Body Image: Why It Matters and How to View It Positively

Body Image: Why It Matters and How to View It Positively

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

For the last two weeks, I’ve written about fat. Fat is necessary for our survival. It belongs in our diet and in our bodies in reasonable amounts, providing energy, cushioning our muscles and organs and metabolizing essential vitamins. But it’s easy to get too much of a good thing.

Obesity is the cause of health problems and unhealthy sources of dietary fat and fat in excess do no one any favors. “Fat” is a dirty word applied to food and people with snide derision. To finish up this series, I thought it fitting to focus on body image, an integral concept that is part and parcel in our discussions about fat.

The physical traits we find appealing in men and women today are not timeless; idealized bodies are the product of culture. In western society, women with Rubenesque bodies were once considered the peak of perfection. society would deem chubby today were, until the 20th century, celebrated for their size. Larger bodies were a sign of good health, wealth and elevated social status.

For women, the standards have changed dramatically. Waif-like figures — slim, tall and toned — make the cover of magazines. Men, too, magazine covers and advertisements unanimously tall, muscled and impeccably physically fit.

How we feel about our body matters. Our worth should not be determined by the world (or in our own minds) by our physical appearance. But to say that our appearance doesn’t matter, or shouldn’t, is to avoid and deny reality.

The ideal body of the American culture is increasingly demanding and narrow. In the US, the rate of development of eating disorders has been increasing steadily since 1950. Though more prevalent in women, men can and do suffer from disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and body dysmorphia.

The health consequences of eating disorders are devastating, both for those suffering and their friends and family. (A discussion of eating disorders deserves its own article. For more information about eating disorders, signs and symptoms, how to seek help and how to offer it, I’ve included a list of links below.)

There is no list that can encompass a “cure” for improving your body image. Every one of us is different, affected by diverse cultural and familial influences and internalized “standards.” I’ve listed a few of the ways to begin or sustain a positive body image below. In the links provided after this article, you can find even more.

Take a moment to marvel. The next time you start cataloguing your perceived physical flaws, reflect instead on all that your body does for you. Every day, your legs carry you from place to place. Your heart hasn’t skipped a beat — it’s reliably working for you, a dutiful muscle pounding in your chest. Your skin replaces itself every 30 days. What has your body given you?

Keep in mind that there is no “right” body. We look the way we look: varied, diverse, each of us a little different. The bodies we see in advertisements and in media are homogenized and unrealistic. In many cases, they’re literally unreal thanks to editing software like Photoshop. Be critical of the images you see. Though we’re being sold the “ideal,” we can choose (or do our best) not to buy into it.

The time you spend worrying that you’re not good enough is much better spent enjoying yourself with friends, family, a hobby or a good book. Redirect your thoughts to something positive in your life. Keep a list of good things by the mirror or in your wallet if you need to! Try not to wallow in worries about body image.

Get The Facts On Eating Disorders

Body Image and Eating Disorders

Size Bias as a Social Construction

Healthy Body Image


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For Good Health, Avoid These Fats

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Last week, I wrote about fat. Not all fat is bad — we require a certain amount of fat to live. Taking time to appreciate all that fat does for us is a good counter to advertisements decrying any and all fat in our diets and on our waistline. (Modern conceptions of ideal body image do no one, large or small, any favors, but that’s a topic for another post.)

This week, I’m going to write about “bad” dietary fat. Not all fat is created equal. Partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats have negative effects on your health, even in very small quantities. Bad fat lurks on grocery store shelves and contributes to a litany of health problems, including heart attacks and death from heart disease.

Frozen pizza, heat-em and eat-em cookies and biscuits, microwave popcorn and coffee creamers all have something in common: they contain a man-made fat that’s killing us. Trans fat was invented in the early 1900s, first appearing on shelves as Crisco. Since then, the food industry has used trans fats to flavor foods from crackers to cookies, and to significantly increase the shelf life of processed foods.

In the 1980s, we believed that saturated fat, found primarily in animal sources like lard and butter, was the fat to be avoided.. Such was our fervor that consumer advocacy groups successfully lobbied fast-food companies to stop frying foods in saturated fats and start using partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats.)

In the 1990s, researchers began to link trans fat to increases in LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and sounded the alarm, calling for trans fat to be listed on nutrition labels. It wasn’t until 2006 that nutrition labels began to include trans fats. Consumer knowledge about the dangers of trans fats was high and sales of products with trans fats decreased. As such, many food manufacturers voluntarily reduced or eliminated trans fats from their products.

Trans fats still linger, in processed foods with labels and in foods that are not required to sport a label. Food from restaurants, bakeries, cafeterias and schools may still contain trans fats, and consumers have no way of knowing, without labels, which foods contain the bad fats. California has banned the use of trans fats in restaurants and bakeries. The city of New York requires restaurants, cafeterias and schools to be trans fat-free. These are positive steps; the CDC estimates that a further reduction in trans fats from the American food supply would prevent 7,000 deaths from heart disease and 20,000 heart attacks each year.

A product that boasts “Trans fat free!” may in fact contain up to a gram of trans fat. (This practice is legally allowed by the FDA.) Before you buy a food purporting to have no trans fat, take a look at the label. If the ingredients include “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “vegetable shortening,” put it back on the shelf. There is likely no safe level of trans fat and it should be avoided whenever possible.

Let me end with the health mantra all of us should live by: moderation, moderation, moderation. We’re only human. Most of us have a sweet tooth that isn’t always satisfied by an apple or a peach. For meat eaters, the difference between a good cut of meat and a great cut of meat is the right amount of fat. If you’re craving fat, that’s okay, but eat fat from a good source. Trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils are poisons working against good health. Skip the Oreos and processed baked goods and bake a batch of brownies from scratch with a friend. (And make sure to share the spoils.)

There’s much more to discuss on this subject than I can hope to cover here. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the following links.

Shining the Spotlight on Trans Fats

FDA Targets Trans Fat in Processed Foods

A History of Trans Fat

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The Good Side of Fat in Our Diet

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

In the age of health foods, “reduced fat” snacks and diets that purport to cut fat out of your diet and off your waistline, we forget that fat isn’t all that bad. Though much derided, we require a certain amount of fat — in our diets and in our bodies — to survive.

Put aside thoughts of P90X and societal pressure to eliminate fat and take a moment to appreciate what body fat does for you every day. Body fat is essential for regulating body temperature. Fat is your body’s insulation, reducing heat loss. This benefit may seem inconvenient in the heat of a southern summer, but come winter you’ll be appropriately grateful.

Fat acts as a cushion, both for the bottom you’re likely sitting on at the moment and for your internal organs. Fat surrounding our internal organs acts as a shock absorber when we fall or are injured. Brain tissue is rich in fat. Nerves are sheathed in a fatty material, without which they would not function. Each and every cell relies on the fat that helps compose the cell membranes that holds them together.

Dietary fat has become so demonized in recent years that some shy away even from avocados — a fruit full of fat and entirely beneficial. Fat is an essential nutrient, which is why we require a supply of dietary fat to survive. Fat, along with protein and carbohydrate, is a source of energy. We need fat to absorb essential vitamins A, D, E and K and require fat to produce hormones. I don’t want to expound too much, but let the takeaway be that out and out disdain for fat is foolish.

Too much of a good thing is rarely wise, however, and fat is widely available in the modern American diet. Fat makes food taste good and purveyors of processed foods use it to their advantage. You might remember several years ago when “trans fat” became a nutrition buzzword. Trans fat occurs naturally in some foods in small quantities. Now, though, the majority of trans fat found in our diet is artificially created through the partial hydrogenation of oils. Trans fat can increase bad cholesterol and decrease good cholesterol.

The other fat to avoid is saturated fat. Saturated fat occurs in animal products. Red meat, poultry and full-fat dairy are all sources of the bad cholesterol-increasing fat. Most Americans over consume meat on a daily basis, which in turn leads to an excess amount of fat in our diets.

We still need fat; we just need to consume it in moderate amounts and get it from healthy sources. The next time you start to crave a fatty meal, seek out fat in the form of monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat or omega-3 fatty acids. Foods that contain these types of good fats include avocado, nuts, olive oil, safflower oil, natural peanut butter, salmon and tuna. I’ve included a list of resources about fat below. Eat in moderation and eat well, everyone!

Why Your Body Needs Some Fat to be Healthy

Why You Need Fats

Dietary Fats: Know Which Types to Choose

6 High-Fat Foods That Are Good For You

Monounsaturated Fats


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When It Comes to Sugar Consumption, Moderation is Key

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Children cherish Halloween and birthdays, two opportunities for unapologetic, borderline frantic, gorging on sweets. Adults aren’t immune – there’s a reason an offering of donuts at the office often proves too tempting to resist. Put the blame on our hunter-gatherer ancestors, if you like. We evolved to crave sugar and the energy it provides back when the sweet substance was hard to come by. Today, sugar is cheap, plentiful and present in a growing number of unexpected foods. For modern humans, fighting our neolithic tendencies is an increasingly difficult challengeSugar is a basic (and effective) form of energy in food. Excessive sugar is poisonous to us, so our bodies have adapted to quickly turn sugar in our bloodstream to fat. The sugar, converted into fat, was stored and used to sustain us when times got lean. It wasn’t until very recently that sugar went from a rare, hard-to-come-by treat to its current excessively available status.

We still crave sugar, but it’s not all bad. The natural sugar in fruit accompanies healthy fiber and necessary vitamins, making peaches a treat that’s truly good for you. (Peaches in their natural state, that is. A peach pie, though delicious, won’t benefit you the same way!) The sugar that truly trips up modern humans resides in processed “convenience” foods. Sugar is used to mask unappealing flavors created by the very processing that contributes to the long shelf life of food. Sugar is used to tantalize tastebuds into one (or four, or eight) more bites or sips. Sugar lurks in unexpected places, like yogurt. The next time you go grocery shopping, keep a sharp eye on the nutrition facts – there’s more sugar, in more foods, than we realize.

As the catalogue of articles on this site grows larger, the theme that pervades them is moderation. Don’t spend all day on a treadmill, but don’t spend the majority of the day at rest. You don’t have to become a vegan, but it’s not good to consume a large serving of animal protein every day. I hate to sound like a broken record, but moderation is central to good health. Attempting to cut out sugar entirely is a fool’s errand. No one looks forward to celebrating their next birthday with a vegetable loaf!

To practice moderation in sugar consumption, give some of the following guidelines a try.

  • Don’t keep ready-to-eat sweets or sugary processed snacks in your pantry. As I’ve said before, the place to practice resisting temptation is the grocery store. Cookies, sodas, crackers and chips are better left on store shelves. When you’re tired, stressed or just plain hungry, the quick walk to your pantry will prove too tempting.
  • Quit drinking soda. Oh, the sensation of drinking a cold Coca-Cola out of a glass bottle on a hot summer day. It’s a delicious memory, but it should be a rare occurrence! Sodas are full of high fructose corn syrup, sodium, calories and carbs that your body doesn’t need. Regular soda drinkers will be pleased to note that cutting out the soda habit saves you money and will almost always lead to a need for smaller trousers.
  • Don’t cut out treats entirely, but do learn how to make your own using healthy, whole ingredients – and go heavy on the fruit! Warm fruit compote, easily made with fresh fruit in a pot on the stovetop, is an incredible sweet addition to breakfast. Serve it warm with a bowl of oatmeal or keep it cold to enjoy with yogurt. After dinner, cut thick slices of banana and lay them in the skillet with a little butter until they’re brown. That’s the natural sugar caramelizing. Drizzle the slices with a bit of honey or agave nectar and you have a dessert you won’t forget for a long time.
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Limit Screen Time, Encourage Exercise for Healthier Kids

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Students count down the days until summer vacation. Weeks of freedom await them with nary a pop quiz, project or homework assignment. Ideally, students from kindergarten to high school use their summers productively, taking time to strengthen friendships, pick up a hobby, go outside, get a job, exercise or read for pleasure. Realistically, the temptation to go to bed late, sleep late, stay indoors and watch TV or play video games is often too great.

In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data showing that less than half of all children aged 12 to 15 are aerobically fit. Across race and class lines, children aren’t in good cardiorespiratory shape. Half of boys in the age group meet adequate levels, but only 34 percent of girls were at adequate levels of cardiovascular health. Like adults, children need regular exercise. Ideally, children should spend an hour every day running, jumping and playing (without a screen.)

Children who get regular exercise feel less stressed, do better in school, build healthy bones, muscles and joints and sleep better at night. During the school year in Georgia, physical education classes are mandated. Every student gets the recommended minimum amount of physical activity each week. Students involved in afterschool programs such as soccer, baseball or cross-country far exceed the minimum and reap the benefits.

During summer vacation, physical activity takes a backseat to easy leisure pursuits. What is a walk under the trees compared to the temptations of yet another Angry Bird game for the iPad? Though technology benefits society in many ways, screens are often a scourge. The inclination to forsake the outdoors for the glow of an LED screen the size of a book you should be reading instead is too great even for many adults. For children and teens, the fast-paced, intricate games and TV shows too often win out over the chance to take a walk and listen to the sounds in the trees.

This summer, help kids get the activity they need by fostering a love for the outdoors and outdoor activity. Set a good example for children by staying active and limiting your own screen time. When friends come around, pack a picnic and take a walk around the park. Issue a moratorium on screen time and send kids packing to the yard with a soccer ball. Sign young children up for swim classes and older kids up for swim team. Encourage older children to join sports teams and find fun, non-sedentary activities to do with friends. Most importantly, limit the amount of time you and your family spend in front of a screen. When the tablet, smartphone, television and video games are off, a world of possibilities opens up.

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Recognize and Prevent Heat-Related Conditions

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Spring-cleaning has nothing on summer labor. The yard needs attention, the attic needs to be cleaned out (so does the basement), a community garden needs volunteers and why not add a run around the block in the heat of the afternoon to round out your to-do list?

Warm weather is beckoning us outdoors, but we need to prepare our bodies before giving the summer everything we’ve got. This week, I’m covering the causes, signs and symptoms of heatstroke and other heat related conditions.

Even when we exert ourselves in the comfort of an air-conditioned gym, our body temperature rises. To do the work we ask of them, our muscles burn fat and carbohydrates. The chemical reactions converting the fuel of fat and carbs to energy create heat. The muscles warm first and then the blood circulating through them , producing the rise in core temperature.

The slight rise in temperature that makes us break a sweat tells us that our body is hard at work. But when we exert ourselves in the heat and humidity of summer or simply expose ourselves to high temperatures for too long, we run the risk of heatstroke.

When body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re having a heatstroke. Children and adults over 65 share an increased risk of heatstroke. Both groups adjust more slowly to high temperatures outside.

Children are loath to take breaks to cool off when they’re having fun, but produce more heat and less sweat during activity than adults do. People over 65 are more likely to be on prescription drugs or have a chronic health condition that affects how their bodies respond to heat. Health conditions, such as heart and lung disease, being overweight or lacking physical fitness also increase your risk of heatstroke.

Heat cramps and heat exhaustion are the first conditions you may suffercan often treat at home. Heat cramps usually occur in the stomach, arms or legs. They’re accompanied by excess sweating, fatigue and thirst. If you’ve ever been on a strenuous run on asphalt on a hot afternoon, you probably remember feeling this way. (Heat cramps are also caused by exposure to high temperatures.) If you’re experiencing heat cramps, find a shady cool spot or head to an air-conditioned area, drink water and a drink with electrolytes, such as Gatorade, and rest until you feel recovered.

If you don’t treat heat cramps, you will progress to heat exhaustion. All the symptoms of heat cramps will persist and be joined by nausea, dizziness or lightheadedness as well as a headache. Heat exhaustion can often be cured with the same treatments used for heat cramps, though the addition of a cool shower may be in order. If symptoms continue, seek medical attention.

Heatstroke is the most severe heat-induced condition and requires immediate medical attention. The symptoms include a 104-degree body temperature, all the symptoms listed above for heat cramps and heat exhaustion, as well as rapid breathing, a racing pulse, flushed skin, vomiting, irritability, confusion, unconsciousness, and a lack of sweating. (Skin may be moist when heatstroke is brought on by physical activity.)

If you notice these symptoms in a friend or loved one, call 911 and take action to cool down the afflicted person. Put them in a cold bath and turn on a fan if you have access. If you’re outside, move them to a shady area and soak them with cool water from a garden hose. Remove extra clothing. If there’s low humidity, wrap them in a wet, cold sheet and fan them. Monitor their body temperature until help arrives.

You can avoid heatstroke, heat cramps and heat exhaustion by taking these precautions.

• Drink water! Stay hydrated so your body is better equipped to handle heat.

• Wear light, loose-fitting clothing.

Condition yourself by easing into regular activity in hot weather, and scale back activity during the hottest part of the day.

• Take a break in the shade with a glass of water or Gatorade when you start to feel fatigued or thirsty.

Our bodies are as resilient as they are fragile. We can run a marathon or complete a triathlon — two sporting odysseys — yet a few degrees difference in body temperature can make us terribly ill. Summer can be a glorious break from our normal routine warm weather often encourages us to be more active. This summer, remember to enjoy the season safely!

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Why We Love Junk Food and How to Kick the Habit

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

A trip to the grocery store can be a weekly challenge. The produce is clustered together in one corner; the meat and dairy line the perimeter of the store. These are the areas we should shop in, but we’re pulled into aisles filled with frozen meals, brightly colored cereal boxes, snacks, chips, crackers and candy. So-called “junk food” advertises a siren song of “convenience,” “reduced fat,” “diet” or “on the go.” In reality, the majority of the neatly arranged, smartly packaged food in the aisles is processed nonsense full of sugar, salt and fat.

The most dedicated “clean eaters” sometimes leave the store with a few servings of junk. Even those of us who can recite facts about the poor nutrition and empty calories in a bag of Doritos still take a handful when we see a bowl filled with dusty orange triangles at a party.

Junk food truly is junk, but it’s hard to resist. It’s hard to resist for a reason: the amount of engineering, science and research that go into the sour cream and onion Pringles you see on the grocery store shelf is astounding. Below are a few principles that make your brain crave what you know (rationally) is bad for you.

  • Dynamic Contrast. Bite into an Oreo. The first sensation is the crunch of the cookie, followed by the smoothness of the cream filling. Pairing dissimilar sensations in one bite sets your brain alight! The sensation is novel and enjoyable – though you may regret it later.
  • Calorie Density. Think about the big bowl of Doritos I described earlier. It’s sitting on the coffee table at a friend’s home while you watch football with friends. You start with a handful, and then take another and another until you eat half the bowl. The Doritos in that bowl contain enough calories to make your brain decide they’ll give us some energy, but not enough to signal that you’re full, so you kept eating. You probably know that was too much, but you won’t feel sated until after halftime.
  • Rapid Food Meltdown and Vanishing Caloric Density. How quickly does a thin Lay’s potato chip disappear after you put it in your mouth? The salty yellow chip is gone in seconds. This rapid food meltdown signals to your brain that you’re not eating as much as you are, which is why a whole bag is so easy to consume quickly. When food melts down like this, your brain thinks there are no calories in it. This leads to overeating.

More of the tricky (but fascinating) science is described in this Lifehacker article. It’s a great article; please read on!

We all have our favorite kind of junk, be it soft drinks, M&Ms, potato chips or packaged “fruit” snacks. Are you ready to kick your habit?

  • Don’t keep junk food in your home. When a box of Capri Sun sits in your pantry, you’re tempted to drink it. That box will be gone within a week or two. Skip the aisles at the grocery store that are dedicated to junk. Let your weekly trip to the grocery be the only time you have to resist temptation.
  • Throw away the junk food in your pantry and fridge. Don’t finish it, just let it go! Start clean so you can end clean. Think of it this way: the industry that created that food knows you’re on their hook. They would hate for you to leave them and find a new supplier in the produce aisle. Tell them to shove it!
  • Plan a week of meals and snacks ahead of time. Go to the store with laser focus. Stick to the produce section and the perimeter of the store. Try to use whole ingredients – if there are a litany of unpronounceable words on the side of the box, skip it. A great resource for “whole” recipes is the excellent blog, 100 Days of Real Food. The blog includes information about what “real” food is and ways to incorporate it into your life.
  • Don’t deny yourself everything. Sugar, even the raw, organic variety, is addictive. We humans have been trying to get our hands on it since the Paleolithic era. It is okay to treat yourself; just do it with whole ingredients (and in limited quantities.) This recipe for brownies is one of the very best on the web. It’s simple to throw together and enjoy on a weekend or after a trying Monday.

Changing the junk food habit may be difficult at first, but soon you’ll find you are rarely tempted by those brightly colored packages. And when you go to parties, station yourself away from the chip bowl!

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Effort of Nurses in Wartime Worthy of Recognition Too

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Nurses are vital to any war effort, yet their service is often overlooked or only briefly mentioned in historical texts and media. The nurses and doctors who travel with soldiers, giving aid along the front lines and sometimes giving “the last full measure” during their service, deserve our consideration. Today, I’m continuing my series about nurses who served during times of war. This week, I’m writing about the thousands of army and navy nurses who saved lives during World War II.

Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Army Nurse Corps had fewer than 1,000 nurses. By the end of WWII, more than 59,000 nurses had served under the Army Nurse Corps. Fourteen thousand nurses served in the Navy Nurse Corps at home and abroad. Women – the only gender allowed to nurse during WWII – volunteered to nurse throughout the war but shortages were constant. The government recruited heavily and even passed a nurse draft bill in the House before the war was over. The draft bill stalled in the Senate and then was made unnecessary by German surrender in 1945.

In both the European and Pacific theaters of WWII, nurses served on the front lines. Nurses worked under enemy fire – 16 nurses were killed by hostile fire. In the Philippines, 67 nurses were taken as prisoners of war. Nurses were sent wherever they were needed. They traveled everywhere, often with just half an hour notice. They went without sleep for days and performed marathon surgeries on soldiers in need.

African-American women also served their country as nurses during World War II. They were reluctantly allowed into the Army Nurse Corps. Of the 59,000 women who served during the war, only a little more than 500 African-American nurses were allowed to serve. In the Navy Nurse Corps, only five African-American women were allowed to serve.

Considering the shortages that plagued the war effort, this stonewalling of qualified African-American nurses seems all the more foolish in retrospect. The military worried that African-American women caring for white soldiers was too large a breach of social norms. The African-American women that were able to serve fought to do so. This desire to serve is commendable, especially given the segregation and discrimination faced at home. To learn more about African-American nurses during WWII, please click this link.

The nurses who cared for the wounded and dying never forgot their experiences. Their stories are touching and poignant. My article can’t do them justice, so I’ve included links to stories told in their own words about the men they saved, the ones they lost, and the ones they strove to comfort in a time of great pain.

WWII Army Nurse to Celebrate 100th Birthday

They Called Them Angels: American Military Nurses of World War II

American Experience: Nurse’s Tales

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Nursing Forces in WWI Faced Harsh Conditions

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

World War I earned the moniker the “Great War” for good reason. The First World War ranks among the deadliest conflicts in recorded history. The total number of casualties, both military and civilian, was around 37 million. Sixteen million people died and 20 million were wounded. The majority of deaths were caused by combat, not disease, though Spanish flu caused a significant number of deaths for every participating military force. Many soldiers and civilians required care. American nurses played a vital role in WWI, serving our own soldiers and our allies throughout the conflict.

Although nurses had proven themselves indispensable (especially for the Union) in the Civil War, a reserve corps of army nurses wasn’t established until the Spanish-American War proved how necessary such a reserve was. The Surgeon General established criteria for the reserve nurses and in 1901 the Nurse Corps became a permanent part of the Army.

At the outset of WWI, around 400 nurses were on active duty. By the end of the war, the corps had more than 21,000 nurses, 10,000 of whom served overseas. The nurse corps was exclusively female and comprised of volunteers. One thing to keep in mind is that these nurses proudly served their country at a time when they were not allowed to vote.

During WWI, nurses worked in evacuation hospitals in Europe, on bases, transport ships, hospital trains and in mobile surgical hospitals in America. American nurses arrived in Europe before American troops did. The first nurses set sail in April 1917 and established six base hospitals in partnership with the British Expeditionary Forces.

These nurses worked long hours under harsh conditions. There was little respite from cold weather and water shortages meant bathing and laundered clothes were rare. There was little privacy and little time off. Nurses treated shrapnel wounds, bullet wounds, infections, mustard gas burns, exposure, medical trauma and the newly recognized “shell shock.”

“Shell shock” was initially thought to be caused by the powerful mortar shells exploding around soldiers. The force was thought to shock a soldier’s brain, shaking it in his skull. Doctors began to notice that symptoms of shell shock were appearing in soldiers that had been nowhere near the bombing. These included trembling hands, lost memory, confusion and trouble sleeping were symptoms of neurasthenia, or weakness of the nerves.

The numerous treatments used to care for shell-shocked soldiers can’t be aptly described in this column. The history of WWI’s defining injury is fascinating and heartbreaking. A thorough and compelling article by Caroline Alexander in the Smithsonian Magazine is well worth the read.

Though thousands of nurses served in the dangerous theater of war, there were relatively few casualties, most of which were caused by the Spanish flu. Around 200 nurses died while serving. Many were recognized for their dedicated service by both the United States and our allies. Three nurses were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Established by President Woodrow Wilson, the DSC is second only to the Medal of Honor. Three nurses were awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, given to those who provide exceptional meritorious service.

Lessons learned during WWI set the stage for nurses during the next great conflict. Come back next week to learn about the service of nurses in World War II!

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The Treatment of Chronic Pain

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

From a stubbed toe, to a sprained knee or back pain after overdoing it in the yard, many of us experience some kind of pain every day. Some pain, like a stubbed toe, is easily described (perhaps with a shouted four-letter word) and generally goes away on its own. Acute pain usually has a physical cause, like injury, disease, or surgery, and is resolved once you’ve treated the cause and healed. Most of us keep over-the-counter painkillers, like Tylenol and ibuprofen, in our medicine cabinet to deal with everyday pain.

Chronic pain is persistent, continuing for at least three months, and some people live with it for years. An estimated 76 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. Chronic pain may be the result of an initial injury, like a back sprain or a surgery, but there isn’t always a clear cause. Living with chronic pain is challenging, as the condition is often incurable. Management is possible and best accomplished by working in partnership with your physician.

One of the most common tools to treat pain is to prescribe painkillers. When used as recommended, prescription painkillers safely and effectively ease our hurts. In recent years, however, the dangers of prescription painkillers have become clear. In 2010, enough prescription painkillers were prescribed to medicate every American adult all day, every day, for an entire month. That same year, one in twelve people from age 12 used those same painkillers for non-medical use, many using the drugs recreationally.

The high produced by opioid painkillers such as hydrocodone, methadone, oxycodone and oxymorphone is strikingly similar to the high produced by heroin. Unfortunately, opioid drugs and heroin are also similarly addictive. In 2008, and in each year thereafter, more than 15,000 people have died by overdosing on painkillers. That is the loss of more than 90,000 people — roughly the population of Roswell, GA — in just six years.

Prescription painkillers are often an essential part of treating chronic pain. Anyone using opioids should be carefully monitored, although very few people who are prescribed opioids and use them as directed become addicted. Long-term users may become physically dependent on the drugs (this is not the same as an addiction disorder.)

If you are prescribed opioid painkillers, keep them safely stored and make sure that you are the only person with access to them. You can learn more about opioids on the NIH website.

Alternatives to prescription drugs can be used to successfully manage chronic pain. For some of us, the idea that acupuncture or meditation can ease pain seems farfetched. But many non-drug interventions can and do work as pain relievers.

Acupuncture is sometimes represented in pop culture as a trendy treatment used by the “far out.” The therapy that consists of pricking the skin with needles does work, though we’re still not sure why. It won’t work for every patient, but there are no side effects if it doesn’t.

Exercise is medicine. Though going out for a walk or a swim may seem impossible when you’re not feeling great, exercise may be just what you need. Physical activity improves mood and boosts energy. Health conditions may mean that you need to avoid certain types of exercise, so always check with your doctor before getting started.

Yoga, hypnosis, massage and biofeedback can all help manage chronic pain. Each activity is useful for reducing stress. Pain is stressful, and living in a state of stress increases pain. Breaking out of the painful, stressful cycle is very helpful when working to manage chronic pain.

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