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Health Legacy

Looking at my maternal line, my grandmother was the first to graduate 8th grade. It was a big deal. My mother was the first to graduate high school, and I was the first to graduate college. My daughter just got her Master’s degree, so if she has a daughter, there might be some unintended pressure there.

Education is a privilege, and I am grateful for the opportunity. I don’t take it for granted, but I also don’t feel especially proud of it. Other than paying for it, school was not hard for me. My mother and teachers prepared me well, thus enabling me to complete it.

Today I realized that like education, I have surpassed the health measurements of all my relatives. None of my family members ever devoted as much to their health as I have, or enjoyed the results as much as I do. One grandmother was dead by my age; the other was quite feeble. My grandfather was permanently hospitalized before he was my age; the other would die by age 68.

My parents lived until ages 77 (mother) and 84 (father). However, my mother was a smoker and on oxygen. My father suffered a slow eroding of quality of life. Neither ran, hiked or went to the gym like I do. Neither made the choice to eat the organic, whole food diet that I enjoy. Both sat a lot, but neither meditated.

And here is the bad habit they taught me: neither went to the doctor unless the situation was extreme. I am not exaggerating about this. Both died from diseases that might have had different outcomes had they seen their doctors in the early stages.

Cultivating and maintaining good health is much harder than going to college. It’s for life, both in terms of goals and time frame. And although I don’t feel pride about having a college degree, I do feel pride about doing a 2-minute plank, for going to the gym as often as I do, and for seeing my doctor in the early stages of a problem, rather than having to go in an ambulance.

Plus, it feels good. Sure, I don’t particularly want to work out sometimes, but I have never regretted exercise; I’ve only regretted NOT exercising.

And if I can pass this health legacy on, that would be even better. What is your health legacy?

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Image by Thomas Wolter from Pixabay

Recently I had a health scare that rattled me a bit. I lost my hearing for 2 weeks, and because I have Meniere’s disease, my health team was alarmed. Their alarm was contagious, and I started down the “what-if” road. That road leads to more suffering.

Eventually I reached out to a few friends and shared with them what was going on. Those conversations were doubly hard since they had to shout in to my one working ear. The other one was useless. Word spread, and friends and acquaintances gave me lots of love and support. However, a few also showed me what NOT to say. It forced me to look at how I respond to others. What well-meaning words do I say which maybe aren’t all that helpful? Is my comforting actually making things worse?

Here are a few things people told me that perhaps could have been left unsaid:

“ I had a friend who had a similar thing happen. Her hearing never came back.” This scared me more.

“I know what you are going through. I had a stomach thing last year that really derailed me.” I believe this person was trying to show empathy, but then he went on and talked about himself the rest of the conversation.

“Don’t worry about it. Worry makes it worse.” I know this is true but telling someone not to worry doesn’t help them stop worrying.

Another thing that didn’t help was questioning my decision not to keep going back to the doctor or urgent care after I had already been to the doctor twice, was on medication, and had a timely follow-up appointment.

Here is what helped:

“I am sorry you are going through this. Is there anything I can do to help.”


Here are 3 more things I learned:

If someone else is suffering, even if the source of their suffering is relatively minor, I can be a compassionate listener, even if I am deaf. Problems shared are best carried together. I hope I never ever am tempted to say, “You think you have problems.”  This doesn’t help; compassion does.

I can share my problems with people who have bigger problems. I didn’t want to tell a close relative about my hearing because she has cancer and is on chemo. However, she doesn’t need my protection; she needs me to be real.

We all do the best we can. If someone doesn’t respond to your needs the way you want them to, that’s just life. We can love each other as we are, without expectations.

My hearing is coming back and although I may end up with hearing aids, that seems much more attractive than the alternative. I am grateful for the lessons this has taught me.


On Retreat

Image by Thomas Mühl from Pixabay

I am posting this in advance of my annual 7-day retreat. A week of silence, meditation, walking, eating vegetarian food, working in a garden, and no electronic media. See you next week.


Are Colds Ever Common?

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay 

This week I got a common cold. Nearly everyone I saw in the
past few weeks was in various stages of a cold, so I wasn’t surprised when I got one.

What did surprise me was the conversations I heard about each person’s cold. Although most of us have had many colds, it’s almost as if this one is going to be different. One family member who had a lot of mosquito bites wondered if she might have West Nile. Another was pretty certain he had pneumonia. Another was wondering if she had a sinus infection. She was under the impression that the color of one’s mucous determined whether a runny is caused by a virus, bacteria or allergies. This is a myth, one which even some medical professionals believe.

So when I felt the first symptoms coming on, I vowed to accept that I just had a common cold, from whatever virus everyone else was sharing. Day 4, with a sore throat, swollen glands and no nasal congestion, my imagination kicked in. I caved and called the advice nurse. She said I needed to be seen.

The thing about imagination, is I can use it to make me feel better or to feel worse. Urgent care didn’t open for 4 more hours, so I decided to rest. And not feed my imagination.

A few hours later the nasal congestion and cough kicked in and my cold seemed like everyone else’s. I wondered if the best thing would just to keep my cold germs to myself and let rest, liquids, and the tincture time do their thing. It was just what the doctor ordered. My cold was indeed common.  

If you have a fever, breathing problem, or just feel like something is wrong, call or go to your doctor. Not all colds are common. However, don’t let your imagination run wild. Let a health professional tell you what you may or may not have. And although a common cold sounds so ordinary, don’t let that fool you. A common cold doesn’t feel good.

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

A new symptom or lab test often provokes the question, “Should I be worried?” The answer is always, “No!” Worry is a useless, painful thing we humans do. We get anxious without a firm basis for our reactions. A symptom or abnormal lab test often mean nothing, so doesn’t it make more sense to worry AFTER something has been confirmed? And even then, the value of worry is questionable, because anxiety doesn’t solve anything and it often makes matters worse.

HOWEVER, fear, worry and anxiety are normal human responses.  In fact, scientists tell us that the fear reaction is our natural default. We are hard-wired to look for and expect bad stuff.  So, what I wrote in the first paragraph is actually quite unnatural.

For me, knowing that fear is hard-wired in me is enormously liberating. When I feel uneasy, I say to myself, “There, there. You are just having a human moment.“ This allows me to do through it, as if the door to peace is wider. Telling myself to “get over it” or “fear is useless” never helps. It slams the door to peace shut.

Back to the first sentence in this blog, When we ask, “Should I be worried?” after experiencing a new symptom or lab test, what we are really asking is, “Could this be something serious? That is really a different question. Either our problem is or it isn’t serious.  In that case, it may help to postpone any potential anxiety until you have firm results. That way you aren’t worrying over nothing, should the results turn out favorably.

This is easier said than done, and it takes a lot of practice. Mediation helps. You can try tempting yourself into anxiety-free moments by saying, “I’ll worry about this tomorrow.” If that is too much, you can aim to postpone worry for an hour or five minutes.

If that seems unrealistic, than go ahead and worry. Skip the guilt, and just let the anxiety be what it is. It will pass. And if turns out you were worried over nothing, than celebrate the good news.  

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Last week, I wrote in Our Bodies Have More Than One Clock, how some medications may be more effective when taken at times in sync with your various body clocks. This week I’ll explore potential drug interactions. The subject is not as simple as it looks.

Drugs, alcohol, supplements, and food may interact with drugs (and each other). It does not matter whether the drug is prescribed, over-the-counter, or illicit – all have the potential to interact.

There are various types of drug and supplement interactions. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll break them down to three types:

Duplication – When two drugs or supplements with the same effect are taken, thus intensifying their side effects. This occurs if you take two drugs that have the same active ingredient. This may happen if your doctor prescribes something that has the same ingredient that is in another drug, because either the doctor didn’t check what you were taking, or a different doctor prescribed the other drug. It can also occur because you were unaware that the drug was in more than one over-the-counter remedy that you were taking. For example, an allergy pill and a sleep aid might both contain diphenhydramine.

Opposition (antagonism) – When a drug, food, or supplement reduces or blocks the effect of a drug, supplement, or both. For instance, licorice root may interfere with birth control hormones, thus reducing the effectiveness of this contraceptive method.  

Alteration – In this case, a drug alters how the body absorbs, distributes, metabolizes, or excretes another drug. There are varieties of ways in which drugs can do this. A synergistic interaction means that two or more drugs work together against one target, producing an effect that is greater than the individual effect of the two drugs together. Further, drugs can also potentiate or boost effects. Drug A may boost the effects of drug B, but it may also increase the intensity of drug B’s side effects.

Tips to Help You Reduce Your Risk of Drug Interactions

Talk to your medical provider and your pharmacist before taking a new drug. This includes over-the-counter medicines, dietary supplements, herbs, and illicit drugs.

Read the prescribing information that comes with the drug. Check for potential interactions on a drug interaction checker such as Drugs.com.

Keep a list of all drugs and supplements that you take. Share this with your entire healthcare team.

Use a pharmacy that allows you to maintain a record of your medications. If you use multiple pharmacies, be sure you share information with all of them.  

Take drugs per your doctor’s instructions. Be sure you know when to take them, how to take them, and whether they can be taken during the same time as other medicines you take.

Stay current. Even if you took a drug before, find out if there have been new interactions added to that drug’s safety profile.

Never break, crush, or dissolve a pill, tablet, or capsule without making sure this is all right to do. Some medications need to be intact so they are not destroyed by stomach acids. If you have difficulty swallowing pills tell your doctor.

If you pick up a prescription and the medication looks different from the last time you took it, talk to your pharmacist to make sure there has not been an error.

Report to the doctor or pharmacist any symptoms that might be experiencing while taking a drug.