Tag Archives: health care

Healthcare and Privatization

Obama, like his Democratic predecessor Clinton, is trying to bring in healthcare reform in the US. There have been ferocious campaigns against it with people attacking the nationalized healthcare systems in Canada and Great Britain. Although our (Canada’s) system is not ideal, let’s compare a few things.

I have many many friends in the US. Some of them work for companies or must work for companies with good health plans. They may, even with these health plans, pay for various services and medications on top of the allotted amount. One friend had to drive two hours to a neighboring city to see a doctor who worked for that particular health insurance company. I have another friend, a doctor, who actually couldn’t find work because the insurance company she was with disappeared and the others needed no doctors. She didn’t want or couldn’t afford the overhead of starting her own practice so remained out of work. You never hear of a doctor in Canada who can’t find enough patients.

I have friends where both worked but their health plans only covered their two children. I know a woman who had ovarian cancer and after the surgeries and care owed $30,000 USD. I have a friend who is epileptic, who only by the grace of once being a coast guard, gets her seizure medication covered. I have a friend, a writer and reviewer, who is diabetic, with complications. He told me once, years ago, that he paid over $800 a month in health insurance. He is now in danger of losing his home because of his health issues. I have friends whose jobs don’t have health plans or very limited ones. They sometimes can’t get the simplest of tests done and what is a minor health issue can become life threatening.

The US health system is expensive and limits or ignores those who are of lower income. They get little help or often die because they cannot afford to treat their illnesses and injuries. And any time a person is injured, whether by their own fault or not, and even if they know it, they must sue everyone in sight to cover the costs of the health care. Suddenly no one is responsible for their own common sense and well-being. There are those who will take advantage of the system but many who are genuinely ill and injured must sue so that they can get better. And that drives up the costs of everything. It clogs up the court systems for years to come and we hear of ridiculous cases, such as the one about the guy who sued his yacht insurance because he had given his ex-girlfriend herpes. (I kid you not.)

Canada’s system isn’t perfect. We do have waiting lists for surgeries and MRIs. There are provincial governments like Alberta’s (under Ralph Klein) and BC (under Gordon Campbell) that have been whittling away at our health services, knocking out this and that and letting in privatization. Campbell took away chiropractic, massage and physiotherapy services (which were only covered for a specified number of visits) and decided that podiatrists and optometrists weren’t essential to one’s health. Of course, things like foot or eye problems affect people more as they age and affect seniors, so we know who suffers there.

But when I found out there was a class action suit against a pharmaceutical company for deadly affects of a drug (one I had once been on), I went to my doctor and requested a battery of tests to make sure I didn’t have any problems. My cost–0. Earlier this year I was exhausted. My doctor sent me for thorough blood tests. Again my cost is nothing. I can get X-rays or other tests or should I take ill I will still owe nothing. My friend who spent a year in the hospital, before dying, also owed nothing.

Surgery is free unless it’s cosmetic. What is not covered is dental. Why on earth it was seen to not be essential to health back when medicare was being form, I can only guess at. So people often want jobs that do have medical benefits for dental, eyes, physiotherapy and chiropractic, medicine (some is covered in BC if you have to spend over a certain amount). Not everything is free. And it can be hard to get a doctor because we don’t have enough. Some leave and go to the US to make more money. And yes you could wait a very long time for an elective surgery.

Some people in the US are fighting the medicare proposal. Do you really want to have to mortgage your home to have surgery, take out a loan to have a child, or suffer silently because you can’t afford it? Because the US already has private practices it is highly unlikely that these will go away. It’s unlikely that people will lose their health care benefits through their jobs. But what it does mean is that people will be able to get aid without having to suffer or bankrupt themselves. It does mean improving the overall health of the country.

Yes it could be expensive, and is costly in Canada. Our government needs to try harder at changing the system so that preventative health care is the first step, and that takes education. But it will burden the system less later as a person ages. People need to also take responsibility for their bodies and try to treat them better. Diet is a huge thing and with North America burgeoning with childhood obesity it would be the best way to head off higher costs and overtaxing any medical system.

One thing is for certain, a medicare plan wouldn’t hurt most people and would help them. It’s too bad people are so paranoid about it in the US. It could definitely alleviate a great deal of suffering if not all.

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BC Liberals Slash Health Care

Just a month or so after our pitiful election where barely half of eligible people voted, Gordon Campbell’s true colors shine again. And his determined plan is to undermine our health care, make people suffer with their pains and illnesses and bring in privatized medicine. Ralph Klein pulled this same move in Alberta. At one time he had closed all lab/x-ray clinics in the city of Calgary except for two. My mother went one day for a blood test that she’s required to have monthly. She waited eight hours and then had to go back the next day. For a two minute blood test.

This way Ralph Klein could then say that the system was overloaded and the only way to deal with it was to open private clinics…because he had closed the clinics in the first place. As a military commander it would have been a good move. As a political leader he wielded as much power and thought he’d slide everything through. I don’t know all of what happened but I’m sure he did get in some privatization even if the private clinics have been under scrutiny. There are private clinics now in Alberta.

It was announced yesterday that the BC Coastal Health Authority (a fancy name for Ministry of Health) is going to reduce their administrative costs, which rippled through as being, elective surgeries will be cancelled, especially during the Olympics, in case there is an emergency. It’s obvious that the ministry should be renamed to the Ministry of Pain and Minister Kevin Falcon is babbling double speak to cover the fact that the government is hurting people.

First, to cancel elective surgeries during the Olympics makes no sense. There are many hospitals and to cancel before there is any medical emergency is just plain idiotic. But wait, we have a government health care system so it’s not like revenue is coming in. It’s just a way to save money at the expense of well-being and lives. Oh, and remember that big white elephant, the Olympics,which haven’t even happened yet? Yes, already losing money, already over budget, as if I didn’t know that back when they were lying to us about all the costs.  So guess how we’ll get some of the money to cover those costs. Cut out some health care.

Some might think I’m being overly dramatic when it comes to saying people’s lives are at risk. After all, it’s elective surgery. Well, let’s look at what elective means. It means it’s not life threatening, as in a heart attack, or cancer, or a burst appendix. Not immediately life threatening. But elective surgeries could cover cosmetic surgery for someone badly burned and scarred in a house fire, every knee, hip or shoulder surgery, and any other joint problem like carpal tunnel or a bust ankle.

What happens if you put off surgery on a hip or knee or shoulder? We already have super long waiting times (it could be a year to see a specialist and a year or more for surgery). The part of the body affected will change and pain will become chronic. Scar tissue can build up and bone can deteriorate further. On top of that, the person who is suffering might not be able to walk or move, could be in constant pain, unable to eat or sleep or work. Pain is an insidious thing and constant, unrelenting pain can lead people to suicide. For others, it will wear them down and cause other chronic problems.

In the long run, and long run it is, a person will end up with more health problems and require more health care the longer they must wait for a corrective surgery. I’ve seen some of this first hand with friends requiring surgeries. It’s extremely wearing on loved ones as well. So, by cutting costs now, it hurts people and the system later. But then that’s the shortsightedness of government, isn’t it? We fix today but don’t look into the future.

The worst (and as far as I’m concerned, criminal) part of this is that people will suffer and yes some will die earlier because the government plays politics with health. Should they just cut administrative costs, it could work. Maybe. But what happens if there isn’t enough staff to run a clinic or a hospital or to file X-rays and blood work properly? We’ll end up with cases like those in the East, where people were misdiagnosed or results weren’t followed up.

And then of course, the last statement yesterday was that perhaps they would have to look at more privatized medicare. Hello Gordon Campbell in Ralph Klein’s clothing. Cut back health services and then say, “Oh look, we don’t have enough. Of course we need private health.” Nice strategy but I see through it. Unfortunately the only thing I can do to stop this and make people aware is write this. (Not that anyone seems to care enough to vote, until it’s them waiting for surgery.) Oh, and I can stay healthy to try and avoid the ongoing slings and arrows of the Liberal government and the Ministry of Pain.

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Workers Compensation: A Fallacy

There are probably many people reading this who know someone or have themselves experienced a workplace injury and WCB’s attitude toward compensating the worker. In fact, the Workers Compensation Board changed their name to WorkSafe BC, to reflect the greater scope of their reach and because they’re known for not compensating workers, or cutting compensation off arbitrarily.

This could all be hearsay but I do have direct experience. I have had to file twice in my life. The first time was for a repetitive stress injury to the soft tissue of my hand (my fingers and hand swelled) due to writing so much in quintuplicate for the movie industry (with one period that consisted of about 30 hours straight). In this first case, WCB did cover treatments but only until they thought I should be better. A known fact about the human body is that people heal at different rates and many other factors come into play. So I had to somehow manage to get better, without affording the therapy while still working.

The second time was perhaps harder to pinpoint but indicates the arbitrary decision making of case workers. I was working inside underneath three air conditioner vents. I have a couple of conditions, the major one being chronic myofascial pain syndrome (MFS). It is similar to fibromyalgia but more treatable. I can be fine for a long time and then experience a relapse brought on by certain conditions. Then I will proceed into a chronic pain cycle, which can take years to get hrough. I can function but am often in pain all the time.

Myofascial pain can be triggered by various events, some of which are: stress, cold, injury. This means, at the onset a person can try to work through the pain with exercise, which can backfire, causing more trigger point cascades. A trigger point is an area on the body that when pressed refers pain to other areas. People with myofascial pain and fibromyalgia have specific spots on their bodies which will be major trigger points. Each person may not demonstrate pain in all of them but may in most of them. A trigger point is often a hard knot. I’m not a medical expert but from what I’ve read it involves muscle tissue and fascia (the thin membrane that covers muscles [like you see on chicken]). A trigger point cascade can occur where one trigger point starts a progression of spasms and knotting that create other trigger points.

At my worst, I was trying to work out and increased the problem unknowingly. I had trigger point cascades down my arms and back, to the point where I could barely hold a fork or chew. That was an extreme episode that I don’t wish to visit again. Overall, my muscles will spasm and knot up and will forget how to release. I had ten years of chronic pain before the combination of the right muscle relaxant (many painkillers and analgesics don’t always work on this type of pain), a massage therapist who understood how to work with trigger points, and about four months of very warm weather which took me out of the chronic stage.

As I’ve mentioned, stress, injury or cold can trigger myofascial pain. Other conditions can be associated with it, such as Reynaud’s syndrome. Reynaud’s is also called red, white and blue because it will be brought on by cold and the vessels in the extremities (fingers and toes) will constrict, causing the limbs to go from red to white to blue as the blood flow is suppressed. People with this condition will experience sharp, knifelike pain and numbness. I have found, when I experience Reynauds, that the only way to bring circulation back to the extremities is to bring up my core temperature.

I have given these two examples here to wind back to workers compensation. The three air conditioner vents that I was sitting under blew a lot of cold air onto my back. I’m more susceptible to cold, but was the only person in my area who was under three vents (no one was under more than one). Because the muscles tightened up, when I moved suddenly, sitting at my desk, I threw out my back. I was a contract worker so I couldn’t really take time off but I filed a claim. I went to the chiropractor a couple of times but couldn’t afford more than that.

Recognizing that this could be another chronic pain onset, I wanted WCB to cover therapy for a couple of weeks. In all, if I had had treatment right away I could have put off the chronic pain. It would have taken probably a month at most, consisting of chiropractic to adjust my back, and massage to keep the muscles from tightening up and pulling my back out again (believe me, I live with this often, muscles pulling my ribs out while I sleep).

My case worker was on holidays so I talked to someone else first. When the case worker came back, he didn’t even talk to me but denied the claim straight out. I wrote back citing the specialist that had originally diagnosed me. I was willing to be examined, get letters from the specialists about the condition and other documentation if needed. I said that the cold of the air conditioning was the problem and the case worker wrote back and said that cold never hurt anyone. Never. Cold.

I wonder what those people feel who suffer frostbite and hypothermia and die of exposure? One of the best ways to get through myofascial pain is to apply heat, along with therapy. This case worker didn’t consult any medical expert but made his own uninformed arbitrary decision. I would have had to go to a new level to fight this, to get the therapy that was now some time from the onset of the injury. And what else causes myofascial pain? Stress. Having already taken ICBC (our provincial car insurance company) to small claims court for not covering the therapy costs of the injury that originally began my relationship with myofascial pain, I knew how stressful that process was (I won, BTW). I didn’t do it and have spent several years getting out of another bout of chronic pain. And of course all the subsequent visits to my doctor for muscle relaxants (trying to find some that work), the few visits to the therapists, and days I take off work when the pain is too much, or for doctor appointments puts more strain on our health care and system. In the long run, it costs way more than what the initial treatments would have been.

This is just one example of how workers compensation is a fallacy. I have heard far worse stories. And I have only touched the tip of the iceberg on what myofascial pain is all about. It is a more accepted condition these days, very hard to diagnose and many doctors pooh pooh it still.  Wikipedia has a very short entry. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myofascial_pain_syndrome  And should you have a workplace injury that brings on this condition, you can expect workers compensation to not compensate, to not help you get better, and like many other injured workers, leave you out in the cold.

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BC Election Day

I’ve been fairly quiet about the election. Although I’ve paid some attention to it and the usual, unfortunate name calling that’s happened, I haven’t said much, because I know which way I’ll be voting.

The NDP and Liberals are neck in neck and it will be anybody’s game. The Green party could possibly take a seat or two and there is a possibility, though slim of a minority government. Still, there will be enough representation of both sides to balance things, I hope.

Politics is much like the boxing ring. You put your gloves on and go out there and pummel your opponent as close as you can to a pulp. Then afterwards, you stand before the cameras and clasp your opponent on the shoulder, shake hands and say nice things about fighting style. Just like politics.

So Campbell bashes James and James bashes Campbell. It would be nice to see less of this and more of what is going to happen. But politicians are known for hollow campaign promises anyway. We can thank Gordon Campbell for tearing up hospital worker and teacher’s contracts (teachers don’t even have a contract right now).

We can thank him for raising the cost of our universal free medicare. Only Alberta and BC pay for what the rest of the country gets for free and Campbell more than doubled that cost while at the same time removing some services. Podiatrists and optometrists are no longer covered because gee, I guess it’s only old people who have foot and eye problems and as one of Campbell’s cronies once said, they’re a special interest group. Campbell took massage, chiropractic and physiotherapy off of the list. We used to get 10-12 visits each a year. Now, only if you’re on subsidized assistance will you get 10 combined visits. Because, obviously it’s much better to go and pay money to pharmaceutical companies rather than heal the person permanently.

If you’re big business, you’ll love Campbell. He’ll cut things like teachers rights and tear up contracts of the little people but he’ll make sure he arranges that money he’s saved to go to business. Because big business always needs help. I could go on, rant, rage, but there is no point. I’ve never trusted Campbell and I will not start now.

Someone ludicrously said he looked like a premier whereas Carol James didn’t. How ridiculous is that? That comment was one step away from being sexist. She doesn’t look like a premier because she’s a woman? Doesn’t wear a suit? What? But then, there is one thing I know. No matter how fickle a politician is the voters are just as fickle. Okay, fickle isn’t the right word but short term amnesiac memory is. Voters forget so quickly and only remember all the candy that is tossed out right before an election. Many are just like kids, believing the campaign rhetoric.

At least one hopes a politician will fulfill some of their promises. But the one thing that BC voters do; if they do remember the bad stuff and are unhappy, then they will willingly change their spots. Easily influenced? Yes. But unlike Alberta that will vote Conservative no matter what is done to them, British Columbians are willing to try on a new shoe. Did I just contradict myself? Perhaps.

But one other thing I’m voting for is the STV. It may or may not work but proportional representation does sound appealing and we won’t know if we don’t try. So, don’t forget, if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.

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Swine Flu? When Pigs Fly

Okay, that’s a little joke but I think we need to keep a few things in perspective when it comes to the spreading fear of swine flu. Fear is spreading faster than the flu and though it is a serious enough illness, it should be treated with level headedness, not paranoia. Panic can be a demon that brings on an epidemic of hysteria.

If the media had existed in its current form in the 14th century when the Black Plague first reared its deadly head, probably more people would have died from fear, from fear mongering, from ostracization than those already-high numbers. The Black Death killed an estimated 30-60% of Europe’s population, decimating society and economy for many years to come. Some 75 million people are believed to have died from the bubonic plague.

These days, we may not get to those numbers because medical care is better. Yet we might get to higher numbers because there are far more people than Europe in the Middle Ages. And many cities are overcrowded, not to mention that many nations still have poor levels of sanitation and health. An estimated 500,000 people die yearly from seasonal flus. Mexico City has 22 million people but the flu has shown in a few other areas of Mexico as well as in Texas. Still, there are only 7 confirmed deaths by the WHO as of yesterday.

That’s not many yet. In fact, 150 people out of a population of 110 million is a pretty small percentage. However, every death is a rent, a loss of life and grief for loved ones; that should matter. We do have to be cautious but not crazed. People aren’t getting these from pigs, no matter what the name indicates. Eating pork won’t make a difference. However, one thing that humans learned over the centuries that cut down on the spread of disease and infection was that cleanliness makes a difference.

We’ve moved out of the polite era, when everyone was taught manners, coughed and sneezed into handkerchiefs, washed behind their ears and washed their hands because parents instilled it into their kids. We’ve become lackadaisical in this modern, free age, but what you can’t see can indeed hurt you. When it comes to hygiene we must still be diligent.

Here’s the best thing to do to avoid swine flu, any flu or illness in general: wash your hands well, often, and with soap and water. Cover your mouth with your arm or a tissue if you cough. Use tissues for your nose. Wipe down surfaces with disinfectant. If you cough or sneeze, don’t do it on others. Wash your hands often. Don’t kiss pigs.

Usually influenzas hit the very young and the very old. So far, this flu has killed men in the 25-40 (or 50) age range for some reason. Tomorrow I fly to LA. I’m not worried. After all, I’m healthy. I don’t have a compromised immune system or any illness that weakens me. My lungs (the area to worry about most) are very strong. I’m not flying to Mexico. Even all the people that the flu infects each year do not die from it. Planes are very good incubators of infections/colds in general. A closed space with a lot of people. It’s best to be vigilant about hygiene whenever flying.

There have been questions why the mortality rate would be higher in Mexico than elsewhere. If it’s Mexico City, well, there are 22 million people, as I said. When I was in Mexico in the late 80s, the smog was so bad that birds were dropping out of the air and you could taste it. Add that on top of other respiratory problems and a flu that attacks the same area and it’s not surprising that more people may die in Mexico City (and any other overpopulated, polluted city center) than in other cities.

Flu shots have been given for quite a few years now, optional but encouraged for the young and old. I predict we’ll see more people getting flu shots this year in general. However, a viable vaccine for this current flu would take a few months to work out and perfect. If this doesn’t turn pandemic, then it will have abated by then.

Symptoms are similar to other flu symptoms, fever, runny nose, coughing, sore throat, nausea, possible vomiting and diarrhea, lack of energy and appetite. (More severe cases may deal with respiratory problems and death.) Don’t jump to conclusions if you develop some of these. If you have been to Mexico or in contact with someone who has, watch your symptoms, call  your doctor’s office if you’re worried, or if it is a child or elderly person who is ill. If the fever goes beyond a few degrees or you have trouble breathing, then you will probably want to get checked out. Children and the elderly are always at risk. Eating healthily, drinking plenty of water and getting adequate sleep will keep your immune system strong.

Becoming crazed with fear is a more likely way to get sick than just taking sensible precautions. And when the latest scare is over, continue following good hygenic habits. After all, in many ways we don’t want to go back to, or repeat the Middle Ages.

Update as of 10/15/09: There is an awful lot of hype about this flu and to this date there are fewer people who have died from it than from other flus. However, the high-risk group does seem to be 20-year-olds and early 30s. Each person will have to decide if they need a flu shot or not but as a healthy female, who isn’t pregnant nor in that age group, I’ll forego the shot and take my chances.

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Gordon Campbell’s Record

We’re moving closer to a provincial election and the super plasticky premier Gordon Campbell and his cronies will be putting on their best faces, making more promises and hiding their earlier dirty work. Unfortunately they’ll probably get in again because people have notoriously short memories. So here are a few things to do with health care that we can thank Gordon Campbell for.

  • Raising the cost of medical services by 50%. And remember, BC and Alberta are the only provinces that pay for what Canadians call “universal health care” that’s free everywhere else. Ask your MLA why we have to pay.
  • Broke contracts with health science professionals, nurses, health support workers and community social service workers. That was in his first four years and even though it went tot he courts and the Campbell government was found in the wrong, what did that do for those people who had to wait four years to get a ruling?
  • Because those contracts were broken and things like cleaning hospitals was given to the lowest bidder, which did not guarantee that workers knew how to work with biohazardous waste, many people lost their lives and livelihoods do to increased infections (some of this is to blame on health cleanliness standards too).
  • Raised Pharmacare deductibles for the poor on MSP premium assistance from $600 to $800 a year.
  • Delisted podiatry, eye exams, chiropractic, physiotherapy, and massage services. This means they are no longer covered or subsidized under health care. As people age what two areas tend to need work: eyes and feet. But who needs those, right? I have a condition that requires massage or chiropractic to stop chronic pain, and when I cannot receive timely care because of the cost, I end up seeing my doctor and specialists and in no way does this cut the costs to the health system.
  • Privatized MSP billings to Maximus, an American company, making private BC records subject to disclosure under the US Patriot Act. This company was also fined twice and has not save people money.
  • Eliminated the provincial mental health advocate.

Everyone may have forgotten these things (and the many more listed below) with the huge economic downfall scare. However, the poorer we all become the less likely we are to be able to pay for any healthcare needs, and we’ll all just suffer a bit more. I never trusted Campbell and I still don’t. A premier that will tear up legally binding contracts is bound to do more dirt to the people.

This site lists 77 reasons, and that only up to 2005 on what Campbell’s government has done for us. http://www.pej.org/html/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=2551&mode=thread&order=0&thold=0

http://www.bcndp.ca/node/1054

http://www.vancouversun.com/news/todays-paper/Campbell+record+reform+falls+short+ambitious+agenda/1238924/story.html

http://howbadtherecord.blogspot.com/2009_03_01_archive.html

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Environmentalism & Politics

I actually wrote this last year on my other blog but I think it’s still pertinent. What often happens with government is that they focus on whatever the media starts paying attention to. And the moment the public looks away, they go off in another direction. Although the economy is of great concern, so is the environment still and always important. Moreso now when recycling companies are not making as much a profit and therefore it isn’t “economical” for them to recycle or for other places to buy the products.
There has been quite the hullabaloo in the media lately as politicians have woken up from a twenty-plus year hibernation to look around in sudden alarm and go “Oh my, we have an environmental problem.” Hello?

When I was a teenager I wouldn’t litter and a friend asked, oh why bother? I said, well it may only be me today but then tomorrow it might be me and someone else, because they saw me not littering. And the next day there could be three or four, etc. I feel vindicated that at least recycling has become more of a norm (at least in some provinces) than it was in my teens.

And at least by the time I was in my twenties I was reading about the Gaia Hypothesis (how the world is one symbiotic living organism and what you do to it in one place affects the whole) and how our pollutants were wreaking havoc with the world and if we stopped all smog causing agents, then it would take at least fifty years to see any positive results.

In 1998 I wrote for a now defunct e-magazine (victim of the dot com downfall) called technocopia.com. It looked at how new technology was changing one’s life and lifestyle, from cell phones in third world countries to robotic heart surgery. I was researching fuel cells and hybrid cars and came across the Kyoto Protocol. Governments had already signed up for it. So how is it in 2007 various governments have dropped out of fulfilling the requirements and now cry it will break the bank because there’s not enough time? That was ten years of time.

I hear Stephan Dion say on CBC that pollution has just become a problem? What!! Just? Puhleese. I’m not sure what the benefit was to Tony Blair to stand up and start waving the big green flag but it suddenly looked like the cool thing to do and Canada jumped up beside him. George Bush of course is still in right wing crusader war mode. Environmentalism might mean putting collars on his pals, the oil and car companies.

But I’m cynical enough and eyes open enough to wonder why politicians would suddenly go on about this when a lot of us have known there’s been a problem for over twenty years. Well, hmm, minority government. Who wouldn’t want to keep our country green and with air we can breathe? For Harper it’s a surefire way to garner a shiny star on his report card. But it would be much more believable if saving our resources wasn’t done because of political maneuvering and was just done because it’s the right thing to do.

And yet, the Conservatives whine and shuffle their feet and say oh we can’t meet the Kyoto Protocol. Or, maybe we could but it would cost gadzillions and all you poor Canadians that we normally only care about when you’re voting will pay the price. A few weeks ago on CBC, The Current had business leaders from various sectors and they were saying that they were on board with changing and implementing environmentally safe processes and procedures. The interesting thing here was that all of them said that it would be more cost effective and they would probably actually make more profit by switching over. So how is it that the Baird Report says we’re going to have to pay with our first born?

Perhaps I’d almost believe that maybe, just maybe, our lovely government was actually concerned with the environment and not with losing power if it wasn’t that I see this as a big smokescreen. What have polls of recent years shown is the number one priority for Canadians: universal medicare. So why aren’t we hearing more about this? Because it needs a massive overhaul. And we’ve all turned to look at the shiny new green flag being waved so that we won’t notice the huge cutbacks, the ever longer waiting lists, the rampant deadly infections running amok in hospitals and killing people. Because the government can win votes easier with this lovely green beast than with the monster of medical coverage.

I was willing to let go some of my frustration, anger and disgust with the head-in-the-sand attitude various Canadian governments have had if it meant at least something was being done. But then we get the Baird Report; more stalling about actually really doing something.

I’m trying to do my part and have for years. I could do more. We all could. I’d get a hybrid car if I could afford one. What part is the government really doing? Will they put teeth into their policies or leave them to gum the ankles of corporations and groups that continue to pollute? I’ll wait and see.

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Writing: Writers in Need

Back when I did the Clarion writers workshop, we had a different instructor for each week. Ed Bryant was the first one. With his dry wit and wry attitude and no-nonsense ways, he broke the ice and got us into critiquing, in a gentle way.

Ed had been one of Harlan Ellison’s prodigies and typical of Ed, he can get along with a lot of people, even those as temperamental as Harlan. But that doesn’t mean Ed didn’t have anything interesting, witty or even sarcastic to say.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bryant

Somehow after Clarion, I either bumped into Ed at a few conventions or contacted him or both (more likely the former as Ed has always been notoriously a bad correspondent) we developed a slow friendship. One which often existed of us only seeing each other at conventions.

At one convention, I was walking through the art show with a friend. We stopped in front of an honest-to-god velvet painting. Yes, those cheap and tacky remnants of the 70s. Or was it 60s?

This was shortly after the Star Trek movie The Voyage Home and featured a couple of humpback whales in it as well as the Enterprise returning to Earth to save the day and the planet. So here we are staring at this painting, our mouths dropping open at the horribleness of it. I can’t remember it exactly but it had fat Elvis in his bright white suit spread across its velvet expanse and Spock and the Enterprise I believe over some skyline.

It was dreadful and Kij and I laughed at it. It was so bad I couldn’t believe anyone in their right mind would paint it. Then I noticed that it was not for sale and had the title of “Save the Whales.” And it had been commissioned by Ed Bryant which is when it all came clear. It was such a perfect piece of tongue-in-cheek kitsch.

Ed has always had long hair and worn T-shirts and jeans. Except for when he dresses up and puts on a button shirt so that he can wear a special tie. Whereas David Hartwell is known for his god-awful ugliest ties since creation (and the eye-jarring contrasting stripe and check suits and shirts that don’t go with them) Ed is somehow subtler. His shirts aren’t too wild but his tie might be shaped like a fish or be plastic with a bunch of plastic bugs in it.

And Ed is of course, a writer. I read his collection of short stories Cinnabar a long time ago and, where his penchant for creepy shone through. Ed has never written a novel, which may be why the greater fan community does not know of him as well as the writing community does. He has written reviews for Locus for many years. He has also worked on screenplays, nonfiction and other forms of writing.

I consider Ed a good friend, even though I don’t know him super well or all of his problems. He once told me that in that land of the free but highly impoverished he paid $800 a month in medical insurance because of his diabetes. A month! I was aghast. How could anyone have a decent life like that?

Ed has had complications along the way, including not being able to get out of bed once because he had suffered hairline fractures through a bunch of his bones, which had immobilized his arms. I started calling him Tyrannosaurus Ed at that point.

I haven’t talked to Ed for a few years, though I tried but no answers to emails, which was kind of typical. Still I worried because Ed has had some major health issues. At the World Fantasy convention this last fall I asked another friend if he’d seen Ed and that I worried about him. It seems I had a right to.

Because the US has such a crippling, and I do mean crippling, health system, people must have a good job that has an insurance plan. This doesn’t always mean it’s a completely comprehensive plan and may have all sorts of restrictions on it. I know a couple that even though working, can only afford to put their two children on health insurance. Another person, an epileptic, could only afford to have her medication covered because she once worked as a coast guard. I have other American friends who suffer in pain because they cannot afford their health care.

Canada’s may not be perfect but at least everyone can get help. It may just take longer. We get the basics without being impoverished and on the street. It would never cost hundreds per month, and medications after a certain amount (less than a thousand but varies by income) are paid for or subsidized.

Now Ed seems to need some help as the health bills have become astronomical. Friends and associates have set up a website where donations can be made. Ed has always been involved in the SF community, from writing and doing panels to writing reviews and being a mentor to others. In Colorado he started a writers’ group and I consider Ed to be one of my mentors.

I’m not rich but I’ll be sending some money to Ed because he has given to the greater writing community in many ways. If you’re at all influenced by writers and SF, check out Ed’s Wiki page above and the link below for more information on Ed Bryant and where to donate.

http://www.friendsofed.org/

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Portable Defibrillators Save Lives

I’m down with a cold so here’s a Technocopia article I wrote back in 1999.

Easy enough for a child to use, defibrillators may become as common as fire extinguishers.

With only seven per cent of people who suffer sudden cardiac arrest outside of hospitals surviving, the American Heart Association is championing the use of portable automatic external defibrillators (AED). There is only a ten-minute window in which a cardiac victim’s heart can be restarted usually by using a defibrillator. After that, if the person can be revived, he or she will sustain brain damage.

The statistics are frightening. Heart disease is the number one killer, and cardiac arrest is at the top. About 250,000 (some reports say 350,000) people in the U.S., and 80,000 in Canada, die of cardiac arrest every year. Eighty per cent of those happen at home (Los Angeles Times 7/16/98). In only ten per cent of cardiac arrest cases do ambulance attendants arrive in time to save a patient.

Health professionals, first responders (police, ambulances) and lay people are lobbying for automatic defibrillators to be made more accessible. They argue that more lives than seven per cent would be saved if a defibrillator were available in time.

An automatic external defibrillator is a heart-starting device that can be carried by one person. By placing electrodes on the patient’s chest it monitors, then instructs the person to deliver an electrical shock to the patient’s heart. This shock starts the heart pumping again in a regular rhythm. Sometimes additional shocks are needed to start the heart. Chances of survival decrease seven to ten per cent for each minute that passes before the hearts resumes pumping.

Cardiac arrest differs from heart attack (or stroke). A stroke is caused by blood deprivation and arterial blockage. The person remains conscious and usually has warning symptoms leading up to the stroke. Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) can happen at any time to someone with no previous history of heart disease. The most common SCA is ventricular fibrillation, when the heart begins to contract chaotically. The person stops breathing and loses consciousness because the heart cannot pump oxygenated blood to parts of the body, especially the brain.

The American Heart Association states that there are four factors that contribute to ventricular tachycardia, or sudden cardiac arrest.

· Pre-diagnosed heart disease.
· Degeneration of the heart muscle.
· Enlargement of the heart due to high blood pressure.
· Hardening of the arteries.

SurvivaLink Corporation, Minneapolis, Physio-Control Corp., Redmond, and Heartstream, Inc. Seattle (division of Hewlett-Packard) designed the AEDs for use by paramedics and for situations when a plane is in-flight. These companies widened the scope, making these devices accessible to the public. The Food and Drug Administration approves AEDs for home use. They are easy to understand and use, perform self-checkups and have protective failsafes.

The company websites give instructions on what to do if someone suddenly passes out and stops breathing.

· Have someone call 911 or local emergency access number.
· Check airway.
· Check breathing.
· Check pulse.

Only at this point would you use the portable, lightweight defibrillator the size of a laptop computer, and weighing between four to seven pounds. When open, there are clear readable instructions with icons as to where to place the two electrodes. A voice command guides the user.

Though each AED is slightly different, the process is similar for all. Once the responder places the two electrodes on the patient’s chest the AED uses an electrocardiogram (displayed on some models) to check for pulse. If there is a pulse the person may be suffering a stroke or from some other health problem and it will not advise a shock. (It is unclear at this point if the shock button would work if someone pressed it inadvertently.) If it detects no pulse it instructs the responder to stand clear of the victim and to push the button. The AED releases a charge into the patient’s chest. If there is still no pulse the AED will charge and repeat the shock with verbal instructions each time.

Researchers found that the cause of failure for many of the larger older defibrillators was improper testing and maintenance of batteries. The new defibrillators come in their own sturdy plastic cases, some with spaces for spare batteries. The lithium batteries hold a charge longer than other types of batteries. The AED performs a daily self-test checking the charge and if the batteries are low it indicates the need for replacement. In most AEDs, even when the batteries are low, there is usually enough energy to deliver five to nine shocks.

The self-checking program requires smart technology that consists of a memory chip. As well, the AEDs use biphasic wave technology though monophasic is available in some brands. Biphasic technology is the use of optimal current each time a shock is discharged. The electrical wave reverses direction part way through and delivers the right charge. There is an impedance variable caused by the difference in size and weight of people. This impedance is checked and analyzed by the two-way current. Results with the biphasic wave technology (as in Physio-Control’s LifePak 500) showed a 100% success rate on the first shock.

An AED on Every Corner

A nearly foolproof, portable defibrillator makes it easy for anybody to use one. Researcher Dr. Gust H. Bardy, at the University of Seattle, and his team instructed fifteen sixth-graders for about one minute on using the defibrillators. “On average, the researchers found, the children completed defibrillation in 90 seconds, compared with the professionals’ (paramedics) time of 67 seconds. Furthermore, all of the children properly placed the device’s pads on the chest and remained ‘clear’ of the mannequin as the shock was delivered…” (Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association 10/18/99) The American Heart Association recommends that everyone should first be trained on how to use a defibrillator.

Already many airlines have been carrying the AEDs, as well as resorts, casinos, and cruise ships. Advocates of the AED hope that it will be as accessible as fire extinguishers, available in gyms, shopping malls, sports arenas, theaters, seniors’ homes, restaurants and even in the homes of people diagnosed with heart disease. The defibrillators run between $2500-$4000 USD and still require a doctor’s signature to own, yet people as well as companies like FORD are buying them.

Some critics believe it is dangerous to put an AED into the hands of an untrained person who may forego calling a trained paramedic after the shock is administered. Others see it as infringing on the duties of police or firemen who already have other responsibilities. Yet, in many states police cars have been issued AEDs. In Rochester, Maine “survival after cardiac arrest jumped to 50 percent from 20 percent” after squad cars were issued AEDs (New York Times 04/15/99) Yet early studies (from 1998) in other states showed a negligible increase in survival.

Initially there was reluctance by police, airline attendants or even employees of large companies to use the portable defibrillators. Concern over machine malfunction or using an AED correctly led ultimately to concerns of who would be found liable. Some insurance agencies would not cover liability for such devices, and some airlines and companies did not want to carry them.

Thirty-one states have now passed limited Good Samaritan clauses for use of AEDs by laypersons. Airlines such as Lufthansa and United have been sued for not supplying timely medical care to victims of sudden cardiac arrest. “Two weeks after it was sued, United announced plans to place defibrillators on its planes. Other airlines followed suit.” (Gannett News Service 03/10/98). American Airlines has instituted the Golden Heart Club for those people whose lives have been saved on the airline, and those attendants and people who have used the devices to help them. (The Dallas Morning News 07/24/99)

Further lobbying continues for use of the portable automatic defibrillator. There are those that argue that to place so many portable defibrillators in every public access facility would be cost prohibitive. Many AEDs would never be used. Yet, fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems are required and fires do not happen in every building. Because an AED can also monitor heart signals and determine that a person is not having a cardiac arrest, they have saved money for airlines that are required to divert their paths when a cardiac arrest occurs.

When a portable defibrillator saves lives it will go beyond the naming of a price. Attitudes are changing with the ease of using an AED. It is now possible for even a child to be able to save someone from cardiac arrest: the number one killer of North Americans.

Automatic External Defibrillators: Medtronic Physio-Control LifePak 500 (there me other ones now and they are more common but you’ll need to Google to find them)

For more information:
Physio-Control http://www.physiocontrol.com
American Heart Association: Sudden Cardiac Death
http://www.amhrt.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=3053

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Depression: The Invisible Battle

In the last decade there have been more books on depression and people talking openly. Although I think there can be a point of over-saturation, we’re not there yet and more dialogue on depression will people help recognize and understand it better. There are still too many people who live under the black cloud of despair or more tragically, kill themselves out of depression.

I speak not from an outsider’s point of view but from the intimate perspective of having suffered mild depression to full-blown clinical depression. The first time was probably in my twenties when my boyfriend of three years and I broke up. I moved to Vancouver and lived for another three years in a somewhat different personality. It was a bit kamikaze, reckless, unhappy and angry. I ended up going to my doctor who sent me to a psychiatrist. He determined that I was working my way out of the depression by that point and didn’t put me on meds. That’s pretty rare for psychiatrists who are married to the pharma industry. Psychologists aren’t covered in Canada’s medicare but psychiatrists are.

Perhaps I dipped into depression a few times after that but it was when I was dealing with my eating disorder that I was first put on anti-depressants. I can’t say they changed my mood or state of mind but eventually it seems my brain chemistry balanced out and I stopped the binging and quit the meds.

In 2001 I had gone through a few things and had a boyfriend, but I was pretty poor and nothing seemed to be going right for me, My health was deteriorating, partly caused by a repetitive stress injury in the movie industry and now I was poor. Everything built up. I was freelancing but not full time so I’d go and work, then come home and crawl into bed. I forced myself to eat a bowl of soup a day. I couldn’t deal with anything: answering the phone, changing a doctor’s appointment, coming up with answers to questions. I cocooned for months. And then September 11th happened and that added to the fear and gloom. My elbow was also hurting and no amount of physiotherapy was helping. After many sessions the physiotherapist said she couldn’t help anymore.

I went to my doctor with this symptom and she mentioned depression. I didn’t want to see a psychiatrist because I don’t think they do much (the last one when I had the eating disorder, didn’t) and I didn’t want to go on anti-depressants because they’re hard on teeth and can cause increased cavities (less salivation occurs and bacteria builds up). I also argued that I had reasons to be depressed and listed them. My doctor said, true you can be depressed and have good reasons but it’s not about the reasons but how you cope. In essence, I wasn’t coping very well at all.

My doctor gave me a questionnaire to fill out and bring back. Of all the questions the only one I didn’t have a dire answer to was the one about suicide. I’ve never been suicidal, not even when depressed. My doctor took one look at my answers and said, “You’re going on medication.” So I did and luckily she got me a compassionate prescription, which is free through the pharmaceutical companies because there was no way I could afford it and I would have stopped buying them, if I had to pay.

Since that time I try to gauge where I’m at, watch my moods and feelings. But depression is a tricky thing. It doesn’t always manifest the same way every time. Sometimes you can function but you can’t eat. Sometimes you’re just in physical pain that won’t go away. Sometimes you are fine during the day and plummet every evening. Sometimes you can’t eat, or you eat too much, can’t sleep or sleep too much. For me, it’s never been quite the same so it gets hard to know for sure.

I sometimes have to look back over a period of a year and see if I have shifted much. I try to catch it before it gets as bad as 2001. I don’t like being in that space and everything is far too dark. I tend not to read or watch the news because the concentration and the repetition of the bad and horrid gets to me. Even the radio can be too much but I do like to know what’s going on in the world.

Depression is not a physical ailment but it can become one. It can make people as sick as any disease and kill them. Understanding what a person may be going through will help people heal. Calling them crazy and whacked, which we all do, may describe their current state but it won’t help them get better. Depression is a disease with varying symptoms, and understanding will help those who have it and those who have to be around it.

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