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How to Walk the Medicine Walk?

How does a mom who’s been called to work in medicine return to a life of medicine when her son’s death haunts her every day?

Not very easily.

It feels like everything around me reminds me of Johnathan.

Ambulance sirens, ER doors, the sight of blood...

I have PTSD, anxiety, and depression related to Johnathan’s death. I am working with my family PA and a grief counselor to manage my plan of care and help me navigate this new life without my son.

Physically being in a medical setting makes my heart start racing, my fingers tingle, and I’m short of breath. I take slow deep breathes and try to find peace in the chaos.

As an ER PA for almost ten years, I always prided myself on being able to stay calm in an emergency. I could see the whole picture and my focus and thoughts would become clearer. Assessment, diagnosis, and treatment plan would just flow freely from my mind.

Now I find myself unable to focus, unable to clear my mind, and not confident in myself. I haven’t been back to full time work yet because of this. I will start back full time in another month and even the thought of that gives me anxiety.

(written around mid- April)


I saved this draft thinking that once I started at my new job that I would have some greater insight to wrap this up and make the whole thing make sense.

I have been working in an urgent care for about three weeks now. First week was just orientation, so no patient care. Then week two and three have been with extra staff so it’s not too overwhelming and I can learn the ropes.

It actually has felt really good to get back to patient care. I was given the opportunity to help a gentleman through an anxiety attack and could actually attest to being acutely aware of what he was feeling. He said the 20 minutes sitting with me was the most calming moments he had had in months. And I thanked him for letting me talk to him about real symptoms and emotions that go hand in hand with living life.

I realized that living your life will never be only sunshine and rainbows.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m the type of person who will always try to find the rainbow after the storm. I do believe I was raised that way with my foundation of faith in God and His love for us.

The storms we go through will never magically go away, but I do believe that God gives us certain gifts and talents that help when we need it, and of course He’s always got our backs. I’ve been so afraid to step back into the world of medicine, worried that every patient would somehow trigger a response that would send me into a tailspin. It still happens. In two weeks I’ve had to call 911 for a patient (first time talking to dispatch since Johnathan died), assess and treat two little girls who were only a month younger than when Johnathan died, and ran to the lobby to care for a patient in cardiac arrest.

I certainly felt the tug of pain with each of those moments, but I also found new strength to continue doing what I love, what I was called to do.

How do you walk the medicine walk after losing your son?

With more compassion, more humility, and more understanding for the fragility of life. And with a pain and overwhelming anxiety that the next storm is just on the horizon.

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Hello. I’d like to talk. Could you call me at 336 373-7049? Nancy McLaughlin.

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