Tag Archives: medicine

Romanian doctors play hooky at Buenos Aires conference

My parents just got back from a big, worldwide conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina — the 15th World Congress of Psychiatry. My dad, who is a devoted psychiatrist, went there to learn new things, like most doctors who go to conferences.

Unfortunately, all but five of the entire group of Romanian doctors (150 in total) who registered for the conference decided to play hooky. This was after their travel, hotel stay and meals were paid for by European pharmaceutical companies, who flew them out there so they could stay up to date on the latest research.

One of the event staff confided to my father that the Romanian doctors couldn’t be bothered to even pick up their badges, which is something that only takes a few minutes. Instead, they all went on a sightseeing trip through Patagonia and were absent for the entire duration of the conference.

In case you’re not sure why this matters, you may want to read through my review of the Romanian healthcare system.

Don’t play with Tussionex

Late last night, I kept coughing due to a passing cold. After taking several doses of other cough syrups during the evening, which had obviously not done their job, I decided to take some Tussionex — my ultimate weapon against coughing. I try to use it only when I absolutely need it, because it’s fairly expensive and it’s also hard to get (it can only be prescribed by a doctor). But after three days of coughing through the night and keeping my wife and myself awake, I figured the time had come. I took a teaspoon, waited a half hour, and nothing happened. I took another, waited another half hour, and still the coughing continued. I began to worry: had the syrup expired? Was my coughing so bad that I needed to take more? I took another teaspoon. Bad idea!

Tussionex

Soon after that, I started to feel the effects. Tussionex contains a codeine derivative, which means that, along with stopping my cough, it usually gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling that wears off in a couple of hours or so. This time, because I’d unwittingly (and stupidly) overdosed, the effect was very pronounced, and it was mixed with a sensation of nausea. I found it hard to sit up or stand up and went to bed, where I fell asleep immediately.

Here’s the full list of side effects for Tussionex, from the PDR (Physician’s Desk Reference):

“Anxiety, constipation, decreased mental and physical performance, difficulty breathing, difficulty urinating, dizziness, drowsiness, dry throat, emotional dependence, exaggerated feeling of depression, extreme calm (sedation), exaggerated sense of well-being, fear, itching, mental clouding, mood changes, nausea, rash, restlessness, sluggishness, tightness in chest, vomiting.”

I guess I should be thankful the only side effect I’d experienced before this was the “exaggerated sense of well-being”, along with a slight headache which occurred a few hours after taking the medication. Things were going to be very different now.

I woke up early in the morning, around 6 am, feeling rested and alert. I figured the effects of the overdose had worn off. They hadn’t. I got up to go about my business, and shortly after that, a general, overpowering feeling of nausea swept over me. I could not stand up. I couldn’t keep my balance at all. I felt sick, wasn’t seeing straight, I couldn’t control my movements and had trouble putting words together. It didn’t take long after that for me to experience a fuller spectrum of the side effects: decreased mental and physical performance, dizziness, drowsiness, mental clouding, nausea and finally, vomiting. That’s right, I did it again… I vomited more often in these past few months than in the past several years, and I don’t like it.

I’m still in bed as I write this. The moment I stand or sit upright, the nausea comes back, my face turns white, etc. I’ll be in bed for a while, hopefully not the whole day. All this fun gave me a chance to think about the situation. It’s clear that this wouldn’t have occurred if I hadn’t overdosed. The recommended dosage is one teaspoon every 12 hours. The PDR says: “The usual dose is 1 teaspoonful (5 milliliters) every 12 hours. Do not take more than 2 teaspoonfuls in 24 hours.”

I took three teaspoons within 1 ½ hours. That was incredibly stupid and irresponsible of me, and truthfully, I should be thankful I’m still alive. Here’s what one should expect from a Tussionex overdose:

“Blue skin color due to lack of oxygen, cardiac arrest, cold and clammy skin, decreased or difficult breathing, extreme sleepiness leading to stupor or coma, low blood pressure, muscle flabbiness, slow heartbeat, temporary cessation of breathing”

There it is, in black and white: cardiac arrest, stupor or coma. Instead of getting up from my bed last night and doing a quick search for this info last night, I overdosed like a dummy. My wife could have woken up next to my corpse. Thank God that didn’t happen!

I found out this morning that the FDA, since 2008, is also cautioning healthcare providers, pharmacists and patients, to guard against Tussionex overdose. After my own accidental brush with death, I agree with them.

Recommended Site: Many have become so addicted to certain cough medicine brands that prescription drug abuse treatment has become necessary for them. 

Still, I’m not sorry I took Tussionex. I’m definitely sorry I overdosed though. I’ve used many cough syrups over the years, and none stops my coughing like Tussionex. Here’s a sample of the stuff I tried in only the past few months:

Ketof

Coughend Sirop

Stodal

Ketof is the only other cough syrup that helps me marginally. The rest are garbage, particularly that Coughend Sirop. I also used a syrup called Prospan (not pictured here) in the last few days, which I found did a good job at clearing my throat. It tastes great, but still, it doesn’t stop my coughing. And of course I tried plenty of American cough syrups over the years, none of which helped.

Don’t think I cough all the time, either. But I’m stubborn like a mule, and will often go outside when it’s cold and I’m not dressed adequately. So naturally, I catch colds, and when I do, I cough a lot.

This experience also got me thinking about drugs and their effects on the body. Our bodies, you see, are endowed with the capability to heal themselves. That capability works better or worse in people, depending on how well they take care of themselves (diet, exercise, regular sleep, etc.) Drugs will usually only mask the symptoms of a disease, not cure it. Even though I’m not coughing now, that doesn’t mean Tussionex cured my cough and sore throat. It only stopped my coughing. Here’s what the PDR says about it:

“Tussionex Extended-Release Suspension is a cough-suppressant/antihistamine combination used to relieve coughs and the upper respiratory symptoms of colds and allergies. Hydrocodone, a mild narcotic similar to codeine, is believed to work directly on the cough center. Chlorpheniramine, an antihistamine, reduces itching and swelling and dries up secretions from the eyes, nose, and throat.”

You see, it’s used to “relieve” coughs and other symptoms, not “cure” them. They’re not even sure how it works. They “believe” the codeine derivative in it works directly on the cough center. The human body’s internal chemistry is so complex that I don’t know if we’ll ever figure it out properly. Right now, we’re still just stabbing in the dark when it comes to medicating people. We give them a drug and then, oops, we realize the effect isn’t the desired one, or that it interacts with other drugs and causes undesirable side effects. The PDR says about Tussionex that its “side effects cannot be anticipated”. And there’s also a section dedicated to its possible food and drug interactions. Here’s what that says:

“Tussionex may increase the effects of alcohol. Do not drink alcohol while taking this medication. If Tussionex is taken with certain other drugs, the effects of either could be increased, decreased, or altered. It is especially important to check with your doctor before combining Tussionex with the following:

  • Antispasmodic medications such as Bentyl and Cogentin
  • Major tranquilizers such as Thorazine and Compazine
  • MAO inhibitor drugs (antidepressant drugs such as Nardil and Parnate)
  • Medications for anxiety such as Xanax and Valium
  • Medications for depression such as Elavil and Prozac
  • Other antihistamines such as Benadryl
  • Other narcotics such as Percocet and Demerol”

You see, this is what medicine has become these days: the chemistry of drug interactions. Every physician that works in a field where they prescribe lots of medications has to know drug interactions perfectly, or they will put their patients’ lives at risk. Sadly, most do not know all they need to know, because the interactions are so complex.

My dad is a psychiatrist. He made it a point to know all the psychiatric drug interactions and those of common drugs administered by other doctors, such as primary care providers or internal medicine specialists. He studies them all the time and keeps up to date with all the latest medications. He meets plenty of other doctors who aren’t as well prepared as he is, and he’s told me often how shocked he is to find these people are prescribing drugs that readily conflict with others, creating undesired and potentially lethal side effects. The sad part is that when he tries to let them know about it, they usually brush him off. And then we wonder why so many patients do poorly in hospitals… Isn’t it to be expected when most doctors are ill-prepared to prescribe medications for their patients?

I think the takeaway lesson from all this is that prescription drugs can be very dangerous. They are not to be treated lightly, like I treated Tussionex — even though its nature is supposedly benign — it is, after all, “only” a cough syrup, right? A drug’s side effects and its interactions with other drugs need to be known not only by the doctor but also by the patient, so that each of us is aware of what we are putting inside our bodies. The consequences — if we don’t do this — can be fatal at times. I may not realize it fully right now, but I might not have been around today, and it was all because I self-medicated carelessly.

Updated 1/11/10: I’ve gotten a number of rude comments since I wrote this article, none of which were published, where dorm room heroes and couch potato experts called me all sorts of names, all because the dosage that I took was too low by their standards. They’d have been satisfied if I drank a whole bottle of Tussionex and woken up a month later out of a coma, or if I hadn’t woken up at all. What can I say, other than your mileage may vary. People react differently to different dosages. I suppose if my body had been addled by years of alcohol and prescription drug abuse, my tolerance level for the drug would have been higher, and three teaspoons wouldn’t have done much for me. However, when you lead a clean life and are in full possession of your senses, you tend to be much more sensitive to these situations. So please stop criticizing the article. I wrote it not to draw attention to myself, but to put up a warning sign about prescription drug abuse.

Signs of overpopulation

Signs of overpopulation are virtually everywhere — and can even be seen when it comes to the basics of life, like food and shelter. Besides the obvious signs, like crowded cities and roads, and rampant consumption of our natural resources, there are other signs that may or may not be readily apparent, depending on your outlook.

First, let’s have a look at the current world population. As I write this, the figure stands at well over 6.7 billion people. Given people’s reproduction habits, particularly in developing countries, and the fact that population growth goes virtually unchecked, thanks to our being the dominant species on earth, with no natural predators of any kind, how many more hungry mouths do you think our planet can support, particularly when most people’s diet consists of meats instead of vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains and other plants?

Housing

Have you thought about housing lately? Those of you who read my articles regularly know how worked up I am about the flimsy plywood boxes they build and call houses in the US these days, and for good reason. But, other than greed, why is it that houses nowadays are built with a 30-50 year span in mind? Even important buildings are built for only 100-year life spans. In the past, buildings were made to last several hundred years or even thousands of years, and certainly many of them still stand, centuries and millennia later. Some say it’s because tastes change with each generation, and there’s no reason to build something for a longer lifespan when it’s only going to get torn down. Perhaps. Then again, Roman and Greek architecture is still in fashion, entire millennia after it was laid out in stone.

Could it be that cost is being used to drive people toward cheaper and flimsier building methods? Have you checked to see what it costs to build your house out of stone or bricks, with nice ceramic roof tiles? And have you stopped to consider if there can be enough building materials out there to build everything, for everyone, out of thick, solid rock or brick? It’s not feasible or sustainable. We’d have to grind down a lot of mountains and dig up countless valleys, and we still wouldn’t have enough raw materials to satisfy demand. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt the pocketbooks of those who produce and distribute the building materials if the cost is higher…

Wood

How about timber? One statistic puts the rate of deforestation (for rainforests) at three football fields per second. That’s only the rainforests, mind you, not the temperate forests, which contain most of the hardwoods that are used for construction. The history of the eurasian temperate forests is a sob story onto its own. The thing is, trees regenerate at a much slower rate than current demands dictate. At the end of the day, there simply aren’t enough trees in the world.

I’ve seen what deforested land looks like, and it’s a sad sight. It’s full of stumps and clumps and roots and holes, and it looks like it’s been through war. I’ve seen entire mountainsides in Romania and elsewhere cleared of trees, mindlessly, putting the people in the valleys at risk for avalanches and mudslides and rock falls.

Very few timber companies obey the rules once they’re left to their own devices on the land. They’ll clear the trees out with no thought for tomorrow or for the life of the forest. They simply don’t care what happens after they’ve made their money. What they do is to provide a momentary abundance of wood and a long-term lack of supply, matched by increasing demand. Sadly, we’re currently in the long-term lack of supply part of history, while demand is still increasing.

Cost is once again being used to drive people to flimsier wood, if you can even call it wood. Most furniture you can buy nowadays is not made out of wood, but out of pressed wood pulp — basically, bits of all kinds of crappy wood stuck together with glue and pressed together into boards. You just try buying some furniture made out of real, solid wood — that is, if you can afford it.

On one hand, I’m disgusted by this, and on the other hand, it’s logical. In order to use trees economically, you have to use them in their entirety, even their bark. You can’t afford to only get a few good, solid planks out of a tree trunk. You have to grind it down with its bark and branches, turn it into pulp, then glue it together to get particle boards. That way you get a lot more “planks” out of a tree, and you can build more stuff out of it.

Unfortunately, companies are really cheapening out on particle boards. They’re using less glue, which means the boards will start to fall apart when put through normal use, and they’re churning out thinner boards that can’t carry any amount of significant weight. This means you can’t use your bookshelves to hold books or any sort of significant weight, and the doors on your new closet stand a pretty good chance of falling off after a few months, because the screws that hold the hinges and door handles in place can’t grip the fake wood and start slipping out. To add insult to injury, even if you manage to keep your “new” furniture in decent shape, you can’t move with it. Furniture these days will fall apart or get really wobbly if only moved around the house, much less moved around the state or the country. It’s just not made to last.

Food

What can I tell you here? It’s a mess. On the one hand, you have people who are doing the right things, like eating healthy, organic foods, and on the other hand, you have the majority of the population out there, who’s happy eating meats, drinking their sodas, and snacking on all sorts of crap food made with fillers and artificial substances and colorants and test-tube flavors. And why not, right? It’s cheaper to make that crap, cheaper to transport it and to distribute it to people, and there’s more profit in that than in healthy fruits and vegetables, which spoil. Artificial crap pumped full of preservatives doesn’t spoil. It can still be sold and turn a profit months down the road. You can’t do that with an organic apple. What’s good for the corporations in this case is also good for overpopulation. It’s much easier and more profitable to distribute crap food to lots and lots of people than it is to stock them with real food.

What’s also happening is that our food chain is being hijacked. There are several large corporations out there bent on producing genetically modified foods. The benefits quoted to the public sound good on the surface, but they’re not real. The only real benefit is to their bank accounts. You see, what they’re doing is destroying the seeds’ capability to generate life. Each new crop made from their seeds is unable to germinate. Farmers have to turn to those same corporations each year and buy the seeds, and the fertilizers and pesticides made for those seeds in order to get new crops. In essence, they have once again been enslaved, become serfs, not to medieval lords, but to corporate executives.

We, on the other hand, have become a large experiment for the long-term effects of genetically modified foods. What really gets my goose is this: how dumb do you have to be to realize that it’s not good to mess with seeds, and with their God-given right to germinate and yield new life? What sort of devilish greed runs through your veins and blinds you so much that you don’t realize that by destroying the life-giving properties of seeds, you have set yourself up for a major food supply disaster? When you’re a single point of failure in a big, global food chain, you’d better believe you’ll fail at some point, and everyone will suffer as a result of your stupidity.

I also don’t buy the recent food safety measures the White House is talking up. I think they’re really just double talk for pushing the small farmers out of the marketplace, through heaps and heaps of regulations and hoops they have to jump through. I think the goal is to make the process so onerous that only those with deep pockets will be able to afford to reach the marketplace, and once again, that will allow the large corporations that already control most of the food chain to gain more of a foothold just when things were looking brighter.

What about the famines in Africa? For decades, there have been famines in Africa. And there have been efforts to “eradicate” those famines for those very same decades, yet we still have famines. What’s really being done about it? Not much. I know this will sound cruel, but, hypothetically speaking, if you could somehow control the situation, why do something effective about those famines when you’ll only be contributing to an already out of control overpopulation?

Each year, tons and tons of corn and wheat are destroyed in the US because selling them would mess up the commodity markets. Those same tons of grains could go to Africa, or to other places where they’re needed, couldn’t they? Say they could get there through the benefit of some aid societies. Unfortunately, most of that aid still wouldn’t make it to the people. It would make it to the warehouses of the corrupt people in charge of those countries, where it would get re-distributed among those who prop up the same corrupt regimes.

Wars

While we have no more global wars — thank God for that — we do have little wars these days, and they manage to wipe out undisclosed numbers of people each time. Yet, somehow, with all our modern census methods and computers, we still can’t seem to figure out just how many people get killed in these wars.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t it the mission of the UN and NATO to stop wars? Let me quote you the primary reason for the existence of the UN, right from their charter:

“To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace”

And yet, with all of those heads of state gathered together, and with all of that clout and power, all that the UN really does is talk — nothing more but empty talk. It and NATO send peacekeeping forces to the regions where wars occur, but almost always, those forces are puny compared with what’s needed, and they have no teeth. They do nothing except stand by while the killing and raping occurs miles or even furloughs away. That’s incomprehensible.

Do you honestly think that wars cannot be stopped or dictators toppled? These things can happen very quickly through the use of spies and elite forces. You don’t need to take out entire armies, only their leaders and key points in their logistical structure. But if you did that, then certain corporations and governments couldn’t profit from all those weapons they get to sell to various governments, and that would be a disaster, wouldn’t it?

Medicine

We have all of these organizations dedicated to wiping out chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes and whatever else there is, and they’ve been at it for decades, yet no cure is in sight. Perhaps I’m more cynical than most, and maybe I have good reason to be that way, but maybe it’s not in the best interest of the world that these diseases get eradicated. They’re some of the only things keeping our population in check.

After all, we’re collectively living longer while more of us are being born each second. When you ask someone older how they feel about death, most will say they want to stay alive as long as possible. They won’t care how, they won’t care if they’ll be a bag of bones kept alive by drugs alone, they’ll want to keep living. To what end?

Better not wipe out the diseases, there should be something to make us kick the bucket. After all, who would believe you if you told people to stop eating crap and start eating raw foods, and then they wouldn’t suffer from any diseases and they’d live longer, too? Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Then we have stuff like all these kooky viruses that certain labs out there get to play with and mix around, sometimes with very deadly results. Oops, how did that happen? No matter, move along, nothing to see here. Does it matter there is now a virus that could literally start a plague and clean a billion people or so from the face of the earth? No, it’s not important, right? Who knows what other nasty stuff is being cooked up for us in some government-funded test tube somewhere…

In closing…

Doesn’t it all seem like a long-term passive-aggressive punishment from a greedy yet moronically short-sighted bunch of overseers? Oh sure, on the surface, what’s important is the quality of our foods, cures for our diseases, eradication of wars, quality housing and the comforts of modern living, and yet… something’s still rotten in Denmark. It’s when you look a little deeper that you find greed is driving this freight train, not social responsibility, no matter what the short-term and long-term costs may be.

I’d like to know if we can sack the current “overseers” and get someone intelligent, kind, balanced and responsible to take care of things. This poor planet could use some better leadership.

Condensed knowledge for 2007-08-21

  • Knight News Challenge: Round 2 Launches. The Knight News Challenge, in which winners get grants ranging from tiny to huge, is in its second year. It awards big money for innovative ideas using digital experiments to transform community news. The contest is run by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Last year’s winners won awards ranging from $15K to $5 million. If you’ve got a worthwhile idea that’s news-related, by all means, submit it!
  • ProBlogger.net has a great post that points out five WP plugins that can help with managing your comments and responding to readers.
  • Brian Auer of the Epic Edits Weblog has a post on the differences between exposing for highlights, shadows or midtones.
  • A couple of Russians put together a wry video where they demonstrate a new product, the Americanizer. Their English accent is a bit thick, so pay close attention.
  • On the same blog, English Russia, you’ll find another post with HDR photos of the Moscow sewers. These are pretty well done, and I do believe I spotted a crocodile in two of them…
  • The top tech blogs are revolting against Wikipedia’s “no follow” link policy by using the same rel=”no follow” tag in their outgoing links to Wikipedia. Alright! Wikipedia’s been getting a lot of link love for years, and I think they’ve been entirely ungrateful by not responding in kind.
  • Sal Marinello, writing for BlogCritics, has a few words to say about the famed “300 Workout”, the physical regime that prepared the actors for their roles in that movie. A lot of people got it wrong. Also very worth checking out is the site of the physical trainers that put together that workout and trained the actors, Gym Jones. Have a look at the Video section. Very different stuff from what you see in gyms today, but you can’t argue with the results.
  • Mental_Floss has a GREAT post on life before air conditioning. Why is it great? Because it points out why today’s construction is so horribly shoddy — our overreliance on air conditioning lets builders get away with using cardboard and plywood for what passes for homes in the DC area. The homes of old were built with thick insulation, out of stone or brick, and they could do just fine without A/C. If we’d be without A/C nowadays, we couldn’t live in our homes. Kind of makes me sad for all these people buying McMansions on River Road and Georgetown Pike and the like. I see the way they’re built, and it’s an insult to millenia of good building practices…
  • The Daily Mail has an article on spotting illness by looking at our faces.
  • On a similar note, Deputy Dog has a post on the 5 scariest medical mistakes. Don’t read it during lunch…
  • Have you ever wondered about the 100 Inuit words for snow? Here they are.
  • Hans Rosling gave a speech at TED this year, and they’ve posted it to their website. It’s really, really good stuff. You will not regret the 19 minutes spent watching it, I guarantee it. It’s about poverty and developing countries, but he’s got a very different take on things.

The music of Franz von Suppé

By coincidence, I heard two pieces written by Franz von Suppé within the last 24 hours, and realized he’s always been one of my favorite composers, although I never knew his name. If you’ve watched cartoons, then you’ve definitely heard his Light Cavalry Overture, and chances are you’ve also heard his Jolly Robbers Overture. They’re both popular pieces, both are fast-paced, and both will make you smile when you hear them.

Franz von Suppé had to have been an optimistic, contented man to have written such beautiful music. There was no mistake in his choice of career. After all, he turned down both law and medicine for music. His father wanted him to study law in Padua, and his mother wanted him to study medicine in Vienna. I heard this on WETA yesterday, as they introduced his Light Cavalry Overture.

If you aren’t a fan of his music already, try it out. You’ll likely become a fan. And if you’re in the area, tune in to WETA. They have some pretty cool music, and the little biographic capsules they offer about composers are pretty nice as well.

Condensed knowledge for 2007-05-06

Here’s the good stuff:

  • Want to watch cheese mature? A company in England wanted to show the process and time involved in making good cheese, so they installed a web cam next to aging cheddar. That hunk of cheese has now become an Internet star.
  • Escape the Meatrix! Watch this movie to find out what it is and how to join the resistance. :-)
  • Neatorama has a great post on three animals we ate into extinction. Oh, the poor dodo bird, it never stood a chance, even if its meat was gross.
  • This toothless old man from Russia has a really elastic face (and a really long tongue as well). The video is slightly disturbing, and it begs the question, why would you want to lick your own eyes? I can see him now, scaring little kids in his village. The parents, shuddering, will tell their kids, “See, this is what happens if you don’t brush your teeth!”
  • Have you been wondering why no one reads your blog? This post may have the answer.
  • This bird, called the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, has got to be one of the funniest looking animals I’ve ever seen! :-)
  • Oh, how I wish I were a boy once more (sans school and homework) and got “The Dangerous Book for Boys” as a birthday present!
  • A fire burned through the historic Eastern Market in DC recently. This Washington Post article has photos.
  • Ever wondered just how our sense of smell works? Well, wonder no more, because Wondermark has the answer.
  • Apparently surgeons have started to perform abdominal surgeries through the mouth (and in women, a certain other orifice)… The advantage is that there’s no external scarring, and the recovery time is much, much better. The patient can go home the same day. Still, I’m pretty grossed out by the whole thing. I would not want bits and pieces of my appendix or gall bladder or other such thing pulled through my mouth. It’s just plain weird.
  • A couple of days ago, I started my browser in the morning and saw that the logo on my Google Home page had changed to iGoogle. For a moment, I thought Google and Apple had merged, but later found out the real explanation.
  • A physician from France wrote Linux drivers for 235 web cams, particularly bargain ones made in China, with no proper drivers and no support whatsoever. And he did this all for free, unrecognized, working from his own home. That’s just plain cool!