Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fueling Up

I've owned several cars in my years as a driver. I've run out of gas in two of them. The first time I got caught with an empty tank, I was driving down Main Street in my hometown in my 1962 Corvair. I powered through the light at 8th street, and in the block between 7th and 6th street, the engine stalled. I was 16, a new driver, and my heart leaped into my throat. Cranking the non-power steering to the right, I was able to make the 90 degree turn onto 6th street and coast next to the open curb. I don't remember how I called home in that pre-cell phone era, but I do remember seeing my dad's car turn onto the street. He pulled beside me and calmly took his gas can to fill my tank. As he reattached the lid, he simpy said, "Never let your tank get lower than a 1/4 full."*

I've thought often of my dad's words over the years, particularly when my indicator light pops on while I am stuck in traffic miles from an exit. My husband and I have had some close calls, but we have so far managed to avoid running out of gas. My hubby is himself a car guy, and he has always stressed to me how important it is to follow the manufacturer's guidelines when selecting the grade of gas for each car. Despite the high gas prices, I dutifully pay for premium for my Z4. I want my Becka to run happily for me, to get me where I need to go.

Last week I participated in a "Reset Your Metabolism" cleanse with a group organized by my nutritionist. For seven days I paid close attention to the foods I ate. I was never hungry, always full from the variety of recipes allowed in this cleanse. The experience taught me several things, but my major epiphany came as I realized that food is fuel. I realize this simple statement might seem self obvious, but last week, when I required myself to follow the structure of the cleanse, eating three times per day and never after 7PM, I noticed my consciousness shift. I eat when I am hungry, and when I am busy, I often don't notice I am hungry until I completely run out of gas. Since I am often not hungry when I wake up in the morning (which, by the way, apparently means I am physiologically out of balance) and I often work through lunch or grab something quickly, I don't take the time to fuel my body with the premium fuel it needs. I've realized that I haven't heeded my dad's warning, and I often let my tank run empty, and I haven't been following my husband's directive and filling up with premium fuel.

On the flip side, I also realized that I have a habit of "comfort eating" at night. Snacks after 7PM, whether they were healthy or junky, have been a staple in my diet. During the cleanse I replaced these snacks with hot tea quite satisfactorily. My body didn't need the fuel at night because I had been giving it plenty during the day.

Food habits are hard to break. I've realized I have two that need to be broken. I need to stop eating comfort food in the evening, and I need to start eating mindfully throughout the day. Both of these changes will be possible, I think, because I've realized that food is fuel. My dad and my husband were both right - I don't want to run out of gas, and I don't want to gunk up my engine. Rather, I want to give my body the fuel it needs to keep me going - at work and at home - throughout the day.

*Six years later I ran out of gas again. This time I was driving my 1975 CJ5, and the gas indicator did not work. I kept a small notebook in my glovebox that recorded mileage, and I mathematically figured out when I needed to fill the tank. Because we were never sure how many miles per gallon that car got, I was extremely conservative and filled the tank regularly. That particular time, I subtracted wrong and ended up stranded in a parking lot. My dad rescued me again, pulling in beside me with his gas can.

Friday, April 13, 2012

High Stakes in Medicine

The only difference between an oncologist's exam room and a regular exam room, as far as I can tell, is that the stakes are higher.  I had plenty of time to take in my surroundings while I waited for the oncologist today.  The environment felt no different than a regular doctor's office, but for some reason, my blood pressure registered higher there.  I think that relates to the high stakes of the oncologist's office.

My doctor referred me to the oncologist as a precaution since some of my tests of a month ago left questions that still need to be answered.  The doctor today became the next in a long line of doctors who hypothesize, but never formally diagnose, that I have endometriosis.  Luckily, his non-diagnosis came on the heels of his being "pretty positive" that I don't have ovarian cancer.  He ordered one more test to be sure.  

So I'm moving on to solving the pain problem with Western medicine telling me to inject myself with hormones and holistic medicine telling me to treat it naturally.  I'm going to start with the natural and continue to consult with the Western doctors as I move forward.

My shifts in balance are already starting to take an effect.  I feel less stressed, and I find myself thinking less about what I have to get done and more about what I can accomplish in the space and time I have allotted.  My shift in healthy eating is challenging, but I am making progress.  Today I took a tour of my grocery store with my nutritionist , and happily I have narrowed down 12 aisles of shopping to 3 aisles and 4 pockets.  I know what I need to buy at the health food store and what I can purchase at the grocery store (and what I need to order from the local farm).  I've got a list of "safe" companies that are not trying to trick me with healthy-like labeling, and I know a few of the red-flag ingredients that will encourage me to return a product to a shelf.

Healthy eating is hard work; gaining the knowledge, shopping for the right products, and preparing non-processed meals takes time and effort.  However, in just a few weeks my focus on nutrition and overall health, including reduced stress, has given me more energy.  I'm continuing to learn, and I'm hopeful that attention to what goes into my body and the outside stresses placed upon me will ultimately help my body to be healthy and strong, fighting disease and pain naturally.

The debates about health care are often misinformed, and it isn't my intention to debate the merits of Western or Eastern medicine.  I believe both are based in science and healing, and each has its place in the care and treatment of individuals.  My experience this past month, however, has shown me how difficult it is to practice medicine in the US.  The oncologist today seemed somewhat surprised that my doctor referred me to him.  I imagine that looking at the whole picture and comparing it to the pictures he sees regularly with his patients, he saw little reason to be concerned.  From my primary doctor's perspective, however, I understand her referral.  If not for the peace of mind of a second opinion (which is always a good thing, I think), my doctor would certainly be concerned about malpractice if she missed a diagnosis.  

I have believed for the last month that I am cancer free, and I am happy to follow Western medical tests to confirm that diagnosis.  On the flip side, I believe what my holistic caregivers tell me - that treating my body well is the best way to remain cancer free.  So while I felt a bit guilty today taking an appointment with a prestigious oncologist, an appointment that could have been given to someone else, I feel reassured to move forward with my plan for achieving balance with a healthy body and mind.  Hopefully, I will not need to feel the high stakes of the oncologist's examining room again. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Reflections on the Past

I am procrastinating by reading some writing from my past.  I found this post from my MySpace blog (now defunct), and it's made me realize how much I've grown since my first semester on the tenure track.  I still think the mothers that I describe mothers should have been sitting with the children, rather than commandeering all of those empty seats on a crowded train.  I have a little more patience with the kids' behavior, however.  Now I am also, officially, a comfortable NYC commuter.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Commuting on Sept. 11

I'm still wrapping my mind around being a NYC commuter.

The trains are crowded, something I didn't really expect, thus making my work on the train less productive than I'd hoped.  Last week I took one of the only open seats, which happened to be with a group of children (5 in all) and their two adult chaperones.  The children had flipped one of the three-seats to make a six-seat block for themselves, and they also commandeered a two-seater across the aisle.  The two adult chaperones sat together in another two-seater, blissfully ignoring the fact that the train was filling to capacity, and their party of 7 had taken over ten seats -- and that the children had free reign of the aisle as well as those seats.

I joined another woman who had ventured into "their" (meaning the kids) domain by sitting on the aisle of the 6-seater.  The cherubs, who could not sit still for the hour ride, crawled over my legs no less than six times before I rolled my eyes.  (I thought I was doing pretty well not to show any exasperation.  Remember, it's a morning train into NYC on a weekday.)  Apparently, one of the two mothers happened to look at me at that moment (after blissfully ignoring what was happening for the better part of half an hour), and decided that it was MY fault for sitting there.  In a voice loud enough for me to hear (but not loud enough for me to bother countering), she said:

"Well, why did she sit with children?  She is making me angry."

I was making her angry?  Get real.

I wanted to respond to her:  "Well, why don't you teach your children how to sit quietly on a public train."  Or better yet, "Well, why didn't you sit with your children and entertain them rather than letting them roam freely in the back of the train?  Can you not see that this train is full?"

A side note, all of these children were school-aged.  They should know how to sit quietly in one seat for an hour.

So I'm still wrapping my mind around the two-hour commute to my new job, trying to see it as a new way of life rather than a waste of time (as my multitasking brain is prone to do).  I'm trying to see this time as an opportunity to do nothing - something I've never been very good at.  I'm getting there with this new mindset.

I'm still wrapping my mind around being a NYC commuter.

And today is September 11.

It is the five year anniversary, a beautiful, cloudless, blue-sky day.  And my train is stopped just beyond Newark Penn Station.  No trains are going in or out as we await "police activity" and an evacuation at the terminal ahead.  To my right out the window I can see lower Manhattan - without the twin towers, but I can see them in my mind.  It is 8:30, 8:40, 8:45, and I stare into the space that is now a vacuum in all of our minds.  I see the plane flying low across the city.  My mind imposes the towers and I see the "first plane hit."  We still are not moving.

I call my mom so she doesn't worry, just in case this is another national emergency and I lose my cell phone connection like we all did 5 years ago in the greater NY area.  Of course, just calling makes her worry more.  She is very attuned to the fact that I am now a NYC commuter.  My stomach clenches, and I notice fear in people's eyes on the train.  None of us really wonder what is happening because none of us really wants to know.  My iPod blares the song "Waiting on the World to Change" and I wonder when it will.

Eventually the situation at NY Penn Station is resolved and we move again.  My stomach does not release its vice grip on me.  It's 9:03 when I step off the train onto the platform, where the sign above me announces in blood red letters, "September 11."  The thought crosses my mind - what would I have been doing if it were five years ago, and I were a NYC commuter.  For the first time, I am apprehensive in my new role.

And I am still wrapping my mind around what it means to be a NYC commuter.