Health

This category contains 14 posts

The Very Informed Patient

GPs have a label for people like you and me. People who Google things. People who come to the appointment, armed with the information already. They call us the Very Informed Patient or VIP. Personally, I quite like that. It could have been worse. We used to be known as the ‘PITAP’. But that was before GPs were under pressure to tick boxes for numbers of patients seen, weight checked, cholesterol checked, blood pressure controlled and stop smoking!

Now consultations are less about what is worrying you, the patient (because you already know what it is and how to treat it), and is more about the GP being able to score points (and points equals money) by asking a few simple questions.
Four months ago, I fell over/down a farm stile. It was neither elegant nor pretty and was extremely painful. But being a robust sort, I ignored it. Until I couldn’t walk, sit, stand, lie down, lift anything. Yes, it was that bad. I made an appointment with a super physiotherapist and started treatment. I didn’t even think about telling the GP. I had a prescription review due so mentioned it to him. He wasn’t too concerned, but instead remarked on my weight and blood pressure. Both affected by my lack of mobility and being in some pain. Thankfully, I didn’t take it to heart, carried on with the physio, who got me back to full fitness in 6 weeks. And the weight went back to normal, along with the blood pressure; no surprise really as I was back to my exercise routine too.
The point is this – my back was injured, I was taking painkillers and had limited mobility. Was this really the most appropriate time to lecture on weight?
Around the same time, cuts to NHS Direct were announced, and a new scheme introduced, the Isabel Symptom Checker. I entered the term back pain, and clicked on back pain lower. The first time I did this, I was told rather alarmingly, that the top cause of lower back pain was a malignant bone tumour! Well, I knew it wasn’t that, and anyway, they are very rare. Today, the symptom checker has improved, so while it still lists bone tumours in the top 10 causes of lower back pain, it does have slipped disc at number 1. Still a rather alarming list of symptoms, and hardly what the GPs will want to see waved under their noses.
Isn’t it time, then, that we went back to that old-fashioned examination and diagnosis, based on clinical skill, not just the internet and a barrage of blood tests and investigations.
Which brings me to my next point – VOMIT. More and more of us are becoming victims of modern imaging technologies. Often, when diagnosis is tricky, or treatment is taking a bit longer to work, we put our GPs under pressure to investigate further. In most cases, GPs have to refer to specialists to order CT scans or MRIs. These are actually quite invasive tests, not to be undertaken lightly. Still suffering from the back pain, and a rather stubborn sciatic nerve upset, the physio started to second guess her initial diagnosis. Perhaps the fall I had had, was masking something more sinister. Perhaps I had a slipped disc, or worse, after all. Perhaps I needed an orthopaedic consult. Dr B, being a cardiologist, has a healthy scepticism for specialists other than physicians, and suggested a further physio assessment. And would you know it, she discovered another area of injury. Within days of treating this injury, I started to heal. It didn’t take long after that to be back to full fitness. I shudder to think what might have been my journey if I had ended up in the orthopaedic department.
Sometimes, a little knowledge does help the process. Sometimes, taking a common sense approach, asking a few more questions, gets to the right answer a little quicker.
This post was previously published on my blog To science and beyond.

Anti-Abortion Groups – Just Cut It Out

At worst, unsolicited junk mail just annoys me. Three menus for Mick’s Curry Pot coming though my letterbox in one week may be taking just that – the mick – but the owner of this takeaway isn’t actually hurting anyone (unless they risk ordering anything.) But laying on my welcome mat this week was an innocuous enough looking colour printed, folded sheet that made my girlfriend feel physically sick and chilled me to the bone.

Little could be less welcome than the leaflet headed Abortion: What everyone has a right to know, kindly (?) provided for me by the people at SPUC (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.) Although never mentioned in the text, the whole thing stinks of religion, as I can’t credit this comically acronymed organization having taken this crusade upon themselves out of a genuine regard for women’s well-being.

I’m aware, as I write, that in this instance it would be more appropriate if I were a woman. I believe in a woman’s right to choose. As father to any theoretical offspring, my input, although valid, would be overruled by the owner of the body in which it is brewing – the mother. So the final decision on whether or not to abort is a woman’s. Had a woman written this article its points may have been more valid. Just rest assured when it comes to this disgusting pamphlet that I am trying to be of the same mind.

In the guise of being helpful, and very much in the style of the health advice leaflets you can pick up at your GP surgery, the pamphlet features a photograph of a young, anxious looking couple and promises to contain ‘information about abortion’ with the aim of preventing someone ‘making a decision which could end in regret.’ In fact, the whole piece is filled with prophecies of regret and remorse. True, you may end up regretting having an abortion, but you may also regret going through with the pregnancy and end up raising a child you resent. A terminated pregnancy is not necessarily the last chance a woman will have to have children – there’s no medical evidence that having an abortion affects future fertility – a baby is more final.

Within is a time line of significant development dates – the heart starts beating at three weeks, liver forms from six. But at what point does a cluster of cells deserve the label ‘baby?’ I think of it like this: at what point does a bowl full of ingredients become a cake? Not to make light of what is a serious and often traumatic decision, but sometimes ridicule is the best way to combat facile and ill informed arguments.The argument that possession of hair and fingernails makes a tiny, partially formed homunculus into a person, and its termination into murder, for example.

Nowhere does this set list mention the development of the nervous system, which I would use in the argument of equating suffering. Surely, a foetus without a nervous system, that therefore cannot feel pain, suffers considerably less (if at all) than a mother who is forced to go through with the pregnancy. All sorts of what if scenarios can be thrown into the mix here; what if the woman was raped? What if she or the father has a disease or debilitating condition that will be passed onto the child? What if she or they are simply not able to raise the child? The mother, father and child could spend years or their whole lives suffering from the consequences of the decision not to have an abortion. Anyone able to take a balanced look at both sides of the suffering argument would see the burden of suffering is against the minuscule organism that cannot feel anyway.

The analogy of the cake was for comic effect, as I stated. The moment of birth is not the first point at which a developing offspring can be considered a baby. Appropriately, a deadline for termination is set well before this. In the UK this is 24 weeks, although 90% of abortions occur before the 12th week and usually are given after that only for strong medical reasons.

‘Women deserve better,’ we are told by these SPUCers. ‘Evidence points to increased risk in some women of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress and eating disorders.’ Nowhere is this evidence made explicitly clear. These predictions are such that they almost seem like a threat. You will go mental if you have an abortion, they seem to say. Women certainly deserve better than information like this. It’s an insult to their intelligence and a perversion of the facts.

On the rear, some further facts and figures are given. I’ll not question the numbers, as they’re pretty irrelevant in regards to the conclusion they are used to support. There is apparently one abortion in Britain every three minutes, 570 a day (mathematics is clearly not their strong point either, as 24 hours divided by 3 minutes equals 480) and 4,000 every week (again, a distortion of their own figures.) The denouement to this little tally is that ‘if current trends continue, 9 million children will have been killed under the Abortion Act by April 2018 – the 50th anniversary of the law coming into force.’ It is here I have the biggest issue, and it is with their choice of language. Certainly the killing of millions of children would be a tragic and appalling practice. But it is not killing, and they are not children. They are children in potentia. The accompanying illustration of an embryo, with the label ‘unborn baby at 8 weeks’ says it all. Even though the illustration is half the size of a mug coaster, it is still stated that the picture is enlarged. If these people knew the first thing about embryology, they’d know that in no sense can this tiny, barely noticeable life form be described as a baby.

The whole leaflet is a piece of distorted scaremongering. If it’s facts and figures you want, here are some scary ones this misleading organization omit: worldwide, 70,000 women a year die from illegal, back street abortions, mostly in countries where they are not legally available; around a quarter of all pregnancies end in abortion – as the world is over-populated as it is, with resources stretched, can you imagine what would happen if you added 25% to it? Think of the starvation, the disease, the pollution that would ensue. I’m not prophesying doom, but I’m not sure, were these children to be born, they would thank you for bringing them into that kind of world.

The overriding raison d’etre of these kinds of organization is to protect the foetus until the moment of birth, but after that it’s the parent’s responsibility. They care not a jot that the child may be raised in poverty, in an environment of abuse or neglect, subject to disease or disability, hunger and pain. As the pamphlet is keen to point out, ‘every life is worth living.’

Abortion is neither the beginning or the end of the world’s problems. Certainly, I would rather the traumatic and painful decision to have an abortion did not have to be taken by any woman. If SPUC have funding available for such a campaign, it would surely be better spent at the other end of the process – in preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place. Contraception, freely available to those that cannot afford it, is your friend there. But education about its availability and uses is often blocked and the subject of other negative and misleading campaigns, often by religious bodies, such as the Catholic church, and unfortunately very often from the same groups who are against abortion.

What it boils down to is this: These groups hate the idea of a woman’s sexual freedom. Sex is for making babies, not for fun. If you get pregnant, it’s your own fault, and if you have an abortion you’re a murderer. What I think is this: enjoy your sex life, as long as you in doing so hurt no one else; take precautions and take care of your body; know your own body and know when something is wrong; accidents do happen, and if they do there are options available. Abortion isn’t an ideal solution, but we live in a far from ideal world.

Once this piece is published, I’m going to take great pleasure in ripping this leaflet up, and burning the shreds. Unless an actual dead baby had been shoved through my letterbox, I don’t think I could have been more revolted at an unwanted delivery.

(Source of some information: http://www.abortionrights.org.uk/ )

Not Sitting on the Fence

Animal experimentation is always a sensitive subject, whichever side of the fence you sit. When I started out in medical research, almost twenty-three years ago, animals were used in all sorts of experiments, from radical surgical therapies to shampoo testing.

I personally witnessed some horrors in the name of science. It was fascinating stuff though, particularly the work done on developing novel surgical strategies for strokes, heart attacks and bone regeneration after motor vehicle accidents. I can’t say that I enjoyed seeing rabbits being used to test shampoo or make-up, and I’m happy that this rarely happens these days. I fully support campaigns against animal testing.human cancer - immortalised cells

But, I also support those pioneering scientists who over the years have used animals big and small to test their hypotheses and make huge strides in science and medicine.

For example, life-saving surgery performed daily in many hospitals, putting a stent in a coronary artery, a main blood vessel supplying the heart, following a heart attack, would not have been developed if not tried in animals first. This surgery saves hundreds of lives every year. People who go on to live very productive lives after heart attack. Surely this is a good thing?

More recently, I have seen groundbreaking work carried out in genetically modified mice. These mice have been bred without a particular receptor (simply put, this is a grabber for chemicals such as drugs), which is believed to be key in addiction. This work describes how people are genetically pre-disposed to becoming addicted to cocaine or heroin. And it will help to provide strategies for treating a lost generation drug of addicts across Europe. The cost benefit of this treatment runs to millions of Euro’s.*

There is sometimes an argument for using alternatives to animal testing. I always prefer to use non-animal experiments. In fact, I have not worked with animals in twenty years, preferring instead to recruit human volunteers for my research. This is more difficult than it sounds. It often involves drawing repeated small amounts of blood from which I prepare DNA, the genetic material of life. And volunteers are understandably concerned about what scientists might do with that information. Consent is not required for animal experiments.

But ethics is required for types of experimentation. Morals and standards on ethics are required at all times. Public scrutiny is key to this as well, which is why I think it is important to talk openly about the work we do on animals. It is not sufficient to say that a committee of academics and vets approved the work, therefore it’s OK to do it. No, scientists must be called to account at all times.

The scientists who do this work conduct their experiments under the strictest conditions and scrutiny. Far from being hidden away, animal experimentation is a transparent necessity of science. The public has the right to know what experiments are being done in their name.

The problem is that there are some people who are so passionate about not using animals for science and research, that they endanger the lives of others. And that means that we cannot always talk about it openly. It’s a conundrum to which I don’t have a solution, just a plea to both sides. Maintain a dialogue, keep an open mind. Be respectful of each other. Scientists, especially in the UK, who use animals in their research are not evil people, taking over the world. I admit, there are less scrupulous researchers in other countries, but here in the UK, animal-lovers and concerned campaigners should be re-assured that the work is done with the very best intentions, in the best facilities, under the tightest regulations and conditions.

The sad fact is, that animal models are still needed for progress in many human diseases. Whilst it is true that whole animals such as mice or rabbits do not adequately represent the whole body situation in human beings, animal organ systems and cells are extremely useful for science and research. Non-animal models such as immortalized cell lines derived from humans, can only answer one question at a time, because these cells are taken outside the body and are not subjected to the same complex environment.

My mother died of cancer. She died from a form of lung cancer, for which there is no cure. She was sixty-six years old. She was too young to die. If scientists wanted to test drug, or design an experiment to better understand the disease, I would be all for it. Wouldn’t you?

*Note: please understand that I cannot describe experiments in detail or identify scientists here.

Of Boobs and Bottles – Is Breast Always Best?

As a new mother I have been bombarded by others’ opinions on how I should raise my child, but never so much as when the subject of feeding rears its peach-fuzzed little head.

Like all mums-to-be in the UK I had been inundated with the ‘breast is best’ propaganda issued by the NHS, but a search for for a balanced discussion on the pros and cons of each method drew a frustratingly blank, blank.

I was coming to this debate with no particular leaning, but trying to find unbiased advice out there is really hard. Other than the occasional breakfast news story I had never really been aware of the depth of the breast v bottle debate, but the parenting forums and baby blogs were full of dictatorial ranting, polarised opinions and outright declarations of war.

If I were to believe the pro-breastfeeding extremists all bottle feeders are bad mothers; selfish, uncaring harridans who just weren’t willing to try.  However, when I spoke to many bottling feeding mothers they told of the heartbreak over their decision, of the guilt, of the pressure placed on them to breastfeed whilst in hospital and the feeling of failure and inadequacy that accompanied the choice to switch to bottle when they left.

Breastfeeding mother reading a bookOne mother even commented that a mutual friend was “very brave” for saying that she never wanted to breastfeed and sticking to her decision despite the pressure she felt from others.This seemed like a ridiculous thing to say but the further along in my pregnancy I got, the more I understood what she meant. The NHS in particular piled on the pressure to breastfeed, sending me through enough pro-breast leaflets to paper a palace, but not once did they discuss the pros and cons of bottle feeding.

So what did the other side have to offer to the debate? Well according to the bottle feeding advocates all breastfeeding mothers are middle class hippies who are pampered and have nothing else to do but see to their babies. Indeed, even the National Childbirth Trust has been in the news recently for abandoning it’s evangelical breastfeeding stance as part of their push to become more inclusive and attractive to the working classes.   (I would argue they’d be better dropping their prices to be honest, but that’s a rant for another day).

There are clearly some out there who feel that breastfeeding is a middle class endeavour and certainly I can see why – the cost of electric pumps, breast milk storage bags and pots, slings, concealed feeding tops and the time taken to feed or express for your child makes it seem that a great investment may be needed.

Reading all this had made me more and more confused. I didn’t really want to be seen as uncaring or as a tree hugger. I’m not middle class and I certainly don’t have the luxury of a lot of time to sit around doing nothing but feed, but by the same token I don’t really fancy a great pile of bottle-fed guilt. Even the statistics didn’t help me; although most women breastfeed immediately after birth, by 6 weeks 53% are bottle feeding. So, still baffled by all the conflicting advice, I did what I do with any decision I’m struggling with, I scribbled away at a pros and cons list. And here it is:Baby breastfeeding in close up - Photo: thekmancom

Breastfeeding Pros

  • Health benefits for baby – a breastfed baby is less likely to have stomach upsets, ear infections, eczema and can protect against infections and diseases.
  • Health benefits for mum – speeds up weight loss (huzzah!), lowers risk of female cancers, reduces feelings of stress by releasing oxytocin.
  • Bonding – all that extra skin to skin time enhances the bonding experience, especially useful if you have been separated for some time
  • No equipment needed – seriously ignore that shelf in Mothercare, you really don’t need all that stuff, ask your Granny.
  • No preparation required – no mixing formula, measuring water, or washing and sterilising bottles
  • Convenient and transportable – where don’t you take your boobs?!!
  • Free – free food for baby can never be a bad thing.
  • Poop – Nappies smell better (allegedly, I’ve found no scientific evidence for this one)
  • Wind – breastfed babies suffer less trapped wind which means you save time in winding them.

Breastfeeding Cons

  • New Skills – like all new skills it will take time to learn. You may never have even seen mothers feeding and certainly wont have been able to take a good look at their nipple position during latching.
  • Mums health & medication – there are only a few conditions which would completely prevent breastfeeding but many medications cannot be taken if feeding this way as they can find their way into the milk. It also limits the non-prescription medications you can take for minor ailments.
  • Anxiety about feeding – many women feel nervous about public feeding despite new legislation which protects your right to do so. Ultimately this means some mums begin to feel very isolated as they hide themselves away to feed.
  • Milk supply – although almost all women will produce milk, getting a milk supply established takes work, especially if you are separated from your baby for any reason.
  • Physically hard going – breastfeeding can be physically exhausting, especially in the first few days while supply and technique get established.
  • Risk of mastitis – all new mothers have a risk of getting the infected milk ducts that cause mastitis but it is more prevalent in breastfeeding mothers purely because the milk is being produced for longer.
  • Total responsibility – you have to do all feeds, or at least express for those feeds you wish others to handle.
  • Personal guilt– when it’s great, it’s great but many women report it feeling very personal if baby refuses to feed or isn’t feeding as well as one would like.
  • Risk of leaky nipples – again all new mums are at risk of leakage but this is obviously increases the longer you feed for.

Formula feed being made up - Photo: Darren WBottle feeding pros

  • Easier – you have probably either done this before or seen it done. It’s not really a skill you have to learn.
  • Anyone can do it – all the family can get involved and this can be a good way to encourage sibling bonding with older children.
  • Measurable – it is very easy to tell what nutrition baby is getting and how much baby is taking.
  • Public feeding – this is very easy and many cafes and restaurants provide bottle warming facilities

Bottle feeding cons

  • Cost – This is a major con. For a newborn you will be spending around £7 per week on formula, plus the cost of bottles, steriliser, replacement teats, bottle brushes, storage, milk/powder storage/bottle warmers etc add in the occasional emergency pre-mixed feed when you are out and the cost rockets. When I ran the figures it came in at just under £700 for the first year.
  • Space – all those bottles and accessories take up a lot of cupboard space.
  • cleaning – again cleaning and sterilising that kit will take you up to an hour each day.
  • preparation – all your feeds have to be prepared in advance. If you are on-demand feeding that means listening to the screaming that little bit longer. While those who are feeding every two, three or four hours will be able to prepare on time, your baby may not stick to their schedule and that still means having up to 12 bottles washed, sterilised and filled with pre-boiled and then cooled water.
  • NHS sanctioned guilt – while Baby feeding from a bottle - Photo: katerhafriends and family are seen as more supportive of the bottle feeding mother, many mothers report disapproval from medical professionals and parenting support groups when they choose to bottle feed.

So what did I do? Well I spoke to my Granny, as the only person I knew who’d fed both ways more than once and she gave me the best advice of all – do what is right for you and baby. As it was my daughter was in neonatal care for the first 15 days of her life and was severely underweight, so what was best for her was breast milk. But as I wasn’t in hospital with her, she had as much breast milk as I could manage and formula when there wasn’t quite enough to fill her up. Having tried both methods, I found I actually enjoy breastfeeding (despite a few problems we encountered) and I hate all the faffing with bottles and sterilisers and powder that formula feeding brings. So although my little girl will still take either method happily, I’m trying to get her off the bottles for the most part.

I think Granny had it right. It doesn’t matter so much what you feed, what matters is that whichever method you choose, it meets the needs of both of you. If you don’t want to breastfeed or you try and don’t like it or struggle and run out of steam, you shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for that. As for my little one, she’s lying in my lap feeding as I type, and looking at her chubby chomping cheeks I can’t help but think it is the fact that I am happy with what I chose to do that makes her so happy and healthy today.

good places for support/further reading.

http://www.nhs.uk/Planners/breastfeeding/Pages/why-breastfeed.aspx

http://www.nhs.uk/Planners/birthtofive/Pages/bottle-feeding.aspx

http://www.mythnomore.blogspot.com/

http://www.mumsnet.com/

http://theleakyboob.com/blog/

http://www.babycentre.co.uk/baby/formula/basics/

The Benefits of Hypnotherapy in Chronic Illness

Mind-body interactions include the techniques of relaxation, meditation, music therapy, hypnotherapy and other complementary therapies. Many of us have used some of these techniques to help with a single symptom such as anxiety, stress, or to quit smoking. In chronic illness such as cancer, patients often present with a complex pattern of symptoms, including anxiety, pain and sleep disturbance.Figure dancing within the shape of a head, to represent the inner self

Hypnotherapy in particular, has proven benefits in smoking cessation, weight control and treating phobias. But it is also useful in maintaining a positive outlook on life, mainly by changing perceptions. Shortly after my mother died from lung cancer, her hypnotherapist and I wrote a short article on the benefits of hypnotherapy in chronic and terminal illness. This was first published in the newsletter of the Spirit Fitness Club, Guildford. I reproduce part of the article below (Hypnotherapy with Stephen Rigby), by kind permission of Stephen Rigby.  We felt that there was more to write, however, and I have been looking into recent research papers* to further substantiate our (largely) anecdotal evidence, and to show that there is good evidence for the use of complementary therapies in patients with chronic illness.

The Marie Curie Cancer Centre, Newcastle upon Tyne, published a small pilot study, looking at the role of hypnotherapy in the palliative care setting, by relieving stress and helping patients to cope with their illness and the prospect of dying. The audit established the demand for a hypnotherapy service, and the practicalities of providing such a service in a busy centre. It also identified the benefits of hypnotherapy, as perceived by patients and therapist. The study was conducted over 5 months, involving just eleven clients (seven staff and four patients), using questionnaires. The main findings were a unanimous positive coping and relaxation benefit, with 82% of clients reporting it had assisted in improving the presenting problem, and 91% felt it had been of benefit in general. Similar findings were published in 2008, where mind-body therapies, not just hypnotherapy, were found to improve cancer survivorship. Two studies carried out more recently further suggest strategies and methods for the use of hypnosis in complex oncology.

Other studies have looked at the role of integrative complementary therapies, including mind-body techniques, on specific cancer-related neuropathic pain, a complex physical and psychosocial pain; indeed in all types of chronic pain, hypnotherapy is shown to be effective on a variety of pain outcomes.

Another aspect of cancer treatment is the sleep disturbance many patients experience. Hypnotherapy can effectively help manage the pain-sleep disturbance cycle in people with cancer, by helping with relaxation. A good night’s sleep is fundamental to well-being, for both patients and families. A report in 2010 found that further studies on mind-body interactions in the treatment of complex sleep disturbance could help patients with all aspects of the pain-fatigue-sleep disturbance cluster.

In a specific case of the management of leukaemia, researchers found that patients were looking for complementary therapies to be used in conjunction with traditional cancer treatments to reduce side-effects of the drugs, or as a coping mechanism during treatments. In this study mind-body interactions such as self-hypnosis, meditation and breath awareness such as is practised in yoga, massage and reflexology, acupuncture, and a healthy diet and exercise were analysed and found to be useful for these patients. Just a word of caution here, botanical extracts and vitamin supplements may interfere with cancer treatment, so ask before using these.

And finally, in a randomized trial of mind-body interactions on a positive/negative effect during breast cancer radiotherapy, forty women were randomized to receive either cognitive-behavioural therapy and hypnosis or standard care, and their analysis showed a reduction in the negative effect and an increased positive effect, which was significantly more intense. Patients receiving this therapy also had significantly more positive days during their treatment, and the authors conclude that mind-body interaction therapies have the potential to significantly improve the experience of women breast cancer patients receiving radiotherapy.

It seems obvious to me that these complementary approaches together with traditional cancer treatment should be more widely offered to patients during treatment, both as outpatient chemotherapy and radiotherapy patients, but also as inpatients in hospital. Sometimes, as a cancer patient, despite all your best efforts, a hospital stay is necessary. That in itself is traumatic, but it shouldn’t have to be without complementary therapy too. By writing this blog, I am hoping to raise awareness of the possibilities, and to encourage patients and their families to ask for more help along the cancer journey. It can make life so much easier.

*You can search the Pubmed database for these and many more science and medicine topics.

Heal Thyself - Eastern StyleHypnotherapy with Stephen Rigby
Ask somebody how they feel about being hypnotised and you will get a wide range of responses – fear being one of them.  Yet, without knowing it, everyone reading this article is likely to utilise the hypnotic state every time they visit the gym – that music you hear may be just music but it helps you to get into “the zone” of heightened performance.  I am a hypnotherapist and I use hypnosis in conjunction with other therapeutic techniques to teach my clients how to utilise that high performance state to overcome habits, fears, weight issues, anxieties; it even helps with some medical problems (like Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Not surprisingly hypnotherapy can also be useful for improving sports performance and over the years, I have been asked by professional and Olympic standard athletes to help them improve their game.

How does hypnosis work?
Maybe because of the misrepresentation of hypnosis on stage, screen and literature the most frequent question I am asked is “How does it work?”  The goal of all therapy is to create a new perspective; hypnotherapy achieves this by helping us build new mental pathways.  Hypnotherapy is far more effective than other forms of therapy because it is extremely efficient at achieving perspective changes.  Where people may attend other forms of therapy for months on end, I expect most people to get the change they want within four sessions using hypnotherapy.

In this first article, I am going to talk about how hypnotherapy helped one lovely lady change her perspective on life.  Vivienne, the lady in question, is the late mother of Lesley Beeton, one of the members at the Spirit.  Here is what Lesley says about how hypnotherapy helped Vivienne.

Lesley talks about how hypnotherapy helped
“Mom was extremely ill and there was no cure for her cancer. She was very afraid of her diagnosis, devastated by the prognosis, and felt unable to see any positives in her life. We knew that Mom needed to come to terms with her disease, to decide how to live the rest of her life, and to tell the clinical teams how she wanted to be treated. I asked Stephen to work with Mom when conventional anti-depressant therapy was withdrawn and she was not offered any counselling. Stephen adopted a personalised approach to Mom’s needs. She was very fragile and cried a lot during the initial sessions, but she seemed much calmer to us almost from the beginning. Mom learnt to trust Stephen and enjoyed the one-to-one time, working hard to change her perspective as her disease progressed. Although she never understood how hypnotherapy worked, she acknowledged that without it she would never have achieved the insight and focus to make informed choices about dying at home or plan her funeral. She was calm and at peace, happy to be alive each day, right up until the end. On the day she died, Mom declined all drug interventions and passed away quietly at home, pain-free and in her own time.”

Peace and quiet
Most chronic illnesses, including cancer and heart disease, are complex – having more than one cause and often more than one treatment. The medical teams work very hard to treat the disease but often the patient gets trapped on a medical ‘treadmill’ without the peace and quiet they need to consider their own needs.  Patients suffering with these serious conditions also have all the small niggles that rest of us do – headache, stomach upset, coughs and colds, dental pain, period pain etc, and it’s often these small things which can really bring a person down. So there is a real benefit in investing early on in diagnosis in a plan for managing ongoing symptoms, medical interventions and the emotional side effects of chronic illness – hypnotherapy can help with this.

Finding Perspective

Lost: Sense of Perspective. Last seen somewhere between problems and issues. If found, please return to MmeLindor, c/o CamelsHump

Have you ever lost perspective and suddenly found it again?

I did this week. I was having one of those days, when everything seemed to go wrong. I was cross and irritated, and settled down to see what my friends were up to on Facebook. Distracted, I scrolled through the posts, stopping suddenly when I saw this drawing by an eight year old girl. It’s the kind of drawing that any eight year old would draw. Except this girl was not asking for a Nintendo DS or a fun day out.

Picture drawn by Aillidh, a young sufferer of leukemia

All she wants is to be better. To be well. To be healthy.

Aillidh is eight years old and seriously ill. As ill as a little girl can get. She has Acute Myeloid Leukaemia and is going through her third chemotherapy session.  She desperately needs a bone marrow transplant.  Her parents are appealing, through their Facebook page and elsewhere, to find a donor.

Aillidh is a blend of white Scottish and Mestizo – the mix of European and indigenous N. American peoples (Native American/Indian). Her type is very hard to match so for this reason it is important that her story is shared throughout Europe and America. It is particularly difficult to find matches for mixed race patients. So, the more people who sign up to the Anthony Nolan stem cell register (or in the US Be The Match website), the better chance Aillidh has of finding a match.

Some worry, like I did, about signing up to the register, as the procedure is rumoured to be very painful. I was reassured by this quote from the Anthony Nolan Trust website:

Myth: Donating blood stem cells is painful.

Reality: People who have donated via the bone marrow method compared the after-effects to a hard game of football. Many donors find the experience fulfilling and for some, it’s life-changing.

Donation can be done via surgery or a simple blood transfusion – the doctor of the recipient advises on this, but the final decision is made by the donor.

So this week, I found my sense of perspective. Nothing in my life is close to the horror that Aillidh’s parents are going through. This sense of perspective does not lessen my problems, they still exist after all, but they are manageable.

I ask you to do the same. Sit down and count your blessings.

If you are on Facebook, please *like* Aillidh’s page and pass it on to your friends. If you are on Twitter, pass it on. Email your friends and family, particularly those in the US and ask them to pass the FB page on. The more people sign up as a potential donor, the higher the chance is of finding a match for Aillidh or for one of the other Leukaemia sufferers around the world.

In addition to this appeal, Charlie Brooker, of all people, has urged YouTubers to sign up to the Anthony Nolan Register. Click here to watch it.

Pirates! In…An Adventure in Public Relations

Aardman animation version of Pirates!  Promotional imageHar! Har! Me hearties.

So, here we have the tale of a perfectly satisfactory humour novella turned into global Hollywood hype non-conformist style, thanks to the genius (or is that genii?) of Aardman Animation – the animated whizzkids behind the Mel Gibson vehicle ‘Chicken Run’ and the much admired Lancashire one man and his dog. (Which shall not be referred to again, as it is pretty much given that everyone understands it is ‘Wallace and Gromit’ not ‘Turner and Hooch’ – which is about the only other option available.)

How could this film, which is clearly not aimed at youngsters, have caused controversy prior to public release? Or, cynically, how could this clearly not aimed at youngsters film (but still an animation) have highlighted itself during the dour dull days of January? Let me explain the premise of the film in a nutshell. Partly by digressing and explaining the point of the book.

Gideon Defoe, talented scamp that he is, wrote The Pirates! in an adventure with Scientists to impress a girl. Simple.. If I was that girl, I would be impressed.  (Maybe I am easily impressed, but a book has to make a dedication, and the dedication in that book made me go ‘aww’).

The Pirate Captain, played in the film by the devilishly foppish quintessential Englishman Hugh Grant. (I saw him filming the fight scene with Colin Firth in Hyde Park. Which was nice.) needs adventure and recognition for his services to Maritime sailing. There’s the Elephant Man, Charles Darwin, an exciting duel or two, some religious Bishop-ry. It’s all in there. And all good. Even a very short meeting with lepers.

What?! Lepers! Are they, the Gods of film, mocking the afflicted for the sake of cheap entertaining thrills (although clearly not taking science, sailing and deformed dead people seriously, leaving aside the casual religious mockery that has been thrown in)? Lepra Health in Action suggest so.

The fuss lies in the connotation of leprosy as, well, all about arms and legs dropping off, and of being contagious. Shun worthy in fact. Let’s face it, leper boats existed. So in terms of historical accuracy, Defoe is dead on. In terms of contagion, it is. Though treatable, so don’t panic.

Surely Lepra Health in Action should welcome the fact that leprosy, long thought of as a disease of the past, has been brought to the forefront of our armchair viewing opinion?

Ultimately, though, it doesn’t really matter. The book is funny, the film should be funny. Leprosy, horrible disease that it is, has massive comic potential which has been exploited time and again, with only a modicum of complaint.

Not to sound like a Daily Mail reader (which I do read but only to cut my teeth on and sharpen my claws) it really does seem like political correctness gone mad. Arms do not just fall off. They are not made of plasticine and Hugh Grant does not look like a thin Brian Blessed, as portrayed in the film.

Use your common sense, if you have been affected by the issue of leprosy there is probably a helpline  to ring in confidence. And as the prevalence of leprosy has globally decreased, isolated to underdeveloped countries with poor standards of sanitation who will probably not be watching at the Imax in 3D a low budget brightly written and scripted comic caper, then I think cutting a whole chapter of the book was a little bit of overkill, but brilliantly stage managed to correspond with box office opening, especially as it’s a small cult classic.

Cynical, moi? Not really, just realistic, and looking forward to watching the film.

Stigma – the escape prevention plan

Ah, stigma.  Our old friend.A sillohette of a person trapped behind glass to symbolise stigma

This is a subject that those of us who take an interest in mental health politics are constantly banging on about, but the message still doesn’t seem to be getting through to others.  The problem is, I think, that all this banging on goes on in circles of people who already know it all already.  If you blog about mental health issues as a sufferer/survivor, it is almost certain you will have encountered stigma yourself.  You will have faced the dilemma of whether to reveal your illness to employers, you will have avoided the subject with relatives you know will just make stupid comments.  So reading the statistics just confirms what you already know.

A report, published last year by the NHS Information Commission, found that only 25% of people would trust most ex-patients of a mental hospital to babysit their child.  21% believed that anyone with a history of mental illness should be prevented from ever taking public office.  11% would not even want to live next door to somebody who has ever suffered from mental illness.  People with mental illness have the highest “want to return to work” rates of all disabilities, but face the biggest unemployment rates of any category of disability.  They also report difficulty in getting treatment, not only for their mental illness, but for any physical illness that may also affect them – people with severe mental illness have a life expectancy that is shortened by around 10 years.

The facts make depressing reading, and even more so when, as I once witnessed myself, they are displayed on a colourful information board in the corridor of a psychiatric ward.  Right next to the door. At one point I hatched a theory that it was put there to stop us wanting to escape to the stigma filled outside world.  Looking back, I was probably over thinking things a little…

This is the thing though.  When we are mental in the first place, we need a bit more understanding, because we are likely to be much more vulnerable.  There is no doubt that we face problems with which we are less able to cope.  I’m not sure that just telling ourselves that the problems exist is really going to help much.   It might make us more afraid to go out of our comfort zone, away from the people who know what it is like to be mentally ill.

Of course, there shouldn’t be stigma, but I think that we need to go beyond raising awareness that it exists and start trying to cope with it when we do see it.

I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be fought.  Of course it should, and I will happily join in the fight.  But, the fight will be ongoing for  while, and all that time we will still have to find jobs, talk to old friends and live our lives.  We can’t just write STIGMA on our front doors and not go out until it goes away.

Breastfeeding in Public – people, get over it!

There has been a few stories in the press recently about negative reactions towards mothers breastfeeding in public. Kasey Kahne, a US NASCAR driver tweeted his disgust at seeing a mum feeding her baby in public, mums formed a flash mob in Brighton in response to an incident where a mother feeding her baby was berated by other diners  and Jeremy Clarkson stuck his oar in with some unsavoury comments about breastfeeding in public.

As a mum who breastfeeds, this serves as another reminder why breastfeeding rates are low in this country. Whilst searching for the above news articles I came across some comments where mums openly said that fear of these negative reactions not only prevent them from breastfeeding in public but also prevent them from breastfeeding at all. Breastfeeding welcome icon

I have to say that I have never encountered any negative reactions when I have breastfed my children, and I have fed them everywhere – cafes, churches, restaurants, zoos, theme parks, the beach. You name it, I’ve fed there. I honestly believe that these negative encounters are very few in number.

But who wants to hear a news story about a little old lady approaching a woman feeding a baby in Asda, patting her on a shoulder and pressing a pound into her hand “for the bairn”? No, the public would much rather hear about the breastfeeding mother who was accosted in a cafe by 5 people, 4 women and one man, who told her that watching her feed was “unpleasant” and she should cover up. Far more salacious.

Unfortunately, it is these negative stories that will stick in people’s minds, which is why, even though they may be few in number they need to be nipped firmly in the bud.

Baby having some milkUnder the Equality act of 2010, it is unlawful to discriminate against a mother because she is breastfeeding. This means it is unlawful to harrass, discriminate or victimise a mother who is breastfeeding, and any establishment who provides a service to the public have a duty to uphold this.

The fact this law even exists is, in itself, a sad state of affairs – a woman’s right to feed her baby in the most natural way, designed by evolution itself, should be a given. However, we have to accept that due to the most successful marketing campaign ever by formula manufacturers, we do live in a bottle feeding culture.

This is not something I am going to discuss here, it has been discussed by far more knowledgeable heads than mine, such as Gabrielle Palmer in her eye-opening book “The Politics of Breastfeeding: How Breasts are Bad for Business”.

Although breastfeeding rates are rising, the majority of children aged 6 weeks and over are given infant formula, according to the Infant Health Survey of Infant Feeding 2005 (only the early results are available for 2010) 52% of 6 week old infants and 75% of 6 month olds were not breastfed.

One of the things that inevitably comes up in discussions around breastfeeding in public is the rather disgusting comparison to such delightful activities as defecating in public. I don’t even want to discuss how incredibly wrong this is for fear my brain will implode.

Click for photo creditInstead I have been wracking my brain for another analogy and I found one.  Locusts. There are several countries (Uganda, Swaziland, Cambodia to name a few) where locusts are eaten. Personally, the thought of eating locusts makes me want to vomit. I have to fast forward the dining scene in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” because I can’t bear watching the diners eat beetles and monkey brains.

So imagine I am in a eating establishment in Cambodia (or other country where Locusts are eaten). There is a local on the next table who orders locusts and happily starts chomping away. My reaction would be to look away and concentrate on my own food. I certainly wouldn’t go up to him and say “please stop that, I find it disgusting” or “please can you sit somewhere else where I can’t see you” or just sit glaring at him to make him feel uncomfortable.

Why wouldn’t I? Because it would be incredibly rude – the disgust I feel is MY problem, to him it is a perfectly normal thing to eat. He would be confused and probably rather angry had I acted on my feelings and confronted him.

Yet, here in the UK, some people would not hesitate to do this to a mother breastfeeding a child!

And let us just remind ourselves of the difference between locusts and breastmilk straight from the breast.

Locusts – tasty snack (for those into that sort of thing). Not really necessary for human health, and being eaten by an adult perfectly capable of making the decision for himself that it is acceptable to eat his snack where he is sitting.

Breastmilk, on the other hand, is a life sustaining fluid that provides nourishment and more to a baby who is unable to speak up for himself, provided by his probably sleep deprived, hormonally imbalanced mother.

A mother who, especially if she is a first timer, may still be healing from the birth, unsure of herself and her parenting choices, and tired from the 24 hour demands of looking after this tiny helpless baby.  Someone who may well be quite vulnerable.

Even the most together mother, who may be on her second, third or fourth baby and who is confident in her choices could be undone by someone making her feel that this simple act of feeding her hungry baby is something that should be confined to the home.

So what exactly is the problem with seeing a baby being breastfed? Photo credit: Spaceman (click for link)

It comes down to how breasts are portrayed in the media. I find it strange that no-one bats an eyelid at seeing a busty pair of breasts in a national newspaper, but the small amount of breast that might be seen when a mother is latching on her child is considered shocking.

Believe me the vast majority of mothers are like me and do try to keep under wraps because we don’t want to show our breasts to everyone. I do tend to roll my eyes at people who accuse mothers of ‘letting it all hang out’, because the only time I have ever seen that is in a group where everyone is a breastfeeding mother.

Even then women tend to use such groups as a practicing ground for breastfeeding in public without flashing everyone.  You could argue that, using my analogy, the locust eating is culturally acceptable in Cambodia and breastfeeding in public in the UK isn’t because we have a bottle feeding culture.

Well firstly I don’t believe that bottle and breastfeeding cultures are mutually exclusive. There is room in this country for both, especially as we have clean facilities to make up formula safely which developing countries may not have. Also, for centuries breastfeeding in public has been acceptable, it is only in the last 100 years, due to the mass introduction of formula, that suddenly it has become so taboo.

Except it is not that taboo – although most babies still do not receive breastmilk beyond 6 weeks, the majority of the public are not offended, and perhaps more accurately, do not even notice a mum breastfeeding in public. It is just that the minority who do object are loud and get the media attention.

Don’t even get me started on people like Jeremy Clarkson who say “just give the child a bottle”. No. Never. I will NOT ‘give my child a bottle’ just to satisfy some prude. I will not  try and find a time to pump a few precious ounces of my breastmilk, to then have to transport it safely, to then have to try and persuade my child to take it after finding some means to warm it up, or faff around making up formula just to avoid offending sensibilities.

Why should I when I have the perfect transport and delivery system that is instantly available, which means I can feed her as soon as she starts making hungry signs at me? Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti bottle feeding or anti formula, both have their place. However it should be for the mother’s convenience if she chooses to bottle feed, and no-one else’s.

She should bottle feed if it convenient for her to do so, not because someone else is scared they might accidently see some breast or – gasps – a momentary glance of a nipple.  After all it is the mother (and hopefully Dad too) who has the hard work of making up those bottles and formula and pumping milk (not Dad in this case!).

I Googled Locust eating. I am never doing that again.

The Government Didn’t Inhale DLA … And Other Lies

When the government proposed to change the benefit system, from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payment, a consultation period was begun.

The government itself has a code of practice for consultations, that it has quite clearly broken. It was two weeks shorter than recommended and took place over the Christmas holidays of 2010/2011. It was also not completed by the time the Welfare Bill was presented to Parliament, so it is clear that it was not taken fully into account.

This was not simply asking a bunch of people, this was a consultation based on the answers from 523 groups – local authorities, national charities, legal groups, user led organisations, health care professionals and businesses.

The government claims that the proposed changes to DLA to PIP has the support of a wide range of the public, and that they have consulted disability campaigners and charities.

It is a bit reminiscent of the old, “I did not inhale” excuse.

We consulted, but we did not listen.Raised hands, voting

Since the government was not willing to use the responses gathered during the consultation period, a group of campaigners decided to do so. They raised the funding through donations and requested the documents needed through the Freedom of Information Act.

What a surprise it was for them to read the statement from  London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson:

The Mayor would call for the Government to retain the (current) three-month qualifying period, as the increase to six months will mean that people with fluctuating conditions have increased difficulty meeting the qualifying period.

People with fluctuating conditions face the same barriers that all disabled face in relation to higher costs of living, and DLA is essential to maintain a decent quality of life.
The Government proposes imposing penalties if disabled people do not inform the Government of changes in their circumstances.
 ‘However, the overall fraud rate for DLA is less than 0.5 per cent. For those with fluctuating conditions, asking them to report every change to their condition would prove very stressful.

Further, the campaigners found that the other respondents were almost unanimous in their response to some points, and that

  • 74% of respondents were against the proposals but open to discussion
  • 19% had mixed views, agreeing with parts of the proposal
  •  Only 7% supported them fully.

Several points were raised by many respondents, including that the government’s motivation in proposing these reforms were perceived to be a saving 20% of disability benefits. When the overall fraud rate of DLA being estimated at 0,5%, surely it is clear that this will cut benefits from those who need it.

So why was the bill allowed to go ahead, with the government asserting that the proposals were supported by disabled groups?

Please read the Spartacus Report and pass it on to your friends and family (although I expect they will read about it in the newspapers).

I would like to point out several issues  that are often misunderstood by the general public.

1. DLA is an in work benefit. It aims to assist the disabled person in his or her daily life and often provides the means for them to be able to work

2. DLA is a highly efficient benefit, in that it saves the tax payer money. For every disabled person who is able to work because of the support, the country “earn” taxes.

3. DLA is not given out easily. It is a long and difficult process, and even someone as ill as Sue Marsh can fail to be awarded DLA

4. DLA does not automatically mean that the recipient gets a “free car”. Those on DLA who are awarded the higher mobility component of DLA. No matter what the Daily Mail tells you.

5. DLA recipients “pay” for their car using their benefit payments. So a person who has the highest possible award would pay half their DLA benefit toward a leased car. Only 30% of those eligible for a car take one.

If the government were more honest, both about the recipients of benefits not being lazy scroungers, and the response of those who replied to the consultation, I very much doubt that they would have been able to bring the Welfare Bill as far as they have.

And where the hell is our opposition party in all of this?

Why is it left to campaigners who struggle with their own disabilities and have to raise money on social networking websites to fund and produce this report?

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