May 31, 2012, Vol. 10, Issue 10
I’ve embraced mind-body teachings for health since I was first exposed to them in the 90’s. Some of my favorite speakers are mind-body advocates, and now I have a new favorite: Eva Selhub, MD, and author of The Love Response. What may be as important though as the core teachings, which after all are not new, are those two letters at the end of her name — MD. A Harvard Medical School instructor, Dr. Selhub integrates Western medical science and Eastern healing methods, to provide an experimental basis for selecting the natural antidotes for life’s everyday stresses. She calls it the love response — a series of biochemical reactions that lower blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and adrenaline levels, stimulating healing and reinstating balance and well being.
When she spoke at the women’s heart health program at Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia, Washington, this spring, I got to go see her in person. I loved her energy as well as the contents of her talk. She began by sharing the story of her own bottoming out journey, and I think that’s what brings it home for people. She isn’t talking about someone else’s experience. She’s sharing from her heart, her own self-discovery — plus she has the science to back it up, and that makes a winning combination. As always, you’ll find her professional bio on our website along with some video clips. In this issue, I’m pleased to share her personal story — it starts with a life-altering moment.
Dr. Eva Selhub
THE LOVE RESPONSE
As a second year resident at Boston Medical Center in 1996, Eva was set to do a fellowship in pulmonary medicine. She described herself at that time, as capable, invincible, and head-strong – determined to carve out a successful career. Rarely, if ever, did she ask for help. So when after she had completed a 20-hour day on the floor, a nurse called at 3 a.m. to report that an AIDS patient’s central intravenous line had fallen out and needed to be replaced, she jumped out of bed, and instead of calling one of her interns, she shuffled sleepily to the patient’s bedside. When the patient coughed during the procedure, though, the needle, infected with HIV and Hepatitis C, slipped and punctured her finger.
“Immediately, I felt shame—I had done something wrong; it was my fault; I would be ridiculed or pitied. I didn’t want to tell anyone,” she remembers. “But as I was squeezing my finger until it was blue under the running water, fear set in — ‘I am going to die. I can’t handle this one alone.’ Who could I tell?”
Anxiously, she called the chief resident, who sent her home after getting her started on AZT, a medication used to treat HIV disease. Upon arriving home, the phone rang. It was the infectious disease attending on call, “Eva, I heard about the needle stick. I am sorry to inform you that this is a high risk exposure, and it is not good.”
“My heart sank into the pit of my stomach. My hands quivered. My throat clamped shut. Tears formed in my eyes,” she recalls vividly.
He continued: “There is a new study about to be released by the NIH about post-exposure prophylactic medications for HIV needle sticks. I think you should get started on the protocol now.” He talked statistics, but she didn’t hear anything except “the ONE;” that she was going to be the one to get HIV.
“My mind raced to all the negative possibilities—I was going to get sick and die. How could I do this to my family? Who would be left paying my loans? How would I work? Shame and fear shot through my body in waves. Of course, these thoughts upset me most: ‘Who will love me now? I will die alone. I will die single for ever.”’
She found out differently. Taking 14 medications a day made her sick—anemia, abdominal pains, fatigue, and more. She learned firsthand what being really, really sick was all about. And at the same time, she learned what being cared for was all about. She experienced the power of the love of her family and friends who never left her side. This was social love.
She began contemplating her life purpose and bargained with God:
“If you let me live, I will put my life in service, to help others. I will help people have a life, not save it only when they are at death’s door.
“When my blood tests came out fine, I looked up at the sky and cried out with thanks. In that moment, I felt deeply connected to the universe, something I did not feel when I was in the midst of fear and shame.”
This was spiritual love.
As life would have it, her lessons did not stop at the needle-stick. Over the next 4 months she suffered a series of life-altering events one after the other — the death of her grandfather, the death of her dog, being harassed by someone she didn’t know and whom she had to take to court, her apartment burning down into nothing but ashes, and her father suffering a heart attack. Enough?
She remembers shutting down and crying, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Am I so bad?” Feelings of shame and fear came roaring back. Then depression set in. She could not sleep, eat, or think. She said she wanted to die.
“I knew this time, the only thing that could get me out was me—no love from others or the universe could shake me. I didn’t trust either one because I didn’t believe I deserved to be loved. I had to find a way to love myself; to understand that I was not being punished. So rather than asking, ‘Why me?’ I began asking, ‘Why not me?’
“Nature just as soon lets a forest fire burn as a flower bloom. Good things and bad things happen. It has nothing to do with me. ‘I am loved and lovable,’ I thought. Look around me. Look how much love there is around me!
“When I discovered self love, I began to heal. I continuously asked myself, ‘If I loved myself would I eat this food? Would I date this man? Would I not give my body the nutrition and rest it needs?’ I made loving choices and repeatedly said to myself, ‘I love myself! I love myself!’”
As she started to understand that she was loved, she began connecting once again to her friends and her work. Her body felt healthier, and her mood happier.
“It was all because of my love pyramid – social life, self love and spiritual love — a foundation that would forever support me, especially in hard times,” she concludes. “And so, I write and speak about love, because it is the one thing that always sustains us, keeps us healthy and helps us live the life we want. Without love, there is no life.”
In her practice and in her talks, she emphasizes the “neurophysiology of stress.” She delineates, based on both the latest clinical studies and her own (and her patients’) life experiences, the intricate relationship of mind and body in the face of stress that influences one’s health and ability to function at one’s best. By reporting on the combination of science and spirit, she helps individuals notice their own mind/body reactions to challenges, become aware that real and imagined challenges affect their health in the same way, and take the steps that will enable them to become more resilient and successful.
Those of you have been reading For Your Well Being for years, know that I’m a nature lover. Give me the opportunity and I’m off to the woods. Whether for 2 hours, 2 days, or 2 weeks, being among trees restores my soul and sanity (when that is necessary). Over Memorial Day weekend, my husband and I, along with Bella, our beagle, got to spend the holiday at our friends’ retreat, Talking Tree, in the shadow of Mt. Adams near Trout Lake, Washington. It’s a peaceful piece of property, a spread of grasses and pines, where we often get to share the joys of friendship and shared work. This time the work was disposing of a monstrous pile of brush, and dead wood that they had accumulated over three years of clearing downed limbs and brush. The pile was too big to burn according to code so our morning job was to disassemble a good half of it and make a second pile – and then a third. Then, after we got the fire to a manageable (and legal) size and it was beginning to burn down a little, we started dragging the disassembled parts back onto the fire. Um, let’s see, is there a metaphor in here about life? And let me say that was a HOT fire — lots of built-up energy. Our friends felt relieved and happy to have the job done — because, you see, that built-up DEAD wood and debris is a fire hazard — another metaphor for life. Those were some of our observations as we sat around the fire into the evening enjoying dinner, local wine, and some wonderful conversation.
Is there anything in your life, burning for transformation? Is there anything better in life than talking with friends into the night as a fire turns to embers? Until next time, take care of yourself, and your burning desires, for your well being and those you love.
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