Letter from the Chair
"It just feels good to laugh. Living my life fuel". Grand Canyon, Rim to Rim Hike. June 2021
by Taylor Haston, DO, FACEP, MPH, MS, DiMM
Chair, ACEP Wilderness Section
Hello friends, colleagues, and fellow wilderness explorers! I hope this letter finds all of you doing well as we slide right into the fall months. I’m not sure how time always seems to pass so fast, but inevitably, it does. Summer came and went, and did so in a flash. We still have quite warm “summer-like” weather on the east coast here in Georgia, but I am looking forward to the leaves changing into vibrant hues of red, orange and yellow, as well as feeling that refreshing, crisp, cool air on my face. To me, it feels like a rejuvenation of the soul, mind, and body, like a much-needed reset. It is similar to how it feels at the beginning of spring and summer here in the south when that temperature warms up just enough and the sunshine warms you up from the inside out. I feel lucky and privileged to be able to transition from season to season, right along with Mother Nature, each year; it is quite possibly my absolute favorite part of living in this part of the country. [That’s a lie, it’s the Copperheads and mosquitos and humidity… just kidding, we all know it’s because of the homemade banana pudding, sweet tea and the word ‘y’all!’] I digress… but I do think there is something to the changing of the seasons. It has to be beneficial and healthy in more ways than one. The “great outdoors” and “all things wild” undergo magical and mesmerizing transformations during these season changes and I feel strongly there’s a deeper meaning. There are lessons to be learned from this seasonal rebirth. I’m sticking with it; THE WILDERNESS WINS!
With that being said, I guess I’ll go ahead and address the elephant in the room, as the saying goes, and get it out of the way. I hate to even mention the “C-word,” but unfortunately this is now part of our new-normal world. I genuinely hope each one of our beloved and awesome members has stayed safe and healthy during the constant ups and downs of Covid. It has been quite interesting seeing the differences in what our lives looked and felt like last year during the peaks, versus this year during the Delta variant. I am certain each of us has had a different experience, not only professionally, but personally as well. We as a profession and a community are resilient, amazing and strong, and we know how to support each other in the trenches. I have never felt more exhausted and emptier after some shifts during this recent surge, but thankfully I had colleagues both near and far who were able to crack a joke and make me laugh. It literally feels good to laugh; it’s a true form of therapy in my opinion and is a simple reminder that I control my life and hold the key to my happiness. One’s work ethic, for better or worse, ultimately determines how terrible a shift feels once they get home because it shows how one approaches their job, patients, coworkers, and each shift in general. I think we would all agree we try our best to carefully make decisions that provide the best care to our patients. However, for me, a terrible shift does not define my happiness, like that which I get when my dogs bombard me when I get home from that terrible shift, when I get to talk to my family on the phone, or how relaxed I feel when I’m just sitting on my back patio, in pure silence, decompressing with my friend or neighbor.
I think it is important to remember how strong we are as emergency physicians, feeling everything there is to feel on that frontline, while also remembering how strong we are as human beings. We ultimately determine our happiness at the end of the day. So, let us review with 4 simple words and then I’ll explain: 1) awareness, 2) opportunity, 3) recognition, and 4) remembrance. We must stand tall, chin up with eyes wide open in order to even be aware of our surroundings, this naturally leads to countless opportunities that make it easier for us to recognize just how much exists in this big, beautiful world that has the ability to spark happiness and leaves us truly feeling alive. Perhaps then, the most challenging part will be remembering how that spark of happiness felt. We must hold tight to that memory and feed that spark often so it does not extinguish. Thankfully, we have access to millions of potential sparks each and every day. This always leads me back to what we in this section are all here for, the wilderness: the tiny details and inexplicable miracles we see in the sky, the landscapes and mountains that leave us in awe, the rhythmic vibration felt when a herd of elephants cross a riverbed together in the evening that makes us think it was actually a well-choreographed dance, and the simple act of the ocean greeting the sand at sunrise that triggers the smell of saltwater and reminds you of the vastness of the ocean and how beautifully complex its marine life is, just below the surface. This is the wilderness. These feelings and experiences are our life fuel. They pick us up, they keep us going, they ground us and they keep us feeling as ‘normal’ as possible during very abnormal times. They keep us childlike in the best way, they pique our curiosities and they help connect us with others as well as ourselves. The wilderness gives us hope and strength, and gives us a reason to keep fighting through hard times and hard shifts; it ultimately brings us back ‘home.’ I’d guess that most of you would agree that just being outside, recognizing our access to this ‘free therapy,’ has likely improved and maybe even saved the lives of colleagues, coworkers, friends, family, and maybe even ourselves. The stress of the pandemic has made this ‘free therapy’ even more necessary for our section members working in crowded emergency departments all over the world.
I’m grateful for my relationship with the wilderness. I’m grateful for being exposed to it over the years and for being able to just look up when I walk outside to recognize how powerful and vast it is. I’m grateful this led me to want to explore more, see more, feel more and in turn ask more questions about what I saw, felt and experienced when I was outside on a walk or a hike or just sitting on the back patio in silence. I’m also grateful I was introduced to wilderness medicine along the way, which made it all really come full circle. “You mean I get to do what I love, help take care of people, educate others about preparedness and safety while hiking this awesome mountain?!” This is powerful.
As Chair of our Wilderness Section, I would like to remind you to never forget how vital each of you are to our mission of education, exploration, improvisation, safety, along with wellness and comradery within our profession. It should be noted this is done while also protecting and conserving these magical corners of wilderness, from those in our backyards to those across the globe. I hope each of you recognizes your integral role in the success of our mission. It is our responsibility to share our expertise in both our personal and professional communities. I find that it usually only takes one hike, one mountain, one climb, one wave, one dive, one sunset, one paddle to transform someone. Just one awesome experience in the wilderness can inspire and lead someone to an unexpected area of expertise one never knew existed. It can change a path, an outlook, a profession, and even a life.
Burn out is very real. Emergency medicine can be like going to battle. Check on each other. Pay attention to your colleagues. Remember that we are all trying our best and sometimes people are fighting personal battles we may know nothing about. Don’t forget we are all human. Be kind. Apologize to the consultant that snapped at you. Maybe they just received devastating news from their family. Maybe their day is actually worse than yours. Take a deep breath. Always keep in mind we cannot control how people treat us, but we can control how we respond. Walk outside, look up, take a breath of fresh air and reset. We know we feel better when we exercise, so make time for it. Take time for yourself. Feel the sunshine on your face, or even the rain, or the snow, whatever climate you may be in. I challenge you to be cognizant of the changing seasons and ask yourself how it makes you feel. If you don’t have such defined seasons, try it when the sun goes down and the sky darkens and everything quiets down. I guarantee this will make you feel something if you let it. Mother Nature is smart and powerful; she knows what she’s doing. We should be more like Mother Nature [unless she’s angry and she’s throwing lightning bolts at people or blowing 60mph wind gusts around or shaking the earth like baby rattle. Don’t do those things, but otherwise, be more like Mother Nature.] Call a family member and say hello. Ask for help if you’re struggling. Offer to just sit with your friend in silence on the back patio. Tell a good joke. Remember what it feels like to laugh really loud. Invite someone on a hike. Show someone a cool wilderness medicine improvisation technique at work. We are the [really cool hiking] boots on the ground [hopefully worn in] for our awesome section. [Also, never forget your blister kit and an extra pair of socks.] Make a difference. Get outside. Be safe. Stay prepared. I know I said it before, but it’s important enough to say again: while being those [really cool hiking] boots on the ground; we just may realize that we ended up saving ourselves instead of just impacting someone else.
Stay safe out there everyone. I’m optimistic and looking forward to more exploration, more wilderness adventures with my friends and colleagues, and an overall healthier and safer 2022. I have recently been reminded just how effective the act of genuine listening really is, and how important it is to show respect to each other, to yourself, and to your patients. Whether having a difficult discussion with a patient about their new diagnosis, managing prolonged wait times, answering questions about vaccines, or even debating with your friends whether the sky is blue or purple, mutual respect is the key to effective communication and shared understanding. If you just take a few extra minutes to really listen, while remembering to be kind and maintain the notion that we are all just trying the best we can in this crazy world, then you will usually able to understand, connect with, and ultimately communicate with people much better. You may be surprised when initial disagreements turn into agreements. Remember to go outside. Seek out that life fuel, look for the ‘spark’ and continue to fight for it because that’s what keeps us going. If all else fails, just #bemorelikemothernature. [Mother Nature is the boss, after all.]
I hope to see many of you at ACEP21 in Boston, it’s just around the corner! Safe travels to those who are joining us in person! Make sure to come to our section meeting; it’s one you do not want to miss. We will be having a small reception following the meeting. Thank you for all you do to keep this world spinning, I think Mother Nature is very proud.
Taylor Haston, DO, FACEP, MPH, MS, DiMM
Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine
Director, Wilderness Medicine Fellowship
Director, Wilderness and Survival Medicine Section
Center of Operational Medicine
Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University
Chair, ACEP Wilderness Section
"The wilderness feels like home to me. Exploring the North Georgia Mountains with my sidekicks, Lucha and Wilder. Turtletown Falls, Blue Ridge, Georgia. May 2021"