08 Apr

Take Nothing For Granted


I recently took a Creative Writing course. I really enjoyed it. I learned so much about creative writing. The following is the creative nonfiction piece I submitted with my final portfolio.



Take Nothing for Granted

by Sharlene McMullen

On May 13, 2014, as I was walking upstairs to my bedroom, a strange rippling pain shot through my right side. It was a pain I had never felt before. I have no memory of any pain or even a physical sensation that could compare to this. With both hands, I grasped at my right side. I firmly believed an internal part of me wanted to be on the outside and was going to get there by passing through my ribs.

As I held my side and continued walking up the stairs I remained quite calm. I thought to myself, “It’s not my time.”

Reaching my bedroom, I laid down on my bed and waited to see if there was going to be any other weird sensations or pains. The odd thing was, I was experiencing shortness of breath, not pain. I thought I had lost my breath from climbing the stairs and my breathing would improve as I rested. After lying still for a minute and still being unable to catch my breath I knew something was wrong. I wanted my phone within reach in the event I needed to call for help. I had to walk back downstairs to retrieve it, which caused my breathing to become more difficult. As I reached for my phone, where it sat on the arm of a chair, I had visions of stars in my peripheral vision. In one smooth motion, I scooped up my phone, turned, pressed 9-1-1, and headed down a set of stairs to my front door. I unlocked and opened the door while providing the 911 operator with my personal information. I sat on the bottom step and took deep breaths, in and out, the 911 operator staying on the line with me until help arrived.

The paramedics arrived and I was provided with oxygen. I don’t remember all the details of what transpired after they arrived. I know I was relieved to be receiving help. I knew the oxygen was helping me breathe. They took me by ambulance to Foothills Hospital ER. I had a great doctor in the ER. I wish I could remember his name. He was very thorough in determining the cause of my shortness of breath. I was transported from the ER to other areas of the hospital for numerous tests. It was finally a CT scan that showed I had been struck by a massive bilateral pulmonary embolism. My doctor told me I shouldn’t have been sitting there. I must have looked at him with great concern because he quickly said, “Don’t worry, you are exactly where you need to be.” They quickly began treating me with IV anticoagulants. My bed in the ER was positioned adjacent to the main station. My curtain was never closed. They kept a very close eye on me. Each time a new doctor came through the ER, my doctor would show him my CT pictures and then point at me, sitting in a bed watching the action around me. I was admitted to the hospital and for a week, I was given oxygen day and night in order to breathe.

On that day, my life was dramatically changed. I was no longer able to take the simple act of breathing for granted. Even with oxygen, any movement required a concerted effort on my part. The act of sitting up, long enough to eat, was exhausting. I was able to remove the oxygen tube from my nostrils to visit the washroom. I had to drag my IV pole with me and walk slowly in order to breathe. I slept often. Every time I opened my eyes from sleeping I was relieved to still be alive.

The IV anticoagulants were combined with oral warfarin. Once I had a stable INR and my breathing without oxygen assistance was sufficient, I was discharged. A bed in a hospital room had become my world. My meals were brought to me. My only travel was to the washroom on the other side of the room. When I arrived home my house seemed so much bigger and my world was no longer in arms reach at all times. Walking upstairs to my bedroom required a stop halfway up to catch my breath. Ten deep breathes in and out before being able to continue my walk up the stairs.

My life has never returned to what is was prior to PE. I still lose my breath when walking uphill. I still have anxiety attacks over changes in breathing; fewer, but they happen. A cold virus affects the lining of my chest and leaves my chest feeling heavy and breath feeling a little thicker than normal. Last summer’s forest fires that brought poor air quality to Calgary, had me visiting my local walk-in clinic to see my O2 number. When I can see that I’m getting enough oxygen, I can usually calm myself.

I will take blood thinners for the rest of my life. This means I cannot take anti-inflammatories. I must maintain a balanced intake of vitamin k. I cannot compete in extreme sports. I must be super careful around knives. If I were to receive a head injury I need to be examined for internal bleeding. If I am in need of a surgical procedure, I must first lower my INR by lowering my oral dosage of anticoagulant and begin using an anticoagulant that is administered by injection. I must have my blood tested on a regular basis. It is important to maintain the INR between 2.0 and 3.0 in order for it to be at a therapeutic level. Essentially meaning, in order for my blood not to clot.

I’ve recently started completing half hour exercise routines. My breathing is good as I’m sticking with low impact routines for now. I’d like to improve my breathing enough to run without fear of being unable to breathe. I’m not sure how long that will take, but I will persevere and keep challenging myself to get to that point.

08 Apr

Five Essential Ways to Maintain Mindfulness


Being mindful is a tool for successful maintenance of your mental health. In addition to becoming mindful, you need to develop ways to process what is being brought to mind.

Here are some ways I have been able to maintain healthy mindfulness:

  1. Journal – Journalling is one method to clear your mind. When your mind is juggling multiple topics and you can’t really file any of them away; journal. I find, if I just start writing words on the paper, sentences are eventually formed, and plans for action can be made or thoughts can be filed away with closure. As I learn new strategies for coping with emotion regulation, I will use my journal to find perspective after an event has caused an emotional spike. Some processes are easier to learn than others. Emotion regulation is not an always easily managed. When I write about the cause of the emotional spike, I am not only calmed, I also learn how the situation could have been handled differently.
  2. Breathing – Being mindful can at times leave you open to feelings that are not comfortable. You should prepare yourself for the possibility that this can happen, and have a plan in place for coping. Breathing is my go-to for uncomfortable feelings. I use the breathing technique of inhaling for my count (your count may be faster or slower) of 7, and exhaling for my count of 11. I do this until a wave of calmness washes over me and I able to move on.
  3. Pause – When uncertain of how you should respond to someone, or you simply need to say something important, take a moment. If you do not think you are capable of providing an appropriate answer, pause. You can request to excuse yourself from the conversation, or if you are real quick at calming, carry on after your pause.
  4. Celebrate – If your mindfulness journey suddenly involves being aware of new thoughts or feelings, celebrate that discovery. Journal about it. Take a moment, in the moment, to revel in the new thinking and feeling. The more you are present for your thoughts and feelings; the more able you will be to appreciate them.
  5. Meditate – If you are new to mindfulness, it can be overwhelming at times to pay attention to all that is happening within you. Take the time to clear your mind and allow it to rest. Meditation is the best practice. Your mind and body will appreciate it.

These are just some of the things that work for me. Mindfulness does not happen overnight. It is a journey. Enjoy the journey; you will be amazed at how many things you didn’t notice before.

Until next time…..do the next thing!


23 Mar

Jump in with both feet.

If someone asked me, “How do I start working on something now?” I’d reply, “Just do it! Just start! Jump in with both feet.”

These are the words I told myself this morning. I’ve been humming and hawing about writing to the blog. I never once just called up the editor and started writing. Today there is no time like the present to return to doing something I love, writing. I’ve missed writing to the blog. A lot has happened during the last 6 months. I can’t write about all of it today but I will write about some of what has transpired as I move forward.

Today I want to talk about a new project I am embarking on. It is called proprioceptive writing. In a nutshell, it is a method of writing that is almost meditative in nature and allows one to explore their inner self. I’m working on learning this technique and will update you with my progress.

I promise, it won’t be another six months before I write again. Thanks for sticking around. Let’s do the next thing!