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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thankful for my daughter and modern health care

All of my research and study about health and medicine has come full circle. The subject is now a member of my own family: my sweet daughter.

As I type this entry, I am sitting in the ICU, watching my daughter Gwen sleep and live through the benefit of a respirator and version of morphine. She has been here for three days, the victim of a particularly nasty bacterial infection in her mouth. She went to the dentist at the beginning of the week because of some pain and discomfort that she thought was just a cavity. He prescribed an antibiotic and a pain killer and said the pain should subside in about 48 hours. It didn't - it got worse.

Much more pain, accompanied by a swollen tongue. She couldn't swallow. She was quickly becoming miserable. I called the dentist the next morning for her (she could no longer talk) and he sent us down to an oral surgeon. The oral surgeon said she needed to go right to the emergency room for a cat scan. After the scan she was admitted to the hospital. The next morning a team of surgeons operated on her. Two teeth were removed but much more important was making incisions under her tongue and getting out the infection that had mushroomed out of control. She was intubated and put on a respirator.

The surgeon said that she was on the borderline of having Ludwig's Angina (for all the conditions and diseases I've studied, naturally my daughter would get something I never heard of!); that her infection was dangerous and life threatening. This all happened so quickly our heads (me and my wife) are spinning.

But what we're going through doesn't matter; only what my little cupcake is going through matters. Tubes down her throat, spitting up blood and mucus. Tears; eyes full of fear, hurt, and confusion. How did this happen? Why now? Why her? She had auditions set up to get accepted at various universities' music schools. She has a lead in her community college's first opera.

I am so grateful for such great knowledge, equipment, and medical professionals that we have in this country and in this part of history. The staff has been SUPER. My daughter is slowly getting better. We just hope that none of this will affect her incredible ability to sing. But its great that she's still with us - in the not too distant past she wouldn't have made it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Everything EXCEPT Rose-Colored Glasses

These days, tinted glasses are associated with glitz and glamour or mystery and intrigue. Tom Cruise made one style of sunglasses the rage when he wore them in Top Gun. Movie stars wear them when they walk down the red carpet at awards shows and athletes wear them during post-game interviews; they're as much a fashion statement as eye protection from the bright lights of the paparazzi. Eyewear has long been available in tints to protect light-sensitive eyes, but in the 19th century the color of the tint promised to see people through all kinds of problems under the sun:
  • LIGHT GREEN spectacles were believed to have a soothing influence on the stomach and therefore soothe a tummy suffering from heartburn or ulcers.
  • DARK GREEN had a far different purpose from its lighter cousin - it was often used by people suffering from syphilis under the belief that their abnormally contracted pupils could relax and dilate more if less light hit them; BROWN lenses might also have been used for the same purpose.
  • DARK BLUE was sometimes used by those who had been bled, having a calming effect on the eyes and equilibrium that had become dizzy and faint from the loss of blood.

  • LIGHT BLUE spectacles were used by women when they sewed on linen. Linen has a sheen and the light blue tinted lenses helped remove the glare, making it easier for them to do their needlework on the reflective fabric.

  • AMBER glasses were used to sharpen vision, especially outside in the sunlight. Sharpshooters used them during the Civil War; they were also used by hunters and bicycle riders and others trying to enjoy the scenery, as well as those whose vision had dimmed.
The origins and use of ROSE-COLORED glasses are just as hard to pin down as literature on the other colors I've listed above - in fact, I believe it falls into the realm of being the unicorn of tinted eyewear, existing only as an idiom on ancient tongues but not as spectacles on ancient noses. Some believe that rose-colored spectacles refers to those used by ancient mapmakers. Required to work with a map's minute details, it is believed that they cleaned their spectacles with soft, gentle rose petals to keep their spectacles crystal clear, but the roses accreted a rose-colored residue. The mapmaker connection also hints at the idiomatic meaning, since the mapmakers were focused on a miniature world, oblivious to the real world around them. It also may be that seeing through rose-colored glasses refer not eyewear at all, but to the bottom of a glass of wine or claret. Somebody who has looked through a few of those glasses in succession often sees a "rosier" world than is actually out there.

We still dabble in different color tints in our eyewear today. Over thirty years ago, the big buzz was BluBlocker sunglasses, which are orangey-amber. Dark green glasses are still the most popular and, although all the shades I've reviewed are still available and used, most people think of them simply as sunglasses or as a means of making themselves look cool. And as for rose-colored glasses, well, many of us still look through them from time to time, but even those seem to get scratches in the lenses before too long.
I want to express my appreciation to Ed & Marilyn Welch of for their support and information about the health connotations of tinted spectacles. They are a treasury of knowledge and operate a treasury of wonderful antique eyewear. I have added their website address,, to my sidebar, "More Fascinating Quackery."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New AQUA Winner!!

I thought I'd start off the new year and new decade with a new AQUA award winner, so please do a drumroll on your laptop or your desk top please as I introduce the first AQUA winner of 2010 ...


You might have seen it coming, as you puffed your way through my three-part series on Searching for a Good Smoke. When it comes to smoke, CO, there is no such thing. Amazing how that one molecule of oxygen makes such a big difference: carbon dioxide we exhale normally with every breath; carbon monoxide will kill you, sooner or later ...

Since the beginning of the year is always full of resolutions, I thought I'd start with one that smokers may want to consider one more time. I'm going to quote some facts I got from the AMA about smoking in the U.S., but before I do, I want to share a few personal facts about smoking in my family.

My grandfather started smoking in the old country (in his case, that was the island of St. Michael in the Azores Islands, about a 1,000 miles west of Portugal and 2,000 miles east of New York City) when he was just a boy, at 10 years old. Unable to afford or to be allowed cigarettes, he curled up dried potato skins and smoked them. Of course, he eventually switched brands, from Yukon Gold to Pall Mall, and smoked most of his adult life. He died of bone cancer, but not until he was an old man.

My father also smoked most of his life. Lucy Strikes. He used to drive me down to the local convenience store and have me run in to get him his next pack; I was embarassed and nervous about doing so every time, being sure I would get in trouble because I was just a young kid. Never got challenged or stopped for doing so, but I hated the experience so much, I'm sure that psychologically measured in to my decision not to smoke. Dad died of congestive heart failure triggered in part by pulmonary edema.

My 32-year-old son has been smoking since he was a teenager, too. He told me he snuck his first puffs under our porch; at this point, I don't even want to know where he got the cigarettes. He has tried several times to stop: the patch; special filters and devices; cold turkey - but the weed always gets him back. I still have a hard time looking in his direction when I know he's smoking a cigarette. It breaks my heart and I'm convinced it's killing his. Maybe he'll live to be an old man or maybe he's going to experience terrible suffering and agony; none of us know. And yes, yes, I know we all die someday, but he wishes he could stop and he hasn't been able to so far.

So I am dedicating this AQUA Award to cigarettes. The miserable product does not seem to bring joy into life - it just sucks it out. I found an interesting "bookmark" in one of the old books I bought the other day - it was a tiny eight-panel brochure from Philip Morris USA; probably designed to fit in a pack of cigarettes, but spread wide open it was doing service as a bookmark. It said such things as,

"There is no such thing as a safe cigarette, including this one."

"If you are concerned about the health effects of smoking, you should quit."

I know you smoking advocates out there will be grimacing at this whole post, but it's my blog, so I'm now going to share just a few key points I found on the American Heart Association website; just consider them some points to ponder as you start of your new year:

  • In 2005, the prevalence for smoking (age 18+) was 47,100,000.

  • In 2007, 1 million people started smoking cigarettes daily in the United States within the prior 12 months.

  • About 80 percent of people who use tobacco begin before age 18.

  • On average, male smokers die 13.2 years earlier than male nonsmokers and female smokers die 14.5 years earlier than female nonsmokers.

  • Cigarettte smokers are two to four times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than nonsmokers.

  • Cigarette smoking approximately doubles a person's risk for stroke.

  • Cigarette smokers are more than 10 times as likely as nonsmokers to develop peripheral vascular disease.

  • Direct medical costs ($96 billion) and lost productivity costs associated with smoking ($97 billion) total an estimated $193 billion last year (1908).

This post is offered in loving memory of my grandfather, my father, and in hopes that my son will someday soon be able to conquer his addiction to cigarettes.

Peace out.

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