Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Whatever happened to an apple a day keeps the doctor away?



It’s sort of hard to imagine now, but there was a time when people actually avoided doctor’s offices and hospitals if at all possible. The conventional wisdom was that if you weren’t sick when you went into such a facility, you probably would be by the time you got out. Can you think of a more likely place to become exposed to an infectious ailment?

Cuts, scrapes, bumps, insect bites, colds and other minor ailments would resolve themselves as a part of the body’s natural healing process, and people just didn’t feel the need to visit their doctor as regularly as they did their barbers and hairdressers. Consequently, they didn’t get injected and tested for everything imaginable on a regular basis.

Somewhere along the line that apparently changed and today some people appear to be scheduling their lives around visits to their doctors’ offices.

I suspect part of the reason for those sliding frosted glass windows shielding the office staff from the waiting area is to prevent patients from observing the receptionist making faces at the people on the phone scheduling appointments. I can’t imagine anything worse than listening to people describing their ailments all day long and requesting, or even demanding, a prescription refill.

It doesn’t get any better at the multitude of pharmacies operating in every U.S. city. The pharmacists can barely keep up with the demand for prescription refills, despite all of the time-saving techniques for ordering refills by telephone, fax and e-mail.

Obviously, some people really are seriously ill and in need of medical treatment and large dosages of drugs, but it’s hard to believe there are that many people so seriously ill that they can’t survive without near constant medical care.

That appears to also be the opinion of medical researchers and other specialists who have begun warning their colleagues and the public that it is possible to over-test and over-treat.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force announced this week that the routine practice of performing blood tests to screen for prostate cancer in healthy men should be abandoned. The group reasoned that that the P.S.A. blood tests do not necessarily save lives and often set the stage for more tests and treatments that can cause other complications.

The task force doctors argue that the P.S.A. test is not effective in identifying a dangerous form of cancer, and that the positive results can be an indication of a slow-growing cancer that will never cause health problems. The follow-up tests and treatments, however may lead to pain, impotence and incontinence that could have been avoided.

The statistics reportedly show that one in six men in the U.S. will develop prostate cancer, and it is the most common malignancy in men. The disease is rare in men under age 50 and deaths from it usually occur in men older than 75. Last year, about 32,000 men died from it.

The same task force recommended two years ago that women in their 40s should no longer get annual mammograms because of the anxiety resulting from false-positives and unnecessary additional testing and the cost. It advised mammograms not be utilized until age 50, and then only every two years.

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women. One in eight women will suffer from it, and about 40,000 women died from it last year, according to the American Cancer Society.
Some health experts also recommend that pap tests for cervical cancer in women be performed every three years instead of annually.

All of the recommendations for decreased testing for the different types of cancer are encountering strong resistance from some doctors, health organizations and cancer patients who warn that testing probably saved their lives.

Simultaneously, the results of a new study conducted at Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center on a breast cancer vaccine that may reduce the recurrence of the disease in patients is scheduled for presentation at the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in June in Chicago.

To be fair to the doctors who have ordered extensive testing for their patients over the years, most no doubt felt they owed their patients the benefit of every resource available to keep their clients healthy. Other doctors have acknowledged they sometimes over-tested to avoid the risk of malpractice suits in case their patients later became ill with a disease that might have been detected.

A 2010 Consumer Reports survey of 1,200 healthy adults showed half had screenings for heart disease that appeared to be unwarranted.

The American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation kicked off an initiative in April called “Choosing Wisely,” which urges doctors and patients to “wait a second” and consider carefully what tests and treatments should be undertaken.  The organization claims that many unnecessary procedures involving hospitalizations – estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to be 30 percent of the trillions of dollars of care delivered in the U.S. -- are driving up health costs needlessly and putting patients at unwarranted risks.
It has long been known that one of the biggest risks of entering a hospital for any reason is the threat of exposure to staph infections, which are widespread throughout U.S. medical facilities. Hospitals routinely document the number of staph infections in regular reports.

In cooperation with the ABIMF and nine other medical groups, Consumer Reports will be releasing lists of “Five Things Physicians and Patients Should Question.”  Visit: http://choosingwisely.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/about_choosingwisely.pdf

The guidelines for reduced testing apply only to patients who are healthy and show no symptoms of illness.
For anyone who is ill – especially when there is threat of a deadly disease present – anyone would be expected to do whatever they can to survive and would want their doctor to be on board with that. But otherwise, maybe a return to the more conservative approach of the past is in order.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

With the advent of same-sex marriage, popularity of matchmaking bound to be revived



Something had been percolating in my mind for several days making me vaguely uneasy, but I couldn’t quite identify the concern until it suddenly crystalized in a dream last night.

There a specter stood, bearing an uncanny resemblance to President Barrack Obama, telling me I should go forth and partner with someone in the bond of matrimony.

“For years you hung on to your privacy and independence with the excuse that women didn’t appeal to you, but now you have no excuse,” the specter with the big ears said. “You may now marry a man instead, provided you relocate to the right state.”

I awoke in a panic but calmed down with the knowledge that I still live in Texas, and even Gov. Rick Perry and his pack of Bible-waving pulpit buddies can’t force me, a native Texan, to move to a more liberal state. In fact, as long as I stay south of the Mason-Dixon Line, I reasoned, I probably will be safe from the risk of getting married for the rest of my years. Didn’t North Carolina voters just pass an amendment banning same-sex marriage?

Yet the day after North Carolina voters decided to make sure men and women only married each other, didn’t President Obama go on television to say he had fully evolved on the issue and same-sex marriage ought to be legalized in funky states where voters approved it?

For a politician to take such a stand during an election year made me realize President Obama was on to something as relates to the tide of public opinion that clearly had escaped his Republican opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who reportedly can’t be trusted with the care of the family dog and views $10,000 as something akin to mad money, has voiced support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning same-sex marriage.

Sure enough, almost simultaneous to President Obama’s ABC News interview, Gallup released the results of its annual May poll calling acceptance of same-sex couples the “new normal” for American thought. The poll revealed that 54 percent of Americans considered same-sex relationships “morally acceptable.” It also revealed that 63 percent of Americans believe that sexual activity among consenting gay and lesbian people should be legal, which it of course was accomplished the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the sodomy law in 2003.

What’s more, the poll revealed that 50 percent of Americans support legalizing same-sex marriage, but not in the Southern states where the percentage would be much lower as was evidenced by the North Carolina vote. Regionally, support for LGBT people and their issues remains lower.

In the South, only 40 percent of people support same-sex marriage, while the figure rises to 56 percent in the East. As regards the question of morality, only 43 percent of Southerners believe that LGBT people are moral, while 62 percent of Easterners, 60 percent of Midwesterners and 58 percent of Westerners share the belief.

A CBS News/New York Times poll released about the same time revealed that about 66 percent of Americans support legal recognition for same-sex couples, with 38 percent supporting marriage equality and 24 percent preferring civil unions.

Finally, a USA Today/Gallup poll following President Obama’s announcement showed that 60 percent of Americans said his support of same-sex marriage would not affect their vote for president in November.
And as if the week hadn’t already seen more than its share of same-sex marriage issues arise, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee ordered state agencies to start recognizing same-sex marriages in other states, even though Rhode Island only allows civil unions.

As it stands now, same-sex marriage licenses are issued in six states and the District of Columbia, two states recognize marriages by same-sex couples from other states, nine states provide the equivalent of spousal rights in the form of civil unions or domestic partnerships and three states providing some spousal rights. More movement is likely expected in other states in all regions, except for the Deep South, according to a Human Rights Campaign chart.

It’s easy to see where this is all going as old conservatives die off and younger voters take their places. All of the polls show that it is younger people, ages 18 to 44, pushing the change in public perception of LGBT people and their rights to legal relationships. No doubt it is the same age group among LGBT people who want to get married so they can enjoy all the rights and benefits of straight couples.

The Human Rights Campaign estimates that there are 9 million LGBT people living in the U.S., and that there are 900,000 same-sex couples among them. On top of that 22 percent of the couples are raising children. Same-sex couples apparently just aren’t content to raise dogs and cats as if they were children anymore.

In years to come, the pressure to get married is going to become immense, and I can envision being invited to cocktail parties and dinners where the hostess has by sheer coincidence invited another “nice gay man.” No doubt, the lost art of matchmaking will again become a popular pastime.

But thank God this is still America, and I can be gay and single if I want, especially if I stay here in the Deep South where progressive thought apparently only arrives in proportion to the number of carpet baggers moving in per annum.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Learn from Jane's dilemma, don't drink and drive



There but for the grace of God go I, along with a whole lot of other people.   And oh yeah, come to think of it a bunch of us have already gone there.  It just didn’t get widely reported – if at all -- the way it did with NBC Channel 5 KXAS-TV anchor Jane McGarry who was arrested on suspicion of DUI in the early Sunday morning hours of May 6.

McGarry unfortunately attracted the attention of a state trooper as she was traveling on the North Dallas Tollway in the area of Lemmon Avenue when she changed lanes and reportedly failed to activate her turn signal. One report I read said McGarry was traveling south and another said she was headed north so the only thing that can safely be assumed is that she was in fact on the tollway and not headed out of a bar parking lot somewhere. The trooper recorded in his statement that she was driving a 2007 Porsche, and that upon exit from it she talked in a loud voice, exhibited bloodshot, droopy eyes and swayed a bit.

McGarry reportedly acknowledged having consumed three glasses of wine, and you know how that goes. It could have been twice as many. At any rate she failed the field sobriety tests, and presumably said, “No thank you,” when they asked her to blow on a breathalyzer. Upon her refusal, they administered a mandatory blood test that probably left her swaying even more in her high heels.

McGarry did recover enough during booking to smile pleasantly for her mug shot, and it’s a good thing she did. The picture has now circulated from coast to coast and across the seas. Since her arrest I’ve noticed datelines in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. The International Business Times reported it, and to top it all off the Christian Post weighed in on the anchor’s disgrace, reporting on an online debate about whether she deserved to be immediately fired.

No doubt if McGarry hears about this column, she will likely say something to the effect of, “Good grief, even the gay newspaper is reporting it.” I imagine about now the anchor is probably wishing that she had opted for a quiet evening at home rather than whatever it was she did.

The news of the award-winning, 56-year-old anchor’s arrest was first broken by the competing Channel 8 WFAA-TV station and The Dallas Morning News, which through their mutual association with the Belo Corp. cooperate on news reports. Other television stations apparently chose not to report her arrest, but by late Monday Channel 5 reported in its newscast McGarry had been arrested and would remain off the air for the time being while it investigates.

The Dallas Observer of course weighed in with a snide comment about her “simply delightful” mugshot as it is prone to do. In fact, if it hadn’t it would have lead everyone to think the editors were all passed out under their desks and not doing their jobs.

The most amazing part of the whole story to me though is that McGarry’s arrest has attracted so much attention from so far away. DUI arrests are more than common, they are ubiquitous, pervasive and critical to the financial survival of the nation’s criminal justice system, which provides jobs for so many Americans. They are money makers to be sure, as McGarry is about to find out as she starts writing checks to her lawyer.

The FBI’s “2010 Crime in the United States” report revealed there were 1.09 million people arrested on DUI charges that year, the latest year for which the information is available. That represented about 11 percent of the total 10.2 million arrests in the nation that year. The information was gathered from 12,222 law enforcement agencies representing a total national population of 240.1 million people.

Only drug abuse violations at 1.27 million and property crimes at 1.29 million surpassed the number of DUI arrests in 2010.

The truth is that if all the law enforcement officers, journalists, appointed and elected officials and lawyers who were all legally intoxicated at the same time got arrested at once the few sober city officials left standing would have to open the convention center to get everybody booked in and safely put away for the night.

It is practically impossible for most people to go out and have several drinks and not register above the legal intoxication level which in Texas is .08 blood alcohol content. Anyone who tries to do all of the calculations involving the number of drinks consumed versus the amount of time it takes for the body to rid itself of the alcohol is going to wind up with a headache not necessarily related to a hangover. Lose count anywhere along the line, and you’re screwed.

If the possibility of arrest is not enough to scare drinkers away from driving, consider that in 2010 10,228 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes nationwide, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Of those accidents, 6,627 or 65 percent of the drivers had blood alcohol levels exceeding .08 percent, which is the legal limit in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The best bet is just not to get behind the wheel, period, and beware of designated drivers who promise not to drink and wind up doing it anyway. Take a cab when you go out so you don’t have to make a decision later that inevitably will be the wrong one after a few drinks are consumed. If you can’t afford a cab, you can’t afford to go out because you sure can’t afford the consequences. The next best option would be to live close enough to your favorite bar to walk to and from there.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Texas senator, Florida congresswoman try to scuttle inclusion of LGBT people in domestic violence legislation




The threat of LGBT domestic violence evidently remains a mysterious and inconsequential issue to many American lawmakers and their constituents, even after decades of discussion in the alternative media about its prevalence and severity.

It became clear during the recent debate about LGBT domestic violence in connection with the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 by the U.S. Congress that many conservative politicians neither understand the issue, nor care what happens to LGBT victims. The apathy to the violence exhibited by some politicians should shock anyone who believes everyone deserves protection from physical and sexual abuse by oppressors, particularly inside their own homes by the people with whom they live.

The renewal of the VAWA featured an expansion to include protections for LGBT victims of domestic abuse for the first time, and it gave anti-gay forces a platform to express their disregard for some groups’ human rights. The expansion also included provisions for granting emergency visas for illegal immigrants who are victims of domestic violence.

One of the more shocking remarks was made by Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, of Dallas, who enjoys a surprising amount of support from LGBT constituents in light of her conservative, anti-gay voting record. Hutchison and 14 other Republicans wound up voting for the act, which passed the Senate 63 to 31, but only after she offered an alternative piece of legislation that omitted LGBT and immigrant victims of violence from the reauthorization.

In presenting her rejected alternative legislation, Hutchison said she had “worked with many of my colleagues to have a substitute that has the same coverage but is better in other ways.”

There is no way to view Hutchison’s remarks as anything other than a heartless expression of indifference to the plight of LGBT people and illegal immigrants who suffer violence in their homes at the hands of their partners and spouses. No matter how many LGBT people come forward to defend Hutchison as “nice” and “gracious,” she has revealed herself to be as compassionless as every other bigot that promotes anti-gay and anti-immigrant discrimination.

The Senate version of VAWA ensures protection of all victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, but the Republican-controlled House of Representatives version that is expected to be voted on in May mirrors the Hutchison model.  Drafted by Republican Rep. Sandy Adams of Orlando, the House version of VAWA omits protections for LGBT people and excludes emergency visas for illegal immigrants.

In yet another telling statement revealing either ignorance about the issue of LGBT domestic violence, indifference about the problem or more than likely both, Adams said her version of VAWA was designed to ensure “taxpayer resources help victims – not Washington bureaucrats.” She added, “It is my hope that colleagues in both the House and Senate can put politics aside and support this lifesaving legislation.”

If the House version of the VAWA passes, then differences in the bill would probably be negotiated in a conference committee. As it stands now, the Senate version would recognize LGBT people as under-served populations, prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity by service organizations and allow states to use VAWA funding to support LGBT programs related to domestic violence. The House version would offer no guarantees for LGBT people.

The Texas Council on Family Violence includes an LGBT Caucus and it advocates for education to combat the myths that it claims help perpetuate LGBT domestic violence and prevent substantive efforts such as the pending federal legislation to combat it. One of the biggest myths is that battering and abuse do not exist in same-sex relationships, and the problem is confined to men battering women, which would appear to be the fallacy driving the agenda of Florida’s Rep. Adams.

Other myths about LGBT domestic violence include that it only affects certain socio-economic groups in the LGBT community, that it is a mutual-battering phenomena, that LGBT people can easily leave abusive relationships and that it is caused only by substance abuse, stress, provocation and other similar factors. All of those myths are easily debunked by the facts, according to the family violence organization.

Despite widespread support from social justice advocates, domestic abuse social workers and other progressive thinkers, mainstream America obviously never got the message about LGBT domestic violence. It’s doubtful the mainstream media ever paid much attention to the problem either.

The debate in Congress has focused attention on how much work is left to be done on the issue of LGBT domestic violence, not only in terms of providing relief and services to the victims but also in raising public awareness. It appears that the more than two decades of discussion about the problem has failed to attract widespread attention in the LGBT community, and it may not be on the radar of younger LGBT people at all.

There are at least four national resources regarding LGBT domestic violence: Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project (www.gmdvp.org), Cambridge, MA; National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Denver, CO (www. ncadv.org); National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, New York, NY (www.avp.org); and National Domestic Violence Hotline, Austin, TX (800-799-SAFE).

For anyone in the LGBT community who is suffering in a domestic violence situation, those resources are available to answer questions and suggest solutions. And for LGBT communities where a local anti-domestic violence program has not yet been established, there’s no better time than now  while the topic is in the forefront to launch one.