Saturday, June 8, 2013

Saturday Blogathon 2013 Post Round Up

Do you suffer from "what have I missed?" syndrome? Many people do. They go through the week constantly checking their electronic devices for the latest news, sure that something incredible, terrible, fantastic, awful, fill-in-the-blank thing has happened since they last checked a few minutes ago.

I do suffer from that a bit, I admit it. But it's only when I'm alone. When I'm with someone else, I don't check email or texts unless I'm expecting something that must be dealt with right away. And if that is possible, I do explain to the person I'm with what might happen.

All that being said, I do find that a weekly round up during the Blogathon is a great way to highlight what's been discussed and what I think people should check out if they have a chance. That includes not just my posts, but those of my fellow bloggers.

This week, I discussed a couple of issues that are important to me: Sepsis Alliance and senior safety.

On Monday, I highlighted that Sepsis Alliance announced its 2013 Sepsis Heroes. Sepsis awareness is a cause definitely worth looking into if you don't know about it already.

Yesterday, I highlighted medical safety and the MedWatch program that is marking 20 years in existence.

My other posts discussed handwashing, 5 favourite apps, senior driver safety, and how to stay healthy while attending conferences.

I also encourage you to check out some of my fellow Blogathon participants. This week, I'll highlight some of the blogs from bloggers who have I met online in person.

Bike With Jackie: "This blog introduces you to the mental BIKE. I show you how to find your Best self, access your Inner strength, tune in to your Killer instincts, and use your Expressive voice. It's inspiring, spiritual, quirky, and it's all in your head."

Suddenly Frugal: Living the frugal life and having fun.

In the Shadow of Beaver Stadium: How an entire community was blamed for one man's crimes.

Arial View: Written by a fellow Montreal-are writer, this blogger has a schedule of what writing-related topics she will post and when.

WordCount: A blog about writing, this is where the Blogathon originated.

I do hope you discover some new blogs that you will keep for regular reading once the Blogathon is over.

Friday, June 7, 2013

MedWatch, Part of the FDA, Needs You

The FDA, the agency that protects consumers by regulating food, drugs, medical devices, and cosmetic products has been around since the beginning of the last century. The FDA was created by the 1906 Pure Foods and Drug Act that was championed by Harvey Washington Wiley, the chief chemist at the Bureau of Chemistry, then part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It was recognized that the country needed an organization that would protect US citizens from people who deliberately mislabeled products or who sold medicines, products, or machines that clearly could not do what was claimed. Healthcare professionals voluntarily reported when they found issues among FDA-approved products, but it was only 20 years ago in 1993, with the implementation of MedWatch that the FDA made it easier for professionals to report possible problems with medications or devices. Consumers were also welcome to make reports and they did. However, while there has been an increase in consumer-reported problems, there were concerns that the reporting process was too complicated and this could discourage reports that could be valuable.

Consumer reports are of particular interest because they may notice things that healthcare professionals may not. For example, according to an FDA press release:

Consumer reports also alerted FDA to an unusual issue: Men using a testosterone gel on their upper arms and shoulders were inadvertently exposing, and harming, children. The reports led to stronger product warning labels to alert the public and urge that the gel be covered after application so it wouldn't get on other people.

"MedWatch is one of the lines of defense against products that are contaminated or that pose risks that weren't previously known," said Anna Fine, Pharm.D., director of FDA's Health Professional Liaison Program. "Greater consumer involvement will mean we have more eyes and ears available to catch problems before they escalate."

Making it easier

As MedWatch marks its 20th year of helping people make reports to the FDA, it has launched a new consumer-friendly form that they hope will make it simpler for members of the general public.

The form answers questions such as when you should fill one out, what types of products are covered by MedWatch, how to fill it out, and how you can have further contact with the FDA if you need. There is also a video that explains the reporting process.

Have you ever made a report about an unsafe product or a previously unknown adverse/side effect?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Conferences - Educational, Fun, but Tiring.

Have you ever gone out of town to a business-related conference? I'm at one right now if you're reading this on the posting date. I'm in Toronto, Ontario for MagNet 2013, meeting together with fellow member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) and others in the writing, editing and publishing field.

This is my third writing-related conference (and last) this year. For some reason, the associations I belong to all have their conferences within the first six month of the year, starting in March and ending in the beginning of June. It's exciting, invigorating, educational, and fun. But it's also very tiring and can lead to you being run down and becoming ill.

So, what to do?

Be prepared. If you are traveling to attend the conference, take into account that this can tire you out. Air travel is very drying, so you have to stay hydrated. Sitting for long periods on trains, planes, or in cars can be hard on your back and your circulation. On planes and trains, try to get up and walk around. In cars, try to make regular stops to get out and stretch. 

Bring healthy snacks

While many conference organizers provide snacks of some kind, not all do and if they do, they're not always the healthy kind. There have been many conference I've attended where the only offerings were sticky buns, donuts, or muffins. So I make sure to pack some granola bars or and/some fruit. If I'm traveling into the US (can't bring fruit across the border), I find a local grocery store to buy some to keep in my room.

Drink water, lots of it

I'm not sure why, but the convention centers and hotels I've been to are always very dry. There is usually a never ending supply of coffee handy and water - choose the water as much as possible. While the coffee may be good and satisfying at the time, you may not feel so happy when you try to sleep later if you've had too much caffeine.

Watch the alcohol intake

It's so tempting. You're gathering with like-minded people and you're enjoying yourself over a few drinks. Don't forget, you may be working with or for some of these people later so you really should be on your best behaviour. Don't overdo the alcohol. Plus, you don't want to be hung over for the next day's sessions.

Get your sleep

I bring earplugs with me whenever I travel. Hotels are NOISY. Even when other guests are being respectful and aren't running up and down the halls, shouting out at each other, doors slam, people do talk, and noise happens. For me, I can't stand the sound of the fan in the room, from the AC or heat. Since I started bringing ear plugs with me, I've been sleeping much, much better, allowing me to benefit from the next day's events.

Wash your hands, wash  your hands, wash your hands....

There's a lot of handshaking going on, elevator buttons pushed, and lots and lots of contact that you may not have every day in your usual life. Keep a small container of hand cleanser nearby and wash your hands. You don't want to catch a cold or pick up some other virus either here or on your way home. 

Take time for yourself

It's easy to become overwhelmed being with so many people all day long for a few days in a row. You're meeting new people, learning new things, and your routine is out of whack. You need to take some time to yourself. If that means waking up a half hour earlier to go for a walk or pop into the hotel gym, do it. Perhaps you can skip one of the sessions and get outside to get some fresh air or go to your room to be by yourself. 

Sure, it's tempting to accept all invitations to go out for drinks or meet up for lunch - and isn't that why you're attending this in the first place? But stop and think if you really need to accept all of the invites. If you overdo it, if you become overwhelmed, you may end up getting sick or just not being able absorb everything around you. That happened to me last year. During my third conference, I was hit by a migraine. They're not fun at home. They're even less so in a hotel room hundreds of miles from home.

Do you have any tips for conference goers?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

5 Health and Fitness Apps I Like

Do you have a favourite health or fitness app? Or are you looking for a good one? And what makes a good app just that, a good app?

As a health writer and a nurse, I see many related apps and not all of them are worth their cost - in my opinion. Sometimes even the free ones aren't worth the time it takes to download them. But there are many great ones, so here are five of the ones that I like tell people about.


I like Runkeeper. It's actually new to me. I only began using it in May, but I like so many of its functions that I became a fan quite quickly.

I have it on my iPhone, but it also has a website where it keeps track of your information. You can add anything you want in terms of your goals, the types of activity you do (ranges from cycling to swimming, even an elliptical workout). You can connect it with social media accounts and if you upgrade (19.99 per year), you can do more things, like compete with friends or family members.

The GPS on it is pretty good, telling you how far you've gone and it breaks it down by mile or kilometre. If you're cycling or running outside, it can even show you elevations, if you have hills to navigate.

The one thing that I don't find works is the calorie calculations. They are way, way off. But that's ok. I'm not exercising for calories, but this might be an issue if you are.


I didn't call this "dieting" because to me, "diet" is a dirty word in terms of weight loss. We all follow diets of some sort. Some of us have to follow a diabetic diet, others low cholesterol diets. Most of us follow just our own diets, but to diet for weight loss - that's not a good idea. Why? Because most people seem to automatically equate the word "diet" with deprivation.

If you do need to eat a more healthy diet or if you do need to lose weight, the best thing to do is to keep track of what you're eating and see if you are eating too many items that aren't the best for you. In my mind, cutting these out is not a road to success. You are eating these higher calorie or processed foods for a reason and cutting them out completely can drive you right back to it. But what about just cutting back? Love that bag of chips? Buy a smaller bag and only have one ever few days instead of every day. Love sugar in your coffee? Try gradually reducing it from two spoons to one and a half, to one... you get the idea.

Many people who are trying to improve their eating habits or lose weight like to use apps and a popular one is MyFitnessPal, but since I've covered my favourite fitness app, I'd like to tell you about Nutrition Menu.

This app has nutritional information on thousands of foods and even lists restaurant offerings as well. You can keep a journal and keep track of your weight loss. 

The best feature for me is that you don't have to have an Internet connection to use it. Might be worth a try if you're looking for a good nutrition app.


In our often-hectic world, it may seem difficult to take time out to relax and take time for ourselves. And sometimes people who do have time just can't figure out how to do it. While everyone is different and not all techniques work for each person, many people do have success using an app to help guide them through the medication process.

I have not tried an app for meditation. I have listened to recordings of various types. Someone told me about the Mindfulness app, which I will probably try.

What seems to be appealing about this app is that you can be guided by voice or in silence, and a bell will tell you when the time is up. You can set the app to remind you that it's time to take a break - something that may be the best part of this app for some people.


Did I really write "handwashing" for an app? Yes I did. Washing your hands is the most efficient way to prevent the spread of infection. Many of the illnesses and infections that are passed from person to person are passed through contact. Someone who is ill has the virus or bacteria on their hands, they touch someone else and pass it on. Or, as can happen with a virus like the flu, someone has the virus on their hands (after coughing or sneezing, for example), the touch something like a door knob, someone else touches it and now that second person has been in contact with the virus.

You would think that healthcare professionals are the best at hand washing, but not all are. Whether it's lack of time, resources, or who knows what, many people aren't washing their hands often enough and/or properly.

I've not used the app called iScrub, I have to admit, but from what I read it seems like a good idea. A few years ago, as part of my role in infection control in a long-term care facility, I had to do a hand washing audit. That meant I had to observe how often and how well the staff were washing their hands. it was a lot of work and, sadly, it showed that hand washing compliance was not good at all.

The Centers of Disease Control (CDC) wrote about the iScrub app and they think it's a good idea.
"iScrub is designed to replace clipboards and paper and allows observers to record hand hygiene behavior. The iPhone application helps decrease the time it takes to feed rates back to healthcare workers. It also standardizes reporting, avoids data entry errors, and makes it more fun to record observations."

Remembering songs:

This last one isn't really health related, but if I tell you it reduces the kick in the pants I used to give myself when I couldn't place a song I heard, maybe we can stretch the app to fit the category.

I love Shazam.

Have you ever been somewhere when you've heard a song playing that you love but you don't know what it is? Shazam can tell you and it can even find the song on iTunes (if it's there) and download it for you if you want.

When you hear the song, start your app and tap it. The app "listens" to the music and then identifies the song and the performer. The only downside is this will not work for live music - it has to be recorded. Using this app, you can add to your playlists songs that you've heard so often but never knew what they were called.

And there you have it. My five app recommendations. What are your favourite apps?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Have the "Driving Retirement" Talk Sooner Than Later

It's inevitable. We hear of a traffic accident caused by a senior driver, usually older than 70 years, and people think "why was he or she driving at that age?" There's some  head shaking and opinions. This is usually closely followed with opposing opinions that say that younger drivers (teens and inexperienced drivers) cause and have more accidents that result in more fatalities. While this may be true, one doesn't negate the other.

Young, inexperienced drivers cause and have some accidents. Inattentive or distracted middle-aged drivers cause and have some accidents. And seniors who have decreased abilities cause and have some accidents. Note, I didn't say seniors in general. I said seniors with decreased abilities. That's not ageism. That's reality.

Some barriers to safe driving

We can't deny that there are barriers to safe driving that affect more older people than young people. They can include:

- Declining eyesight, including reduced peripheral vision
- Slower reflexes
- Difficulty moving
- Forgetfulness
- Dementia
- Ill health
- Reactions to medications

Not all people over the age of 70 years experience those problems, but it is important to recognize that those who do could be a danger on the streets, both to themselves, as well as pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers. The problem is, giving up those car keys is more than just giving up driving. It's giving up independence and it's giving up another stage of life. For many people, this is a very difficult step.

"Advanced Driving Directives"

Not unlike advanced directives for how to manage someone who is sick or incapacitated, researchers from the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the CU College of Nursing are recommending that people develop advanced driving directives - plan ahead for the day you can no longer drive safely.

The idea behind the advanced planning is that the suggestion that a senior stop driving isn't a shock, doesn't seem like a punishment for getting older and perhaps frailer. It is simply another stage in life, but one that has been anticipated and prepared.

The study

The researchers conducted a small study of 33 older drivers and eight healthcare professionals (physicians, physician assistants, and nurses) to see when the topic of safe driving and perhaps stopping driving was introduced.

The results showed that there were five dominant themes:

 (1) clinicians usually initiate conversations, but typically not until there are “red flags;” (2) drivers are open to conversations, especially if focused on prevention rather than interventions; (3) family input influences clinicians and drivers; (4) clinical setting factors like short appointments affect conversations; and (5) both clinicians and drivers thought ADDs could be useful in some situations and recommended making general questions about driving a part of routine care.

So what does this mean?

The authors wrote: "Both clinicians and drivers supported the idea of regular questioning about driving as a way to make it an easier topic, as patients might be more receptive if they heard it once before."

So, by using "anticipatory guidance," healthcare professionals can start looking for signs for changes in mental or physical status that could affect driving skill before they become obvious. The discussions between the caregiver and the patient become a normal part of the examination so if the issue does come up, it's not a surprise.

"It's not just about taking the keys, it's about making plans," said Marian Betz, MD, MPH, lead author of the study and an emergency room physician. "Drivers in our studies reported needing help in preparing for that transition, including learning about transportation alternatives."

Monday, June 3, 2013

Sepsis Alliance Announces 2013 Sepsis Heroes

If the average North American is asked "what illnesses cause the most deaths in North America?" it is very likely that he or she will list diseases like cancer or heart disease. It's very unlikely that they will ever mention sepsis. And yet, sepsis is not only a major killer in the United States and Canada, but those who survive are often left with life-changing after effects that range from limb amputations to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I work with a non-profit patient advocacy group, Sepsis Alliance. Its mission is to help raise awareness of sepsis so fewer people will be affected by it. Current estimates are that every two minutes, another person in the United States dies from sepsis. Many more survive, but are not able to return to life as they knew it before their illness.

So, what is sepsis?

Contrary to what some people think, sepsis is not a blood infection. It has been called that and it's also been called blood poisoning. But sepsis really is the body's response to an infection. It's a cascade of events that occur because your immune system has gone into overdrive trying to fight off a viral, bacterial, fungal, or other type of infection.

If you get a viral infection, such as influenza, the flu, and all works as it should, your body's immune system would fight it off. You feel lousy for a while, really lousy maybe, but your body fights the infection or you might get an antiviral medication to help, and you would eventually get better. If you develop a bacterial infection, such as a urinary tract infection (UTI) or you get an infection in a bug bite, the same thing happens. Your body's response is to fight the infection, but UTIs, infected bug bites, and other bacterial infections generally need antibiotics to help with that fight. Once the antibiotics work, the "bad" bacteria is killed and the infection goes away.

For some unknown reason, in some people, their immune system kicks into overdrive in its attempt to fight the infection. Like so-called friendly fire, your immune system attacks itself. It loses sight of the infection as the enemy and it is now attacking your whole body. This causes multiple problems, including blood clots in the blood vessels, organs shutting down, and even death.

The only way sepsis can be prevented is by avoiding infections. Proper handwashing is the first line of defence against infection, yet it is surprising how many people don't wash their hands as often as they should or wash them properly. The second line of defence is vaccinations. If you look at the Faces of Sepsis stories, there are stories of people who have died or were left with amputations and other issues after contracting the flu. Children who die from meningitis die from sepsis. Last year, I interviewed a pediatrician who told me that she has seen children with chicken pox who developed sepsis from scratching the skin and the open wounds from the scratching became infected. Vaccines do save lives.

The third line of defence is to treat infections as quickly as possible and to allow yourself the chance to heal. People who push themselves to return to work or their regular routines before their body is ready for it are just asking for trouble. If you're sick, your body needs to heal.

If sepsis does develop, it can be treated but it must be caught in the early stages. It must be caught early and treated properly to have the best chance of it not developing into severe sepsis and then into septic shock.

Sepsis is still very unknown, but there are people who are working to raise awareness of the disease. Sepsis Alliance will hold on September 12 their second annual Celebrating Sepsis Heroes evening, in conjunction with World Sepsis Day, which is on September 13. Today, Sepsis Alliance announced this year's five heroes. Among them are two authors - one who survived severe sepsis and one whose father died from sepsis. You can read about the newest Sepsis Heroes at

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Washing Your Hands = Saving Lives

What is one simple thing that just about anyone can do that can decrease your chances of getting sick and can reduce the chance of you making someone else sick if you are ailing? And if you're a healthcare professional, one of the most efficient ways of reducing the spread of infection between patients?

The answer is simple: washing your hands. Some clean water, some soap, and some hand rubbing. That's it. And if there's no water available, the waterless hand cleansers are a great invention that work very well if used properly.

Improper or lack of hand washing is a serious issue. In the community, viruses like influenza can spread like wildfire when people who have the virus on their hands touch something that someone not yet infected will touch after them. The most common places where viruses get transferred are things we touch every day, like door knobs or handles, elevator buttons, bank machines, telephones, even keyboards. One study of hotels and motels found that one of the dirtiest items in the room was the television remote.

We learn as children that we should wash our hands, particularly in certain situations, like using the bathroom, before we eat, after picking up trash - but how many of us have seen people blow their nose with a tissue and then just go back to what they were doing before? And I know that many of us have seen people come out of a public bathroom stall and leave without washing their hands. Pretty gross, huh?

But even if we do know when to wash our hands, for many of us, there's still a problem.

Ask any health care professional when they should wash their hands and they'll tell you. And most of them will wash after using the bathroom or after cleaning up a patient who has soiled him or herself. But some of these very same people will touch one patient and then another without washing hands in between. They may take one patient's blood pressure and then give a pill to another, without washing hands in between. Get the picture? They're not breaking society's rules of hand washing, but they are breaking health care rules of hand washing.

Several years ago, I had to do a hand washing audit in a long-term healthcare facility. I had to watch to see who washed their hands and when. I have to say, I was very discouraged at how many doctors, nurses, aides, and other staff would go from one room to another without stopping to wash their hands - ever. They would only wash their hands when they finished doing all they were supposed to do for that set of rounds, during which they picked up telephones, moved wheelchairs, made beds, and more.

A week ago, the New York Times published a story called With Money at Risk, Hospitals Push Staff to Wash Hands, in which journalist Anemona Hartocollis did a good job of explaining a lot of the issues that exist in the hospital environment. It's a good read. I recommend it.

So, should you wash your hands?

- Make your hands wet with warm running water.
- Using soap, rub your hands together, making sure that your fingers rub into the areas between the fingers of the opposite hand. This should take at least 10 to 15 seconds, minimum.
Wash the top of your hands, not just the inside (palms) and don’t forget the thumbs. Apparently, they are often forgotten. Also, remember to clean under your nails and to let the water run under as well.
- Rinse your hands well and then dry with a clean towel.

If you are using a hand sanitizer, you can use the same motions of rubbing your hands together, in between your fingers and remembering the tops of your hands and your thumbs.

It's a simple task and we all should be doing it.