Imagine this post to have a title with a quote from a song about eyes.

I’m not sure how well this is going to go today.  Last night, sometime not too long after midnight, maybe, I must have done something to scratch the conjunctiva of my right eye behind the middle of the upper eyelid, and it wasn’t long before I woke up with real, sharp pain.  I haven’t been able to see anything in there, such as a foreign body, despite mirrors, lights, and bright flashlights, and a complete lack of squeamishness about looking around under my own eyelid.  All I can see is that it’s irritated, though it feels as though there’s a needle in it.  But, of course, I can’t see very well in there even with lights and flashlight and lack of squeamishness, because the eye in question is impaired by the irritation, so there are limits.

I would offer to take and include with this post a picture from my cell phone camera, but I don’t see how that would help.

It’s so bad that I was tempted just to stay home from work, but the problem is, there are too many things in and around the house that are irritating to my eyes in and of themselves—dust from work that’s being done, residual cat dander from the people who used to live in the room in which I’m currently staying (and who had two cats), the general feeling of being annoyed because of where I live…these are all reasons not to want to lie around the house.  Anyway, I would probably just feel guilty, even if I had a good reason—which I I do, in a way.

I suppose I could claim to have—or fear that I have—“pink eye”, but even if I had it, it would be bacterial conjunctivitis, since it’s entirely unilateral; the viral form spreads so easily that it frequently occurs in both eyes.  Also, I just don’t have any other signs or symptoms that go with pink eye.  I am shedding a lot of tears—ironically, not because of my mood—but they are not tainted with pus.  Conjunctivitis tends to produce a greenish discharge.  Mine is as clear as more ordinary tears.

Nevertheless, those tears are annoying, as is the process itself.  And it’s not as though I could just pop into my primary doctor’s office to get it looked at, and maybe get some prescription eyedrops; I don’t have insurance, and I don’t have a primary doctor.  This is what comes from a combination of apparent “neurodivergence”, dysthymia, possible other neuropsychiatric issues, chronic pain, a completely ruined life, a comparative lack of higher-level self-preservation drive*, and a near-total lack of social supports (a complete lack, locally speaking).

So it’s not as though anyone else is going to take care of me when I’m not feeling well.  That’s not surprising, really, and it’s probably no more than I deserve; I’m not the sort of person other people seem to want to take care of, and I usually have been better at (and preferred) taking care of other people than the reverse.  I’m still the one to whom people at the office always come if they need band-aids, or antiseptic, or Tylenol, or to have an MRI report explained to them, all that kind of stuff.  I’m a bad patient, but I’ve almost always been considered a good doctor by those who are qualified to judge.

Anyway, my eye is really annoying me, and I want to give it a rest, so I’ll draw to a close here for today, and also for this week.  If this post is too short, well, at least yesterday I wrote a longish one, with pictures and video and everything.  Feel free to check it and/or any of my other, older posts out.  Have a good weekend.


*Though, as I’ve commented before, here and on Twitter, even if one is intellectually okay with the fact that one is going to die, it’s hard to ignore the fear of death that evolution has baked into us.  “And thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of”…well, instinct, not thought, in this case.  But terminologies change over time, and I think Hamlet was basically saying what I mean.

Who would fardels blog, to grunt and sweat under a weary life?

[The initial part of this blog post was meant to be published a week ago, as will become clear.]

Hello, good morning, and good Thursday (it’s also the day before “Good Friday”).  I’m feeling rather poorly this morning, and I am, in fact, going to the doctor before work today.  Yes, I’m planning to go to work afterwards.  It’s not as though I have health insurance or anything, so if I’m going to go to the doctor—ironically—I needs must pay for it out of mine own pocket, even though I’m a qualified medical doctor myself.  This is the eminently sane and rational society in which we live.  Isn’t it grand?

As per last week’s posting, I’ve been focused almost entirely on editing this week, so I’m making significantly faster progress than before, though the road is long.  Also, I’ve just not felt well at all for a while, now, and it’s taking some of the wind out of my sails.  Ordinarily, it’s difficult to get me to slow down and shut up, and I can’t completely rule out the possibility that I’m being subtly poisoned by someone (or more than one) who finds me too annoying.

I’m kidding.  I really don’t suspect some nefarious plot.  It’s just the sort of thing that crosses my mind when I think of myself, so I occasionally imagine that other people might feel similarly.  Actually, other people tend to be more patient with me than I am with myself, but then again, they can get away from me, can’t they?  No matter where I go, as they say, there I am.

I have a few things in the works for IoZ, which might or might not be interesting.  I have an audio blog still to post, and I’m trying to write some posts long-hand (in first draft) to see if that makes me produce them more often.  I also have plans for another post that began its life as a response to a Facebook meme about the tides, stating that, since the moon affects the oceans, there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t affect us since we’re 70% water.  This meme was so misguided and riddled with misunderstandings about basic physics that I couldn’t resist going through the whole Newtonian universal law of gravitation, why there are tides, why they are not dependent upon water, and how tiny the tidal differences due to the moon are from one end of any given person to  the other end.  Yes, I did the math, and shared all the numbers (to significant figures, or thereabouts).  And I’m going to post a version of it on Iterations of Zero once I tweak it a little.

That notion of someone poisoning me doesn’t quite sound so crazy and paranoid now, does it?

I haven’t been promoting my already-published books much lately.  I’ve felt a bit of aversion to Facebook and so haven’t much wanted to give them money, but they really are the best venue I have through which I can promote, unless anyone out there has any better suggestions.  I ought to get back into it.  I just feel kind of obnoxious pushing my own stuff overtly.  I suppose this is why people hire agents and advertisers and marketing firms, but I don’t have that kind of money to spare.

Anyway, the editing of Unanimity and on Free-Range Meat is going well.  As far as short stories go, I still plan both to publish the stories from Welcome to Paradox City as individual Kindle editions and to eventually release a new collection, in hard copy and Kindle, of such “short” stories, so that’s something for you all to look forward to.

Always assuming I live long enough, of course.

TTFN

 

***

 

Okay, well, as you might have noticed, I didn’t, in fact, publish my blog last week, so I’m just going to do a follow-up now and continue the story, as it were, where I left off.

The reason I never posted last week was because, after going to the walk-in clinic and telling them my symptoms and my history, and after the doctor there gave me a once-over, he said (more or less), “Look…I can do some tests here and charge you for them, but unless they show a clear and easily treatable cause of your symptoms and problems, I’m going to recommend that you go the emergency room anyway.  So, let’s skip a step, I won’t charge you for this visit, and I’m going to give you a referral to the ER.”

I thought this was, perhaps, a little alarmist, but I was persuaded—not happily—to follow his advice, and I went.  I guess the ER agreed with the clinic doctor’s assessment, because they admitted me for about thirty or so hours, ruled out heart attack and DVT/pulmonary embolism, and did an echocardiogram (among other things).  They also, thankfully, gave me some antibiotics for a chronic/recurrent ear infection, which quite temporarily relieved it…though it’s already recurring even as I write this.

Then, at the beginning of this week, after a reasonably restful holiday weekend in which I neither celebrated any of various potential causes for celebration nor had any interactions with those with whom I would have wanted to celebrate, I got calls from both the cardiologist who read my echocardiogram and from the attending physician who managed my care during my brief hospitalization.

Before I get into what they said, let me give you a bit of back story:

When I was eighteen, I was diagnosed with an atrial-septal defect, secundum type (read about it here if you like), quite a good-sized one, with a greater-than-two-to-one shunt.  This was promptly evaluated, and I had open-heart surgery to close it, performed at Children’s Hospital in Detroit by the man who wrote the textbook on the surgery.  This experience, which was quite painful but at least interesting, was influential on my decision eventually to go to medical school.  Subsequent follow-up was unremarkable, the surgery was a success, I was discharged from ongoing care, etc., etc., etc.

Anyway, it turns out, based on this new echocardiogram, that my previous defect did not remain completely closed through the intervening years, and that I have some equivalent of a patent foramen ovale with, apparently as indicated on the echo, a shunt that is sometimes reversing…i.e. some blood from my pulmonary circulation is shifting to the systemic circulation without having passed through the lungs to blow off CO2 and get oxygenated.  This is why (as was the case before my initial surgery) I seem to have a high resting heart rate (or did when checked at the clinic and the hospital) and now tend to have a lowish oxygen saturation, at least in the right circumstances.

This is all not imminently life-threatening, but as I know, the fact that there is even occasional right-to-left shunting means that there is a potentially serious problem.  And the attending internist recommended that I start seeing the cardiologist before even coming to her for general medical follow-up, with plans for eventual intervention and closure of the defect.  But, of course, as stated above, I don’t have health insurance right now, and as it is, I’m going to be paying for this hospital visit for quite some time to come.  It is true that closure of such PFO’s nowadays is much less of an undertaking than it was thirty years ago, but I still don’t think it’s going to be cheap.

And, finally, what’s the point?  Apart from the inherent drive to stay alive that’s been beaten into my genes by hundreds of millions of years of multi-cellular evolution, I honestly don’t have any compelling reason to try to improve my health and/or prolong my existence.

I have neither colleagues nor close friends with whom I can really have any enjoyable conversations, or with whom I ever do anything fun…mainly because the things I think are fun are rarely what those around me find enjoyable, and vice versa.

I have a housemate who’s a good guy, and we get along well, but we don’t have a great deal in common (though I’ve bought some great guitars from him).

I’m a divorced, ex-con, MD who can’t practice medicine anymore, whose son won’t talk to him, and who is only able to interact with his daughter through Facebook and similar venues, who works merely to stay alive so he can write and publish sci-fi/fantasy/horror stories that few if any people will ever read, and who occasionally diddles around with writing, producing, and sharing songs, and drawing pictures, and stuff like that.

Oh, and I also make blog posts like this one.

I come from a line of people who tended to be somewhat socially restricted, by nature and choice, but my mother and father at least had each other through their natural life-spans, as was the general rule in the past.  I, however, am a card-carrying inhabitant* of the easy divorce era, bereft of my chosen and beloved family by the will of the love of my life.  I have no strong desire to go through the gauntlet of trying to find some replacement love who is no more likely to have a sense of enduring commitment than the one who came before her, especially when I have so little to offer anymore.

I’m inclined to think that this story’s gone on well past any reasonable degree of interest.  I guess I might change my mind; who knows?  But for now, it’s hard to see the point of bothering to go through all these medical processes again, even if the interventions are less severe and relatively less expensive than they were in the past.  What, as they say, is the point?  I’m basically a weird, weary, and alone person in a world in which the forces of stupidity seem not only to be ascendant now but always to have been so.

It’s enough, I’m thinking.

TTFN


*I don’t actually carry a card

The Treatment Trap

In America today, we rely far too much on pills and on procedures–on would-be “cures” for our problems–than we really should.

It may seem strange for a medical doctor like me to be saying this, but I have insight into the issue from multiple perspectives.  I’ve been one of the doctors who falls into the trap of trying to “treat” every issue rather than prevent or solve it, and I’ve been a patient who approaches things the same way.

The irony is that a great many of the health problems we face in the modern world–especially the most rampant and devastating ones, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and their related problems and consequences–are governable simply by modifying our lifestyles.  Indeed, for many of us, these health concerns’ very existence AS problems is only CAUSED by our modern lifestyles.  I’ve already discussed in some earlier entries the mechanisms and effects of type 2 diabetes, a disorder which is becoming more and more endemic in our nation, and at younger and younger ages.  It’s absolutely clear why this is happening:  We are more sedentary and more overweight and we eat more rapidly absorbed carbohydrates than humans have ever done before in our existence.  What’s more, thanks to public health interventions and control of infectious diseases, we live long enough for these habits to matter more than they could have in the past.  We also know, quite well, many of the things that we can do to counter diabetes and its close relatives, hypertension and heart disease. Yet, instead, we allow our health to deteriorate and then rush to modern medicine to seek “cures” or at least treatments for the outcomes of our bad habits.

I suspect that this trap of habits was set for us, to some degree, by the brilliant innovation and success of antibiotics.  These are the quintessential medical cures:  When used against an infection caused by a sensitive bacteria, antibiotics actually CURE the problem (with the help of our own immune system).  To some degree anti-virals do the same, though they are more recent, and anti-parasitic agents are also analogous.

Unfortunately, most other kinds of medicines–unless you count the occasional Tylenol or Motrin to treat a tension headache or muscle soreness–don’t actually cure anything.  They simply “treat” it, governing the symptoms and consequences to some degree or other, but not addressing whatever underlying processes might be contributing to the issues.  In addition, they give the patient the illusion that the problem is now under real control.

There are, of course, times, when health problems are not soluble or easily controllable, and managing the symptoms and consequences is the very best we can do, at least for now.  So PLEASE do not think that I am advocating the elimination of Western medicine or that those being treated for chronic health conditions should just give up their pills and let nature take its course.  Yet with so many health problems, even if we have to resort to medication, we can also make lifestyle and behavioral changes that will mitigate our problems and decrease, though not always eliminate, the need for medications (and surgery, when applicable).

We all know, or should know, that taking medicine can be a double-edged sword.  Medications sometimes create new issues of their own.  The human body is an incredibly complex system–arguably the most complicated thing in the known universe, especially when you count the human brain–and when you manipulate such a  system in one way or location, unexpected consequences almost never fail to arise.  This leads to the horrible spectacle of patients receiving medication for one problem, but developing side-effects, which then need to be treated by other medications, and which cause toxicities and interactions that later have to be addressed.  The whole affair can become a vicious cycle of increasing biological chaos, like a metabolic Rube Goldberg machine.  In the elderly especially, it can sometimes be all but impossible to be certain whether new health problems are intrinsic or are caused by earlier treatments.

We try, of course, to mitigate and avoid this conundrum by studying medications as carefully as possible and learning what their possible side-effects are…but every human body is different, and that’s going to continue to be the case, since the number of possible genetically unique humans is vastly greater than the number of human beings who have ever lived.  So we can be guaranteed that the one expectation we can reliably entertain is the UNEXPECTED.

It is better by far to avoid developing problems whenever possible rather than trying to treat them.  This is true because it is simpler and more predictable, and also because it makes life better.  Rather than being a person who identifies themselves by their litany of ailments, for which they build their house-of-cards treatment regimens, we can work to maintain lifestyles that are GOOD for our health, that work with our natures, and that help us to think of ourselves as–and to feel like–healthy, vital and thriving human beings.

Medicines are indeed wonderful products of modern science and technology, and I strongly suspect that they have saved and improved many more lives than they have harmed, even despite what I’ve said above.  If I didn’t think that, I wouldn’t have gone into medicine.  Yet, it would be even better if we could avoid having the need for medications as often as possible in the first place.

I’m going to discussing more of this in future entries.  I’ll go into some fairly obvious lifestyle issues such as exercise and diet, but I’m also going to explore philosophical and psychological aspects of health that can make a great difference in not only how long you live, but also in how much you enjoy the time you have.

A life of a hundred years can be a tragedy and a life of a single day can be a triumph.  It all depends on what kind of life it is.

“I Am” (Soy) Isoflavones, and I (probably) Decrease the Risk of Prostate Cancer

I recently had a friend ask me whether eating and drinking soy products can increase the risk of prostate cancer; he had heard that it can, and that all men should avoid soy “like the plague.”

This question really surprised me, because most of the medical information I have encountered has tended to point in the opposite direction…and for reasons that made good, sound biological sense.  However, I know that good, sound, biological sense doesn’t always pan out.  This is why we have to do actual experiments.  After all the Universe is complex, and the human body is arguably the most complex thing we know of in it.  Often an expected biological effect of some dietary or medical intervention, that seems inescapable on its face, can turn out to be utterly undetectable or at least thoroughly confounded by other consequences.  So, bearing this in mind, I did a little reading, and I learned about at least one source of data that might have been behind what my friend had heard.

First, though, to get back to the believed protective effects of soy:  Soy products contain chemicals called flavones and isoflavones, which are part of a group of biological chemicals called phytoestrogens.  Now, “phyto-” is just a word root that means “plant,” and estrogens are, well…estrogens.  I think most people in America are at least passingly familiar with estrogens, especially given the current controversy over the required coverage of birth control pills.  So phytoestrogens are just estrogens from plants.  In human females (we often refer to them scientifically as “women”), estrogens are among the hormones that control fertility and related processes, and they are quite abundant.  However, in the male body–including that little devil, the prostate–estrogens tend to counter the natural effects of testosterone.

Testosterone is also, I suspect, a hormone of which most Americans are aware.  It is the substance, to paraphrase Dave Barry, that makes men take league softball seriously.  Its actions produce such male secondary sex characteristics as increased muscle mass, facial hair, deeper voices and bar fights.  It is also the hormone responsible for the fact that almost every man who lives long enough–if he isn’t testosterone deficient–will develop prostate enlargement (so-called “benign” prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH), with its lovely constellation of maddening symptoms.  The presence of testosterone can also stimulate the growth of many kinds of prostate cancer, and in fact some treatments for testosterone-sensitive tumors include drugs that directly block testosterone, such as bicalutamide (the name isn’t really that important).

It is thought that the effects of phytoestrogens in soy products are responsible for the protective effects that they may have against prostate cancer.  These effects are not tremendous, nor are they absolutely demonstrated, but they are probably real and the science is sound.  So whence comes the idea of soy actually increasing the risk of prostate cancer?

Well, I found out about a study in Japan that covered a number of different dietary sources of soy and its isoflavones on the risks of development of several subgroups of prostate cancer, including localized and advanced cases.  This was a good country in which to study those effects, because the traditional Japanese diet includes a number of soy staples, including tofu, miso and natto (a kind of fermented soybean concoction).Not too surprisingly, this study actually generally supported the idea that soy intake in foods (not necessarily supplements) reduces the risk of prostate cancer overall…but there was ONE little peculiar exception.

The study found that increasing intake of miso soup may be associated with a small increased occurrence of advanced prostate cancer in men 60 years of age and older.  Now this reallyis peculiar, because it seems very specific to miso soup, which raises the question of whether there’s something ELSE in miso soup that’s causing this measured increase.  Also, such studies are always inexact because there are so many potential variables that could be influencing the outcomes by other means.  In addition, the number of cases of advanced prostate cancer in this study, compared to the size of the study, was VERY small, which means the statistical connection is quite a bit less robust than it might be.

Nevertheless, I can at least tell my friend this:  Unless he’s eating a LOT of miso soup (and is over 60), he probably doesn’t need to curtail, let alone avoid, soy products.  In fact, he can probably indulge in all the soy milk, tofu and natto he wants, and if anything, it may decrease his risk of prostate cancer a little bit.  It’s even possible (though not clearly demonstrated) that it might reduce his future problems with prostate enlargement.  Of course, the trade-off is that he may find himself caring a little bit less about who wins a particular sporting event.  Still, having treated a good number of men suffering from prostate problems of various kinds, I can assure you, that would be an extremely small price to pay.