Friday/ wash your hands, frequently

Wow .. the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is making a lot of trouble in mainland China, and especially in Hubei province. The whistleblower doctor that sounded the alarm originally, Li Wenliang, has passed away in Wuhan. He was only 34.

The local authorities in Wuhan have bumped up the number of new makeshift hospital beds from 26,000 to 36,000. More people have also tested positive in that cruise ship under quarantine in Yokohama, Japan. There is a severe shortage of facemasks in China (the cheap ones are not very effective, but I guess it gives the wearer a psychological boost).

So far – outside of China – the spread of the virus seems to be contained, though. Even so, courtesy of the Port of Seattle website .. 

  • Wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick, and stay home when sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid non-essential travel to China.
  • Check-in with your airline if you have questions about your travel itinerary.
  • While not protective against the coronavirus, it’s not too late to get an influenza vaccine, since flu season can last into spring.
Guidelines from the CDC from Americans coming home from China (14 days of self quarantine). Non-citizens will be quarantined for 14 days. Seattle-Tacoma airport has identified a site (a firefighter training center in North Bend, far from any neighborhoods) for asymptomatic foreigners that might still arrive from China. The travel industry and hospitality industry along with all economic activity in China is taking a serious hit from the virus.

Monday/ got my flu shot!

I was at the pharmacy today, and the pharmacist said ‘just so you know’, that they already have a shipment of the 2019/ 20 flu shots. ‘Let’s do it!’ I said, and got my flu shot right there and then.

It was a quadrivalent shot: a vaccine for four strains of the flu virus — for what it’s worth. I read online that the 2018/ 19 season’s flu shot was only about 30% effective. There was a late-surging strain, against which it was no help at all.

Missing the mark: cartoon by Dave Granlund, published during the 2014/ 15 season when the vaccine was even less than 30% effective.  P.S. I would say it’s not really the lab that misses the mark — it’s the panel of experts that try to predict which strains of the flu virus will circulate around the regions of the world for the upcoming flu season.

Wednesday/ ditching the whitening

I read once that Americans have somewhat of an obsession with super white teeth – so that must be why so many toothpastes are ‘whitening’ or ‘extra whitening’.

Well, says my dentist:
1. if you are using toothpaste for sensitive teeth, whitening ingredients detract from the effect of the potassium nitrate (which helps with tooth sensitivity); and
2. the amount of whitening actually achieved with toothpaste is minimal.
So I’m ditching my Sensodyne Extra Whitening toothpaste, and will go with one that only has the potassium nitrate.

I got this toothpaste sample from my dentist, and I like it, but I have not been able to find it in a store yet. I guess I could order it online from You-Know-Who, but I will try another store or two first. The dentist says to smear a little toothpaste over the tooth and gums where the heat & cold sensitivity is, before brushing, to amplify the effect of the potassium nitrate.

Thursday/ my new mattress

The iSeries® Hybrid 500 Cushion Firm mattress with one of Serta’s googly-eyed sheep, used in the marketing of their mattresses. I suppose one would do well to fall asleep by counting only to sheep No 29! .. but even though counting sheep to doze off is popular in cartoons and folklore, it is not really used in real life as an aid to fall asleep.

I bought a new mattress on Wednesday, and it was delivered today.
It was high time to get a new one, even factoring in all the nights I did not sleep in my own bed over the years (but in a hotel while traveling for work).

My new sleeping pad is a fancy Serta hybrid mattress: layers of memory foam on a base of coiled springs.  It is a little firmer than medium*, and I did try it out in the store before I bought it.

*My hotel room in Rotterdam during my recent stay there, had a soft mattress, and it felt as if I was trapped in quicksand.

Monday/ how to beat FOBO and FODA

Yoda from Star Wars was a legendary Jedi Master and stronger than most in his connection with the Force. (I needed a picture for my post, and Yoda rhymes with FODA. Be Yoda when fighting your FODA?).

FOBO is Fear of Better Options. FODA is Fear of Doing Anything. Both are quandaries a decision-maker may find himself or herself in, when faced with lots of options. These states of mind definitely apply to me sometimes!

Here is advice from Patrick McGinnis in a New York Times article :

1. For everyday things, I do what I call “Ask the Watch.” I whittle something down to two options and then assign each item to a side of my watch. Then I look down and see where the second hand is at that moment. Decision made. It sounds silly, but if you try it — asking the universe — you will thank me.

2. For the big things, I try to think like a venture capitalist. I write everything down on the topic — pros, cons, and so on — and I read it out loud. That process is basically like writing an investment memo for a V.C. investment, but in this case the investment is of your time, your money, your energy.

Tuesday/ the perils of turning 62

From Monday’s Wall Street Journal, in a short article titled ‘Why So Many Men Die at 62’

A study out just this past December, of US mortality data for the period 1979 to 2012, revealed that there is a curious jump in the death rate at age 62, especially for men (not so much for women). Why is that? Researchers think the eligibility for social security payments at age 62, and retirement at that age, is the combined culprit.

Retirement from a desk job could very well have long-term benefits (more exercise, less stress, being better able to take care of oneself).  But it could also mean the person becomes more sedentary after doing physical labor as part of his job, smokes more, or even drives around a lot more, and end up in a traffic accident.

Says one of the authors of the study: ‘We aren’t necessarily saying people shouldn’t retire. But if you are thinking about retirement, particularly if you are 62 and your health is poor to start with, think of preventive health measures. Stay healthy, see a physician, don’t just sit on the couch, but don’t overdo it, either. Be careful about driving. Just be careful. It’s a tricky time’. 

Tuesday/ prescription drug prices: buyer beware

I have a new health insurance plan for 2018.  It turned out my new plan does not cover a prescription drug that I use, and was looking to refill.

Now I know why prescription drug prices, is a top health care issue in the United States. Insurers and pharmacies can basically charge any price they want for prescription drugs. The drug I was looking to refill today, has been around a long, long time (more than 10 years).  Its manufacturer sells billions of dollars of it every year.  A generic version came out in 2016.

To illustrate:
Walgreens 90 day out-of-pocket, no insurance: $575. What?! 
Walgreens w. GoodRx coupon 90 days, out-of-pocket $168. Better. 
Costco w. GoodRx coupon 90 days, out-of-pocket $26. <Yes! I pick this one. 

What is going on here? The vaunted free market at work? I say it is capitalism and healthcare-for-profit, both gone haywire.  Bernie Sanders for President!

On-line commercial for prescription drug discount coupon website GoodRx. What the picture shows is absolutely true. Pharmacy B just miles away from Pharmacy A can sell the same drug for 3 or 4 times the price.

Thursday/ ‘excellent health’?

President Trump is in ‘excellent health*’, and mentally fit for office reported Dr. Ronny Jackson, presidential physician, on Tuesday.  Trump aced the Montreal Cognitive Assessment test, a brief, basic test used to detect mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. (Critics point out that Jackson is not a  psychiatrist nor a psychologist, and mention other tests that could have been done).

*Trump is in fact borderline obese and has elevated cholesterol. He maintains a poor diet, has a stressful job, and gets very little exercise. Dr. Jackson did admit that Trump has to work on his diet.

Here is Forbes magazine, weighing in:  We are invited accordingly to ask: ‘excellent’, compared to what? Even that tends to vary, but the customary answer would be: the prevailing norms of a given population or culture. The typical American, with a typical American diet and lifestyle, is at massively elevated risk for debilitating chronic disease relative to, say, the typical Blue Zone resident, or the atypical Americans who manage to take good care of themselves here in spite of it all. America overall is famous for spending more on disease care than peer nations around the world, while having far less health to show for it by the measures that matter most: years in life, life in years, and the bounty of both. Americans lag behind much of the developed world in longevity, and lag even further behind in vitality.

Here is the ‘Naming (the animals)’ panel from the Montreal Cognitive Assessment test. Hey! I have all three in my animal collection, I thought. (Mine are African Lion, Black Rhinoceros and Bactrian Camel).

Thursday/ only a ‘public health emergency’

About 90 Americans die every day due to opioid drug overdoses. Opioids are powerful painkiller drugs that attach to receptors in the brain. Once attached, they send signals to the brain which blocks pain, slows breathing, and has a general calming and anti-depressing effect.

President Trump finally declared it as a ‘public health emergency’ on Thursday (but not the national health emergency that it really is).  A ‘public health emergency’ does not appropriate federal funds the way a ‘national emergency’ does.

Congress is not helping.  Politicians are addicted to money from big pharma lobbyists, as comedian Trevor Noah noted on his Daily Show.  (Leave it to comedians to tell us the truth).  In 2015, the American Medical Association petitioned Congress to outlaw the running of commercials for prescription drugs on TV, to no avail.  In one case that came to light, pharmacies in a West Virginia town with 400 residents, received 9 million opioid drug pills in one year.  Did Congress pass a law that made it easier for the Drug Enforcement Agency to prosecute shady distributors of prescription drugs? Of course not: they made it harder.

Stills from Trevor Noah’s Daily Show. Washington DC is Pharmaville, with lobbying by the pharma industry just out of control.