Tag Archives: HMORN

J is for Jon Kabat-Zinn and… j’Mindfulness?

Too much of a stretch for the letter J?

Don’t care! Poetic license!

J is for the author and psychologist Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the book Full Catastrophe Living and a huge proponent of mindfulness (no, it doesn’t really start with a j, silent or otherwise).


Although I haven’t actually finished reading the book yet (it’s a monster!), I am becoming more and more interested in the idea of mindfulness. Or more than idea, really– the science of mindfulness. (It’s a science that literally has it’s own journal, peer-reviewed and PubMed-indexed. Dang.) It’s another one of those things that keeps coming up over and over and over again… and the universe only has to put something in my face so many times before I actually take notice.

Would I have admitted to mindfulness being a legitimate science even 6 months ago? Absolutely not. The excellent thing about being an actual scientist (despite my work place’s unwillingness to call me one– only scientists can be trusted with a per diem!) is that I’m totally cool with allowing the evidence to change my mind. With regard to mindfulness, my mind is just about completely changed.

And I’m not the only scientist who feels that way. As I was contemplating mindfulness as a topic for the letter J (because… J… right…), I came across this Humans of New York (HONY) post.

Humans of New York on Facebook
Humans of New York on Facebook

Mindfulness, inner voice, meditation, introspection– it’s all kind of the same thing. The new age mumbo jumbo that has always intrigued me, yet turned me away because… well, because I am a scientist, darn it! And I thought I was supposed to be against all that!

According to this guy though, lots of scientists are into mindfulness and the like. And I am certainly convinced of that after attending the HMO Research Network (HMORN) conference back at the beginning of May. I saw several oral and poster presentations presenting hard evidence* suggesting that mindfulness practices improve physiological measures of health in patients with diabetes, heart disease, and several psychological conditions. It’s certainly not a panacea, as nothing is, but to think about the power our minds have over our bodies is amazing. To see evidence of it? Even more so.

For example, people with diabetes could literally reduce their hemoglobin A1c by 1 – 2% over the course of an 8 week mindfulness practice. If you’re familiar with glycemic control in the context of diabetes, that will undoubtedly impress you. That’s a number that takes considerable time and effort to change, and it’s a really good measure of diabetes management.


Because I’m always quoting Mumford and Sons:

In these bodies you will live, in these bodies you will die. Where you invest your love, you invest your life.

— Awake My Soul, Mumford and Sons

Isn’t that it? Mindfulness? Investing in yourself… love here meaning time and energy; a moment for yourself.


I know, I sound like I drank the Kool-Aid and that’s that. Not the case, I assure you.

For months my therapist has been gently suggesting meditation and breathing and such… mindfulness practices. Every time, I nodded my head like a good girl, an agreeable girl, but in my head, I thought he might be Looney Toons… at least a little too “new age” for my liking.

He knew I’d come around though. And I did. Good call, Dr. C!

HMORN piqued my interest for seriously and I started reading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book. Then, all at once, we had a grand rounds on mindfulness and I had a therapy appointment where once more Dr. C tried to convince me in his nonchalant way that mindfulness is where it’s at… the confluence of all these events was somewhat striking and it wasn’t until then that I realized I didn’t have to be good at mindfulness right away and that I could ease into it.

Doing something I’m not good at?! Ugh! That’s not how I prefer to operate, but at least it seemed slightly less daunting.

So I started doing 4-7-8 breathing… all the time. In the middle of the day, when I’m feeling stressed, first thing in the morning, and before I go to sleep. It’s so easy, even a skeptical nerd like me can do it. I just close my eyes, breath in for 4 counts, hold it for 7, then exhale for 8… times three in a row… several times a day. I don’t know why it works, but it does. When I open my eyes again, I feel like I’m coming back from somewhere else. Every time. Try it!

Here’s a video from the real deal (i.e. not me) Dr. Andrew Weil. My favorite part is in the beginning when he is describing the yogic way you’re supposed to breath and says, “no idea what that means in terms of Western physiology, but they’re the ones who invented it, so we should do what they say.”

I like that– just because you don’t know why it works, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

I don’t envision myself sitting on a pillow for hours at a time in a quest for nirvana, but I certainly don’t think it would hurt to take baby steps toward a more mindful style of living. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindful-based stress reduction seems to be a good start!


*I say hard evidence here to mean something that is measurable, but relatively un-bias-able. There are, of course, all sorts of validated self-report questionnaires that can be used to measure outcomes of mindfulness practices, but I always wonder about how “real” that is… likely because it’s not my field, not my comfort zone. But in the studies I’m discussing here, people were actually drawing blood and making laboratory-based measurements of different compounds. That’s what I mean by “hard” evidence.

Not in the prison way.



And since we’re talking about mindfulness, let’s briefly touch on the complete opposite for a moment– mindlessness. Or, as I like to call it, The Bachelorette. A couple of my Marshfield friends got me into it this season and I’m hooked, it’s like checking out completely for two hours and liking it. And it makes Mondays so much better! Plus: girls night, every Monday! Tonight we even had oatmeal cream pies (mmmm… Little Debbie).  Anyway, Marcus and Brian… right?! RIGHT?! I wish I could say Josh on account of being at the letter J, but… I just can’t. Enough now.

Home from Phoenix, Stories to Tell

Phoenix City Hall
It’s a scientifically proven fact that crooked pictures are at least 47-times more artistic than straight on shots. See?

I went to Phoenix last week for the HMO Research Network (HMORN) conference. The science was fascinating, Phoenix was gorgeous, but my body gave me an awful lot of grief and it was all-in-all a pretty rough trip. I am very glad to be home.

On Saturday morning, my sister-in-law Kayla, the professional Body Pump Instructor, came over to teach my other sister-in-law, Trista, and I the newest Body Pump release. It was an awesome work out (too awesome, even, said my quads the next day), but halfway through I was pretty sure I was going to vomit. I thought maybe it was because I ate breakfast about an hour before and that may have been a mistake (go ahead, ask me if it’s because I’m pregnant, I dare you), but it turns out it wasn’t the breakfast, it wasn’t the intensity of the work out, it was a VIRUS! Or something. And it was miserable. The bathroom pretty much became my home.

Bitty little fever to go with the nausea and diarrhea. Joy.
Bitty little fever to go with the nausea and diarrhea. Joy.

Except… we had to go down to Madison to pick up Curly after surgery and there’s no way Seth could have picked her up on his own. I had to go. Thank goodness for rest stops, Immodium, and Pepto. It was just enough to get me down and back, although it was certainly pleasant for no one. And I’m sure I was not the most uncomfortable person in the car. You see, the ultimate outcome of Curly’s surgery was good, but repair requires use of an external fixator for at least four weeks. (At least— we’re hoping for more like 6 – 8.)

Love when she sits like a person. Not loving the incisions and pins and pain killers and all that.
Love when she sits like a person. Not loving the incisions and pins and pain killers and all that.

Poor baby is having a rough time, of course, but is doing incredibly well. Leaving for Phoenix was particularly stressful on account of leaving Seth on his own to take care of her. I know she’s a dog and normally that means food, water, potty, but not this time. It means 7 different drugs 4 times a day, cleaning of the entrance sites of the pins, and all of the effort required to keep this “high energy” dog extremely calm and as comfortable as possible. No easy task.

The good news, though, is that Seth did exceptionally well. We had Curls into our local vet to check everything over yesterday morning and she was thrilled with how it all looks. I’m particularly pleased with the incisions. She has a big long incision down the outside of both of her legs (on the right to repair the damaged knee, on the left to harvest muscle fascia for the repair) and the difference between this surgery and the last three is truly night and day– clean, dry, beautiful stitches running neatly down each leg. No oozing, no gapping, no swelling, no redness. Definitely a good sign.

Looking cozy, eh?
Looking cozy, eh?

Meanwhile, in Phoenix, I was busy subsisting on the blandest food I could find (lots and lots of dry cereal and bananas, seasoned with the pink stuff, of course) and locating (and destroying) the nearest bathroom until 4 am on Wednesday morning. Bad enough, right? Except on Tuesday night, during a viewing of The Grand Budapest Hotel (which was absolute Wes Anderson brilliance, by the way) I noticed that my hands started to feel kind of bad. Swollen. Puffy. By Wednesday morning, the virus had subsided, but my hands no longer even looked human and finding an urgent care became priority number one.

After presenting our posters in the morning and listening to a few talks, I could no longer bare the spreading and the throbbing (and the concern that my wedding ring may end up resulting in auto-amputation of my finger) and I sought out medical care. Fortunately, there was a walk-in clinic a mere two blocks from the hotel and I headed there for a prescription of oral steroids and some ice packs… three people, ice, and lots of petroleum jelly also helped to get my ring off and my finger was saved. Whew.

I cannot even tell you how kind the clinic staff were. It was amazing. Minnerva, the lovely NP who treated me, has even been in contact since I left because she wanted to 1) make sure I was doing ok (I was under strict orders to seek emergency care should I develop shortness of breath– immediately) and 2) to find out if I’d gotten a diagnosis (medical curiosity– love it). And I did! After a visit first to family practice and then to dermatology yesterday, I was diagnosed with dyshyidrotic eczema and was prescribed a big, fat steroid “blast and taper” to deal with this flare up and a steroid cream to be used at the first sign of blistering in the future.

Done in time to make it to the Desert Botanical Garden-- whew! Itchy hands, but lots of cacti for scratching. (I kid.)
Done in time to make it to the Desert Botanical Garden– whew! Itchy hands, but lots of cacti for scratching. (I kid.)

If you’ve known me a while, you know that this hand rash business is not new. It started happening back in 2009 after I had the swine flu (or, as Seth and I like to call it, the piggy pigs) and didn’t stop happening until I graduated and moved to Wisconsin in 2011. But since then– nothing. Not even once. Sweet relief. So you can imagine my panic when it came back in Phoenix– with a vengeance.

Likely, this is something I’m going to have to deal with on and off forever, but having a diagnosis, knowing some of the triggers (female gender (not much I can do about that), stress (such as traveling on the heels of my dog’s fourth surgery… a surgery that took 9 hours and two faculty surgeons to complete), extreme weather conditions (Wisconsin to Phoenix? that’ll do it), other illnesses (like the piggy pigs or an intestinal virus), and frequent hand washing/transitions from wet to dry), and having a plan for how to deal with it makes a world of difference. At least I feel pretty relieved.

So, lots to whine about, as the 1,000+ words above demonstrate… but also lots to be happy for. Seth did so great with Curly (seriously, he’s going to be such a great dad someday– but again, not preggo, I promise) and it was really nice to travel with Trista. She and I had lots to talk about and I think we’ve come to an important conclusion about some important things to say– lots and lots more to say about all of that at a later date. A series even. Additionally, my poster spurred a lot of really interesting debate. It presented evidence in direct contradiction to the 2009 United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) guidelines for mammography screening and someone who came up for the purpose of discussion worked for the USPSTF at that time. Yikes! We had a spirited and interesting debate and I was really pleased with my capacity to have nerve-wracking scientific discourse (with crazy hands) without getting worked up or personally offended or anything. Lots of other poster traffic and I was pretty pleased with the outcome– I’m really looking forward to sharing some of the suggestions and comments with the docs I worked with on the project. Lots of good stuff to think about. Trista and I got to have dinner with she and Seth’s cousin Ginni and her little boy Keegan. The restaurant was a hole in the wall, but an absolutely gem, and then we went for drinks in the spinning Compass Room overlooking the entire city. And finally, last but not least, I came home with four mini cacti from the botanical garden for planting! Pretty dang excited about that!

St. Mary's Basilica in Phoenix. Gorgeous. And look at that sky?!
St. Mary’s Basilica in Phoenix. Gorgeous. And look at that sky?!

I hope you’ll stick with me… and that Trista and others will join me in the upcoming series we’ll talk about tomorrow. It’s important and I’m really looking forward to the discussion. See you then!!!

Too much yes. No!

My friend Chris Lema says no a lot. Seriously. Google “I say no a lot” and see what happens.

See? Chris Lema.

(What you don’t find in The Google is something that Chris Lema’s close-and-personals know: he says yes even more. Hence, his insane level of busy. But don’t tell anyone- that’s a secret.)

Me? Ugh… I never say no. Even when I want to. Even when I really should.

I know it’s a lame and whiny thing to complain about, especially considering that it’s 100% self-inflicted, but dang, it’s catching up to me.

For the first year, maybe two, after I graduated from grad school I was super careful not to take anything home with me– no nights, no weekends. I got my 40 hours in, I got my work done, and I was productive and happy. But then I started saying yes to more and more extras, more and more deadlines, and I can’t… stop…

It’s like I’m addicted. But I need to kick the habit because it’s sucking away my time, and consequently, my happiness.

When I’m short on time, I don’t blog. But I really, really like blogging. And when I’m short on time, it makes household chores seem so much worse because they’re just crappy things on top of more crappy things. And worst of all, when I’m short on time, even fun things feel like nothing more than other things that I have to do.

That’s enough! Time to reclaim my time! Time to channel my inner Lema and say NO when no is what I really need to be saying.


… but not until I get back from Phoenix next week. Kind of boxed myself in with deadlines up until my plane departs. Oops.

In other news: I’m going to Phoenix next week! Yay! I went to the HMO Research Network (HMORN) conference for the first time last year and l-o-v-e-d it… loved it so much that I’m going back again! (Actually, I don’t really get to choose, but a series of generous physician-scientist benefactors have allowed me to go two years in a row now, and thank goodness for that!) I know HMOs have a really negative connotation (I’ve seen Sicko… and yes, it disturbed me), but at the HMORN conference last year I was pleasantly surprised with the number of people and number of initiatives with HMO that are truly dedicated to improving patient care. All of the organizations there have dedicated research branches– Marshfield Clinic, Kaiser Permanente, Group Health, Geisinger, Pilgrim Health, etc. It’s pretty awesome.

But more importantly (and superficially, of course): PHOENIX.

Phoenix vs Marshfield

That’s a 50 degree difference… plus, complete lack of precipitation, frozen or otherwise, in Phoenix. Yes, please!


PS: Did you actually click on the hyperlink for “I say no a lot”? You should… it’s hilarious. Have you seen Let Me Google That for You? It’s geniusly sarcastic and I love it.