Monday, December 31, 2012

Are New Year's Resolutions Worth It?

Do you make New Year's Resolutions? Do you swear that you will lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking, have more patience, read more books, all on the stroke of midnight as one calendar year flips to another? And if you do make them, do you keep them?

We've all read articles or heard news reports on how to keep resolutions, how to make achievable goals, and how to be good to ourself if the resolution falls through - but is there a point to making the resolution in the first place? Yes and no. It depends on why you are making them - because you should or because you want to.

Making life changes can be difficult. Bad habits are not easy to break and good habits may gradually become part of our life.  They aren't an instant result from one thought. Habits are formed over time, so it is to be expected that bad ones will take a while to break and good ones a while to form. Making a resolution to change something because of a change in a date may not make that much sense, unless your resolution is really to start making the change, rather than expecting the sudden and complete change.


It may be too late for this January 1st, but it seems the people who are best at keeping their resolutions are those who prepare ahead of time. Smoking cessation experts often tell their clients that they need to pick a "quit date." The date can be a week away, a month away, or six months away, but the point is for them to have something to work towards. This can be the same for any type of life change. Preparing for the change, setting things into motion that will help direct the change, will help you be more successful.

One thing at a time

Resolutions like "getting fit," usually involve more than one life change at a time. Getting fit usually requires a change in eating habits, an increase in physical activity, and perhaps other changes, such as cutting down on alcohol consumption, working less, and carving out more time for fun activities. That's a lot of stuff to change in one sitting. And if you have set out to change all that, chances are that you're setting yourself up to fail.

What is more realistic? Change one thing first.

Give yourself a timeline and pick one change, perhaps the easiest so you can feel what success is like. Say that you are going to cut down how many evenings you stay late at work and set yourself a two- or three-week goal to show yourself you can do it. Once you find yourself getting home earlier than you used to, add the having more time for fun. Perhaps you can use the time to cook yourself healthier meals, leading towards your goal of eating a more healthy diet. It makes much more sense to change your diet before you start pushing your body with more physical exercise than the other way around, doesn't it?

Now that your new, healthier eating habits are taking hold, you're not as stressed from working late every night, and you have more time at the end (or beginning) of the day, maybe this is a good time to start on getting more exercise. And so the changes go. One change leads into another and increases your chances of success, unlike being overwhelmed with making a bunch of difficult changes all at once.

Choose your own new year

Your life changes don't have to be on January 1. January is when the gyms and diet franchises do so well - people join in droves so they can start trying to keep their resolutions but many drop off within weeks, if not sooner. Why not make your changes for February 5? March 16? April 27? That's what I did. July 1, 2012, I decided it was about time I got serious about getting fit. Although not seriously overweight, I was out of shape. Part of this was fibromyalgia-related, but part of it was just laziness and it was time for me to get moving. On the first day of July, I began eating in a more healthy manner. Because I don't eat a lot of junk food or snacks, that part wasn't hard, but what was difficult for me was being sure I drank enough water (I may have been a camel in a previous life) and eating more servings of fruit and vegetables.

After two weeks of my new eating habits, I joined a local gym. Because I was already eating more healthy food, my body wasn't making two adjustments at once: diet changes and new exercise regimens. And for the first time, I was successful in my endeavour to get fitter. I ended up going to the gym every day and within five months, I lost over 20 pounds. I was stronger, my fibromyalgia pain was less and my fibro fatigue wasn't as intense.

You can make life changes. Just don't feel pushed into making them on New Year's Day. Make them when they feel right for you, when your chances of succeeding are best.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada

December 6 will always be a difficult day for many people in Montreal, Quebec. It was the day, 23 years ago, when 14 young women - students - were murdered in a Montreal university because they were women. This horrific day gave rise to the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25, the first of 16 days of activism against gender violence and December 6 is marked in Canada to remember those 14 women.

I remember this day well, December 6, 1989. My own daughter was a week shy of being 10 months old. I was holding my infant daughter while other mothers and fathers were learning of the deaths of their daughters. It was a dark, snowy, cold night in Montreal. I can still see the television reports. I can bring forth the images of the reporters standing outside the university, shocked at what had just happened. The images of ambulances and police flashed on the screen, and I sat in my small living room, in the safety of my suburban home, holding my daughter in my arms.

Twenty-three years later, women are still being injured and murdered. Malala Yousafzai, a teen whose "crime" was to want girls to be educated, was shot in the head by men who feel threatened by a woman's desire to learn and be better. A few days ago, Kassandra Perkins was shot, several times, by her NFL boyfriend, the father of their child. Girls and women are assaulted and raped all over the world. In some countries, rape is a weapon of war.

It's been proven, time and time again, that communities thrive when their women are educated. The standard of living improves, citizens live longer and healthier lives, and societies develop and move forward.

Most men are good people. In my opinion, most men are horrified at the thought of violence against any other person, man or woman. But this horror hasn't stopped the violence. It hasn't stopped the murders, the rapes, the assaults. It hasn't stopped some societies from performing genital mutilation on girls and forced marriages. It hasn't stopped some men from intimidating and abusing women psychologically, emotionally, and physically.

You may have noticed that I don't write the names of the people who committed the crimes I mentioned. They do not deserve to be mentioned, but the names of women who have been injured or killed because they are women - they do deserve to have their names heard. If you have a name to add, you are welcome leave it in the comments section.

And now, for the 14 women who died 23 years ago today, you are remembered:

Geneviève Bergeron
Hélène Colgan
Nathalie Croteau
Barbara Daigneault
Anne-Marie Edward
Maud Haviernick
Maryse Laganière
Maryse Leclair
Anne-Marie Lemay
Sonia Pelletier
Michèle Richard
Annie St-Arneault
Annie Turcotte
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Worldwide, Women Still Lacking Access to Contraception

Birth control can be a hot button in political circles, but there is no doubt that family planning cuts billions in healthcare costs and saves lives around the world, says a report from the United Nations Population Fund.

In 1994, the international community got together and agreed that family planning should be accessible to all who want it, regardless of where they live. However, the most recent research shows that there are still millions of women in both developing and developed countries that do not have this access. They either don’t have the information and education that would allow them to decide if they would like to use contraception, or they don’t have physical access to it.

Women who bear many children within a short time have higher risk of staying in poverty. The women have to make limited funds stretch, have limited access to education, which could help their children be healthier in the long run, and the women have limited opportunities to earn money. Poverty often leads to higher mortality rates.

A study published in the International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics in 2005 found that when pregnancies were spaced by three to five years, infant mortality could be reduced as much as 46 percent in the developing world. According to the Population Fund report, “A study from Colombia, for example, illustrates that the local availability of clinics and hospital beds and increased family planning expenditures per capita are associated with lower child mortality as well as lower fertility across women in urban areas. In the Philippines, the presence of a family planning programme had direct effects on children’s health. Improved access to reproductive health, improved spacing of pregnancies, and a reduction in the number of risky pregnancies in Bangladesh all combined to reduce child mortality and improve child survival.”

Financially, billions of dollars could be saved globally if family planning were the norm for those who want it. The report states that a $4.1 million investment in family planning for women in the developing world would eliminate the almost $6 billion spent on maternal and newborn healthcare costs.

Sadly, the plight of women and newborn health isn’t a popular topic. While millions of dollars are put into research and treatment of infectious diseases and others, like cancer, reproductive health is far behind. “Sexual and reproductive health has lost ground to ‘competing’ health issues, such as infectious diseases, because the field has failed to persuade power brokers — such as policymakers and donors — to increase funds,” wrote the report’s authors.


Model Christy Turlington established Every Mother Counts in 2010. Check out her organization to learn more about maternal health and poverty.

Maternal health ties in with my work with Sepsis Alliance. Women who die in childbirth or not long after often die of sepsis (Sepsis and Pregnancy), as happened just recently in Ireland, to Savita Halappanavar. Women need to be aware of their health and they need to be in control of their health. Please help spread the word.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

You Don't Have to Look Sick to Be Sick

Just a quick fly-by post today. An article I wrote on fibromyalgia: "You Don't Have to Look Sick to Be Sick: Understanding Fibromyalgia" is now available online (on page 25) and in print.

I hope this piece will help bring  a bit more understanding to a misunderstood illness.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Meet the Author: The Breast Cancer Checklist

If we haven't been there ourselves, most of us know someone who has - being dropped into the world of cancer as results from tests come back positive - "You have cancer." The word itself is frightening: Cancer.

Research has come far in treating most cancers, including breast cancer. But what hasn't changed is the fear and the uncertainty that you are left with once you hear those words. After absorbing the information, you have to start acting on what needs to be done. And while much of what needs to be done is told to you - in terms of treatment options and when you need to start - there is a lot that is unknown.

Fern Reiss is the author of The Breast Cancer Checklist, a new book that she wrote to help people who have been just diagnosed with breast cancer. But it's more than that. It's also a good book for people with cancer, period. Here is a brief question-and-answer interview I did with Fern, which I hope will help spread the word about what I think is a valuable and much-needed resource for people who are embarking on their cancer-treatment journey.

How much did you know about breast cancer before you were diagnosed?

My mother and sister both had breast cancer (though none of us had the genetic markers) so I knew a little bit--but no matter how many people you know who've experienced it, including close relatives like in my case, you don't ever *really* know something like this until you go through it yourself.

There are many books already published on the topic of breast cancer but you said that you couldn't find what you were looking for. What exactly were you looking for?

When I was diagnosed, almost my first response was to head to the bookstore, to find the perfect book to get me through. Although I found literally hundreds of books on cancer, including dozens on breast cancer, the book I wanted just wasn't there. I wasn't looking for a 400-page tome on all the intricacies and details and possibilities, though there are many excellent books on the market that provide an exhaustive (and exhausting!) look at the subject. I didn't really care about their focus on how cancer spreads (that's too scary) or all the different types of breast cancer (many women only have one type). I didn't even particularly care about all the chapters on breast cancer prevention and the importance of mammograms--I had been getting regular mammograms, but anyway, since I had already been diagnosed with breast cancer, it was too late for me to worry about mammograms.

Instead, I wanted a book that would somehow, despite the scary overtones of a cancer diagnosis, give me a feeling of control, and the ability to structure a high quality of life during my year of dealing with cancer. I wanted a book that was quick, with checklists so that I wouldn't lose track of things. I wanted an all-in-one book that I could bring with me to doctor's appointments, the grocery store, the physical therapist.

I wanted a book that didn't address just my physical condition, but also my mental and emotional condition. I wanted a book that assumed I was a cancer *survivor* not a cancer victim, and one that didn't include the doom-and-gloom scenarios of cancer recurrence, which I wanted to avoid considering. I wanted a book that spoke not just to me, but also to my family, and maybe even my friends and community, so they would know how to support me.

I even hoped for a book that would keep track of all my personal information--medical and insurance details, kids' scheduling, shopping lists--so that I could stay organized and feel empowered.

This is the book I needed. It includes checklists for what to do before, during, and after breast cancer surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. It covers lumpectomy, mastectomy, reconstruction, chemo, radiation, infusion ports, lymphedema management, prostheses, tamoxifen, herceptin, lupron, and clinical trials, as well as practical things like checklists for managing schedules and doctor appointments and work and family life during treatment. It even includes checklists for organizing clothing and equipment purchases.

Why is this book important?

Breast cancer treatment is difficult enough. At least with this book women can keep the pieces together and stay organized. I've been giving the advance galleys to friends who've been diagnosed, and people are finding it as helpful as I'd hoped, which is very gratifying. (I also just got a pretty incredible review at Scientific American)

Fighting breast cancer, going through treatment, is pretty intense - how were you able to go through the treatment and write at the same time?

I didn't write the book while in treatment, but I did keep notes all through treatment on what I wished I'd known before. It was just so frustrating: There are some medical things that nobody bothered to mention to me -- like, you should get your teeth checked and a flu shot before you start chemo, because your immune system will be compromised. There are some practical things--like, you're discharged from the hospital with drainage tubes dangling from your chest, and if you haven't purchased or figured out a system for keeping them suspended under your shirt comfortably, you can't really go out. There are nutritional tips--like ways to keep from being nauseated during chemotherapy; that becomes *really* important the minute you start chemo.

Then there are things that might affect your risk of recurrence--like, if you time your surgery for the latter half of your menstrual cycle, studies show that you'll have a much better chance than if you have the surgery earlier--but none of the doctors tell you that. And there are all these great freebies, like free restaurant meals, free housecleaning services, free spa vacations and retreats--which are open to breast cancer patients and survivors for free--but how are you supposed to find out about them?!

What were the obstacles you encountered while writing this book?

The lefty alternative people didn't like that the book covers how to deal with treatment such as chemotherapy; they thought I should advise people to treat breast cancer alternatively, and while that may work for some people, I don't think it's responsible advice for everyone. The medical community had exactly the opposite reaction: They didn't really believe that there should be a chapter on nutrition, and how you can try to prevent recurrence nutritionally, even though that part of the book is based on over 500 medical studies.

A lot of the organizations and communities that should have been *delighted* with this book are in bed with the drug companies--which means they have an interest in maintaining the status quo. And a lot of the publications that I had assumed would be ecstatic to run an article on the book--like Family Circle, which had expressed great interest in doing a story on it--instead ended up doing puff pieces on 'pink nailpolishes and lip glosses' you can buy, as if that sort of piece is going to help anyone in the throes of breast cancer treatment. There are a lot of politics in breast cancer, which makes it very hard to successfully promote this book--and very hard to get to a cure for breast cancer, as well.

You are taking a non-traditional route in getting your book out to the public, including using Crowdfunding. Why did you decide to get your book out this way?

Crowdfunding, for those who've never heard the time, is a more egalitarian modern-day form of Renaissance patronage, or a way to fund the arts.

In 'real life' I run, where I consult with people who want to publish and promote books. I keep being offered consulting jobs to crowdfund other people's books, because crowdfunding is similar to other kinds of book publicity things that I do, and I wanted to try it out on one of my own books first. Crowdfunding has been wildly successful with things like independent films and technology, and much less successful with book projects. But I suspected that part of that disparity is that authors aren't necessarily as savvy at publicity as independent filmmakers. I wanted to give crowdfunding a try for a book project. So this was a way to both try out crowdfunding to see if it has potential for book publicity, which has become increasingly difficult in recent years, and simultaneously spread the word about this book. (You can see my crowdfunding campaign on the book's website at

This looks like a book that is about taking control in a situation where you may feel like you have little control. Is that the purpose - to help women get a bit of that back?
Absolutely. There's so little you can control about the whole breast cancer experience. This is a way to at least take control of what you can control.

If you could get just one message across to women who are thinking of buying your book, what would that be? What would you like to say?

I hope nobody needs this book, ever. But I hope women will share it with everyone they know--because with one in eight women getting breast cancer these days (and the numbers inching up steadily) *someone* you know will need it this year. Please help them find it.

More info at

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Three Issues Interfering with Pain Management

I was invited to give a talk about chronic pain and stress to university students in an elective psychology course. I'm in a unique situation in that I have experience with pain, acute and chronic, from different angles. As a health writer, I have interviewed experts who research pain and those who treat pain, and I've spoken with people who live with it. As a nurse, I've helped and counselled patients on managing acute and chronic pain and, as a patient, I've experienced a good bit of pain as well. So, I accepted the invitation and began to think about what I was going to say.

In my mind, there are three main issues that need to be addressed before anyone can even begin to talk about how to manage pain:

1 - Pain is misunderstood.
2 - Pain is mistreated or undertreated.
3 - Pain is considered to be a weakness.

Pain is misunderstood

This is a big one and a precursor to the following two. There is a lot of research going on in the field of pain. Scientists can tell you about pain pathways and brain reactions, but actual pain is still not understood. We all have our own perceptions of pain and healthcare professionals are no different.

I get migraines. Unfortunately, it was when my children were young that I experienced the most migraines. My migraine pain was a drilling, knifing pain behind my left eye that went unabated as no medications would touch it. So, as a mother of young children, as many parents did, I had to manage and do what I could through the migraines.

One evening, my oldest son had basketball practice and anyone who has ever gone to a basketball practice knows what it is like - between the bouncing balls, the whistles, the shouting and the stampeding feet up and down the gym - it's anything but quiet. I'm not sure why I brought him, but there must have been no other option. I remember, very clearly, sitting on a bench along a wall wishing this would be over very quickly when a dad looked at me and asked if I was ok. No, I replied. I'm not. I told him I had a migraine and I felt awful. He looked at me and said very matter-of-factly, "You can't have a migraine. If you had one, you couldn't be here."

In my haze of pain, I couldn't bring up the energy to argue with him, it took all I had to just be there. But here was the perfect example of how my pain was misunderstood. Because this man may have experienced migraines that incapacitated him or he knew of someone who would be out for the count, he could not fathom how someone else could work through the pain.

And it's not just the everyday person who does this. A medical professional who doesn't feel that you look like you're in enough pain to satisfy his or her perception of how you should be acting may not be willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

Pain is mistreated or undertreated

Some physicians are reluctant to order narcotics or opioids for pain relief and some nurses are reluctant to give the medications because of an irrational fear that the patients will become addicted to the medications. As a result, pain that would respond to the opioids goes untreated. I've seen situations when I worked in palliative care with patients who were dying of cancer, and their family members specifically said that their loved one was not to be given any opioids because they didn't want them to become addicted.

Research has shown that if a pain is responsive to opioid analgesia (pain killing) and the medication is taken appropriately, the chances of becoming addicted to the medications are remote. The body uses the pain killing properties of the medications and there is nothing to become addicted to.

What may happen is the body may begin to tolerate the medication, requiring a higher dose. This is NOT the same thing as an addiction. The human body becomes used to many types of medications, making it so that higher doses are needed to achieve the same effect. (Fear of Addiction: Confronting a Barrier to Cancer Pain Relief)

Sometimes pain doesn't respond well to the first-choice pain medications that are suggested or prescribed. There are a variety of reasons for this, ranging from how your body metabolizes the medications to the type of pain you have. Some pain will respond much better to an anti-inflammatory type of analgesic than another type. Unfortunately, it can happen that rather than trying different medications or formulations, the dosage or frequency of a medication is just increased, still not solving the pain problem.

Pain is considered to be a weakness

Think about people who are admired. People may be in awe of the athlete who breaks his ankle but still continues to play, the coworker who has dental work without anaesthetic, or the friend who refuses pain medication following surgery. They're tough! They're strong! This, of course, implies that people who take medication, who complain about pain, aren't strong. They're weak.

We have pain for a reason, usually. It's a warning that there is something wrong, that we need to stop doing something or we need to do something to stop what is causing the pain in the first place. The athlete running on the broken ankle? He may be doing permanent damage that can't be fixed and may end up living with chronic pain for the rest of his life. The friend who doesn't take medication following surgery may end up with a much slower recovery, even complications like pneumonia because she can't get up and about as readily as her roommate who is taking regular doses of pain killers.

Pain is not a weakness and needing treatment for the pain is not a sign of being weak.

These three issues can and do make it difficult for many people who have pain to manage it properly. They can't get people to understand that they hurt. They may have trouble finding a healthcare professional to help them and if they try different doctors or clinics, they may be labeled as "doctor shopping" and may have an even more difficult time finding help. And they may not be able to confide in their friends and family, asking for help, lest they be considered weak.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What Makes You an Expert?

Every so often, I get emails from people who would like to get into writing, specifically health writing or medical editing. Many are nurses who can no longer work clinically in such a physically demanding job. Others are people who are just interested in the whole idea of working with words.

I didn't follow the usual route into writing as a profession, so I don't know how helpful my advice is. I don't have a background in journalism nor did I study writing, so all I can offer is a bit of insight as to how I got to where I am.

Recently, a person who asked for advice also asked, "What makes you an expert?" That question caught me off guard.

Does someone need to be an expert to write about a topic or in a niche? That brings about the question, can you/should you only write about what you know or have experienced? If that was the case, there would be so many fewer books in the world, don't you think? There would be no science fiction, no history books, no fiction. Would Shakespeare (or whomever is taking credit for his work these days) have written Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet? Would Douglas Adams have written The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

I don't think you need to be an expert in a field to write about it - to a certain extent. In my case, I'm comfortable in writing in a niche with which I am familiar. I write about health issues for the general public and I write general health and medical articles or texts for allied health professionals (nurses, pharmacists, and physiotherapists, for example). But I can't/don't write very specific medical or scientific texts because they are beyond my knowledge base and something that I would find it very difficult to learn. Mind you, if I had to and if I really wanted to, I'm sure I could.

Much of being a writer is knowing how to do research. Knowing where to look and how to find and use the information that you have discovered. You also have to be able to accept that you will make mistakes and correct them when you do. If someone points out an error in your writing, fix it and move on. Learn from it. If you know all this, then there is no reason why you can't write in a subject that is outside your comfort zone.

Health writing has been very good to me. I love what I do. I have great clients and I love learning new things when I get new clients and assignments. It will always be my bread and butter when it comes to my work. But, I have also wanted to break out of health writing for a while, trying to heed my own advice of reaching beyond my own borders. I was thrilled when I had a few articles published about quilting. While I'm not an expert at quilting, I've been doing it for over 20 years now and I do know more than a few things about the craft. I'd like to do more writing outside health and I'm confident it will come. I just don't know when.

I know writers who became very knowledgable in real estate, small business, even engineering issues although they knew nothing about those topics before they started. They did interviews, they read pages and pages of information, they asked questions - they learned. After a while, they became expert enough in the area that they became sought after by editors who wanted the writers' experience. It can be done.

So, what makes me an expert? Nothing. I know how to look for information, how to ask for help - and that is what is important. And if writing is what you want to do, if you have the basic concepts of how to write well and effectively, don't let the lack of expertise stop you. Give it a try. You never know where it will lead you.


Recommendations for aspiring writers:


The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success (The Renegade Writer's Freelance Writing series)

The ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing: A Professional Guide to the Business, for Nonfiction Writers of All Experience Levels

Freelance writers' community: 

Freelance Success

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How Long Should Staff Perform CPR?

Have you ever done CPR? I have, more times than I can remember. All times but one have been in an hospital or long-term care facility, but once was on the street - on Halloween 26 years ago.

There isn't a set time for how long doctors and nurses perform CPR in a hospital. A lot depends on the condition the patient is in when he or she arrests in the first place, but the decision is based, ultimately, on when the doctor in charge decides to "call it." The doctor has noted how much time has passed, what procedures have been tried, and the patient's diagnosis. Based on this information, he or she decides if it is time to stop.

It may seem like a cold decision to make. It's not. It's not an easy decision in most cases. Doing CPR is hard work - physically and emotionally. Trying to save someone's life and not succeeding take a toll on you. It's not what is supposed to happen when you go into a profession that is supposed to save lives.

A study was published in Lancet earlier this month that looked at how long CPR was performed in various hospitals across the United States. According to a press release issued by the University of Michigan Health System,

"After examining national data for more than 64,000 cardiac arrest patients between 2000 and 2008, the researchers found that while most patients were successfully resuscitated after a short period of time, about 15 percent of patients who survived needed at least 30 minutes to achieve a pulse."

This is an important finding because the average time staff perform CPR can range from a short median time of 16 minutes to a longer median time of 25 minutes. Many doctors don't like to do CPR for what they consider too long because they are afraid of brain damage occurring if the patient does recover.

According to the study findings, those patients who survived in hospitals that tended to have longer CPR effort times were 12% more likely than those patients in hospitals with shorter times to recover and go home.

Steven L. Kronick, M.D., M.S., one of the paper's authors, U-M emergency department physician head of the U-M's CPR committee, agrees and says the research should be a part of ongoing efforts directed toward improving care for cardiac arrest patients.

"The optimal resuscitation duration for any individual patient will continue to remain a bedside decision that relies on careful clinical judgment," he says. "Overall, we believe these findings present an opportunity to improve resuscitation care, especially at a systems-level."

Longer CPR Benefits -

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Suicide Prevention Across the Globe

Next week, September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day as designated by the World Health Organization (WHO). I've written about suicide a few times on this blog - it's a topic that too many people would prefer to avoid. If we don't talk about it, acknowledge it, then it isn't really a problem, right?

According to the WHO, every 40 seconds, there is one death to suicide somewhere in the world, one million people each year. In 2005, my brother was one of those 1 million people. He was only 35 years old. "The number of lives lost through suicide exceeds the number of deaths due to homicide and war combined," says a WHO fact sheet. It is one of the leading causes of death among young people. These numbers are just the successful suicides, not the attempted ones.

Thousands of people are dying each day because something has broken inside them. In many cases, with the right resources, what was broken could have been fixed.  You may want to read this blog post I wrote in 2007. I think it's pretty relevant still today: Suicide, not a disease, so no walkathons, ribbons, or research race.

Too many people have opinions about suicide. They may say that those who choose to die are cowards, unable to man-up and face the world. Others say that they are to be pitied. Others get angry at the person who died, because of the pain they left behind, feeling that the dead person took the easy way out. After my brother died, I was speaking to a priest who was president of the high school my sons attended at the time. As a Catholic, I know what the Church says about suicide. The priest asked if I wanted him to say a prayer at JP's grave. When I said something about the Church's view of suicide, this older man, well beyond retirement age, got angry and said, "Anyone who takes his life is ill. He died of an illness and that is not to be condemned in any way." I've never forgotten his words. Sadly, he died himself, suddenly, before he could say that prayer. But as someone who is not really religious, I took a lot of comfort from his words. Here was someone who understood.

How can you help reduce the suicide rate? Acknowledge that it happens. Talk about it. Don't dismiss the topic if it comes up. It may be unpleasant, but it's important. Often, when people find out that I have a brother who died young, they are shocked that I will tell him that he committed suicide. They aren't so much shocked about the suicide itself, but that I will openly say it. Why? Because it's an uncomfortable reminder that this occurs, even to people they know. But it has to be said. It wasn't all that long ago that the words "breast cancer" were whispered. Why should "suicide" be whispered?

The WHO offers suggestions on how you can help fight the stigma of mental illness and the risk of suicide. If you can do only one thing, you've done something important and may save a life.

On September 10, at 8 pm, please consider joining us in lighting a candle of hope.

Monday, August 13, 2012

It’s not the most wonderful time of the year

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! People are smiling and greeting each other in the store, lists are checked, cash registers are ringing and parents are asking each other “Did you find everything you need?” But if you look closely, it’s the adults who are smiling and anticipating the day to come; the children aren’t. They’re dreading it – or so a certain big box office supply store wanted you to think for several years as they ran this ad campaign. Because we’re not talking about Christmas, we’re talking about going back to school.

To me, September was always a reminder that my children were now another year older. Their birthdays never made me feel melancholy or nostalgic. But when they got dressed in their first-day-back-to-school clothes, my heart experienced a tug each and every year. To me, the crisp weather of fall reminds me that my children would again encounter new experiences and move another step towards independence, away from their father and me.

Since when did having our children around become such a chore? Of course, the parents who delight in having their children back in school and back into their routine do love their children very much, but it makes me sad to read every May and June comments like, “ugh, the kids are home from school now for a couple of weeks until day camp starts. What am I going to do with them?” And then the summer ends with delight that school is about to start yet again. Some of those comments are from parents who work outside of the house and who have to arrange daycare, but often the comments also come from stay-at-home parents who don’t have to worry about such issues.

To me, summers meant no routines other than perhaps sports practices and games. It meant not having to get the kids up out of bed and letting them wake up on their own. It meant not stressing about the kids getting to bed at a certain time or having to worry about making lunches. Getting homework done was in the past and in the future, not a concern now. It meant living at our own pace for two full months.

I wasn’t the perfect mother, far from it. My kids irritated me at times just as I irritated them. They annoyed me at other times, just as I annoyed them. There definitely were moments when I got angry and snarled at them to go find something to do. But there were other times when we were at the park or the kids were outside playing with a friend. Or, as befit for this generation, they were settled in the playroom with a bowl of usually forbidden snack food and a bunch of movies. And no-one cared about what time it was or where we had to be when.

Rainy days meant going out on the balcony in bare feet and trying to dance in between the raindrops. They also meant being trapped in the house sometimes and getting bored, leaving driving your sibling crazy as the only appealing option at hand. Breakfast could be pizza and supper cereal, just because we could and we had the time to do so.

Of course, we knew every summer that this freer time would end and reality would set back in, but until that day reached us, we enjoyed the magic that was ours.

No. To me, September isn’t the most wonderful time of the year. It’s a reminder that another year has passed and another has begun.

Monday, July 30, 2012

This Is News? Psychological Abuse as Bad as Physical Abuse

I get my news from various sources. In the morning, I listen to the radio, read the paper, and skim the Internet. All the news sources I consulted this morning had this story: Psychological Maltreatment Can Be as Harmful as Physical Abuse. My first reaction was, really? Wow. I'm glad that someone wrote a paper on that, otherwise we would never have known. But as I began writing this post, my sarcasm waned and I began to understand the importance of putting this out into the news.

Physical abuse is horrible and inexcusable. Thankfully, these days people tend to step in when they see it or learn of it. Children must be protected from those who are bigger and stronger - and there is never an excuse for causing physical harm to a child. But psychological abuse is another animal. It is often tolerated, brushed off, explained away. We close our ears and turn, because there seems like there isn't a lot we can do about it, we believe.

I knew a young mother who wasn't very nice to her children in public. She called them names, told them they were "retarded," and screamed at them. We never saw her physically hurt the children, but we definitely heard her go at it with her words. Many of us tried to talk to her about it, even people who worked with the children, but she didn't get it. She said that she loved the kids and they knew it. If we didn't approve of her child rearing, that wasn't her problem. There were no physical marks of violence. But you could see in their eyes, they were beaten down - I recognized it because I know what it's like. I often wonder if I could have done more and it haunts me sometimes.

After my initial "wow, thanks for telling us" gut reaction to the news, I began to think about it and understand why this is important news. It wasn't that long ago when people did not report sexual or physical abuse. It just wasn't talked about. If a child is going through something like that, once he or she starts trying to reach out to people - it's very difficult for them to understand why no one is trying to help. Now that the topic isn't as taboo as it used to be, help may be possible. As this type of abuse is talked about, the children may learn that it's not normal and it's not acceptable.

But psychological abuse isn't yet at that point. When a child experiences psychological abuse and no one steps in, it becomes normal. After all, if no one is trying to stop it, then - in the child's eyes - it must be ok and the adults who are doing this must be right. They must be stupid, ugly, fat, bad... But it's not right and it has to stop just as we want to stop other types of abuse. Maybe news like this will help raise sensitivity, maybe people will speak up. The problem is, what happens when you do and nothing changes?

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Lasting Effects of Tragedy

This recent tragedy in Colorado and the year marking of the violence in Norway last year had me thinking about how people are affected by violence, even if they aren't directly related.

Several years ago, I began writing a book about abuse. It wasn't the typical type of book that one might expect, like a tell-all or exploration into the minds of an abuser or victim. It was a look at how a single act by one person on one person can affect so many other people, even years later. I likened it to shattered glass. You drop a glass in the kitchen and it shatters. You clean it up as well as you can and you think you got it all. But, one day, you move the fridge and you step on a sliver that you missed. Or you find one in the corner one day while you're washing the floor. Slivers of glass can be found far away from the actual accident and can still cause pain weeks, months later.

The summer just as I finished grade 7, which would have been the last week of June, a classmate who lived around the corner from me was raped and murdered. Her body was left in a field not all that far from where we lived. At the time, it was only the second such crime in our sleepy suburb of Montreal. A year earlier, another girl about the same age had been raped and killed - as it turns out by the same person. He was only 17 years old, we found out later.

The day Debbie, my classmate, went missing I remember the crowd around her house and I heard a low-flying helicopter. It took over a day for Debbie's body to be found so there were a lot of helicopter passes as they searched. To this day, 37 years later, whenever I hear a low-flying helicopter, I'm transported back to the time. I automatically think a child may be missing.

I don't think of Debbie often and I don't know why I thought of her yesterday. We weren't friends, we were just people who passed each other in the hall at school, took the same school bus - that sort of thing. But every so often, her 14-year-old face flashes into my mind, as I imagine the faces of those who died on Thursday in the theatre massacre will flash in others' as time passes.

It's often said that people will forget and move on with life. And we do move on, but I don't think we do forget, even if we're only touched peripherally. Those splinters of glass can still be found, when we least expect it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sepsis Death Needs Call to Action - Not Blaming

Terrible things happen every day. For example, on June 25, I wrote about how we were up to 33 drownings in the province of Quebec this year. As of this past weekend, we were at 45. It's a knee-jerk reaction to blame the parents or the people who were watching the children, but that doesn't bring the children back. We need to learn from the mistakes that happened and try to prevent further tragedies.

The same thing is happening, in my opinion, with the story about 12-year-old Rory Staunton, who died of sepsis after a cut on his arm became infected (NY Times report - Yahoo Shine report - NY Times OpEd).

What happened to Rory was a terrible, horrible tragedy. Did someone drop the ball? It sure seems so. But the finger pointing is leading to defensiveness and harsh words between people who blame the "evil" system and who they believe to be uncaring doctors, and doctors who are defending themselves saying that they can't know everything all the time - that sometimes, mistakes are made.

I know, I'm a nurse. I've made my share of errors as a nurse. Let me tell you, doctors and nurses, and other healthcare professionals, do not feel good when they make a mistake. Those mistakes often keep us awake at night and cause us great personal pain and distress. This is not anything like the pain a family or patient may feel, but people who work in the healthcare system are human - no more and no less than anyone else.

Blame doesn't get anyone anywhere. What we need to do to prevent another Rory or any of the others you will find here in the Faces of Sepsis from getting so ill, is to know what we are up against, to be knowledgeable about our own health. We need to push for action, for change.

Sepsis Alliance is a patient advocacy group in the United States and a founding member of the Global Sepsis Alliance. They have a call to action: Have all hospitals in the United States adopt Code Sepsis by year 2020. It wasn't all that long ago that hospitals began to adopt Code Blue, a protocol that kicks into action when someone has a cardiac arrest. Like Code Blue, Code Sepsis would be a protocol followed across the board, providing fluids and antibiotics within the first hour of the suspicion of sepsis. Code Blue has saved thousands of lives. Code Sepsis can too.

Push for sepsis awareness in your community. Push your government representatives to make sepsis awareness a priority. Push, push, push.

Blaming will not bring Rory Staunton back, but pushing for change, pushing for awareness - these will help prevent future tragedies like what has touched the Stauntons.

Late addition:

Please don't get me wrong. I understand blaming people, I understand there are often circumstances when a person's negligence or actions cause injuries or death and blame is a natural response. The point of this blog post is to try to explain how it would be a good thing for everyone - I think - for us to try to move past blame and work on action to prevent such injuries and deaths from happening to someone else. Working on action doesn't take away a person's culpability, but it moves things forward.

Monday, July 16, 2012

An Honour - a top 10 blog pick

It's always nice to be recognized for your work and I was very pleased to be chosen as one of 10 Canadian health and fitness bloggers that the people at She Knows Canada felt was worthy of highlighting and recommending to their readers.

Inspiration for Healthier Living; 10 Canadian health and fitness bloggers we love (I'm on the second page),  has some very interesting blogs written by people who could be your friend, your sibling, your neighbour. I feel I am in very good company.

When I write my posts, I try to pick topics that people are interested in, that they can identify with, and that need to be explained in a way that isn't too medical or clinical. It isn't always easy to find information like that on the Internet.

Some of my topics are perennial favourites and are visited at least a few times every day by people who find them through web searches. Other topics that I think will spark conversation don't. Who knows why some topics are more popular than others. I certainly never believed my post on broken hips would be my number one post - but it is.

I regularly get emails from people who want me to link to their for-profit blogs. I always say no. I want my blog to stay independent and free of any outside influences. I do take the occasional guest post, but only after ensuring that A) the person knows what he or she is talking about, and B) the topic falls into what I am trying to do: provide helpful information without trying to sell anything.

So, thank you to She Knows Canada for the recognition and thank you to those who come to my blog to read and to learn.

Monday, July 9, 2012

And the Circumcision Debate Continues - More UTIs in Uncircumcised Boys?

It's difficult to think of many things more polarizing in the parenting world as breast feeding versus bottle feeding, cloth diapers versus disposable diapers, and stay-at-home moms versus work-outside-the-home moms, but there is: circumcision. Parents who aren't sure what to do are bombarded with "It's horrible!" and "You must do it!" - messages from both sides of the circumcision spectrum. What are parents to do? Well, if they decide to research medical issues involved in circumcision, they may not come out any further ahead because the debate is raging on over there too.

The latest study to enter the fray of to circumcise or not to circumcise is one just published today in the CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) regarding urinary tract infections (UTIs) and circumcisions. Researchers from the Montreal Children's Hospital looked at boys who developed UTIs, whether they were circumcised and if uncircumcised, if the meatus (where the urethra opens to the outside of the penis) was visible. It has been thought that uncircumcised boys with clearly visible urethras may not be as vulnerable to developing a UTI as those whose urethras could not be seen. Therefore, going along that train of thought, if the boy was not circumcised but had a visible urethra, his risk of developing a UTI was lower.

To see if this was true, the researchers assessed 393 boys who had visited the MCH emergency department with symptoms of a possible UTI. Eighty-four of the boys were circumcised. Of the remaining who were uncircumcised, 40 had a visible urethral meatus and 269 had only partial visible or nonvisible meatus. In other words, it didn't matter if the urethra was visible or not - more boys who had not been circumcised had infections than those who were not.

The researchers concluded, "We suggest that clinicians should consider circumcision status alone, not the degree of urethral visibility when stratifying risk for boys presenting to the emergency department with symptoms or signs suggesting a urinary tract infection."

UTIs are serious infections that should be treated. Untreated, the infection may go up into the kidneys. UTIs can also develop into a life-threatening illness called sepsis (Sepsis and Urinary Tract Infections).

Friday, July 6, 2012

Persistent Dizziness May Respond to a Few Simple Exercises

When we were kids, many of us had fun spinning on merry-go-rounds or just going in circles to get as dizzy as possible. As we got older, getting dizzy may have been more due to drinking a bit too much alcohol than anything else. But those are episodes where the dizziness faded away when the cause ended or was taken away and that's a good thing, because continuing dizziness - vertigo - is not only uncomfortable, it is very disruptive, and could cause serious injuries if people fall.

It isn't known how many adults experience dizziness, but it is common, particularly among older people. Dizziness can make you feel nauseous and can be isolating. After all, how can you go out if your world is spinning? Some people with vertigo must quit work, stop social activities - many can't even enjoy life in their home because reading, watching television, even cooking or baking, can become impossible to do. But what causes vertigo?

What causes vertigo?

Most often, vertigo is caused by a problem in your ear. There is fluid in your inner ear that acts like a level. When you move your head, the fluid moves and your brain gets information about your head's position. This is how your brain knows if you're on your side or even upside down. If this area of your ear is affected, it can cause dizziness.

Certain parts of your brain also control balance. These are the cerebellum and brain stem. Damage to these parts can throw you off balance.

Treatment of ear-related vertigo

Treating or managing vertigo will depend on what is causing it. If it is caused by labyrinthitis, irritation and inflammation of the inner ear, which is very common, it has to be determined why you have labyrinthitis in the first place. Do you have an inner ear infection? Is it from allergies? Is it a side effect from a medication? Once the cause has been determined, your doctor will suggest a treatment.

If your vertigo is caused by benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) or Meniere's disease, your doctor may recommend something called vestibular rehabilitation exercises. A recent study, presented yesterday at the international WONCA conference yesterday (World Organization of Family Doctors), found that simple exercises are effective in helping reduce dizziness in many patients. The study was also published in the British Medical Journal.

Lucy Yardly, a professor at the University of Southampton, found that exercises that involved turning your head right to left and back again, or nodding your head up and down, "lead to reduced dizziness within a matter of weeks of starting, and the benefits lasted for at least a year."

Professor Yardly's study involved 300 patients who were randomly assigned to one of three groups: one received routine medical care, which may include medications to reduce symptoms; the second received a booklet based on exercises only; and the third group received the booklet, as well as telephone support from a healthcare professional.

The researchers found that the two groups that had the exercise book felt "much better" than those who received routine medical care. Only 5% of patients in the exercise book groups reported feeling worse at the end of the study, compared with 15% of those who felt worse after only receiving medical care.

So, if you go to the doctor about recurring dizziness and he or she recommends exercises to help - be sure to do them. They may be more helpful than you think they may.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Parental Drug Use Ups Foster Care Use - Duh Study?

A Duh Study is one that tells us something that is common sense - that we likely don't need to spend money and resources on to officially prove. This study, "Child Abuse and Foster Care Admissions Increase When Parents Use Methamphetamines," may be a candidate.

According to the study that was undertaken by researchers at Baylor University, "Methamphetamine abuse leads to an increase in child abuse and neglect, which causes an increase in foster-care admission." Of course it does. Addicts don't and can't think about their children and their needs. Addicts think and try to meet their own needs; this is what is most important for them, physically and psychologically.

Even today, in 2012, there is debate as to whether people believe addiction is a disease. To many, addiction isn't a disease. They may use the examples of Type 1 diabetes or cancer - where sheer will power could never cure them, making it so they no longer need to take insulin or chemotherapy. To others, this is nonsense and addiction is no less a disease than is asthma or multiple sclerosis. It needs to be diagnosed, treated, and managed - and that it takes much more than just will power to do this.

Regardless of how you feel about addiction, it can't be denied that it affects not just the addict, but the people around him or her, particularly their children. A child of an addict lives in a world unlike any other and must be cared for. But do we have the resources to do that? We need to.

A child of an addict who isn't cared for will not receive the medical, nutritional, social, and educational nurturing that he needs. Without these, his ability to learn how to function in our society is severely compromised, perhaps leading him directly to the lifestyle he knows and grew up with, perpetuating the cycle.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Exercise Your Hot Flashes Away?

It's the M word. Some women hate it, some women welcome it: menopause. However you feel about it, if you're a woman, it's going to happen to you at some point.

It's quite interesting to hear women talk about their experiences with perimenopause, the time when the menstrual flow is shutting down, and menopause, the period after menstruation has stopped. Some women breeze through this time without any noticeable discomfort, while others are hit with everything that their body can throw at them.

Among the most common complaints from women "of a certain age" are the hot flashes, or hot flushes. Again, not all women find them uncomfortable, but for many - these hot flashes are not only uncomfortable, they are nasty.

But what exactly is a hot flash? No one knows quite for sure, but the easiest way to explain it is that your body's thermostat has gone haywire for a while. One theory is that a woman's dropping level of estrogen may throw off the hypothalmus, the body's temperature regulator.

I love this definition of a hot flash, from WebMD: "A hot flash -- sometimes called a hot flush -- is a momentary sensation of heat that may be accompanied by a red, flushed face and sweating. The cause of hot flashes is not known, but may be related to changes in circulation."

Really? Momentary? Tell that to some women who minding their own business, doing their jobs, perhaps sitting in a board room meeting or driving a bus, and they are suddenly overwhelmed with a hot flash that just won't stop.

What to do?

So, if you do have hot flashes, what can you do to lessen their frequency and/or severity. Is there anything? The good news is that there are some things that help some women. The bad news is you may have to do a lot of trial and error to find something that works for you.

Here are some of the more common suggestions:

- Limit your alcohol intake and watch if certain alcoholic beverages trigger more hot flashes. Some Women find red wine is a big trigger, but they can drink white wine with few resulting hot flashes;
- Don't smoke; 
- Avoid meals that are heavy or spicy. Eat smaller meals throughout the day rather than three large ones;
- Drink cold drinks instead of hot drinks;
- Exercise;
- Dress in layers, preferably cotton fabrics.

That last point brings up a press release issued today by Penn State researchers, who undertook a study looking at menopause and exercise. The study was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

According to the researchers, "menopausal women who exercise may experience fewer hot flashes in the 24 hours following physical activity." They came to this conclusion after studying 92 menopausal women who were between 40 and 59 years old. They were not on any hormone therapy at the time of the study.

Over 15 days, the women wore accelerometers that monitored how much physical activity they performed and a monitor that measured the moisture on their skin. The women also recorded if and when they experienced hot flashes throughout the day.

Since exercise tends to make people feel warmer, it wouldn't be odd to suspect that exercise may make hot flashes worse, but the researchers found that this didn't happen. In fact, on average, the women in the study who exercised the most experienced fewer hot flashes after afterward. "The women who were classified as overweight, having a lower level of fitness, or were experiencing more frequent or more intense hot flashes,  noticed the smallest reduction in symptoms," the press release said. 

"For women with mild to moderate hot flashes, there is  no reason to avoid physical activity for the fear of making symptoms worse," said Steriani Elavsky, assistant professor of kinesiology at Penn State. "In fact, physical activity may be helpful, and is certainly the best way to maximize health as women age."

Some hot flash good news?

As uncomfortable as hot flashes may be, they may be good for something. According to a study published last year, researchers found - among the estimated 60,000 women they studied - that women who experienced hot flashes and night sweats while going into menopause had an 11 percent lower risk of developing heart disease later on in life. In addition, they had an eight percent lower chance of dying over the 10 years following the study. You can read more about it in this Time magazine article: The Hot Flashes of Menopause May Protect Women's Hearts, by Alice Park.

Do you have hot flashes? Do they bother you? How do you manage them?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Drowning Isn't Noisy

From what I've read, a common refrain from many people who were in an area when there was a drowning is something like, "I didn't hear a thing." Sadly, when someone drowns, you don't hear anything. Drowning is silent. Drowning isn't like in the movies, where people wave and shout for help, saying things like, "help! I'm drowning."

People who are drowning, if they get their head above water, need that split second to grab another gulp of air - they don't have the time or energy to shout for help. They silently slide under the water.

Drowning stats are horrifying. Drownings happen in the ocean, at the lake, in rivers and creeks, and in backyard swimming pools. If there's water, there is the potential for drowning and it is all so very preventable.

The topic caught my eye earlier than usual this year when I heard a news report last night that there were already 33 reported drownings this year in the province of Quebec. That is about 10 more than normal for this time of year. An expert on the topic was interviewed on TV and he said that the spike was likely due to the early hot weather we have been receiving.

According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) in the U.S.,

  • From 2005-2009, there were an average of 3,533 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States — about ten deaths per day. An additional 347 people died each year from drowning in boating-related incidents.
  • About one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.
  • More than 50% of drowning victims treated in emergency departments (EDs) require hospitalization or transfer for further care (compared with a hospitalization rate of about 6% for all unintentional injuries).  These nonfatal drowning injuries can cause severe brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic functioning (e.g., permanent vegetative state).

So, what do we do?

Reducing the risk of drowning:

Playing at the pool or a beach

If you are with a child or someone with weak (or no) swimming ability, the basic rule is "an arm's length away." The non-swimmer should be no more than an arm's length away from you while in the water. You must be able to reach and grab without having to swim out to the distressed person.

Never keep your eyes off your child when he is in the water. Never. Ever. Just turning your head to chat with someone beside you puts your child in danger. If you can't see him, you won't see him going under. He's not going to tell you.

Obey the flags and the lifeguards. If it's not safe to swim, don't. Plain and simple.

Use the buddy system. If you are with a group of people, even if everyone is a swimmer, have a buddy system, where everyone has someone they will be swimming with or keeping an eye on them.

Put life jackets on non-swimming children. If you make it an everyday thing, "you're at the pool, you wear this jacket," they will see it as normal.

Don't rely on flotation devices. Yes, they are devices and they are meant to keep your child afloat and you want your nonswimmers to wear them. But they are merely tools and not a substitution for careful monitoring. Devices can break, come off, or just not work properly and you might not notice if your child's head goes under the water.

Don't allow screaming games in the water, particularly ones that have the players calling for help. If your child is screaming for play, how will you notice if the players are screaming at you for help if your child is drowning, or they're just playing?

Backyard pools

Never, ever, allow a child to swim alone. Ever. Even if she has taken swimming lessons. Someone must be able to see her while she is in the pool. Accidents happen too quickly.

If you are visiting a home with a pool and you have young children, designate an adult to always (always!) have an eye on the child or children. Of course, if it's a party or fun gathering, no one wants to have to do this all the time, so tag-team it. Have another adult resume responsibility but this must be said and acknowledged. If you are watching the children until 6:15, the person taking over must come to you and say, "OK, I am now watching the kids." Never assume that the next one up is doing it until they acknowledge they are doing it.

Secure the pool around all four sides and make off-time access very difficult. Not all residential areas have legal requirements for pool enclosures, making them an easy target for curious children or kids who want to have some fun without adult supervision. Whether your area requires four-side fencing or not, doesn't it make sense to do so? If you can't afford to have the fencing, can you really afford that pool?

Locks on the gates should be self-latching, so people don't have to remember to lock the gate. If you have an above ground pool, removing the ladder is also helpful. Many of these pools have big filters right beside them - perfect spots for climbing. Design your pool area so this can't happen. At the same time, don't leave lawn chairs and tables near the pool where they can be dragged over and used to get in.

Learn CPR. CPR is not difficult and it literally saves lives. Everyone should know CPR, but if you have a pool, it is even more important.

Any drowning is one too many. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Stressed New Mom? Try Blogging

We all know that new moms have tons and tons of free time, right? (hey folks, my tongue is firmly in cheek!) Okay, new moms may feel stressed and overwhelmed, particularly as our society has become more fragmented, with families and friends often miles away, if not in another country altogether. The sense of community that used to help so many new moms over the generations may not be there anymore, but there is a new type of community that may be able to take its place. It's found on the Internet and it is, believe it or not, blogging.

Email and Skyping with friends and family is a great way to stay in touch, but blogging - the modern form of journaling - can be an effective way to get out thoughts and feelings, and promote discussion among others, contributing to that sense of community.

This topic was interesting enough to catch the eye of researchers from Brigham Young University who surveyed 157 new mothers about their media use and their well-being. After assessing the survey responses, the researchers found that there was a significant correlation between a strong connection to family and friends, and increased feelings of social support. When this happened, there was higher marital satisfaction and less parenting stress reported. Interestingly, using social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc) was neither helpful or not helpful.

The moms were asked to rate their feelings on scales that corresponded to the various items, which included how much time was spent on different activities, such as sleeping, childcare, housework, and computer usage. The totalled amounts showed that women spent the most of time on childcare (9 hours per day) and sleep (7 hours per day) and the third most time-consuming activity? That was using the Internet, which weighed in at about 3 hours per day.

According to a press release describing the study findings, "The researchers found that 61 percent of the mothers surveyed wrote their own blogs and 76 percent read blogs. Eight-nine percent of the mothers who wrote their own blogs did so to 'document personal experiences or share them with others,' and 86 percent wanted to stay in touch with family and friends through the blog."

What do you think? If you're a new mom, do you blog or participate in other blogs? If you're an older mom, do you wish you had this type of outlet when your children were younger?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Alcohol Consumption and Pregnancy - A Divisive Topic

Does a pregnant woman who drinks a glass of wine put her unborn child at risk? If it's ok to drink a glass of wine, is two ok? Three? A beer? A cooler? Is any alcohol acceptable during pregnancy?

If you ask this question, it's very likely you will get very strong opinions on either side and not much leeway in between. But is alcohol really so bad? Or is it something that you might as well avoid, since it's only for the duration of pregnancy (and nursing, if breastfeeding follows).

A Danish study, published yesterday in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, looked at the effects of alcohol consumed during pregnancy on children were now five years old; 1,628 women participated in the study. They were on average 40 years old at the time. Half were first-time mothers.

The researchers looked at the children's IQ, attention span, and ability to perform functions, such as planning, organizing, and maintaining self-control. Binge drinking is not considered to be regular alcohol consumption but, rather, having five or more drinks in one occasion.

How big is a drink?

Whenever a study like this is performed, the definition of a drink must be determined. In this case, the researchers used the Danish National Board of Health guidelines that state one standard drink equals 12 grams of pure alcohol. In the United States, a standard drink is 14 grams, or 6 ounces, while the United Kingdom measures their alcohol in another way, by units. Each unit contains 7.9 grams of pure alcohol.

The researchers defined low average alcohol consumption as one to four drinks per week. Moderate was five to eight drinks per week and high consumption was nine or more drinks per week. 

The study findings

The researchers found that among children whose mother drank up to eight drinks per week, there wasn't a significant difference between them and those children whose mothers had consumed no alcohol while pregnant. However, for children whose mothers drank nine or more drinks per week, there were signs of lower attention skills, and other issues.


This study wasn't meant to be a rousing endorsement of drinking alcohol while pregnant, rather one that worked at finding if problems did result if mothers did drink while pregnant. The authors concluded that "it remains the most conservative advice for women to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy, however, small amounts may not present serious concern." 

So now what?

Some people will argue that it is not worth the risk - there is no need to drink alcohol while pregnant and to do so would be foolhardy to take any chances. Of course, drinking alcohol isn't a "must" in life. But studies like this one do suggest that a woman who is attending an event and wants to have a glass of wine or some other alcoholic drink, should not be made to feel guilty if she chooses to do so.

Women can be very, very harsh on other women who make decisions that they don't agree with. While the decision not to drink alcohol at all during pregnancy may right for one woman and her family, other women may feel differently - and as there is the right to choose not to take a drink, there is also the right to have one, if that is what mom-to-be wants.

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Tomorrow, June 14, Is World Blood Donor Day

Have you ever given blood if you are medically able to do so? Do you know anyone who has ever needed blood? I'm afraid I have to admit that I'm always surprised when I hear "no" to the first question and "yes" to the second - from the same person. Since tomorrow is World Blood Donor Day, I thought this would be a good time to discuss this topic.

According to the World Health Organization, globally, the majority of donors are male, with only 30% of blood donations given by women. In many parts of the world, this drops to less than 10%.

Broken down by age, donors fall into the following age categories:

Under 18 years: 5%
18 to 24 years: 31%
24 to 44 years: 35%
45 to 64 years: 25%
65 years and older: 3%

What can one unit of donated blood do? It can save lives. But it's not just the actual blood that does the magic, it's the components from the blood. Blood is broken down and different people receive different components, according to what they need: red blood cells, plasma, platelets.

America's Blood Centers has a list of 56 facts about blood - it's an interesting read. It starts with:

  1. 4.5 million Americans will a need blood transfusion each year.
  2. 43,000 pints: amount of donated blood used each day in the U.S. and Canada.
  3. Someone needs blood every two seconds.

There are many reasons why someone can't give blood. I used to give blood as often as I could, but now that I am so fatigued on a good day, I'm not allowed to donate.  As someone with O negative blood (the universal donor), I thought it was particularly important for me to donate and I'm frustrated at this change in events. To give blood, you have to be healthy yourself, not only free of illnesses that you could potentially pass on to a blood recipient, but free of illnesses that would make it harder on you after you've given blood.

Although I used to give regularly, there were times I was turned away because my blood pressure was too low (my average BP used to be around 100/55; anything lower than that is not accepted by most blood donor services) or my pulse was too high - over 100. This was for my own safety. They don't want people passing out and getting injured after donating blood. Completely understandable, I think.

Unfortunately though, there are people who don't give blood for reasons that don't make sense to me:

They don't have time. Many services have service outside of "normal" business hours. Yes, sometimes it does take a while to get through the procedure, but that's what books, MP3 players, and friends are for. ;-)

They don't like needles. No-one likes needles. I've never heard anyone say "hey! I'm going to get a needle stuck in me today!" I used to feel faint at the sight of a needle and, yes, the first few times, I was a bit queasy. But it goes away.

One time, several years into my habit of giving blood, I had a bad experience. I got very faint very quickly and felt horrid while donating - they had to stop the procedure. I remember being very frustrated because that hadn't happened in a long time and I happened to bring my oldest son with me that time (he was about 10 or 11, I believe) so he could see what it was all about.

I have to admit, that experience did make me nervous the next time I went, but it never repeated. I just made sure to tell the nurse that we could not speed up my donation time (by squeezing a ball), because that made my blood pressure drop quickly.

In 2007, I wrote about a decrease in blood donations (Have you donated blood recently?) and how blood is processed and used. It's an ongoing topic that bears revisiting on a much more regular basis.

Of course, blood donation is a personal choice and one that needs to be made freely and without pressure. Think about it though. If you need blood to save your life or someone you cared about does - what would happen if everyone felt the same way about not donating?