Posts Tagged ‘health’

So, I could do with keeping fit, and I think I should incorporate some more exercise into my life.

This is the sort of person I am now. I’ve got a wife and a career and a mortgage and a cat and a beard and a packet of sherbet lemons. I’m an actual grown-up. I’m also just the right sort of middle-class twat to want to start working out.

The sherbet lemons aren’t a grown-up or middle-class signifier, to my knowledge. They’re just on my desk as I type this, and so sprung to mind as another example of the wonderful things my life is full of these days.

Anyway. I’m not joining a gym or buying any more expensive and pointless equipment. Despite my brain’s better efforts, I’m determined to learn about my limitations from past experience, so I know that’s not the way to go. I’ll have much more success if I start getting active first, train myself to build up the motivation and drive on my own steam, make some kind of physical exercise a part of my routine, and then consider any external aids once I’m likely to use them, rather than getting the shiny gadgets first and expecting them to inspire me.

The problem is, I tend to get discouraged from doing any particular kind of exercise if I suspect it’s not the optimal thing I could be doing.

I mean, even though the basic fact that exercise tends to be good for your health is straight-forward, the health industry is at least as littered with misinformation and dodgy advice as any other. There are no doubt plenty of really effective ways to do yourself a great deal of benefit, but they’re vying for space with a bunch of crappy ideas that will mostly just waste your time.

The usefulness or otherwise of vitamin supplements and protein shakes and whatnot may not be so tricky to unravel if you know what you’re doing, but I’m coming up short when trying to figure out how to exercise effectively. If you add words like “scientific” or “skeptic” to an internet search for workout-related terms, you mostly end up reading about stuff like that “Evidence-based 7 Minute Fitness” thing the media was fawning over a little while ago, which, if even a modicum of scrutiny is applied, turns out, yeah, not so much.

I am at a particular loss as to how to separate out the good advice from the bad in this field.

Chances are I’ll just end up doing some running. It’s hard to go too wrong there, I suspect, and there are plenty of apps I like the look of to keep you organised and give it some structure. If I can get past the bewildering clusterfuckmare of acquiring the right sort of footwear, that is. Ugh, just thinking about going shopping for running shoes makes me want to give up on the 5k part and just stay on the couch.

Anyway. Advice or thoughts appreciated. I’ll let you know if and when I decide to give this “going outside” thing a shot. I hear it’s full of something called “fresh air”. Can’t possibly be good for you.

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I gave blood for the first time yesterday.

I’ve been meaning to do it for years, much like most people, I suspect. Everyone knows that giving blood is an obviously good and important thing. Aside from a very small pocket of religious extremists, how can you possibly not champion something like this?

But I still went years without ever getting round to it myself, and so do millions of people. I kept seeing reminders, though, and hearing people talk about it, and every time I did it nudged me a little closer to actually doing something about it myself.

This is your reminder for today. Take this as a nudge.

Admittedly a strong part of my impetus was the nurse I’m engaged to, who’s much better acquainted with the process than I am. She booked us in and took me there from the station after work – the centre where this team set up every few weeks is literally on my walk home after I get off the train every day. I’ve seen the NHS van parked outside before and gone straight past it because I’d had a long day and just wanted to go home.

I was really nervous, and the initial sight of the room didn’t do a lot to help. It was a pretty big open space, with half a dozen big plastic chairs spread out across the middle of the room, sort of like you get at the dentist’s. They each had a tray of equipment by the side, and something not quite like a normal arm-rest.

There were some other normal chairs in a waiting area, and several desks where you sit and get interviewed about your health and whatnot at various points in the process.

A few people were in the big chairs when we got there, leaning right back and with things stuck in their arms. The monitoring equipment all kept beeping intermittently, to let people know that… that the things had been in people’s arms for long enough, I guess.

I’m being glib, but it’s not just that I don’t really know much about the technical medical side of things – it’s more that I really don’t like thinking about it. I’m very icky around needles, and blood, so it’s lucky that I didn’t actually see any of those the whole time I was there.

That’s not quite true, but it’s barely an exaggeration. I saw a drop welling up in the finger-prick test to make sure I’m not anaemic (after genuinely not even feeling the tiny stabby thing piercing my flesh), but that was about it. When I was in the chair and one of the nurses was cleaning my inner elbow-bit with something cold and moist, I realised it must be needle time next, and swiftly fixed my attention on the opposite corner of the room, where it more or less stayed for the duration.

It hurt a little, but I am quite a serious wuss about pain, and even I handled it easily. The way I decided to think about it was that it was far less painful than banging my toe on a door, and I do that at least once a week. (The real anguish only came the next morning when I peeled off the plaster they’d patched me up with. I have quite hairy arms. Ow.)

I was only sat there for a few minutes, doing some of the gentle muscle-flexing exercises they advise you to do to keep your blood pressure up, before the machine by my chair started beeping the friendly beep which had been ringing out across the room all evening. Presumably, there was a transparent plastic bag full of my blood just by my side now – another image I didn’t want to see, and don’t want to contemplate.

The chair tilts quite far back while all this is going on, to make sure your brain’s still getting plenty of whatever blood you have left (or something). When it’s over, and the little cotton wad is stuck firmly over the teeny tiny hole in your arm, they lean you forward to a regular sitting position slowly, bit by bit. I started feeling a little woozy at this point, so they tilted me right back down and let me sit with my legs in the air for a few minutes while people brought me biscuits and cups of orange squash and held the straw right up to my mouth so I could drink. I’ve never had that in a hotel.

I was fine almost immediately, just a slight initial head rush, probably because I hadn’t eaten enough beforehand. (They check pretty thoroughly that you’re adequately nourished for the task, and make you drink plenty of water while you’re waiting. I’d assured them I was doing fine, but it had been a few hours since lunch.) The nurses made sure I’d recovered and sat me up slowly, I went and replenished my salt and fluids at the snack table, and off we went, job well done. (Kirsty had finished up and recovered some time ago by this point, seasoned veteran that she is.)

And then we had fish and chips, and someone somewhere survived an accident or operation in which they would otherwise have died.

I know that sounds flippantly self-aggrandising, and it is, but… it’s kinda true, too. There really is a direct correlation between giving blood and saving lives. Every time someone needs to be given blood to kept alive – because they’ve been injured, or are undergoing surgery, or have lost blood for any reason and need to be topped up – every time that happens, it’s with blood that someone donated like what I just did.

I’m not a doctor, but I read somewhere that over 70% of all people need to have blood inside them in order to live. And if they ever can’t make enough blood themselves, the only other place to get it is from another person.

Blood donation’s different from most other medicine like that. It’s not just that someone did some science and now we have this marvellous new medical technology to fix people, like with drugs or MRI machines. There’s plenty of that too, obviously, but we haven’t reached the point yet where we can just make new blood with science when people need it. It all has to come from donations, and it’s used directly to stop other people from dying.

That’s pretty sweet.

It’s past damn time that I became more of an advocate for this. If you’re in the UK, you can visit www.blood.co.uk to find out more about where and when you can go and donate. If you’re elsewhere, I’m sure similar resources aren’t hard to find online. It’s a seriously good thing to do, you get to be proper smug about yourself, and – and I can’t stress this enough – they bring you FREE BISCUITS.

Give blood.

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And worser…

There are some things that, in the 21st century, there’s just no fucking excuse for anyone to die of any more.

One of these things is a miscarriage which is prolonged for days, by medical experts who have all the necessary treatment and care and resources available to solve the problem, but elect not to do so for religious reasons.

The details of Savita Halappanavar’s case, and the reasons why it should be sparking all the outrage it has and more, are already all over the place. If you need someone to catch you up, I can recommend starting with Nelson Jones, Sarah Ditum, and Jennifer Keane.

In short: When you have repressive anti-abortion laws on the books, and insist on hoops that women must jump through before they can be permitted necessary medical procedures, then it’s a matter of when, not if, the “pro-life” position ends up killing people, and being “a Catholic country” means endorsing manslaughter.

Also, this shit’s still happening.

I’ll write about something cheerier soon, human condition permitting.

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Remember how some awful people protested against vaccinating young people against HPV, not simply on the grounds of any anti-vaccine quackery, but because they thought it would turn teenage girls into shameless sluts?

Well, you knew they were full of shit, and now it’s official. Routinely protecting children from a dangerous infectious disease does not turn them invariably toward any kind of flagrant immorality, like daring to enjoy sex, any more than usual.

Just a quickie from me today, but it’s worth mentioning.

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Someone asked Amanda Palmer recently about her health insurance situation. She then asked the rest of the world.

#InsurancePoll is trending! EVERYBODY ANSWER & RT! 1) country? 2) occupation? 3) have health insurance? 4) why/not? (cost to you/employer?)

This post is a summary of my ensuing twitrant.

#insurancepoll 1) UK, 2 & 3) doesn’t matter and nope, because 4) thank Loki for the NHS

There presumably already exists more and better quality data than is emerging on that hashtag, but not more human stories.

It was a long while before I really got the conversations on American TV shows about health insurance. Because I’ve never had or needed any.

Because I’ve always just gone to the hospital and gotten anything sorted that needed sorting. Because we have an NHS.

Because some bloke called Nye Bevan had this crazy idea about treating people based on medical need rather than how rich they are.

I only slowly came to understand the American situation through the gradual absorption of pop culture. It got scarier the more I learned.

I still don’t get it. You have Medicare, so, what? Old people can’t be expected to provide for all their health needs but poor people can?

When did a profit-driven health service start seeming like a *good* idea to anyone, anyway?

Seriously, if your infrastructure for dealing with medical emergencies is driven by a compulsion to make money, what the fuck do you expect?

“But government’s so incompetent and inefficient!” Sure, let’s let rich people make our decisions for us instead. No way that’ll backfire.

Government *does* suck, so don’t just nationalise healthcare, socialise it. Let doctors et al. run things and let’s all of us support them.

A poorly formed, un-nuanced, tweet-length soundbite of an idea? Yes. And I wish anything else being said made any more sense.

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Saying that Fox News killed Hallie Culpepper may not be hyperbole, but it feels like an unnecessary reinforcement of the partisan divide.

It’s a horrible story. She was an elderly woman who had a fall, and refused medical treatment, because she was scared of what “Obamacare” might do to her. She specified in her will that she didn’t want her money going to “the Muslim Brotherhood”, a terrifying organisation about which I’d lay money Ms Culpepper could not have provided a single fact, beyond that the President was all tied up in their evil affairs somehow.

She died because of ignorance and confusion. The “death panels” she was so frightened of simply don’t exist. None of her poorly understood and incoherently articulated worries had any bearing on reality. She didn’t have to die.

Ms Culpepper watched Fox News “religiously”. There’s no doubt a lot of the misinformation in her head, not least the nonsense that scared her out of accepting medical help that could have saved her life, was shoved in there by one of the most hatefully biased and unjust television channels in America. It might be true for Tracy Knauss to say that Fox News killed his mother.

But that fails to tell the whole story. The problem isn’t Fox News in itself. Fox News are a pustular symptom of the illness of modern politics. They’re among the most virulently efficient institutions at abiding by one of the few remaining rules of the political game: pick a side, stick to your guns, dehumanise and destroy the opposition, and loyally rationalise whatever’s being done by the people on your team who you find yourself having to defend.

If we don’t get out of this tribalistic mindset, there’s always going to be channels to watch or papers to read religiously out there, willing to assure us that only they know what’s best for us, and they’ll teach us how to watch out for those others who wish us ill.

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One important aspect that seems to have been largely left out of the debate on forced and unnecessarily penetrative medical procedures for women, which is becoming legally mandated in a number of states of the USA, is the role of the doctors performing these procedures. In particular, those who morally disagree with the mandate just as much as the lay folk who’ve been protesting it.

It’s not like medical professionals don’t have their own strong opinions about patient care, after all. Most of them wouldn’t be happy to simply carry blithely on with an invasive medical procedure that they thought was traumatising and unnecessary. Aren’t some of them outraged as well? Aren’t some of them standing up against this?


An anonymous medical acquaintance of John Scalzi’s has guest-posted on his blog, calling for what they call “a little old-fashioned civil disobedience”. After several points of advice as to how physicians who “should” be performing these procedures can respond ethically, here’s the conclusion:

It comes down to this: When the community has failed a patient by voting an ideologue into office… When the ideologue has failed the patient by writing legislation in his own interest instead of in the patient’s… When the legislative system has failed the patient by allowing the legislation to be considered… When the government has failed the patient by allowing something like this to be signed into law… We as physicians cannot and must not fail our patients by ducking our heads and meekly doing as we’re told.

Because we are their last line of defense.

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Once you get past the sweeping generalisation that anyone who’d do anything so horrid to our poor kiddies is an inhuman monster, and grow up beyond an automatic guttural lurch of disgust and vengeance at the mere mention of childhood and sexuality in the same breath, you can start to imagine why paedophiles might deserve your compassion.

You’re not supposed to draw a parallel between homosexuality and a predilection for pre-teens, because it’s usually only homophobic idiots who make them. But consider one similarity that can exist.

Many gay people go through much of their life being told by the world, and believing profoundly, that their innate and unavoidable sexual drives are sinful, dirty, wrong, and evil. Some are driven to denial, or celibacy, or suicide. Some try to resist engaging in the sexual practices in question, and fail, and fall further into deep self-loathing. Some come to accept that this is just the way they are.

I daresay a lot of child abusers feel the same. Many try to repress their feelings; many can’t; many convince themselves that there are no ethical issues worth worrying themselves about in what they do, or are driven so strongly that their moral concerns get pushed aside and ignored, at least some of the time.

In neither case is demonisation of individuals a satisfactory solution. Telling people that something inside them corrupts their very being and renders them irredeemably evil is best left to Christianity. So how best to address these sexual drives?

For homosexuality, the answer’s simple (at least in theory; the execution is taking some time). There’s absolutely nothing wrong with same-sex attraction. It can be embraced as fully as any other expression of positive feelings between consenting adults, and all guilt about it can be abandoned entirely. Take the same care as anyone else would for safety and respect for personal autonomy, and you’re grand.

Those who are sexually attracted to children don’t get quite such an easy answer. The actions to which their urges drive them are simply unacceptable. Children cannot knowingly consent to sexual acts. If we tell people who experience such drives that, while we can’t condone them acting on their natural urges, we feel no less respect or love for them as human beings, they’re probably not going to be wholly content to leave it there.

Which is where chemical castration comes in.

There’s a pilot study being conducted at the moment in Nottingham, on around 100 male sex offenders. They’re being treated with a drug which inhibits testosterone production, and early evidence from Europe provides hope about its effects on decreasing recidivism.

(Incidentally, I think the label “chemical castration” is an unfortunate one. I’m not aware of the details of either procedure, but there seems to be about as much connection between this drug treatment and surgical orchidectomy, as there is between male and female “circumcision”.)

I know that not all sex offenders are very like the tortured souls I’ve described. Maybe of them engage in morally reprehensible behaviours without compunction, and concerns have been raised that this procedure won’t kerb underlying violent attitudes. There’s no doubt this is a partial solution at best, but you don’t have to look far among any gay community to find members who fervently wish they could just take a pill to make their “sin” disappear, and be “normal”. It’s hard not to extrapolate and wonder how many child abusers want the same thing, and would jump at the chance to quash the desires that they know only cause anguish, to themselves and others.

The offenders all currently being treated have volunteered, and I suspect this will remain a crucial aspect. Forcing such a biological change on people for society’s benefit is a very touch one to justify, and not a conversation I’m going to attempt here. But there’s a long and noble history behind temporarily hobbling yourself in some small way to stop yourself getting distracted, helping yourself reach your goals when temptation looms by simply taking will-power out of the picture.

Unplug the internet when you’ve got writing to do, so you can’t keep checking Twitter. Give your car keys to a friend, so you can’t drive home no matter how sober you know you are. Take some hormone-suppressing medication so that you don’t even think of luring a child away to do anything inappropriate.

For some people, it might be just what they need.

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Lawmakers have found another handy way of pretending to themselves that the law they’re trying to enact doesn’t amount to sexual assault: Stop using actual words to describe women and the female anatomy.

It’s not an area where the details really matter, after all. It all just boils down to “trans-V this, and trans-V that“, blah blah blah. And what can be the harm in a little trans-V somethingorother?

Argh. People are terrible.

I generally agree with Feministing’s suggested new rules for vaginaphobes who want to pass these kinds of laws. I might go a bit less far in presuming to know quite what’s going on in your head if you’re that uncomfortable with these anatomical terms, but anything you’re going to pass a law about – particularly a law mandating physical insertion of a foreign body into a person’s orifice – deserves to be taken seriously. And that emphatically includes vaginas. Your inability to describe them in normal, grown-up language doesn’t speak well to your capacity for giving the subject the consideration it deserves.

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My lovely lady done a thing, about vaccines and medically irresponsible idiots and stuff. Go have a read.

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