Friday, July 6, 2007

The death of a pet

Sometimes, it seems as if there are two types of people in this world: pet lovers and those who don’t love pets. My family is in the pet lover category. Until today, we shared our home with our almost 5-year-old greyhound Oscar and a 5-year-old guinea pig Ernie. Ernie was one of a pair, with Bert, but Bert passed away in the fall.

After today, Ernie won’t be with us any more. He’s failing fast. He was fine yesterday morning but my oldest son, the 20-year-old, found him not well last night. Not well at all. He wouldn’t/couldn’t eat. I don’t have a problem with bringing piggies to the vet; I’ve done it before with previous guinea pigs who shared our home, but at night, there’s no vet for small animals here.

All evening, either my son or I held Ernie until he seemed to want down. We put him on the floor and he slowly made his way across the living room to his cage. That’s where he wanted to be. So, in he went and he made his way to his favourite corner. My son didn’t want Ernie to be alone, so he brought the cage to his room for the night; surprisingly Ernie is still with us, but very weak. As soon as the vet opens, I’ll be taking Ernie over and saying our final good-byes.

I know that some people will say just to let him go, why bother with euthanasia, but no animal should suffer. Ever. And Ernie does appear to be suffering now.

I never dreamed I’d love a guinea pig. I grew up with cats and dogs. I wanted a dog, not a guinea pig. I wasn’t against them, I just never saw them as pets. When my now 20-year-old was 7, he decided he wanted a guinea pig. Smart mother that I thought I was, I told him, “sure, we can get a pig, but first you have to find out everything there is to know about having one.” The little guy got to the library and took out books on guinea pigs and studied them hard. A few days later, he had all the answers I could ask for. Ok, time to come up with plan B. “Find out how much it costs to get a guinea pig and all the accompanying stuff, including cage, and then we’ll talk again.” Smart little fellow knew within two or three days that it would cost about 80 dollars. Darn, foiled again.

Plan C, and the last one before I’d have to give in: “Raise half the money, I’ll match it and then you can have your guinea pig.” I figured that this would buy me some time. Hah! Never underestimate the determination of a 7-year-old and his 5- and 3-year-old siblings. They checked under couch cushions, raided piggybanks and pockets. Any beloved aunt or uncle who set foot in the house was fair game to be hit up for a few dollars. Wouldn’t you know it? They had the money raised inside a week. Time for mom to step up.

Off we went to the pet store. I’m not a pet store fan, but I didn’t know where else we could go. This particular store doesn’t sell dogs or cats, just birds and small animals like guinea pigs. The kids saw their first guinea pig and we brought him home. Ben was now a part of our life. We were lucky enough to have Ben for six years. During the six years, we bought home a rambunctious 2-year-old golden retriever, Rox, to join our family. The first day Rox went over to Ben’s cage to check him out and Ben promptly bit Rox on the nose. “I was here first bud,” he seemed to be saying. Rox was always very respectful of Ben’s seniority after that.

Ben’s death was the first that my children experienced and they were devastated. Surprisingly to me, so was I. This little creature who taught my kids to love him just for what he was, nothing else. His death saddened me as much as any of my cats and dogs of my youth.

Not long after, Paddy, the gender-confused GP, joined us. We were told Paddy was a girl, so we named “her” Patti. We quickly found out that she was a he, and Patti became Paddy. Again, the children loved him and cared for him until he left us when he was only 4-years-old. Finally, we got Ernie and Bert. By this point, I’d learned that GPs did well with a pal, so the two of them lived together peacefully until Bert died this past fall. We were afraid that Ernie would mourn and die, but he did quite well. Until last night. And now it’s time to say good-bye. I’m just waiting for the vet office to open. My tears and sadness are for my children as well. It’s never easy to lose a beloved pet, whether it’s a goofy golden retriever who loved to play tug-of-war and chase tennis balls, or a soft, squeaking guinea pig who just was there to be loved.

Ernie is the multi-coloured piggie, Bert is the brown and white one:

Safe travels Ernie.

Update: 7:30 a.m. No need to go to the vet. Ernie passed peacefully just now.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Palliative care, as much for the living as the dying

Palliative care and hospice are near to my heart. I believe there should be more emphasis and more work put into making the end of life more comfortable for those who are about to pass on, as well as for those who will stay behind.

Palliative care isn’t about helping people to die; it’s helping people to live. People in a palliative care environment are encouraged to live each day and are given the tools to do so. From the myriad of pain relief methods to special whirlpool baths, the idea is to provide as much comfort as is possible. In most such places, families and friends are encouraged to visit and to help as much as they would like. By providing a home-like environment, the patients are given the opportunity to live their last days in pretty well any way the see fit.

When I worked as a nurse in palliative care, I often saw people who came into our residence much later than we felt they could or should have. Many people feel that they want to die at home, not realizing how difficult this can be on both them and the people in their family who are providing the bulk of the care. Or, the patients may have been in a hospital environment for too long, either not being referred earlier, or not being ready themselves to come to the residence.

Hospice care or palliative care also doesn't necessarily mean admission to a specialized unit; it could be care that is brought into the home by qualified healthcare workers. A recent study by Brown University, in the United States, shows that one in 10 people weren’t getting hospice care early enough. That means, these people weren’t receiving the care that would have made their lives more comfortable and maybe bearable.

Many people believe that hospices and palliative care units or residences are depressing places – most of the time, that’s far from the truth. While the reality of death and dying can’t be denied, there is so much more to life in a palliative care unit. There are families that reconcile, weddings, smiles, and closure. Of course, there are always the patients who don’t or can’t tie off the loose ends, or who leave this world without being able to finish what they started, but for the most part, the palliative care environment allows for the closure that so many families need.

I hope that this study helps make people realize the importance being sure that those who need palliative and hospice care get it in a timely manner. It’s the least we can do.

Today's News:
Study Shows 1 In 10 Hospice Patients Referred 'Too Late'
Nairobi hosts first women's AIDS conference
Just one cigarette can lead to addiction: study
Pre-implantation genetic screening reduces both ongoing pregnancy and live birth rates in over 35s
Surgery Is More Effective Than Other Treatments For Common Back Problem, Study Finds
FDA Approves First Drug For Treating Fibromyalgia

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Interviewing people - a perk I love

One of the best parts of my job as a freelance writer is that I get to speak with very interesting people. I’m often intimidated when trying to track them down and then again when I’m starting in on the actual interview. I know I shouldn’t be, but there’s still a bit of the little insecure me that says, “Why would he/she want to talk to me?”

This past week was great for interviews. I had to speak with some people involved in the Native or Aboriginal community in Canada for a medical piece I’m putting together; it's for a physician’s journal. First, I spoke with a Mohawk dietician who is working on her PhD. She was such a delight to interview. Her answers were thoughtful and meaningful – I managed to get a lot of information out of her in a 30-minute interview. I hope that I have some reason to speak with her again because she was just so nice. I am always grateful when someone gives me their time to help me do a good job.

Yesterday, I interviewed a Native physician from BC. With my inferiority complex kicking in, I thought for sure that this busy man, who was now not only a physician but working for the government in an advisory position, would be way too busy to find any time for me - but he was more than readily available. He was a great source. He called me after we played phone tag for a bit and he ended up speaking with me on his hands-free phone in the car, so there were a few times it was a bit difficult to hear him – but the fact that he was able to make the time to speak with me was greatly appreciated. He gave some really good insight to the topic I’m working on.

I’m not the most experienced interviewer in the writing world, but I have been fabulously lucky in my sources. Because of the nature of my work, many of my interviews are with very high level medical researchers, academics or specialists. The vast majority are kind, thoughtful, well-spoken, very considerate and generous with their time. I have to say that this more than makes up for the few bad apples that do turn up every so often.

So, how long has it been since I last said, “I love my work?”

Today's News:
Patterns: In Studies, Surprise Findings on Obesity and Heart Attacks
Blood test signals heart disease in healthy people
Poor Sense of Smell May Be Alzheimer's
A Little Daily Dark Chocolate Reduces Blood Pressure, New Study
Northern babies at greater risk of rickets: study

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

It’s never too late to start eating a healthy diet

I watched my 18-year-old daughter making a meal the other day; she chopped vegetables, combined a little of this and a little of that, a bit of flavouring and voila: a healthy, delicious meal, made in about 15 or 20 minutes. She finished it off with apples and peanut butter, or was it yogurt and berries this time?

She eats wonderfully well and makes delicious concoctions that I never would have ventured to make at that age. She’ll grill up a tasty chicken breast, make a tuna salad, or stuff a pita with sautéed vegetables. I was brought up with canned vegetables and boiled potatoes. Eating couscous or souvlaki? Never.

I’m glad to say that my tastes have evolved and I am as adventurous as my daughter, but it took her, and my oldest son, to teach me. Although, as a mom, I’d gone beyond the canned vegetables and boiled potatoes of my youth, I still was not as adventurous as I could have been. Of course, it could have had something to do with having three fussy toddlers who didn’t want different foods touching each other, let alone taste funny.

To tell you the truth, I’m thrilled to see my older two experimenting with healthier foods. My youngest is starting to taste new things and I’m confident that it will happen that he, too, will begin enjoying the variety of food we have here. The abundance of different flavours from different cultures gives us such an opportunity to eat in a healthy way, but not be limited to the same foods over and over.

Last week, there was a study published, in the American Journal of Medicine, of 16,000 Americans between the ages of 45 and 64 years who had been tracked since the 1985. Their diets were monitored and the researchers found that no matter what age the subjects were, if they modified their diets to more healthy diets, in addition to three other lifestyle modifications, their risk of heart disease and death sharply declined. The four changes were: eating five or more vegetable or fruit servings per day, exercising for at least 2.5 hours per week, keeping a healthy weight, and not smoking.

People who only adopted three of the habits saw a small decrease in death rates, but no difference in heart disease.

Today, there was another news story on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. There’s no reason why we can’t incorporate some of that into our North American diet, considering that most of the foods are readily available to us. Maybe we should seriously think about what we are putting in our mouths. I know I eat foods that aren’t the healthiest. Although I like my vegetables (grilled peppers, zucchini, asparagus: yum!), I’m not a huge fruit person. I’m going to have to take some time and learn some more from my children. They sure seem to know a lot more about healthy eating than I.

News for today:
Mediterranean diet beats low-fat regime for heart health: researchers
Late-starters can benefit from healthy habits: study
West Nile arrives three weeks early in Manitoba

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Health Writer's Handbook, by Barbara Gastel

I’m an avid reader but I’m very picky about the type of books I read. I rarely read non-fiction books, because I wanted to be transported away from my real world when I read a book. Now, I see the value in many non-fiction books and I can enjoy them in a different way.

Now, I’m reading the Health Writer's Handbook, by Barbara Gastel. What a great book! I can’t recommend it enough. I’ve been working in medical writing and editing for about 10 years now, but I know there is always something to learn. In fact, I took a medical writing class this past term, at Concordia University, to see what else I could learn. One of the teachers recommended Gastel’s book and it’s really, really good. She writes in a very fluid way, as if she’s sitting in front of you, telling you what to do. I think that as experienced as one might be, this book is worth having a look.

Today’s News:
Suicide attempts decline after depression treatment
Exposure to cats increases bronchial responsiveness in people without specific cat allergy
Breast Cancer Prognosis Runs In The Family
New Research Suggests Emotions Can Affect Recovery From Hip Surgery
Cord Blood May Preserve Insulin Levels In Children With Type 1 Diabetes

Sunday, July 1, 2007

July 1 - Happy Canada Day

Happy Canada Day!

Despite all our grousing, it’s a pretty darned great place to live. If you’re reading this from another country, come visit us. We’re pretty nice here. J

Smoking is in the news again. Surprise, surprise – second hand smoke is dangerous. Really? Forgive the sarcasm, but do we really need more studies to tell us the obvious?

My father smoked a pipe and cigars. I remember him smoking his pipe in the car, the windows closed. I remember stinking of my mother’s cigarettes and my father’s pipes and cigars. Today, I have asthma. Try telling me that those are likely not related.

I can’t handle cigarette smoke, it sends my lungs into overdrive and I start to cough, a very deep, I can't catch my breath cough. I know that smoking is still a legal activity but the problem is that when a smoker smokes, it affects much more than the smoker.

When my kids were young, we went to DisneyWorld. Standing in line with others, there were always some smokers. There was this gorgeous weather, fun atmosphere, lots of kids, and those darned cigarettes and the smoke heading right for us so many times. When my kids played baseball and soccer, we’d be in the stands watching them, and sure enough, someone downwind would light a cigarette and I’d start coughing.

I understand people my age who are addicted – it’s a tough addiction to break. What I don’t understand is the number of young kids, 12, 13, 14 years old who I see smoking. First of all, here in Quebec, cigarettes are pretty darned expensive now, so where do they get all the money to buy the smokes? And with all the news out there, how can they not know how dangerous it is? I know that teens don’t/can’t look that far in the future, but it just doesn’t make sense? How cool does it look to be huddled outside in minus whatever temperatures in the middle of winter so you can have your puff of smoke?

I’m so torn on this. Since it’s a legal activity, I can’t say I wish everyone would just stop, but it’s so frustrating to go places and have to dodge the smoke. Right now, Quebec law says you can’t smoke within a few metres of a public building entrance. Well, I can assure you that this law is *not* being followed. I was taking a class at a university here and the only door I could use was on St. Catherine Street in downtown Montreal. I would have to take a deep breath before running the gantlet of smokers when I went in and then when I left. They would be leaning up against the doors, even. And that’s the not only place.

It’s not a matter of I don’t want people to smoke. I want them to realize that some of us get truly sick when exposed to their smoke.

Today's News:
Just a bit of smoke dangerous, study says
Rickets still a problem in some parts of Canada
Vitamin waters don't meet daily intake recommendations, experts say