We have all been warned about too much sun exposure and harmful ultra-violet rays. In the process, awareness and prevention turned into absolute fear for some people. Yet, we rarely hear anyone talk about the benefits of sunshine. And the benefits do exist. The sun IS healthy. In fact, WHO (World Health Organization) has noted that over 3B people worldwide are possibly suffering from ailments that are the result of very low levels of UVR (Ultraviolet Radiation). These maladies include many Chronic illnesses and musculoskeletal disorders. So whether you currently have a Chronic illness or not, you need to indulge in its warmth. Because moderate sun exposure IS a good thing!
Personally, I find it difficult to select the best benefit from sun exposure. There are so many. But one of the most significant is Vitamin D. Unlike other vitamins that we need, Vitamin D can be synthesized in the skin through a reaction that is initiated by UVB radiation. Just 30 short minutes of sunlight, while wearing a swimsuit, can release up to 50,000 IU into the body! And Vitamin D plays a helpful role with so many Chronic illnesses, i.e. Cancer, Cardiovascular diseases, Diabetes, Auto-immune diseases, etc. It is one of the most essential nutrients that we need to maintain good health.
Another important benefit of sunlight is the positive effect that it has on our mood. It has long been known that higher levels of serotonin equate to having a better mood, i.e. happy, satisfied, calm. Lower levels are linked to depression and anxiety. A medical study, done in Australia, found that our bodies actually have more serotonin on sunny days than on the dreary ones. Hence, the basis for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) a type of Depression. Serotonin is also linked to weight loss. Still, there’s more …
If you suffer with joint pain, then you know that the warmth of the sun is literally soothing to your body. Warmer weather seems to always bring greater mobility and less pain. Would you like to lower your blood pressure? Research has shown that nitric oxide in the top layer of our skin actually reacts to sunlight. This reaction causes blood vessels to widen as the oxide moves into our blood. And the result is a lower BP! Exposure to sunlight has been linked to getting a restful night of sleep, as well. We can all use that. And many skin disorders, i.e. eczema, acne, psoriasis, have a positive response to UV light treatment.
Summer is here, in all its glory. So take advantage of what the sun CAN do for you. Get outside. Use an SPF of 15 or higher. Remember that moderation is imperative. Nobody needs to overdo it, so stay hydrated. Take your MP3 player or a radio … turn-up the volume … enjoy your favorite music. Read a book on the chaise lounge. Go for a walk around the block. Swim a few laps in the pool. Hit a bucket of golf-balls on the driving range. Wiggle your toes in the sand. Have fun. And soak-up the sun!
* Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
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).
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!
* Photo by Andreas Ronnigen on Unsplash
When you are diagnosed with any form of Chronic illness, it’s no laughing matter. On behalf of those who have experienced the situation, I can assure you that it’s pretty sobering. One might even call it a come-to-Jesus moment. Life suddenly isn’t as easy as it was, in the past. It’s harder. Scarier. For some, their faith becomes stronger. For others, it’s when faith is sought. The unknown has a way of diminishing one’s ability to smile, let alone laugh. Yet, Scripture teaches us that there is a time for everything — even laughter. And modern medicine has actually proven that it’s good for you!
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens …” — Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NIV)
Laughter has the wondrous ability to heal and renew the body. When you laugh, it enhances your intake of oxygen. It stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles. Laughter increases endorphins in your brain. It even burns calories. And all of this helps you. With every giggle, you will relieve tension … fight stress … and relax. But that’s just the short-term benefits!
In the long-term, laughter improves your immune system. It helps to relieve pain. And it increases your level of personal satisfaction. Laughter improves your mood — including your outlook on life. You might even say that laughter sows seeds of optimism. And we all know how essential that is, when living with a Chronic illness. Laughter improves your relationships. It aids in good mental health, i.e. providing joy, relieving anxiety and strengthening resilience. A study conducted in Norway even found that people with a strong sense of humor outlive those who don’t laugh as much!
Today, the medical community is embracing Humor Therapy, also known as Complementary Therapy, to assist in the treatment of many Chronic illnesses. This therapy implements the use of laughter exercises, comedy movies, books, games, etc., to help patients cope with their disease. This has proven especially useful for Cancer patients. So, consider the benefits.
Life is precious. And any Chronic illness is serious. But laughter really is good medicine. Indulge in it. Tell a joke. Watch a funny movie. Smile and giggle your way through a good book. Laugh. There’s no better time for it!
* Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
One of the sweetest things about the summer is the sound of laughter. The sound of people enjoying each other and life — especially children. It has the ability to put a smile on the grumpiest faces. Ah, to be that young and carefree again … playing with dolls … romping in the park … discovering seashells on a beach … rounding the bases in Little League … swimming … fishing … waiting for the ice cream truck … running through the cool water of a sprinkler … catching fireflies … creating chalk art … the possibilities of a lazy, summer day are almost endless. Unfortunately, for some children, not everything in life is easy. These children live with a form of Chronic illness. And one of those illnesses is Sickle Cell Disease. The average age of onset is 2 months – 14 years. It’s sometimes even diagnosed at birth (with routine newborn screening tests).
Sickle Cell Disease, or SCD, has been called “a neglected Chronic disease”, by some in the medical community. For a moment, let that sink in. But what exactly is it? SCD is a gene disorder that is inherited. The red blood cells of the patient are not shaped, normally. Instead of the round, disc shape, patients with SCD have red blood cells that are shaped like a sickle. Hence, the name. The disease is characterized by chronic anemia, acute pain, swelling of the hands and feet, bone and joint damage, chronic organ damage, ulcers and sometimes a reduced life expectancy. Many patients experience mild symptoms. Others have severe ones. No two patients are alike. But all must learn to live with the illness.
People have often misconstrued SCD as a “Black” disease. But, in reality, it is found in many races, i.e. Hispanics (from Central and South America), Middle-Eastern, Asian, Indian, and Caucasians of Mediterranean descent. Between 75,000 – 100,000 Americans have been diagnosed with Sickle Cell Disease. Globally, it affects about 30M people. And many who live in poor nations, with limited healthcare, are never diagnosed.
Approximately 8% of African-Americans carry the Sickle Cell Trait. This varies from SCD, because there is only one sickle cell gene present. Those with SCD have two. Individuals with Sickle Cell Trait rarely show any symptoms and lead very normal lives.
If your child has been diagnosed with Sickle Cell Disease, it is important that you keep regular appointments with your doctor. If a specialist is needed, it is important to follow-up. Manage all of your child’s medications, carefully. You can help your child, by teaching him/her to avoid pain triggers, i.e. extreme temperature, stress, etc. Be sure to teach them not to smoke, use drugs, or drink alcohol. These things can cause pain and lead to additional problems. Encourage them to drink fluids for hydration and to rest. It’s also important to meet with their teacher/s. A child with SCD, or any Chronic illness, has special needs. Absences can add up in any school year, but health must come first. Discover how your child’s school can help, before a crisis occurs. It will make the difficult times less stressful. Your child may not always feel like taking part in some activities. Still, it is important they he/she feels included.
As your child gets older, they will be able to better communicate their concerns, feelings, pain, etc. As a parent, our first instinct is to protect our children. Some parents can become over-protective. Try to avoid that temptation. Give your child chores to do. It teaches responsibility. And that helps a child to live with any Chronic illness. Look for activities that he/she can excel in. Encourage exercise, because it will strengthen their body. Scouting. Band. Art. Dance. Various extra-curricular clubs. All will offer the chance for your child to discover what they can do, their hidden talents, build self-confidence and offer peer interaction.
Chronic illness isn’t a handicap. So, please, don’t turn it into one. Every child should be encouraged to live life, to the fullest. Like most kids, you child has dreams, i.e. college, careers, families. Dream with him/her. Help your child to set goals and attain them. The best way to accomplish this is by teaching him/her how to live with their disease. Teach your child the importance of monitoring their symptoms, taking their meds, talking to their doctor and understanding their limitations. Be open and honest with them. The more that they respect their disease, the easier it becomes to live with it. And heaven knows, it isn’t going anywhere. Love them, but try not to smother them. They need to be kids … teens … young adults. They need to live. Best of all, they can!
* Photo by Frank McKenna on Unsplash
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.
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 …
* Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash
As this Memorial Day Weekend arrives, many of us have plans for the holiday. There will be graduations … cookouts … and vacations. Flags will flutter in the breeze. Countless parades and ceremonies will honor those who have died, while serving in our Armed Forces. Speeches will recall the many acts of valor. And patriotism will surely swell in our hearts. If you have a loved one in uniform, it’s blessed relief to just embrace them on U.S. soil. Most of us can relate to that moment. We have been there, with a loved one. We know the joy. They’re home. They’re safe and sound. But for many vets, the war comes home with them. And it stays … for months … even years. It becomes a way of life that requires courage and tenacity.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, has been known by a variety of names, over the years. Once thought to be solely combat-related, we now know that individuals who have never served in the military can have the illness too. PTSD may develop after any terrifying ordeal that involves physical harm, the threat of harm, or even witnessing it happening to someone else. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder strikes, indiscriminately –regardless of age, race, or gender. Over 7M Americans live with the diagnosis. But this isn’t an illness confined to one country. It’s global.
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, the statistics for PTSD vary from one war/conflict to the next. Almost 31% of Vietnam vets have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The number drops among those who served in the Gulf War (Desert Storm) to 10% and rises slightly among Afghanistan veterans (11%). Around 20% of Iraqi War veterans have been diagnosed. Still there appears to be no way to gauge who, or how many, will be affected. One might even call PTSD an expected casualty. Those who have been diagnosed are brave, well-trained vets. They have served our nation. They did their duty, honorably. But when they returned home, the war came with them. It wasn’t planned that way, or wanted. Yet, that is the reality. And PTSD can be accompanied by additional illnesses, i.e. depression, anxiety, substance abuse.
Patients who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder know the symptoms, all too well. The more common ones are nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, etc. They may sometimes feel on edge, too. It’s common for them to often avoid situations or places that remind them of what they experienced. It is a way of coping. Knowing what triggers their PTSD symptoms is important, i.e. fireworks. Think of it like a diabetic avoiding the foods that spike their sugar levels. PTSD patients, like a diabetic, are managing their condition.
Some Post Traumatic Stress patients have relationship problems. Their symptoms can cause issues with trust, closeness, communication, sometimes even problem solving. Others have no difficulty in creating and maintaining healthy relationships. They’re rather good at it. As with any illness, no two PTSD patients are alike.
If your loved one has PTSD, then you have probably established a good support system. If not, you should encourage them to do so. Some may want to join a Peer Support Group. These groups are accessible, nationwide. Most meet in person, but some do so online. Those who live with PTSD need to stay connected to family and friends. They need to talk openly and honestly about their illness, as well as their feelings. All we have to do is be there and listen. Support systems are vital to anyone living with a Chronic illness. That includes Post Traumatic Stress. It enables them to enjoy life … relax … have fun … and live each day to the fullest. In other words, it’s healthy!
There are some negative stigmas that society has attached to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I wish that I could say otherwise, but it happens with most chronic illnesses. This one isn’t immune. When people are uninformed, they react differently. Sometimes, they even react badly. It happens. That’s why facts and awareness are key. PTSD is a medical condition. It’s just that simple.
Those who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shouldn’t be defined by their illness. They have many strengths, i.e. leadership abilities, creativity, job skills, etc. The more you know, the more surprised you may be by their accomplishments. These individuals are our sons, fathers, mothers, daughters, husbands, volunteers, neighbors and friends. They make positive contributions to our society as artists, journalists, authors, nurses, doctors, teachers, businessmen, businesswomen, etc. There are athletes, in the mix. First Responders and passionate activists are there, too. You’ll even find individuals with PTSD sitting in elected office. Thank you to all of them. Their perseverance is part of what makes America the resilient, steadfast nation that it has always been. May God bless each and every one of them.
* Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash