Sunday, May 27, 2007

Be Grateful You Are Healthy. You Can Make It.

It was one of those mornings that I had been up the whole night when I was on call and knew I had a full day at the office. I was debating whether I should call the office and move my patients to the afternoon so I could have some sleep. 

The small voice inside me whispered into my ears about how most of these patients have taken time off work or rescheduled their other appointments to come to the office to see me. The voice also whispered "you're alive and healthy. Believe in yourself that you can make it" into my ears. I reluctantly jumped out of my slumber, had my 15 minutes morning routine, showered and went to work with the insight that I will enjoy my sleep after work.

When you wake up in the morning and you can see, think, hear, smell and move every limb, you have it made. It means you have the building blocks for determining your destiny that day. That is all you can ask for. So embrace the day and give it your best. Remember you only have that day. You don't have yesterday because it's gone. You may not be here tomorrow. Thus you have to discipline your mind and thoughts to such an extent that your gratefulness of being alive and healthy will give you the wings to perform any duties your station in life requires for that particular moment.

Appreciation is the key to going the extra mile when your instinct is to take the easier route. Appreciation of having a job, being alive and well, serving people who have faith in you and having the opportunity to contribute to the global effort to make the world better than we met it should be our driving force. When we are pushed to the corner and all our instincts tell us to take the easier route we should remember:

"What you put out comes back. The more you sincerely appreciate life from the heart, the more the magnetic energy of appreciation attracts fulfilling life experiences to you, both personally and professionally. Learning how to appreciate more consistently offers many benefits and applications. Appreciation is an easy heart frequency to activate and it can help shift your perspectives quickly. Learning how to appreciate both pleasant and even seemingly unpleasant experiences is a key to increased fulfillment."

Doc Childre and Sara Paddision, HeartMath Discovery Program

Sunday, May 20, 2007

For Any Adversity, There is a Miracle of Hope.

"Because the Kingdom is within you,

So too are the beauty and peace of the world you see.

The flowers and the snow,

The brush of the new wings,

The soft kiss of a parent,

All are kept safely in your heart.

Nothing has been taken from you.

Not all the seedling of promise has

perished beneath your footsteps on this earth."

By Hugh Prather, in the "Spiritual Notes to Myself."

In 1976, I graduated from the Ghana Medical School. As an intern I was given free housing but the money was paltry. By the middle of the month I was impecunious. I was frustrated. As a doctor, I had relatives looking up to me to help them. They did not know that life was a struggle for me. My father had been dead for a number of years. After one year, I decided to leave the country for Nigeria that had a booming economy, fueled by oil.

I did not know where to go in Nigeria. At that time, there was a group of Nigerian physicians who had come to Ghana to take the British postgraduate examination in general surgery. I did not know them. I approached one of them called Peter Abwa and discussed my plans with him. Peter was very encouraging and told me that his hospital, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital in Zaria, Northern Nigeria, had vacancies for residents in Obstetrics and Gynecology. He also assured me that I could join the group in 4 days to travel to Nigeria.

I went home, packed my bag, said my goodbyes and joined the Nigerian doctors in their car for Nigeria on one Friday morning. I had only about $15.00 on me. We had to pass through Lome and Cotonou before Nigeria. I had no problems in Lome. In Cotonou, the border guards asked me to go back to Ghana because I did not have a visa to enter the country. At that time all my hopes were dashed. As I walked away to join a bus to Ghana, one of the guards called me to join the group.

One of the physicians bribed the guard. The bribe was the visa they were looking for. We stayed in Lagos for one night and Peter and I boarded a bus the following morning for Zaria. I stayed with Peter for about one week before I was employed by the department of obstetrics and gynecology. I was able to buy a car and had a foreign account in London. I helped a few of my friends to come and join me at the department of obstetrics and gynecology and general surgery.

Now, if that was not a miracle, what could it be? Whenever we face an obstacle in our life, there are people ready to help. These are some of the characteristics that can help you tap into the miracle of hope:

  • Have the courage of your convictions and pursue your dreams because there are always angels ready to help you.
  • Trust your instincts and remember that sometimes you cannot control what happens to you. Just enjoy the ride and you would get to your destination.
  • Be a tough minded optimist. You cannot be an optimist without tapping into the universal spiritual energy. That unseen but ever present sword carves a path for you when you cannot see any way out of a difficult situation. Yours is to trust and let go of your instinct to control everything that happens to you, because there are many things you cannot control in your life.
  • Prepare yourself so that when the opportunity rears her head, you can recognize her and make her your ally.
  • Remember that you have to continue weaving the tapestry of knowledge, because the successes of yesterday may not be a match for today's challenges. If you sleep on the job without sharpening your skills, opportunities will pass you bye.
  • Finally, when you have been helped by someone to climb a mountain, use the knowledge acquired on your way up to help others. This is the only way we can keep the world a better place than we found it.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Follow Your Dreams and Stumble on Happiness

The pursuit of happiness is one of the cornerstones of your existence. Can you imagine a life full of dark clouds hovering over your head without any ray of sunshine? No. I can’t imagine it. The world was created for you to live in and make it better than you found it. During that process if you play your cards well, you may enjoy the process. However, there is no happiness without sadness. Both emotions go hand in hand.

In 1981, I was riding an elevator at the Ealing Hospital in London on one summer afternoon with a group of nurses who started commenting on how beautiful the weather was. They couldn’t get enough of it and were looking forward to the weekend so they could bathe in the sun. I didn’t understand what they were talking about until January, when I appreciated the effect of the bitter cold winter. Having lived most of my life in Ghana where there was no winter, it was a shocking experience. I was not prepared for it in terms of shoes, clothes and how to drive in the snow. The cold cut through my bones. I nearly packed my bag and left for Ghana.

The stark contrast between the summer and winter made me look forward to summer. I started talking about it like the nurses in the elevator. Hence, to appreciate the summer I had to be exposed to its twin, the winter. In Ghana, I never had to worry about winter and hence I took the warm weather for granted.

In the same vein, you cannot appreciate happiness without experiencing its twin, sadness. The only way you enjoy happiness is that it gives you a break from melancholy. Happiness is therefore something that you have to cultivate. It does not depend on the quantity or the quality of your possessions. Neither does it depend on your station in life. It largely depends on what you are passionate about, your state of mind and your attitude towards life. To my mind, to cultivate happiness, these are some of the important principles to follow:

  1. Discipline and change your thoughts. Thoughts can make or break you. Every thought generated in your mind produces chemicals that can influence your mood, motivation, health and many other aspects of your wellbeing. Positive thoughts produce positive attitudes and negative thoughts, vice versa
  2. Find something you are passionate about and do it with all your heart. The fruits of your labor may contribute to your happiness.
  3. Learn to share. Replacing someone’s tears of sadness with tears of happiness will produce the same chemicals in you and make you happy.
  4. Recognize the importance of the divine in your life. This will help you to discern what is important in life.
  5. Have strong social connections. The warmth and empathy received from your friends or family when you are at the lowest point in your life will be like your warm blanket during the winter.
  6. Forgive and move on. If you bear grudges it is like someone has thrown you a hot potato and you have caught it and held on to it, thus burning your hand.
  7. Remember your possessions will not give you happiness, because the more you have the more you crave. The craving for more possessions is a source of conflict and unhappiness and traps you into a deep hole of misery.
  8. You should appreciate the fact that you cannot be happy all the time. Sadness is part of life. Just like you have to work to put food on the table to satisfy your hunger, sadness is there to remind us to go back to who we really are: children without any fixed agenda, without any properties, without any hatred and without any ambitions. In other words happiness is a byproduct of rightful living and its opposite is there to remind us when we stray from our path.
  9. Take time to visit the cemetery and read the beautiful words on the tombstones. You will realize that they all had the same ambitions and aspirations like you. Unfortunately, we are on a one way journey. We cannot fast rewind and come back to do it all over again, because we have only one life to live. Your purpose in this life is to be able to play your part so you can leave this world a little better than you found it. That is all you can do. So in the process, find a way of enjoying it while you are at it.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

If You Want to Heal, a Healing Journal May Help

Illnesses such as cancer are usually chronic diseases that patients have to learn to live with. These diseases can strike terror in patients' hearts as they come face to face with their mortality. In this country, we have many resources to manage most of the cancers and other chronic diseases if they are diagnosed early. The usual treatment with surgery, radiation or medications may control the diseases or keep them at bay for a long time. Though medication or other treatments may be available the body's ability to heal is also important.

In patients with HIV who are diagnosed in the advanced stage, the immune system is usually destroyed by the virus and hence medications are less effective. This shows that the immune system is important for healing. The therapies for our diseases work only when our immune system is intact. When we are scared we can help ourselves by decreasing stress through spirituality, adequate nutrition and exercise. Journaling can be used as a path to spirituality, self discovery and to come to terms with what matters in our life.

"In the 1950's a former student of Carl Jung and psychoanalyst Ira Progoff hit a rough time in his life. Separated from his wife, and suffering from strain, he began keeping a journal as a way to express himself and alleviate the stress. However he found it did so much for him…It helped him put his problems in proper perspective and in some cases guided him toward solutions to his problems. In other instances he found a way of dealing with them. As a result he reduced his stress level and experienced emotional healing.

He immediately recognized how the journal could help his patients, and so he encouraged them to keep diaries. He wanted them to explore ideas, thoughts and dreams within their journals, no matter how strange or off the wall they may have seemed. He wanted them to recount their emotions in certain situations and then give themselves feedback on these feelings. Using the journals as tool, his patients quickly found the power within themselves to heal psychologically. The journal gave them the means and the space to sort things out, to see things."

Joan R. Neubauer - In "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Journaling."

The benefits of journaling include decreased stress, improved immune system and an outlet to vent and come to terms with your disease. It also gives the patient chance to restructure his thoughts and attitudes towards his disease and come face to face with reality. He may then be able to approach his condition with mindfulness and peace of mind that may give his body chance to heal.

The Journal may be written on paper or on the computer using Microsoft Word or on the Internet. The Internet has many places you can write your journal. One easily available place you can write is any of the free blog hosting platforms. I like Google's free blogger platform. You can write and not make it public so you're the only one who will be able to view it. On the other hand you can register with a different name and open it to the World Wide Web as your writing may help someone. Take the first step and start your writing now.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Omega 3 Prevents Alzheimer’s Disease

A study that appeared in the November issue of Archives of Neurology shows that Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish prevent Alzheimer Disease. This follows on the heals of the data form the Nun Study that showed that the nuns who have high levels of folic acid in their blood had lesser chance of having symptoms of Alzheimer disease in spite of pathologic changes in the brain. Hence as the saying goes, "you are what you eat."

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Your Health is Worth More Than Money

When everything is going well with us we take health for granted. Yet health is worth more than money. What is the sense of having all the money in the world and you are so sick you can't spend the money? This is the mental health month. An article in the Southern written by Mary Rosenberg, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist proposes the following call to action to keep you mentally healthy:

  1. Relax
  2. Exercise
  3. Connect with others
  4. Get enough rest
  5. Help others
  6. Know your limits
  7. Keep a journal
  8. Reduce negative self talk
  9. Be spiritual
  10. Don't go it alone

As the saying goes, "a sound mind in a sound body" is the right approach to a healthy living. Thus as we pay attention to our mind we should also mind the body. Have a great "Mental Month."