Friday, April 20, 2007


Using the arts to heal and grow

“Place to escape, way express self, paintbrush be voice”…these are the words my daughter Sarah typed in response to the question: “What is it about painting and writing that make a difference in your life?”

Fifteen years ago, when Sarah was introduced to a communication system and computer, her “voice” and creative spirit emerged in writing, painting and poetry.

When words fail, whether due to challenging physical limitations like Sarah’s or because we have no words for the depth of our experience, the expressive arts can be powerful tools for personal growth and healing. The seeds of much of our creativity come from the deep well of the unconscious. Most of us have put a lid over that well since we were young and creativity was a natural part of play.

On Thursday evenings in May and June, Backus Hospital will offer an eight-week Expressive Arts series “Healing from the Inside Out,” pooling the talents of artists and teachers in the areas of writing, sound, music, poetry, drawing, and sculpting. Creating with the expressive arts helps to bypass our minds and access a deeper wisdom and intuition that can support our healing.

Kelly, a young woman with a difficult and challenging cancer diagnosis, uses art to help her cope. “When you’re sick it’s very lonely. A lot of my feelings are too difficult to express and even be aware of.” Kelly uses painting and sculpture to artistically recreate the physical and emotional impact of cancer and chemotherapy. “Primarily it’s a relief for me to express the experience from a deeper place than words can say.”

As well as gaining insight into our internal experience, our awareness can sometimes help us make transforming changes.

Sandi, an artist and teacher whose story was featured on the television program 20/20, will be teaching one of the expressive arts workshops on June 28. Twenty years ago Sandi was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and told she had six months to live. “When I looked at my art I had been painting very dark images over the year; my grandmother who had died, flowers that were wilted, a cemetery…some part of me knew what was going on, so I decided I could use my art to help me heal.” Sandi spent the next three months painting a 60-foot mural on the wall of the Westerly library, which she entitled “Sacred Temple”(see her website at

She began a journey of healing by looking deeply at core beliefs that she felt may be contributing to her illness. After completing the mural masterpiece, Sandi whitewashed the wall to come to peace with the impermanence of life. The painting and erasing served as powerful tools in her learning and recovery.

Three people, three powerful uses of the expressive arts to enrich their lives. As Kelly added, “we all have a need to create and when that part is blocked because we are busy or sick, we feel bad. It’s an essential part of who we are”.

Fortunately we don’t need to be artists to use the arts to help us with uncertainty, grief, transition in our lives and personal growth. No talent of any kind is needed. There is no way to fail. In the words of poet Bob Holm, “Above me, wind does its best to blow leaves off the Aspen tree a month too soon. No use wind. All you succeed in doing is making music; the noise of failure growing beautiful.”
-- Amy Dunion, a registered nurse and massage therapist, is Coordinator of The William W. Backus Hospital’s Center for Healthcare Integration. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Dunion and all of the Healthy Living columnists at


Allergy season has arrived – take precautions

Spring is here and I have already started seeing an increase number of children (and their parents) in my office with allergic rhinitis. Allergic rhinitis is a common problem and often under recognized. I cannot count how many times I have heard “I have had a cold for a month”. Common cold or a viral infection don’t usually last more than few days.

In the United States, as many as 10% of children and 20-30% of the adolescents and adults suffer from allergic rhinitis. Most patients usually start with a sneezing, runny nose, and /or nasal blockage. Sore throat, post natal drip, head ache and tiredness are other complaints that I commonly hear. Itchy, watery eyes, swelling and blueness of the skin below the eyes can be associated symptoms. Over the next couple of days the runny nose will turn into a stuffy nose and the color may change to greenish-yellow. Contrary to common belief, this color change is not a sign of bacterial infection but a natural progression of the illness. On the other hand, persistence of these symptoms for more than two weeks could mean bacterial infection commonly known as sinus infection.

Types of Allergic Rhinitis
Allergic rhinitis is classified as seasonal if symptoms typically occur at a particular time of the year, or perennial if symptoms occur year round. Common antigens (allergens) causing seasonal allergic rhinitis are tree, grass, and weed (especially ragweed) pollens, and mold (fungi). Indoor allergens such as dust mites, cockroaches, animal proteins, and indoor mold (fungi) are frequently associated with perennial rhinitis. The risk of developing allergic rhinitis is much higher in people with asthma or eczema, and in people who have a family history of asthma or rhinitis.

It is often possible to identify the allergens and other triggers that provoke allergic rhinitis by recalling the factors that precede symptoms; noting the time at which symptoms begin; and examining a person's home, work, and school environments. Skin tests may be useful for people whose symptoms are not well controlled with medications and in whom the offending allergen is not obvious.

Treatment and prevention
The treatment of allergic rhinitis includes measures to reduce a person's exposure to known allergens or other triggers, combined with medication. In most people, these measures effectively control the symptoms. Dust mites, animal dander, cockroaches, indoor molds, pollens and outdoor molds should be avoided.
Several different classes of drugs counter are available to control symptoms of allergic rhinitis. The severity of symptoms and personal preferences usually guide the selection of specific drugs. Consult with your doctor about these options.

People with allergies and asthma may use certain air cleaners such as air-filtration units, electrostatic precipitators, and ozone generators to eliminate bacteria, mold, and chemical contaminants from the air. Filters on central forced-air systems and furnaces should be changed periodically, according to the manufacturers’ recommendations.

Immunotherapy (desensitization therapy) refers to injections that are given to desensitize a person to known allergens (also known as allergy shots). This therapy is effective for only certain types of allergens, and is both expensive and time-consuming.

Initiation of use of nasal steroids ahead of season changes could be an easy way of prevention of seasonal allergic rhinitis.

Ravi Prakash, MD, is Chief of Pediatrics at Backus Hospital with a private pediatric office in Norwich. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Dr. Prakash and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

Friday, April 06, 2007


Column: Maintain stamina all day by eating healthful mini meals

Who isn't guilty of skipping breakfast on a busy morning or your lunch when your schedule has you running crazy? What generally comes after is that unpleasant time when your mood takes a hit and energy levels plummet. Then there is the missed meal rebound effect, when you finally eat and find out you are so famished you end up overeating or eating something you would generally not consume. It's a vicious cycle, but there is a way to eat that can ward off hunger pangs and dramatic energy dips. It is a simple eating pattern called grazing.

Nibbling for good nutrition in place of the standard three-meal-a-day regime divides your dining experiences into five or six small meals or lightens up your three main meals, and supplements them with a couple of snacks. Spreading your daily nourishment throughout the day keeps the body continuing along a smooth pace. The largest benefit of this plan? Sustained energy.

By evening out your daily caloric intake, grazing keeps your body consistently fueled with nutrients, which leads to a better mental and physical performance, a brighter mood and less fatigue. And to top it off, the right balance of carbohydrate, protein and fats help stabilize your metabolism.

For grazing to work, you have to pay attention to food choices and portion control. One method is simply to count calories or serving sizes. Shoot for the same number of calories or serving size for each of the three main meals, while dividing the rest among snacks. Or if you are aiming for five to six mini meals, make sure each has approximately the same caloric or serving size count.

Balancing nutrition is just as important as balancing calories. Eating healthy foods does not give the green light to eat all you want. The ideal daily combination for an individual is 50 percent to 60 percent of total calories from carbohydrate, 15 percent to 20 percent of total calories from protein and 25 percent to 30 percent of total calories from fat (with no more than 7 percent to 10 percent from saturated fat). Don't let these numbers complicate matters -- in fact, you may already have the right ratios in your diet if you make healthy choices and eat a variety of whole foods.

Aiming for a combination of these macronutrients will make you feel more satisfied so you won't feel famished by the next mini meal. For example, a hummus sandwich with roasted vegetables fits the bill. So does a banana with a dollop of peanut butter or an apple with a piece of cheese. You could even fit in a piece of chocolate on a grazing plan when you pair it up with protein-packed, low-saturated fat food, such as nuts.

Sarah Hospod is a registered dietitian in the Food and Nutrition Department a The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Hospod and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

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