Saturday, May 26, 2007

Happy birthday to me!

It’s my birthday today. My 46th birthday. Pretty cool. There are so many people who hate the idea of getting older. I figure, there’s only one alternative to aging and I’m not quite ready for that yet. I’m much happier now with myself as I head towards my late 40s. I’m more comfortable in my own skin, so to speak. I’m happy with what I’m doing and I’m happy with who I am. I couldn’t say that 20 years ago. I couldn’t even say that 10 years ago. I’m one of the lucky ones who finds life just keeps getting better and better the older I get.

As recent as one century ago, in 1900, the average life span of a newborn in North America was 47. That’s only one more year than I am – and I’m considered middle aged now. Of course, that change is because of our sanitation, access to health care and nutrition. If we look at the poorer countries of the world, their life expectancy is nowhere near ours.

And yet, it looks as if things may be changing here yet again – and not for the better. Recent news reports stated that the generation of children and teens now may be the first generation to not live as long as their parents, which goes against how things have been building up for generations before them. Why the change? The rising rates of obesity, the rising rates of illnesses like type 2 diabetes, lack of physical exercise and lifestyles that don’t promote better health.

I’m considered to be on the tail end of the baby boom. Born in 1961, sometimes that year isn’t even included in the baby boom years. Our generation has seen so much progress through science and technology. If our children start changing the tide – meaning having shorter life spans – then there’s something we need to do about it.

It really is frightening to see young people being diagnosed with diseases like type 2 diabetes. That shouldn’t happen except in rare cases. We have to stop living in a way that it’s everything to make us feel good and we have to learn that even though it makes us feel good, it doesn’t mean we have to do it. Or we don’t have to over do it.

I love a good cheesecake as much as the next person. Chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk is a wonderful snack. Chai tea is yummy. But, like everything else, they should be consumed in moderation. And that’s something that a lot of us haven’t quite figured out yet.

Today’s news:
N.S. mumps cases climb to more than 300
TV linked with poor diabetes control in kids

Friday, May 25, 2007

Yesterday was a good day

Writing is so much fun most of the time. It’s not easy; it takes a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes, but it is so much fun to be able to craft something that people read and – hopefully – enjoy. Of course, if I’m writing educational material, they’re reading it to learn, but I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of writing material in a way that people will like the way I write it and understand what I’m trying to get across.

Yesterday was a good day. I was able to produce a few articles, I made contact with a new client, and another contact with a potential client. It’s days like this that I realize that this is really what I want to do. For many freelancers, the ebb and flow of work can be very stressful. One day, you may have plenty of work, another day, those assignments have been handed in and there’s little marked on your calendar for the upcoming weeks. I’m no different. A few weeks ago, I wrapped up some large projects. I still had a few smaller ongoing ones, but I had nothing to replace the large ones that finished. The thought was frightening. What if I can’t find any more projects? What if this won’t work? What if…..?

So, I did what I needed to do: I marketed myself once again. I targeted companies and people who I felt could use my services and I knew that there would be something if I looked hard enough. And there was.

I’m so fortunate to be able to draw on my nursing background to build my foundation of writing. I do hope to break out of the health field eventually. There are a lot of topics that I know I can write about. I have so many ideas. One day, I’ll do it. Maybe one of my slower periods as a medical writer, or maybe one day I’ll just say, “This is the time, I’m going to do it.” Whenever I do it though, that will be the right time for me.

News for today:
Coffee may cut risk of gout, study finds
Fortifying cereals with different iron better for reducing anemia: study
Withdrawn MS drug returns to market

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A few hours of your time can save a life

First Aid and CPR – a few hours of your time can save a life.

I’m a huge proponent for people learning first aid and CPR. In fact, I think that kids shouldn’t be able to graduate from high school without CPR. I know that the curriculum is packed already, but surely we could find a way to squeeze a few hours into health or phys ed courses?

I renewed my CPR certification last week. It’s so incredibly easy now compared to when I first learned in the 70s and 80s. Back then, we had to remember different ratios depending on if you were doing CPR alone or with someone else, and depending on if it was a child or an adult you were helping. Not only that, but the mannequins that we practiced on had breathing monitors and you have to be able to do artificial respiration in a way that you could see how hard you breathed in and how well you did it.

It’s *so* different now. One thing to remember for everyone. The only difference is that the compressions for a child are not as hard as for an adult.

I used to teach first aid. I took a course offered by the Canadian Red Cross and I was a certified instructor. I loved teaching it. Most of my classes were Boy Scout and Girl Guide leaders, but I did other groups too. I used to meet so many people who would say, “I can’t take a first aid course, I panic when there’s an emergency.” I’d reply, “of course you panic! You don’t know what to do!”

It’s true. If you take a first aid course, or a CPR course, you learn several things. But the most basic and important thing is how to call for help. I used to tell my students that if all they remembered from my course a year from then was how to call for help properly, they’ve learned something. If they remembered how to secure the area, they learned something, and so on. Every little thing they learned was something that they now knew, and didn’t know before.

If someone you loved started choking in a restaurant or in a public place, wouldn't you want someone to know what to do? If *you* began showing signs and symptoms of a stroke, wouldn't you want someone to know what to do? So, maybe you can be that person for someone else.

It doesn’t take long to learn first aid and it doesn’t take long to learn CPR. I can’t think of many better ways to spend a few hours. If you never need it, that’s great. But isn’t it great to know how to do something if you do need it?

News for today:
Maritime mumps outbreak blamed on waning immunity
Long-term ulcerative colitis study shows Remicade responders maintained improvement
High-salt diet link to ulcer risk

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

My back is *not* happy

Ack, my back! As a nurse, I know I’m not alone with my sore back. Because of our heavy lifting and awkward body mechanics, it’s not unusual to see a nurse rubbing his or her sore lower back and even calling in sick from time to time because it’s almost impossible to move.

I was reading some stats because of some articles I was working on. I knew back pain was common, but what I didn’t know was that in North America and other Western societies, we have a 65% to 85% chance of developing lower back pain at some point in our life and up to 75% can have a relapse. Of course, that means that many of us have a chance of not developing back pain, but I’m definitely in that 75% that relapses regularly. And I never know what will do it. This week, it was going to the driving range with my husband.

I learned how to golf a few summers ago but never had the time to get halfway decent. I decided that this was the year that I would. Well, after that first trip to the driving range, I’m rethinking that. My body mechanics were fine, I was hitting the ball really well, but my back just didn’t appreciate doing what I wanted it to do. Very frustrating.

We know that a lot of the level of chronic pain we experience is related to our mental health. That's not to say if you have pain, you’re not mentally well! But, there have been studies that have shown that people who learn how to handle their pain, through cognitive behaviour therapy, or biodfeedback, techniques like that, tend to report lower levels of pain. So maybe I have to find a way to handle this and to convince my back that I’m not going to stop golfing, no matter what it says. :-)

Seriously though, I do stretch and I do try to be very careful. After all, it is the only back I have. If any one has any suggestions, I’d love to hear about them. Exercising helps to a certain degree, but I still have to be very, very careful.

News for today:
Sleep apnea increases risk of diabetes and hypertension in pregnant women
Heart guidelines aim to prevent defects in newborns
Weight training reverses muscle aging: Study

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Oops, they’ve done it again - Avandia(r) in the news

A drug that is used by millions across the world has been found that it may cause more harm than good. In a study published online yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers reported that Avandia® (rosiglitazone maleate) increased the risk of heart attacks by 43% and increased the risk of heart death by 64%.

Following on the heels of the recall of Vioxx® (rofecoxib), a medication for the treatment of osteoarthritis, acute pain, and painful menstrual cramps, the study findings about Avandia is not helping the public’s confidence in federal drug regulating bodies in Canada and the United States.

What is the average consumer to do? That’s hard to say. At this point, anyone who is taking Avandia should continue to do so until they speak with their doctor. You should never discontinue a medication for a chronic illness without having a back-up plan with your healthcare provider.

I used to take Vioxx. It was one of the medications that could help relieve my back pain. I didn’t take it regularly, every day, but I did use it. I have to seriously ask myself if I would take it now, knowing the risks. Part of me says that I would – after all, it’s nice to be pain-free.

On one hand, with all the checks and balances our system has for drug research, one would hope that drugs wouldn’t be get to the market until they’re thoroughly investigated. On the other hand, not all problems with drugs can be seen during the study phases. Many issues only come up after a drug has been used for a while and used by many people.

I’m not here to put down or promote the pharmaceuticals. I do try to see both sides of the story. But if you’re one of the millions who take Avandia today, I can understand how and why you might not feel the same way.

News for today:

Diabetes drug may boost heart risks, study finds
Chronic gum disease linked to risk of tongue cancer
FDA set to OK period suppression pill

Monday, May 21, 2007

Good Monday morning!

It’s a stat holiday here: Victoria Day. Unless you’re in Quebec where it’s called Patriot’s day or something like that. Figures we have to be different. :-) When I worked as a nurse, I worked so many stat holidays that I still can’t believe that I’m not working them now. It’s an odd feeling. I am still doing some writing and editing today though since I took Friday to work at the Wellness clinic. I don't consider it going to work though. I just take it easy, go talk with the family when they're around, take breaks, stuff like that. Kind of a working holiday day, if that makes any sense.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece on skin and sun safety for and, since we’re at the beginning of the summer season, I thought it would be good to rerun it here. Many people know a lot about protecting your skin these days, but for some of us, a refresher never hurts.

Sun Safety 101
Ah, the sun is here. Spring has arrived and the temperatures are climbing. Parents and kids alike are busting to get outside and enjoy the beautiful weather. However, gone are the days when we would go outside for hours on end, only to return home with yet another sunburn. Our mothers would slather on the Noxzema® and we’d live through the peeling skin, rarely learning our lesson and end up getting burned again. These sunburns of our childhood have left many of us with a legacy of dry, tough skin and, for some, skin cancer. We now know that we can’t let our kids get burned the way we did and that it can take as few as 15 minutes to be burned.

Weather reports now offer UV indexes as a way to tell us how strong the sun will be. Using the UV indexes is a good way to decide on your daily activities and when you’re going to be outside.

In North America, the UV index is from 0 to 10:

0 – 2: This is low and the risk of skin being burned is low. Sunscreen isn’t needed.
3 – 7: Skin can burn and the higher the level, the faster it can burn. Sunscreen and protection are needed.
8 – 10: The UV index is very high and the risk of being burned is high. Use extra protection.

The UV index can go higher than 10 in the tropics.

The sun is strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so it’s best to limit sun exposure during that period. And don’t forget that sun rays can still get through clouds. Some children are burnt badly on cloudy days. Sun rays can also bounce off sand and water, so be sure to protect yourself there too.

As sunscreens appeared on the market, they came in varying SPFs or sun protection factors, from 15 on up. Which number you choose is up to you, but it’s important not to fall into a false sense of security if you choose a higher number. Generally, people with paler skin tend to choose the higher number SPFs. It’s important to make sure that you are using a broad spectrum sunscreen, one that will filter out both ultraviolet A and B rays.

When using sunscreen, be sure that it’s evenly applied all over the skin. Pay extra attention to areas like behind the knees and the top of the feet. These sections are easily missed. If areas of skin are missed, the resulting burn in that strip or spot can be very painful. Some sunscreens for children come with a colour that is obvious while the lotion being applied and then the colour fades away. Some also come in spray form rather than lotion.

Many of us don’t think about it too far in advance, but sunscreen should be applied about a half hour before it’s needed. Try to remember to apply the sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before going outside. Re-apply sunscreen after your child has been in water or if he or she is sweating a lot, and waterproof sunscreen needs to be re-applied at least every 2 hours.

Sunscreen isn’t usually recommended for babies under 6 months old, however, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that it’s not harmful to apply sunscreen to small areas of skin such as the face or the back of the neck and hands.

To keep your baby safe from the sun:
Keep your baby in the shade as much as possible.
Dress your baby in lightweight clothes that cover the arms and legs.
Use a hat with a brim and that can cover the back of the neck.

Babies over 6 months old can have sunscreen applied, using at least 15 SPF. It’s still a good idea to cover your baby as much as possible with light-weight clothing and be sure that your baby has a well-covering hat. Some children start wearing sunglasses at this age. Too much sun exposure to the eyes can cause damage, so sunglasses are a good idea. Look for sunglasses that cover as much of the eye area as possible. They should also block UVA and UVB rays as much as possible.

Remember, if your child looks pink now, he or she is burning. The redness can take up to 12 hours to show. Don’t let the skin get to that stage because it’s getting damaged from the sun’s rays.

While it may seem like a lot to remember, applying sunscreen and being sun cautious can become a quick routine. If it’s a part of life, matter-of-fact, it becomes as natural as putting on hats and mittens in the winter. Don’t stay inside all summer; enjoy the weather and the sun safely.