Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Thanking My Faithful Readers and Answering Some Questions

I wanted to take a moment to say thank you to the people who read my blog regularly and to those who happen upon it as they search for something. I have received many kind emails and comments from people who have learned something from my posts or because they enjoyed something I wrote.

I also receive some emails of disagreement. What I write isn't always popular and I respect dissenting points of view, as long as they are respectful in turn. And sometimes the emails I get are to tell me that I am wrong. I do try to limit that as much as possible but if I goof up, I admit it and thank the reader for pointing it out.

A few people have asked me how I choose my topics and why my posting can be erratic. Good questions. My topics usually come from the news I read that morning. My routine is I wake up, check email and then browse news releases and stories. If something jumps out at me, I'll write about it. Other times, it's because a particular topic is something I am passionate about or I know a lot about. I write about depression and suicide, because it has touched my life. I write about fibromyalgia because I have it. I write about sepsis because Sepsis Alliance is one of my clients and I strongly support their efforts, and so on. As for the frequency of my posts, that's as much a mystery to me as it is others. I always mean to post more often, but then I get distracted with my work or life in general, and the blog gets pushed aside. I shouldn't let that happen because I'm very proud of the blog and the messages I've gotten out through it. I could say that I'll make a New Year's resolution to post more regularly in 2014, but I'm not so good at keeping resolutions, so I think I'll refrain from that.

Over the past several years, I've also received emails from people, mostly nurses, who want to get in to health writing. They like that I'm a nurse who has taken her work life in a completely different direction. I like to help as much as possible and I answer each email with care, explaining how I got into it and suggesting how others may be able to. What is puzzling though, is that I'd say about half the time, I don't even get a thank you. That is a bit discouraging, but what can you do? Some people have manners, some don't. I hope that some of those who wanted to write have gone on to be successful.

I also get asked sometimes if I still work as a nurse and if not, do I miss it. No, I no longer work clinically as a nurse. The last time was about two years ago when I did some occupational nursing for a large organization. I've worked in areas ranging from postpartum and newborns to palliative care, to geriatrics. I've literally worked with people from birth to death. And while I liked the personal contact, nursing is a very tough job and one that physically drained me. So now, I've found my niche. I get to use the experience and knowledge I've gained over the years and apply it to my writing. It truly is a win-win situation for me. I couldn't be any more content with my professional choices. I do miss the patient contact from time to time, I won't deny that. And I do sometimes feel guilty that I've left the front line because nurses are needed in so many areas. But we need to do what works for us and I don't regret the choice I made.

And now I'm signing off for 2013. If there is any topic in particular that you would like me to address, I'm always open to ideas. After writing this blog for, what, seven years (?), it's sometimes difficult to come up with fresh ideas.

In the meantime, if you celebrate the holidays, I hope they are joyful and peaceful for you. If you do not celebrate, I wish you a calm, healthy, and happy end of the year and beginning of the new one.

See you in January!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Length of Maternity Leave and Postpartum Depression: A Connection?

The topic of maternity leave can get quite heated between certain groups of people. Some feel it is an important period that provides multiple benefits to mother and child, while others feel it is an entitlement and a luxury. Sure, they argue, moms need to have some time to recover from childbirth, particularly if it is a c-section, but extended maternity leaves are just a time to stay away from work without expectations.

So, are maternity leaves important or a luxury? I have to admit that, as a Canadian, I have a very different experience with maternity leave than do many of my colleagues in the United States. And, since I was working clinically as a nurse when I had my children, I even had a different experience than many of my fellow Canadian mothers at the time.

Over 26 years ago, when I had my first (of three) children, Quebec nurses received 20 weeks of 93% of their salary in maternity leave benefits. After that, we could take up to a total of two years from our position, unpaid, and be guaranteed our job or an equivalent one on our return. Other women in Canada who did not have a similar type of union agreement, received 15 weeks of maternity leave, at about 60% of their salary. The first two weeks were unpaid, so it came out to 17 weeks off work.*

I had no idea back then that my US colleagues had no such similar rights to maternity leave. I began to hear stories of women returning to work when their infants were six or seven weeks old because they had used up all their sick leave and holiday time. I couldn’t imagine leaving my babies that young. Some mothers may bounce back right away, but I sure didn’t after my first delivery, my son who was over 9 pounds. He was starving all the time and he didn’t sleep through the night for a long time, which made for a pair of very tired parents.

Now, in 2013, all across Canada, new mothers can take anywhere from 17 weeks to a full year from their job and they are guaranteed their job (or equal equivalent) upon their return. If they’re eligible, they get 15 weeks income of about 55% of their wages from the national employment insurance program (for birth or adoption). Union or contract arrangements can top up the sum, as it did for me back in 1987. A few years ago, changes were made in the program so fathers could benefit from this leave as well, sharing it with the mother.

Sadly, things don’t seem to have improved all that much in the U.S. for new mothers. According to FMLA, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, childbirth is included in a list of medical conditions that allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but even this isn’t available to all as small employers are not required to provide this. Anecdotally, I’ve had colleagues tell me horror stories of how they had to fight for maternity leave - without pay - returning to work when their babies were three months old or younger. And how many can afford to take that time off without any form of income?

Maternity leave is not a luxury. It is important that society realizes that it’s a vital part of keeping our families healthy.

There has been a lot in the news over the past few years about postpartum depression. Sadly, we hear about it most with sensationalist news stories of mothers who murder their children and commit suicide as they can no longer cope with the burden of the depression. A study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry earlier this year found that 40.1% of 10,000 women experienced depression within the first year of childbirth and 19.3%, almost one fifth, of these women had thoughts of self-harm. Other studies have found a connection between mothers with postpartum depression and child development.

Returning to work before you are physically and/or psychologically ready can increase your risk of developing postpartum depression, says the authors of a study published this week in the Journal of Health Politics and Law. The researchers examined the results of a survey of more than 800 new mothers. The survey asked questions about their return to work and their mental and physical health at six weeks after delivery, 12 weeks, six months, and 12 months. Seven percent of the mothers went back to work by the time their infants were six weeks old, 46% by the time they were 12 weeks old, and 87% by the time they were six months old.

The researchers found that the longer a woman was home with her baby, the lower the depression scores, as were measured on a scale called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.

"In the United States, most working women are back to work soon after giving birth, with the majority not taking more than three months of leave," said study co-author Dr. Rada K. Dagher in a press release. "But our study showed that women who return to work sooner than six months after childbirth have an increased risk of postpartum depressive symptoms."

When dealing with an issue as serious as postpartum depression, this needs to be taken seriously. Currently, the U.S. is only one of three countries of 181 that does not offer paid maternity leave. The other two are Papua New Guinea and Switzerland.

Maternity leave isn’t a chance to sit at home and do nothing while being paid. It’s providing both mother and child the best possible start, possibly preventing other costly health issues down the road.

*Nurses were paid by the hospital/government 93% of the salary for the two-week waiting period. For the next 15 weeks, employment insurance pay out was topped up, and this was followed by an additional hospital/government payout of 93% for the last three weeks, for a total of 20 weeks.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Duh Studies - This is news?

I've written before about what I call "Duh Studies" and how I feel about them.

I was first introduced to Duh Studies when I was an editor for a doctor information website. Some of them made me cry out "Seriously?! Someone gave you money to study that?" And when I thought I couldn't find a more ridiculous study, I'd come across another. 

The one that really took the cake was one that determined that the procedures used to warm up bottles to feed an infant were dangerous. Why, you ask? Because of two women. Both women had boiled water in a pot in which they were going to place the baby's bottle to warm. Both women took the pot with scalding water over to a bed and placed the pot on the mattress. Both women decided to lie down on the bed with their baby - next to the scalding water. Yes - you can see what happened next. In both cases, the pot tipped over and the scalding water burned the baby. The study's conclusion? Bottle feeding was dangerous. I kid you not.

I wish I'd thought to keep that study and the many others that had me shaking my head, but I didn't think to. But no worries because there are still many Duh Studies these days. Take these ones gleaned from today's news:

"Healthy lifestyle before conception may increase likelihood of a healthy pregnancy"
This study examined the lifestyles of 5,000 women for a few months before they got pregnant. Amazingly, those who were healthier before they conceived had a more healthy pregnancy. 

"Lowering 3 risk factors could cut obesity-related risk of heart disease by more than half"
Do we really need a study that looked at a pool of almost 2 million people to tell us that if people, particularly obese people, controlled their blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar, that their risk of heart disease or stroke would be lower?  

"Heavy drinking is bad for marriage if 1 spouse drinks, but not both"
I do admit that I was a bit surprised to see that if both spouses drank heavily, divorce rates were the same as with those who don't drink, but is it really a new idea that if one spouse drinks heavily, this takes a toll on a marriage? 

Research is vital and there is good work going on around the world as researchers try to find ways to make our lives better, but other than providing work, what is the point of doing research for the point of doing it?

Seriously, we know that for the most part, healthier women will have healthier pregnancies and healthier babies. So we need more on how to ensure women, particularly those in difficult circumstances, get and stay healthy. We know that high blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, especially among those who are obese. We need to find ways to help people lower these risk factors. And yes, we know that drinking is hard on a marriage. So we need to find ways to help both the drinker and his or her spouse. Otherwise, it's not news - in my opinion.

Friday, September 27, 2013

How Can a Sore Throat Lead to Heart Disease? World Heart Day September 29

When I was a child, my babysitter’s son became very ill with rheumatic heart disease. I remember that he had to go back regularly for injections for months after he was discharged from the hospital, but we didn’t know what they were or what they were for. We just knew not to knock him hard on the side of his butt that next day. We were in awe that we knew someone who had been so sick, but we were scared too, because it was just so unknown to us.

It was when I was older, I learned that Paul had had strep throat that had not been treated. As happens sometimes, the infection, caused by Group A streptococcus, can lead to acute rheumatic fever (ARF). The symptoms of ARF include rash, fever, and painful and swollen joints. This can progress to permanent damage of the heart valves.

Concern about rheumatic heart disease (RHD) is still present. While in many developed countries, a diagnosis of strep throat leads to antibiotic treatment, usually penicillin, this isn’t so easy in many countries in the developing world. Interestingly, researchers learned that most patients in South Africa who had RHD and their parents or guardians had never heard of it before they became ill. In Tanzania, it was the same.

According to a press release issued by the World Heart Federation (WHF), “Currently the burden of disease of RHD is conservatively estimated at 15.6 million prevalent cases with 282,000 new cases and over 233,00 deaths per year.” That being said, experts believe that these numbers are nowhere near the real numbers yet.

The biggest concern is there is no guaranteed supply of the type of penicillin (benzathine penicillin G/BPG) that is needed to not only treat the disease, but to prevent the disease from progressing further.

As with so many other illnesses around, RHD is a preventable one, but it can only be prevented if infections are detected and for that, there must be awareness. There is a push in the developing countries to include RHD alongside the importance of treating more known but fatal diseases such as malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis, rather than as an afterthought.

There is proof that paying attention to rheumatic fever and heart disease works. The WHF refers to a model implemented in Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Cuba, comprehensive 10-year programs involving education, awareness strategies at all levels and primary and secondary prevention that were delivered through a registry. “A rapid decline in ARF incidence was achieved at a modest cost with overall reductions of between 74 percent and 86 percent observed,” said the organization.

But you don’t need to be in a developing country to develop RHD. If you suspect that you have an infection, get it checked. Don’t forget, I work closely with Sepsis Alliance and we have seen all too often how an infection lead to something much more serious and with fatal results.

World Heart Day is Sunday, September 29. We know a lot about heart attacks and heart disease brought on by high cholesterol and high blood pressure. How many of you knew about rheumatic heart disease?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

E-Readers May Help People With Dyslexia

Reading is a fundamental need but many people face challenges and barriers to reading effectively. E-readers may be a solution for at least some people, such as those who have dyslexia, say researchers.

A study published in the journal PLOS One, says that the accessibility options available with e-readers are what makes the difference for some readers. The option that had the strongest effect was the ability to reduce the number of words per line, making them shorter than in traditional paper books. This allows the reader to focus more readily on the individual words in front of him or her and not be distracted by too many words of to either side.

Earlier studies in to how e-readers may help people with dyslexia have looked at how fonts and page formatting can be adjusted, but the strongest positive finding to date seems to be that reading is easier when there is more space between letters, as well as words, “counteracting an effect known as crowding that impairs object recognition in the presence of clutter, an effect observed to be more severe in many people with dyslexia,” wrote the authors.

E-readers can be polarizing - some people love them, others hate them - and their reasons vary considerably. However, if it does turn out that the devices can be helpful to people who have difficulty reading, then it would make sense to integrate them into their daily lives, particularly in schools, to boost the students' chances of success.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Yesterday Was World Sepsis Day 2013 - More Awareness Needed

Since 2011, the month of September has been Sepsis Awareness Month in the United States. Last year, September 13th was declared to be World Sepsis Day. The combination of the two, the month and the day, has raised the profile of this little known and little understood disease that kills so many.

Never heard of sepsis or not convinced it's a serious issue? Why not go have a look at the Sepsis Awareness Month Sepsis Victim Counter now and then go back for another look when you've finished reading this piece. See how many people have died in that short period of time. The counter will run throughout the month.

Sepsis Alliance, an organization that I work with, commissions an annual poll with Harris Interactive to gauge sepsis awareness in the United States. While there is some improvement, the results are still disappointing. Four in 10 adults in the United States have not heard the word sepsis. Even worse, many who have heard the word weren't sure what it is. How can we fight a disease so few people know of? The answer is, we can't - we need more awareness and more education.

Sepsis Awareness Month and World Sepsis Day are working. There were several stories online, in print, and on TV in the US, the UK, and elsewhere; many more than there were two years ago this month. People are talking about it, sharing their stories of having survived sepsis or losing a loved one to it.

So, you may be asking - what is sepsis? I've said how serious it is, how people don't know it, but I haven't told you what it is yet. It's very simple: it's your body's over reaction to infection. If you have an infection - influenza, pneumonia, an infected cut, a urinary tract infection, etc., - your body stimulates the systems to fight it. However, sometimes the body over reacts and it not only starts to fight the infection, it starts to fight the body too. As some people say, it's like friendly fire. As your body goes haywire, your blood begins to clot inside the blood vessels, depriving body tissues of much needed oxygen and other nutrients. Body organs begin to malfunction and even shut down. Death is a definite possibility. For many who survive, they live with limb amputations or organs that don't work properly. Many live with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other cognitive issues. We call this post-sepsis syndrome. But if we think sepsis isn't recognized enough, post-sepsis syndrome is even worse.

It's not unusual for some healthcare professionals to say to a sepsis survivor that they're cured simply because they made it out of the hospital. But what many don't understand is that there are so many lasting issues that affect many of the survivors. Not everyone has problems after surviving sepsis - they recover and they get on with their lives - but others are left with issues that range from mild, nagging problems to life-changing ones.

While sepsis does affect more people on the opposite ends of the life spectrum (the very old and very young), as well as people who are already ill with other issues, it can strike the healthiest of people at any age, of any ethnicity, of any socioeconomic group. You can see a mosaic of faces, at the Faces of Sepsis - to see what this really means.

Often, pictures are better than words, so I recommend you have a look at these videos to learn more about sepsis. If you know about it, you can help protect yourself and loved ones. And don't forget to go back to look at the counter. Look and see how many people died while you were reading this.

Sepsis in Older Americans
In Practice

Friday, August 9, 2013

Do You Use E-Cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are the newest thing in tobacco-less nicotine intake. Many products have been launched and most failed, but the e-cigarettes seem to be here to stay. They're quickly becoming a very lucrative industry and - of course - the tobacco companies have taken notice and are trying to get in on the action as well.

What exactly is an e-cigarette? It's an electronic cigarette that has a small chamber in which you have your nicotine and additives. There's a battery that sets off the device, which produces vapour that you inhale. While many people still call it smoking (a visit to some e-cigarette forums show that even users often call it smoking), people are using the term "vaping" rather to describe the inhalation of the vapour.

As with most things, there are two sides of the story - and maybe a third, who knows for sure? The medical community, in general, doesn't like the e-cigarettes. There are others who feel that e-cigarettes are a great alternative to combustible cigarettes, because users don't get all the additives, such as tar.

I wrote a piece on the safety of e-cigarettes (What Are Electronic Cigarettes and How Safe Are They?) for which I interviewed a lung cancer specialist, as well as an e-cigarette advocate. As a nurse and someone who writes about health, I ended up agreeing with the physician's stance: inhaling vapours of nicotine and other substances isn't healthy. It might be healthIER than smoking a traditional cigarette, but that doesn't make it healthy.

In my mind, it's like saying, "Speeding is dangerous, but if you're going to speed, wear a seatbelt." Smoking is the speeding and e-cigarettes are the seatbelts.

I did receive several comments in response to my article. Not surprisingly, most were against what I wrote. A few were respectful, pointing out where they felt I went wrong, but - as is usually the case - some were angry and not too polite. That's to be expected, I guess. I was surprised though to get a couple of not-so-nice comments to another article I wrote for that same site, More Women Dying of Heart Disease, Yet Men Still Get More Treatment. That surprised me - one of the comments was that the article was just female propaganda. Go figure.

Anyway, back to the e-cigarettes. Do you use one or have you ever used one? What do  you think? Is it the lesser of two evils or is it a legitimate option, in your opinion?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Meditation: Sharing as I Start This New Journey

Do you meditate? Meditation is becoming increasingly popular as more people learn of its benefits and few drawbacks. This ancient practice helps not only the mind, but the body as well. Anxiety and stress are so prevalent in our society today, we need to do something about them. (Identifying Anxiety and Seeking Help) Some people undergoing treatments for serious illnesses such as cancer have found that meditation helps them cope with the side effects and it gives them another tool with which to fight their disease. Meditation helps reduce pain levels and stress; it can even lower blood pressure. Meditation makes people happier and more focused. And it can be done anywhere by anyone.

Meditation in its various forms has been studied and much as been written. Even the New York Times offered an opinion on it (Morality of Meditation) earlier this month. So what's not to like about meditation? Why doesn't everyone meditate? That's a great question, particularly since I am embarking on a meditation path, seriously for a change.

I've tried meditating before, although "trying" is a relative term. I'm not one to say that I'm too busy, because I know that if something is important enough to me, I will make time for it. But every time I tried, I complained about how my mind wandered too much, I was bored, I wasn't able to do it. The funny thing is, I don't have any problems sitting and doing nothing with just my thoughts to keep me company. For example, I like being on a bus or plane, just being there. But as I just wrote that, I realized it's not the same thing. I'm not just being there, along with my thoughts.  I'm also watching, listening, observing life around me.

I used to say that I was really trying - was I? I'm not so sure. But the past year has been a year of change for me. Between going to the gym and getting into shape - enough that I can enjoy a 20 km bike ride along the waterfront in less than an hour without feeling like I'm going to collapse - and working hard on my thoughts and how I feel about myself in relation to the world, maybe the time is right now to really work on meditation. The trick is to find what is right for me.

I have tried the just sitting there and meditate approach. Didn't work for me. I've had two psychologists give me recordings that they have made. Didn't work for me. I've tried yoga. Nope, didn't work (but I haven't given up. More on that in another blog post). I've bought a few meditation CDs. No go. So what to do?

Someone I trust and respect suggested I try a program that uses neuro-audio technology that he uses. I had to buy it, so I am taking a chance but I felt confident with the recommendation. I ordered the demo CD first and have been using that for the past week. It's only 20 minutes long, so I don't feel that I'm taking away too much from my other daily activities. However, it is recommended that the full program be done over an hour every day. I can already feel the excuses coming on: I'm devoting an hour several times a week to going to the gym already - what about the other stuff I have to do? Well, maybe I don't need to spend so much time reading news online? Maybe I could get up 15 minutes earlier? Or does it even have to be first thing in the morning? Maybe I can make the time later in the day.

And then there's the order of things that bug someone like me: when to actually listen. I'm very, very routine oriented. For example, if I've not left for the gym by 6:30 or 6:45 at the latest, I feel I can't go. Not because I don't have the time but because by the time I get back, I've thrown my morning routine off. So should I listen before the gym or after? It's probably an easy thing for most people, but I obsess over things like this. Just thinking about it is bugging me. What to do?

Well, I'll have to wait and see what I can do. I should get the full program within the next week. And we'll give it a try. I've not named the program yet because I want to try it first and I'm trying to see if I can get an interview with the founder - that's the writer in me.

Do you meditate? If so, do you have any words of wisdom for me as I start this journey?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Some Places Where You Can Find My Writing

Every so often, I'm asked where people can read my articles or posts. I've been writing online since the 90s, so there's a lot out there, but here are some of the places where you will find me most often.

First is a bit of an announcement: I'm a new contributor to Forbes.com. You can follow me and be informed of new posts by clicking on the "follow" button by my name. I'll be writing five columns/posts per month for them and my first was posted yesterday afternoon. It's quite timely in some parts of North America (and Europe) because of the topic: Summer Dehydration Can Kill: How To Keep Your Children Safe.

Several years ago, I was a writer for HealthDay News. I began writing for them again recently, so not only will you find pieces on their site, you may find some on news sites that pick up the HealthDay feed. One from a couple of weeks ago was a possible obesity and migraine link: Obesity May Boost Migraine Odds.

Over at ThirdAge.com, they sometimes ask for permission to repost some of my blog posts from here. I usually agree because the topics they are interested in are near and dear to my heart, usually safety related. I sometimes write quick pieces for them too. The most recent ones are part of a series that describe the different roles of healthcare providers.

I've been published in print magazines as well and many of these have an online presence. I'll have another piece in the next issue of the US Costco Connection. Sometimes these pieces are picked up by editions in other countries. A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece about the health benefits of potatoes. Several months later, I received a copy of the Korean CC - all in Korean, except for my article, which was reprinted there in English. That was a fun find. Recently, I was published in Alive magazine, which is also available online. This article was a fun one to write. It's on the importance of getting a properly fitting bra.

And then there is the older stuff but pieces I still like. I wrote an essay-type piece for NursingLink a few years ago: Every Patient Has a Story. I still like that piece as I do another one I wrote for them, on the importance of health literacy.

As you can see, I'm all over the place with health writing. I've also written a few articles that appeared in the print magazine The Quilter, Montreal Home, and Jobboom. It's fun to get outside of health writing sometimes.

So, there are some of the places you can find me. And thanks for reading this blog. It's what helped spark so many of my opportunities.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Push to Extend HPV Vaccinations for Gay Men

Vaccines are quite controversial these days. There are still people who believe the autism/vaccine link, even though that has been debunked by the very person who made that claim in the first place. Other people believe that we need to build up immunity naturally, by getting the illnesses rather than through vaccinations. Some object just out of principle.

Vaccines are not fool-proof. It is still possible to get an illness even if you have had the vaccine because sometimes they don't work as well as they should. Unfortunately, some people also get some of the side effects, the adverse reactions they're called, some of which can be quite severe. But for the most part, vaccines have saved many, many lives. Certain diseases have been eradicated, like small pox, while others are rarely found in many parts of the world, like polio.

The HPV vaccine, a vaccine that protects against some strains of the HPV (human papillomavirus) has been one of the more controversial ones. HPV is a sexually transmitted virus. According to the CDC, it is the most commonly spread sexually transmitted infection (STI). The virus can cause cancers of the cervix and anus, as well as others.

There has been a push to ensure that all young women (below the age of 26 who have not yet been sexually active) to be vaccinated. There is also a call for young men under the age of 21 to do so, because they can pass on the virus.

In 2008, the United Kingdom began vaccinating the girls, but not yet the boys. The idea was that if the girls stopped getting the virus, it wouldn't be spread to the boys. But this thinking is changing, particularly because of the high rate of genital cancer among gay men, which is more than 15 times than that of straight men.

According to a press release issued by the BMJ: 

"Data from Australia show that HPV vaccination of girls has had an impact on the prevalence of genital warts in straight men, but there has been no such change in prevalence among gay men, say the authors.

In February this year, Australia extended its school based HPV vaccination programme to 12-13 year old boys, with a catch up programme for 14-15 year olds.

Recent research has shown that the HPV jab is effective in men, including gay men. The vaccine covers HPV 16 and 18, the two strains of the virus which account for most of the cancers associated with the infection."

What do you think about the HPV vaccine? Should it just be given to everyone?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Asthma: Let Your Child Do the Talking

When you visit the doctor with your child, do you talk to the doctor or nurse, or does your child? How you communicate with the doctor may make a difference in your child's care, said researchers in an article published in the July 2013 issue of the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

As parents, we want to be sure that the healthcare professionals get all the information that we feel is important. But in this study - which looked at children who have asthma - researchers picked up on information that only the child can present and the difference that it could make in their care.

"Our research shows that physicians should ask parents and children about the effects asthma is having on the child's daily life," said lead study author Margaret Burks, MD, in a press release. "Parents can often think symptoms are better or worse than what the child is really experiencing, especially if they are not with their children all day."

Researchers enrolled 79 children who were between five and 17 years old into their study. Fifty-three of the children had acute asthma and 26 had refractory asthma. The researchers asked the children to fill out the Pediatric Asthma Quality of Life Questionnaire and their caregivers completed the Pediatric Asthma Caregiver’s Quality of Life Questionnaire.

When comparing the questionnaire responses, the researchers found that while the scores between the two – the children and the caregivers – were similar, the children reported a better activity-related quality of life than did their caregivers. There was also a greater difference between how boys responded compared with their caregivers.

Taking this information, the researchers concluded that while the caregivers are important and can provide useful information to the healthcare professionals, it’s important to ask the children directly too, to see how they view their illness and its impact on their quality of life.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology has put together a list that it feels are the five most important topics that children with asthma should discuss with their allergist:

1. Asthma prevents me from playing sports and taking part in other activities -- If your child cannot play sports or participate in gym class and recess activities, it's important they tell their allergist. This can be an indication their asthma isn't properly controlled. If they can participate in activities, it is also important they tell their allergist, to show their condition is being well managed.
2. When I am outside or at home my asthma symptoms become worse -- An estimated 60 to 80 percent of children with asthma also have an allergy. If nearly inescapable allergens, such as pollen, mold, dust and pet dander are triggering your child's asthma symptoms, an allergist may include immunotherapy (allergy shots) as part of a treatment plan.
3. I often feel sad or different from other kids because I have asthma -- Nearly half of children with asthma report feeling depressed or left out of activities due to their condition. Anyone with asthma should be able to feel good and be active. No one should accept less.
4. There have been times I have missed school because of my condition -- Asthma is the most common chronic illness in childhood and is a leading caused in missed school days. Research shows children under the care of a board-certified allergist see a 77 percent reduction in lost time from school.
5. My asthma disappeared -- It is important your child carry and use their inhaler as prescribed, even if symptoms aren't bothersome. While asthma symptoms are controllable with the proper treatment, there isn't a cure for asthma and it likely won't disappear. An asthma attack can strike at any time.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Mental Health in a Disaster Situation - Quebec, California, Alberta...

Many of you may have heard about the disaster that just affected a small town in Quebec, Lac Megantic. A train with crude oil crashed in the center of this little lakeside town of 6,000 people and erupted into a fireball. The result was flattened buildings and several deaths - a war zone depiction, we're told. Many people still remain unaccounted for, which means the death toll will likely rise.

The day after this event, there was the Asiana plane crash in San Francisco. Before that, massive flooding in Calgary and High River, Alberta. And the list goes on. Major disasters affecting many people - those who are affected directly and those who go in to help the victims.

Mental health is a funny thing. We can be so strong in the face of such adversity as we work through such events, but then a seemingly small incident can be the last straw and send someone into a place they didn't know existed. For this reason, it is so important to address mental health issues from the start. We have to know that this is a vital part of the whole realm of care that people need.

The American Psychological Association offers a volunteer disaster relief service that responds to disasters across the continent. They have an informative tip sheet for the general public to learn about the psychological effect of disasters: Managing traumatic stress: Tips for recovering from disasters and other traumatic events. It discusses what can happen during and after the event, how different people may respond to the event, how to help yourself, and when you should seek professional help. There is also a post-traumatic growth inventory survey that may help people figure out how they are feeling.

If you are helping others, either in an official capacity or just doing what you can to help out, it's important to take care of yourself too. You know that airline instruction about if you're traveling with a young child or someone who needs help - if oxygen masks drop, place yours on first before the one on the person in your care? That's because that person needs you to be strong enough to help them, so you need the oxygen. It's the same thing with mental health. If you're not mentally healthy, if you're burned out, depressed, anxious about what you've seen and heard, you can't be as effective a helper. So you need to take care of yourself.

The Emergency Social Services site at the British Columbia government website says it well:

"As disaster workers we have the potential to become secondary victims, working long, hard hours under poor conditions. In some cases, physical dangers exist."

The page goes on to give tips on how you can help relieve the stress, even in the midst of chaos.

Remember, that just because the event is over, it doesn't mean that it no longer has an effect. Take care of yourself. Be aware that you may be vulnerable. And most importantly - ask for help. It's the only way people can know that you need them. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Wise Words About Depression, From a Teen

Invisible diseases are the toughest to cope with, in my opinion. Invisible health issues, such as chronic pain, celiac disease, or fibromyalgia, are difficult for people to understand because they can't see them. They can't see the problems that they cause and the effects that they have. A cast on your arm is easy to understand. Scars on your skin are obvious to see. But something hidden, invisible - not so much.

Depression is one of those illnesses and not only is it invisible, it's also a mental illness. This makes it even more difficult. As Kevin Breel says in his fantastic talk about depression, we are so accepting and understanding of any body part breaking, except for the brain. How true. 

If our appendix becomes inflamed and needs to be removed, we have surgery. If we get cancer, we get treatment. If we break a limb, we get a cast. But if our brain doesn't act right, if chemicals are not the right level or messages are interrupted, we're stuck. 

What makes Kevin's talk so compelling, so important, is his age (19) and who he is (a writer and stand-up comic). As he says in his talk, no one would guess that he struggles with depression. He's a handsome, popular, high achieving young man. Smiling and working hard, he's one of the last people you would ever dream as having a serious problem like depression. But he did. And he still does.

The good news is that people are beginning to talk about it more. When young people like Kevin speak out and celebrities like Jon Hamm and Bruce Springsteen talk about their experience with depression, those who have been hiding may begin to see that they're not alone. Why is it so important that we talk about depression? Because people need to know they aren't the only ones living with it. They need to know that other people have similar problems and that there is hope.

This week, there was an article in the New York Times article that discussed a treatment for depression, called transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS. TMS isn't for everyone and it may not work for all who try it, but maybe someone who needs it will read about it and benefit from it. If we don't write articles and blog posts about depression and its treatment, people feel alone.

If I can help you take just one thing away from this blog post, it's that you understand that people with depression are everywhere and may be among those who you least expect it. If you have depression, it can be difficult to reach out. The reasons are so varied and so individual, but they can range from fear of being thought less of ("What does he have to be depressed about? Doesn't he know what real problems are, how lucky he is?") to fear ("If my boss finds out, I might get fired.") And even if people do want to ask for help, sometimes they don't know how.

Depression has many descriptions. I see it as a hole, a deep, deep hole. And once you're in it, unless someone lowers a ladder, you feel like you'll never get out. If you are depressed, ask someone for that ladder. If you know someone who is depressed, please offer it. Let that person know you're there and that you care. 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Relaxing Sunday and.... Last Day of Blogathon 2013

We did it! Made it through all 30 days without missing a beat. Yay! So it's fitting that today is relaxing Sunday too.

I'll take a break from posting for a few days, refuel, so to speak. Unless a really interesting topic catches my attention. Tomorrow is Canada Day, our celebration of the country that has given us so much. We have our problems, there's no doubt about that. I live in Montreal, which seems to be political corruption and scandal central these days. I had a good laugh the other day though. Another mayor resigned from office, from Laval, the city beside Montreal, and the CBC news anchor in TV said, "Another mayor in Quebec resigned today, but not for the usual reasons."

I wish we had a mayor like Naheed Nenshi. What a jewel he has turned out to be. Calgarians, many of us are very envious that you have such a personable, unflappable, cool mayor. I don't imagine he set out to be cool, but watching him speak to the media, he is truly cool. Funny and direct, he got his point across in a kind but firm manner.

That's Canada, eh? From coast to coast, we have our problems, but there are always some shining examples of how great we can be.

Happy Canada Day to my fellow Canadians.

The WordCount Blogathon

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Last Blogathon Saturday Round-Up for 2013

It's the second to last day of the Blogathon 2013 and we've covered a lot of stuff. This blogathon is also a great way for me to learn about and introduce you to new blogs or rediscover older ones. The theme day for today was supposed to be a Wordle, a cloud of words from your blog. Last year I made one without any problems but for some reason, I can't do it this year. So, I decided to check to see which posts were the most popular this month instead.

The three most-read posts are ones that pop up all the time, two are several years old. They must be serving a purpose because every day, people come to my blog when they search for this information online. They are:

Broken hips in the elderly can lead to death
How can you die from pneumonia?
and a more recent post, from last year: Fibromyalgia - yes, it's real/no it's not.

These posts were followed by some from this month's blogathon:

Fibromyalgia cause discovered?
Distracted (Texting & Talking) Walking - No Sympathy Here
and 5 health and fitness apps I like

Do you have any favourite posts, maybe something that made you stop and think about how you felt about the topic, or that you disagreed (or agreed) with something I've said?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Another Child Dies in a Hot Car

Sadly, it happens every year. Every. Single. Year. Children are left in hot cars and they die of hyperthermia, heat stroke (Watch That Summer Heat). Last year, I wrote about the senseless deaths by drowning (Drowning Isn't Noisy). It looks like heat stroke is this year's topic.

This week, a 2-year-old boy died after being left for a "significant number of hours" in a hot car. I don't know the whole story. I don't know who forgot or how that happened, but it has happened before and it has happened too many times. Sometimes, the children are deliberately left in the car ("I'll be back in a few minutes," which turns into much longer), sometimes the children get into the car without anyone knowing, but often, the deaths occur when the child is forgotten. How does that happen?

The theories I've heard is that people are distracted, they're thrown off their routine, they're forgetful, they're busy. But are we really that distracted, that routine-oriented, that forgetful, that busy that we forget that we have a child in the back seat? How can that happen?

I heard on the radio today a host asking for ideas on how this can be prevented. One woman called in and said there should be an alarm that buzzes if someone gets out of the front of the car, but not the back. I guess she figured it could be a weight-triggered alarm like the ones in the front seat that tell you that you've not put on your seatbelt yet. But do we really have to start adding more technology to our lives? And what if we depend on it and the alarm doesn't sound? Then is the child's death the manufacturer's fault for not reminding the parents?

A friend of mine had five children. She laughs when she tells the story of the time when her husband took the a few of the children out for a bike ride - and forgot the baby in his crib. She said, "oh, he was busy, he didn't think about it." I didn't think it was funny. I was horrified. If you're the parent-in-charge, how do you forget a child? I'm not talking about having two adults around and each thinks the other has a child - this is one parent who was responsible for the child.

We have so much going on in our lives, but we need to take responsibility for things too. My children outnumbered us, there were three of them and only two of us. And we were as busy as most people with similar lives. And I was a far from perfect mother and I know I'll be a far from perfect grandmother when the time comes. But I wonder, in what circumstances could I have forgotten a child in the car. And if I did, would I not notice it quickly? "Hey, where's _____?"

What do you think?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

(Re)Connecting With Others Through the Internet

I received an email yesterday from someone who I'd not thought of in a long time. We met (virtually) when I worked for my first online job. We didn't work together for long - he is a physician who was a consultant - but we worked well together. It had been about 15 years or so since we last communicated when his name popped up in my email box. A lovely surprise.

As someone who isn't always the most confident of people, I'm always a bit amazed when others go out of their way to find me to get back in touch. Sometimes it's a person I knew from childhood, other times, an old colleague. It's a nice feeling to know that someone reached out, took the time to find me, for whatever reason.

The Internet gets a lot of bad publicity because of the ease with which it is used for bad stuff. People can and do use it to cause problems, commit crimes, and hurt others. But bad people will do bad things, no matter what is available. And the Internet is a tool - that's all it is. It can be a tool for bad, but it can also be a tool for good.

Think about the world it has opened for so many who might otherwise be isolated: the homebound young mom who can connect with other mothers for support and companionship and the lonely senior who can get online and join groups of like-minded people. The person who lives too far away from university but who is aching to learn can now enroll in online education. The voracious news junkies can read newspapers from around the world. Grandparents can Skype with their grandchildren who live across the country or on another continent. There are so many people who use the Internet to enrich their lives or just to help them get through their day-to-day existence.

To me, it's often about connecting - or reconnecting. The email I received from Jeff made me smile yesterday.  Have you ever reached out online to someone from your past? Is there someone who would smile if they saw an email or Facebook request from you?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Deaf Boy Hears Dad for First Time - Is It Right or Wrong?

If you are on Facebook, you may have already seen this video, but if you haven't seen it - you should. Imagine being three years old and hearing a sound for the first time. And that sound is your dad's voice. (You can watch the video here.) The look of amazement on his face is priceless.

Grayson Clamp, the boy in the video, is one of the first children to receive a new type of implant that helps the brain hear sound. He had been fit earlier with a cochlear implant, but without the necessary nerves for the implant to work, he was not able to benefit. This newer type of implant Grayson received has been around for a while for adults, but only recently was approved for a trial among children.

There is debate among the deaf community about this procedure. I worked with hearing impaired children in the early 80s and I learned of the debate then. There are many who feel that the push to have deaf children hear can be damaging, that by trying to "fix" them, society is teaching the children that there is something wrong. There are some groups in the community that are vehemently opposed to teaching deaf children how to lip read and speak, if possible. Yet there are some in the community who equally opposed to sign language, while others say it is the only way to go. And now that helping children hear has gone beyond external approaches (lip reading and signing) and gone to invasive procedures (implants), the debate is even stronger.

When I was younger, I often thought that being blind would be the worst disability in terms of losing a sense - but when I worked with the hearing impaired, I learned that when you can't hear, you are so isolated from the rest of the world. You can't hear the person behind you on the bus saying "excuse me," has she tries to pass. You can't hear the warning sirens nor cheers of joy. You can't communicate easily with the hearing world. So while I can understand that some people may not want the children to feel they are broken and need to be fixed, I can't understand why some people would want to restrict their children to a world where they can only communicate with others who can sign.

What do you think? Are we going too far in trying to help children with no hearing gain that sense? Or should we continue to do what we can to give the children what we can?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Fibromyalgia Cause Discovered?

It sounds a bit too good to be true, but maybe a new discovery into what may cause fibromyalgia can bring hope to those who have this mysterious disease. Researchers in New York claim that they have found that people with fibromyalgia had more sensory nerve fibers at certain sites in the palm of the hand. The researchers believe that this finding could explain the hypersensitivity and increase in pain sensation, because of the link between these nerves and the pain that people with fibromyalgia feel throughout the body.

While I'm not thrilled with the article title (too sensational and not quite true), Fibromyalgia Mystery Finally Solved! does do a good job of explaining the findings.

The study, published in the medical journal Pain Medicine, was based on a small study group, so much more research needs to be done. But, if there is something to this, not only could this be a basis for better treatment research, it could help prove to nay-sayers that this is an actual disease with actual effects.

Sadly, fibromyalgia falls into the invisible diseases and if you have an invisible disease, it is easy for some people to dismiss your illness as "in your head," or an excuse to get out of doing something. Some people are determined to prove that fibromyalgia doesn't exist (Fibromyalgia - It's Not Real/Yes, It Is). For those of us who have it, fibromyalgia is very real.

If you are looking for more information on fibromyalgia, I wrote an article for Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain magazine, called You Don't Have to Look Sick to Be Sick. This may explain things for you.

In the meantime, it's nice to know that the research is continuing. One day, there will be an effective treatment, if not cure.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Nurse's Life - Stress

Nursing is one of those professions that seems to polarize people. Over the past many years, when speaking with members of the public and even healthcare professionals, I've found opinions to be rather strong about who or what they believe nurses to be and what the job is like. Some people believe that nurses are angels (we're not), others believe that it's an easy job and that nurses are their servants (we're not), and yet others believe that a "smart nurse" is a wannabe doctor (we're not) and that if you're not a "smart nurse," then being a nurse was as close as you could get to becoming a doctor (it's not). Oh, and many believe that doctors are nurses' bosses and that nurses can't and don't think on their own (so not true). We can't forget that there's also the whole other group of people who have no clue at all what it is like to be a nurse and what nurses actually do. (What Do Nurses Really Do?)

As with many professions, nursing has changed over the years. Just in my professional lifetime, there have been so many leaps in technology and in responsibility that it would be impossible to list them all. Patients in the hospital now - on regular units, not ICU - are sicker than they ever were before. The patients we kept in the hospital for several days when I began nursing are now, if kept overnight at all, discharged as quickly as possible. Nurses are expected to keep up with it all.

The CBC had a feature that discussed how low staffing numbers in Canadian hospitals affected how nurses perceived and did their work; I think it's a must-read for anyone, health professional or not. And it's important to keep in mind that this isn't a Canada healthcare system vs U.S. healthcare system issue. Staffing ratios are in issue throughout the continent so while nursing has always been a stressful position, it's getting worse. Fear of mistakes is paramount. And, unlike some jobs where a mistake is annoying, perhaps expensive, but fixable, a nurse's mistake could cost a life.

Nurses need more support. They need more people going into the profession so there are fewer shortages and demands like forced overtime. They need better support in the hospitals. They need for the public to understand that they aren't miracle workers and if the public demands that the nurses do non-nursing tasks, then the nurses don't have time to do what they are supposed to do.

Nurses aren't perfect. There are some who shouldn't be in the profession and everyone knows someone who has a bad story to tell about such a nurse. But it's so important remember that this is not representative of the profession. There are bad teachers, but not all are bad. There are bad bank tellers, but not all are bad. There are bad accountants, but not all are bad. Nurses are for the most part, very caring and very good at what they do. They have to be to keep going back to it shift after shift.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Relaxing Sundays - A Day to Slow Down?

There is something to be said about the belief that one day should be sacred, set aside for family and play or relaxation rather than work. In a simpler world, it was possible for many but not for everyone. As a nurse, I worked many Sundays or holidays - days that were supposed to be days of rest. And now, in today's always-on society, there are no days set aside when society just slows down, forcing people to sit back.

Stores are open seven days a week, sometimes 24-hours a day. People work around the clock in their various jobs. Even people like me - those who work from home - can fall into the trap of working when maybe we shouldn't be.

Of course, taking a day to do what you want to do rather than have to do doesn't mean it has to be a Sunday or even a whole day, but it is important do this. It's a way to refuel yourself, to remember that life isn't all about working and moving ahead. It's also about enjoying what and who is around you.

When was the last time you took a walk just to take a walk? Not to get exercise, not to get from point A to point B, but to look at the neighbourhood, to people watch, and just be part of the experience. What about reading a book for the pleasure of reading it - not for work and not because someone told you that you should? If you like to create, when was the last time you made something just for the pleasure of doing so?

If you find yourself getting stressed or feeling like you have too much to do, maybe that should be the time to sit back and make time for yourself. Stopping the hamster wheel before it starts to spin out of control is a lot easier than trying to get off it when it's spinning too fast.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Saturday Round-Up - Day 22 of Blogathon 2013

Happy Saturday! It's day 22 of the Blogathon and finding ideas isn't all that difficult considering all the news that's been around the past few weeks.

Saturday is round up day here. On Monday, Blogathon participants were challenged to post videos on their blog. Here are a few of the blogs that participated:

Want to catch up on this blog's week's posts? Here is what we talked about this week:

Relaxing Sundays, Good for the Soul
When It's Time to Say Good-bye to a Beloved Pet (with video)
Easier-to-Understand Drug Labels for Canadians
Health Care - from Your Tablet or Smart Phone?
Distracted (Texting & Talking) Walking - No Sympathy Here
Obesity - a Disease?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Obesity a Disease?

Is obesity a disease? A result of lifestyle? An adverse effect of medications? A symptom of a disease? What is obesity and should we be trying to define it?

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), yes we do need to define it and, yes, obesity is now a disease. This declaration has surprised some in the medical community because an advisory committee had actually advised against this new designation. But the AMA isn't the only physicians' organization to say obesity is a disease. An article was published not too long ago in the British Medical Bulletin that said the same thing. The abstract says:

"Obesity is associated with the development of some of the most prevalent diseases of modem society. " It goes on to list the increased risk for diabetes, coronary heart disease, and gallbladder disease, as other problems that include the endocrine and respiratory systems. " Obesity is not a social stigma but an actual disease with a major genetic component to its aetiology and a financial cost estimated at $69 billion for the USA alone."

A CTV article says:

Supporters argued that obesity fits the criteria of a disease, since it impairs body function and can lead to serious conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Detractors argued that obesity was more of a risk factor for other conditions, rather than a disease on its own.

Critics of the new designation fear that by labeling obesity as a disease, people will stop choosing lifestyle changes as an option for losing weight. While it's true that not everyone can lose weight through changing their habits, many can - and the idea that this isn't necessary because it's a medical problem could result in more people having surgery or taking medications than is really necessary.

To be clear, not everyone who is obese is overweight because of poor diet or lack of exercise. There are biological and medical reasons that may be the driving factor. But, we can't deny that we have a problem with obesity in our society these days that is, for many people, caused by poor diets and lack of exercise.

So, is obesity a disease? What do you think?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Distracted (Texting & Talking) Walking - No Sympathy Here

We see it every day. People looking down at their phones or are in deep conversation as they walk down the street or through a mall. Many times, we see these people walk right into obstacles or even down stairs. They walk straight into intersections because they're so busy texting or reading their latest text. They don't hear cars honking because their phone conversation has all their attention.

And you know what? I'm afraid I'm going to say that if they walk into a telephone pole or fall down the stairs because of their behaviour, I'm not going to feel sorry for them. Unfortunately though - the damage doesn't stop just with them. Their stupidity and selfishness (I *must* take the call/read this text/send this message NOW) behaviour affects not just them, but the people around them.

Picture this: a texting pedestrian doesn't see the stop signal and walks straight into traffic - and is hit by a car. I don't feel bad for the pedestrian, but my heart breaks for the poor soul who was driving that car. That accident was caused 100% by the idiot who didn't pay attention to the road and has quite likely not only changed the pedestrian's life forever (if the pedestrian wasn't killed), but the life of the driver will never be the same.

If you're texting and you fall down the stairs, break several bones or get a concussion - you're not the only one affected. The people who have to help you are. Your family and friends are. Your coworkers are. What could possibly be so important that you can't wait until you're at your destination or, at least, you stop (over to the side!) to do what you have to do. Yes folks, "step aside." I've had people stop in their tracks, right in front me, as they stop to read something on their phone or to dial a number. As I smash into them, they look at *me* as if I did something wrong. Excuse me? We're walking along the sidewalk at a quick clip, you stop in your tracks because you want to look at your phone and it's my fault I couldn't read your mind and make a split second decision to move around you?

Lest you think I'm just on a rant, I will tell you about a study that was just published on this issue:

Distracted walking: injuries soar for pedestrians on phones. Here are just two examples: "One 14-year-old boy walking down a road while talking on a cell phone fell 6 to 8 feet off a bridge into a rock-strewn ditch, suffering chest and shoulder injuries. A 23-year-old man was struck by a car while walking on the middle line of a road and talking on a cell phone, injuring his hip."

And don't get me started on the number of parents with young children I see pushing strollers or holding their children's hands while the parents are deep in conversation (voice or text), ignoring their children the whole time. I've seen young mothers on the phone, push their stroller right into traffic because they aren't paying attention. I'm afraid to say, it's almost always a mom I see doing it.

Nothing is that important that you can't step aside or wait a few minutes to deal with it.

Rant over. I think.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Health Care - from Your Tablet or Smart Phone?

What do you do if you have a quick question you want to ask your doctor or a nurse? Do you have access to someone? Can you call your doctor's office for an answer? What if you're not feeling well, but you don't know if it's something that should be looked at or if you'll be better if you get a good night's sleep? The answer might soon be in your pocket, purse, or backpack if you have a tablet or smart phone.

Today's world is full of instant communication. Having a phone in hand all the time makes phone calls or texts a quick thing to do, rather than when you used to have to wait until you got home, to the office, or even if you found a pay phone. The Internet has added to this "instant-ness" by providing you with information as fast as you can type your search request. So, can our health care fall into this type of category?

According to an article written by HealthDay News, which undertook a survey on how people might want to use their technology for their health care, "one-third of respondents who are online said they were "very" or "extremely" interested in using smartphones or tablets to ask their doctors questions, make appointments or get medical test results."

For the past two years, I have been able to make appointments with two of my doctors online and I do like that convenience very much. The convenience of making appointments online is considerable and this was reinforced a few weeks ago when I had to make an appointment with another doctor the "old-fashioned" way, by phone. It took a few calls before I could finally get through to someone. But, once I did, the receptionist was very helpful and apologetic.

With the online booking system my other doctors use, you can make your appointment and if it's not soon enough for your liking, you can check daily for cancellations and grab one if an opening comes up. The drawback to the system, however, is these doctors have cut back on their receptionists or their hours and if you need to call to ask a question (no email), it's very, very, VERY difficult to get through. You have to call many times, different times of the day to finally speak to someone because their system doesn't take voicemail.

While being able to email your doctor to ask questions may be appealing to many people, we have to take into consideration practicalities. One email from you might not take much time to answer, but if your doctor receives 30 emails in a day from patients, some with complex questions, when is she going to have time to respond when she is supposed to be seeing patients? And, of course, we all know how email piles up when you're not in the office, so if your doctor is off for a day or two, is working in a clinic or hospital for a day, or is just at home overnight - that 30 emails can easily balloon to a much higher number. This system may not be sustainable.

On the other hand, a system that allows doctors' offices to send normal test results straight to a patient via text or email could save considerable time and stress on behalf of the patients who may be worrying about what the tests will show. Many doctors will say to patients "We'll call if the tests show anything out of the ordinary," meaning they won't call if things are normal. But that leaves people hanging. Did the doctor not call because the tests were normal or did he not call because the results haven't come in? Or did he not call because the tests did come in and he did mean to call, but something happened and the call never happened?

So, what do you think? Can you get hold of your doctor or healthcare professional whenever you need? Would you like to be able to email your doctor? But how would it be possible for the doctors to take on this extra task in their already busy day?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Easier-to-Understand Drug Labels for Canadians

If you're sick, trying to figure out how you should be taking what medication should be the last of your worries. Unfortunately, not having clear drug labelling can be confusing and add to medications being missed or not being taken correctly.

According to an article on CBC.ca:

"[A]s many as 1 in 9 emergency room visits are related to drug adverse events, and 68% of these visits are preventable. Patients often suffer because of drug labels, packaging or names that they've misunderstood."

This isn't difficult to see. Many drugs sound alike or look alike, and when you're not feeling 100% to begin with, mistakes are bound to happen. While the article doesn't go into much detail about the new labelling, the fact that the issue is being addressed can only be a good thing.

As a nurse, I often had to give discharge instructions to patients, explaining their medications and who they should be taken. But as a parent, relative, and friend of people who take medications, it became plain to me that what may be obvious to me isn't to everyone. For example, take the medication ibuprofen. That's the generic name, the common name. But people in North America also know it as Advil, Motrin, or Nuprin. For prednisone, the generic name, people may know it as deltasone. And that's just the simpler drugs. I've been known to say to someone who is asking for something for a headache, "I have some ibuprofen," only to get a response, "is that the same as Advil?"

Another problem is medications that sound alike. Celexa (an antidepressant) could be easily confused with Celebrex (an anti-inflammatory); Cozaar (for high blood pressure) with colace (a stool softener); Flonase (a nasal spray used for allergy congestion) with Flovent (an inhaled steroid, often used for asthma; and Miralax (a laxative) with Mirapex (a medication for Parkinson's disease). These are just a few examples. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices in the US has compiled a long list of similarly named medications.

What do you think? What could manufacturers do to make drug labels safer?

Monday, June 17, 2013

When It's Time to Say Good-bye to a Beloved Pet

Pet owners know how hard it is when it's time for their beloved animal to leave. Sometimes, our pets die on their own, but all too often, we have to make that decision. It's so very difficult.

I grew up with dogs and cats. When my children were young, we started off with guinea pigs and then dogs joined our family. We couldn't have cats because a few family members are quite allergic to them.

Rox waiting at the front window
Our first dog was our beloved golden retriever Rox. We loved that dog with a passion we didn't think possible. He was goofy, silly, but incredibly loving golden. But he left us when he was too young. He had stomach cancer. He came to us when he was 2 years old. He died when he was 7.

Rox was such a special dog that others, some people who swore they would never get a dog, adopted one after spending time with him. His gentleness eased so many fears and his eagerness to please won over so many people. I remember him greeting our milkman every time he came, jumping for joy when he saw him. The day after Rox died, the milkman came to the door and looked past me to see Rox. When I told him that Rox had died, he cried. Rox was that special.

A while later, we adopted our first greyhound, Oscar. Oscar was a real character. While Rox will always be my heart dog, Oscar had a special place all his own. He loved life. He was 2 years old, as was Rox when he joined us, when we got him straight from the racetrack. He was a poor excuse of a racer, which is why he was so young, but he was a major star in being a part of our family.

Goofball Oscar

Greyhounds are the polar opposite of golden retrievers. They are often called the feline dogs. They do need some special care that other breeds don't, but they're not the high strung, high energy dogs that many people think they are. Most greyhounds I've met are more than happy to snuggle on a soft bed or couch.

I used to keep a "diary" of Oscar and his antics. After he died, I published a book, Oscar's Diaries, Life as a Retired Greyhound. Sadly, he also died of cancer, at age 5.

Dee, her first day
We then adopted Dee, a retired broodmom greyhound. She had been kept to breed and had never lived in a home. She was 9 years old! She didn't stay with us for long, only 9 months, but she had a great 9 months. She was a brat, a real brat - but she deserved to be.

Making that decision is tough and our veterinarians know that. There was an article published recently in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, describing a tool that is being developed by researchers at Michigan State University. They are hoping that such a tool will help make this sad decision a little bit easier.

Today's theme of Blogathon 2013 is using a video. I was going to make a video, a how-to about something health-related, but as I was poking through my files, I found this video I made after Oscar died. I think it says so much about the love that we have for our pets and I still miss him - and all my other beloved animals, very much.