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A year ago today I was in the far-away state of Alaksa, riding a train on the Alaskan Railroad with two of my good friends and former college hockey teammates. The fourth member of our party was not in attendance on the trip, as she was the bride-to-be and had her hands too full with last minute wedding details to miss two days of preparation and planning.

The flight from Michigan out to Alaska was anything but spectacular. Eight plus hours of flying and a day spent in an airport is not my idea of fun. But as soon as we boarded the train destined for Denali, all memories of a day wasted in a plane and airport vanished. As we left Fairbanks and wound our way around the Alaskan countryside, it became evident to me that Alaska had some of the most beautiful land I had ever laid eyes on.

Upon arrival at the gates of Denali, we marveled at the mountains that surrounded us. Even in the summer, some snow still capped their peaks. The sky was a magnificent shade of blue, unlike sky that I have ever seen before. We grabbed our bags, and set out for a short trail hike. We crossed over a bridge with a raging river far below. It had a strong, powerful current perfect for thrill-seekers who dared to white water raft down its course. At the tops of hills, we often stopped and snapped photos of the mountains and green landscape that stretched below us. As beautiful as it was, nothing could prepare me for what I would see the next day.

At 5:30 A.M., our alarms went off, and the 3 of us quickly dressed and made our way to the awaiting bus. We were the youngest on the bus by far, but we didn’t mind sharing the ride and an adventure with some more mature folks. We drove away from town and arrived at the gates of Denali National Park and Wilderness Preserve just as the first signs of dawn approached. As our bus entered the park, we stopped not too far into our journey, and I snapped photo after photo of the most amazing sunrise I think I could ever possibly see. Before the sun shone above the horizon, a fog laid close to the ground, hovering eerily over the plain and tundra. As the sun made it’s entrance, many shades of oranges, reds, and purples highlighted the sky and shone off of the mountains around us. It was a truly majestic, magnificent, moving sight to be had by all.

We saw many other wonders as we drove through the park that day. A moose on the side of the road eating her fill of grasses. Three Grizzly bears who came down from the mountain-side and decided to take a stroll right past the side of our bus. We all looked on amazed, as they gave us a sniff, then headed back to the woods. Painted mountains with layered levels of brown, tan, and cream colored stone and dirt. And finally, Mt. McKinley herself, off in the distance with her peak covered by a low layer of white clouds. As beautiful and awe-inspiring all of these vision were, to this day, I still am reminded of the gorgeous sunrise I witnessed at Denali every time I am awake and see its first rays welcome my day here back at home.

Today’s Simplest Pleasures:

1.) Who knew the colors of the rainbow can be found even where it isn’t raining? One of my favorite places to find it is when the sun first starts to rise in the morning sky.

2.) National Parks should be something we all work to preserve for future generations, because they are home to animals and vast wilderness that can teach and inspire us.

3.) The beauty of nature never ceases to amaze.

Like most people, I like going on vacation and enjoying myself when I am not at work. It is nice to have a week or two off several times a year for “me time” and “family time” to be spent doing the things we enjoy without having to worry about the stresses and chaos that can come at the daily grind. And don’t get me wrong, I love my job, and I love what I do, but every one needs time away to keep them fresh and re-energized.

Vacations are usually pretty sparse and far between, since I am still new to the working world, so my only time off is the typical “weekend” of Saturday and Sundays between these vacations during the year. My husband and I try to make the most of this time and often travel to visit our families or go fishing, but on occasion, we make a short “vacation” of our weekend by traveling somewhere near by, usually within our state, and staying at a hotel for a night or two just to “spice” things up a bit. It’s a great way to get away without spending too much money or using much in the way of our vacation time/hours to do so.

A good example is this past weekend. My company, for the third year in a row, offered a continuing medical education (CME) conference for doctors and providers at a ski resort just two hours north of where I live and work. The docs in my office all wanted to go, so we shut down early on Friday at noon, no vacation time wasted, and we drove up to the resort that afternoon. We enjoyed two days (Saturday and Sunday) of half day classes, two evenings of dinner with all of the providers and families, and an afternoon (Saturday) of relaxation around the resort.

My husband and I not only had fun meeting other families, and perhaps making some new friends, with some of my colleagues, but it was a nice time for him and I to reunite after a long week of many hours spent at work and little time and energy left at the end of the day for us to reconnect. We enjoyed a quiet lunch together after my classes on Saturday. We felt like kids again, sliding on an “alpine slide” down the side of a ski hill with my coworker and her husband, and frolicking in the pool with the kids, hitting an inflated ball around like a volleyball, trying to keep it up in the air for as long as possible. At the end of the day we had a hotel room we crashed in, watching the Olympics, sharing a few drinks, and good conversation, without the worries of cooking or cleaning dishes like we did at home. Even the two hour drive was pleasurable, him and I catching up on conversation about our weeks and our plans for the following. We arrived home this afternoon, tired from late nights and early mornings, but at the end of this weekend, we feel as if we just returned from a small vacation with new friends and stories to share.

This weekend’s simplest pleasures:

1.) A vacation doesn’t have to be far from home.

2.) It can be relaxing and energizing to leave work and home behind, even if just for a night or two, to spend time away and just enjoy life.

3.) An occasional weekend away with your significant other can be a good way to reconnect after a long week.

As I step into my parents’ house, I hear an all too familiar, “Bark! Bark!” Rounding the corner at top speed, our family Yorkie, Max, comes running at me full steam ahead. His ears are plastered back, tail wagging one-hundred miles per hour and, I kid you not, I swear he has a toothy doggy smile plastered across his adorable face. If he was a German Shepherd or Lab, he would surely knock me to the ground. Instead, thanks to his small size, his excited pouncing only reaches thigh high at best. It is as if he is seeing me for the first time; when I squat down to his level, he stands on his hind legs to reach my cheek and plaster it with sloppy kisses.

I love this about him, no matter if I have just walked in the door after a month or an hour long absence, it is always the same joyful greeting each and every time. His greeting is like this for me, my family, or even a random door-to-door salesman off the street. Every person is greeted as if they are his long lost friend. After the routine greeting, Max usually runs for his favorite toy, an old tennis ball. He grabs it in his mouth and then proceeds to prance in front of you, waiting for you to lunge for the ball or chase him around the house. He believes that every visitor has entered his house for one reason, and one reason only, to play with him. He will pester each and every person for a few throws of his ball until he wears out his welcome. Finally, the adrenaline surge will die down, and he will resume his regular call of duty, guarding his beloved spot on the couch.

The love this dog shows is unconditional. When he has an accident or misbehaves, rather than moping or holding a grudge after being disciplined, he quickly forgets and returns to his fun-loving self. When I was younger and had tears after a heartbreak, he was there to confide in without judgment. He never complains or whines if something doesn’t go his way. And there’s no need for fancy workout equipment for my parents; he’s their biggest motivation to go for nightly walks after dinner. Max is advancing in age, and I dread the day when he is no longer there to be my fuzzy, loving friend. But I will always cherish the fond memories of his tail-wagging welcome I’ve received at my parents’ front door.

Today’s simplest pleasures:

1.) The love a pet can give is truly unconditional.

2.) Our pets make wonderful friends and can enhance our day-to-day lives.

3.) Need a workout friend? Grab your dog and head out the door for a walk. It’s an easy way to bond with your pet and improve both of your fitness levels.

Until I started working in the Internal Medicine field, I never thought I’d love elderly people so much. I had grandparents growing up that of course I loved dearly, but there was something about them that seemed somewhat disconnected from me. Mostly, I attributed it to their age; I thought that they couldn’t relate to me and the things I did because they were so much older. That and I found it hard to sit down and have a good conversation with them about anything more than how school was going and what I planned to do when I grew up. Too bad I felt that way as a child, because I surely look at them and the geriatric population in a completely different way today.

After spending 2 years in an emergency room, taking care of newborns through adults, I changed fields and entered into my current job in internal medicine. The first day of work I noticed that 80% of my patient population was over the age of 50. Basically, I felt like I was taking care of my parents and grandparents each day. I soon learned that I did not miss the kids. I like kids, don’t get me wrong, but when they are sick and yelling and screaming while you fight them to look into their ears or throats, believe me, you wouldn’t miss it either!

I noticed that the younger patients who I did see in my office were often somewhat embarrassed to open up to me about their symptoms and problems. When I talked with the older patients, they looked me in the eye and told me exactly how they felt. The younger patients often skipped appointments if they were feeling better rather than calling in to cancel. The older population often still followed up as they were scheduled, “Just to be sure everything is ok.” There are always going to be some rude or non-compliant patients out there no matter the age, but what struck me about my geriatric patients was that they had no problem being kind but honest with me. If they felt a new treatment was going to be a waste of their time, they said so. I remember recommending one gentleman go see a hematologist about his abnormal blood labs and easy bruising; he flat out refused. He said, “Let’s recheck the labs again; if they are still abnormal and I need another transfusion then I will think about seeing this specialist.” He just didn’t want to be bothered, at the ripe young age of 92, with yet another doctor’s appointment when he could be at home enjoying his time with his wife. I can’t say that I blamed him.

The best part of my day is when I actually have a few extra minutes to delve into a patient’s interests or history a little further and get to hear some of the unique stories that are out there. If they would let me, most of my older folks would love to sit and talk an hour just about how things have changed since they were young. Many of them remark to me on how young I look and how could I be the one taking care of them? I am “too young to be a doctor.” I find this cute, because I am not really a doctor, but they still call me this even when I try to correct them.

I find more pleasure in my work after caring for this population, because they are often the first ones to thank me just for listening to them. They often do not care if I know for sure what their medical problem is; if I have listened and showed sincere interest in their symptoms and explained how we were going to go about looking into their problems, that was as good to them as a diagnosis. Sometimes, I do nothing more than reassure them that the rash is nothing more than a few mosquito bites clustered over their ankle or that the cough and sniffles is just a cold and not lung cancer. Just my words can bring the biggest smiles to their faces and a “thank you so much!” several times before they head down the hallway and out the door. What this population of patients does for my self esteem and pride as a healthcare provider is nothing short of priceless.

Today’s simplest pleasure:

Get to know a few people in a different age bracket than your own; you’ll be surprised the lessons they can teach you and the satisfaction it can bring to be able to connect to those outside your own generation.

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