Tag Archives: health

A request, with a little help from my friends

Dear people, can I ask you a couple of favors?

For background, let me tell you about a couple of my friends.

E just got out of the hospital. She had a stroke on Tuesday night. Her scans and her doctor confirm that she sustained no lasting damage from the experience.

S had a stroke, too, a year and some ago. He spent a good deal of time in the hospital, and now he’s got language and mobility problems.

The significant difference between these two people is that E got medical help quickly. She was with someone who recognized the symptoms of a stroke as they occurred†, and called for help immediately. S, for reasons that seemed good at the time*, delayed calling the ambulance.

So. First favor. Read this good, approachable post on strokes. The whole thing is worth your time, but the key information is this list of symptoms:

  • Sudden onset weakness, numbness, or tingling, particularly one-sided.
  • Facial droop, particularly one-sided.
  • Slurred speech, or aphasia, or suddenly using inappropriate words.
  • Unexplained blurred vision, particularly one-sided.
  • “The worst headache of my life.” (Thunderclap headache.)

Not every stroke will have all of these symptoms, but if you see this tendency, think “stroke” and get dialing.

The second favor also comes with yet another friend story. B went to the doctor the other day, and has since been sent to the cardiologist. It’s everyone’s fervent hope that she won’t ever call an ambulance—on time or late—because preventative care reduces the chance of having a stroke in the first place.**

So if you don’t know your blood pressure, dear readers, nor your stroke risks, can you go get yourself checked out? I know it seems like a stinking nuisance so soon after the stinking nuisance of the holidays, but going to the emergency room is even more of a pain.

In short, be B. Failing that, be E. Otherwise, S will be most vexed with you.

As will I.

† Partly because of S’s experience
* Uninsured in America**
** Anyone wonder why I get worked up about health insurance and health care reform?

Them’s the breaks, unfortunately

Just when we thought life was stressful enough…


I was giving Fiona a shower last night when she slipped and fell. When she got up, the little finger of her right hand was at a funny angle. It clearly hurt a lot.

I shouted for Martin, who called…someone (not sure who) in Dutch while I got her dried and redressed. M took her to the emergency room, where after some waiting, she got an X-ray that confirmed that she had a small break in the inner side of the lowest long bone of the little finger. The doctor adjusted it (which she did not like) and put a plaster cast on it. Martin brought our brave and solemn girl home at about midnight.

Fiona showed a lot of courage and class throughout this incident. She stopped crying very quickly, and started to look for upsides almost immediately. “At least I can wiggle the other hand.” “At least I can wiggle the other fingers on this hand.” “At least Alex can wiggle his fingers.” “At least the stars look lovely tonight.”

Alex, too, did a lot of good. He fetched and carried things to get her out the door (socks, things like that). He was then very comforting and amusing when we were alone in the house, and went to bed very easily when it was time.

Fiona is very tired today – she fell asleep just before we had to go get Alex, and I fully expect she will nap at least once more. But she’s being a good sport about asking for help, and eventually took the prohibition on riding her bike in her stride. (Eventually. After some argument.) She will be going to the hospital again on Tuesday to get the break checked and the cast replaced with something smaller and longer term.

I’m exhausted and pretty stressed about the whole thing (as is Martin), but she is doing well. And that’s what really counts.


Last Friday, I woke up at 5 am with pain shooting down my left arm from the shoulder to the elbow. It felt like connective tissue that had become inflamed, and left me gasping and unable to get back to sleep. I had the day to myself around the house, and I was glad to see that the pain faded away over the space of the day.

M suggested I go to the doctor’s, but I was fairly sure it was just the result of sleeping on it wrong.

Then, last night, I woke at 3:15 with the same shooting pains. Ibuprofen failed to make any dent in the pain at all, and a hot water bottle didn’t do any good either. I finally found some paracetomal with coedine, which took enough edge off of the pain to allow me a bit more sleep. It wasn’t much – a couple of 45-minute dozes – but it stopped me whimpering in self pity.

The morning was a challenge – it was my day to get the kids up and get them to nursery. Alex was deeply sympathetic and protective of me (he’s a good guy when the going gets tough). Fiona, though oblivious, was charming and co-operative. But I usually lift them over a tall iron fence near our house, which was clearly impossible. We had to take a longer route, with Fionaberry on my shoulders (she doesn’t walk very fast yet).

I don’t know whether it was the medication or Fiona’s habit of holding onto my throat, but I was intensely dizzy and nauseated by the time I got the kids to Goose.

Just when I was sinking into self-pity again, though, I got a good dose of proportion. Three or four doors down from the nursery, I came across one of the neighbourhood lasses lying down on the pavement, attended by three other women. She appeared to have had some sort of siezure, and one of the others was clearly onto the emergency services. A couple of doctors from the local surgery strode up as the three women declined my help, and an ambulance drove screaming up just afterward. For a while, my shoulder didn’t hurt a bit.

It was a tough day, between the pain, the dizziness, the nausea and the tiredness. In retrospect, I should have stayed home and called the doctor, but I was sure the pain would go away as it did last Friday. My colleagues were both sympathetic and truthful, saying things like, “You look terrible.” (They meant well.)

By 3:00, I had lost all strength of will and went home. I nearly fell asleep on the bus, and did collapse on the bed as soon as I got to the house. Not even the new flatscreen TV could keep me awake. A couple of hours’ nap helped reduce the nausea and exhaustion, but the shoulder still hurt.

As a matter of fact, it still does hurt. If it doesn’t go away tonight, I’m calling the doctor first thing tomorrow.


4-hour Flu?

You’ve heard of 24-hour flu. But these are modern times; everything is speeding up. No one has time to do things slowly. And, apparently, flu viruses have caught up to the trend.

Suddenly, at about 7:00 last night, I started shivering uncontrollably. I was already feeling wintry and depressed, but those are primarily mental effects. This was most decidedly physical.

I simply couldn’t get warm. My muscles started to ache, and my joints became sore. By about 7:30, when Fiona was ready for her feed down (time change, you know – she usually feeds down at about 8:30), I was feeling nauseous as well. So I took her into bed with me and fed her, and we lay there in a little pool of warmth while Martin put Alex to bed.

I was hallucinating by that point. I remember listening to them reading Sitting Ducks, in which the line “and suddenly the sky was full of ducks.” Suddenly I saw the ducks as being like autumn leaves, as though one could walk through a pile of them and kick them (non-cruelly) into the air in thick clumps, which then separated into individual flying birds. They filled the sky with gold.

After Martin got Alex to bed, he came for Fiona and I went for a hot shower. I shivered as soon as I got out of bed, though I was still fully dressed. Even the scalding hot shower couldn’t warm me up. It took a mug of hot broth and a hot water bottle to stop the shivering.

At the same time, Alex was screaming and crying hysterically in his bed, sobbing so hard we couldn’t extract from him what, if anything, hurt. He finally settled on it being his ear, and we gave him some Calpol. But I don’t think he was actually awake through either of the two iterations of screaming; I don’t know if his ear really hurt, or if he dreamed it.

When Alex was finally settled, and Fiona (who had awakened with the racket) was down again, I went to my bed. The shivering had passed off, and I was feeling fevered, so hot that the duvet was uncomfortable, my pyjamas unbearable, and my pillow too warm. I tossed and turned and drifted into a sleep full of fever dreams.

When I woke up this morning, I was fine.

One Flu over the Rooster’s Nest

So I woke up yesterday morning feeling a bit warm. Pleasantly warm, like my old “heat vampire” days when I used to snuggle under the duvet until I was red-hot. And I was feeling a bit sore, (I thought) because I had been putting shelves up in our new shed the day before. I was maybe a bit tired, but you can’t really tell that until you’re up, and of course I often wake with a headache.

It wasn’t until Alex touched me and said “Ow!” that I realised that I was maybe a bit on the excessively warm side. And it wasn’t until I got up and started shivering uncontrollably that I realised that I was sick.

Great, I thought. Just great.. Martin’s been doing so much for me and for the household since Fiona was born. So when I’m finally getting over all the various aftereffects of the birth, from hospitalisation to anaemia to the baby blues, I suddenly fall ill.

My in-laws were over to see Fi and Alex. I came downstairs for their visit, but I can’t swear to the coherence of my conversation. Apart from that, I spent the day in fevered reverie, drifting in and out of sleep. Martin did everything, from hoovering to cooking a magnificent Sunday roast to keeping Alex going, while I lay upstairs in some alternate universe.

Fortunately, the symptoms only lasted a day or so. I’m still feeing pretty weak, and Fi seems to have caught some snuffliness from me, but it seems to have been a brief illness. Dramatic, but brief.

Now can I get back to feeling normal?

Ouchy Head

Well, if Martin’s recent sufferings weren’t enough, I appear to have developed the capacity for migraines. Imagine my delight.

It is apparently not uncommon for women’s migraine status to change in pregnancy – sufferers may experience some relief, and non-sufferers may start getting them. This ties into the theories that migraines are hormonally based.

I don’t know if the two killer headaches I’ve experienced in the last month are true migraines. In both cases, my head was throbbing so badly it felt like it would explode, particularly behind the eyes. Any light caused stabbing pains in my eyes and temples, adding to the pain even more. Eventually, it hurt so much that I got nauseated, sometimes uncontrollably.

Yesterday’s headache was preceded by an unpleasant series of sensations as well. I went up into town at lunchtime, and while on my way back, I began to feel somewhat faint. (Since I have low blood pressure, I am familiar with the symptoms that lead up to fainting, though I have only once passed out. Specifically, I sometimes experience dizziness, ringing in the ears, sweating palms, nausea and a trailing off of extreme weakness. Yesterday I had three of the five, but managed to avoid the nausea and sweating palms by sitting down for a few minutes.) Then I got back to the office, and began to feel an incipient headache.

That feeling of faintness matches some of the symptoms of an aura, such as often precedes a “proper” migraine. Not being a doctor, I don’t know if my guess that this was an aura before a migraine is accurate (though as far as I can tell, the medical profession sometimes uses “migraine” to mean “bad headache we can’t otherwise explain”. It’s been the default diagnosis for Martin a couple of times.)

My head hurt all evening, meaning my poor Martin had to put Alex to bed. (I couldn’t bathe him, because the bathroom light was too bright. I took my shower later by candlelight.) I was better in the morning, but still too light-sensitive to take Alex to nursery; Martin had to do that too. Work was right out of the question.

Finally, about 24 hours after the first faintness, I’m feeling better. The light sensitivity has gone, the headache has vanished, and apart from a dragging tiredness, I’m back to normal.

The bad news is that, being pregnant, I dare not take painkillers. The worse news is that some pregnancy-onset tendencies to migraine don’t go away after the birth…

The good news is that Martin is wonderful. Thank you, Bun.

Cults and Putters (Atkins, Day 3)

I’m finally over my early, extremely negative reaction to the Atkins book. It took a few days, but I’m now able to view it with the sense of humour that it requires (not to say invites).


Because, taken literally, Atkins isn’t a diet. Nor is it a “Nutritional Approach”. What it really is, if you take it seriously, is a cult.

The book is written in the style of a tent revival, complete with inspiring little stories of people who have lost tremendous amounts of weight and gained astonishing degrees of self-confidence on the program. There are buzzwords (“ketosis”, “OWL”) and medical diagnoses (“hyperinsulism”) which are applied to practically everyone in the population. Some of the ideas that got my goat were:

  • Low fat diets are BAD because cavemen didn’t eat that way.
  • The entire medical establishment is either stupid or actively evil not to recognise the greatness of Atkins
  • So’s the FDA
  • The Atkins diet cures diabetes, and Dr. Atkins would be doing a disservice to mankind not to promote it.
  • You are intolerant of the foods you gain weight on. Many Italians are intolerant of pasta, for instance. (Surely you gain weight on foods you digest efficiently? What a strange definition of intolerance!)

There’s even a chapter on evangelism, called “Spreading the Word”. It advises Atkinsites on how to save their poor deluded low-fat dieting friends from the endless trap of hyperinsulism and high-carb diets.

I find the idea that Atkins is a return to the pre-agrarian diet particularly bizzare. Cavemen probably did eat a lot of meat, vegetables, nuts and fruit rather than starches. However, they also must have had wild weight fluctuations depending on the season (the weight gain associated with SAD is a legacy of this). Are we proposing to return to that, too? Atkins wants us to eat like cavemen in summer all year round, but that is no more natural than eating like Medieval peasants, or modern day Westerners.


There was a study done a few years ago where they compared weight loss among a variety of diets, from Weight Watchers to Atkins. What the study revealed is that if you use up more calories than you take in, you lose weight. No magic formula, no fad, no revival tent literature can change that basic physiological fact. We diet to change the ratio of input to output, and a successful diet is one that allows us to change the ratio for the long term.

What Atkins is, really, is a diet. It’s a way to do all kinds of thinking about food, to spend lots of intellectual and emotional energy on food, without eating so much of it. Furthermore, it’s a fad diet. Every time you turn around, you bump into an Atkinsite.

Like all diets, Atkins is a psychological tool. Golfers who find their putting going wrong buy new putters to solve the problem. The new putters may be no better than the old ones, but the change breaks bad habits and gives the golfer something external to blame for the problem. Martin and I have gone a bit wrong in our relationship to food. This diet is just a different putter.