Saturday, May 19, 2012

Do You Hear What I Hear?

On May 4, I wrote about vision and vision problems (May Is Health Vision Month). A friend asked me to address hearing and hearing problems sometime this month, so here is that post.

Like our vision, we tend not to think about our hearing unless there is a problem - but then it is too late. The human ear can put up with a lot, but it's also quite delicate, so you need to take care of it.

How does the ear work?

The miracle of sound is, to me, just that. How does the tap of my keyboard translate to the sound that I hear?

The ear has three parts, the outer part, which you see, the middle, and the inner. All play an important role. The outer ear acts like a funnel, collecting the sounds and funnelling them into the middle part of the ear. The part you see is the pinna and this goes into the ear canal.

The ear canal leads to the ear drum, which is where the middle ear begins. The drum vibrates in reaction to the sound waves. These vibrations are transferred to the three tiniest bones in your body, called the ossicles. The first bone, the malleus, is shaped like a hammer. The sound moves from the malleus to the incus, which is shaped like an anvil. Finally, the sound moves again from the incus to the stapes, which looks like a stirrup.

Once the sound has travelled through the middle ear, it reaches the inner ear, where the nerves take over. The vibrations enter the cochlea, which is a small, curled, fluid-filled tube. You can also find microscopic sized hairs lining the cochlea, which also vibrate with the sound, transferring this to the nerves, which go to the brain and tell you that you've heard a sound.

If there is any disruption in the any of the ear sections, your hearing can be temporarily or permanently affected.

Ear Wax

The most common problem with the outer ear is the build up of wax. This wax is perfectly normal and should not be removed. It is your ear's defence mechanism against things that shouldn't be in there. Cotton swabs and similar products are NOT for wax removal. If you use these, you run two risks: pushing the wax deeper and more compacted into the ear canal and/or two slipping and pushing the stick deeper into the ear, rupturing the ear drum.

For most people, ear wax isn't a problem, but some people do have too much of it. If this happens, it should be removed by a doctor or a nurse who has been trained to do so. ENTs (ear, nose and throat doctors) have a saying: never put anything in your ear that is smaller than your elbow.

People who wear hearing aids may be prone to impacted wax. This is due to the aid pressing into the ear canal constantly.


Infections can happen in the outer ear, most commonly, swimmers ear. Piercings in the lobe or pinna may also become infected if they are not cared for properly when they are fresh or if the holes get too irritated from the jewelry.

If the infection is in the mid-ear, otitis media, this could become serious if the infections are frequent.


The ear drum can be punctured by inserting an object too deep into the ear, but also in other situations, such as severe infections or even on an airplane if the pressure is too hard on the ear.

The ears can be injured in other ways as well. Consistent very loud noise can destroy the tiny hairs in the ear, making it impossible for the sound waves to be moved along, for example.

Getting your hearing checked

If you suspect you have some hearing loss, the first thing to do is speak with your doctor. If there is cause for concern, you may be sent for a hearing test. If the test shows some hearing loss, you may then be sent on for a further hearing evaluation.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has a handy check list that can help give you an idea if you should go for a hearing test. There is also a good explanation of the various hearing tests available.

It's never too late to prevent further damage to your hearing. If you use earplugs to listen to music, be aware of how loud the volume is. If you are in a noisy environment, wear protective equipment. Treat your ears with care because you may not notice a slow decline in hearing, but once it's gone, it's not likely you'll get it back.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Necrotizing Fasciitis - "Flesh eating disease"

It has all the makings of a great news story: people losing limbs to a flesh-eating bacteria or disease. It's scary and it's attention getting, but what exactly is it and should you be afraid of it?

Sadly, right now, a young woman in Georgia, Aimee Copeland is fighting for her life after she contracted necrotizing fasciitis, a bacteria called streptococcus pyogenes. PubMedHealth describes it well: "The bacteria begins to grow and release harmful substances (toxins) that kill tissue and affect blood flow to the area." Often, the only way to stop the spread is to amputate the affected limb. If it occurs in a part of the body, like the belly, then major surgery to remove surrounding tissue may be needed.

The rare infection can cause a lot of damage to the immediate area. The bacteria destroy the muscles, skin, and underlying tissue. However, it is not the "flesh eating bacteria" that causes all the extra problems, which can result in organ damage and amputations of other limbs. This is sepsis - the body tries to fight the infection but goes into overdrive (

Since Aimee's accident, we've heard of another young woman in South Carolina, Luna Kuykendall, who developed the same infection after delivering her twins. Since this is a rare infection, to hear of two so close together is shocking and this is likely why it is such news.

Is it something you should be afraid of? Since necrotizing fasciitis is rare, no, it's generally not something to be worried about. But that being said, infections of any kind should be taken seriously. Any wound should be cleaned thoroughly and monitored for signs of infection (redness, increased pain, discharge from the wound) and prompt medical attention is needed if there are any signs.

If you're not convinced, check out, where you will find many stories of people whose sepsis resulted from a simple infection.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

‘Godfather of Go-Go,' Chuck Brown, Dies of Sepsis

You may not recognize the name, but you've likely heard the music that Chuck Brown helped make popular. The 75-year-old helped get people up and dancing with his percussive music style.

Mr. Brown  had been hospitalized with pneumonia and died of sepsis, reported his manager Tom Goldfogle. (How Can You Die of Pneumonia? Bernie Mac Did)

Sepsis kills one American every 2 minutes, but so few people have ever heard of it. To learn more about sepsis, please visit

Chuck Brown dies: The ‘Godfather of Go-Go’ was 75

Children's Play or Cardio Exercise?

Since I began my project, TheGamesWeUsedToPlay.CA, I've become more aware of blog posts, articles, and tweets about children, the lack of regular exercise, their not-so-healthy diets, and the health-related issues, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Some experts have said that this will be the first generation of children who will not have a longer life expectancy as the generations before them. If this is true, why are we allowing this to happen?

A tweet caught my eye on Tuesday, an article over at on playing that counts as cardio (What Counts as Cardio?). Since when have we had to start thinking of the games our kids play as giving them a cardio workout? Is this a new trend now? 

While it's never a bad thing to get your children active, childhood play should be play that happens to be exercise, not exercise disguised as play. When that happens, there's an ulterior motive and the pure joy that play provides can be lost.

What do you think? Are we losing something by not giving our children the opportunity to play - on their own, without adult interference?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Second Act - My Move from Nursing to Writing

What made you go from nursing to writing?

How did you make the transition to writing?

Don't you miss nursing?

When did you decide to leave nursing and become a writer?

These are just a few of the questions I've been asked over the past few years when people learn that I changed professions when I was in my forties, taking a chance on a new life. I'm not unique in this position. All you have to do is have a look at to learn about many women who have done the same and some in a much more dramatic manner. My writing seems rather tame compared to stand-up paddle boarding or becoming a model.

So, what happened to me and why? Or, "How I decided to be what I wanted to be when I grew up."

First, writing has always been something that I did well. In school, I prayed for essay exams, because even if I didn't know the subject completely, I was good at writing my answers in a way that often made it sound like I did.

This didn't always work, but I had a better chance skirting the questions this way than with multiple choice exam questions. Thinking back though, it might have been easier if I had just done the homework and studied a bit more...

All kidding aside, writing was something I liked to do and I knew I could do it. But, writing as a career never really seemed to be an option. I wasn't an outstanding writer and other than newspaper reporting or writing books, there didn't seem to be a viable way to earn a living using words. So, I did the next best thing. I chose a profession where I knew there would be work.

Although I enjoyed working as a nurse, I was frequently exhausted or not feeling well. Working shifts really didn't help matters either. Little did I know at that time that I was living with fibromyalgia. That diagnosis wasn't made until I was just shy of my fiftieth birthday.

In the mid 1990s, while I was head nurse at a summer camp for physically handicapped children, I saw a small ad in the Montreal Gazette. Someone was looking for a nurse with good communication skills and who knew how to use the Internet.

Hey! That was me! And I got the job.

It was a virtual job - the company had no offices. This is where I got my first taste of telecommuting. My children were in elementary school and I was working - full time - from home. Things couldn't get much better than that in my book.

Time passed, jobs changed. I continued to work as a nurse at various times to both keep my license and because I couldn't yet give up that part of my life. And then, the time came. When I was in my early forties, a set of circumstances occurred that pushed me into what I'd been wanting to do but dared not do: work full time as a writer.

Could I do it? 

Was I good enough? 

Would I find enough clients and jobs? 

What if I failed?

What's that expression: the proof is in the pudding? The first year I worked full-time from my home office, self-employed, hustling for work, I made more money than I did working full-time as an RN. Of course, in Quebec, that's not hard (sorry, still a bit bitter about nursing salaries here!).

Over the years, I cultivated some great, well-paying clients, said good-bye to some that didn't pay as well as I needed/wanted, and I've built myself a rather successful one-woman show. I've got some great clients and I have fun. I speak to incredibly interesting people, both fellow writers and people I interview for articles or projects.
I go to workshops and conferences where I meet other writers and editors, and I learn more about my craft. Lately, I have been given the opportunity to teach others too.

Last month, I was in New York City attending the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) conference, where I spoke on a panel about writing for trade magazines. Next month, I'll be in Toronto at the MagNet convention, participating on another panel about taking your writing career to the next level.

So, could I do it? 

You bet I could! And I did.

Was I good enough? 

My clients sure think so. And I don't often seek out work anymore. Many times, clients will come to me.

Would I find enough clients and jobs? 

While sometimes I worry, because I think all self-employed people do, I have yet to find myself in a situation where I don't have enough work. Of course, self-employed people always have to market themselves, so that's what I do. And it's not as hard as I thought it was.

What if I failed? 

Well, I didn't. But if I had, would it have been so terrible? I always used to tell my children, "Don't tell me you can't do something unless you have tried to do it and you failed. Only then can you say that you can't."

So, am I a grown up now?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Fibromyalgia, It's Not Real/Yes It Is

"Fibromyalgia doesn't exist; it's just a catch-all that doctors use when they don't know what else to tell you."

Do you believe this statement about fibromyalgia (FM)? Some people do. I posted a question on a email list for a professional group I belong to, asking something from people who have FM. I received a lengthy email in response from a colleague I'd never met. Her email outlined for me why FM is not a real illness and doesn't exist, and that she got upset whenever she heard someone saying that they were diagnosed with it. She said it was a phase that she hoped would go away, because telling someone they had FM did more harm than good.

This person pointed out that there are doctors who have written online that it doesn't exist and she had taken the time to find some and then copy and paste their words into the email. Then, after this lengthy email, she told me she had to cut it short because she had to go out.

I thought long and hard before responding. The email had started with something along the lines of "I hope you don't mind dissention," and it ended with something like "I hope I haven't offended you."

I don't mind dissention, as long as we are polite about it, which she was. I didn't think I was offended, but I wasn't sure.

I tried explaining to her through my carefully worded response that anyone can write anything on the Internet. This is one of the great things about the medium, but also one of the great drawbacks. That being said, there is much research going into this illness that has been around for generations, but called by different names. The name "fibromyalgia" was only given recently, as researchers learned more about it.

Physical findings

There are physical findings in people who have FM, such as an elevated level of substance P, a neurotransmitter in the cerebral spinal fluid. Although the illness is far from being solved, this increased level of substance P is one tiny piece of the puzzle that explains why people with FM feel more pain than people who don't have it.

There are many illnesses or health problems that don't have obvious and identifiable causes. Migraines are a good example, as is clinical depression. However, they are accepted as the medical problems that they are. I ended my note stating that I wasn't quite sure why she felt she needed to send me her email as it had nothing to do with the original request. I didn't ask about a debate over FM, I asked if anyone who had FM had any questions that I could use in a project I am working on.

The response

Unfortunately, my response wasn't taken in the way I hoped it was. I am a big believer in discussion, but I don't believe in the "I'm right and you're wrong" approach without discussion. I am perfectly willing to discuss why people may not believe in FM, but I would hope that they would listen to the arguments as to why people do believe it does exist. They don't have to accept them, but some back and forth about the ideas is always appreciated.

This wasn't the case here. Instead, her response was, more or less, "I was afraid you'd react  this way but if thinking  you have something called fibromyalgia makes you feel better, that's ok." Well, I'm very glad she's ok with it. I'm sure I'll sleep better now. :)

I have no intention of engaging with the email writer any further. Perhaps I shouldn't have responded in the first place. I find it interesting that some people - because I know this person isn't alone - feel so strongly about proving that FM isn't real. What is it about the issue that makes them feel this need to evangelize their thoughts about FM?

Living with fibromyalgia

In case you haven't guessed by now, I do have fibromyalgia. I have had it a very long time, but was only diagnosed a little over a year ago. While the diagnosis hasn't changed how I feel physically, because there are no treatments, it has changed how I feel mentally and emotionally. Even though I knew the pain and fatigue was real, now I really know it. I am one of millions of people who have a similar problem. I am not alone. This isn't in my head. I wasn't a hypochondriac all this time. I wasn't looking for attention.

Managing FM means trying to live a healthy lifestyle and I am working on that. I'm trying to exercise despite the pain. I began a Tai Chi course a few weeks ago. My body is not liking it, but I'm sticking it out for the next few weeks. I need to get moving and get my life back.

Because I'm a writer, I've been able to do research and speak to experts on FM for articles I have worked on. I have a lot of information that I haven't yet used, so I am working on something that involves the questions people have about FM.

If you have FM or love someone who does, what questions do you wish had been answered earlier or what questions do you have now that still haven't been answered?

If you leave your questions here, in the comment section, I will be sure to add them to my file.

By the way, earlier this year, I began to participate in a chronic pain/fibromyalgia program offered by a local rehab centre (Fibromyalgia Rehab Program - It's Worth a Try). Unfortunately, it was a bust. Although the people who are part of the program mean well, as far as I was concerned, it was a waste of time and I dropped out after three weeks. So did just about everyone else in the program (there were five of us who started).

For the most part, we sat in a group and listened to the appropriate therapists talk about various issues, sleep, chronic pain, adaptations, etc., but it was all so very basic. There were no questions asked about what we may already have known, so the information wasn't tailored at all. It was just assumed that we knew absolutely nothing, but that wasn't true. The therapists just read from the handouts we received. Although we were encouraged to ask questions, we didn't really have any, because - again - it was all stuff we already knew.

We were only in the gym once a week, for about an hour or so, where the physio gave us a simple program to follow. While this would have been helpful, once a week is not.

So, the intent of the program was good, but as far as I am concerned, I can't see it being very helpful. It needs to be thought out better and presented in a more user-friendly manner.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Women’s Health: The Link between Starch Intake and Breast Cancer

This is National Women's Health Week in the United States and guest blogger Brian Flora has written this post to share with readers:

There is growing evidence that nutrition can play an important role in cancer prevention. Nutrition is strongly associated with a person’s risk for the occurrence or reoccurrence of cancer. Researchers have now linked starch intake with breast cancer recurrence, according to results presented at the December 2011 CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. Researchers found that women who increase starch intake face an increased risk that their breast cancer will return.

Women's Healthy Eating and Living

Researchers followed 3,088 breast cancer survivors who participated in the Women’s Healthy Eating and Living—or WHEL—for seven years. Of these participants, scientists followed 2,651 women in the Dietary Intervention Trial. The study relied on dietary recall, in which researchers telephoned participants and asked for a report of everything they had eaten in the past 24 hours. This information was gathered when participants entered the program, and one year later.

Results from the study show a strong association between increased carbohydrate intake – more specifically, starch intake – and a higher risk for recurrence of breast cancer. Changes in starch intake accounted for about 48 percent of these changes in carbohydrate intake.

The Dietary Intervention Trial didn’t focus specifically on carbohydrates, although it did look at fruits and vegetables, fiber and fat intake in general. At the beginning of the study, participants ate an average of 233 grams of carbohydrates each day. The researchers found that women whose cancer came back in the previous year had eaten an average of 2.3 more grams of carbohydrates daily. Women whose cancer did not come back had reduced their carbohydrate intake by an average of 2.7 grams.

Specifically, women who had reduced starch intake the most had a recurrence rated of only 9.7 percent, as compared to women who increased their starch intake and suffer a recurrence rate of 14.2 percent. This increased risk seemed limited to women with low-grade tumors.

Further Evidence

Other studies have also revealed a strong association between nutrition and the recurrence of breast cancer. One such study performed in China showed breast cancer survivors who eat plenty of cruciferous vegetables have a lower recurrence rates than women whose diets did not include large amounts of these vegetables.

Cruciferous vegetables, including greens and cabbage, contain phytochemicals known as isothiocyanates and indoles, which help protect against certain types of cancer. This is dependent on the type and amount of cruciferous vegetable consumed.

The authors of the study pointed out that the Chinese eat cruciferous vegetables like turnips and bok choy, while Americans eat mostly broccoli and Brussels sprouts; further research will determine whether all cruciferous vegetables provide equal protection from recurrence of breast cancer.

What It All Means

While the association between food and cancer in general is well-established, these studies provide insight into the relationship between food and the recurrence of breast cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research confirms that a diet rich in plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans helps lower the risk for many types of cancer. Researchers are investigating the roles specific nutrients play in reducing cancer risks but evidence suggests a healthy diet provides the best protection.

While scientists continue to discover the link between starch intake and cancer prevention, health professionals recommend eating fruits and vegetables like apples, cranberries, blueberries, broccoli and squash, along with green tea, grapes and tomatoes. More research will examine the link between starch intake and the recurrence of breast cancer. For now, consumers are encouraged to fill at least 2/3 of their plates with vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains to replace starchy foods.

With this latest study, the effects of a healthy lifestyle versus those of an unhealthy lifestyle are highlighted. If you or anyone you know has a family history of breast cancer, or has undergone breast cancer treatment themselves, take a few minutes to think about changes that you can make to decrease your chances of becoming another statistic.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Relaxing Sunday & A Shout Out to Moms

Are weekends relaxing in your neck of the woods? What do you like to do with your time when you can relax? Are you a TV watcher, a reader, a napper? If you could do anything you like for the next few hours, just for you, what would that be?

I would have a tough time deciding. I am very fortunate that I have the time that I can take for myself when I want/need to. Sometimes I end up doing nothing, and that's ok too. Who says our days have to be filled, always busy?

When my husband and I sold our house in the suburbs and moved back into the city, I instituted a Sunday Family Dinner program. ;-)  My son and his fiancee come over sometimes - although I'd love it if they come more often - but the idea was to try to ensure that all three of my offspring all got together as much as possible on Sundays and they are always welcome to bring anyone who needs/wants a home-cooked meal with them. Sometimes I cook, sometimes my husband does. But it's nice having everyone together when we can.

This Sunday, this Mother's Day, I will be working on my quilting projects and spending time with my family. I don't know if I'll see my oldest son as I have to share him with his fiancee's family now, but I will talk to him. I don't mind. To me, birthdays, holidays, all these are just dates on a calendar. Maybe this attitude comes from my nursing days, when I had to work so many weekends and holidays.

I believe that we can make the day special on any day we want. If my children can't see me or do something with me on my birthday or Mother's Day or Christmas, then we'll make it another day and make it count. Why spend time being upset or sad? Why put this pressure on our family and ourself?

So to the moms out there, I send you a special hello on this day. To those of you who are missing your mom because she has died or is somewhere far away, I wish you peace.