Other Lives: Firmly Planted

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Psych nurse/foodie savors stories and benefits of a deliciously varied life

Pat Sullivan posing with one of her paintings of bell peppers

Photo by Chris Hartlove

Pat Sullivan, RN, MS, finds inspiration in her patients and their life stories. Understanding illness and the science behind treating people is fascinating to this psychiatric nurse manager who joined The Johns Hopkins Hospital Meyer 3 unit in 1984.

But mention urban farms, ethnic food traditions, her family cookbooks, her love for vegetables (as well as painting, sculpture, writing, you name it), and Sullivan may step outside of her beloved role as nurse long enough to share her own eclectic life story.

“Being a nurse is important work, and I’ve loved patient stories since I began my medical career as an ER nurse in my late 20s,” she explains. “But my life is a collage.”

As Sullivan’s nursing career flourished, so did her love for the arts. “I was always pulled back to my creative side,” she says. “I enjoyed drawing, clay making, creative writing, and photography—just to name a few.”

Sullivan was once a docent at the Baltimore Museum of Art, sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm with crowds of visitors. And when she needed solace, she often sought it within the quiet walls of her darkroom, bringing moments captured in the click of a camera shutter to full life. “The photos were so telling. I loved that, through photography, I was able to reveal emotions and tell the stories of others with powerful pictures.”

“Being a nurse is important work, and I’ve loved patient stories since I began my medical career as an ER nurse in my late 20s. But my life is a collage.”
— Pat Sullivan, MS, RN

The latest chapter of Sullivan’s life centers on food: a taste for real, local vegetables, a passion for growing, harvesting, and cooking them, and a knack for bringing people together through food rituals that keeps her fresh.

“What can I say? I love peppers,” explains Sullivan. “Their vibrant colors, their different flavors, their brilliant capability to compliment a multitude of diverse meals. And tomatoes! I have ‘tomato buddies.’ We grow tomatoes, we pick them, then we create culinary masterpieces together.”

Sullivan, whose culinary works have been featured in Baltimore’s Style Magazine, sees food as so much more than simple sustenance. “Food inspires memories of family and friends for so many people, stories of mealtime traditions.”

As co-president of Slow Food Baltimore, which “supports a locally sourced, environmentally and socially responsible food system,” Sullivan promotes the concept of creating memories—and telling stories—through food.

And as a nurse, she sees the role living things play in … living.

“The patio garden outside of Meyer 3 represents life, vitality, and wellness, which helps patients recall fond food memories, she explains. “It’s therapeutic.”

“Food reminds us to be well, to continue to grow as people, to enjoy life,” Sullivan says. “It’s nice to see things grow.”

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