Category Archives: Health

Getting healthy and certainly growing old are not necessarily pleasant tasks.

Apologies – NO BLOG POST THIS WEEK

My entire family has been hit with a rather vicious bug.  Mercifully, we seem to be taking turns – only 3 down at a time and at least one adult able to tend bodies.  I don’t know what this is but it hits like a ton of bricks, gives you one day and night of abject misery and a few days where the symptoms wane.  I am on day 2.  I’ve got about 2 more to go for the waning.  Daughter just got over it, and 2 grandchildren.  Diane did not get the full wrath of it and two grandchildren are yet to get it.  We visited my other daughter, Alix, and family and so very generously shared it.  She and Evan are down so far.  Kurt and girls are wisely avoiding us like the plague.

Hopefully I will post next week!

A TALE OF TWO GYMS

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I joined a gym a few weeks ago.

Physical therapy wasn’t an option after my two back surgeries – my deductible was $5,000, and problems with my right foot made it difficult to drive myself there and back the required three times a week.   The foot problem also means I cannot put any weight on the foot, which means walking is now out.

So I opted for the gym.

The nearest gym is less than a mile away.   It’s also only $10 per month.

Ten years ago, I went to a gym a few miles in the other direction.  It was over $100 a month, but was the only facility in the Lansing area that had squash courts.   Squash was my favorite activity for 35 years. I first played it in college.   In the UK and the African countries in which we lived, squash courts were ubiquitous. In the US, they are few and far between.   Sorry, but a racquetball court is no substitute!

“Planet Fitness” is the name of the gym.   It’s a franchise.   They are all over the country.   Although they don’t offer squash, racquetball or basketball, they are right up there with the (now) $125 a month gym, the Michigan Athletic Club (MAC), which caters for those at the other end of the social spectrum.

Planet Fitness (PF) has all the latest equipment for a first-class cardio and strength-training workout.   It’s open 24 hours, 7 days a week.   I don’t know how they do it for only ten bucks a month.

With the winter approaching, I’ve decided to ride one of their stationary bikes rather than venture out in the snow and ice.   Regular readers will remember that I fell off my bike recently in a KFC entrance way.   That is not going to happen now that I’m on a bike that doesn’t move, so to speak.   I will, of course, risk the KFC parking lot, Arby’s, Taco Bell and McDonald’s again when the nicer weather returns.

PF does well precisely because it is offering first-class gym facilities to financially challenged people.   The M.A.C. does well because it caters for the wealthy, who want to network with potential clients.   They represent two different worlds, the haves and the have-nots.

The two men who work the early shift at PF are both under-employed. One graduated from law school some time ago and is looking for a job; the other has a comparable degree that qualifies him to teach in higher education.   Neither has been able to find a job in their respective fields. Working at PF, they cannot be earning more than $10 an hour, which equals a take home pay of less than $400 per week.

So it’s not surprising that a similar division is taking place in the housing sector.   Houses under $150,000 in a good school district are selling rapidly – buyers make an offer on the house before they even see it.   At the same time, houses over $160,000 remain vacant for months.   This is inevitable when increasing numbers of people are earning $10 an hour.

The “have-nots” reflect an economy that is not doing as well as official figures suggest.   The 5.1% unemployment figure only takes into account those who are actively looking for a job.   There are millions more who have given up or taken early retirement.

There are, of course, areas around the country where the economy is doing well.

Washington, DC, is one such area.   The counties surrounding the capital of the United States have the highest per capita incomes and the highest house prices.   This is not surprising when you consider that the average federal government employee receives twice the national average private sector pay and benefits.

This also means that those in government are increasingly out of touch with the common people.   This partly explains how shocked establishment figures are by the success of Donald Trump and Ben Carson, two outsiders who have made socially unacceptable comments for which they are often attacked or ridiculed or both.

One example of government being out of touch with reality came last week.   The Obama Administration is offering businesses a $12,000 incentive if they hire new immigrants with a four-year degree.   This makes absolutely no sense when there are already hundreds of thousands of young Americans with four-year degrees and no job!   It only makes sense to those living in the alternate universe known as Washington.

Some will read this and think that Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton are the answer, the former being a fast track socialist, the latter heading in the same direction in the slow lane.   But the fact is that more government is not the solution.  Rather, it’s the problem.   Any expansion of government means higher taxes. In turn, this equals a greater burden on the private sector, where wages are already low compared to government.

The two gyms are not the only evidence of the growing gulf that exists in western societies.   Along the main road, which forms part of my cycling route, are a number of cheap fast-food outlets interspersed with the occasional high-end restaurant.   There are some in-between places, mainly all-you-can-eat buffets that are only adding to the nation’s health care bill.

Of greater concern are the “Cash Advance” stores, offering quickie loans to the desperate, who soon find an APR of up to 1,000% has been added to their loan.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) wrote a number of books that focused on the great divisions in Victorian British society.   A century and a half later those divisions are even greater, on both sides of the Atlantic.   What’s more, they are getting worse.

Whoever started PF was very perceptive – he could see which way society was headed.   The only way the gym can thrive selling $10 a month memberships is if increasing numbers of people are joining.

The way our economy is going, there will be no shortage of new members!

A TALE OF TWO COUNTRIES

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My mother died fifteen years ago today.   That year, October 2nd was the Last Great Day, the biblical eighth day of the Feast. The significance was not lost on me.

My father had died a few months earlier, suddenly of a heart attack. Mom was found one morning by two of my brothers, having had a stroke the night before. I flew over to England as soon as I heard the news and was able to stay there in her home, visiting the hospital every day. A few days after her death, I was able to officiate at her funeral, which I had also done for my father.

She was in the hospital six weeks. This year, I was in two different hospitals, both in Michigan, for a total of just over four months, though I had a few days at home in the middle.

Consequently, I’m in a better position than most people to compare the two health systems.

I cannot complain about my mother’s treatment.   She was 73. Her stroke left her paralyzed down the left side. She could not move without help. She couldn’t even feed herself.

After consultations with the head of the cardiac unit at the Princess Diana Hospital in our hometown of Grimsby, it was decided that she should be made as comfortable as possible for as long as necessary. The hospital could have kept her alive indefinitely by inserting a feeding tube into her stomach but she would never be restored to her former state of health. The cardiologist did not want to do anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary.

There was no “death panel” making a decision on her life. My brothers and I made the decision in consultation with the cardiologist. We knew that mom would not want to stay alive, dependent on a feeding tube, relying on others for all her basic needs. None of her sons would want that and we knew she wouldn’t.

She had her own room and was able to receive visitors at any time.

I have often wondered how things might have gone differently if she had been in an American hospital. It is more likely that the feeding tube would have been inserted and she could have lived a few more years, albeit in the hospital. As long as Medicare (i.e. the government) would pay, the hospital would have kept her alive. But that would not have been good for her.

My hospital stays this year involved two major back surgeries, MRSA, abscesses on my spine and all the complications that came directly from my treatment. On two occasions, my wife was told that I might not make it. I was told on one occasion. I’m thankful they continued to treat me.

The complications I suffered were mostly due to the painkillers and strong antibiotics they gave me. They caused chronic nausea and vomiting that left me demoralized and enervated. Eventually, I took myself off all my medications, arranged for my discharge and have been improving ever since.

The biggest problem with both health care systems comes down to one word – money.

In England, where the government controls most health care, they are always trying to save money. In the US, the health care providers are always trying to make money and will often give you treatment and medications you really don’t need. It’s not surprising that Americans have the most expensive health care system in the world, spending almost 20% of GNP on health, compared to an average figure in the western world of 8%. Yet, in spite of the amount spent on health care, we rank 37th in the World Health Organization’s annual ranking of national health care systems. The UK is at number 18. France and Canada compete for number one.

One area in which the US is seriously deficient is in prevention. Governments presiding over socialized medical systems want to save money, so prevention is important. In the US, there’s no money to be made from prevention.

In a study comparing the US and UK’s medical systems a few years ago, it was found that you are twice as likely to die from a heart attack in the United States as in England.

One of my doctors knew of this and said that the hospital I was in was making every effort to improve on this statistic. Personally, I think one factor is that in the UK, heart attack victims will, on average, live closer to a hospital than the average American.   There is little that can be done about this. There are, of course, other factors and hopefully improvements are being made. This is a concern of mine as both my parents died from heart problems.

The same study showed that you are more likely to survive cancer in the US than in the UK. American hospitals are more likely to have all the latest equipment, reflecting advances made in medical research. My wife’s cancer was dealt with very quickly and she is now cancer free. In the UK, she might have had to wait longer for treatment.

I was surprised to read that the US lags behind England and many other western countries when it comes to childbirth and early childcare. The US infant mortality rate is quite high when compared to other advanced nations.

I believe that free enterprise serves people better than government. It is also the most cost-efficient way of delivering anything, whether it be food at the supermarket, gas at the pump, utilities, education or health care. However, the American system is not really a free enterprise system.

For a start, over half of health care is now government. Most of my costs were taken care of by government. In one way I’m thankful for that but a part of me asks: where is the money coming from? Somebody has to pay for it. Government is not careful with money. It’s willingness to foot the bill regardless of cost inevitably pushes up the price and leads to abuse.

Hospitals are now taking maximum advantage of this. Some of the procedures I was subject to seemed unnecessary. They simply ran up my bill.   When I was going through a long period of chronic nausea, they kept giving me additional medications, which only made things worse. The cost of all these pills was added to my bill, for a much higher charge than the pharmacy would make you pay.

Insurance companies also distort free enterprise. The cost of health care has risen dramatically in recent years. Roughly 20% of the cost is administrative, charges added by medical insurance companies. Healthcare is big business in the US and has made a lot of people very wealthy. This was not the case before World War II, before insurance companies got in on the act. If an individual patient had to negotiate his own health care with a provider, it would help keep the bill down. A doctor’s visit would cost closer to $20 than the $100+ it costs now. Doctors could only charge what the market could stand, just as supermarkets do when selling us groceries.

My wife and I scrutinized my bills closely and found a number of charges that we questioned. They charged me $220 for a psychiatric evaluation, which I don’t remember having. Now, I’ve no doubt I would benefit from a psychiatric evaluation but how come I was charged $220 for something I don’t even remember. My hospital room was $2,000 a night, surely excessive when you consider that you can stay in the best hotels in the world for far less? I was also charged $3,000 for a back brace that I never got.   Physical therapy was also $2,000 a day for a ninety-minute session.

As I said, the two systems come down to money. I do not see how either system is sustainable long-term. The UK has been in steady decline as a global and military power as each year the National Health Service requires more funding. In the US, medical bills are now the biggest cause of bankruptcy. The average family is now spending $5,000 per year more on health care than it did ten years ago – and this in a time of declining real wages. Something has to give. There needs to be real changes, whether in the United Kingdom or the United States.

After leaving the hospital I had to consult with a G.I specialist about my nausea. I am still having digestive problems. He recommended a colonoscopy. I had my first one with him seven years ago, so he was rather insistent I have another, as I was overdue.

I didn’t say anything but my first thought was of the comparison study I mentioned earlier.

Colonoscopies are not routinely done in the UK. They are only done when it is felt necessary. The conclusion of the study was that this costs only 25 lives a year in Britain. That’s a small cost, compared to the financial cost, which would force economies in other areas.

As I’m no fan of colonoscopies, I sat there wishing I were in England!

SHARING SOME GREAT NEWS

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Today the Rhodes family is rejoicing.

We just received the news that Diane, my wife of 39 years, is cancer free.

It was on the last day of my hospital stay in the University of Michigan hospital, Ann Arbor, that she was told she had cancer – endometrial cancer, to be exact.   One trial was ending but another was just starting.

Last Friday, just six days ago, she had a hysterectomy at the same hospital. We had to wait until today for the pathology report to see if any cancer remained. We’re pleased to say they got it all. We would like to thank everybody for their prayers.

We thank God that she is fine and that, God willing, we will have many more years together.

This year has been quite a year. When I was in the hospital, Diane was told twice that I might not make it.   When she was told she had cancer, there was some concern that she might not have got it in time.

But now we can both rejoice that we are on the road to recovery and that all is well.

Our three adult children rejoice with us. If they understood, our eight grandchildren would be celebrating too, as they all love Grandma.

For the last hour, our 31-month-old grandson Aubren has been on my lap as if to celebrate the news. For some reason he loves the nursery rhyme “Hickory Dickory Dock,” which he only discovered a few days ago. He keeps climbing up to sit on my lap, pointing to my laptop and saying “dock.”   His younger brother Leeson does the same but Leeson is taking a nap, so Aubren took his opportunity to fill the gap and have some special time with Grandpa.

What a blessing family is, through all the trials that come our way. Through loving and supporting each other at all times, family bonds are strengthened. Thanks also to our church family and many, many friends. We love you all!

A GRANDPARENT’S WORST NIGHTMARE

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Sadly, a lot of children in the United States may die this week!

Most of the US is going to experience really high temperatures.  Today, Monday, July 15th, will be the hottest day of the year here in Lansing, Michigan.

Children dehydrate quicker than adults.  When playing, they need to drink more water.  They also need to be in the shade as much as possible.

But there’s another way children die – and that’s because they are inadvertently left in cars while parents, grandparents or friends rush into stores, the bank, or even to work, forgetting the child on the back seat that they should have dropped at daycare.

In May last year, eight children left in a vehicle for just a few minutes, died from the heat.

This year, the figure was double – sixteen tragic losses.

One case in particular plays on my mind.  A grandmother had offered to drop her 4-year-old grandson off at daycare on her way to the Mall.  Unfortunately, she forgot she had the boy in the car and parked him at the mall while she went in to shop.  The boy died.

A grandparent’s worst nightmare is having something bad happen to a grandchild on their watch.  But I can’t even begin to know how this lady must feel.  The rest of the family must be equally devastated.

I do not know why she forgot she had her grandson on the back seat.  Clearly, it happens a lot more than you would think.  One reason is that this was not her normal routine and it’s easy to forget things, including grandchildren, as we age.

But we can do some things that will help avert tragedy.

  1. Give grandchildren our total attention.  Don’t let other distractions get in the way.
  2. Put something vitally important next to the grandchild on the back seat, so you will have to look there.  Ladies can put their purses next to the child.  Men could put their jacket or their wallet.
  3. Tune the radio to a station the child or children like, not your usual listening.  You will be conscious of having children in the car right up until you arrive at your destination.
  4. Leave the car windows slightly open – this will allow air in and give the child a better chance of survival if you forget he’s there.
  5. Ask the parent to call at your time of arrival at your destination.  I would rather have a “nagging” parent bothering me than be responsible for the death of a child.

Even if we follow these simple rules, tragedies like this are still bound to happen but at least we can all try to bring down those numbers.  Why the figures are worse this year is not clear – perhaps part of the problem is that so many adults are stressed out trying to fit everything in.

Forget everything else – put the children first.  The rest can wait.

BELOW THE LINE . . .

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HOW TO LOSE WEIGHT, SAVE MONEY AND LIVE LONGER

“The doctor’s news is not good.  Americans are in poorer health and are dying sooner than the rest of the industrialized world.  Call it the ‘mortality gap’.  The facts are disquieting.  A 2011 study of 17 industrialized countries – 13 in western Europe, plus the US, Australia, Japan and Canada – found that American men, whose life expectancy is 75.6 years, ranked last, and US women, at 80.7 years, ranked 16th.  Worse, this gap has been widening for the past three decades” (“Facing the mortality gap,” AARP Bulletin, March 2013).

The study found that this was the case in all socio-economic groupings.

What’s the problem?

“Although the United States spends nearly twice as much on health care as other countries, Americans eat too much, rely on cars too much and get medical care that is often inaccessible and unaffordable….while Americans drink and smoke less than their peers, they eat more  calories per person, use seat belts less, are more prone to gun violence and have higher rates of drug abuse.”

Thanks to AARP for pointing all this out!

Everybody has to decide what they can do to improve their own situation, to increase their own life expectancy.  But there are two things we can all do – we can eat less and use the car less.  I’ve been trying to do both.  You can save money, too.

We are fortunate in that many stores are within a mile and a half from our house, so I can walk to them all.  I do this with our 16-month-old grandson, who just loves going out with Grandpa.  His stroller has room underneath for a just a few grocery items, so I have to limit purchases.  There’s only room for the essentials, which saves money and improves health right there.  It’s also impossible to buy ice cream as it will melt before I get home.

Aubren weighs about 27 pounds, so pushing him (and groceries after shopping), adds to the exercise value of the walk itself.  He will not let me slow down, so I keep up a fairly vigorous pace.

This also saves me gas.

If you don’t live near a store or don’t have a grandchild to take with you, you could get the same effect by driving to a central point, parking the car and then walking to other stores from there.  The fact that you can only carry so much is also good – it cuts down on how much you spend and encourages you to go out and walk more often!  You might also consider cycling to stores, using a backpack for purchases.  Again, it will limit purchases, save money on gas and give you exercise.

As you feel the benefit of walking with the resultant weight loss, you will be less inclined to eat too much.  Yesterday, I decided to join our two local granddaughters at their school for lunch.  I asked their Dad what I could take other than fast food, which is quite expensive.  He suggested M&M’s, so I stopped at a dollar store to get some.  While there, I looked for something I could eat while they ate their school lunch.  The only healthy item they had in the store was a small packet of dried fruit, which I bought for a dollar.  That was my lunch.

Until recently, I would have been inclined to stop at McDonald’s and buy the girls chicken nuggets and fries, and a burger for myself!  That’s about $10.  I spent a quarter of that at the $ Store.  Not being able to go through a drive-thru also helps cut down on those calories.

There are many things each of us can do to eat less and walk more.  One of the biggest differences between the US and England, where I grew up, is that we walked everywhere, whereas most Americans seem to walk nowhere.

I remember listening to Alastair Cooke, the famed British broadcaster and late presenter of “Masterpiece Theatre.”  He was talking about when he first came to America, back in 1929.  He was invited over to an apartment for a social evening.  After dinner, he stood up and asked the others to go for an evening walk, which had been his family’s habit in England.  The reaction was amusing, with others at the dinner party offering to call him a cab or wondering if he was unwell and needed some air, or maybe needed to go to the store to buy some cigarettes.  Concern was also expressed that if he went for a walk, the police might arrest him for suspicious behavior.

But the idea of walking was totally alien to them all.

I’m pleased to say that has changed.  I do see people walking.  In some cases, this is to save gas.  But it’s catching on.  It’s now socially acceptable to walk.  More and more people are doing it.

Who knows?  If we all walk more and eat less, maybe we will come out on top the next time a comparison is made of life expectancy in western countries.  When we spend more than twice as much on healthcare as any other western nation, we really ought to come out on top every time!

PUTTING MY FOOT IN IT

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Mentioned in the article were outpatients, those who go to the hospital in the morning for quick surgeries and are home in time for dinner.   I’ve had three such surgeries in the last eighteen months, all on my feet.

The first surgery, on September 1st, 2011, was for a bunionectomy.   The surgery itself lasted about an hour, but the repercussions caused me to have serious medical problems for almost one full year.

During surgery I got infected with one of those new bacterial infections London is warning about.

It was clear within a few days of surgery that something had gone wrong.   The wound in my left foot was just not healing.  The podiatrist tried all the usual things, then took a blood sample from the infected area and sent it to the lab.

I still remember his face when it came back.

We had gone to his office.  He had the results in an envelope, which was un-opened.  When he opened it, his face literally changed color.  From pink, it changed to white and there was a look of horror in his expression.  He mumbled something about how he could not handle this and was sending me to the hospital immediately for treatment.

When he finally passed me the lab report, I saw that I had contracted VRE.  This meant nothing to me.   But I’m now very familiar with it.   My foot was infected with the bacterial infection for almost a year – it’s even possible that it’s still in there.  I have to check my foot every day and at the first sign of the area turning red I have to go back for more treatment.

What is VRE?

The simple answer is this —-

MRSA is a bacterial infection that thousands of people get every single day.  It’s normally treated with a strong antibiotic called Vancomycin.   VRE is Vancomycin Resistant Enterococci.   IOW, there is no sure treatment for VRE!   No antibiotics work.

This did not stop them from putting me on a serious regimen of antibiotics, taken both orally and infused through a PICC-line in my right arm.  A nurse came twice a day to administer the infusion.  As my youngest daughter is a qualified nurse they let her do it on weekends.

The strong antibiotics were not only expensive  (one pill was $132 and a week’s infusions was roughly $5000), they also led to some uncomfortable side effects, which required further medications.

It was suggested on at least three occasions, by three different doctors, that the best thing would be to have my foot amputated, though they use a different word that makes it all sound better.   I said I would only agree if the infection was spreading beyond the foot, which I’m thankful to say it never did.   If it spread it would kill, just like MRSA does.

After a few months of this we were not getting anywhere.   We did have lots of people suggest various treatments, all of which I gratefully tried.  People were absolutely wonderful.  Two people even sent me moonshine assuring me it would work wonders.  I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to soak the foot in it or drink it!  I had a wound vac (which was great fun!), and even hyperbaric treatments (which were horrible).  It was a nine-month-long nightmare.

It was then that a wound care professional in our church contacted me to see if she could be of any help.  My wife started consulting with her and from then on, we got results!  She was amazing.  Basically, everything I had been told to do had been wrong.  Moist healing is the best.  (I had been told to let it air out between dressings.)  In moist healing, where the wound is kept moist and semi-airtight, the skin cells can migrate across the wound bed and fill in the wound.  She recommended silver based dressings that not only killed the bacteria but also debrided the wound (got the mucky stuff out of it).  It was just amazing to watch it heal – if I had had her instructions at the beginning, this nonsense wouldn’t have lasted a whole year – maybe only a couple of months.

A lesson I learned from this is that antibiotic resistant bacterial infections may be solvable with simple treatments.  After all, people did live before antibiotics, some of them even to a ripe old age.   We have become very dependent on them since World War II.   Sadly, their overuse may have weakened us all, so that we are more vulnerable to infection.

If that’s the case, then the catastrophe the British government warned of will likely come true!