Category Archives: Health

Don’t Drink the Water

Flipping through the dial this morning, I caught the local news on the radio, just in time to hear this interesting item: Albany residents are warned that two bodies of water, the Washington Park Lake and Buckingham Pond, are “infected” with a blue-green algae bloom.  The report advised people not to “drink the water.”

If you’ve ever been to Washington Park or seen Buckingham Pond, I’m pretty certain that the last thing in the world you would ever do is drink that water. And if for some reason you completely lose your mind and  do drink the water, the health department outlines some serious ramifications:

“Consuming water containing high levels of blue-green algal toxins has been associated with effects on the liver and on the nervous system in laboratory animals, pets, livestock and people.”

We get into frequent arguments at my house about The Walking Dead, which returns this Sunday night. Someone will say, “Where are they getting water? Imagine the time you’d have to spend locating and purifying water just to stay alive.  Very unrealistic.”

Yes it’s extremely unrealistic. Almost as unrealistic as the idea of dead people lurching back to life and consuming human flesh. I suppose if we can accept the zombie premise, the maybe we can let go of the fact that the show’s characters don’t spend time collecting water.

Suspension of disbelief is central to enjoying horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. When you start getting bogged down in in conversations about what’s realistic, it takes the fun away.

Instead, let’s talk about a real world issue, like who’s the numbnut that thinks people would drink the water out of the Washington Park Lake?

Under the Knife

Nurse: You have acute appendicitis.

Me: Thank you!

That old joke was the first thing to run through my mind when they’d told me I’d be spending the night at Albany Med. That hospital is a tremendous place, and within hours they whisked me from the emergency department’s waiting room to surgery.


President Johnson shares his appendix scar with America.

Typically these days there’s no Lyndon Johnson style scar; routine appendectomies are done laparoscopically with just three small incisions. It’s a common procedure, but it wasn’t that long ago, before the advent of modern surgical techniques, that your appendix could kill you. That remains the case in parts of the world where people don’t have adequate medical care.

This is probably something that my surgeon, Dr. David Kuehler could tell you about; he spends half the year in Africa treating people who don’t have great hospitals and health insurance. Many of them are lucky to see a doctor at all.

I was rather disoriented when I woke up.

I was rather disoriented when I woke up.

Considering the state of current events, it was an interesting week to have an intimate look at health care in America; what kind of country would this be if everyone couldn’t get the same sort of care I received?

By the way, there will be no picture of my scars, which are pretty boring compared to Johnson’s.

One Never Knows

You never can tell exactly what’s going on, can you?

A blogger at our local newspaper, Kristi Gustafson Barlette, recently wrote about an odd encounter she had with a woman at a local ice cream joint. The woman engaged her in conversation that grew progressively strange, culminating with the lady offering up a taste of her ice cream.

Several commenters pointed out that there may have been more to this incident than just the rambling of an intrusive old woman — that there may have been something causing her to act that way. Naturally, most other commenters were much less forgiving.

In my EMT class, we learned how medical conditions and physical or developmental disabilities may influence behavior. Drugs – prescription or otherwise – and alcohol are also common culprits.

This understanding doesn’t make the person less annoying, but it may instruct us on how we react.

The older I get, the more willing I am to consider that someone’s actions and behavior may be the result of something I know nothing about. A million things cause people to be the way they are, and often it’s simply the sum of their life experience. Hell, sometimes it’s just because they slept poorly.   Take a moment before you judge. It’s not easy, but you’ll be a better person for it.

Dogs of the Fall

On a recent ambulance call, we took care of a man who tumbled down a few steps after tripping over his dog. He dinged up his shoulder pretty well, but it could have been much worse. I resisted the temptation to ask, “Do you want us to have a look at the dog?” See, I’m getting better!

60% of my household’s pet contingent.

We’ve all read how pet ownership is good for your health, but according to a study by the CDC a few years ago, tripping over your pets poses a significant hazard — and all their toys and crap are trouble, too.

The biggest culprits? Dogs. From the report:

“Nearly 7.5 times as many injuries involved dogs (76,223 [88.0%]) compared with cats (10,130 [11.7%]).”


“The most frequent circumstances were falling or tripping over a dog (31.3%) and being pushed or pulled by a dog (21.2%).”

I’m no stranger to the dangers posed by household pests pets; living in a house teeming with furry animals who scurry about underfoot is risky business.  It’s so bad at our house that when I get out of bed in the middle of the night, I sweep the floor with my foot to check for the presence of animals or sharp-edged bones and toys.

What I’d really like to see is a study of the relationship between stepping on cats and cardiac arrests. There’s nothing more startling than that — and speaking of cats, the study contains this odd tidbit:

“Most falls involving cats occurred at home (85.7%). Approximately 11.7% of injuries occurred while persons were chasing cats.”

To recap, a few safety tips: sweep the floor with your foot, limit the number of animals in your house, and never chase cats.

Because He’s a Fungi

We had a nice dinner over the weekend, trying out a recipe for wild mushroom goulash from Food and Wine. The author told of gathering wild mushrooms in the Hungarian countryside for the dish, but we just bought mushrooms from the supermarket. Why? Because wild mushrooms can f**king kill you, that’s why!

Sure. Go ahead and eat it. What’s the worst that could happen?

In 2012, NBC reported  “a scary surge in mushroom poisonings” in areas experiencing unusually rainy weather. Scary, indeed. The most common form of mushroom poisoning presents itself with extreme vomiting and explosive diarrhea. The good news is that it goes away. The bad news is the next thing you experience is liver failure. Just to clarify for you Phish fans, no, you don’t hallucinate to death with a big smile on your face.

The mushroom responsible for most poisonings worldwide is the aptly named death cap. Other dangerous shrooms have names like destroying angel; you can read about its excruciating effects in this first person account of mushroom poisoning.

The takeaway here is this: don’t eat wild mushrooms. Like cutting your own hair, picking mushrooms is something best left to an expert.

All Wet

After nearly 30 years living in the Capital Region, I’ve never taken a swim in the Hudson River. We’re not talking about the Upper Hudson, way the hell up around North Creek, no, I mean the Hudson River just a few miles from my house.

Growing up on Long Island, we were always at the beach — and easy access to the water and swimming is something I’ve always missed here. So a few years ago, I started looking at the river and thinking, “Why doesn’t anybody swim in there?”

I think I now know one reason after reading this headline, Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Widespread in Hudson River, Study Finds.

For years people have just assumed that the river is dirty, but the item in Infection Control Today sort of confirms the suspicions. While the study focused on the area between the Tappan Zee Bridge to lower Manhattan, I’m not sure that makes me feel better. Why so dirty you ask? This from the story:

“If you find antibiotic-resistant bacteria in an ecosystem, it’s hard to know where they’re coming from,” says study co-author Andrew Juhl, a microbiologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “In the Hudson, we have a strong case to make that it’s coming from untreated sewage.”

What? Sewage in the Hudson? There couldn’t be sewage in the river… except for sewage like this, I guess.

In light of all this, I’m leary of taking the plunge. Unless there’s going to be a giant container of hand sanitizer waiting for me when I get out.

Dream On

The doctor told me not to take my pills at night. “They’ll increase your urination, so I usually suggest people take them in the morning rather than be woken up to pee.” I suppose I’d rather wake up to pee than not wake up and pee, but whatever.

It turns out that there’s another side effect of taking this drug at night, one that’s more interesting: extremely vivid dreams. If you’re like me, you enjoy extremely vivid dreams — even at the expense of increased urination — so we’re off to the races.

Last night’s dream was both vivid and weird. It was another zombie episode, in which I am pursued by the undead, but this time, one of the zombies was a vending machine with arms and legs. Was it supposed to be someone who turned zombie while wearing a vending machine costume — or sort of a zombie/robot vending machine?

We’ll never know. More likely it was a subconscious reference to my constant struggle with resisting vending machine snacks, but that’s another blog post.

Chilling Out



Some people think it’s nutty to run in this cold weather we’ve been having — but the truth is, if you dress for it, the frigid temperatures aren’t so so bad.

As I’ve said before, I’m not much of a runner. These days I’ll only do three to four miles, but getting out there helps keep me sane. And early in the morning before the sun is up, when most people are still sleeping, is a wonderful time of day. One recent sub-zero morning, here’s what I wore:

-Thorlo socks
-Under Armour boxer briefs
-Two pairs of tights
-Long sleeve EMS tech-wick shirt (bottom layer)
-Heavier EMS pullover (middle layer)
-Nylon running jacket (top layer)
-Running Hat
-Reflective vest
-Armband radio

All the clothing is some combination of nylon, polyester, or lycra  — never any cotton. The headlamp, a Coast HL5 is not like the fancy ones you see — all it does is turn on or off — but it’s very bright. I only turn it on when there’s a car coming.

The radio is important, but I never listen to music when I run, instead tuning in to WAMC to get my first daily dose of news.

All told, I’m pretty comfortable. The cold is tolerable if it’s not too windy. The worst running weather? When there’s blowing snow because it hurts your eyes.

And don’t talk to me about treadmills. I don’t do treadmills; that’s too much like the rest of my day.

Yes, We Have No Bananas

Aside from assorted roadkill, the things I see most often along the road while running are banana peels.

banana peelThe banana is a great snack for drivers: a piece of fruit encased in a disposable wrapper with a built in handle. It’s not a great idea to let a banana peel fester in your car, even for a few hours, so many of them go out the car window.

I think motorists who throw garbage out their car window are dirtbags, but something biodegradable? That’s not so bad — but folks, can we please try and pitch them off the pavement?

There are two reasons for this: the first and most obvious is the hazard they present to pedestrians, because everyone knows that people slip on banana peels. The other is that I suspect things like apple cores and banana peels may be attractive to critters. Could this be related to the roadkill? Very possibly.

MythBusters explored the banana peel question with mixed results: