Friday, August 18, 2006

Vaccinating Your Children: Part #1

What is this mercury stuff anyway?

We recently had the wonderful news that my sister is pregnant! The first question that comes to my mind after hearing that is "So are you going to have him or her vaccinated?" It's a little early in her pregnancy to worry about that, or to bug her about it, but there is a lot of controversy about this floating around out there and I'm going to address it with her a little at a time. When my daughter was born 6 years ago I read a lot on the topic and decided the fears were unwarranted. 2 years ago when my son was born I decided the same after another lengthy research session. My 2 kids are wonderful, smart and funny and developing just fine thank you. So I guess anecdotal evidence doesn't prove anything, and I suppose that in another year my son could take a dive into autism as that is the age when it's most common to get a diagnosis. I'll certainly post about that if it happens! If it does happen though I don't think I'll be able to pin it on his vaccinations.

There is a long list of factoids that I plan to share with her, ultimately it's her and her husbands decision of what to do and I have never really had too much influence on what she has decided to do ;) So dont think I have any ability to bully or unduly influence her. I feel that others have unduly influenced her though since one of her friends works with autistic children and has shared many scary stories where she tries to link getting the vaccinations to the children succumbing to autism. The timing of these 2 things is enough to make one suspicious. But the most famous logical fallacy there is assumes causation from correlation. But we KNOW from a million other things in our lives that just because 2 events happen near to each other in time does not mean that 1 caused the other.

In any case, the very first bit of education will be about just what is Mercury, how much of it is around us all the time and how much is in a vaccination and why is it dangerous or not dangerous.

In fish and the environment the FDA measures an organic form of mercury called "methyl mercury" as this is the form it can take that is most toxic to humans. According to the FDA you can safely eat 2 servings of fish with lower than the 1 part per million of methyl mercury a week, but asks you to limit your higher level fish meals to 1 a week, things like albacore tuna and swordfish. You body can process and dispose of that much mercury without any harm to yourself. They do make a distinction between an adult portion and a child's portion though.

One of the reasons that methyl mercury is so nasty is that it hangs around in the body for 8 to 10 days or more. It is filtered out of you rather slowly. So if you eat a lot of fish with high levels of mercury it can build up in you to toxic levels. I can only find 1 reference to an actual case of mercury poisoning in the US from eating fish. it was a lady who ate 2 or 3 servings of swordfish every day for 10 months. It was part of some fad diet and it took that long for any symptoms to develop and even after consuming that much of it for so long they were so mild that she was misdiagnosed several times as the classic symptoms hadn't developed yet. After stopping the diet she recovered just find.

"trace" amounts of mercury are in everything. They are in the soil, in the earth, in the air and the water and in just about everything we eat. Never has any information surfaced that a trace amount of mercury can cause anything at all whatsoever. The folks that want to blame mercury for the "autism epidemic" will tell you that no study has ever found trace amounts of mercury to be safe either. But if it were causing problems it would have been a candidate for study, we just dont tend to spend our energy and resources studying things that are in the environment naturally that cause no problems. Mercury has always been a part of the environment. There are hotspots due to industrial emissions or natural deposits, but overall it's everywhere and life has continued on the planet just fine in the presence of it. The worst industrial contamination story I have found took place in Japan, where a factory was dumping huge amounts of it in to the ocean and local fishermen and their families were getting very sick and some even died. After the plant was cleaned up the levels in the fish returned to normal and were safe to eat again. In the early days of "doctoring" HUGE amounts of metallic mercury were given to "patients" to drink! Though this did nothing to heal the patient, it also didn't cause permanent harm to them. Only to the "doctors" who worked with it constantly and breathed the fumes.

The chemical that was used as a preservative in the vaccinations in question is thimerisol. The organic mercury molecule in this is different than methyl mercury, it's actually "ETHYL mercury" Which is less toxic than the more common methyl configuration because it is excreted from your body much faster. The entire amount may be gone in 3 or 4 days as opposed to the week or longer that is necessary to get rid of a similar amount of methyl mercury. The less time that it's in your system, the less damage it can do.

All of this information is moot because childhood vaccinations no longer contain thimerisol! It's still important to understand the above as we go forward and explore more of the anti-vaccination arguments though. The anti-vaccination folks will also tell you that they actually aren't totally free from thimerisol, the drug companies admit to a "trace" amount still in them. The reason for this is that some of the components from which they are made are preserved with it. But when mixed and processed with everything else it reduces the level to a "trace" and we've already covered the fact that there is ALWAYS a trace amount in everything. You body knows how to eliminate a trace amount safely. There are some very toxic substances out there that even a trace amount of can kill you. Thankfully they are very rare, or man made and mercury isn't one of them. Our environment is not a horrifically toxic place even with a long list of trace elements.

Tomorrow I'll summarize what I've been able to glean about "the Autism Epidemic" That sounds like fun...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I Was Watching When This Happened!



If you're like me you've got a small box of video tapes that you recorded as a teenager full of pop culture events that you saved forever, through 4 moves cross country and inspite of your wifes desire to clean out the closet. When you finally get around to thinking about capturing some of it for posterity a quick YouTube search will reveal that someone else has already done it...

I was watching Dr Who the evening in 1987 when this happened. I also have it on tape, but the quality isn't as good as this:



As far as I can tell they never caught they guy who did it. But those that were able to actually understand the words he was saying suggest that he was referencing some of the staff at WGN and was probably a fired employee or someone else with a grudge against them. He first overpowered the WGN transmitter earlier in the evening, but it only took them about 30 seconds to switch the transponder to a second frequency, so later on he did the same thing to WTTW, the public television station in Chicago, and nobody there was able to stop him, if they even noticed as it was after 11pm. He was on for 90 seconds and shut it off himself when he was done and was not locked out or stopped by the studio or the police. In spite of some strong words by the FCC and the FBI following the incident warning how they were going to get the guy they never did.

I was a teenager at the time and was really amazed that such hacking was possible and that you coudl get away with it! I was just a little too young to have participated in the great age of hacking for it's own sake and had no interest in hacking for vandalism or profit. One might argue that this was vandalism but I wouldn't have agreed at the time.

How TV stations work is they rent space on tall buildings or put up towers to broadcast. But their studios aren't located in those buildings or under those towers so WGN and WTTW had a microwave link between the studios and the top of the Hancock building in the case of WGN and the Sears Tower in the case of WTTW. So all he did was to drive himself somewhere in between the studio and the dish on the transmitter and point his own transmitter at them and overpower the regular uplink transmitter. So he used their own transmitter to send his pirate signal! That has a certain amount of style ;)

If you happened to have the equipment this would have been very easy to do. If you didn't have the equipment it would have cost you close to half a million bucks in 1987 dollars to get it. There were some stories that he had actually done it with a microwave oven, but I thought that was stupid, you can't modulate the signal from a microwave oven. You could potentially turn the magnetron in an oven into a jamming tool, but not into a video transmitter.

What truly disappointed me about the act, was that he didn't really do anything. He had a large audience at this point and could have said something, ANYTHING. Want to make a political statement? Want to just mess with peoples heads? (in my mind the best kind of vandalism has always been that which leaves no physical mark but that just makes people question their reality ;) I'll share stories from college at a later date...) But all he managed to do was to get in a few digs at WGN management before dropping his pants on camera and getting a spanking with a fly swatter.

And because he wasted the opportunity most uplinks were updated shortly thereafter to make this more difficult to do so I'll never have the opportunity to take over the local station and do something truly weird.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Doctor Humor: Part #1



My wife forwarded this to me today via email. I think it's probably an old joke, but it's one I hadn't seen before so perhaps you haven't all seen it before either. There is no attribution on the email and a search on the internet brings up lots of different places quoting it, anybody know whos responsible?


Subject: New Hospital Wing

When a panel of doctors was asked to vote on adding a new wing to their hospital, the allergists voted to scratch it and the dermatologists advised no rash moves. The gastroenterologists had a gut feeling about it, but the neurologists thought the administration had a lot of nerve and the obstetricians stated they were all laboring under a misconception.

The ophthalmologists considered the idea short-sighted; the pathologists yelled, "Over my dead body" while the pediatricians said, "Grow up!" The psychiatrists thought the whole idea was madness, the surgeons decided to wash their hands of the hole Thing and the radiologists could see right through it!

The physicians thought it was a bitter pill to swallow; and the plastic surgeons said, "This puts a whole new face on the matter." The podiatrists thought it was a step forward, but the urologists felt the scheme wouldn't hold water. The anesthetists thought the whole idea was a gas and the cardiologists didn't have the heart to say no.

In the end, the proctologists left the decision up to some asshole in administration.
What awaits in the bath:

I took a bath last night. Having children means catching viruses and I wasn't quite feeling my best. After the kids were tucked in I decided a nice hot bath and a few minutes reading a novel would be therapeutic. Evidently our baby sitter had given my daughter a tubby in our bathroom today because this was the scene waiting for me when I arrived.

Normally a tub full of bath toys wouldn't bother me... but they were all staring at me!

My wife didn't get a single page last night after 11pm. Thats so unusual that it can cause you to wake up too. She kept waking up and checking the battery in the pager to be sure it was actually working.

Even with mostly uninterrupted sleep it's going to take me a while to get used to getting my daughter up for school at such an ungodly hour. I suppose I'll have to actually go to bed earlier even though this goes against everything that defines me as a person. Even without the pager or my son waking up all night I was still unhappy this morning. I had assumed that there would be no homework on the first day of school so I didn't even check her backpack when she got home yesterday. I was right about the homework, so no crisis on that front this morning, but there were a stack of parental contact forms and outlines of the schools disciplinary procedures and policies that we were both supposed to sign.

I have a problem with authority.

These summary documents that you're supposed to sign saying that you understand that any imagined infraction of the sketchily outlined policies will result in dire consequences have always rubbed me the wrong way. Perhaps it's all left over imprints from my own educational experience (actually, I'm certain that it is...) but to ask a first grader (or last year a kindergardener) to sign and date a document that you have to summarize to them as saying "be good and do what they tell you or they will kick you out" is just not appropriate. I signed it, but did not ask her to sign on the student line, we'll see if the teacher makes her, or if they just don't care.

I have to say that so far they have been very good to my daughter. There have been no abuses of their authority and all the teachers and everyone else have been very good to her and actually seem interested in and friendly with her. This is terrific, but I just know deep down in the hidden places of my heart where the acidic ink that darkened my own permanent record still burns it's marks into my soul that they are just waiting to cause trouble!

I only ever really got in trouble in school a couple of times. I wasn't a bad kid... A little mischievous perhaps... My first detention in high school was when Ingrid threw some part of her lunch across the lunch room and pegged me right in the head with it (she still is one of my best friends and one of only a handful of high school buddies I keep in contact with) and I turned around and retaliated. Unfortunately the peanut butter and jelly that I threw back at her happened to intersect with the principal who had just walked into the room and stepped right into the lovely ballistic curve that my lunch was following safely over the heads of the of other students. Even at the time I held nothing against the fellow for keeping me after school that day. He might even have let me go earlier if I hadn't been laughing out loud about it. It's not those episodes, but the hundred other daily soul crushing applications of unthinking policy that have made me as cynical about such things as I am.

For about 5 minutes one day I did consider home schooling the kids. I have a very good friend who has home schooled his for at least some years during their life. But I'm not your typical home school demographic and I still do work a bit during the day. Though my own salary for programming has dwindled significantly since I became the stay at home dad, it's still important to the household. Heh, perhaps next I'll post about just how much docs really get paid!

After all that I am reassured that my daughter came home yesterday saying that the first day of first grade was "terrific." I'm hoping that most days are terrific and I will help her through the difficult or less than terrific days. Sometimes a nice hot tubby with all your bath toys is all you need to improve you mood!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Macintosh Educational Software:

In case I hadn't mentioned it yet, It is Macintosh flavored computers that I mostly work on. I have done plenty of contract work with that other operating system too, so no telling me I just dont know a good thing when I see one ;) Since I haven't embraced a new Intel Mac yet the only machine here capable of running windows not in emulation is under a desk, disconnected and loaded with Linux at the moment... Actually, thats not true, there is one other. An Alpha processor machine that could run the Alpha version of WinNT if I could find a copy, I bought it cause I was interested in other processors and loading linux on it. It served as my firewall and NAT server that way for several years before it was relegated to the bottom of the closet. But my point is that I just don't do windows at home and I can't really think of a good reason to do it at work either ;) Hopefully any non-mac user visitors to this site can just skip any posts where I'm talking about the Mac... ;)

Everyone is raving about the switch to Intel chips and how much faster and cooler they are, and thats fantastic! But what hasn't gotten a lot of press is the fact that Classic is gone. It wont run on the Intel machines at all. This would be no problem for me as there is only one App that I still sometimes run that I haven't updated, it's an apple event dictionary resource editor and I can either buy the updated version or use something else when it comes to that, but my 6 year old daughter still uses classic a lot.

It turns out that educational software and children's games don't get updated very often and even software that you can buy off the shelf at the local target is often repackaged ancient stuff that still wants classic. Turns out that most of it runs great on my refurbished G5 iMac in the kitchen, but all of it will be unusable when everyone has an Intel Mac. There is a LOT of really great classic stuff out there that will probably never be updated.

So if you were putting off getting a new machine for the kids, and they aren't going to be interested in 3D games anytime soon, it might be a good idea to keep an eye out on Apple's refurbished sale section for G4 and G5 machines. At this particular moment there doesn't seem to be anything other than refurbished iPods available, but other things popup all the time. I've had very good luck with their refurbished products, but others I hear from have had to send things back, so keep in mind that you're saving lots of money, but it's not without risk, but then, it never is.

Every few months I go through the kids computer game section at Target or other places in town looking for new games that claim to be Mac compatible. There really are quite a few at least in the younger kids section. At this particular moment my daughter is spending most of her computer time switching between "Freddy The Fish" and "Barbie: The Princess and the Pauper." There is a whole servies of GREAT Freddy The Fish whodunit mystery type games with wonderful full screen animation and quite interesting story lines for the kids. I think there are 5 of them, all running in classic and all definitely worth your kids time if they are 5 or 6ish. There are also a bunch of Barbie games that run in OSX proper. They are slightly less awesome, or maybe it's just me reacting to the commercialism of them. They art and animation in the Princess and the Pauper is pretty good, but I think they take a bit of liberty with the story...

She also likes "KidPix" a lot and has also spent a lot of time playing the Finding Nemo game. I can recommend both of those (and they are both updated for OSX I believe) The Living Book series are really great for even younger kids, but they also run only under classic.

One other thing I can recommend investing in as you get your kids a computer is a pair of good headphones! There are times when hearing the same 2 bars of the barbie music over and over for an hour is just too much for a parent to survive, so making your kids plug in their headphones will save you a few brain cells. I have a set from Gear For Kidz but they say that they are "closed for personal reasons" at the moment which is a shame since the headphones were sized properly and comfortable for her to wear and yet were of good quality as they have survived a year now with no broken plastic pieces or shorts in the cords or plugs even after some rather hard use. I'm sure that there are other kinds available that are good. Keep in mind that kids will not use in ear headphones (at least mine dont like anything in their ears and they wont fit in their little ears anyway) and big grownup headphones are either unable to size down small enough or are too tight and they dont like that either.

School starts tomorrow! So I'm off to spend some time with my about to be first grader while her little brother takes a little nap.
Health Food Prescriptions:

My wife and I take some time in the evening to share stories of our days. Mine are usually about how great the kids are, or how they are driving me crazy and about all the things I told her I'd get to today that I wasn't able to... Sometimes she has a gem about a patient or other doc to share. Always first names only of course.

My wife often becomes the primary care doc for her patients since she sees them so often anyway. Managing someones kidneys often means also managing their hypertension and diabetes and other chronic problems, trying to keep their kidneys alive as long as possible before starting dialysis. This boils down to taking a LOT of meds for some folks.

If I spent the time sharing with you all the times she's heard "Oh, I'm not a pill taker" or "I dont' like to take a lot of pills" I'd have to pay for more bandwidth. Unfortunately, unless you want to end up on dialysis in a hurry you have to control your diabetes and hypertension.

When folks come in for their checkups they are asked to bring in all their medications so she can be sure they are still taking what she thinks they are taking, that they are actually taking it and that other docs they might have seen haven't changed or added or taken away things. So she tells me about one of her "little old ladies" that comes in with her bag of pills and in there she find a big jar of fancy expensive vitamins from a local shop we'll call "natures gift" We've bought stuff in there ourselves, nothing inherently wrong with a health food store! However, what she doesn't find in the bag are any of her cholesterol lowering meds. So she asked her where those where:

"OH, thank goodness Jerry took me off all those horrible pills!"

"Who's Jerry?"

"The owner of Natures Gift"

Queue spit take! The owner of the local health food store is now taking people off their prescribed medications and selling them big jars of vitamins? Oh, I'm sure this is going to be fodder for lots of good stories in the future. I do hope that none of them end up with people in the hospital or ending up on dialysis earlier than they needed to be, but I wont hold my breath.

Now my daughter is asking me to help her get a dress on a barbie doll. Dressing dolls is harder than you might think and I'm getting rather good at it lately. I've had my coffee so it's time to go turn off the TV and play with the kids.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Unassigned Call:

My wife and I met the year before she entered med school and got married 2 years into med school. I observed her 9 years of post graduate education and while she was learning to be a doctor, I was learning about the process of becoming a doctor and the kinds of people willing to go through all that.

It's amazing to me the amount of really goofy information and ideas about docs and hospitals and how the whole thing works that float around out there. Some of the funniest to me have come from my own family and I'm sure that they will provide fodder for many a post in the future.

A really sad story that I still hear thrown around is that if you show up at the ER with no insurance and no money that they can refuse to treat you, or that they somehow give you sub standard care because you have no way to pay them. While I'm sure there are individuals out there in the system that would be willing to skimp on the care of one who cannot pay, the system as a whole most certainly does not do this.

If you come into the hospital and you already have a doctor then it's likely that your doctor will be assigned to be your primary physician while you're there. They may then consult various specialists about your specific problems. But having a doc who knows a little about you calling the shots makes a huge difference to the quality of the care that you'll get. If you dont have a doc at that hospital you'll likely end up the responsibility of someone who is a specialist in the area that they think your main problem is. Just who gets you in that situation is probably hospital specific too, some have these shiny new hospitalists that can do that and handle managing your care and your visits by the various specialists. Getting a new patient that you know nothing about as an admit to the hospital can be a huge amount of work. The doc in charge of you has a LOT of reading in your chart and study up on you to do. Then interviewing you and getting an much recent history from your as possible and figuring out whats going on with you that brought you to the hospital (when a doc asks you "what brought you to the hospital tonight?" please dont say "the ambulance", the next question is usually something like "and why if that has been happening all week did you decide to come to the ER at 3am on a Saturday?")

Yesterday my wife took part in what the hospital calls "Unassigned Call." All the docs in the hospital take part in this rotation from the loftiest neurosurgeon to the lowliest internist. (no offense in Internists, just needed someone for the opposite end of the example ;) What happens to someone with no money and no insurance and no way to pay is that you get assigned to this doc to be your primary. Every couple of months it's my wife's turn again to pick up charity patients. It spreads the financial and temporal pain around a bit.

It's once these folks leave the hospital that their care suffers. The followup rate is very frustrating for my wife, who can't get them to come back to appointments with anyone. There are often family and mental issues that are not conducive to their being able to care for themselves properly. In the case of those that stay my wife's patients that means showing up for dialysis appointments regularly and taking a lot of meds. So she calls Psyche consults and recommends them to counseling and gets them the names of shelters or other groups that can help them out, and doesn't see them again until they are so sick that someone again calls an ambulance for them and we start over.

So lets put a stop to that particular story. Nobody is turned away at the door.

Now Sesame Street is ending and the kids need some breakfast so I'm off for some fatherly duties...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Welcome to NephSpouse!

I have been an avid blog reader for some time now, and it's time to take the plunge and give something back.

I am a stay at home dad with 2 young children (one of each kind) and am married to a nephrologist Back in the days before my daughter was born I was a computer programmer living the good life of working at home and taking what contracts were interesting to me. Somehow this led me to believe that I could take care of babies and still get some work done... Boy was that wrong!

Thats an overstatement, I do get some work done, but the long nights of sitting with my powerbook in Barnes & Noble until they kick me out are definitely over, and working until 3am and then sleeping till noon is also just a happy memory.

But I persevere and some days I actually get a little work done between playing with the kids and the other errands and job lists necessary for the person in charge of making sure the fridge doesn't empty. Now I'll be spending a small portion of those precious moments sharing stories of stay-at-home fatherhood, doctor spouse-hood, computer programmer-hood and home owner DIY repair guy hood as well...