Archive for the ‘Medicine’ Category

Stupid Trick of the Week

August 15, 2011 Leave a comment

The performer of this stupid trick, alas, was me, and I did it a week ago, so I’m a little late in reporting.

Where to begin? Well, first you need to know about sharps containers. If you don’t have one at home (and why would you?), you will at least have seen them at your doctor’s office. They’re those plastic colored containers attached to the wall that used needles get dropped into.

It turns out you can buy them at pharmacies for home use. Unlike the ones at the doctor’s office, the home-use ones are free standing. No need to attach them to the wall. You can see one in the photo above. Over time, you drop needles in, and eventually the needle pile reaches the line that says the container is full. At this point, you put the handy container lid on and bring the container to a place that accepts it for disposal. The crucial point here is that the containers are not meant to be re-used. Rather, you dispose of a full one properly, buy a new one, and repeat. As for disposing, it seems that some pharmacies will accept the full containers. Failing that, hereabouts, one can bring them to the county transfer station.

Okay, so, that’s that. Now to my story.

Until twelve days ago, I didn’t know about home sharps containers, or care. But then, for reasons I won’t go into in this post, I found myself in a class in which we were given blood glucose meters (free!) and the associated paraphernalia with which one can measure one’s own blood glucose level. I had no idea what I was missing all these years. It’s the coolest thing, getting this instant feedback about what’s going on in your blood. But you can’t get that feedback without sticking the tiniest little needle into your finger first and coaxing out a little drop of blood.

That little needle, or lancet, comes under the heading of sharps. You can’t just toss it in the garbage. You need to put it in a sharps container. The odd thing is, at the class, we were given those blood glucose meters but not sharps containers. We were told that we can’t throw the used lancets in the garbage, that we should get a sharps container, and that we should eventually bring it to the county transfer station. I can’t imagine the first thing every student does after class is buy his or her own container. I imagine, more precisely, that some students never buy a container. There must be a lot of those lancets in the garbage stream.

Not my lancets. Gail bought a sharps container. She brought it home, I examined it, and I wondered what to do about the fact that the container lid was attached by a thin strip of plastic that was sufficiently stiff that the open lid kind of hung out at an awkward angle. It was in the way. I figured it was supposed to stay attached for some reason, like maybe to remind you to cover the container between uses. But it really was going to be a nuisance. So I got the scissors out and cut it off.

Now what? Well, if the lid was meant to cover the container, I may as well cover it. Which I did. That was the moment when I realized the lid, now firmly shut on the container top, had no grasping point, no place to get your finger under in order to flip it off. Yup, that sucker was on for good. I had just put the permanently locking lid on an empty sharps container.

Good job, Ron.

It all made sense after the fact. Once you’ve filled the container and need to dispose of it, you put the lid on. There’s no reason ever to take it off again, and good reason to make sure it doesn’t come off, so once it’s on, it’s on. A permanently locked lid goes hand-in-hand with safe transport and disposal of the sharps. I then saw, too late, that there was a label glued on the side of the container with instructions, and sure enough it explained that you put the unremovable lid on when you’re done.

There you have it, my stupid trick of the week.

Except that I really couldn’t bear the thought of wasting the four dollars it cost to buy the container. I decided to experiment, and discovered that you can get the lid off after all, with a little prodding. I won’t say how. I’ve said enough.

Categories: Medicine, Stupidity

Countdown to Communism

March 21, 2010 Leave a comment

The House vote on health care approaches.

I’ve been following the Housae proceedings off and on through the NYT live blog and on C-Span. A typical comment (from Representative John Shadegg, Arizona): “This bill will destroy freedom and do damage to the very fabric of our society.”

Yup. Our bags are packed.

But where to go? Our favorite countries already have socialized medicine and a lack of freedom!

Categories: Medicine, Politics

You Lie?

September 17, 2009 Leave a comment


We missed Obama’s health care speech. We were on Nantucket last week, and on Wednesday evening we went into town to have dinner at the Boarding House. But it didn’t take long for us to learn about Representative Joe Wilson’s mid-speech outburst after Obama said, “There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This too is false. The reforms, the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.”

What I find saddest about the whole episode is Obama’s political calculation that, in selling health care reform, he must insist on the ineligibility of illegal immigrants. Would we rather they die in the street? Would we rather have their untreated illnesses spread? Ted Rall’s latest cartoon, above, touches on the absurdity of the misplaced outrage. So too does E.J. Dionne’s column earlier this week in the Washington Post. E.J. (my college classmate and, for two years, next door neighbor) writes:

As for immigrants who are here illegally, those who go to an emergency room already receive medical attention, and they should. No doctor I know, whatever his or her politics, would deny treatment to a sick person on the basis of immigration status.

Forget compassion and consider self-interest. Aren’t you better off if the person working next to you who has a communicable disease receives care early on?

I am not in any way dismissing those concerned about illegal immigration as racists or reactionaries. There are legitimate disagreements as to what we should do about it and problems with extending government programs to those who violate the law to get here.

But I am not at all at peace with the fact that the one issue about which a member of Congress chose to rise up and accuse our president of being a liar related to the charge that our chief executive wasn’t doing enough to build walls between illegal immigrants and health coverage.

How mean-spirited will we allow ourselves to become? How coarsened has our political culture made us? We like to see ourselves as a generous, caring and welcoming nation. Are we losing that part of our character?

As for Wilson’s surprise commentary, Geoff Nunberg at Language Log observed over the weekend that Wilson’s wording suggests a lack of spontaneity.

To a lot of people, Joe Wilson deserves credit not just for speaking his mind, but for speaking theirs. “He blurted out what many other Republicans probably were thinking,” one commentator put it, while Rush Limbaugh said: “I was shouting, “You’re lying,” throughout the speech at the television. You’re lying! It’s a lie! Joe Wilson simply articulated what millions of Americans were saying.”

Well, not quite. However many Americans were moved to tax the President with dishonesty as they listend to the speech, it’s a safe bet they expressed themselves the way Limbaugh did, in the present progressive — “You’re lying.” Whereas what Wilson said was “you lie,” revisting a use of the simple present that parted ways with ordinary conversational English a couple of centuries ago. “You lie” — it’s a sentence you expect to hear finished with “sirrah,” and not the sort of thing that anyone says in a moment of spontaneous anger. (–”I really meant to put the money back.” –”You lie!”)

I don’t mean to suggest that Wilson’s effusion was planned, but it’s hard to believe it was unrehearsed: it has the sound of something he had imagined himself saying to the President in numerous idle reveries, maybe as he struck a heroic pose drawn from his recreational reading …

Categories: Language, Medicine, Politics

Medical Minute Mysteries

May 16, 2009 Leave a comment


When I was in high school, there was a small paperback called Minute Mysteries that was kind of fun to read. Each page would have a mini-mystery, with characters and plot introduced and a puzzle presented. You were to solve the mystery, or try, before turning the page to learn the answer. (Or maybe you turned to the back of the book. I don’t remember.) One day in tenth grade, our English teacher, Miss Murphy, read a few of them to us. I suppose she had a point in mind about writing, but it was also an enjoyable diversion. What I’ve never forgotten is her over-reaction to my solving one of them instantaneously. Somehow, the essential point came down to a phone number that arose in the story’s dialogue. I should point out that in those days phone numbers had the form Xy 1-2345, where X and y were letters of the alphabet and 1-2345 are stand-ins for numbers. And the phone number in the minute mystery had ‘Q’ as one of its letters.

Of course, this is impossible, since phones didn’t have ‘Q’ as a letter. The numbers 0 and 1 were letterless (and still are), and each of the numbers from 2 to 9 had three letters assigned to it, allowing for 24 letters. The two letters omitted were ‘Q’ and ‘Z’. I pointed this out, and Miss Murphy couldn’t get over the idea that someone actually knew this. I admit, it probably wasn’t universally known, but it hardly struck me as obscure. Anyone could plainly see, when staring at a phone dial, that the full alphabet wasn’t there.

Anyway, the New York Times Sunday Magazine has a monthly feature that I love, a short article by Lisa Sanders, M.D., under the heading Diagnosis. Each article is two pages, with three parts: 1. Symptoms, 2. Investigation, 3. Resolution. Generally a patient sees his or her regular doctor, then specialists, gets nowhere, and finally has the good fortune to stumble on a doctor who has the key insight. They’re fabulous pieces, medical minute mysteries.

I almost missed the latest one. This afternoon, I grabbed last week’s NYT magazine to add to the pile of newspapers I was recycling, but decided first to open it, and there was the piece. I won’t ruin the mystery for you, but I will quote the opening paragraph from the Resolution section:

The patient says Helfrich was the only doctor who seemed to truly look at him. During that first encounter, Helfrich didn’t take notes, didn’t focus on his chart, didn’t click through page after page in the computer. He simply asked questions, listened to the answers and observed.

Good advice for us all.

Categories: Medicine