Little girl/big mouth
When I was a little girl enthusiastically pretending to be a radio show host or director of a big TV production, my mother would yell at me “Be quiet! Your voice carries!”
Being the natural intuitive, she predicted that I would one day, many years later, use the power of my words to help people far and wide, see things clearly, solve their problems, experience more happiness and have more fun.
I chose a path
I took the “Be quiet!” part more to heart and chose a career that dealt with chemicals rather than one that dealt with words. I spent more time with books than with people, got straight A’s in school became a pharmacist. I was a science-y type person with a secret love of poetry and a longing to figure out why we were only “managing” diseases and not curing them with our wonderful chemicals so carefully chosen to change the workings of the human body.
Dispenser of medications
As a pharmacist, my science-minded, order-loving, structure-craving self got plenty of action with over two decades of a very successful and varied career in all sorts of pharmacies. I enjoyed a challenging career in many different settings. I worked for over a decade in large teaching hospitals with big doses of AIDS medications and tiny doses of pediatric medications. I worked in community hospitals with doses of many different kinds of heart medications both in pill form and IV form. For two years I was a compounding pharmacist dispensing doses of hormone creams and pain gels and medication for animals. For three years I was a home infusion pharmacist where I dispensed high doses of chemotherapy and big bags of intravenous nutrition. For over two decades I have dispensed all kinds of medicine in many forms for many people to treat many diseases.
A path chose me
All these pharmacies had other pharmacists and doctors and nurses. They were my healthcare tribe. Health care providers have troubles of their own – spouse problems, kid problems, and work problems. All sorts of things that cause as much pain and suffering as any illness. Instead of dispensing pills or IVs or creams to them, I became the dispenser of wisdom to my fellow pharmacists. They used to call our talk sessions “On the Couch with Mary Sheehan” where all would gather ‘round for their dose of wisdom and advice. That was much more fun than dispensing medications and I began to see the healing power of words.
Two paths intersect
Because I needed material for a television show I was producing, I decided to work in a retail pharmacy. This was a job I wasn’t qualified for so I had to talk my way into one. I was scared to death of the public. These people were not like the tribe I was used to talking to. These people, the general public, I didn’t know at all. I had no idea how to talk to them. There I was with all my clinical experience in a non-clinical world. I had all my words that were no good because no one spoke the language. The public was scary. I was afraid they would hate me, or worse, I would hate them. I didn’t know what would happen.
There are no straight lines in nature
What did happen was that I noticed something. Health and healing were much more complicated than pill = cure. In fact, over the years I would see people getting sicker not better. There were pills that could heal. There were pills that could kill. Some could be abused. Some not taken correctly. Sometimes people couldn’t afford the ones they really needed. Sometimes people took too many of the ones they didn’t need at all. Some people didn’t care enough about their health. Some worried about things that they didn’t need to worry about. There was confusion and anger and frustration.
Here’s a curve
There are different kinds of sickness too. A pill for blood pressure wasn’t going to cure a bad marriage and yet a bad marriage could cause high blood pressure. A pill for depression wasn’t going to make you like the job you hate, yet a stressful job can be a big factor in depression.
Sometimes you have to get hit by a truck
Aside from the vague knowing that my life was about to change, I left the house one day like any other winter day in Ohio, on my way to the pharmacy. I never saw the truck coming. When the EMS people finally came to get me out of my crumpled car I remember my inner voice saying, “Pay attention to everything that happens from here on”.
That time I spent in the hospital Emergency Department had a big impact on me as a patient but an ever bigger impact as a healthcare provider as I would find out when I finally returned to work, months later.
I wanted comfort not morphine.
I was crying so they thought I was in pain. No one asked. I was scared out of my mind, the kind of scared that you think is so big that you will lose your sanity from being so close to it for so long. You would do anything to make it stop. I just wanted someone to tell me I would be OK, that my family who was driving in the storm to see me would be OK. They heard me cry, but didn’t ask me why.
I win the suffering contest
Some health care teams that were working that morning thought they were having a worse day than I was. That made me feel worthless and that I had no value and in fact was a sort of burden to them. If they didn’t care about me, who would? It was just them and me, and I was in no shape to care for myself.
So this is what love is
My attending physician in the hospital that day helped me stay calm.
He looked at me. Directly into my eyes not in a threatening way but in a connecting way. It was the first time I understood the phrase “The eyes are the window to the soul” in a non-romantic way. I had never had the experience of such a deep connection with another human being that I was not romantically involved with. I can still feel that connection even years later. And it still gives me comfort.
On the long circuitous road to recovery, there were many opinions offered as to what was best for my healing, what would help, what would hurt. I needed this test and that test and this therapy and so on. How would I navigate this with their input and with my own direction? The accident rendered me weak and vulnerable but not stupid. I wanted the doctors to help me but also respect my input. I wanted to be a part of the process not a spectator but I was afraid if I disagreed with their medical opinion, they would “fire” me as their patient, then I would have no one. That experience shaped me as a person and as a pharmacist.
Mary S. Sheehan RPh, a registered pharmacist
Outside of the school of hard knocks, I graduated Summa Cum Laude from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh PA with a degree in pharmacy. I have been a practicing pharmacist for over twenty years. I have also studied, applied and taught to both the public and other professionals, many modalities of complementary medicine. I have been a contributing health expert on local channel 3’s Golden Opportunities and Can You Relate? with Kathy Dawson. I have produced and hosted my own healthcare related talk show Good Medicine. I am a clinical faculty member of Northeast Ohio Medical University where I have taught classes in self care, home infusion, how to communicate with the public, and alternative medicine.
Dispensing more than pills
Today I give the people what they really want and it’s not a pill. They want the stuff that doesn’t come in a bottle – comfort, wisdom, connection, pertinent, directly applicable information. I look at people now and really see them, I listen to what they say and not just hear their words. Doing this allows me to know what words to use, how to use them and in what doses to solve a problem, make someone happy, to inspire a change.
A truer definition of medicine is anything that brings you closer to your true self, brings you more joy, more peace. That’s medicine. I learned that right words at the right time in the right dose can be as powerful as perfectly crafted chemicals that come in bottles. Every day I get to feel the impact that my words have on people. My customers are happier and are actually making changes. That makes my job easier and their health better. Clients that take my advice ride joy waves all day long and have energy to spare at the end of each day.
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