Author Archives: drcharles

specialized facilities africa

We Should Construct Specialized Ebola Facilities in the US. Now.

The US should be ready to build facilities, akin to what the military has been setting up in West Africa – specialized Ebola hospitals with moon suits, free-flowing bleach solutions, and brave healthcare workers who have been properly trained, and will be properly compensated for their risk.

Conventional hospitals have failed to protect at least two healthcare workers from contracting Ebola, despite what sounds like fairly diligent safety precautions. The nurse in Spain, and the nurse in Dallas just diagnosed today, both practiced stringent precautions and wore protective gear. It has been postulated that a single Ebola virus is enough to transmit the infection between close contacts.

And, while the CDC director assumes there was “a breach in protocol” to explain the nurse’s infection, this is not reassuring to any healthcare worker who knows how impossible it is to achieve perfection in the care of sick patients. Doctors, nurses, medical workers – we are not trained, prepared, or equipped to deal with something like Ebola.

And even with buddy systems and moon suits, any human being lacks perfect motor execution when disrobing. And the disrobing protocol in this country does not even include being sprayed/bathed in a disinfection solution prior to disrobing – something done in Africa for years. This is outrageous.

Even with regional Ebola treatments centers, the diagnosis and triage of potential infections will likely continue to be through the conventional health system, as false scares will certainly outnumber true diagnoses. But once a diagnosis is made, that patient needs better care, and workers need better protection than all the reassurances thus provided by the CDC and WHO and hospital protocols.

The four hospitals in the country commonly cited by the news as having high containment units do not have sufficient beds to handle Ebola if it picks up speed and numbers. The death toll among healthcare providers in West Africa is much, much higher than the average population. It would be here, too.

The Ebola epidemic continues to grow exponentially in Africa. Today we have the luxury of hyper-focused contact tracking and supervised quarantines in the United States, but these efforts take considerable resources and attention, and will fall apart if the disease count grows. Such is the terrifying power of exponential math.

It is not a good idea to have Ebola patients in conventional hospitals like Texas Presbyterian. Conventional hospitals are already a nexus point of the worst antibiotic-resistant contagions in the world. We need to enlist the help of groups like Doctors Without Borders that really know how to protect their staff, and we need to start thinking about containing and treating this infection outside the normal hospital box.

Build it, and hope they never come.

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hdl diet salmon

Low Carb Versus Low Fat Diets, and How My HDL Went Up 20 Points

fatsquirrelWhich is a healthier way of eating – low fat or low carb? Several recent studies have been published addressing this question, and the answer seems to be that lower carbohydrate diets, with moderate amounts of fat (yes, even some saturated fat), produce healthier cholesterol levels, reduced markers of inflammation, improved cognitive function, and greater weight loss.

My own experience in this regard may be helpful to consider.

25 year-old Dr. Charles used to work out 4 days a week, run about 10-15 miles a week, and eat very little fat but very high carbohydrates. The orthodoxy at that time was that a low fat diet was the best. I rarely ate any fat, forgot about things like nuts and avocados. I drank 1% milk fat. In an effort to gain weight, I would eat cereal or spaghetti before bed most nights of the week.

Approximate Stats:

  • Weight = 170
  • Total cholesterol 165
  • Good HDL only 38 (normal >40, optimal >60)
  • Bad LDL 103
  • Triglycerides 100
  • Energy levels fairly tired after most meals
  • Moderate adult acne

But then into my 30’s I started to incorporate more aspects of the Mediterranean diet, cooking with generous olive oil, eating nuts most days of the week, more fatty fish and shellfish, grass fed beef or bison, drinking whole milk and more wine with dinner, and substituting Greek yogurt and eggs (time permitting) for morning cereal. I stopped carb loading at night and figured I would just accept my thin body instead of trying to bulk up. I do eat carbs, maybe the equivalent of 2 servings a day, preferably whole grains or more exotic stuff like quinoa, spelt, and plant sources of starch like corn, squash, bean, sweet potatoes. Fruit, vegetables, berries. Unfortunately I found less time to exercise or run, and my time spent exercising was cut in half or more, with little to no running.

New stats on lower carb, higher fat, less active lifestyle:

  • Weight = 160
  • Total cholesterol 199
  • Good HDL 60 (most positive change)
  • Bad LDL 128
  • Triglycerides 75
  • Energy levels improved after most meals
  • Minimal adult acne

Eating more fat and losing weight?

Eating more fat, albeit mostly unsaturated healthy fats, and eating much less carbs produced 10 pounds of weight loss, boosted my HDL cholesterol over 20 points, and provided me with a subjective sense of more energy, and possibly cleared up some acne. This is consistent with the recent studies you may be hearing or reading about.

Fat is not the enemy. Even saturated fat in moderation seems to be ok. The French have known this for centuries, as have Mediterranean cuisines.

I believe in eating low carb/low sugar and low total calories, with very little processed foods from the middle aisles of the grocery store. I believe in drinking grass fed whole milk, limiting cereals in the morning in favor of eggs, whole grain toast with almond butter slathered on top, or full fat yogurt with berries. I believe in a glass of wine or beer with most dinners, because it relaxes me and my vascular tone as well. I snack on nuts, and eat saturated fats like cheese and animal fat in moderation. I pretty much never drink soda or juice, but I do like ice cream maybe once a week.

A few years ago there was a potential block buster drug being developed to boost people’s HDL cholesterol levels. This was considered the holy grail of cardiovascular risk reduction, as most studies consistently show a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke with good, high HDL levels. Unfortunately the clinical trials were halted after it became apparent that this artificial HDL engineering with a pill actually increased mortality rates.

Fortunately it seems we can turn things around with diet, perhaps as I was able to do.

Now I have to return to my very stressful job, which is going to give me a heart attack anyway.

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Obama’s Foreign Policy Is Linked to a Healthy, Restrained Immune System

ObamaForeignPolicyWith 58% of Americans disapproving of Obama’s foreign policy, mounting Ebola virus deaths, and flu season around the corner, I think it is important to synthesize an overlapping theme between how our country fights perceived threats, and how our bodies successfully or unsuccessfully fight disease. In short, I think Obama’s continued restraint and use of soft power is evidence of a good prognosis for the country.

In this analogy, our bombs and military are the most caustic weapons of the country’s immune system, akin to a fever of 105 degrees and impending sepsis. Does “nuke them all” work?

Diplomacy, espionage, surveillance, economic sanctions, and other soft tools of foreign policy can be likened to low grade temperatures, coughing, mucous, and all the other less dramatic symptoms of immune system activation.

Considering medications is a stretch, but stay with me. Cholesterol-lowering medications called statins actually do more than lower our lipid levels – they mildly hamper the immune system and reduce inflammation. Intuitively this would seem to be a bad thing when fighting a war inside the body against an invader. But statins are increasingly suspected to be a beneficial kind of weakening force that paradoxically might save us from an immune system run amok.

Is Obama like Lipitor?

Consider influenza. Often young, healthy people with robust immune systems are at increased risk of dying from pandemic influenza simply because their immune systems launch such powerful attacks that the body cannot withstand the friendly fire.

One study found that patients hospitalized with influenza were 54% less likely to die if they were taking a statin medication. It is postulated that statins modulate and dampen the inflammation unleashed by the immune system, thereby limiting collateral damage.

Another study published in the journal Critical Care recently found “that early treatment of sepsis patients with a statin reduced the occurrence of organ failure (a complication that often kills Ebola patients) by 83 percent.” An opinion written by two medical doctor/professors appeared in the New York Times this week calling for a trial of statins in those dying of Ebola for this very reason.

ISIS is a cancer, surrounded by other diseased states. Putin is MRSA. The Middle East is the Middle East. I’m glad we don’t have Bush and McCain running in with their hands unwashed to try and save the day. I’m glad Hillary isn’t trying to do her best Clint Eastwood.

So far Obama seems to be managing these illnesses like a well-restrained immune system. Even though we disapprove of his foreign policy, a majority of Americans want to stay out of these foreign conflicts – putting Obama in no-man’s land in terms of chasing approval ratings.

Personally I’m much more worried about the planet’s fever, the looming environmental catastrophes, and being on the front end of the greatest mass extinction the Earth has ever known.

Push fluids with ISIS. Only send in bombers and troops to Ukraine prn, and start World War 3 if America is terminal in the ICU. But for now I salute the commander for swallowing his bitter pills, sneezing and hacking up mucous, and enduring the taunts of weakness from viral media on behalf of the country’s health.

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If You Don’t Look For It, You Will Miss It

Death leaves an invisible silence, a wrenching disappearance of love’s voice and presence.

Your father held you in your first moments, poured his love and life into your cup, and told stories that created a fabled purpose from the dull chaos.  And then he was no more.
photo

Are loved ones gone forever when they die?

They live a new, unselfish life within the murky, star-forming nebula of our memories.  We conjure them in moments of anxiety, sing along with them in the music they loved, and see how they once adored us as we tuck our children into bed.  And beyond our perceptions, they exist as nothing and everything.

And if we don’t keep a keen eye on the outside world, we may miss them there as well.  On a birthday I looked down and saw this dirty little puddle.  I paused, noting that it was heart-shaped.  And as great art can move mountains within us, so too can dirty puddles speak for the dead:

I love you.

it said.

~

In the moment my father died there was a beautiful, September-like sky, crisp and blue like the month he entered the world.  He shone in the sunlit footprints of his granddaughter as she ran down the sandy beach, brimming with her young life, a torch of his own.

My father jammed the electromagnetic waves of the police trying to call my cell phone to tell me of his demise.  Four times I answered the phone to static, which has neither happened before nor since.  Stay in this brilliant moment a little while longer, son. I’m with you and your family over this warm beach blanket as I join the sky, reveling in your daughter’s giggles.  Remember nothing in the universe has produced a greater sound.

We are of the world when we are born into it, why should we not remain of it when we die?

Look for your loved ones, hear them, sense them, and hold on in inexplicable ways.

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Is Thanksgiving Actually a Misguided Holiday?

auroraI used to think of Thanksgiving as the supremely humble, agenda-less holiday most deserving of our celebration. As an American adaptation of harvest festivals found in other cultures, it seems at once natural, secular, and modest.

Yet as I called a lovely woman a few days before the holiday to inform and counsel her that she has cancer, the notion of millions of others “giving thanks” rang hollow, selfish, self-referential, and arrogant.

The turkey on her table was unexpectedly as rotten as the necrotic mass in her pelvis, and her many arriving guests were suddenly interlopers in her nightmare. Perhaps there is a better way to frame the loaded notion of “giving thanks” that does not presuppose blessings, special entitlements, and personal good fortune.

The act of giving thanks necessarily involves a transaction between an actor and a receiver. Giving thanks is a reaction to something bestowed. This problem of agency is what makes Thanksgiving fundamentally flawed.

An unseen God known via faith can be thanked, but to do so takes a egotistical leap over the woman with cancer. What has she received from this same God? Instead, giving thanks seems most appropriate for the transparent exchange, such as that which occurs between human actors helping one another.

So what notions would be most honorable, most worthy of our sacred celebration? The best abstract ideas I could come up with would be reverence, humility, wonder and awe.

Reverence for humanism, the natural world on Earth, a newborn child’s silky head, the brilliance of the stars, and the capacity of love.

Humility that grasps our frailty, our inherent flaws, and the acceptance that every action we commit, even those considered altruistic, is ultimately self-serving.

Awe at the enormity of the universe from galaxy to gluon, the stubborn and heroic perseverance of life, comets from the Oort belt grazing the Sun, and the beauty of snow flurries falling as we exalt in the pleasures of sharing pumpkin pie.

If we were all equally blessed, or if there were some rational justice that determines who suffers, then we should say “thanks.” Otherwise I think a good prayer before the feast should focus on the ideas of reverence, humility, and awe… and to give thanks to those who journey along with us.

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Food Truck Examining Room, an Evolving Concept

Given that our health care system has become a bloated carcass of once honorable intentions, I think a fundamental redesign of the examining room is in order.  For beyond the doctor and patient, the physical room which contains their ebullient repartee is the next logical target for improvement.  Here is one radical idea that may need only a few tweaks:

doctor food truck idea

Food Truck Family Practice Idea: click to view larger

The foodtruckexaminingroom will roam from town to town across the United States, stopping in major cities and small towns with main streets in order to provide excellent medical consultations.

The charge will be $25 per “visit”, with home made food gifts strongly encouraged. A medical “plan for your local doctor with malpractice coverage” will be generated from each visit, and will be thoroughly excellent.

The nerve center of the truck, and the heart and soul of this new concept, will be a very casual exam room inside the truck. There will be two chairs, a table, optional wine glasses, and a plush 1970’s style shag rug. A Norman Rockwell will be on the wall, a subtle and ironic nod to the midcentury demise of the “real” family doctor. Perhaps a bring-one-take-one-used-book-shelf will invite the free flow of subversive leftist literature.

A wine rack will be on the wall, highlighting the virtues of moderation and zinfandel.

Please rest assured there will be music gently streaming in the background, ranging from such therapeutic artists as Chopin, James Brown, and The Alabama Shakes. A nice, toothless, fluffy (and occasionally smelly dog) named Babaganoush will smile and purr gracefully at each patient, inviting intimacy and reducing anxiety from the start. For an additional 50 cents, “Baba” will roll around on your back, simulating a low cost sort of medical massage.

The truck will strive to park under shady trees in warm weather, and to maintain an alternate, open-air exam “area” with folding chairs. This area will have little to no privacy and so will be an optional, flagrant violation of HIPPA standards. A discretionary campfire, with a “Saturday Sausage Sizzle” (TM – trademark, all rights reserved) will mesh seamlessly with America’s entrenched tail-gating and RV culture.

On the top of the foodtruckexaminingroom will be perhaps the most important engineering feats – a mobile greenhouse growing organic kale, herbs, tomatoes, and mint for mojitos and tea. It will be fertilized periodically with excrement from the 500 pound, fully operational chicken coop. Free range chickens will be let out during the day to wander around eating local bugs, and will produce about a dozen organic eggs per day, which will be given to the first 12 patients of each session.

A beehive will be maintained on the roof as well, with honeybees diligently avoiding Bayer’s neonicotinoid pesticides, and Monsanto’s GMO crops, to bring us delicious honey, always on tap directly from the hive.

The rear of the truck will be retrofitted with a freezer for chocolate ice cream, the exclusive and happily restrictive diet that will be recommended for all willing nonagenarians.

The exercise zone will be fairly minimalistic, purposefully demonstrating that one really needs to just move around. The tai chi manual must be returned before sunset.

I am currently seeking investors and start up venture capital for this concept. I believe it to be scalable, yet inherently resistant to the mind-numbing, evil tendencies of big corporate paradigms and six sigma cannibalism. This concept will be “intuitive” and “quite natural” for patients willing to step inside the food truck and get some healing. Please allow me to clarify any questions you may have, and I would happily entertain suggestions for improvement.

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A Review of Chronic Resilience, a book by Danea Horn

book_cover_smallAuthor Danea Horn has written a book entitled Chronic Resilience in which she describes “10 sanity-saving strategies for women coping with the stress of illness.” I read a copy of the book and highly recommend it.

The stresses of being ill and suffering from chronic illness are manifold. Just today I listened to a woman in the examining room whose fear, anxiety, and sense of isolation with her medical problems were as distressing as the many unpleasant feelings of pain, dizziness, and dread. I did my best to listen to her, validate her concerns, and offer her constructive medical solutions – but I found myself also mentioning Ms. Horn’s book. Even in the first few pages of her disarming introduction, in which she describes her own congenital problems, you can sense her warmth and sincerity, and the toughness that she might lend to a besieged fellow patient and life traveler.

The ten guidelines within specifically address the many challenges of chronic disease, and give tangible means of coping with and overcoming the many adversities. Her approach is instrumental in moving past the initial feelings of ‘why me?” and on to an empowering sense of control recaptured. Ms. Horn effortlessly draws from her readings of other empowering authors, notions of spirituality, and the existential reckonings of her own lifetime to synthesize a holistic and wholly effective worldview of illness.

Instead of relying on broad strokes of clichéd and unspecific advice, Danea includes actual exercises in her approach. Similar in my opinion to the highly respected concept of cognitive behavioral therapy, these practical assignments function like homework to drive home and reinforce the positive methods that can promote resilience.

Ms. Horn shares her own experiences in a witty, candid way that fosters trust, establishes credibility, and engages the reader. But she is not content in any way to simply make this a book about her own life, but rather includes intimate portraits of nine other women whose struggles have been met with courage and grace. There is really nothing more powerful to convince and inspire the human mind than the sharing of human story. Through the lens of these women’s tales, we see ourselves as capable of facing our own trials, strengthening our own resolve, and ultimately transcending the cruel frailties of our shared human condition.

As we are all imperfect creatures, there is a lot to be gained from reading this book whether you have a major chronic illness or not. I found the book to be uplifting, inspiring, and compelling. I found ideas to improve my own approach to daily life, and ways to cultivate a healthy sense of wellbeing, even in times of sickness and despair. As a family doctor I found myself thinking of several patients that this book would be perfect for, and I intend upon recommending it to them.

Thanks for a noble guidebook through good mental health in the face of chronic disease, Ms. Horn. May your life’s work continue to make the world a better, more resilient place.

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