Category Archives: Health

Umbilicus Rex

Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth wants to compel parliament to re-examine the issue of when a fetus becomes a person under the law in Canada. He assures us it is not about abortion. “Whatever view one has on abortion, it would surely be important to know whether or not a child is a human being before birth.” My question to Mr. Woodworth: Why?

Let me count the ways.

Firstly, Mr. Woodworth is a former Catholic school trustee and crusader for the Right to Life movement—for the Liberal party, back before he was outed as a Conservative—so we know where he stands on abortion, if not politics. If he simply wishes to conduct a well-rounded “conversation,” as he claims, he would gather a few experts, intellectuals and clergy in his own drawing room, serve tea and biscuits, and do a little brainstorming to satisfy his own academic curiosity. No harm done. He would not be taking it to parliament. On the other hand, the primary reason an RTL advocate would want to “legally” define when life begins is so that the right to choose can be “legally” stripped from Canadian women.

Secondly, Mr. Woodworth is a lawyer. Once Canadian law recognizes the constitutional rights of a fertilized egg, there will be no end to the litigational possibilities. Imagine: lawyers suing mothers on behalf of miscarried or stillborn fetuses for “failing to provide the necessities of life.” Accuse her of eating the wrong foods, failing to adequately sequester herself during the pregnancy, not practicing her Lamaze breathing often enough, living in the wrong climate, wearing tight clothing, not praying hard enough for a living birth, &c. Proceeds of a successful suit going to the lawyers and the Church? Where does the father fit in? Is he, too, culpable? If that mother smokes a cigarette or takes a sip of wine during pregnancy, does that constitute intent in a murder charge? What if the prospect of giving birth presents a real and significant risk to the mother? Whose constitutional rights weigh heavier, mother or child? What if the pregnancy is the result of a rape? What if the mother carries HIV, knowingly or not? Attempted murder? …well, you can see the endless opportunities for an ambitious lawyer. Beats chasing ambulances.

Mr. Woodworth seems to be concerned that there is currently no law governing abortions in Canada, the previous law having been struck from the books nearly a quarter century ago. What he fails to understand is that there is no need for an abortion law, as the last twenty-three years have clearly demonstrated.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that there is an “eat well” law dating back to the eighteenth century, that compels Canadian citizens to consume, each and every Sunday, at the dinner hour, a meal consisting of Meat-and-Three. Sure, it’s good to have a well-balanced diet, so perhaps it made sense, two hundred and fifty years ago, to force people to do it by law, especially since so many of them were farmers. But what about vegetarians? In order to support the MAT law, the government would have to make vegetarianism illegal, wouldn’t they? What about children who hate vegetables? Will the food police be called in to supervise the “sitting-at-the-table-until-you’re-done” decree? What if the family can’t afford meat, even once a week? Will the government subsidize these families with “meat stamps?”

I know it sounds absurd, but it is no different than a woman’s (or couple’s) decision to have an abortion. There is no debate required, really, to see that, as long as the child is connected to the mother via umbilical cord, it is, by any and all rights, the property of the mother, to do with as she likes—regardless of someone else’s beliefs. If one were of extraterrestrial origin, one could objectively refer to the fetus as a tumor, no different than a goiter, except that a goiter will probably not take care of you in your old age. The goiter/fetus cannot have individual constitutional rights because it is not an individual; it is a physical and measurable extension of the host body (aka: the Mother).

What would Mr. Woodworth do if the Pope stepped out onto his balcony and announced to his flock that a woman should not have a left arm?—that “a left arm on a woman is an offense to the eyes of God.” Somehow I doubt he would introduce a private member’s bill in parliament to have constitutional rights applied to the appendage, even though it is the tradition host for a wristwatch, plus, who would hold the paper steady whilst the host body attempted to write a letter?

Perhaps Father Woodworth would, on top of an anti-abortion law and a Meat-and-Three law, like to legislate mandatory Sunday service for all Canadians. If he believes it is acceptable to impose his Christian morals regarding our diet and birth rights, why should he exclude our everlasting salvation? He doesn’t seem to care that we are not all Christians, or at least do not all fall in line with his moral and ethical compass. To be sure, there is no shortage of examples where leaders of state attempt to control their subjects through the narrow and inflexible lens of religious doctrine. Look at the middle east. Look at the American Tea Party. Look at the tail end of the Roman Empire. The Crusades.

The irony is that his own party, the Harper Conservatives, do no wish to have this discussion, not because it doesn’t fit within the boundaries of their ideology (which is certainly does), but because they are savvy enough to avoid alienating half their voters (aka: Women). They know from experience that the way to office is to steer clear of contentious or polarizing issues. Stick to the babble-fluff, and the stuff that makes good headlines (Tough on Crime!). And Mr. Woodworth ought to know his party does not appreciate members who speak out of turn, or who fail to toe the party line. He was smart enough, it seems, to have got himself through law school, but he can’t see that he’s asking questions that have already been answered with relative clarity, and he also fails to see the risk he takes by opening a door that his own peeps wish to keep shut.

Then again, I reckon he’s only using the Conservative party as a transitional stopover, on his way to his real goal: leader of the NDP. Or perhaps a bishopric. Good luck, sir, and be glad you are free, as a good Catholic, to make the decision for your wife whether or not she has an abortion. Choice is good.


Patient, Heal Thyself

I’m sad to report, it’s a familiar story: Nursing home patient with fractured leg ignored by caregivers, despite pleas from family members. The elderly woman in question died earlier this year. Perhaps not due directly to her leg injury, but there is no question she was in agony until the end; so, perhaps a contributing factor. Rather than get an x-ray, as the family requested, the caregiver gave the woman Tylenol. After the elderly woman’s death, a facility spokesperson admitted there was in fact a fracture in the patient’s leg. “No home is perfect,” said the spokesperson. “They made a mistake in this case, but it was not through a lack of effort.”

Ahem…actually, it was due entirely to a lack of effort. The only effort required was to have the woman’s leg x-rayed. That small effort would have achieved several things: 1) the x-ray would have shown there was a fracture, which then could have been treated, thus reducing the patient’s pain; 2) perhaps, only perhaps, may have extended this woman’s life, because it’s hard to go on when there is so much pain; 3) the woman’s family would have stopped harassing the staff, which would surely have pleased both sides.

Having had my own medical issues, recently, I’ve experienced the field of “caregiving” firsthand. I won’t specifically pick on nurses, because the full medical experience includes doctors and support staff, right down to the gurney-wallahs (who, incidentally, are the kindest, most cheerful people, as a group, you will ever meet). Here are my observations:

On the whole, elderly patients are treated with less respect than younger or middle-aged ones, especially if they show any signs of dementia. During one of my brief hospital stays, I was lodged two cubicles down from an old woman who, apart from whatever physical failure brought her to hospital, suffered from Alzheimer’s. She was convinced her son was about to arrive for a visit, even though it was 3am. Her male nurse explained to her, in the most terse tone, that no one was coming, it was the middle of the bloody night, and would she please cooperate, as he was attempting to roll her onto her side. After twenty minutes of this, he became angry with her, raising his voice, castigating her as if she were five, instead of eighty-five. Her cubicle was directly across from the bathroom, and my own condition required multiple visits throughout the night. Toward the end of this exchange, I glanced into the woman’s cubicle only to bear witness to her exposed behind. Yes, the nurse had finally got her to roll over, but did not have the decency to close the curtain before he changed her robe.

I was not offended to witness this woman’s ancient behind. I have one of those, myself. But I was offended by this caregiver’s utter lack of sensitivity, discretion and kindness toward another human being. It made me think about the health industry in general, and the workers on the ground who fight the day-to-day battle with these broken-down machines, our bodies.

It must be a defense mechanism, this immunity that caregivers develop from pain, hopelessness, death. They see so much of it, they can’t afford to let it affect them in a normal, human way. My own nurses, the ones forced to perform daily duties on my wound, were rough, heavy-handed, and seemed either surprised or cynical when I reacted with a yelp (or worse!). Although I wasn’t happy about it, I understood where they were coming from. And, to be fair, my homecare nurses were universally sensitive to my pain, were as gentle as kittens; they worked in a much different environment to the hospital folks.

In my hospital experience, there were communication problems, scheduling problems, either too much or not enough attention paid to the things that really mattered, &c. But, due largely to the vigilance of my loving wife, I got through it.

Which brings us back to our poor nursing home patient, whose fractured leg went untreated until her death. Yes, mistakes happen, especially in large, busy facilities. But this was no mistake. This was an extreme, cynical reaction by someone in the healthcare system who needs a bit of time off to reset the defaults, realign the priorities, recover a bit of humanity. Since the old woman had fallen several times, recently, and had a dent in her forehead to prove it, there was no reason to doubt the complaint was justified. Was it really that hard to schedule an x-ray? Does the cost of the x-ray get deducted from the caregiver’s salary if it comes back negative? Does the administration discourage medical treatment in order to keep costs down? These are questions for a more qualified investigator. My interest is only in the mental process in that caregiver’s brain. Did he dislike that old woman on a more personal note? Perhaps she was an abusive patient, which is not uncommon, and so he was disinclined to be sympathetic to her pain. I don’t know. But the caregiving field seems to breed this sort of contempt, or at least indifference, toward the people being cared for.

There may not be a practical solution to this phenomenon, except to recognize it exists. It’s a hard, and often thankless, job, caregiving. It requires a special personality to be able to cope. But from the patient’s side, we and our family are forced to cope involuntarily, and often in a vortex of panic and confusion. All I can say is, family members must be vigilant, and noisy noisy noisy, if they think there is a problem. My wife demonstrated to me that you can never be too noisy in that environment. You can go right to the top of the organization, if you have to. Do not make an appointment. You just might save a life.

Breast Implant Registry

Ordinarily I would attempt to come up with a clever title for my article, a play on words, perhaps, or a pun. In the case of Parliamentary Bill C-255, the work is done for me. Why change a good thing?

Yes, there is a movement afoot to create a breast implant registry. And here’s the good news, boys: they must appoint a Registrar to oversee it. No doubt the government could fill the position within the hour, without having to pay a salary or benefits (other than those already associated with the job). Move over, Gun Registry; this is a “Double-barrelled” Registry we Canadians can throw our support behind.

But beware, you deluded and misguided girls who think your boyfriend is going to love you more if you get the “work” done. This is just another way for your government to gather and disseminate your personal information:

The Registrar may disclose confidential information contained in the Registry


[…] to the extent required for the administration of a health care insurance plan; and


[…] for the purposes of disciplinary proceedings undertaken by any professional or disciplinary body established under the laws of Canada or a province; and


[…] to an individual or organization for scientific research or statistical purposes; and


[…] to a medical practitioner the identity of a person whose name is recorded in the Registry.

If they can’t get you through your internet server (another bill), they’ll get you by means of the other Silicon Valley. Really, this whole exercise is a preposterous waste of time and energy, privacy issues aside, and an egregious example of how your government is attempting to strip you of every last morsel of privacy and freedom.

With the passing of this bill, there will no doubt be a black market generated, so that a young girl can fill out her dreams for the future without being molested by this nation’s worst cyber punks: the feds. Imagine all those greebly men in grey suits, with their “sportscaster” hair and vacant stares, lurking in the basement below the parliament chamber, pouring over your personal details with the zoom key and spacebar pan feature. And after getting a good looksee, they’ll sell your data to Pfizer.

However, if the Registrar’s job is still available, they can track me down through my IP address.

Thank Heaven For Little Gurls

Headline: Little Girls Reveal Their Fears of Getting ‘Chubby Wubby’

Be afraid, be very, very afraid, little girl. If you live in my town, you may be at genuine risk of the dreaded condition.

I have a teenage daughter who is definitely not at risk. Her diet consists mainly of home-cooked meals, made from scratch. There is very little processed food on her table. She hasn’t even asked for McDonald’s in years, which her parents take as a positive sign. Occasional Chinese takeout is a treat for which we all suffer an overdose of sodium, but enjoy nonetheless as a rare guilty pleasure. In our house, there is no dieting, no talk of dieting. We are not vegans, nor are we organic fanatics; we simply eat a balanced diet in relative moderation. And it shows on our daughter, as she has developed into a beautiful adolescent who shows no signs whatsoever of chubbiness.

But she has many friends who are not so fortunate. If they aren’t already on track to obesity, diabetes, depression, low self-esteem, they are at least poorly nourished. I know, because I have had the misfortune of cooking for these impossible eaters, these kids. I don’t eat eggs. I don’t eat potatoes. I don’t eat seafood. I don’t eat tomatoes. I don’t eat mushrooms. You get the idea.

To be fair, my little one does not like mushrooms; nor did I, until I was an adult. But it’s pretty depressing to watch her 15-year-old girlfriend intricately pick out and eat each individual noodle from my world famous Penne Mediterranean, after first painstakingly scraping every molecule of red pepper, garlic, feta and sundried tomato from the surface. It’s not depressing because I worked so hard to prepare a healthy and delicious dinner for this guest (foolishly thinking that “pasta” would be a no-brainer for even the pickiest eater), it’s depressing because that friend had clearly never eaten a red pepper or sundried tomato or feta cheese before, and we all know there is nothing more frightening to a picky eater than the “unfamiliar.”

“What do you eat at home?” asks my wife, making it seem an innocent inquiry.

Pizza (cheese). Spaghetti (chef Boyardee). Taco Bell. Hamburgers. Cake. Again, you get the idea. None—and I mean none—of these friends has ever eaten a piece of fresh fish, pan fried with sage brown butter. Few are ever served salad or vegetables at home. Asparagus: just say no! The things they willingly eat come from a box, or are delivered to the front door.

Asks my wife, as she lights the candles: “Does your family also sit down at the dining room table for dinner every night?”

After a nervous laugh: The dining table is covered in old newspapers and cardboard boxes. I eat in my room, or in front of the TV.

It’s not their fault. It’s not solely the public school board’s fault for serving vats of poutine in the cafeteria (although they should know better). It’s their parents’ fault. Nutrition starts at home. If the parents don’t understand and practice good eating habits, their children have no chance. And it’s no surprise that so many of these kids are Chubby Wubbies, smaller versions of their obese, diabetic, careless parents.

There’s hardly a place now for the old favourite pastime of “picking on the fat kid.” The fatties outnumber the skinnies in today’s playground. Of course the media is still skinny-obsessed, which only adds stress and worry to these little girls, who are already fighting a losing battle on the home front. They start smoking at twelve because their mothers say that smoking curbs the appetite. And even though it has not worked for their mothers, they start dieting at thirteen because everyone and everything around them tells them they are fat.

It’s not news that today’s little girls are preoccupied with their weight, and are afraid of becoming Chubby Wubbies. By the time they graduate from kindergarten, so many of them are already overweight. And even though they still feel the natural childish urge to mock the fat kids, the mockery is half-hearted. Kettle and pot.

We can blame the fashion industry, the fast food empires, the uncaring school boards, the government (for which we blame most things), but to address these little girls’ fear of the dreaded Chubby Wubbies, one needs to look no further than the kitchen table. Parents have to make just a little effort to feed their kids properly and healthily; it’s their parental duty. Too many get a failing grade. God help the little girls, and boys.

And by little, I mean young.

Jane’s Addiction

For those of you who thought this was going to be a music review, I apologize. But please read on, anyway.

Much in the news lately has been Insite, a supervised injection site, based in Vancouver, aiming to achieve official status under the Health Canada Act. Some of the things they do are controversial, but their methods, widely approved of or not, seem to work.

So now we have G&M columnist Margaret Wente weighing in on the subject. She not only disapproves of Insite and any potential government funding for it, but she demonstrates a “Creationist” view of addiction in principle. Her objection is to classify addiction as a disease rather than a vice. As she says, “A disease is a condition that’s beyond your power to control.”

She cites Harvard man Gene Heyman, who says that choice plays a more important role in addiction than in other psychiatric disorders. Well, sure it does. That doesn’t mean we can dismiss the physiological aspects of addiction. It’s fairly simple science, really. You take a drug and it sends a pleasure signal to the brain, similar to the signal the brain’s natural chemical dopamine sends. The brain doesn’t know the difference; it’s getting a “happy” signal, so thanks very much. The problem is, the more drugs you take, the less dopamine your brain creates naturally. If you stop taking drugs, you have withdrawal because the brain has adapted, and it requires time to recover its own ability to create dopamine. It’s only after this physiological recovery takes place that the psychological aspects of recovery come in to play.

I think Ms. Wente has misunderstood what Heyman was getting at. Choice does play a vital role in addiction recovery, but that doesn’t mean addiction is not a disease. Once the brain has been rewired by drug-taking, it’s not a simple case of “choosing” to quit, as she so easily did, apparently, to overcome her own addiction to nicotine. I had to take many stabs at quitting my cigarette habit, and I’ve known people who have gone to their grave with a smoke dangling from the lips. Everyone reacts differently to addiction, and just because it was easy for Ms. Wente to quit smoking, that doesn’t mean every crack head should only need to “choose” sobriety in order to make it so. She wants it to be so, because she doesn’t want our tax dollars spent on a bunch of losers who will only relapse anyway. Her closing statement: “Drug addiction isn’t measles, and Insite is not a hospital, and we should stop pretending that it is.”

No, measles are caused by a virus, not brain damage, and measles don’t require anything except rest and quarantine, unless there are complications. But what about eating disorders? Perhaps doctors should stop treating obese people, anorexics, bulimics. Not diseases, you say? Either way, they are a burden on our medical system, are they not? In my own home, I struggled for years to get my child to stop chewing with her mouth open. She would masticate that KD like a pig at the trough, until I was ready to rush her to Vancouver for an intervention. But she eventually chose to chew more politely, a testament to “choice.” Another vice conquered.

For Ms. Wente, this is a battle of semantics, a way of denying a group of citizens the resources they need to recover from a serious “condition” and once again become useful members of society. But, of course, if you call it a vice, no one will want to pay, which is her strategy.

Perhaps she will next find a cure for homosexuality. There must be a Harvard man working on that.

Nuts To That

There once was a man named Aziga,

who loved many ladies a lotta…

(Okay, I know, it doesn’t scan. I don’t claim to be a poet—ed.)

Yes, he carries the HIV virus, and yes, he had unprotected sex with numerous women, passing on the virus to seven…two of whom died. No, he did not tell them about his condition before they had sex, even though he was under a court order to do so. A court order should not have been necessary, I say.

But Johnson Aziga has a perfectly reasonable excuse: he has an undescended testicle.

(I think what he meant to say was that he is an undescended testicle.)

Oh yeah. He has a second excuse: he is a Ugandan immigrant.

(I have no speculation about this.)

But really, the real reason he didn’t let these women know he was injecting them with potential Death is because he was afraid of rejection. Well, we’re all afraid of that. I imagine he reasonably could have expected to be rejected by these women for having HIV. If I were a women, and the man I was about to lie down with made that disclosure, I would reject him. And I might even thank him for warning me ahead of time.

Mr. Aziga was not only ordered to disclose his HIV to potential partners, but also to wear a condom; although he chose not to wear the condom because, ahem, he was afraid of rejection. If I were a woman, and the man I was about to lie down with failed to produce a condom from his wallet, I would reject him. Come on, dude. This is the twenty-first century. Plato’s Retreat was shut down twenty-five years ago for good reason: HIV.

As Mr. Aziga so eloquently explained, it was his undescended testicle and his Ugandan heritage that compelled him to keep mum. If we don’t get it, too bad for us.

Now it’s up to the Justice System to decide if he is a dangerous offender. If only this were China; he’d be marched out back and leaned against the wall, post-haste. Alas, we have the vagaries of a Court deciding if this man will be unleashed on an unsuspecting (female) public. Perhaps the money earmarked for this hearing would be better spent on a dab of Crazy Glue for the business end of Mr. Aziga’s manhood; a bendy-straw catheter to urinate; a glass marble, strung up behind, to the left. How much could it cost? I’ll pay for it, if that’s what it will take. This man is a menace, and must be locked up. He is clearly nut(s).

What’s in a Name?

I don’t get heartburn often, but, when I do, Tums is my product of choice. If I can’t locate the familiar little roll at the checkout, among the Lifesavers and the Dentyne, I can always ask the cashier without fear or embarrassment. Not so with most pharmaceutical products, these days.

When I finally decide to do something about my spasticity, I will surely require an overdose of Frova (Frovatriptan succinate tablets) before I can muster the courage to ask my pharmacist for Zanaflex (Tizanidine). And it is not only fear of making a fool of myself by attempting to say these names aloud that restrains me. I am afraid that if I mispronounce Metolazone (Zaroxolyn), I could wind up with breasts. While my wife might see the humour in that, I know that I would never get any work done.

There must be something in the esoteric culture of  pharmaceutics that defies my layman’s understanding. Some psychotropic dust, wafting through the airshafts, perhaps? How else to explain the goofy spaceman names? Or could it be subconscious pity for the more obscure consonants? The fact is, we don’t use the letters X or Z that often because they make us giggle. Zonisamide. There, I’ve said it and I’m glad. Stop giggling. Epilepsy is serious. Apparently the name Zonisamide suited Europeans, but was deemed unsuitable for Americans, so it was changed to Zonegran for North American release. Go figure?

I want to meet the men who name these products. Yes, they are men. Only a man would name a pill Femhrt. I speculate: He is a thirty-five-year-old virgin, and he greets his co-workers in the hallways of ZymoGenetics with a secret handshake and the phrase, “Live long and prosper.” He owns the DVD box set of Ed Wood’s oeuvre, and plans his vacation times around Star Trek conventions. He believes that the planet Tralfamadore exists. His name is probably Arthur, although his friends call him “Bones”.

Give me my Mevacor (Lovastatin), my Lipitor (Atorvastatin), my Xenical (Orlistat), my Aciphex (Rabeprazole), just don’t ask me to pronounce them. Thank goodness I can buy them cheaply and silently from shifty Canadian websites, who mail them to my door in plain brown wrapping.

And a polite round of applause must go to the advertising agencies who handle the Bristol-Myers Squibb account. How do they keep a straight face in the board room as they pitch the new campaign for Tequin (Gatifloxacin)? How do they maintain a sense of humour when faced with disclaimers that warn consumers of possible side effects such as headaches, upset stomach, diarrhea, loss of consciousness, rectal bleeding, suicidal thoughts and temporary facial paralysis? It’s already a herculean task, bringing to millions of living rooms a savory situation in which to discuss the failings of our bodily functions, without having to slug the name Lyophilized Cytoxan (Cyclophosphamide) in Helvetica Bold.

Don’t get me wrong. If it weren’t for companies like GlaxoSmithKline, many of us would be dead, or at least be suffering terribly. There is perhaps no other industry in the world that has a greater impact on our well-being. Look how long we’re living! It’s the nomenclature that is at issue here. Listen up, Pfizer. Take a cue from Tums, a monosyllabic name that is as much a comfort to say as it is to ingest. The next time I have a tooth ache, I will choose GumYum (pat. pend.) over the leading national brand, Toothodrilaxizevin for relief of my pain. But, for the moment, GumYum is available only on the planet Tralfamadore.