Friday, August 31, 2007

Still no room for those with mental illness

The first story on my news list was also on the CBC National News last night in another form. The story was a documentary about a woman, Marie, who had fetal alcohol syndrome and is unable to care for herself due to severe outbursts. There is no place for her. Her father can’t care for her and when she was in a hospital, she struck out and attacked a nurse and another patient. What was the result? She was arrested and put in prison. What’s wrong with that picture?

Mental illness is still not being recognized and treated properly by a large part of our society. Just when it seems that progress is being made, we are reminded of the number of homeless people who have mental illness or disproportionate number of people with mental illnesses who are in prison.

What is it going to take to get this treated seriously? The big movement to close psychiatric hospitals and integrate the patients isn’t working. While integration is great for some, it’s really not for others. They need the structure, they need the experienced caregivers, and they need the help. Did closing all those institutions really save the money it was supposed to? Well, in the institution books, yes. But not in real life. How much is it costing to hospitalize people in a mental health crisis? What is the real life cost of people living on the margins of society? Can dollar savings even compare to this cost?

News for Today:
Homeless hospitalized more often for mental illness: study
Ovary removal heightens risk of dementia, Parkinson's
Underage drinking starts before adolescence
Pill box organizers increase HIV patients' adherence and improve viral suppression

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Successful fostering story - Chance has a home

Chance got a home!

Some of you may remember my posting about our foster greyhound, Chance. We took him in four days after our Oscar passed away. Meant only to be a short-term placement, several people worked hard to find Chance his forever home and a couch of his own.

Chance is a senior; he’ll be 9 in December, and a heft dude, weighing in at 90 lbs. But he’s a real love bug that just needs pets and neck rubs. We don’t know much about his history. Through his tattoos, the people who plucked him from where he wasn’t wanted were able to track down his track name, Jags Bravehart. According to the Greyhound Data base, he was born in 1998 and raced 53 times, retiring in 2002. After that, we have no idea what happened to him, other than he was found at the Montreal SPCA four years ago and adopted by an older man who died a few weeks ago. Not wanted by his family, Chance was taken for fostering until a good home could be found for him.

I participate in a forum called and, now that Oscar has passed away, I don’t have his diaries to write any more. But, I was able to come up with some fun ways to showcase my love bug. First, there was Chance’s introduction to Greytalk. Then, the appeals started. Here was the deal on Chance (lots of photos in these posts, by the way). Then, with some interest peaking, we went with a different tactic. This was followed by Chance’s application to an Internet matchmaking service, and then this was followed by Chance’s personal ad.

Just as I was getting ready to start a new approach, the good news came and Chance is off to his new home tomorrow morning.

News for Today:
Having a hot flash? Flaxseed can help: study
New insights into common knee injuries
Chewing tobacco not "safe" alternative to smoking
Botox trumps suspicious moles in dermatology queue
Antibacterial Soap Claims Just Don't Wash
Meth abuse may speed age-related brain degeneration
Study adds to debate over prostate cancer testing

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

To tattoo or not to tattoo…

Tattooing is hot now. With television shows like TLC’s Miami Ink and the new LA Ink, and A&E’s Inked, more people know more about tattooing than ever before. I know I do. I didn’t really have preconceived notions – I just didn’t have any in particular. One thing I have learned though, by watching Miami Ink is – WOW – are some of those tattoo artists incredible. I can’t get over the beauty of some of those tattoos. Mind you, some of them are totally not my taste, but I can appreciate the artwork – the detail, the shading, the colours. Wow.

Getting a tattoo should involve some research. While the decision to get one can be spontaneous, choosing the artist and location shouldn’t be. Health issues and prevention of infection should be the most important issues, regardless of how good a particular artist may be. What good is the most beautiful tattoo if you get infected with a fatal infection in the process?

Of course, many things we do in life carry risk; we just need to be as careful as possible, that’s all. So, what are the health risks of body art?

Infections from contaminated equipment are limited now that reputable shops and artists use single-use needles. However, it is important to verify that this is really happening in the shop you choose. Allergic reactions are always possible when you introduce something new to your body. In this case, there could be an allergic reaction to the dye. It’s not common, but a possibility. The has a section on tattoos, the risks and the care after receiving one.

Now, what about those people who got their tattoo on a whim and now don’t want them any more? Has there been anything new in tattoo removal? Unfortunately not. The methods for removing tattoos can be time consuming and expensive. Right now, the options are laser treatment, surgery, or chemical removal.

Lasers are used in plastic surgery to remove spots on the skin, from freckles to tattoos. The light from the laser is absorbed by the tattoo ink and this causes the pigment to break up, and hopefully disappear. The number of laser sessions can depend on the amount of colour in the tattoo, the size, and the complexity. Having the tattoo removed by surgery is considered pretty radical. To do this, the surgeon literally removes the skin with the tattoo pigment, but this can lead to scarring as well, so this option is really one that needs to be weighed properly before a decision is made. Finally, chemical removal, like dermabrasion, is another way to remove tattoos. This involves sanding down or scraping the skin to remove the tattoo gradually (after the area has been frozen). This can cause scarring and can take multiple sessions before the treatment is complete.

Will I ever get a tattoo? I’ve learned never to say never. If my kids do, I’d encourage them to really think about it first, consider the long-term ramifications of how the tattoo they want in the space they want may look in years to come. Two of the three are legal adults, so it’s not as if I really have any say in it anyway. But, if it’s something they really want, it’s for them to decide. I just want them to be safe.

News for Today:
Girl's heart regenerates thanks to artificial assist
Hypnosis before breast cancer surgery helps recovery: Study
Study Questions School Defibrillators

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Breathing easy isn't always possible

I have a little experiment for those who don’t have asthma or a breathing disorder or any kind. Put one end of a straw in your mouth. Close your mouth tightly around it; now pinch your nose closed. Try to breathe through the straw – both in and out. The exhaling part is important here. Do that a few times if you can.

This exercise is one that gives people an idea of what it’s like to have an asthma attack. Of course, it doesn’t have the emotional and fright aspect to it that kicks in when you can’t breathe, nor the coughing that many asthmatics have instead of wheezing, but it does show how hard it is to get that air out of your lungs so that you can get more in.

The rate of asthma, a chronic disorder that causes difficulty breathing because of swelling in the bronchi (airway), is still increasing. According to an article published in May of this year, “an individual had a two-in-five chance of developing asthma before the age of 40.” Statistics Canada reports that approximately 3 million people in Canada have asthma. In 2003, 287 Canadians died because of asthma. Similar statistics are found in the United States. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, approximately 20 million Americans have asthma. They point out that the incidence of asthma has increased 75% between 1980 and 1994. Sadly, there are also about 5000 deaths per year in the US that are associated with asthma.

As recent as when I was a child, asthma was still considered to be more psychological than physical, so many people with the disorder weren’t treated properly. With time, doctors learned that asthma is a very frightening illness that is made worse by emotions, not caused by emotions. Speaking from experience, I can attest to that. A physical cause will trigger the asthma. In my case, cigarette smoke or high humidity, for example. If the attack is managed with medications, all is fine. But if the attack is severe and breathing is difficult, the anxiety kicks in and can cause the attack to get worse. I also have the unfortunate trigger of laughter. I can’t have a good belly laugh because if I do, I start to cough and cough – and cough – and cough. It can go on for hours. Makes going to see a comedy show a bit difficult!

Asthma isn’t just a childhood disease though. People can develop it any time in life, as shown by the story about workers at the 9/11 site . Also, asthma doesn’t go away. When I worked in a medical ward, I used to have patients who had been admitted with what is called status asthmaticus. That is an asthma attack that is out of control and just can’t be managed. Many times, the patients would tell me that their asthma had gone away and they hadn’t had an attack in many years. What often happens is that the asthma is triggered by some sort of shock or stress to the body. This shock or stress can be physical (a bad cold, a pregnancy, etc.) or psychological, and the resulting asthma attack can be more frightening than ever because the patient thought that the asthma was gone.

Can we do something to decrease the rate of asthma? Yes, there are some things. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, in the United States, provides this interesting page on allergies and irritants, and preventative strategies.

If you want to read more about asthma, check out the asthma section at the or the section at the AAAAI.

I’m asthma-free at this moment, so maybe it’s time to stop and smell the flowers while I can. J

News for Today:
Born in the summer? You're more likely to be nearsighted
A Heart Drug May Hold Off Alzheimer's
Treating diabetes during pregnancy can break link to childhood obesity
Methamphetamine study suggests increased risk for HIV transmission
Survey finds elevated rates of new asthma among WTC rescue and recovery workers
Stopping statins after stroke raises risk of death, dependency
New treatment effective for most severe kind of headache

Monday, August 27, 2007

Trampolines - jump or dump?

This past weekend, I saw (and read) several reports on the dangers of back yard trampolines. The Canadian Pediatric Society wants a ban on back yard trampolines, saying that there has been a significant increase in injuries, including paralysis because of back injuries. They have issued a joint statement with the Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine.

While it’s true, trampoline can be dangerous and there has been in increase in injuries, the trampoline industry points out that thousands more trampolines are being sold and used now than there used to be and that the increase in injuries is merely a reflection of the increased number.

When I was in elementary school, we used a trampoline in gym – I remember having to stand along the sides as the class acted as spotters for the one person on the trampoline. I was not an athletic kid, so the trampoline wasn’t one of my strong points either. It was kind of fun, but if you jumped the wrong way, you could (and did) get hurt.

The manufacturers warn parents not to allow more than one person on the trampoline at a time and, I don’t know about you, but I see this rule broken a lot. On the news the other day, one child told a reporter that she wouldn’t want to go on the trampoline alone because it was boring and you can’t play games then.

So, do we ban them like the doctors want? Or do we accept these injuries as a part of childhood? Personally, I would never have a trampoline in my backyard. I wouldn’t want that responsibility, to me the risk of injuries is just too high. I don’t wrap my kids in bubble-wrap. I wrote a post a couple of months ago about how we have to allow our kids to grow and try things, including activities with some level of risk. But I think that trampolines are just too high risk.

News for Today:
Increase in polycystic ovary syndrome linked to obesity, environment: study
U.S. FDA proposes new labeling for sunscreens
Infection contributes to the high rates of oropharyngeal cancers
Smoking increases risks for head and neck cancers for men and women
EU Approves Roche's Avastin For Lung Cancer Treatment