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Choices and Action

Red Racing Car on Race Track during Daytime

Consistent choices and action over time are the two things that will determine what types of results a person achieves in every area of his or her life.

Regarding health, eating the right foods each day and exercising regularly are the foundations of maintaining good health.

This lesson is important for adults, but also for children, who have an opportunity to begin making good choices from an early age.

Following is an excerpt from a children’s book I wrote entitled “The Lost Ugew”. It is a story and activity book in which I also wanted to instill the importance of healthy living to the young readers.

“There are many great ways to take care of yourself,” says Pogavat. “You can learn about them from different places–such as grown-ups, books and the internet. However, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Just eat lots of fruits and vegetables and not a lot of junk food and be active. However, even if you do learn a lot, the most important thing is taking action. And action, like everything else, is a choice. How about a quick lesson on choices?

“Imagine that you have a nice, shiny sports car,” says Pogavat.

“Wow, very fancy car,” says J-O

“Imagine if you put soapy water into its gas tank,” Pogavat continues. “How do you think your car will operate? Well or badly? Pretty badly, right? But what if you give your car the right kind of fuel? How do you think it will operate? Well or badly?

“So, if you give your car the wrong kind of fuel, it won’t operate well at all,” Pogavat says. “But if you provide your car with the right type of fuel, it will run very smoothly. Choices, right?

“OK, young buccaneer, how about I give you some choices of fuel to use for your body–which ones would you pick?”

I hope you enjoyed this small excerpt. It is from a children’s book, of course, but it does contain an important truth. Until next time…

Canine Lessons

When I get home from work, all three of them are there, staring at me with tails wagging. “I’ll be right back,” I tell them. Since the pandemic began, I still take off my clothes in the garage and shower before saying hello. After ducking into the bathroom and cleansing myself, I am ready to greet everyone. It’s usually the furry members of the household that welcome me first, and I become the recipient of an abundance of dog kisses and snuggles. There is also the rhythmic rapping from their tails striking the walls and chairs as an expression of their exuberant joy. I’ve begun to refer to this as the “happiness noise.” Being greeted by Rocky, Buddy and Bailey when I return home from work is a wonderful feeling that I look forward to after every shift. Mind you, this exuberant display of affection doesn’t only occur after being gone for the entire day. Even after running a quick errand, I am welcomed home in the same way.

            Yes, dogs easily become true members of our families. Moreover, not only are they part of our family, in many ways they have also become my teachers. I have learned that it is important to live in the present. Although my dogs were not the first to demonstrate this to me, they emphasize its importance each day. Unlike humans, they do not appear to dwell on things that have already happened nor to be concerned about future events. They are always right here, in the moment. If they do something naughty, such as stealing someone’s dinner, they enjoy their bonus treat and seem to be done with it. By the same token, when they are reprimanded for an act of bad behavior, they hold no grudges. A moment later, they are back to their usual playful selves. Several years ago, we had taken home some burritos for dinner. The memory is still so clear. One of the meals was sitting on the counter and my attention had been diverted. As I turned my head, I saw Rocky slowly climb the chair, gently and quietly grab the burrito, and then slowly jump down. Even though someone’s dinner was at stake, it was comical nonetheless. We managed to salvage some of the meal, but Rocky did end up getting a share, after which he went on with his day as if nothing happened.

            As I alluded to, dogs treasure their families, provide abundant amounts of love, and seek the same in return. Even as I type these words, I hear light scratching on the door. Not recognizing the “Do Not Disturb” sign, Buddy wants to be here with me. It isn’t long before Rocky and Bailey follow, their tails gently wagging.

They consistently maintain their positive outlook. There have been times when they are sick or injured. When these unfortunate incidents occur, they don’t sulk. They may be a bit more calm than usual, but they will wag their tails, lick us, and still radiate happiness. As long as they have kind people in their lives, happiness is their dominant emotion.

I have learned a lot from my furry friends. If I could sum up the wisdom they have bestowed upon me in one sentence, it would be the following: Live joyfully in the moment and always be affectionate to those you care about.

The Empty Space

From above of unrecognizable female holding book with blank pages while sitting near stone stairs

Everything we do in life is a choice. From what we eat, to checking our email, to making coffee for our spouse in the morning. Our choices are manifested as words and actions (or inactions). If we wish to explore the idea of choices further, we can contemplate the fact that our choices arise from our thoughts and emotions. A thought or feeling will lead to the next decision we make. Thinking about a looming deadline may prompt us to begin working on a project. Happiness may lead us to hug our spouse. Anger may lead us to shout expletives at the driver that just cut us off on the highway.

Over the years, I have learned some rather interesting truths about these concepts of thoughts, emotions, and choices. These teachings came through people much more insightful on this topic than me. It was through their words in books as well as in person mentorship that I  came to reflect on the idea that I might be ignorant of something critical.

What was I missing? The empty space. I was missing the small segment of time that exists between thought or emotion and choice leading to eventual action. That space is there, and, with practice, we all have the ability to recognize and utilize it. In circumstances of heightened negative emotions, such as anger, instead of just reacting, this space will give us the power to respond with thoughtful consideration.

I have experienced this many times over the years. A few weeks ago, I was out running with my two larger dogs, Rocky and Bailey. It happened that they both decided to do their business (#2) at the same time and about ten feet apart. I was stretched out between the two of them, wondering who was going to finish first. When they were done and I was cleaning up, their leashes became entangled, and I became a bit flustered trying to separate them. Almost as soon as we got going again, Bailey decided to misbehave. He was biting on his leash and pulling. I became impatient and angry. I was about to react and loudly scold him. I then became aware of the empty space. It was seconds, but it gave me the opportunity to respond rather than react. I calmly regained his attention, he stopped pulling, and the crisis was over.

Practicing awareness of this space has helped me a lot over the years. Of course, I am a fallible human and there are still many times when I react rather than respond. However, I strive to be better every day. It’s amazing how a few empty seconds can have such an impact.

Christmas

Cozy room with Christmas tree and decorations

This Christmas, I received a surprise gift, one that I definitely wasn’t expecting. No, it was not in a neatly wrapped box beneath the tree, nor did it arrive in a colorful envelope in my mailbox. Moreover, the person who gave it to me remains anonymous. What is this mystery present? Well, I got COVID for Christmas. I was also kind enough to pass it along to my older son.

I am so thankful that our symptoms have been mild. My experience has been fever, body aches, sore throat, cough and congestion. I am very fortunate that I was not affected more severely, and I pray for those that have suffered worse symptoms.

It seems as though the worse part of this is being isolated in our spare bedroom. My son feels the same way, as he is isolated in another room. I now know what I am sentencing all my patients to when I tell them that they must self quarantine. On the bright side, though, I had lots of time on my hands (a rarity) and thus had ample opportunity to catch up on things that I had been meaning to do.

I am most definitely blessed to have my wife, Mayra, by my side (not literally next to me). She has been taking care of everyone in the house—the humans, the dogs, the fish and the plants. She brings all of us our meals and ensures that our needs are met. Besides mother and wife, she is also doctor, making sure that my son and I have obtained a near full set of vital signs for ourselves everyday.

A few days into quarantine, it seems as though I was getting a bit moody. Out of concern and love, Mayra was telling me about many of the things she had been reading about COVID. She was doing a lot of research and informing me of items that I should be cautious about. For whatever reason, I decided not to listen. I figured that I knew enough about this horrible virus from working in the Emergency Department and I did not not need any additional information.

Mayra, always perceptive and astute, inquired as to why I was distancing myself. I initially resisted continuing the conversation (yes, I can be stubborn). But I quickly decided to do the right thing and open up (I also eventually figure out when I am not being my best self).

We spoke and I listened to everything that she wanted to say. I apologized for being inflexible and agreed that she had indeed learned many intriguing and important facts in her research. I felt much better after that conversation.

I enjoy being friends with Mayra. As a bonus, I also have a wonderful teacher. She keeps me open and honest with myself. Furthermore, in this instance she taught me that I was not practicing humility. I am grateful that she helped me to see myself as I truly was, and how I needed to make myself better.

Yes, it was an atypical Christmas with an unexpected gift. However, I did receive something else, something that is actually present in my life everyday—the love and friendship of a wonderful woman. 🧡🎁

Kindness

White Printer Paper With Be Kind Text on Plants

We are often assaulted by negative news stories. Although factual, stories of murders, terrorism, political scandals and natural disasters saturate the airwaves. While there are anecdotes detailing acts of kindness, in my humble opinion, it seems as though the stories recounting acts of malice are much more ubiquitous than those describing deeds of goodwill.

            Despite this overwhelming amount of pessimistic narrative that enters our lives through newspapers, radio, television and our phones, I sincerely believe that there are more acts of benevolence than there are gestures of hostility. Kind acts occur every day around the globe, and when I learn about things that people do to add something positive to the lives of others, it motivates me even more to do the same.

            While in the middle of a busy shift in the Emergency Department last year, I witnessed such an act. We were busy to the point that we ran out of rooms, so there were many patients on stretchers in the hall. I had cared for a middle-aged woman, and after some testing, deemed that she was safe to be discharged home. I cannot recall all the details, but apparently she lived about an hour away from the hospital and she had no way of getting home. The clerk in the department had offered to call a cab, and it turned out that the fare was going to be $100. My patient said that she could not afford to pay such a large fare and she stated that she had no other way of getting home.

            After a short conversation at the desk with the clerk, the woman appeared despondent. Only a few minutes had passed when the man approached. He was an older gentleman, probably in his early seventies. He was a family member of another patient who had overheard the difficulties that my patient was experiencing. He took $100 dollars out of his wallet, handed it to my patient and told her that he wanted her to have it.

            My patient responded by saying something like, “I can’t accept this money from you,” and then, “Why are you being so nice to me?”

            I still remember the gentleman’s response. He said, “You’ve got it backwards. You’re actually doing something nice for me by allowing me to help you.”

Giving away $100 seemingly without thought to a total stranger appeared to be an effortless thing for this man to do. I believe that showing love and compassion is quite easy most of the time. Admittedly, it can sometimes be a challenge. However, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Moreover, kindness can be quite infectious, and it will be paid forward over and over again.

A Backwards Society

Sliced Avocado Fruit and Green Vegetable on White Chopping Board

While at work in the Emergency Department a few weeks ago, I saw a young man in his early forties who had come to the hospital because of neck pain. It turns out that he was concerned because he had just suffered a heart attack the prior week for which he had a cardiac catheterization and a stent placed in his heart to open up a blocked blood vessel. A few months ago, I took care of a woman in her fifties that was admitted to the hospital and ended up needing open heart surgery due to extensive heart disease. 

I realize that the above is not the most uplifting opening paragraph for a blog post. However, it is factual nonetheless. My intention is not to be discouraging, but rather to create awareness and inspire change. Diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol, cancer, heart disease and stroke are chronic diseases that are very often related to lifestyle choices—especially diet and exercise. These horrible conditions are frequently preventable. When they do occur, many are often reversible. Moreover, these maladies are oftentimes created by the afflicted individual. 

Although I could be mistaken, I believe that I have a fairly unique perspective on the healthcare system in this country. I would like to preface my thoughts by stating that our healthcare system is miraculous. We have an armamentarium of pharmaceuticals, procedures and surgeries that are life saving. I know this because I’ve seen it first hand. Amazing things happen in hospitals every day. 

Having said that, I believe that our society has it all backwards. We eat an abundance of processed foods containing sugar, white flour, salt, oils and artificial chemicals. These lifestyle choices unquestionably cause people to become sick with one or more of the aforementioned chronic diseases. How do we currently fix this? We turn to doctors, pharmaceuticals and medical device companies. We use pills to control the symptoms of diseases that we ourselves have often created. This. Is. Backwards. We need a paradigm shift. Why eat poorly, become ill and then take pills to put a band-aid on your diseases?  Instead, why not eat a nutritious diet and greatly decrease the risk of sickness in the first place? Do this and you can feel vibrant, focussed and well.

Which option sounds better? The choice belongs to you. Have a conversation with your doctor. It is my sincere hope that we can have a paradigm shift. I know that we can be better. Are you with me?

The Joy of Presence

Red Leaf Trees Near the Road

Today is a beautiful day. I sat on my porch as the sun bathed my face with a gentle warmth. It was quiet. The only sound was the melodious song of birds as they chatted with each other. My beautiful Japanese Maple, with its deep red leaves, stood to my right. The air was light and fresh. I let my eyelids close and meditated for twenty minutes. Upon opening my eyes, I felt refreshed and calm. I also felt present.

There is really a lot to be said about being present. Just being in the moment. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. Right here and right now. It seems like such a simple thing. Well, it actually is a simple thing. Yet, its effects can be profound and permeate into all aspects of your life.

The joy of presence. Lying on a beach. Hiking along a mountain trail. Having a hectic day at work. Being stuck in traffic. Petting your dog. Eating a crisp, juicy apple. Cuddling with your spouse or children. Trying to bring awareness to the moment you are in, rather than the future or the past, can be a wonderful undertaking. It doesn’t have to be an official meditation session.

I am tying to be more cognizant of this. There are many times when my body is in this moment while my mind is in some other time and place. Of course, sometimes daydreaming can be a wonderful way to generate ideas and spark creativity. I do enjoy letting my mind wander at times. However, I want to get better at being where I am right now. I know that, over time, it will help to bring more clarity and tranquility into my life.

Tsunami Aid?

Ocean Wave at Blue Hour

In the April 2020 issue of Scientific American, there was an excellent article entitled “The Aid Tsunami,” authored by Ajay Saini and Simron J. Singh on pages 59-65.

They discuss the catastrophic tsunami that that hit the Nicobar Islands (off the coast of Thailand) on December 26, 2004.

They discuss the devastation that affected the indigenous people and their villages.  They spoke about the massive humanitarian effort that ensued, with more that $14 billion dollars donated by both private and governmental benefactors. The relief effort seemed like an amazing pouring out of kindness by people.

However, it turns out that there would end up being a darker side to this.  The authors of this article were trying to convey several key ideas to the reader. One of these ideas centered around health. As the authors point out, “…benefactors inundated an essentially isolated society with packaged foods, a wide range of electronic and consumer goods, and enormous cash handouts.” Years later, with regards to the natives of the island, “…many of its members were beset by alcoholism, diabetes and other formerly alien ailments.”

They go on to state, “…over the years prolonged stress, sedentary lifestyles and a taste for processed foods had taken a toll. Previously unknown ailments such as hypertension appeared. The islands lack modern medical facilities, and most of the traditional healers — with their extensive knowledge of plant-based medicines — had perished during the tsunami. The Nicobarese began to die of heart attacks, diabetes, injuries, respiratory diseases, pneumonia, malaria and other diseases. Alcohol became a scourge as well.”

One of my take aways from this article reinforces ideas that I already feel strongly about. Specifically, that physical inactivity and poor diets will greatly increase the risks of developing many chronic degenerative diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and heart attacks.

However, there is very good news here. Similar to the tragic outcomes suffered by the Nicobarerse when their lifestyles were changed, the converse is also true. When unhealthy lifestyles are transformed into healthy ones, many of their associated disease conditions can be improved and even reversed. This is incredibly powerful information.

Not only is there power in this information, there is power in you. You have choices everyday.  Over time, the choices you make will determine your life.

In school I learned that one of the reasons it is important to study history is so that present day people can learn from the mistakes that were made by others in the past. I believe that we can all learn a valuable lesson from the Nicobarese.

Be Kind to You

 

 

 

Be kind to yourself.

Treat your body well.

In general, it is always best to take great care of yourself. Eat right, move your body, get adequate rest and take some time every day to be in silence. These are healthy habits to cultivate and maintain.

Although some of us, such as healthcare providers and other first responders may be much busier during the current pandemic, we must not forget to care for ourselves. Especially now, we should keep our bodies fit and our minds clear.

If it does seem difficult, then perhaps focusing on doing a single thing daily to care for ourselves is a good place to start.

Taking baby steps and being consistent is a great way to be healthy.

Humanity United

 

Inspiration.

I love to be inspired.

And I can tell you that I have felt so much love over the past few weeks.

I am not surprised, yet still amazed by the number of people that have stepped up to help each other.

Local restaurants have donated food everyday, even twice a day, to the Emergency Department.

A friend of mine delivered food on a church bus to people’s homes.

Healthcare workers, hospital employees, first responders and employees of essential businesses are putting themselves in harm’s way each day they show up for a shift-to help and serve others.

People have been staying indoors and have put their lives on hold to protect each other.

This gives me hope for humanity. Although so much of what is broadcast by the media is violence, terrorism, greed and scandals, I know that we can be so much more. This pandemic has proven that. We are all one people-a global community. We stand together and care for each other. God bless!