Friday, January 29, 2016

Studying the value of dogs on patients with pediatric cancer

About a year ago, I traveled to Johns Hopkins Medical Center to go for my son's allergy appointment.  Food allergies are not fun.  They are annoying, somewhat life-changing (the Indian food my son once loved is probably not going to be a pleasure for him again, or at least for a long time).  Thinking of that, along with the "pleasure" of driving around inner-city Baltimore, can kind of get you in a down mood.  As I was pulling into the parking lot, I noticed a teenager with a surgical mask and a bandana over head (probably from hair loss due to chemo or radiation).  That was a jolt out of my self-pity.  I realized how blessed I was that my son ONLY had a food allergy, something annoying, and potentially life threatening, but something that could be avoided, and treated, if need be.

I hope my family never has to go through the trials of pediatric cancer.  I wish we could erase cancer off the planet, period, but that is perhaps too big a request for this generation.  Perhaps the next...

I listened to a very intriguing podcast over my "snow weekend" by Tracie Hotchner who is known as The Radio Pet Lady.  Her podcast and radio show can be accessed through NPR, also known as, "Dogs Talk and Kitties, Too!"  She has agreed to let me share the link with you:  Canines and Childhood Cancer
There has been a study that has been going on about 2 years with 78 children (they would like to enroll around 100).  Looking at the interactions between pediatric cancer patients and therapy dogs as well as their families and parents.  This is an innovative study as many in the human medical profession and even families are wary of pets in the lives of their immunocompromised patients.  Therapy dogs are tested for zoonoses (diseases that are transmitted to people) as well as general health by veterinarians.  I have had the privilege of doing a couple of these exams.  They also have to pass tests for temperament and training.  They are probably healthier and "safer" than many people these children could come in contact with.

 The study measured the humans blood pressure and pulse and found that when they had regular, weekly interactions with the therapy dog, these values were stable and didn't have as many peaks and troughs and that the same was true of the parent's stress anxiety.  They measured the dog's cortisol levels as well as body language.  (See previous post: Sibling rivalry with a link to a great website on dog body language)  When they took these measurements, they saw that the dog did not have any negative side effects with these interactions.  I find this very interesting and think this could be a really good way to help some medical professionals avoiding compassion fatigue, a form of Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.  We often, in the veterinary as well as human medical profession become the recipients of much anxiety, we help to shoulder others loads and in the process put a lot on ourselves.

Science aside, there was also anecdotal information in the interview about a little girl who loved the big Newfoundland who came to visit her and brightened her day.  They say it is not unusual that the patients who don't want to go to the hospital for treatment do want to go to see their canine buddy, so it makes their trip a little more bearable.

Hopefully this new research will help everyone in the pediatric oncology community in the future.

5 Things I'm Loving This Week

1) My husband's sense of humor.  He's always making me laugh, but during a very tiring bedtime last night (I've been having back problems due to the massive amount of snow shoveling and the two year old taking advantage of the "family bed" of attachment parenting), he made me pause.  We have trouble with brushing my son's teeth.  It's slightly easier to brush his teeth than our cat's, but not by much.

As I was asking my husband if we were going to brush his teeth (I'll admit it, it doesn't happen every night because sometimes we just don't have the fight in us), I said, "cepillo de los dientes".  This phrase means brush teeth in Spanish and was said so the two year old didn't get revved up and defeat us before we were ready for our offensive move.  My husband responded with, "Zapato de los dientes" which he does periodically to annoy me.  I said, "come on, that's not correct, I didn't say brush the shoes.  His response: "if shoes have tongues, why can't they have teeth".  Now I know where the two year old gets it from.

2) Snow.  Yes, this is a tough one to say I'm loving after we got over 3 feet of it and my back is in pain because of the shoveling (which my husband did the majority of).  The glee of my son, "shoveling", throwing snowballs and sledding more than made up for it.  Also the beauty of snow everywhere and neighbors coming together to help neighbors.  You can't beat that.

3) Cookies and hot chocolate.  There's nothing like cookies and hot chocolate to make cold weather and cabin fever much more enjoyable.  We like our Tim Horton's hot chocolate imported from Michigan.  We are almost out of stock, so maybe that mean's we won't have much more snow this year?

4) Technology.  I am so grateful that we had advanced notice of "Snowzilla" and exactly what was going on.  I feel like we were kept very up to speed on radio, TV and the internet of what was open, not open, etc.  Also, you can't beat YouTube in being able to help keep a cabin-fevered two year old in a good mood.

5)Antibiotics.  Yes, in this world where everyone (especially veterinarians) are told over and over, not to overuse or inappropriately use antibiotics, I am grateful for them.  I've had a cold that morphed into a sinus infection for the past 2 1/2 weeks.  I was tempted to pick up some antibiotics at work, but being the straight-laced follow the law individual I am, waited for the doctor's prescription.  She did not have to be convinced.  She was actually impressed by my infection and asked if I wanted to get my tonsils and adenoids out.  No, the antibiotics should be fine, I told her.  I did agree to acupuncture for my sinuses (wasn't aware of that treatment) so maybe that will be on my 5 things I'm loving this week list next week..

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Snow Day

Well, we were a part of the large storm that hit the Mid-Atlantic.  It was known as Winter Storm Jonas but locally it was known as Snowzilla.  Locals had wanted to name it, "Make Winter Great Again."  I can only guess that's a spoof off of Donald Trump's campaign.

I was actually kind of looking forward to the snow.  A native Michiganian, my attitude sometimes is "bring it on."  My son said thank you Jesus for the snow, even before it really started falling.  He had great anticipation.  My husband and I started Friday afternoon with shoveling the first 4 inches of snow excitedly in an effort to get ahead of the game.  Little did we know.

Everyone had been talking about this storm for a week.  I went grocery shopping Wednesday and the stores were out of a lot of stuff and the line was long.  A sister of one of my coworkers went to three different stores to try to find a shovel.  This kind of surprised me because I considered that coworker smart enough to own a shovel in this area.  I mean, this isn't southern Arizona where all you need is a credit card to scrape your window.

Everyone had been talking up the storm and then Wednesday night we only got maybe an inch and the commute was a nightmare.  Some people had 5+ hours in their car due to condition of the roads (The local government was so busy planning for Snowzilla they didn't take an inch seriously.)  It was a reminder for me that even though I may remember how to drive in snow, there aren't many people around here who know how to.  Little cars and SUVs were making a lot of "poor choices," as I tell my son.  It was a bad omen for what a "Real storm" could do to the area.

Even though everyone around here was planning for the end of the world as they knew it, it pleasantly surprised me how they all, knowing I'm from Michigan, expressed sympathy for the residents of Flint and everything they were going through.  They showed a lot of compassion for "East Coasters."

So the snow started to fall and fall and fall some more.  At first it was pretty, then the anticipation for the power to go out and being stuck inside started to catch up.  The snow plows went through twice by 4 AM Saturday, and as soon as they scraped the roads, it was hard to tell they had even done anything.  We stayed warm with hot chocolate and warm clothes.  My son was excited because he's had at least 4 days of being home with both parents.  Also, he's been able to stay in his warm fuzzy pajamas for most of the day.

Saturday morning, after the majority of the snow had fallen and I opened the garage.  Wow.  For a native of Michigan to be intimidated by snow is somewhat unusual.  Our area got 36 inches plus.  We were actually lucky that because of our Homeowners Association (yes, they are good for something), we got dug out a lot earlier than the rest of the city.

When we went to Mass Friday morning, the monsignor basically said, "stay home" on Sunday.  Of course, he used more eloquent words, but we felt pretty comfortable that we had a legitimate reason to stay home- being that there was over 3 feet of snow and no access to Mass.  My son actually enjoyed Mass on the TV so much that he asked to watch it again.  This from the kid who has been getting more and more antsy in Mass and the last time we were there started screaming, "I want to go to the cry room!"

Cabin fever is beginning to set in, so we did make it to Buffalo Wild Wings for everyone's sanity today and to go to the grocery store to replenish some supplies (that was difficult as they haven't been re-stocked since the mass-hysteria).

I did try to teach my son how to make snow angels, but he didn't like the concept of intentionally falling in the snow.  He did like the concept of throwing snowballs at his mommy and daddy and sledding, so I'm sure this 3 feet of snow isn't going to melt away too soon for us to get a little enjoyment out of it.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Going old school...

I've been a vet for about 8 years now, but fortunately due to good genetics, and good care of my skin, I still look like a new college grad to a lot of people.  Sometimes they remark on it and sometimes they just keep it to themselves.

So it pretty much never ceases to amuse and amaze them when I tell them "old school" methods for dealing with their pet's problems.

Here are some that can be used for various problems, but of course, please consult with your veterinarian.

1) Canned Pumpkin- this can be used for various things, but I recommend it most commonly for dogs that have frequent anal gland impactions.  Some dogs have anal gland issues due to underlying allergies, (so treat the underlying allergy) but sometimes just switching to a higher fiber diet or adding a teaspoon to tablespoon of canned pumpkin can be helpful.

2) Coconut oil- I just came upon this lately when doing research of homeopathic therapy for canker sores in people.  I put this on my canker sore and got immediate relief.  It is well-known as a natural anti-inflammatory and there is even research that supplementing coconut oil may help alzheimer's patients.  I use it as a natural anti-inflammatory for skin lesions and other inflammation.  It's better than neosporin or triple antibiotic because if the dog/cat licks it, it's not toxic.  I've used it on scabs, etc. and it does seem to help.

3) Epsom salts- These may seem old school, but there's a reason the pharmacy still sells them.  They still work!  This is good to use with infections and inflammations of the paws.  Ask your veterinarian if it's appropriate for your dog, as there are some conditions it is not appropriate for.

4) Allergies- some over the counter treatments you can do for allergies include simply rinsing your dog or even just wiping down his/her paws every evening.  Just like showering in the evening has been shown to help people with allergies, it can help your pet to.  This works simply by removing pollen and irritants that "marinate" overnight, causing more severe allergies in the morning.

Antihistamines such as Zyrtec and Benadryl can help your pet with itchiness, sneezing and other common allergy symptoms.  Ask your veterinarian for the appropriate dose and if this would be something that could help your pet.

Well, I'm hoping to keep up my blogposts, but according to everyone here in the Mid-Atlantic, our world as we know it is going to be snowed in for the next couple of days to a week so I'm sure I'll have tons of fun stories to tell next week!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Ice Skating

Let me just go on a bit of a tangent here.  I will reveal shortly why the following is relevant today.  Approximately 5 years ago (within the month), I was dating this guy.  The guy had told me on our first date that he had always wanted to go ice skating at the rink in the middle of the city.  I remembered that.  Little did he know that I used to ice skate ALL THE TIME.

 I ice skated on the "pond" (really, it was a swamp), this ice prepared me well for figure skating later.  The "pond" ice was bumpy, uneven and had plant life and other material interrupting its glazed surface.  I had always loved playing hockey on the pond, but I was told by my Dad I was too small for hockey (he was probably right, I can thank him for still having possession of all my teeth).  So instead, I was enrolled in figure skating.  I did this for a couple of years.  Kirsty Yamaguchi I wasn't.  However, I got to the level that I could do jumps and spins and some of the cool stuff.

Fast forward to 5 years ago.  That guy asked me what I wanted to do for our third date.  I said, "Ice Skating".  He seemed slightly reluctant, but I wasn't sure if he was reluctant to go on a third date?  Well, we met up and he confessed that he had never really skated.  Maybe once in Middle School.  "Oh," I said, as we waited in line, "would you rather do something else?"  "No," he said and he immediately got "points" from me on the date bravery scoring system.  He continues to, about once a year, (except when I was really pregnant) go skating with me.  He is still uncertain on skates and is still a beginner, but I know by his forced bravery, how much he continues to love me.

Fast forward to today.  My son does not like getting his haircut.  My husband does not like shaggy hair.  We discussed yesterday that maybe being that we had a holiday day today, we could get his haircut in the town square at this kid's haircut place he tolerates.  I mentioned to my husband yesterday, "ooh, and we could go skating, I've wanted to go skating in the town square."  My husband had a face somewhat akin to when I announced our third date plans.  My son chimed in, "ice skating, want to go ice skating, want to get ice-skates."  My husband then told me how cold it was going to be, yada, yada.  I said, "well, let's see how good he is for his haircut and then we can see about going."  I packed a ton of warm clothes, as did my husband, and we came prepared.  He wasn't awesome for his haircut, but he said thank you to the barber and was marginally better than he was last time.  He was playing with the toy trains happily at the salon and I said, "you can either continue to play with the trains here or go ice skating."  He whipped on his jacket and was practically out the door.

Before I paid for the ice-skate rental and the fee to go on the ice, I asked the salespeople if we could just see how the lacing of the skates would go (I didn't want to pay $25 for the both of us to go if it was going to be a false start with a tantrum).  The guys were nice once we agreed to boo the U of M Wolverines (they were of a rival Big 10 team which they brought up because of our winter gear).  My son was so excited and sat patiently for his laces to be tied.  He was ready to go.  He even tolerated getting a helmet on his head.  I laced up and asked my husband if he could hold him a little longer so I could circle around once and get my "ice-feet" ready.  My husband agreed that he would take the pictures because I wouldn't be able to make it across the ice with two beginners.

My son was ready to go.  I tried skating backwards and having him go towards me, but we ended up with me holding him around the waist.  I could tell he liked speed and the feeling of gliding.  He could have gone around that rink a hundred times.  My back couldn't, and his mittens kept slipping in the cold, so we had to limit his rink time, but I think it was a blast for him.

I had been worried that he would be afraid, tentative and have the fear of falling that his Dad had.  There's something about a toddler.  It's either their total naivete or their total trust in their parents that makes their response to situations so different from ours.  It's also a reminder for me, spiritually.  If I could have half of the trust, enthusiasm and perseverance of a toddler in my faith life, just how far could I glide?

Friday, January 15, 2016

Life from Scratch and Ham and Bean Soup Recipe

I've been trying to cook more lately and have enjoyed reading, "Life from Scratch: a memoir of food, family and forgiveness" by Sasha Martin.  It was a fascinating book that discussed a woman's interesting life and her journey to healing through cooking.

The author inspired me to create some of her recipes, such as French Bread (which turned out well and was fairly easy) and homemade pasta.  The homemade pasta tasted good but my husband and I agreed that we probably wouldn't make it again until we got a pasta maker.  As I told one of my coworkers, the pasta was pretty thick and reminded more of a roundworm than spaghetti.  She loved my veterinary analogy...

I'm hoping to make her chocolate cake recipe this weekend and I will let you know how that goes : )

Between having a food allergy and simply cooking and trying new things and having a more flexible schedule, my family has had chicken satay, smoked brisket and more.  My son sometimes goes to his go-to, a peanut butter bagel, but at least he is getting exposure to new things.

I also learned how to make a roasted pepper and made it into harissa.  It was downright addictive!  Food is good and healthy food is great.  Sasha Martin has inspired me to seek therapy in cooking instead of shopping or Internet searching.  I look forward to more culinary adventures.

This is a little something I put together with leftover Christmas ham:

Slow Cooker- Cook on low for 6.5 hours


Leftover ham bone with ham attached
1 Box or about 3.5 cups of chicken broth
1 can of stewed tomatoes
1 1/2 cups of dry white beans
small amount of garlic (I think I used about 2 cloves minced)

You simply put everything together and turn the slow-cooker on.  An easy and frugal way to cook leftover ham.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Second hand smoke for pets

We all know the risks of smoking for our own personal health.  Did you know how bad second hand smoke is for your pet's health?

This can be a difficult conversation in the veterinary clinic.  No one ever wants to be responsible or a contributing factor to their pet's illness.  There are plenty of times though that feline asthma, canine bronchitis and some forms of cancer can be directly caused by smoke in the household.  This is a subject that must be tactfully brought up.  I have had people get very upset and even angry with me for suggesting that limiting the amount of smoke their pet is exposed to could really help or even manage their pet's illness.  There has been at least anecdotally, a correlation between lower airway diseases and some forms of cancer and smoke in the household.  Squamous cell carcinoma, a particularly nasty form of cancer in cats, can be caused by a cat chronically licking and ingesting cigarette residue from its coat and chronic exposure to a carcinogen.  There are plenty of cases of this cancer that are due to other causes as well, but there is a causal linkage in some cases.

A new study at the University of Glasgow has revealed that second hand smoke can be even more risky for our pets.  Second hand smoke risker for pets than humans

It also found an increased risk of obesity in pets who live in smoking households.  As if people don't already have enough reasons to quit smoking, this is another one, but perhaps a more convincing one for pet owners.

Other items that can irritate your pets respiratory tract include: potpourri, scented candles, irregularly changed air filters, dust and dusty cat litter, perfumes and other aerosols.  Having an asthmatic pet myself, I am very aware of how air quality can also change and become worse in the humidity of summer, or if the floors are not vacuumed frequently.  These can all be contributing factors to the respiratory health of everyone in the household.

Another thing to be aware of: smoke inhalation.  Pets can die from smoke inhalation just like people.  Many years ago I had the honor of treating 3 beloved dogs of a public servant and his wife who had a fire at their household over Christmas.  Fortunately, after a couple days of hospitalization, oxygen and treatment of eye injuries, they were able to go home for the New Year.  It did help that the First Responders knew that there were 3 dogs in the house and they worked to get their colleague's family members out as quickly as they could.  (You can only imagine what it looks like to have a fire truck arrive with firefighters in all their fire gear hovering over a small dog with a human oxygen mask).  If you don't already have a sticker or sign on one of your windows letting firefighters know how many pets you have, please consider doing this, it could help save their life.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

5 Things I'm Loving This Week

1) Friends.  Several good conversations with friends this week, definitely helps lift the spirit.  Also, in competition with a vet school classmate with the FitBit.  We used to motivate each other with chocolate and chips and now it's friendly competition to try to get back in shape.

2) Pleasant people at doctors offices.  The receptionist at my sons dermatologist office wanted to give him a lollipop for being a good boy.  When I expressed he had a food allergy and this may not be a good idea, she whipped out a toy!

3) The Library- no, the library is not an archaic institution..... Life From Scratch, Jim Gaffigan and Magic Treehouse are just some of our enjoyable electronic books we got from the library.

4) Coworkers who keep it fun and real.  I have the pleasure of working with several different people all over and between the cynicism, dry humor and humanity they keep it real.  We all have our brokenness and struggles, but being a part of a team to help fix the animal world's problem can bring some healing on our own.

5)Knitting.  Relaxing and helps me express my creativity.  Especially as a scientist, it is good to have a creative outlet.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Instead of New Year, New You...

Instead of, "New Year, New You..." as all the magazines say, I'll go with, "New Year, new acceptance of the things I can not change and new attempts at things I can"

1) I have finally reached the point of acceptance that there are some pants and tops and dresses that are just never going to fit again.  I still have faith that I'll be able to get fit again one day, I haven't completely thrown in the towel, but pregnancy and early motherhood will change one's body in ways that probably won't change back again.  As my son almost is 3, I have come to acceptance and am cleaning out of my closet of clothes that just make me depressed.  There's nothing like starting a morning not being able to fit into a pair of pants, it just puts a stink in the beginning of the day.

2) My parents got me a Fitbit, which is rewarding to know just how much exercise I get chasing my son around and working.  Apparently, while working the other day I maintained a "fat burning" heart rate for 8 1/2 consistent hours.  It has also gotten me into a bit of friendly competition with my husband and we both have been more willing to walk a little further to try to "beat" the other.

3) I think it's going to be a New Year of parenting challenges and joys.  I love that my son came home telling his Dad he wanted "Huggies" from his mommy, and that all basketball players hug their mommies...  For a while we were able to get him to eat his dinner and do all sorts of things by telling him it's what basketball and football players do, then I think he caught on to us.

My husband was giving my son a bath last night and I heard a few exclamations.  Apparently my son had taken the water scoop and dumped it on my husband.  As I went up to relieve my husband so he could change his clothes, I told my son to say he was sorry to his Daddy and asked him why he did it.  He responded, "because he did it to me."  I told my husband he actually had halfway decent reasoning.  My husband was not amused.