Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

Leave a comment

A time for gratitude

by Courtney Jordan Baechler, MD, MS

As I write this blog post, it’s nearly Thanksgiving and the beginning of this year’s holiday season.  Unfortunately for some, holidays can be a time of increased stress.  I thought I would relay some thoughts about how you can bring integrative health into your home for the holidays.

At Thanksgiving, many of us spend time bustling from place to place, visiting family and stuffing ourselves.  Do you know that the average person consumes 4,200 calories during the Thanksgiving meal alone?

It’s a great time of year to think about mindful eating.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t have your favorite foods, but perhaps take time to enjoy each bite.  See what happens if you stop to enjoy the food’s texture, how it smells and how you feel. Rather than racing to see who finishes dinner first, take a moment to see if you are really still hungry before you go for seconds.

Our stomachs reach satiety in part from volume.  It takes some time for the brain to receive the signal from your stomach nerves that you are in fact full or “satiated.”  Include in your Thanksgiving meal lots of vegetables and broth-based soups, which both have a tendency to fill your stomach with fewer calories.  Also remember, you can always have leftovers the next day, so there is no need to eat as if this is your last meal.

Thanksgiving is truly is a time for us to consciously think of all the wonderful things in our life that we are thankful for.  Take an opportunity to share with those you love what is “filling your tank” this year.  The top of my list will include the opportunity to do summersaults in the park with my kids on a 60-degree, fall Sunday in Minnesota, the friends that keep me laughing when life gets too serious, and the embrace of so many loved ones.  I’m also so thankful for the opportunity to work with the amazing team I have at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.  I feel truly grateful to work with people who are so passionate about improving the health of those we serve and transforming health care.

Finally, when I think of the holidays, I enjoy continuing old traditions and starting some new ones.  Last year, we started a tradition of going for a walk as an extended family after our Thanksgiving dinner and before dessert.  It’s a great way to enjoy each other’s company a little bit longer before folks start doing dishes or watching football.  We have made a deal that whether it’s warm or cold, rain or snow, we will take the opportunity to enjoy the change of seasons that we have in Minnesota ― the crunch of leaves underfoot, the smell of fall fires and that crisp fall air. Wishing you a peaceful holiday season,

Courtney Jordan Baechler, MD, MS

1 Comment

Don’t just do something … stand there!

by Mary Farrell, MS, CHWC

I used to think that I was born to be a runner.  In high school, I discovered that I had no hand-eye coordination for sports involving a ball, and my attempts at learning cartwheels to try out for cheerleading would have landed me in the “YouTube Hall of Shame.” I also discovered that gangly long legs are good for running, so I started doing that.

I was hooked. I couldn’t run fast, but it seemed that I could run forever. I loved feeling that I could outlast anyone, and grew competitive. I ran so many races that I ran out of places to put the t-shirts. I loved the euphoria, the clarity and sense of accomplishment that I felt when I ran. I kept running in college and grad school, as it was my only time of solitude and quiet. I brought my running shoes wherever I traveled and used to discover the back roads of towns, villages and cities. Being a runner was part of who I was.

Then one day, it wasn’t. A serious injury gradually got more serious until I could ignore it no more. Still, I dutifully went to the gym to get my three miles in on the treadmill. I was in excruciating pain-grimacing, hobbling and dragging my right foot. After I was asked three times by separate people if I needed to go to the hospital, I realized that it was time to stop. It is amazing how out of tune we can be with our bodies.

Two spinal surgeries later, I realized that I would never run again. Seven spinal surgeries later, I realize that it is really okay.

So, I discovered walking. I used to run the same route that I now walk with a cane, and I swear that it isn’t the same. I am seeing things I didn’t see before―the glorious way the autumn sunlight shines on the water and the bridges, the rhythm of the timeless waterfall, the laughter of children as they run after baby ducklings in the Spring, and the smiles and “hellos” as I greet others on my route.

I know now that I am experiencing what coaches call “Mindfulness.”  Mindfulness is the non-judgmental awareness of what is happening in the present moment.

People generally walk around on automatic pilot. More often than not, we are not really where we are. When we are eating, we are reading, working or worrying about past or future events instead of tasting each bite of food. When we work out, we are thinking about all that we have to do that day instead of being in tune with our body and what it is doing.

We are also experiencing constant “noise”—the endless tapes that can play in our mind. These can be financial concerns, worry about a job or relationship, or critical self-talk that says that we will never really be smart, slender, attractive or successful enough. Taken altogether we have quite a cacophony going on in the background, don’t we? It is almost too much to imagine peace, calm and purpose.

Mindfulness is a way to break free from being on autopilot and to push back the noise. By waking up to the experience of what’s going on around us, while it’s actually happening, we have the opportunity to make different decisions and to go in different directions. By paying attention to our thoughts, feelings, behaviors and relationships—without judgment or condemnation—we increase both our freedom and control over life.

Being forced to slow down has allowed me to practice mindfulness in my own life as well as encourage it in my clients. From the unmitigated joy of my puppy’s “welcome home dance,” to the tapestry of languages, fragrances and tastes of the farmer’s market, to the embrace of my partner that takes my breath away—I know that I am never going back to the frenetic lifestyle that I experienced before I was injured.

What are those things in your life that ignite your senses? Is it the cadence and reassuring tone of a loved one’s voice? Is it the laughter and play of a beloved grandchild? Is it the swelling of your heart as you watch your child on the playing field? Is it the quiet satisfaction you feel as you leave work or volunteering, knowing the impact that you have on others?

In addition to those examples, coaches have found that practicing mindfulness is crucial to making positive health and wellness changes. Because mindfulness happens in the moment, I would encourage the following exercise:

Before you begin a meal, ask yourself:

  • Where am I?
  • What is my body position?
  • What is going on around me?
  • Am I really hungry?
  • What does the food look, smell, feel and taste like?
  • What do I really want to eat?

Practicing mindfulness, even for a few minutes a day, is an important part of improving your health. You have nothing to lose but your distractions.

Leave a comment

My interrupted weight-loss journey

by Scott Nyquist, MA, Business Systems and Operations Manager

A little over three years ago now, I was all fired up. I was going to start a new exercise and diet program. I had been reading the latest self-help diet book, and this one sounded like the one for me.

I had read a number of these books over the years. Some were interesting. Some I knew wouldn’t work, right from chapter one.  This one resonated with me.  I decided that for once in my life, I would go to my doctor to be “checked out” before starting a diet or exercise program as all of the books state so clearly, but so few of us ever do.  I was excited to find out what my baseline labs and weight were, and I was ready to do what I could to take control of my health.

I made an appointment with my physician. I went in with the book I had been reading and the information I had found on the Internet about this eating plan.  My doctor ordered a full battery of tests and gave me the go-ahead, pending my lab results.  I was excited and ready to get going.  I went to the grocery store to stock my refrigerator and cupboards with healthy foods, replacing what had been stashed in the cupboards.

The next day, I got a phone call from my physician’s office to please call ASAP! Over the next couple of hours of playing phone tag with the office, my mind started to go wild with what could be the problem.  My family history included cancer, heart disease, etc.  As a single father, I started to worry that I was heading down a path of illness and declining health. I envisioned my children having to care for their father and worried that I might not see them grow up.  When I finally got ahold of the doctor, he wanted me to come in to see him as soon as possible to go over my test results.  I made an appointment for the very next day, still anxious about the possibilities.

My doctor started out our visit with the news.  My lab tests were all out of whack, and most alarming to him was my glucose level.  My fasting glucose level from the day before was 715.  This surprised both of us because my glucose levels were never even considered “pre-diabetic,” let alone diabetic.  He was convinced that if I could get my blood sugar down, my other labs would also come down.  My A1C test, which measures your average blood glucose level over the last two to three months, was not too high. He felt this meant that my condition was near or at onset.  That meant I could do something about this, and I was determined to do so.

I left the clinic bound and determined to not get sick. I wasn’t going to lose my eyesight or let myself lose my toes or feet to poor circulation. I made an appointment with a diabetic educator, and I learned how to test my blood glucose and to keep a journal of what I ate and what my blood sugars were.

When I got home after all of the appointments, I started to think about my future.  I could let this disease take control of my life, or I could take control of my condition.  I call my type 2 diabetes a condition because I decided to see this health crisis as an opportunity to make a change, to take control.  It was an opportunity to learn to eat better. It was an opportunity to learn more about exercise. It was an opportunity to learn to take care of myself.  Far too often, we take care of everyone but ourselves.  I realized that I needed to do this for me.  That very day, I changed what I ate and how I ate. I started exercising every day.

The next month when I went back to my doctor, I had dropped about 15  pounds. I had my blood glucose journal and my personal journal, where I had written a lot of questions to ask my doctor.  We started the visit with labs, of course. I was very anxious to find out if the changes I made to my diet and exercise regime had made a difference, and it had. My blood sugar level was down to 135. My A1C was down to 6.2, and my other labs were back in “normal” ranges.  I had taken this potential crisis and made it into a learning opportunity ― an opportunity to take control, to take charge of my own health!

My physician has labeled my diabetes as “Well Controlled.” Once you have diabetes, you always have diabetes, but the measure for diabetes is a blood test A1C.  My A1C levels have been in the “Normal” range for over two years. I could still lose another 20 pounds or so, but I’m eating healthier, exercising regularly, and learning more and more about my life and health. I am in control of my health, and I encourage everyone to do the same!

Leave a comment

Experiencing integrative medicine as an inpatient

by Pam Weiss-Farnan, PhD, MPH, BSN, RN, Dipl.Ac, LAc   Licensed Acupuncturist

As an acupuncturist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, I offer care to hospitalized patients at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

This hospital is home to high-tech medicine, some of the best in the nation. But since 2003, when the Penny George Institute started offering holistic services at the bedside to complement conventional care, something uncommon happened. Services like acupuncture, massage therapy, aromatherapy, guided imagery and music therapy have become a part of the fabric of care here. Physicians, nurses and patients daily request such integrative services to enhance care and healing.

Every hospital is focused on keeping patients free of pain, nausea and stress. However, as a hospitalized patient at Abbott Northwestern, you can request therapeutic massage to ease your stress, reflexology to help ground you, or music therapy to find sounds to support your healing.

For example, if you are having joint replacement surgery, you learn skills prior to your surgery to control pain and nausea, and then have acupuncture available afterwards to enhance your well-being.

I frequently provide acupuncture to patients after their joint replacement surgery. Reducing the pain and nausea they feel after surgery also allows them to nap more frequently, which helps with healing. And they like the sense it gives them. It calms them down. They come out of surgery with a sense of fight or flight. The acupuncture gives them a sense of calmness, even in the presence of pain. It’s also kind of an adventure to many of them, who have never experienced acupuncture!

If you or anyone you know ends up at Abbott Northwestern, it is important to know that these services are available to you. We even have a pre-hospital program to help people before they arrive prepare their minds to have a more positive outcome and less pain. You can access that by calling 612-863-6122.

Once you are in the hospital, you can simply request services from a nurse or physician. You will be seen in your room by one of the 21 inpatient practitioners who will provide this therapy to you at no charge to you or your insurance company.

The intense experience of being ill is viewed as a sacred journey you are taking and is be supported by nurses, doctors and practitioners of the Penny George Institute.

To prepare yourself to experience the therapies, first breathe slowly.  Inhale to the count of 2 exhale to the count of 4.  You are on your healing journey.