Medical Mysteries

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Everybody likes a mystery right? Especially a medical mystery – whether it’s a crime show based on forensics, like Bones or CSI, or a doctor show with an irascible but brilliant main character like House, medical mysteries are great fun for all involved.

Well, except the patient. Or corpse. And if you are the patient, it’s no fun at all.

Recently, I’ve been feeling tired. A lot. My doctor suggested I drank too much wine (and I have dutifully reduced my consumption by a quarter – though it is still a lot) but also ordered a lot of blood tests. There was a lot of good news – almost everything was normal, including, by the way, liver function. My glycerides were high but that’s fixable by cutting out some carbs. My bad cholesterol, to quote the doctor, “looks like it would if I were taking drugs to control it.” Which I am not – so go me.

My B12 is low – low enough that diet won’t fix it, so it’s a daily supplement from here on in and a re-test in a couple of months. Low B-12 can lead to fatigue and may also cause a certain amount of poor moods. And I thought that was being caused by work.

Usually, low B12 is also a sign of anemia. But, mysteriously, my iron levels are abnormally high; high enough that the doctor will consult with a blood specialist. Because, right now, there is no explanation for this result – and it’s not one prone to false positives. Nothing in my diet explains it, I don’t take iron supplements (I actually take almost nothing on a daily basis) and I haven’t recently been blood doping. Not since my days as an Olympic sprinter. So low B12 and high iron is a bit of a mystery.

Big deal, you might think, high iron can’t be a bad thing right. Iron helps oxygenate your body and high iron should give you a real energy boost. Actually, according to my other physician, Dr. Google, high iron is just as bad as low iron when it comes to energy – so it might be contributing to my fatigue. And, when really high (I’m not – I don’t think) it can cause liver damage (or cancer), heart disease and, not surprisingly, premature death. More horrifying, it can even cause impotence! Fortunately, I’m like Donald Trump that way – no problem in that department. No, seriously. I wouldn’t kid you about something like that.

Strangely, the cure for high iron is quite simple – though somewhat medieval. There are no drugs or dietary changes that will help. The solution is to give blood every six weeks or so and, if for some reason you can’t give blood, that’s okay they’ll just take it. It has a fancy name – phlebotomy – but really it’s bloodletting. Like in the Middle Ages. With leeches or vampires or something.

I’m sure all this will work out fine. In the meantime, I’ll keep analyzing the clues and stay away from large magnets.

And that’s ten minutes.

Tales of Elderly Spouses

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Spring might be just around the corner but winter is still lurking nearby waiting to pounce. Before you let your guard down, I thought I’d offer some advice to keep you safe and warm – advice gathered from the stories of elderly spouses.

Don’t go out in the cold without enough warm clothing; especially don’t go out with wet hair as you lose 25% of your body heat through the top of your head. And the cold can make you sick. True? Only a little bit. As it turns out, getting cold can lower your immune response (as well as help you lose weight) but, as long as you don’t come in contact with a virus, you can’t catch a cold from the cold. Hypothermia is another story. But that won’t come about from a bare head – there simply isn’t enough blood flow up there to make a difference (for some less than others, I might add). Besides the colder you get, the more your body concentrates your warmth in the torso. Still, you could freeze your ears off if you’re not careful.

If you do catch that cold, chicken soup is a sure fire cure. Oddly enough, there is some truth to that – though chicken soup probably helps the flu more than a regular cold. The flu leads to dehydration (sweating, vomiting, the runs) and depletes your electrolytes. Chicken soup is liquid filled with salt and easily digested fats. At the very least it will make you feel less sick. And since chicken soup is almost always served to you by someone who cares, the emotional support actually will boost your own immune system.

Which brings us to hugs. We’ve all known those people who want to hug you all the time. Some of them are a bit creepy but no more so than some other members of the medical profession. It turns out that hugs also boost your immune system and, as well, when given with affection rather than from sexual predation, boost serotonin levels and alleviate mild depression. Human contact is important – without it infants wither and die, even when provided with other physical necessities. But these have to be genuine hugs, not the A-frame arms and shoulder pats that pass for them among the English.

Of course, a lot of the other nostrums spouted by elderly spouses are simply nonsense. Ginseng – unless laced with Viagra as is often the case – will not improve sexual functioning. Nor will rhino horn or anything else from nature that happens to resemble a penis. Otherwise bananas would be sold on the black market.

You can’t tell the sex of a baby from whether it is carried high or low – unless you have a portable ultrasound in your pocket. Nor can the weather be predicted by the behavior of squirrels (they long ago stopped being sensitive to nature as they adapted to an urban human environment). While red sky at night might be a decent suggestion of a fair day on the morning – even that is not a hundred percent in the face of an eastern wind.

My real point is that there is wisdom in folklore but a lot of it is trapped within nonsense and superstition. All the effective measures listed above – they were proven by science. Better to listen to a young white coat than a white haired spouse.

And that’s ten minutes.

Sleep Deprived

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Let me start with a caveat. I never had children; I’ve never had to spend much time caring for them. I’m sure a kid who won’t go to sleep is annoying. People have written books about it. Still, the two times I was asked to get a reluctant child to go to sleep, I succeeded both times. So, in baseball terms, I’m batting a thousand.

Still, some things seem like common sense to me. Like, giving your children drugs to help them sleep is not a good idea. Even if they are naturally occurring substances like melatonin. Arsenic is a naturally occurring substance but you wouldn’t give that to your kids (unless you are some sort of psychotic monster).

This little thought came to me while listening to the CBC interview a mother who was having trouble getting her eight year old to go to sleep. She went to her health food store and they actually advised her not to do it because it might be unsafe. Good for them! She held off for a year until ‘a friend she trusted’ said: no it’s okay. Her naturopath agreed. It is naturally occurring in the body so maybe there is a lack. No tests were done to verify this conclusion. (Do naturopaths do ‘tests?’)

She gave the kid the drug and, glory be, he went to sleep. In the old days, you gave kids tonic to help them sleep. It didn’t have melatonin; it had alcohol and plenty of it. Worked a charm. These days you might also try valium.

When asked if she had consulted her doctor – you know a real M.D. – she said not about the melatonin, well, not about the sleep issue at all. When it was pointed out that doctors don’t recommend melatonin for kids, she retorted to the effect that it wasn’t like heroin; her kid wasn’t jonesing for the stuff when the cut it back in the summer. And besides as a parent, you have to judge risk versus reward.

Yeah.

Since the main reward was that she and her husband no longer had to spend their evenings getting the kid to sleep it seems to me – just commonsensically – that her formula is a bit askew. Of course, if I was in the position, I might agree that drugging the kid was preferable to smothering him.

We are often under the impression that a general education – say a B.A. in history – a good job and being articulate substitutes for paying attention to evidence or science. It’s a bit like the anti-vaxxers; they sort of sound reasonable (well the ones who aren’t raving lunatics) until you actually listen to what they say. Then they sound like members of the flat earth society or your run-of-the-mill climate denier.

Being progressive in many things is no protection from being dumb. When asked about a colleague who was pursuing UFOs as a topic of research, a Nobel laureate in physics replied: A Ph.D. is no inoculation against foolishness. Neither is a B.A.

When the interviewer asked if she thought her parenting was being judged. I answered for her as I turned off the radio. Yes, you’re damn right it is.

And that is ten dyspeptic minutes.

Faking It

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Some years ago there was an Italian doctor stationed in the small town of Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. Doctors were hard to come by and even harder to keep so folks were pretty happy to have him. He practiced there for over a year before it was discovered — when he was called on to do an emergency appendectomy — that he wasn’t really a doctor. He had gone to medical school for a year or two but never finished. He faked his diploma and took up residence, so to speak, in Inuvik.

People were shocked, of course, but at the same time generally agreed he was the best doctor they ever had — attentive, knowledgeable enough for everyday purposes and quick to send them south to Yellowknife if something serious cropped up. What more could you ask for than a genuine fake?

Clearly, this guy was smart, could do research on the fly and knew his limitations. Equally clearly he was able to fake the rest with great confidence. Fake it well enough that for over a year he was, for intents and purposes, a doctor.

There is a life lesson buried in here somewhere, one that a lot of alpha type males figured out at least sub-consciously some time ago. If you don’t know, pretend. In fact pretend so hard you actually believe in your own competence. Apparently this works. A lot of men succeed not because they are prepared but because they are prepared to act as if they were — at least until they can catch up. This ‘faking it’ has been postulated as one reason men have an advantage in competitive situations.

One study showed that women will look at job qualifications and if they don’t feel they meet the vast majority — say 80 or 90% — they won’t even apply. Men on the other hand have a lower pass mark — 50-60% — before they throw their name in the pool. That means they apply for a lot more jobs than they get interviewed for but, they figure, nothing ventured, nothing gained. All they need to do is fake their way through one process and they are all set. Better qualified women who would get the job if they were competing with ‘that’ guy aren’t even in the running because they screened themselves out.

Recently a friend of mine was lamenting that he wasn’t sure if he knew how to write or how to even be a writer. My wife — smart person that she is — suggested that he ‘fake it.’ Pretend you know how to write and start putting words on paper. I think she was a little tongue in cheek but he seemed to think it was a good idea (guy, remember) and felt inspired to get back to his work-in-progress.

Last week he announced that he had just sold his first novel.

Good advice, apparently. Fake it until you make it.

And that’s ten minutes.

Horny

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There is a huge market around the world for things that will increase — what’s the word? – potency. Male potency. Okay, let’s call it what it is — things that help otherwise limp fellows get hard.

We’ve all seen the ads — people dancing for joy while sprinklers flood lawns. TVs abandoned to empty living rooms while the action movies play out off stage.

Who am I to question such desires? After all I’m sure it has restored happiness to many sexual relations. It has apparently also lead to an increase in both divorce rates among the elderly and new health issues — STDs — in senior’s residences. But they are consenting adults — even if not really smart ones — and if they want to experiment with some enhancing prescriptions, let them, as they say, go at it.

Unfortunately, not everyone likes the idea of helping big pharma ‘inflate’ their profits. Some object to the idea of artificial stimulants of any kind. Others argue that there are more natural ways to boost that all important organ.

Ginseng is often promoted as natural alternative to Viagra. There have even been some studies that show that much of the Ginseng sold in health food stores do the job just fine. The same studies reveal that the samples taken off the shelves are laced with — you guessed it — Viagra.

A more insidious remedy is rhino horn. In certain traditional or alternative “medical” practices, it is considered the most effective way of increasing male sexual desire (and cure cancer and hangovers, too). It’s a form of sympathetic magic. The rhino is big and aggressive. Its horn is firm and upstanding. You get the picture.

It doesn’t work, of course, but that doesn’t slow down the demand. As a result, rhinos are slaughtered by poachers at an alarming rate. Rhinos may soon be extinct as a result. Then what will those limp-dicked bastards do?

The saddest thing about all this is that the rhino horn is nothing but keratin — the same substance found in hair and finger nails. That’s right; maybe you could grind up your neighbour’s dreadlocks and put it instead of a little rhino horn in your oatmeal. And as such, it grows back. It should be possible to simply tranq the rhino and harvest the horn.

A renewable erectile resource. But that would be logical. And people who think that eating the hairy extrusion of an herbivore’s face will make them horny are probably not high on the logic chart.

But that’s ten minutes.