MONROE — “Right Brain Rescue,” the new memoir by Dr. Lara Salyer, tells her recovery story from a condition we’re all pretty familiar with by now in 2020.
Burnout, that run-down feeling of disconnection, emotional exhaustion and overwhelm.
Salyer, a former Monroe Clinic family physician now in solo practice, wanted to reach other doctors experiencing burnout, just as she had, and give them the tools to explore the right side of their brains — the visual, intuitive side — so they could discover their creative muse and reinvigorate their work.
Her book is aimed at medical professionals but it’s accessible and applicable to everyone. I read it voraciously after putting my twin toddlers to bed and finished it by the next morning. As a new mom, I was captivated by her descriptions of juggling work and motherhood.
Salyer’s short chapters, engaging style and dry humor make it just the kind of book you want to read even when you’re feeling burned out in the middle of a pandemic.
Salyer’s own burnout had its origins in what she describes as “the invisible handcuffs of a floundering medical system.”
“As our profession has imposed greater value on data collection and metrics over the authenticity of human touch, we’ve planted the seeds for dissatisfaction and burnout,” she explains in “Right Brain Rescue.”
Her awareness of her burnout came slowly.
“I didn’t know I was burned out. I loved my patients. I loved my staff,” she said in an interview.
The catalyst for her “wake-up moment” was a near-fatal hemorrhage in her bathroom one week after a major surgery. A tiny internal stitch had unraveled, and she was rushed to emergency treatment in a helicopter.
In the aftermath of the near-death experience, and looking at her life with a “fresh set of eyes,” she considered changing careers to cake decorating or teaching.
Doctors are isolated, she said. After an intense medical training, “suddenly you’re just plopped into that cogwheel. You’re (tasked with) churning out patients.”
“Doctors’ lounges are becoming a thing of the past,” she added. There’s no time to gather and commiserate. Nowadays doctors are so overwhelmed with paperwork that they’re doing it at night in their pajamas just to keep up.
A conference on functional medicine — a systems biology-based approach to medicine that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease — changed Salyer’s perspective. She realized she wasn’t burned out on medicine at all. She was burned out on how it was being delivered. She left her job at Monroe Clinic in 2016 to start her own practice.
With functional medicine, “I’m working with the patient instead of for the insurance (companies).”
In addition to her private practice in Monroe, Health Innate, Salyer speaks at conferences and teaches workshops to medical professionals and others on how to access creativity to think flexibly. She calls creativity a healing force and “the sixth vital sign” in health.
That’s where her book comes in.
“Doctors don’t need another class. What they really enjoy is a good story,” she said. “I needed to flip the script and write from the heart.”
So, last fall, she undertook a new creative habit.
“Every day I would write for two hours from 8 to 10 a.m.,” she said.
Salyers identifies with the Anaïs Nin quip, “We write to taste life twice.”
“I wanted to relive this journey because it’s really special... the vulnerability and the fear and the bliss and the fear. ... I don’t want to call it a midlife crisis. It was more of a reinvention,” she said.
“Right Brain Rescue” is not Salyer’s first book. In 2018 she illustrated and helped publish “The Colorful Teeth,” a children’s book about expressing feelings, written by her son Beckett Drew Smith, then 8 years old. He had great questions for her as she wrote her own book, and in a way, she said, “Right Brain Rescue” is a love story to her three children.
In 2020, the topic of Salyer’s memoir has new relevance. The word “burnout” is the go-to descriptor of the stress we’re experiencing on a societal level during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We use that term very flippantly, but it’s a serious (condition),” Salyer said, and it “is absolutely happening now.”
Despite the hardships and grief of the pandemic, it “has been the perfect time to pause,” she said. “It really has helped people reinvest in where they want their life to go.”
“Right Brain Rescue: One physician’s journey from burnout to bliss reveals the creative muse in all of us” is available on Kindle and in paperback via Amazon. Find more information on Salyer’s work at rightbrainrescue.com.