“The little things are infinitely the most important.”
– Arthur Conan Doyle
“It’s just a small scrape, I’ll take care of it later,” she thought as she rushed out to class. Jane is an 18-year-old college student, who is happy, healthy and busy. A small scrape on her little finger is nothing to her, and it is quickly forgotten. The next afternoon she noticed some discomfort and sees the red place where the skin was broken on her finger. She covered it with a Band-Aid and promptly forgot once again.
The Band-Aid didn’t hold, and Jane was too busy to replace it. Her finger steadily worsened, becoming swollen and painful every time she tried to bend it or it brushed against something. Finally, in a slight panic, she sought help at student health. The nurse on duty tells Jane she is lucky she came when she did, her finger is infected, and the next step would be sepsis.
After working in his garden, Todd felt a burning sensation on his leg. Upon examination, he found a tick. He was slightly concerned, but the tick was easily removed and only left a small red place. Tom quickly forgets this small wound.
For the next several days, the area around the tick bite itched but Todd didn’t worry. He had tick bites in the past and felt it was normal for them to itch for a while. A month later, Todd was in intensive care. The bite was infected and he was diagnosed with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
There Little Things
We are taught that the little things don’t matter, until they do. We live in a culture that celebrates big accomplishments and events while paying little to no attention to the small events that occur daily. These small events are important messages to us all, yet our harried, accomplishment-centric lifestyle teaches us to take these things for granted, or ignore them.
Small things grow and develop into important events in our lives. Think for a moment about the steps that it takes to achieve success at anything. Habits are made from small efforts, and changes to those habits happen one piece at a time. Full sentences are built with individual words. A pattern of behavior is comprised of a series of smaller choices, and attitudes are created by compounding each individual thought.
This is why we need to pay attention to the daily pieces of the big picture. These small events often turn out to be what matters most. They are the sign posts of life, and often they lead us to the key to turning points and accomplishments. Sometimes they warn us that we need to pay attention, take care of ourselves, take action and make changes.
Both Jane and Todd told themselves that the small things that were happening to them did not matter. They felt their bodies would heal without any effort on their parts. Instead, those were moments that their bodies were calling for help, asking Jane and Tom to pay attention to the message. They needed to take care of themselves.
The Small Things Add Up
When we overlook small things, they build up to create significant problems. That was the case in this final story I want to tell you. This comes from my personal experience, and I hope it makes someone think twice about taking care of himself or herself.
Recently, my family lost a woman who was dear to us. Her troubles began approximately three years ago. She noticed that she was tired. Nothing big, she was just a little more fatigued than usual. Next, she found that she had lost interest in food. She ate from necessity not desire. She noticed and ignored small changes over this three-year period until one night, she ended up in the emergency room with severe cramps and pain.
After she was stabilized, the doctor told her he believed she had cancer. We were all shocked because we had no idea the extent of the many small changes that had
occurred over the last years. She had not told anyone what she was noticing.
During the next two months, she had one surgery, was in and out of intensive care and finally, she was strong enough for chemotherapy. We were all hopeful. One
chemotherapy session, another trip to intensive care, and our friend was no longer with us. She had ignored too many small things, let her health decline and was not able to fight the disease.
Self Care Matters
Self care is one of the most important parts of our lives, yet the term has become so overused that many people don’t really know what it means. It has become another box that our culture wants you to check while participating in so many other activities and moments. Self care is actually at the foundation of everything we do. To borrow an analogy from flight attendants, self care is the oxygen in the mask that drops from the ceiling in times of trouble. If you do not breathe from it first, you have nothing left to give to help the person next to you. Without self care, we have nothing left to create the moments and accomplishments we are seeking. In the same way, when we ignore the small things, they can turn into larger issues that overwhelm us and take us away from the people who really matter.
Few people actually put taking care of themselves first on the list of important things in their lives. It actually doesn’t take much effort, and like the habits we talked about earlier, self care can be done in small ways that can add up to big benefits.
Next week, I will talk about some small ways you can take care of yourself.