Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lessons Learned From An Accident

By George M. Graham Jr.

As I was standing  at the doorway getting ready to leave, the dentist said to me, “George, evidently God’s not done with you yet.” I thought to myself what a positive perspective regarding a potentially dangerous situation I had recently endured. My next thought was he may very well have a good point.

Just a few days before, I had been working on the back deck at our home. I dropped something over the edge and it landed on the 2nd tier of a three level retaining wall behind our house. I walked down the steps from the back deck and headed over to the top of the upper retaining wall.

1st Lesson – Slow Down and Focus on the Present Moment

I tend to get in such a hurry sometimes that I forget to slow down and take my time. In this situation, I had been working outside for a while and it was starting to get dark. I was tired and wanted to finish up so I could go inside and have a cup of coffee. What happened next reminded me how important it is to slow down, take my time, and focus on the present moment.

My intention was to step over the first wall and onto a piling on the 2nd level to retrieve the item I had dropped. As I did, I somehow slipped and started falling. As I fell forward I must have hit the right side of my head on the retaining wall on the 2nd level because later I had blood all over my face.

Evidently, my body flipped completely over so my feet were going in the opposite direction as I fell to the bottom of the first level retaining wall. I was wedged between the house and the retaining wall where there are about two feet of space.

Somehow, I had managed to go across three retaining walls and fall about 12 feet from where I was taking my first step. Initially, I was stunned and didn’t realize what had just happened. I tried to gather my thoughts and assess what was going on.

2nd Lesson – Pay Attention to Details

What I did not know at the time were the shoes I had on, which I wore when working outside, had no tread left on them at all. They were completely smooth on the bottom. Had I been paying attention to my shoes, I would never have worn them. They may very well have contributed to my fall. Needless to say, they were placed in the trash bin.

I started my descent at letter A and landed at the bottom, wedged between the house and the retaining wall, at letter B.

I was laying on my left side, on top of my left arm, with the left side my face in the dirt. My right arm was above my head and bent so that my right hand was in my face covering my right eye. I could not move my head, my right arm, or my right leg. I immediately began talking to God.

As I was doing this, I realized I couldn’t breathe very well because part of my face was in the sand and part of my face was covered by my hand. As I kept talking to God and to myself, I was finally able to move my arm just a little so that I could see and breathe easier.

I could feel blood running down my face. I coughed and when I did, I spit up blood. I knew I had to move. I could not stay in this position. I needed help.

At that point, I was able to cry out for help. Unfortunately, my wife was inside the house, three levels up, and could not hear me. I kept telling myself I had to move. Finally, I was able to move my arm a little more, and I discovered I had absolutely no feeling in my right hand or fingers.

After what seemed like hours, I moved my arm all the way down from above my head and managed to stretch out my leg enough to move. I dragged myself, at first, because my right side was not cooperating properly. This was when I realized that my neck and shoulders were in immense pain.

3rd Lesson – Be Empathetic and Understanding

Although I have been in Special Education for over 38 years and worked with students with all types of significant disabilities, I realized I never fully understood what it must be like to be unable to move, walk, or communicate independently. As I was lying there, telling my body parts to move, I thought how frustrating it must be for those individuals who are unable to get their body to respond the way they want it to. At that moment, I experienced empathy and understanding in a way I had never been able to before. It made me even more sensitive and aware of the needs of those with significant disabilities.

Somehow I managed to get from the back side of the house around to the front steps where I had to pause for a few minutes. I was trying to determine whether I could get up a flight of stairs to the front door. I remember calling out for help again but to no avail.

I made it up the first flight of steps to the front door just as my wife was coming out to check on me. I realized then how thankful I was that my wife is a nurse because she immediately took charge of the situation.

She was able to quickly evaluate my situation. She grabbed a garden hose that was close by and washed the sand and blood off my head and face. She could see there were no significant lacerations. She was able to help me to the car and we drove immediately to the emergency room.

4th Lesson – Be Thankful

On the way to the emergency room, I remember thinking how thankful I was that I was finally able to move and somehow get myself up the steps. Also, I was thankful that my wife was at home and knew exactly what to do to help me. Although I was in a lot of pain and I was not sure of what might be the outcome of this situation, I was counting my blessings. Things could have been so much worse.

When we arrived at the emergency room, they were not very busy and I was immediately taken back to see the doctor. After the initial assessment, I was taken to get a CT-Scan. The doctor had some concerns after seeing the results of the CT-Scan and sent me back to have an MRI of my neck and some x-rays of my arms.

The findings indicated two fractured vertebrae in the upper back and neck area and damaged ligaments along the spinal column. It was determined I would need to be seen by a neurosurgeon, but unfortunately, he was located two and a half hours away. Because it was late at night, arrangements were made for me to be able to see him the next day.

Not a pretty sight, but provides some idea of how I looked after the accident.

The next day, the neurosurgeon said that I was very fortunate that I had not been killed or been paralyzed by such a fall. After giving me some very specific instructions on my next steps, I was released to come back home.

5th Lesson – Be Compassionate and Kind

In the days that followed, as my family, friends, and peers learned of my accident, I received numerous cards, e-mail messages, Facebook messages, and phone calls offering prayers, well wishes for a speedy recovery, and offers to help in any way. The compassion and kindness from everyone touched my heart. I was inspired, encouraged, and my eyes were filled with tears by how much others cared for me. I truly felt loved.

At the time of the writing of this article, I am improving steadily and making progress. I found out I would not have to have surgery. I am back at work on a part time basis, but moving slowly, taking my time, and paying attention to details. I am thankful to be alive and to not have any significant damage.

Maybe God's not done with me yet!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Many Benefits Of Tears And Crying

By George M. Graham Jr.

I recently finished reading a book by Dr. Judith Orloff, The Ecstasy of Surrender, in which she shared some information about tears and crying that piqued my interest. It triggered me to do some additional research, which helped me to have a deeper understanding and appreciation for one of our body's natural healing processes.

Research and studies have shown that there are many benefits of tears and crying that help to bring about health and healing. Dr. Jerry Bergman writes in one of his articles, The Miracle of Tears, "Tears are just one of many miracles which work so well that we take them for granted every day."

In her book, Dr. Orloff wrote, "Tears are your body's release valve for stress, sadness, grief, anxiety, and pain. You also have tears of joy such as when a child is born or tears of relief, as when a difficulty has passed. They lubricate your eyes, remove irritants, and reduce stress hormones and they contain antibodies that fight infection."

Evidently, there are three types of tears and each type serves a different function. The three types are basal tears (Dr. Orloff refers to these as continuous tears,) reflex tears, and emotional tears.

We can discover some of the benefits of tears and crying by learning more about the function of each of the three types of tears. The first type, basal tears, is present in our eyes at all times (continuous.) These tears help keep our eyes and nose well lubricated and keep them from drying out. They actually drain through the nose, which is why we often have a runny nose when we cry.

These tears also contain an antibacterial, antiviral agent called Lysozyme that kills up to 95% of all bacteria in just five to 10 minutes. The benefit of this enzyme is that it helps to keep our eyes safe from many infections that could result in impairment or loss of vision.

If you have ever had to cut an onion, then you know what will often happen next. Your eyes begin to water and you probably begin to shed tears. This is an example of the second type of tears, reflex tears, which help us to deal with irritants to the eyes.

As a result of cutting an onion, a chemical reaction happens which produces a gas that irritates the eyes. The sensory nerves in our eyes trigger hormones to cause the eyes to produce tears. The reflex tears usually flow in larger amounts than the basal tears because they help to detoxify the eye by washing away harmful substances and irritants. These tears also contain antibodies to help protect the eyes.

In 1980, after the birth of my first son, the nurse laid his wrapped body in my arms. As I looked down at this amazing miracle I was holding, I was not prepared for what happened next. I began to cry uncontrollably. I was so overwhelmed with awe, love, and compassion that I was crying tears of joy and happiness. This is an example of the third type of tears, emotional tears.

Emotional tears are produced due to any number of different reasons: sadness, anger, hurt, pain, grief, anxiety, joy, happiness, or stress. Dr. William Fry describes more about the science of tears in his book, Crying, The Mystery Of Tears. He shares how emotional tears contain stress hormones that are excreted when we cry. This helps the body detoxify itself. Other studies describe that crying actually stimulates the body to produce endorphins, which help us to feel better as a result of crying.

Research shows that women cry five times more often than men. Because of macho attitudes, men have believed that crying is a sign of weakness and vulnerability. However, the social winds of change have made crying more acceptable and it is now being regarded as evidence of strength, self-confidence, and awareness.

Dr. Orloff stated, "Crying is necessary to work through grief. When waves of tears come over us after we experience a loss, they are helping us process the loss so that we can keep living with open hearts. Otherwise, we are leaving ourselves open to depression, bitterness, or physical symptoms (emotional pain can morph into disease in our bodies,) if we suppress these potent feelings).”  Research documents after crying, we are in a calmer state of being. Our breathing rate and heart rate decrease and our bodies return to a state of homeostasis.

Shedding tears or having a good cry helps us to feel better and provides therapeutic value, not only physically, emotionally, and psychologically, but also spiritually. Crying helps us to bond and feel supported and builds community. It is also strongly correlated with empathy. It moves and touches hearts through love and compassion.

In 1993, coach Jim Valvano received the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award and said the following in his acceptance speech, "To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is to think. You should spend time in thought. Number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week; you're going to have something special."

As you Dare To Do Your Best, you will meet with obstacles, challenges, and stress along the way. You may shed tears and cry. It is okay! Remember, there are many benefits to tears and crying that will help you to be able to work through the current situation. It is part of the awesomeness of how our bodies are made to help us to be and do our best!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Being Aware Of Your Emotions

By George M. Graham Jr.

When was the last time you paid specific attention to an emotion as you were experiencing it? If you are like most people, you had an emotional reaction to a stimulus and responded with a behavior similar to how you would have normally responded to that type of situation in the past. The outcome could have been positive or negative depending on your behavioral response to the emotion.

When we reflect on our emotional experiences, there may be times when we scratch our heads and wonder, “What in the world was I thinking?” An example of this comes to mind of the first time I ever got into a fist fight. I was in the 6th grade and I had an argument with one of my friends, Arthur Pearsall, over a girl.

Reflecting back, I cannot remember any of the details of the argument other than we were both angry and we agreed to meet after school and fight it out. What I do remember is this was typical of how things were resolved at our school in those days.  Boys, whose tempers were flaring, would meet at a predetermined location and time and duke it out.

The initial anger I experienced quickly evaporated, but not before the consequences of my behavior put me into a predicament of having to fist fight with a friend. As the day progressed, I experienced a full array of emotions. One emotion was that of being very anxious about what would happen after school. When it was time to have the fight, my anxiety had actually turned into fear because I did not want to get hurt or hurt my friend.

Thankfully, the fight was quick. After a number of blows were exchanged, with no real damage, we both agreed to shake hands and call it a draw. We moved on with life like nothing had ever happened. Arthur and I have remained friends through all these years, despite our flared feelings that could have resulted in much more dire consequences.

The subject of emotion is reportedly one of the oldest areas of research known to man. Studies have been conducted and articles have been written resulting in many theories from researchers, psychologists, and others about emotion. One outcome from all of this is it is apparent that emotion involves at least three categories of our lives: the physiological, the neurological, and the cognitive.

In recent years, research has documented through brain imaging the link between our thoughts, feelings, and the chemical reactions within our bodies. We now have the data to show that how we are feeling emotionally becomes manifested in how we are feeling physically.

We have all experienced this in one way or another. For example, when we get angry because a situation didn’t work out the way we thought it would. Or, because of something negative that someone said about us. We may be sad because of a loss or something bad that happened. We may be happy because of good news or a positive event that occurred. Each of these emotions affects us and causes a physical reaction within us.

Research shows that certain negative emotions release chemicals through the body that, if they continue over time, can trigger a host of different diseases. As an example, it is now believed that approximately 85% of all visits to physicians are the result of stress related disorders.

Of course stress can be caused by many different factors, but it is often linked to feelings of anger, hostility, rage, anxiety, jealousy, and fear. These feelings are often referred to as toxic emotions, which can be harmful to our health and well-being. They could potentially lead to an earlier death.

In the mid-1990’s, Daniel Goleman wrote a book entitled, Emotional Intelligence Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. He shared some of the ground breaking brain and behavioral research regarding the topic of emotional intelligence. Emotional Intelligence can be described as the way in which we understand and utilize emotions for our own well-being and includes being able to interpret and respond to others.

Awareness and reflection are big keys to being able to get in control of our emotions. We should ask ourselves questions such as: What is it that I am feeling? Why am I feeling this way? What really caused me to feel this way? What physical sensations am I experiencing in my body? What good thing do I want to come out of this?

Listen to your answers to these questions. Keep a journal and write down the answers to your questions. This will help you to identify areas where you can problem solve solutions to help you in future situations. It helps you to be aware to the point of being able to take action.

You may not be old enough to remember a cartoon character by the name of Pogo. However, in one of his many comic strips, Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us!” There are times when we may misinterpret a situation or misread something that was said, due to our perceptions and/or life experiences. This results in negative emotions that can lead very quickly to a downward spiral of thinking.

One of my all time favorite motivational speakers, Zig Ziglar, used to say, “We all need a daily check up from the neck up to avoid stinking thinking, which ultimately leads to hardening of the attitudes.” We might find that our own attitudes may be the source of much of the emotional turmoil we experience. Often, it comes down to us just making the right choices. We can choose to be miserable or we can choose to happy.

Victor E. Frankl was a Jew and a psychiatrist who was imprisoned in World War II Germany. The things he saw and experienced were beyond imagination. The Nazis controlled everything that happened on a daily basis in the death camps. Dr. Frankl realized that no matter what the Nazis could do to him, there was one thing that they could not take away from him and that was his freedom to choose. He said, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

You are always in control. You always have a choice of how you are going to respond. Do a daily check up from the neck up and see if there are any attitudes that may be contributing to your negative feelings. Ask yourself questions in order to analyze your feelings and emotions. Take the appropriate steps that will help you to have a better response the next time you are faced with a similar situation. Your health and well-being will be all the better for it!