Friday’s Focus—What’s Eating You? Our Habits Have Become a Bad Habit

Two and half hours of my life I’ll never get back. That’s what happened last week taking my mother to the cardiologist. The waiting room was about the size of my home (yes I live in a small house but bigger than a tiny house!). Scattered throughout the room were brown leather sofas and chairs. The leather furniture certainly raised an eyebrow and the large flat-screen TV mounted in the corner of the room raised the other one. What made my draw drop, however, was that the movie Patriot Games starring Harrison Ford was on. I knew I was in trouble if a doctor was playing full-length feature movies in his waiting room.

Disconcerting as all that was, what made it worse for me was during the entire two plus hours spent in the waiting room, the people who were there had changed but the number of available seats had not. As soon as someone got called in to see the doctor, someone new walked through the front door. I started to wonder if there was a line in the hallway and a neon sign blinking “Next” as soon as there was an empty seat in the doctor’s “theater.”

I’ve never seen so many people gathered in a waiting room before. Without much else to do, I looked around and became riveted by what I saw. Regardless of size, sex, or color, it was clear that these people were not healthy. For some, it was their pallor that gave them away; for others it was the slow shuffle as they were bent over their walker; and others it was just their body shape and overall demeanor. I felt like I was looking at a slice of America and what I saw really disturbed me. We are not a healthy nation.

There’s a constant debate over food and whether it’s organic versus local versus GMO versus cold-pressed versus hydroponic versus whatever else you want it to be. The micro-splitting of what’s coming from where and what may have been in the raindrop that fell on it as it grew is becoming exhausting, and to be honest, a little boring. Of course, I care about the food I eat and the naturalness of it but as the same arguments rage on, I think we are going too far in the wrong direction—we are overly concerned and obsessed over what’s in our foods and the type of foods we put in our bodies rather than what we do with our bodies once the food is in there.

We are a health-obsessed nation and yet our health is still declining because we are a nation not on the move. We are still a sedentary bunch in our cars, our jobs, our evening television watching. Many of us are not eating from our stomachs anymore—we’re eating from our heads and our emotions. I love food as much as the next person, but I think we’ve made food a pastime. Eating is no longer something we do because we’re hungry but it is something we do when we’re bored, upset, angry, happy, celebrating or saying good-bye. Eating has become an event.

We can eat as healthy as we want but if we don’t use our bodies for even the token minimally suggested 30 minutes a day, our sedentariness can be just as deadly as if you ate a full-on “I don’t care what’s it in, just give me more” meal. I really believe it’s this static lifestyle that has become the larger contributing factor to standing room only specialist waiting rooms. If what I saw was only in a cardiologist’s office, I can’t help but wonder how often this scene is replayed in the waiting rooms of  gastrointestinal,  pulmonary, and rheumatology doctor offices.

Our bodies seem to be morphing into softer, rounder shapes than ever before. Look around and you can see how the average person’s body shape has changed. Even people who are not overweight have a changed shape—shoulders are little rounded, neck is bent forward, posture is stooped. There’s more accumulation of softness around the belly area than ever before for both men and women.

The fact that our habits are killing us is nothing new. Being with all those people in the waiting room that day, and hearing the coughs, the wheezes, the heavy breathing I knew that the cardiologists behind those closed doors are going to take their vitals, ask them how they’re doing and refill a prescription. To have a waiting room full of people who are sick due to colds, the flu, or some other kind of virus or malady is one thing but to have a waiting room full of patients who are clearly ill and some who have trouble walking let alone breathing, be there due to preventable issues was unsettling.

Yes, I am generalizing here. I don’t know the history of each person that was sitting there and yes, there are circumstances unique to each individual but I simply do not believe that every one of those people’s issues started out as life-threatening. Cardiovascular diseases can be controlled and prevented. Not everything can be blamed on genetics. It’s the combination of what we do and what we don’t do that is so deadly—food, cigarettes, sitting. This combo is lethal but also preventable. Believe me, today’s Focus is a result of my own struggles and observations—in my life I’ve smoked, drank, eaten when I’m not hungry, and chosen parking spaces closest to the store because I didn’t feel like walking far. Been there and done all that, so believe me when I say I’m not here pointing my finger without knowing full well that there are three fingers pointing right back at me!

The preventability of illness and general malaise never seemed as apparent as it did from that afternoon in the waiting room. Yes, those were two and half hours of my life I will never get back, but I have also spent two and half hours in front of the computer; in my car; watching television that I will never get back either. What about that time? Does that loss of time make it less offensive because I was doing something I enjoyed? Was it only because I was in a place that was not the result of something from my own pleasure did I feel resentment about?

We live at the whim of our own hand and we are becoming victims of our own lifestyle. But to say we’re victims indicates that we have no choice, that our unhealthiness was put upon us by outside forces and to some that may be true—up to a point, but it’s not true for all.

We can read as many diet books and articles on health as we want and it’s terribly easy to say that we will eat better and move more but somehow we always end up starting tomorrow. It took a lot of tomorrow’s for all those people at the cardiologist’s office to get to where they were that day. Don’t wait.

Today’s Friday Focus is about letting today be your tomorrow and changing the full-length movie showings in doctor waiting rooms to 60-second sound bytes instead.

#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—Keeping Prescriptions in Perspective

According to a study by the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, the total number of prescription drugs filled in the United States alone for the calendar year 2014 was 4,002,661,750 and according to Medscape Medical News the nation’s most prescribed drug is Synthroid (levothyroxine) used to treat hypothyroidism, while the antipsychotic Abilify (aripiprazole), an add-on treatment for adults with depression, had the highest sales.

Western medicine definitely has its place in our health system but I don’t believe it should be the only treatment in our health care system. The use of prescription pills to treat, modify, and control ailments has become the easy go-to for doctors and patients to treat physical and mental problems without much thought given to the underlying symptoms that created the ailment in the first place. But it’s more than that. While many doctors are loose with their prescription pads, we should also consider the patient—us—who have given up our power and in the trust we have given to our modern doctors, blindly take these pills. The same pills that so often do more harm than good with side effects that are often worse than the illness it’s supposed to control or cure!

I’ve seen this happen especially with older adults. The older someone gets, the more prescription bottles line the bathroom shelves. Are they all necessary? Maybe, maybe not. And what happens when the combination of some of those pills create additional side effects that need more medicine to treat them? It just adds another bottle to the shelf.

As prescription use and abuse continues to rise each year, it’s more important than ever to take back control over our choices and our bodies and open our minds to educate ourselves on other ways of healing  (note, I am not saying cure but that can happen) with a more wholesome approach of well-rounded health support that includes dietary changes, movement, and other medicinal opportunities such as Ayurvedic and acupuncture and accupressure. There are certainly things such as hereditary and environmental factors that would be harder to change for a person’s health diagnosis but there are many health issues that can be controlled by ways other than Western medicine alone.

I am not saying that medicines are bad. Quite the opposite. Modern medicine has improved and even saved lives but we have come to a point where we’ve given up our choices and are relying solely on prescription medicines to make us feel better and treat illnesses rather than taking the time to address underlying health issues that are the incubus for what we are feeling. This goes for doctors and patients alike. Using medicine in conjunction with a more natural approach can reduce the amount of time we are on prescription drugs, which in turn reduces the number of side effects endured.

Prescriptions are great. They help and are at times, an absolute necessity to get a body back into a healthy state. But they also should be kept in prescriptive. There are wonderful doctors and nurses out there in the various fields of medicine, but I think we forget that they are human, too, and not all-knowing gods in white coats and stethoscope. And in reality, there are some who are too quick to write a script rather than initiate a deeper look as to the causes of illnesses. On the other hand, we, as their patients have to take things deeper and refocus on our own health and what may be causing our illness rather than focusing exclusively on what the doctor said. I strongly believe in getting a medical diagnosis if you’re feeling unwell, however, it’s what happens after that and what we do with that diagnosis is up to us—how much control are we willing to give to the drug companies and what we are wiling to change to feel better, which in turn will give us a better quality  of life?

Faith is a wonderful thing but not when it is blind. We have become a society that too easily settles for Big Pharma. I have seen first hand what happens when we settle for what we’re told and I’ve seen first hand when control over our bodies is taken back into our own hands.

Friday’s Focus, and in fact, an everyday focus is to keep our prescription in perspective.

Keep taking it deeper!

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

Another morning and another blank page.

Another night I didn’t sleep well, with snatches of cat-nap dreams toying with my mind. Where does the dream and my conscious thought begin and end?

I think back to this time last year and I can’t help but feel haunted by the then, as-yet-year-filled challenges of doctors, estate disbursement from my father-in-law’s death, and family phone calls of drama and neediness on top of the normal hustle of just life.

To say I’m a little gun shy is an understatement as my husband is still not feeling well despite a clean bill of health. But chemicals are still chemicals and the re-introducement of them into his system from the preventative treatment drips has created an undercurrent of constant feelings of unwellness and in his words, feeling poisoned.

As the date of my husband’s first chemo anniversary approaches fast, I am facing my own health situation, the results of which I should know in another week or two. Looking at the possibility of a whole new round of health issues this Winter is weighing more heavily on me right now than I care to admit—or deal with. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

One way or another, I am confident that things will work out fine and these are just the ramblings of someone who needs to find the space to be the caregiver to the caregiver, whatever the results may be.

—  — —

I gaze at the stars and wish upon each one.

I watch the smoke rise from the fire and imagine that my prayers reach the ears of not just my God, but all that there is in the Highest Good.

I watch you sleep and I feel my heart swell with so much love I think it’s going to burst. I wanted to take away your pain, but I know that this is your road that you need to travel. This is your story to tell.

My road and my story are still being built and I can feel the pen on the paper and the bricks being laid one by one. I can’t see around the bend right now or what’s on the next page, so I sit in stillness and bide my time until the words and the landscape reveal themselves to me.

A Doctor’s Visit—The Bitter Pill

I recently visited my doctor over concerns I had with some physical symptoms I had been experiencing. Of course, I looked up all my symptoms and they could have been a number of different things, but I decided that I wanted to be sure and rule out anything more serious that might be an underlying problem.

So there I sat on the exam table and he asked what brought me in today. I started to explain my symptoms, and without even letting me finish, he declared, “Stress. It’s Stress.”

I said, “Okay, I figured that but what about—“
“Stress.”
“And then there’s—“
“Stress.”
“Even—?““
“Stress.”

I was not able to finish my thought before the same diagnosis was spoken again and again and again, all before a stethoscope and not even a blood pressure reading.

He finally listened to my heart and said it was fine and that what I was feeling was mental and stress and then proceeded to fill out a script for an antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication. Whoa. Anti-anxiety I get but antidepressant? NO. Neither script got filled.

I looked deep into his eyes and firmly told him I did not want to be medicated first without having him take a deeper look. He was nonplussed, looked me equally in the eye and told me to take these meds whether I wanted to or not and in the meantime he’ll look deeper. In other words, come back tomorrow for a blood test and (because my husband strongly suggested), a referral for a stress test. My symptoms may well be from stress, but I still wanted to rule out any additional medical cause that may be underlying.

I ended up having an EKG right then and the good news is my heart was fine. What stunned me though was the absolute lack of listening to the rest of my symptoms. I did not feel heard and to me, that is one the worst things a doctor can do to a patient.

I go to a doctor for guidance and evaluation on my physical well-being when my own health practices don’t seem to be enough. The last time I was even at the doctor for myself was last September for much needed medication for Bronchitis, so it’s not like I run to the office for every sneeze.

What bothers me so much about this particular visit is the dismissive nature of my feelings and physical complaints. Even if it is “just stress,” stress is a known deathtrap and constant elevated levels wreak havoc on every system in our body. To blindly treat symptoms with these two scripts without even a hint of planning to look deeper is just not fair to me as a patient.

I have seen the same type of dismissiveness with my mother’s doctors, my husband saw it with his father’s doctors, and I’ve heard others go through this so sadly, it is nothing new. I personally know many practitioners in the medical community and they agree that too many doctors are writing scripts to treat symptoms and don’t bother to look any further or deeper into other possible underlying issues causing these symptoms.  I think what has saved me from a complete lack of faith in the medical community is the level of treatment my husband received from his oncologist and their staff. They were fantastic and a wonderful example of patient care.

I went to my doctor, trusting this member of the medical community for his knowledge and training and I suspected I might receive some sort of medication, but I certainly didn’t expect it to be a bitter pill.

Doctors need to take it deeper!