Archive for Ease and Disease

The glucose is clear

I’m not quite sure I understand this promotion:

Actually, that’s only half a gallon, but it still sounds a bit strange.

(Via Dawn Summers.)

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It costs how much?

What’s the single worst aspect of our current — and probably future — health-care system? If you ask me, it’s the fact that situations like this are possible:

[A] few months ago a doctor told me I should have a test, an angiogram, just to be safe. How much would it cost? The doctor had no idea. Nobody had any idea. If I wanted I could call up my insurance and be put on call waiting for half an hour to finally be told they had no idea. But, hey! Everybody wants to be safe, right?

Today I got the bill. Turns out it cost $7300. Who knew?

I’m not complaining that the test is too expensive. They had a big room with bright lights and computer monitors and machines going “ping!” Machines that go “ping!” cost money. I am complaining that I would have had to file a subpoena to get a ballpark figure for what it would cost. I was like, “Is it over $1000? Is it bigger than a breadbox?” Nobody knew.

How do they not know this stuff? Do they just make the numbers up afterwards?

Not enough people demand prices up front. Dr. Smith, who’s been there before, explains:

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the obligation of the seller to provide and display prices to the buyers. It’s not the obligation of the buyer to discover prices that are probably hidden. And in healthcare, most of the time they are. As a seller, if I say “here is what I am, here is what I do, and here is what I charge for it,” then the buyer can very deliberately determine whether that represents a value or not. They can comparison shop. And they can do it without revealing anything or providing any commitment whatsoever to me, the seller. This is present in every industry in the U.S. but it is largely absent in healthcare. Fortunately it is a growing phenomenon and more and more people are realizing that it is incumbent upon the seller to provide prices.

Worst-case scenario, which is actually the norm: prices are based on what the government will fork over.

[T]he government ultimately gets everything wrong. If they guess what my price should be, they’re either going to guess too low, which means I’m not going to provide the service, or they’re going to guess too high, which means resources are wasted.

Any attempt by anyone in a top-down central planning type of fashion to guess what the prices for services or products should be, is going to be wrong. Real prices emerge from competitive activity.

And avoiding competitive activity is at the very heart of American health care, a situation which the ACA does absolutely nothing to alleviate — but then, it was never intended to.

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March’s child is weak of heart

Or so this study would have you believe:

A new algorithm developed by scientists at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) supports previously reported associations between a person’s birth month and overall disease risk, including 16 new links that include nine types of heart disease. The study was published in the Journal of American Medical Informatics Association.

Prior studies have suggested a relationship between individual diseases (such as asthma and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD]) and birth season, but this is the first large-scale study to compare rates of 1,688 diseases and the birth dates and medical histories of 1.7 million patients treated at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/CUMC from 1985โ€“2013. More than 1,600 associations were eliminated and 39 previously reported links were confirmed, along with 16 new associations that included nine types of heart disease; risk of atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure, and mitrial valve disorder was highest in those born in March. Previously, a study on Austrian and Danish patient records found that those born in months with higher heart disease rates (March through June) had earlier mortality rates.

You don’t think conception in the summertime (June through September) might have had something to do with it, do you?

Asthma risk was greatest among those born in July and October babies; this is consistent with an earlier Danish study in which the peak risk was in the months when Denmark’s sunlight levels are similar to New York’s in the July and October period (May and August). Data on ADHD matched those from a Swedish study suggesting that one in 675 ADHD diagnoses are for those born in November.

And if November children were more susceptible to ADHD, wouldn’t you expect at least one, or more, in twelve diagnoses? (Hey, look, a squirrel!)

Just the sheer number of potential ailments is enough to give Bill Quick reason to question the results:

The first red flag is the number of diseases used in the study — 1,688. I suspect that some correlations are inevitable with that large a number, whether there is any actual causal connection at all.

There’s always the astrological connection, and we all know how well that works.

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Ungentle benzo

Why all this screwing around with health-care coverage, or lack thereof, doesn’t really mean a damn thing in the long run:

A single dose of the anti-anxiety drug lorazepam — the generic version of Ativan — will run you about 14 cents at Safeway or Target.

At Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, the same pill goes for nearly $2,000.

At least that’s the impression Laurie Leigh came away with after being so overcome with grief when her 90-year-old father died at the hospital that she fainted at his bedside. She subsequently received a pill to soothe her nerves.

Leigh’s insurer, Blue Shield of California, covered about $200 of the bill, leaving her holding the bag for more than $1,700.

Of course, this doesn’t mean they charged her two grand for an Ativan; they also took her blood pressure and set her in a vacant bed in the ER for about an hour and a half. The tablet itself was a hair under $20. Still, you can buy thirty of them at Walmart for four bucks.

For the record, CFI Care — not its real initials — would have paid about $1360 had this happened to me, had I reached my annual deductible, which I think I’ve done twice in the last quarter-century.

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Bronco exhaust

Everybody’s seen the classic cuss jar. The Denver Broncos were alleged to have a fart jar:

Miller explained later:

Turns out Miller was pulling our finger chain, but I have to figure that this is probably more of an issue than anyone is letting on, inasmuch as if anyone smelt it, it may be safely assumed that someone dealt it.

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A white lab coat of enamel

The Z Man, for one, welcomes our new mechanized practitioners of medicine:

It seems to me that one place where the robot future should be a reality is in basic medical care. Instead of paying an arm and a leg for disinterested humans to act as a go between, let the patients talk to the robots direct. A mall kiosk could be used for blood pressure, urine and blood work. While you’re there you answer questions on a touchscreen. A week later the robot e-mails you the results and any recommendations.

Of course, the robot would also have access to your DNA. As we march into the humanless future, DNA will become the touchstone of medical science. Connecting the dots between genes and a wide range of diseases is a data problem, in most cases. Cheap collection devices in public places means masses of data to sort of collate.

Robot care would inevitably be cheaper and that means more people would get regular checkups by their local neighborhood robot doctor. If this sort of service were $50 a shot, most people would do it twice a year. Extend the services to things like flu shots, and nuisance things like colds and allergies and most of your basic care could be done on the cheap by the machines.

And if there’s one thing that’s not happening now, it’s basic care done on the cheap:

Of course, none of this is going to happen because the medical rackets are neatly aligned with the ruling liberal democrats. America does not have a government run system like Britain; it’s more of a partnership between the industry and the state. That way, we get the worst of both worlds. On the one hand there’s the avaricious private suppliers and on the other the mindless idiocy of government.

Yeah, but Big Business is generally happy to operate under Uncle’s thumb: they know that Uncle can sweep away competitors with a flick of his wrist — preferably his other wrist, but that’s the chance you have to take.

I’m fond of pointing out that we have all around us one of the greatest health care system on earth. American veterinarian medicine is better than what most humans enjoy on earth. It’s also cheap and plentiful. That’s because it is largely government free and parasitic lawyer free. Maybe when the robots take over, they can just kill all the lawyers and bureaucrats. Then maybe medicine will because a normal business again.

Dick the Butcher, your update is ready.

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Chronological Klonopin

You think maybe he’s been doubling up the doses?

Yahoo Answers screenshot: How early can i refill my clonazepam in west virginia?

I figure the guy’s having deep benzo reactions, inasmuch as (1) there seems to be a certain urgency to his query and (2) he posted it in the Cars & Transportation section.

For what it’s worth, my current pharmacy will not refill a Schedule IV drug on a 30-day prescription until day 25.

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Dissurance

This story is almost certainly not unique:

Recently, we were informed that our PPO no longer has a network in Indiana. They were one of the smaller companies in this state, and their analysts decided it wasn’t cost effective. As of the first of this year, they are still our health insurer — but we have been in some other network. And none of the online network-membership checking works for us.

Do I even have insurance in any meaningful way any more? I’m not sure.

It probably meets the letter of the law, which means — well, nothing, actually.

I think I might do better going to Vegas, finding a bookie, and making a series of bets against my health. — And paying for my own routine medical stuff.

The principle is the same in Vegas; only the regulations are different. (Sin City, unsurprisingly, has fewer.)

Prescriptions, at least in my case, seem pretty routine. CFI Care (not its real initials) has actually cut the copay on a bunch of garden-variety generics to $4, simply because Walmart and Target sell a lot of those tabs for four bucks. That said, a couple of my maintenance drugs are coming in at three bucks or less; it’s pointless to submit claims for them, which may be the whole idea.

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When airbags aren’t enough

If a long motor trip is on the agenda, I will try to drive as much of it as I possibly can before giving up the wheel: for somewhere around half a century I have been susceptible to untimely bouts of carsickness. (As though any bouts of carsickness are timely, doncha know.) It didn’t occur to me, though, that occupying the driver’s seat in one of those newfangled autonomous autos might be comparably pukulating:

The excitement over self-driving cars might be vomit-inducing. No, really. Researchers at University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute polled 3,200 people across the world and discovered that between 6 and 12 percent of adults will get motion sickness from riding in autonomous [vehicles].

A lot seems to depend on what those folks are doing when they’re not actually driving:

“Motion sickness is expected to be more of an issue in self-driving vehicles than in conventional vehicles,” [Dr Michael] Sivak said. “The reason is that the three main factors contributing to motion sickness — conflict between vestibular (balance) and visual inputs, inability to anticipate the direction of motion and lack of control over the direction of motion — are elevated in self-driving vehicles.

“However, the frequency and severity of motion sickness is influenced by the activity that one would be involved in instead of driving.”

The U-M report found that more than 60 percent of Americans would watch the road, talk on the phone or sleep while riding in a self-driving vehicle — activities that would not necessarily lead to motion sickness.

Unfortunately, I can barf in my sleep.

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Quote of the week

Jack Baruth hits up the health-care exchange:

Strictly speaking, I should have signed up for my “Obamacare” when the last dregs of my “COBRA” ran out last year, but after seeing that the best “Bronze option” plan I could find charged ninety-seven dollars per week and didn’t kick in until I’d spent $6500, I decided to wait until I had a new day job.

My new day job was with the same contracting company for whom I’ve done half-a-dozen gigs since 2003. They explained to me that they no longer offered healthcare for full-time employees, but that I was welcome to use their ACA exchange. So now I’m paying five grand a year for coverage that doesn’t kick in until I spend $6500 a year. This is, apparently, Mr. Obama’s miracle. Once upon a time I paid $2000 a year for coverage that kicked in once I’d spent $250. The good news is that, uh, well — every poor person I know doesn’t pay enough taxes to see the ACA penalty, and even if they did it wouldn’t change their decisions regarding healthcare because poor people have low future time orientation. That’s why they are poor.

Unless, of course, they were driven to the poorhouse by medical expenses. Then again:

I have the same problem. The only reason that I am not desperately poor is because I know how to make money in a hurry. Someday I will be desperately poor. I have the mentality of a poor person. That’s why I didn’t sign up for ACA until last month, which meant that I wouldn’t receive any benefits until May, so my dental and healthcare expenses related to this Utah Ebola would be entirely paid by me. Well, they would have been anyway — but now they won’t even count towards my $6500 deductible. Sucks to be me.

Note: He was in Utah; he didn’t exactly contract Ebola.

CFI Care (not its real initials) offers no clue as to the level of metal for which 42nd and Treadmill is probably paying $6000 a year on my behalf, only a certification that the policy adheres to the new rules; but the numbers seem to fall between bronze and silver.

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Marginal improvements

Any human endeavor which requires spending money eventually reaches a point of diminishing returns, and health care is no different:

Health care reached the point of diminishing returns about fifty years ago. 100 years ago America spent 3% of GDP on health care and people lived to about 60. Today we spend about 15% on health care and people live to about 80. A good portion of that increase in life expectancy is due to better food and less violence. It is axiomatic that as things like health care improve, the cost of further improvement escalates. The marginal return on investment declines.

Getting people to about 100 would cost — what, 75% of GDP? Inevitably there will be some starry-eyed character who cries “But you can’t put a price on people’s lives!” Sure you can. In fact, it’s the only thing you can do, inasmuch as the money tree in the back yard is not producing.

I figure everything that threatens me on a regular basis — blood-sugar anomalies, hypertension, osteoarthritis, Al Gore — will be gone shortly after I am. However, I don’t even want to imagine the price tag for any one of those developments.

Then again, we do know how to do health care right. We just don’t:

America has the greatest health care system on earth. It is super cheap, with lots of options and a high degree of customer satisfaction. It is called veterinary medicine. American pets get better health care than 95% of the world population for pennies. The reason is there are few barriers to suppliers so there are many options along the price curve. There’s also incentives to innovate. My Vet has world class lab equipment because it helps attract business.

On the other hand, few pets live to 100 or 80 or even 60.

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The gentleman’s D

You’re probably sick of hearing about the bullet I didn’t actually dodge, but inasmuch as I got to see the actual numbers from my PSA test last month — 0.25 ng/mL, which is not too shabby — I’m sort of curious as to how come I did that well.

And then this turned up:

Taking vitamin D supplements could slow or even reverse the progression of less aggressive, or low-grade, prostate tumors without the need for surgery or radiation, scientists say.

How this was determined:

In a new randomized, controlled clinical trial, [the research] team assigned 37 men undergoing elective prostatectomies either to a group that received 4,000 U of vitamin D per day, or to a placebo group that didn’t receive vitamin D. The men’s prostate glands were removed and examined 60 days later.

Preliminary results from this study indicate that many of the men who received vitamin D showed improvements in their prostate tumors, whereas the tumors in the placebo group either stayed the same or got worse. Also, vitamin D caused dramatic changes in the expression levels of many cell lipids and proteins, particularly those involved in inflammation. “Cancer is associated with inflammation, especially in the prostate gland… Vitamin D is really fighting this inflammation within the gland.”

And as it happens, about four years ago I was somehow showing an unexpected deficiency in Vitamin D, and began taking 1,000 units a day, since increased to 2,000. Did this help? I don’t know for sure.

Then again, Bill Quick, a few years my senior, points out: “Luckily, I already take 10,000 units of D3 a day.” The Feds say 4,000 is as much as you should take, but they’ve had to back off so many claims recently that I find it hard to take them too seriously.

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T for tumor

Last month I had a smallish cancer scare, and by “smallish” I mean I did not immediately start pricing funeral arrangements. And that’s probably a good thing, since there seem to be people who have devoted their lives to calling things carcinogenic:

The New York Times published a story by Nick Bilton arguing that wearable tech like the Apple Watch could maybe, possibly, totally give you cancer as a result of the radiation these devices emanate. The piece was quickly met with a smart and thorough rebuttal by Russell Brandom in the Verge. Brandom highlights countless ways in which the Times columnist doesn’t reflect current cancer research, but perhaps the most glaring issue with Bilton’s piece is that one of his major sources is Dr. Joseph Mercola, who is widely considered to be a quack, and whose health “advice” has been the target of several warning letters from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The good doctor has identified about two dozen Horrible Cancer Dangers over the years, including cell phones, tap water, and Pringles.

So maybe Joe Jackson was right after all:

My own suspicion, supported by no medical evidence whatsoever, is that cancer gets you only after everything else has tried and failed. Given my solid record (so far) against the Reaper, I figure he’s going to have to try the metastasis trick eventually.

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Getting through the morning after

I’ve never tried this, but Bill Quick swears by it:

A solid dollop of amphetamine will fix any hangover within 30 minutes. I have dozens, maybe hundreds, of personal experiments supporting this remedy. Worked every time. Worked for everybody I ever knew who tried it, too.

Most prescribing notes fail to define “dollop,” but I’m betting it’s more than one 20-mg tab of Adderall. Still, so-called “recreational” use of the drug calls for a hell of a lot more than 20 mg, so this would seem to fall purely into the therapeutic range. The drug warriors won’t like it, but then they don’t even like Sudafed.

And besides:

[I]f you’re slugging down half a quart of bourbon to produce that hangover, spare me the lecture about drug abuse, please.

Remember that just about anything can be abused in some fashion, from benzedrine in your Ovaltine to Krispy Kreme.

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Digital detox

“Perhaps they’re drugged,” I complained last fall:

The old online prescription refill at Target was clunky in the extreme, but it worked most of the time. And then they decided to outsource it … now it doesn’t work at all.

So I reverted to punching in the orders over the phone, which was tedious, but which worked.

Tuesday night I was clearing out the browser history when I saw the old, extremely long link to the old Target facility. On an impulse, I hit it.

And it brought up the old, familiar screen, just like before. I duly keyed in half a dozen, the max, and got all the proper responses.

I haven’t actually picked up the stuff yet — that comes later today, or maybe tomorrow — but if they’ve actually gone back to the previous system, that newfangled sumbitch they tried to foist off on us must have been even worse than I thought it was, and I thought it sucked pond water, and last year’s pond water at that.

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Spots unchanged

Germans, like Americans, are currently dealing with an epidemic of measles, and most of them, like most of us, know where it comes from. There are, of course, exceptions:

A German biologist who offered €100,000 to anyone who could prove that measles is a virus has been ordered by a court to pay up.

Stefan Lanka, who believes the illness is psychosomatic, made the pledge four years ago on his website. The reward was later claimed by German doctor David Barden, who gathered evidence from various medical studies. Mr Lanka dismissed the findings. But the court in the town of Ravensburg ruled that the proof was sufficient.

Lanka paid up, but he’s sticking to his guns:

“It is a psychosomatic illness,” he told regional paper Suedkurier. “People become ill after traumatic separations.”

I’d become ill after being separated from a hundred grand, though I’m pretty sure whatever illness I’d contracted would not be contagious — unlike measles.

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Hazel doesn’t get squat

Those of us who are comfortable having brown eyes — see, for instance, Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” who just incidentally was a black guy, but you’re weren’t supposed to notice that — may have those eyes glaze over at this news:

Apparently there’s a medical procedure that can permanently turn brown eyes blue.

Pioneered by Stroma Medical, the laser procedure works by eliminating the brown melanin that’s present in the anterior layers of the iris.

Dr Gregg Homer told CNN that the fundamental principle is that under every brown eye is a blue eye — he added that there is no actual blue pigmentation in the eye.

Crystal Gayle was not available for comment.

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Probably no warranty, either

I feel like hell these days, what with that plumbing scare a couple of weeks ago and the refusal of Old Man Winter to bugger off already. I don’t think, however, that this is quite the cure I’m looking for:

A surgeon says full-body transplants could become a reality in just two years.

Sergio Canavero, a doctor in Turin, Italy, has drawn up plans to graft a living person’s head on to a donor body and claims the procedures needed to carry out the operation are not far off.

Canavero hopes to assemble a team to explore the radical surgery in a project he is due to launch at a meeting for neurological surgeons in Maryland this June.

Given transplant statistics generally, you have to figure that you’re not going to have much choice in donor bodies.

According to the procedure Canavero outlined this month, doctors would first cool the patient’s head and the donor’s body so their cells do not die during the operation. The neck is then cut through, the blood vessels linked up with thin tubes, and the spinal cord cut with an exceptionally sharp knife to minimise nerve damage. The recipient’s head is then moved on to the donor’s body.

The next stage is trickier. Canavero believes that the spinal cord nerves that would allow the recipient’s brain to talk to the donor’s body can be fused together using a substance called polyethylene glycol. To stop the patient moving, they must be kept in a coma for weeks. When they come round, Canavero believes they would be able to speak and feel their face, though he predicts they would need a year of physiotherapy before they could move the body.

You’re not getting me near polyethylene glycol. I had to drink about a gallon of it before colonoscopy.

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Couple of the year

From the Why Are They Together? files, this item from up the turnpike:

An Oklahoma man says he nearly lost his penis when he woke to find his girlfriend trying to bite it off.

A night of drinking and arguing led to the painful arousal when the victim said he found Amber Ellis “biting his (penis) off” as he slept on the couch Thursday, KJRH reported.

One may surmise that he was at a disadvantage during their, um, disagreement:

He told Tulsa police he fought the 31-year-old off but in the process she hit him in the head with a laptop computer.

Their earlier argument was over his accusing her of being too needy, he said.

Well, at least it wasn’t over whether she swallows or not.

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Over easier

For at least half my life, the powers that be, or that imagine they be, have been warning me about cholesterol, coursing through my body like liquid plutonium or something. I am somewhat pleased, yet still somewhat annoyed, that they’ve now admitted that they were just kidding:

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has taken cholesterol off the list of things that are automatically bad for you if you are an otherwise healthy person. Cholesterol, like just about anything already in our bodies or in our food, can cause you problems if you have too much of it already or if you consume too much of it, but isn’t necessarily the One Ring of Dietary Substances.

This was probably inevitable once they figured out that “good” cholesterol wasn’t all that good and “bad” cholesterol wasn’t all particularly bad, and neither of them, from my point of view anyway, were as bad as statins, which overlaid my entire structure with random weakness. (On the upside, statins gave me a great excuse to not drink grapefruit juice, as though I needed one.)

Still, the exasperating aspect of this is that there continues to be a Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee at all. And given current trends in corruption, I suspect there will someday be a Recommended Daily Allowance of Pepsi, or something equally implausible, because dollars were spent to support it.

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Outward buckpass

Why, yes, your personal information was jeopardized. Want to know what we’re going to do about it? Take a guess:

[B]ecause I have BC/BS health insurance … well, I wasted a good part of Friday morning on the phone with the credit bureaus getting holds/fraud alerts placed on my accounts, because apparently our information was among that in the Anthem breach. Now someone is telling me I need to contact the IRS and tell them not to process any address changes put through in my name in the next x period of time … and I just can’t. I can’t call that awful phone-tree and try to figure out whom I need to talk to and get kicked out three separate times and have to go through it again like I did the last time I had a problem. I’d hope that Anthem would do something towards taking care of that for us, or if they won’t, I guess I just file as early as I can and hope no one is going to try to use my SSN for nefarious purposes.

It would be most unkind to point out that, no thanks to a far bigger scam than mere identity theft, the IRS and the health-insurance industry are now joined at the hip. This is like Cthulhu hiring an adjunct.

We’ve also been warned to watch out for e-mail scams offering us credit monitoring, supposedly in the name of Anthem. It’s like, “You ALREADY have my personal information, this just adds insult to injury.”

A two-for-one deal! Expect Leviathan to promote the hell out of it on social media.

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A high bill, but it’s clean

Last week, you may recall, I reported in to the family physician with a bladder complaint: it always seemed full no matter how long I spent in front of the porcelain facility. Said the doctor, it’s probably an infection of the prostate and/or just that it’s grown a bit, as it does in old geezers like you and me. (He’s about my age.) He prescribed a pair of drugs: an alpha blocker to reduce the pressure and maybe shrink the tissue a bit, and five days’ worth of almost industrial-strength antibiotic to clear up any lingering infection. “However,” he said, “I’m just old-school enough to order a PSA test.”

Said test was graded Friday, and the score reported back to me today. Evidently I passed, by which is meant that no further testing is anticipated. The Reaper, that scythe-wielding son of a bitch, is thwarted once more — for now.

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I, pincushion

From earlier this week:

Also in decline: my ability to avoid restrooms. This has not yet been diagnosed, but the only likely causes seem to be some sort of urinary tract infection, or a prostate grown to the size of a Hyundai. (I am steering clear of advisory sites such as WebMD, inasmuch as almost every conclusion they reach seems to suggest imminent mortality.) Admittedly, I do gulp down a lot of liquids, but kidney function, which is checked regularly, has been up to snuff. For the moment, though, it’s bad enough that I expect it to cause an increase in night terrors, assuming I can sleep at all with this condition.

The diagnostic process has begun, despite an inability to coax this old body to give up any fluids. (It took two sticks to obtain blood; the bladder that felt full couldn’t fill a third of the cup.) Kidney function has been cleared; says the doctor, these conditions are consistent with a prostate ailment, though his personal inspection didn’t yield much more than an Accent. I was, of course, expecting a Sonata, or maybe an Azera.

So, in addition to my beta blocker, I now get an alpha blocker. At this rate, eventually there won’t be anything left to block. And in case there is an infection of some sort after all, there is an antibiotic. The last three antibiotics I’ve been prescribed have been different, which I attribute to whining about amoxicillin, which gives me something resembling diaper rash, except on the face. I am comforted, mildly, by the fact that while I’m being prescribed more damn drugs, they’re cheap damn drugs.

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Declining utility

I’ve never been this old before, and I definitely feel like it.

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I think this might hurt

Maybe it would work with half a 100-mg tab. Then again, this is an antihypertensive, and I’m not at all sure how it would affect one’s eyes.

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My share of the debacle

In December, CFI Care [not its real initials] made a presentation at the office, presumably to sell everyone on the benefits of the new government-approved health-insurance policy being sold us. I missed it, as I was already ill, though it was whispered to me that the old $3000 deductible was being replaced with a new $5000 deductible. I suggested that this was scarcely an improvement, and got a half-hearted shrug in return, a shrug that said “Yes, yes, we know, but what can we do about it now?”

Back in the days before bronze and silver and gold, when they were talking about Cadillac policies, what we had was basically a five-year-old Pontiac with a leaky valve-cover gasket. The office picks up my premium expense. However, I estimate my additional out-of-pocket expense, based solely on the new copay specifications, at $800. God forbid something should actually happen to me in this ’96 Hyundai with bad brakes.

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An insistent voice in the dark

This has been passed around 125,000 Tumblrs so far:

brain: i see you're trying to sleep, can i offer a selection of your worst memories from the last 10 years

There are times that I think this must happen to everyone, with the only difference being the number of years.

(Via Rebecca Black.)

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Allergen detection kit (home version)

If you ask me, this can’t happen soon enough:

“It would be really nice if a person with food allergies could get test strips that they could dip into a food they were concerned about, and it would turn color if the allergen was present.”

I was thinking about the glucose test strips we use in one of the labs I do — they are a product sold for diabetics, so they can test their urine. There are also color-changing tests for lead in paint, and I am sure other things I am not thinking of.

But what nice peace of mind that would be — “I don’t know for sure if this broth might have miso in it, so let me check.” or “Could there be peanut proteins in this smoothie?” (I can see how it would only work for liquid things.)

I doubt you could get every possible allergen detected by a single strip. (Then again, I am not a biochemist, nor do I play one on television.) But even if you have to special-order strips for your one-in-a-million sensitivity, it’s still better than hives.

Disclosure: I don’t have any food allergies, or at least I’m not aware of any. I still think it’s a swell idea.

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Just say no to drugs

Wait a minute. Not these drugs:

Is this some quirk in New York law, or does someone simply not know how to set prices?

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Bacteria put on notice

The major problem with antibiotics, as you know, is that the biotics are actually alive, and therefore evolve; bacterial strains with the greatest resistance to the drugs survive, and eventually resistance becomes the rule rather than the exception. (Viruses just laugh at antibiotics.) The result: a continuing need for new antibiotics. Unfortunately, creating new antibiotics in the laboratory isn’t especially simple or particularly inexpensive.

So when you find one out in the yard, it’s a big deal:

Scientists have discovered an antibiotic capable of fighting infections that kill hundreds of thousands of people each year, a breakthrough that could lead to the field’s first major new drug in more than a quarter-century.

The experimental drug, which was isolated from a sample of New England dirt, is called teixobactin. It hasn’t yet been tested in people, though it cured all mice infected with antibiotic-resistant staphylococci bacteria that usually kills 90 percent of the animals, according to a study published [Tuesday] in the journal Nature. Bacteria appear to have a particularly difficult time developing resistance to the drug, potentially overcoming a major problem with existing antibiotics.

Magic bullet? Not really. It’s not by any means a universal treatment:

The drug worked best against what are known as gram-positive bacteria, which have weaker cell walls and includes streptococcus and MRSA. Gram-negative bacteria have stronger walls and include pathogens such as E. coli.

Teixobactin was also able to successfully attack drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis, which is neither clearly gram-positive nor gram-negative. The researchers are working on adaptations to make teixobactin effective against gram-negative cells as well.

There are hurdles yet to come. Said the nearest microbiologist with whom I’m on speaking terms:

I’m not really impressed by the latest news that a new antibiotic has been discovered. Tell me again once it passes human clinical trials… In that paper, they tested their new antibiotic against lab strains rather than bacterial strains isolated from patients.

And if it’s ever going to be approved for human use, those clinical trials are a must.

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