Mindfulness & Health

Last year, the Chicago Dental Society did an interesting survey about patients texting while receiving dental care. Four of 5 dentists said they had seen patients do this. Almost half said it gets in the way of care.

But it’s not just patients who are texting or otherwise communicating electronically.

According to a recent news story, surgeons in a Kentucky hospital tweeted through a double hand transplant surgery.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, surgeons at The Jewish Hospital Hand Care Center in Louisville, Ky. performed the third, successful double hand transplant in the United States. One doctor (who wasn’t participating in the surgery) tweeted throughout the nearly 20-hour ordeal, which began at 7 p.m. Tuesday and concluded Wednesday afternoon.

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On Tuesday, the tweeting doctor gave gruesome details of a complicated procedure involving multiple body parts: skin, muscle, tendon, bone, cartilage, fat, nerves and blood vessels. No details were given about the patient.

At least the doctor wasn’t tweeting while performing surgery, as some headlines – such as “Surgeons Tweet While Suturing,” on the story cited above – might lead a person to believe.

Still, the fact that we can even think that a surgeon could tweet while in the middle of a procedure brings up an important point: when you’re tweeting – or texting or otherwise using your cell phone – you can’t pay full attention to what else is going on. Your head’s in two places at once: with the communicating and whatever else you’re doing.

I don’t think any of us would want our dentist or physician to be multitasking. Rather, we expect him or her to be focused on us and our concerns – the task at hand.

Similarly, patients may not receive the best care if they’re distracted. Focused on texting, say, they may not hear instructions or explanations. And their moving around, even a little bit, can make it difficult for the dental team to physically work on the mouth.

True health and health care require a degree of mindfulness that seems ever rarer in our society. We’re conditioned not to think too much about our bodies or hear what they have to say. We’re drawn to quick fix approaches that don’t require us to pay attention to the body. We let the doctor or dentist take nearly all of the responsibility for our health. We don’t listen to our body’s signals that can tell us when something is wrong, when it needs something, when something needs to change.

In Confessions of a Medical Heretic, Dr. Robert S. Mendelsohn writes that the root of this alienation from our own bodies is a displaced fear of “our body and its natural processes.”

When you fear something, you avoid it. You ignore it. You shy away from it. You pretend it doesn’t exist. You let someone else worry about it. This is how the doctor takes over. We let him. We say: I don’t want to have anything to do with this, my body and its problems, doc. You take care of it, doc. Do what you have to do. (emphasis in original)

But why be afraid of our bodies? When cared for properly, our bodies – which is to say we – are amazing organisms. If we begin to listen to the body, we begin to get a deeper appreciation for its intricate workings and an understanding of how our actions affect it – what makes it feel better and work more effectively; what strains and stresses it. We are then in a position to be much more pro-active about our health. We gain more control of it…and our physical destiny.

Image by quinn.anya, via Flickr

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