My Travels, Health, and Healing my Human Heart

My Travels, Health, and Healing my Human Heart

Florida Artist Rita Schwab is holding her beautiful glass mosaic that reflects journey, path, heart 🙂

This is a long post with a long story that begins with just a catch up on our travels including our experience with the flu, and then my cardiology journey and resistance to doctor’s orders. If you have ever felt you and your doctor were not communicating-read this post. Enjoy!!

This year we have done a lot of traveling-California in January, Nevada and Arizona in February, Florida in March and early April, and in May I went on a wonderful and writer changing retreat in beautiful and peaceful Santa Fe, New Mexico. Each of these trips have their own story and lots more to share.

It’s been both fun and exhausting and Steve has set his own boundaries around travel. “I can’t unpack and repack a suitcase without an at home for a while break. “It’s too much!” I, on the other hand have a hard time saying no to life and opportunities to travel, explore and experience everything. Steve reached his limit when after completing a delightful family Caribbean cruise, we embarked for a 10-day vacation to be with friends in Cape Coral, Florida and the second day there he was diagnosed with Influenza B. Poor Steve. For the first week of that trip he was either outside on their beautiful lanai or in the house wearing a mask. Although our friends were wonderful, “like family”, and we did enjoy many great conversations in between rest time, this did take a toll on all of us.  Our dear friends hung in there with us and we all went on Tamiflu. I was the only one who did not have at least a day of the flu.

At the Urgent Care, it was noted that my blood pressure had climbed to 160/90 ­— yikes! I was stressed. I managed my stress by writing daily out in the Tiki Hut down on their deck and canal landing. It is a beautiful and serene place to reflect and write. Some days I would just rest in the hammock or sit and meditate and listen to the many sounds of nature. It helped that the weather was beautiful. I also enjoyed an evening glass of wine, which I noticed did lower my blood pressure. Toward the end of our stay we were able to go out and enjoy the last few days of our trip. One of our outings was an art fair in Cape Coral where I met and photographed the artist, Rita Schwab and her glass piece used with her permission as my photo for this post.

By the time we got home and to our own beds, Steve was exhausted and I was concerned about my heart. I purchased a new OMRON B/P monitor and made an appt with a cardiologist.I continued to monitor my blood pressure and it varied-sometimes high and other times normal.  I really focused on my breathing and although I did not sit in formal meditation every day, I attempted to stay mindful of my thoughts and pace of living.

As I sat in the cardiologist’s waiting room, I felt a bit out of place. The room was filled with elderly people, some in wheelchairs, and the younger patients were very overweight. I “pride” myself in being as healthy as I can “the middle way” through exercise, a plant-based diet, and meditation, yet here I was. I have to admit I have a strong family history of heart disease—Mom, Dad, and siblings. But I thought I was different and was on top of controlling the risk factors, at least that’s what I thought. Yet now I realize how hard it is to control the biggest risk factor-underlying tension and anxiety.

My cholesterol is high but so is my good cholesterol. I used to smoke but quit 36 years ago, and I have not been overweight since nursing school. Why was I there? My primary care physician was okay with me going although he has never seen my blood pressure over 120/70. He takes my blood pressure every time I see him, and he carefully monitors my lipid profile every year.

Long story short, the cardiologist was not quick to put me on any medication (I liked that!) until I had some tests to determine if I, indeed, showed signs of heart disease. He ordered an echocardiogram and coronary calcium scan (CAT Scan of the heart and its major blood vessels). I was game. The heart scan took about 20 minutes and the echocardiogram took almost an hour.

The next day I got a call from the nurse who gave me the results of my tests—the echo was normal and the heart scan showed minimal heart disease, better than most for my age so the doctor would like me to take a daily 81 mg of Aspirin and 40 mg of Lipitor. Noooooooooooooo.You would have thought she told me the doctor wanted to do open heart surgery. I totally reacted with surprise, anger, sadness, and disappointment and asked that she have the doctor call me.

He did, and it did not go well. The American College of Cardiology recommends the aspirin and Lipitor for a patient picture like mine. Actually there are many cardiologists that feel we should all be on a statin.  But that’s it! This doctor really does not know me and I am not a typical patient. I had only seen him one time, and we need to go beyond one size fits all medicine. My primary care physician is an MD with years of alternative medicine experience and for over 25 years has followed my health and prescribed the daily supplements I take. I take no prescription medicine and don’t want to start. On the other hand, I also don’t want to have a heart attack or stroke and would welcome a plan to prevent further heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women.

When the cardiologist called, I let him know how disappointed I was that the nurse called and that we did not talk before I was given a prescribed plan that included a statin drug without more discussion on its benefits and its risks. Statin drugs do lower cholesterol and prevent plaque buildup in the arteries, but they also come with an array of side effects—muscle aches and weakness, GI symptoms, and more. There is a ton of research that is now questioning the cost/benefit of statins.

I have to admit, I did not give the doctor a chance to explain how we would proceed or how he would follow up with me. When I got off the phone, I felt sad that the conversation did not go well and I wished I had sat in a 30-minute meditation prior to speaking with this doctor. This doctor has an excellent reputation as a cardiologist, is very kind and personable and I am sure he has saved many lives. I wish I could have expressed myself in a better way to be heard by the doctor. I also wish his office would have scheduled a follow up appointment so that he could go over the results with me in his office. Most of all I have used this experience to reflect on my own defensiveness and fear and also trust that there is a blanket of universal forgiveness between both of us.

Doctor patient communication can be difficult. There is fear on all sides. I have a deep respect for the medical profession. I am a Registered Nurse and know how difficult it is to navigate around a system that is frustrating to the patient and the doctor. And I also know that in today’s world of alternative, integrative and functional medicine, there is much that medical schools and nursing schools have failed to teach. The research is often driven by pharmaceutical companies who have a vested interest in us taking drugs when there are so many alternatives to healing. I will not take a long-term prescription without research and that is my current mission about statin drugs and heart disease prevention and treatment in general.

Dr. Danielle Ofri’s book What Patients Say. What Doctors Hear, states it well:

Patients, anxious to convey their symptoms, feel an urgency to “make their case” to their doctors. Doctors, under pressure to be efficient, multitask while patients speak and often miss the key elements. Add in stereotypes, unconscious bias, conflicting agendas, and the fear of lawsuits and the risk of misdiagnosis and medical errors multiplies dangerously.

 A week later, I went to my primary care physician. He agreed that going on a statin drug was premature, but also agreed that we needed to take the tests serious and take a closer look at my cardiac risks and current status. He was grateful to have the test results for additional information about my health. He recommended beets and cayenne pepper as nutritional support for the heart. He also recommended 1000 mg of Niacinamide (Vit B3 derivative-not as much research on its affect on cholesterol like Niacin). He also said he may want me on a low dose of of Zocor, which is a statin. I might add that my physician knows me well and suggested I relax and balance my chakras.

My lifestyle supports health but there is more I can do. I exercise (making sure I get 10,000 steps a day) but could increase the intensity of my walks and add more strength training. My diet is plant based; no red meat and I avoid saturated fat- but I am far from perfect and need to be more aware of salt and sugar. I do meditate, but I am a hyper personality and need to focus on breath awareness and slowing down in between life’s adventures. But more important than all of that is that I often feel I live in two worlds. On one hand I teach and coach a very deep spiritual path of love and forgiveness and on the other hand I have the same fears of illness and death as everyone else. Our fears fuel our defenses and often cause us to separate rather than join.

In two months we will repeat all of the blood tests that aid in determining my current heart disease risk. Since being more mindful of my diet, exercise and meditation as well as forgiving myself and the doctor,  (Forgiveness is a powerful medicine for the heart), I have noticed my blood pressure has been staying within the normal range and I am hoping my blood tests show that I can reduce my heart disease risks without taking medicine.

In the meantime, I will continue my research, be mindful of my lifestyle, and stay “open hearted”. I have a follow up appointment with the cardiologist in 6 months. I’m not sure if he is the right fit for me, but it would be nice if we could meet again. I will go prepared to listen to him and hopefully he can also listen to my concerns and we can join in a much more productive manner.

In the end, its not about any of this. It’s always about all the lessons we learn along the way and as I continue the journey, I enjoy bringing you along.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aging, Dying, Red Convertibles, Wine and Chocolate

Aging, Dying, Red Convertibles, Wine and Chocolate

My friend Janet and I with her red convertible. Notice the basket of wine and chocolate.

A friend of mine owns a red convertible. She got it over 18 years ago and it still looks great. She is now in her late 70s but as vibrant as her car. Her license plate is Joy 4 All, and she lives that every day of her life from her vintage clothes and hats, to her thoughtful gifts and notes. This friend recently lost her oldest son to early dementia so it’s hard for her to have that joy all the time. In fact, as she feels her grief and experiences her body aging, like all of us, she has occasional meltdowns. But not for long, for something will come along that not only delights her but delights someone else.

Recently one of her neighbors was celebrating their mother’s 94th birthday party. One of the things on her bucket list was to drive around in a red convertible. The son of the birthday girl was trying to figure out how to make this dream come true. He called several rental car companies to no avail. No one had an available red convertible for rent. He thought of borrowing one from a car dealer, but unless you put a down payment on the auto, you are out of luck. Then an idea came to him. He said to his wife, “ Doesn’t our neighbor own a red convertible?” Light bulb idea!!! He called my friend and said he had an out-of-the-box favor to ask. Could he borrow her red convertible? My friend, joyful as can be, thought this was a great idea and would be happy to let him use the car for the day.

On the day of her birthday, the son surprised his mother by picking her up in the morning for a day of celebration and driving around in a red convertible. She was so delighted and could not believe her dream came true. They had a day out to brunch,  then  took a ferry ride to Maysville and toured the home of Rosemary Clooney followed by a celebration dinner.

Later that day they returned the car, full of gas, with the utmost gratitude. My friend told me this story with a smile on her face -“Oh! It was so much fun to make someone’s dream come true!”

I have another friend who recently celebrated her 77th birthday in hospice. Two weeks ago she was walking my neighborhood and now has weeks to live due to a malignant and aggressive brain tumor. I went to visit her. It was 11:30 in the morning and there she was sipping a small bottle of Sutter Home Sauvignon Blanc. I said, “ Are you drinking wine?” I was smiling as I do love wine and thought, why not? Glad they let you have it here. I think I might want to do the same thing. She turned her head to me and said, “Yep! All day long-that and chocolate. What else can I do?” She explained that she chose not to have any treatment, but rather to take the path of palliative care, which assures comfort and allows her to spend what time she has left with her family and friends and enjoy her wine and chocolate. She said if anyone asks what to bring-wine and chocolate!

A group of us put a basket together for her. Each person contributed something based on the theme, wine, chocolate, and comfort care. We brought her a basket full of wine, chocolate, cookies, books, and more. I think she appreciated the thoughts as well as the things. She died about 10 days later at peace and surrounded by her family

One never knows how much time we have left to age and then to die. We don’t all have the same dreams or the same joys. We don’t all have the same experiences, but what we do have is a choice to live as full a life as we can and to be there when someone asks for an out of the box favor and to give with an open heart. It is healing for all.

It has been awhile since I wrote this and I want to add that we all should imagine just for a day that we are in hospice with only 6 months to live. How will you live those days? Angry? Afraid? At peace? Have you had those important conversations with loved ones and friends? Don’t wait to suddenly be told you only have weeks or months to live. We all are on a time line. Life is precious.

 

 

 

Friendship The Medicine of Life

Friendship The Medicine of Life

“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing…not healing, not curing…that is a friend who cares.”

-Henri Nouwen

Friendship is an art. We are born into families but we must cultivate our friends. A true friend is priceless- someone you can call when you are confused, have a problem, or when you are excited and want to celebrate. Sometimes we need a friend to listen and not fix our problems or advise us with the best solution. Yet, how many people have someone in their life who will listen and love unconditionally without an ulterior motive; without asking for anything in return; someone whose own spirit is lifted by allowing you to share your dreams, worries, fears, confusion, anger, and other emotions.

This is rare in today’s society because we are in a hurry and listening takes time. It is also difficult these days because much of our communication is lost in texting, e-mail, facebook, and lack of self-awareness and mindfulness. How can we understand what someone else is feeling if we never take the time to understand our own inner world? Make friends with yourself first and you will be able to open your heart to others.

Like doctors, we want to give our friend a solution. Often we don’t want a solution; we just want to talk it out. A true healer will listen until they don’t exist so the other person can come up with their own solution, but this takes time.

There was a time when I went to a doctor and I said to him, “You know, Doctor, I think there is an emotional component to this and I really want to heal at a deeper level.” He looked at me with a sense of helplessness, and said, “Well, get up on the table and let me listen to your heart.” After putting the cold stethoscope on my chest, he proclaimed, “You are just fine.” Isn’t that funny? Would he really take the time to listen to my heart and soul and mind? No, not because he doesn’t want to, but because he doesn’t have time. Listening to someone’s feelings and emotions is difficult. We quickly want to solve the problem, hurry the pain away, and heal the person. We can’t expect our doctors to be our friends, but if we had more friends we might not need as many doctors.

You may have a “ton of friends,” but how many of your friendships are open and unreserved allowing you both to expose your soul and unleash your feelings and emotions without fear. You are fortunate if among the multitudes of people you know, you have one or two trusting friends who will be there for you even when they don’t understand you.

Cultivating friendship takes time and thought and the ability to give and to forgive. It is the desire to want to be in a relationship with another human being for no other reason than the healing energy of knowing you can count on that person and they can count on you in life when it is challenging or when it is exciting. This kind of friendship is the best medicine.

I Believe in Magic! Home Remedies for Cold and Flu

I Believe in Magic! Home Remedies for Cold and Flu

“Healthy people eating healthy food should never need to take an antibiotic.” -Dr. Joel Fuhrman

Tis the season for colds, flues, viruses, sinus congestion and just feeling plain yuk! Many run to the doctor at the first sign of illness, which usually is not necessary and simply spreads your germs or sends you out only to pick up some more.

For a virus, antibiotics do nothing but mess up your normal good bacteria in your digestive tract (mouth, stomach, intestines).

When I get sick there are a few things I do that seem to shorten my days on the couch, but I try to start my natural regime at the first sign of a depleted immune system (scratchy throat, achiness, fatigue, or what I call the eewy geewies when I just know there is a bug in me).

If you have incredibly horrible symptoms like a high fever, cough, sore throat, sneezing and blowing out green or yellow gunk for more than a week – you may need to make an appointment with your doctor but generally rest, stress management, and supporting your immune system with a healthy diet and natural remedies will decrease your time on the couch or bed.

Before you try any of these remedies, although you probably don’t need the doctor, I would at least ask what he or she thinks of the magic. More than likely your doctor will say “whatever works” or “there is some research to show…” or “never heard of it but it can’t hurt” or just take some Tylenol, Ibuprofen, or Aleve and rest. That’s all good advice but is there anything else you can do? Yes! Here are some home remedies you can try.

Natural remedies

First and foremost eat a healthy diet rich in vitamins and antioxidants-vegetables and fruits, green smoothies and soups with added healing herbs and spices such as garlic, ginger, onion, and turmeric. Apple cider vinegar added to your food or taken as a drink has long been known to heal sore throats, colds, and viruses. Horseradish root is an excellent natural antibiotic and decongestant great for loosening mucous or encouraging a blocked sinus to drain. Avoid sugar except for raw honey, which has long been used for its antibiotic properties. Honey added to a cup of ginger tea and sprinkled with a pinch of cayenne pepper is an excellent sore throat remedy.

My favorite natural remedy is garlic. I carry garlic with me when I travel and at the first sign that I feel like there is a bug in me. I eat raw garlic chopped up on bread or mixed with my food. When I am dining out, I don’t hesitate to ask my waitress or waiter to bring me a side of chopped garlic. And yes sometimes you do reek to those around. There is a famous quote “Since garlic then hath powers to save from death, bear with it though it makes unsavory breath.” – Salerno Regimen of Health.

I can remember a time when I was traveling and while at the airport waiting for a flight, I felt like I was coming down with something. I went to one of the airport restaurants and ordered hot soup and a side of garlic. I ate it all. While on the airplane I heard the people in the seats behind me saying “ I smell garlic. Wow! I bet she just ate Italian food!.” It seemed my garlic ingestion was noticeable.

And speaking of garlic, check out my recipe for Garlic Soup.

MARY’S GARLIC SOUP

Start with Chicken or Vegetable Broth (You can use any clear soup or make your own with bullion cubes). Bring to a boil

Add Several cloves of fresh garlic cut up. (I add as many as 10 cloves to about 4 cups of broth) Use as much as you can stand and don’t over cook the garlic.

Simmer the soup with the garlic for a minute or two. (Another variation is to sauté the garlic in the pan before adding the broth. This makes the garlic more tolerable if you don’t like it raw.) I eat garlic raw so I cook as little as possible.

Remove from heat and add: 1 tsp of Apple Cider Vinegar. Sprinkle with Cayenne pepper. (According to taste -a dash can create quite a tang so add according to what you can tolerate).

Other helpful spices are Turmeric, Cumin and Ginger which all have healing properties.

Another variation is to add a beaten egg to the boiling broth like egg drop soup.

If you want to make a more hearty soup, go ahead and add some cooked chicken, turkey or sautéed vegetables. Onions are always good for healing.

Be sure to chew the garlic pieces when you eat the soup.

Enjoy! And Be Well!

 

 

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The Crying Room

The Crying Room

“What soap is to the body, tears are for the soul.”
-an old Jewish saying…

 

Everyone needs a good cry once in a while. Crying is therapeutic. Emotional tears release stress hormones and endorphins similar to the chemical release of a good run. Interesting that when you cry from cutting onions you don’t get the same effects.

A friend of mine was going through some tough times and was at a loss for solutions, and in fact did not want to be fixed, simply needed more spiritual support or just something to help her gain some perspective. She decided one Thursday evening that she would go to a church-any church that was open.

Growing up, I remember being able to walk into any Catholic church to light a candle, pray quietly, or share your problems with Jesus or Mary or one of the other saints that were represented in statues around main sanctuary. Its different today. Churches are under lock and key for security reasons.

My friend, who by the way, is Jewish, found an open church. It was Methodist and they had an event going on that Thursday evening. She walked into the Church and noticed the sign for the “Crying Room.” “How nice” , she thought. “That’s just what I need.” She walked in and there were rocking chairs. As a therapist, she knew that rocking is very soothing for the body and soul. She also knew the benefits of therapeutic crying.

She had the room to herself, and made herself comfortable in one of the chairs. She began rocking and saw a pile of coverlets, which were to be used by nursing mothers, but my friend thought they were for warmth and security while rocking. Again she was impressed with how welcoming this room was and how it had everything to sit and have a good cry.

There was plenty of Kleenex and a few spiritual books and Bibles scattered around the room. She quietly rocked and let the tears flow. What a great idea! She had never seen a crying room but praised the church for having the insight to provide such a place.

She walked out of the church feeling lighter and later told her husband about the experience at the church.

He laughed and told her that a crying room was for parents with small children who might disrupt a service with their noise. And also this room provided a place for nursing mothers with babies. My friend was so embarrassed. She had never even thought of that. To her, a crying room meant a place to cry-a place to release the tears of suffering that we all experience from time to time.

She laughed and laughed about this experience gaining the benefits of a good laugh and good cry.

 

 

You Have to Stop Sooner or Later – A Reminder

You Have to Stop Sooner or Later – A Reminder

As I reflect on my life right now, I want to share an article I wrote that I am reminding myself to follow.

This year has been a very stressful, yet exciting year. We made a major move from a house of 31 years to a new home- very different, a connected “landominium”, maintenance free living-quite a change. Between preparing the house for sale, decluttering,  keeping it immaculate for the weekly showings for months, working with the builder on the plans for our new home, and the major task of moving in general, my body has taken a toll. You really do have to be mindful of a stress and the affect of pushing until your exhausted. We are now settled and loving it, but I reacted to something while unpacking and developed a major allergic dermatitis reaction. Now on steroids and drugs, it is important that I take time to heal the cells of my stressed out body, by reconnecting my mind and spirit.

Today I put out the yoga mat while listening to meditative music and did a 40 minute yoga routine for detoxing. It felt very necessary and quite nice. My husband and I have resumed our Tai Chi practice in the evening, and hopefully this bout of illness will pass, having been a blatant reminder that YOU HAVE TO STOP SOONER OR LATER!

Anyway, here is the article:

For years people who have talked about wellness referred to weight loss, fitness or smoking cessation programs. Later we identified the role stress plays in our overall health and wellness so we developed stress management programs.

Interesting that although the wellness industry has spent the last 20 years designing programs and providing health promotion information to the point that most consumers are very well educated, health is not improving
much – Not the kind of health that is defined by an overall sense of balance of body, mind and spirit or physical, emotional or spiritual togetherness. In fact many people are exercising and watching their weight. Unfortunately many people have given up and continue to spiral upwards. There is no loss of material on what constitutes a healthy diet or adequate fitness program. There are also more self help books published than ever before to help us deal with our stress management.

Keeping all of this in mind, it is interesting that when I work with people as a wellness coach, their vision often includes a regular exercise program and healthy diet, but it always seems to include the word
balance and gaining more energy and enjoying life more. Yet that is the one place it is hard to concentrate. To stop all of our activity, whether it is for our work or just to keep the house managed is very difficult. We just keep going until our body can’t go anymore and then we get sick. It is when we get sick that we question how we have been going about getting all these things done.

More and more people have said to me that they need to take time to meditate, yet less and less do. Why is that? I know for myself I often feel that once this or that item on my to do list is complete, I will be able to sit back and relax. Sitting seems such a waste of time when there is so much to do. That is why we recommend that you schedule a regular time for meditation regardless of what is going on in life or with work. It has to be as built in as brushing your teeth. It has to be an everyday occurrence.

But what if we are just not of the makeup to sit in a formal meditation? That is not necessary, but what is necessary is to have some sort of practice built into your life for reflection on more than your everyday tasks. The fact is that one’s body and mind can’t keep on going without a break. Eventually you will have to stop.

Regardless of what your life looks like right now, it is helpful build into your day a time( even if just 5 minutes)  for silence, prayer, yoga,reflective reading, listening to peaceful music, journaling, or if you can, sitting in a position of meditation, following your breath long enough to feel a difference in your body- a feeling of peace and quiet rather than rushing and a sense of urgency. If you practice enough, it will become a memory in your body that you will be able to tap into when life is speeding by. Like all of my clients, it has to be a priority and goal for change. Let that be now and not later.

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