Rob Brown, MD

A Physician's Unique Perspective on Wellness

Author: Rob Brown (Page 1 of 4)

Tide Pods, Magnetic Laundry Tablets or the EcoWasher?

Doing the laundry isn’t a task I particularly enjoy.  It is one of those time consuming chores I continually struggle with to fit into my schedule. And now that my kids are teenagers, the laundry needs to be done 4 or 5 times a week. My interest in the technology behind washing textiles however picked up recently after I was introduced to two methods of laundering clothes without detergent, the magnetic laundry system and the EcoWasher.

Laundry Magnets?

Was it laziness or complacency? I had been given the magnetic laundry system over the holidays, but I was hesitant to try it out. Although I had been using Nikken’s magnetic technology as a tool to heal physical injuries for decades, I was unsure about the ability for magnetics to wash clothing. I played with the idea that maybe the water molecules, in being mini magnets themselves, would somehow align with the magnetic field created by the laundry magnets and that this could somehow make the water more potent at cleaning. But, I was skeptical. The blue magnets remained in their box on the kitchen counter for several weeks.

Then, jokes about the Tide Pod challenge became a more frequent, disturbing conversation in my home at dinnertime. Although we were using a less toxic detergent recommended on the EWG website, it was then that I began to think that if these magnetic discs worked, it would be great way to remove another set of toxins from the household.

You have no doubt heard that some foolish kids on the internet are videotaping themselves biting into and swallowing Tide Pods, a cute name for a pre-measured packet of Tide laundry detergent wrapped up in a shiny coating. The product is soft, colorful and swirled, and looks like a piece of candy. A similar appearing packet of dishwasher detergent is sold by Cascade, another Proctor and Gamble product. I haven’t heard of any YouTube videos of kids eating cascade, and I hope that doesn’t become the next dare!

Yes the packaging is labeled, “harmful if swallowed”, but to a teen, isn’t that so boring? I mean EVERYTHING says that?! And to a younger kid who can’t read, the packets look like flavorful, fruity treats! Tide pods are poisonous. A sampling of 5 ingredients in the Tide Pod formula includes: linear alkylbenzene sulfonate, ethanolamine, alcoholethoxy sulfate, polyethyleneimine ethoxylate, disodium diaminostilbene disulfonate etc. The idea of a child swallowing this batch of chemicals is truly frightening.

My Experience

So, I took my chances, opened up the magnetic laundry system and ran my first load of laundry. I was pleasantly surprised. The clothes did come out clean and without any odor. And trust me, my 15 year old son can make clothing unbelievably rank after a day of exercising or doing track. I did notice on a few articles of clothing that there were faint stains, so the next time I washed them, I pre-treated those items with a stain remover. I have no problem with that for I often use a stain remover with my regular detergent anyway.

I’ve been doing the laundry this way for five weeks now and I have decided that it works! Although it wasn’t something I was conscious of beforehand, I have also come to realize that our clothes no longer have the feel of, what I now recognize as being, dried detergent residue. I now realize that detergent ingredients have permeated my clothing for as long as I can remember.

EcoWasher 

Some people claim that detergent is needed to kill viruses, molds and bacteria. I don’t have any experience with this. I suppose if I have clothing or towels that have mildew in the future and the magnetic system doesn’t clean them adequately, I’ll rewash them with detergent. But, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

If you are looking for a method to wash and sanitize your clothing without chemicals, there is another product on the market called the EcoWasher. This adaptor attaches to the cold water intake valve of your washing machine and infuses ozone into the water, sanitizing your clothing in a similar method to that used in hospitals.. The basic system, The EcoWasher Pro costs around $350 and is available here.

Although I have no personal experience with this system, my good friend, who also happens to be my physician, told me he swears by the EcoWasher and calls the technology “The real deal!”

What to do?

It’s tough to break habits, and laundry is definitely an ingrained routine for many of us. In addition, advertisements and reviews often misrepresent and misinform, no doubt designed to make false claims of a product’s efficacy and to smear the reputation of competing interests. An old friend of mine expressed concern that he read on the Snopes website that the laundry magnets were proven to be a fraud. Over the years, I have noticed that this website, in particular, discredits pretty much anything and everything that isn’t status quo and pro-industry, including many products I love and have used for decades. I don’t make decisions based on the information from these types of sources. If a product sounds interesting to me, I try it out and make my own assessment. Sometimes I am disappointed, but other times I am very pleased. I have found that my joy in life often comes from my own exploration and discovery.

So, I recommend you take a moment to think about your options for laundry. Yes, there are dozens of detergents to choose from, and there are also detergent-free alternatives. It’s not a trivial decision. The chemicals in these cleansers are clearly poisonous if ingested orally, but some of these toxins come in contact with your skin 24/7 from clothing, towels and bed linens. Some of these can be absorbed directly through your skin and insidiously affect your health. Consider this, especially, if you or someone in your home suffers from allergies or other types of inflammatory disease.

Melatonin and the Health Effects of Ambient Bedroom Light

This week, as I’ve listened to newscasters talk about how the flu epidemic is taking over America, it struck me that people are ill, in part, because they are deficient in melatonin.

Vitamin D and Melatonin have something in common. They both strengthen the body’s immune system. Their relative production should complement each other perfectly. But, in our world of technology, they have become out of sync. Cancer and other diseases can develop if an immune system doesn’t function properly. In this post, you are going to gain an appreciation for melatonin and learn what you can do to normalize your brain’s production of this important hormone.

Winter
It is wintertime in the northern hemisphere and people all over are getting sick. The news is filled with reports of how bad the flu is this year. Unless you are supplementing yourself with Vitamin D, your Vitamin D levels have likely dropped because the sun is low in the sky and days are short. We know that low Vitamin D levels are associated with decreased immune function. But why would mother nature do this to us? Does it make sense that we should all be put at greater risk for illness during the winter?

Although days are short, nights are long and your body’s natural response during periods of prolonged darkness is to produce more melatonin. This hormone is produced by the brain’s pineal gland, often referred to as the third eye. This gland receives information directly from the eyes and can therefore in a way, sense whether or not it is dark or light out. In the absence of light, the pineal gland secretes melatonin which has crucial beneficial health effects on your body, one of which is to strengthen the immune system.

So in the summertime, your immune system is fortified by sunlight and Vitamin D, while in the wintertime, your immune system should be enhanced by darkness and melatonin.

If this is true, why are so many people getting sick in the darkness of winter?!

Maybe one reason has to do with a mass deficiency in melatonin production. There are several common habits we share which could explain why so many of us have deficient melatonin production.

Here are 6 simple tips that will help you optimize melatonin production:

  1. Melatonin production should be cyclical, off during the day and on at night. expose yourself to sunlight or at least full spectrum light during the day so your brain knows when it is daytime.
  2. Pick a bedtime and stick with it. When the body gets into the habit of going to sleep at a certain time, it will naturally want to fall asleep when that time arrives each day or night. Let yourself drift off when that time comes.
  3. Before going to bed, refrain from looking at all LED screens, including cell phones, laptops, tablets and TVs. Looking at an LED screen before going to sleep significantly reduces the amount of melatonin your brain produces at night. This light effect is even more potent for children than adults, so make sure your kids turn off their devices at least a half hour before bedtime.
  4. Feng shui masters consider having electronics in the bedroom to be inauspicious. They are wise. When you turn out the lights to sleep, there should be NO ambient light. If you have electronics in your bedroom, unplug each device that has an indicator light. Alternatively, you can shield each light source with a piece of countertop decor. Understand that if you can see any light with your eyes open, your pineal gland will more than likely see the light even when your eyes are closed.
  5. If you are used to falling asleep in front of the TV, try to change your habit. It is best to read before bed (not from a tablet). If you need some ambient sound to relax, play music or listen to something previously downloaded to your device. If you feel you absolutely must have the TV on to fall asleep,  put the TV on a timer so it will shut off after you typically fall asleep.
  6. Electromagnetic frequencies (EMF) trick the pineal gland into thinking that there is ambient light. EMF exposure during sleep will therefore cause your brain to produce less melatonin. If you use your cell phone as an alarm, put it in airplane mode to ensure it doesn’t ping you with EMF periodically while you are sleeping. And importantly, please don’t place a cordless phone or a wifi router anywhere near your bedroom. If you must, because of the design of your living space, either unplug the units or place them on a timer so that they turn off when you go to sleep and click back on when you are scheduled to wake up.

Waking up!
Ideally, we would be able to wait for the sunrise to wake up. But, since many of us have to work in the early morning, some methods of waking up are less stressful than others.

Like many people, I’ve gone through an evolution of alarm clocks starting with a freestanding windup clock with bells on top. From there, I moved to a plug-in variety with hands and a buzzer and then, a digital clock radio, which had been my preferred method for awakening until recently. A few months ago, I purchased a daylighting alarm clock. I am in awe over this technology. 30 minutes prior to my scheduled wake up time, the clock begins to glow a reddish hue, which slowly brightens to a white light. It is relaxing, pleasing and so completely natural. At the designated wake up time, the clock will produce some type of sound, either an ambient noise such as crashing waves, or it will play radio.

The way this light works is very clever. Even though I sleep with my eyes close, light from the clock hits my eye lids and causes a faint illumination, telling my pineal gland that there is light in the room. In response, the pineal gland stops producing melatonin. Different wavelengths of light will have a stronger suppression on melatonin secretion than others. Interestingly, redder hues have less of an effect on melatonin suppression than blue frequencies. So, by simulating a sunrise, the clock is telling the pineal gland to SLOWLY stop producing melatonin. This gradual awakening feels so natural and is completely stress free! I highly recommend trying one.

Take care of yourself this winter and always!
Give some consideration to your sleep habits. Maybe you can do a little reorganization in the bedroom to enhance your melatonin production. Now, in the midst of winter, is a perfect time to start.

3 Toxins the EPA Should Ban but Hasn’t… Yet

I am very concerned about 3 chemicals many of us have in our homes that have been proven to be extremely toxic. Since Scott Pruitt and the EPA recently placed a “hold” on banning these chemicals, we must be cautious and extra vigilant to protect ourselves and our loved ones from these poisons.

A Little Background

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was created in 1976 in an attempt to clean up our environment and improve the health of the US population. The Act gave the EPA the authority to monitor and restrict the use of chemicals deemed to be environmental hazards. The most notorious toxins removed included asbestos, lead-based paint, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Since the 1970s, tens of thousands of new chemicals have been developed by industry, placed in everything from paint formulas and food additives to personal care products. The original TSCA excluded chemicals used in food, drugs, cosmetics and pesticides! As a result, the health effects associated with long term use of these chemicals has not been determined. Meanwhile, the US population, as a whole, has been getting sicker each year.

In 2016, the TSCA was amended by congress. The updated law calls for the health risk assessment of 10 new chemicals a year. Many of these compounds are found in common products we all use in our homes.  One would think that this kind of scrutiny would have been performed prior to their initial approval, but it wasn’t.

A year ago, on November 29, 2016, the EPA named the 1st 10 chemicals up for review. From the first test group, 3 chemicals discovered to be particularly toxic were named. But, they are not going to be phased out any time soon. Yes, these chemicals are known to be toxic and some cause cancer, but because the current administration doesn’t want to put any more regulations on business, Scott Pruitt and the EPA have delayed the ban of these 3 nasty chemicals…indefinitely!

What are these 3 toxins?

Methylene Chloride 

(dichloromethane)

This organic solvent is added to paint strippers, paint thinners and other paint removal products. metal cleaning and degreasing products. It is volatile organic compound (VOC) and has a sweetish odor. Be cautious of inhalation and skin exposure.

Acute reactions from methylene chloride exposure include confusion, dizziness, headaches, optic neuropathy and inflammation of the liver. There have even been several deaths attributed to inhalation. Long term, exposure to this chemical has been associated with cancer of the lungs, liver and pancreas in laboratory animals. This chemical has also been shown to cross the placenta!

N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) 

This organic compound is rapidly absorbed by skin, but unlike the other two chemicals in this list, this fluid is nonvolatile at room temperature. Paint and coating removal products and many other household products may contain this chemical, including cosmetics. Even oral and transdermal medications are sometimes prepared using this chemical to assist in drug absorption.

This chemical easily crosses the placenta and exposure to this drug during pregnancy can cause terrible birth defects .

Trichloroethylene (TCE) 

This VOC is a colorless liquid used in adhesives, paint removers, typewriter correction fluids and spot removers, among other products. This chemical is commonly used by the dry cleaning industry and has even been used as an inhalation anesthetic for short surgical procedures.

TCE has been determined to be carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure. It causes kidney cancer and there is evidence that it may also cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and liver cancer. This chemical is also known to cause birth defects and developmental disorders.

So what can you do?

Follow these general precautions at home when using products such as a paint remover, adhesives, or any other products that emit VOCs.

1.Protect your skin and wear appropriate gloves. 

Latex rubber gloves used for dishwashing, medical gloves and food handling gloves are not adequate to protect yourself from these chemicals. Potent solvents can quickly dissolve through the material most gloves are made of and will subsequently absorb into your skin. A twinge in the nose, a strange sensation in the back of the throat, and/or irritation of the eyes will alert you that you have absorbed chemicals through your skin. Invest in a pair of laminated polyethylene/EVOH, butyl rubber or better yet, butyl/viton gloves to protect yourself from the most dangerous of these chemicals and always use them during potential exposure. Buy your gloves in advance and store them in the garage.

2. Maintain adequate cross ventilation or better yet, work outside when applying products containing VOCs. 

Many people don’t have a trustworthy sense of smell. Understand that you can still get sick from these products, even if you can’t smell them! Also realize that opening a few windows is not enough to keep the inside air from becoming toxic. If you use products containing these chemicals indoors for any prolonged period of time, run large fans in the room in addition to opening several windows. If this is not achievable, invest in a respirator with an assigned protection factor of 10 to reduce your toxin exposure. A NIOSH-certified air purifying elastomeric half mask respirator equipped with N100, R100 or P100 filters will minimize your inhalation exposure.

Check out my blog: A Breath of Fresh Air  and read a frightening personal account of the health effects I experienced from inhaling household paint fumes.

3. Keep all product containers containing VOCs in your garage or in an outdoor shed!

4. Don’t take home dry cleaned clothes that have an odor or are still damp as they may still be off-gassing TCE.

5. Pregnant women should stay away from all paint products! In addition, be critical of any cosmetics you apply to larger surface areas of your body. Investigate your chosen cremes and moisturizers and make sure they don’t contain NMP. 

Although it is certainly disappointing that the EPA has decided not to protect US citizens and the environment as a whole from these 3 industrial toxins, we must all realize that these chemicals represent the tip of an enormous iceberg. We are surrounded by thousands of hazardous chemicals in our daily lives. As a consumer and homeowner, it is important to do your homework and protect yourself as best you can from exposure.

Telepathy – Spiritual Communication among the Living

Many people believe that spirits of those who have passed can communicate with the living and influence their lives by protection and guidance. But, do we receive spiritual communication from those that are living too?

We have all seemingly random thoughts pop into our head. People’s faces we haven’t thought about in awhile come to mind. Emotions surface, including anxiety, that have no rational explanation. We reach for the phone to call someone when the phone rings and it’s that same person on the phone calling you. I have come to understand that this may at least sometimes be a result of spiritual communication among the living.

Mind reading

Tina and I met at school. It wasn’t an academic center, but rather a less formal, group that held retreats centered on stretching the power of the mind. At one event, we were taught a technique to read each other’s mind, more commonly known as mental telepathy.  My partner, Tina, and I, practiced the discipline face to face and had some success, but not more than a skeptic would have considered random. And, I, ashamedly, was a skeptic.

Yet, I was intrigued with the possibility that this skill could be learned. After the retreat ended, Tina and I decided to continue practicing this discipline weekly. She lived in Oregon and I lived in Pittsburgh. At first, we chose categories to narrow down the possibilities of information being sent, and improve our chances of success. Each week, we recorded hits, near misses and total misses. Over the course of a few months, our accuracy increased.  Yet, I remained doubtful that we were experiencing anything more than getting to know one another’s personality and tendencies.

Then, one week, I was confronted with the extraordinary.

One Sunday, after going through our results from the previous week, Tina stated she would send me two animals and I decided I would send her two playing cards. Jokers were fair game. We hung up the phone agreeing to transmit the information at some unspecified time over the week. We would speak again the following weekend.

While driving home from work later that Thursday, I realized that I hadn’t done the exercise yet. I began to think about what card I would choose to send mentally to Tina. The first card that popped into my mind was the A spades. I chuckled to myself, thinking that this wasn’t the nicest card in the deck to send.

So, when I got home, I took out the deck of cards and went through them quickly, deciding on the 2 hearts and the 10 diamonds. After writing them down in my journal, I studied the cards carefully and went through the ritual I had learned to send the information to Tina.

Then, I cleared my mind, brought up her image and waited for animals to come into my mind.

The first image that came was faint. But, I recognized it was an animal with a long neck. Ahh.. a giraffe, I thought. I cleared my mind again and waited for the next image to appear. The second animal I saw was in a tree. A koala bear? I entered my observations into the journal and promptly forgot the session.

That weekend, I was scheduled to fly to Las Vegas for a conference. Sunday morning, I went down to the casino lobby and waited in line to eat at the coffee shop. At 11:00 am, it was time to call Tina to discuss our results.

Results

After exchanging some pleasantries, we got down to business. “I’ll go first.” She said.

“What did you get from me?” I asked.

“Well, I brought up your face while I was doing a meditative walk and a card popped up into my mind. It was the A spades.”

I was surprised. “You get credit for that!”, I said. “I had thought about sending you the A spades but I changed my mind.”

After she berated me for changing my mind, I asked her if she got another card from me.

“Well yeah. I got two more cards from you. The first was the 2 Hearts and the second was the 10 diamonds.”

Upon hearing her, I think I stopped breathing. Tears welled up in my eyes. I stood there online at the coffee shop barely able to hold on to the phone. The contrast between the extraordinary realization of what we had accomplished with the noise of the casino was all the more impactful.

“Oh my god!” I said to her, “That’s exactly what I sent to you!”

“OK cool. What did you get from me?”

I have to take a pause and say that Tina was unmoved by her accuracy. She accepted this incredible phenomenon as she would if she had hit the bullseye during archery. In her world, this phenomenon was expected for we had been practicing, right? I, on the other hand, was dumbfounded.

Our conversation continued and I read what I had received from her. She said, “Yes, I sent you a giraffe. What else did you get?” I told her a Koala bear, but she had in fact, sent me something completely unrelated.

Now, I knew this was not random or about odds, but I had to figure out the chances of this anyway. Being able to accurately identify 3 playing cards alone including the jokers, would be odds equal to 1 out of 54 x 53 x 52 or 148,824:1! And that doesn’t even take into account that there were only supposed to be 2 cards! When considering that there were actually 5 bits of information going back and forth between the two of us, the fact that we hit 4 of them spot on was astronomical odds. No way this accuracy was random chance.

What happened afterwards was progressive and interesting.

Tina and I continued our exploration into this work. One week, I was assigned to send Tina two names. While giving thought about which names to send to her, I went through 5 different sets of names, finally deciding on Caesar and Cleopatra. When we spoke at the end of week, not only did Tina come up with Caesar and Cleopatra, but she also identified 2 other sets of names that I had considered.

Then, one day, Tina called me up out of the blue. “Were you looking at a red fire hydrant today? I had this image of a fire hydrant in my mind and I didn’t know where it came from.”

She didn’t know it, but I had been house hunting that day and I came across a property I really liked. I had spent time looking at the fire hydrant on the front corner of the property, trying to decide if its location bothered me or not.

So What are the Implications?

People in close relationships what the other is thinking. Many know who is calling them, even before the phone rings.

We are all connected to each other through a web of consciousness and we pick up on each other’s thoughts and emotions all the time. The real skill becomes in knowing who you are receiving the information from.

With this in mind, it makes you realize the importance of watching how you think about others. And most importantly, to live your truth, for there are no secrets in the web of thought.

Free will versus spiritual guidance: How the universe sometimes calls the shots

Have you ever been frustrated by the experience of wanting something badly, but never truly being able to have it? No matter how hard you try, it seems as if the universe will provide you glimpses of your desire, but forbids you to have ownership. This has been my experience with the plant Wysteria.

Descending down the hillside on the Isle of Capri, we headed towards the grotto. I’m sure Capri’s tourist attraction was beautiful, but to be frank, I don’t remember it. I don’t even remember if we were heading to the Blue grotto or the Green grotto! What I do recall of that day was our walk down the hill and standing beneath an arbor covered with blooming Wysteria. It was the first time I had ever seen this flower and I was awestruck by its beauty and scent. The grape-like clusters of purple flowers hung underneath a wooden lattice and surrounded me and Kristin. I remember the fragrance was intoxicating. We sat there for a while before continuing our journey down to the water. I fell in love with Wysteria on that day and vowed that I would grow those blooms in my future backyard.

So, 5 years later after purchasing my first home in Shadyside, a section of Pittsburgh, the first thing I did was to plant Wysteria. The plant grew and grew, but didn’t bloom. I read about taking care of Wysteria and learned that it could take a few years for the plant to be mature enough to flower, so I waited. But, after 3 years, no success. I read that by cutting the branches and sometimes the roots, the plant could be stimulated to blossom. So, I did just that. But, pruning didn’t work either. After 7 years, I changed jobs and planned a move to New York City.

Before the internet, securing housing in New York City was difficult. It helped to know people. Rent controlled apartments and other desirable places to live were hard to find. People used to check the obituaries to find vacancies. There weren’t many, if any “For Rent” signs on the street. Using an agent made the process less onerous, especially if one was moving to the big apple from out of town. My two closest friends, both living in the East village, a neighborhood of Manhattan, didn’t know anyone influential. My hope was to live somewhere near them. My only real “want” for housing was to have outdoor space. That way my two cats, who had been used to roaming Shadyside, could get spend some time outside. I contacted an agency and planned a trip to the city.

The weekend I visited, the agency had nothing to show me. So my friend, David, and I criss crossed our way through lower Manhattan, starting at 22rd street. We walked across town from 1st Avenue to 9th avenue. Then, walked one block South to 21st street, and walked back down to 1st avenue. We made our way down through the East Village, Greenwich Village, the West Village, and Gramercy. During one of the two days, while walking down West 13th street, I admired a Wysteria vine growing up the facade of a brownstone. It was June and I knew that Wysteria back home had already leafed out. This plant though was oddly in full bloom. I walked up the stairs to the front door of the stone home where I was able to reach and smell the sweet aroma of the flowers. “Wow.”, I said, “This is amazing!” We continued our journey all the way down to Houston street, where the numbered streets began. In all, we must have walked well over 100 city blocks and passed thousands of apartment buildings, brownstones and businesses.

No place to live and a bit disappointed, I got back home to Pittsburgh when the rental agent called. There were now 3 units available with outdoor space. I made a few calls and arranged for the agent to take David to see the units. I couldn’t fly back to New York and I trusted his judgement. He knew my taste.

When he called me later the next day, I asked, “So how were they?”

He said, “Well, you know one place already.”

“I do?” I asked, a bit confused.

“Yes. It’s the place with the Wysteria. You’re gonna love that apartment. It’s a split level on both the first and second floors. And, it includes an outdoor patio.”

I was amazed. Out of over a thousand buildings I saw that weekend…

I took the unit “sight unseen” and chuckled as I mailed the first rent check to my new landlord who lived at 69 Fifth Avenue.

When I moved to West 13th street a month later, the first thing I noticed driving up to the Brownstone was that the Wysteria had been removed!

Since then, I have encountered Wysteria in bloom only a few times, each time during a crossroad in my life. I’ve also re-tried to grow the plant. This most recent time, I purchased two mature Wysteria plants, both of which were in full bloom in the greenhouse when I purchased them. But, once they were transplanted into the yard, the blooms quickly dropped off and neither plant ever bloomed again.

Now, 8 years later, I’ve come to accept that Wysteria is more than a plant for me. It is a spiritual beacon. A guide that I cannot have on my own terms. I must simply experience the beauty of the flower when it mysteriously manifests in my life, and take confidence in knowing that its presence is directing me to a new destiny.

The Art of Manifesting… Art!

The law of attraction, vision boards, and focussed meditation are all techniques credited for bringing about manifestation. Sometimes creation can happen in a moment. At other times, it can seemingly take years.

A skeptic may define this phenomenon as random, ‘luck of the draw.’ Sometimes though, coincidences leading up to a manifestation are so uncanny, it is hard not to question whether or not there are other forces at work, including divine intervention. At one time, I only attributed my synchronistic events with spiritual guidance and the number 69. But, over time, life experiences helped to broaden my understanding of manifestation, and I evolved.

A Manifestation of …Art?

“You’re not an art collector.” my uncle once blurted out during a phone call. He used his demeaning tone. It was true. At the time, I didn’t have any art that one would have considered collectible. I explained to him that it was how I found my first piece, or rather, how it came to find me, that inspired me to take the plunge and make the purchase.

It happened one weekend during my residency training when The Rolling Stones came to town. The Saturday night concert was phenomenal. On the following day, I unwound while strolling through the Andy Warhol museum in downtown Pittsburgh.

On one of the middle floors of the 7 story building, there was a room hosting a collection of oversized, floating silver clouds. The effect was awesome. But, what really struck me in that room was on the wall, behind the pillows.  There, hung in succession, was a series of Mick Jagger serigraphs. I stared at the collection, absorbed by the combined talent of the singer/songwriter’s expressiveness and style created by the master graphic artist. One piece was better than the next. “Aren’t these amazing?” I said to my friend, Ann.

“Wouldn’t it be amazing to own one of these?”

I muttered, mostly to myself, but Anne heard me and replied, “I could see you owning one of these, Rob!”

We both smiled and continued our journey through the museum.

The next morning, I arrived at the 7 am conference, and I sat in my chair exhausted from the long weekend of partying. One of the other residents, Barb, struck up a conversation with me.

“Rob, you’re never going to guess what my husband saw in a pawn shop in Missoula, Montana this past weekend!”

“What?” I asked, half interested and half asleep.

“An Andy Warhol painting!”

“Really?” I said, confused and not quite sure I heard her correctly.

Why would she think I would be interested to hear about an Andy Warhol painting? Then, I remembered that she was a collector.

“Yes. He was walking through this pawn shop in Missoula and came across an original Andy Warhol serigraph. It’s of Mick Jagger!”

My mouth must have dropped open.

After a brief pause, I think I blurted out “It’s mine!” But, I tried to tether myself from the elation, because I realized that maybe the next thing she would tell me was that her husband bought it for their house.

She continued, “Yes, it’s apparently in perfect condition! I’d love to have it, but we just purchased an Andy Warhol truck, so I told my husband,  No way!”

Feeling intense joy, I beamed and exclaimed more assertively, “It’s mine!”

I told her of the amazing coincidence. What are the odds of something like that happening, I thought?? Then I wondered if it was a gift from spirit? At the time, I didn’t know about manifestation.

Something new

A few years later, having always loved the Beatles, and John Lennon’s music, in particular, I thought I wanted to buy a John Lennon’s doodle. I had seen Lennon’s artwork displayed in many galleries, but nothing ever seemed to grab me and hold my interest.

After many disappointments, I lost the interest and gave up the search. It was about that time when Yoko Ono brought a collection of John Lennon’s artwork on a national tour. The Pittsburgh show began on a Friday evening. I felt the need to be there as close to the opening as possible, for I suspected there might be a piece there that I would feel passionate about. My sister, Jackie, and I drove to the exhibition after work  and upon entering the showcase room, were surrounded by walls filled with artwork and hundreds of people. Beatles songs played in the background, helping to create n awesome atmosphere! I quickly moved around the room scanning all of the doodles until I came to one that stopped me in my tracks.  It was the exhibit’s signature piece, a simple unique line drawing called “John and Yoko.”

“Oh my god”, I said, “This is the one!”

I found the curator for the show and as we started talking about the piece, the song “Doctor Robert” came on over the speakers. I chuckled. “Why do you laugh?” He asked.

I explained to him that my name was Robert and that when I was a kid, I wanted to be a doctor. So, I always considered this to be my song.

We talked a bit more, but I swiftly decided to buy the piece. The curator had requested that I leave the artwork at the show and return late Sunday afternoon to pick it up.

That Sunday, Jackie and I went back to the gallery. As we walked into the exhibit, a song ended and the song “Doctor Robert” came on the overhead speakers. “That’s odd”, I thought to myself.

We received the wrapped up picture and carefully placed it in the car trunk. Afterwards, while drinking sangria at a nearby Spanish restaurant, we reminisced with tears streaming down our faces. Neither of us could believe that something John Lennon actually drew was sitting in the trunk of the car.

We said our goodnight early for the next morning I had to work. The clock radio sounded off at 6:00 am. I heard a click and then John Lennon singing the words

“From me to you. To you. Na na naaa na na naa naa naaah”

I sat up in bed feeling intense love and joy. What an incredible coincidence! Or, was it?

I’m still not sure whether these two pieces of art came into my home by way of my manifestation or if they represented spiritual gifts. But, one thing that I am certain of, is that these were not random events. Does it matter? I think so. Yes.

Numeric Symbols as Spiritual Guidance

For years, friends commented that I was blessed to live under a lucky star. Things often worked out according to plan, but I didn’t subscribe to the religious belief that someone could be blessed or in the childhood fantasy of lucky stars. I rode the streak of good fortune for many years until my luck faded and I became submerged in misfortune. As crazy as it may sound, doing so was a conscious choice.

This sequence of events began after returning home from my semester abroad in Rome. My life became filled with extraordinary coincidences. With frequent moments of serendipity and good fortune, I began to notice the number 69. It was on license plates driving by, price tags, addresses, jerseys, everywhere! At the time I thought it was a funny coincidence.

After graduation though, I moved to Miami, Florida and the phenomenon seemed to follow me. I got used to seeing the number 69 and even began to look for it as a symbol to let me know that I was in the right place at the right time. Sometimes, I would see the number 96 with frequency, as if to tell me that I was “ass backwards!” Over time, I began to notice the number 73, too. The two numbers 69 and 73 seemed to be related to each other as I would often encounter them together.

On one such occasion, my housemate, Paul, and I had gone exploring South Beach to look for a place to rent the following year. Most of the small homes we saw were run down as it was 1988, just before gentrification took place. While meandering the streets, we came across the 100 building, a high rise on Lincoln Road. Neither of us had considered living in an apartment building, but as we drove up to the entrance, a car pulled out of a parking place right in front. Perfect timing. I noticed that the car to the left of the empty space had a license plate with the number “6969” on it. The license plate on the car to the right had the number 73 on it. I thought to myself, “This is meant to be!” My buddy and I walked into the lobby and asked for the rental agent. We were quite sure that rates in this building were way out of our price range, but we had time explore. The agent was out on break. So, we casually asked the doorman if there were any units available.

“I think there’s one in the penthouse,” he said.

Stepping away from the desk, I looked at Paul and said, “I’ve never seen a penthouse, have you?”

He smiled and with that, we walked quickly across the marble flooring to the elevators. We pressed PH for the first time. When the doors opened, we stepped out into a long hallway. I’m not quite sure what we thought we would find up there, maybe an open door? Then, we heard a creek at the end of the hall. A big man, wearing a bathrobe and large gold medallions around his neck stepped into the hallway and faced us. Paul and I, looking suspicious, turned around quickly and headed back towards the elevator.

“Hey, what are you boys doing up here?” He barked.

We turned around nervously and told him that we were looking for an apartment to rent.

“There’s one available across the hallway here. Do you want to see it?”

I grinned from ear to ear as the man pulled out a huge ring of keys and opened up the door. We walked into the living room of a huge 3 bedroom apartment with balconies, roof access and spectacular views of Miami beach and the ocean. He stood in the doorway as we checked out the apartment.

“This is my room!” I called out excitedly.

My future bedroom for the next 3 years had 3 walk in closets, a balcony and its own bathroom!

Initially, the cost of the rent was more than twice what we were able to afford. But, the manager, apparently wanting to attract younger people to Miami beach, lowered the rent until we could make it work. My rent, $490 a month! What at an amazing experience! The sequence of events that lead to us to finding and securing the apartment was unbelievable.

During a conversation with my father afterwards, I mentioned to him about my fascination with the magical numbers 69 and 73. His response shook me.

“That’s interesting. My father died when he was 69 and my mother died when she was 73.”

Upon hearing this, the hairs on the back of my neck stiffened.

My grandfather had died early during my childhood and I didn’t know him well. But, I knew I loved both Nanna and Grandpa. He had been a controlling person, making his fortune in an international art supply business.

It was strange, but somehow, attaching these two numeric symbols to my grandparent’s spirits made sense. I was grateful. But then, the feeling of gratitude dissipated and I felt I had been manipulated. Having this extraordinary gift left me feeling privileged, but also isolated from my friends and family who didn’t seem to be living under the same guidance. It may sound silly, but I wanted to have the same struggles as everyone else. I wanted my success to be from my inspiration and my failure to be from my own lack of performance. I wanted to control my own destiny.

One evening, I went out on to the roof and yelled up to the sky, “Thank you for your help, but please leave me alone and let me be!“

And then, the free-fall began.

At first, I noticed a small discoloration on my earlobe, but it quickly turned into a rapidly enlarging bump, maybe a wart? Melanoma had been an unsuspected diagnosis, even by the dermatologist, and so the the initial attempt at removal was performed incorrectly. This error led to further problems in assessing the severity of the disease. After extensive surgery on my face and neck, I experienced another problem. Because of uncontrollable bleeding in the recovery room, I was rushed back to the operating room to find the “bleeder.” I think I spent over 11 hours in surgery that day.

My classmates were wonderfully supportive. The love I felt from them all made the whole situation during and afterwards manageable. Yet,  I experienced frequent mishaps and I felt vulnerable. One night while looking out over the beach, I quietly sang the lyrics to the Carole King song “Up on the Roof”. Tears welled up in my eyes, and I prayed to my grandparents for help. Afterwards, I felt better for I sensed I had not been abandoned. But, the guidance I received from that point forward was subtle. I observed the number 69 at important junctures, but much less frequently. The sporadic guidance left room for me to make mistakes. Life was less easy than it had been before, but the new paradigm allowed maturation.

The number 73 never resurfaced.

Why have I shared this incredibly personal story? Because I know that this phenomenon occurs to many if not all of us, regardless of whether or not we recognize it. I have heard similar stories from others and now accept that the frequent reoccurrence of numbers in our lives can most definitely be an indication of spiritual guidance. The number usually has a significance to the person who has passed and may indicate the prior relationship. Recently, a friend shared with me an experienced of a reoccurring 4 digit number that he realized had been the numerical birthdate of his sister who had passed on many years prior.

If you too have noticed a recurring number in your daily life, I suggest you try to figure out who you might be receiving communication or guidance from. Be grateful when you do and your life will become that much more meaningful.

I now think we are all blessed.

A Reincarnation “Bleed Through” in Rome?

At a recent panel discussion, I was asked a question to the effect of, “How is it that you, as a classically trained physician, have gotten interested in the spiritual?” This inquiry got me to revisit my long and multifaceted journey. After much contemplation, I feel compelled to publicly share some of my most memorable experiences. Until now, I’ve saved these stories for close friends and family members. But, I suspect this series of blogs may help others see patterns in their own lives and help bring to conscious awareness their own spiritual existence.

My journey into the metaphysical began 30 years ago during my junior year semester abroad at Brown University. My closest college friend, Ken, an East Asian studies major, planned to spend the year in China to further his exposure to Chinese culture and increase his fluency. As a premed student, I would receive no academic benefit towards my biology major from study abroad. Regardless, I decided to go to Rome, Italy, for no other reason than because I had always loved Italian food.

In preparation, the program, sponsored by Temple University, mailed me a packet which included an introduction to Rome, a basic vocabulary list, and instructions on how to get to the pensione, our lodging for the upcoming semester. As the time to leave approached, I became increasingly excited for the opportunity to see famous collections of art, and the colosseum.

Upon arrival into the pensione, my two roommates and I unpacked our luggage in the tiny room. We walked to the school and around the neighborhood to become familiar with the surrounding streets. Later that day, our group met at a nearby restaurant for dinner. The 14 of us sat at a long banquet table. After handing out menus, the waiter unexpectedly addressed me, in Italian, for the entire table’s order. This would become commonplace at almost every restaurant we dined in. I tried to explain to the waiter, in English, that I didn’t speak Italian. He didn’t seem to understand me, or maybe he just didn’t care. I placed the order with finger pointing and hand gestures.  All seemed successful until my plate arrived hosting a few slices of tomato and a few slices of cheese. I realized that I had better learn Italian quickly! After the meal, the waiter handed me il conto, the bill. Why to me? I had no idea.

The next few days were spent in class and eating in local bars and restaurants. We were living in an area of Rome that was anything but touristy. At what quickly became our neighborhood bar, the bartender served me a cappuccino and said “You are Roman!” I laughed and said, “No.’ I’m Jewish.” He insisted, “Ah… No, You are Roman.” I smiled awkwardly, not sure what to say next. He followed up with, “You look like Chessaray!” I enjoyed his friendliness and my new nickname. It wasn’t until much later that I realized Chessaray is the Italian pronunciation for Caesar.

After a few days, during our first afternoon off, we decided to venture into the old city. I remember it was a beautiful day and I was excited to see the Colosseum. We walked down the streets en masse, while one of the group held a map directing us towards the old city. Although I typically had an excellent sense of direction, I was very confused about our location and could not get oriented looking at the map. So, I left the navigation to others.

We approached a great stone wall and walked through the gate to Piazza del Popolo, Awe came over me. The piazza was beautiful with a central stone obelisk and 3 roads that splayed out in front of us, one in the middle, and the other two going off at 30 degree angles.

The group stopped in the center of the piazza so our leader, Christine, could study the map. My eyes were fixated on the buildings and grand architecture. Christine wanted to head to the Pantheon first. The map of Rome was in Italian and not a tourist map, per se. Finding the landmarks was a bit challenging, especially while on foot with cars zipping by. I became increasingly impatient. Then, as if a light had been turned on in a dark corner of my mind, my confusion cleared and I suddenly knew exactly where I was.

“Follow me! I know where it is!”, I said.  I started down the main road in front of us, which I later learned was Via del Corso. I stared ahead and walked quickly down the road in front of me. My speed picked up as my excitement built. One of my companions call out with irritation, “Where are you going?”

I darted into an alley on the right and kept walking, taking unknown, but purposeful right and left turns down the narrow stone streets. When I finally stopped, I found myself in a square hosting an imposing ancient building. The group quickly gathered around me.

“Is this is the Pantheon?” someone questioned. “How did you know where it was?”

I became choked up, almost in tears. My head was swirling and I felt dizzy. I looked at them and cried slowly, “This is My City. This is My City.” That was all I could say.

After this experience, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. How could I have possibly known where the Pantheon was without a map? Why did I get so emotional? Nowadays in the eurozone, street signs containing symbols and English translation point out tourist attractions, but in the 1980s, this was not the case. In fact, I don’t think there was any signage that said “The Pantheon”.

Many unanswered questions

Upon returning home from my favorite city, I was left with uncertainty. How did I  know the location of the Pantheon? Why did waiters consistently address me as if I were hosting a private party at each group meal? Why did people throughout Italy assume I was Roman? And, why did the bartender insist on calling me Caesar?

After some time, I dismissed the experience as weird things that happened to me in Rome. There wasn’t much written about reincarnation at that time and the term spirituality wasn’t common. Either one subscribed to a religious doctrine or was agnostic or atheist. A clear memory of this day stuck with me though and I occasionally shared my story with others. Years later, while reading a book by Brian Weiss entitled “Many Lives, Many Masters”, I curiously came across a short blurb about an American doctor who had a reincarnation experience in Rome. It wasn’t until speaking with Dr. Weiss at a meeting that I  learned this paragraph referred to my trip. Dr. Weiss had been one of my psychiatry professors at the University of Miami a decade earlier, at which time he was writing his pivotal book.

Looking back, I do consider this to have been a reincarnation “bleed through” phenomenon. Despite proof, my mind opened to the possibility that there are forces at work in our lives that cannot be explained by the physical here and now. And, by doing so,  allowed for additional future metaphysical experiences.

Balance and Learn to Trust the Rocks

“Trust the Rocks.” That was Sonam’s advice as I cautiously surveyed each stone in the stream prior to stepping. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was sage advice. By day three of the trek through the Mustang region of Nepal, many in the group were already exhausted. Sonam, however, moved quickly over the terrain wearing a pair of open toed sandals. We trekkers were, of course, wearing the latest hiking boots designed to maintain a proper arch and provide ankle support, seemingly helpful while traversing narrow ledges carved out in the shale, glacial moraines, and other equally treacherous terrain. My sense was that to keep my balance and prevent injury, every step required focused attention. As a result, I moved slowly.

As the days progressed, I realized Sonum was right. If I relaxed and trusted the rocks, I could walk over them quickly without falling or twisting an ankle. But, I also learned that trusting and being unconscious are two different states of mind.

At just over 18,000 feet, while descending from a pass, I found myself alone with Karmu, a Nepali Nurse who had joined our team. The wind howled and blew the clouds in. Then, the rain began. My body went from hot and sweaty to freezing in a matter of minutes. Although Karmu didn’t speak much English, her presence was comforting. While moving quickly down the narrow traverse, Karmu communicated that she loved American movies.

“No kidding,” I replied. “What’s your favorite movie?”

She said, “Fever.”

“Saturday Night Fever?”, I asked.

I thought she said “Yes”.

After this basic exchange, my mind wandered and I showed off a brief 70s dance move while navigating down the trail of rocks, singing “Staying Alive”.  It was then that I fell on my face. Luckily, I wasn’t too badly hurt, except for a few strains, a bloodied finger, and a bruised ego.

Now that I am back relaxing at home in the US,  I have become aware of how easy we have made our lives by creating floors, paved roads and other level surfaces to walk on, everywhere. It occurred to me that these conveniences might be one of the reasons why so many older people now suffer from “vertebrobasilar insufficiency”, a condition where the balance center on the brain, the cerebellum, loses its blood supply. People with this condition become more apt to fall.

Balance is a primitive brain function achieved by a coordination of different parts of the brain, including the cerebellum, the brain structure that sits in the back of the head. This part of the brain usually gets its sole blood supply from the posterior circulation, a different source than the carotid arteries which supply the majority of the brain.

Although the number one cause of vertebral-basilar syndrome has been ascribed to atherosclerosis, in many cases, the posterior circulation becomes small in caliber without obvious areas of narrowing caused by atherosclerosis on medical imaging studies. Could this be another case of “Use it or lose it?” Are creature comforts such as finished floors, walkways, chairs, etc., causing the posterior circulation to wither and leading to a loss of balance, coordination and other cerebellar functions?

What Can You Do?

Spend time each day practicing balance. Whether through indoor exercises or while outdoors, walking on uneven surfaces such as at the beach in the sand or hiking on an unpaved, non-groomed path. Using your sense of balance will increase blood flow to the back of your brain. With continued practice, over time, your ability to balance will increase. If this regimen is incorporated into daily life, it will help you maintain your ability to walk and balance into older age.

Does Cellphone Distraction Cause Food to Stick in your Throat?

Mealtime is often teeming with device distraction and I suspect digestion can be affected.

Personal devices have completely consumed the attention of many during mealtime. While dining at a restaurant in the historic district of Rome, I recently witnessed a couple sit across from each other, both firmly grasping their personal devices. They couldn’t have spoken 10 words to each other during the entire meal. Each blindly reached for the table, grabbed a forkful of food, and mechanically fed themselves, while their vision remained focused on their respective screens.

At first, I felt badly for this couple. They were oblivious to the ambiance. Their was no apparent personal connection with each other. I can’t imagine they were able to enjoy the taste and aroma of the delicious food they ordered. While focused on the little screens, their conscious awareness was brought into a reality apart from that which their physical bodies were experiencing.

Our bodies need attention.

Much of what occurs in the human body is run on automatic pilot, through the autonomic nervous system. But, there are some bodily processes that require some degree of conscious thought. Eating is one of them.

Daily, people show up in my radiology department for a swallowing evaluation. Often, these patients are much younger than they should be. Their common complaint is that food gets “stuck” while they are eating. Then, while motioning to their neck,  they say, “around here.” A common fear, is a blockage, a hidden cancer, which is almost never the case.

During my examination, I am able to see that food isn’t sticking, but rather “mishandled” by the esophagus, the muscular tube which delivers food from the mouth to the stomach. The technical term for this is called dysmotility. This tube relies on the coordinated effort between different groups of muscles and nerves in the upper chest, to propel the food properly. If this coordination is awry, some food gets left behind, typically in the upper esophagus. Eventually, gravity will allow the food to fall to the stomach. Drinking liquids can help bring it down a little faster.

As we age, this discoordination becomes common. But, could it be that by not paying attention to our meal while eating, that muscles are losing their coordination in younger people? I think this is quite possible. If you suffer from this type of condition, turn off the TV and put away your devices while you. Relax and pay attention to what you are eating. Visualize the food being pushed to your stomach with ease. Master it, like any other activity at which you excel. It may take a few weeks to normalize, but I suspect your swallowing problems will turn around.

If the sensation of food sticking doesn’t resolve after becoming conscious while you eat, take a trip to to your doctor to investigate this problem further. Particularly, if you currently or have previously experienced reflux symptoms, such as heartburn, in the past. Although less common, there are other causes for food sticking which can be caused by obstruction, which may need to be diagnosed and treated.

Page 1 of 4

Designed by Marketing the Change