What Is Forest Medicine?

The healing properties of nature have long been recognized. Cedar trees were used by many Native American tribes for healing and protection against disease. John Muir, the great Scottish-born American naturalist and writer once said, “Come to the forest, for here is rest.” A century later, researchers around the world were taking medicinal and scientific interests in trees. The Japanese government was literally encouraging its citizens to get out — commune with the woods — for therapy. They called it “forest bathing”. From 2004-2012, Japan spent $4M studying hundreds of subjects. Their work became the foundation for the modern concept of “Forest Medicine”. But what exactly is it? 

 

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Forest Medicine is the science of using nature to heal you. And it has been accepted by many traditional medical practitioners. Why? Research has proven that trees having healing properties. The antimicrobial oils, or phytoncides, that protect them from germs can also help people. These oils reduce blood pressure, heart rate, stress and anxiety. They also boost the immune system, improve sleep and increase energy. It’s even possible that they can help you fight cancer or depression. As a result of these and other benefits, Japan designated 62 therapeutic forests. These woodlands attract millions, every year. All in search of better health.

Researchers in North America have also taken notice of Forest Medicine. A study, conducted by doctors at the University of Illinois, noted that children with ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hypersensitivity Disorder) showed improved concentration after just a 20-minute walk in a green space, i.e. a park. Many spas and treatment centers throughout the U.S. and Canada now offer “Forest Therapy” or “Shinrin-Yoku”. It’s even been highlighted for tourists, i.e. The Travel Channel and the Fodors Travel Guide. Some locales may be closer than you think. Are you tempted? The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy actually offers free Forest Therapy Starter Kits, on their website.

For me, personally, I find rejuvenation in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I prefer that simple, one-on-one approach. The sound of the water rushing over the rocks, in the mountain streams, soothe me. The smells of wood and earth fill my senses. And I feel stronger — better. I somehow have more energy. I don’t have to climb a high peak to experience the positive effects to my body. I don’t have to hike five miles. Nature opens its arms like a loving mother and it provides. And the peace is priceless.

 

 

Reference Links:

https://qz.com/1208959/japanese-forest-medicine-is-the-art-of-using-nature-to-heal-yourself-wherever-you-are/

http://www.shinrin-yoku.org/shinrin-yoku.html

https://hikingresearch.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/an-interview-with-forest-medicine-and-shinrin-yoku-researcher-dr-qing-li/

http://www.natureandforesttherapy.org/

https://www.redbuttegarden.org/forest-medicine-north-america/

https://www.fodors.com/news/hotels/9-spas-where-you-can-try-forest-bathing

*Photo by Sebastian Unrau on Unsplash

                                               

 

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After The Storm …

The storms of life effect us and teach us. Camille, back in 1969, is the first hurricane that I remember experiencing. I was nine years old. Even today, Camille remains the second-most intense hurricane to ever hit the United States. She was one of only three Category 5 storms to ever make landfall in this country. And her impact was devastating. As a young mother, my husband and I weathered Hurricane Hugo with family. My father was terminally ill, at the time. That in itself was a struggle. When the storm slammed into Sullivan’s Island, just north of Charleston, Hugo was a Category 4. We spent hours hunkered down and listening, as the winds howled … stripping away our roof. Despite the fact that we lived four hours inland, we had damage to our new home. You don’t have to live at the beach to suffer the consequences.

I have lived most of my 58 years between coastal states and the Midwest. Storms — whether a hurricane, tornado, or blizzard — are a fact of life. I have been through them all. They’re something you learn to respect rather quickly. Your survival depends upon it.

So, you monitor the reports. You dread the thought of being in its path. And you prepare, or you try to. It’s a very fluid situation, with a ticking clock. Sometimes, you have minutes. For others, you have a couple of days. Often times, with tropical systems, you evacuate. When this happens, you try your best to remember everything that you’ll need. You toss it all in the car and bug out. You wait. You worry. You pray. And, eventually, the storm does pass. Then, comes life … after the storm.

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Clean-up is a hazard in itself. Returning to your home may be an issue. Flooding can require that you boil water. Electricity can be out, for days. And you may find that you aren’t as prepared as you had initially thought you were. It happens to the best of us. When it does, life can be difficult, stressful and inconvenient. But if you have a Chronic illness, it can be life-threatening.

If your medications have been exposed to excessive heat, unsafe water, etc., they should be discarded. If your electricity has been out for a long time and your medication requires refrigeration, it too should be discarded. Wounds can be problematic for Diabetics. So, please, keep your feet protected. Wear shoes. Work-gloves, too. Stress worsens most Chronic illnesses. And the days — sometimes weeks, even months — that follow a massive storm are a highly stressful situation. But you aren’t alone.

Hospitals may be heavily damaged. Doctors offices are usually closed. Yet, help can be found. RXopen.org provides excellent information about the pharmacies that are open, or closed, in any natural disaster area. It also lists the locations of shelters as well as infusion centers. The American Red Cross responds to over 60K disasters, every year, with shelters, clean water, hot meals and health professionals. The Canadian Red Cross is equally active, in disaster responses, as are all the international branches. Directrelief.org provides assistance with medications and/or supplies, for low-income patients. Chain-pharmacies can usually fill a prescription, even if you have evacuated to another area. So, call yours for more details. If you are on Medicare, you can get help by calling 1-800-Medicare for assistance on medications, plan information, or dialysis. The National Cancer Institute  stands ready to assist Cancer patients at 1-800-4Cancer. And the Center for Disease Control (CDC) offers information for Diabetics and others, regarding natural disasters and severe weather. The latter is provided in numerous languages.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, over 50% of the patients who were seen in emergency care locations had a Chronic illness. Approximately 70% of the storm’s survivors had one. We saw similar numbers following Hurricane Maria, last year. As a nation, we sometimes learn lessons the hard way. The needs of the Chronically ill, in and after a natural disaster, is but one example. With each season and crisis, we become better prepared to handle these needs. And we become stronger in the process. Godspeed to all of you!

 

Reference links:

https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/chronic.html

https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/preparedness.html

https://www.fda.gov/drugs/emergencypreparedness/ucm085200.htm

https://dhhr.wv.gov/hpcd/Pages/Disasters-and-Chronic-Disease.aspx

https://www.healthcareready.org/rxopen

https://www.directrelief.org/

https://www.cancer.gov/contact/emergency-preparedness

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4753992/

https://www.redcross.org/about-us/our-work/disaster-relief.html

http://www.redcross.ca/how-we-help/emergencies-and-disasters-in-canada/for-home-and-family/after-an-emergency-or-disaster

http://www.ifrc.org/en/what-we-do/disaster-management/

https://www.wsj.com/articles/two-months-after-maria-puerto-ricos-health-system-struggles-to-meet-needs-1510960587

*Photo by Mike Wilson on Unsplash

When Pests Attack Your Garden …

Every gardener, whether they are a seasoned pro or an insecure novice, has gone head-to-head with some type of pest, i.e. mosquitoes, ants, beetles, etc. With luck, vigilance and supplies from the local garden center, the gardener is usually victorious. But our lives are gardens too: remember? When a pest like the Deer Tick attacks your garden, the result can be Chronic Lyme Disease (CLD).

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Lyme Disease is a caused by a bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi). Patients are infected from a tick bite. Because the immature ticks, or nyphms, are extremely small many people don’t even realize that they’ve been bitten. So the tick can literally attach itself and feed for days, unnoticed. And the longer it is attached, the more likely it is to pass Lyme and/or another pathogen into the body.

With summer activities and trips on the increase, it’s important to take notice and precautions. Lyme Disease has been found on all but one continent. It has been found throughout the U.S., but it has substantially higher numbers in the Upper East Coast, the Midwest and along the West Coast. Not all ticks carry Lyme. The Deer Tick, also known as the Black-legged Tick, is the culprit. These ticks can also transmit the disease to pets. Researchers have found the bacterium in other blood-sucking insects, i.e. mosquitoes. But there is no evidence that they are capable of spreading Lyme Disease.

Ticks enjoy wooded areas … grassy fields … brush … even your backyard. They live on animals as well. To help prevent a tick bite, treat your clothing and gear for camping or hiking trips. Use EPA-approved insect repellents that contain DEET. However it is important to avoid using repellents on babies, under 2 months of age. Examine your clothing, gear and pets. Shower after being outdoors. Carefully, check your body. All of these things will greatly reduce your risk of a tick adhering to your skin.

If you are bitten, do not panic. Remove the tick with tweezers, as soon as possible. You will see a small, red bump. This isn’t unusual. The symptoms of Lyme Disease will appear, from 3-30 days after a person has been bitten. So, stay alert. If a rash appears, often in a bull’s eye pattern, you have probably been bitten by an infected tick. The rash may not even be painful, but it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Flu-like symptoms are also common, i.e. chills, fever, fatigue, headache, etc. If you experience any of these, you should contact your doctor. Untreated, the symptoms of Lyme Disease will worsen. The rash will become more widespread on your body. Other symptoms will appear, i.e. joint pain, neurological issues, etc. Heart, Eye and Liver problems have also been known to occur. And no two cases are exactly alike.

There are two tests that are widely used to confirm Lyme Disease: the ELISA test (Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) and the Western Blot test. The latter is administered, if the ELISA is positive. This confirms your diagnosis. Other tests may also be implemented, i.e. Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and Antigen Detection. Lyme Disease is initially treated with antibiotics. It may be done orally, or by an IV.  Treatment lasts from 10-28 days. And for most patients it is effective.

According to the Center for Disease Control’s statistics, there are approximately 300K cases of Lyme Disease diagnosed in the U.S. each year.  And the numbers are increasing. About 30-40% of these cases will result in Chronic Lyme Disease, or Post-Treatment Lyme Disease (PTLD) as it is also known. These patients are profoundly affected. Patients with CLD suffer with quality of life issues that are worse than many other Chronic illnesses, i.e. Asthma, Depression, Diabetes, Fibromyalgia, even Congestive Heart Failure. Approximately 75% of the patients surveyed by lymedisease.org reported at least one severe symptom. And 63% reported two or more. Of those surveyed, 40% reported that they were unable to work. About 24% have received disability, at some point. Children with Lyme Disease may have special needs. They may have difficulties in the classroom. This isn’t the common cold. This is a long-term illness.

If you or a loved one is living with Chronic Lyme Disease, then you know the battle all too well. It is important to communicate changes in your symptoms to your doctor. Keep appointments. Take your medications. Rest. Try to maintain a level of optimism. Every victory, no matter how small, is worth celebrating. You are not alone, in this fight. But you may sometimes feel that way. Let’s be honest, your new normal feels anything but normal. Anyone with a Chronic illness can relate to that. Many Chronic illnesses are marked by flare-ups, when symptoms worsen. It’s never convenient, but you CAN do it. Adjusting to your illness isn’t easy, but it will help you to manage it. Connecting with support groups/organizations can also help, either in meetings or online. Yes, you have Chronic Lyme Disease. But you also have a life. You have plans. Dreams. Ideas to share. Places to go. So, enjoy every day to the fullest. This is your garden and it’s beautiful. It’s unique. It’s you!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.lymedisease.org/lyme-basics/ticks/about-ticks/

https://www.bayarealyme.org/about-lyme/what-causes-lyme-disease/

https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/prev/on_people.html

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lyme-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20374651

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lyme-disease/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20374655

https://www.lymedisease.org/lyme-basics/lyme-disease/chronic-lyme/

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/study_shows_evidence_of_severe_and_lingering_symptoms_in_some_after_treatment_for_lyme_disease

https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/infectious-parasitic/c_dg_lyme_disease

* Photo by Andreas Ronnigen on Unsplash

Happy Trails …

It’s the time of year, when many people are getting ready (if not packing) for a vacation. For those with a Chronic illness,  that means paying attention to details. Your life isn’t over just because you were diagnosed. Travel, domestic or foreign, can still be enjoyed. But it does require some careful planning. If you do so, you’ll have less stress … more relaxation … a great trip … wonderful memories … and added confidence for taking future excursions.

First, it’s important to be realistic and honest with yourself (and your traveling companion/s). Do you feel well enough to take a trip? Only you know that answer. If you are the least bit uncertain, you should see your doctor and discuss it. Some seasons may be easier for you to travel in. Some locales may be easier to access. How you travel can also have an impact, on your health. And, in all honesty, there will be years when you simply cannot take the risk. Chronic illnesses do not stop just because you go on vacation. This is your new normal and, like your shadow, your illness is going to be with you. Assuming that you are feeling good and a trip is on the horizon, remember your limitations. 

For me, personally, it’s 6-7 hours per day. It doesn’t matter if I’m traveling by car, rail, or air. My body doesn’t cooperate well, beyond that. So, my plans heed the time-frame. If my destination requires 2 days of traveling, I book a hotel room for the night. Pacing yourself, with any Chronic illness, is important. It doesn’t matter if you are en route, or at your destination. Pacing yourself can be the difference between relaxation and a setback. So, don’t push yourself. Think ahead. Do you need to make a reservation, for the road? Do you need to rethink a planned activity? I’m not suggesting that you sit idly in your hotel room. I’m just saying that you need to remember your body’s limitations. And we all have them.

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If you are traveling abroad, check your Passport. Is it valid? If you don’t have a Passport, you’ll need to visit the State Department website for information on how to obtain one. This process doesn’t happen overnight (typically 6-8 weeks), so don’t wait until the week before your departure to get started.

With a Chronic illness, it’s essential to choose a destination where you can get good health treatment if necessary. A letter from your doctor, on his office stationery, that details your condition, i.e. medications, etc., is always helpful to have on hand. Sometimes, it can be necessary. Medical alert bracelets, or tags, are another plus. These can be easily obtained online, if you don’t already own one. Will you need immunizations for your trip? If so, these should be taken 4-6 weeks before you go. 

Beyond passports, modes of travel and reservations … there’s health insurance. This is especially pertinent if you are traveling abroad. Most regular health plans provide no coverage, or limited coverage, when you are in another country. Medicare offers none. So, take a moment and contact your health insurance. Ask what is and isn’t covered. You might even consider getting Travel Health Insurance. 

About two weeks before leaving town, your attention should focus on your cellphone coverage and credit cards. If you are taking your cellphone, you’ll want to call your provider to make certain you will have service at your intended destination. This may require additional coverage and fees, depending upon where you are going, i.e. another country, and your current plan. Your credit card companies also need to be notified of where you are traveling to and when, so be sure to contact them. 

It’s time to pack. And let’s be honest, packing can be a hassle. So err on the side of caution, make a list of everything you will need. That way you are less likely to forget something important. You will need to pack your medications as well as any supplies, i.e. inhalers, syringes, glucose test strips, etc. It’s wise to pack a few days extra, just in case you encounter a delay. Comfortable clothing and footwear always comes in handy. Do you occasionally need a heating-pad? If the answer is yes, then pack it. Do you sometimes have incontinence issues? Make sure you pack those products, too. It is easier to be prepared than to be stuck in a difficult situation without them. 

When your departure day finally arrives, you’re going to be excited. But it’s still important to stay focused. Wear comfortable clothing, especially on travel days. Comfortable shoes, too. Make sure you have your passport, your ID, maps, tickets, wallet, cellphone, etc. Put your medications in a place where you can easily obtain them, i.e. a purse, a tote bag, carry-on, etc. Stay hydrated. The summer heat can create additional problems and air travel can, too. Drinking water not only keeps your body hydrated, it helps you to stay resistant to germs. No matter which mode of travel you choose, remember to take a break — walk around, stretch, etc. It does help. Keep the time zone differences in mind, when taking your medications. Last, but not least, relax … You CAN do this! Millions of us do!

Happy trails …

 

 

Reference Links:

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/health-status

https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports.html

https://travel.usnews.com/features/does-your-health-insurance-plan-cover-you-while-abroad

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2018/advising-travelers-with-specific-needs/travelers-with-chronic-illnesses

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/turning-straw-gold/201407/what-it-s-take-vacation-while-chronically-ill

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/chronic-illnesses

* Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash