Saturday, June 29, 2013

Bring Summer to Those in the Hospital

Since the most popular post on the Healing Whole blog continues to be Unique Gifts for Hospital Patients, it’s time for some good ways to introduce summer fun for those in the hospital.

There is no “good time” to be a patient, but summer with the warmer weather, vacations,  BBQ’s, and all the wonderful outdoor things to do, just makes it feel even more challenging. That said, the upside is that there are less worries about hitting snow and sleet while going for an after work visit, and you can come and go in daylight.

As always, check with the staff before you bring something. Many hospitals have restrictions for fresh flowers or plants depending on the patient care unit. The person may also have food restrictions. Because allergies can also be an issue, avoid anything with scents.

In identifying what a person might like, consider how they normally spend their summers. Do they like to go to the ballpark and see a game? Is laying on a sandy beach their idea of  summer bliss? Maybe barbeques with friends is something they like to do. With that in mind, consider the following:

Set the scene: Generally a summer house/bedroom is one that is airy, bright and light. So in trying to recreate that feeling in a patient’s room, think less is more. Items you might bring: summery lap blanket; a picture, which can be hung; a vase of flowers of whatever is blooming outside; a collection of seashells and/or sand in a pretty jar; a vase of pinwheels, which you can easily make yourself.  If it’s close to the 4th of July or other holiday, items in red, white and blue are quite festive.

• Being by the water is a major summer theme and you can introduce that element into the hospital room by either purchasing an inexpensive water feature or making one. Take a large waterproof bowl, vase or whatever you have handy.  Stick a water pump into it. You can purchase these any place that sells fish tanks. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Cover the pump with rocks, add water and enjoy.

• There are plenty of  Aps and uTube videos for ocean and other nature sounds. Using a dock with a speaker is a good way to share the sounds of nature without having to worry about head phones. If they have a computer or tablet, these are just a few of the uTube videos you can download.

• Stores like Old Navy will have flip flops and “slides” that may be a welcome change from the hospital’s bedroom slippers.

Interactive Items: Find a large clam type shell (flat bottom). Depending on the person, turn it into a Zen garden including a tiny rake a few seashells or rock. It can also be their “day at the beach.” Include a tiny chair, small beach chair etc. It’s always worth checking out what your local Dollar Store has, but you may have better luck at one of the craft stores or even a place that sells doll furniture.

• Provide clay sand so they can make sand art(e.g. a sandcastle). There are probably some clays you can buy at the craft store, but this recipe is fairly easy and it looks like sand. Just remember that it needs to be used a day or two after it’s made.

Things to do Together: Watch a baseball game. Bring items that might be enjoyed at the ball park-team memorabilia, popcorn, and other special treats that are unique to your local ball park. Invite other patients to join in the fun.

• If it’s okay with the hospital staff, take the patient outside and enjoy the hospital grounds. If you have a portable grill, and you have approval of hospital staff, make a special BBQ or bring a picnic.

• Drive ins are so much fun, so create the feel of a drive in by watching a 1950’s monster or sci fi movie. Since a lot of action and fantasy films come out during the summer, that may be a genre to consider.  

• Star gazing is always fun. Follow the user guide at Stellarium and the same 3D realistic sky you see at the planetarium will be on your computer.

• Fireworks are a particular summer favorite. In Montreal they have the largest international fireworks competition in the world. You can enjoy many of the shows on-line. Australia 2013. 

Books/Magazines:  Everybody and their brother has a summer reading list-The Huffington Post, Oprah, and the New York Times. While some patients enjoy reading them, many find it too daunting and prefer to flip through a magazine or newspaper. So no matter how highly a book is recommended, they may prefer a new magazine. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Take a Break: Enjoy a Rocking Chair/Cool Drink

At this time of year, there isn’t a self respecting country style inn that doesn’t greet you with a row of rocking chairs on the porch. Their presences alone tells you it’s time to sit back and relax. What better way to celebrate “take a break Wednesday” then sitting in a rocking chair and sipping a cool drink. As I type this, I’ve been watching the temperature outside my window rising to 100.

Rocking chairs have been popular since the early days of the colonies and today, you’ll find rocking chairs in every hospital nursery and maternity unit. I’ve been to many a baby shower where the mother to be is given a rocking chair. I know that I’m not alone in being sentimental about the one I used while nursing my babies.

It turns out there are all sorts of health benefits, beyond soothing a crying baby and helping a nursing mother relax, to rocking. It’s been found to improve psychological well-being of nursing home residents with severe forms of dementia; in seniors it decreased need for anxiety and depression medication; it can increase balance and muscle tone; and the Arthritis Foundation recommends watching TV or reading while sitting in a rocking chair. My favorite study so far, from the Medical College of Virginia , showed that “kinetic therapy-“ the constant, gentle motion of a rocking chair-can dramatically increase healing in severely ill patients. Rocking ChairTherapy 

So today, take a break, and rock for a while. Don’t have a rocker? What about a glider, porch swing or hammock? Maybe today is the day to think about getting one-checking out local thrift stores, consignment shops etc. Don’t overlook attics-yours or someone else’s. Sadly, rocking chairs, apart from a nursery, are not considered fashionable in today’s decorating scheme, so the upside is that one may already be stashed away waiting for you to reclaim it.

There are plenty of cool and refreshing beverages to help you relax while you rock away. Consider some of the following:
• Ice Tea Lemonade: Supposedly Arnold Palmer made this a very popular drink. In a tall glass fill half way with lemonade. Next add equal parts basic ice tea. Sweeten to taste. A few ice cubes and your all set.

• Juice seltzer: Pour seltzer into a glass with ice cubes. Add juice of your choice and enjoy.

• For other ideas, check out Cool DrinkRecipes for a Hot Day 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Geographic Cure: The Right Community Can Help You Thrive

When I first started working with HIV/AIDS in Vermont, because so many of the people with HIV were diagnosed in other parts of the country, particularly large cities, the expression was, “they came for the geographic cure.” Those that were involved in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) would knowledgably shake their head and quote the “Big Book,” “there is no such things as a “Geographical Cure” because “wherever you go, there you are.” Some people did relapse and return to substance using. However, there were a number that felt that the temptations and “triggers” for using weren’t here for them. They also found supportive communities, and so have done quite well with the “geographic cure.”

At the same time the AA groups were not approving of the transplants, a number of Native Americans were moving back to ancestor lands in Vermont and Canada. They would say, “Ah, I’m back in country” and life became easier for many of them.  

After living in Vermont for over 25 years I understand both sides of this discussion. Moving does not solve emotional problems and for the most part, moving for a fresh start, without having dealt with underlying or “root” issues is only going to have minimal impact if any.  

If you find yourself continually moving, and it’s not because of a job transfer, you might want to think seriously about your feelings of discontent and address them before you plan your next big move.

According to Blue Zones  research, one of the biggest contributors to our happiness is the community in which we live.  More than income, education level, or religion, the place where you live determines your level of happiness.  Look for neighborhoods with sidewalks, meeting places and other characteristics that nudge you into social interaction. Easy access to green spaces and recreation also favors well-being.
To better understand the community you live in,  consider how it meets the following characteristics: 
• Community Space: Are there parks, cafes, restaurants and places where community can and does gather? Are there community events that bring people together?

• Quiet Surroundings: Human’s don’t adapt to noise and in fact there are many studies which show that even constant low level noise increases cardiovascular disease and other health problems.  

• Walking: Can you walk to church, parks, grocery stores etc.? Check your community’s WalkScore  to find out how it fares in terms of walkability.  

• Safety: Do you feel safe in your community?

• Good friends and social connections: Do you have good friends where you live. According to Dan Buettner of Blue Zones, "the happiest people in America socialize about seven hours a're three times more likely to be happy if you are married ... and each new friend will boost your happiness about 10 percent."

• Employment: Can you find a job in and around your community?

Weather is also a major contributor, which you can’t control, but it does make a big difference in how people feel. My son and husband can’t stand gray weather for very long. It caused my husband to give up a great community in Seattle and my son to change colleges after a year in Paris. At the same time a raindrop makes them shutter, a good friend in Vermont hates it if there are too many sunny days in a row. She claims that she should be living someplace where it’s perpetually rainy.  In short, different people enjoy different types of weather and at different times of their lives. 

There is also the culture of a community to consider. Coming from a fairly southern city, it has been a big adjustment for me to try and live in a rural northern New England town. Fences don’t make good neighbors where I came from, but that is standard practice where I now live. I grew up in a “porch sit” culture, which doesn’t exist here. I miss it terribly and while I’ve tried to introduce aspects of this into my community, I truly am the odd man out.

Changing where you live is not easy, particularly if you are there because of a job, family and/or it’s what you can afford.  You can improve how you react to your community by seeking out social gathering places; trying to meet new people by being involved in different activities; volunteering; seeking out green space and places to exercise; and helping to create the community you want to live in. Check out the Blue Zones Thrive Centers  for more suggestions.

The bottom line is this: Where you live does impact your sense of well-being and health.
If you find yourself continually thinking “I really don’t belong here,” chances are you don’t. We do take our emotional baggage wherever we go, but community should not be adding to it. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Take a Break: Create/Enjoy Wind Chimes

Many years ago, a friend was very ill and a wonderful woman named Bev, took up a collection to purchase healing wind chimes for her. It was much loved, and as it turns out, wind chimes have been used throughout history as a healing force. However, all wind chimes are not equal. Some can make you feel less than meditative. Today’s post is about making wind chimes and using them as a healing tool.

Regardless of what design you choose, they generally follow a basic design: a center mount or “banger” that is surrounded by various sound-producing items. How to Make Wind Chimes Using Items in Your Home. 

Living in Vermont, where there are tons of discarded ski poles, my husband cut some up and made wind chimes out of them as a fundraiser for the snow academy my oldest son attended. I have a feeling that there were more novelty item than actually enjoyable chimes, but in truth, I never heard them.

To start, check out An Engineering Approach toWind Chime Design.  Lee Hite has taken all the guess work out of it and can tell you what to use and how to achieve the effect that works for you. Keeping with the idea of tubular wind chimes, watch the video Make You Own Wind Chimes.

 Other sites to consider

If you have no interest in making wind chimes, but enjoy their sound, try some of the following links:

As you listen to the wind chimes, try 4-7-8Breathing. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Do We Attract Illness? What we can learn from Kevin Pearce

Periodically I have conversations with people about Newton’s third law-“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” There are a number of well meaning people that want to take this and other laws of physics and apply it to all aspects of life. Does it work? Do people get sick because of this or some other Newtonian law? Is it true that what you put out comes back to you? If you do something really good, is some other person on the planet doing something really bad to counteract it?

Everyone has life experiences-some are good, some aren’t. I’m the first to say that healing and well-being involves mind, body and spirit,  however, I find a lot of this stuff about how people “attract” illness to be less than helpful and at worst harmful. First and foremost, we get sick and injured because we are mortal beings and are programmed to do so.

If we over stress our bodies continually we increase the chances of catching some nasty bug that’s floating around the office. Having unprotected sex is going to put you at risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Breathing while you walk across a city street on a cold day can cause an asthma attack and if you engage in a very physical sport, you have a chance of getting injured doing so.

There will always be a top 10 cause of death. No matter how many diseases are eradicated or how safe planes, trains, automobiles, the work place and so forth become, something will befall us. As a radiation oncologist told me many years ago, “People think they can get eat nuts and berries and avoid getting cancer. That’s just not the case. You can still get it no matter what you do.”

Yes, there are correlations between what people have done and their medical situation. Kevin Pearce is a good example of this. He was a top American snowboarder, slated for the podium at the 2010 Olympics. On New Years Eve 2009, he suffered a massive traumatic brain injury (TBI) when he crashed during a training run in the half pipe.

Hospitalizations, rehabilitation and on-going care, have significantly aided his recovery. However, he will never be a competitive snowboarder again.

He is on my mind at the moment, since a film has been made about his life, “The Crash Reel.” According to the producer of the film, Julian Cautherly, “We knew early on that we would be making a movie about a different kind of comeback story. It was never going to be a story about Kevin coming back and winning Olympic gold. It was clear from the get-go that a full recovery was not possible given Kevin’s injury and I think we were lucky because that fact alone made the movie different from your usual sports film.”

Kevin notes “This is the most insane and crazy recovery I can imagine going through, and it’s 100 percent a full-time job. There isn’t one day when the brain injury hasn’t come up. There are so many little things I feel I can share and teach people.” Kevin Pearce’s Recovery: Documentary Looks at Snowboarder’s Journey Back 

My oldest son, who was a competitive snowboarder during high school and went to school with Kevin, was out there spinning and flipping the same way he and thousands of other males were and continue to do. Kevin never asked for this to happen to him, any more than my son would have wanted it to happen to him. Yet because it did, Kevin, his family, friends and community have made changes.

Being sick or injured does not mean that you have bad karma, are a bad person or even have wished this on yourself. What it does provide is an opportunity to learn and grow emotionally, spiritually and even physically. Just as with Kevin’s situation, it means you and those in your orbit have the chance to make a major “course correction.”

While Kevin’s peers are creating video games, have major brands they promote and train for the next competition, Kevin has started a program called #Loveyourbrain. Because he realizes he was fortunate to have a family to help him heal, he is planning a foundation to help other athletes who become injured. A number of the snowboarders have always “given back” or “paid it forward,” so it’s not surprising that many have become involved in helping Kevin. Long story short, Kevin has a life far different than what he expected. He is making a difference but in a way he never imagined, and ultimately, his situation has impacted more than just him and his family in some extremely positive ways. 

As to my initial questions, I think Newton’s third law isn’t relevant when it comes to illness and injury. Stuff happens, it will always happen and we’re designed for it to happen. Life is a lot easier I think if you can accept this and go for the glass that's half full versus half empty.