Almost all human cells reproduce on a cycle. Up to 10% of your heart is replaced each year. Red blood cells are replaced every three months. Skin cells, every two weeks.
But it has traditionally been accepted that neurons, the cells that make up the brain and spinal cord, do not regenerate. Based on recent discoveries, it turns out that, under the right conditions, neurons can indeed recover. They just need a break. That’s why, in modern medicine, we will sometimes induce comas and hypothermia in patients with brain injury; so that their brains can rest. It’s pretty incredible that if you can break your neurons from normal operations and focus on healing, they have a chance at regrowth.
So that just begs the question, how can we give our neurons a break, with less extreme measures such as induced hypothermia or coma state? How can we take a deep breath, in this moment, and stop all the bustling chaos in our brains and give our neurons the break they need in our muddled daily lives? It’s human nature to want to fix what’s broken. And we have the tools to fix it. Take a moment right now to close your eyes and take a deep breath in and out. Try it again. And one more time. We may not be able to replicate exactly what we lost. But in its place we can grow something new. And slowly, but surely, we can grow until we have everything we need.
During these last few weeks and months, dozens of opportunities have been proposed to me for future endeavors; from medicine, to yoga, to business, to real estate (yes I’m trying to buy a home, a whole new level of stress). It’s been a little overwhelming. And interesting. For the last 10 years, I have been waiting for this moment. This moment when my schedule would no longer be monopolized by impossibly long hours in the hospital, only to then go home and attempt to keep my eyes, swollen with exhaustion, open to study. All in the pursuit of being the kind of doctor that deserved to be of service to my fellow human.
For the last 10 years, I have sacrificed every free moment in my life in the pursuit of my medical education; declined social engagements, turned down romantic advances, missed important family functions, and sacrificed countless hours of sleep and self-care. And now my time has come. As I near the end of my formal medical training, the opportunities have started to reveal themselves. I sometimes ask myself if this will be my defining moment. In what direction will my life go from here? What kind of doctor/person/yogi/healer will I be? What am I capable of. The opportunities will come and go, but how will I stand steady within my values, yet allow myself to bend, but not break with the changing winds?
I am listening to it all; and opening myself up to whatever the universe has in store for me. I am trusting my instincts and following the path that reveals itself. I’m choosing to lean in. What comes next universe? Bring it
Do you have a favorite Christmas song? We all do, even if we don’t celebrate Christmas. We all notice ourselves whistling or humming along to a tune on the radio with an inevitable shoulder wiggle to the happy tunes that seems to follow us into every venue during the month of December. Two weeks ago, when I was on shift in the intensive care unit (ICU), the family of a patient I had been caring for all week came in and surrounded her bed. I was sitting at a computer station close to her room, and suddenly heard “Last Christmas” by Wham! playing. It’s not often that one hears music in the ICU – the only sounds are typically a flurry of alarms that signal at different pitches and speeds to help the listener quickly decipher the acuity of the distress. Happy, winsome music is not the norm.
Then the family, which consisted of her adult children, their spouses and some nieces, all started singing. “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart… but the very next day, you gave it away….” They had horrible pitch; all singing at different tempos. “This year, to save me from tears… I’ll give it to someone special.” I noticed my forehead wrinkling as I tried to hold back tears, but they came anyway, a steady quiet stream of thick salty drops welled up in my eyes and down my cheeks. I wrapped it up and sent it… with a note saying, “I love you, ” I meant it”… Music unites us. It brings us together, and it’s what we recognize, even when we are about to take our last breaths. They were saying goodbye to their mom.
One of the daughters peeked out to me, and asked, “Is this ok? It’s her favorite song.” I sniffed back my tears, smiled and nodded, Of course it is. They played it over and over again and sang it to her, over and over again, for the next hour until she passed. They let her go with the embrace of music, and their united voices, in love and tribute to her.
The holidays are strange, aren’t they? We look forward to them for the time off, but we often forget that it is a time to connect and unite. Look to the person next to you and ask them what their favorite Christmas song is, then tell them yours. We never know when it may be our Last Christmas. And when it is, I hope they sing you your favorite song too.