Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Activism: Healthcare and Safety Edition

In this edition, I'm bringing to light some hidden issues that aren't really being covered by the mainstream media as much as I think they should (an article on the Twilight book phenomenon is on the main page of CNN, for real).

First up is "The Loss of the Yearly Pap Smear", an article about new American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) guidelines recommending less frequent Pap smears for women. I am all for less medical intervention, but I see this as an unwise decision. I mean, with a 10-30% false negative rate for Pap smears as it is, wouldn't it be smart for us to increase rather than decrease the recommended frequency of these tests, if any change at all? I really worry that this will lead to an increase in undiagnosed cervical cancer rates. Perhaps the most troubling thing of all was one of the reasons the policy is being changed for younger women:

"earlier onset of screening may lead to increased anxiety and the emotional impact of labeling an adolescent with both a sexually transmitted infection … because adolescence is a time of heightened concern for self-esteem and emerging sexuality."

Yeah, because the best reason to discontinue testing that may help diagnose STIs and cervical cancer is because someone might be embarrassed to be diagnosed. I mean, there's a lot of reasons I go see a doctor, and most of them are embarrassing. If we start making medical recommendations based on embarrassment: men should never get their prostates checked, forget asking about that possible fungal infection, teens shouldn't get acne checked, and hell, I'll just skip the yearly date with the gynecologist all together! The sad part is, many women will skip the yearly visit to the doc-that-dare-not-speak-its-name because they aren't having a Pap smear and wonder what the point in going at all will be.

Come on, ACOG, get your act together. Then again, these are the same people who are now telling us not to worry about breast cancer until we hit 50 either-and NOT to do breast self exams. (Ok, maybe not the same people, but don't all those medical agencies run together?) As for me, I'll still be self-checking my breasts, and I hope everyone will do the same.

Next is the petition from CREDO action asking the FDA to ban the use of Bisophenol-A (BPA) in food packaging. If you have any question about whether we should tread lightly with the use of this chemical with as-of-yet unknown long term risks, check out the findings from the Environmental Working Group. I mean, with so many studies pointing to possible if not probable risks to humans, (and definitely the environment), why is BPA still found in infant formula, plastic baby bottles, and canned products? Do your kid a favor and use glass bottles, BPA-free bottles, or exclusively breastfeed.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Biologist Smack Talk?

I know the old "your mama's so fat" jokes were getting old and played out, but when I found this on one of the desks during seminar, it made my day:

What's a bioaccumulation factor-check it out.

Hey, at least the kid who wrote this will remember something important from his biology class.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Business of Being Born

Ok, this film has been around for a few years, but I can't stop promoting it. Of course, no one should get all their information about anything from a movie, but if it can get the ball rolling and women to start taking charge of their reproductive rights, I'm all for it.

A particular clip I think most women who have given birth in a hospital can relate to is the pitocin clip.

Will and I watched The Business of Being Born a few months after we were married, and decided that if we had a child, we would definitely look into options other than traditional hospital medicine. As a proponent of natural lifestyle, planning a birth at home seemed completely obvious. We read and researched for months just because of how interested we were in the home birth phenomenon, not even thinking of how useful the information would be to us this year.

Some helpful resources for anyone considering or curious about home birth:

Research Articles (for analytical minds like mine):
British Medical Journal article-study and comparison between home and in-hospital birth
Home birth reference site-lists many articles and studies

Pushed by Jennifer Block
Immaculate Deception by Suzanne Arms

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Why, Undergrads?

Courtesy of PhD Comics

I often wonder whether I'm making an impact as a grad student TA. I mean, I am teaching Anatomy & Physiology to Undergrads who will soon be responsible for the life and death of other human beings (95% or more of my students are nursing students). So, I am very disheartened when I hear the following statements from my students:

"Why do we need to know this? When am I going to need to know about _______(insert any body system here)?"

"I'm not really worried about learning all this stuff. I just need to pass so I can take my clinicals."

"It's too hard to remember the medical (or scientific) terms. For the test, can't we just describe it?"

Le sigh. That's not to say that these aren't smart or capable students-because almost all of them are. They are just too overworked/lazy/busy/tired/disinterested to care about my piddly 1 credit lab. I'm sure I did the same thing to my TAs when I was in their position-I mean, when you're taking 18 hours and working 40, you try to cut corners wherever you can. However, I am still discouraged.

Of course, there is always that one student, that beacon of hope for the future of my sanity who says "this is a really interesting class-where can I get more info on what we did today?" or "Are you teaching ______(insert whatever they are taking next semester)? I really like you as a TA."

Ultimately, I think it is a worthwhile experience. And, probably karmic retribution for every time I said "Is this going to be on the test?"

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

25 Weeks

Yesterday I had my 24/25 week appointment with my midwife. I am happy to report that the little boy is vertex-and will hopefully stay that way for the rest of his gestational period. I'm measuring just right and have gained 9 lbs total. He should be chunking up in the next few weeks, and so should I. The little boy had the hiccups, and was kicking back against the doppler, but he is too big to run from it so we could measure his heartbeat at a strong 148bpm.

So, as I quickly approach the 3rd trimester (26 or 27 weeks depending on the source), I need to increase my Omega Fatty Acids, DHA, all that good stuff. However, I had to stop taking the fish oil tablets a few weeks ago because they made me so sick. Well, I have found my saving grace: children's gummy omega-3s. Delicious! They taste like fruit and cause no upset stomach. Hey, at least they aren't Flintstone's vitamins.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Biologist of the Month: Dr. Eric Pianka

This week was our Graduate Student Symposium, and I had the great privilege to meet Dr. Eric Pianka, aka the Lizard Man. As a biologist, and specifically as a herpetologist, I was in awe of this man. He has been actively publishing in the biological community for 50 years. 

Image courtesy of U of Texas

Dr. Pianka worked with the famous Robert MacArthur, and with him wrote the citation classic on Optimal Foraging. Along with many other citation classics buried in countless important biological papers, he literally wrote the book on Evolutionary Ecology. He has spent his whole life studying lizards (particularly Varanids), and recently collaborated with Nova on an interesting documentary called "Lizard Kings". And, like any good biologist, he has been the object of misplaced controversy by some religious groups because of his concern about human over-population and its effect on the earth. (Ecologists have been concerned about this for many years, especially with the size of the carbon footprint left by modern humans-especially in the western world.)  

So, you see, I was a little intimidated to meet this great man. However, Dr. Pianka's friendly demeanor and sense of humor put us all at ease. In fact, I don't think he had a minute to himself without an eager grad student or professor begging his attention. All us folks in my lab were more than happy to cart him about town, to dinner, etc and have the opportunity to pick his brain. 

I encourage everyone to take a few minutes and google for a while about optimal foraging, evolutionary ecology, and even monitor lizards. And if you're feeling particularly academic, take a peek at Dr. Pianka's list of publications, many of which he has available for download as pdf.