Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas. What Does It Mean To You?

When my kids were younger, they could not wait till the 25th of December. We had to hide their presents and put them under the Christmas tree when they were asleep. As children, the allure of Christmas was the time to receive the toy they had been dreaming about for the whole year. As adults some of us continue to do that and lose sight of what the day really means.

God, by giving his son as a gift to mankind in spite of our shortcomings was signifying that we have to learn from Him. Christmas therefore is the time to reflect and take stock of what has happened to you the whole year and bask in the atmosphere of hope and love. He came to serve and lay down his life for us.

In your day to day life are you serving with all your heart? Mother Teresa realized that and served with all she had. I am not asking you to forgo everything and behave like Mother Teresa. Whether you heal the sick or haul lumber you're doing God's work. He wants us to take it serious and do it with love.

This is what prompted an Akron cardiologist, Paul A. Wright, MD to seek mother Teresa in search of how he can serve his fellow human being better. In spite of his material wealth and successful cardiology practice he needed something more to help him be at peace. Dr Wright's work with Mother Teresa has been chronicled in his book Mother Teresa's Prescription.

As you enter the New year, I hope you also cling to Jesus' prescription and learn from Him. To serve without counting the cost, to be selfless, humble and love your neighbor as yourself. This is the source of peace which will give you inner strength to live a peaceful and healthy life.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Life Is A Seesaw

I hate going to restaurants. As an obstetrician used to eating fast, the food takes too long. The waiter will take my order and vanish into the kitchen for what looks like a century. The sight of other people's food will stimulate my salivary glands and cause my stomach to protest. Finally, the food will arrive and most of the time it's what I ordered, but sometimes something goes wrong. I either get the wrong food or the food does not taste good. Either way, I get disappointed and regret going to the restaurant. I could have eaten at home.

Does this sound familiar? I am sure you've had such an experience. Life is like that. You cannot go through life and expect everything to be Kosher. In Harold S. Kushner's book, "when bad things happen to good people," he deals with these issues. The human experience, imperfect, is prone to errors. The question is not whether bad things will happen to you but when they will happen. The key to dealing with these, sometimes, unexpected jolts in life is to first and foremost remember that you're human with "feet of clay" . If you put your feet in water long enough, one of these days you may lose your feet. You should therefore consider the following ideas to immunize yourself against loosing your clay feet.

  1. You should be a great optimist. Optimists regard the world as a positive place. However optimism is even stronger if it's combined with faith.
  2. Your past disappointments should be lessons for you. They will provide you insights into what went wrong so you don't repeat the same mistakes again. As George Santayana said, " those who don't know history are bound to repeat it." If you learn form your past you develop new skills and faculties that will help you weather future blows.
  3. Create trusting relationships to buffer you when things don't go your way.
  4. Remember the world is not perfect.
  5. When you're driving, look at the cemetery. It will remind you that you're here for a purpose and when your time comes you'll go off the stage. At least you're alive, hence make the best of your time here no matter what your current situation is.
  6. Have a high sense of humor so you can laugh at yourself often. This way, you don't take yourself serious and think you are superhuman who cannot be touched by human calamities.
  7. Above all, remember even the Saviour suffered.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Should Healthcare Providers Inquire About Their Patients' Spirituality?

In the last post Dr. Koenig "suggested that health-care professionals at least take a spiritual history, asking whether the patient has religious or spiritual beliefs that give comfort during times of stress, or whether they are connected to a faith community. If appropriate, the patient might also be referred to pastoral care."

An article that appeared in the Journal of The American Medical Physician in 2001 recommended a tool to be used by healthcare providers to inquire about their patients' spirituality. Dr Puchalski at the George Washington University Institute of Spirituality and Health also encourages providers to take spiritual history from patients using the acronym FICCA. However, many healthcare providers are not comfortable with this idea as they think they may be intruding in the patients' privacy. When patients are ill, spirituality may calm them and help them cope. What do you think? Should healthcare providers take a spiritual history
from patients?

At my office I ask my patients whether they belong to any church or not. I had a Jewish patient who pointed out that she is Jewish and does not belong to a church, rather, she belongs to a synagogue. I have changed my questionnaire to reflect that suggestion. I must confess that most patients have had no problems with that. By broaching the church issue I get the opportunity to discuss spirituality with my patients when I find it necessary. Let me know your views about this issue.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Religious People Live Longer-Study Shows

A study conducted in Canada showed that religious people live longer. Dr Koenig summarised the research finding that linked involvement in religious activities like praying, church attendance and faith with improved immune system, longevity and many more health benefits. He says it is imperative that physicians ask their patients about their belief system and recruit their belief to help them cope and heal. This is an awesome discovery that needs to be pursued further.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

"Today's Seeds Are Tomorrow's Flowers"

Every Tuesday, I raid the gift shop at the Oberlin Medical Center in Oberlin, Ohio for chocolates for the medical staff I work with in the operating room. On one of these visits, I stumbled on a plaque with the inscription, "Today's seeds are tomorrow's flowers." This touched a cord in my heart. If I am not able to plant the seeds or the flowers in my garden today, I wont be able to smell the flowers in the future. I thought that was a pregnant statement that needed attention. I stayed at the shop and contemplated for a moment and bought all the three plaques for the medical assistants at my office and kept one for myself.

This drew my attention to the importance of the power of now by Eckhart Tolle. He describes how if we walk away from the present moment and expend all our energies on what happened yesterday and what will happen in the future we will miss a great opportunity of our life because we will lose the present moment. Based on yesterday's programing of our minds, we are crippled today because we worry too much about the future. However, the present moment is all we have. Until we shake off our anxiety for tomorrow we will not have the full potential to do what we have to do today to yield results tomorrow.

It looks like this is an old concept, because in Matthew, Jesus talked about the same principle of not worrying about tomorrow. Hence, we should not let today slip through our hands, for if it escapes us, tomorrow will bring more anxiety and thus unhappiness. "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" Matthew 6:27. Thus as we meditate daily, we should reflect on these words and embrace the now like there is no tomorrow. When you wake up in the morning and you are healthy, you've got it made. In spite of all your problems, health gives you an edge that gives you the flip to help you sow your seeds in the present moment so you can smell the flowers tomorrow.


Monday, November 27, 2006

The Mountain Top Or The Sewer. It's Your Choice.

Even in your weakest moments, you can choose to be at the mountain top or in the sewer. You can patch the hole in your sails and sail to the horizon or lick your wounds and sulk. Attitude is everything. Many times, events in your life can cause you to sweat and withdraw into yourself. You become anxious and decrease your productivity. Your happy well dries up and you stop singing your melodious tunes. Your mind produces many chemicals that have detrimental effects on your body. As Zig Zigler said:

"It is your attitude, not your aptitude, that determines your altitude."

There are certain situations that my cause stress, such as when your loved ones are sick and you are worried about them. On the other hand you may be anxious because you anticipate you might not be selected for a position you applied for, though you're well qualified for it. At this time your mind may be working overtime thinking negatively which in turn derails your motivation and your ability to function . It is on these occasions that you need solutions that work.

Meditation can give you a mental holiday and make you detach yourself while you clear your thoughts. By tapping into the silence which is where peace dwells, you heal and become open to possibilities in your life. You can then use positive thinking such as the one prescribed by Norman Vincent Peale, to re-educate your mind and free yourself from the twin monsters of anxiety and depression which will sap your energy and make you less productive.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Your Inner Self Needs Maintenance Too

My normal day starts most of the time with a bang. The telephone will ring. My patient is in the labor and delivery ready to deliver her baby. Off I go, often at a dizzying speed to the hospital which luckily, is about 10 to 15 minutes away. Most times, I get to the hospital before they deliver their babies. Sometimes, after all the adrenaline rush, on arriving at the nurses' station, I will hear a baby's cry and the joyful screams of the mother and her family members. Many nights would be spent in the hospital taking care of patients. The day is not any better. I forgo lunch most days. In the evenings, after office hours, I still have patients to call, laboratory results to review and completion of my patients' charts. I get home between 9 and 10 pm if I am lucky.

I am not the only one going through this. I am lucky to have one job. Some people have two jobs and go home to take care of their children. We are like the factories or cars that work day and night and can break down if we don't keep their scheduled maintenance up to date. Are you taking time to maintain your body and take care of your mental health? Are you burning your candles at both ends? Do you identify with what I am going thorough?

My solution is to carve out some time for myself daily, before I go to sleep and early in the mornings. I give myself about an hour in the morning to meditate and exercise. The day should start with recharging your batteries. The peace of mind that comes with carving out a quiet time in the morning and evening is enough to cut down stress and adrenal fatigue that otherwise could make you sick. How much time you need for yourself is up to you.

I begin sometimes with spiritual reading and meditation for thirty minutes. I will rather do that than exercise if time does not permit. I then exercise for about ten to fifteen minutes before I shower and get ready for work. I repeat the process in the evening without the exercise. In the hustle and bustle of our daily life, we need interludes of silence to reconnect and ground us to what is important in our lives .

Sunday, November 12, 2006

How Do You Deal With The Changing Fortunes Of Life?

A few days ago, Mrs. George, a patient of mine, came for her annual gynecological examination. She was also visiting her dentist and eye doctor so her husband’s medical insurance could cover her visits as she did not know whether she would have medical insurance in six weeks.

Her husband is an obstetrician gynecologist who has just been told by his employer that he should start looking for a job as his position has been eliminated. Her husband’s organization was downsizing to save money. He was given six weeks to start looking for a job. He is well trained and hence may be able to find a job. However, he has kids in college and my patient is a homemaker. Needless to say, she was devastated and requested antidepressants to help her cope with her sudden loss.

Fortunes, like the weather, change all the time. It is the rule rather than the exception. Managing these life changes involve the ability to consider ourselves as part of nature. Nothing lasts forever. King Solomon also alluded to this when he said “for everything, there is a season.” Thus one way of beating anxiety related to change is to meditate on nature. In our quite moments we should think about how the nights change to days, the days change to nights, the minutes change to hours. The winter does not last forever; it always gives way to spring. It seems to me that change is inevitable.

It is by setting some time aside to contemplate on the wonders of nature with its constant changes that we appreciate that being part of nature, our circumstances will change too. The only unknown is when. If we keep this in mind, we can detach ourselves from our fortunes. This detachment will help us when our fortunes change. We will then have the confidence that the bitter winter will not last forever and look forward to the next season in our lives. This way, we become one with nature and beat anxiety.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Meditation For Health

If you've had children you will know that they have no cares in the world. All they want to do is to play, eat and sleep. These are children with parents who give them love and security. The children have absolute faith in their parents and know that they are available anytime they need them. Without that trust and faith, the children become stressed and go through the same changes adults go through when they are stressed. As adults, we have lost the innocent-child attitude to the world. We react to problems with stress instead of accepting them as part of life.

As Christ said, "Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."--Matt. 18:3. The prodigal son did not know what he had until he left home and squandered all his fortune. Fortunately for him he had the right attitude, became a child again and returned home when he became destitute and poor. His father welcomed him and was happy to have him back.

We are all like the prodigal son. Fortunately, if we have the presence of mind and return home, our Father will gladly receive us and reinstate us. To me this is the essence of meditation. We are able to fight stress when we have God in our sight. Once we loose sight of Him we are in an unknown territory which is scary and make us sick. Meditaion is like going back home to enjoy the childlike simplicity and innocence we had under our parents' roof. When we meditate, all our anxieties are banished and are replaced with tranquility, contentment and a feeling of wellbeing as we escape from the scary world.

Herbert Benson MD's book, relaxation response showed how meditation affected the practitioner's physiology by decreasing the use of oxygen, decreasing the amount of lactate (which induces anxiety attacks), heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and muscle tension. He called these relaxation effects "the relaxation response" . His second book, Beyond the relaxation response, stressed that the "faith factor" is very effective in eliciting the relaxation response that occurs during meditation. In the next blog, I will continue the discussion on meditation.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Vaccinate Your Mind With Positive Thoughts

If you believe in James Allen's metaphor of your mind being a garden, then how are you going to prevent overgrowth of useless weeds that will choke your flowers? Left unchecked, the fear of the unknown can cripple you. This is Emily's second time of taking her final examination in philosophy. She was a brilliant student, but lacked the self confidence to take examinations. The first time she took the examination she failed. It wasn't because she did not know her material, instead, she was scared of failure. Although she had studied enough, she wasn't able to conquer her fear in order to pass the examination.

In my own life, I also have had such moments of doubts and fear. In the 70's, there was only one medical school in Ghana. It only admitted 50 students into its premedical program every year. If you failed the premedical examination, you were out of the program. Many brilliant students' lives were ruined after being thrown out of the program. I was admitted into the program at this time. The weekend before the final examination, I was scared that I was going to fail.
I had a headache which nothing could take care of. I was sweating and my heart started beating like a drum in my chest. I could not sleep, neither could I study. I went to The Methodist Book Store in Accra and found The Power of Positive Thinking. Instead of studying for the examination, I spent the weekend reading the book to weed the thorns from my mind. One quotation that stuck in my mind was "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." I would stand in front of the mirror, look at my myself and repeat the quotation several times until my fear was banished from my mind. Though I did not study that weekend, I passed the examination because positive thoughts replaced my doubts.

Positive thoughts alone will not help you if you haven't prepared yourself to face a particular challenge in your life. For example, If I hadn't studied, no amount of positive thinking would have helped me. For positive thoughts to work, you should have a direction and commitment. The positive thoughts just give you wings to fly and provide your sails wind to propel you towards your destination. In Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull , "The gall sees furthest who flies furthest." However the gall who flies furthest did not get there by one leap. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said:
"The heights by great men reached and kept, were not obtained by sudden flight.
But they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night."
Finally, recognize that it takes a lot to keep your mind at peace. However, without the peace of mind, nothing can be achieved .

The element of belief is also important. You first have to believe in whatever is feeding your mind. I strongly had a belief that with God's help, within reason, I could do all things. You become like a child who is receiving a pep talk from his parents. There is trust that reassures the child to move on to do greater things. This also can only happen if there is a trusting relationship between the parents and their child. Therein lies the importance of trust and belief. To be a positive thinker and achieve your dreams, you have to learn to trust God if He is your source of positive inspiration.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Mind As A Garden

There are certain books that are timeless. I can read them many times and find a new pearl buried deep inside them each time I open the books. James Allen's As A Man Thinketh
(get a free download) is such a book. In 1987 I was a lonely obstetrician gynecologist in Cobbleskill, a village in Schoharie County, New York. I was the only obstetrician in the county. I could not go on vacation. My pastime was visiting the small bookstore in town and browsing through the books on the shelves. One day, I stumbled on "As a Man Thinketh." I bought it. This book has been my reading material almost every day. I will stand in my bathroom, read one chapter aloud before exercising. It gave me, and continues to give me the strength to stay in the mind body groove. James Allen used a garden metaphor to describe the mind.

"A man's mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must and will bring forth. If no useful seeds are put into it, then an abundance of useless weeds will fall therein, and will continue to produce their kind. Just as a gardener cultivates his plot, keeping it free from weeds, and growing the flowers and fruits which he requires, so may a man tend to the garden of his mind, weeding out all the wrong, useless and impure thoughts, and cultivating towards perfection, the flowers and fruits of right, useful and pure thoughts. by pursuing this process, a man sooner discovers he is the master gardener of his soul, the director of his life. he also reveals within himself, the laws of thought and understands, with ever increasing accuracy, how the thought forces operate in the shaping of his character and circumstances and destiny."

The book's objective is to impress upon us that we are what we think. That our achievements and failures have one source- the mind. "As a man thinketh in his heart so is he." " A noble and Godlike character is not a thing of favor or chance, but is the natural result of continued effort in the right thinking, the effect of long cherished association with Godlike thoughts." How true this is. This free book has more pearls for you. I hope you read it over and over again till you get the gist of it. Add it to the tools you use to prune the thorns from your mind's garden.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Scientific Evidence-Stress Can Harm The Body

I know a woman who takes care of her mother with Alzheimer disease and her sick husband. She has no help and hence carries her load alone. She cannot see her friends. Even going to church is impossible. When she came for her annual gynecological examination, her brow was furrowed with waves of wrinkles. Each wave told a story of her agony and the ordeal she was going through - the stress of watching her loved ones' health slipping away.

Science is beginning to show that stress can depress the immune system , slow wound healing and increase susceptibility to wound infections. Recent experiments on mice show that cuddled mice are happier and live longer and stressed mice aged faster. However, when the stressed mice changed their environment and were stress free, they could overcome the negative effects of stress. This has also been proven in humans where mothers taking care of sick children were found to have accelerated aging.

Have you known anyone who has aged significantly because of stress? In your own life have you noticed any changes in your health when you're under a lot of stress? If you have any examples, please share them with us. We are hungry to hear your stories to turn us into believers. Please help motivate us to attend to our mind and body.

Monday, October 02, 2006

It's Your Mind. Mend It

The mind is at the center of all we do. It can make or wreck us. Have you been nearly hit by a car? Your heart rocks in your chest. Beads of sweat roll down your forehead. Why? Because there is a connection between your thoughts and your body. That center is inside your brain and is wired to your emotions. Happy thoughts evoke well being, while negative thoughts wreck the body. The medical profession has recognized this. Spirituality courses have been introduced in many US medical schools such as George Wahington University Institute for Spirituality and Health., and other spiritual sites such as: Mind body institute , International Center for the Integration of Health and Spirituality, The American Institute of Stress, Center for spirituality and Health

If our mind occupies such an important place in our lives, how can we keep it stress free so it can be our partner for good health? The world is thorny. These thorns prick us day in day out. Like the farmer who prunes the thorns from his flowers, we need tools, not one, not two, but many, to help prune the thorns from our minds to prevent any harmful thoughts that can prick and harm our bodies. Luckily for us many people have thought about this and have written books and songs, or created art work that can help us. In these pages, I hope to build a community where we can discuss and explore how we can use spirituality and religion to help our mind to cultivate optimism and positive outlook in life. This way, we can beat the epidemic of stress that tears our bodies apart to make us prone to diseases that steal the smiles from our faces.