Category Archives: Health & Health Care

ControverSunday: Mental Health


The Cheeseblog

I thought a lot about the topic I would cover this week. The open topic challenge was to get up the guts and talk about that thing that we all avoid talking about. That controversial issue that sits there, right near the surface, that people hesitate to go into.

For me, that topic is mental health. Now, I guess I am cheating a little, cause I have talked about mental health before, in reference to my struggles with anxiety. It is not a totally forbidden topic for me. And in the general societal discourse- the topic is coming up more and more.

None the less, it is by far the topic I wish more people talked about. A lot more.

But I am not sure my take on it is controversial. I feel that I am just joining a chorus of voices that really want to bring this topic into our everyday conversation.

For example, I was really excited to see this campaign from Bell:

People are beginning to talk. This is not at all because of just Bell or any other one group, company or individual. It is all those voices adding up. I see it as a good sign.

So what do I wish people would realize and really talk about?

You see, I really think we see mental health issues as something that ‘those people’ have. We think of individuals on the extreme end of living with mental illness. The very visible illnesses: Bi-Polar, Schizophrenia, Obsessive compulsive disorder, ect. And we think of people who are very obviously at the point of not functioning the same way in society as we would.

The problem I have with this is that I truly believe that mental illness works on a bell curve. (no Bell pun intended) ‘They’ say that 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 Canadians experience an episode of mental illness within their lifetime. I disagree. I would suspect that number is much higher. Just like the vast major of people experience some form of physical illness within their life time, I suspect the vast majority of people experience some form of mental illness. I would rather say that the frequency, severity and duration of those episodes puts almost all of us somewhere on a big bell curve, with very mentally well and very mentally unwell on either end of the curve.

Not only that, I would argue that most of us travel back and forth along the curve at different points in our life. Sometimes we are more mentally well and other times we are more mentally unwell.

I think a lot of the conversation has been focused on the extreme. And FOR SURE, there are a lot people with severe mental illness that need support. When you look at the issue of homelessness and poverty, the issues of mental illness and addiction are so intertwined that obviously the lack of focus on mental health in our society is having a devastating impact. But I think this image of mental illness is misleading and tends to dismiss just how wide spread we are all effected by mental health issues. So I wish we would see ourselves as all having the very real potential of becoming mentally unwell, just as we all face the very real potential of becoming physically unwell. When we see mental health as something that is an important part of all of our lives that is when we will really start acknowledging it and talking about it.

I get that we humans have a evolutionary left over instinct to ‘not show our weakness’.. its why so many people don’t like going to the doctor or the dentist… we think it means we will be kicked out of the tribe or left behind. That ‘your pack is only as strong as its weakest member’ mentality… which I guess makes sense when you are trying to get away from cheetahs or something. Regardless, if we want to really enable people to lead the most mentally healthy lives they can,  it starts with recognizing just how pervasive mental illness is.

Think of all the stress we have in our lives. The pressure. The balancing of responsibilities and priorities and time lines. It is just plain hard to always have the mental fortitude to deal with those things without that starting to have an impact on ones mental wellness. And the connection between the mental and the physical runs very very deep. I wonder what the physical health of a mentally well society would look like.

That is the awareness piece. The other piece for me is the health care piece. IF mental health and physical health are as intertwined as I believe them to be (and I don’t just believe this cause I do, I have read this often.. I just can’t remember where to find a good source to send you all too) THEN why isn’t there more integration of physical and mental health in our health care system?

The answer to this question is really that our system treats symptoms, not causes. For the most part. Which is why so many people are on medication for mental health issues. Because it is easier to treat the symptoms then it is to set up a system that deals with the causes. And particularly when it comes to mental health, the causes are not something that the health care system can entirely impact. To achieve a mentally healthy society, we would need to look at our lives holistically– our work places, our homes, our recreation, our food, our communities, ect. Though I believe our health care system could play a much better role.

Some parts of the system are now moving in this direction. I know my doctor has special appointments with her and a mental health professional that her patients can sign up for… though there is very limited space in this program. But it does seem that parts of our health care system are recognizing the need. It just needs to go further. Doctors need to be more aware of mental illness and the connection to physical illness. And the path to treatment needs to be easy to navigate.. especially because mental illness often impacts ones motivation and fortitude to navigate the very complex system.

But most of all we need to talk about it.

ControverSunday: Traditional and Natural Medicines for Kids

Hello, it’s Sunday again!

Also, September, I am not to happy with you. Just needed to get the off my chest.

Okay, so if you are sitting there thinking “What the heck is ControverSunday?” then go check out the ControverSunday page I put together (with a lot of copying and pasting from Perpetua’s ControverSunday page; the original). And to answer your first question, yes, please join in!


Ramble Ramble

So in my “about me” page I state that I am a ‘preferer of natural things’. (Yes, I know preferer is not a word, but I like to make up words. Humor me.). This is applies to food, materials used to make toys, body care products, ect. ect. It also applies to medicine. Especially for kids.

There is no doubt in my mind that we have some wonderful, life saving and absolutely essential tools in our traditional medicine tool kit. We have had a vaccination ContoverSunday before, and while the ‘extra’ stuff in the vaccine and how close and often give those shots to our kids makes me somewhat uncomfortable, I have no doubt in my mind that vaccinations saved millions and millions of lives.

Antibiotics are no different. They are truly an amazing category of medicine and without them…. well not good. But like vaccines I am somewhat uncomfortable with the way they are used in our society. Especially for kids. This feeling I have is 100% informed by personal experience. I had A LOT of infections when I was a kid. Ear, tonsillitis, bladder and sinus. I drank down that banana flavoured liquid a lot. My mother probably has a better perspective on this and maybe it wasn’t all that out of line with what most kids experience, but it seems to me that I was sick and taking antibiotics really often.

I am pretty sure I have written about this part of the story before on this blog, so I will do a coles notes version now. When I was in University I had a sinus infection about once every 3-4 months. For a couple years straight. And then. Someone, I can’t remember who, suggested I take probiotic supplements. That is an increased concentration of the bacteria in yogurt, its purpose is to repopulate your gut with good bacteria and thereby increasing your immune system strength. Viola- not one sinus infection since. I can’t believe that for years doctors just kept on writing me prescriptions for antibiotics and I kept getting sick and not one knew enough about ‘natural’ approaches to suggest something so simple and safe.

Audrey has been taking ‘infant’ probiotics since she was 3 months old. And I am a BIG believer in them.

So I am all for natural remedies for kids. In addition to Audrey’s probiotics, we have also given her a bunch of those homeopathic remedies. Teething, colic, ear ache, ect. I have no idea if they ‘worked’ or she just got better. But our family doctor’s Dad was a homeopathic doctor and she says she had homeopathic remedies all the time as a kid and they seemed to work. At the least they cause no harm.

Now that can’t be said for all natural remedies, I am very aware that just because it is ‘natural’ does not mean it is safe. Many herbs can have a very big impact on your system and if they class with a prescription drug you are taking or if you take then in incorrect doses- not good. But that is also why I STRONGLY believe they should be regulated and brought into the traditional health care system. I believe doctors should know about them and use them, rather then you having to go and see a separate naturopathic doctor. I believe our health care system needs to embrace, study, understand and properly administer natural supplements along with traditional medicines, where appropriate. I know this is unlike, what with the power of drug companies. But it is still my belief.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. I don’t like giving Audrey medicine if I can avoid it. We, under close doctor supervision, waited out her first ear infection, because her fever was only very mild and we wanted to avoid antibiotics if possible unless she really needed them. I do believe that we need to be more conservative with our use of medicines so kids can build strong immune systems.

I have one exception. Advil. Remember in my topic announcement I asked if you were ‘fast and easy with the pediatric advil’? I was referring to myself. And it is something that both my husband and I feel great internal conflict over. Great internal conflict. We give Audrey advil too much. I will admit that. I am sure she doesn’t need it as often as we give it to her. But here is the thing. (Not an excuse, just an honest explanation of our thought process). Teething sucks. And those teeth just don’t stop coming. And when she is really worked up we can’t know for sure if she is in pain or if she is just grumpy because, well, she is a toddler. (Same thing for when she was an infant.) So we err on the side of ‘she is probably hurting’ and give her the advil. Don’t worry, it is not a daily thing. But just often enough that I feel guilty about it (ah parenthood). I know we shouldn’t. We are trying to teach her how to say “ow” and explain what that means so maybe we can understand when she is really in pain or not. I don’t know.

But I have confessed now so I feel better.

So, overall, I like to try ‘natural approaches’, even if it is just a bowl of homemade chicken soup, before we go for the medicines. But, if medicines are necessary, then we go for it. Thank goodness we have those options. But I approach it all with some skepticism. After all, a healthy dose of skepticism is good for us all, I think.

ControverSunday: Food, plus bonus late Fess Up Friday

Thanks again to our lovely host Perpetua and our queen-o-badge Accidents. Go visit them. Oh and go read all the other contributions this week, they are awesome.
This isn’t my first post about food. And it likely won’t be my last. Whether we are talking what A eats, what I eat or what our family as a whole eats… well…. I have a lot to say on the issue. So least this become an 8000 word blog post, I think I will look at two small parts of the pictures.

First, A. I have written complained before about A’s food woes. Some babies have sleep issues. My baby has food issues. Like from day 1. Fast forward 13 months and it is still the most challenging part of our day. But here is where I stand on food for A. I am trying, as best I can, to let her try new things in her own time. What is really important is that what she is trying is healthy. I don’t think there is anything wrong with giving your kid a treat once and a while. But I firmly believe that when it comes to kids and food, 90-95% of what they eat should be healthy and with as little processing as possible. Sugar, preservatives, salt, trans fat, stabilizers and all weird ingredients you can’t pronounce should be avoided. But sure, if they love them some ketchup or arrowroot cookies, fine, let them have it…. 90%-10%. But if your kid eats McDonald’s happy meals every day for lunch and then take out pizza every day for dinner… well….all I can say is that I would beg you to reconsider.

Anyway, back to A. Sure the kid only eats like 7 things. But those 7 things are healthy. Applesauce, (plain unsweetened) yogurt, nutrios (cheerios with out salt and sugar), pasta (made from quinoa and kamut), homemade bread, squash and avocado. The truth is, if you only offer healthy food, you kid will only eat healthy food.

So I am fairly confident that my kid will have a healthy diet, because my husband and I are committed to it.

Now- here is where I merge ControverSunday and Fess Up Friday into one.

The problem in this household, when it comes to food, is me. Me. Which makes me feel like a big hypocrite, especially because some of my first posts for this blog were about eating real food and the important of healthy eating. I watch Jamie’s Food Revolution and I say “Right On” and then I look down at my waist line and cringe.

First of all, I consider myself a bit of a foodie and someone who is very interested in the local/organic/whole foods idea. I know what a 1800 calorie diet looks like. I read labels. I know how to avoid added salt and sugar. I try to make most things from scratch. I try to meal plan. I try to eat well.

But. Truth be told, I am fairly overweight. Like about 50lbs. (And not 50lbs away from a size 2, 50lbs away from a size 8.) I whined a couple weeks ago in my ‘Fess up Friday’ about needing to lose some weight. I am really struggling with it. Because it is not as easy as just not eating junk food and fizzy pop. You see, sure I don’t drink pop (except Ginger ale when I am sick) and it is once in a blue moon I will have fast food or chips/candy. I don’t eat a lot of processed foods and my meals are pretty healthy. But I have a couple pretty strong addictions to the following not so healthy but totally foodie things:

-Chocolate. Dark dark chocolate.

-Baked goods, especially cookies, cupcakes and muffins. (Micheal Pollan in his latest book “Food Rules” has a rule (39) which says you can eat all the treats you want, so long as you make them yourself. Um… he totally underestimates my love of baking)




So I have a relationship with food that is both good and bad. Good in that I know what I should eat and I eat pretty healthy meals. I love fruits and vegetables. A good salad makes me happy. Bad in that I snack a lot and eat too much of my indulgence foods.

I really want to get my act together, as I am worried about the impact on A of having an unhealthy Momma. They say kids that grow up with overweight parents are more likely to be overweight themselves. I want to deal with my weight issues for me, but I also realize that impact they will have on her. But honestly, I just can’t seem to resist the treats. They are everywhere. And I know I won’t be successful on a diet if it is too strict. So I need to find a way to cut down on the ‘extras’ without just totally binging later on. And actually, what I think I need, is some way to replace the feeling I get from eating a treat with something else. I am 100% an emotional eater. And 3pm and 8pm are the worst times for me. I want something. And I want it sweet. But really, I want to treat myself. It isn’t really about the food so much as it about wanting to sooth stress or give myself a reward. So I need to find a new reward. And I need to get into an exercise routine. I know I can do this. Now I just have to make it happen.

Dear Health Care System: How to regain my trust

Our ControverSunday topic last week was vaccines. There were some very interesting posts and perspectives about this. I encourage you to read them all.

Accidents will happen.


The Mothering Life

Ramble Ramble

A Letter to Xander

One of the most interesting things that twigged in my mind after reading posts and comments was the issue of ‘trust’ in our health care system. Kate from Lillily said:

“but I’m really not about to walk into my doctors office (who has over 30 years of experience treating kids) and say “you know what, I think you are wrong” because of something i read on the internets or heard from some celebrity’s lips.”

“and most importantly I think, I TRUST my health care system”

This got me thinking. I am less enthusiastic then Kate about vaccinations. To her first point about not going on the advice of the internet or a celebrity, I totally agree. Since when do we think we are the experts just because we read stuff on the web that may or may not be true?

It’s the second point that I found myself thinking about. Maybe the problem for me is that I don’t totally trust my health care system. I trust parts of it. But there are many aspects of health care that I am uncomfortable with. I don’t want to be. I know the people that work in health care are brilliant, kind and want to do best by their patients. I LOVE our family doctor and trust her to no end. But the system has some serious flaws and makes some serious mistakes. I think the result is negatively impacting their image to the public and may be the cause of this rise of parents questioning the systems wisdom.


Dear Canadian Health Care System, the following is a list of how to regain my trust. I want to believe in you, I really do, but if you could just address a few things it would make it soooo much easier.

1) Over prescribing

I strongly recommend you look at your policies regarding prescription medication, as too many people are given too many drugs. I know you are trying to be cautious and don’t want to end up with someone sicker in a couple weeks. I get that. And it may work in the short term. However, in the long term it is not benefiting anyone. One clear example is antibiotics. As I child I remember I became quite attached to that banana flavoured elixir. I was one of those kids who got ear infections, bladder infections, tonsillitis, sinus infections. I am sure I got antibiotics at least 3 times a year. (Mom- feel free to confirm or deny). As an adult in university I had a 5 year bout with ongoing sinus infections. I strongly believe that the reason I kept getting sick is because they kept on giving me the antibiotics. (More later on how I ended the cycle.) Recently my daughter had an ear infection. Being cautious of antibiotics as I am, I asked the doc if we really needed to give her the drugs. He said because she is under 2 they typically do prescribe antibiotics for an ear infection. However, because she was not running a fever we could opt to wait for 3 days and then come back and decide then. We did. It cleared up. On its own. No drugs.

Health Care system: Please quit it. Give us drugs only when we really need drugs. Period.

2) Tendency towards interventions

Along the same lines, there is a tendency of doctors to step in and offer all kinds of interventions, rather then let things work themselves out. A great example of this is c-sections. A lot of women end up having c-sections they didn’t want. This is often caused by doctors being to quick to induce labour and then too quick to offer all kinds of labour related interventions, rather then letting the women go through the process in her own time. As someone wisely suggested- doctors seem to feel they have more ‘control’ over the risks in the operating room, rather then in the labour room. This trend needs to change. Our bodies are amazing and we need to give them a chance to work as they were intended. We are very lucky to have the range of medical interventions that we do and we should be so thankful that we do. They have saved many lives. But please use them sparingly rather then willy-nilly.

4) Symptoms rather then cause

You see, when the system is set up in a way that family doctors only have 10 minutes per appointment, it is understandable that they focus on just treating our symptoms and getting us out of the office. They just don’t have time to do anything else. The problem is then we just come back with more symptoms. This focus on symptom treatment in our health care system doesn’t make us healthier. It just covers up the symptoms of the problem, at least for a while. Sometimes that is all we can do, but I suspect often there is an other way to go if we start to investigate cause.

4) Treatment rather then prevention

Along the same lines…. What is up with the lack of preventative medicine? It is way more expensive to give someone knee surgery rather then physio. But our health care system focuses so much on treatment that prevention is largely ignored. Again, to my point above- they don’t have time for prevention. And I get that it is often not well received. Telling people that they need to change their lifestyles is usually a waste of time. We should strive to led healthier lives, but we don’t. We should be willing to accept some of the blame. That must be so frustrating to our doctors. But we need to find a way to look at our government services as a whole. To look at the big pictures and figure out how to really encourage healthy lifestyle. You can’t do this through the health care system alone. All of our health is impacted through all our social services, plus our policies surrounding the environment, food, and taxation(to name a few). Think of the money we could save our health care system if we really made an investment in people’s health throughout their lives? If we reduced the chemicals in our environment? Made sure food had proper labeling and forced restaurants to list nutritional information on the menu? If we provided better tax intensives for active living and looked at ways to lower costs of healthy food?

5) Alternative medicine

Seriously, you guys need to get on the ball with the Natural health crowd. I am not suggesting doing away with all western style medicine and all becoming reiki practitioners. What I am saying is that you need to recognize the value that natural health can provide. It’s approach is low cost and effective. Especially in certain circumstances. Take my discussion on antibiotics above. Remember how I told you that from childhood to my university days I struggled with many many infections of one kind or an other. I haven’t had an infection in at least 7 years. Why? Probiotics. That’s right, the stuff in yogurt. Except I take it in pill form because you get a much higher concentration that way. And how hard would it be to teach every doctor in Canada to recommend, heck even prescribe, probiotics following a round of antibiotics? I can tell you right now it would save millions in prescription medication costs. And I am sure there are a hundred other ‘common sense’ recommendations that our doctors could learn from the natural health crowd. Simple, easy and safe ideas.

Not to mention the fact that natural health is currently often self-administered via the knowledge gained from the web. Do you really want your patients self diagnosing and administering herbal remedies? As you often warn us, this is not without risk, especially of interactions with our traditional medicines. Wouldn’t it be better to bring the natural health stuff into the health care system fold and make sure it was being used properly and safely? Instead of just sitting back in your offices and warning us all about the dangers of taking all sorts of vitamins without any professional advice- why don’t you suggest them? Admit that natural health supplements can be effective when used properly and get on the bandwagon. Help us learn to use them effectively.

6) Fear

Here the thing that really gets me. The fear mongering. H1N1 was a prime example. Alberta heath services went on and on warning us of  how deadly H1N1 was. Then, they start up the vaccination program and recommend that babies and pregnant women come first. But they don’t turn anyone away. The result: 8 hour line ups that no baby or pregnant women can bear to wait in. Not to mention those who flocked to their doctors and emergency rooms the minute they started coughing, likely spreading H1N1 to more people. Are you surprised? You scared the daylights out of us. Then you do an about face, change your vaccination program and put out an ad campaign about washing your hands, staying home when you are sick and how ‘not all bugs need drugs’ in a desperate attempt to calm the fears. Consistency people, consistency.

Don’t scare us. Explain clearly and calmly what the risks are. Take a serious, but measured approach. Please.

6) Don’t placate us.

Like it or not, we parents do a lot of research. On the internet. Which I agree is not a reliable source for medical knowledge. But it means that instead of just agreeing with what is suggested to us, we are going to have some questions. So don’t just pat our heads and tell us something is safe. Don’t just repeat it like a mantra. Tell us clearly and calmly how you know it is safe. Take the time to explain it to us. I am sure you get tired of explaining what it took you years and years to understand to parents who think they are experts after an evening’s binge on the internet. But just humor us. Nothing frustrates me more then hearing over and over again “It’s proven safe” to every intelligent, well thought out question I have. Sure, it may certainly be “proven safe,” but give me at least a qualifying statement. Something like:  “There were four twenty year studies conducted by independent, non-pharmaceutical organizations into the long term impacts of this medication and all three studies showed that there were no detectable long term impacts.” Or, “This particularly treatment has been used, in it current form, for over 10 years. I have used it in my practice regularly and have yet to see any adverse reaction in my patients. I have no doubts to its safety.” Would that be so hard?

Obviously, most of these suggestions are aimed at the Health Care System, rather then individual health care providers. Honestly, I am not trying to shoot the messenger. I know how hard doctors, nurses and practitioners work. Over work, in fact. They are some of the most hard working and caring people out there in our society. But the system needs to sit up and take note of the growing lack of trust. And we, as citizens, need to push our government to start moving on some real, meaningful health care reforms. We are lucky enough to have a public health care system, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t want it to function more effectively and in a way that gains the trust of its patients.

ControverSunday: Vaccinations

I am hesitant to take on this week’s ControverSunday topic. Uhhgg- vaccinations. Already a point of some friendly debate here when I mentioned it in a post about which parenting choices seem to be “popular/trendy/valued/idealized/assumed to be the ‘right’ way” currently. (Politics of Parenting, To Sum it up: Politics of Parenting). So part of me doesn’t even want to go there. And part of me wants to a) set the record straight and b) say what I think re: vaccinations. Oh and I like this whole ControverSunday thing… so I wanna play with the other kids and their vaccination posts.

Guess which part of me won? That’s right- as the true Gemini that I am, I both dislike controversy (or rather judgment and un-civil discussions… neither of which have actually occurred in the comments on any of my blog posts) and am drawn to jump right in to controversy. (I am not much for horoscope stuff- but Gemini’s are very ‘two-minded’ and I fit that bill to a t.) So hold on to your hats and here we go.

First of all, I never said that I was against vaccinations nor that I didn’t think parents should vaccinate their kids. Vaccinations have saved millions, if not billions, of lives and are one of the most important medical inventions ever.

But I will admit that vaccines make me kinda uncomfortable. Before I was pregnant I NEVER got the flu shot. I just didn’t feel that a healthy adult needs the regular seasonal flu shot. I have some vague-not sure if it is actually true-feeling that the over-use of vaccinations means the bugs just get stronger and therefore get more deadly. And somehow I believe this to be more true of the flu shot then any other vaccination. I guess because the ‘flu’ is a different strain every year and other vaccination diseases seem to just have one strain. Or at least, most vaccines you need to get only a couple of times in your life time and you have to get a new “seasonal” flu shot every year.

However, a couple years ago when there was an outbreak of the Mumps at the University that I work at I got that shot. Mostly because Mumps can do bad things to men’s ability to have babies; so if I got sick and then my husband got sick…. you see where I am going with this. Anyway, so I was never AGAINST shots. I just tend to think they should be used sparingly on the healthy adult population.

When it comes to kids it is a different story. It is one thing if I feel I don’t need a seasonal flu shot and it is an other thing when it is your baby. Your little and very vulnerable baby.

It was never really in question if we were going to get A her regularly scheduled vaccinations. Those we did without really questioning. Probably because 1) I am a rule follower at heart and 2) it has a ‘schedule’ and I follow ‘schedules.’ It was the seasonal flu/H1N1 that generated some debate in our household. Both my husband and I feel uncomfortable with vaccines for the following reasons:

1) The ingredients in them. Despite the studies that show us that vaccines are safe I have a visceral reaction to injecting my daughter with even trace amounts of chemicals like thimerosal (which has traces of mercury in it) and formaldehyde.

2) Development of the immune system. I know this one is not at all proven in the literature, again it is a visceral reaction. (Read: I am acknowledging that it is very possibly wrong). It just seems like we live in a sterile world with antibacterial this and antiviral that… doesn’t she need to get sick sometimes so her immune system can get strong enough to fight off the bugs? I know that many of the diseases that they immunize kids for are very very very serious so you don’t want their immune systems to ‘practice’ on the really nasty ones. But what about the chickenpox vaccination? Is that really necessary? Everyone I know had chickenpox as a kid and all of us were fine. And I am pretty sure I didn’t get the flu shot as a kid either. (Mom- if you are reading, feel free to verify or deny this.)

So I did some looking around. Actually, as shocked as I am to say this, some of the most helpful stuff I found for making me feel better about vaccinations was on the Canadian Governement’s website. One of the best things I found was a very clear explanation that Thimerosal was taken out of most childhood vaccinations (except flu shots) in Canada NOT because it was found to be dangerous, but because the perception of it was causing so many parents to question getting their child vaccinated. It made me feel like the government was listening to parents and so maybe the vaccines are really okay.

Here were the three arguments that finally won me over and I used to sway my husband to getting A the flu shots:

1) We vaccinated her against Polio- something I am pretty sure that almost no one ever gets anymore in Canada, but we are debating getting her vaccinated against something we know people are getting right now? (specifically H1N1)

2) We do as much as we can to reduce her chemical exposure- healthy unprocessed foods, no chemical cleaners, organic mattress, ect. ect. This is one chemical exposure that could save her life. Period.

3) The thought of ever having to see my daughter on a ventilator. That was sufficient emotional imagery for me to get me in that insanity of a line, twice (seasonal and H1N1).

Done and done. She got both the seasonal flu and the H1N1. But just one half dose of each. I happen to know there is small study in Calgary, as well as a number around the world, that have been studying if kids under 3 need two half doses or just one. The belief is that it is possible that enough immunity is developed with one half dose. The recommendation for kids over 3 has already been changed to reflect this. We ask our doctor- she said we were taking a risk, but likely only a small one. And two less injection-o-chemicals made us feel better about the whole thing. (Don’t do this on my recommendation…. if you are in the midst of your own vaccination debate please consult your doctor and or public health… they are the experts, not me.)

So yeah, the kid gets her shots. I don’t (for the most part) and my husband doesn’t, but A does. But here are the things I wish would be addressed by the powers that be:

1) Why can’t we take all the yucky chemicals out of the shots?/Please take the yucky chemicals out of the shots!

  • Thimerosal has been removed from most regular kid vaccines, but not the flu vaccine. They offered a “low” thimerosal dose for kids of the seasonal, but not of the H1N1.
  • Saw this article via @CBCHealth on Twitter the other day. We need more ideas like this article about using sugar as a preservative in vaccines.

2) Why are there so many more shots given to babies/kids now then when I was a kid and why are they given all at once? (I tried to find the schedule from the 1980’s so you could see the difference, but I couldn’t. I know I found it sometime on the web. But if I remember correctly we give babies under a year about twice as many shots as we used to. Someone please correct me if I am wrong.)

  • If you are calculating how much of the trace amounts of chemicals in the shots is safe, doesn’t this calculation totally change when we give them 4 vaccines at once? And if they get shots 4 times in their first year plus flu shots, ect.? They did that calculation, right?
  • And seriously, why are there more shots now? I just want a clear explanation so I understand. I didn’t think there was any evidence that the vaccination schedule from when I was a kid wasn’t working? Was there?

3) Also, please don’t put a flu shot out there until you have fully tested it on all risk groups you are planning to use it on. It freaks us out.

  • Part of the reason that the H1N1 flu shot vaccination plan went so poorly in Alberta (and other parts of Canada) is that they stopped making the regular H1N1 vaccine in order to rush an order of the H1N1 vaccine with out the adjunct for pregnant women because it had not been sufficiently safety tested on this group. Nor had it be tested sufficiently on babies according to this CBC article.

Ultimately I want to trust our Health Authorities, I really do. I know good people work there and they have kids too. I am sure they have good intentions. But the health care system is not flawless and I just can’t help but question them on this one. And the pharmaceutical companies are involved and I REALLY don’t trust them. So I give the girl her shots and am resigned to feel kinda icky about it. I am sure there are those of you out there that will try and convince me I shouldn’t feel icky, but I can’t help it.

And now it gets personal…

Ever since I published my post on our health care system I have been thinking about what I did not say in that post. You see, I left something out. It is much more personal and I just was not ready to talk about it. In the context of what I was saying in that post it seemed to rant-y and off topic. It is also one of those topics that people get on their soap box about.  I just didn’t feel comfortable diving in right away. But I think it needs to be said. I need to get it off my chest. Therapy, if you will. Here goes:

My other complaint about the health care system: Political stances taken by the health care authority and nurses towing the line, rather then being trained to provide situation specific advice. First, let me say that I didn’t meet a nurse who wasn’t an amazingly caring person just trying to do their best. The health care workers are not the problem- it is the health authority. The health care authority that really pushes breastfeeding, but doesn’t provide consistent support.

Actually, now that I think about it, they really push a lot of things. From where your baby should sleep to when they should start solids to which vaccines they should get (all of them). These are very debatable ‘hot’ topics in the parenting world. Personal decisions, as far as I am concerned. Things that parents decide based on a lot of thought, personal circumstances and ones own values and beliefs. Short of having your baby sleep outside in the snow or feeding your 1month old raw meat (both bad by the way), most decisions are shades of gray. And frankly none of the health authority’s business.

Their role should be to inform new parents of the options out there and then encourage them to consider all relevant information. I am okay with them saying “we generally recommend x.” I am not okay with them getting into a debate with an obviously well-informed parent, who has clearly done their research and considered all the options. I trust the opinion of my doctor (we are lucky to have a great doctor), not some nurse who has known me and by baby for all of two minutes. No two families are the same, so why should the health authority be pushing the same advice on all? But I digress…

Breastfeeding. There were a handful of different nurses that tried to help me in the hospital- most of them very new, with very little training. There was no lactation consultant at the hospital. I saw numerous nurses in clinics for the first couple weeks after we left the hospital, all of them with different advice. I finally saw a nurse certified as a lactation consultant. More different advice. Then, finally, I was sent to a doctor who specialized in lactation consulting.

At 8 weeks my babies tongue got clipped, something that should have been done in the hospital as far as I was concerned. (If you have never heard of a tongue tie and want to know what the heck I am talking about: We were told when she was born that she was tongue tied and that it might impact breastfeeding. Everyone we asked after that hemmed and hawed, and said it didn’t look too bad. Despite the clip at 8 weeks, problems persisted. (Actually, truth be told, they did the tongue clip twice, because the doctor that did it the first time didn’t clip it enough.)

I got a lot of advice and I was told to keep trying. Keep trying. Even though anyone who would have really talked to me would have known that it just wasn’t working. I tried every vitamin/tea/galactogogue food possible. Don’t even ask me about pumping. It wasn’t until 3 1/2 months in and my baby not gaining much weight, when the specialized lactation doctor finally looked back at my chart and realized that I had a medical condition that predisposed me to having troubles with lactation. The ‘what is wrong with me’ insecurity finally had an answer. And then I let go and gave the baby a bottle. It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made in my life. It still makes me tear up to think about it. I wonder what my first 4 months with my daughter would have been like if the health care system had supported me and my baby, rather then supporting their position that ‘breast is best.’ Yes, ‘breast is best’, but health care should be provided to individuals and every individual is different.

What did I learn? What would I do differently if I had it all again to do?

1) I would have gotten a midwife. Alberta Health started covering midwives 7 days after my daughter was born. I am told by people that have used a midwife that they were very helpful with breastfeeding. Hopefully they would know me well enough after helping me through pregnancy and delivery to give me better, consistent and more individualized advice.

2) I would have trusted myself more, let it go sooner, and not listened to so much advice. I would have realized that nurses are wonderful people, but they are trained with specific answers to specific questions. Ultimately, the mother knows best.

My new perspective on Canada’s Health care system

In 2008, if you had asked me what I thought of Canada’s health care system I would have told you that I thought it was pretty good. Did we need to spend more money on health care? Yes, of course. But I would have said this because of my left of centre bias, not because I had any extensive experience as a patient.

Last year that changed. Due to a number of encounters with our health care system I have a whole new perspective. Am I an expert? No. Do I look at it differently? Yes.

First, a brief synopsis of my experience. In 2009 my beautiful and healthy baby girl was born. Shortly there after I developed some problems with my gallbladder- apparently fairly common after pregnancy. Between pregnancy, labour and delivery, postpartum care and gallbladder attacks, I went from the ‘once a year check up with my family doctor’, to patient to an array of health care providers. Low risk maternity clinics, the hospital labour and delivery ward, public health nurses, breastfeeding clinics, over-the-phone advice from nurses, specialists, and emergency rooms.

And what did all this change about my perspective? My opinion of our health care system went from pretty good to not so good. I know we are very lucky to have the health care system we have. We aren’t forced into bankruptcy in order to get health care. It is accessible, mostly free and has good standards in compared to the rest of the world.  But I also really did not like a lot of what I saw.

So what was my major complaint?

Waiting; waiting when there should not be waiting. When I was in labour, I waited over 3 hours outside the labour and delivery ward before I was taken into ‘triage.’ In the hallway. In labour. No one checked on me. When I went back after they sent me home the first time I waited about another hour.

When I was in the midst of a gallbladder attack (think more painful then childbirth) at the first hospital I went to I was quietly advised (“I am not supposed to tell you this… but…”) that if I went to an other hospital I might be seen quicker, as I would be looking at a 12 hour wait there. 12 hours? In the emergency room? I went to an other hospital and waited for about 2 1/2 hours.

Now I would like to think, in both situations, if they determined that there was a danger to myself or my child they would not have had me wait. Maybe I didn’t look like I was in enough pain in either circumstance to warrant their attention any sooner. I do have a high pain tolerance and I am not a screamer. But it scares me to think what could have happened. Then I started thinking about all the other waiting in the health care system that people do. Waiting in a life or death situation. Like for major treatments, or tests, or transplants. Waiting when your kid is really sick. *Shudder*

*Side Note: I would like to say, just in case I am giving the wrong impression, I do not blame the individuals I encountered in the health care system. I can not think of a nurse, doctor, technician or secretary that didn’t obviously care about every person they encountered and was trying their absolute best.

Waiting is not the only problem, just the one that got me thinking. Now I understand why those, who have the means, want the option of private health care. And I can understand the argument that it would clear up the public system for the rest of us. However, I am convinced that no sooner would the government pass legislation to allow private hospitals, then the campaign would turn to  “if I am not using our health care system, why should I have to pay for it?” Private is not the solution.

*Side note: Also, doesn’t private by definition mean profit? And public, by definition mean not-for-profit? So in simplistic terms, if you don’t have to turn a profit don’t you have more money to actually provide health care with? Just in theory, I guess.

So what do we do about this? How do we get our governments to actually fix the health care system? This is not an easy question to answer. I don’t even know where I would begin to study and try to answer this question. But I have a feeling there are two aspects we need to start by looking at:

1) When we have so many people who’s health is being negatively impacted by our unhealthy lifestyles, eating habits and environmental pollution, our ‘health care’ is so much more then just hospitals, doctors and nurses. It is impacted by environmental and food legislation and our policies on recreation. And, of course, individual choice. While this complicates the question, it also suggests we need a whole different approach.

2) Years of health care cuts have lead to a system that focuses only on the short term treatment of the immediate symptoms. The long term care and prevention strategies are always the first to get cut.  Shortages of long term care facilities leave people in the hospitals that should be in a long term care bed. Health care doesn’t always cover things like physio therapy that could prevent someone from needing expensive surgery. Family doctors have 10 minutes to address just your most immediate issue, not enough to support you to make healthier lifestyle choices. Many people don’t have a family doctor. We spend money on the big, immediate, obvious things to the detriment of the less expensive costs that could help people be healthier and better cared for.

If we can address these aspects of the health care system, then we would be on the right track to finding some real, long term solutions. The key words in the discussion need to be healthy lifestyle, holistic approach, prevention and long term care.

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