Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Face it, not in the exam room!

We always ask our patients to bring in a list of their current meds. As I perused my patient's list this afternoon, I noticed that he had written 'face' by one of his prescription drugs given to him by another MD.

I asked him what that meant. He said that when he told me on his last visit that he was on that medication, I'd made a face. He wondered what the face meant.

While I couldn't recall making a face nor any reason why that particular medication should make me grimace or roll my eyes, I did think that I should keep my future opinions off my mug.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Who needs a Hepatitis A Vaccine?

Fecal fingers.

Yucko. But that's what they're called, the 'fomites' (vectors or vehicles of infection) that bring you hepatitis A. That occasional, unclean digit of the unwell worker who forgot to read the sign you've seen posted in restaurant restrooms, namely "Employees are required by law to wash their hands before returning to work." I'm sure the majority of kitchen- and wait-staff are law-abiding citizens, but what if they're stomach's upset AND they're in a bit of a hurry.

There are worse things than having hepatitis A (like having hepatitis B or C). Unfortunately, however, this disease which was formerly known as infectious hepatitis can take a chunk of days from your life and a chunk of points from your sense of well-being. While children can contract the disease with few or no symptoms, adults are generally nauseated, yellowish, and too exhausted to care, and may remain thus for weeks. Fortunately, hepatitis A virus (HAV), unlike B or C, cannot set up permanent housekeeping in your liver in a chronic sort of way and only rarely causes liver failure.

We have shots, a series of two to be exact spaced at least 6 months apart, that can raise your immunity to fecal fingers at least in a HAV sort of way.* As you ponder whether or not this shot's for you, consider that 1) I haven't seen a case of hep A for years (and I do check liver functions in persons with persistent nausea and GI upset), and 2) If you happen to have eaten in an establishment subsequently found to be the source of a HAV outbreak, we can administer hepatitis A immune globulin (IG) to you. This drug contains preformed antibodies to HAV and is 85% effective in preventing a hep A infection in persons exposed to the disease. Protection from an IG shot lasts for 3 months. It is made from blood products from paid donors, and while there are no reported cases of hepatitis B or AIDS from hep A immune globulin, this blood products from paid donors thing may seem a little unsavory.

The vaccination is made from HAV raised in cultures, then inactivated with formalin. You can't get hep A from the shot. Several different brands are available, and none are preserved with the controversial, mercury-based preservative thiomerisol. The shot is highly immunogenic meaning that nearly everyone who gets it quickly develops protective levels of antibodies within one month of the first dose. So if you've put off getting the hep A vaccine,and you are planning travel to a country known to be high-risk for HAV infection, chances are good that even a last-minute shot will afford you some protection. The shot is considered very safe.

Many school systems require the two-dose hep A series for children entering school. Remember that 85% of children do not develop symptoms of hep A, so an unvaccinated child who contracts the infection while traveling out of the country can bring the disease back to more vulnerable personal contacts at home. The incubation period for the disease is 2-6 weeks. Adults in high-risk groups for infections (say those who are in institutions or immuno-suppressed) or persons who work with high-risk groups, and anyone traveling to a high-risk country should consider receiving vaccination against HAV.
*There are other infections leaping from the fecal fomites such as salmonella and shigella.

How much sleep do we need?

or how do I get my teenager up for work on a summer morn'?

Generally he gets his own darn self up, but this a.m. was an early start, and early start and summer and teenager are not necessarily part of the same sentence. When I first woke him up, it was clear that no one was home behind his eyes. After I poured water on his head, it was clear that an angry but wakeful human had taken charge.

Here are some observations from a recent article in ScienceNOW Daily News(1) about how much sleep animals need in the wild and why that may or may not apply to humans and the subset of humans known as teenagers:

  1. "Animals sleep less if they need to graze extensively--as with herds of horses." This is a tough one, he already grazes extensively. The problem must be, however, that if all the right there in the 'frig, he doesn't need to spend much time doing so. Note to self: Empty out 'frig.

  2. "Animals that sleep in groups, such as herds of grazing animals, get less sleep than species that live alone." Scientists theorize that this is based more in eating habits of herd animals rather than the herdiness of it all. M. certainly has quite a sociable herd to graze with, but, again, the good grazing is apparently too close at hand.

Perhaps when he moseys back down the road to school, no more 'summertime, and the grazing is easy. This kid has a 9 a.m. class this fall; I hope the living is lean and dangerous at school. Or maybe not...

Friday, July 25, 2008

Deplin testimonial

I posted some time ago about Deplin, a glorified B vitamin (methylated folate to be exact) that may supplement antidepressants by promoting the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. I've prescribed it to some people not on antidepressants and found that many of them have a positive response with respect to energy and focus. Check out this e-mail from a patient with MS who struggles with low energy and lack of focus:

This new addition to my Rx. closet has made an incredible difference. I feel human, actually went for a walk with my dog last night (1st time in 10 years), feel more alert, have terrific energy and life is suddenly colorful.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Who's the pain in the butt here?

My patient has a pain in the butt. Not 'is a' mind you, but 'has a'. I've never seen anything like it. Her sit bones (ischial tuberosities) are painful to sit upon. She's o.k. with standing or lying, but her sitting hours are intolerably painful so, therefore, seriously curtailed.

I didn't know what to do with her (my father's advice from my childhood regarding things medical that were problematic --"Don't look at it for three days and it will go away"-- didn't work). Ibuprofen and such made no difference. I had to send her to a specialist, and believe me, it was hard to know just what specialist to use.

The orthopedist ordered an MRI of her butt. It showed minimal inflammation of the spot where the hamstrings insert onto the butt bones, but treatment for tendonitis, including cortisone injections, was useless. The neurologist was clueless, the physical therapist energetic but likewise without results.

We finally sent her to a pain management specialist. If you can't beat it, treat it. She was frantic to travel (out of the question) or simply to read a book in the seated position (if you're like her, reading while lying down is a recipe for sleep).

He listened to her story. Don't know if he examined her butt. He suggested Tylenol (heavens, Doc, been there/tried that already!). When she asked him what else could she do to once again achieve comfort in her life, he answered "Just stand up!"

I kid you not, that's what our pain specialist recommended.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The ups and downs of being a doc

Life and a road trip recently took me through Rawlins, Wyoming. Hours of driving through the monotony of southwest Wyoming dictated the need for a pit stop; time to eat and rest glare-weary eyes.

We found a little restaurant, actually the only diner on Main St. that teemed with life and advertised breakfast served all day. Several stuffed animals graced the entryway, real stuffed animals including a bobcat caught for all eternity mid-leap as he brought down a fleeing pheasant. The women's room sported, of course, the title 'Cowbelles' and the men's merely 'Cowboys.'

The meal was so-so, they were out of blueberry muffins and I passed on the alternative biscuits and gravy. As we finished our meal, a tall and sunburned man strode by, balding head shaved close, a slight potbelly protruding over his turquoise studded belt buckle and a beeper hanging off the belt. Most heads turned as he passed, a wide variety of townfolk waved and called "Hi Doc."

Ah, a diner in a town where everybody knows your name. I longed to jump up too and yell "I'm a Doc" and have them all laugh with delight that this dusty aging hippie in coffee-spotted capris and a t-shirt was a colleague to their own dear Doc.

Anyway, Doc Rawlins got to the counter to pay his bill, and I waited to see if they would offer him a bag of blueberry muffins to add to the bag already on his waistline. But instead, the older woman at the register started in on a long story about her bowels and her trip to the regional hospital. Not that I was eavesdropping, but shoot, we were sitting nearby, and I was hoping, at least, for some wonderful tale about how the Doc had saved her aging aunt.

Then I remembered that I live in a neighborhood and shop at a grocery store where many know my name. Why one patient one day described her vaginal woes to me in produce, and another pulled down her lower eyelid in paper goods to ask me whether or not her bloodshot, oozing eye was conjunctivitis. It was. I called in a prescription right then and there to the pharmacy located just east of aisle 18.

On my second day back to work after our Wyoming tour, the nurse practitioner asked me to look at a cat bite, or rather a young woman's hand with four cat bites on it one of which had penetrated her thumbnail. In the day since the feline's attack, the hand had swelled some, the thumb turning pink and puffy. Cat bites are nasty affairs; think for a moment what sorts of fishy things go in that mouth. I told the NP to call a hand surgeon and confirm that oral antibiotics would suffice for a now.

Several minutes later, she returned, sadly shaking her head. "No go, Chief," she reported, "I couldn't get past the front desk with my question. They offered me an appointment for next Tuesday."

What sort of nonsense was that? I strode to the phone and pulled the officious "This is Dr. P, I need to talk to your on-call physician now about a patient."

"Just a moment, I'll get Dr. W," the receptionist said. A moment later she returned to ask "Would this be about a cat bite perhaps? We just had a patient call here for advice a moment ago."

The hand surgeon came on the line shortly thereafter and confirmed the NP's plan as a good one. I realized then, once again, the value of the title and the ease with which it takes me right to the top. Maybe someday it will get me blueberry muffins as well.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Payback time for moms

The female brain is a dynamic structure, which expresses its plasticity most readily following reproductive experience.
---from the Department of Psychology-Neuroscience, University of Richmond

According to research out of the University of Virginia(1), there may be psychological compensation for all those sleepless nights, saggy breasts, and stretch marks that accompany motherhood. Those tedious months of pregnancy, suckling, and pup-rearing...oh right, we're talking rats here.

Neuroscientist Dr. Craig Kinsley and colleagues proved that mother rats adapted better to the stress of confinement in a Plexiglas restraint tube than their female colleagues who'd not yet coped with the demands of ungrateful offspring. Did they consider that lady rats--married, with children--may have just been grateful for the relative peace and quiet afforded by those Plexiglas walls? Speaking from my current perspective of mom to one teenager on site for summer, I would easily adapt, right here, right now, to voluntary confinement at an air-conditioned hotel.

The researchers conclude: "The data suggest that reproductive (hormonal) and/or maternal (pup exposure) experience may inure a female and her brain to stress, rendering her less susceptible to the behavioral-or other-disruptions that stress sensitivity can produce."
(1)Wartella, J et al. Single or multiple reproductive experiences attenuate neurobehavioral stress and fear responses in the female rat.Physiol Behav 2003 Aug;79(3):373-81.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Lab test for ovarian cancer

A friend/patient of mine was recently diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer. That, of course, is one of the most difficult aspects of ovarian cancer, namely that it is relatively symptom-free until it reaches an advanced stage.

In retrospect, she identified certain vague abdominal symptoms in the months prior to diagnosis (constipation, bloating, the development of a small 'middle-aged' pouch in the midriff), most notable and puzzling to her through the winter and spring was the increasing agitation of her devoted dog. The dear but scruffy mutt would scarcely leave her side, and no sooner did my friend lie down, but the dog would lay paw or muzzle on her abdomen. Most dramatically, the dog would eye her directly with long and beseeching looks.

An article in the June, 2008 edition of Integrative Cancer Therapies(1) may explain her canine's consternation. Swedish researchers in collaboration with members of the Working Dog Clubs of Sweden and Hungary theorized that dogs could be trained to recognize the characteristic odor of ovarian cancer. They not only found that the scent of an ovarian tumor in a doggy sense is different from that of other gynecological cancers (e.g. cervical or uterine) but that these cancer-screening pooches correctly sniffed out early-stage and borderline tumors as well as big, advanced ones.

The authors wrote: "Our study strongly suggests that the most common ovarian carcinomas are characterized by a single specific odor detectable by trained dogs, and while we do not believe that dogs should be used in clinical practice, because they may be influenced during their work [now what, really, could distract a dog?]... still, under controlled circumstances, they may be used in experiments to further explore this very interesting new property of malignancies."
(1)Horvath, Gyorgy, et al. Human Ovarian Carcinomas Detected by Specific Odors. Integrative Cancer Therapies Vol 7 Number 2 June, 2008.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

It took all my education...

A man came in today worried about a red area on his arm. The spot was about the size of a quarter and had two raised bumps within its circumference. He told me that he'd had two similar areas recently, one on the other arm and one on his back, both now resolved. All of them itched.

And they pay me for this?