Thoughts from the journey… Excerpts from a day in the life of Sherry McLaughlin

11Feb/123

A mountain of inspiration

Sometimes you just meet someone whose story stops you in your tracks. A little over a year ago, I met Daniel.

He came in with complaints of wrist and elbow pain that were making it difficult for him to ski. As I worked on him, he told me of his love of the mountains and being outdoors. The feeling of carving tracks in deep powder. The exhilaration of flying down a mountain. His smile grew as he talked about the times he spent skiing with his twelve-year old son.

He told me all of this as he sat in his wheelchair.

We talked little more and I asked him about the accident that caused his paralysis. "It was an avalanche," he said. He had hiked up a mountain in Romania in 1994 to take some pictures when all of a sudden the ground started moving beneath him. The mountain he so revered was about to toss him over the side of a frozen waterfall and into the icy water. He told me about the people who saved him and carried him to safety. He described his unrelenting pursuit to walk again. And he told me about the day he finally came to realize that his efforts might better be spent on something else.

So, he headed back to the mountains. This time with a monoski and two outriggers and figured out how to once again commune with nature the way he was intended to...only his hands were now also his legs.

I've never wanted to fix wrist pain so badly before in my life.

I could tell you about how we normalized his thoracic rotation in attempt to decrease the myofascial tension in his UE. I could tell you how we improved his mobility and UE strength. I could talk to you about how his scapular malpositioning and the tightness in his pec minor were integral in the ongoing pressures in the carpal tunnel. In the end, he ended up having to have carpal tunnel releases, the compression of the median nerve was so advanced.

But this isn't about what we did for Daniel as much as it is about what he did for us.

Sometimes life throws you curveballs. Lord knows, I've fielded a few of those in my day. And sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men...well, you know how that quote ends. And since I'm on a roll with cliche's, here's one more I heard on a recent episode of a TV show. "When men make plans, God laughs."

God laughs. Maybe not because He thinks our plans are funny, but perhaps because He thinks our plans are too small. Or too timid. Or too superficial.

I thought by now (I'm almost 45), that I would have launched a large, successful and self-sustaining clinic. That I'd be retired and independently wealthy. But if that would have happened, maybe I would have never met Daniel. And I wouldn't still be plugging away trying to figure out the puzzle that is the human body to rid people of their pain problems.

Maybe I would have touched less lives...and witnessed fewer miracles...and learned less. Sometimes in the pursuit of our biggest plans, realizing the need to change course is the biggest blessing of all.

So, I don't have a huge clinic. Instead, I have a small practice where I can see from one end of the building to the other. I have a small staff...about half the size it was 5 years ago. I have to defend a lot of what we do because it is unconventional. And I get to teach it, not to university students, but to community college and high school students. Sometimes the days are longer than I would like and my wallet is flatter than I would like. And surprisingly, I wouldn't change a thing.

Because I get to work with some of the most intelligent people I've ever known. I also get to see miracles almost everyday. I get to meet incredible people from all walks of life. And even though it feels like such a small place and a small thing and we don't always fix every person we meet, the work feels important. Somehow it changes the world. And then it changes us.

I think about Daniel this time of year. I imagine he is hitting the slopes with a huge smile on his face, loving the life he never thought he would have to live. I send up a prayer of thanks for his inspiration and the constant reminder that when you come to a fork in the road, take it. And engage it. And don't look back, except to be thankful for where the journey has taken you.

And I send up a prayer of thanks that MY plans were maybe laughed at by the God of the Universe. Because, I when I stop to think about it, I really love my life.

I look forward sharing news from the MIHP Think Tank in 2012. Happy New Year.

26Apr/102

The First Annual MIHP Lemonade 1/2 Marathon

You know what they say, when life hands you lemons...

I had been training for months for a spring half marathon. Normally, I do the Martian Half Marathon, but since they moved it a weekend up this year and put it on a Saturday, that took me out of the running (no pun intended). So, I decided to enter the Trail Half Marathon that was held this past weekend.

My crazy schedule and lack of immediate attention to detail left me high and dry when I tried to sign up three weeks ago, only to find out that all 1,100 slots had been taken. Now, if you know me, you know that I don't particularly enjoy running. I do it as a matter of discipline and so that when I take part in my yearly Olympic Distance Triathlon, I'm not dying running the 10K at the end of it.

So, with all of this crazy training behind me, I decided to run my own half marathon. That's right...just me. As the vision became clearer in my head, a smile grew on my face. Not only would I take the top spot in my age bracket, but I would also win the overall prize! Never before in my wildest dreams did I think I could ever win a half marathon and now, in just a few short days, I could be crowned champion of my own race.

The idea was brilliant and so I started telling people about it. If you know anything about my life, you realize it is far from private. And, yes, I know much of that is my own doing. As the story spread, I heard a client say, "I think I might want to join Sherry on that run." All of a sudden, what could be the best race of my life could turn into my worst. After all, with only two people running the race, coming in second also means I would be finishing dead last! This woman had never run a half marathon before, though she was certainly a runner.

Oh, the dilemma. But as one of my other patients said, "It might be like that tree in the woods scenario. If you win a race and nobody is around to witness it, did you really run the race at all?" Point taken.

So, the invitation was extended and the time set. 7:30 a.m. sharp, the starting "gun" would go off. We would leave from my house and follow a carefully mapped out route through Birmingham/Bloomfield, ending up at the Starbucks on Old Woodward in Downtown Birmingham.

Just so you know, I was taking this thing very seriously. I got up at 4 a.m. to eat my pre-race bowl of oatmeal with walnuts, then back to bed for a few more hours of sleep before getting up to down my pre-race supplements, Advocare Spark, O2 Gold and Catalyst. Marilyn arrived a little bit before 7:30 and we did final potty stops and took our pre-race photo (see below) before heading to the starting line.

The starting gun went off...well, there was no gun, but we said, "Go!" and started running. The day was gray and damp, threatening rain and with a bite in the air. The route went down tree-lined streets and on dirt roads. We navigated mud and pot holes and ran by some of the most beautiful homes in Oakland County. At mile 6, there was a torrential downpour that lasted for about 10 minutes. We were soaked to the skin. We ran past the Cranbrook Art Museum and through the campus. We negotiated some long hills and enjoyed the downhills that inevitably came. We talked about life and running as we paced each other mile after mile. And as the minutes ticked by and the miles were conquered, my competitor became my friend.

At mile 9, this guy jumped out of his car and ran past us and then turned around to take our picture. He cheered us on and then showed up a few blocks later to shoot more photos. "See you at Starbucks!" he said. Our race came complete with a fan and a photographer... (Thanks, Greg!)

At mile 11, we made a left hand turn to begin our run around Quarton Lake. At mile 12, we faced the long hill into downtown Birmingham. And on the final turn, as my legs were aching and my heart was pounding, I made a run for the finish. It was a slight uphill battle, but nothing could stop me now! My legs were churning and I could see the finish line just ahead. As I crossed the proverbial line, I stopped my watch. Marilyn crossed just 7 seconds behind me to complete her first half marathon. The winning time was 2:11:46. The Kenyans might laugh at that, but I was smiling. And as I hugged Marilyn after she crossed the finish line, I just knew in my heart that this was exactly the race I was meant to run this spring.

There were no crowds. No finishing medals. No speaker announcing our names. But at the end, there was our number one fan at Starbucks, reading the paper and waiting to take our picture. And two women who were now friends...bound by 13.1 miles of mud, rain, potholes, long hills and some great conversation.

Thanks, Marilyn, for coming out very early on a Saturday morning to take part in this inaugural race with me and thanks for letting me win. Thanks to our number one fan and race photographer, Greg. I'll see you guys next year...and maybe a few more of you will join us. But for now, please allow me to bask in the fact that I currently hold the course record. 😉

Until next time...

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20Jan/100

Resolution v. Evolution

Be always at war with your vices,

at peace with your neighbors,

and let each new year find you a better man.

Benjamin Franklin


January 1, XXXX. Fill in the date. I love the concept of a fresh start that was harbored at a young age by a non-negotiable date with my dad every year. I’m not sure if he ever did this with any of my other siblings, but as New Year’s Day approached, he would say to me, “Shei, have you made your New Year’s Resolutions yet?” And with that question, I knew I should start preparing for our yearly meeting at the kitchen table.

I was a good kid who grew up in a stable family environment. When I thought each year about the things I would do better or what I would change, the list seemed rather redundant. I would try to be more honest and kind (for the most part, I already was), I would do well in school (I already got straight A’s), I would work to make this world a better place (at 10 years old, that basically meant staying out of trouble and doing a nice deed for someone now and again). But I honored the tradition, if for no other reason than it seemed to mean so much to my dad.

Each year, I would sit on his lap at the kitchen table and read my list out loud. His face would light up as if the list was unique and enlightening every year, his beaming smile a stamp of approval on my list of goals—a good template for the year ahead. I would kiss him on the cheek and be on my way to write another chapter of my life.

The years went by. His lap grew too small to sit on (or was that my butt that grew?) and I grew busy. He never forgot to ask me, but often times the New Years Day exchange happened while he sat at the kitchen table and I rattled off my list as I kissed his cheek and ran off to do something more important. I got my degree, got married, had a kid, raised some other kids, started a business, was widowed and am currently trying to survive the economic downturn just like everyone else. All of a sudden I long for the simplicity of a list that serves to solve the issues of my life.

Only now, at the ripe old age of 42, I actually have a ton of stuff to work on. As Oprah once said, “Cheers to a New Year and another chance for us to get it right.” The thought of making a list only to have the disappointment of actually not achieving those things can sometimes seem a bit overwhelming. I mean, I told myself on January 1 that I was going to start blogging regularly again. (What date is it now?) I read that only 25% of New Years Resolutions are ever successfully achieved…and then I heard that 75% of all statistics are made up on the spot, so the success rate could even be worse than that!

And so, a few years ago, I started a new tradition. At the start of every year, I still vow to try to be a better person and make this world a better place. But on January 1st, I break the wrapper open on a little black book that will house my thoughts and dreams for the current year and I write a list. Only now it isn’t a resolution list…it’s an evolution list. The Sherry Evolution (1/1/09 – 1/1/10). It’s a list that earmarks the journey of a year: the things that have changed, the ways I have grown and the things I realize about myself.

There are a few rules about this list. Number one, it is a random brainstorm. Number two, there is no limit to how long or short it should be. Number three, it is to be written as if nobody else was going to see it. A raw and honest look at the person I am now…different than I was a year ago.

That being said, I thought I’d share a few things from this years list with you, if for no other reason than to inspire you to perhaps do the same. (Notice, I didn’t include all 62 items on my 2010 list. Some things, after all, are better shared in person.)

1. I now lead a Bible study every first and third Wednesday of the month.

3. I guess I’m officially a runner with seven half marathons under my belt.

5. I have actually sold things on Craigslist.

6. I have seen the big Redwoods in California.

7. I have actually traveled enough to earn several free flights.

8. I have spoken at West Point Military Academy.

10. I have over 400 friends on Facebook.

15. One of my favorite things to hear at night from the one I love is, “So, tell me about your day.”

19. I actually put partially synthetic oil in my car once just so I could feel like I was treating it kindly

28. My son and I end most days with him sitting at the end of my bed eating popcorn, watching TV and playing games. He steals my iPhone.

38. I was actually on the big screen at MacWorld in MacHeads the documentary for about one second. I cheered for myself.

40. I like my eggs over hard the best.

42. I do house cleaning on Tuesday more than the weekend.

51. I can be silenced in awe at the sight of thousands of stars on a clear night…and be thankful that I had to pee a 4 a.m. to get to see them.

54. My favorite thing to bring home from a trip is a sticker to put in my Moleskine’ notebook.

57. I know without a shadow of a doubt that God answers prayer.

60. I have been to the symphony twice in one year and each time it awakens my love for classical music.

61. I have a membership at the DIA. I no longer have one at the Detroit Zoo.

62. I tried to fast dance at a wedding—not pretty.

I think my dad would have enjoyed hearing my list. Maybe it isn’t a hearty list of accomplishment, but it is me--and I think he would have enjoyed not only knowing the person I wanted to be, but also the woman I have become. Sometimes, I wish I could sit next to him at the kitchen table and share it.

The world can seem overwhelming. You step out to try to make a difference and you wonder out loud, “How can I make a difference? How can I find my niche when all of the niches are already taken?” To those of you who feel this way, I have one last thing to say.

If life is a journey, then all you have to do is make sure that a day or a month or a year from now when you look down at your feet, you just aren’t standing in the same place. Then take notes. Lots of them. And if at the end of the year you find yourself standing in a niche formed by your own individuality—even better.

After all, resolution + evolution = revolution.

You just might change the world.

3Dec/091

The Joy of Driving a Station Wagon

To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children

…to leave the world a better place

…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded.

Ralph Waldo Emerson


Becoming a physician is no small feat. Four years of pre-med undergraduate work, surviving the MCAT, four years of medical school and then unbelievable hours spent working for practically nothing for the next several years of your life as an intern and resident.

After the years of sacrificing, you can’t fault a physician for wanting to drive a really nice car. They’ve definitely earned it.

I remember the times we used to stop at the hospital to drop off some dinner for my father on the nights he worked long shifts. Pulling into the doctor’s parking lot was a virtual feast for the eyes. BMW’s, Mercedes Benz, Jaguars and convertible sport cars blanketed the lot. It was like being at your own private auto show. Ooh’s and ahh’s would escape the lips of my siblings and I as we rode past the shiny, souped-up vehicles.

And then our eyes would come to rest on the most unique ride in the doctor’s parking lot. The one sign that assured us we were in the right place—my dad’s station wagon.

He owned several in his lifetime. First it was one of the super-long ones with wood paneling on the side and the rear seat that faced backwards. Then he upgraded to a sleeker looking model. It was green, I think. The final model he owned was a light brown version that I would ultimately inherit as my first official mode of independent motorized transportation.

The funny thing is, for as far back as I can remember, he dreamed of driving a Lincoln Towne car. Being the dreamer that he was, we heard about it often. He would bring home brochures and check out the latest model every year at the auto show. When I became old enough to drive, those brochures were passed on to me.

“You should buy this car, Shei,” he would say with a dreamy tone in his voice. “Look at the inside. It’s nice. Really nice.”

I looked at the brochure, every year, out of respect for my father, but deep down inside I knew I’d never own one. The vehicle had “old and boring” written all over it. I needed something fun and exciting. After all, your ride is an expression of who you are, isn’t it? Just ask everyone in Hollywood.

“It is nice, Dad,” I would say. “Maybe one day.”

After several years of such an exchange, I finally said to him, “If you like the car so much, why don’t you just buy one for yourself?”

I never got an answer. I would see a little gleam in his eye and a faint smile would cross his face. But I never really got an answer.

That was right around the time I was in college and my tuition at a private university was about $240 a credit—and I was taking a full load. When I graduated in 1990 with my Master’s degree, I realized that I never once had to stand in a financial aid line at registration. All I had to do was sign up for classes, call home with the amount of my tuition and skip off to class.

Well, I didn’t really skip, but it was relatively effortless.

Years later, I realized what a gift that was. To be able to study hard and then get a job and not owe the amount of a small mortgage in student loans as a young adult. As a result, the Lincoln Towne car purchase was put on hold.

Three weeks after I graduated, I got married. My father threw me the wedding of the century, complete with four days of pre-wedding festivities that included big family barbecues at our house. Guests arrived from Canada, the Philippines, Texas, California, Virginia and all over Michigan. It was an international event of huge proportions and there was food. Lots of it. There was also an abundance of love and conversation as families and friends were reunited in the name of the big event.

People still talk about our wedding. It would be years before I realized that little “celebration” cost almost as much as my college education. The Lincoln Towne car would have to wait again.

I imagine there were many times in my father’s life that he could have afforded that car. I secretly vowed that once I landed a job and could get financially stable, I would buy him a Towne car myself, as a token of my appreciation for all he had done for me.

It never happened. You know how that goes. Real life takes over. Debt. A family. How on earth did he ever do all that? I would ask myself.

And then, one day in 1995, he was driving home from work and lost his vision. The diabetes he had been dealing with for years had won the battle over his eyesight. A couple of laser surgeries would only serve to restore his ability to see shadows. My father had become legally blind.

He would spend the rest of his days being chauffeured  around by friends and family, unable to fully enjoy the scenery flying by him. You wouldn’t know it by the look on his face, though. He would get in someone’s car and lean back in the seat, a serene look of enjoyment crossing his face. “This is a nice car,” he would say, “Have you ever ridden in a Lincoln Towne car?”

I was disappointed in myself. There was a part of me that wished I would have purchased that vehicle just so I could drive him around town and see the look of pure pleasure on his face.

In the next several years, the complications of diabetes would require him to have his legs amputated. First his right foot, the one that would have pushed the gas pedal down on his favorite car, then the rest of his right lower leg and finally left leg.

In the last eight years of his life, he was hospitalized numerous times, several of which we thought would be his last. I would race to the hospital on those days thinking about all the things I would say. Fear, dread and remorse settling on my heart.

Upon arriving at the hospital, I never had a hard time finding his room. There were usually people milling about. A whole lot of them. As I walked up to the crowd, people would recognize me and say, “Shei, it is good to see you…” and the stories of my dad would begin to tumble out.

“Your dad gave us the down payment to our first home,” one couple said.

“He loaned me money to start my printing business,” another would add.

“Your dad paid part of my college tuition.”

“One Christmas, we were so poor, we didn’t have any money for presents and then, we received a card in mail from your father with $25 in it. We were so happy, we cried.”

“I got to travel to Washington DC for the Cherry Blossom Festival on this big Greyhound bus…”

The stories would flow out of people, some of whom I’d met before and others who were complete strangers to me. Relatives. Friends. Strangers…but only for a moment.

Our lives were united by the generosity of one man. A man who gave so willingly of his time and money, so that others might experience freedom, joy and opportunity. A man who saw value in investing in the human spirit.

By the time I made it through the throng of people and into his room, I was a different person. The fear and sadness replaced by a sense of awe and gratitude for the man who was my father. He always looked so small in that hospital bed, his body being whittled away by disease. But that was my dad.

Small in stature. Larger than life. Surrounded by the ones he loved.

And he drove a station wagon.

Life Lesson #6

Despite what people say,

You aren’t what you drive.

You are the legacy you leave behind.

So, don’t smirk at the station wagons…

There just might be a dignitary inside.

19Nov/090

How to Have an Open House

Let me live in my house by the side of the road, where the race of men go by;

They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,

Wise, foolish—so am I;

Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat, or hurl the cynic’s ban?

Let me live in my house by the side of the road,

And be a friend to man.

—Sam Walter Foss

My earliest recollection of being alive was when we lived in a tiny apartment on the East side of Detroit. My father and mother worked opposing shifts at Doctor’s Hospital, located a block or so away from our home in the Pasadena Apartments on Jefferson Ave. I remember it being small and the hallways dark. I even recall having to step over a drunken guy who used to pass out in front of our door occasionally.

Considering my father was born and raised in a one-bedroom home, the apartment was a step up. It was actually big enough to entertain friends and family—and he didn’t hesitate to invite people over.

By the time I was 7, we moved to the northwest suburbs of Detroit, into a house that must have felt like a castle to my father—a large, gray brick home with 5 bedrooms, 2 ½ baths and a basement. Each of us kids had our own room, fully furnished and tailored to our personalities.

Being slight in stature, Filipinos don’t usually require a lot of square footage to be comfortable. They might long for a bigger kitchen, but the bedroom situation is often times negotiable. Truth be told, our family of six didn’t really occupy all of those rooms—at least not in the traditional sense. On the nights my father worked a 24-hour shift, all of us kids would pile onto the king size bed in my parent’s room.

You might wonder how we all fit. We simply oriented our bodies horizontally across the bed—you can do that when everyone stands less than 5 feet tall. Sometimes, I woke up with an arm lying across my face or my toe stuck in someone’s mouth—but the tradition continued and it didn’t occur to any of us that sleeping in another room would even be an option. When my oldest brother broke the 5-foot barrier, he simply laid some blankets on the floor and continued to occupy the same room as the rest of us.

That left a lot of empty rooms in our house and what good was a house with empty rooms?

I don’t think it was so much the empty room situation as the generosity of my father’s heart that began to fill those spaces. First it was an uncle that moved in—he was going to dental school and needed a place to stay. Years later, I found out that my father not only provided him a rent-free space, he also footed part of his college tuition.

Then, there was another uncle—well, he wasn’t really an uncle, we just called him that. That’s another thing about Filipino families—if you meet someone that is Filipino, male and a little older, you call him Uncle. If he is Filipino, male and a lot older, you call him Lolo (grandpa). The same goes for Filipino females, you just change the titles.

I’m not sure why this particular uncle came to stay. All I know is that he occupied my younger brother’s room, and he used to play the guitar and sing. We would all huddle outside the door and giggle as he sang, “Sunshine on my shoulder makes me happy.” There’s nothing like hearing John Denver with a Filipino accent. Really. Nothing like it.

People would come and go. Some would stay for a week. Most would stay for months at a time. A room was offered to anyone who needed a place to stay, a helping hand or a listening ear.

The most memorable houseguests were a family from California. That’s right, an entire family. Turns out, the mom and dad were having marital problems. Somehow, my parents caught wind of it, an invitation was extended and before I knew it, I had 4 new brothers and sisters. They arrived with their mother—two boys and two girls—about the same ages as my siblings and me.

What fun that was! It was sort of like the Brady Bunch, only there were eight of us—and we had better tans. Imagine the first day of school. The bus pulled up in front of our house and six kids came flying out of the house, with the two little ones waving good-bye. The bus driver almost had a heart attack. My father not only shouldered the added grocery bill, he treated those kids like they were his own. Bought them presents, threw birthday parties, took them on family vacations and paid for their tuition at our local church school.

Late at night, I would find my parents and the mother of these kids sitting at the kitchen table. I didn’t know exactly what they were talking about, but their tones were hushed and sometimes there were tears.

A few months into their stay, the father came to visit—and moved in as well. Two complete families under one roof—now there were four adults at the kitchen table late at night in deep discussion. It would be years before I realized what my father had done. He was not only a physician and a provider—he evidently was also a marriage counselor.

Nine months later, the family packed up their car in preparation for their journey back to California. Relationships mended. Hearts healed.

I remember that day. They tried to leave once, but as we all kneeled in the family room to pray for their safe travel, we were all crying so hard that they ended up staying one more night and leaving the next morning.

We still hear from them. The kids are all grown up and they have kids of their own. We’ve attended weddings and graduations. One is an architect, another a civil engineer and the two girls are raising beautiful, happy families of their own. The mother and father? Still together after all of these years.

When my father became ill, it was this very couple that dropped what they were doing and flew to Michigan—to cook, clean and sit beside my dad and talk. They did it several times, without hesitation. When my father passed away, I remember seeing the father of this family sitting alone in the corner of the funeral parlor. Broken. Sobbing. Mourning the loss of a friend who was closer than a brother.

I went over and put my arm around him and he looked up at me. In that silent gaze, I felt the depth of his gratitude to the man that saved his family—and his life. It made me proud of where I came from. I will never forget that moment.

I think God grants people big houses for a reason. When it boils down to it, people require about three square feet of space to not feel violated. What you do with the rest of the square footage is entirely up to you. You can fill it with furniture that never gets used. Or you can open your house to the ones that need some food, shelter and a kitchen table.

If you choose the latter, there will be relationships formed and history made that will outclass and outlast the best furniture money could buy. And if you are ever witness to that kind of generosity, you are given a gift that you feel compelled to pass on.

It changes lives. It changes you. Trust me, I know.

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Life Lesson #5

Have an open house.

Whether you charge rent or not,

The lessons learned and relationships built

Will be more than enough to cover the cost…

For a lifetime.