November 29, 2015 By
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
“Thanks to evolution, our bodies have powerful ways to ward off illness and infection and enable us to live long and healthy lives. Why, then, do health costs continue to climb at unsustainable and frightening rates?” – David Suzuki
After some hesitation, last Wednesday, Trinidad’s Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh confirmed the deaths of two men due to Swine Flu. Swine Flu, not surprisingly, is associated with pigs; but the virus is a variant of the original one in pigs – so in reality direct transmission form pigs to humans is rather rare. And don’t worry you gourmets of the porcine, it’s not transmitted via pork.
The virus that hits us is more accurately called Influenza A/H1N1, because it’s caused by a strain of the Influenza A Virus called H1N1. I don’t think that designation raises many eyebrows but I am sure any mention of “Swine Flu” conjures up horrible memories of the pandemic of 2009. Between 151,000- 575,000 souls perished worldwide.
So I can imagine it’s quite alarming to Guyana that Trinidad, just a stone’s throw away, has had several cases of death due to the dreaded Swine Flu. Just last month, the Grant Memorial Presbyterian School in South Trinidad was closed for a week because three students there contracted the virus. But at least our local Guyanese health authorities have been put on high alert, according to a report in yesterday’s edition of this paper.
Normally, my urge to scoot home from Trinidad is always in high gear. Now tack on reported cases of swine flu here in Trinidad, and it’s testing all the resolve I’ve got to not jump on a flight back to Guyana. I think the fact that we’ve been covering a lot of Microbiology this semester has me especially paranoid about every sort of infection. I keep imagining that at any moment, one of the millions of microorganisms around me is going to do me in. And just in time arrived Swine Flu and mosquito borne Zika.
But anyway, back to Swine Flu, which falls hardest on children and the elderly. What are the symptoms? Look out for fever, cough, muscle aches, and headaches that almost always occur and sometimes runny nose, red eyes, nausea and vomiting also occur. You’ll notice these symptoms are very similar to those of the regular flu.
And as with the flu, the best strategy for managing your symptoms is to rest, try to keep yourself warm and drink lots of fluid. But if further treatment is needed, there are antivirals like Tamiflu and Zanamivir that work quite well. Our very own NEW GPC INC can also manufacture the cheaper generic version which is just as effective.
However, the best way of dealing with swine flu is to prevent it. The virus is spread through droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when someone coughs or sneezes. Not enough people are aware of the proper coughing and sneezing etiquette, unfortunately, and they end up coating door handles, food, money, their friends, and basically everything around them with their virus-laden droplets. So when you touch that door handle and then place your hands near your nose or mouth, the virus gets passed on to you. Sort of like a really gross game of “It”.
To prevent getting the virus that way, you need to make sure you’re washing your hands enough and maybe don’t sit quite so close to your coworker who’s been sneezing and coughing all day. You can still communicate with a bit of “social” distance between you. At least that’s what they tried to have us do in school.
So if you’ve noticed that your flu has been going on for longer than normal and a nice robust chicken soup isn’t doing the trick, it would be advisable to head on down to your doctor. Stay safe, Guyana.
November 8, 2015 By
“Let this Diwali burn all your bad times and enter you in good times”
This Wednesday night, Diwali will be celebrated all across Guyana. Well, from what I heard, it will also be celebrated on Tuesday night. For the first time in the 177 years since our ancestors were brought to our shores, our diminishing numbers will not all be lighting our diyas to Mother Lakshmi at the same time. I wonder how this will play out in my village.
The nights have become progressively darker and longer and finally when the moon and sun are in conjunction – and it’s actually a “dark moon” since we can’t see it – and at this time of the year we have the “longest dark night” of the year. It gives each of us the opportunity to ignite a light and banish darkness – literally with our diyas, but also with our bright actions in society to banish “darkness” there.
In the Hindu home, the females would be like whirling dervishes all day, whipping up a surfeit of dishes – both “sweet and salt” –but especially the sweet!
Before Diwali day itself, the house would have been given a thorough cleaning – both inside and out. Hindus literally don’t leave a stone unturned when sprucing up for Diwali because symbolically God as female in the form of Mother Lakshmi is welcomed into our house. Who would want God to enter a grubby house? The diyas would have been readied: at least another dozen new ones to join the hundreds saved and cleaned from last year.
By six o’clock, families will be in their pooja rooms or in front of their “altar”, offering prayers to the deities, Mother Lakshmi in particular. The Goddess of Light, we pray to her on Diwali night – the darkest of the year (Amaawas night) and the first diya is lit. Appropriate bhajans would be sung in harmony – one of the many wonderful ways that Diwali strengthens the family bond. And then the other diyas would be lit from the first and distributed inside, around, on, over and in front of the home. There is the friendly rivalry with neighbours for the most spectacular visual effect.
Diwali actually lasts for five days, with the day publicly celebrated as Diwali in Guyana, being the fourth night. For each of the five nights, prayers are offered to different deities and for each night, there’s a special significance.
However, the underlying message of Diwali on each of these nights is the same- the triumph of light (good) over darkness (evil). The lighting of the millions of diyas that are lit every Diwali is significant – it means we are battling the darkness that is always waiting to overwhelm us. We’re forging our own paths in this life. And that’s important. You can only succeed if you build up good karma; if YOU take action and not if someone else acts for you. Removing darkness is not automatic.
Lighting diyas and fireworks and gorging on scrumptious sweets are really, really fun. But what is more lasting about Diwali is if with every Diya we light, we make a conscious decision to end darkness. The darkness doesn’t just mean external ‘demons’ like drugs, bad friends, etc, it also means tackling our own internal conflicts like trying to fix that negative aspect of our personality or inculcating better discipline.
On Diwali, family members from across the globe reconnect – whether they just call or even visit for the holiday is up to them but the important thing is that the bond is maintained.
So this Diwali, make sure you call that cousin you didn’t speak to since your niece’s wedding or since 2008. Diwali is about lighting up your life and banishing or fixing the dark aspects of your life.
So go out there this Diwali, light a Diya – within and without – keep on burning bright, and keep on shining.
And may our religious leaders not cause the darkness of religious dogmatism to widen.
November 1, 2015 By
“When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property.” – Thomas Jefferson
Whoever was given the authority by the previous government to look after the affairs of the UG medical school, has absolutely failed our Medical Students, not to mention betraying their trust. And I hope there will be no one trying to slip through the cracks between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health. The buck has to stop somewhere.
Medical School is no walk in the park. To say it’s a “gruelling” experience is about as understated as you can get. And I’m saying this while I’m just in my third year. By all accounts, (from the wizened veterans who survived to tell the tale) it gets so much more strenuous in the years to come.
So I can’t even begin to imagine how it must feel to have finally pulled yourself through the five-year grind – to have done your part successfully – only to realize that you’ve been let down by the institution. “Ooops!! Sorry! We allowed your university’s medical school to lose its accreditation!!” Through no fault of their own, the students are left holding the short end of a long stick.
And now our new government nonchalantly “promises” to regain accreditation by 2016. First of all, how can they “promise” when the ultimate decision will depend on external evaluators? And June 2016? That’s a mere eight months from now. Isn’t that extremely optimistic given the massive overhaul demanded to regain accreditation? I hope that this is one promise they can deliver on and it doesn’t end up like the other dreams dashed in their ‘100 day plan’.
From where I stand, reaccreditation’s not looking that hopeful though, since the powers that be seem to be missing the point. Imagine – leading off complaining about the cost of flying in and hosting the CAAM-HP review team. Really? Is that what we should be focusing on right now? Not the plethora of problems plaguing the medical school?
I was especially dismayed to read that there hasn’t been a major curriculum review since 1994. 1994! That’s before I was even born! And this for a Medical School curriculum? Medicine is constantly evolving and the curricula of medical schools need to reflect those new developments for us to produce doctors that can keep up with advances in medicine.
Apart from the strictly medical aspects of the curriculum, courses in professionalism and ethics should be included in the curriculum. They’ve recently integrated a course called PECH (Professionalism, Ethics and Communication in Health) into our curriculum here at UWI. And although I’ve whinged and whined ad nauseam about it, I’ve always realized somewhere deep down that this course will do far more good than bad. We’ve all had bad experiences with medical professionals at some point or the other, whether it was with a doctor, a nurse or another professional. Everyone who goes through PECH won’t absorb everything and integrate it into their everyday lives when they become doctors, but at least the course opens up some sort of dialogue about treating your patients as people and not as their ailment, about ways to effectively communicate with your patient, and overall how to not just be some stand-offish white-coat-clad figure.
The current situation with UG medical school’s loss of accreditation is a national embarrassment. And as for the progress in solving the issues over the past year apparently being slowed down to the “political climate”? That’s just shameful. It just goes to show how little our students seem to matter in the games of our politicians. And it’s sad, because those students, those future doctors, and the rest of the UG students as well, the future engineers and scientists and lawyers, they’re the future of our country.
Stifle their progress and we stifle any hope of our country moving forward.
October 25, 2015 By
“There is a kind of magicness about going far away and then coming back all changed” – Kate Douglas Wiggin, New Chronicles of Rebecca
I usually try to steal a short visit home during the semester. Whenever the slightest opportunity arises (such as a long weekend or cancelled lectures), I grab hold of it and quickly make plans to whisk myself away to Guyana. Happily, the gods decided that one such happy opportunity present itself this week. So here I am back home – snug as a bug in a rug.
My time away from home has really shown me how much home and family mean to me. It’s also proven to me that my heart is right here in Guyana and it’ll really take some doing for that to change. I’m enjoying Trinidad and the med school experience but Guyana will always be my home. Similarly, I like visiting other countries, but I soon start itching to return home.
This visit, I decided to make some time to drop by my alma mater, Queen’s College, to check in on how things were going. I was so thrilled when I read that we’ve now gotten two of the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) awards. I’ve long thought that we need to place more emphasis on CAPE than we’ve previously been giving it. It really is long overdue. CAPE is a whole new ballgame from CSEC. So believe me when I say that the achievements of our awardees this year are truly something to be saluted. I hope that going forward, Queens and the rest of our senior secondary schools place more emphasis at CAPE. And it does not hurt that the top awardee is from good, old Queens!
Returning to QC was simultaneously wonderful and strange – a journey into the past and the future. It was amazing to see my old teachers and the familiar faces of students I knew but it was a bit disconcerting to see so many new faces both in the staff room and in the classrooms. QC was both exactly the same and so very, very different from how I remembered it.
It was a stark reminder that time marches on inexorably. Was it Zeno who said that you can’t put your toe into the same river twice? There are now a whole bunch of new children who just entered the school and have no idea about things that happened at QC during the time my friends and I were there. And there are now so many new memories being made at QC that I’ll have no clue about. But I do believe that each batch must push the envelope that has been handed over to them by those who came before.
Some days it feels like just the other day I was strolling down QC’s corridors and other days it feels like all of that was a whole lifetime ago.
There’s something quite special about returning to one’s high school. In many ways it’s like returning home. Entering at 11 and leaving at 17, the high school years are definitely the years during which we really grow up. And for my part, I can’t think of any place I’d have rather have those experiences than at QC.
Fideles Ubique Utiles
October 18, 2015 By
“The discovery of agriculture was the first big step toward a civilized life.” – Arthur Keith
Whenever I hear the word ‘agriculture’, I usually start thinking about ‘Agricultural Science’ classes at high school. I think I learnt a tad more about poultry and cattle during those past five years than I had ever really cared to know. But as much as I whinged and whined back then about having to learn all of these supposedly ‘unnecessary’ things, in the back of my mind I still know that they were important.
It was agriculture that brought us all to this part of the world – even though the circumstances of that arrival turned a lot of us away from the thought of “returning to the land”; and although I never really considered a career in agriculture, it was for totally unrelated reasons. My dad tells me that my ancestors were agriculturally based and he would wax nostalgically ever so often about his exploits on the family farm – now long gone.
But agriculture does play an enormous role in my life, and in everyone’s: we’d all be starving without food! And interestingly, even today to my surprise, some useful titbit of information from those Agri classes randomly pops into my mind.
But why hadn’t I ever considered a career in agriculture? Maybe it’s because throughout our schooling at Queens – even though almost everyone took the subject at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examination (CSEC), it’s never really been presented as an option. At our career days/fairs, we’ve never had someone from the agricultural sector come in to talk to us, to get us all hyped up about a career in agriculture. We’ve had doctors, lawyers, medical transcriptionists, but no horticulturalists, no biological engineers. So many of us left school not quite shaking off the faint odour of our history of exploitation in the agricultural fields.
Think of it: every year, thousands of 16-year-olds write Agricultural Science at CSEC – but with all that knowledge in their heads, how many of them actually put it into use in the fields?
And in everyday life, we go to the doctors to get a check-up, we go to the bank to deposit money, we pass Policemen on the road on our way to work or school. We have a good idea of what exactly these jobs entail; we get inspired to choose one of these careers. I’ve never met a genetic engineer, but I’m sure that the things they do have to be pretty exciting – I mean, experimenting with plants at the genetic level, creating totally new varieties of plants? GMO’s anyone?
There needs to be some system in place in our educational system to get children more aware about the possible careers agriculture has to offer. Yes, there’s that little section in the syllabus that deals with that, but those careers are basically just words in a textbook. We need to have people in these agricultural careers come in and talk to us about what they do, about what their jobs entail, so that we can see that they’re real people and these are real careers that we can think about pursuing. We need regular field trips – not just to the poultry farm at President’s College.
Because we can have all the doctors, lawyers and economists in the world, but they won’t be of any use if we’re not producing food: we’ll just all starve to death.
My analogy is a bit drastic, I know, but we do have a bit of a disjunct. For a country with a comparative advantage of agriculture, not enough children are thinking about agriculture as careers.
October 11, 2015 By
“Every woman needs to know the facts. And the fact is, when it comes to breast cancer, every woman is at risk.” – Debbie Wasserman Schultz
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month…and sadly, many women are not aware either of that…or of the facts about breast cancer. But as the above quote cautions – every woman is at risk from this devastating killer. While men can also develop breast cancer, with the same fatal consequences, it is much rarer in men (in the US – one per 1000) than in women (one in eight). In the Caribbean, the World Health Organisation announced in 2013 that rates are rising because of our change in lifestyle in imitation of the developed countries.
That last statistic should be a wake up call for women if nothing else. Just look around at a group of women – any group – and out of every eight women, one of them is going to develop breast cancer. Scary, huh? In most countries, breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed form of the disease. The most significant risk factor in breast cancer is being a woman – and being older. But therein lies some hope.
Since breast cancer typically develops when one gets older, if women are socialised from young adulthood to check themselves for early signs of breast cancer, then statistics have shown that in more than 90 per cent of these cases the woman can be saved. This is an amazing statistic and is the rationale behind Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
A monthly self examination results in the detection of almost 40 per cent of breast cancer and the steps are very easy to learn since they consist of varying methods of observing and checking for lumps or thickening of the tissue of the breast or underarm. Sometimes there are changes in the appearance of the breasts or nipple and even discharge – all these should receive professional scrutiny. The examination can be undertaken during several activities – in the shower, in front of a mirror or lying down. The goal is to detect any lumps that might have formed since the last examination.
Not all lumps are cancerous and at a visit to the doctor, a clinical breast examination can be performed by a trained health worker. Obviously this would increase the chances of early detection.
The most conclusive test is via a mammogram. A mammogram is an X-ray that allows a qualified specialist to examine the breast tissue for any suspicious areas. The breast is exposed to a small dose of iodising radiation that produces an image of the breast tissue. Mammograms can be performed at a clinic or hospital and are the most extensive method of detecting breast cancer today. It is recommended that all women over 40 or those in a high risk category should have a mammogram every one to two years.
A woman’s risk of breast cancer approximately doubles if she has a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. That means your chances skyrocket to one in four because of the hereditary factor. However 85 per cent of women who get breast cancer do not have a family member diagnosed with it. The cancer is due to random genetic mutation as the woman ages. And we return to the overall high risk factor for all women.
The trick, if it can be called that, in beating breast cancer is to have a plan for early detection. Self examination, clinical examination and mammogram. Laboratory analysis of cells using biochemical markers to identify the expressions of known genetic chromosome damage is an area that is receiving much attention since it would provide an alternative to the expensive and painful mammogram.
I know that this week’s article has been rather serious but breast cancer is a serious business – death if not detected early and life, if it is. Let’s take responsibility for our lives.
October 4, 2015 By
“Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.” – Cheris Kramarae
Change is inevitable, and not surprisingly, the idea of feminism has changed so much over the years. But somewhere along the way it seems to have morphed into something unrecognisable. For some people, to be a feminist you have to hate men and treat them all as “male chauvinist pigs”. And God forbid, you have “feminine” qualities!! Sell out!! The irony that Gloria Steinem, one of the founders of the modern feminism movement (and of Ms Magazine) was about as “feminine” as you can get! And still beautiful at 80.
This thought flashed through my mind recently when I listened to one female speaker, interpreting (from an Eastern perspective) the right of a female to be treated equally, who still felt compelled to deny that she was a “feminist”. Although she was! Or at least the points she was making were. There can be many ways to make one’s point.
Feminism isn’t against femininity. That girl who wants to paint her nails, take time to do her make-up and throw on a dress, isn’t less of a feminist than a girl who wears pantsuits and hates wearing makeup. Feminists aren’t deluded that only women are sexualised by the media. Feminists don’t believe that society only pressures women. Feminists definitely don’t believe that all men are budding sexual predators.
It’s these faux-feminists that spout their man-hating diatribe that give actual feminists a bad name. That’s why there are blogs like “Women against Feminism” sprouting up. A cursory scroll through some of the posts there shows that they don’t seem to be against actual feminism, they’re against the pseudo-feminism that’s being accepted as what feminism has become. Feminism is just saying that females should play a greater role in defining what “femininity” is all about.
Why should a woman who chooses to be a stay-at-home mom be treated as being less of a feminist than a woman who chooses to be a career woman? The whole point is CHOICE. That’s what feminism means to me – wanting EQUALITY of CHOICE, not wanting some utopian “equality”, especially when to be “equal” is being equated with being “identical”. Females can be equal to males without being identical to males or their roles.
All I want is to be free to choose to go to college and get a job or to be free to choose to get married early and start a family. To me, if I’m told that girls can’t be doctors – that’s when I have a problem. And the awesome thing is, at least in Guyanese society, I’ve never experienced that sort of discrimination. Not in my family… not in my village or in my school.
So I’m not about to fight for “equality” as “identity”. Because I’ve done biology, men and women aren’t built the same – men are better at some things and women are better at some things. Men and women are different and we have to begin to stress how to better deal with the differences – rather than making everyone into one melange.
I could spend my whole life wishing for “equality”, and it’ll never happen. I’ll never be as strong as a man who’s my height, because I don’t have high levels of testosterone. I wouldn’t even know who/what to pick a fight with to sort that one out. Evolution?
But equality of choice – that’s doable and that’s what I want. And that’s not settling – that’s just being realistic. All I want is to be able to make my own choices and be able to follow them – whether I want to be a bodybuilder or an astronaut.
That’s what feminism is to me – not this spiel about how men are “pigs” and an empowered women equates to just a career woman.
I hate that in some circles the word feminism has become a sort of bad word with women jumping to point out, “Not that I’m a feminist or anything”.
It’ll be interesting to see where feminism is headed in the coming years.
September 27, 2015 By