Wednesday, November 7, 2018


noun An anchored float serving as a navigation mark
verb Keep (someone or something) afloat

I could not remember the last time I had swum a mile.  Time has stopped, and seized, and stretched and raced since last November. I have found little sense in the fits and starts, the urgencies and the stalls. My tactic has just been to march on, show up where I am supposed to, handle what is in front of me, metaphorically “just keep swimming.” But literally, swimming is not something I have done in over a year. 

So there I was putting on a wetsuit, watching the sunrise reflect on the Pacific, listening to the anthem, and filing down the stairs to swim in the cove. The Challenge Athletes foundation triathlon is something I show up for.  Every October I know it will be there to recharge my belief in the power of the human spirit. I count on it. I look forward to it. And this year, I needed it. 

The water was cool and clear. I watched garibaldi swim below me and just focused on making it to the next buoy, then the next, then the next ... until I lapped up on the beach with the pitching surf and felt that sense of recently illusive peace. 

Since mom died I’ve found ways to hide from the grief. Ducking and weaving around the painful emotions, I have dodged behind a lame excuse, “I don’t have time to grieve, not yet.” But I have been fooling myself. What I have actually been doing is perpetually grieving, chronically missing my best friend, and wanting something in this world to right my pitching ship. With Mom, and all that she did to support me gone, I’ve been frantically searching the cloudy horizon for buoys, markers to tell me which way to go .... and until that day in October, I hadn’t been able to see what was right in front of me. 

The Challenged Athletes Foundation Triathlon is important to me as an annual milestone, as a commitment I made to a dear patient, and as a promise I made to myself to always stay involved with this fantastic organization. It is a navigation mark to me, a reminder that I am on the path I always intended to travel. It is one of my buoys in both senses of the word.

Since that day in October, I have spent some time reflecting on what exactly has been keeping me afloat since June when my mom died.  I have been buoyed by quiet moments at the ocean, sitting by a fire, watching a beautiful sunset. I have been buoyed by laughter, and a good meal. But mostly, I have been buoyed by the love and support of my friends and family. Snuggling with my dog Beau, just right texts from my brother Tucker, hugs and patience from a special guy, phone calls and notes from my friends near and far, these things have buoyed my spirits and helped me to continue seeing the beauty and joy that is all around. 

Another buoy is very close on the horizon. The annual pediatric surgery trip to Haiti is fast approaching. We get to work in a new clinic this year, with some new team members. We get to tackle the challenges, and celebrate the joy and privilege of doing work we love. Jacmel is my November buoy and I am swimming for it with new appreciation. 

Now, I metaphorically swim with a more determined and true heart. These buoys have come out of the fog to guide me through this hard one year mark since mom’s diagnosis. There they are, the things that matter most, the people who matter most, showing up and forcing me to face my grief with courage, not denial. There they are, helping me to stay afloat and to navigate this new reality. I am forever thankful for the guidance and the support.

And Mom, I carry you with me always. I love you forever. 

*(artwork by Mom - Debby Yoder)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Chris Martin Read my Mind ... or my Journal ...

"Reflecting" at Desert X, Circle of Land and Sky

“She said where’d you wanna go?
How much you wanna risk?
I’m not looking for somebody
With some superhuman gift
Some superhero
Some fairytale bliss
Just something I can turn to
Somebody I can kiss.
I want something just like this.”
-The Chainsmokers/Coldplay

April 17, 2017. Today was something else. So much has happened in the last few months and today a chapter closed as I spoke to a stranger on speaker phone while driving to Santa Monica. We are in the middle of a Mercury Retrograde cycle and I have learned that those celestial times tend to rattle my world. Some people believe less in the chaos and more in the power of Mercury Retrograde. I have always held fast to my chaos theory ... until today, when I started to believe in the power.

There was this rough day I had at the beginning of the retrograde. My house was torn up and I had been displaced for weeks. The reality of having left my full time job was hitting me, and things just seemed out of sync. A dear friend was able to calm me down and ended up sharing a podcast that helped me frame my situation and place it in the context of that ubiquitous “bigger picture.” Pieces of my understanding fell into place, a quiet calm took over, and then Chris Martin sang.

So let’s be all “retrograde-y” and take it back .... Apparently, this particularly powerful retrograde focuses on the things you have built or are building in your life. This cycle takes us all back 7 years ... to 2010. The night the retrograde started I couldn’t sleep. I had the needling urge to read my old blog posts, starting from the very beginning. I wanted to see what I had done and figure out why I had let it lapse. As I read that night, I was struck by the force of my intention SEVEN YEARS AGO in 2010. I had wanted to explore international surgical service work and I had done it – found different projects, said “yes” all the time, figured schedules out with my colleagues, and jumped into the work with passion, hope, happiness and grace. That year of exploration led me to leave Denver, leave a fulltime job, and find a home base at the beach from where I lived a life full of national and international travel. I had started to build something that held meaning for me. So what has happened since? And why am I being thrown back to that time by this cosmic torture machine I call Mercury retrograde?

Seems the universe is reminding me I have strayed ... strayed from my once passionate intention and fallen for the hook of a “normal life.” For the past two years I have struggled with my untraditional lifestyle – the one that allows me the freedom to do international service work, the one that allows me to say “yes” to adventures and challenges, the one that I was born to live. During those two years, I sought a full time job and worked hard to stay put geographically. Nine months ago, I officially began walking down that path ... working a “real” job, in a large corporation, slaying my spirit in order to conform, and lying to myself that this was “me” .... lying to myself that this was where I needed to be. When it fell apart after 6 months, there was an incredible relief, a flurry of escapist travel, and a giddy sense of liberation.

But then, the hard work began, bringing us to this retrograde and Chris Martin. Seven years ago I left Denver for two reasons. Professionally, I left Denver because I wanted the freedom to pursue being a pediatric surgeon on my own terms. And personally, I left Denver because I am an ocean girl who needs an ocean boy and though I love the rare air of the Rockies, I was just faking it thinking I could trade waves for summits. Seven years ago I intuitively knew some hard truths about myself ... beautiful and hard truths. Now, this retrograde has made it apparent that I have been spending a bit too much time of late trying to run away from those truths.

That is until today.  As I drove across town, I got a phone call from a stranger in Florida wanting to conduct a quick exit interview. “Why did you leave your job with XYZ?” Today, I felt liberated and entirely free from external expectations about how I should live my life, conduct my career, and move through this world. Today I felt free and complete and happy like a kid with all the possibilities laid out before her.

So, I am back. Thanks to a slamming retrograde, I am back to my true intentions! I hope to rejuvenate this blog and expand my service work (it never stopped, but now it will get more of the time and energy it deserves).  I will continue working locums jobs with people who make it fun and care deeply about our patients and families. And I will find my ocean boy, somewhere, out here ... (I have quietly vowed to always have my home in California - unless I am moving to another ocean with said ocean boy by my side.)

Not quite seven years ago, I wrote in my journal that I wanted “someone in my life who I could miss.” I wanted someone who would be a grounding force, a constant in my wanderings. I wanted someone who was strong enough and independent enough to let me do what I do. Someone who would want to share adventures, try new things, explore this world, and build a joyful, playful life with a teammate. Someone who would often share in my wanderings, but if they couldn’t, would give me permission to MISS them, and would welcome my return with open arms, and the comfort of a true home, in their heart. I still want that ... it is still my intention to find that person.

Cue Chris Martin ... the first time I heard this song on the radio I had tuned in at the second chorus so don’t get all “judgy” and tell me I “got the lyrics wrong.” That verse of the chorus replaces the word “kiss” with “miss.” You can understand how it grabbed me ... As mercury works its way out of retrograde think of me driving the PCH with a surfboard on the rack and my pup in the back, car dancing and singing:

“She said where’d you wanna go?
How much you wanna risk?
I’m not looking for somebody
With some superhuman gift
Some superhero
Some fairytale bliss
Just something I can turn to
Somebody I can MISS.
I want something just like this.”

I’m jumping back into the life I was meant to live. Who’s coming with me?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Awake in Haiti

We came home from dinner and turned on the TVs in our rooms for the first time in 4 days. The luxury of our detachment ended tonight. I am in Haiti with a team of volunteers from California, Colorado and New York.*  I am here with these most generous, and compassionate Americans taking care of children less fortunate than those in our own country. At dinner a few nights back, we marveled at the true diversity of our team: eleven of us, eight women, three men, all different colors, representing a broad range of ethnic groups. We come from different types of families, neighborhoods and cultures and here we are, working together – and working hard – for the last four days. While we do not always agree, and each see life through our unique paradigms of experience, we have been working toward common goals – and we have succeeded. We are doing this together.

Here in Haiti, what our team does not include, is anger, fear, bullying, rage, and hopelessness. There is no room. There is no racism or misogyny. We would not be successful doing what we do here if those evils were present. Here, we are people using our talents, understanding our weaknesses, holding each other up, leaning on each other when need be, respecting those who work beside us, and celebrating our accomplishments as a team. Here, I am privileged to work with the very, very best of what MY United States stands for.

Friday we will fly home – to a country that might not be what I thought it was ... A country that is more angry, fearful, and prejudiced than I ever chose to believe... a country that does not see leadership or value the qualities in a leader that I do. I am disillusioned, heartbroken, and tired .... I am sad for the children of OUR country, and anxious for the unknown path ahead.

But Friday we will fly home ... and as I learn to leave my sadness behind, I will be buoyed, once again, by my time in Haiti. Having witnessed countless moments of grace, I have learned that love and goodness can, and will, conquer all. We must form our teams and find our leaders who recognize, respect and live by our values. We must forge onward with integrity, grace, grit and love. Friday we fly home ... there is work to be done and we can only do this together.

 *I think it is important to mention that we all voted absentee.

Thursday, November 26, 2015


Team Jacmel 2015
It is Thanksgiving Day in Wichita. The vast plains sky is a solid cloud of grey and it is raining, that specific Midwest type of rain that is only a few degrees shy of sleet. It is the perfect day to hunker down in front of the fire with family, eat too much food, watch too much football, and just revel in the joy of togetherness. This is a special holiday – focused more on community, less on 'stuff'– a holiday about family and friends and remembering how much we all have to be thankful for.

In the stormy cold of Wichita, I am far from the tropical heat and blue skies of Jacmel. It has been less than a week since we jumped on tiny jets and left our coastal stomping grounds. On this day, as I reflect on all that I am thankful for, I am tremendously humbled by the family of dear friends who shared that special week. I am thankful for such willing and generous volunteers who gave their time, money, skill and hearts to care for children in Haiti. I am thankful for the Haitian team who welcomed us, supported us and taught us so much about their beautiful, hopeful people and the spirit of their special island. I am thankful for our patients and their families who trusted this posse of Blancs to take the best care of their children. And I am thankful for the countless family and friends who support our team financially and emotionally as we continue to move through this experience.

During our last team meeting, the common theme was certainly one fitting of this Thanksgiving holiday. This experience taught us so much about being thankful – for a smile, a touch, a spirited game of balloon volleyball, a gentle carry to the operating room, privacy in the recovery room, sincere attention, respect, hope, and grace. By the fortune of our birthplace, we ‘have’ more than most – but do we have more of what matters? I think we do. I think we just have to look for it, and be thankful for it everyday, not just on this cold day in Wichita.

Happy Thanksgiving! Love, Suzy

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Lord's Prayer

The Pope visited the east coast this week. His last stop was Philadelphia, a place that owns a piece of my heart. During his visit, I ran across this piece I had written long ago. I remember feeling so confused about religion while my team and I were tumbling through the emotions of caring for this beautiful soul. I was mad at God, yet he stood by me and did not let me falter. I doubted him, yet he brought comfort to those who needed it most. I label myself as "spiritual, sometimes religious" and was happy to learn that the Pope recognizes my faith. "Nature can be church ..." he said and I am proud to worship at the alter of the ocean. But during the time when I was involved with this story, I worshiped in the hospital chapel, and my hotel room, and the moments of solitude in the busy days. When I hear the Lord's Prayer now, I remember that last day ... and I believe. Let us pray. 

Our Father

The nervous energy is palpable the minute I walk into the room. My task is simple. I just have to clean up a wound and be on my way. From here, the antibiotics and the ICU would take care of the rest. Not a problem, I’ve been here before. It is a quick procedure. “I am just going to clean up the knee. Scrub up the wound. It won’t take long. Not much for me to do but make it prettier.” Dad wanted details, wanted as much information as possible. Wanted me to talk to some other doctor friends. I obliged and told them we had nothing more surgically to offer and the ICU was treating the infection. Patience, I asked for, just give it some time.

Who art in heaven

Dad is a pilot. I understand the personality. He is not in control here. Too many alarms he does not understand, too many variables outside of anyone’s control. I watch as this progresses and see him, frightened and grasping for answers that don’t exist in our world. The physics and the precise science of his world collide with the multifactorial variables of ours. Here, science can only rule so much, we can’t control every encounter with turbulence.

Hallowed be thy name

The hardest part of my day is stopping by the room. I have explained to dad that I am only one part of the team and that what I have to offer at this point is limited. I pray that the antibiotics work. I pray that the infection is conquered, but I know that something more is at work here.

Thy kingdom come

We put him on bypass. His lungs failed. Riddled with infection they could take no more. A strong, youthful heart, persistently pounding and we used it to power our machine. Give him some time. Let the lungs heal. Circulate the antibiotics and kill the infection. We watch him swell to disfigurement. We watch him withdraw to the point of no pain, no tears, no reactions. All the while, pictures of his healthy self stare down at us from the decorated ICU room walls. How did he come to this?

Thy will be done

2am. No choices. His abdominal pressures are too high and his kidneys have stopped working. Though he is anticoagulated, bleeding is no longer a concern, death is. We have no choice. Expecting the worst, my team rolls in for a bedside laparotomy in the ICU. We find destruction beyond our expectations but we will fight on, we won’t give up.

On earth as it is in heaven

Angels help us bring him to the OR. I have never seen such teamwork. Everyone is fully invested. Everyone is there to give all they have for one life, his life. Everyone is witness to the love in that room. Angels guide us as we bring him back to the ICU. We have done our best and cleaned up the damage. But we cannot do enough. 

Give us this day our daily bread

A reprieve. Nothing looks good but we can take a breath, have a sleep, collect ourselves.

And forgive us our trespasses

I can't help but cry. 12 years old. His room is plastered with pictures of a healthy boy. Vibrant, alive, thriving. I think of my nieces, my nephews, my friends' children and I cry. How is there a god who can do this? How is there a god who can put a family through this torture? I cannot accept it.

As we forgive those who trespass against us

Dad is mad. At me. At God. At everyone. I will let him yell. I will let him cry. I will answer every question, with a full heart and an honest soul. I will cry in front of him. I will tell him the hard stuff. I will explain the painful truth of body system after body system failing. I will tell him his son isn’t suffering because I still believe in a merciful god. I will tell him his son can hear him because I believe in a loving god. I will tell him that I will fight as long as he wants me to fight. But I will admit, I am losing.

Lead us not into temptation

Now, as dad has relented, mom is certain of a miracle. It will happen she says. I will be the vehicle, she believes. And I wish it were so, but I know too much. I will go back. I will fight one more time.

But deliver us from evil

I lose myself in the task. Break it down into its parts and just keep working. Open, clean it out, stop the bleeding, remove the dead tissue, dress the wound with the temporary closure … and then steal yourself to tell the family there is no miracle today.

For thine is the kingdom

Everyone meets in a blank conference room. Frustrated questions that hit like accusations  are thrown around. I cut to the chase and simply state the obvious “we have done everything we can do. I cannot make this better” as I admit defeat, the most courageous person in the room claims a victory. “My son is not going to make it here with you, but he will make it, in a better place, with god.”

The power and the glory

How can I stop the tears? I can’t. I cannot begin to understand this courage. I cannot begin to understand this pain. I cannot begin to imagine the emptiness in this father's heart.

Forever and ever

As I watch the family gather around his bedside, his dad says the Lord’s prayer.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

How to "Act" like a Doctor

Last year I had this cool gig as a medical consultant for a short-lived TV show. It was fun. I got to read the scripts, throw my two-cents in as to how to make things slightly more accurate, though often tragically less dramatic; and watch how it all turned out on the little screen. I liked the main character who was a doctor working outside the lines with a troubled personal life, messy in every possible way - but he was my kind of guy ... handsome, swaggering, trouble disguising deep-seated insecurities and a beautiful boyishly tender heart. 

One day i got an urgent call from the set ... "We need a line. Just a line. The doctor needs to explain to his friend, an actor auditioning for a part, how to 'play a doctor realistically'."

Oh the challenge of 'the play within the play'! I asked for five minutes and I went a bit overboard. I sent them a monologue, not 'a line'. Needless to say, they did not use it all but I got to hear the charming actor recite a few of my words on national TV and it made me smile. I still like the monologue, annoying rhymes and all. Read it with the handsome 'doctor on the fringe' in mind.

How to "act" like a doctor:

“…it’s all about confidence mixed with empathy, swagger with some sympathy. It’s a gentle hand on the shoulder when you tell them they need a biopsy; eye contact when you let them know it’s carcinoma. Make them know you’ve got this even though you’ve never seen a CT scan that bad before. Explain cardiogenic shock in terms a kindergartener can understand, and then explain it again. Listen. Really listen to their confusion and pain. Tell them what they want to hear wrapped into what they need to hear. You, the doctor are fearless in the face of their greatest fear. You are what stands between them and the reality of their mortality. Believe that. And that, well that, is how you ‘sell yourself’ as a doctor. (beat) That and great Italian shoes.”

ps. The actor, Tom Ellis, now plays Lucifer on the Fox show of the same name ... from renegade surgeon to Lucifer ... hmmmm