chat and hold their hands on the way to their operation.

Of course, not all children come so peacefully, some are crying, some are fighting, some are just yelling angry words. But all the nurses are calm, and tender, and doing everything they can to sooth and reassure the patients. Surprisingly, most of these tumultuous children calm down as soon as the second set of doors close and they can no longer see their families. It is as if they realize that this is a new world, with different people in whom to put their trust.

Oh, one more reason I love my job: watching people go through the double doors. And better yet, being the person who gets to hold that small hand or carry the small baby through those doors. Lucky, I am very very lucky to work in this environment.

May the Month of May be Experienced Mindfully

The first day of May. Wow, this year has gone fast. One of my best friends returns to work today after one year of maternity leave (how I miss the access I had to her during this year!). My daughter will turn 5 next week – 5! I know it is a cliché, but how did this happen? She is almost entirely a “big girl” now instead of my “tiny daughter”. And we have more fun things planned during this month than any family should have planned!

We have visits with grandparents, long-awaited dinners out with friends, violin solos and group concerts, field trips, a trip away each for mom and dad, and very good friends coming to visit us for the first time, and my annual homage to running: a 10K with great friends.

I look at the month ahead and I feel so many things: anticipation, excitement, nervousness, and also fatigue and worry. I worry because I know that I do not usually weather a packed schedule gracefully. I easily become overwhelmed with the constant need to stay on schedule, not waste a minute, and plan ahead for the next event. This takes it toll on me but more importantly it takes it toll on those around me. I become irritable and impatient. I start wondering why people can’t hurry up: can’t they see we have to be efficient or we will never make the next thing happen!

Oh yes, a jammed schedule does not a happy, mindful mother make, even when the schedule is jammed with wonderful, fun things. And the result is a tired, cranky mother and an unhappy household. And then we miss the fun of all the things we did.

So I am pledging to myself to try harder to do it differently this time. Here is my pledge:

I will be mindful of the wonderful activities we are doing WHILE we are doing them.
I will remember that my children did NOT make the schedule and do NOT understand that they/we are short on time.
It does not matter if we are late sometimes.
It is OK if a few things slide during the month of May…like violin practice and eating green vegetables every day.
I WILL go to bed early on the nights when that is possible (just add sleep deprivation to the jammed schedule and I am embarrassed to admit the bad behaviours that can occur).
I will be MINDFUL for at least a few minutes of each wonderful thing we do.
I will be MINDFUL.

I repeated that last one a few times because I am pretty sure it is the key to all of the rest.

I want to relish and enjoy the month of May, not just try to get through it.

Wish me luck. I wish you a beautiful month of May.

You Think You Have Time…

“The problem is…you think you have time.” – The Buddha

This quotation has rolled around in my head for the many weeks since I first read it. But this weekend, it really settled into my brain.

Working in the field that I do, I am too often confronted with the realities of life and death. I am acutely aware of how fragile life is when I spend my afternoon sedating children with leukemia for bone marrow aspirates and lumbar punctures. But usually, I carry on and keep those thoughts at bay by focusing on the task at hand. And it is SUCH a privilege to work with those families and the team that cares for them.

Every now and then I am caught, though. Caught at work or at home by stories about life changing events or the diagnosis of a life changing (or life ending) disease. This weekend 2 of those came to me back to back.

The first story (and by story, I do not mean fiction I mean the information shared with me by a friend) came while chatting with a friend while we watched our children’s skating lesson. He was telling me how a young friend (30 ish) was recently diagnosed with an aortic dissection or aneurysm, he wasn’t sure exactly. He only knew that his friend had been in the hospital for over a week, on many medications in attempt to avoid surgery (which is the likely outcome). He was worried about his friend, his friend’s young family, and also himself. I mean, this is the type of thing that happens to older people, not to our friends!

The second story was shared by a very close friend about a close relative. Her relative was just diagnosed with a form a dementia at a very young age – barely 60! Her children are just starting out, there are no grandchildren yet, and she has so much life to live, but already has trouble making herself understood. I, personally, am terrified of this diagnosis. I can’t imagine not being able to understand the world around me. I feel nauseous thinking about requiring personal care. But it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone.

That is the point, anything can happen at any time. And yet we live as if we have all the time in the world. We can take that trip next year; I can finally learn to speak french fluently when my kids are older and I have more time; I can spend more time reading and writing when I am retired; my husband and I can really reconnect later; we can take our parents on a trip of lifetime in 5 years when our debt is more manageable; and so on…

So back to the Buddha…the problem really is that we think we have time. But we may not! A sudden medical calamity could occur tomorrow. Or dementia could steal our brain from our body far too soon. I am almost 40, and these thoughts occur more frequently to me. I have so many things I still want to do, to learn, to share. I feel like there is time, but maybe there isn’t. I feel like this weekend was a call to arms for me to once again evaluate my priorities. And not just my priorities for being mindful with my children and work/life balance. But also my priorities for my own personal goals. What do I really want to have accomplished during my time here? What is important to me? Who is important? These questions become urgent if you start thinking about time running short.

It would appear that I am not the only once contemplating this topic this week. My friend over at Mommyjuiced, posted this today and I love it. I think you might too – including the links she shares.

Wishing you a peaceful, mindful Monday, filled with grace and gratitude for living this day healthy and happy.

When I Grow Up: For My Almost Doctor Friend J

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I have a friend who left her profession and followed her dream of becoming a doctor. She went to medical school in her 30s with one child at home and recently had her second child while in medical school! I know! Amazing. She is coming to the end of her medical school training and now she is in the process of deciding which specialty to go into. This is a hard decision because once it is made, it can be difficult to change. And in J’s case, she has 3 other people who will be very much affected by her choices. I was honoured when she asked for my advice. But I realized, I am definitely not qualified to give her advice. All I can do is share my own story of how I decided what to be “when I grew up”. This is a long one, so be prepared (or click on another website now :))

I am one of those (annoying) people who always knew I wanted to be a doctor. I grew up accompanying my dad (a rural pediatrician) on rounds at the hospital and hearing about interesting cases over supper. I thought my father had THE most amazing and interesting job in the world. I could not (can’t) imagine a more interesting profession. So my goal was always to go to medical school and become a pediatrician and go work with my dad. As you know, that is not exactly what happened.

I was lucky enough to get in to medical school and have opportunity to realize my dream. When I was accepted to medical school, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. To be honest, I still have those feelings when I am reflecting on the blessings of my life. I proceeded through medical school and found many things interesting.

Medical school for me was divided into the “pre-clinical” and “clinical” years. The first 2 years were mainly in the classroom, small groups, labs, and some introduction to clinical skills. The latter 2 years were spent as a “clinical clerk”. Clerkship is the phase where you rotate through the different specialties, working with and learning from the residents and staff doctors. My plan was to be a pediatrician, and I assumed that I would hate surgery, so I requested to do my surgical rotations first.

A funny thing happened. I discovered that I LOVED being in the operating room. I loved everything about it. I love the sterile environment, the precision of how things were run, the intensity of the people working there. And I really LOVED doing procedures. This came as a big surprise to me. And then I discovered that I HATED internal medicine (I won’t go in to why, let’s just say that the obsession with esoteric details got to me. I am so happy there are other people who loved that field as much as I love mine). Pediatrics is basically internal medicine for children. I knew I didn’t have it in me to spend so much time each day thinking and talking and not “doing”.

Now I had to reexamine my plans. My obstetrical/gynecological rotation came next and I thought “Ooooo, I love this!”. It was a wonderful mix of surgery and medicine. You were looking after women, mostly women who having babies. And I discovered a love of ultrasound. I mean, who doesn’t find obstetrical ultrasound completely magical! It is a window into the secret world of a developing baby – incredible! I love, love, loved it.

And so I set out setting up electives in OB/GYN. As I spent more time in that field, I began to notice a sad and scary trend. Many of the people who were training in OB/GYN were becoming hardened by the experience. It is such a difficult, demanding residency. And I knew I was very susceptible to those external factors. I began to worry about what might happen to my personality if put under such pressures.

Then about one-third of the way into my 4th year (getting late in the game here, folks) I decided I should get some useful “skills” like intubating and starting intravenous lines. And I managed to set up a 2 week elective in my home town with the department of anesthesia. I discovered a whole world I did not know existed. It was a world primarily based in the operating room. There were a lot of procedures. The patients were varied: old, young, women, men, children, and babies. It seemed like the best of all worlds to me. But I still felt really passionate about about obstetrics. To be on the safe side, I quickly added another anesthesia elective to my plan.

Some soul searching came next. And after much discussion with myself and with Tim (we were dating at the time), I finally decided that although I truly loved the field of obstetrics, I may not love my future life in that speciaty. And I love anesthesia and I knew that I would very likely love the life I could have within that specialty. And my decision was made.

This sounds easier that it was. I was 26 and trying to imagine my life at 40. It was very hard to think about a balanced life when prior to that time my goals were all about academics and medicine and career. But looking back, it was wise. Because my prediction was right. The balance and structure in my life is closer to my ideal than if I had chosen OB.

Anesthesia has allowed for me to more easily work part-time. This is very important to me, especially since Tim has a pretty big, time-consuming career. Anesthesia as a specialty is very well remunerated (pediatrics, for example, is very unfairly poorly paid). There is very little need for continuity of care and handover in anesthesia. When I finish my day of work in the OR, it is finished. Most patients go home, there is rarely a need for me to be involved after that point. Which means that it is easy to get time off – I don’t need to arrange coverage for my patients. Also important to me, is anonymity. Anesthesiologist are fairly anonymous: patients rarely remember them. I am OK with that. I like it. It means I don’t run into patients when I am out with my family (this used to happen with my dad all the time).

I didn’t end up back in my home town as a pediatrician. But I did sub specialize in pediatric anesthesia, and do further training in ultrasound guided nerve blocks. So I have managed to incorporate all of my loves into one field: anesthesia, children, and ultrasound. I am one very lucky girl!

So I guess the moral of this story is to really try to imagine what you want your life to look like in 10 or 15 years. That image should help guide the decisions you make today.

J- whatever you choose, you will be amazing. SO choose well for you and your family.

Mindful Moment Day 16: Morning Story

This morning I was getting Kirby up (this is not quite right: letting him out of his room is a more accurate description). It was early and I had to be at work early. He did not want his diaper changed right away and he didn’t want to go downstairs. He wanted to sit in his rocker and read a book. So we did. On a work/school morning. When everything is tightly scheduled to get everyone where they need to be on time. We read a story. Nicely (meaning I didn’t skip pages or rush through it).

Enough said.

Month of Mindful Moments Days 8 – 15: Disney World!

Well, I had meant to post from Disney World, they are kind enough to provide free wi-fi both in the hotel and at the parks. So I hadn’t posted about my departure from the blog for a week because it was not planned.

BUT…this leads to telling you what my mindful moments were for the whole week: I gave in to Disney. I unplugged, stopped planning, stop checking email/FB, etc. Prior to our trip I had done much research (piggybacked on the extensive research done by a good friend – thank you again!). I researched what week had the lowest crowds, made itineraries to minimize wait times and walking, and planned carefully to go when it would not be too hot. I knew when we got there I would need to let go of all the planning a bit and just enjoy my family at Disney World.

Shocking news (for me): I did it. I managed not to rush my family out the door onto the bus on Day 1 so we would make it to the Magic Kingdom before the gates opened (my itinerary said that was imperative). And then, when Micah spotted the Teacup ride before I was planning for us to ride it, I said yes! Let’s go on the teacups now! And it was great. Yes, the delay in getting to a more popular ride resulted in a slightly longer wait at that ride, but who cares? This trip was about enjoying Disney with our children. And so I tried hard to remember this throughout the week.

We had a great time. We loosely followed the itinerary, but strayed from it when inspiration struck. I am not sure I would have had the awareness to be mindful in those moments when the kids (or husband) wanted to do something differently if I hadn’t been in the middle of this exercise.

Once again. yay mindfulness. It is taking a lot of practice, but I am starting to feel the difference.

Mindful Moments Day 7: The Bath

I drove back home today. Four hours in a car by myself – it was kind of amazing. That kind of time always makes me pensive, interesting what you think about when your brain has the time.

Mindful moment for today occurred while helping Ariel wash her hair. She was one very tired, very excited little girl. That combination makes for a very fragile 4-year-old. She insisted on rinsing the soap out of her hair herself. This is painful to watch as the water she pours barely makes it onto her hair. I was about to intervene and take over (which would definitely have resulted in lots of crying/screaming/carrying on) when I stopped. My mind was racing with all of the “to-dos” before we leave tomorrow and I was frustrated with her whining. But I stopped and leaned on the tub and decided to just be with her. And for that moment I was. Perhaps some modest success tonight.

Mindful Moments Day 6: The Car Ride

Kirby and I set off on a 4.5 hour car trip today to bring to stay with his Nanny and Poppy while Tim and I take the older to children to Disney World! Yes, we are braving Disney, but decided we weren’t brave enough to do it with the “K-Man” as he calls himself or “Destructo-man” as the rest of us call him. Thankfully, Nanny and Poppy are up to the challenge of a week with a 2 and half year old and agreed to have him.

We set off on our drive. Now long car rides are difficult for Kirby as he is an “action man”. He likes to be moving and playing and exploring and….etc. ALL THE TIME. So the drive was full of lots of exciting moments. But my favourite moment, that I would have missed if I wasn’t engaged in this mindful challenge was this:

Shake It Out by Florence and the Machine was playing on the iPod and I was singing (yelling) along as I LOVE this song. Kirby joined in. When it finished, I looked in the rear view mirror and I could see Kirby’s pink face, bright eyes, and smiling mouth. He was yelling “do it again! do it again!”. And so we did.