Three times a week or so, I bike two and a half miles to work, and then on my ride home to the South Loop, I’ll take the scenic route — up to Lincoln Park or farther out west. I also have a mini stepper, which I use twice a week for about 30 minutes. Exercise helps with stress, so it helps with the job. The interesting thing is, doing very delicate surgery has increased my physical coordination. I chuckle to myself because my reflexes now are so quick that when I drop my keys they never hit the floor.
The healing power of music
Part of how I decompress from the day is to go upstairs to where my keyboard, trombone, and sometimes bassoon are and sit and play for 10 or 15 minutes. Music is a mode of expression and catharsis for me. It helps with alertness and overall energy, and it releases endorphins. I sing all the time walking around my office, much to the chagrin of everyone around me. My music background also helps me listen carefully to a patient’s voice and notice changes in pitch or cadence of speech.
I make something called thieves’ oil. It’s a blend of cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, lemon, and rosemary essential oils. I’ve found it helpful for soothing a sore throat and cutting down on mucus, and the clove oil is a bit of an anesthetic. You can add some water and make a spray for the back of the throat.
There’s a mushroom called chaga that stimulates parts of our immune system. I put it in a jar, pour in some Everclear — you need a pure alcohol so it will extract the properties but not add contaminants — and put in one or two sticks of cinnamon to make it taste better. I let that sit for a couple of weeks, then transfer it into a dropper bottle. I take a dropperful under the tongue five or six days a week, and I typically don’t get colds.
Lots of liquids
I’m telling patients all the time they should have eight eight-ounce glasses of water per day, so I try to do at least that. I drink nettle leaf tea because I have allergies. If you notice you’re very phlegmy after you have dairy milk, that means it’s not for you. So I drink almond and coconut milk. Coffee is dehydrating if you have a lot of it, and that will lead to thicker mucus too, so I’ll have just two sips and set it down.
I’m 62. About five years ago, my gym had an indoor triathlon, and I won. Not just for my age group — I won for all the women. I thought, This seems good. I’ve got to keep doing this. And then I won the Chicago Triathlon for my age group the last couple years. Since COVID, pools are mostly shut down, so I’ve been biking more. I bike with the Joliet Bicycle Group on Saturdays; we often go about 50, 60 miles. During the week, I do 20 miles or so on the local paths, or I run three miles. It clears my brain. My husband and I also bought indoor bike trainers, the Tacx Flux 2. You put your bicycle on it, and you can see other cyclists doing their workouts, but it looks like you’re together in London or Central Park or wherever.
I was recently diagnosed with osteopenia, which is borderline bone thinning, so I take 1,000 units of vitamin D a day, plus about 1,000 milligrams of calcium. Interestingly, there’s some evidence that people with low vitamin D are more susceptible to COVID and to more severe COVID.
Say no to sodium
I’m on a low-salt diet for Ménière’s disease, which is an inner ear condition, and to keep my blood pressure down. A low-salt diet is no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day. Bread from the store is actually very salty — a hard roll has about 450 milligrams in it — so I bake my own sourdough bread two or three times a week. A lot of recipes use a tablespoon of salt, but I use an eighth to a quarter teaspoon and, for the rest, NoSalt potassium chloride. I make homemade pizza, and for that I use Swiss cheese, which is much lower in salt. The one time I’m more liberal about my salt is if I’m going to do a half-marathon, because that expends a lot of sweat. I’ll drink half-strength Gatorade.
I don’t do meditation per se, but I often pray or read scripture in the morning. Before I go into an exam room and see a patient, as I clean my hands, I try to empty my mind of the last patient and the other stuff I’m thinking about and say a little prayer: “My hands, God’s work.”
I ask all my patients, “Do you exercise?” “Yeah,” they say, “I take the garbage out,” or “I go to the mailbox.” That’s very disheartening. As we age, we need to keep the body in the best possible condition. There’s evidence that having a good cardio program helps with memory function. I’m 70, and I work out five days a week in my home gym. I do the elliptical, then I do pushups and plank. My planking record is five minutes and 15 seconds. In my office, oftentimes between patients I’ll do 10-pound weights with my arms, standing on one leg, then the other. Doing that makes me more energetic than going for a cup of coffee.
Stretching it out
There was a time in my practice that I was a lot busier than I am right now, when I was working 14 hours a day, and I realized that I had become deconditioned. I’d often get a backache when I stood for a while. So I got into a habit of stretching my hips and hamstrings years ago. That can result in significant improvement in lower back pain.
I ask my patients with speech difficulties to read aloud every day — it’s a good form of speech therapy. I read every day too, though not aloud. I also subscribe to things like Word of the Day. Today’s word was simple: “propensity.” Many of the words I might know already, but it’s a reminder to use them.
A nutty diet
I need to watch my cholesterol. I’ve taken coenzyme Q10 every day for the last few months; it’s a derivative of fish oil for cholesterol management. And every night my wife soaks some almonds, which helps too. I’ll have six or seven. The soaking is a tradition that goes back to India. I also think soaked almonds taste better, and they’re digested better by the body.
Balancing the booze
I like to drink Scotch, but I limit it to a couple of times a week. Alcohol can affect balance and walking, which is important for older people. If they’re sitting home watching television and drinking — which happens a lot to patients I see — that becomes a recipe for problems like deconditioning, gait disturbance, and fall risk.
I go for walks as much as I can. If I’m going to an exam room, I’ll even circle around different hallways, just to get a few extra steps. I also have a Peloton bike that I use in the evenings and on weekends for 30 minutes. It’s a good way to relax, because I like listening to the music — ’80s and ’90s dance mixes. You’d think that exerting yourself would make you more tired, but it actually makes me more awake.
Sheet pan supper
During COVID, I’ve learned how to do sheet pan dinners, where you roast vegetables and use skinless, boneless chicken breasts with seasoning, so you’re increasing the flavor without increasing the sodium. It’s low calorie, healthy, and you have only one pan to wash. When I order in Asian food, I limit how much rice I have, because I’m a type 2 diabetic, and rice really increases my blood sugar.
If you have excess blood sugar, you have to urinate it out, and staying hydrated helps. I use the HidrateSpark, a bottle that you fill with water, and then it lights up when you’re supposed to drink. At work, other people have their water bottles, and whenever mine signals, I announce: “It’s time to drink.” So everybody has to drink up. Alcohol is pretty much a bowl of sugar, so for me it’s a strawberry margarita probably once every three months.
The one-minute rule
When you’re about to eat something, think about it for a minute. And in that minute, you can decide to have a smaller portion, an alternative, or just forgo it. Even if you end up eating that same cookie two hours later, you’re getting used to saying no to food at that time. The other thing I’ll do is postpone my dessert for a half hour or so after dinner. That keeps me from snacking later on.
I try to have at least an hour of time before I go to sleep where everything winds down. That means washing my face, brushing my teeth, moisturizing, and then getting into bed and reading. Reading is my retreat for my mental health. I do it up to 30 minutes each night — sometimes it’s comic books, sometimes it’s Charles Dickens. I use my Apple Watch to see my sleep pattern, and when I read, I don’t wake up as much during the night.
The power of walking
Prior to COVID, at least four times a week I would go to my gym and do classes, like cardio kickboxing. What the lockdown did was force my family to start walking again. We’re in Lincoln Park, and we walk to my parents, who live two miles away in Wrigleyville. I’m like, “Let’s do power walking,” and I move my arms, and my teenagers make so much fun of me. I hope I’m not as crazy as they say I look. I told my kids, “If walking is good enough for Fauci, it’s good enough for us.” On weekends, I get anywhere from 12,000 to 14,000 steps a day or more. Between my clinics, if I have 20, 25 minutes, some of my colleagues and I will go walk on the track in the park next to the hospital. We used to meet for lunch or a cup of coffee. Now we walk.
A mostly healthy diet
We don’t know if any particular food or drink helps the immune system, but the most important thing is to eat healthy in general. There are some studies suggesting vitamin D is key. I take a multivitamin, and getting some sun is important. Still, we eat foods that are not good for us because they give us tremendous happiness. Literally every day — I didn’t do this before COVID — I have between five and 10 peanut butter M&M’s. I’ll have a margarita now and then, but I’m not a big drinker, because alcohol compromises your immune system. Also, when people drink, they let their guard down, masks come down.
After a long day’s work, when I’m tired and don’t want to cook, my family walks to a restaurant and we get food to bring home. This has been good for my well-being. For a family of five, dishes are a huge issue. They opened a Velvet Taco in my neighborhood last year, and I like it because they have many options, so there is something for everyone in my family. The tacos come in flour shells, but you can get them in lettuce, which is healthier.
Masks’ many benefits
Stress messes up the immune system bigtime, and you won’t be able to fight off harmful things as easily. One way I keep it under control is by doing things that make me feel like I won’t get the virus. I wear a mask as soon as I step outside. When you’re an allergist, you worry about things irritating people’s lungs. I focus on sinus disease and severe asthma, and I’m very aware that if there are allergens outside, people who are allergic potentially will have more symptoms. But one thing that’s been very helpful this year is the mask. By wearing masks, people have prevented a lot of infections, not just coronavirus.