Friday, January 26, 2007


Positive thinking can go long way toward healing

“Amy, following this operation, you will feel comfortable and you will heal very well.”

These were not words I imagined in a dream but words spoken to me by Dr. Cindy Campbell, an anesthesiologist at Backus Hospital during surgery two years ago.
Backus’ Center for Healthcare Integration offers a one-hour workshop called “Prepare for Surgery-Heal Faster.” Every patient who takes the course and listens twice daily to the relaxation CD also hears these words, called healing statements, spoken to them during surgery.

Whether asleep or awake, studies show the words spoken during an operation and the outcomes that a person focuses on can significantly help the healing process and recovery.

Most of us, because we are human, become anxious as an event like surgery approaches. The negative images we focus on like pain and possible complications rob us of the inner chemistry we need to heal. During “Prepare for Surgery”, the negative images are replaced with positive ones. For example if I am afraid of pain, through guided imagery, I change that to imagining myself after surgery comfortable, safe and surrounded by loved ones.

An oncology patient shared that after receiving difficult news about her prognosis, she went home and wrote in large letters a sign that read, “I deserve to have hope”. She knew she needed to inspire herself with positive thoughts if she was going to begin to heal. If our attention is consumed with talking, thinking and worrying about our illness we are unknowingly perpetuating the illness. In the words of William James, the father of American psychology, “you attract into your life that which you expect, so expect only good.”

A study demonstrating the extraordinary influence our thoughts and beliefs have on what we manifest was done with patients receiving chemotherapy. Thirty percent of the control group who received a placebo and not the chemotherapy drug lost their hair. The patients lost their hair because they expected to. If someone is given a placebo drug instead of a pain reliever, and it works, it doesn’t mean they don’t really have pain, it means the body is capable of creating a pain relieving substance because the brain expects to feel relief. Think of the body as a pharmacy, creating chemical responses to thoughts, and think of our beliefs as the order we place.

It may be worthwhile to look for a day at what thoughts we spend most of our time focusing on. Is it about what we don’t have, how we are not happy, what we wish would be different? If that’s the case we are only helping to create more of the same in our life. If we are thinking “I’m always late,” or “I’m not organized or not attractive or thin or fit enough or healthy,” that’s the outcome we are perpetuating. Many people think about what they don’t want and then wonder why it keeps showing up in their life.

Words and thoughts like music create a vibration of energy and movement and the vibration causes a response. We attract back to us with our thoughts and words the same vibration that we send out. Conversely what is happening in each of our lives we may be attracting with our beliefs and thoughts. The good news is that once we are aware, we have a choice.

When asked if she would attend an anti-war rally, Mother Teresa said “no, but when you organize a peace rally let me know and I’ll be there”. She intuitively knew that an anti-war demonstration was bringing focus to war, not peace.

Japanese photographer and author Masaru Emoto in his book “Messages from the Water” freezes and photographs water crystals that are exposed to different types of music, kind words and prayers, pollution and disparaging words. The photographs reflect the effect of words and thoughts on water crystals ranging from symmetrical beauty to disorganization. If we consider that the human body is made of more than 70% water we can imagine that how we talk to ourselves, what we spend our time thinking about and the words we use when we speak to each other and our children has an effect that reaches even the cells of our bodies.

The words of the poet Hafiz offer another perspective. “How did the rose ever open its heart and show the world all its beauty? It felt the encouragement of light against its being, otherwise we all remain too frightened”.

Amy Dunion, a registered nurse and massage therapist, is Coordinator of The William W. Backus Hospital's Center for Healthcare Integration. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Ms. Dunion and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

Friday, January 19, 2007


Neurology: Back to Basics

Among the most frequent questions I am asked since I began writing this column has been “What is a neurologist?” This is probably a good time to backtrack a little and clarify the issue. A neurologist is a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases of the nervous system.

Neurologists do not perform surgery, but instead rely on medications and various physical therapies for treatment. Although there is some overlap, neurologists and psychiatrists are very different in their approach to patients. Neurologists claim no special qualification in treating psychiatric diseases.

A typical visit with a neurologist involves a detailed discussion of the patient’s complaint, as well as any symptoms they are experiencing. Relevant past history and family history will be questioned. The physical exam includes testing the cranial nerves, strength, sensation, coordination and reflexes. Based on the results of the examination, tests such as an MRI, EEG or electroneuromyography (EMG) may be ordered.

Conditions often treated by neurologists include disorders affecting the brain like stroke, epilepsy, brain tumors, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, migraine headaches and multiple sclerosis. Some neurologists specialize in treating diseases of the spinal cord, peripheral nerves and muscles. Some of these illnesses are amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), peripheral neuropathy, muscular dystrophy and myasthenia gravis.

The field of neurology involves many areas of medicine and requires a broad range of medical knowledge and experience. Neurologists must coordinate care with other specialists including primary care, neurosurgery, pediatrics, oncology and rheumatology.

Neurologists touch the lives of many people young, old, male and female. Often our patients suffer from terminal, incapacitating diseases where there is little hope of a cure. It is in these situations that we are often called upon not to heal, but to advocate and insure that our patients receive the support and care they deserve.

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, MMM is a neurologist in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC in Norwich and a member of the Backus Hospital Medical Staff. He is also an Associate Clinical Professor of Neurology at UCONN. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Alessi and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

Friday, January 12, 2007


Painful symptoms of gout can be treated

In the recent decades, the so-called “Western Diet’ and lifestyle that predisposes individuals to hyperuricemia (increased uric acid) and gout have become increasingly common and have been paralleled by a potential increase in the incidence and prevalence of gout worldwide.

Every attack of gout has a story. Every story is unique. But one common thread is that the condition can be very painful.

The most common story is after a night out at a bar having a good time. The patient is woken up by twinges of pain in the big toe and this becomes increasingly worse. The big toe becomes red, hot and painful to the point that even the sheet bothers their toe.

If this is the first time, the patient really does not know what to do and seeks medical advice either at the emergency room or calls their doctor the next day. Initially, the doctor investigates the possibility of infection in the joint.

Once the doctor rules out infection the patient is usually treated for gout with colchicines or medicines like ibuprofen or naprosyn. An acute attack usually subsides within a few days to a week. Demonstration of uric acid crystals in the joint fluid is vital for the definitive diagnosis of gout.

Risk factors for gout include:
 Blood uric acid level greater than 6.8
 Hypertension
 Medications (low dose aspirin, diuretics, certain immunosuppressive agents)
 Obesity
 Metabolic syndrome
 Intake of high purine beverages and food, including certain meats, seafood, yeast and yeast extracts, vegetables (peas, beans, lentils, asparagus, spinach, mushrooms, beer and other alcoholic drinks.

Not all patients need to take medications for the treatment of chronic gout. Dietary modifications can make a big impact and sometimes just adjusting medications can do the trick.

But sometimes longer treatment is needed, especially when a patient experiences frequent and disabling attacks; signs of gouty joint disease; Uric acid clumps in soft tissues and some bones; gout in conjunction with kidney disease and recurrent kidney stones.

Sandeep Varma, MD, is a rheumatologist and Medical Director at the Backus Arthritis Center, located at the Backus Outpatient Care Center in Norwich. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Varma and all of the Healthy Living columnists at


The art of positive eating

A few years back I received a call from a friend – her dad had just been to his doctor and he was told that he had to restrict his salt intake, reduce his fat intake and that he was developing diabetes, so sugar was out too.

“My dad is wondering what he can eat,” she said, in an imploring tone. “He’s just given up and is eating hot dogs.”

Well what is left to eat? Many people just hear what they can’t eat and either over- restrict themselves or give up entirely. My answer to her was there are plenty of foods left to eat, your Dad is just focused on what he can’t eat.

Positive thinking is the answer. All foods can fit into a healthy diet. Think of the great foods that can be eaten; a juicy ripe peach or tomato, bakery fresh whole grain bread, marinated shrimp on the barbeque. These are all healthy and delicious foods.

First, substitute high sugar, high fat or high salt foods with healthier choices. Many foods have acceptable substitutes. Some of course do not. A donut could be exchanged for ½ of a whole grain bagel with light cream cheese and a dab of jelly. If you are in the mood for something crunchy, go for raw vegetables instead of potato chips.

Second, try to modify favorite recipes to be lower fat, salt or sugar. Macaroni and cheese can be made with skim milk instead of whole, whole grain pasta or soy pasta can be exchanged for semolina or regular pasta. In many recipes the salt can be omitted or reduced. Low fat ingredients can be substituted for full fat foods, such as sour cream, cream cheese or cheeses. Try to change the cooking method to a low fat method.

Third, say no to processed foods. Most process in fat, sugar and salt and process out fiber and essential vitamins. This is not a healthy combination. Reduce dependency on processed foods by cooking in large quantities and freezing in individual portions for another meal. Planning ahead will help you to have healthy ingredients on hand. If you must choose convenience, choose meals that are less than 500 mg of sodium per serving and less than 10-12 grams of fat.

Fourth, do not try to make changes too quickly. Would you try to run a marathon if you had only ran one mile previously? Working gradually toward a goal makes more sense.

The same goes for making diet and lifestyle changes. Make one change at a time, setting yourself up for success. If your goal is to lose weight and control blood sugars, begin by substituting whole grain breads for white bread. When you are successful with your first change, try another. It takes time to make a behavior change a habit. Too much change all at once can be overwhelming and stressful. Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic goals.

As for my friend’s Dad, he did better with his meal plan with time. He still ate hot dogs, just not as often. His loving heart and sense of humor stayed the same.

Mary Beth Dahlstrom Green is a Registered Dietitian and Clinical Dietitian at The William W. Backus Hospital. She also serves as Assistant Director/Nutrition Educator for the Thames Valley Council for Community Action’s Elderly Nutrition Program for the, and as a Nutrition Consultant for various skilled nursing facilities over the 15 years. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. Contact Ms. Green and all the Healthy Living columnists at

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