All posts filed under: Health

I’m a Feminist Mother. But I Don’t Need a ‘Feminist Birth’

When my first was born—a bit early, just shy of 36 weeks—he couldn’t breathe. He let out a brief, warbled cry, then fell silent. He was taken from my grasp in seconds, before it felt like he had ever really been with me at all. He required resuscitation. I held him again, for a few seconds, when he was stable and wearing a continuous positive airway pressure mask. Then he was taken to another floor of the hospital. There were a lot of things for a mother to be upset about. My labour included medical interventions, including intravenous medications, that I had no say about. I was confined to bed to allow continuous fetal monitoring, making labour—which took place without analgesics—more painful. I didn’t see my son for over two hours after he was taken to the neonatal intensive care unit. He never breastfed well in the months that followed, possibly because he was given a soother and feeding tube without my consultation or knowledge. “Mommy” blogs and other online fora are rife with similar …

Rationalizing Modern Drug Prejudices

Congressman Jared Polis: Is crack worse for a person than marijuana? DEA Agent Michele Leonhart: I believe all illegal drugs are bad for you. Congressman Jared Polis: Is methamphetamine worse for somebody’s health than marijuana? DEA Agent Michele Leonhart: I don’t think any illegal drug is good for you. Congressman Jared Polis: Is heroin worse for someone’s health than marijuana? DEA Agent Michele Leonhart: Again, all drugs. Congressman Jared Polis:  I mean either ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘I don’t know.’ I mean if you don’t know you can look at this up. You should know this as the Chief Administrator of the DEA. I’m asking you a straightforward question, is heroin worse for someone’s health than marijuana? DEA Agent Michele Leonhart: All illegal drugs are bad. *   *   * How dangerous are different substances compared with each other, and do the laws get it right in banning some substances but not others? This question is not as immediately answerable as it might seem. For a start, no final and absolute answer can ever be given to …

The Rise of ‘Drag Kids’—and the Death of Gay Culture

Last month, the CBC—Canada’s public television network—ran a lavishly publicized documentary about “four kid drag queens as they prepare to slay on Montreal stage.” This was marketed as child-friendly content. Indeed, the CBC promoted the documentary, titled Drag Kids, on its “CBC Kids News” channel as a fun look at children who “sashay their way into the spotlight.” For me, as a gay man, watching the documentary was traumatic. The interviewed parents defend themselves against accusations they are abusing their children by encouraging them to dress up in drag. But to do so, the parents must purport to separate drag from sex and sexuality, which is simply ahistorical. They define drag as “a way of expression,” and assure everyone that “there’s nothing sexual to it” (a premise that the CBC clearly embedded in the marketing around the documentary). The kids themselves are very much on message. One remarks, “I was called gay-boy, but I did nothing but dress up.” That last remark actually brought tears to my eyes—though not for the reasons you might think. …

Choosing a Good Death

As a doctor working in palliative care, I treat people who have a terminal illness, in a healthcare system that favours more, rather than less, clinical intervention. Of course, when you go to a hospital, you expect investigations and treatments. You expect the right balance to be struck between finding out if something is wrong, and hopefully not having to return for test after test, procedure after procedure, to the point where your ailment takes over your entire life. Medicine’s goal is, after all, to extend life, and patients will often sacrifice life quality today for the chance of gaining time or feeling better later. Healthcare professionals are rightfully trained to treat first and ask questions later. But what about the last years of life, when, with the benefit of hindsight, too much time appears to have been spent in hospitals and in clinical areas? Opportunities for holidays and weekends away or family dinners are exchanged for the multiple scars of clinical intrusions visible all over a frail body: cuts, bruises, cannulae, tubes. This is …

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of….What Exactly?

On June 28, the morning after her eyebrow-raising theatrics at the second Democratic debate, New Age high priestess-cum-presidential aspirant Marianne Williamson retweeted this: The power of your mind is greater than the power of nuclear radiation. Visualize angels dispersing it into nothingness. — Marianne Williamson (@marwilliamson) March 29, 2011 While Williamson’s candidacy is itself certain to disperse into nothingness, legible between the lines of the guru’s flakiness is a profound insight about the most misunderstood and misguided totem in American life: the idea that positive and/or happy thoughts foster positive and/or happy outcomes. The same belief in “mind power” that elicits groans and derision when rendered in 280 characters is woven through the fabric of American life. American culture has evolved a unique view of the mind’s relationship to the external world; not in the sense of an esoteric disquisition on the nature of consciousness, but rather in the sense of spoon-bending—a view of life wherein positive thinking enables us to bend life to our respective desires. Ergo: The attitude is the action. The belief …

Coming Together to Honor a Dead Rock Star—And Ward Off Our Own Demons

In May, 2018, Scott Hutchinson, singer/songwriter/guitarist for the indie rock band Frightened Rabbit was found dead on the banks of Scotland’s Firth of Forth after having gone missing a day earlier. The final dispatches from his Twitter account indicated that this was not an accident or a case of misadventure. His suicide cut to the heart of the band’s fan community, a refuge for people struggling with mental illness, substance abuse and heartbreak. Scott’s songwriting delved deep into the dirty facts of living, but was also marked by a tender optimism housed within an envelope of pain. Scott’s disappearance and then death caused fans to ask: What does this mean? If he couldn’t save himself through his music, how can it help the rest of us? In the months leading up to the news, I was in a bad place. Nothing in life felt right, and every day was a fight against hopelessness—to the point that even when good things happened, I would remain afraid or numb. During a visit to Montreal, I walked from …

The Real Gender Gap in Heart Disease

Because I’m that guy, I took a poll at the recent family barbecue. “Heart disease—who has it worse? Men or women?” I asked. The answers came quickly. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law said, “Women.” My father-in-law, arms crossed, said confidently, “Men.” My mother-in-law remembered hearing about how heart disease affected women more than men during the February American Heart Association (AHA) “Go Red for Women” campaign. Apparently, the message wasn’t heard by the men at this family gathering. They were moved by stories of men—fathers, brothers, friends—they knew who died from heart disease. We are taught that facts should trump feelings, evidence should trump anecdotes, and at first glance it would appear the men are too in touch with their feelings. It is the mission of advocacy organizations like the AHA to raise awareness. Charts like this one are widely disseminated and used in countless presentations on the topic: The graph demonstrates that over the last few decades the number of women dying from heart disease has been significantly higher than men dying from heart disease. …

How ‘Limbic Capitalism’ Preys on Our Addicted Brains

One summer day in 2010, a Swedish graduate student named Daniel Berg approached me after a talk I gave at Christ’s College, Cambridge. During the talk, I had casually mentioned internet addiction. Berg told me that I had spoken a truth larger than I knew. Many of his male friends at Stockholm University had dropped out of school and were living in crash pads, compulsively playing World of Warcraft. They spoke an argot more English than Swedish. It was all raiding, all the time. “How do they feel about their circumstances?” I asked. “They feel angst,” Berg said. “But they keep playing?” “They keep playing.” This sort of behavior does seem like an addiction, in the sense of a compulsive, regret-filled pursuit of transient pleasures that are harmful to both the individual and society. For gaming, the personal cost was highest for Swedish men. “I am,” Berg reported, “now the only male in my graduate program in economic history.” Back home in Florida, I noticed digital distractions exacting a more even academic toll. The smartphones …

A Contrarian View of Digital Health

“The pursuit of health is a symptom of unhealth.” —Petr Skrabanek Picture Jim from Kentucky. A farmer, tall, Peterbilt hat. Just retired. He takes basic meds for high blood pressure and diabetes. Arthritis slows him but he has no cardiac symptoms. He plays cards, goes fishing and hangs out with his grandkids. Jim’s family bought him a smart watch, so he could improve his health. The watch kept telling him that his heart rate was low. Jim called his family doctor, who arranged an urgent cardiology visit. Jim’s electrocardiogram showed occasional premature ventricular contractions (PVCs). His cardiologist worried because PVCs can indicate trouble. Jim tried to reassure his doctor, saying, “I feel well.” The cardiologist insisted on further testing. One of the scans—known for its propensity for false-positives—showed an abnormality. So Jim, the asymptomatic happy man who met the cardiologist because of a smart watch, had a near-normal coronary angiogram—a test that requires placing a catheter in the heart. Soon after the procedure, Jim stopped talking, his face drooped and he could not move the …

How I Lost My Partner to a Parasite

I have given only the first rough outlines of a province of a great terra incognita, which lies unexplored before us, and the exploration of which promises a return such as we can at present scarcely appreciate. ~Johann Steenstrup, Danish zoologist, on parasites (circa 1854) This monster isn’t David. It’s a parasite of some kind. You see, another consciousness inside him. This thing burrowed into David’s brain … and has been there, feeding off him ever since. ~Loudermilk, FX Legion. Some lose a lover to a younger woman or an irreversible illness. I lost my partner to a parasite named Edwin. Imagine watching someone you love slowly die—except they’re still alive, still walking around, and still functioning. This is what it must feel like losing them to some kind of cult. Except that intervention and deprogramming can revert them back into the person you knew. And, although reversing a parasite invasion is possible, my now-ex ultimately didn’t care to do so. I often find it hard to believe myself, which is when I have become …