The TORTURE-d Path To Staying Healthy

The lyrics to Steve Miller Band’s “Jet Airliner” note that “you got to go through hell before you get to heaven.”  While I disagree that this is the path to get to heaven, I can say that you may have to suffer hell in order to get and stay healthy. Yes, taking care of oneself medically often involves some type of torture.

Instruments of torture such as the rack and the dunking stool are no longer  in common use. Nevertheless, we  have medical instruments which have taken their place in modern times.  And if being tortured by these instruments isn’t bad enough, we are forced to pay their wielder for the privilege of being tortured. So much for progress!

One of the most common instruments of torture is small and seemingly innocuous. I give you the tongue depressor–standard size 6″ x 11/16″. The fact that this medical instrument is also know as the “tongue blade” may make you see this small item in a different light.

The tongue depressor is a tool use to push down (“depress”) the tongue to allow for examination of the mouth and throat. I don’t know about any resulting examination of these body parts  occurring, but I can tell you that the tongue depressor’s use is always successful in triggering my gag reflex.  And asking me to say “Ahhh!” when the tongue depressor is inserted hardly distracts me from the resulting discomfort.

And have you ever stopped to consider what a tongue depressor is made of? Usually tongue depressors are made of wood. And what’s a hazard from wood? SPLINTERS! One medical supply website I viewed boasts that its tongue depressors are polished for “splinter-free comfort.” What? Now I have to worry about gagging AND the possibility of splinters? But on the bright side, if your instrument of torture is made from northern Maine white birch, it is naturally biodegradable.

Better yet, your torturer–er, medical professional–can choose from sterile and non-sterile varieties of tongue depressors. Say what? Why on earth would any medical professional in his right mind (or at least trying to avoid a medical malpractice claim) utilize a NON-STERILE tongue depressor?

On a positive note, the concerned tongue depressor manufacturers do want patients subjected to its use to enjoy the procedure as much as possible.  Accordingly, they offer these instruments of torture in cherry and grape flavors. If it’s going to make me gag, I don’t really care what it tastes like beforehand–just sayin’.

And the tongue depressor can multitask.  Your doctor can stick it in your mouth and then use it to test your neurological responses. Just break that sucker in half and VOILA! A sharp stimulus is available.

Also in a medical professional instrument of torture repertoire is the speculum (Latin for “mirror’)..This tool is used to open or distend body orifices or cavities to permit visual inspection. Think pelvic exam and Pap smear.

A speculum has two-hinged parts that looks like a duck’s bill. Originally this tool was made of stainless steel.  And we all know how cold metal can feel to the touch.  How many times have you heard your considerate doctor warn you, “This will be a little cold.”  If you know it’s gonna be cold, why not warm the thing up a bit before inserting it? Speculums can now be purchased in plastic for one time use. Hmmph! Probably not biodegradable like the birch tongue depressors. Comfort is not mentioned in any description of this medical supply….

A fairly sophisticated medical instrument of torture is the mammogram machine. Since breast cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer in woman, if you are a woman, at some point you will be directed to undergo torture–er, a procedure–with this machine.

A mammogram is a low dose X-ray of the breast. One medical website I checked stated that the procedure “can be painful.”  This statement is the understatement of the year. The machine is equipped with parallel plates that compress, i.e., flatten, the breast to enhance the screening. OUCH! There is no doubt that this procedure involves pain. Why can we put a man on the moon but we can’t come up with a less painful way to X-ray a woman’s breast?

And last but not least is the good old needle. Needles  can be found at the end of a syringe or as an essential piece of an IV. Just the sight of a needle can frighten even the biggest and baddest of us. While taking my daughter for a shot at the immunization clinic on an Air Force base, I witnessed a tall (over 6′) athletic looking airman crash to the ground when the nurse pulled out a syringe to administer a shot to him. Perhaps we could save a bunch on the defense budget if we just had our military brandish syringes at the enemy rather than guns.

With needles comes the inevitable comment, “You’ll just feel a little prick” or “This may sting a bit.”  Let’s have some truth in advertising here. Just go ahead and say, “This is gonna hurt, so prepare yourself.” It wasn’t the one stick that got to me when I was in labor with my first child.  The medical staff determined I needed an IV in my hand. As if it were not bad enough that I was in labor, I was also being turned into a pin cushion by the nursing staff who couldn’t seem to get the needle into my vein.  (And I’m going to trust this crew to delivery my baby????) Finally, in desperation, they called down to the ER to have someone come up and give it a go.

It’s a trade off. If you want to be healthy, then you have to be willing to undergo some medical instrument hell. Diagnostic procedures are a critical part of medical care. As they say, if you have your health, then you have everything. And part of that everything is experience with medical instruments of torture.

JUST WONDER-ing:  Do you avoid going to the doctor because of anticipated discomfort or pain from the use of medical instruments? What medical instrument of torture do you detest the most?



War Of The Wares


The U.S. is at war!  Fortunately, it is not a war of the worlds involving aliens invading from another planet. No, the current war is a bit less dramatic. It is a trade war between the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest economies.  While no Americans will be sent to the front lines to fight this war, the war is bound to negatively affect the bottom line of the American consumer’s  budget. So it pays to be in the know about what’s going on.

A trade war is not a conventional war. No bombs or bullets are utilized. The weapon of choice?  A tariff. Tariffs have nothing to do with the military; they are an economic weapon. To be precise, a tariff is a tax or duty to be paid on a particular class of imports or exports.

Tariffs are not a modern innovation. No, sir.  In fact, the very first act passed by Congress under our Constitution was a tariff law; this 1789 law imposed tariffs up to 50% on imported steel. In fact, tariffs were the greatest source of federal revenue until the federal income tax was established in 1913.

Be aware that we are living in historic economic times.  The U.S.’s current trade war with China is likely to eclipse the Chicken War of the 1960’s. What? You’ve never heard of the Chicken War? What kind of American history books are they writing?

In the Chicken War, France and West Germany were the U.S.’s enemy instead of China. The bad guys imposed a tariff on imports of U.S. chicken which were voluminous since Europeans considered chicken a delicacy. American chicken exporters squawked at the tax; in retaliation, the U.S. imposed a punitive tariff on light trucks (think VW vans), brandy, and other European products. .(Trade) war is hell, and the tariff on brandy was soon lifted as sober U.S. heads prevailed and took heed of the complaints of diSPIRITed U.S. imbibers unhappy about paying more for their imported spirits.

Fast forward to July 6, 2018 when the current trade war began.  The U.S. imposed 25% tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese goods in response to complaints that China steals or pressure U.S. companies to hand over technology. This move made good on a campaign promise made by Donald Trump to crack down on Chinese trade practices which have cost American jobs. Take that, Beijing!  China fired back by imposing higher tariffs on a similar amount of U.S. goods. Back at you, Washington, D.C.!

China asserts that the U.S. is being a bully and is igniting the largest trade war in economic history. But, of course, China does not want to change the economic status quo. Why not?  Because the U.S. has a $375 billion U.S. goods trade deficit with China. That’s BILLION with a “B.”  In 2016 China was the leading supplier of goods imported to the U.S.  China imports far less from the U.S. than the U.S. imports from China.  It’s top import from the U.S. by value is soybeans. (Soybeans?)

So each country has imposed higher tariffs on certain goods of the other country.  Now what?  Round 2, naturally. A possible second round of tariffs targeting a $200 billion list of thousands of Chinese products is being considered by the U.S. The first round of tariffs focused on Chinese industrial products in an effort to reduce the direct impact on the American consumer.  The new list under consideration is more extensive, containing consumer products such as vacuum cleaners and furniture. I’m no economic expert, but I’m pretty sure that China’s response will be to raise tariffs on additional U.S. goods  exported to that country.

Where will this economic madness end?  My bet’s on the U.S. coming out on top. The bad news is that our country has a gargantuan trade imbalance with China; China only imported $130 billion of U.S. goods last year, and the U.S. already has a trade deficit exceeding that amount for 2018 as of May 31st of this year. The good news is that China’s imports of U.S. goods are small enough that at some point it cannot match new U.S. tariffs. Nanny, nanny, boo, boo, Beijing!!!

In the meantime, what will happen?  Well, hang on to your hat!  Don’t have one? You better order your “Make American Great Again” cap NOW.  IncredibleGifts, which imports red hats from China and embroiders them here with that phrase, will have to raise prices if the hats end up having to be made here in the U.S. as opposed to being made in China, shipped here, tariff imposed and then embroidered in the U.S.  The cost of these hats could skyrocket from $9-$12 to $20.  That’s not great!

The mounting tension between Beijing and Washington, D.C. provides an economic summer blockbuster. Despite the possible ramifications of the trade war, the average American is hardly on the edge of his seat following the plot. Why?  Apparently red ink is less captivating that bloodshed. Perhaps all that is needed to catch John Q. Public’s attention is a catchy name for this war. But it’ll be hard to top the Chicken War. Maybe we could just refer to the situation as “America’s Got Tariffs.”

JUST WONDER-ing:  Had you ever heard of the Chicken War? Were you aware that China and the U.S. were in a trade war? To what extent do you follow economic news?











One Is The Loneliest Number

Being number one is great.  Being a party of one?  Not so great.  In the words of songwriter Harry Nilsson, “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” And apparently lots of us are doing that number because loneliness has been described as a public health crisis and the number one public health issue.

Yes, one is a small number, but it can have a big impact on an individual.  How big, you ask?  According to Sanjay Gupta, M.D., research shows that loneliness may increase mortality risk by 45%.  Echoing that alarm is Mark Robinson, chief officer of Britain’s biggest charity working with older folks.  He states that “It’s proven to be worse for health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” Yikes!  Who knows what the consequences of being a lonely chain smoker could be.

But there’s more! Researchers at BYU and University of Utah have found that social isolation may be more deadly than obesity.  Feelings of loneliness, their research results revealed, may increase a person’s chance of premature death by 14%.

I hate to break it to modern researchers, but these findings are old hat.  REALLY OLD hat.  Way back in Genesis 2, God immediately recognized that it was not good for a man (OK,in the Garden of Eden THE only man, Adam) to be alone.  Therefore, God created a companion for him.  Eve may have frustrated Adam at times and led him astray by tempting him with the forbidden fruit, but he sure wasn’t lonely.

Millions live here in the United States, so loneliness shouldn’t be a problem given our country’s large population, right?  WRONG!  University of Chicago psychology professor John T. Cacioppo tells us that at least 1 in 5 Americans (that’s about 60 million people) suffers from loneliness.  How can the world’s population be at an all-time high and population growth a concern and yet vast numbers of us are lonely?

The answer is that being with people is not the same as being connected to people.  It’s possible to be in a crowd and be lonely.  It’s possible to be married and be lonely.  Social media seems to exacerbate the problem. We might have lots of “friends” on Facebook, but many of these connections are merely electronic rather than personal and intimate. Pushing the button to send a communication to a “friend” just can’t compare to see a living and breath friend’s face light up when you converse with him in person.

The problem of loneliness is a human problem, not just an American one.  An estimated 9 million British suffer from loneliness.  British Prime Minister.Theresa May commented that “For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life.”  So how does the British politician combat this societal problem?  Why appoint a government official to look into it, of course!  Tracey Crouch was appointed by the PM back in January as a minister of loneliness to head up the governmental response to the issue.

Should we be concerned if we are feeling lonely?  The answer depends.  Everyone is bound to feel isolated at one point or another, but if the feeling becomes chronic, then alarm bells should sound.  Why? Chronic loneliness significantly raises the risk of a number of physical and psychological health problems, including heart disease and depression.

Not sure how bad your loneliness is?  Not to worry.  There’s a test you can take, the UCLA Loneliness Scale, which poses 20 questions to assess your loneliness. If you experience test anxiety, though, you may create another problem by taking the test.

Does feeling connected really matter?  Sure it does!  Haven’t you heard that no man is an island?  While disconnection is bad, connection can be very good for us.  People tend to take better care of themselves when they have friends to encourage them to do so.  Friends provide a support system when things get rough; they are there to give assistance during difficult times.  As my mother would always say, “A friend in need is a friend indeed!”

Having supportive friends and family may be as good as medicine.  Research conducted by the National Academy of Sciences shows that when someone who is in pain holds a loved one’s hand, brain wave patters and breathing between the two individuals synchronize, which helps ease or eliminate the pain.  I’ll take a caring friend over a dose of medicine any day–even a dose taken with a spoonful of sugar.

Given the apparent enormity of the loneliness epidemic, what can one do to alleviate this societal bane?  Actually, the solution is not as difficult as you might believe.  Each of us needs to be more intentional about connecting with others.  Remember the old AT & T ad urging you to “Reach out and touch someone?”  Well, just do it.  If you think about someone, why not pick up your cell phone (which is undoubtedly close at hand) and call that person to tell him you were thinking about him?  Even a brief conversation will perk him (and likely you) up.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta has an easy suggestion to implement.  He urges us to “just say hello.”  Even if you don’t have a full conversation with someone, you can always smile and say “hello.”  Perhaps you might compliment someone on her dress, manners or helpfulness (think store clerk or cashier).  I can personally attest that even the tiniest comment can make a huge difference.  One day after work I was beat, but had to stop at the store on the way home.  An older lady I did not know walked up to me and said, “That dress you are wearing is so attractive; you really look good in it.”  My demeanor changed, and I walked with a bit more spring in my step after that interaction.  Who knows when the smallest comment or a smile will boost someone’s day and make him feel connected to the human race?

Since social interaction can help us to live healthier, happier and longer lives, let’s band together to ban loneliness.  Reach out and touch someone.  Just say hello.  Hey, it beats exercising and dieting, doesn’t it?

JUST WONDER-ing:  Have you ever considered loneliness to be a societal problem?  When is a time in your life where you felt lonely?  What helps you to feel connected to others?







Disorder In The Court


It’s the Fourth of July, so Americans are busy celebrating the founding of our country–squeezed in somewhere between going to the beach, grilling out and shopping red, white and blue sales. What all those activities have to do with the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that most citizens have a good grasp on our country’s inception (Boo King George! Yea George Washington!), but they are uniformed about, and perhaps uninterested in, current events affecting our government..

The revered Declaration of Independence begins with the words “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary….”  Back in 1776 it was necessary for the colonists to get out from under British rule.  Fast forward to 2018.  The British are out and so is a sitting United States Supreme Court Justice.  Anthony Kennedy, the tie-breaking voter on some of the court’s biggest cases, has announced his retirement at the end of this month.  Please raise your hand if this situation is the #1 topic at the water cooler at work.  I thought not.

Sadly, most Americans don’t even have a grasp of what SCOTUS is much less what’s going on there.  The Supreme Court of the United Status (edgily referred to as SCOTUS) is the highest federal court in the country and is in the judicial branch of our government.  It is composed of nine justices who may collectively be referred to as the Supremes, but the group has nothing to do with singing.  The members of the court are not elected (that would apparently be too political); justices are nominated by POTUS (President of the United States) and confirmed by the Senate (SOTUS?).

Even though SCOTUS is not a political body, a big political battle is brewing because the next justice confirmed will have the opportunity to shift the court to the right for some time to come.  Upon Justice Kennedy’s retirement,, the remaining eight justices will be split between four liberals and four conservatives, i.e., a Mexican–er, American–standoff.  Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayer and Ruth Bader Ginsberg were Democratic (liberal) nominees and John Roberts, Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas were Republican (conservative) nominees.  President Trump, being a Republican and a conservative, is going to appoint a conservative.  But whomever he appoints has to get past the Senate which is composed of a good number of Democrats/liberals.  Prepare for a rumble on Capitol Hill!

A justice confirmed now will be able to exert influence for many years. Justices have a lifetime tenure, so once a justice is on the bench, the country is stuck with him until he dies or retires. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, age 85 and a liberal, may die with her robe (not her boots) on because she does not want to allow the current conservative president the chance to replace her with a conservative justice. President Trump has already been through this process once when he nominated conservative Neil Gorsuch

The president’s nominee is to be announced on July 9th, the day before President Trump leaves for a presidential trip to Europe.  Twenty-five people are on his consideration list, all but one of whom are judges; the odd man out is Utah Sen. Mike Lee, an attorney and former assistant U.S.Attorney.  So far, so good. The President is astutely considering only those with judicial (and in the case of Sen. Lee, legal) experience.

News reports indicate that there is now a shortlist of candidates.  While it is uncertain who will be chosen, it is clear that Trump’s choice will be someone who can “serve for decades,”  i.e.., someone relatively young. Trump may be in office for only a few short years, but he can leave a living legacy on the bench in the Supreme Court building.

A frontrunner is said to be Judge Amul Thapar, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge.  Thapar is appealing because he would be the first American of Indian or Asian descent to receive a nomination. Amy Coney Barrett, another federal appellate judge and former Notre Dame law professor, is also a top contender.  Sure there are already women on the court, but do any of them have seven children like she does?  Are large families appropriately represented on the high court?  Being PC is all well and good, but this is the highest court of the land, so perhaps we should just aim to select the best qualified candidate regardless of race, gender, nationality descent, size of family, etc.

SCOTUS is in summer recess, but a judicial decision, i.e., confirmation of the newest SCOTUS justice, is expected before the first Monday in October, the day the high court traditionally reconvenes after its summer recess.  For the time being, all eyes will be on a decision about SCOTUS rather than from SCOTUS.  No matter who is added to the high bench, Americans should be interested in what’s going on with SCOTUS every day, not just on July 4th.  Regularly exercise your independence by staying in the know about SCOTUS.

JUST WONDER-ing:  Before your read this post, how many of the nine SCOTUS justices could you name?  Were you aware that Justice Kennedy had retired?  Did you already know what the acronym SCOTUS stands for?