Category Archives: Nutrition and Health

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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Filed under Mental Health and Addiction, Nutrition and Health, Writing and Social Media

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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Is losing weight all about breakfast?

I hate being hungry, and I am not good at it. I get grumpy. I get rude. The only benefit is that, while in the throes of hunger, I manage to teach my two children self-sufficiency. “Dinner! Did you forget how the stove works?”

When I am hungry, I eat. The only way I ever stabilized my weight was by ridding myself of my incessant hunger. But that was before having a job that has me tethered to a desktop computer all day on top of a serious commute on top of spending my weekends driving two kids to playing fields in three different counties. I still work out five times a week, but for less time and with less variety. Over the past two years I have gained 14 pounds.

I grew up slender, but my weight skyrocketed after I flunked out of college for the first time and quit dancing regularly. Blood sugar was not yet in my vocabulary, and I had no idea that I was sensitive to sugar. I spent nearly 20 years on a succession of diets gaining and losing 40 pounds. It wasn’t until I was in a race against my biological clock to conceive my second child that I began researching nutrition and did something I never imagined I could do — I gave up sugar and white flour. Without dieting, but with the help of a support group, those 40 pounds disappeared for nine years.

Sugar Sensitivity
A teaspoon of sugar in my tea I can handle, a scoop of ice cream I cannot. I end up with my head in and out of the freezer all night until the half-gallon of Jamoca Almond Fudge has disappeared. Visit Radiant Recovery for everything you wanted to know about sugar sensitivity, but were afraid to ask.

Less movement means you get to eat less, but that only works for me if I can become less hungry, which requires mastering the art of maintaining stable blood sugar. Researching how to calculate glycemic index and glycemic load gave me flashbacks of flunking organic chemistry; basically, different foods affect your blood sugar to dramatically different degrees. And the equation for each food changes in conjunction with what else you eat that food and its portion size. For example, the glycemic load of eating an apple changes if you eat that same apple with almond butter. For an explanation regarding everything glycemic that won’t give you a migraine, read Jonny Bowden’s blog, The Blood Sugar Factor Glycemic Index vs. Glycemic Load.

What I settled on was experimenting with different foods and tracking the calories consumed. I forgot to pack my protein bars for Christmas vacation, and during those 10 days I noticed that I was not as hungry. Post-protein bar, I tend to average 1,800 – 2,000 calories a day as opposed to 2,000 to 2,800 calories a day. I also noticed that what I ate for breakfast influenced how hungry I became the entire day.

Yummy Healthy Breakfasts
Protein is a must for stabilizing blood sugar. These breakfasts provide me protein and comfort:

  • Small sweet potato with two fried eggs – For two eggs, the average glycemic load is zero, which balances the glycemic load of the sweet potato.
  • Scrambled eggs with chopped vegetables – Trader Joe’s reasonably priced Healthy Six contains five servings of six raw, chopped vegetables.
  • Steel cut or regular oatmeal with nuts and fruit
  • Non-fat Greek yogurt with almonds or walnuts and cut-up frozen or fresh fruit sweetened with Stevia
  • Non-fat milk and chocolate flavored protein powder – This is the only breakfast I can eat while driving.

The first three I make the night before; I use the office microwave to heat them up.

Eggs and Breakfast
Research galore indicates that eggs for breakfast stabilize blood sugar and promote weight loss. Shape.com’s The Best Breakfast for You offers several breakfast options for those seeking a more slender shape including several that feature eggs.

So far, I have not lost any weight, but I stopped gaining and suspect that given the amount of time I sit, I might need to go back to a Paleo regime.

In case you like TMI… I had gained that same 14 pounds within two years of working at my current job and then lost those unwanted pounds in four months by loosely following the Paleo diet (Paleo Diet Month Two). It took almost exactly another two years of Desk Lady diet to reclaim those same 14 pounds.

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Budget for Lunch

This is a spec humor column I wrote … Not enough pain though to make it funny enough for Funny Times…

Budget for Lunch

“Is that all you’re having for lunch?” my friend Sylvie said as I sat down with my latte at the Grove’s outdoor picnic-style table.

“Of course not,” I responded as I extracted from my purse a peach, a packet of almonds, and a protein bar–some marketing genius’ name for a candy bar with protein powder and brown rice syrup that lets you convince yourself you’re eating healthy.

She still looked skeptical so I took a deep breath and said, “I’m on a budget.” I immediately wished I would have lied and said what is more than socially acceptable and always elicits sympathy, “I’m on a diet.”

“I would have bought you lunch,” she and our other day-tripper said in stereo.

“I know, but I’m enjoying some of my favorite things. This latte is a huge treat for me. For five bucks, I even got to tip the barista.”

Sylvie had already provided the transportation from Long Beach and the free entertainment—tickets to watch Bill Maher run through his monologue and other comedy bits before taping his show.

Maher’s conviction and delivery made me laugh so hard that I forgot all about my budget for the rest of the day. And although I am really good at it, it is hard to feel sorry for yourself when the government shutdown had closed the doors on Head Start, stranded soldiers killed in the line of duty overseas, and unemployed hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens.

Trying to shed expense is like trying to shed pounds. Unlike the government, you have to examine all of your consumption and all of your habits and be willing to change.

Two days later I met up with my friend Emily at my office, which others insist on calling McDonald’s. Emily the dynamo, a former sales manager for a national company that formerly had budget for provocative prime-time commercials, has run the Marina Pacifica Job Club for the last four years while juggling several part-time jobs.

Participating in her job club helped me land my current job. Twice a month her job club hosts speakers, conducts workshops, facilitates networking, offers mock interviewing, and provides plenty of protein bars.

Emily scrutinized her tray and said, “How did I get to seven dollars? I thought I was buying a snack.“ She lifted her burrito as if to weigh it and added, “My eyes must have wandered from the Extra Value menu.”

I sipped my one-dollar iced tea as she continued, “Leslie and I are bringing our own coffee to Starbuck’s and sneaking onto the patio to job hunt online. Isn’t there something wrong with that?

“And forget service. I don’t dare step foot into a restaurant with service. I haven’t had a professional job in five years. I can’t afford service anymore.”

“Neither can I. The only way I get service is when I bribe my kids with extra media time.”

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Filed under Humor/Stand Up Comedy, Nutrition and Health

Aspartame Doomed my Love Affair with Diet Coke

Diet Coke, that perfect combination of carbonation, sugar, caffeine and cola flavor has been in my life longer than any relationship.  Sweetened by Aspartame, it does not cost me any calories, but does Aspartame:

  • Make me hungrier and eat more
  • Tax my liver thereby making my metabolism less efficient and burn fewer calories
  • Provide hits to my neurological system and threaten my health

I don’t doubt that Aspartame and other food additives could wreak havoc with a certain percentage of the population’s health, but how big a percentage? I can easily conclude that Aspartame does nothing beneficial for me, but is it really toxic?

Decide for yourself – these websites provide opposing viewpoints:

“Excitotoxins are substances believed to cause brain damage and damage to the central nervous system. 
Excitotoxins tend to affect the hypothalamus portion of the brain, which controls important bodily functions such as growth, sleep patterns, puberty and even appetite.”

So I go back and forth with my aluminum knight in silver and red, Diet Coke.  I can go several months without one, but start craving it when my projects collide at work.

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