Tag Archives: learning

The Meaning of Life – As Seen through The Eyes Of My Patients

by on September 3, 2014

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As we approach the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur this month, I find myself becoming more reflective, particularly about what’s important in my life. Twenty years ago I was asked to complete a biographical survey for a physician newsletter about my personal interests, which included questions such as the latest book I read, my favorite movie, etc. There was one question that stood out, “What is the meaning of life?” My response, “God knows.” It occurred to me a few years later that I could delve into a better understanding of this existential question by probing my patients for their stories about what has been meaningful in their lives. You may wonder how during a 15-20 minute visit with patients I could have time for such a discussion. One cannot come out and say, “Tell me the meaning of your life,” but I felt I could approach the topic experientially. Most of my patients were well established with me so at the end of the visit, I would simply say, “I am curious; what is the most meaningful experience you have had in your life?” For brand new patients, I would say, “I would like to get to know you better. Can you share with me the most meaningful experience in your life?” Often there would be a pause, but almost everyone was able to share something personal with me. The funny thing was that visit did not seem to last any longer. The bonus to me was the satisfaction of a person confiding to me something intimate. The advantage to my patient was therapeutic listening. We developed an unspoken trust between the two of us.

So what did my patients share with me? The majority of responses were related to family. Getting married or “having a family” was the number one response from men. Most women responded that having children was their most meaningful experience in their life, and if broken down further, it was the birth of their first child that was particular noteworthy. The second most common response was surviving a serious health condition. I don’t know if this was a consequence of the setting where I asked this question, but I was impressed of the intensity of a particular health condition on a person’s well-being. For example, a woman could define her life as before and after the time she got breast cancer, or someone else would define his life before and after he had a heart attack or had bypass surgery. In some instances, patients would express thanks to me for having saved their life. (Until then, I had not realized they felt that way.)

Some of my male patients shared with me the profound experience of having fought in a war. Others found significant meaning by “finding God” or religion. Many found meaning in their work or by volunteering. Of the hundreds of people I asked this question, only two patients mentioned “money” as playing a meaningful role in their life. One mentioned money in the context that he gave his son his entire life savings so his son could attend business school. The other one was an emigrant to the U.S, who arrived with $1000, invested in real estate which became worth over $100 million. He was proud of his achievement and looked forward to giving a substantial inheritance to his three sons.

The older a patient, the more careful was the response. I asked a 95-year-old patient about what was most meaningful in his life. He was suffering from angina for which he routinely popped several nitroglycerin tablets each day. His response was that every day was meaningful because he was happy to wake up in the morning. Initially, I thought he was dodging my question, but it took a moment for me to realize what he was telling me was profound. He taught me that everyone should approach each new day as being a gift.

As we approach the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, think about what provides meaning in your life. Be prepared in case your doctor happens to pop the question to you when you least expect it!

Jerry Saliman, MD is a volunteer internist at Samaritan House Medical Clinic in San Mateo. He retired from Kaiser South San Francisco after working there more than 30 years. While at Kaiser SSF, Dr. Saliman was also Chief of Patient Education. He received the 2012 “Lifetime Achievement Award” given by the Kaiser SSF Medical Staff.

Editing acknowledgement: Ellen Saliman

Neither the PJCC or our guest columnists provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please make your health care decisions in partnership with your health care provider

Monkey See, Monkey Do — How Behavioral Modeling Influences Health

by on July 1, 2014

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My 2-year-old granddaughter seemed to welcome her newborn baby sister with bland indifference. I observed her as she played with her blocks and other toys and did not appear to be perturbed by the presence of a new member in her family. After she had dinner, I was surprised when she set out deliberately for the couch, wrapped her mother’s pillow around her lap, lifted her shirt, and clutched her bear to her chest. It was dinner time for her bear! While it was fun to watch her precise imitation of breast feeding, it made me stop and wonder how we as adults subconsciously follow patterns of behavior that may not reach our cognitive awareness. Continue reading

HIV Awareness: HIV Testing Day is June 27

by on June 3, 2014

HIV-625My twin daughters were born in August of 1981, just two months after a publication from the CDC reported the first cases of a rare lung infection that eventually led to what became known as the AIDS epidemic. Because they were very premature, my newborn daughters required numerous blood transfusions from Irwin Memorial Blood Bank in San Francisco. One daughter received over 40 different transfusions. In 1985, the FDA approved the first blood test to detect HIV antibodies in the blood, and blood banks began their first screening of their blood supply. It was shortly thereafter that my wife and I received a letter from the Continue reading

Summer Fun Safety Tips

by on May 27, 2014

smiley-pool-girl-625by Seth Hazen, PJCC Aquatics Manager

Here are my top 5 tips for both keeping safe in the sun and at the pool.

With summer fast approaching this is a great time to start preparing for fun in the sun!

SUN SAFETY
1. The sun’s UV rays are strongest from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm during the day. Make sure if you are out in the sun during this time period you take frequent breaks to relax in the shade and allow your skin a break from direct sunlight. If you don’t have access to shade, don’t be caught without a shirt! Even blocking the rays with a shirt will give you a much needed Continue reading

For Children, Learning Is Just A Day At The Beach

by on May 20, 2014

child-beach-625by Lisa Elliott, ECE Program Coordinator

A Foundation of Preschool Learning: Water, Sand, Clay, Paint, and Blocks

In a society of over-scheduled kids, the expectation of building your scholastic resume early, and so on, childrens’ play time can seem like a waste of time. What are they accomplishing? How will this add to their academic success? What are they learning? Turns out, they are learning a lot! Continue reading

Moby Dick: A Legendary Tale Of Poor Workplace Safety

by on May 6, 2014

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Captain Ahab is on a mission to avenge the loss of his leg.  Over the course of a year, his crew hunts sperm whales and harvests the oil in huge barrels in the hold of his ship Pequod.  The ship travels all over the world and finally ends up in the equator in the Pacific Ocean, Moby Dick’s home area.  Despite many bad omens, including breaking of navigation instruments and a typhoon, Ahab is determined to pursue the great white whale.  Moby Dick eventually attacks the Pequod, and even while the ship is sinking, Ahab tries to throw his harpoon at the whale.  Instead, the harpoon rope strangles Ahab and leads to his drowning.  All of the crew die except the Ishmael, the narrator.   In short, Ahab and his crew suffered workplace injuries.

Let’s see what we can learn from this story in terms of workplace safety.  These are the elements of worker safety to explore:
1.  The environment
2.  The worker
3.  Extenuating circumstances Continue reading

Gesundhiet!

by on April 1, 2014

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“Ahh choo, bless you, ahh choo, gesundheit “ are the expressions one hears this time of year from allergy sufferers and their companions.   People who have migrated to California from other parts of the country are surprised to experience allergy symptoms they never had previously.  Allergy victims march into doctor offices and pharmacies every spring because of the combination of the long growing season here, habitat for many species of plants in California, and windy days. The “bless- yous” and “gesundheits” exclaimed by empathetic bystanders are exclamations based on an ancient superstition to forestall evil spirits from entering the body after one sneezes, but now it seems impolite not to offer consolation.   Sneezing usually heralds the onset of a cold, but can also be triggered by exposure to sunlight or strong odors.  This time of year, sneezing portends hay fever or seasonal allergic rhinitis. You may be one of the estimated 20% of Americans who have this condition and if so, keep reading.

Continue reading

Mastering The Perfect Shot With Joe Ellis

by on March 13, 2014

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It’s that time of year again!  March Madness is sweeping the country, which means rivalries are heating up and fans are reaching new decibel levels.  To celebrate this charged period of competition, why not lace up your sneakers and hit the court yourself?

We spoke to former NBA Golden State Warrior, Joe Ellis, who gave us some tips to mastering that perfect shot:

  1. First up, make sure you have the proper shooting stance.  Have your feet evenly placed about shoulders width apart with your knees slightly bent.
  2. Continue reading

The Secret To Being Happy

by on February 27, 2014

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It’s not surprising that many people these days are stressed or, dare I say, unhappy.

Take a newspaper, for example.  You’ll find negative, and downright depressing, headlines regarding the state of our government, the environment, even the economy.  It’s license enough to put anyone in a funk.

So what’s the secret to being happy?

The answer is far simpler than you would think.  According to NYU professors, Lerner and Schlechter, the secret to happiness is not one singular secret at all, but rather a series of proactive choices you make to fill your life with joy and meaning. Now for many of us, knowing how to identify those decisions can be difficult.  But the field of positive psychology has shown that the following positive interventions can help give you that “happy” head start:

Conscious Acts of Kindness: Hold the door open for someone, stick a dime in a meter about to expire, volunteer to wash the dishes for your spouse or parent.  These acts may seem small, but they reap big benefits.  According to Lyubomirski, Sheldon, & Schkade’s research in 2005, five acts of kindness during one day can contribute to people feeling much happier – with those feelings lasting for several subsequent days.

Gratitude Visit: Take stock of what you have in your life worth being thankful for.  This can be done in a multitude of ways: Keep a daily gratitude journal in which you write down three things you are grateful for or write a gratitude letter to someone you care about.  Researchers found that actively exercising gratitude significantly raised levels of happiness and lowered levels of depression (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005).

Exercise: This is a no brainer.  Aside from the physical benefits, exercise also releases neurotransmitters in the brain that enhance mood and act as a natural antidepressant, making exercise the ultimate stress reliever!

Meditation & Mindfulness: Part of the reason why a lot of people are so stressed these days is the busy, hectic schedules we keep.  We’re multi-taskers, which after awhile can tax our mental well-being.  Meditation is a phenomenal way to quiet the “noise” in our minds, to better connect with our bodies and to become more aware of our present.  It also has been shown to improve one’s stress reactivity and recovery, attention, concentration and positive affect.  If you are unsure of how to best practice meditation and mindfulness or want to meditate with a group, the PJCC offers mindfulness meditations led by our own Rabbi Lavey Derby, Thursdays from 1:30-2:30 pm.

Now, go on.  Try something!  You can’t guarantee happiness will happen organically. So start small and see if you find yourself with a smile on your face.