What Donald Trump could learn from the NFL

Integrity. Colin Kapernik had the courage to use his platform to make a statement, to force us to dump our cultural denial, to start a conversation, to make things better.

The NFL brings joy and community to so many Americans. Football gives youth something to look forward to, an outlet that helps them concentrate in school, strategic thinking skills, physical fitness, and teamwork. (It needs to figure out a way to make tackling safer. I vote for touch football until 18… but that’s a separate issue.)

Donald Trump is the most thin-skinned, negative celebrity I can recall. Make America Great Again? More like, Make America Hate Again.

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Brain dysfunction is motive enough

Why are so many so shocked that Stephen Paddock the Las Vegas Mass Murderer had no apparent motive?

If he had been a happily married pediatric surgeon, a father of three children, and volunteered for Doctors Without Borders, I would be shocked.

A compulsive gambler who compulsively collected guns and exhibited traits of OCD who was almost completely disconnected from his community and who was verbally abusive to his girlfriend at times — I am not so shocked.

Brain disorders aren’t given respect. Compulsive gamblers are addicts and addiction can distort brain function. There is no logic with an addict.

Was there some early Alzheimer’s, some paranoia? Agitated depression escalated to psychotic depression? He’s not the first suicide to take others with him.

I just hope his brain is going to science.

 

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Healthcare maze inspired fiction

Ever since I became aware of Bernie Sanders’ platform in the fall of 2015, I have become a bit obsessed with healthcare, because he spoke single payer. Mathematically, it is the only system that makes sense, whether by each state or by the entire nation.

I have several novels started, but only one published, Dream Walking. Recently, it occurred to me that two of my novels were inspired by two distinct healthcare journeys.

I conceived Dream Walking twenty years ago, and it has been through many incarnations. Georgia’s journey through trading addictions and the mental health system is harrowing at times, because although there are many variables in the mental health equation, many of them are not addressed in conventional treatment.

Although brain disorders (a more accurate term than mental illness) and addictions are often braided, they are separate conditions and each needs its own treatment. The subconscious plays a huge role in addiction, which generally is not properly recognized, let alone effectively treated.

I am in the process of writing Baby Fever, a sequel to Dream Walking, which was inspired by my journey toward motherhood. I was a recurrent miscarrier, and then as time ran out had trouble getting pregnant. Without Fern Reiss’s The Infertility Diet: Get Pregnant and Prevent Miscarriage and the detective work of three amazing high-risk obstetricians, I would never have either of my two children. I ended up needing low-level intervention, but if your doctor can’t figure out the underlying issues, it’s hopeless.

For those with overactive imaginations, it’s much easier to tell a story through fiction than memoir.

What’s beyond anyone’s imagination is the twisted and torturous economics that lie at the foundation of our healthcare system. Elizabeth Rosenthal’s compelling An American Sickness details the triumphs of the special interest groups that brought us to where most of us are today — one devastating accident or illness away from bankruptcy and needing a PhD in medical coding to interpret a hospital bill.

 

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Blood

As I entered the bathroom stall I could still hear the instructor’s words in my head. He had spoken with such enthusiasm about the techniques he had developed for screenwriting that I was already brainstorming scenes. Until I noticed the red stain on my blue and white pinstriped underwear. Blood.

My chest tightened as I flashed back to that morning. I hadn’t been sure whether the faint rust-colored stain less than the size of a dime had been old or fresh. I took some deep breaths and decided to check again at lunch.

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It had started to rain heavily, and my socks and flared jeans got soaked while walking to lunch, a nearby Subway. At lunch there was no more blood, and I began to relax.

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I settled into the lecture and discretely removed my socks. While I furiously took notes, the bottom of my jeans slowly went from drenched to damp, from midnight blue to faded denim.

At our late afternoon break, I rushed to the bathroom. There were definitely more blood stains on my underwear. My heart skipped as I realized that I had been slightly cramping on and off even though I’d been sitting down almost the whole day. With a history of miscarriages and my 40th birthday a memory, the cramps were scary no matter how much my high-risk OB reassured me. When the cramps had been on and off almost all day, I would spend the next day in bed or all evening after work anyhow, and then they’d stop.  But that day I had been cramping on and off for three days.

The spotting was ominous. I knew I had to leave the screenwriting seminar, even though it would not break for another two and a half hours.

The wind and rain chilled me as I trudged to the car. The Gothic setting matched my bleak mood. Disappointment crept through my body until I felt almost weightless. I had been looking forward to the weekend seminar for weeks. It had been one of my rare “me” things.  It was my gift to myself for finishing two and a half long years of pursuing my teaching credential.

The rain had washed my Matrix. Yet again, I was grateful that I had a red car, because I often had trouble remembering where I parked it. Once I navigated my way to the 405 freeway, I forced myself to look on the positive side — I had left with the course materials in hand, and I had absorbed so much during the time I was there. The steady rhythm of the windshield wipers helped me mentally recite the two shortcut writing techniques, which would expedite my rewriting of the first drafts of the two screenplays I had been working on. I always worked on two writing projects at the same time, because when one stumped me, I would turn in relief to the other one.

<><><>

After the ER doctor examined me, there was some more blood, not a lot, but enough to stain the paper cloth on the examining table. My cervix was slightly open, and he contacted the OB on call who said I needed a sonogram.

I kept telling myself to “turn it over” and not to panic, which helped.

At 9:30 p.m. I got the sonogram. Because I was scheduled for my 16-week one the following Tuesday at the same hospital, the cute, young sonogram technician performed the comprehensive sonogram, which involved lots of shots of the fetus from different angles.

Right away I could see the heartbeat and was reassured. The baby-to-be looked so scrunched up, but the technician said that’s the way they all looked. I could see that the fetus had grown a lot in the three and a half weeks since my last sonogram, which relieved me too. I had only gained a pound in those three weeks and was not definitively feeling the baby move yet, so it was nice to see proof that the baby-to-be was still alive.

I had been feeling rumblings, especially after I ate.  I would wonder if it was the baby, but they were so faint that I was never certain.

<><><>

The news report from the car radio informed me that the rainfall had already broken records for March, three and a half inches in one day.

<><><>

I got home at midnight. Nicholas was awake. All I could glean from prodding Donald, passed out on the couch, was that Nicholas had fallen asleep at 7 p.m. I fixed myself some scrambled eggs and read Time for Bed to Nicholas until his eyes shut. The sound of the rain hitting the windows lulled me to sleep.

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Filed under "Baby Fever" - Excerpts from novel in progress, Nutrition and Health

The Business of Addiction… 9 Surprising Reasons U.S. healthcare costs the most, yet delivers the least (part 3)

Treating addiction has become a huge business. Rehabs that actually work translate into customers that don’t need to return and a lot less revenue. Addiction takes many forms, such as:

  • Alcohol dependency
  • Drug abuse
  • Clinging to toxic relationships
  • Overeating or compulsive dieting
  • Compulsively using electronics

Until healthcare professionals are trained to recognize functional addiction, and our healthcare system adopts an integrative approach that includes vocational rehabilitation, the cost of treatment and insurance will continue to rise.

Technically, there is no cure for addiction, because it leaves one with an eternal vulnerability toward succumbing yet once more. However, it is possible to figure out its triggers, dynamics, and underlying causes, and to develop routines, alternate coping mechanisms, and tools that make using unappealing and unacceptable…. Or not!

Spiritual disconnection
At its core, addiction is a spiritual disconnection. It is life destroying, not life affirming. It is self, not community.

Lack of sleep, the rapid pace of communication and change, less exposure to nature, less working with one’s hands, and economic uncertainty can contribute to this disconnection and serve as triggers.

Addiction, the subconscious saboteur
Addiction, “cunning, baffling, and powerful,” stunts emotional and spiritual growth. Sometimes, addicts have not learned how to detect, let alone feel, their feelings, and addiction enables them to avoid uncomfortable feelings. Addiction can also stem from the subconscious desire to self-destruct. And sometimes, addictions develop as an attempt to:

  • Soothe symptoms from mental illness, such as depression
  • Cope with processing challenges such as attention deficit disorder
  • Numb the effects or after effects of trauma
  • Deal with the hopelessness of chronic poverty

Pain and denial
Addiction feeds on pain. The addict subconsciously creates pain, so that he or she has a need to feed that pain, soothe that pain, with the addiction.

Addicts live in denial and rationalize their addiction so that they don’t have to let go of it. There is no logic with an addict, and circumstances or others are always at fault.

Author John Bradshaw on compulsivity
Where there is disconnection, there is compulsivity.

  • “The common root of every addiction is compulsivity understood as addictiveness.”
  • “Addictiveness is the inner emptiness we try to fill up with any mood-altering behavior.”
  • “Healing the unresolved grief resulting from abandonment is the way to heal compulsivity.”

Bradshaw On: The Family: A New Way of Creating Solid Self-Esteem

Alternate coping mechanisms
There are oodles of alternate coping mechanisms, but habit is everything, and establishing new routines takes time. Most addicts need a lot of support when attempting to switch from “using” to using alternate coping mechanisms, such as meditation, journaling, prayer, exercise, walking, deep breathing exercises, yoga, tai chi, seeking out a fellow recovering addict, or attending a support group.

Using healthy coping mechanisms can calm one down enough to identify feelings, which is the first step in learning how to process them. Learning how to feel one’s feelings takes time too. Once an addicts stops using and begins owning their actions, they become open to spiritual healing, self-knowledge, maturity, and grit.

Support systems
Establishing support systems helps recovering addicts too. The Internet makes it easy to find meet-ups, churches, temples, support groups, and more. And there’s always volunteering. You might not get paid to volunteer, but while volunteering, you don’t have a chance to spend money either!

Seriously, volunteering can enable you to:

  • Shift your focus away from yourself
  • Help out your community
  • Get involved in a cause you are passionate about
  • Help you polish skills, such as graphic design, professional writing, event planning, videography, and fund raising
  • Network

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Nine surprising reasons U.S. healthcare costs the most, yet delivers the least overall (part two)

Part one discusses three reasons for our costly, yet ineffective healthcare system that have little to do with legislation: our malpractice system, our culture of unhealth, and poor nutrition that creates chronic inflammation within our cells, which, in turn, manifests chronic diseases. Part two discusses the consequence for treatment that is doled out, the lack of functional medicine, and that it is nearly impossible to comparison shop for medical procedures.

Keep them coming back for treatment
Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal, author of An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back lists 10 “economic rules of the dysfunctional medical market” in her book. Her rule number two is, “A lifetime of treatment is preferable to a cure.”

During an interview on NPR, Rosenthal, while referring to rule number two, said, “One expert in the book joked to me … that if we relied on the current medical market to deal with polio, we would never have a polio vaccine. Instead we would have iron lungs in seven colors with iPhone apps.” (How U.S. Healthcare Became Big Business, NPR, Fresh Air, Terry Gross, April 10, 2017).

Functional medicine
Functional medicine assesses everything a patient does in order to get the patient and doctor working together to address the root causes of illness and needed lifestyle modifications.

This functional, integrative, approach worked for me. I have a chronic health condition that was made much, much worse courtesy of ineffective treatment — I was hospitalized eight times between the ages of 18 and 26. I have since reached middle age without a trip back to the hospital save for two trips to the maternity ward.

What changed? I learned how to take care of myself. This took lots of research, including identifying triggers and a number of lifestyle accommodations, such as keeping my blood sugar steady, letting go of crash diets, and exercising nearly every day.

Change is tough. Most people don’t significantly change their routines without a lot of support. Health coaches can help patients trade their unhealthy habits for healthy ones.

Nearly impossible to compare prices
Story after story abounds of patients futilely attempting to research prices for necessary surgery or medical equipment in the U.S. The Wall Street Journal reports that it is getting a tad better (How to Research Health Care Prices, guides.wsj.com ). However, the trickier the research at hand, the longer it takes, and most consumers are becoming more and more time challenged by workplace, commuting, educational, fund raising, and other demands.

(end of part two of three parts)

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Nine surprising reasons U.S. healthcare costs the most, yet delivers the least (part one)

What’s lost in all this discussion about repealing the Affordable Care Act is that U.S. healthcare costs more than every other industrialized nation, yet delivers some of the worst returns. United States Comes in Last Again on Health, Compared to Other Countries (Maggie Fox, nbcnews.com, Nov. 16, 2016), “Americans still pay far more for medical care than people in other rich Western nations but have little to show for all that spending.”

Other countries handle their healthcare differently — they create less expense, but produce healthier, more productive citizens. The way our malpractice insurance system is structured, a culture that promotes unhealthy practices, processed food leading to chronic inflammation, which triggers chronic illnesses, overuse of pharmaceuticals, ignorance as to the role addiction plays, lack of functional medicine, and that it is nearly impossible to compare prices for medical treatment are some of the surprising reasons the entire U.S. economy is held hostage to its healthcare system.

Malpractice not the same in Europe
In single-payer systems such as Germany’s, doctors are not independent operators, they are employees of hospitals, and the hospitals are held accountable and the ones sued. Malpractice therefore is less onerous and less costly. “In the other countries, where doctors working in a hospital are employees, there is internal quality control,” Professor Uwe Reinhardt, Health Economist Princeton University (Frontline, Sick Around the World, How Does it Work for Doctors in These Five Countries?, pbs.org).

The Library of Congress explains further, “The causes of liability for medical malpractice under German law are similar to those encountered under the laws in the United States. German damage awards, however, are still much lower than those awarded in the United States, even though the German awards have increased in recent years.

“The German health care system provides universal access and coverage for the entire population. It is, however, a decentralized and diversified system that consists of more than 200 insurers that compete with each other to some extent,” (Library of Congress: Medical Malpractice Liability: Germany, loc.gov).

Culture of unhealth
Much of our culture subtly promotes and rewards illness and injury, which, in turn enriches pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and law firms. Some examples:

  • Apartment buildings inches from freeways – asthma anyone?
  • Sleep treated as optional – Alzheimer’s, obesity, auto accidents… (The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington showcases the research regarding the consequences of sleep deprivation.)
  • Sugar on every corner – eating too much sugar and processed food leads to chronic inflammation of the arteries
  • Sitting nearly all waking hours — Too much sitting linked to heart disease, diabetes, premature death (Julie Corliss, Harvard Health Blog, January 22, 2015, health.harvard.edu)
  • Nutrition treated as a nice to have as opposed to disease prevention
  • Financial stress — post-2008 Sharing Economy…
  • Lack of exercise

And then there’s the job juggle. The more jobs, the more hours, the more commuting the average citizen has to endure, the more the health risk factors pile up.

Poor nutrition creates markets for high-priced pharmaceuticals
Recurrent miscarriages and the ticking of my biological clock prompted me to improve my nutrition. I have, at times, struggled with extreme eating habits since childhood. I found the help I needed to change in a support group that practiced a spiritual discipline. I knew I was an emotional eater, but I discovered that I was sugar sensitive and had an addictive response to sugar and white flour. I learned tools such as planning meals, meditation, outreach calls, and journaling that provided alternatives to overeating and helped me to change my habits.

Hundreds of individuals passed through those meetings. Some had lost 100 pounds or more and had kept the weight off for years. Many had lost 30 to 50 pounds. I used to think that the only consequence from eating too much processed food was gaining weight, but I repeatedly witnessed members sharing significant health improvements with conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and more. Many no longer needed pharmaceuticals to treat their chronic conditions. Not only had they changed their nutrition, but they had changed their attitudes and their lifestyles to make the changes stick.

Preventing heart disease with nutrition
Several cardiologists explain why magnesium and healthy eating are generally the answer to heart disease, not statin drugs.

“We know that inflammation in the artery wall is the real cause of heart disease. Simply stated, without inflammation being present in the body, there is no way that cholesterol can accumulate in the wall of the blood vessel and cause heart disease and strokes. Without sufficient magnesium in the body inflammation results and it is the inflammation that causes cholesterol to become trapped. Quote?” (“Inflammation and Pain Management with Magnesium,” last modified on Feb. 9, 2017, drsircus.com).

“There is no escaping the fact that the more we consume prepared and processed foods, the more we cause inflammation in the body. The human body cannot process, nor was it designed to consume, foods packed with sugars and soaked in omega-6 oils. Treat the inflammation and not the cholesterol (“Treat the inflammation and not the cholesterol,” July 16, 2015, drsircus.com)

I only touched on the link between how eating an abundance of processed food year after year helps to manifest chronic illnesses.

(end of part one of three parts)

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