I previously wrote about potentially life-saving mindfulness when out in public, of being alert and aware of your surroundings, and not letting yourself be distracted by your phone when walking or driving.
I also pointed out the need to work on getting yourself into the life-enhancing habit of putting keys, phones, wallets, purses, shoes, backpacks, etc. in a designated area so that precious minutes wouldn’t be wasted while looking for them, especially when one needs to get to work, school, an appointment, the theater, etc.
However, another vital aspect of physical mindfulness is being very aware of what’s status quo for your body, so if something seems atypical or different, you can bring it to the attention of a health care professional.
For example, it’s normal that when you cut yourself, the bleeding will stop after a few seconds. However, is it taking a much longer time to clot lately? Are you out of breath while walking up a hill, when you never used to be? Are you basically eating the same amount of food, but are losing or gaining weight?
It’s crucial to be aware of a change. Often people are oblivious because they never were in the habit of paying attention.
It’s important to be mindful of changes not just in yourself, but in the activities, habits and personality of family members and close friends. It’s very likely there is a benign, perfectly plausible explanation for these changes – lack of sleep, jet lag, stress over an upcoming simcha, or a mild infection that will resolve itself.
But sadly, change can also signal that there is something seriously wrong. As I wrote last year, I had felt a sharp pain in my left rib that only lasted a few seconds. But a sneeze had triggered it. I had felt a similar pain before, which I logically attributed to the fact that I had leaned hard against the washing machine to retrieve a coin in the wash and had likely pulled a muscle.
But I was aware that in a lifetime of sneezing, I had never felt pain. I went to check it out and thought with some annoyance that I’d be told I had osteoporosis, despite decades of exercise.
Actually that “twinge” was a symptom of bone marrow cancer, medically known as Multiple Myeloma. Typically many patients are diagnosed when they already have excruciating back pain caused by spinal damage that often requires surgery and the insertion of rods and/or radiation to reduce the pain of fractured vertebrae. One older lady told me she needed “cement” to shore up her spine, and I had this image of her haplessly lying on her back while the hose of a cement mixing truck poured cement into her. You do need humor to get through trying times!
I believe I never got to that state of debilitating bone damage because I had been mindful of something being atypical and had it investigated.
One needs to be mindful of treatments. Mistakes happen. Every month I get an IV of a bone-building drug. The staff does their hishtadlus in making sure I am the right patient by comparing my name and birth date with the label on the IV bag. I do mine by checking the name of the drug, and the dose listed on it. According to a recent study by Johns Hopkins University, the third leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer, is medical error.
I also made a point of asking patients in the hematology waiting room what they had experienced in terms of suggested treatments and how they reacted. For example, did their doctor recommend a stem cell transplant, as opposed to using the many amazing immutherapy drugs now available? There are pros and cons, risks and drawbacks to every treatment. There are also online forums where patients share their experiences, as well as “ask the doctor” blogs to garner more information. Being aware and mindful of treatment options and their effects are crucial.
Even if you feel fine, be mindful of timely tests and examinations, especially the unpleasant or embarrassing ones, like colonoscopies or mammograms. A very educated friend was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer that has metastasized into her bones. She told me she hadn’t seen a doctor for decades; she never felt the need to. She was never sick, or if she was under the weather, it was never bad enough to warrant medical intervention beyond an over-the-counter headache or cold pill.
This winter she had a bad cough that would not go away and her colleagues talked her into going to the doctor. She was diagnosed with pneumonia, which she overcame, but also with a cancer that had spread.
Parents and schools should be mindful of teaching their children and students life-saving skills, such as the Heimlich Maneuver and CPR, how to stop bleeding from a bad cut, and protect a burn – basic first aid. In case of an emergency, ignorance can be fatal.
Unfortunately, there have been too many tragedies in our community with young people drowning, babies left in hot cars, and hiking mishaps. Many of these tragedies could have been prevented. We are taught that everything, good or bad that happens is min Shamayim, but at the same time we are exhorted to take care of ourselves and do our best to extend our life, even to the point of transgressing major commandments.
It is imperative that all children be taught how to swim. In addition, young people need to learn about dangerous water conditions. We all need to be mindful of dangerous swimming environments, like when there are rip tides. If there are signs that say, “No Swimming “ then don’t go swimming.
Even strong swimmers can lose their battle to reach shore. Years ago, I was at a Shabbaton in Long Beach, New York and decided to swim in the ocean in the late afternoon. The lifeguard was leaving but I happened to walk by as he told someone that if the waves pulled you out, to swim parallel to shore and diagonally. I did find myself trying to get back to shore and getting nowhere since the outgoing waves were dragging me back. I remembered what I heard and it worked.
Hashem had put me in the right place at the right time.
May we all experience Hashem’s chesed in all areas of our life and be mindful in making the right decisions.