February 7, 2016 By
January 31, 2016 By
“Parkinson’s is my toughest fight. No, it doesn’t hurt. It’s hard to explain. I’m being tested to see if I’ll keep praying, to see if I’ll keep my faith. All great people are tested by God.” – Muhammad Ali, Esquire, Feb 2012
My dad is a great boxing fan and interestingly, so is my Mom, even though she’s the gentlest person you could ever meet. Unless of course, you’re her daughter and dawdle in bed “after the sun rises”! My dad still recounts with awe, listening over a radio, back in the sixties, of the famous fights between “the Greatest” and his famous rival, “Smokin’ Joe Frazier”. My cognitive dissonance is palpable when I think of this man who “floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee” when I look at videos of him nowadays. That is the tragedy of Parkinson’s disease.
On a personal note, two members of my Nana’s family are also afflicted as was a very famous religious figure in my community, who had been one of the most active individuals during his earlier life. So I’m sure most of us have also heard of Parkinson’s disease before, or “Parkinson’s” as we’re more likely to call it. But what exactly is Parkinson’s?
Well, it’s a movement disorder. It’s due to degeneration of specific cells in the Central Nervous System (our “nerves”) concerned with movement. You might’ve noticed that Parkinson’s patients tend to move slowly, have a tremor and are very rigid. Well that’s because the degeneration of those cells results in our levels of dopamine (a chemical messenger) becoming too low. This leads to a disjunction (a “dysregulation” they call it) in our movement controls. Instead of the normal balance between our “stop” and “go” pathways, the “stop” pathway is working on overdrive, so our brain keeps hitting the brakes even when we’re meant to move.
With something as devastating as Parkinson’s, I’m sure we’d all like to be aware of some of its early warning signs. Well, tremors or shaking while you’re just sitting around relaxing, your handwriting suddenly getting smaller than normal, trouble walking (stiffness, your feet kind of dragging – “shuffling gait”), stooping, hunching over or a loss of smell might be some early warning signs. Of course, all of these things could be caused by any number of things – a tremor might be due to medicine you’re currently on and a change in handwriting might be expected if you’ve been doing more typing than writing (I think everyone forgets how to write when school reopens after that 2-month break). But if you’ve noticed a combination of all of these things, it’ll probably be best to consult your doctor to be on the safe side.
While at this time there’s no cure for Parkinson’s, there are some drug treatments used to control its symptoms. These aim to increase the level of dopamine that reaches the brain and stimulate the parts of the brain where dopamine works.
Studies have shown that aerobic exercise could be beneficial in slowing the progression of Parkinson’s. Aerobic exercise — like running, jogging and cycling — anything to get the heart racing, really. Aerobic exercise is supposed to release trophic “growth” factors in the brain that help to counter the degeneration of Parkinson’s. Actually, it’s supposed to counter the normal brain shrinkage that happens to us as we get older as well.
Research into Parkinson’s is ongoing and they’re continuously pushing to make new breakthroughs in understanding the disease — and thereby come up with better strategies on how to treat it.
Just this week, The Gladstone Institutes discovered that those “go” and “stop” pathways control movement via a group of nerves in the brainstem that connects the brain to the spinal cord. Those brainstem nerve cells could overpower the stop signals from the “stop” pathway.
Hopefully this discovery and the others that are sure to follow will pave the way towards better treatment options! Keep the faith!
January 10, 2016 By
“Anyone who thinks that they are too small to make a difference has never tried to fall asleep with a mosquito in the room.” – Christine Todd Whitman
In life, everything is context. Here we were in New York City, hoping to enjoy the best of both worlds in what was a record warm spell during a New York winter. But within a couple of days, in the midst of checking out the joys of Manhattan – Sephora anyone?! – both my parents began complaining of feeling cold and having aches and pains.
My brother and I thought it was time and tide taking its toll and insisted we hit all our favourite haunts. Like that picturesque Italian “family” restaurant on 45th Street, Bucca de Beppo. With no sign of relief, they went to a doctor …but were told it was just “a flu”. Back in Guyana, the doctor quickly diagnosed –Dengue!! Context!! New York doctors probably never heard of Dengue. Well, my parents are both back in the swing…but the rest of us should be on the lookout for the flu and many of its medical cousins sweeping our region.
Normally when we think about people getting the flu, it’s an infection with the influenza virus – you really can’t spell influenza without the ‘flu’, it would become ‘inenza’ which sounds like some kind of exotic foreign word. But there are so many other viruses that cause diseases with symptoms resembling the flu. Recently, the Zika Virus has been in the news a lot – and with good reason. Up until now, the virus was mostly contained in Asia and Africa. But now it’s spread to our neighbour Brazil and the Caribbean. It’s only a matter of time it reaches Guyana.
Dengue’s been around for a while, but there’s recently been a disturbing increase in the prevalence of mosquito-borne diseases – Chikungunya, and now Zika, all spread by the Aedes mosquito. I always hated mosquitoes because they’re annoying, but now they’re establishing themselves as much more than just a nuisance. One hypothesis that has been proposed for the increased prevalence of these diseases is that the warmer temperatures (due to global warming) are making it easier for mosquitoes to survive and thus infect more people.
The worst symptoms of Dengue and Chikungunya seem to be the severe pains in the joints – and the latter name literally means “that which bends up”. Many people infected with the Zika Virus seem to recover without any further complications, but there seems to be a link between infection with the virus and pregnant mothers giving birth to babies with small skulls (microcephaly). So pregnant mothers are definitely advised to avoid travelling to areas with confirmed cases of the virus.
With this sort of viruses, prevention is definitely better than cure, seeing as there really isn’t a cure – just management of symptoms and allowing your body to fight off the virus. So you know, get those cans of insect repellent out, make sure your homes have been sprayed with Baygon or whatever bug spray you swear by and make sure there’re no stagnant bodies of water around your home. All of these things they tried to teach us in primary school.
As Mad-Eye Moody from the Harry Potter books would say, “Constant vigilance!” Sure, he was referring to being wary of Death Eaters practising the dark arts, but in our world if there were ever creatures that were completely pointless and evil, it would be mosquitoes.
So be wary of mosquitoes and take care if you start having flu-like symptoms because it mightn’t be just the flu. Check in with your doctor…here they know about our medical threats.
Stay safe, Guyana!
January 3, 2016 By
“Of all sound of all bells… most solemn and touching is the peal which rings out the Old Year.” – Charles Lamb
On Friday, we officially kicked off the New Year with music and good food, family and friends. Interestingly, though the “New Year” was celebrated more than 4000 years ago, in Western cultures it was only celebrated from about 400 hundred years ago. For instance, in India, New Year is celebrated in the Hindu month of Chaithra (Mid April) and it’s been observed for more than 5100 years – of the present Kali Yuga.
In fact, the current date celebrated as “New Year’s” day was chosen in 153 BC by Julius Caesar. If you’re a fan of Roman and Greek mythology, you’ll be interested to know that the month January was named after the God of Doorways – Janus. He was given two faces – one which looked ahead to see what the new year would bring, and the other looked backward to see what happened during the past year. This is symbolic since you can never move forward if you completely ignore what happened in your past.
There is the caution that “those that forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them!” I guess in the case of Janus, being ‘two-faced’ wasn’t a bad thing!
They’re so many different traditions and superstitions concerning New Year’s Day in every country, it’s impossible to keep track of all of them. From the Dutch tradition of eating a donut (representing completing a year’s cycle) for luck or to the Scottish belief that it’s especially lucky if a tall, dark and handsome man is the first person to enter your house, it’s clear that different cultures have very different ideas about what makes you lucky!
But what is common in all cultures, is the fact that the New Year represents a new beginning – a chance to start afresh with new resolutions for the New Year (unfortunately, I’m as guilty as anyone else of conveniently forgetting those resolutions by the next week!).
Of course, we won’t be hoping for only ourselves to change for the better this New Year, we’ll be wishing for other things as well. Maybe for West Indies to become the number one Test team again (please?)
New Year’s Eve truly is a magical time. When we were very young (and still naïve) my father insisted that we be up and outside to see the “Old Year Clouds” move over and be replaced by the “New Year Clouds”. Do others also have this tradition? There’s a special joy in counting down those last few seconds until you light off the fireworks to usher in the New Year. And then the invariable hugs, shouting and general pandemonium as everyone celebrates making it through yet another year – another year full of possibilities and dreams.
But the New Year doesn’t just have to mean moving on, the New Year is also a time to strengthen bonds with those you love, keeping in mind that January 1, 2016 isn’t the end, in fact, it may only be the end of the beginning.
Happy New Year (or as they say in Greece, “Eutychismenos o kainourgios chromos!”)!
December 20, 2015 By
“I find that it’s the simple things that remind you of family around the holidays” – Amy Adams
Last Thursday I returned home after the absolutely most gruelling semesters of Med School that I’ve had to slog through yet. But then they did say that third-year was going to be the highest hoop of all the hoops they make you jump through to become a “professional”.
I must say that there were times when I was convinced that the volume of work they insisted we cover was another variant of the water boarding they condemned at Guantanamo! In one they pour water over your nose to convince you you’re drowning; the other they make YOU pour a waterfall of information over your burning brain. It makes you think that madness is just a finger snap away!
While it’s over – for three weeks at least, when I start it all over again – the reality that I don’t have to spend all of my time furiously trying to absorb as much of my textbooks as possible hasn’t fully sunk in. To say I’m “euphoric” to be back home with my family would probably be the understatement of the century. Even though I’m vegetating right now…I am looking forward with the old “bated breath” for the new Star Wars flick, as I wrote last week. While it takes will power to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks, rewards at the end do help!
And now it’s almost the end of 2015. Another year has flown by! For some reason I’ve felt like no time has passed since 2013. So it’s really quite strange to think that we’re hurtling fast towards 2016. And it’s even weirder to think that by the time the next Avengers movie comes out, I’ll be graduating.
Soon people will start thinking about what the past year has been like and what they expect from the new year. And some people have probably already started thinking about those things. I know during exams, most students already resolved that next year will be different, next year they won’t leave things quite so last minute. We somehow conveniently forget that when the new semester begins, but oh well, it’s the thought that counts?
But before we all start with the self-introspection and all of that serious stuff, the holidays are right up in front of us waiting to be enjoyed.
The excitement for the holidays is palpable. The stores are already thronged with people doing shopping for the holidays, stocking up their pantries for the feasts they’re about to prepare. Houses are already festooned with lights and tinsel. It’s all very festive! As the old song goes,
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
It’s the hap-happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call
It’s the hap- happiest season of all”
It’s been only three days since I’ve been back and it already looks like it’s shaping up to be a wonderful holiday! I’ll be making the most of the three weeks I have before I’m sent off back to the coal mines in January. New York, here I come!!
December 13, 2015 By
“Star Wars is an example of the “monomyth”: They speak to something inside us that wants to know how our world lives, that wants to make order of it and find some meaning. Myths fulfil that in a way that science and facts don’t always do, because science and facts don’t always give us meaning.” – Shanti Fader, Society for the Study of Myth and Tradition.
As I enter the final week of the third-year torture called “Finals” two things keep me going: the thought of returning home to Guyana to just vegetate for a while, and the knowledge that the latest episode of the Star Wars saga awaits me. “The Force Awakens” opens the day after I land, and I plan to be there with my popcorn and soda – and 3-D glasses.
If the IMAX at 42nd St in New York isn’t sold out, we’re hoping (my family, that is – film buffs all!) we’ll get the total immersion effect after Christmas. Now Star Wars is a franchise that began all the way back in 1977 and there has to be an explanation why the story continues to fascinate generations of movie goers for 38 years. There is – and it’s because its genius creator George Lucas has self-consciously patterned his narrative on the elements of “myth” as outlined by a Joseph Campbell.
Campbell had studied under Max Muller, a translator of the ancient Hindu texts including the 6000-year-old Rig Veda. But not only was he exposed to the idea of an activating principle (“The Force”) behind all reality but that all cultures utilised common elements of “myth” to transmit guiding principles to the society on living a better life. Did George Washington really fess up that he chopped down that cherry tree? The counter to the Force – the “Dark Side” – is always threatening to overcome the Force in a never ending battle that is mirrored in our lives. The myths suggest how we may act in that battle to emerge victorious.
There was a discussion of “myths” in our dailies recently, but this point seemed to have been lost – something doesn’t have to be “factual” to be “true” in teaching us values for living a better life. In Star Wars. Lucas created Luke Skywalker as the central figure of what Campbell called “The Hero Cycle”. In this cycle, which begins with a “departure” continues with “an initiation” and struggle against villains and finally “the return” – which has its own challenges.
So we had the departure beginning with “call to adventure” to Luke who initially refuses but eventually accepts by overcoming trials (the sand pit) with the help of a mentor (Obi Wan Kenobi). In life we will all have to leave the comforts of home to “seek our fortune” – and this takes a certain amount of discipline and determination.
Then there is the training – and while we may not understand why we have to be “tortured” unless this is done, a person will not be equipped to deal with the challenges of life. In the Star Wars Initiation we have another “master” Yoda training Luke with the light sabre which he has to master. Many times (like now with these interminable exams, for me!), we wonder if the frustration is really worth it. There is also the temptation – in Luke’s life, the Dark Side, while for most of us it’s the distractions that range from partying to sleep!
But then one achieves the end of the training and becomes “God like” – in Luke’s case, a Jedi Warrior and goes on to defeat the then present threat from the Dark Side – the destruction of the Death Star. In the “Return” there are also trials and tribulations – and these must be faced. The lesson to be learnt is that the Hero cannot do it alone but must form relationships that are based on trust.
While this might’ve seemed a bit like an essay for my Queens “English B” classes, I do think that in this Christmas season, we shouldn’t scoff at the myths that help to shape our lives so profoundly.
May the Force be with you!
December 6, 2015 By
“You don’t lead by hitting people over the head – that’s assault, not leadership.” – Dwight D Eisenhower
I’ve been thinking about leaders and leadership. I’m not sure exactly why but maybe it has to do with all the news circulating about our 50th Independence Anniversary approaching. Have our leaders really done what’s best for the citizens of Guyana over those 50 years?
What Shakespeare said about “greatness”, can be paraphrased for leaders: “Some are born leaders, some achieve leadership and some have leadership thrust upon them.”
Over the years, I’ve encountered a fair number of leaders from all three backgrounds. Interestingly, they exemplify quite distinct leadership styles, approaches and qualities.
A good leader is assertive yet approachable. During my early years at Queens College, I was always impressed with the Prefects chosen. I was awed by these students who were all-rounded and carried themselves with decorum. These prefects welcomed us to speak to them freely, but by mutual understanding, there was a boundary we never crossed.
And that in itself brings out another fundamental trait of leaders – a true leader inspires others to achieve. And the best leaders do this not by telling – but by doing. The line from Portia in the Merchant of Venice has stuck with me: “I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done than be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching.” It can be hard, but to be good leader, that’s absolutely necessary. A good leader can inspire dedication and great feats from followers, through leadership by example.
Good leaders must show integrity since a leader can’t lead if he doesn’t have the trust of followers. Leaders must show honesty, well-controlled emotions (that’s right, no screaming your head off at your charges!).
Leaders must also have high self-respect and self-esteem. After all, if a leader doesn’t respect himself/herself, how on Earth could they earn the respect of others? Yes, respect is earned, not demanded. Good leaders should have the respect of their subordinates and also give due respect to their subordinates.
My tradition emphasises the need to delegate tasks and to groom new leaders for the future. In my estimation, this is a defining quality that all leaders should possess. That leader who tries to singlehandedly tackle all of the objectives and challenges of the group usually risks biting off more than they can chew and simultaneously demotivates the rest of the members.
Leaders should also always be conscious that they can’t be the leader forever – there comes a time to step down and pass on the torch. New times demand new skills and new visions.
One of the more overlooked qualities a leader should possess is a sense of humour! Humour can be an effective tool to energise persons and ease tension. More often than not, leaders choose the too-serious approach – a balance should be struck.
In conclusion, don’t believe that I’m only talking about leaders of countries and corporations. In every endeavour that we embark on in groups, there is the need for leaders. We never know when leadership may be thrust upon us: be prepared.
November 29, 2015 By
If it’s November it has to be “Tourism Month”! And sure enough we had our obligatory “theme” (“Growing the Business of Tourism through Product Innovation”) and exhortations by our very poised Minister of Tourism on “the need to transform our various tourism products: eco-tourism; adventure tourism; community-based tourism; heritage, sports, fishing, bird watching, entertainment, agriculture and arts tourism, into innovative, marketable, revenue-earning businesses that could sustain themselves and grow branch by branch.”
I was a bit surprised however, that medical tourism wasn’t touted since this is one of the most lucrative and growing sectors in the tourism industry. Just like other types of tourism, “medical tourism” is a special reverse type of import – here the import (the medical tourist) actually comes to buy the product (medical treatment) and leaves the foreign funds here rather that we sending it abroad!
And those “foreign funds” are astronomical. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), medical tourism contributed nine per cent of global GDP (more than US$6 trillion) and accounted for 255 million jobs in 2011. So while our regular tourist numbers are inching ever upwards and we should keep on pushing in that area, the medical tourism idea which was mooted by the previous government when they initiated the Speciality Hospital in 2012 should be pushed, since it is back on the cards.
Medical tourism brings in more than twice the spending of traditional foreign tourists so while we’re not going to be exactly overrun by tourists in downtown Georgetown, you’d be surprised at how many relatives, friends and significant others will fill up the Marriott, Pegasus, Ramada Princess and all the other smaller Hotels that now dot our – dare I say it? – once and future “Garden City”.
With angioplasties (for instance) going for $100,000 in the US (and we talking about US greenbacks here!) versus the $11,000 that India charges and even if we go to $15,000, there’s still a lot of wriggle room for the surgery to be done here. And rake in all the side benefits of regular tourism.
And what the studies on the major players in medical medicine – India and Thailand- have shown is that having come for the medical treatment, the foreign patients and entourage do get an opportunity to see the country and its attractions. And return. And why shouldn’t they come to see our dear land of Guyana? We have so many beautiful sights to behold and places to visit – the land itself has done half of the work, all we Guyanese have to do is to market the beauty! Medical tourism can be another arrow in our marketing quiver to do this. Brazil is also a big player in medical tourism – plastic surgery especially.
Another type of medical tourist that we can attract would be our Guyanese Diaspora in the US, which is fighting socialised medicine tooth and nail – no matter what they say about Obamacare! For some reason, not many officials talk about the number of these “foreigners” who return here to have their dentures replaced. They cost at least ten times less those in the US. Maybe our Speciality Hospital can also do dental surgery as for instance Costa Rica.
In the latter country, dental care can cost as much as 70 percent less than in the United States. More than 40,000 medical tourists visited Costa Rica in 2011, a third for dental care. Guyana, like Costa Rica, is but a short trip from the United States and it offers – like we soon will – orthopaedics, cardiology, spine, cosmetic and bariatric (obesity) surgery.
So let’s think – and act – outside the box and watch our tourism revenues swell! And not so incidentally provide higher paid employment to our swelling number of doctors!
November 22, 2015 By
“I do not love to work out, but if I stick to exercising every day and put the right things in my mouth, then my diabetes just stays in check.” – Halle Berry
Diabetes was in the news last week when “World Diabetes Day” was commemorated. Unfortunately, diabetes is an adverse condition of our bodies that needs a “Day” every single day. Unlike Type 1 diabetes, where the body (pancreas) just doesn’t produce insulin – and most often presents during childhood – Type 2 diabetes can be seen as a modern, lifestyle-induced condition.
There are actually 4 types of Diabetes Mellitus, but the one most people think of and the one that seems to be particularly troublesome in Guyana is Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. And that’s the type I’ll be focusing on in this article.
Now, Type 2 diabetes begins with “insulin resistance”. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas and is responsible for lowering blood glucose levels. In Type 2, the pancreas is still producing insulin (in many cases at a reduced rate) but the cells of the body are unresponsive to the insulin – they’re resistant. So if the cells aren’t paying attention to the insulin and plucking the glucose out from the blood, that glucose will remain in the blood and cause what people like to refer to as “high sugar” in the blood.
In diabetics, since there is so much excess glucose in the blood, glucose ends up being filtered out from the blood into the urine -so that we pass out the energy-giving food and our cells may “consume” themselves to obtain energy.
Nowadays there are several diabetes medications that serve to either stimulate the pancreas to produce more insulin and also others that make the cells become more amenable to absorb glucose from the blood (less insulin resistant).
Uncontrolled diabetes is very dangerous and can cause many complications. The kidneys are a prime target of diabetes. In fact, after a heart attack, renal failure is the 2nd most common cause of death from diabetes. Diabetes can also cause damage to the nerves and eyes, make you more susceptible to infections and increases the risk of developing heart disease or suffering a stroke.
Given that there’s currently no cure for diabetes, prevention is definitely better than cure. There are several risk factors that predispose you to diabetes and there are questionnaires that can identify those of us who may be diabetes prone. We can then modify our diets, exercise like Halley Berry (or try!) and engage in lifestyle changes.
Diet is one of the most important factors triggering diabetes. Especially our diet: chock-full of carbs – roti, rice and more roti. And of course, chugging copious amounts of sugary soda isn’t doing your body any favours.
Short of consulting an actual nutritionist or a dietician, there are many apps out there that can give you an idea of the caloric breakdown of your meals. One I would highly recommend, is “My Fitness Pal”. It is a chore to log your meals every single day, but you can keep it up for at least a week or to be able to spot trends in your diet and areas where you’re falling short. When I tried it for a month or so, I realized that I seemed to usually be falling short of the amount of protein I should be eating, so I started incorporating more protein into my diet.
Dietary changes known to be effective in helping to prevent diabetes include a diet rich in whole grains and fibre, and choosing good fats, such as polyunsaturated fats found in nuts, vegetable oils, and fish. Limiting sugary beverages and eating less red meat and other sources of saturated fat can also help in the prevention of diabetes.
A sedentary lifestyle plays a huge part towards your risk of developing diabetes. Exercise, especially aerobic exercise, can help prevent the development of diabetes. We should walk briskly at least 45 minutes daily. Yoga is also very good and studies show that it can reduce sugar levels.
Re lifestyle changes, I hope we can all figure out by now that a couch potato who munches away at Doritos or Potato chips while chugging super sized sodas, isn’t the way to go. Especially if we’re predisposed to diabetes.
It is important to do regular blood glucose tests, for early diagnosis and to monitor your blood glucose levels if you already have diabetes. Anyone 45 or older should get tested for diabetes or pre-diabetes, especially if they are overweight or obese.
People younger than 45 should also get tested if they are overweight or obese, and have one or more of risk factors like high cholesterol, high blood pressure or a family history of diabetes.
November 15, 2015 By