Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Mindfulness - that elusive state of mind

The next time you're sipping on your favourite beverage - tea, coffee, wine, whatever, take this simple test. Try to focus completely on the experience of drinking the beverage. Feel the liquid go into your mouth, feel the taste, the temperature, the consistency. Feel it go down your gullet. See how long you can keep doing this until your mind gets distracted by other thoughts.

I used to think that meditation was something very difficult and boring. Earlier guidance I had received advised focus on the breath without allowing the mind to get distracted. This was a horribly wrong approach to meditation.

I realised later (and I'll get to how in a bit) that meditation is nothing but mindfulness, being present in whatever you are doing. While eating, be present in the exercise of eating. While you're in a meeting, be 100% present in the meeting discussion. Do not think about other things. That way, theoretically you can meditate all the time without making it sound like a chore.

However, if you're like me, you will soon realise how awfully distracted our minds are. When we are drinking tea or coffee, we are thinking about something else. When we eat, our minds jump to one thing after another. When we are having a meeting with someone about something, our mind keeps racing to something else. When we go out to have lunch with family or colleagues, we keep checking our phones.

I started reading about this a few months back when I read an article online. I was introduced to an app called Headspace. There are obviously many other apps as well. I was honestly very surprised when I realised how the mind works. I have been following the ten-minute meditation routine every morning for the last many months and I honestly have had many life-changing experiences due to this.

I am still very, very far from being mindful in daily life. However, I can confidently say that I now at least realise the extent of the problem. A simple thing like drinking some water from a glass can be completely different when we do it being 100% present. For someone like me who is on dialysis, even something so simple can make a huge difference. If I am focussing on the water, I feel much more satiated than if I let my mind wander away to something else (which is the default behaviour for most of us).

I was prompted to write this post when I read this article yesterday. The article gives some tips on how to be more mindful:

  • Practice 10 minutes of mindfulness training each day
  • Avoid reading email first thing in the morning
  • Turn off all notifications
  • Stop multitasking
  • Put it on your calendar
I would strongly recommend that you read this article. I have truly experienced some very blissful moments due to being mindful from time to time. You should, too.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Book Review: Dialysis - An Unanticipated Journey

I was recommended this book by Dr. P. C. Gupta, who is the vascular surgeon who created my fistula. I hold him in very high regard. He is considered one of the finest vascular surgeons in the country, someone who can literally create a fistula out of nothing! He's known me for quite some time now and told me about this book the last time I went to meet him about some numbness on my fistula arm.

The book is not available in India and I had my brother in the US order it from Amazon. It came to me after a few weeks.

The book is written by David L. Axtmann who was on dialysis for more than thirty years when he wrote the book. He was diagnosed with kidney disease in 1968 when therapies like dialysis and kidney transplants were still in their early stages. Axtmann died in 2004, after about 36 years on dialysis. In the book, he describes his journey with kidney disease and dialysis. These were days when you got dialysis only if you were between 15 and 55 years of age because of the lack of widespread availability of the treatment. In those days, patients were taught to assemble their own dialyzers. There was no blood pump and patients dialyzed for about twelve hours each time. A lot of the patients got dialysis at home.

Axtmann takes us through the turbulent times he faced describing with great detail the various medical and other problems he had while getting treated. What is striking is his desire to continue studying, at first and then working even as he struggled to cope with all the problems dialysis brought with it. Axtmann was lucky to be supported by his wife Marlene throughout the journey. They also had some very good neighbours who stood by them in every hour of crisis.

Apart from being a very inspiring story, the book also gives some very good insights into how healthcare facilities, specifically dialysis were in the 1960s and after in the US. I often wonder why the US has been the birthplace of so much medical innovation. The book gives you some nice details on how dialysis patients were treated, how the quality of life was so important, how doctors valued the patient's will and how they were so completely committed to bettering what was available.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is on dialysis r is caring for dialysis patients. It teaches us a few important lessons. Dialysis definitely need not be the end of life. Despite being on dialysis, we can live fulfilling, productive lives, lives that we were meant to lead had kidney disease not happened.