Wednesday, February 20, 2013

So Much For No Sequestration

I didn't know what the word "sequestration" meant until recently; in case you don't know, it's a term that refers to the making of general, broad-sweeping cuts in government spending due to budget shortfall.  

During the final 2012 Presidential debate, Obama was asked about the budget sequester, and he said, "It will not happen."

Unfortunately, though, it is happening.  Funding for categories of things in the budget are being cut and/or put on hold indefinitely, including Head Start education programs, food inspection, and medical research.  Instead of looking at items in the budget individually to see where cuts can be made without causing long-term, wide-spread harm, with a sequestration, entire categories are being stricken from the budget.  To me, making cuts in this way seems haphazard, short-sighted, and scary.  Maybe careless, lazy, and desperate too.  Actually, there is a one-word descriptor to describe the "plan" that was used by columnist Robert McCartney in an article today in the Washington Post that I think is spot-on:  Dumb.  


Some of the areas in which these crazy cuts are projected to be made seem like a gamble; maybe, just maybe, things will turn out ok despite the loss of funding.  One area, though, in which cutting support in such an extreme fashion is literally a matter of life and death is medical research.  As the article above says, $1.6 billion is slated to be cut from the budget of the National Institutes of Health, which is already underfunded.  "NIH grants pay for most of the basic research in universities and laboratories across the country, [which] has led to practically every major U.S. medical breakthrough since World War II," McCartney reports.  

I read a lot about research in the areas of cancer and other diseases, and lately more and more often I've been seeing information about how we are so close to figuring out a cure for many of them.  Not just a treatment - a cure!  Obviously, without funding, this research will be put on hold or even shut down, and that swings the making of these cuts over into the category of being downright immoral, in my opinion.  

I wonder if the members of Congress and the President actually recognize what will happen; I wonder if they have thought about the implications of the cessation of medical research, either in broad terms or in a personal sense.  I doubt any of them have lived their lives without being touched in some way by cancer; maybe they should sit and talk for awhile to someone they know who is fighting or who has fought it, or maybe they should look at a photo of someone they've known personally who has lost their life to the disease, just to be sure they realize what they are doing with such over-zealous use of their red pens.

I realize it's challenging to figure out where spending cuts should occur when there is a budget deficit, but I'm pretty sure nobody has ever told the members of Congress or the President that their jobs would be carefree or easy.  There are difficult decisions ahead for them to make, for sure, but trying to solve the problems by simply indiscriminately slashing entire categories is just plain - and here's one more word to describe the whole thing - cowardly - and they should be ashamed.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Off-Label Uses

Sometimes people use a medication or a health care product to help with things besides the ailment or condition that the product was intended to address.  This off-label use is often done out of necessity, when things recommended by health care professionals or others have not solved the problem.  It's more of a last resort, a whatever-it-takes type of effort, or sometimes just a belief in a wives' tale or a carrying on of tradition than a science project.

Vicks VapoRub ointment is one product that has been said to work for treating things other than what its label says it treats; a couple of its off-label uses are treating toenail fungus and repelling mosquitoes. 

Proctor & Gamble, the company that makes Vicks, has a disclaimer on their website that says their product "can be used for the treatment of cough associated with the common cold" but that they "haven't tested, nor has the FDA approved, Vicks VapoRub as a toenail fungus treatment" and, therefore, they say, it is not recommend for the treatment of toenail fungus.  I think there are lots of people, though, who swear that Vicks alleviates them of that condition.  Not having fungus-y toenails (yay for me!), I haven't ever tried using it for that, but I have tried it a couple of times for keeping mosquitoes away when I've run out of Off! and it seemed to work just fine for that.

One of my sisters has yet another off-label use for Vicks Vaporub: she puts a little bit of it under each of her eyes whenever she has trouble sleeping.  She's done that since she was a teenager; she says the fumes it gives off sting her eyes, which forces her to keep her eyes closed, which eventually causes her to get bored enough to go to sleep.  I don't see any kind of warning about that on the Vicks website, so I guess it's an ok thing to do, and, as anyone who has ever suffered (and I do mean suffered) from insomnia can attest, at a certain point in a sleepless night, it's anything goes/whatever works to provide a little shut-eye before the sun comes up.

When I was running competitively a lot in high school, I sometimes tried to emulate some of the rituals that my dad had surrounding his running routine. One thing he did that I started imitating then was taking a couple of swigs out of the bottle of Mylanta that we kept on the door of the fridge as soon as I came in from a strenuous run.  I didn't know why he did it; I just did it because he did.  Many years later, I happened to think about how we used to do that, and I asked him why he did it back then.  "When you run hard, most of your blood goes to your arms and legs instead of to organs like your stomach, and so a hard run can make you feel sick to your stomach, and Mylanta helps with that," he told me.  I kind of half-laughed and asked him he'd ever tried any other remedies for the same problem, and he said, "Well, I guess I've tried beer, but I'm not sure if that helped my stomach or if it just tasted so good after a hard run that I didn't care if my stomach hurt."

I don't think the company that makes Mylanta has looked into billing it as a special after-workout remedy for runners, but maybe they should.  I know of another off-label use for it that they could advertise, too: when my oldest child was a baby, I worked in a nursing home, and one of the residents there told me that I should try using a liquid antacid like Mylanta to treat diaper rash.  "Just put some on a cotton ball and dab it on the rash," she told me.  Later, when I tried it, I found out that it worked better than any diaper-rash ointment I'd tried.  I ended up telling a friend of mine who was also a new parent about it; luckily, she asked me for clarification of how it should be used before she tried it because she later told me that she first thought I'd meant that an oral dose of it should be given to the baby. 

One thing that has surprised me about the process of grief has been the way the emotional pain often flows over into physical pain, and one way that that has occurred for me has been in the form of back pain.  Before I'd really realized what was causing the pain that plagued me night and day, I had been attributing the pain to poor posture or just to having slept  wrong, and I tried the usual treatments - ice, heat, stretching, pills, chiropractic.  Nothing worked, at least not for very long.  Finally, after reading about the grief process, I came to the conclusion that my sorrow and the other emotions tied up with the whole process had sort of settled into the joints and the muscles affecting my back, and I told myself that, like a lot of the intense emotional pain I was feeling at the time, I just had to ride it out until it got better on its own in time. In the meantime, though, especially at night, I ended up calling on my old running training buddy, Icy Hot.  The weird first cold-then hot numbing action it has helped me to relax; some nights it was the only thing that allowed me to go to sleep, essentially making it yet another product with an off-label use, this time to curb the often almost-debilitating pain of raw grief.