Thursday, April 1, 2010

Listen to What Your Body has to Say

Yes. Your body is talking to you. Do you listen? Didn't think so.

If there is one thing I have heard over and over again from patients for the past 30 years of my nursing career, it is something like this:

"I just thought it was nothing important"
"I thought I was just tired"
"I thought it was stress"
"My doctor told me it was stress"
"My mom and my co-workers said not to worry, I would be fine"

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. We all do it. We ignore what our body is telling us.

So many of us are on perpetual high speed. We barely slow down enough to eat or to sleep. Seems there is so much to do, all of the time.

And the truth is, there is.

This is not my mother's world of the 1950's. We have a Starbucks on every corner, instant access to news 24/7, limitless shopping, bigger houses, faster cars (okay, some would argue there). But I know you know. We live a different, faster lifestyle.

And although we live a bit longer now, we are not healthier or happier. Many of us are on several medications and never really feeling good.

And some of us miss the boat completely and will die young.

All because we cannot slow down enough to listen to the wisdom of what the complex cells and energy that make up who we are is telling us.

So, right now as you read this, stop for a moment. Take a deep breath in to the count of 4. Hold for 4 counts, then exhale for four counts. Close your eyes. How do you feel right now?

Do this often. Feel what your body feels. Then jot it down. Do this anytime you have a bad thing happening; a headache, a backache, an unusual ache or pain, dizziness, etc. Keep a log. Call it, the "Me" log.

For example, if you notice burning sensations in your stomach in the morning or after lunch, write that information down or put that iPhone or Blackberry to good use and jot down the date and time and what you did to relieve it. Did it work? Write that down, too. Do you keep having to take more Tums/Prilosec/whatever? Write it down.

Do this every time you feel it. Soon a pattern will emerge. Add any additional symptoms that may not seem connected to it as well. (like, I feel pressure under my breastbone, too. Or I sweat sometimes for no reason) This is important information. We don't think it is, but the story you tell your MD is the MOST important part of the exam.


So make it clear and concise and to the point. The exam and even most of the blood work will NOT tell the story. Or it will give you a false sense of being okay when every cell in your body is screaming "I am certainly not okay."

Now, sometimes it is stress. Actually, oftentimes. So, what do we do? How can we slow down and get exercise and still rush to work and to daycare and take care of 3 kids plus a spouse and an ailing in-law or parent and get the deal or meet the deadline so that we can stay employed because we are buried under a mountain of bills? And how will we ever find the time to do laundry let alone relax? (this sounds oddly familiar)

Well, the answer to that is, you have to decide. Stress is a reality we all have to deal with, but it is not good if it makes you ill. So, you have to listen to yourself. If your body is tired, which is often the first sign that trouble lurks, try to go to bed early.(common sense, but no one does it) Drink more water in between coffees. Take deep breaths often (the 4 count I already explained). Stretch a few times a day. Place a picture of a great vacation spot on your desk or computer or above the sink. Look at it and allow yourself to daydream a minute about being there. Take B-vitamins. Do one thing a day you enjoy, even for just a few seconds. Don't drink so much alcohol in the evening or on the weekends, even if you think you deserve it. It will make your week worse.

But what if you are having other symptoms that don't seem like they are stress induced that have been going on a while and that scare you and you have been to the MD and he brushes them off?

Well, the log helps. MDs hate when you write things down. So, bring the notebook with you. Review how the symptoms are impacting your life. Tell them what you have tried and how it has not worked. Be relentless. Write down everything he tells you to do. Then ask him for a follow-up appointment. And make it anyway. If you feel really better, you can cancel. But don't. Go anyway. Tell him exactly how it worked. You will know because you kept a short log of events.

Here is an example of what I am trying to say. A woman I know had a nagging backache. She took Tylenol for it. Seemed to help. Yet, it was always there.

"I must have turned funny, or lifted something" she mused.

Weeks, months, still taking Tylenol. Then she noticed that she felt bloated.

Went to the MD.

"I feel bloated all the time". He examined her. No, nothing seems wrong. Take some laxatives he said.

She never mentioned the backache. It was mild and she did not think it was related.

More time went by. She still had the backache and the mild bloating. She just wrote them off and continued with life.

Eventually, the back pain became worse. Tylenol lead to Advil and then to hot packs and finally another trip to the MD.

"I have back pain." No mention of the continued bloating.

Do you see the pattern here?

The whole story would have painted a different picture. And the MD would have, or rather, should have, looked in another direction.

Her ovarian cancer may have been found sooner.

She died at age 50. She had had the back pain for 2 years. It could have been diagnosed just by having a simple pelvic ultrasound.

I am not suggesting you become an alarmist over minor aches and pains. Most do go away and indeed are caused by lifting too much or by too much stress. But if it continues over time and there are other things happening as well that you may not think are related, if you put them all together, they may paint a different story to a clinician. And they may save your life.

Look, doctors take a lot of heat for not spending enough time with the patients and for not listening. So you have to write things down. If they still will not listen, well, then you either have to be the squeaky wheel or find another MD.

My point is this, listen to your body. There was a paragraph in a book or an article I read a while back that was perfect in explaining how the body talks to us. When our body is out of whack, it throws a pebble, a minor ache or pain. When you fail to listen to that tap from the small pebble, it throws a rock. Finally, it throws a boulder, and by that time, it is often too late.

How many times do we do this. Take more Tums to quell burning indigestion. Drink more coffee to cover fatigue. You get my drift.

So, find the time to listen. And listen to others, too, like your spouse. Heart disease is still the number one killer in this country in both men and women and the early signs are dyspepsia and fatigue, not chest pain.

We all know when something is not right. We normally choose to ignore it and hope it goes away. And many times it does. But when it doesn't, you need to pay attention. Not ignore it. Or cover it up. Eventually the body wins out.

Our bodies are smarter than we think. The body talks to us. I just don't want it saying, "I told you so."

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