Archive for the ‘Safety & Health’ Category

I thought I understood what “naive” meant…

June 24, 2008 2 comments

Drug Monkey reports about some singer named Amy Winehouse, who has emphysema at the ripe old age of 23, and the likelihood that it is related to her use of crack cocaine.  The interesting part of the post for me was her father, also her manager, who proposes a solution:

He called on drug dealers to help her recovery by refusing to supply her with crack cocaine.
“If she hadn’t done recent shows in Moscow and Portugal she could have been dead by now,” he said. “She abstains and regulates her drug use when she has to do a show.”

Wow.  He called on drug dealers to help her?  That’s not just naivete’, that’s “tobbacco is good for you, global warming is a liberal plot” level flat-out denialism.  Just amazing.

Stop the bleeding NOW

May 12, 2008 5 comments

A few minutes have different meaning depending if you are at the office, or trapped in your wrecked car after a multi-car accident on the way home.  You were hit by a fully-loaded truck and would have been killed instantly except for the high-strength cabin of your modern car. But your liver is cut and in the time it takes to open that same cabin with Jaws Of Life, you will be a highway statistic. You are bleeding to death, fast.

The determined EMT reaches into the wreckage and inserts a tube into your wound, squeezing in a clear liquid from an envelope.  Your bleeding stops immediately. Despite the severity of the accident, you’re going to make it. 

When you are in recovery, you find out that the clear liquid contained a synthetic peptide that turns into a gel in the presence of blood, acting like a perfect bandage.  The gel even makes a good matrix for healing and is used in brain surgery too.  Be grateful to MIT where the discovery was made, and to Arch Thereputics, the startup company that is turning it into a product that can be used in surgery and emergency medicine.  This is HUGE. 

(By the way, I am available to write ad copy for a reasonable fee.  Or scripts for hospital soap operas.  Have your people call my people, Dr. Ellis-Behnke)

One other thing: the next time you see Ben Stein saying “Science leads you to killing people”, tell him we want all our stuff back. Science isn’t required for genocide to happen. There are endless examples of science doing exactly the opposite. The guy in his lab coat experimenting with synthetic peptides may not be thinking about emergency medicine; it’s in the application.

Food colorings found related to hyperactivity

April 12, 2008 1 comment

This will not be news to any parents or teachers.  Seems a UK study of 300 children found that certain food colorings had “significantly adverse” effects on behavior and attention span. 

No, really?  But the food-coloring industry has been denying that for years!

Dusty Death

April 6, 2008 2 comments

I notice it all the time: a construction worker with a jackhammer or a diamond saw, cutting through concrete in a cloud of dust illuminated by the morning sun and looking like an ad for OshKosh or McDonalds.  Very seldom any breathing protection.  And then I start remembering…

Back in ‘79 I landed a pastoral internship at a small church in Western North Carolina.  One of the duties of a pastor is to visit the sick.  I remember one fellow – a former construction worker – to whom I took communion every week.  Even with an oxygen mask he wore the pallor of suffocation.  He was dying a millimeter at a time, his lungs destroyed by silicosis.  He could not speak but his eyes conveyed a continually panicked expression as he struggled for every breath.  I wondered if I was evil for wishing that his end would come sooner.  A year later, he was still going as I left the area.

Watching construction workers breathing that stuff is a helpless feeling.  Apparently I’m not alone in that observation, as Christina Morgan at The Pump Handle asks; “Everyday construction hazards; why can’t we do better?

“Free-market health care” and national defense

February 17, 2008 1 comment

Sara continues her series debunking common lies about nationalized health care, bringing up an angle that had not occurred to me:

Getting everyone insured is, unequivocally, a clear matter of national security.

Our every-man-for-himself attitude toward health care is a security threat on a par with unsecured ports. In Canada, people go see the doctor if they’re sick for more than a day or two. It was this easy access to early treatment, along with the much tighter public health matrix that enables doctors to share information quickly, that allowed the country’s health care system to detect the 2003 SARS epidemics in Toronto and Vancouver while they were still very localized, act within hours to stop them before the disease spread any further, and track down and treat exposed people before they got too sick to be helped. In both cases, the system worked flawlessly. The epidemic was stopped within days and quashed entirely in under a month, potentially saving of millions of lives.

In the U.S., that same epidemic might easily have gone unnoticed for critical days and weeks. If the first people to get sick were among those 75 million without adequate insurance, they probably would have toughed it out a few extra days before finally dragging their half-dead carcasses into an ER somewhere. Not only would they be much farther along in the course of the disease—and thus at greater risk of death themselves—every one of them could have infected dozens or even hundreds of other people in the meantime, accelerating the spread of the epidemic.

Worse: America’s underfunded public health system might have taken several days to piece together the whole picture of an epidemic; and perhaps another week or two might have passed before the E. Coli conservatives in charge (having thrown out the science-based management plans thoughtfully developed by the bureaucracy) cooked up some kind of half-assed ideology-driven decision about how to proceed. (It would, of course, involve spectacular amounts of lying to the public.) By that point, tens of millions could have been infected, leading to a death toll that would make 9/11 and Katrina look like minor statistical blips.

Think about superbugs and the ongoing waves of immunological imports from the world’s swamps and jungles. Think about terrorists with bioweapons. And then think again about the undeniable fact that every single underinsured American is a gaping hole in the safety net that protects us all from a catastrophic epidemic.

Epidemics grow by exponential leaps and bounds; catching them earlier is much, better.  Think of putting out a fire in a wastebasket vs. arriving when the whole building is in flames.

There’s a lot more about competitiveness, “rationed care” “efficiency” and other canards used to keep Americans in the dark about their health care. Short answer, we’re paying too much, getting too little, and congratulating ourselves on the results.  (Tip ‘o the hat to Mike The Mad Biologist)

Notes and links:

Here’s why standards are important

January 3, 2008 Comments off

“Oh, that was a Lance Armstrong bracelet?  I’m sorry!”

Patients’ Near Misses: Some Hospital’s ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ Wristbands Look Like Lance Armstrong ‘Livestrong’ Bracelets

Actually it’s only one of many reasons why standards are important.  And since standards can persist for a long, long time, it’s important to study the problem carefully before calling for one to be established.  Generally you want to do some testing, some tracking, engage industry experts, theorists, and users too.  It isn’t something you want to rush.

Of course, there could be a pointy-headed bureaucrat who can’t tell the difference between this vital process and a medical experiment.  Then, no matter how much money you’re saving, no matter how many lives you save, he’ll shut you down.  It’s just a service they offer.

Victims two, three, and four

November 4, 2007 2 comments

The Pump Handle relates an awful story that got very little airtime because of urgent media bulletins about movie stars:

Workers dying from asphyxiation in a confined space is a senseless tragedy.  When four men lose their lives in this way, with three of them dying in an attempt to rescue the other, it is a genuine disaster.  Yesterday, four men died inside a 12-foot deep sewer line at the Lakehead Blacktop Demolition Landfill in the Village of Superior, Wisconsin…
The Pump Handle: Four workers dead at Wisconsin landfill

It happens all the time.  One worker after another went into the hole to rescue the others; all paid with their lives.  OSHA was supposed to have a rule for confined spaces 14 years ago, but moving at the speed of bureaucracy we can expect another 14 years to go by until it actually happens.

In the meantime, it reminded me of the survival instructor I had in high school.  I don’t know how it came about that our school offered extracurricular courses in “survival” – I took both levels – but in Washington state where the Search & Rescue often amounted to Search & Recover, it certainly was a good idea.  Our instructor was one of our PE teachers, a crewcut guy we all called “Mr. C”.  This news story reminded me of one of his lessons:

“Suppose you see a man down. He’s just lying there face down. What’s the first thing you do?”

Our guesses ranged from “Check his pulse” to “Call an ambulance”.

“Hang back and try to figure out what got him,” he said.  “Any power lines down?  How about gas?  If he’s been shot, look around.  You can’t do him any good if you are victim number two.”

Or numbers three and four, as it turns out.  It made me realize how lucky I was to have the opportunity to take a course like that.  Maybe school administrators should look at their faculty and ask if any of them might be qualified to teach an extracurricular course on survival. I think I got a half credit for each class but it was definitely A Good Thing.

Death in perspective

October 29, 2007 8 comments

When I heard that children’s cold medicines may be banned as “ineffective and dangerous”, the first thought that came to my mind was something like what this pharmacology professor says:

But as a parent willing to accept the risks for my perception that my child benefits from OTC cough and cold medicine, I’ll be ticked off if the FDA removes all products intended to treat kids between 2 and 5. A patient representative quoted in a 19 October New York Times article remarked on a new concern that might then emerge: that parents would then try to give their kids reduced doses of adult cough and cold meds using pill cutters and such – a formula, I think, for far more dosing errors. (As North of 49 points out more eloquently, “I too am concerned that parents (if deprived of child-strength formulas) will attempt to harness the full power of their mathematical acumen towards doing dilutions of adult remedies.”)

Terra Sigillata: Children’s Cold Medicine Controversy

123 child deaths since 1969 sounds like a lot, but regulators seem to have trouble weighing absolute numbers in proportion to the big picture.  So TS goes on to do just that…

Smoke gets in your eyes… and your lungs too

October 27, 2007 10 comments

BBC News reports on warnings over fire pollution from the Kahl-ee-forn-ee-a wildfires.  And sure enough, though burning pine and eucalyptus trees smell nice in a campfire, you don’t want to be engulfed in the smoke from millions of tons of fuel.

It’s not a local problem, either.  Chris over at Creek Running North tells about his experience with a previous fire four years ago:

I got to that Mojave altitude, at Mid-Hills Campground, and woke in the middle of the night smelling smoke. I panicked: the campground was in a thick forest of juniper and pine. Had I left a stray ember in my firepit? I burst out of the tent. There was no light to be seen, no fire, no moon, no stars. The air was thick. The wind had shifted, and all the smoke from 2003’s fires in San Diego and San Bernardino streamed toward the interior. My campsite was 120 miles from the nearest fire, the Devore Fire in Cajon Pass. A hundred twenty miles away and the smoke stung my nostrils.

In his illustrated post he goes on to describe what happens if you try to exert yourself in a smokey environment.

Predictably the god-botherers are saying the fire is the fault of gay people, but I have an alternative explanation even though it sounds a little bit radical.  People built their houses in an area that would partly burn every 50-100 years, and suppressed every little fire for over half a century so there was a fantastic concentration of fuel.  The let the brush grow right up against their houses.  And when the right wind conditions and lack of moisture combined…

Naah. Nobody’s going to believe that…

Taleban allow polio vaccinations to resume

September 24, 2007 2 comments

BBC Reports that the Afghan Taleban ‘to honour polio drive’.  Well isn’t that good of them.  They’re the ones who in the past have been spreading the lie that the polio vaccine made Muslims sterile, or caused AIDS or tuberculosis.  We should be completely done with polio by now.  But the Taleban are directly responsible for the fact that Afghanistan is one of only a few places on Earth where polio has not been wiped out. 

Wonder what changed their minds?