Thursday, September 30, 2010

Wealthy eating more fast food


I don’t know how to take this. Are they feeling the pinch? Do they think this will keep them from feeling it? Have they given up their entrepreneurial lust and fallen into a vat of peanut oil?

“Forget my employee health debacle, forget no bank loans, forget my competitors overseas ruining me, just give me grease! Grease, I say!”

The WSJ (Julie Jargon, great name by the way, Sept 30, 2010) says it’s true. According to American Express, the “ultra-affluent” are eating 24% more fast food than the year before!

Fine dining is up a scosh, too—but not this much.

Ultra-affluent, in case you are chewing on that one, means charging more than $7,000 a month!

They also spent more on business class, yachts, car rentals and five-star hotels.

One guy said eating fast food made him “feel” frugal, although his bill didn’t seem to be going down.

I guess not! The other day we went to Wendy’s and for two salads and a one-patty Baconater it was twenty bucks! Hold the table service. Hold the courtesy.

I like the picture of some richie rich messing up his hair, loosening his tie and losing it as he rubs a Big Mac all over his face.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mesothelioma--ever seen those commercials?


Freelancer Alex Johnson generously contributed this rundown on this disease—which is fast becoming a household word due to those lawyer ads.

Alex?

Mesothelioma is a slow-growing cancer of the mesothelium—the lining surrounding the vital organs.

It is highly associated with asbestos—affecting a lot of workers, mainly male, employed in construction and the shipyards from 1930-1970.

But these are not the only people who get this type of cancer, Often doctors are mystified—how did this person get it?

You can get it from working in an office or store with asbestos insulation that has not been removed. A subtle powder may be in the air.

A wife may have laundered work clothes with asbestos dust on them. Even hugging someone with asbestos exposure could be a risk.

Asbestos was banned decades ago—so the most likely exposure would be in old buildings (even schools), which constitute 15% of all buildings.

Schools do come in for focused inspections. If you live in an older home where the insulation has not been replaced, you may be able to get government money to get rid of the asbestos.

If you fit this—being around old buildings or working in construction decades ago—and experience a dry raspy cough with no phlegm, coughing up blood, difficulty swallowing, painful breathing or shortness of breath, or lumps on your chest--talk to the doctor. Be sure to mention those years ripping out school ceilings or building ships.

Calling the lawyer on TV is optional.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Music lessons for a healthier bod


Really? Practice? Or is it the whining?

According to Laura Yeh, violin and ocarina teacher at the St Louis Academy of Music, playing an instrument is good for you.

Well, well…

Playing violin, for example, means good posture, arm development, the ability to relax some muscles while flexing others. Playing also means you have to learn to relax.

Plus, while you are playing, you are not eating.

Cello, even though it’s played sitting, fine tunes motor skills and strengthens arm and back muscles.

Piano improves arm strength and dexterity.

The wind instruments all improve breathing.

The ocarina is a small wind instrument. Little kids can learn it. You must control strength of air flow to “get” the notes.

Here’s to you, Mr Edwin Stoker, my long-suffering violin teacher! Learning an instrument must also teach patience. Make that TEACHING an instrument.

About those ocarinas...Check out www.stlocarina.com.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Weird glasses--worth a look?


Michael Totty (WSJ Sept 27, 2010) tells us about TruFocal eyeglasses.

I am not sure I have this totally um…clear…but instead of different corrections on there with wavy demarcations, you manually adjust them to see distance, read, use the computer, or whatever.

They are made by Zoom Focus Eyewear in Van Nuys.

Apparently, tinkerers have tried for more than a century to make glasses work like an eye lens, which stretches and contracts depending.

Each lens in these is two lenses==one a flat plate of glass, the second a plate with a flexible membrane containing a clear liquid. This one can squirm around.

Once adjusted—the whole field of vision is whatever you want—distance, close, and so on.

Downside—they only come in Harry Potter “round.” Colors are available, though.

Next month, too—the name will change to Superfocus.

So, I guess they are still trying to get a “bead” on this.

Also—the price. Could not learn it, but saw mention of a payment plan. That can’t be good new$.

Friday, September 24, 2010

In exercise, go fast, easy, slow


If you are bored with your routines, try interval exercising.

A study in the Oct 2001 issue of the American College of Nutrition showed that three 10-minute bouts of exercise, two 15-minute ones, and one 30-minute one were about the same in increasing aerobic health and reducing fat.

To lose weight, the participants had to diet, also.

Interval exercising is high-intensity followed by an “interval” of low intensity.

One routine is 3 minutes of moderate intensity step aerobics, one minute of high, then back to moderate for 3 mins. Repeat 8-10 times.

An important phase of exercise for your heart is the recovery period—this gives more of those.

What is high, moderate and low? At high, you should only be able to say yes or no. At mid-effort, you could get out a sentence or two. At low, you could hold a conversation.

Interval training also improves immunity, according to one study.

Strangely, beginners and top athletes tend to be the ones who do it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Giving the swine flu shot another shot


I am debating the flu shot this year. As you probably know, each year the powers that be select the three strains of flu they think will pop up most here in the US.

They base this somewhat on what has popped up in the southern hemisphere, where the flu season is just ending.

Despite swine flu, H1N1, ending up not being the horror show they predicted last year, they deemed the likelihood of its sneaking in as justifying the swine flu strain as one of the three.

I was leery of it last year, when it was given separately, thinking, maybe not too rationally, that had been concocted in a hurry.

Apparently, there were a few more side effects, but researchers say that is because more was reported than with the straight flu shot—due to all the emphasis at the time.

For vaccines to “work,” protecting a sizable part of the population (they call this herd immunity, somewhat amusingly), people have to chance it and get it. When a certain number get it, the numbers crunchers say spread will be limited.

I don’t trust one iota, not one subparticle, of government, but I guess I am getting the shot and letting my mother get it.

Crossing fingers now.

You have to make your own decision, but this may be one aspect of civilized society where you have to just suck it up.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Find some cool and sit in it


Being in a tizzy is bad for ya—floods your system with destructive chemicals that rot your organs.

Sue Shellenbarger (WSJ, Sept 22, 2010) writes about today’s tense atmosphere, which she calls “angry times.”

My grocery store decided to rearrange everything, with no discernible reason to it, just change it, cram in more items, who even knows.

Since I cannot see well enough to read overhead signs, I am lost in space, and asked a clerk where the bread was, and she said, “Aisle 3,” and I said, “Where is Aisle 3?” and she looked up, irritated—pointed…then became overly helpful…”Would you like me to take you there?” No!!

I was furious.

See how it can happen? Angry times.

Anyhow, Shellenbarger says people need to show “emotional leadership.” I am not that person.

Listen, be warm, let the person talk, don’t try to fix everything, although a guy at DirecTV who gave me $15 off calmed me.

This is what they tell “real people” who work complaint phone lines. No wonder they want bots to talk to us. Some of these people put their family’s picture front and center. They press MUTE and scream back. They play racketball a lot. They play nerf darts.

Or they go on disability—completely depleted, whimpering, changed forever.

Seventy percent of people who call are already at “rage.” Five percent curse. They threaten to sue.

People also assault fast food personnel, throw mop water on them, punch in drive-though windows.

Guess I should not have told our favorite checkup clerk Lori, “I hate your store.” (She replied that she did, too--but still.)

But you know what…If you get me on the phone, don’t call me “ma’am” “As in “Ma’am, ma’am…” right after you asked my damn name two times!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Had a colorful past--think about Hep C


Sure you were young once--want to get old once?

Melinda Beck writes about an unfortunate legacy of some people’s pasts—Hepatitis C (WSJ, Sept 21, 2010).

It’s a sneaky sleeper virus—no symptoms for decades as it slowly destroys your liver.

You need to ask for the blood test—it’s not routine. Most cases, 85%, become chronic, but some can go to cirrhosis of the liver and be fatal.

Hep C travels via bodily fluids—sharing a needle, straw, rolled up dollar, dirty tattoo needle, many ways.

Even the blood supply was not screened until 1992—so think about that.

At least 3 million people know they have and probably this number also have it without knowing it.

Hep C can be cured with big chemo drugs—but only in half the people who have it. And it can cost $50,000 a year.

Symptoms are vague—fatigue, maybe painful joints.

New drugs are in development and some docs advise patients to wait for those.

Since Hep C carries a faint stigma of drug use, often people are reluctant to get tested.

Still, the stakes are high. Think about it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

If your arm swells after mastectomy


It’s called lymphedema…where the big lymph circulatory system that hydrates and clears waste from cells gets damaged or infected and spews out lymph fluid. This can happen if the lymph nodes are removed or disturbed in breast cancer surgery.

Some figures put it at up to 70% of cases. Usually if it develops, you will notice a weird feeling of fullness or pins and needles in your arm within two years, but it can appear decades later.

A study in Spain showed that early physical therapy (scar management and lymph drainage massage) can cut that to as low as 7% of cases. Just educating women on when to seek help can cut lasting problems to 25% of cases, in this study, anyhow.

Gwen White, PT, and Jeannie Burt wrote a good book on this called Lymphedema: A Breast Cancer’s Patient’s Guide to Prevention and Healing.

Often lymphedema is identified with tight compression sleeves or cumbersome bandaging systems, but White says at Kaiser Permanente, Portland OR, where she works, this is only needed by 10% of women.

Breast surgery patients are urged to avoid tight clothes or jewelry and infection in the area, say from a nick shaving.

Physical therapy can be a big preventive and help if it does develop. And it’s pleasant. Manual lymph drainage is light massage of the skin above the muscle to encourage the lymph to flow.

“We never massage harder than you would on a newborn baby’s head,” White says.

Often it’s so soothing patients fall asleep.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Whooping cough making a comeback


I once saw a video of a desperately hacking, mucus-covered toddler fighting for breath. Whooping cough.

It’s making a reappearance, notably in California.

Babies don’t get vaccinated until the age of 2 mos and parents, sibs, visitors and others can track the disease into the house. In CA, officials are urging such people get the vaccination.

If you have a cold or respiratory problem, steer clear of infants.

Whooping cough, also called pertussis, is at a high in CA not seen since 1955.

The Latino community has been very hard hit. This is attributed to census data pointing to Latino kids living in large households with more likelihood of the bacteria being carried home.

Some parents of all nationalities are leery of the DPT shot—given in three stages. The “P” is pertussis. Still, to protect all children (and get the kid in school), you need to get these vaccinations.

I tried to balk, too—but my elderly German pediatrician said how about half a dose at a time. Even then, my kid got a lump in her leg. I said, “Ha!” But she is with us today and never got whooping cough.

Be smart.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Atrial fibrillation breaking out all over


I have it—the wacky heartbeat where the top chamber of the heart gives a stuttery signal to push blood down to the ventricle, which pumps it out, thus possibly stirring up a clot instead of just running the blood through evenly.

Yoh-boy, do they get stirred up about this. In truth, for some people it’s very uncomfortable and has been likened to having a 3-lb bass struggling in your chest.

I have no symptoms and am supposedly about to get a stroke any second from a clot. They have no good way to deal with this—or no way that works for everyone.

They can try to regulate the hippy-hoppy rhythm (as one of my docs once called it)—I almost died on one drug. Okey-dokey, how about regulating the number of heartbeats. I am on a beta blocker for that.

For the clots, how about thinner blood? Ooops—that didn’t go well for me. One intestinal bleed—hospital. One blown out retina made much worse by freakazoid clotting on the blood thinner.

So I take an aspirin and walk around with it. Every doctor I have the bad judgment to go to says oh, you must do something.

They even call this kind of cardiologist an interventional cardiologist. Intervening. They like it.

Now, I read there is an epidemic of atrial fib worldwide—leave it to me to be a trendsetter, huh?

Some Aussie docs took a look a this and came up with the usual “devastating consequences” of it.

And how many more people are being admitted to hospitals for it. I know, I have been. But the remaining approaches open to me—getting holes cut in my heart (Maze) or various zaps to clumps of rogue nerves creating the hippy-hops—many don’t work for long and sound pretty awful.

Pass.

This is me, though—you make up your own mind. You could always ask your doctor.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Green tea claims...um, watery


To me, green tea tastes like dishwater strained through a sweatsock. But we already know I am a barbarian.

Canada Dry and Lipton, however, have received scoldies from the FDA. The first says Canada Dry Sparkling Green Tea Ginger Ale cannot be touted as enhanced with antioxidants.

Furthermore, grumped the FDA, the antioxidants claimed weren’t really anti-oxidizing anything.

Picky, picky.

The feds also did not love Lipton Green Tea Naturally Decaffeinated being recommended to reduce cholesterol.

That would make it a drug! OMG! No no.

The makers cried uncle (different uncle, not Sam) and said they would work with the agency, whatever that means.

In the meantime, make your own sock cocktails.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The latest--freeze your butt off


It never ends, does it? Fat, fat, fat. Splat—that’s me facedown giving up.

The FDA has approved two devices, the Zeltiq’s Cool Sculpting device and Zerona.

The Cool Sculpting thing freezes your fat while you lie there for an hour, then the ruined fat cells slowly reabsorb over time. The Zerona is a low-energy laser that rotates around your flab and pricks holes in the cells, which eventually give it up.

Of course, both treatments are fabulously spendy. And about that reabsorbing—do they go into the blood?

You know what I read once—a 50 lbs weight loss means one inch gone from around your entire silhouette. It’s noticeable, but you won’t be a coat hanger.

I have lost my weight 2.5 times—and it found me again. I am done. If anything, this makes me a slow learner.

The WSJ, Sept 14, 2010, wrote about how tenacious and complex fat cells are—they are little hormone emitting factories regulating everything. A fat person may have 120 billion, a thin person 40 billion.

Strangely an allotted number seems to stay constant. They are looking into that.

Fat cells, however, are not just little oil-filled balloons. As you get older, they blob off your hips, backs of your hands, thighs and so on and glob over to your organs, clogging around them.

This is bad.

Yes, yes, bad, everything is bad. We are doomed. Yet, we keep walking around and mouthing off, isn’t that weird?

{I am having one of those days.]

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fie robot


I have written about group appointments, Big Sister nurse nags (er, reminders), and now why don’t we just let our robots handle it?

Instead of peeps, we will have robots.

Still, didn’t you hate those weird lab results call-in things with the secret handshakes to get your results?

Almost as irritating as the office saying, “If you don’t hear from us, your results are normal.” Yeah—what if you never got the results, or the lab lost my sample or something?

Patient Prompt™ is one new wrinkle—a patient reminder system.

It contacts patients by voice, text or email, confirms their appointments, then notifies the doctor’s record for that patient that the person had been reminded.

“All without human input,” says the ad copy.

I gather, therefore, that the patient's response to this mechanical call is not recorded.

But on these robots at the phone company? You know when they say, “You can talk to me normally?” I always answer, “No, I can’t.”

I talk to a machine saying I won't talk to a machine.

That’s why a need my own bot. I can win at this.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bad, bad Americans, still not eating your veggies


I don’t even remember the last governmental fiat—11 veggies a day, was it? Seven?

I do remember it was a lot for a species with only one stomach. Cows at least have two to moosh up all that grass.

Despite the nannies harping on our lamentable veggie under consumption, the Centers for Disease Control sadly notes that only one state increased consumption of at least two servings of fruit and three of veggies a day from 2000 to 2009. The increase was small even for the Potato State.

In Idaho those who hit the fruit goal went from 27.9% of the people to 32.9. Veggie-crunchers also went up 3%.

Bad news, though—10 states dropped in plant consumption.

See, here’s the thing.

Some people don’t like veggies. Some don't even like fruit.

Some veggies don’t like people (methane-related incidents).

Veggies and fruit cost.

If you say you are eating canned veggies (I do), people get that “what an idiot” expression.

Even compost heaps are fed up.

Seriously, though—what about those juices with hidden “veggies”? Pretty sneaky, huh?

Oh, heck—sneak a leaf into your diet. Get the Sandal Set off your back.

What's wrong--and right--with Idol contestants


If you try out for American Idol, do you have a healthy self-image, a death wish, talent, or a blind spot?

Who knows—maybe several of those.

One thing you do have is nerve. And nerve is not such a bad thing these days. It takes a lot of grit to get along.

You may also crave attention. This can get to be a negative. Remember, Narcissus stared into the water so much he fell in and drowned.

Even William Hung made money with his “badness.” His lack of talent was his talent.

People like to pursue a dream. It’s healthy to try.

Most people fail, one expert says, not because they don’t have talent, but because they give up too quickly.

Still, making lack of talent your talent—that’s tricky stuff.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Doctor to your whole self


Once we went to my mother’s doctor and he had a sign that said, “Due to low Medicare reimbursement, you can only ask one question.”

Who has one thing wrong?

Another time, I was talking to a doctor and he pointed to the psoriasis on my elbow—who would even mention that—I have problems!

What if a doctor actually thought about your whole self—and not just because your whole self was fat and that explained everything?

I was reading about a doctor like this in On Wisconsin, the alum mag for Fall 2010. His name is David Rakel, MD, and I am sure he’s not the only one. He runs the university’s integrative medicine program. He does what works—acupuncture, prescriptions drugs, herbs, guided imagery.

This form of medicine relies on social, psychological, physical and environmental factors that affect health.

Rakel proceeds on the notion that body and mind are linked. The body can respond as if what is imagined is a real event.

Patients who come to Rakel, in writer Susan Brink’s phrase, are a tangle of symptoms. He recommends a bundle of approaches.

It may not be a quick “cure,” And the patient may not be able or willing to do everything recommended, but it’s a game plan and usually helps.

And I bet you can ask more than one question.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Hearing loss huge public health issue


What? What did you say, Star?

Arlene Romoff, president of the Hearing Loss Association of New Jersey, says hearing loss ranks third behind heart disease and arthritis as an expense and concern.

It’s more prevalent than cancer, affecting 37 million adults (17%).

Hearing loss among teens has gone up 30% since 1990.

Hearing aids are only part of the solution. Captioned telephones, assistive listening devices, cochlear implants, TV captioning—all are out there.

Kids—when your Mom says she can hear that sssh-sssh-sssh from your earbuds, it’s TOO LOUD!!

Personally, I think those ear things are practice hearing aids.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Ew--stuff growing in your lung


Everyone in my family is completely grossed out by the guy who kept coughing long after eating canned peas and had a pea plant twining around in his lung.

Gross!

Elizabeth Wise, USA TODAY, says getting things caught in your lungs and walled off from the body or infected is pretty common.

A doctor she interviewed had found thumbtacks, batteries, fishbones and other stuff in people’s lungs.

I once inhaled a chicken bone and had to have it bronchoscoped out in the middle of the night. My date and my friends said they had a great time in the waiting room.

Dried beans an be bad for kids—they swell up and can even turn off the air.

Nuts, small candies, food—often don’t show up on x-rays.

Older people are not immune—they may chew less thoroughly or denture parts can zip into the lung.

Those little 3-volt lithium batteries from watches are the worst for kids. Poison! They can make it through the digestive tract—but if the kid is coughing like mad—head for the ER.

You may not have a great a time as my friends did during my chicken bone thing. But you will have more fun than the patient. Always look at it that way.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Snack cake diet


These researchers can get so larky and free!

Mark Haub at Kansas State is embarking on a snack cake diet to see how he feels.

Thirty days of Little Deb and the Hostess.

Naturally, he is an obesity expert—at least one with a sense of irony, though, apparently.

He is questioning what healthy weight loss is—and what is a healthy diet?

Man—back to square one…like a brownie square…yum.

He is keeping to 1800 cals a day of peanut butter chocolate bars, cake rolls, donuts and sugared cereal. He lost 7 lbs since Aug 25.

He draws the line at hurling like Morgan Spurlock did with McDonalds. Have to have some standards, don’t ya know.

Is he risking his health? His answer is—gastric bypass risks health and people do that. I am not sure that is an answer. And where is the protein in this?

On a more serious note, he says, the CDC stats show overweight people have lower health care costs and live longer.

Maybe not a walking Ho-Ho—but who knows. He is doing this to spare you. Aren't you grateful?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Birthmarks don't have to be forever


Boy are birthmarks surrounded by crazy legends and theories. Some think if a woman is craving a food and touches her stomach before she eats it—birthmark. Touch your tummy during an eclipse—ooops. Spill wine on yourself—too bad for junior.

Birthmarks come in a couple of types, according to Joshua Fox, MD, a leading dermie. About 10% of newborns have them, girls five times more than boys.

Macular stains—angel kisses or stork bites—are one kind. Strawberry marks and port wine stains are two others.

Strawberry marks are hemangiomas—which can, repeat can, portend other ailments coming. These are fed by blood vessels, which doctors now think can be strangled off, much as some cancerous tumors.

Macular and port wines rarely fade out on their own. They are tangles of teeny vessels under the skin.You can close them off, but they may come back.

Port wine stains on eyelids, foreheads, or scalps often warrant an MRI of the infant to check for a syndrome that can cause developmental delays or glaucoma.

This is rare.

A doctor will advise you on how to approach a large birthmark. But don’t fret, Mom—it’s not your fault or anything you did…even watch an eclipse.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Bracelet that says "Check for a Bracelet"?


I don’t wear a watch, just don’t like them. I won one once in the Reader’s Digest Sweepstakes and thought that was pretty neat, so I wore that one. It died after about 10 years.

For a trip once, I got a watch that had a medic alert on it. I was on a blood thinner at the time. After I concluded that blood thinners and I are a horrible combo, I dumped the watch.

Laura Landro (WSJ, Sept 1, 2010) says more and more people are wearing the bracelets, though—adults and kids. First responders do look for them, she says.

Yet, some people think they are ugly and too much of a reminder of their decrepit selves.

Other people prefer to tote a flash drive with their medical info on it.

Some reasons to wear one: pacemaker, blood thinners, endocrine stuff like diabetes (where a certain treatment in error could kill ya), seizures, organ transplant, autism, and pediatric heart conditions.

There are also variations on a theme—sites that hold your detailed medical info at the ready for ER people to access. One, the Invisible Bracelet, is an off-site set of medical info accessed by a number kept in the wallet or on the bike helmet or wherever.

Weirdly, some people even get a bracelet that reads: No Known Medical Condition. This is supposed to get them faster service if they do show up with something wrong.

From what I have seen in ERs, I am giving that one an "All righty."