Category Archives: Health

So You’ve Strained an Intercostal…

image from wikimedia

Hi, folks. I am not a doctor, nor have I played one on TV, but I would like to take a minute to share a bit of info about a subject literally near to my heart. The intercostal muscles are a group of small muscles that run between the ribs and are responsible for helping shape and move the chest wall when you breathe. Despite the fact they are located in your chest, these muscles can be a major pain in the rear. When one is strained, usually by coughing or by a fall, it can be excruciating, and without an x-ray may be difficult to distinguish from a broken rib.

In the course of my life, I have managed to strain these muscles THREE times, each time from coughing. A strained intercostal, in my sad experience, feels like being stabbed through the ribs with a jagged object. My pain was inconveniently located deep inside my breast, just under the breast at the outer edge, and in my armpit.  In my case the pain was generally mild until I coughed. However, if I was coughing a lot, the injury would be aggravated to the point that it hurt when I breathed deeply, or pretty much all the time.

wpid-IMAG0916.jpgThe first time it happened, my doctor diagnosed either a pulled intercostal or broken rib, but didn’t offer to take an x-ray as the treatment was the same:  take ibuprofen to control pain and inflammation and reduce activity as needed. Exercise or lifting heavy items can make pain worse. Gentlemen, you have one up on us ladies because without bulky breast tissue it is much easier to bind your ribs, which I have heard can help with pain. Ladies, you will find that grabbing your breast and trying to push it in when you cough doesn’t help at all. One thing I discovered does help if coughing is a factor is to create a little traction. If you feel a cough coming on, grab the top rail of a door frame with the arm on the side of the injury and bend your knees until you feel a good stretch, then cover your cough with the inside of your other arm (because nobody wants your nasty germs, especially if they result in the blazing pain of a strained intercostal.) Take your ibuprofen, drink plenty of water, try not to swear, and in three to six weeks the worst will be over. I am sorry. I wish it would go faster. Primarily because I am nursing one myself right now.

Good health to us both!

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If You Give A Mouse A Cigarette…

chances are, he’ll end up needing a vaccination to go with it.

Wednesday morning on Minnesota Public Radio, Ron Crystal, chairman and professor of genetic medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, said scientists there have created a “vaccine” that prevents nicotine addiction in mice. Traditional vaccines work by introducing a weakened form of whatever virus you are trying to fight into the body, where antibodies are created, building an army of specially built combatants that engulf and eliminate the vaccine’s virus from the vaccine, but also any future viruses of the same type which one may pick up at school, work, the playground or the grocery store. The nicotine vaccine is different. It is a gene therapy that alters  the liver, causing it to produce antibodies targeted to pick up nicotine in the bloodstream before it reaches the brain. Nicotine is addictive because it sets off fireworks in the pleasure center of the brain. No pleasure? No addiction.

In the course of the interview, the vaccine was described as both a measure to prevent addiction and a treatment for already addicted individuals. Laboratory mice addicted to nicotine were given the vaccine and over a short period of time stopped “smoking.” (I don’t know how the nicotine was administered; I presume there was a lever pressed somewhere. I can’t help picturing a group of mice huddled outside a non-smoking laboratory puffing away on cigarettes and grumbling, “WTH? Why isn’t this thing working?”) Presumably, the mice still crave the nicotine, but when the behavior isn’t rewarding, they quit the behavior. Crystal says that in terms of nicotine addiction, mice and human behaviors are very similar (again, I am picturing mice outside bars and restaurants, perhaps wearing smoking jackets.) No booster shots are needed to re-energize antibody production, because the altered liver will continue producing the antibodies. For life.

And this is my point. If there is a substance so destructive and yet so addictive that people would be willing to permanently alter their bodies at a genetic level just to help them stop consuming it, knowing they will still crave it for the rest of their lives, that says something. To me it says, “screw the vaccination, I will be declining tobacco in the first place, thank you.” (Growing up in a smoking household provided me with enough aversive experiences that I was never interested in smoking…until I hit my forties. There is something about surviving four decades of people-pleasing that makes me, in theory, want to light up. I liken it to flipping the world the bird. Now I have to work on a backup plan.) In the interview, the potential of parents choosing to inoculate their children was discussed as an ethically problematic issue. (I cannot imagine doing such a thing–performing an after factory add-on to prevent my child from engaging in a voluntary behavior, but there is no doubt in my mind that there are parents out there who would be eager to do so. People are doing crazier things to their children with less reason all the time: botox, overdoing it, etc.) Researchers are hopeful about expanding their results to other drugs like meth and cocaine. Now the issue gets grayer. There are stories upon stories of cases where “good parenting” and “a supportive environment” weren’t enough to prevent people from becoming dependent on drugs. If I had witnessed my own brother’s death spiral into meth addiction, would I inoculate my children to protect them and give me peace of mind? These are decisions my children may have to make someday, not me. (Am I alone here, or does it seem like the world is a game that gets progressively harder as time goes on? We don’t “pass the test,” we just move on to the next level.) I feel like we would be okay if we  just keep creating smarter and more resilient children, and provide them with a culture that offers them enlightenment and a society that offers them opportunity. I know the evidence shows this isn’t completely realistic, but we can try. Let’s keep the gene therapy as Plan B for now, okay?

A Love Letter to Discover

Discover magazine, how do I love thee? I love thee a lot. Even when I don’t understand thee, I love thee. I recently received the July/August issue of Discover, which appears to be very biology-centric. This makes me happy because biology is like the hot boyfriend with a little bit of an accent and colloquialisms that make communication somewhat difficult, as compared to the gorgeous boyfriend of physics who speaks a completely different language but I don’t even care, I could just lustfully listen to him spout incomprehensibility all day. Science turns me on, yo. I have been a subscriber for years and even though I haven’t lately been able to read every issue cover-to-cover, I do try. I have gotten ideas for stories and plot twists as well as general information and entertainment from the magazine and it makes me feel better than reading People magazine does. Kind of like when I choose to eat an apple over a doughnut. As Bill Nye says, “Science rules!”

So far two articles in this issue have gotten me excited. The first, “Superhuman Vision” is about a mutant cone some women (maybe a lot of women) are carrying around, a fourth cone that allows them to see an exponential number of color variations not visible to other humans. It is kind of like the Bizarro World version of the green/red color blindness that diminishes color perception in some men. How cool is that?! Mutant powers! X-(wo)men! The thing is that many of these women probably aren’t aware that they are seeing anything the rest of us aren’t because the nature of perception is so individual. Imagine trying to describe red to someone who can’t see red or provoke someone who doesn’t taste chocolate or tobacco in their red wine to do so. Difficult. I want them to make the test they describe in the article available on the internet. Maybe I have super vision! Actually I suspect that the only thing special about my vision is the degree to which I am frazzled by floaters, which isn’t very special at all.

The other article was “Earth’s Last Unexplored Wilderness Is…Your Living Room.” I love articles which immediately make me change my behavior. I wasn’t even halfway through the piece when I jumped up and opened all the windows on the main level of my house. For fifteen minutes–until the heat and humidity (already? at 8:30 a.m.?) forced me to close them again. Now, science reveals some uncomfortable truths, that maybe not all of you want to know. Far be it for me to expose you to graphic information that could gross you out for life, so two things: you might want to disinfect your showerheads, and wash your pillowcases with bleach in the hottest water you can. As I am. That is all.

It isn’t like Discover has never led me astray. I preached the anti-high fructose corn syrup gospel for over a year based on a quoted scientist who described it as a “metabolic disaster.” Further study showed no such thing, of course. Sugar is sugar, and we are getting way too much in all of its forms. But that is part of what I like about science. People make hypotheses and test them and share the results and other people say, “Hey, that is interesting! Are you sure?” and re-test the results, using what comes to leap to more evolved hypotheses, and we are all better for it. We grow from knowledge and experience. Ideally, science is all about open-mindedness, and using evidence to guide us toward knowledge. Some also use the lack of evidence to deny the existence of things for which we cannot test, like God for instance. In earlier generations, the existence of germs and sub-atomic particles and dark matter was considered ludicrous. I wonder what fascinating things we will know for certain in the future that are unimaginable to us today? I can’t wait to read about them in Discover.

The Numbers Game: Wordtabulous Meets MOTOACTV

When I bought my first bike as an adult, my friends encouraged me to get a cycling computer, a small electronic device that was wired to a little plastic doo-hickey (I am pretty sure that is the term) which registered how fast a magnet attached to a front wheel spoke swept past it. The computer gave me numbers for how long a time period I rode, distance I covered, my current speed while riding, my average speed over the entire trip, my max speed, and an odometer that collected all the miles I ever rode (when I remembered to turn the thing on.) I hadn’t even been sure I wanted one of the things–they seemed suspiciously fancy, but once I had a computer, I was hooked. Suddenly I was ALL ABOUT wanting to ride longer distances faster. When I got tired, I could see the numbers getting lower as I slowed, and it inspired me to fight through the fatigue and press on. When I wanted to be done, but saw I only needed three more miles to hit a nice, even number on the odometer, I’d add a side trip to get a little more distance. Training involves at least as much mental dedication as it does physical toughness, and numbers are a way to distract a person from the discomfort of a grueling workout, or help them focus on the results they want. Numbers are our friends.

I have had several different computers over the years, but they were all pretty much on the same level as that first one. Priorities shifted, and I started riding more sporadically. When I did get out my rides were slower and shorter. For a time I was taking a lot of group fitness classes like Kettlebell and Pilates and TRX, but when I got a job (in addition to the freelance work and the domestic engineering I already do,) my new work schedule and life in general conflicted with the classes. I began spending more and more time sitting in front of the computer or on the couch. When I rode the Tour de Cure last weekend, it seemed obvious to me that my new sedentary lifestyle had taken a toll. Fortunately, a friend at work had a connection to someone at Verizon Wireless, who was willing to loan me a Motorola MOTOACTV device for a week, to see what I thought. Great opportunity! So here’s what I think:

The package I got from Verizon Wireless included the MOTOACTV device, which is about 1.75 inches square, and the following accessories: a wristband, an armband, a belt clip, earphones, a bike mount, and a USB cord and wall charger. The device charged up in less than two hours. It was pretty easy to navigate through the various menus. There is one for Settings, where you can sync the device to a heart rate transmitter, and add personal information like height, weight, gender and age. There is a Workout menu under which you can choose to look at data from recent workouts or start a new workout by choosing running, cycling, walking, elliptical or step machine. The Main screen shows the time, date, estimated calories burned (either for the day, if you are using all day monitoring, or for a workout you are doing if you are trying to conserve battery life,) and a pedometer readout. There is a Music menu (I loaded a playlist from my iTunes,) and Notifications, which I never used. The device is cool, but where things got  amazing was when I hooked it up to my computer (to load music and see what there was to see,) and then went to the MOTOACTV website (https://motoactv.com/) From then on, the device synced all my data wirelessly and automatically.

I used the MOTOACTV for four workouts: a 45 mile long bike ride (Tour de Cure,) a three-mile walk, a fit-test run (I know-me running? I am a very dedicated data gatherer,) and a 21 mile bike ride I took by myself. I had trouble getting things rolling at the Tour, I was leaving the start line on a winding path and since I’d only gotten the device the day before I was unfamiliar with it. There was the GPS to connect to, and the start button to hit–no biggie but a little bewildering the first time, particularly with other bikers riding alongside. I had left the device on “all day monitoring,” the bluetooth was activated and I hadn’t charged it again since the day before, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised when it died 28 miles in. There was a lot of data flowing when it WAS working: all the usual stats mentioned above, plus  data for speed broken down by each mile ridden. When it shut down, there were 28 discrete pieces of data waiting for me to analyze, and when I recharged the device, it was still there along with a tiny little route map!

When I checked on the website, the info was waiting for me, no cables or button pushing required, all wirelessly updated. Nice. I borrowed a Garmin heart-rate transmitter from a neighbor (thanks, Lynn!) to do the Fitness Test (an eight minute run) so the website could set up my Carmichael Heart Rate Zones. Within a hundred yards I was reminded of how much I dislike running, but I cranked out my fast-as-I-could-go for eight minutes and was rewarded with a bunch of new data that seemed very compatible with the  “perceived exertion” levels I generally use. In a Wordtabulous first, I am inserting a video below to show you my favorite features.

Things I didn’t try, but wish I had: the device will compare what music you are listening to, to how well you are performing which can help you build a list of power music. Competition could be fun, although I would be more likely to compete with my own results rather than someone else’s, which is an option they offer. I didn’t use Notifications or link the device to my smartphone, but I am curious how that would all work.

Things I would want that I either didn’t figure out or the device doesn’t offer: a workout setting for monitoring heart rate and calorie burn during group fitness classes. I also think it would be interesting to see heart rate over the course of the day so you could assess your true resting heart rate and exactly how stressful certain times of your day are, but the only heart rate info I could find seemed to be attached to workouts.

In summary, a week was only long enough to dip my toe into what MOTOACTV has to offer but I was really intrigued by the versatility of the device and the wealth of data collected and organized. The battery running out was a newbie user issue not a product problem. I loved the wireless syncing aspect and the GPS tracking and route display. If I owned this device, I KNOW I would get out and do more. The belt clip made the device unobtrusive for all day wear, and the wristband is comfortable and kind of attractive in a chunky way. For my purposes I would want the bike mount and heart rate monitor, but not being totally hard core I don’t know if I would need the cadence meter. The MOTOACTV is spendy at $249.99, or $399 with the sports pack including accessories, but if numbers and high tech visual affirmation of your effort help get you off the couch, it could very well be worth it.

Thank you, Verizon Wireless, for the loan of the device!

It’s OK, Red Rider. You Can Take a Break Now.

Saturday, June 2 was a beautiful day in Minnesota. In fact, it was absolutely breathtaking, which made it so much easier to get up early, load up the cycling accoutrements and head off to Minnehaha Falls Park to ride, party and kick diabetes’ ass.

Last year, I rode with a team I didn’t know very well. I met up with teammates at one rest stop and at the end. I raised $500 dollars. I was really impressed with the ride, the organization and the people involved. I loved how, every time I passed or was passed by someone wearing a red jersey that said “I Ride With Diabetes” we all called out “Go, Red Rider!” I knew I wanted to ride the Tour again but also knew after trying the 64 mile route I needed to either train more or ride less distance for full happiness.

This year, I had my own team of seven people (including two Red Riders.) I rode with one of my teammates and used my phone and texts to stay in touch with everyone else. Three of my teammates were brand new to the event. I only had one teammate who got sick and was unable to ride, but all of us raised at least the minimum and we surpassed our fundraising goal. I rode 45 miles and instead of making conversation with total strangers as I did last year, (which was cool in its own way) I got to reconnect with the friend who rode with me. We had an excellent ride and were pleased with our route choice, which was long enough to be a challenge (since once again I hardly trained at all) but not so long as to give me a screaming migraine, which unfortunately sometimes happens. We hit all last year’s great landmarks: Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun, the Target Center and the Stone Arch Bridge, the Greenway, Grand and Summit Avenues, the Cathedral of St.Paul, Kellogg Ave, Harriet Island, Fort Snelling and back to Minnehaha Falls. We took advantage of the rest stops when we felt like it. At one stop, we took the opportunity to get our photo taken with the Winter Carnival royalty who were very colorful and friendly. And, right to the finish line, we called out “Go, Red Rider!” as the occasion arose, which really helps a person stay focused on the cause.

Yes, we are wearing leis. You DON’T wear a lei when you ride a bike? Weird.

Once we were done, we got together with as many of our teammates as we could gather; one needed to leave early and one we had difficulty connecting with due to phone issues. We got our free lunch (I had a turkey burger and chips and a Zevia, which is a zero calorie fruit-flavored carbonated beverage naturally sweetened with stevia) and there was free beer (thank you Schell!) for drinkers 21 years and older.

A word about beer. I don’t LOVE beer, but there are situations that call for it: baseball games, German food, and post ride. Especially that last one; beer is like a post-cycling miracle beverage.

We got a picture of the four of us that convened at the beer garden. I am so proud of everyone on my team, for saying yes to the event and and supporting the American Diabetes Association, and am so honored they chose to sign up with my team! I only wish I had a shot of all of us together plus all our fabulous friends and family who donated to support our efforts, but their faces are all engraved on my heart.

Don’t we look happy? Wouldn’t you like to ride with us? I don’t know who that guy in the black T-shirt is, but I think he wants to join our team!

Even BEFORE drinking the beer, we agreed we all would be riding the Tour de Cure again and–even better–one might start his own team, and recruit friends to start more teams! The only downside of the day would have to be the fact that I was forced to face the fact that I am definitely not as strong as I once was. The ride itself was great, but I was a limp rag the entire rest of the day, when in the past, I think I would have been fine. Maybe a little tired. I think the “repetitive nap attack” might be blamed a little bit on the midday beer, but the truth is that I really need to get back to the workouts.

One additional upside to the day was that I got to try out a new toy! Thank you, Verizon Wireless, for the loan of the MOTOROLA MOTOACTV! I will have a review of the device later this week. I will be using it to jump start my enthusiasm for additional workouts. I CAN tell you that by mile 28 of yesterday’s ride, I had burned an estimated 1,073 calories. Sadly, due to user inexperience, the unit’s battery died at that point, so I am not sure how many calories total I burned. Still, exciting!

Thanks for hanging in there with me through this report of Tour de Cure 2012. Eat right, exercise, and send your pancreas positive thoughts so diabetes doesn’t darken your door, and if it does (or already has,) know that there are thousands of people out there pedaling for you and for a cure!

Blowing Off The Cobwebs

Spring is skipping happily toward summer, and I have finally gotten my bike out on the road. Both my bikes, actually. There was a rough patch in my life, following the birth of my second child and lasting for several years, during which I felt I was losing large parts of my identity as an individual. I loved my family, and loved my job (until I didn’t, when I stopped,) but I felt a little lost in the mix. I needed something fun that was just mine, and I remembered loving the wind on my face as I coasted down hills as a child. I bought a Raleigh bike with medium nubby tires, a cushy saddle and a straight handlebar. Something happened as I mounted the bike and pedaled off with no destination in mind. My focus on meeting others’ needs evaporated, with no one needy around. My preoccupation with concerns and to-do lists lifted. I could feel my blood coursing through my veins, practically singing, and I felt like I had come home.

I met Linda, a lovely woman from church, and we started to ride together. She had a road bike, built for higher speeds on paved roads and coaxed me into longer distances. She was the one who persuaded me to sign up for my first-ever organized ride: The Ironman Bicycle Classic in Lakeville, MN, so named because it offers distances of up to 100 miles in the early spring before anyone here is fully ready for long distances and because sometimes participants ride in snow, not because of any relationship with the Ironman Triathlon. Linda and I rode the 62 mile course in 1999, and I was hooked. She moved away, but I found an outdoor cycling group through the local fitness center. I bought a road bike, a Univega Modo Vincere. I eventually began organizing the group and teaching indoor cycling classes. I rode in recreational and fundraising events (including a few centuries, or 100 mile rides,) and even competed in a few events.

Then I turned, or re-turned to writing, and while I have never lost my love for cycling, it has become less and less a part of my life.  Now I ride one fundraising event a year, the Tour de Cure for the American Diabetes Association, and a handful of rides with others or by myself each season. And this is the thing: getting back in the saddle is still like coming home. When I am in a bad mood or mentally blocked, pedaling 10, 15 or 20 miles in the fresh air blows off the cobwebs, bringing me clarity and inspiration. Nowadays I ride a Specialized Allez Comp, but I still get that Raleigh out once in awhile. Chasing speed and distance is a thing of my past, but I hope I never fail to find myself, when I am feeling a little lost, out there on the open road.

How or where do YOU find yourself, when you have felt the grind of life eroding away who you are?

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