Posts Tagged ‘medicine’

Stuff I’m too lazy/tired/dull to write about in any great depth but which is worth mentioning. (Mind you, my 1200 word blarg on Monday was supposed to be one of these, so we’ll see how it goes.)

– Catholic hospitals refuse to perform abortions because a fetus is a person so that would be murder, but also deny that a fetus is a person when being sued for wrongful death. And also demand the right to not offer services like contraception if they decide it goes against their faith. For an organisation calling themselves a hospital, they don’t seem all that bothered about providing medical care, do they?

– In Florida since the 1970s, 74 prisoners on death row have been executed, while 24 have been exonerated. That means for every three people killed by the state, there’s one guy they were totally prepared to kill but who actually should never even have been in prison in the first place. Some people might find this fucking horrifying. Others – like the people who sadly get to make the decisions – think we should stop dawdling and kill more people.

– Speaking of the Criminal Justice system, that whole area seems to be particularly immune to evidence and rationality. We’re still doing shit we know doesn’t work.

– Happier things now. This short article by Penn Jillette on whether atheism should replace religion is the first thing I’ve read in a long while where I categorically agree with every single word.

– If you like meet cutes, this is the meet cutest.

– And the Merseyside Skeptics Society has a new podcast: Be Reasonable. Hayley Stevens and Michael Marshall talk with people holding fringey or “alternative” beliefs, balancing being totally polite and respectful with a proper savvy for skeptical interrogation. You can be nice to someone who’s taken time out of their day to come on your show and defend their ideas, without switching your bullshit detector off or letting extravagant claims go unchallenged. I’ve not heard an interview show that gets the balance this right since the same two interviewers did much the same thing back on the Righteous Indignation podcast.

Phew, none of that got out of control. Time for dinner.

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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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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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Ben Goldacre has a new book out. You can read the foreword, and also watch a TED talk he gave on the subject which is the book’s focus: the systematic distortion of evidence and profit-driven manipulation of reality by the pharmaceutical industry and numerous related groups and individuals.

I’m really looking forward to reading it once I’ve got through some more of my intimidating literary backlog. I’m expecting to be appalled, judging by what I’ve learned about this general clusterfuck so far. Much about modern medical science has been integral to one of the greatest forces for good in human history, but Big Pharma clearly has its Orwellian nightmare side too.

Here’s one thing I’m interested to see: What do the alternative medicine fans think of all this?

Bad Science did, after all, rip the world of fake unmedicine to shreds with a blistering effectiveness rarely matched elsewhere. I can assure you from personal experience that simply blogging about it occasionally is enough to get you labelled as a bought-and-sold shill by some sections of the alt-med crowd, so you can imagine the kind of things he got accused of for writing a popular book and newspaper column about it.

If you listen to the extremists, practically everyone who’s ever dared question the value of drinking bleach to cure AIDS is obviously in the pay of greedy corporate propagandists trying to keep the populace in check (wake up, sheeple!) – so where does Ben Goldacre fit into that model? You can imagine the confusion:

He says our wonderful homeopathy is worthless bollocks… but he’s written and is eagerly promoting an entire book denouncing the pharmaceutical industry’s profit-driven distortions of medicine. Which is what we do! I don’t understand. Was there a clerical error somewhere in the Big Pharma finance department and his cheques stopped getting sent?

It seems rare that an alt-med advocate will credit their opponents with enough intellectual honesty to be expressing the views they do for any reason other than monetary gain (although, to be fair, this may be something of a two-way street). I wonder if the publication of this new book will persuade anyone that people like Ben Goldacre often spend so much time rebutting alternative medicine because they really think that, and that they can see the problems with Big Pharma for what they are as well.

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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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No proper post today, because I’ve been out paying some lady to poke sharp things into my mouth and make it hurt as a way of making it hurt less in the long-run.

Yay, root canal!

This was my second hour-long appointment. I’m back again next week, and possibly again after that to have it finished off and capped. It seems to be going well: the continual pain I’d had for a couple of weeks stopped after last week’s initial session. Right now it’s sore again from all the prodding, but should settle down soon.

My main observation about the whole experience is this: holy fucking balls am I glad I live in an age when dentistry has progressed as far as it has.

I suppose this could be applied more broadly to modern medicine in general, but it can also be applied very specifically to the local anaesthetics I’ve been getting to know rather well recently. Seriously, I get a brief flavour of what real pain feels like when the whirry drilly thing brushes an un-numbed part of a nerve, and that’s the point at which I make a noise and wave my hand and the dentist zaps me with another dose of miracle juice until I can’t feel a damn thing on that side of my mouth any more and she can get back to work.

I almost enjoy getting it all done, solely on the grounds of my appreciation for how much worse it could be. (Not very almost, but you know what I mean.)

Also, I think my roots might have unusually deep canals, or something. She seemed to have to get a longer-than-usual scrapey thing to go scrabbling around in there.

She had Radio 1 on in the background, too, which meant that the soundtrack to several minutes of having a long, thin needle pushed well below my gum-line and wiggled around was this.

So, y’know. Swings and roundabouts.

Questions for discussion: Is there an upper limit to the number of times someone can mentally sing Tom Lehrer’s The Elements to distract themselves from major dental surgery, and if so, when am I going to hit it?

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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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– A small but probably good step has been made toward gay marriage rights and/or marriage equality, leaving only a tragically long way to go for modern society to catch up with itself.

– If you choose not to donate to a charity because you disagree with their practices or philosophy, you’re poisoning democracy.

– The placebo effect proves the existence of God. And “God” can mean whatever you need it to mean so that that first sentence is true. Hey, did you know the Huffington Post has a science section now?

This. (Though I daren’t investigate what’s kicking off down there in the comments.)

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Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum told the mother of a child with a rare genetic disorder on Tuesday that she shouldn’t have a problem paying $1 million a year for drugs because Apple’s iPad can cost around $900.

That’s a slightly coarse summary of his recent remarks, but not nearly as coarse as his actual opinions.

My credibility is this big, and sells for this much.

See if you can follow the logic. Some people pay substantial amounts of money for non-essential electronic goods. Therefore, poor people shouldn’t complain at being expected to spend similar sums of money every month of their lives – or however much cash the market demands, which in some cases can be around a million dollars a year – on medical treatment necessary to save their life.

Where do you even start with something like that?

The problem, as this frothy mixture of callousness and self-interest describes it, is that we’re “conditioned to think health care is something you can get without having to pay for it”.

Yep, apparently I’ve been brainwashed into wanting to live in a world where we actually look after each other. Socialist propaganda has convinced me that I shouldn’t be content to watch my neighbours die from easily prevented conditions because they can’t afford basic and widely available medical treatment.

He declared that one particular sick child was “alive today because drug companies provide care”, missing the point that he could equally be dead tomorrow because drug companies only provide care if you give them thousands and thousands of dollars.

I want your son to stay alive on much-needed drugs. Fact is, we need companies to have incentives to make drugs. If they don’t have incentives, they won’t make those drugs. We either believe in markets or we don’t.

It may seem heartless, hypocritical, and downright bullshittastic for him to tell this woman that he wants her son to live, while offering no suggestion as to how the obvious barrier of the unaffordability of treatment is supposed to be overcome. But it’s possible he actually believes it. He may honestly think that his advice is the best solution for people like this.

Rick Santorum is a capitalist. As such, he believes that a free market system not entirely unlike the one currently in place, but far less cluttered by government intervention (or at least the kind that doesn’t favour it), is the best way to achieve important things, such as developing and distributing life-saving medical treatments.

So he’s extended this idea to what seems like a logical conclusion: that if families like this aren’t expected to pay whatever medical fees arise if they’re unfortunate enough to face a medical crisis, these life-saving drugs would never be created in the first place. Laying down that kind of ultimatum is the only way we can expect to get any useful work done.

It’s sad that sometimes people have to die to keep the system going, but what other way could there possibly be?

What a tragically bleak view of the world.

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