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What if you imagine something positive?

Last week I wrote about a fleeting moment of anxiety when I wondered, “What if this headache is a brain tumor?” We all have these ‘what if’ moments. We may not even realize that we are having them. What if that car behind me doesn’t stop in time? What if this pain in my knee means I’ll need knee replacement? What if I don’t get enough sleep tonight.  These aren’t exactly the healthiest, most positive possibilities.

I think these kinds of ‘what ifs’ are just a misuse of our imagination. It takes just as much energy to invent positive, empowering ‘what if’ scenarios, as it does to imagine negative ones. So, here are some ‘what ifs’ to try:

  • What if I add in 5 more minutes of physical activity every day?
  • What if I stop eating sugar one day a week?
  • What if I go to bed earlier every night for a week?
  • What if this indigestion is an opportunity to look at my eating habits?
  • What if I ask my friends if they have a doctor they like, and see if that doctor is taking new patients?
  • What if I eat extra vegetables?
  • What if I skip the news one day a week?
  • What if exercise is fun?
  • What if I advocate for better health practices, such as those proposed by the One and Only Campaign?
  • What if I start living my life bravely?

What are your ‘what ifs’? Does your imagination serve your health or serve your worry?


Recently I had a bad headache, which is a rare occurrence for me. The last headache I had was in 2013 while I was on hepatitis C treatment. That was many years ago, so the only obvious explanation for my pain was that I had a brain tumor. I took an acetaminophen, got a good night’s sleep, and in the morning the headache was gone. Either acetaminophen is a cure for brain tumors or I just had one of those 24-hour tumors.

Seriously, I didn’t really think I had a tumor, but for a brief moment, the thought flashed through my mind. (It didn’t help that I was reading Do No Harm, a book about brain tumors.)  Fortunately, more rational thoughts followed, such as, “Take a Tylenol.” But it left me wondering, why is it that we jump to worst case scenarios?

There is a huge difference between obsessively entertaining worries, or just having passing ones. If you tend to worry about your health, here are some tips to try:

Apply Occam’s Razor to your problem. Occam’s Razor states that among a series of potential explanations, the simple one is the most likely reason. For instance, if I am tired, is it related to an illness or is it because I didn’t get 8 hours of sleep?

Be patient, and wait for an explanation to emerge. My mentor at Stanford told me that when it came to his own health, he found that pretty much everything got better in about two weeks. If it wasn’t a clear emergency, he’d wait tow weeks before going to the doctor. I’ve applied that to my own health, and it’s worked for me.

Think about worst-case scenarios, and then ask, so what? What if I have a brain tumor? What is the worst thing that would happen? I’d be upset, and then I’d deal with it.

Set parameters around worrying. If I have something that really bothers me, I invoke a rule: No worrying when I am trying to sleep or while I am driving. I allow myself to worry all I want when I am walking,

Avoid Doctor Web. I can’t tell you how many diseases I have never had because I had all the symptoms that lined up with a disease I found on the Internet. These days I try to let my doctor do the diagnosing.

Use humor. Sometimes a headache is just a headache, but why not also have a good laugh at my silly thinking. Sometimes a good laugh is all I need to keep my mind off my troubles.

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Wading Through Medicare

Wading Through Medicare

I turn 65 this month, so I signed up for Medicare so my coverage would begin on August 1. I admit, I did so with a sigh of relief, grateful that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) hasn’t been completely stripped away. Pre-existing health conditions made affordable health insurance out of reach, and I don’t know what I would have done without it. I ache for the future of ACA, hoping that our elected officials will come to see health care as a right and fiscally responsible way to manage health care costs.

Although I am relieved to have medical insurance, I hope I won’t need it. My real insurance plan is the amount of time and effort I devote to staying healthy. I log in a minimum of an hour of daily exercise. To this I add active play, such as walking or hiking with friends. Last week I tried paddle boarding with my granddaughters. Although I didn’t fall, it wasn’t pretty. I’m sticking to kayaking.

I want to be one of those older adults who remains strong for as long as possible. The only way to do this is by putting in the time and effort. I try to make it fun, or otherwise I’ll make excuses, and then before you know it, I’ll be watching reruns of The Golden Girls.

By the way, when your time comes to sign up for Medicare, I highly recommend working with an insurance broker. I think it is easier to paddle board than to wade through the options. The Medicare web site is easy to use, but a good broker is far easier. There is no charge for this.


Cookies don’t relieve pain

Last week my family waited to find out about the prognosis of one of our loved ones. She has battled cancer for 2 years, and the cancer is back. We don’t know how bad it is or what the next steps are. The doctor said he’d call on Friday. He didn’t. She called him, he didn’t call back. She called on Monday. There was no return call.

Waiting can be excruciating. Waiting is when thoughts start to bore deep holes in to your sense of safety, leaving you a victim of your imagination. Most of us fail to imagine the good, and torture ourselves with relentless “what ifs.” There is no pill to take that relieves the pain of waiting.

I thought I was being very Zen about the entire matter, surrendering to the reality of waiting rather than to the angst of worry. However, by the end of the day when we hadn’t heard anything more, I discovered a pack of cookies that I had stashed away for my grandson. I ate the entire package, which is not something that I care to admit, let alone publicly announce.  However, it’s the truth, and the truth is always better displayed in the light, rather than hidden in shadows.

The cookies showed me that I was hurting. Recognizing my vulnerability, I skipped the guilt, and prayed that I wouldn’t get an upset stomach or a sudden case of diabetes. I took the evening off, and immersed myself in major relaxation. This morning I meditated and went for a good hard walk. I turned the situation over to my belief in goodness, love and mercy, a power who some call God, but for me is best left unnamed.

The doctor did call, and today I know no more about my loved one’s medical condition than I did yesterday. However, today I know that I can endure the pain of waiting, that all is well, and that cookies don’t make anything better.

When you or a loved one’s health is at stake, how do you wait?


Health and Harmony

What part of your life needs retuning?

The harmony of life can be learned in the same way as the harmony of music…Any pain or suffering is a preparation, and just as one must first tune a violin to play it, the heart must be tuned in order to express wisdom.” ~ Hazrat Inayat Khan

When I was diagnosed with hepatitis C, all I saw was hepatitis C. I forgot I had a heart, a brain, kidneys, and all the other parts of me.  In time I learned that by focusing  on the hep C, I neglected the rest of myself.

Living with chronic illness is challenging, but it can be an invitation to live a harmonious life. This means being well, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Being well is a continual practice. Just as a musician must retune his or her instrument before making beautiful music, so must I tune into my body’s needs before I can bring my health into harmony.

Sometimes I feel out of step with life, and my figurative violin is not only out of tune, I am playing different music than I had intended. If I am suffering, I am usually motivated to realign myself. However when I am just a little off, slightly overworked, or on the edge of overwhelm, it is easier to ignore the fact that I am off key. Rather than wait for this to develop into pain and a more obvious indicator to retune myself, I just make tuning a regular practice.

What part of your life needs retuning?


Do you know what to do with unused medicine?

Every so often someone contacts me, wondering what to do with unused medicine. Selling it is illegal. So how do we dispose of it?

The FDA provides guidelines about legal and proper disposal of unused medications. They discuss three options:

  1. Medicine take back programs – DisposeMyMeds.org
  2. Tossing medicine in the trash
  3. Flushing drugs down the toilet

Medication disposal programs are the best option as these services have the advantage of being environmentally-conscious and properly enforced. The other two options are what I call “if all else fails” options and should only be undertaken following the FDA recommendations.

Most of us would feel better knowing that our medications are going to other people, and in some cases, they can. Some medication disposal programs, medical facilities and pharmacies are sending unused drugs to Sirum, which redistributes unused medications to those in need. Individuals cannot donate their medications directly, but in some states, pharmacies can take back medication and donate it to Sirum. An excellent op-ed written by David Bornstein titled, Recycling Unused Medicines to Save Money and Lives appeared in the New York Times (March 20, 2015).

More states are enacting drug-recycling programs in order to deal with the increases in drug costs. Each state has its own laws governing prescription donation. Visit the National Conference for State Legislatures for more information about this.