“Every human being is the author of his own health.”
– Siddhartha Gautama
“At least you’ve got your health.” Anyone who’s ever lost a job, ended a relationship or been audited by the IRS has heard that well-worn aphorism. And yet, like many clichés, it’s endowed with a lot of truth.
We learn this when (like our own Anu Yagi, whose story appears on the following page) we get sick. Suddenly, the things that seemed so important are shoved firmly to the back burner or forgotten altogether. Without a sound body and mind, everything else is immaterial.
It’s important to remember that lesson when you’re well, so you can focus on staying that way. As we do every year, we’ve highlighted a few interesting things people are doing to maintain and improve themselves from the inside out. They may not all work for you, but hopefully they’ll at least get you thinking, and, more importantly, moving on the path toward lasting wellness.
That way, the next time you careen into the ditch of life and someone tells you “at least you’ve got your health,” you can smile and nod—and realize they’re right.
The Healing Touch
An alternative therapy based on ‘vital energy flow’ makes its way into Kaiser Permanente, erasing skepticism—and a throbbing headache
By Anu Yagi
Some of the nurses have referred to me as a “long timer.” As a leukemia patient beginning my fifth solid week as a grounds-bound resident of the Kaiser Moanalua hospital on Oahu, it feels true. Despite being bedridden for more than a month, I don’t sleep much. My vitals are checked every few hours, so pockets of sleep are usually only found in the warm daylight hours between check-ins, and are often fever-induced.
I see two to four doctors a day, three to four (or more) nurses and as many or more aids. Between schedules and rotations, I’ve met with dozens of highly-trained caretakers, openly discussing very private things like bowl movements, urination, infection, total body rash and hair loss that carpets the tile floors around my bed but does little to dissuade my comically kanaka fro. Even my visiting family and loved ones (camping out on a creaky, black vinyl cot, its mattress a minefield of worn metal coils) readily participate in the discussion. Great.
Notwithstanding the compassion individually expressed by the caretakers themselves, the processes of my treatment are all very technical, mainstream-medical and chemical. A 33-inch, biluminal (two tubes) catheter is inserted into the inside of my bicep. A type of central venous catheter, it runs the length of my arm and right chest to one of the cardiovascular system’s great vessels: the superior vena cava, a finger-thick vein to the heart’s right atrium.
Drawn from it are endless vials of blood for testing, and pumped through it are a slew of intravenous medicines. Bedecked with bags of intravenous medicines hung on blue hooks, my metal I.V. stand is a polyurethane mobile of sorts.
“Oh, my dearr,” one nurse says in her pillow-soft Filipino accent, pointing to the laden stand, “you are look-ing like a Christ-mas trree!”
The liquid-filled pouches sprout tails of tubes that twain to others, all of which are wrung through a peristaltic pump that churns a constant chemical cocktail into my system, to the tune of a roiling mechanical hum. Chemotherapy, antibiotics, antiviral, anti-nausea, steroids, saline, blood.
Thick metal needles have sucked blood and marrow from my bones and they’ve carefully tapped my spine like a maple tree to test the cerebrospinal fluid that drips from it. More often than meals I swallow little cupfuls of crayon-colored pharmaceuticals—the collection of orbs like a mini Mad Hatter’s Easter basket.
No wonder I have a headache.
It’s the kind of headache for which there is no real relief. Originating simultaneously from my frontal and parietal lobes, it is a deepening concrete pressure that bookends my brain. When I move, it shoots down my back and settles in my middle before trickling out to my limbs like bits of broken glass in a stream. In my right ear—steadily losing its function—all I can hear is my pulse as strong as if I’d buried my head in the place where waves meet the sand. It’s been this way for weeks.
Opiates take the edge off—a little. But I am stubborn. Fancying myself a student of Japanese bushido ethic, using warfare prose to relish in self-managing pain, I aim to stave off even one extra pill.
“No need be shame in asking for pain meds,” the nurses all chide. It’s not so much shame as it is a desire for exploration. What’s the point of experiencing anything so wildly intriguing as blood cancer if you blind yourself to the path?
It may be that same sense of exploration that made me say yes to the Healing Touch. Truth be told (though I will always have an open ear and curious heart for anything at all), I am, at my core, a skeptic when it comes to the la-ti-da musings of energies and chakras and whatnots. I say this so you know I didn’t enter the experience as a believer.
Two retirement-aged ladies poke their head into my room in the early afternoon. Unfamiliar faces, I assume they’ve popped in on the wrong patient. Of straight edge composure with close-cropped hair, matching vests and simple jewelry, they look like modern candy stripers, hospital auxiliaries. My mom gets up from my bedside to speak with them.
“These women are volunteers and are here to do the Healing Touch,” she says to me.
“Would you like to try it?” says the shorter of the two women, leaning in with a sweet grin.
Cracking a dry smile in return, I muster my most enthusiastic “uh-huh,” without the slightest clue as to what the hell the Healing Touch is. I’ll try anything for the sake of trying—pain or no pain.
Being neutropenic—a hematological disorder brought on by both the cancer and the chemo that makes me highly susceptible to infection—the ladies must don masks before entering my room. They do me one better by dressing in full preventative regalia—sleeved yellow gowns and teal latex gloves.
“Um, what is the Healing Touch?” I croak, hoping I sound more inquisitive than suspicious. The taller woman explains as the shorter one plugs in a small blue and silver boom box.
Essentially, it’s energy work—all very safe, she assures me. They’ll turn on some “relaxing music,” have me lie back with the bed raised to waist-height and proceed to conduct a form of holistic therapy intended to reduce pain.
The pair inquire as to my current pains. Other than the bare necessity of communicating with my caretakers, I’ve not been in the habit of discussing it all that much. Hmm… what to say? I have not had a bowel movement in five days. My gums are gray and I’m nursing raw lesions. Most of the visible veins in my forearm have burst and I can barley bend my elbows. And there’s that damned glass-shattering vice-grip on my skull.
But all my pride allows me to say is, “I have a headache.”
“OK,” they smile in response, and position themselves at my ankles to begin whatever it is they are about to do.
The music tinkles above the noise of the hospital hallway outside. Its flutes and gurgling brooks conjure public access TV programming, nature scenes and uplifting messages scrolling in artsy font.
“Can I watch?” I ask, as the women stand on either side of the foot of the bed, hands flat and placed upon one another like they’re about to start a game of patty cake.
“If you’d like—so long as you are relaxed. Some people fall asleep,” they say.
I watch for only as long as it takes for them to slowly wave their hands inches above my body up toward my chest. At which point—as their eyes are in range of mine—I have a tinge of discomfort and feeling of silliness, and end my curious journo watch of their wriggling blue fingers.
Wait a minute. I’m in a hospital. Mainstream medical care. Maybe this odd, almost-comical scene is yet another delusion brought on by a temperature that has rarely dipped below 100. How is it that this decidedly alternative mode of therapy has made its way to such a place?
Kaiser Permanente describes the program online and in its patient booklets with surprising pride and detail: “Healing touch influences a person’s physical or emotional health without anyone physically touching the person… In the 1970s, nurses developed a specific form of healing touch called therapeutic touch to provide a more holistic (viewing the body and mind as a whole, not as individual components), compassionate approach to healing. Many nursing schools in the United States teach therapeutic touch, and it is often used in conventional medical settings (such as before and after surgery) to help comfort patients.”
While “little research has been done on the effects of healing touch” as it’s difficult to analyze alternative care using “traditional scientific techniques,” the Healthwise review of the program says that patients who consult their doctors “can safely use healing touch along with conventional medical treatments.”
“Central to healing touch is the belief that a vital energy or life force flows freely through space and sustains all living organisms,” the overview continues. “In a healthy person, this energy is thought to flow in and out of the body in a balanced way. It is believed that illness results when the energy flow is out of balance.”
With endless schools of thought proclaiming similar foundations for their practices, it’s a wonder that a mainstream institution could implement and promote a program that invites strangers into patient rooms to, well, “touch” people.
Then again, you can never really touch anything. The scientific community generally agrees that touch is actually the sensory perception of gravitational and electromagnetic fields, and that on an atomic level—because of the electrostatic repulsion of circulating electrons—nothing really ever makes contact with anything else.
The women conducting the Healing Touch therapy never actually touch me in the layman’s connotation of touch, either. They wave their hands above my outstretched body, and make whisking-away motions into the air, seemingly to purge bad energy or imbalance. It is strange, though. With my eyes closed, I can acutely perceive where their hands are situated, their motions.
And when they reach my aching head—where they pour their focus—my skepticism melts away. The sensation can only be described as a honey-colored cloud resting on my forehead, marshmallowy and sunshine warm.
I no longer hear the music. I no longer feel pain. Pain that I’ve lived with for weeks on end is (and I hesitate to use the word) blissfully gone.
Sensing they’ve moved their hands away from my head, I feel their fingers float back down the length of my body. Then, there’s the gear grind sound as they push the button on my bed’s arm rail, and it sinks to its lowest position.
“That’s it,” they say quietly. “How do you feel?”
I cannot respond, and can only hope that a whisper of my heartfelt thanks is escaping my dry lips.
“Oh, she’s asleep,” the ladies and my mom chuckle happily.
I am not, but dare not open my eyes for fear that the sense of relief will disappear. It is already fading, like a morning mist succumbing to the arch of day.
The door opens, and the hallway noise invades my room. The ladies and their little boom box disappear. And before I drift into a long, dreamless sleep, I manage to outstretch my fingers toward the door, a silent plea for more of the Healing Touch.
They Like it Raw
Close your oven and nuke your microwave—raw food proponents say an uncooked diet is the key to a healthy life
By Jacob Shafer
For most people, “not cooking” means going to a restaurant, ordering takeout or inviting Mom over and gently nudging her into the kitchen. But for raw foodies, the phrase is literal.
Food, the argument goes, is better for you when it isn’t heated. Different sources cite different thresholds (usually between 106 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit), but the overall idea is that at a certain temperature food starts to lose essential enzymes and nutrients. Proponents say a raw food diet maximizes the benefits of healthy foods, aids digestion and generally helps us get the most out of what we eat.
For many, it’s not just about the body but the planet as well. Maui’s Optimum Living Alliance says in its mission statement that a vegetarian, vegan, raw food lifestyle has “supreme personal health applications” and helps foster “critical and significant improvements in the environmental, spiritual and economic issues we face today.”
Raw food can take many forms: fruits, vegetables, sprouts, nuts, grains, juices. Basically anything that can be safely consumed without cooking or processing, though the emphasis is on organic and, increasingly, local. (According to livingfoods.com—“the largest community on the Internet dedicated to educating the world about the power of living and raw foods”—people who emphasize different types of foods fall under various subcategories: “fruitarian,” “sproutarian,” “juicearian,” etc.)
Sha‘anan, the pastry chef at Rodeo General in Makawao, says he got into raw food in New York in the late ’90s. “I was working at one of Brooklyn’s only 100 percent vegan organic restaurants at the time, and one of my customers turned me onto it,” he remembers. “Then it just seemed to explode in early 2000.”
Sha‘anan attributes this spike in popularity to a collective sense of dietary malaise, a disconnect from our nutritional roots. “We have strayed so far away from how we’re supposed to eat as human beings, we needed something extreme to come about.”
Extreme is a good word for a diet that asks us to abandon one of the fundamental pillars of food preparation, something that’s been around since the dawn of civilization. In a 2003 study, Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham suggested “cooking may be obligatory for humans” and that evolution has wired us to process—and require—cooked food.
Sha‘anan himself doesn’t subscribe to an entirely raw diet. He estimates that his diet is “about half” raw food. (“Percentages kind of scare me,” he adds. “A lot of people get too caught up in that.”) And though he’s an expert at vegan and vegetarian preparations, he says he occasionally eats meat. “It just depends on where it came from,” he says. “If I know who raised the animal and cleaned it.” Asked if that means he’d rather eat a locally grown, organic steak than some pesticide-laced lettuce flown in from the Mainland, he answers without hesitation: “absolutely.”
But he’s also quick to return to the benefits of raw food, particularly when it comes to digestion. “A third of your life’s energy goes toward digesting food,” he says. “So if you give your body a break and help it along with raw food, that vital energy goes back into healing the body.”
Though restaurants that cater to raw foodies are more plentiful in big cities, Sha‘anan (who’s been on-island for seven years) says Maui is an ideal place to grow your own food and “focus on what you’re eating.” At the same time, he acknowledges that a raw, plant-based diet may not mesh with certain local delicacies. (Somehow “raw plate lunch” doesn’t roll off the tongue.)
However, Sha‘anan is adamant that anyone who thinks raw food is by definition bland and flavorless “hasn’t been exposed to enough good vegan and raw food.” He says the rise in popularity of alternative diets coupled with the Internet and all its recipe-sharing, community-fostering potential has created an environment where “it’s easy to be satisfied, certainly more than it was even five years ago.”
But what about choices? Even if the food you eat tastes good, going raw severely limits your options, right? “I don’t think it’s limiting at all,” says Sha‘anan. “It just takes a little creativity.”
1 bunch baby cabbage leaves, or leaves of choice
Mixed sprouts, red clover and radish
2 medium-sized beets, grated
4 carrots, grated
1-2 cups cilantro, chopped
1-2 slices purple onion, finely minced
1 fresh lemon or key lime, juiced
1/4 cup raw tahini
Dash of water
Umeboshi plum vinegar, to taste
Sprinkle of cumin seeds or caraway seeds, whole or freshly ground
Mix all together except collard leaves and sprouts. Use the leaf as a tortilla and wrap the filling in with some sprouts, roll up like a burrito
Living Pesto Pasta
2-4 cups basil
1 1/2 cups pine nuts
1/2 cup key lime or lemon juice
1/2 cup filtered water
4-5 cloves garlic
1 tsp. ume vinegar
Sea salt, optional, to taste
Dash cayenne pepper, or minced hot pepper of choice, to taste
Blend all ingredients in food processor until almost smooth. Place in serving dish with a garnish of basil and set in fridge, covered, until ready to serve.
3-4 young zucchini
4-5 large carrots
2 medium-sized beets, peeled (optional)
Wash and spiralize all veggies to make fresh living noodles; do beets last. Leave beets separate until just before serving
Lightly toss noodles together just before serving with:
2-3 slices purple onion, finely minced
1 large tomato, diced
Display noodles and pesto sauce in separate bowls, garnished with basil and edible flowers like nasturtiums
Courtesy of Optimum Living Alliance, www.ola-life.org
Titillating status updates are fun, but a new digital mammography service could really save lives
By Sarah Ruppenthal
Anyone with a Facebook account couldn’t have missed it. And apparently, anyone wearing a bra couldn’t resist it. A few weeks ago, a barrage of status updates surreptitiously materialized on thousands of Facebook profiles, ranging from enigmatic (“pink,” “black, “leopard print”) to brazen (“lacy purple with yellow polka dots,” “black leather with silver studs”).
For those who may be scratching their heads in confusion, these mysterious updates resulted from an anonymous email that was passed among Facebook members: “Some fun is going on… just write the color of your bra in your status. Just the color, nothing else. It will be neat to see if this will spread the wings of breast cancer awareness. It will be fun to see how long it takes before people wonder why all the girls have a color in their status… Ha, ha.”
While this may sound like an exhibitionist’s dream come true, these cyber-confessions revealed (pun intended) far more than a seemingly endless spectrum of bra colors. This demonstration of “camabraderie” resulted from a viral campaign designed to generate awareness for breast cancer screening and prevention. Awareness is half the battle when it comes to encouraging women to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages, and the campaign utilized social networking to share this important message. Did it work? Well, according to Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Spokeswoman Andrea Rader, on the day the campaign started, the organization’s Facebook fan base increased from 134,000 to 142,784—and the number is still climbing.
But more importantly, the campaign served as a fun, free reminder to women to schedule regular breast exams, which, of course, involves the one word that strikes a chord of fear in the hearts of so many: mammogram. Many women liken the procedure to a migraine headache—but despite the discomfort and unpleasantness, a mammogram can save a life.
However, two months ago, an announcement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Preventive Services Task Force put the issue of mammography into a tailspin. The task force released a new set of recommendations for women who are at “moderate risk” for breast cancer, contending that initial mammograms should be scheduled at the age of 50, not the standard age of 40. The ensuing outrage stoked the flames of controversy—pitting physicians against federal task force members.
Why are mammograms so important? According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women, exceeded only by lung cancer. One in eight women will develop breast cancer sometime in her life, and the stage at which it is detected greatly influences survival. If detected early, the five-year survival rate is nearly 100 percent.
In the aftermath of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s “revised” set of recommendations, the ACS issued a plea to all women 40 years of age and older, imploring them to schedule a mammogram every year, regardless of personal risk factors.
The good news: one Maui clinic is making mammography easier. In December, Maui Diagnostic Imaging (MDi) welcomed the Valley Isle’s first and only digital mammography service at its Triangle Square Clinic in Kahului. This revolutionary medical imaging technology provides incredibly sharp images, which in turn increase prevention and early detection. With the assistance of this new, life-saving technology, images can be viewed and manipulated on high-resolution computer monitors that enhance visualization on structures within the breast tissue. In addition, radiologists can also adjust brightness and contrast, and zoom in on specific areas in order to detect small calcifications, masses or other changes that may be signs of early-stage breast cancer.
According to MDi Radiologist Dr. Andrew Kayes, digital mammography will save even more lives than “traditional,” film-screen mammograms. “I know this will make a significant impact on the health of women across Maui,” he says. Digital mammography offers numerous practical advantages, as well as patient conveniences. Unlike film-screen mammography, technicians do not need to wait for film to be developed, which potentially reduces the amount of time patients will spend at the clinic.
For those who shudder at the thought of undergoing the procedure, this may help you relax: the new equipment comes with soft cushions to ease your discomfort.
With the assistance of digital mammography, MDi strives to make an even greater contribution in the fight against breast cancer. “It is essential that all women get a mammogram when they turn 40,” said Dr. Kayes. “It is the single most effective way of detecting breast cancer early enough to treat it… and beat it.”
MDi has locations in Kihei, Wailuku and two in Kahului. For more information or to schedule a mammogram, contact MDi at 873-9551. Sure, it’s not a pleasant experience, but it’s the first line of defense to combat breast cancer. So ladies, be sure to tie a (pink) ribbon around your finger and schedule regular breast exams.
Oh, and if you are wondering, my status update was “red.”
Nothing But the Tooth
Sure it’s cosmetic, but a whiter smile can increase confidence and even motivate you to take better care of your teeth
By Jen Russo
I’m not a big supporter of cosmetic improvements. But I do have a healthy dose of feminine vanity, so when my orthodontist suggested that I try teeth whitening after I got my braces off, I was intrigued. The popularity of teeth whitening is growing exponentially, along with the rise of shows like Extreme Makeover. The teeth whitening industry claims billions in annual revenue despite the sagging economy. According to a poll conducted by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the business increased 300 percent from 1995 to 2000. Nationwide, you can find teeth whitening booths everywhere from malls to stand-alone dental spa offices.
With so many products and methods on the market, the obvious question became: where do I begin?
Dentist vs. Non-Dentist
It comes down to personal preference and pricing. Teeth whitening gels can be bought over the counter in the familiar strips, or in a substance that you paint on your teeth. Crest Whitestrips will run you around $40 for a product you have to put on your teeth for a half-hour, every day for two weeks. The results last around four months.
In a tray-based teeth whitening system, a dentist does a mold of your teeth to make the trays, upper and lower. You add the product at home and wear for a few hours, or in some cases overnight. Results last for up to three years, and you can do touch ups, but these products and treatments run $250 to $500 locally.
Dentists will also apply the treatment in-house, but that runs a bit more—starting at $550. Laser whitening is another process done by dentists that can be in the $700 range, although I couldn’t find a dentist locally that offered it. A teeth whitening spa will run you between $100 and $170 for an in-house treatment that shows results after about two hours. The product is similar to what dental offices offer, but not applied by a dentist.
There are more ways to stain your teeth than there are teeth in your mouth: food, drinks, genetic traits, tetracycline antibiotics, aging and, as in my case, having braces, to name a few. It’s not a critical health issue, but it is a way to boost self confidence, which can be especially important for those striking out on the job or dating market (or both).
I decided to try the services in the office of Luminous White in Kahului. When I checked in I met Kawika, who was there getting his teeth whitened for the second time. Kawika explained he was a dancer in a halau that performed regularly—in fact he was heading for the Marriott for a show after his appointment. He liked the results he got last year so he was back, and this time he was also getting the at-home treatment kit to keep up with touch ups. “It just brings a greater awareness to my teeth,” he told me. “I take better care of them now that I also get them whitened. I don’t want to be like da uncles with false teeth.”
Kawika helped shake off some of my nervousness. Even though I wasn’t seeing a dentist, I still had that familiar “drill anxiety.” Fortunately, owner Brad Falcon was extremely knowledgeable and very upfront about the procedure. Gum and tooth sensitivity are common side effects, he told me, but typically last less than 24 hours. Falcon did recommend doing the teeth whitening post-teeth cleaning for best results. Tarter stains can be stubborn and are best worked on after a cleaning.
How Does it Work?
Luminous White uses a carbamide peroxide solution, standard procedure for teeth whitening. It’s applied to your teeth for two 20-minute increments and your teeth show results that day. In the meantime, you kick back in the chair and listen to music or watch videos through high-tech goggles.
The treatments are done in one big room with about four treatment chairs. Falcon takes a “before” picture and assesses the color of your teeth at the time. Your mouth is fitted with a flexible plastic instrument that both protects your lips and exposes your teeth. The solution is then applied to your teeth and a cold blue light that activates the whitening gel is shone in your mouth. I have to admit I was a little worried about the invasiveness of the treatment, as well as the pain. After the second 20-minutes, I was feeling some tenderness that continued on through the evening. However, it never got any worse, and I took some ibuprofen to curb it, which helped. By the morning the discomfort was gone.
As for having someone all up in your mouth, for me the results offset the hassle of do-it-yourself home kits. I asked Brad how he can offer these kind of prices for whitening when dentists are pricing out at $500 and higher for the same kind of treatment. “They have a much greater overhead cost for the same product basically,” he said. “I even get some dentists referring people to me. We care about people’s teeth here, too.”
The results speak for themselves. He showed me photos of others who came in for whitening and I was amazed to see that even for more stained and aged teeth the whitening can be significant. When your teeth get brighter, so does your smile.
Luminous White is located at 150 Hana Hwy in Kahului. For more info call 495-0118 or visit www.luminouswhite.com