Saturday, May 26, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me

Another year has gone by and it's birthday time all over again. Happy birthday to me!! Unlike many people who I hear bemoaning getting older, I celebrate it with all my heart. It hurts me to hear people feel badly about their age - after all, we all get older. Isn't that what we want? It sure beats the alternative.

I don't know if I feel this way because of my nursing background. I have worked with patients who died unexpectedly, years before anyone ever thought they would die and I have worked with seniors, with decades of living behind them and who have reached the end of their life. I've also worked in palliative care, where people know they are going to die and we did our best to make that passing as easy as possible. But I have also helped people get better and go on to live longer as we treated them and healed them, or we gave them tools to manage their illness so they could go on to live long and productive lives. As odd as this always sounds to me when I think it or put it into words, I've also helped save some lives by detecting sudden deterioration in patients, performing CPR, helping give life-saving medications, and more. It's a blessing to be allowed to do this.

Or maybe my belief has nothing to do with the nursing at all. Maybe I feel this way because I had a tough start and I let that tough start define me for too long. When I hit my forties, I said, "I've never been better." When I hit my fifties, I thought, "if I thought the forties were good, this fifty stuff is even better."

So far, 2012 has been amazing. I love what I do for a living. My mental health has never been better. I have learned to accept and love who I am for what I am. Although I live with fibromyalgia, I'm fine. I manage it and work with it. Of course, I'd rather not have it, but I do - so let's move forward.

I have loving friends. I have a fantastic family. I have supportive and wonderful writing colleagues who cheer my successes and support me when I'm disappointed.

I have plans, I have dreams - and as I turn 51, which will happily lead to 52, 53, 54.... I will continue to celebrate each and every passing year. Life is full of challenges, but they can be overcome. I'm proof of that.

Happy birthday to everyone, whenever your day is here. Celebrate it, don't mourn it. Without birthdays, there would be no you.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Revisiting Popular Blog Topics

According to my stats, I have written 570 posts over the past five years. I'm sure some of them weren't all that interesting, but others have staying power and are visited again and again, even today.

What makes a popular topic? I suppose I could research it, check to see what people are looking for, but I tend to write about whatever strikes my fancy at the time. Sometimes a post may involve a celebrity illness or death - but those posts don't usually give me a huge uptick in traffic. They don't have staying power. I may get several visits over the course of a few days, but then the celebrity is forgotten and people aren't searching for them any more.

Other times, I hear about something in the news that triggers a post. That happened this month with my post on shoes (Stilettos or flats - no compromise?). Other times, I'll hear about a topic and think, hmm, yes, that would be good for a post. And then I promptly forget all about it. I tell people I have a great memory - it's just way, way too short.

A topic I thought would be interesting, but wasn't:

Health information is the number one topic that people search for on the Internet, according to some stats I read (from a reliable source!). So, with this in mind, I thought it would be important to explain why it's important to ensure your information sources are credible. After all, Dr. Google is always in the house, but is she always correct? To help this, I wrote Searching for Health Info on the Internet - in May 2007. I'm not sure if my stats program is right, but apparently, it's only been read three times. Oops.

And yet, one I wrote because of something I was going to have done, was looked at 187 times: Root Canals. How Lucky Is That? It wasn't overwhelmingly popular, but it was more so than how to find information on the Internet.

People like learning things about the professionals they come across - that is something I have learned. My short post on the difference between physiotherapists and occupational therapists is read quite frequently, at least a few times a week. And several people have read What do nurses really do?

My posts on suicide have been clicked on many times. Every time I write about suicide, I think about my brother, who ended his own life. It's a tough topic to talk about, but suicide and anything about mental illness NEEDS to be talked about. It's the only way people who need the help will get it. As long as being mentally ill has a stigma, it will be hard to admit you need help and to get it once you have reached that point: If It's Suicide Prevention Week in Quebec...  and Suicide, not a disease, so no walkathons, ribbons, or research race.

Topics about seniors and the elderly get a lot of attention on my blog. One I wrote, How do you speak to the elderly?, was written out of frustration. I hope that my comments there have helped some people adjust how they speak and the words that they use.

And my most popular blog post? It has been read almost 12,000 times since I posted it in July 2007: Broken Hips in the Elderly Can Lead to Death. Who knew that one would be so popular and continue to be so? I sure didn't.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Montreal Children's Hospital Foundation Radiothon Today

No matter where you live, chances are you must have heard - at one time or another - a radiothon to help raise funds for a local children's charity, hospital or healthcare facility. Today, it is the turn of the Montreal Children's Hospital Foundation, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Montreal is very fortunate to have not one, but two world-class stand-alone hospitals for children: CHU Sainte-Justine and the Montreal Children's Hospital. Both are excellent facilities that have saved thousands of children's lives and have helped families of those whose children cannot be saved.

As with most healthcare facilities, the MCH has a foundation that helps raise funds for the things that aren't provided for in the operating budget. These items range from state-of-the-art equipment to art supplies for the patients. Music therapy is funded by the foundation, as is so much more - all things to help the patients get better, if possible, and to make them feel as normal as possible - like children should feel.

So, why am I blogging about this here? Because as a writer, I play a small role in this radiothon. I was hired last year and again this year to help coordinate the appointments with the parents and to interview them to get an idea of what the MCH has meant to them. You see, when the radio hosts speak to the parents and/or child, they need to have a script of some sort, something that tells them why these people are sitting in front of them and a guide of what to ask them.

When people think of writing, they often think of writing articles or books, or - now with the Internet, writing for websites or blogs. But there are so many more opportunities to write, such as this one. Being a nurse helps tremendously with a task like this. As the parents speak with me, I know what they mean in their terminology, they don't have to explain everything. As a nurse, I can also identify with their hospital experiences, and as a mom, I can identify with the fear that a parent has when they have a sick child. While I have been very fortunate not to have any serious things happen to my family, I do know what it is like to worry when you hand over a child to a surgeon or your child is being tested for some unknown illness. It is truly frightening.

Some of the stories people will hear are heart breaking. Not all children survive their illnesses. Some are very frightening, no 5-week-old should be diagnosed with cancer. And some are inspiring, as parents and children relate their fight against illness and their successes.

If you would like to listen, the radiothon can be heard on the Montreal Astral Media radio stations, CJAD, CHOM-FM, and Virgin Radio. I would recommend listening to CJAD's feed because that is a talk radio station and they will be featuring more stories than the two FM music stations.

I'm honoured that my skills have allowed me to work on this project. I am such a lucky, lucky person.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My Blog - If I Had to Do It All Over Again

Being part of this blogathon means being offered the chance to write according to a theme on certain days. I blew off the last theme, haiku, because, well, I'm not imaginative enough for that. But today's theme is on if you were to start you blog over, how would you do it differently?

This was worth thinking about, particularly because I write mostly about health issues and there are so many health-related blogs around. So, I wondered - what would I do differently?

My first blog post was May 11, 2007 - And So I've Joined the Blogging World. I didn't realize or I would have thrown a 5th birthday party for it a couple of weeks ago. Ok, here's a belated Happy 5 Years blogging to myself:

Happy 5 Years!
Now, to the point of today's post:

To come with ideas, I had to go back to remember and discover why I did what I did in the first place. For example, coming up with the name: Marijke: Nurse Turned Writer. And also, how did I come up with the medhealthwriter - which also became my domain name for my professional website (

I like Marijke: Nurse Turned Writer. An editor I know emailed me recently and told me that she liked my title - that it was short and directly to the point. In four words, I told anyone who was interested exactly who I am. And that is who I am. I think of myself as a nurse first, even though I no longer work clinically. I still use my nursing knowledge every day when I work for my clients and when I write for myself. So, I wouldn't change that.

What about medhealthwriter? Where did that come from? I had to come up with a domain name for my website and I wasn't sure what I wanted. Several of my writing and editing colleagues said that I should, must, use my name as my domain, as so many of them do. They said that it makes it easier for people to remember you and to find you. 

While this may be so if you have an easy to remember and/or spell name, I really felt that this wouldn't be the case with me. In fact, I feared that people would give up looking for me precisely because they either couldn't remember my name or they had no idea how to spell it. I needed something else that could be remembered and show what it is that I do.

I don't remember the website, but there was a place you could go to plug in words you would like to use in a domain name. It would show you if it was available. I knew I wanted something to do with medical, health, and writing, but of course - the usual combinations were already in use. 

I took the words and played with them, placing them in various combinations and if one was pleasing, I would check to see if it was available. was. That is what the site became. It can be a bit long to write or spell out when I am giving information. That being said, I think it's a small price to pay because I think it's a pretty good indicator, just like Marijke: Nurse Turned Writer, telling people what I do.

Ok, so those things I wouldn't change. What else did I do that might have been done differently. For sure, I would have gone with an independent blog, not blogspot. While this suits me fine enough, I dislike having to put blogspot in my blog URL. But it's not the end of the world and it definitely isn't enough of an issue for me to consider moving it. My page ranking is too high for various terms to risk playing with it.

Would I approach the information the same way? I think so. I was hired to work on medical problem-specific or health-specific blogs after I began this blog. Having a specific topic to blog about has its advantages; you're not grasping for topics. But it has its disadvantages; sometimes there is only so much you can write about a topic. 

My blog is a bit of everything health-related with some writing and personal topics thrown in to the mix. I like that. I like that there are some extremely popular topics on this blog that go as far back as 2007 that still get visited every single day as people discover them through Google and other search engines. Google "broken hips elderly" and you'll see what I mean.

Timing-wise, I was very regular with my posting for the first few years, but then I got busy working on other blogs, ones that paid. It came to a point that I started losing interest in this blog all together. That wasn't good. My posts, if I was lucky, came out once a month. Longer stretches sometimes. But what could I have done differently? I'm not sure. If I didn't want to post, I didn't want to post. 

I did have a blog roll for a while. I stopped that for a few reasons. I can't recall why though! Maybe I could reinstate that. I think one of the reasons was my blog was beginning to look cluttered and I didn't care for that. 

One thing I know for sure I won't ever change is the type of content. I get emails almost every week from people and questionable sites that want me to link to them - they'll provide the content thank you very much. But these sites are not ones I want to be associated with. If I link to a site, I want it to be a link that I want there because it explains something or it's a site that I recommend. 

Of course, the result is I make no money from this blog. It isn't monetized in any way. I probably could have made a good bit of money from it over the years. But that didn't interest me. I wanted to keep this a site that people may come to for unbiased information. Ok, well, not totally unbiased as I'll add my own comments in. But the information is as unbiased as I can make it, in terms of using reliable and credible sources.

So, what would I have done differently? Having read what I just wrote - I can see that I don't think I'd change anything. I like my blog. I like what it represents. I like what it has given me in terms of exposure for people who are looking to hire a health writer with a nursing background. I like that I can help people by writing on a particular topic. You know - I just like it.

I'm glad I took part in today's theme. It helped me realize why I do this blogging thing. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Watch that Summer Heat

Not everyone is lucky enough to live in weather that is pleasant all year around - many of us live where it gets darned cold in the winter so we bask in the heat of the summer. If you live in an area as I do, in Montreal, it can get *very* hot in the summer; we can be the city of extreme weather come winter or summer.

Summer has finally arrived full force in our part of the world, so this brings to mind the annual problems we can have with heat and heat-related illnesses. It's a sad fact, but every summer, people die because of heat stroke, which is completely avoidable if proper precautions are taken. As well, many people end up getting seriously sunburned - another injury that is preventable.

Heat Exhaustion vs Heat Stroke

It's easy to confuse the two, but there is a big difference between them. Heat stroke is the more serious of the two but heat exhaustion can develop into heat stroke with shocking speed. Someone who is experiencing heat exhaustion may experience:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Cramping muscles
  • Headache
  • Being pale
  • Fatigue, weakness
  • Light headedness or dizziness, perhaps leading to fainting

They also may feel nauseated, begin to vomit.

This is a serious situation and the best thing to do for someone who is experiencing heat exhaustion is to get him or her out of the heat and into a cool place. If this isn't possible, a shaded area and/or somewhere with a breeze will help a bit, at least. At this point, as long as the person is coherent enough to swallow without choking, he or she needs water or a rehydration drink - not anything with alcohol or caffeine.

Cool sprinkles of water or a shower will also help make the person cooler. This does not mean a dunk in a cold swimming pool or in a cold shower. Cool is the word - not cold!

Heat stroke is the more serious of the two conditions. At this point, the body has overheated and can no longer cool itself off. That means, no more sweating. The body has decided that it takes too much effort to sweat and it can't afford to make that effort any more.

Signs of heat stroke include:

  • No more sweating
  • A higher than normal body temperature
  • Red, dry skin
  • Fast pulse
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Disorientation, agitation
  • Seizures
  • Coma

If you are with someone who has developed heat stroke, treat him or her as you would for heat exhaustion, but also call 911 for emergency help as this is a true medical emergency.

So, how do we prevent heat exhaustion or heat stroke? By being smart!

The most important thing to remember is to stay hydrated. That means drinking water or other non-caffeine or non-alcohol fluid even if you don't feel thirsty. Constantly drink the fluid to maintain your body's hydration levels.

Other tips include:

  • Avoid strenuous activity, particularly outside. If you must work outside, try to avoid the hottest times of the day, usually between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

  • Wear light-weight clothing, a hat and sunglasses. Bring back the age of the parasol and use an umbrella to shield yourself from the sun.

  • While inside, if you don't have air conditioning, keep your blinds or curtains closed, particularly windows facing the sun.

  • Stay in the lower levels of your home if possible, as they are usually the coolest.

  • If you don't have air conditioning and your home is too hot, seek out shelter at a local mall. Call your city or official offices to find out if there are specific areas that are specifically designated as havens during heat waves.

  • Friends and neighbors - check in on people who are living alone, particularly the elderly and those with chronic illnesses. They are at increased risk of having difficulty managing the heat.

Stay safe this summer. While it may not always be so easy to avoid getting too hot, if you know what to do and what signs to watch for, you could avoid a tragedy.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Stilettos or flats - no compromise?

A Facebook friend posted a link to an essay in Saturday's Globe and Mail, titled Kick My High-Heel Habit? I'd rather you stab me with a stiletto. I wouldn't have read it otherwise. I would have seen the title and skipped over it, thinking that this was not something I'd like to read. But, since Kathe posted it, I read it - and then promptly wished I hadn't. Don't get me wrong - I'm happy that Kathe posted it and I'm glad I read it, but I wish I had not. I don't know if that makes any sense.

I wish I hadn't read it because stilettos annoy me. Platform shoes annoy me. Things that women do to their body to make themselves more attractive (or so they think) can cause serious and permanent harm, yet they feel that they must, or else they are not worthy. Worthy of what?

There is undeniable proof that wearing stilettos and four-inch heels is harmful. The stilettos put too much weight on two parts of the foot, a single spot on the heel and the toes. The high heels force your feet into unnatural and unhealthy positions, they throw your body out of balance, forcing tendons, ligaments and muscles to take on roles they aren't meant to. And, there is the accident factor. The twisting of ankles, the falling off the  platforms or heels - that has to count for something.

Have you seen the feet of celebrities who wear these types of shoes all the time? They're ugly. They're tough and veiny and misshapen. I recall an interview, long ago, of a celebrity who claimed she had to wear these shoes all the time because they were the only thing in which she felt comfortable. Of course that's the case. She altered the shape and function of her legs so that she cannot wear shorter heels. Of course shorter heels, or going barefoot, are uncomfortable.

And then, there's "the walk." Women can't walk in very high heels. They do a tiny step forward as they balance on their shoes, pushing themselves forward. A normal stride brings your body forward with your step. A tiny high-heel step doesn't allow for that as it doesn't bring the body forward. Your body stays behind and you must push it forward.

The British Columbia Podiatric Medical Association lists these conditions as women's foot health problems. It's obvious, that for a large number of them, women are causing these problems themselves:

Achilles tendinitis: inflammation of the Achilles tendon, the link between the calf muscle and heel bone. Those who wear high heels regularly can expect to acquire shortened tendons; switching to low heels for strenuous physical activity without appropriate warm-up exercises creates an ideal scenario for achilles tendinitis.
Bunions: misaligned big toe joints, which become swollen and tender. Bunions tend to be hereditary; however, biomechanical imbalances and shoes that are too narrow in the forefoot and toe may aggravate them.
Hammertoe: a condition in which the toe is contracted in a claw-like position. Although the condition usually stems from muscle imbalance, it is often aggravated by ill-fitting shoes, socks or hosiery that cramp the toes.
Metatarsalgia: general pain in the ball of the foot. It is often caused by wearing high heels.
Neuromas: enlarged, benign growths of nerves, most commonly between the third and fourth toes. They may stem, in part, from ill-fitting shoes, resulting in pain, burning, tingling or numbness between the toes and in the ball of the foot.
Plantar fasciitis: inflammation of the long band of connective tissue running from the heel to the ball of the foot; a main cause of pain at the rear of the foot. This condition is sometimes caused by shoes that cramp the feet, especially in the arch area.
Pump bump (Haglund's deformity): a bone enlargement at the back of the heel bone, in the area where the Achilles tendon attaches to the bone. The deformity generally is the result of faulty biomechanics causing increased motion of the heel bone against the shoe counter.

In my mind, there is nothing wrong with wearing these types of shoes sometimes - as dress up - an evening out, a special event. But to wear shoes like this all the time? Why?

Do you disagree with me? What is the highest heel you will wear? I am most comfortable at a 1 inch heel. I've worn a bit higher, but I end up hurting all over when I do that.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Relaxation - A Long Weekend

I know the title of this blog post may confuse my US readers. That's because I'm in Canada and this is our May long weekend.
I know yours is next week. ;-)

 Victoria Day is the third Monday in May and it's the unofficial start of summer here. This is when it's generally safe again to plant your garden, it's when people go out to open their cottages, and many barbecues are pulled out from storage to start another year of grilling.

In Quebec, it's also the sign that there is less than a month of school left and then real summer begins.

Since we've moved out of our house and into an upper flat/condo, we don't have those rituals any more. I can't say that I miss most of them. Although I loved my garden, I'm not a gardener.

We don't have a cottage and when we had the house, we left our barbecue out all year around because it wasn't unheard of me to trek out in the snow to grill something if I was in the mood for it.

Having said all that, the long weekend has lost a bit of its meaning to me. My children are long out of the school system, although they are in various stages of undergrad and post-graduate studies; I don't even have that any more.

So, maybe it's time I start some new traditions to mark the unofficial beginning of summer. Perhaps something - dare I say it - quilt related!

A new May quilt, every year. A new design, a new technique - something I've not tried before. I think that sounds like a good plan.

The photos I've sprinkled throughout this post are of something I learned earlier this year: fabric postcards. They are so much fun to make and I had a blast.

You can actually mail them through the postal service. I did and they arrived in one piece. You just have to be sure to get them hand-stamped at the postal counter.

I still have a list of people I want to send some to. I hope you enjoyed looking at them as I did making them.