Rob Brown, MD

A Physician's Unique Perspective on Wellness

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Why I Care What I Eat

I’ve learned to enjoy imperfect fruit.

Flawless pieces of fruit look perfect because they have been sprayed with chemicals like fungicides and insecticides to kill off anything that might be tempted to grow or feed on their surface. Although there aren’t any bugs on the perfect looking fruit, there is a layer of chemicals, neatly sealed in place by wax, a sealant derived from petroleum.

The only way to remove the wax and chemicals from the fruit’s surface is to use a soap to dissolve the wax. Please don’t use dish soap! Dish soaps are detergents that contain many harsh chemicals which can adhere to and even be absorbed into the fruit. Fruit and vegetable washes are sold in the market made just for the purpose of washing off wax. These sprays will also remove the glue that attaches the little price tag applied to each piece of fruit.

organic-apple

Organic fruit needs to be washed too.

Buying organic produce doesn’t mean that you are safe to eat your fruits and vegetables without washing them first. Organic growers use organic pesticides and fungicides. There are natural, organic waxes, such as beeswax and soy wax which producers are allowed to apply to the fruit to prolong shelf life. Organic pesticides and fungicides can be toxic. One example is copper, a commonly used organic fungicide. Eating too much copper can cause neurological problems and may even contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Organic herbicides and fungicides can also harm your microbiome.

A bottle of fruit and vegetable wash spray should be considered an important kitchen staple. It will help reduce your ingestion of toxic chemicals on store bought fruit with minimal effort and expense.

As this year’s harvest ripens, I am so grateful to have fruit that hasn’t been sprayed or waxed. Now, I opt for the imperfect piece of fruit every time.

The Importance of Taking EMF Out of the Bedroom

Ascending the stairs, I was struck by a sense of nostalgia but also an increasing uneasiness. Was it because it had been years since we had last visited? Our welcome was lukewarm. We entered the guest suite and plopped our bags down. My step mother had tossed a pile of towels on the floor for use during our brief stay. I felt anxious.

The last time I had stayed in this room, beautiful Lake Tahoe showed in the window. Now though, the view was obscured by a McMansion which had been erected on the neighboring property. I missed the view, but what bothered me more was the presence of a small black box on the nightstand next to the guest bed. It had a series of lights, some of which blinked. It was a wifi router.

After freshening up from our long drive, we sat in the living room, the room beneath the wifi router, and listened to our hostess complain of her worsening headaches, debilitating tinnitus and increasing anxiety which had plagued her for months. My father too had been suffering poor health and had been recently diagnosed with an arrhythmia. The thought crossed my mind that they might be suffering health effects related to EMF toxicity. Although we weren’t sure if the strongest EMF was coming from in the house or from a neighbors house, I suggested some steps they could take to reduce their exposure. My initial recommendation was for them to move the router away from all sleeping areas.

Electromagnetic Frequency (EMF) is a form of energy that has led to all kinds of technology from microwave ovens and Wifi to cordless phones and cell phones. Some dream of a day when wireless technology will be available everywhere and able to control everything. Alarm systems, watches, exercise monitors, and “smart” meters that utilize EMF to transmit information to utility companies are some examples of the diverse applications that utilize EMF.

Although for most, EMF is undetectable by the senses, EMF can be measured by an EMF detector. Check out this brief video to get a demonstration of the EMF emitted from a portable phone system.

If people could hear or, in some other way, sense EMF, I suspect most move EMF sources as far away from their living space as possible. Certainly no one would try and sleep next to a router or a portable phone. EMF is a form of energy that can be absorbed by the human body. Many physiological effects on the body have been documented in the peer reviewed literature. Some effects, such as an association with developing cancer, are controversial, but other effects, such as a decrease in sperm count following cell phone placement in a man’s pocket, has been scientifically proven and confirmed by further studies.

I think of EMF as waves of energy, similar to the ocean’s waves. Waves can be entertaining and provide a means of effective communication and information transmission, but one needs to get out of the waves to rest. All sources of EMF in and near the bedroom should be turned off when one is ready to sleep. This can easily be done by putting routers on timers so that they automatically turn off at night and turn back on in the morning. Portable phones, particularly base stations, which emit EMF incessantly, should be kept out of the bedroom while one sleeps.

My hosts in Lake Tahoe purchased an EMF detector for their own personal discovery and uncovered several unexpected sources of high EMF in their living space, including their refrigerator. They took steps at mitigation, and I haven’t heard any complaints from either of them since.

There are many sources of EMF within the house and sources from outside the home can penetrate through windows. By removing sources of EMF from your bedroom, you will give your body the ability to truly rest while you sleep and perhaps improve your health.

Pride and Serenity Growing an Edible Lawn

And Why I Left Levittown Behind

As I mowed the lawn yesterday, I must have killed at least 100 bees. They were all over the little white and purple flowers springing up from the clover. I am hoping most of them heard the tractor coming or felt the ground vibrating as I approached. Some bees did fly off before, snip, their flower was cut off at the stem.

I used to feel guilty about killing the flowers, but of course a few days later, more flowers would open up and the bees would find new sources of nutrition. The other insects living in the lawn weren’t so lucky. A swarm of about 7 birds dive bombed the insects as they flew off of the ground cover as I came by. The birds came precariously close to me as they tried to eat as many bugs and insects as they could. This used to make me nervous, but now, I enjoy the dance. I like feeding the birds this way. They aren’t my pets, but I think they know me.

From a distance, my lawn looks beautiful. It’s green and a host to all kinds of birds, reptiles and small mammals. Last weekend, while walking on the property with my sister, I even saw a crayfish crawling on the lawn. Up close though, my lawn is varied with spots of grass, areas of clover, and infiltration of all other kinds of “weeds”. It’s a hodgepodge of life. Aside from mowing, my lawn is low maintenance and essentially free. I don’t pay for grass seed, fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. Areas of my lawn are kept overgrown so that the bunnies have a place to hide from predators.

One of my neighbors has a pristine lawn. It is a beautiful shade of green and composed of identical length blades of grass which he mows daily. He has perfected the diamond shaped grid pattern. The only thing missing from his lawn is life. To perfect his grassy expanse, he sprays it with all sorts of chemicals to kill weeds and insects. The birds have nothing to eat from his lawn. The deer and rabbits would probably get sick if they ate his grass. Their household doesn’t include a dog, but if it did, I’m not sure how all the toxins in the lawn would affect the dog’s health. But, the grass sure looks pretty.

Sometimes when we understand where habits come from, we can undo them.

People are very touchy about their lawns. A well manicured lawn of homogeneous grass blades is a symbol of status and pride and a source of judgement for circles of social consciousness. Where did the manicured grassy lawn concept come from? The same place where the “I just want to have a house in the country with a white picket fence” came from, Levittown. This was the first American suburb created in the late 1940s.

Maybe it’s time to give up on this quest for the increasingly toxic green grassy lawn. Our insects, birds and mammals need food. All components of a healthy lawn should be edible for some form of life. If you want a fragrant lawn, plant chamomile and thyme like they used to do around the old English and French castles in the 16th century. Your lawn will be the talk of the town until everyone else follows your lead.

Are You Slowly Going Deaf Exercising with Those Ear Buds?

Walk through any gym, and you’re likely to see people on the treadmill or working out, listening to music through a set of ear buds. Most people don’t realize it, but the combination of exercise and loud music can cause you to slowly go deaf.

We have been working out to music for decades. Years ago, music was a shared experience, played in the background. In fact, some based membership decisions on the type of music played at the gym.

MP3 players like the Walkman and then the iPod came around, and everything changed. These devices, when used with ear buds, block out extraneous noise while delivering music directly down the ear canal. Seems like a great idea, but ear buds have been shown to be able to wreak havoc on the inner ear.

When young, I mistakenly thought that when people became deaf, it was because their eardrum popped. Whereas this can happen with an extremely loud noise, such as an explosion, this “all or none” effect isn’t the typical way one loses their hearing. More commonly, it’s a slow, insidious process, called noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). This form of deterioration can begin at any age from childhood through old age. This is a preventable form of hearing loss that occurs from repeated exposure to excessively loud sound.

NIHL is a common condition. The National Institutes of Health report that approximately one out of seven Americans (15%) aged 20 to 69 have hearing loss related to occupational or leisure activities, presumably from chronic exposure to loud noise and/or music. People with this form of hearing degeneration initially present with the inability to discriminate between different sounds or a hypersensitivity to certain sounds. Ringing in the ears, referred to as tinnitus, can also occur. Eventually, a hearing aid is needed.

Hearing requires more than just an intact eardrum.

The ear is the first part of an apparatus that first converts vibrational waves of energy into mechanical vibration and following, into electrical impulses which travel from the inner ear to the brain. The brain is where we interpret this information as something we call “sound”. The switch from mechanical vibration to electrical impulse occurs within a structure of the inner ear called the cochlea.

The cochlea is filled with fluid and contains a collection of cells with tiny protruding hairs called cilia. Mechanical vibrations transmitted within the fluid cause the cilia to vibrate. The cells housing the cilia change this mechanical information into an electrical nerve impulse which is then transmitted to the brain.

Each time we are exposed to excessively loud noise, tiny blood vessels that supply the cells in the cochlea constrict, diminishing its blood supply. If the blood supply is reduced too drastically, the cells sporting the cilia can die. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. They can’t grow back.

Where does exercise fit in?

During exercise, blood is diverted to the body’s active muscles that need oxygen and nutrients. This redirection of blood will cause a decrease in blood flow to the cochlea. By itself, this is not a problem for the cells in the cochlea. But mix loud music with exercise, and there is a compounding effect on the blood vessel constriction, doubling the risk for damage. More damage leads to more eventual hearing loss.

The maximum sound intensity that is safe under normal activity and health is 80 decibels. This equates to the noise level generated by running the vacuum cleaner or garbage disposal. Sounds over 85 dB can cause hearing loss. In general, if you are wearing ear buds and can’t hear when someone is talking to you in a normal tone voice, the volume is probably turned up to loud.

Listening to music while exercising can give an energy boost. We become entrained with the music and as a result, it motivates us to move and perform with the rhythm. The good news is that the music doesn’t need to be loud to receive this beneficial effect.

Be Cautious of Toxic Air Fresheners – At Home and on the Road

Clean indoor air is important. With non-fragrant cleaning materials, indoor plants and an air purifier, my home air is clean, even in the wintertime. I began to take this for granted, until a recent road trip.

I usually try to stay in a mid range motel or a bed and breakfast. On this past trip though, I had a two day drive and planned to spend the evening at a motel on the fly after hitting my driving limit. Upon exiting the highway, I pulled up to a roadside motel with a vacancy.

As I walked into the room, it was as if I had been placed into a sealed box filled with a sickly sweet, synthetic chemical odor of potpourri. The scent was overpowering and made me dizzy. I left the room door ajar to air out the room. Why the heck did they dispense so much air freshener in the room? What odor are they trying to conceal?

After washing up, I closed the door and prepared myself for sleep. Despite my dread at spending a night in that chemical laden room, I fell asleep instantly. In the early am, I awoke with a headache. I had planned to “sleep in”, but the odor was back in full force. I needed to get out of that room as quickly as possible.

Many new air fresheners either chemically inhibit receptors in your nose or actually coat the inside of the nose with a thin film of chemicals that work by initially stimulating and then deactivating your sense of smell. Isn’t this a form of poisoning? If one went to a public building that had a technology that temporarily blinded you, would this be acceptable? Why is it that we have allowed products in the marketplace that disrupt one of our important senses?

The ability to smell is important for many reasons. Aromas can attract or repel. Odors can alert us to danger such as fire, spoiled food or the presence of toxins. Pleasant smells can create a sense of calm and peace. Nerves travel directly from the nose and into the brain, stimulating memory centers, bringing to consciousness associations we have had with that scent in the past. We have all had recollections of loved ones and past experiences brought on by a particular scent, describable and indescribable.

Our sense of smell works in concert with our sense of taste.

Although the headache cleared after my escape from the motel room, after arriving to the beach, I was still marred by the air freshener.

I treated myself to a lobster dinner, but the food was tasteless. Because my sense of smell had been deactivated, I couldn’t smell or properly taste my food.

It took several days before my sense of smell returned and all was good. If I had continued exposure to that toxin, I would have lost my sense of smell for the whole week.

Many people purchase these carpet sanitizing and deodorizing products for use in their homes. Through daily exposure, these materials have inflicted a chemically induced anosmia on themselves and on their housemates/family.

If there is an offensive smell in your home, remove the source, don’t masque the odor with chemicals that take away your ability to smell. In addition to being able to “smell the roses”, you will enjoy an enhanced sense of taste.

Fireworks on July 4th – A Symbol of Entrainment

While sitting on the boat, waiting for the fireworks display to start, my mind drifted. Why was I destined to live a life of turbulence? Deep inside, I knew I became involved with people who mirrored different aspects of my own personality. My own complexity must be the source of my relational ups and downs. Was I destined to be alone? Yes, I became too introspective on this festive holiday.

The fireworks display started. Sheeewwwewww… Kaboom! One hundred tiny pink lights lit up the sky in an umbrella display. Boom! Boom! The lights were ordinary. I had seen them many times before. Yet, this year, they took on greater significance as I began to consider each light both individually and then as part of the whole. Sheewwww… boom!

I was mesmerized, looking at the lights as they fell from the sky, all turning color and then into glitter at the same time. All extinguishing at the same time. I reasoned that there must be the same amount of chemical in each particle falling from the sky, which then undergoes the same reaction at the same time. The result to the onlooker is coherence. A synchronized display. Yet, to me, it was a metaphor for entrainment, and a glimpse into the entanglement of relationships.

Entrainment is a phenomenon whereby physical objects in motion sync with each other over time. Entrainment is not chemical, physical or electrical. It’s an energetic, mysterious phenomenon that is very real. Think of a flock of birds moving synchronistically, all darting right or left at precisely the same time. Similarly, cuckoo clocks on display will all swing in perfect unison. In the garden, weeds all bloom and go to seed at the same time, regardless of how big the plant has become. Entrainment is universal.

Expressions like “Misery loves company”, “Laughter is contagious.” and “It takes one to know one” each hint to the concept of entrainment. While in the presence of someone who is heated and anxious, the companion too will become nervous. If one is in the presence of a calming energy, such as a trickling brook or a nurturing partner, the mind and body will relax. Living beings, including people, animals and even plants will entrain to the rhythms of music. Upbeat tempos will bring energy and higher metabolism, whereas slower rhythms will bring about lethargy and contemplation.

Entrainment occurs at many levels. Numerous internal processes are regulated by entrainment. For example, your heart rate entrains with your breathing rate. If your heart rate goes up, your breathing rate will increase. If you consciously slow your breath, your heart rate will drop.

Over time, we entrain with the company we keep. Women living in close proximity will cycle together. Couples who have been together for a long time will even physically resemble one another. Groups of people entrain to local politics, societal issues, even the weather. In a global sense, the human race is entrained with each other, as well as entrained with the position of the earth and its relationship with other planets, the sun and other celestial bodies. Perhaps this is where the origins of astrology lie.

As my mind drifted back to earth and to the boat, I began to cough and sputter. The smoke from the fireworks had formed a cloud on the water into which we had slowly drifted. Our captain backed up the vessel and we pulled away, leaving the toxic gas to dissipate. Approaching the shore, I came to the acknowledgment that we are all connected with each other. We have lovers, friends and adversaries. Regardless of the emotional hits we get from our relationships, we entrain with each other and our world, all of the time.

No one is alone.

Light at Night

How to Get Restful Sleep in a World that Never Shuts Down

Here we go again, another week of overnights. Another week of disturbed sleep.

I walked into the basement bedroom and placed the blackout liner over the ground level window and moved my toiletries to the downstairs bathroom. When I return home from work at 6:30 am tomorrow morning, I want to be certain there won’t be any light filtering into the room. I set out a pair of earplugs and a blindfold. It works some of the time. Sleep is important.

Many of us are saddled with having to work the graveyard shift. Service industries either outsource their night time coverage to the other side of the world, or delegate the onus of overnight work on the local work force. Sometimes the work is disseminated among the employees. At other times, a designated person or team is assigned this shift. Working overnights can take a toll on your health.

We are not nocturnal creatures. Systems in our body are designed around the rising and setting of the sun, called circadian rhythm. The brain’s production and secretion of melatonin provides the body with a biological clock discriminating between day and night.

To optimally produce and secrete melatonin, one needs exposure to periods of bright light, ideally sunlight, interrupted by complete or near complete darkness. Even for those who go to bed at a normal hour and sleep through the night, darkness in the bedroom isn’t easy to achieve. Sources of light in the bedroom can significantly affect your melatonin production. Who would have thought that light, particularly artificial sources of light could be toxic!

After learning this, I purchased a set of black out shades for the bedroom windows. But after the shades were installed, I noticed that every electrical device in the bedroom was supplied with an indicator lamp letting me know where it was located, just in case I wanted to use it in the middle of the night?! Those tiny lights cut the blackness of night with a faint glow of red, green or even blue light. One might think that closing the eyes is sufficient to block out ambient light, but that is not the case. Light will illuminate the retina, the back of the eye, even when the eyelid is closed. The eyelid will prevent you from “seeing”, of course, but there is a separate pathway from the eye that signals the brain whether it is light or dark. The brain then decides whether or not to produce melatonin. To avoid having to turn off all of these little appliances when I sleep, which some people do, I put on a pair of blinders. These eye covers prevent any light at all from entering my eye.

The proper timing and amount of melatonin produced is critical for proper health. Too much melatonin can cause depression. But the immune system will not function properly without enough melatonin. Melatonin also has hormonal effects on the body and has also been shown to kill off cancer cells. Unfortunately, studies have shown an increased cancer rate in people who do overnight shifts. I don’t have any idea how to trick the body into secreting the proper amount or concentration of melatonin, except to try and prepare for bed with appropriate lighting and then make the bedroom as dark as possible while I am sleeping, even at odd hours.

Preparation for bed is simple. Think of nature. The reddish color of the sun as it sets tells all living things, that the day has ended. To simulate this effect, use bedroom lamps that produce more reddish shades of light to get the brain geared up for sleep. Equally important, avoid blue lights before bedtime, particularly LED screens on electronic devices. Children especially will produce significantly less melatonin if exposed to a laptop or other LED display before bedtime.

Melatonin is produced in the absence of light, most intensely between 1 and 3 am. As I write this, it’s 3:30 am. My peak melatonin production is over for the night, yet I am still awake, looking at LED displays for work.

I just walked into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Ugh. This shift is aging me.

The Death of Blackie or How my Appreciation and Connectedness for Food Continues to Grow

People say naming backyard chickens isn’t a great idea, because frequently, either the birds end up on the dinner table or nature takes it’s toll and predators or disease win out. Despite knowing this, we name the members of our flock. I was told quite directly by my children that they would never eat one of our chickens or ducks, so I decided we would raise them only for their eggs. My children had fun selecting names such as “chick-poof”, “The Jersey Girls”, and ADD “Arthur’s Dumb Duck”.

Although I agreed not to kill our chickens for meat, our benevolent intentions did not shelter our flock from nature. The first year, we lost nearly every chicken to aggressive hawks or night stalking raccoons. The hawks would soar high overhead and caw eerily. The raccoons were unseen. We eventually figured out that they were able to get into the coupe using their little hands in the darkness more adeptly than I could use my own.

Every loss left us with a sense of dread and failure. We continually made improvements to our enclosure. When we were left with one last chicken, we brought her into our home for a few weeks until we could figure out how to completely secure the coupe. We named her TLC for “the last chicken” and kept her safe and well fed.

The final coupe was located in our orchard, surrounded by 8 foot deer fencing. Chicken wire, held into place with nails, staples, bungee cords and bricks enclosed the coupe and attached run. We purchased a new flock of chicks, which TLC raised. The enclosure worked well and all of the chickens, except one, survived the summer. One “Jersey Giant”, named Blackie, had black feathers with a subtle iridescent green mixed in. Her name helped me distinguish her from “Red”, our other Jersey Giant who had a beet red crop. Blackie was a beautiful hen and laid an egg daily. Her eggs were a cream color. Blackie was a renegade and would wander off away from the flock and go scratching and digging in the dirt around the property by herself whenever given the chance.

During the wintertime, we brought the flock up close to the house to protect them from the elements. We felt tremendous satisfaction that we had finally gotten the predators under control. Our chickens had survived through the summer, fall and winter. We were feeling confident that we now knew how to protect them. Upon the transition from winter to spring though, we brought the flock back to the orchard.

In the morning after the move, I went down to the orchard and found a pile of black feathers surrounding our now headless chicken. Blackie was dead. I felt sick. It was my fault. I should have made sure she was secure in the coupe before going into the house the evening before. She must have been terrified. The other chickens were hiding in their coupe, obviously scared. I felt weak and guilty. In a way, I knew I was being a bit silly, yet I couldn’t shake my emotions.

Later in the day, I looked out the window into the backyard with my binoculars and saw a hawk pulling pieces of meat from Blackie’s dead body. When the hawk sensed I was focussing on it, it flew off. Blackie’s body was now part of the food chain. Her spirit must have passed on hours ago.

In addition to the emotional ups and downs of raising poultry, we have had many successes and failures with our fruit trees, our bees and our vegetable garden. In fact, last year, we lost our entire bee colony. Experiences like these help my family connect with their food. What we eat is not merely an abstraction. My children have felt the warmth of freshly laid eggs. We have seen our bees carrying orange bits of nectar into the hive and have tasted the honey made from these bees. We know that by pulling up and eating a carrot, we have ended that carrot’s life.  If we pick lettuce from the garden before dinner, we know we are eating plants that are alive.

Not everyone has the land to grow an orchard or the interest to raise chickens or other farm animals. But if you can, try to grow a garden. At the very least, try to raise a few edible plants or herbs in containers. It’s not difficult and the rewards are vast.

Whether or not you are a carnivore or vegetarian, learn to appreciate the source of your food. For too many, food is the ingestion of a lifeless thing wrapped in plastic wrap or processed material placed in a box, catalogued with stats such as calories, fat content, ingredients, etc. If you think about the source of your food and eat it with respect, the food might taste better and may provide you with a sense of greater nourishment.

So Long, Sushi?

The schooner trip had been marked not by the excitement of seeing dolphins, but by the understanding that the ocean really has been contaminated.

Educating members of the next generation to limit their consumption of fish is a sorrowful task, but one that I, as a father of two, have felt obligated to pursue.

Why sorrowful? Because after explaining that there is toxic mercury in fish, I have had to answer questions such as “Why?” This has led to further explanations that this pollutant is the direct result of the ever increasing demand for energy by humans. Our ingenuity and technology has poisoned the ocean. For our children, it’s just one more hazard they need to grow up in and face in the everchanging environment.

My kids know that mercury is bad for the body, but they don’t really understand why. Telling them that mercury can cause disorders of the nervous system is too abstract. So, I’ve just told them that eating fish with too much mercury can damage the brain, particularly those of children and in the unborn, who’s mothers eat too much fish. They have known for many years that the ocean’s fish are laden with mercury. For others though, the presence of mercury in fish is unacceptable. This became clear to us on an annual beach vacation.

We had just finished dinner at a beach front seafood restaurant and were waiting to take a sunset cruise amidst the dolphins off the Maryland coast. A local fisherman sat on the dock bench next to his wheel barrow, decapitating his catch. My children both stared in horror as the head of the beautiful fish dropped into the white 5 gallon bucket. The whitish pink flesh was exposed in the fisherman’s arms. Keeping my distance, I sensed my children’s excitement at their perceived independence. That’s when the #$%$ hit the fan.

“Ewww!!! I can see the mercury!”

My 8 year old son stared at the 3 foot long fish, feeling completely comfortable with his proclamation.

The fisherman shouted, “There’s no mercury in this fish!!”

My son just stared at him, frightened and confused.

The fisherman’s rant continued, “That’s the problem with this country, you environmentalists. You teach your children… blah, blah, blah.” The rest of his words faded into nothingness.

I walked over and carefully extricated my children from the hostile encounter.

At the de-briefing, I clarified that they were correct in knowing that there was mercury in that fish. But, they weren’t able to see it. People my age grew up with mercury thermometers and barometers. As my children have never actually seen mercury, perhaps my son thought the glistening cartilage within the fish’s frame was the toxic element. Who knows.

Mercury content is the main reason why we only eat a few, certain types of fish. We strive to eat varieties reported to have the lower mercury concentrations, such as salmon, tilapia, cod, and seafood. Although in the distant past, we used to enjoy family meals of sushi on Friday nights, my children are now limited to one 4 oz serving of fish a week.

Although the EPA set up guidelines to provide suggested maximum fish intake per week many years ago, it seems that most people still know nothing about these limits. Fish varieties that may contain the highest levels of mercury, among them swordfish and ahi tuna, are still sold in exclusive restaurants and expensive markets. Let’s be real. It’s not not like you are going to get a swordfish with less mercury if you pay more money for it.

The www.nrdc.org website has an excellent list of fish types and rates each variety by level of mercury concentration. Check it out before your next fish meal.

How I Met My God on Mt. Kilimanjaro

It was daybreak and the sun came to view on the distant horizon. Hours earlier, we had formed a train of head lamps which snaked up the mountain, surrounded, literally, by stars. It was very cold.

Pole, pole, pole our guides chanted.

Step. Breathe. Step. Breathe.

Two steps forward, one step back. Two steps forward, one… two steps back. Breathe… breathe…

Jim knelt down and put his head between his knees gasping for breath. I felt badly for him, but I was nervous that we were taking too long. Anne sat and quietly announced she couldn’t continue. Timing was important and we had a ways to go before reaching the summit.

It was then that our head guide made an executive decision and asked the accessory guide, Ndesario, to bring me up the rest of the way while he stayed with the two others. I breathed a sigh of relief. A lot of training had gone into this trek and I wanted to reach the peak.

As we ascended, I felt weaker and sicker. At around 18,500 feet I asked myself, “Why the heck am I doing this?”

My fantasy of climbing the 7 peaks faded away as I wondered if I could even make just one. Then, the summit came into view and I relaxed.

It was a gradual walk from there to the peak. When I finally got there, I snatched a quick photo of the sign that would later be the only proof of my success. I then motioned to Ndesario that it was time to head down.

It was about two hours down the scree that I sipped my last bit of water. Exhausted, but otherwise feeling better after descending a few thousand feet, I casually asked Ndesario “How much farther till we get to the camp?”

“Half an hour” he said joyfully.
I’ll be fine”, I thought. The scree was like sand. Step, slide, Step, slide. It was challenging. My thighs burned intensely with each slide. But, I could survive anything for a half hour. The air was warm and indeed, it was a beautiful day.

That half hour came and went. There was no sign of the camp and I hadn’t seen another person since leaving the peak.

Now nervous, I muttered to myself, “Does he know where he’s going?”

While trudging on, I asked more emphatically, “Ndesario, How much further till the camp?”

“Half an hour” he said.
This time with a little less joy.

Filled with panic, I screamed, “You said that a half hour ago! Do you know where we are??? I’M OUT OF WATER!! I NEED WATER!!”

I showed him my empty water bottle and shook it with rage. I was angry with him. I knew we were lost. I blamed Jim and Anne for taking so much time on the ascent. Perhaps most of all, I was angry at myself for not bringing enough water.

Ndesario responded with a string of 3 or 4 “Half an hours.”

At this point, realizing that my guide didn’t speak English, I took off my long underwear as I was becoming dehydrated. Sweating was the last thing I wanted to do. I covered myself with my shell for protection from what was now the scorching desert sun. I threw my underclothes at my African guide, who wore a long sleeved shirt and long pants. Not a drip of sweat on him.

We continued on. As I stumbled forward, I felt my lips crack. Initially, I could taste blood as I licked them, but soon, the blood crusted over and became rough. My tongue then dried and became glued to the floor of my mouth. I looked at my guide, Ndesario, now with fear and respect. He moved steadily without any need for water. I realized then that he hadn’t carried a water bottle on this entire overnight journey.

In my delirium, I began to accept that I might die on Mt. Kilimanjaro. I had no tears. My anger and panic were gone. My mind drifted off and although I kept prodding forward, I lost all sense of time and purpose.

That’s when the extraordinary occurred. I heard a subtle noise from somewhere ahead. Then, a very dark skinned man bounced up the rocks wearing what I remember to be a Rastafarian colored hat. He was filled with life’s energy and importantly, he was carrying a flask.

“Water” I pleaded, with my dried up mouth.I’ll never forget the look he gave me. My life was in this stranger’s hands.

He handed me the flask hesitantly and delicious water flowed into my mouth. It was curiously cold considering we had been in sweltering heat for hours. My savior took his flask back and vanished over the rocks. I regained some stamina to keep going.

We walked for what seemed to be at least another 2 hours, when we finally reached the camp. There, I was quickly placed on a cot and given fluids.

As I lay there dreaming, I wondered who that guy was who mysteriously showed up at the precise moment I believed myself to be at death’s door? Was he an angel? Had my God appeared. Was he a messenger or runner that I had manifested? To this day, 21 years later, I wonder why this guy was alone, wandering over 16,000 feet. I also wonder if he knows he saved a life that day.

Miracles, that is unexplainable “coincidences” for the scientifically inclined, occur all the time, usually when least expected. It is usually only after the occurrence happens that one becomes aware of the miraculous. Whether you have a chance meeting with an old friend in some obscure place, happen to be given just enough money for an expense you couldn’t afford, or stumble upon a choice parking space on a busy street in front of the restaurant you have reservations at, these seemingly impossible events occur. I think of them as divine manifestations.

Being conscious means being aware. Accept those things seen and those unseen. Don’t write divine gifts off as mere coincidence or chance. Pay attention. Call it what you will, your intuition, your guiding spirit, your angel, your God, or something else. The more you acknowledge to these special moments, the more you will see into this nebulous realm and the more miraculous your life will become. Indeed, it may save your life one day.

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