The Arrow

There are no answers; only choices.

Archive for the ‘health’ Category

Need to Travel with First-Aid Kit

Posted by thearrow on May 31, 2011

The weather here has reached a level of humidity nastiness that bogs all of us down. It’s brutal. I don’t mind heat (the temperature’s around 90 F/30 C), but the humidity is killing me. And others.

A young lady almost fainted on the metro today, even though the A/C was cranked up. She was leaning against a glass wall next to the door and I saw her sliding down all of a sudden, without a sound. A woman nearby propped her up and sat her down, but the young lady couldn’t utter a word. She could only shake her head. She got off at the next stop and lied down on a bench.

Another young lady, who looked very energetic and was chatting with her colleague, got on. The train had just left the station when her nose started bleeding! She sat down while her colleague and me tried to clean her up and put wet tissues on her forehead, with another woman telling her to squeeze the top of her nose and me telling her to keep her head tilted to the back to stop the bleeding. It eventually stopped; she was in good spirits and was joking all the time.

I’m planning on biking at least two days/week, though; hopefully, three. I’m counting on the fact that mornings are cooler and I’m in the shade most of the time. Also, I put electrolyte tablets in my water to replenish the minerals I lose by sweating. Still, today gave me some pause. I’ll make sure I have some first-aid stuff with me at all times.

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I Love Diazepam :)

Posted by thearrow on March 26, 2009

After a couple of wretched weeks with 3-4 hours of sleep almost every night, this one did the trick. Sleep. What a magic word. I used to hate drugs and didn’t take any for years, but, to my disappointment, some things you just cannot fix by sheer will. Enter the doctors and the drugs, and things start falling into place again. I don’t even feel the need to come to work at the ungodly hours I’ve used to. Now that’s probably an even bigger change πŸ™‚

My grandparents used to take Diazepam when I was a kid. It was always on the end table among myriad other pills, so I came to associate it with old age. Maybe I’m getting old and decrepit too. LOL. In the process of doing that, though, I feel I’m back among the living, with my brain whole again and not roaming somewhere far away from me.

Nothing like a good night’s sleep!

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Musings on Drugs

Posted by thearrow on December 27, 2008

Still fighting my sore throat with, what else, Tylenol. And it works, except I’m in la-la-land again and can’t really concentrate on doing anything. Today’s NYT column by Judith Warner, Living the Off-Label Life, did keep me focused, though. Warner asks us if we would be willing to take a drug that would enhance our brain’s performance under the everyday barrage of information, disruption, and tasks on our never ending to-do lists. She goes through the list of cons of cognitive enhancements, the main points being that they would render meritocracy and fairness meaningless, and that they still seem unnatural and inhuman.

But then she turns to the reasons why we should perhaps consider, as suggested by the authors of an article in the science journal Nature, accepting the “benefits of enhancement.” Life as we know it is not the life our brains have been prepared for. We are trapped in a rat race, whether we like it or not. In my job I have to cope with interruptions and new tasks all the time, regardless of what’s on my plate already. The workflow changes continuously. I feel overwhelmed and I don’t even have kids, which bring a whole new layer of complexity to your life. So I think I’d be very tempted to take one of those brain-performance enhancers.

That and the chip storing the images of the artworks I’ve seen, and I’d be the perfect cyborg :). Perfect until we’ve brought about some new challenge for ourselves, for which we have to invent some prosthetic device/drug to help us cope. The biggest problem is our feeling of inadequacy at not being able to do it all. And everyone around keeps marching on; no one yells “stop!”

Maybe we should just learn to say “no,” you know. But I think we’ll sooner start taking drugs than do that. As Warner said, “It’s disturbing to think that we just have to make do with the world we now live in. But to do otherwise is for most people an impossible luxury.”Β  Normality is fading rapidly into history.

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Sick and Tired

Posted by thearrow on November 7, 2008

I got a flu shot on Wednesday and by the end of the day I got sick. Great. I guess the live virus was too lively :). The weirdest part is that this is a cold (or flu) with zero symptoms other than extreme fatigue. No running nose, no coughing, no sore throat. But no strength whatsoever either. It just whacks me over my head and all I can do is sleep. I slept 20 hours on Thursday. But I’m not complaining, since much of that was probably recuperating missed regular-sleep hours.

Now I know many of my Romanian friends will be quick to express their disapproval of flu shots, most likely with an I-told-you-so look on their faces :), on grounds that this is exactly what happens, you get sick. The truth is, it might happen sometimes, but not always. This is the third year I’m taking the shot and in the first two I didn’t even sneeze the entire winter, let alone lie in bed. I wasn’t sick at all. In years when I didn’t take the flu shot, I got sick two-three times and it usually took me at least three days to be back on my feet.

I’m feeling better today, meaning I didn’t need to sleep during the day, although I barely walked to the grocery store and back. I needed to get some fresh air and the weather was gorgeous, so I just took one small step at a time. And then I indulged in a small treat: coffee at Starbucks and reading The New Yorker. Now I feel even better :).

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Let’s Put You on Some Drugs

Posted by thearrow on October 28, 2008

So it turns out I have anxiety. Nothing new except now it’s medically diagnosed. I went to my annual physical examination yesterday and told the doctor that I can’t fall asleep sometimes, other times (very rarely) I can’t breathe. She took detailed notes of my account, went to talk to another doctor, and then gave me the news: “We’re going to put you on Lexapro, which treats both anxiety and depression.” (Me, thinking to myself: oh, is it that obvious that I’m depressed as well? :). Hm… Maybe anxiety and depression just go hand in hand. I hope.) “And, because it takes it about two weeks to work, we’ll put you on Ambien, which will help you sleep. It is addictive, though, so we won’t prescribe it for more than that.”

Whoa, dude! Not so fast. In case you guys (as in my three readers) didn’t know, Ambien may cause sleepwalking. A bunch of people put on weight while on it, only to discover that they were eating in the middle of the night and didn’t know they were doing that. Others sleepwalked out of the house (also in the middle of the night). Antidepressants, too, can lead to weight gains, from what I hear. If you ask me, that sort of defeats the purpose of taking these drugs, since putting on weight makes you even more depressed πŸ˜€

But, weight issues aside, the idea that I would be on these drugs was downright scary to me. I don’t think I take more than two aspirins a year, and that’s for random headaches. I took two sleep-aid pills with some natural extracts one night last week (two being the quantity recommended on the box) and I was groggy until 8 p.m. the next day! I cannot imagine what would happen if I were on two drugs, one of which could cause addiction. I’d probably get hooked just by looking at it. So I have one thing to say: No effing way!

Don’t get me wrong. I agree that there can be very stressful situations that you just cannot manage, in which case drugs can help. I don’t think you can do anything through sheer will. But I was shocked to see how easily I could have been prescribed some really powerful drugs, without much thought given to milder alternatives. It’s not that I don’t trust the doctor; I don’t trust the system. I politely declined and said that I’ll try to manage with those pills with natural extracts, which I hope to take as infrequently as possible.

On second thought, I could have just taken the drugs and go to a Halloween party looking like a natural zombie.

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White Noise

Posted by thearrow on July 27, 2008

With my home Internet connection down for a few days, I’ve been enjoying some unplanned but much-appreciated quiet time. There was no reason to turn the computer on, so I took a break from the hypnotic screen and cooling-fan noise, and rested both my eyes and my brain.

Everywhere I go, there’s a constant droning of air conditioning and computers — another thing that was really hard for me to get used to. In fact, I only got used to it in the past two years or so. This is especially a problem at the office, where there’s no way to turn the A/C off and where I’m trapped in front of a screen 9 hours every day, in a windowless room. At the end of the day my brain is dead. At home I turn the A/C on as infrequently as I can, but the computer’s cooling fan is still buzzing in my head. I think I’ll start keeping it off two evenings every week or so. The turbines in my mind continue to whir if the computer’s on and I end up being tired all the time.

I’m grateful that I live in an old apartment building, though, and I can turn the A/C off completely. I can only sleep if there’s no noise at all, but here houses and apartments are heated and air-conditioned through a ventilation system, so there’s no escaping the noise. The first two months when I got here I stayed with a couple of friends and it was very difficult for me to fall asleep since air was circulating through the system all the time. I may not have the strongest sense of smell, but boy do I hear a pin drop a mile away.

Aside from my personal sleep challenges, though, I think ventilation is very bad for your health because of all those tiny dust particles it spews in the air continuously. My personal theory is that this is why there are so many people suffering from allergies in America, even in cities without any industrial activity, like DC. Yes, we have pollen in industrial quantities, but that’s seasonal. Here some people have bouts of allergy year round. After staying with my friends, I lived for a year in an apartment with water radiators like most Romanians have and I loved it. It’s such a great way of heating a place; I really miss it.

I know, I know: you can’t have it all. If I could combine what I like about America with what I like about Romania, I would make the best country in the world. For me, of course :).

Posted in American culture, health | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Best Diet. Ever

Posted by thearrow on June 27, 2008

Eat Yourself Slim, by Michel Montignac. In Romanian, “Ma hranesc, deci slabesc.” This is something I can preach with more conviction than being a vegetarian, which I’ve been since 1994. Sort of, I have to admit, since I eat fish and seafood, but maybe once a month. But back to the diet.

It’s the most balanced, sensible diet I’ve heard of and, since the author is French, you can be sure you don’t have to sacrifice good food :). The beauty of it is that you don’t have to endure any kind of silly starvation, which Montignac is completely against. You do have to change what and how you eat, which is not necessarily simple but it’s not draconian. In a nutshell, you need to make those changes for the rest of your life, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll never eat cake again. You’ll manage your little abuses, so if you’ve had some forbidden food, you just eat more strictly the next couple of days.

The book is a lot of fun to read and the translation in Romanian was really good, from what I remember. My favorite part was when he explained how the French shunned the potato for about 200 years before they integrated it in their meals. Funny how now a lot of people like French fries (btw, are they really French?).

Anyway, I thought I’d make it easy for you and lay out the ground rules. I still advocate buying the book, though, because it give great explanations of metabolic processes and why you should eat certain things and not others. It gives you lists of good and bad food, good and bad carbs, fat, etc. It even gives recipes!

You keep the strict(er) diet for two-three months, depending on how much weight you need to lose, and then you continue applying these principles for the rest of your life if you want to maintain that low weight. Dieting for a few weeks and then going back to the fattening foods you’ve eaten before will never work. Another plus of this diet is that you don’t gain weight that easily after it. You really have to stuff your face with the bad stuff before that happens. I probably shouldn’t have said this but I’m hoping it can be an incentive.

Rule no. 1: No food high in carbs. This means no potatoes, pasta, white bread, corn, beets, beer, and liquor. Forget that these exist :). Also, no sodas or any kind of juice, really, other than freshly squeezed. Fruit is always better than juice because you get the fiber.

You can eat whole-wheat bread, but only two or three slices in the morning in the weight-loss stage. I’d say if you only need to shed a few pounds, you can add maybe another two slices to your lunch, depending on what you eat then, but definitely no bread in the evening.

You can also eat whole wheat pasta, depending on what you put on it; see below.

Rule no. 2: Don’t mix carbs and fat, which together are very fattening. This means no bread (even if whole wheat) and butter. No Romanian “mamaliga cu brinza” either (polenta and feta cheese). No steak and potatoes (not even just mashed potatoes). No Alfredo pasta and, in general, no cheese and pasta, which, I know, takes the fun out of it. You can have whole pasta with vegetables and marinara, though, and still have a very satisfying meal. So when you look at food next time, think if it’s in the fat category or carb category. If they have seen each other’s eyes, big no-no, ok? πŸ™‚

Yogurt has both carbs and fat, but because it’s a healthy food you can eat low-fat yogurt by itself, for instance. I’d say even if you eat regular plain yogurt by itself, you’ll be fine. But those fruit yogurts are on the black list. They should really be called “jam yogurts” because they’re all made with jams, not fresh fruit, so they’re a big scam. Sure, if you want to eat one as a treat, that’s something else, but don’t fool yourself into believing it’s healthy. Because fruit contains some amount of sugar, you shouldn’t be mixing it with yogurt either. It’s probably not that much more sugar, so again it depends on how strict you want to be.

Milk also contains both carbs and fat, so Montignac recommends skim milk.

You can eat carbs 5 hours after you’ve had a fat- (or protein-) based meal. You can eat a protein meal 3 hours after you’ve had carbs. That’s how long it takes the body to process them.

You can eat dark chocolate with a minimum of 70% cacao content. You can’t eat milk chocolate because the milk fat will plot with the sugar to get you a fat ass. The high cacao content makes the taste so intense that you can only eat a few bites; it has built-in moderation, so to speak. That said, I can eat lots of dark chocolate with whatever cacao content it is possible to have πŸ™‚

Rule no. 3: no animal fat. If you eat pork, beef, chicken, you need to trim the fat or buy lean meat; no chicken skin.

Fish is the exception; apparently, the body processes it differently. So you can eat very fat fish and you’ll be just fine. The same for vegetable oils.

Other rules:

No coffee. It contributes to weight gain, particularly if you drink it mid-morning and mid-afternoon, when sugar from the digested food goes from your blood to your cells. Very interesting factoid, which he explains better than I. I wouldn’t be able to live without coffee though, so I try to have just a mug in the morning.

Eat fruit on an empty stomach. This might come as a surprise, since people usually eat fruit as dessert. Bad idea! Fruit is metabolized differently from regular food, so eating it after lunch or dinner will just make a big mess in your stomach and will ensure that nothing gets digested properly. I can personally testify that he is right. I could never eat fruit after a meal and didn’t know why until I read his book. You need to wait about three hours after a meal to eat fruit. Eating it on an empty stomach ensures a higher absorption of the nutrients, too.

Personal tips:

Try tahini (a.k.a. sesame paste) on bread for breakfast; especially since you can’t eat bread and butter and margarine is hardly healthful. It has a nutty, rich taste (which I absolutely love) and it’s just a seed, so it has to be good. I put salt on it.

Not having grown up in America, I like salty breakfasts, so cereal is not on my menu. This can be a big challenge for Americans, since cereal is such a breakfast staple here. Not sure what to suggest other than 1. get whole grain cereal with the lowest sugar content possible, 2. switch to oatmeal, and 3. find alternatives. I linked to the U.S. edition, though, which I’m sure has great advice.

– Eat very little for dinner. In my experience, eating late and a lot contributes to weight gain. This, again, can be a challenge in America. My impression was that Romanians are not that big on having a substantial meal for dinner; my family just nibbles on sandwiches, I don’t remember my mom ever cooking for dinner.

This is it, (sort of) in a nutshell. I’m telling you: it doesn’t fail. Quite a few of my friends lost just how much weight they needed; not more, not less.

And don’t forget those push-ups πŸ™‚

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