Sunday, August 30, 2015

Make Your Doctor Appointments Less Stressful

The New England Journal of Medicine reports that 9 out of 10 doctors think that 1 out of 10 doctors is an idiot.  –  Jay Leno

I don’t know about you, but going to a doctor’s appointment is not my idea of fun.  I’d rather clean a stable full of horses that had too much bran added to their feed than go to a doctor’s appointment.  I’m talking about specialists or for a check up here — not about emergencies.  If I have an emergency, I’m usually too unconscious to get stressed and wake up in the hospital.  But when you make an appointment months or weeks in advance, you have enough time to get very stressed.  Here are some tips on how to make your doctor’s appointments less stressful.

Before The Appointment

Make the most of your brief time with the doctor by writing down all of the questions you have and taking that list with you to the appointment.  If you’re like me, you will feel too stressed by the journey, the wait and the smell of a doctor’s office to be able to think calmly and rationally.  So, I write down the questions before the appointment at a time when I’m more relaxed and rational. 

Also, depending on how much time you have before the appointment, find out if anyone in your immediate family has experienced the same medical problem you are currently experiencing.  This is stuff the doctor will need to know, and will most likely ask you during the appointment, anyway.  This can help make you feel more in charge of your condition and feel less hopeless.

You also need to bring a list of all of the current medications (even over the counter meds), alternative treatments or vitamins or herbal supplements you are taking.  The doctor will need to know all this in order to help you more quickly.  These lists can help make your doctor’s appointments less stressful because you are acting as a helper to your doctor, not just expecting the doctor to do everything.

Expect To Wait

Due to the nature of their work, it is an extremely rare event to see a doctor at the time your appointment is.  Expect to have to wait a while — like about four hours, at least.  This is because people tend not to get injured or suffer sudden illnesses on schedule.  Your doctor will drop appointments to take care of someone with an emergency health problem.

So, take a book, a bottle or water, comfortable shoes, a pillow — and settle in for the long haul.  If you go into the appointment expecting to wait, then you will be less upset and disappointed if you are told you have to wait.  During the wait, you can also play some games in the waiting room.   The games definitely make doctor’s appointments less stressful.

Don’t Take The Doctor’s Attitude Personally

Doctors are generally overworked, so they might seem to be rushing you without meaning to be disrespectful.  Some doctors find that in order not to feel overwhelmed from their patient’s pain, they try not to learn their names and refer to them as "the migraine" or "the dislocated shoulder that never healed".  Again, this is not meant to be disrespectful to you.  This is their way of doing their job the most efficient way they can.

If you think the doctor is not going to be able to help you, ask them point blank "Do you believe me?" or "Have you ever dealt with anything like this before?" Your health is too important to try and be polite.  Except for the bill, you don’t owe a doctor anything else like loyalty or treat him or her as medically infallible.  If you and your doctor just aren’t getting anywhere, your doctor is obliged to help you look for another doctor.

Hope this helps. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Dreaming of My Muse -- or Not

I know it's been ages since I updated this blog. I apologize (even though I have not received any complaints -- except from the voices in my head.) I have been busy:

My Muse is Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes. Or at least I thought he was. A small part of my eBook was based on dreams I had about my Muse. The first sentence is from my Muse directly. I had read the first paragraph in a dream but by the time I went to write it all down I could only remember the first sentence.

A few months ago I dreamt of reading a book and suddenly heard my Muse's voice. It was great to hear the voice after so long, but yet in the dream I was wracked by pain by the voice. It was pain so bad I could not scream. After a while, my Muse said, "No. I can't put her through this." He fell silent.

And stayed silent for months.

I know it was just a dream, but my Muse seems to take dreams seriously. 

Despite the pain, I do hope I hear his voice again someday.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Your Baby Has a Strangely Shaped Head? Not to Worry!

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) used to kill one out of every 1,000 babies born. Now, thanks in part to public service announcements like the Back to Sleep campaign (started in 1994) these death numbers have plummeted. 

But there has been one small problem in always placing baby on his or her back to sleep -- a funny-looking head.  This is because the skull bones have not hardened.  The continual pressure on the back of head can wind up making the head look a little flattened out.

There have been very expensive and time-consuming "cures" for getting the head to look normal again.  This often involves buying the baby a $2000 helmet, which has to be worn 23 hours a day and re-adjusted every two weeks.  Good luck trying to get health insurance companies to pay for that, America.

I could not find any proof that babies with funny looking heads are any less healthy or intelligent than babies with more socially acceptably shaped heads.  Ask your pediatrician or doctor just to be sure that the flattening is from sleeping position and not from anything else.

The American Academy of Pediatricians recommend many inexpensive things parents can do to avoid both SIDS and a funny looking head:

  • Alternate where the "pillow" is on the  baby's mattress. This means that the baby will have to move his or her head differently in order to see caretakers.
  • Does your baby have a mobile?  See if you can rehang it at different places so the baby needs to change head position in order to see it.
  • Move baby toys about the crib or room so the baby need to change head position to see them.
  • When baby is awake and can be closely supervised, place baby on stomach.
  • When the baby can keep his or her head up, consider getting those strap-in bouncy toys that keeps baby amused and the head from getting mushed on one side.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Medical Conditions that Can Affect Your Sleep

The National Sleep Foundation estimates that 41 million Americans do not get enough sleep. This leads to more accidents and mistakes made from difficulties in concentration. Lack of sleep also can make people more likely to come down with a work-related illness such as obesity.

Why aren't Americans getting enough sleep? In some cases, medical conditions can be affecting the ability to fall asleep, stay asleep or sleep deeply enough for REM sleep. Here are the main medical conditions that the National Centers on Sleep Disorder Research says interfere with getting a good night's sleep.

Chronic Pain Disorders

If you suffer from a chronic pain problem, chances are you also do not get enough sleep. The condition can make it too painful to sleep. Chronic pain conditions include arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic back pain such as spinal stenosis and pain from severe injuries. Even injuries long healed can still cause aches and pains.

Headache-prone people such as those who suffer from migraines are also prone to experiencing sleep difficulties. Many people with chronic head pain also suffer from a mental illness. The condition with the worst pain is known as cluster headaches, which usually begins about one or two hours after the patient has fallen asleep.

Other Medical Conditions

Some severe medical conditions may not cause pain during sleep but can still interfere with normal sleep. These include diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, HIV, chronic fatigue syndrome, cancers and end-stage renal disease. Many people with Type II diabetes also have sleep problems. People who are overweight or obese are not only more prone to Type II diabetes but also sleep apnea, where the airways close completely many times a night.

Some women also experience insomnia when they will go through menopause. Some will wake up because of drenching night sweats and have difficulty getting back to sleep. These symptoms usually go away when menopause is over.

Psychological Conditions

People suffering from mental illnesses such as major depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders or bipolar disorder commonly suffer from sleep problems. This lack of sleep can then intensify other symptoms of the particular mental illness they are suffering from. This is one reason why medications such as antidepressants make people sleepy when they first begin taking them.

Patients suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often have sleep problems such as an inability to easily fall asleep and restless leg syndrome. Harvard Medical School states that some patients ADHD symptoms improved when their sleep problems were treated.

Image: William Blake after Fuseli - Falsa ad Coelum ca. 1790

Monday, July 7, 2014

3 Advanced Lucid Dreaming Exercises

Lucid dreaming is when, while dreaming, you are aware that you are dreaming. This realization can be a fun and liberating experience. There are many books, websites and kits devoted to teaching the basics of lucid dreaming, although some people naturally have been lucid dreaming since childhood.

But after a few months or years of lucid dreaming, the dreamer may want more from their dreams now that they are aware that they are dreaming. The potential is limitless. For example, in Tibetan Buddhism, lucid dreaming is considered training for death. In order to get through the bizarre hallucinations in the death process, Tibetan Buddhists are encouraged to learn to meditate while dreaming. Although dream meditation may not be for everyone, here are three other exercises to try when you next realize that you are dreaming.

Staying Lucid As Long As Possible

This is surprisingly hard. Often, when dreamers become lucid they know that they have the most of the next couple of minutes because they will wake up. But lucid dream pioneer Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D. notes that some dreamers manage to stay lucid by spinning in a circle, using a remote control to switch channels or even by asking aloud that they do not wake up. Find out what works best for you.

One problem of having a long lucid dream is that you eventually forget that you are dreaming and think the dream is real life. Do not let this worry you for now. If it happens, it happens. The more you dream lucidly, the more you can begin to recognize when you are dreaming, even if you are convinced you are awake.

Meeting Other Dreamers

Get a friend and decide on a date when you will dream about the other person. Write down whatever you recall of the dream as soon as you wake up. It's highly doubtful that a person's consciousness travels outside of their bodies, but just wanting to dream about a particular person may help encourage a dream about that person. Compare your dream to your friend's and see if there are any similarities.

Don't worry if this exercise seems to fail. Robert Waggoner, author of Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self (Moment Point Press; 2009) chronicles his problems when trying this exercise. But he was able to take his friendships to another level just by discussing dreams. Perhaps friends that do not want to burden others with their problems may find talking about their dreams much easier than talking about their problems.

Problem Solving

Shamans used dreams in order to find clues as to how to heal their patients. Scientists, artists and even students in dream studies often report being able to dream of a solution to a problem they have been working on. "Sleep on it" is a very sound piece of advice for anyone struggling with a decision or creative project. One thing about dreams is that many kinds of censorship or limitations are lifted. During the REM stage, a dreamer's brain fires as much as when he or she is awake.

Think about this problem before you go to bed. Keep a notebook open to a blank page and a click pen or pencil by your bed. When you become lucid in a dream, talk aloud or a to a dream character about your problem. As soon as you awake, do not move. Try to remember as much as you can. Then jot a few details down in the notebook. If possible, do not turn on the light as the shock may make you forget the dream.


"Sleeping, Dreaming and Dying: An Exploration of Consciousness." The Dalai Lama & Francisco J. Varela, Ph.D. Wisdom Publications; 2002.
"Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self." Robert Waggoner. Moment Point Press; 2009.
"Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming." Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D. & Howard Rheingold. Ballantine Books; 1990.
Scientific American. "How Can You Control Your Dreams?" Jordon Lite. July 29, 2010.

Image of my dog Hugo napping taken by me.

Ambien and Sleepwalking

Nothing is worse than insomnia ... or is there? Imagine suddenly waking up from a sound slumber - to find yourself in jail because you caused a car accident and then resisted arrest - all while fast asleep. This is what happened to some people who took the highly touted insomnia medication Ambien or Ambien CR (brand name for zolpidem tartrate).

Sleep Driving

As explained in a March 2006 New York Times article, Ambien patients weren't just sleep walking - they were grabbing the car keys and going for a drive. This inevitably led to accidents. The article goes on to note that people who take Ambien will suffer from hallucinations, sleep walking and sleep driving even more if they drink alcoholic beverages.

What's Going On?

Ambien is a type of drug called a sedative-hypnotic, which basically is a fancy way of saying "puts you to sleep". But when a person falls asleep, the brain will send chemical messages to the body to keep it still. This may be a cause of many nightmares when something is chasing you and you suddenly can't move. When there are problems with this chemical communication, the body usually suffers sleep paralysis, which is a type of narcolepsy.

And then there's sleepwalking. This is usually seen in children more than adults, possibly because their brains are still trying to learn how to properly communicate with the rest of the body. But here, too, is when the brain does not tell the body to keep still. Night terrors are similar, and can be dangerous to any people in the sleeper's way.

The person is asleep and dreaming. But instead of staying still and reacting only with the mind, the body is apparently getting up and reacting to the dreams. This is the best theory, because many people do not remember their dreams - especially if the shock of waking up in a car accident or in jail may cause dreams to fade faster than usual.

Ambien isn't the only sleep-aid drug that can potentially cause sleepwalking, but it is the one that has gotten the most press. Sleep aids that are basically just decongestants are not thought to cause sleepwalking or sleep driving.

In March of 2007, because of lawsuits and bad press, mighty pharmaceutical giant Merck halted all work on an experimental Sedative-hypnotic called gaboxadol because some human test subjects began to sleep walk. Merck is also the same company that made the now-banned painkiller Vioxx and they are still not through with all of the lawsuits about that.


The FDA put out a warning about Ambien's proclivity to make an insomniac walk while asleep in 2007. They and Ambien's maker, Sanovi-Aventis, urge people to go right to bed when they take the medication. They also suggest having someone you trust in your home to keep an eye on you for the first couple of weeks to see that you don't head for the car.


  • "Some Sleeping Pill Users Range Far Beyond Bed." Stephane Saul. New York Times. March 8, 2006.
  • "Sleep Paralysis." Dr. William C. Dennet
  • "FDA Orders Stronger Warning Labels for Ambien, Other Sleep Drugs." Dan Childs. ABC News. March 14, 2007.
  • "Merck Drops Late Stage studies on Sleeping Drug Gaboxadol." Aaron Smith. CNN March 28, 2007.
Image Credit: Andrew Richards
Copyright: stock.xchng

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Are You Having Seizures in Your Sleep?

Here's a fun fact I recently learned that's kept me up nights: You can have seizures in your sleep. You can also be unaware that you have seizures in your sleep. However, if you aren't aware that you're having seizures in your sleep until someone tells you are, then the seizures probably aren't anything to worry about UNLESS you have a history of epilepsy, even febrile seizures during a high fever way back in your childhood.

Having seizures while sleeping (nocturnal seizures) is not to be confused from hypnic jerks or hypnogogic jerks.  Even if you have epilepsy or a known seizure condition, you may experience hypnic jerks. Hypnic jerks tend to wake sleepers up suddenly and can happen before you are fully asleep. Sometimes nocturnal seizures do not wake the sleeper up. Sometimes they do.  It's nice and vague like that.  If you are not sure of the difference, talk to your doctor or neurologist.

If your doctor or neurologist suspects that you have nocturnal seizures, then you may have to get an EEG video study done to make sure. Sadly, this is an expensive test that insurance often will not cover. You have to contact your insurance company to see what hoops you and your doctors need to jump through in order for them to even consider covering part of the test expenses.

If you wake up feeling exhausted even after eight hours of sleep, then it could be due to seizures or sleep apnea. Even if you wind up not having either of those conditions, there still is some medical issue that needs addressing. For example, if you take anti-seizure medications, that can greatly impact your quality of sleep. You may need to change to another medication.

If you do have nocturnal seizures, does this mean that you could lose your job or have your driver's license taken away? Not necessarily. If you have never had a seizure during your waking hours, then you should be able to continue driving. Talk to your doctor about this. If your work requires long amounts of driving or operating heavy machinery, you may need to get your doctor to write your employer (or potential employer) a letter stating that although you have a seizure condition, you should be safe to work.

Is it possible to have nocturnal seizures and not have epilepsy? Yes, but the chances are rare, unless you have been abusing alcohol or drugs. Anyone who has gone cold turkey knows that if you manage to get any sleep, it will be fractured and may increase the chances of you getting withdrawal seizures. This is why it's best for the drying out period to be done under medical supervision.

The following video is of a nocturnal grand mal (tonic-clonic) seizure happening to a 38 year old man. His dog seems little bothered by the events.

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