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To fill some time, I volunteered for a medical study

By Ernie Williamson

The Bulletin

I was in my doctor’s office when an assistant walked in handing out flyers with information on applying for a medical study.

Volunteers with chronic illnesses were wanted.

That would include me.

I have seen many such flyers in my 11 years as a paraplegic, but never volunteered.

But this time I was curious.

I had been experiencing weeks of more-than-my-usual spinal cord pain.

My back, hips and shoulders ached, probably from a fall and from spending most of the day bent in my wheelchair.

Maybe I would get lucky, and the study would involve a new medicine or device that could help me, or somebody else.

So, I applied, despite having no idea at this point what the study involved. I expected rejection because of my 76 years.

Several weeks later I was accepted into the program. If I still wanted to volunteer, I could work from home but would need to devote at least 20 minutes a day six days a week for eight weeks.

I am retired and looking for things to do. Time is not a problem.

“What is the study about?” I finally asked.

“Have you heard about mindfulness?” the researcher responded.

I had, but mindfulness was not quite the miracle I had in mind.

Mindfulness stresses living in the present moment. Essentially, it means being intentionally more aware to each moment and being fully engaged in what is happening in one’s surroundings - with acceptance and without judgment.

It is similar to yoga, although without the contortions.

It might include things like focusing on the senses, deep breathing and mental exercises designed to promote awareness and kindness.

One of the goals of practicing mindfulness is to improve your overall well-being. Mindfulness practice, they say, reduces stress and helps people feel more grounded.

In my younger, more skeptical days, I would have dismissed all this as gibberish.

But I had seen reliable research that found mindfulness programs were exploding in popularity in schools as educators try to cope with the fact that one in five American children struggles with anxiety.

Research indicates mindfulness programs help children cope.

But would it ease the pain in this paraplegic? Or would I just be kinder when complaining about it?

I decided to go for it, and at this writing have done the first session.

During that first session on the computer, a soothing voice asked me to find a comfortable place to sit - my wheelchair would have to do.

With my eyes closed and my hands resting on my thighs, I was then asked to become aware of my body and simply notice the sensations I was experiencing.

Then I was asked to pay attention to my breathing.

Finally, I was asked to pay attention to the rise and fall of my stomach or chest when I started focusing too much on one sensation or experience.

The 20 minutes in the session seemed to go fast. It is probably my imagination, but I felt slightly more relaxed after the session.

Of course, that may be because I did the mindfulness drills during the time I usually watch the morning news.

Missing the news is bound to make anyone feel better.

I am a long way from the program’s finish line. I will let you know how I am feeling when I get there.

(Contact Ernie at Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)


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