Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How is the flu vaccine made?

Well, it's official. Flu season has hit North America. Some people are getting hit hard, while others are dodging the bullet. If you've been a regular reader here, you'll know that I support the flu vaccine and do encourage people to get it (Winter's coming...so are colds and the flu). But, it is a personal choice (thankfully!), so the best we pro-vaccination folks can do is try to encourage it.

Have you ever been curious about how the flu vaccine is made? The Government of Ontario (Canada) has put out a some videos about influenza and they've included this animated video called You and the Flu, Making the Vaccine.

What do you think about the flu vaccine debate? Did you or will you be vaccinated?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sepsis: Emergency, a video

If you have been following this blog for a while, you likely know about my involvement with the patient advocacy group, Sepsis Alliance. It's a very worthwhile organization that strives to increase awareness of the deadly disease, sepsis.

The recent death of actor Lesley Nielsen is just one of thousands from sepsis. Although the news reports say that Mr. Nielsen died of "complications from pneumonia," this is what sepsis is: "complications of...."

Sepsis Alliance has just made public a fantastic video to help explain the seriousness of the disease and I encourage you to watch it - and pass it on. As. Dr. O'Brien says in the video - this is a disease that we can affect tomorrow: we can reduce deaths up to 50% starting tomorrow, if only we all knew and understood what sepsis was - allowing us to detect it early enough.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Haiti and the cholera curse

We've been seeing on the news that the besieged country Haiti is now stricken with the extremely contagious and dangerous disease, cholera. Cholera is a disease that we don't see in developed countries and it's likely a disease that we can't even imagine. How can diarrhea kill so quickly? It's not very difficult with a disease like this.

What is cholera?

Cholera is a water-borne disease, which means it is transmitted through contaminated water, but it can also be transmitted through contaminated food. The bacteria, Vibrio cholerae, causes excessive watery diarrhea, which left untreated, dehydrates your body very quickly. So quickly that in severe cases, it can cause death within hours.

Can cholera be treated?

One of the saddest things about a disease such as cholera is that it is very easily treated. Fluids need to be replaced and as long as the patient is able to take in fluids by mouth, oral rehydration fluid that consists of water, sugars, and electrolytes, is relatively inexpensive and very effective. Once someone is beyond taking fluids by mouth, intravenous fluid is the only option.

Can cholera be prevented?

Cholera is an extremely preventable infection - clean water is all that is needed. Unfortunately, there are places in the world that don't have access to clean water or they did at one time, but a breakdown in infrastructure destroyed their source.

North America isn't immune to cholera. While in the present day, we don't have it, we have had it and the potential is always there. In 1911, deaths from cholera were reported in the New York Times, the result of poor sanitation in ships transporting immigrants to the country. It can strike any part of the world. Cholera's seven pandemics

It's sad that in this day and age, we still have a deadly infectious disease, which we know how to prevent and to treat if it is spread. Even sadder, is that the people who are dying from cholera are those who are the poorest of the world.

UN targeted in Haiti cholera violence
Haiti cholera deaths over 500

Monday, November 8, 2010

Shoulder Injury Update - 11 months later. It's a good one.

On Thursday, it will have been 11 months since I hurt my shoulder. For those who are not regular readers, I was moving on Dec. 11, 2009, and I fell while we were still moving stuff out of the old house. I dislocated my shoulder big time and ended up in the emergency department of the local hospital while the move continued without me. Not being there during the move could be considered a stroke of genius, but my method to absent myself did leave a lot to be desired!

It was tough going to get my shoulder to start healing properly. I have nothing but praise for the wonderful physio team that was following me (and still does) during my healing and rehab. I was discouraged many times because the pain just didn't want to go away, despite our many efforts, which included active and passive physio, therapeutic massage, injections of cortisone, consumption of anti-inflammatories and so on.

Finally, in mid-September, before my trip away with my husband to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, my shoulder doc offered to inject Orthovisc into my shoulder. He said that the problems I was experiencing weren't so much the dislocation any more but other injuries, including rotator cuff problems.

The medication is a combo anti-inflammatory and lubricant that is approved for use to treat osteoarthritis of the knee. My doctor, however, has been trying it for injuries like mine to the shoulder. So, I went for it. I won't lie and tell you it didn't hurt - IT HURT LIKE THE DICKENS. But, as he explained, my shoulder was so inflamed and so irritated, that there was no way it wouldn't hurt to inject it.

Within a couple of days, I was ready to nominate the doctor for sainthood. My pain scale went down from a regular 6/10 with occasional bumps to 7 or even 8, to 2 or 3/10 with occasional - get this - zero.

He told me not to baby my arm but to be reasonable and careful. So my husband and I went off and had a fabulous, fantastic vacation, during which my shoulder just caused a bit of a problem, but nothing significant.

I went back to see him last week and my shoulder is doing great. Still hurts sometimes but I have the go ahead to become more active, with a few limitations. The journey is just about over.

Anyone who has chronic pain knows how demoralizing it is. It's frustrating and sobering. You just can't live like you want to when you're limited with the pain and, in my case, with the knowledge of moving the wrong way would pop the shoulder right out of place, as I had done a few times already.

But now I can put this all behind me. On Dec. 11, we're here for one year and I still love the place. We made the right decision to move.

So, what will the next year bring? Lots of health and happiness  - that's what!



Sunday, November 7, 2010

Illness Strikes 1 person in U.S. Every 2.5 Minutes - Now Affects Lily Allen

If you heard about an illness that struck down one more person in the United States every 2.5 minutes, wouldn't you want to know what it was? If you knew that about one-third of the people hit by the illness died, wouldn't you want to know about it? If you knew that many of those who do survive are left with amputations of legs and/or arms, memory deficits and other physical problems, wouldn't you want to know what it is?

"It" is sepsis.

Many of you may have heard of blood poisoning. Sepsis is the true term for the illness that used to be though of as blood poisoning. Currently, UK pop singer Lily Allen is fighting sepsis, or septecemia.

Sepsis is the number one cause of death among people who have AIDS. It is a major cause of death from cancer. Most often, if you read or hear about someone who had died of "complications of cancer/pneumonia/influenza," they've died of sepsis.

Did you know that Johnny Depp's daughter, Lily-Rose survived and won her fight against sepsis? Here are some other famous people, most of whom did not win their battle:

Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets - influenza
Pope John-Paul II, Brazilian model Mariana Bridi Costa and singer Etta James - urinary tract infection
Fred Hersch, jazz composer and musician - lives with HIV/AIDS

To read of some of those who were affected by sepsis, there are some wonderful and heart-wrenching stories at Faces of Sepsis, at the Sepsis Alliance site, www.sepsisalliance.org. SA also has a facebook page.

Here's to hoping that Lily Allen wins her battle. The world doesn't need to lose yet another person to this treatable illness.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Winter is coming... so are colds and the flu

Yup, if you live in the northern parts of the world, you know that winter is coming and it seems to be coming a lot faster in some parts than in others. But even if you live in warmer areas, colds and influenza can still strike, so you're not entirely out of the woods. Sorry!

Some people still believe that getting cold or wet can make you sick, it's not true. A cold virus or influenza virus is there whether you're cold or not. But, being cooped up on a crowded bus with the windows closed and not going outside very much, spending more time indoors with people around you - that does help spread viruses. So, that is why people seem to get sicker in the winter than in the summer.

Avoiding the colds and flu:

  • Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands.

There you go. That's the secret. When someone is sick and they pull open on the door handle, borrow your pen, use your keyboard, or press an elevator button and they you touch any of those - if you don't wash your hands, the next time you bring your hands to near your face,  you just might be transferring the virus to your own body. So - wash your hands!

Don't be fooled by people who don't look sick. You can be infected with the influenza virus and not look or feel it for up to 24 hours before  you realize you're sick. So, the coworker that looks fine today? He may be flat on his back with the flu tomorrow and neither of you know it yet.

  • Get vaccinated

Yes, many people feel that vaccinations are a waste of time and are dangerous. Well, they're not a waste of time and what is dangerous is getting the flu and dying. While we know that high-risk groups like the elderly and those with chronic illnesses can be hit hardest with the flu and develop severe and fatal complications, these complications can strike anyone. Just ask 24-year-old Jen Ludwin, who came down with H1N1 last year. Here is her story: Faces of Sepsis - Jen Ludwin

Of course, not everyone can be vaccinated - there are reasons why someone may not be able to, such as allergies to the vaccine. They need to be extra careful with the handwashing and avoid areas where they may be exposed to people who are already ill.

While you can get over a cold, usually pretty easily - they can also be severe. Unfortunately, we're no closer to solving the common cold problem now than we were years ago. But we can help either prevent or decrease the severity of influenza. Think about it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fish Oil for Healther Gums

Gum disease isn't something many people think about. They think about their teeth and, for the most part, try to be sure they don't lose them, but not so much care is done for the gums. The thing is, without healthy gums, you can't have healthy teeth. So, what to do?

Besides the usual recommendations of brushing your teeth well and flossing regularly, there is now the recommendation that omega-3 fatty acids, or fish oil, may help your gums stay healthy.

A study published in November's issue of Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that people who participated in the study and who had higher levels of fish oil consumption were less likely to have gum disease than people who consumed little or no omega-3 fatty acids.

The study was not a long-term study, in fact it was only a snapshot of one day of consumption, but it does lead to some interesting questions about more benefits from fish oil than originally thought.

You can read more about the study in this article, Fish Oil Might Help Fight Gum Disease

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Most popular blog page here - broken hips and elderly

When you write for a blog or maintain your own blog, you never know which posts will garner the most attention - good or bad. For this blog, the most popular, by far, is a post I put up on July 26, 2007 - that's over four years ago. It still gets several visits per week from new people who find it through Google or other search engines.

According to the blogger stats, Broken hips in the elderly can lead to death has been viewed 1,274 times. The next closest comes in at only 504 times, written earlier this year, Another Medication Recall - Is Anything Safe?

The visitors come from all over the world. So far this month, there have been:

  • 2219 visitors from the United States
  • 191 from the United Kingdom
  • 147 from Canada
  • 55 from Macedonia
  • 54 from the Netherlands (I wonder if some of their searches were for "Marijke")
  • 41 from Luxembourg
  • 41 from Russia
  • 38 from Australia
  • 36 from Switzerland
  • 36 from India

Sometimes I'm referred from individual blogs, but when I go back to see how I'm linked, I can't find it. Or, other times, I see that the blog or website has copied my information word for word. That is a big, BIG no-no. Whatever I write here is mine for you to read and that's it. No-one is allowed to just republish it on their site. Unfortunately, not everyone understands that yet.

I get a lot of emails too, but what I would like are COMMENTS. Yup, just a comment or two a day would make me feel like there's really someone out there. :-)

Ok, have a great day everyone! And if it's not a great day, I really hope things do get better for you.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A blood pressure reading with that shave sir?

It may sound odd, but a study published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine earlier today has found that if neighborhood barbers can take customer blood pressures, hypertension care is improved in African-American men.

African-American men are one of the groups that are at increased risk of developing hypertension. The problem is that hypertension, or increased blood pressure, is a silent disease until after it has already done damage to the body. The only way to detect hypertension is through blood pressure screening. However, to do that, the patients have to willingly go to a clinic or doctor's office to have their blood pressure checked.

In this particular study, which took place over 10 months, barbers offered to take their customers' blood pressure when they came in for a hair cut. The barbers also promoted physician-follow up and provided patient education material about hypertension and its long-term effects. Seventeen barber shops participated in the study and reached 1,300 men. All 17 shops offered the screenings and then were divided into the intervention and comparison groups.

Both groups of shops took initial blood pressure readings of the men. In the eight comparison shops, the men were then offered standard educational material about hypertension. In the nine intervention shops, after the initial blood pressure reading, the men were offered free checks with every hair cut. If the BP reading was high, the barber encouraged the patron to see a doctor and the man was given a free haircut if he returned with a doctor-signed referral card. If the man did not go to the doctor, the barber called the study's staff to arrange a visit and would then give the customer the information.

Results of the study showed marked improvements in blood pressure levels among the barbershop patron who went to the shops in the intervention program.

This isn't the first time that the neighborhood barber shop has been the center of medical and screening programs. According to a press release issued by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center,

Since the 1980s, African-American-owned barbershops and hair salons have hosted screening programs for medical conditions that disproportionately affect African-Americans. Victor's study concludes that if hypertension intervention programs were put in place in the estimated 18,000 African-American barbershops in the U.S., it would result in the first year in about 800 fewer heart attacks, 550 fewer strokes and 900 fewer deaths.

Interesting and effective way to reach people, isn't it?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fentanyl Transdermal System: Recall

Do you or someone you know use a Fentanyl patch for pain relief? If so, please take note of this recall.

October 21, 2010 - Morristown, NJ - Actavis Inc. today announced a voluntary recall to the wholesale and retail levels only of 18 lots of Fentanyl Transdermal System 25 mcg/hour C-II patches manufactured for Actavis by Corium International in the United States.

Actavis identified one lot of 25 mcg/hour Fentanyl patch (Control/Lot # 30349) shipped to market that contained one patch that released its active ingredient faster than the approved specification in laboratory testing. An accelerated release of Fentanyl from a 25 mcg/hour patch can lead to adverse events for at-risk patients, including excessive sedation, respiratory depression, hypoventilation (slow breathing), and apnea (temporary suspension of breathing). The patches are packaged individually and boxed in quantities of five patches per box.

Fentanyl Transdermal System is indicated for the management of persistent, moderate to severe chronic pain that requires continuous, around-the-clock opioid administration for an extended period of time and cannot be managed by other means such as non-steroidal analgesics, opioid combination products, or immediate release opioids.

As a precautionary measure, although unaware of any injuries associated with this issue, in addition to the aforementioned lot, Actavis is recalling the additional Control/Lot numbers noted below due to the possibility that additional patches may release active ingredient faster than the approved specification. The Control/Lot number appears on the bottom of the product box and on the black and white side of each individual patch packaging, in the lower left corner.

Recalled Control/Lot #s
30041, Exp 12/201130258, Exp 03/2012
30049, Exp 12/201130349, Exp 03/2012
30066, Exp 12/201130350, Exp 03/2012
30096, Exp 01/201230391, Exp 03/2012
30097, Exp 02/201230392, Exp 04/2012
30123, Exp 01/201230429, Exp 04/2012
30241, Exp 02/201230430, Exp 04/2012
30256, Exp 02/201230431, Exp 04/2012
30257, Exp 03/201230517, Exp 04/2012

Actavis has operators available to help customers, health professionals and consumers with the following information:
  • Medical Issue/Adverse Event/Product Questions
    1-877-422-7452 (24 hours/day, 7 days/week)
  • Return/Reimbursement Questions
    1-888-896-4562 (24 hours/day, 7 days/week)
Adverse reactions or quality problems experienced with the use of this product may be reported to the FDA's MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program either online, by regular mail or by fax.
Regular Mail: use postage-paid, pre-addressed Form FDA 3500 available at: www.fda.gov/MedWatch/getforms.htm. Mail to address on the pre-addressed form.
Fax: 1-800-FDA-0178

Great non-health, non-nursing news

Those of you who know me or know my work, know that I am primarily a medical and health writer. I do dabble in other types of writing, but the health stuff is my bread and butter. And that's fine; it's what I know and what I'm good at.

Every so often, I like to reach beyond health and medicine, trying other types of writing. Some of this is writing essays. This isn't something I consciously decided to do until I took an essay-writing class. All of a sudden, I learned that, yes, I can do this.

I'm very pleased to announce that a book, a compilation of essays, has been published and one of the 28 essays is mine. To learn more, please visit Essays: Fits, Starts and More.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

New CPR Guidelines

Hey folks - how many of you out in the Internet land know how to do CPR? Of course, you may say, but I don't leave the house - I'm on the computer all day long. ;-) But seriously, everyone should know how to do CPR. It's an amazing feeling knowing that you can possibly save a life just because you know what to do if someone's heart decides to stop.

When I taught first aid (many!) years ago, I used to say that I thought CPR should be taught in the high schools and be a requirement for graduation. But many people get the heeby-jeebies thinking about doing artificial respiration. I can't say I blame them.

Although I've done CPR more times than I can remember in the hospital situation, it was nothing compared to the one time I did it on the street. I have to say I didn't quite enjoy the AR part of the whole thing. Luckily, the breathing part is no longer an important part of the recommended CPR. In fact, it's been eliminated from the on-the-street recommendations.

In the "old" days, the thing to remember was ABC: Airway, Breathing, Circulation. Now, we just care about getting that circulation going. You just get to work pumping the heart. How fast? This is where being a BeeGees fan comes in. Believe it or not, the experts have found that the ideal compression rate for CPR is if the compressions are done to the beat of Staying Alive. How ironic is that?

Anyway, you can go to the American Heart Association to learn more about the new way to do CPR and who knows - maybe one day, you may save a life.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Preventing Winter Falls

For those of us who have to walk on ice and hardened snow, we know how careful we need to be to prevent a potentially disastrous fall. One way to stay safe while on ice is to use the slip on traction aids sold by various manufacturers. These have hard plastic and/or metal spikes that dig into the snow and ice.

While effective, these slip-ons are not always appropriate for use. For example, you can't wear them inside because they become a slippery danger on hard floors. So, if you're shopping and going in and out of various stores, it can be difficult to slip the spikes on and off. For some elderly people, this could be too difficult due to physical issues.

Now, the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute in Canada is working on something else to help people stay safe while outside: Winter tire boots.

According to this CBC article, 'Winter tire' boot aims to thwart icy falls, this type of footwear would help not only seniors, but the young and healthy who could fall and end up with serious injury.

Would you wear boots like this? Do you think it's worth the money and time to put research into these things, or should people just learn to be more careful? What do you think?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Caffeine OK for Pregnant Women Once Again, Sort of

For all the women who avoided caffeine while they were pregnant or are doing so now, the news has changed yet again. It seems that some caffeine is ok, say new guidelines issued by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Moderate seems to be one cup or glass of coffee or caffeinated beverage per day.

Researchers looked at the risk of miscarriage in relation to caffeine intake and found no increased risk of miscarriage when women consumed one cup or glass of caffeinated drink per day. Of course, they were talking about regular sized cups and glasses, not mega-sized, and they were talking about regular coffee and drinks, not the super caffeinated "gives you wings" types of drinks.

This is good news though for women who really enjoy their coffee or tea. So much of what we do centers around the baby's health, understandably, but the warnings that women are given about the multitude of things they shouldn't do while pregnant can make you feel as if you're depriving yourself. Of course, unless you're addicted to coffee or tea, you don't *have* to have it, but sometimes sitting down to a nice cup of your favorite drink is just what you need to have.

So, there you have it. Right now, today, drinking a moderate amount of coffee while pregnant is ok. We'll see what research brings tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Friday Is "Is It Hot Enough for You?" Day

Some of you live in perpetually warm areas but some of us are in areas that are treated to heat only at certain times of the year. And as much as we treasure the warmer times, heat waves are something we can do without. One big reason for this is it gets so tiresome to hear "Hot enough for ya?" from just about everyone you meet. This is only rivaled by the winter greeting, "Cold enough for ya?" that we hear the other months of the year.

But seriously, heat and heat waves are nothing to joke about. In 2003, much of Europe was covered by a serious heat wave that killed over a thousand people in the Paris, France area alone.

Do you know the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke? Would you know what to do if you recognized it?

When the human body gets too hot, it begins to sweat. This is a good, healthy reaction to heat. The thirst means we need fluid, and the tiredness means we need to slow down. These are all good signals that we should notice and take notice of. However, many of us don't and this is what causes problems.

Heat exhaustion is the mildest form of heat-related illness. Signs and symptoms include (from MedicineNet.com):

At this point, the affected person needs to be taken out of the heated area and protected from the sun. An air conditioned environment is best but if you are outside, a shaded, protected area is better than nothing. If possible, the person needs to drink water or other non-alcoholic, non-caffeine fluids to start the rehydration process. If he or she is wearing heavy clothes, remove them as much as possible. Finally, a cool shower (NOT cold) or bath could be helpful as well.

Once the body stops sweating, that means we've entered the danger zone. The body can no longer try to regulate its temperature through the regular means, so it's shutting down to try ot protect itself. At this point, you've reached heat stroke. The frightening thing is that heat stroke can come on very quickly and suddenly, so monitoring heat exhaustion is vital. The signs and symptoms of heat stroke include (from MedicineNet.com):

  • high body temperature,

  • the absence of sweating, with hot red or flushed dry skin,

  • rapid pulse,

  • difficulty breathing,

  • strange behavior,

  • hallucinations,

  • confusion,

  • agitation,

  • disorientation,

  • seizure, and/or

  • coma.
People with heat stroke need immediate emergency medical help. While waiting for help, you can do the same things that are recommended for heat exhaustion.

Prevention is really the best solution. Don't over exert yourself while in the heat, be it inside or outside. Drink plenty of water and other non-alcoholic drinks, even if you don't feel thirsty. If you don't have air conditioning at home, try to go somewhere that does, like a mall or a movie. Doctors are saying that two hours of exposure to air conditioning helps your body cope overall with the oppressive heat.

Finally, don't forget to check up on the vulnerable, particularly the elderly and those who live alone. They may not be able to get help on their own.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

IVF to Be Paid by Quebec

If you are a couple struggling with infertility, are an in vitro fertilization candidate and you live in the province of Quebec in Canada, then you may feel like you've had some good luck come your way. The provincial government has decided that women will be allowed three tries at in vitro on the government's dollar - or in reality, the tax payers' dollar.

Is this a good idea? Some say yes, others say no.

Infertility is a difficult struggle for many couples. The amount of effort and money that goes into trying to conceive can be astronomical. Sometimes the tries are successful, resulting in a full-term pregnancy, sometimes they aren't.

The government says that this is a good use of the healthcare money. The birth rate is down in the province and we need repopulation so we can take care of others as they age. New blood, so to speak, is always needed so we have people growing up and becoming productive citizens. On the other hand, many who can't have children biologically end up adopting children who otherwise would have no family. A recent letter to the editor in the English Montreal daily pointed this out. The couple tried iIVFand was not successful. They are now the happy parents of adopted children. If theIVF had succeeded, those children may not have been adopted.

And what of the cost? The Quebec medicare system is bursting at the seams. Some people feel that they're not getting adequate care for life threatening and/or life changing health issues, often because of lack of funding. Many pregnant women can't find obstetricians, pediatricians are not taking new patients and finding a family doctor is getting close to impossible in some areas. By inviting women to have IVF on the provincial tab, we are causing an increased need for obstetricians, specifically those who work with infertility issues, nurses and obstetrical beds, pediatricians and family doctors for the babies, and so on. If we don't have enough to go around now, how can this be a good thing with even more babies?

There are those who argue that the medical system is for medical issues: if you're sick, you get treated. They say that IVF should not be included because infertility isn't an illness. Well, pregnancy isn't either, but it's covered by medicare. So, where do you draw the line?

So, for those women (and men) who have been trying to have children but can't - is this a good idea? Or should IVF remain the domain of private insurance or self-funding?

Monday, July 19, 2010

I'm back and I promise to stay

To my regular readers, I'm sorry for the long absence. Much has happened that has kept me occupied and unable to update this blog. Since this blog is my way of staying in touch with people who are interested in health issues, I decided that I needed to make this a priority, so here I am.

There is so much going on in the health world that it takes time to sift through all the news that is emerging every day. It's amazing how much research is going on and what issues are being debated.

Right now, I'm doing a lot of work for Sepsis Alliance (www.sepsisalliance.org) and we're supposed to be presenting our new website very soon. I hope you'll check it out because sepsis is a major problem in this world.

On the personal side, my shoulder - which I dislocated in December - is still causing me problems. It looks like surgery is the only option at this point. To say I'm looking forward to that would be an outright lie but, it sure would be nice to be pain-free and not have to worry if the shoulder is going to pop out of its joint.

So, onwards and forward. Let's get this blog popular again!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Helen Mirren thinks nurses and prostitutes are pretty well the same

Message to British actress Helen Mirren: Nurses are not prostitutes and prostitutes aren't nurses. Perhaps you should rethink what you said on David Letterman's show last night.

Perhaps Helen's agent should advise that Helen stick to acting and only open her mouth to eat or to utter a line that was written for her - that way, she may stay out of trouble. She was in some trouble last year because of some controversial comments about women and rape and now, she's at it again. A YouTube video has surfaced for people who don't stay up late enough to watch the Late Show. The video shows Helen being interviewed by Dave about her upcoming movie. He asks her about research in a brothel and the subject turns to hookers, prostitutes.

Dave asks Helen if she thinks that prostitutes were victims and this leads them to the life they lead. Here is Helen's answer:

A lot of them are damaged. They come from dysfunctional backgrounds and that’s what led them to this place. But also, a lot of girls who work in that industry actually come from the nursing industry, which kind of makes sense. Because they’re used to naked bodies. It’s not intimidating to them, the ...

What can we say in response? It's to jaw dropping to formulate a coherent response. Here is a post I wrote about it on another blog, if you'd like to check it out:
Actress Helen Mirren Likens Prostitutes to Nurses

It's been a while since I posted - sorry about that. I attended a writing conference two weeks ago and I was busy clearing up work so I could attend, and then I had to work to catch up!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Happy Birthday - Enjoy it because you have it

Getting older - everyone does it, unless they're no longer living. That does sound trite, doesn't it? But it's true.

We hear it all the time, people bemoaning the fact that they're turning 30, 40, or the big 50. They won't admit it, they make a big deal about saying that they're not acknowledging it. They don't want a party. They're feeling badly about their age.

But what is the option? If you're alive, you get older. And, in most cases, getting older is something to celebrate. You've lived another year, you've touched more people. You may have made a difference in some more lives. Getting older isn't a death sentence, it's a life sentence. It means you are alive, breathing, and hopefully, loving and having fun.

I'm going to turn 49 in two weeks. I have already told my family that I fully expect a big party for my 50th next year. Why deny the age - I will be 50 years old next year. And with that 50, I'll have experienced highs and lows, but by being 50, I'm still around to experience more of them.

I'd be a liar if I say I don't look back sometimes and wish I could relive a particular time and done things differently. But we can't, so it's just wishful thinking.

Did you realize that in palliative care and hospice, birthdays are usually celebrated? Because in palliative and hospice care, the focus is on every day you are alive and if your birthday comes up, it's worth acknowledging it. Ignoring it won't make it go away.

In this world where we do our best to look our youngest, where we try to defy nature with surgery and Botox, and other invasive procedures, what happened to appreciating what we have, what we've done?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Shoulder Update - Not Looking Great

It's been a while since I wrote about my shoulder, which I dislocated on Dec. 11, 2009. You would think by now, it would have been healed and history, but unfortunately it hasn't healed and it's not history.

After attending weekly (yes, every week) physiotherapy sessions, the pain in the shoulder decreased a lot, range of motion increase quite a bit, but there is still pain and there is still not complete return of use. So, the orthopedic surgeon sent me for magnetic resonance imaging (an MRI) with contrast.

The contrast was intra-articular, which means the doctor injected the contrast right into my shoulder. The needle is inserted sort of between the shoulder and the collar bone. To say it hurt is an understatement. It felt as if I had dislocated it all over again and I don't do well with pain like that. I was expecting an IV contrast. Ouch. But, it had to be done (just don't ever ask me to do that again!).

The results of the MRI are not encouraging so I'm waiting to see if surgery is in the picture.

"sequela of anterior shoulder dislocation with an old mild Hill-Sachs fracture and tear of anterioinferior apspect of labrum with focal post traumatic chondropathy of anterioinferior aspect of labrum (GLAD injury)."

That's a fancy way of saying, "oops, her shoulder is messed up." The Hill-Sachs fracture is a type of break that very typically happens with an anterior shoulder dislocation, as I had. But I'm not sure if they mean "old" as in from December, or "old" as in a previous injury I sustained about 15 or 16 years ago.

It does sound like surgery is the next step, but we'll find out next week for sure.

So, I leave you with these words of advice: DON'T FALL! Especially on moving day (Diary of My Separated Shoulder)


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Another Medication Recall - Is Anything Safe?

It may be a blanket statement to say the general public is not exactly trusting pharmaceutical companies these days, but when parents are told of massive children's medications recalls, it's hard not to think in terms of generalizations. Parents don't generally like to give their children medications to begin with, so it's an act of trust when they do - trust in the company that manufactured the drugs. Yet, it wasn't that long ago that parents learned that they shouldn't be giving cough and cold medicine to young children - something they had been assured by the big companies was safe (Cough medicine warning extended to under 6 year olds).

Over the generations, we have come to trust medications, such as antibiotics and chemotherapy, to save our lives. Other medications, such as allergy medications, make our lives easier (and can be life saving), while yet others are life-enhancing medications, like medications for erectile dysfunction or Botox for cosmetic purposes. But as the years go by, how is it that these medications, which we literally trust with our lives, are frequently being found to be more dangerous than we thought or - in the case of the recent recall - not meeting standards and may be harmful?

The latest recall involves children cold, allergy, and fever medicines from McNeil Consumer Healthcare. These include liquid formulations of:

  • Tylenol
  • Motrin
  • Zyrtec
  • Benadryl
You can view the full list here on the McNeil website.

Who, among parents of young children, didn't have at least one of these in their medicine cabinets?

Luckily, the problem was recognized and the company issued the recall notice, but it makes one wonder, how many problems are there with medications that we don't find out about? And how can something like this happen? Haven't the pharmaceutical companies learned anything yet about consumer trust?

Pharmaceutical companies aren't bad guys - they do work that do save lives. But there is something seriously wrong with a system that:

A) makes prices of some medications so expensive that only the very rich can afford them
B) allows medications to go to market and remain on the market despite reports of less than desirable reactions
C) allows medications with quality issues to get into the market

Without the pharmaceutical companies, many of us would not be alive, but that doesn't excuse the problems that seem to be cropping up fairly regularly. We're not talking about a minor lifestyle issue here, we're talking about complicated chemical compositions that affect how we thing, live, breathe, move, and just about anything else.

Have you had any bad experiences with medications?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

National Nurses Week is Coming Up

Are there any non-nurses who know that there is a National Nursing week in May? For those of you who didn't know, what is your reaction to this? Do you feel it's something that is important?

Nurses seem to be torn on this matter. In one way, it is nice to be recognized (officially) for the work we do. On the other hand, is it a way of appeasing nurses so they won't be so difficult for administration to deal with them? Some nurses feel that a recognition day or week is insulting - what about the other 51 weeks of the year?

What gets to them, I believe, is many facilities take this week to throw trinkets at the nurses, a few pens, a breakfast, maybe a vase of flowers at the desk. Of course, some facilities do much more elaborate things too. And, no matter how inexpensive or cheap a gift is, isn't a gift a gift? I'm not so sure.

I've heard people comparing Nurse Appreciation week to Mother's Day and Father's Day. Is this a fair comparison? Maybe not. Other than Administrative Assistant week (what used to be Secretary's Day) or Teacher's Appreciation week, there doesn't seem to be any other type of {insert profession here} Week. And, if you look at it, admin assistants, nurses, and teachers generally tend to be women. When was the last time you heard about Mechanical Engineer Week? Urban Planner Week? Plumber Week?

Whatever side of the argument you're on, it doesn't take much to appreciate a nurse. A smile, a thank you. A sincere appreciation of what it is nurses do to help people. That's from the general public. From the admins? More appreciation and understanding of what we do. Nix the stupid rules that some facilities have that do nothing more than foster hard feelings. Pay the nurses more. Hospitals say they don't have more money to spend, but how many of us have seen money spent on events, items, and issues that really could have been done without?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Volcano-Stranded and Low on Medications

People who take medications or use medical supplies (such as catheters or ostomy equipment) are encouraged to always bring along more than they would need for their stay. The reason has always been because you could get delayed or run into problems, and you may not necessarily be able to renew your prescription or obtain more supplies where you are.

This problem has been brought to light especially during the extended vacations, business trips, and other voyages out of home countries because of Iceland's volcano eruption and the massive closure of air space across parts of Europe.

While for some people, not taking their medications may only result in mild discomfort, for others, it can very well be life threatening. Take, for example, Sophie Longton, a woman from the United Kingdom who has been stuck in Malaysai since the air space has been closed. According to this BBC News article, 'My medication is running out', the 23-year-old woman who lives with cystic fibrosis, is coming dangerously close to exhausting her medication supply. This could be disastrous for her, especially since she is beginning to show signs of developing an infection.

What more could Ms. Longton have done? She traveled with extra medications, but how much extra is sufficient? One would hardly think that you would need more than a week of extra medication in case of emergency, right?

What about you? Do you travel with extra supplies or medications in case of emergency? What do you consider a safe cushion?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Should pregnant doctors work in abortion clinics?

Now this is a situation I never thought of. If a woman is going to have an abortion, is it a conflict or a problem if the doctor performing the abortion is obviously pregnant?

A doctor in the United Kingdom asks exactly that question in a piece she wrote for the medical journal, BMJ. Is it appropriate for an obviously pregnant doctor to be doing abortions? While she was doing rotations, she was assigned to work in an abortion clinic. She was seven months pregnant at the time.

The article was not about whether she wanted or did not want to terminate pregnancies, but the situation she found herself in:

Is it appropriate for patients to see a pregnant doctor for their termination of pregnancy appointment? Is it suitable to have an obvious reminder of the alternative consequence when patients are already facing a difficult decision? Pregnancy is a familiar sight in society, and some may argue it is inevitable that some patients will be seen by a pregnant doctor. Why then is it common for efforts to be made to arrange ultrasonography sessions for women wanting an abortion separate from routine antenatal scanning? (BMJ 2010;340:c867)

What do you think?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Contest for Diabetes Book Over at Gadabout Health

Just a quick drive-by post for today, Easter Sunday.

A writer friend of mine is doing a book blog tour about a book she wrote on living with diabetes, or more specifically, helping others live with diabetes: 21 Simple Things You Can Do To Help Someone With Diabetes.

She wrote a guest post for me over at Gadabout Health: Diabetes – Cherie Burbach Guest Post & Book Giveaway! So if you are interested in diabetes, because you or someone you know has it, you may want to either buy the book (link is above) or check out the post and see if you can win a copy.

Good luck!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Monthly Health Awareness for April

Do you pay attention to the different Health Awareness months/weeks/days? Various health issues fill the calendar with awareness months that are meant to educate the general public about the individual causes.

Some months and causes seem to go well, hand-in-hand. For example, February is Heart Month and May is used to raise awareness of Lyme Disease. Others appear to be more random, such as Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month, which is in July. The organizations that sponsor the special awareness times put a lot of time and effort into their public service announcements. But do they make an impact on the general public?

How many of you, who aren't directly affected by the disease or problem, have heard of National Radon Action Month (January), Children of Alcoholics Week (February), National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (March) and National Facial Protection Month (April)?

The point is, some issues are out there, in our faces all the time. We all know about breast cancer awareness spots, heart attack information and so on, but there are many other health issues that need to be addressed. So, are these groups doing a good job spreading the word? What do you think?

For your information, here are the April Health observances, as per the 2010 National Health Observances Calendar:

1 - 30
Alcohol Awareness Month

SAMHSA's Health Information Network
P.O. Box 2345
Rockville, MD 20847-2345
(877) 726-4727 English/Spanish
(240) 221-4292 Fax
Materials available
Contact: None designated

1 - 30
Foot Health Awareness Month

American Podiatric Medical Association
9312 Old Georgetown Road
Bethesda, MD 20814-1621
(301) 581-9227
(301) 530-2752 Fax
www.apma.org External Link
Materials available
Contact: Angela Berard

1 - 30
Irritable Bowel Syndrome Awareness Month

International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders
P.O. Box 170864
Milwaukee, WI 53217-8076
(888) 964-2001
(414) 964-1799
(414) 964-7176 Fax
External Link
Materials available
Contact: Nancy Norton

1 - 30
National Autism Awareness Month

The Autism Society
7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 300
Bethesda, MD 20814-3067
(800) 3–AUTISM (328-8476)
(301) 657-0881
(301) 657-0869 Fax
www.autism-society.org/naam External Link
Materials available
Contact: None designated

1 - 30
National Cancer Control Month

American Cancer Society
250 Williams Street NW
Atlanta, GA 30303
(800) ACS-2345 (227-2345)
www.cancer.org External Link
Materials available
Contact: National Office

1 - 30
National Child Abuse Prevention Month

Child Welfare Information Gateway
Children's Bureau
1250 Maryland Avenue SW, #8111
Washington, DC 20024
(800) 394-3366
(202) 260-9345 Fax

Materials available
Contact: None designated

1 - 30
National Donate Life Month

Division of Transplantation, Healthcare Systems Bureau
Health Resources and Services Administration
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Parklawn Building, Room 12C-05
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857
(888) 275-4772
(703) 821-2098 Fax

Materials available
Contact: Division of Transplantation Staff

1 - 30
National Facial Protection Month

American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry
American Association of Orthodontists
9700 West Bryn Mawr Avenue
Rosemont, IL 60018
(847) 678-6200
www.aaoms.org External Link
Materials available
Contact: AAOMS Communications

1 - 30
National Minority Health Awareness Month

Office of Minority Health
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
P.O. Box 37337
Washington, DC 20013-7337
(800) 444-6472
(240) 453-2883 Fax

Materials available
Contact: None designated

1 - 30
National Sarcoidosis Awareness Month

National Sarcoidosis Society
National Sarcoidosis Foundation
2525 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 567-6626
(312) 567-6144 Fax
www.nationalsarcoidosisfriends.org External Link
Materials available
Contact: Glenda Fulton

1 - 30
National Youth Sports Safety Month

National Youth Sports Safety Foundation
One Beacon Street, Suite 3333
Boston, MA 02108
(617) 367-6677
(617) 722-9999 Fax
www.nyssf.org/campaign.html External Link
Materials available
Contact: Rita Glassman

1 - 30
Occupational Therapy Month

American Occupational Therapy Association
4720 Montgomery Lane
P.O. Box 31220
Bethesda, MD 20824-1220
(301) 652-6611
(800) 377-8555 TDD
(301) 652-7258 Fax
www.aota.org/news/consumer/ot-month.aspx External Link
Materials available
Contact: None designated

1 - 30
Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)
2000 L Street NW, Suite 406
Washington, DC 20036
(800) 656-4673
www.rainn.org External Link
Materials available
Contact: None designated

1 - 30
Sports Eye Safety Month

American Academy of Ophthalmology
P.O. Box 7424
San Francisco, CA 94120-7424
(415) 447-0213
(415) 561-8533 Fax
External Link
Materials available
Contact: Georgia Alward

1 - 30
Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month

Prevent Blindness America
211 West Wacker Drive, Suite 1700
Chicago, IL 60606
(800) 331-2020
(847) 843-8458 Fax
www.preventblindness.org External Link
Materials available
Contact: PBA Consumer and Patient Hotline

5 - 11
National Public Health Week

American Public Health Association
800 I Street NW
Washington, DC 20001-3710
(202) 777-2509
(202) 777-2500 TTY
(202) 777-2532 Fax
www.nphw.org/nphw10/home1.htm External Link
Materials available
Contact: Bithiah Lafontant

World Health Day

Pan American Health Organization
WHO Regional Office for the Americas
525 23rd Street NW
Washington, DC 20037-2895
(202) 974-3156
(202) 974-3645 Fax
www.who.int/world-health-day/en/ External Link
Materials available
Contact: None designated

National Alcohol Screening Day®

Screening for Mental Health, Inc.
One Washington Street, Suite 304
Wellesley Hills, MA 02481
(781) 239-0071
(781) 431-7447 Fax
External Link
Materials available
Contact: Ariela Edelson

Sexual Assault Awareness Month Day of Action

National Sexual Violence Resource Center
123 North Enola Drive
Enola, PA 17025
(877) 739-3895
(717) 909-0714 Fax
External Link
Materials available
Contact: Lauren Sogor

24 - May 1
National Infant Immunization Week

National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Road NE, MS E-05
Atlanta, GA 30333
(800) CDC-INFO (232-4636)
(404) 639-8200
(404) 639-8905 Fax

Materials available
Contact: Michelle Basket

24 - 25
2010 March for Babies

March of Dimes Foundation
1275 Mamaroneck Avenue
White Plains, NY 10605
(800) 525-9255
(914) 997-4617 Fax
www.marchforbabies.org External Link
Materials available
Contact: Bob Aglione

World Meningitis Day

Confederation of Meningitis Organization
CoMO, Meningitis Centre
Telethon Institite for Child Health Research
P.O. Box 866
West Perth
www.comoonline.org/wmd.html External Link
Contact: Linda Gibbs

Saturday, March 13, 2010

U.S. Federal Court Denies Vaccine/Autism Claim

In a blow to those who still believe that childhood vaccines cause autism, the United States Court of Federal Claims has ruled against claims from three families that childhood vaccines that contained mercury-based preservative thimerosal contributed to autism that affects their children.

The thing is, even the researchers who did the flawed research have recanted, saying that they had made a mistake in their judgment that the vaccines contributed to the development of autism. And yet, the idea still persists.

Learning your child has autism is devastating. We don't want our children to have disabilities, to not be "perfect." Autism is a long road and the more severely your child is affected, the hard a road it is to navigate. And, it is normal, natural, to want someone or something to blame - but we need to find the right thing to blame.

The argument is that people have seeming normal children until they have their first vaccine injections. Within days, some say, their child becomes different as autistic symptoms begin to develop. But what doesn't come across is that autism has been around for generations. It was just often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all, in children with mild cases. And, the argument that we have more autism now could be explained with we have better understanding and diagnosis of the condition, and are therefore recognizing and diagnosing it more often. As well, the symptoms of autism often show up just at the same age/time that the vaccines fall so it isn't unnatural to want to blame the vaccines.

This post isn't going to change anyone's mind. Many who read it will nod their head in agreement, some will be outraged at my thoughts, and others won't really care either way or don't know what to think. All I do know is that we don't want to see our children struggle or suffer and most of us will do anything we can to keep that from happening. Too bad we can't always prevent the bad things from happening. As a mother, I do know that.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

According to b5, I'm an "aggregator"

Harrumph. Years of blogging for b5media and now I'm an aggregator?

Blisstree is a re-launch of an existing b5 property that was essentially an aggregator.

The definition of "aggregator" is someone who gathers things. Excuse me, my CV does NOT say I'm an aggregator. I'm a writer - and a good one. I enjoyed working for b5media and I'm proud of the work I did. I'm trying to be a good sport about the whole thing. After all, business is business and part of business is making changes, which may include laying off staff that they feel they no longer need. But they don't need to belittle the work that was done by the many bloggers who worked for them. They don't need to insult us, do they?

Healthcare Workers Helping Haitians Help Themselves

The horrendous events of Haiti's earthquake earlier this year are fading from the news. We do see images from time to time and hear reminders about the devastation that occurred as a result of the tremors. The Haitian disaster was compared to the Chilean earthquake that happened just a couple of weeks ago - and the comparisons were not favorable.

For those of us who work in health care, we're reminded of our role in helping others. And many of us think about our own mortality, particularly when we think about the deaths of several Haitian doctors, nurses, and other people who work in the field.

As with most natural disasters around the world, the international community responded in a wonderful way. Countries and private companies and citizens provided money, supplies and their own workers. Sadly though, this isn't enough to help rebuild a country that needed rebuilding before the earthquake.

One of the problems that seems to hit Haiti the hardest, but also affects other so-called developing countries, is that many of the international groups, be they non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or governments, tend to rush in and try to take over. They want to do things their way and feel that if they could just teach the Haitians how to do the work and function the way the helpers think they should, all will be well.

But a country isn't that different from a business. A well-run business usually pulls information and resources from its employees and its supporters. Outside people who try to tell the business owner how to run their company are generally not well received. Their suggestions may be worth incorporating into the business structure, but outsiders don't usually come in, set up camp, and then tell the president of the company how to run it. Countries are no different.

In order for the Haitian people to get on their feet and stay there, they need to run their own country. They may need us to provide them with the skills and the know-how, but they also need to take responsibility and learn how to use those skills and know-how to be their own bosses. Just a we need to let our families grow up and learn on their own, developing countries must as well.

There's an excellent article in the March issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Recovering from Disaster — Partners in Health and the Haitian Earthquake, written by Tracy Kidder. Although the whole article makes excellent point, the last two paragraphs are particularly important, to me. If you have a minute, I suggest you take the time to read the piece. Even better, perhaps you can come back here and comment, letting us know what you think and how you feel.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Good Health Equal Good Sex, Researchers Say

According to an article published today on bmj.com, if you're in good health, you are twice as likely to be interested in sex, compared with people who are in poor health.

To determine how good health affects sexual activity and if they could predict how long a healthy sex life could be expected, researchers surveyed 3,032 people (1,561 women) between the ages of 25 and 74 and another group of 3,005 people (1,550 women) between 57 and 85 years of age.

The researchers asked the participants about their relationship status, the quality of their sex lives, the frequency of sexual activity, and their general health status (rated between poor and excellent). What they found was that men at the age of 30 years could look forward to about 35 years of sexual activity and women at the age of 30, almost 31 years. Interestingly, if the men and women were married or in an intimate relationship, the gender difference between the two went down.

The results reveal that men are more likely to be sexually active, report a good sex life and be interested in sex than women. This difference was most stark among the 75 to 85 year old group, where almost four out of ten (40%) males compared to less than two out of ten (17%) women were sexually active.

When looking at the health aspect, men lost more years of sexual activity due to ill health than men.

Some may ask what the importance of such a study is. Being sexual is a part of human nature and it can help people feel better about themselves both physically and emotionally. The thing is, do we feel healthier and happier if we have more sex or do we have more sex because we are healthy and happier?

More interesting news:

Allow Your Body to Adjust to Time Change

Virus can attack prostate cancer

In paying for sex changes, Cuba breaks from past

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Life After b5media

Many of my writer friends have asked me what I'm going to do next with the most recent cleaning out of the b5media studios. They know I blogged for three of their blogs and hope that I'm going to land on my feet. I won't trash the company - they did keep me busy for a few years. I just wish things had been done differently.

Am I going to land on my feet? Of course I am! :) Seriously. Although I do blog on health issues, both here and now at GadaboutHealth.com, I am primarily a writer for other media, online and in print. I write for companies that hire me to write patient education material; edit, rewrite, or write material for professionals, such as other nurses or paramedics; and a host of other things.

I won't deny that blogging for b5media was good to me. It gave me enough of an income that I could pick and choose which writing jobs I wanted to take. That is a freedom that not enough people have. So, what am I going to do?

I'm going to ramp up my marketing strategy, send out more queries - something that I tend not to do too often - and LOIs (letters of introduction). Scanning the job listings is a given. Although there's a lot of garbage out there, there are some diamonds. You just have to dig hard enough and long enough to find them. And network. I'm contacting clients of days gone by, talking to fellow writers, and following leads. You just never know who knows what company is hiring.

So, back to the drawing board. And if you hear of anything, I'm listening!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Q&A About Nurses Becoming Writers

I get emails from nurses who would love to get into writing. Some like the idea of being a writer, others can no longer do the physical work of a nurse and feel that writing may help them continue to earn a living while still using their nursing knowledge.

Here are some of the most common questions I get and the answers I usually give:

How did you get into writing?

I always enjoyed writing and language itself. It is a gift that comes to me and always has. I studied nursing because I felt I had to be practical and choose a career where there would always be work. But, writing and the need to write never left my soul.

As a result, when the Internet became more available to the everyday person, I began reading more and reaching out, trying to write when I could. The rest just happened.

What was the first thing you had published?

My first piece of writing that was published in a print magazine was an article for nurses about using the Internet. It was published in the mid-90s in the journal The Canadian Nurse. My first on-line piece was an article on Alzheimer's disease, some time before the Canadian Nurse article.

Should I take a writing course?

Taking courses is rarely a bad idea. We can always learn how to do things better. The first writing course I ever took was a mandatory one on how to write a paper, a first semester university course that I took when I went back to school around 1994 or so.

The course was incredibly helpful. Although I thought I knew a lot about how to write, there were a few consistent errors I was making and my prof cured me of those. I took a few more writing and editing courses later on and I learned something from each course I took.

How do I start?

This is the big question. How you start writing depends on how serious you are and what your goals are.

  • Can you write? Many people believe that writing is easy. While the actual action of putting the words to paper (or on the screen) is easy, finding the right words and putting them in the right order, using the right tone and feel, isn't. Not everyone can write well. You need to be honest with yourself as to whether you do have that ability. Technically, do you know the difference between paraphrasing and copying? Do you understand the seriousness of plagiarism? It's sad how many people don't know this. Can you credit sources properly?

  • How are your research skills? Writing rarely comes without research. You need to be able to look for information and to be able to judge if the information is credible and usable.

  • Do you like to blog? A blog is a good way to commit to writing something on a regular basis, learning what people like to read about and how to promote yourself.

  • Do you have a niche? Is there something specific that you are passionate and knowledgeable about? Can you zero in on something that isn't as well-known or that needs more expertise?

  • Are you able to commit? Can you follow through on a project, providing the clients with what they have hired your for?

  • Can you handle having your writing edited? Some people go into writing thinking that if they write something, it will be published as-is. While I am lucky enough to have this happen to me many times, there are times when my writing is edited so much, I barely recognize it. Sometimes, this happens because the client didn't like how I approached the topic, other times, there are several editors working on one piece ("editing by committee") and this results in a multitude of changes. And some other times, it's because the client feels that they can write it better than you did. Having your work edited can be a bit painful sometimes - particularly if you don't agree with the changes. So you have to know if you can live with that, but also be self-confident enough to speak up if you feel that the editor is introducing aspects to your piece that you know shouldn't be there. Editors are great to have on your side, but they're human too. Sometimes, things happen.

  • Can you deal with the financial up and downs of freelancing? New writers may be stunned to know that sometimes we wait for months to be paid for a piece we wrote on a rush deadline. A rush deadline for writing doesn't usually translate into a rush deadline for payment. I have to say, I've been very fortunate. The vast majority of my clients have paid me on time or within reasonable delays. There have a been a few that pushed the limits, one I had to chase down, and one who refused to pay me full payment. But, as I say, for me, this is unusual. For other writers, it happens more often.

So, where do I start?

  • Write up a resume of your skills and any experience you have in writing. If you have contacts in the field, you may want to let them know that you are looking for work.

  • Start your blog if you want to follow that route. This gives you a presence on the Internet. It's this blog that made me the number one Google hit if you type in "Nurse writer."

  • Read writing books and writing magazines. There are many great writing sites online as well. Read, read, and then read some more. You can't write if you don't read. You have to understand the differences in different types of writing, such as the big difference between writing for online and writing for print. Read what other nurses are writing about.

  • Decide what you want your focus to be. Although I write for all types of audiences, from professional to general public, my passion is writing for the every day person. I love taking complicated medical health information and writing it up in an understandable and, if possible, fun way.

  • Ask questions but, and this is important, be judicious about what you ask and who you ask. Freelance writers are among one of the most giving and sharing groups of people I have ever worked with. But, they are also very busy trying to make a living of their own. While most don't mind helping new writers, it is frustrating to take the time to answer questions and make suggestions, never to get a "thank you" in return. Also, watch the type of questions you ask. Many can be answered if you look them up and it is a bit frustrating to be asked basic questions that can be found with a bit of effort.

  • Join writing groups, either in person or online. Other writers are a great resource and sometimes, they ask questions you didn't even know you had.

  • Don't give up. If this is what you want to do, stick to it.

Good luck!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Breast Feeding the Wrong Child

Moms - if you breastfed your baby(ies) and you found out that a mix up in the hospital caused you to nurse another woman's infant, how would you react? Is it gross? Is it more concerning about the mix up than anything else? Is it something worth suing about?

Baby mix ups have happened from time to time. We like to think that we've got fool-proof methods in place, but mix ups still occur. According to this article, such an incident is sue-worthy: Breast-Feeding the Wrong Baby.

The article explains how a nurse brought the wrong baby to a mother who went on to breast feed the child. Well over a year later, the mother who did the nursing has filed a 30,000 dollar lawsuit against the hospital. Did you get that first part? *Over* a year later.

Here are my thoughts:

1- I nursed three children and I could identify all three from the day they were born. I find it highly unlikely I would not recognize my own child.

2- If the situation was so traumatizing for the mother, why wait a whole year (actually, more) before launching a lawsuit?

3- Is it really that terrible that one child receive another (healthy) mother's breast milk? We used to have wet nurses, women still do nurse others' babies for a variety of reasons, and we have breast milk banks for premature babies.

and finally, the biggie for me:

4- Should the mother of the mistakenly nursed baby be the one who is freaked out and suing?

It's the last point that really makes me wonder.

What do you think?


Don't forget to check out www.GadaboutHealth.com for more health-related stories and www.GadaboutMedia.com for entertainment and lifestyles fun.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Healthbolt and Diseases & Conditions Blog Now History

Many of my readers here follow my posts over at Healthbolt and at the Blisstree Diseases and Conditions blog. Sadly, many of us received our termination notices this morning and those blogs are no longer part of my life. It is all part of b5media's "redirection," or whatever they call it.

In the meantime, I'll be working hard to help build up the new network I began with Gayla Baer, www.gadabouthealth.com. We'll have the stuff we had at Healthbolt and more.

In the meantime, my shingle is out: "Work wanted!"

While I am a health and medical writer, blog writing helps supplement the income when projects are slow, and they help give a break in serious writing when the writing jobs are plentiful. So, if you hear of anything that may be a good fit, please pass it on.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Freedom of Less Pain

I don't think people realize how draining pain is until they stop feeling that pain on a constant level.

I've been blogging a bit about my shoulder since I separated it on December 11, 2009. It is now March 3, 21010 and I only now have spent my second virtually pain-free day since the accident. I also can't get over how good I feel.

Chronic pain is a major health problem in North America. Many people live with chronic back pain, but there are others who live with arthritic pain, migraines, fibromyalgia, and just about any type of pain you can think about - and they're expected to get through life each and every day as if they didn't have it.

The problem with pain is that someone else can't see it. If you have a broken leg, people see the cast and can clue in that you're likely not very comfortable. If you've got a visible reason for your pain, it's ok to feel that pain - others expect it. But if you don't have something noticeable that can warn others, then your pain is unexpected and often uncomfortable for others. After all, how can they identify with you if they can't see or understand where the pain is coming from?

How many people who get migraines have heard comments from others about how they have bad headaches, but they find a way to cope. How many people with irritable bowel syndrome get little sympathy from someone who can't understand what if feels like to have it seem like your gut is all twisted and tied in knots? Or the person with back pain who is feeling pretty ok, but makes the wrong move and gets a "zing" in the spine that is strong enough to bring him to his knees?

I have to admit, I was getting very discouraged. I go to physio every single week, never missing one. I follow up the next day with a therapeutic massage - never missing a week. I do my exercises, but my shoulder didn't seem to be getting any better. And worse, it was still hurting. And then, all of a sudden, it was as if a switch had been thrown.

I'm not completely pain-free yet. The shoulder hurts when I do certain movements it doesn't want me to do, but the ever-present pain seems to have gone. I cannot be more grateful for that.

If you don't know what it's like to have constant pain, how do you react when someone else has it? Is it tough for you to understand?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My neck pain is caused by my breathing - who knew?

You know the whole, the hip bone is connected to the thigh bone thing? There really is a lot too it. I'm a believer in how one part of the body affects another, but it's not always obvious and it can be a bit surprising when you learn about different connections.

As many of this blog's readers know, I separated my shoulder in December. I'm going for intense physio and therapeutic massage to get rid of the pain and regain good range of motion. This week, both my physio and my massage therapist worked on my upper back, the thoracic back because they both noticed that there was a problem there. I also just happened to mention to my physio that when I go for walks, my neck and shoulders begin to hurt, no matter how good my posture may or may not be.

You know what the problem is/was? My breathing. Somewhere down the road, I began using my upper back muscles to breath and not my abdominal muscles. So, when I go for a rapid or long walk, as I get tired, I start breathing harder, using those upper back muscles - which then become fatigued and sore.

I now have some exercises I have to do to try to retrain my mind and body to breathe properly. But I wonder how long I've been doing this and why I started doing this.

Anyway, now that I know, I can work on it and work on it, I will do. Now, do you know how you are breathing? Are you breathing properly? Or as I was?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Five years after suicide

This coming weekend, it will be five years since my brother took his life. He was 35 years old at the time. How ironic he chose to die in February - Suicide Prevention Month in many places. How ironic and how sad. I somehow doubt he knew about the suicide prevention thing. I doubt he could see beyond his own pain.

I have heard and read many times that people who commit suicide don't really want to die, they just want to stop the pain - and this is the only way they feel they can make it work. Some people say the act of suicide is selfish. Is it? In my opinion, people who get that far into despair don't think about what others are going to feel not because they are selfish, but because they can't get beyond their own pain. This past December, I separated my shoulder and felt the most intense pain I'd ever felt. As I was in pain, I didn't care about anyone else's needs or feelings - I just wanted the pain to go away. I don't see the mental pain as being all that much different. It hurts, just in a different way.

I wrote this post a few years ago and I think it's still pertinent now. I heard on the news the other day that the suicide rate in Canada is dropping - but one death is too much. It's one life lost that likely could have been saved. This is for you JP. I couldn't help you in life, maybe I can help others now:

Suicide, not a disease, so no walkathons, ribbons, or research race

There was more news about suicide yesterday in the papers. This time it’s about whether some antidepressants really do raise or lower the risk of suicide. I don’t know – I’m not an expert in that department. I think suicide is way more complicated than if a drug helps or prevents it. What I do know is that suicide hurts like hell. My baby brother took his life in February 2005. He was 35 years old.

Quebec has one of the highest young male suicide rates in the country. Young men are one of the highest risk groups for suicide. In a youth suicide report published by the Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health Care, it says: “Suicide has accounted for about 2% of annual deaths in Canada since the late 1970s. Eighty percent of all suicides in 1991 involved men. The male:female ratio for suicide risk was 3.8 to 1. In both males and females, the greatest increase between 1960 and 1991 occurred in the 15- to 19-year age group, with a four-and-a-half-fold increase for males, and a three-fold increase for females.”

Statistics aren’t that much better in the United States. Published in Explaining the Rise in Youth Suicide, by David M. Cutler, Edward L. Glaeser, and Karen E. Norberg, March 2001, are these findings: “Suicide rates among youths aged 15-24 have tripled in the past half-century, even as rates for adults and the elderly have declined. For every youth suicide completion, there are nearly 400 suicide attempts.”

According to an article by Stewart Tendler that appeared in the London Times, UK, in November 2004, suicides made up 13% of the inquest deaths in England and Wales in 2003. Compared with 744 women who committed suicide, 2,511 men did. Although the numbers in the UK seem to have stabilized, it is still the younger men, between 15 and 24 years, who have the highest suicide rate.

Excuse me? Did I read that correctly? Eighty percent of the suicides in Canada in 1991 involved men?? Suicide rates have tripled in the US among older teens and there were 1,767 more men in the UK who committed suicide than women? Between 1960 and 1991, there was a 4.5-fold increase for males and a 3-fold increase for females in Canada? Where is the outcry? Where is the demand for something to be done about this? Oh, right, I forgot, we don’t talk about suicide. It makes people uncomfortable. Talking about suicide means that we have to talk about mental illness, depression, pain, and despair. Not exactly cocktail chatter.

I’ve read, although I can’t pull the sources right now, that the rate among young men may actually be higher because of accidents that are really disguised suicides without actual intent, meaning that some of the young men who crash their cars or do dumb stunts that result in death may actually be playing with suicidal behaviour. I can’t back that up, but I do recall reading it. I wonder if there is some merit to that though.

Action has to be taken to help those young people who feel that there is no other outlet, no other way to solve their problems than to end their lives. I’m not a psychologist or a social worker. I don’t have the answers to any of the questions of how to stop this, but if people were dying at these rates of a disease, or some sort of fatal accident, I’m sure that people would be taking action. The only way action is going to happen is if we start to talk about the people who we lose through suicide. We need to bring it out to the forefront of people’s thoughts. We need to do something because our young people, our young men, are so desperate that they see no other way out.

Do I sound angry? I am. I’m angry, upset, saddened, and frustrated. JP was 35 years old. He had a rough life and was never able to get the help he really needed. He hung himself on a Friday night in February. He was alone.

I would do anything to get my brother back. The help I gave him wasn’t enough. The help his friends gave him wasn’t enough. His two young sons weren’t enough. We all tried in our own way, stumbling through the mental health minefield. The help I did give wasn’t enough, he couldn’t take it. I don’t know why, but it didn’t work. I miss him and my mind often goes to where he must have been before he died. My heart still cries for him and probably always will.

We have to stop this. We have to.