Doctors, like other professionals, over time see patients and clients who make a lasting memory and with whom, in some cases, through shared values and commonalities, they develop friendships.
One such person I was privileged to know and who passed away several months ago was a small Asian-Indian woman who lived to be 96-years old, having lived in India until her mid-60s when she, having been left alone, immigrated here to live with her son and daughter-in-law who have a very successful business. They cared for her in their apartment situated above the prosperous business they run.
On a good day, no taller than four-foot eleven, she weighed 96 pounds. She suffered from arthritis, eventually undergoing two knee replacements while she was here in the United States. She was not without her fair share of other chronic medical ailments, those that come with age. About four years ago, because of her debility she became house-confined and her family asked if I would see her at their home, which I did about six times a year.
This humble lady, who was always attired in a modest but colorful sari, reminded me of two people. One, my maternal grandmother who was also a very prayerful woman, saying novenas and rosaries on a regular basis, my venturing so far as to say she holds the record for the most novenas prayed -- ever. And the other being Mother Teresa, who also like this Hindu woman, lived and worked in Eastern India, Calcutta, who was also petite, and whose story is well known. Like Mother Teresa, who preached by example, it's hard to imagine that this humble Hindu woman ever harbored the thought of proselytizing anyone much more actually doing so.
Aside from her meekness and humility, the two things that impressed me about her that I find remarkable as a physician was that up until about four years ago she fasted every Thursday. But only on Thursdays. Like many Hindus, on a certain chosen day of the week, if one so chooses, they make a devotion to a particular god. In her case it was to the god Vishnu. To the Hindu, Vishnu is the giver and provider of things; the Supreme Self; the Lord of the universe. Vishnu is the central god, one of three, in the Hindu Trinity, in one of the principle denominations of Hinduism.
Anyway, having never learned a lick of English, and our visits always being translated by her daughter-in-law, her family affirmed that she was a very prayerful woman and even into her 90s long before she had to abandon her lifelong fasting ritual for the sake of her immediate health, she stayed the course and practiced her faith. But even up until her death she had unfailing vision (no glasses), good hearing (no hearing aids), and she possessed all of her teeth -- this 96 pounder who fasted once a week for over 80 years.
While she enjoyed a long life, not being motivated to this particular end, her fasting was instead motivated spiritually -- directing her fast to both a particular spiritual devotion and a spiritual cleansing.
With respect to spiritual cleansing, Catholics and some Christian denominations (Anglican, Calvinist, Lutheran, Methodist, and Eastern Orthodox) will now this Lenten season, turn their attention, inspired by our Lord's forty days in the desert and his tempting by the devil, to those tools and means by which we draw closer to God or conform to Him through prayer, fasting, penance, almsgiving, and self-denial.
Some will repeat the "giving up" of the same things they gave up last year. And some, not uncommonly, will view it, somewhat misdirected, as an opportunity for self-improvement. A patient recently shared that he was going to wait until Lent began to start "eating right", to lose some weight, and "get healthy." Not really the correct orientation to the spiritual purpose for which Lent is intended.
Another said she was going to try Beyoncé's approach and fast every single day. To fast one or two days a week is not unhealthy for most people in good health. But fasting for days or weeks puts your body into ketosis, a metabolic state in which having run out of carbohydrates, your energy is obtained from the burning of fats. And if it goes on long enough, from proteins and muscles, subjecting one to muscle loss and extreme fatigue and other internal derangements.
I recalled my Hindu patient this past Sunday during Mass when we were reminded of the upcoming obligation for the religious observance for Lent -- to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and every Friday, eating one modest meal and not more than two very smaller meals that together are smaller than the main meal. This to be done for a period of six weeks each year. In contrast, my Hindu patient ate a totally meatless diet every single day of her entire life, including the avoidance of fish, and who in addition to this fasted one day each week, all the while enjoying a fairly healthy life until very late in years. Makes you wonder about the spiritual heavyweights.
This could serve as food for thought as an alternative approach for Beyoncé if (when) she regains that weight plus more. Interval spiritual cleansing could, perhaps, be a benefit to boot. ("Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.")
The three dimensions to be given attention in living a truly balanced and happy life are the physical, the mental, and the spiritual. If you practice a spirituality, this "early morning of the year" can be a good time to fine tune it. And if you're not a religious person, or lack any kind of spirituality, it can be a time to reassess your purpose and the meaning of life around you.
For in the same way a traveler will stop periodically to rest and refresh, this can be a good time of year to consider giving attention to the spiritual -- and if not the spiritual, then for no other reason than to be aware, appreciative, and grateful for everyone and anything, natural and supernatural, that's come to make you the child of God you are today.