Jun 18 2010

Abortion – the right to decide

Recent events have left me pondering a topic that I have tried to avoid discussing due to its controversial nature – abortion.  But, I feel I should put down some of these thoughts as it might encourage a discussion of it.

Abortion is a highly emotive topic and one that cannot be entered into lightly.  I have never had to face the issue first-hand and I really thank God that I have never been put in that position.  But I know people who have.  None of them, however, chose abortion.  I only know second-hand about their own feelings.  Since I have not known anyone personally who chose abortion, I cannot present their side.

I know women who do choose abortion have their reasons for doing so, and I know the anti-abortion activists have much to argue against in that.  However, I am not here to preach either side.  I am not the one to live with the consequences of the decision these women make. 

The point I do want to make is that women shouldn’t be forced into one decision or another.  The pro-choice advocates would cheer for that, but I don’t think they get the point, either.  It seems the general public only hear about women being coerced (by various groups) into keeping their child.  They don’t hear about women who are bullied into having abortions.

Three women of my acquaintance have had to face the “choice”.  All three were in stable marriages, so the situation is rather different from the young unmarried mother.  One was much older and couldn’t face the idea of having another child late in life.  Furthermore, she was getting very sick from the pregnancy.  She didn’t know what to do and chose to wait it out.  The decision was eventually taken out of her hands when she miscarried.

The other two discovered that their foetuses had birth defects.  One was in her early twenties, the other in her late thirties.  The younger one couldn’t and wouldn’t believe the diagnosis, but the older one realised it was due to her age.  Both were very religious, though they adhered to different religions and different theological beliefs.  That may have contributed to their decision not to have an abortion.

What distinguished these two from the first one was that their doctors continually advised them to have abortions throughout the pregnancy.  They were both made to feel as if their opinions and beliefs were insignificant.  In this day and age, this is unforgivable in the medical profession.  The prognosis for the first child was extremely poor, the second barely less so, but this did not excuse the behaviour of the medical team.  By the end of the pregnancies, the doctors were forced to accept that they would be delivering either a stillborn or a child expected to die.

Both sets of parents were prepared for all eventualities.  The first was able to hold her child as he took his last breaths, the second delivered a stillborn daughter.  Neither regretted their decisions.  They were able to carry their child to term, felt all the movements the child made and developed a bond for the unborn, and then grieve a natural loss.

These women were able to stand up to their doctors and make their own decisions.  But, how many other women are coerced into having abortions?  How many of them regret it?

Mar 31 2010

Oh no, chicken pox!

What an unbelievable day.  Someone at work had shingles, so a colleague and I had a discussion about chicken pox.  I was asked if my kids had chicken pox yet and I replied that they had received the varicella vaccine.  Of course, getting vaccines does not guarantee that you can’t get the disease, but it allows you to hope that the illness would be mild.  Since the chicken pox vaccine is relatively new, not enough data is available to show how effective it is.  You can only show that it is ineffective when an individual develops the illness that the vaccine was supposed to prevent.

I came home to find my husband dabbing calamine lotion onto my younger daughter’s torso.  It may have been that I had chicken pox on the mind, but my first reaction was, “Oh no, you’ve got chicken pox!”  Sure enough, it is chicken pox.  We hadn’t heard that there was an outbreak at school, so we’re not sure if she is the sentinel case or if she caught it from someone else.  I just hope that I was not a vector, as I was exposed to someone with shingles.  Or vice versa.

If she caught the virus from someone else, my daughter would have been exposed sometime in the last week or two.  Which also means that she could have been passing it on during that time.  Viral shedding occurs even before the rash breaks out.

It does appear that she is having a rather mild infection.  She has not had a fever and generally feels well. Though she complains of a mild sore throat and some fatigue, it does not prevent her from doing her usual activities.  She does complain about itch, but it has not been bad.  Of course, she hardly ever complains about itch with rashes of any kind.  Already, some of the lesions are starting to scab.  Once that happens, she will no longer be infectious and can interact with others, unless she is embarrassed about the sores on her face.  Fortunately, the end of term is nearly here.  I just hope the Easter holidays will not be ruined.

Jan 01 2010

Response to 4-MMC/Mephedrone

I’m using this post to respond to recent commenters.  Thank you for reading my blog and sharing your thoughts.  And special thanks to those who can express their views without having to resort to swearing.

The blogging world is both personal and impersonal.  You can express very personal views without revealing your identity.  Of course, those who are sufficiently determined would find a way to discover a blogger’s identity.  Some people have such strong views that we cannot help but get a reaction.  And reactions are important to stimulate debate.

Most of the reactions recently have been related to drugs, legal or not.

First of all, I would like to emphasize the point that I do not favour tobacco or alcohol any more than I do the illegal drugs.  Despite “scientific” evidence that moderate drinking is good for you, I would never encourage anyone to even have a drink a day.  That would be irresponsible.  There is nothing I can say that is positive about tobacco.  The damage from tobacco is more long-term, though some short-term effects, such as shortness of breath, cough, and wheeze does exist.  Alcohol gives a “buzz” to most people, and again, it has long-term consequences.

The effects of illegal, or unregulated, drugs are less well-known.  This is in part due to the fact that they are not as readily available, so fewer people use them and there is less “study” of them.  I will admit that I do not have “data” to show that these drugs, such as 4-MMC, are deadly.  But, having worked in the ER and seeing kids brought in dead on arrival after a night of mixing drugs, the best conclusion is that those drugs are linked to the death, even if current testing cannot conclusively show that any one specific drug is to blame.

Enough is known about the class of drugs which 4-MMC, or mephedrone, belongs to that scientists can say that it acts as a stimulant.  Similar drugs include amphetamines, ephedra, and ecstasy.  Based on that alone, I cannot see why 4-MMC should be treated any differently from those drugs.  It is interesting that drug users demand to be given scientific evidence that something is harmful, yet they are willing to risk their lives before scientific evidence proves that something is not harmful.

Anyone who has read my blog would know that I tend to be sceptical about any scientific study.  There always seem to be some flaw which leads to different groups studying the same thing and getting different results.  Though I’m not advocating willy-nilly beliefs, I do feel that we need to be careful of drawing conclusions based solely on science.  Sometimes, observational studies are just as important.

Drug users will then argue that if you go to a club and observe those getting high you will see that they are all tranquil.  That’s baloney.  Try holding down someone on a real “trip”.  You wonder how that little person could be so strong.

So, why does tobacco and alcohol have such special status?  I can’t answer that except to say that it is such a huge source of revenue for the government that they would be unable to reverse things.  They are available and at the same time, they are discouraged.  Or, in the case of alcohol, “drink responsibly”.   I agree that the various methods for smoking cessation should be made accessible and well-regulated.  I only warned against using products that are unregulated, as there may be hidden dangers.

Can they really do that with other drugs?  It would be extremely irresponsible for the government to just turn a blind eye to other drugs.  We have laws in place in to protect people from themselves and from others.  Some may argue that the government should not be our moral authority, but wouldn’t that just encourage anarchy?

Education is important to prevent the misuse and abuse of drugs.  It is not enough just to say that drugs are bad and leave it at that.  Some people are not willing to take that at face value.  They have to experience it themselves and make their own conclusions.  Sometimes, unfortunately, they are not given another chance.

Regulation is important.  If a drug is illegal, it should be banned.  If it is not deemed illegal, there should be regulation.  What would this mean?  First, it would mean the government gets a cut.  They would have to have people in place to test drugs to see that they are not adulterated.  Part of the danger in using drugs that are bought online and unregulated is that they may contain contaminants which make the drugs cheaper and more deadly.  Regulation would mean that there is less of a problem with inherent crime associated with the drug.  Perhaps it may decrease the attraction of the drug.  For young people and early experimenters, it is the thrill of doing something not quite legal that contributes to the “high”.

Does 4-MMC deserve to be regulated rather than banned?  It would be very difficult to defend this drug when so many other countries have already banned it based on its effects and associated risks.  Some would argue that its risk lay in overdosing, but what is an overdose?  Drug levels are never the same in everyone.

Nov 08 2009

Treating head lice

I never expected to have to deal with this problem, but that’s life. I guess if hundreds of millions of people get it every year, I shouldn’t expect to escape unscathed through my kids’ childhood.

Head lice infestation, also known as pediculosis, commonly affects children between the ages of 3-10. This is the age of nursery through primary school. For whatever reason, it is less common in older children. However, exposure to the younger population will put you at risk. That is, unless you are bald, in which case, you are unlikely to ever get head lice.

Head lice only infects those with hair. That is because they attach themselves, as well their eggs, to the strands of hair, using their very sticky saliva. There is a common misconception that only those with poor hygiene will get head lice. However, lice prefer clean hair, as it is easier to attach. Having said that, they would readily climb onto any hair they find available. They do not like oils, as it makes it difficult for them to attach; so, those with greasy hair may have an advantage.

Lice do not fly or jump. They walk between hairs, so they can only be passed between close contacts. It is uncommonly passed simply by sharing combs or clothing. Lice quickly die in the absence of a host to provide warmth and food. Since they feed on the scalp, they do not survive long once removed from the head. Therefore, the treatment of head lice does not require washing of clothes or bedsheets exposed to them. This is different to body lice which does require boiling of the clothes and bedsheets, or burning, if boiling is not practical.

Suspicion is raised when a child scratches his/her head. This is because itching is the most common symptom. The itching is caused by irritation when a louse bites the scalp to suck the blood. As it does so, it releases its saliva and the body’s reaction to the saliva causes the itching. However, some people do not experience a reaction, therefore, they do not itch. By the time the itching occurs, the head may have been infected for several weeks.

Examination of the head for lice is very important. Most often, lice can be found behind the ears or at the nape of the neck. They may be difficult to find if the hair is thick. Sometimes, you may be able to see the red bite marks, or the black lice droppings. More often, you can find nits (empty shells of lice eggs) attached to the hair. Nits can be distinguished from dead hair cells by their strong attachment. Usually dead hair cells will fall off when you shake the hair.

There are several methods for treating head lice. No treatment is 100% effective. There are pesticidal and non-pesticidal chemical treatment, as well as “natural” therapy. The pesticidal treatments often require a doctor’s prescription, whereas, the non-pesticidal will be sold over-the-counter. You should ask your local pharmacist for help on this. The problem with pesticidal treatments is that the lice often form resistance to the agents. Natural therapies include the simple wet-combing method, tea tree oil and other natural products (some examples include olive oil, aniseed and coconut), and hot air.

The wet-combing method involves washing the hair with shampoo, followed by an application of conditioner. Then, comb the hair using a regular comb to get the tangles out. After this, use the nit comb to go over the hair to remove lice and nits. The comb should be rinsed to remove the lice and nits between combings. To be thorough, this process should take about 30 minutes. The wet-combing method should be used, regardless of whether a chemical treatment is used or not.

It is recommended that chemical treatments not be used unless a live lice is detected on head exam. When using the chemical treatments, you should ensure that the eyes are protected by using a towel to prevent dripping of the chemical onto the face. Rinse the eyes well if any of the chemical does go in. Because no treatment is 100% guaranteed to work, repeat treatment is often necessary. Chemical treatments may kill lice, but not the eggs, which incubate for 6-9 days. Therefore, after about 10 days, the process should be repeated to kill the lice that hatches. It is also recommended that the wet-combing method be used in between the two treatments. Experts suggest checking for lice every two days with the nit comb and if it is negative for 10 consecutive days, then the child can be declared lice-free.

Hot air is another non-chemical treatment. However, it requires a special machine to deliver the right amount of heat to destroy the lice and eggs. There are other treatments that people resort to that are considered dangerous and, therefore, strongly recommended not to use, such as gasoline or kerosene. And, there are newer products in development that show promise and do not rely on pesticides.

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent head lice. You can reduce the risk of acquiring lice by tying long hair back so that it reduces the likelihood of coming into contact with other people’s hair. Though shaving the head is one way of reducing the risk, it is not recommended because of the psychological impact on the child. However, if the infestation is severe enough to cause matting of the hair, cutting or shaving the hair may be necessary.

Sep 21 2009

Choosing the right food

I was placed on hold talking to customer service and instead of just playing music, there were infomercial ads.  This particular one focused on eating healthy.  I was not able to hear all of it, but a couple of the items of advice given were sensible and reiterated some things I said previously.

If you’re concerned about your weight and would like to lose some, or if you just want to maintain a healthy diet, it can be very difficult to follow through when you’re dining out.   And, let’s face it, most of us get tired of eating the same things day in and day out, or struggling to come up with a good meal to fix every night.  So, occasionally, we do need to dine out.  But, there are ways to keep to your resolutions. 

The first suggestion is to order a soup like minestrone as a starter.  As I’ve mentioned before, eating a hearty soup does fill you up and the effect lasts longer than eating dry food and washing it down with water.  In effect, having this soup first prevents you from eating more in your main course.

The other suggestion is a little more interesting.  It involves eating seafood.  Of course, we know that fatty fish contains the good fat, omega-3, which is heart healthy.  But, according to this ad, omega-3 also boosts hormones in your brain to help with depression.  I’m not sure of the science behind this, but I guess it would be healthier than the typical comfort food.  So, if you’re feeling down, grab some mackerel sushi.

Sep 13 2009

Overeating in times of grief

It’s been two months since Michael Jackson died, and recently Janet talked to reporters about what she has been through.  It’s sad to see that she has turned to food to comfort her.  Anyone who has watched Janet Jackson over the years can see that she has had a weight problem.  In recent years, she has maintained a healthy weight, but if she is binging now, it may spell disaster for her.

It’s not surprising that grief can trigger an eating binge.  After all, overeating is a common symptom of depression, and grief is a temporary form of depression, which may become pathologic.  So, what can one do?

Social support is always important in dealing with grief.  Without it, a person may go into a nervous breakdown.  Being able to express their inner turmoil helps vent negative feelings.  When a death is expected, people have time to go through the stages of grief, but when it is sudden, there is no preparation.  So, those individuals go through grief without adequate closure.  If there is no social support, that person would best be advised to seek professional help in the form of a counselor, a pastor, or someone they can trust.

Medication, in my opinion, should be avoided if possible.  For one thing, many antidepressants can cause weight gain, which is no advantage to comfort food.  For another, antidepressants may dull a person’s senses, which does not help in dealing with all the emotions in grief.  Furthermore, there is always that “addiction” potential.

Relaxation techniques, such as yoga and meditation, may be helpful, if you know how to do it.  But, everyone should have an idea of what makes them relax.  Maybe, it’s just a nice soak in the bath, or listening to their favourite music. Adding these things into their routine may help relieve their minds and bodies.  Grief and depression wears a person down mentally and physically.

Some people turn to food because they recognise it as something that makes them relax.  They are feeding the body to relieve the mind.  This is understandable, but dangerous, as it can lead to obesity and other health problems.  It is difficult to remind yourself of the dangers of bad eating habits when your mind is on your grief.

So, the best thing is to focus your mind on something else.  When you’re sad or depressed, this may not be easy.  I find that sometimes, writing down my thoughts and feelings allows me to free my mind up of a problem.  I know that I can come back to it later, but I don’t have to focus on it in my mind after I’ve committed it to paper, or computer.  The same can probably apply to sad feelings.  This may be useful to those who do not have an immediate friend to turn to.  They can vent their frustrations and leave it.

Another technique to clear your mind is exercise.  Oh, yes, I can hear the groans.  But, it is true that exercise, even as it wears the body down, can refresh it.  Sluggishness accompanies weight gain and inactivity.  Exercise will keep you from reaching for that fattening snack or from making a nice, large comfort meal.

Going out to eat, or even shopping is always going to be a challenge.  There is overwhelming temptation in supermarkets and grocery stores to impulsively purchase snacks.  I know this because it is extremely tempting for me, even when I’m not feeling down.  The best way to avoid doing this is to make a list of what you need, not what you want.  Perhaps, making a menu and sticking to it (always provided that the menu is healthy).  Make sure the list does not include any unnecessaries and make sure not to buy anything not on the list.  As for eating out, if it is done infrequently, there is no need to be extra careful.

Overeating is an addiction and in times of sadness, addictions are very hard to overcome.  Finding other things to do to avoid overeating may be difficult.  Activities that were once enjoyed may not be able to satisfy.  However, it should be continued.  Normal routines should not be neglected.  In fact, making sure that they are done (such as household chores) can keep the mind off food.  Similarly, avoid activities associated with food, i.e. watching TV.

But, perhaps, the best chance of succeeding in avoiding comfort feeding is to have someone who can encourage you to stick to your goals.  Lonely people may be able to help themselves, but it has been documented that those who are socially isolated do have more health problems.  So, in times of grief and depression, you should not avoid all social events.

Sep 13 2009

New uses for fat cells – stem cell research, breast augmentation

Stem cell research has always been a controversial subject, especially in the US.  One of the big reasons is the use of aborted fetuses for these purposes.  And abortion is a touchy issue.  Obesity is also a touchy issue, but in a different way.  Whereas, there are personal, religious, emotive forces behind the pros and cons of abortion, no one would ever argue that obesity is a good thing.  However, those who are obese may feel some powerful negative connotations that are degrading.

Given that, it might be good news to these people that scientists have found that they can create stem cell lines more efficiently with adipose tissues.  Since one-third of Americans are classified as overweight or obese, scientists will have more than adequate resources from which to make stem cells.  Should further research reveal that these adipose tissues can be harvested from people and be used towards research and development of cures for numerous medical diseases, then the negative connotations may be turned into something more positive. 

Obese people who donate their fat cells may be hailed as heroes to those suffering from chronic medical problems who are awaiting cures.  Furthermore, the donation of those cells may help them lose some of their weight, thereby reducing their health risks.  It seems to be a win-win situation for all if it develops that future stem cell research will be focused on using adipose tissue.

In other news, scientists are looking at using women’s own fat tissue from various body parts to be used in breast augmentation.  Sounds like it would be a lot safer than saline/silicone alternatives.  Not only that, it can help reshape a woman’s figure.  Though I am no advocate for breast augmentation, I think the idea is a good one.  I’d prefer it if my body could redistribute the fat that way naturally.

Sep 09 2009

Sleeping separately may save lives (and sanity)

As mentioned many times before, sleep is extremely important to your health.  There are various factors that contribute to a poor night of sleep, and though it may be acknowledged in private before, a doctor has now publicly stated that sleeping in separate beds may be good (or even better) for married couples.

For some couples, I believe that’s very true.  Issues of snoring, blanket-hogging and movement can be disturbing for the partner, which results in poor sleep.  It is especially the case when the partner is a light sleeper.

I know from experience that having kids join you in the night is extremely annoying.  I also know that my husband would prefer to sleep in his own bed – no disturbances from anyone.  I, on the other hand, would prefer to sleep with my husband.  Yes, we end up disrupting each other’s sleep, but there’s also a sense of security knowing that someone is there.

We’ve done the sleeping separately deal.  I can’t speak for him, but I really haven’t noticed that my sleep hygiene is any better.  I do notice that there is less waking up in the night, but it is not nil.  That may just be a function of the bed I sleep on.  In any case, the jury’s still out on this.

At least the doctor didn’t advocate that all married couples sleep separately.  It would only be a consideration if there were some serious sleep issues involved.  And it need not be a permanent state.  I have to admit that we both have sleep issues and are constantly tired.  But, the first step would be to get decent beds.

Aug 31 2009

Aspirin use in healthy individuals may be dangerous

There is a warning out against the use of aspirin in healthy individuals for the prevention of heart attacks and strokes.  I find it funny that any healthy person would want to take medication needlessly anyway.  I have a hard enough time trying to take a vitamin a day.  And aspirin is not a benign drug.

Aspirin has been in use for ages.  It’s a pain reliever, an anti-platelet and an anti-inflammatory agent.  It became part of the regimen for those with heart disease and strokes to prevent further problems.  However, there are some negatives attributes to this simple drug.  It may cause ulcers.  Therefore, when the risk of bleeding from ulcers is greater than the risk from heart attack and strokes, doctors are cautious about recommending aspirin.

So, it would make sense that in a normal, healthy adult, prophylactic use of aspirin is not indicated and, even worse, may be dangerous.  Not just the risk of ulcers – not everyone is prone to ulcers from aspirin.  But, because it is a blood thinner due to its anti-platelet effects, bleeding from anywhere is a risk.  This includes a bleeding, or haemorrhagic, stroke after a fall.

It’s unclear why anyone would be taking aspirin regularly.  Perhaps, they’ve heard that it prevents heart attacks and strokes and have taken it upon themselves to reduce their own risk.  Perhaps, their doctor had mistakenly advised them to do so.  I have heard of doctors regularly advising those older than 50 to take an aspirin a day, regardless of their risk factors.  Perhaps, now, they will think twice about doing so.  That is not to say that they can’t take it for pain once in a while.

Aug 24 2009

Smoking shisha pipes is not safe

It has emerged that smoking shisha pipes is even more dangerous than smoking cigarettes, according to a report by the Department of Health and the Centre for Tobacco Control Research.

I find it strange that this activity has been gaining popularity amongst Middle Easterners and the Indian subcontinent.  It’s a long Arabic water-pipe that burns fruit-scented tobacco using coal.  There are shisha and hookah bars where people sit around smoking these things.  It has become quite trendy, especially with youths.

Given that most Middle Easterners and many from the Indian subcontinent (Pakistan) are Muslims, how can they condone this?  It’s a part of their culture, yet Islam forbids the use of alcohol and tobacco.  Just because it’s fruit-scented, does it make it less of a tobacco product?  Or is it the method of smoking that Islam accepts or rejects?

The fact that it’s fruit-scented does not make it any healthier than regular tobacco.  You could argue that it may make it more addictive, giving people a false sense of safety, just like the minted/menthol tobacco.  In fact, the report stated that it produced higher levels of carbon monoxide than a regular cigarette.  That should be food for thought for these young people.