You Can’t Win

February 14, 2009

Today is as good a day as any, to publish the results of a recent study to find out which days of the week men prefer to have sex?

It was found that men preferred to engage in sexual activity on the days that started with “T“:






Thaturday and Thunday

Happy Valentine’s Day! 🙄

Days with my Father

February 12, 2009

My father has no short-term memory. He’s otherwise in pretty good shape for an 89 year old but his memory, has failed him. Dad moved into full-time residential care some years ago as he requires constant reassurance and supervision. The  nursing home routine suits him well but even after all this time, he still hasn’t a clue where he is. Each evening he tells the nurses that he’s lost and asks if he can have a bed for the night.  He meticulously records in his diary that he’s “in hospital for night”. His only other regular diary entry, is a note to “ring Steph” but sadly, at this stage he’s even forgotten how to do that.

talking-phoneEverything is news to Dad. He cannot remember that my mother is in the same nursing home although he visits her almost every day. His eyes always light up when I tell him she’s just down the corridor.  Dad may not be able to remember much but he still bares all the same characteristics and his powers of observation are as sharp as ever.  He’s been a dapper dresser all his life and still insists on putting on a jacket and tie to visit my Mum. His bedside is littered with scraps of paper where he’s written down jumbled thoughts from his mind. One of the hallmarks of dementia is a deep suspicion of others and so my Dad tends to hide his possessions. A quick check of his belongings usually reveals a  banana hidden in a shoe and his bedside clock can be found in his wash kit along with several yoghurts and hundreds of biros. Quite a magpie, is my Dad!

The one thing that hasn’t changed with my father is his ability to enjoy company. He loves joking with the nurses and especially the female ones. He is always deeply appreciative of family visits and loves to hear news of the ‘outside world’. While words often fail him, it hasn’t stopped him enjoying hugs and close physical contact. We gad about the place together with arms linked and hands entwined as we laugh and chat. While it’s sad to watch my father deteriorate, I shall always be grateful that we’ve had this precious time together.

If you haven’t already come across ‘Days with my Father‘, I highly recommend it to you.  It’s a poignant photographic journal created by Phillip Toledano as an record of his own father. The resemblance to my father, is uncanny.

Beat Insomnia

February 9, 2009

Are you struggling to get a good night’s sleep? At the end of a long day, most of us look forward to curling up in bed and getting a restful night’s sleep. But for people who have trouble sleeping, bedtime can be a waking nightmare. Insomnia is defined as a prolonged inability to get adequate sleep, it can vary from difficulty falling asleep despite being tired, to waking up in the middle of the night or waking too early. It can be a temporary, occasional, or chronic problem. But whatever form it takes, a lack of good quality sleep can wreak havoc on your health. There are many reasons why sleep patterns get out of kilter. The most common causes are stress and anxiety, depression and physical pain. Women tend to suffer from insomnia more than men, particularly as they get older. Although older women may have less pressure from work and childcare, factors like the ageing process, the menopause, and changes in domestic relationships such as divorce and widowhood can all have detrimental effects on sleep.

If you’re having trouble sleeping it’s always best to consult your GP
to ascertain the cause.  In many cases, diet and lifestyle changes can
help resolve the problem and your doctor should be able to advise you
on these.  Insomnia can be overcome without the use of sleeping pills.


Sleep Facts

  • An average night’s sleep is 7.04 hours
  • 36 per cent of people have trouble getting to sleep
  • 20 per cent have trouble getting up on time
  • 5 per cent sleep less than five hours
  • 6 per cent sleep more than nine hours

This post is dedicated to my blogging friends, Grannymar and Baino who could each use a good night’s sleep. These following tips may help to break the cycle of insomnia.

1. Cut the caffeine

Caffeine, present in coffee, black tea, green tea, chocolate, some soft drinks and many over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, is a stimulant and it’s effects can last up to 20 hours in the body. Some people will have disturbed sleep patterns even when their last cup of coffee was in the morning. So the sensible option is to avoid caffeine completely.

2. Say yes to carbs

Nutritional therapists often recommend a high-carbohydrate snack before bed, such as a banana, slice of bread or bowl of cereal. Eating complex carbohydrates can increase levels of a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) called serotonin, which is known to reduce anxiety and promote sleep.

3. Be careful what you eat

Avoid protein-rich foods before going to bed, as these can be hard to digest. Spicy or fatty foods can also cause heartburn, while tyramine containing foods increase the release of noradrenaline, a brain stimulant. Tyramine is found in red wine, bacon, cheese, ham, soya sauce and nuts.

4. Get out and about

The natural sleep and wake cycle, commonly referred to as the biological clock, is influenced by melatonin, a hormone that responds to light. Melatonin is made by the pineal gland, a pea-sized gland located in the brain. During the day the pineal is inactive. As darkness falls it is “turned on” and begins to produce melatonin, which is released into the blood. As a result, melatonin levels rise and you begin to feel sleepy. Melatonin levels remain elevated through the night and start to decline again when the sun rises. To help keep your biological clock in balance it’s important to get sufficient daylight exposure. A brisk 20–30 minute walk every day is sufficient to do this. As the sun begins to set, use a dimmer switch indoors for lower level lighting. Also, draw your curtains before going to bed to keep out bright street lighting.

Getting out during the day will not only help reset your biological clock but will provide regular exercise, which is a great stress-buster. But avoid vigorous exercise up to three hours before retiring, as this can stimulate your mind and body.

5. Soak it up

To aid sleep, add six to eight drops of pure lavender oil to a bath and soak in it for 20 minutes. The aroma of the oil is known to be calming and contains many medicinal components including linalool, geraniol and perillyl alcohol. One trial of elderly people with sleeping troubles found that inhaling lavender oil was as effective as tranquillisers.

6. Have a nightcap

Some people reach for alcohol, and a nightcap means a dash of brandy, a whisky or a glass of wine. Although it may induce drowsiness initially, alcohol is not the answer for deep, continuous sleep. Opt for warm, soothing drinks like hot milk (use soya if dairy intolerant) with honey, or herbal tea like camomile or limeflower. Camomile has been shown in studies to contain a substance that has calming and pain-relieving effects.

7. Create the right setting

Bedrooms are for sleeping, not for electronic entertainment, so keep computers and TVs confined to other areas. Also, the room should be decorated in pastel colours, as bright shades or bold patterns can be over-stimulating.

Make sure your bedroom is quiet, well ventilated and is at a comfortable temperature. A good quality bed and pillow are essential. Generally, it’s recommended that you change your mattress every 10 years or so.

8. Switch off!

One of the biggest obstacles in getting to sleep is an over-active mind, so developing a winding down routine can be beneficial. Stop any intense mental and physical activity at least one hour before bedtime. Put those office files away and leave unfinished housework until the morning. Avoid late night films and listen to relaxing music instead. It’s also a good idea to go to bed at the same time every night to establish a regular routine.

Once in bed, a tactic that works for many people is whole body relaxation. Lie flat on your back and starting with your toes and feet, stretch and tense each muscle, holding and letting go. Tense your calf muscles, let go, tense your buttocks, let go, tense your stomach, let go, hunch your shoulders, let go… The chances are that by the time you’ve reached your face area you’ll feel more relaxed.

If you can’t go to sleep after 30 minutes of trying, don’t stay in bed hoping you’ll nod off. Get up and involve yourself in a relaxing activity, such as reading or meditation, until you feel sleepy.

9. Mineral magic

Muscle cramps, back and neck pain, eye twitches and insomnia can be a direct result of a magnesium and/or calcium deficiency. As these minerals have a relaxing effect on the body, try taking a magnesium supplement on its own or magnesium and calcium in a 2:1 ratio.

10. Try a natural remedy

Besides camomile, there are many other herbs that aid sleep. Probably the most popular is valerian, which makes getting to sleep easier and increases deep sleep and dreaming. In a double-blind trial, valerian extract (600 mg 30 minutes before bedtime for 28 days) was found to be on a par with a common prescription drug for insomnia. However, valerian does not cause a morning “hangover”, a side effect common to prescription sleep drugs. Other herbs that may be helpful include passiflora, hops, lemon balm and skullcap.

Information Source:  Autumn 2005 issue of Optimum Nutrition Magazine.

Sink or Swim

February 8, 2009

If life seems jolly rotten

There’s something you’ve forgotten

And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing.

When you’re feeling in the dumps

Don’t be silly chumps

Just purse your lips and whistle – that’s the thing.

And… always look on the bright side of life…

Always look on the light side of life…

(from Monty Python’s Life of Brian)

I’m reading Sheila Hancock’s latest book Just Me at the moment and I’m lovin’ it.  Sheila has suffered many knock-downs in life including a personal battle with breast cancer and has lost not one, but two husbands to oesophageal cancer. Having written The Two of Us, a best selling memoir of life with her late husband John Thaw, Sheila found herself in despair with the aching void in her life. Desperate not to stagnate, she picked herself up and started to live life adventurously. Now at 75, Sheila has learnt to enjoy life on her own once more.  She has rebuilt her life and is relishing every minute of it…

“The stark truth is that, within sight of the finishing post, I am actually enjoying the race more than I have ever done.  Because time is short, I have never been so desperate to relish every minute.  I do not intend to waste any time being old and grey, and full of sleep, and nodding by the fire.  In recent years, my husband and many dear friends, some younger than I, have had life wrested from them.  In deference to them, I will value mine.”

Just Me is a deeply honest and wonderfully down-to-earth account of coming to terms with widowhood, and moving on. Sheila is an incredibly gutsy lady who has much to teach those of us who live life in smug contentment. As Sheila would say, the choice is yours,  get on with life!

Abridged extract from JUST ME by Sheila Hancock, published by Bloomsbury.

Rapid MRSA Identification

February 5, 2009

Ireland is one of only three countries in Europe where antibiotic prescribing outside of hospitals, is on the rise. Antibiotics are frequently taken for viral colds and flu, when in fact they are only effective against bacterial infections. The more frequently antibiotics are used, the more resistant forms of bacteria become to them. The HSE recently launched a national education programme to change prescribing patterns in a bid to curb the use of antibiotics. The level of superbugs like MRSA and C. difficile in our hospitals would fall if antibiotic use was reduced. However, there’s another side to the superbug problem in our hospitals which I believe, has been overlooked.

When I developed serious symptoms of infection some years ago, it took three days for a nasal swab report to come through from the laboratory. In the meantime, I was treated in a ward shared with four other patients, two of whom were recovering from surgery. When my positive MRSA status emerged, I was quickly moved out of the ward and into isolation. You have to wonder at how many patients were cross-infected as a result of this delay in diagnosis. Multiply this by the huge number of MRSA cases passing through our hospitals each year and you get some idea of the scale of cross-infection.

The sad fact is that there is a Rapid MRSA test available which gives same-day results but it appears that the HSE restriction on budgets has ruled out it’s use in Irish hospitals. This decision is short-sighted as rapid MRSA identification can help hospitals make cost savings.

mrsa2“The 3M BacLite Rapid MRSA test allows fast, affordable screening of patients for MRSA. It also has the potential to improve patient outcomes and decrease treatment costs. Rapidly identifying MRSA colonised patients provides hospitals with another tool to assist in pro-actively managing health care associated infections (HCAI).”

If I’d been rapidly screened, the result would have been available in hours, not days thereby enabling infection control teams to act quickly. My MRSA infection was hospital acquired (HCAI) following surgery and resulted in six weeks of expensive in-patient treatment. The infection recurred a year later and since then I have frequently been screened for MRSA as an out-patient. I always have to wait 2-3 days for a result and as far as I know, a similar delay still applies for in-patient screening.  I’d be very interested to hear if anyone knows different?

Everyone has a role to play in stopping hospital infection, patients and their families included.  However, if the HSE seriously wants to reduce MRSA figures and make reductions in their budgets, then it should address the problem of delayed identification. The rapid MRSA test would ultimately lead to huge cost savings for hospitals and more importantly, save lives.

Ladies Only

February 3, 2009

“What good is sitting alone in your room?
Come hear the music play.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret Ladies Tea Party.

Put down the knitting,
The book and the broom.
Time for a holiday.
Life is Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret.

Come taste the wine,
Come hear the band.
Come blow your horn,
Start celebrating;
Right this way,
Your table’s waiting.”


The wonderful Sabrina Dent has organised a pre-event session to get us ‘Ladies’ attending the 2009 Irish Blog Awards, in the mood!

You need to complete a registration form, if you’d like to attend. It’s limited to 30 people and is already half-full so sign-up ASAP.

Who: You. A pre-event mixer for Ireland’s women bloggers
Saturday, 21 February from 4 – 7 PM
Where: Cork Airport Hotel, Apartment 201 (NOT room 201)
What: Food, drink, occasional knitting, general merriment
How much: €17 per person
Registration: NOW OPEN.

Research Progress

February 2, 2009

A breakthrough in reversing the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) has been reported in the medical journal, Lancet Neurology. To date, all treatments for MS have been designed around slowing down the rate of neurological decline. This is the first treatment to address reversing neurological dysfunction. It’s an exciting new development but it’s still early days and there is no proof yet that it can cure a person with MS.

ms-nerve-damageMultiple Sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease, whereby the body destroys its own myelin (protective coating surrounding the nerves in the central nervous system). Because the myelin is damaged, messages moving along the nerve are transmitted more slowly or not at all.  It affects 2.5 million people globally and can cause mild illness in some people and permanent disability in others. Symptoms may include numbness or weakness in the limbs, loss of vision and an unsteady gait.

At this time, it is not known what causes MS. There are two main classifications of the disease: progressive and relapsing remitting. Within the first classification there are two more differentiations, primary progressive and secondary progressive. Primary Progressive MS (PPMS) is characterized by a slow and continuous deterioration from the beginning, while Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS) becomes progressive following a course of attacks and recoveries. Within the second classification there are also two differentiations, benign and relapsing remitting. People with benign MS suffer the least amount of disability and seem to recover fully from their attacks, while people with relapsing remitting MS (RRMS) do not recover as well from attacks but do enjoy remissions.

Researchers in the US have succeeded in reversing the symptoms in early stage MS patients by using bone marrow stem cell transplants to ‘reboot’ the immune system. In this uncontrolled trial, a new low intensity conditioning regimen was used and unlike some of the previous studies of this procedure, this one involved 21 people with relapsing-remitting MS, rather than people with later stage, progressive disease.  It involved people who had signs of very active immune attacks who had not been helped by standard therapies such as interferon beta. The average age of participants was 33 years and the median duration of their disease was five years, with moderate disability scores ranging from 2.0 to 5.5 points. In this trial, they found that the procedure was relatively safe, and after an average of 37 months, none had progressed and a significant portion experienced a reversal of at least 1 point on their disability (EDSS) scores, and 76% remained free from relapses. Many had improvements in walking, vision, incontinence and limb strength.

As pointed out by the investigators, it will take larger-scale, controlled trials to determine whether this expensive, potentially risky procedure is superior to other approved treatment options. This new research is still only in the early phases of development but at least, it’s a step in the right direction. Fingers crossed Damien!

Source: National Multiple Sclerosis Society and The Irish Times online.

Life-Saving Surgery

February 1, 2009

A young woman with purple hair styled into a punk rocker Mohawk and sporting a variety of tattoos, arrived in the A&E department.


It was quickly determined that the patient had acute appendicitis, so she was scheduled for immediate surgery.

When she was on the operating table, the staff noticed that her pubic hair had been dyed green, and above it was a tattoo that read, ‘Keep off the grass’.

Once the surgery was completed, the surgeon wrote a short note on the patient’s dressing, which said, ‘Sorry, had to mow the lawn’.

On a more serious note…

The Brain Doctors is scheduled for tomorrow night. This is a fascinating, no-holds barred glimpse into the world of neurosurgery.

SUPERDOCS  Monday  2 Feb  BBC1 NI @ 9pm