One Example of Why I Hate the Press

I complain about the press a lot.  Mostly I complain about them being really, really, really bad at their job.  But, I have other reasons for hating them.  Yesterday, there were headlines all over the internet about processed meats causing cancer.  Bacon is as bad as tobacco, they said.  I’m not exaggerating, I saw more than one headline saying that processed meat is as bad as cigarettes like this and this.  Reading the headlines made it seem pretty terrifying.  And, the problem, the reason I hate the press so much, is that these are completely misleading headlines that are designed to scare us.

If someone were to actually look at the information, they would find that eating 50 grams of processed meat a day increases the likelihood of colorectal cancer by 18%.  The World Health Organization put it on their list of cancer causers because there is a legitimate rise in a specific kind of cancer with the consumption of at least 50 grams of processed meat a day.  But what does that mean?  First of all, 50 grams is about the equivalent of two strips of bacon.  I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t come anywhere near two strips of bacon a day.  Second, according to the linked article above, only about 6% of British people get colorectal cancer.  And according to the American Cancer Society, it is only about 5% of Americans.  That risk is increased by 18% by eating processed meats.  That means the likelihood of getting cancer increases by about 1%, if you eat at least two strips of bacon a day.

1% isn’t nothing, but it certainly isn’t worth the doom and gloom headlines.  The press is supposed to keep us informed, not mislead us, not scare us.  It’s too bad they are so bad at their job that they can’t figure that out.


Provisional Diagnosis

I went to my doctor today.  After bleeding into a bunch of vials, wearing a Holter and peeing into a jug so they could do tests, I had to go over the results of those tests with the doctor.  The result was that everything looked normal.  My blood was normal, my heart was normal and my pee was normal.  Apparently, I’m as healthy as a very healthy horse.  Except I’m clearly not, which is why I had all these tests done in the first place.  So, the diagnosis for now is that I am getting atypical migraines.  They may be caused by stress or they may be caused by hormonal changes.  I guess men of a certain age go through hormonal changes that can cause all kinds of wacky things.

All this has done a great job of reminding me that medicine is not an exact science.  I’ve always known that on some level.  Physics isn’t even an exact science (math and logic might be, but they aren’t even sciences).  I think that’s another reason why I’d be a bad doctor (the primary reasons being that I find everything medical to be absolutely terrifying and I pass out around needles and blood).  If I were my doctor, I’d be ordering more tests, keeping me overnight for observation and whatever else I could think of.  Not so much because I wanted my patient to get healthy, but because the mystery would drive me crazy.

I’m glad my doctor isn’t like me.  I’ve had enough with tests and doctors for a while.  I’m content to trust her diagnosis.  I just don’t know how she does it.

That’s Not Lemonade* – Part Three of My Medical Drama

The last test I had to do (for now) to try to figure out what is wrong with me was a twenty-four hour urine test, because it’s important that patients are allowed to maintain their dignity.  In case you don’t know, a twenty-four hour urine test is exactly what it sounds like.  Instead of the small cup they give you at the doctor’s office, they give you a jug to bring home and every time you pee, you need to pee in the jug for a full day.  As someone who usually pees standing up, it really wasn’t that onerous.  It’s a little weird and unsatisfying not flushing afterwards, but it does save water.  I would imagine it is worse for women.  The worst part was the fact that I had to keep the pee refrigerated.  Who knew that pee could go bad?  It’s strange walking to the kitchen every time you have to go.  And it’s even stranger seeing a jug of pee when you are looking for a snack.

The test also made me notice things about pee that I had never noticed before.  I pee more than I had realized.  The jug looked huge when I first got it, but I filled it right up.  And doctors use weird terminology when talking about pee.  The ones that got me were the words void and evacuate.  We evacuate burning buildings.  We void contracts.  Pee just doesn’t seem worthy of such seriousness.  Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if doctors just like to mess with us.

*Thanks to my friend Joe for the idea for the title.

My Continuing Medical Saga

Yesterday I went to my doctor for a follow-up to my ER visit.  The good news is that all of the tests done in the ER came out fine.  The EKG, the blood work, the blood pressure and blood sugar were all normal.  So, whatever is going on with me, most likely, has nothing to do with my heart.  But, my doctor explained to me that all of those tests are snapshots.  They just show a moment in time.  She wanted to set me up with a twenty-four hour cardiac monitor so we could definitively rule out heart issues.

I agreed.  I’d also like to rule out any heart issues and who am I to argue with a trained professional.  She said she would send a tech in to fit me with a Holter.  Only what I heard was halter.  I figured it was going to be some kind of vest or undergarment that I would wear under my clothes, something I could ignore.  It turns out that Holter is the name of the guy that invented the device.  It’s a little box, which I think is a recording device, with five wires connected to five electrodes.  Those electrodes were attached to me with stickers (as if I didn’t lose enough body hair in the ER).  Once it was hooked up, I asked what I was supposed to do and I was told to just go about my normal activities, just pretend it’s not even there.  The one caveat is that I had to make sure not to get the electrodes wet, so no showering for me.

I realized before I even got to my car that there was no way to ignore the Holter.  Every time I turned or bent my torso, I could feel the tug of the stickers.  When I got in my car, there was no good place to put the seat belt.  I had to keep my daughter at arm’s length as she likes to climb and pull and tug on everything.  She was very understanding and even conscientious.  She kept making me lift up my shirt to check that all of the stickers were still in place.  I didn’t get much sleep at all.  I’m not used to sleeping while connected to a box by a bunch of wires.  Plus, I was afraid that I  would unstick something if I moved too much, so I propped myself up and spent half the night staring at the ceiling.  Today was uneventful.  I stayed home (no need to expose my co-workers to my un-showered state).  After the agony of removing the stickers, I dropped the Holter back at the doctor’s office and now I have to wait for the findings.

I’ve been lucky in that I’ve always been relatively healthy.  This whole experience has been new for me.  And one question that kept running through my mind today is, “What do doctors think normal people do all day?”  Is there any way the machine gathered useful information as it kept me from behaving normally?  I guess I just have to trust my doctor.  It’s a good thing I really don’t think there’s anything serious going on or I would have been completely freaked out all day.

What I Learned Yesterday

I spent about seven hours in the emergency room yesterday.  That made for a very uncomfortable and boring day.  There is one upside, though.  I learned something.

Before I tell you what I learned, I think some background will help.  I throw up a lot.  I always have.  Whenever I get sick, it messes up my stomach.  I sometimes joke that if I stub my toe, I’ll feel it in my stomach.  A conversation that I’ve actually had more than once goes like this:

“Have we tried that place?”

“I think so.  I seem to remember throwing up in their bathroom.”

The down side is obvious, I throw up a lot.  The upside is that it doesn’t even faze me.  It’s just something that happens.

Another fun fact about me is that I deal with vasovagal syncope.  That’s just a fancy way of saying that I faint from time to time.  My trigger is anything medical.  It could be blood, needles, etc.  I also avoid horror movies.  The first time I remember it happening was in seventh grade science class.  The teacher showed a movie that included a scene of open heart surgery and the next thing I knew I was on the floor surrounded by my classmates.  I rarely lose consciousness anymore.  I’ve learned my triggers and it’s something that I’ve learned to deal with.

These two fun facts have never coincided.  When I throw up, I am always fully conscious and aware of what’s going on.  And when I faint, it has never messed with my stomach.  That changed a few weeks ago.  I was at work and out of the blue I was feeling faint and vomiting at the same time.  It was a completely new and unpleasant experience for me.  But, I felt better then next day, so I chalked it up to just one of those things.  Then, this past weekend, it happened again.  Vomiting and feeling faint at the same time.  So, I figured I should call my doctor.

I was booked for an early afternoon appointment.  As I was describing the reason for my visit, I felt faint and started sweating like crazy (luckily no vomiting this time).  The doctor decided it would be best to send me to the ER.  While waiting for the ambulance, she did an EKG, tested my blood sugar, blood pressure and all of that.  When the ambulance arrived, they also did their own EKG and placed an IV.  Then, at the hospital, they hooked me up to all the monitors, took a bunch of blood and did another EKG.

The net result of all of this was somewhere around twenty stickers and pieces of tape all over my arms and torso.  I probably should have mentioned before, but I’m a rather furry man.  When I got home that night and had to removed all of the stickers and tape, it was like the scene in The 40 Year Old Virgin where Steve Carell was getting his chest waxed.  It really hurt.  And that is when I learned what I learned.  Humans are mammals and mammals are supposed to have hair.

Unfortunately, people in the US have become obsessed with hair removal.  As I was ripping off stickers and trying not to yell and wake up my wife, it occurred to me that if people would accept their hair, medical science would probably come up with some kind of sticker system that was less excruciating and we’d all be a lot happier.

Jimmy Fund Radio Telethon

The 14th annual WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon starts Tuesday, August 18th and runs through Wednesday, August 19th.  As an avid Red Sox fan, I have watched and/or listened to all 13 of the previous efforts.  It is truly extraordinary what they manage in two days.  Last year they raised $3.3 million and they have raised more than $37 million since its start.  In case you don’t know, the Jimmy Fund raises money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.  It is consistently rated as one of the best charities both in terms of transparency and the percentage of funds that gets to the cause.  The Red Sox have been involved with the Jimmy Fund since 1953.  They do amazing work.  I don’t have much else to say.  But, if you don’t watch a lot of baseball, Tuesday and Wednesday would be excellent nights to check it out.  And, if you have anything to spare, it is a great cause to give to.

No Need To Be Kind, I Failed To Give Blood Today

As I mentioned in my last post, there was a blood drive at my office today.  I signed up with every intention of giving blood, but I failed.  The good news is that they didn’t even stick me this time.  The nurse who was taking my information rejected me.  It’s probably just as well because I was feeling really shaky and probably would have passed out when they stuck me.  But, I still feel like a failure.

I really feel like, and think, giving blood is something that every able bodied adult should do.  Not a day goes by without some kind of emergency where the hospitals can use it.  In theory, it is an easy way that anyone can help save a life.  I am now zero for four in my attempts, though.  I guess I’ll have to find some other way to make a difference.