Medicine’s Dirty Little Secret

Last May, I read a heartbreaking letter from the fiancé of a paramedic who killed himself. It was the second suicide by an employee of Austin Travis County EMS in seven months. Before that, I learned about two suicides and one suicide attempt by nurses I had worked with in the ER. Then in 2015, I began to hear about physician and medical student suicides from Dr. Pamela Wible who speaks boldly and honestly about this tragedy among our people. Every one of these suicides shares a common thread, a preventable one: they are all victims of the high-stress, abusive and broken system the industry of medicine has created.

When we are called into this profession, we naturally take on the responsibility of the world. Continued on Huffington Post.

A Medical App To Heal Our Healthcare Crisis

I love apps. I use them every day. At work, on my free time, to meditate, find a new restaurant or a stylish outfit. I know you do too. The possibilities for technology to assist you on your health journey are endless. Telemedicine apps are changing health care to be more convenient, less expensive and available to people who wouldn’t normally be able to see a provider.

So I began to think. I used my meditation app and began to meditate. I wrote down ideas. I thought for years as I worked as a PA with my wonderful patients in my favorite underserved communities. Read the rest on Huffington Post.

Plot Twist For Shiny Healthy People

When I first started this blog, I was super passionate about practical application of food as medicine. I tried to stick to the benefits of a whole food eating and wrote about recipes and detox programs. But through the years, I have noticed a less tangible theme in my practice with patients. I have seen that no matter how many tools, lists, recipes and in-person food changes I recommend, there is a more complex reason for illness and disease.

Most of my patients come to me with physical ailments. They complain of chest pain, abdominal pain, joint pain, numbness and tingling, brain fog, constipation, acne, insomnia and on and on. There are a few throughout my 12- hour day who will require acute intervention that I treat immediately or send off to the ER, but most require much more than just a pill- or an injection.

All disease has a physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and environmental component. When patients show up with a physical disease that doesn’t require immediate assistance, I usually delve into their lives in an attempt to determine the true root- cause. Most of my patients, primarily the female ones, will open up and really allow themselves to be vulnerable about the possible underlying issues. Many of them feel like they’re living just to work. Others lack fulfillment and purpose. Many of them feel trapped and frustrated with their lives. Most are depressed and/or anxious about their circumstances, but the thought of change and getting out of the safety and security causes more fear, so they make the choice to stay.

I have found that teaching them a few stress-relief techniques through breathing and essential oil therapy is more profound than giving them a list of foods to follow. That praying with them and allowing them to cry is a powerful step towards transformation. That active listening and infusing love into the exam room can often allay their worries, calm their physical pain and foster hope for a better life. I’ve also found that discovering with them their true passions, interests and dreams helps them to feel more optimistic about the possibilities.

So I’m going to leave the nutrition, movement, sleep as medicine aspects of SHP to the experts. The ones who have been studying and practicing this stuff as their dharma. I love food and I will always use food as way to optimal health and will continue to pass on nuggets of wisdom about nutrition. I love yoga, I will always use movement and yoga as a stress-reliever and will pass on the benefits as they come to me on this website. And of course, I love sleep and will continue to share the research surrounding the monumental importance of using it as medicine.

But my plot twist will take us to a deeper place, the more psychospiritual and emotional aspects of health and wellness. I will talk about breath, the science behind the vagus nerve and its ability to connect the heart and mind. I will write about meditation and mindfulness like its going out of style, because it has saved me from the brink of many terrible things. I will share what I learn about play and community and the powerful health effects they have on our minds and body. I will talk about human connection and collaboration as I try to get you all to realize, we’re really just one big huge dysfunctionally beautiful family, all 6.5 billion of us.

My site will be moving towards a more spiritual toolkit, since we are just spiritual beings having a human experience. I will write about all the ways that disease is the absence of health, not the other way around. I will talk about grounding and the scientific benefits of digging your toes into the dirt to increase your serotonin and dopamine. I will write about hugs and the oxytocin release they deliver. Plus I will write about all the magnificent healing that I witness on a daily basis in practice and in life. The stories that come out of my experiences with other humans are truly heart-opening and awe-inspiring.

I hope you’ll still join me, but if it’s not your style, I understand that too. Thank you for following along and being part of the Shiny Healthy Family the past four years, it has been a heck of a ride. Let’s do this!!

Meditation: It Is Time

Yesterday my sister called me. Unfortunately, for the past decade, family calls mean bad news. Mom was sick, in pain, bleeding and weak. My mom is never weak. She’s an immigrant and a perpetual rock, strong and steady. The calls from my family are mostly medical, I’m the family doctor, so it makes sense. My sister relayed her symptoms, I tried to troubleshoot, but with me in another city, it was difficult to assess. I told her to take her to the ER, but mom wasn’t ready.

I went home to be alone. I was a helpless mess, crying and trying to figure out our next step. “I just lost my dad, I can’t lose my mom now”, I thought to myself. It has been a series of tragedies in our family, one after another since the beginning of time. Someone has said we’re cursed.

In the past I would have indulged in vices that would lead me even deeper. This day, I choose meditation. I scrolled through the interwebs to find an hour long guided meditation. I plugged my earphones in and laid down. After about 23 minutes, I was done. My mind was clear, my sadness dissipated, my catastrophe-filled story was no longer present. I felt at peace. I made plans. I found someone to cover my shift and the next day I was on a plane to calmly and logically determine our next steps.

In order to live through this tragedy-filled time, the tools that get us to a place of peace and acceptance become increasingly important. Everywhere one looks, we see great pain and greater struggle. These tragedies, from mass shootings to suicides to natural disasters, impact us profoundly. Even if you don’t recognize or realize the power of the suffering around you, the body and mind does. Add in our daily struggles with feelings of desperation and despair and it becomes difficult not to feel hopeless and helpless.

As disabling as it all may feel, there is a bright light in all the darkness. It isn’t a magic pill or an easy fix. It does take personal action, effort and work. It does require you to take responsibility for yourself and your life. It was a difficult reality to adopt, but after researching and studying meditation and mindfulness for almost 20 years, I found the answer was always present, always within.

Now, when I am scared, I meditate. If I’m confused, I meditate. When desperation hits, I meditate. If I feel worthless, powerless, unloved or unlovable, I meditate. After many years, I feel less paralyzed, less helpless. I grew more empowered and more at peace. Now, as part of my routine, I meditate every morning. Without it, I’m a mess. I would say I suck at it, even after 20 years, but I’m not supposed to judge. Instead, I will admit that meditation is still a challenge. I do understand that I have to pour love into myself in order for me to share my love with the world. And I have found that love in mindfulness and meditation.

“If you don’t control your mind, someone else will” said John Allston. This is a plain and simple truth, but a difficult one to swallow. Meditation is journey towards managing your anxieties, your hysteria, your crazy thoughts and your reactions. If you’re a gold star catastrophizer like me, meditation is the best drug and treatment for that wild imagination that takes you down the rabbit hole.

As I’ve written many times before, the benefits of meditation and mindfulness abound. The body of research continues to grow, but it is all positive with no side effects. A recent study looked at 35 male and female participants who were unemployed and under substantial stress. After only three days, those who meditated and practiced mindfulness had more communication between the portions of the brain that process stress-related responses, focus and calm. Four months later, their inflammatory markers were still lower than the non-mindful/meditation group even without continued practice.

As I have always said, there is no one-size-fits-all for any treatment, practice or intervention. To find out what is best for you, it is all about self-experimentation and experience. All I know is that if you say you don’t have five minutes to sit mindfully and meditate, then you probably need a few hours.

It doesn’t take rocket science or an expensive membership to start. You can download a guided meditation and chill out alone. Or you can do stretches and focus on your breath for five minutes. Or you can walk barefoot, focusing on each step and get really tuned into the present moment. I dare you to try it. It’s imperative to changing our culture. Attempt a mindfulness or meditation practice that speaks to you for 21-days. Twenty-one days is not long in the grand movie of your life. Just pick a time, dedicate two or five minutes of your day and just breathe. You will ‘suck’ at it. You will feel like one minute is ten hours. You will have a thousand thoughts flutter through your brain. But with time, it will get easier; you’ll feel more at peace, more calm, more centered. And then one day, you’ll get some life changing news and instead of losing your marbles, you’ll sit down, breathe and go to a place of acceptance and peace that will allow you to operate from a place of love instead of fear.