Scary vs. coherent

It seems like my current primary care physician has it in for me.  Last year she told me flat out to lose ten pounds – a delicate statement to make around any woman.  And it’s true I was about 7 pounds over my standard weight.  But still, not an entirely reasonable thing to say to a reasonably healthy young woman.  She’s always been a bit brusque, so I take her words with a grain of salt (and hopefully prompted me to do the same with all doctors).

Still, when I noticed that a mole on my back seemed to be larger and then turned skin-color in the middle, I brought it to her attention.  Changing moles are freaky – your mind does all kinds of cancer-flips and worries at what other changes might be happening on your unobserved flesh.  I was not worried really, but still wanted a professional opinion.  Hers was that it was a cyst, not a mole, and nothing to worry about, but I was welcome to see a dermatologist.  Um, okay, I think I will.

It’s hard to say whether her nonchalance or her absolute denial of my opinions and knowledge of my own body that was more frightful.  True, she’s the doctor.  Maybe something is called a cyst that I think should be called a mole.  Maybe there’s some sort of oozy something under the skin (I’ve always thought of cysts as juicy) where there used to be a mole.  It’s hard to really evaluate the status of your skin in places you can’t see – maybe she can see or understand something I can’t.  Of course, if she’s right, then are there other things I should be checking up on that I am missing out of misconception?

So I went to see the dermatologist today worried.  I am a wimp when it comes to pain, and high in my mind was also the possiblity of having something dug out of my flesh to be examined and tested.  Not fun.  And what if I had cancer and was going to die?  The imaginative mind is prone to melodrama.  Fortunately, teh dermatologist I saw understood this.

His first comment:  ‘It’s not a cyst.”  Lovely.  Validation.  He went on to say that it was perfectly benign (of course, no one can be completely sure, but he seemed pretty sure.)  More importantly, he was perfectly willing to do whatever I wanted.  I could live a happy full life with my mole, or he could take it off if it was going to psychologically dist rub me to have it there.  So not only were my questions seen as reasonable, but he was willing to take into account my emotional well-being as well as my physical condition.  It was wonderful.

Of course, I was still pretty nervous to just rely on this guy’s word for my saftey.  After all, doctors are falliable, and I want to take steps to preserve my health.  I also don’t want a chuck of flesh carved out of me.  So I asked questions – how woudl this happen?  Should I be avoiding certain activities in the future?  And he was more than happy to explain.  Moles can change if they become inflamed.  Usually the first thing to vary with inflammation is pigment.  Probably your bra strap rubbed and inflamed the mole and that’s what caused the change.  Simple.  Direct.  Reasonable.

That’s all we want, really.  That’s what we pay our doctors for.  Not science or study, or even miracle cures.  We want communication.  We want the right words to tell us that we are safe, or we are unsafe, or that we need to change to preserve our health.  Of course, the right words are the hardest to find.  But we need delicacy and appreciation more than the simple maintenance of our bodies.

I don’t know how to attribute this, but I was reading a book that mentioned a speaker who was discussing the words we use to describe cancer.  How we say someone is ‘battling’ or ‘fighting’ cancer.  How we’ve changed what is often a manageable disease into a war.  How it can convince some patients to give up, in the face of some warlike onslaught, when in reality they should have survived.  How if we had the right words, the right way to talk about disease and health, more of us would be healthy and happy.  perhaps this can be most clearly seen in the doctor-patient relationship, but it should be present for all of us:  the need to talk clearly and without negative connotation about health.

Robots that Fetch: Yet another reason to let your muscles atrophy.

I’m all for helping those with difficulties.  I’m all for home health care and making the elderly more self-reliant when possible.  And for particular cases, a robot like El-E would be a meaningful life improvement for people.  But there is nothing keeping such a robot from being something other than a home health care device.

I know a guy who used to ride around on motorized scooters and pop wheelies on them.  Then there’s the episode of Seinfeld where George pretends to be disabled.  An extreme case, but we all at least know someone who’ve ridden the electric carts for the handicapped around Walmart until their charges run out.  Some of us have gotten up and just left them after, walking away.  These are tendencies that are not goo, not because some person in need was kept from using a device, but because they breed disrespect.  A robot can be a toy, but a home healthcare robot shouldn’t be.

Some people may ask why.  If it isn’t damaging anyone, or damaging the tool, why not have a little fun with it when it’s free?  Why not become familiar with such technologies through use?  Perhaps such testing and play is not all bad, but I think we let it get out of hand.  We forget, in the wonder of a new toy, that we don’t need the device.  We forget, on the scooter, that we have two legs to walk with.  We forget that we can go over and pick the remote up ourselves, or even walk over to the TV itself and turn it off.  Experimentation is one thing, but too many of us do not recognise the shift from testing the limits of a tool to becoming habitually dependant on that tool.

A good example would be cell phones.  At my high school, they were not allowed.  If you had one for emergencies, to contact parents or others while you were travelling to or from school, or for other legitimate reasons, that was fine, but they were expected to be kept in cars, or lockers, or otherwise out of sight for the duration of school hours.  If you were caught with one, you lost it.  But as years passed and my means of communication with the outside world narrowed due to distance, I used mine more frequently.  I could have taken to answer the thing out of hand on the first ring, but I’ve tried not to.  I cultivate accidents.  I forget to charge my phone before long trips, before going home for Thanksgiving, before spending the night at a friend’s.  I do, on occasion, turn it off.

But I wonder if this is enough.  I wonder if all of us, despite protests and reserve, will have our own Rosie the robot maid of Jetsons fame.  Perhaps it will nto make us totally lazy, in the end.

Avoiding the dreaded ‘popcorn lung’.

I had no idea, but evidently microwaves can do more than just turning your Styrofoam toxic or enlarging Peeps (the only good Peep is a dead Peep).  There is at least one consumer case now of microwave popcorn fume inhalation which may have caused lung disease.  of course, the conclusion is uncertain, but so far there is no other explanation other than diacetyl.  If you work in a popcorn factory, the risk might be higher than you want.  For the rest of you popcorn lovers?  I’d say you can still eat your popcorn – just don’t inhale.  Or it might be a good time to convert to air pop…

Thanks, Josue, for the tip (via Green Steam).

The Organic question.

Evidently there’s a study that was recently published that shows that organic foods are not more nutritionally valuable than foods grown by other methods.  I haven’t seen the study, so if you’re researching this area and would like to give a ltitle background, be my guest.  However, the idea that organic food is supposed to contain higher trace elements of nutrients we all need was new to me, as was the idea that I was supposed to be buying organic strictly to limit my impact on the environment.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m aware of the environmental impact of the manufacturing process and runoff implications of commercial pesticides and fertilizers.  I do think we should try and limit that impact.  But even if we were to stop using both immediately (an objective that isn’t currently realistic), some of the damage has been done.  There are already chemicals in our water supply that we don’t really want there, and I’m not sure how much impact a cease and desist would have.  But that’s never been the point of organic foods to me.

The point, in fact, is that I’d prefer to have as few of those commercial fertilizers and pesticides in my own body as possible.  Sure, I don’t really relish the idea of eating ‘night soil’ (to put it politely).  But there is a difference between eating something covered in waste products that, as far as I know, didn’t poison the living thing they passed through and eating something covered in poisons or chemical growth-promoters.  And that’s been the point of organics for me.  Sure, you may find a worm or two in your apple, but it seems better to find a live worm than to notice the half-bite a worm took out before it keeled over.

There may be other arguements as far as taste, buying locally, and helping those who farm with the most traditional methods of all, but really, I would only be motivated to buy organic out of pure self-interest.  I’ve had plenty of opportunities to wash the dirt off my lettuce, but there are other things that are not so easy to wash off.

Spend-wary? How about health-wary?

Starbucks, like the rest of the world, has been suffering some financial setbacks.  Sales at the coffee giant have been decreasing, forcing even the closing (GASP!) of some stores.  In an attempt to garner more revenue, several promotions are being tested in a variety of cities across the US.  One promotion that is now going nationwide is the 2 after 2 deal.  If you buy something in the morning, you can get any iced grande drink for $2 after 2 pm simply by showing your receipt.

While the idea to give value to customers and increase afternoon traffic, there are also profound health consequences.  Increasing the amount of caffeine you imbibe (say, going from a cup in the morning to two cups total in a day) can increase the strain on your heart.  Drinking any caffeine after noon can also keep you from sleeping as well or as deeply.  In particular, the size of the afternoon beverages might increase caffeine dependence.  Not that people would have to buy coffee in the morning or afternoon – you could get a baked good in the morning and get an iced…chocolate(?) in the afternoon.  But I would guess the majority of customers would get coffee each time.

Like everyone else, I like a good bargain.  And I like the frou-frou sweet coffee drinks at Starbucks.  I think they are a good company, for the most part, with a strong business model.  But I wonder in this case if they are implementing a policy that will have widespread damaging effects.  After all, this particular model has already been tested in select cities.  If coffee consumption and revenues are up in these places already, that doesn’t bode well for our future health.

Give ’em a drug

Recent research on mice has revealed a drug that may burn fat and make you more healthy (able to run on the hamster wheel longer) even when you’re a couch potato.  And there are cases where such a drug would be potentially necessary, in particular when people suffer from joint pain or risks of heart failure and are less able to get regular exercise.  Still, it seems like a patch rather than a real rehabilitation.

There are plenty of reasons why a person might not get the exercise they need outside of adverse medical conditions – emotional, financial, educational.  Even in the case of medical reasons, I wonder if a pill like this (especially in the case of widespread use) would become a slapdash ‘cure’.  If someone who does not exercise regularly is overweight, do doctors just prescribe the pill-of-the-month?  Or do we look at the possibility of  depression, thyroid imbalance, or the lifestyle of a single mom working three part-time jobs and scarfing burgers in her 30 minute lunch breaks?  How do we analyze cause and effect?

If we are dedicated to really testing the effects of this drug over the long term, I think that’s fine.  A slow introduction to the market and use only on a highly personalized case-by-case basis I think would be beneficial.  True, lives could be saved with a drug like this.  But, for the moment, we don’t know that for certain, and I would hate to see even the possiblity of a miracle cure make us complacent.

Doctor claims “metabo sounds more inclusive than obesity”

Thanks to Cristen for the link.

The word “obese”, while not as aggressive and hurtful as ‘fat’, still has very negative connotations. There are associated ideas of a lack of health, a lack of self control, and can even be connected with the obtuseness of an individual. Classifying a person as obese, despite the best intentions of healthcare professionals, is a blow to the self esteem. Telling someone they need to lose pound for their own health is a blow, and not always true. But even worse is demanding a reduction in waistlines across the board, which is what Japan is doing currently.

Of course, with obesity on the rise across the globe, and conditions such as metabolic syndrome (metabo) becoming more frequent, there are definite health risks associated with weight. But putting a definite cap on allowable waistlines is fraught with complications. There has already been one death – a jogger who was part of a group dedicated to avoiding metabo and getting back in shape – due to a heart attack. Was the man pushing himself too hard? Or was it just circumstance? While the new guidelines might give doctors the opportunity to talk more easily about prevention of specific diseases like metabo (rather than about obesity generally), a specific waistline goal doesn’t seem to be realistic. A focus on being healthy is more than a measurement, no matter that the government can’t judge such as focus accurately or quickly. Starting a new healthier lifestyle requires more effort, and will always be more complex.

Drink it RAW

I don’t like milk.  Sure, it occasionally tastes good – a cold glass cutting across the remains of lemon meringue pie, or used for dunking Oreos – but for the most part, I find it gross.  It causes your body to produce more mucus, it slimes the inside of your throat, and generally does not appeal to me.  I mean, its so full of stuff you can’t even see through it.  Would you drink particle-ridden water?  Plus there are all kinds of questions regarding whether or not growth hormone, pasteurization, and other modern processes are really adding to or detracting from the health benefits of milk.

Enter raw milk.  It’s only sellable in about half the states, you can’t transport it across state lines, and there are cases of suspected salmonella and E. coli poisoning from its consumption.  The FDA doesn’t like it.  The FDA doesn’t want you to drink it.  And certain families who’ve had bad experiences are suing raw milk producers for harming their children.  The producers do test the milk for harmful bacteria before selling it, however pasteurization is probably a better guarantee of killing everything.  And there are advocates who swear for the natural benefits of raw milk straight from the cow.

Personally the idea of raw milk is faintly nauseating to me, but that’s probably more because it’s milk than because it’s raw.  But there are other beverages that cannot be sold raw in Massachusetts that I love, namely, apple cider.  I want my own apple press where I can smoosh juice and gritty pulp out with weight and brute force.  I want cider that has real apple bits in it, still crunchy and fresh, instead of that mushy applesauce floating around in pasteurized ‘cider’.  I want fresh pressings, not boiled juice.

Honestly I’m not sure I could even drink real cider anymore.  I’m allergic to apples due to the pollen still contained within the fruit, which cooking (or pasteurization) denatures.  So perhaps it’s best that I don’t have direct access to that lovely tang of fresh-pressed cider, as it’s probably a temptation I could not resist.  And honestly, bacteria could grow just as easily in my murky pressings of choice as the murkiness of milk.  But I have no natural health benefits to tout for raw cider as opposed to the pasteurized kind.  It just tastes better.


The experts continue to say we don’t get enough sleep.  They also say we need between 6-10 hours (depending on which ones you talk to).  They also say that regular sleep is imperative to health, and that napping can be a boost to mood and mind.  They say that people are dozing off more frequently at work and in meetings, which I can attest to personally.  Everyone laughs at my lion-roar yawns at Monday morning meetings, despite the fact ath I’ve not yet actually dozed off.

For the most part, I believe the experts.  Especially when they encourage me to take naps at work, and  encourage my boss to have a nap room.  Without one, I’m forced to take over one of the conference rooms (or his office, when he’s away) and conk out on the floor.  At best, I get facial skin wrinkle from laying on my own sleeves.  At worst, it’s rug face (or rug face burn).  How much better would it be with a couch or cot?  Or if space is an issue, what about stowable hammocks in one of the conference rooms?  We’re the dominant predator, we don’t look up – we won’t notice hooks in a conference room ceiling.

If no nap room, don’t blame me for yawning in meetings trying to keep awake.  Don’t blame me for a rumpled face or a dazed expression.  After all, who sleeps at night anyway?

Cook Yer Tomatoes.

As Americans, most of us live distant from our foods.  I’m not talking about prepackaged, processed foods or even raw meat, but even fresh produce.  We don’t live close to it, or see the steps it goes through to get to our stores, and yet we expect it to be fresh and ripe when we buy it.  We expect our Sunkist oranges to look fresh, our Dole lettuces to be bug- and wilt-free.  I was aware of this most clearly in China, where veggies come fresh with both creepy-crawlies and nightsoil fertilizer.  In China, you really wash your foods good, and you don’t often eat anything raw.

Don’t get me wrong, I love fresh  veggies, but there are certain unavoidable health risks with very fresh, unprocessed produce.  Take the recent spread of salmonella from tomatoes.  People are becoming sick not because they weren’t taking precautions and washing their food, but simply because they were eating something raw that they thought was safe.  Ultimately there is going to be a ‘culprit’, some poor individual who didn’t wash his hands or is otherwise responsible for not taking safety precautions.  But sometimes I wonder if we’re not asking for too much.  Should we be guaranteed the safety of fresh, raw produce?  Or is the cost too high?  Should we all go back to keeping our own gardens?  Or should we be more careful about eating raw products that we cannot guarantee the safety of?  Should we all be buying from local small farmers anyway?

All I know is that every tomato I’ve got is going into tomato and egg soup (think egg drop, except better and with actual flavor), rather than for fresh eating.

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