Ouchy

Those Swiss Army knife people certainly know how to make knives. Very sharp knives.

While using one of their kitchen knives earlier in the week, I carelessly took a small chunk out of my thumb.

Be warned: slightly gory picture ahead.
Continue reading

The lump

I’ve got a small lump on my thigh. Not painful at all. Probably harmless, the GP said, but he wrote me a referral to get it removed.

He asked if I private health insurance. Nope. I gave it up several years ago. It cost me thousands each year (and increasing) and rarely paid out anything at all.

He gave me a little lecture, along the lines of “You insure your house, your car… why not your health?”

I had a previous lump in my chest removed at Cabrini, when I did have insurance. It was very good — they examined it and took it out on the spot.

How much would that cost if I paid it myself? Heaps, the GP said, perhaps $1500 or more. Yikes. Public would be free, but he said getting it done would take ages in the queue. Ah well.

Monash Medical Centre, Moorabbin

The referral went off, and a letter arrived — appointment at Monash Medical Centre Moorabbin, which isn’t in Moorabbin, nor in City of Monash, but is a medical centre.

The wait had only been a couple of weeks. I went in thinking hey, they might chop it out same day. Take that, private insurance! BEHOLD, THE POWER OF UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE!

The specialist took a look, agreed it was probably harmless (probably a lump of skin growth, rather than the fatty blob the last one was) and said I’d go on a waiting list to get it out.

The waiting list would take a year to get through.

A year.

Whatdaya know, my GP knew what he was talking about.

Knowing that many specialists do both public and private work, I asked the specialist how long it’d take and roughly how much it’d cost if I paid myself to have it done privately. ‘Cos I’m in no particular rush, but it’d be nice to get it done and dusted. And this is a variation on self-insuring… not giving the insurance companies their profits, but being willing to spend money on your health where it’s beneficial. At this stage in my life, I’m well ahead doing that.

He said it’d cost $150-200, in about 4 weeks.

Wow, that’s great, I’ll be in that. Sold!

The good stuff

After suffering through several days of a bad cold this week, I finally decided to seek out medication.

I remember years ago using Codral Day And Night to get through it… but then a little later, having no success with what appeared to be the same medicine.

Turns out there’s “New” Codral, which does little for me, and “Original” Codral, which works. The Original has Pseudoephedrine in it… the New has Phenylephrine Hydrochloride instead.

A little research (particularly this extensive online discussion) showed that the Original stuff is still available, but you have to ask for it specifically, and they’ll register your purchase. This is because Pseudoephedrine can be used by Bad Guys to make methamphetamine, and apparently they’ve had to crack down on purchases to avoid people doing this.

This is why one local chemist has a “Pseudo Watch” sign on their door. I used to think it was some kind of security company sticker, which implied they don’t do a very good job of keeping an eye on the place.

You know it must be good stuff if the druggies are after it, right?

Sure enough when I went to my local chemist, they gave me New by default, but when I asked for Original, they were willing to sell it to me ($19, a bargain to make me feel better) but asked me for ID and registered the purchase.

Maybe, despite having not shaved for a couple of days while at home unwell, I have a trusting face.

And yes, it really does seem to work for me.

Viva la Pseudoephedrine!

Cluster headaches – back for spring

Oh joy. My cluster headaches are back for spring. In fact they returned on the 1st of September, which Australians consider to be the first day of spring. Boom, just like that.

(Previous posts. Doesn’t everybody use blog posts to track their personal health history? I know I do.)

To recap

Cluster headaches are, as Wikipedia describes them: excruciating unilateral headaches of extreme intensity.

“Cluster headache is probably the worst pain that humans experience.

Women with cluster headache will tell you that an attack is worse than giving birth. So you can imagine that these people give birth without anesthetic once or twice a day, for six, eight, or ten weeks at a time, and then have a break. It’s just awful.” — Dr Peter Goadsby

They occur in clusters during active periods (hence the name), and many people get them seasonally, though others have them permanently.

They affect about 0.1% of the population. They cause a sharp pain across one side of the head, from around the temple, down to the jaw, typically lasting between 15 minutes and 3 hours.

This is important: no conventional painkillers are effective against them. Not paracetomol, not aspirin, not Nurofen. Nothing works. It is not the same as migraine.

Mine

The more I read, the more it’s clear that I don’t get them as badly as some people (thank goodness).

But they’re still bloody painful. On this pain scale (which is not specific to Cluster headaches) mine probably peak at about a 4 or 5 out of 10. (“5 – Very Distressing – Strong, deep, piercing pain, such as a sprained ankle when you stand on it wrong, or mild back pain.”)

I get them seasonally, usually for a couple of weeks, and typically 3-4 times per day, starting around 6am (and yes, they are painful enough to wake me up) until around lunchtime or early afternoon. Mine last about 20-30 minutes.

I thought that I’d first suffered from these around 2007, but in fact when I saw the doctor on Tuesday, he said he had notes indicating that I’d had them (undiagnosed) going back to 2002 — though my recollection is they didn’t get really bad until 2006 or 07.

The doctor seems quite interested in it — I gather they’re rare enough for a local GP that he doesn’t see many cases.

The pain is intense, from the temple and behind the eyeball down to my mouth.

At its worst, all I can do is try and apply some pressure with my hand, or push my head into the pillow if still in bed, which may or may not help. Really at best the force of the pressure merely distracts me from the pain.

It’s said that oxygen helps: many people respond to inhalation of 100% oxygen (12-15 litres per minute in a non-re-breathing mask). While I haven’t tried this (I suppose it could be organised at home, with some effort/cost) it does seem to be that exposure to a chill wind, eg stepping outside in the morning air, does helps soothe the pain.

Caffeine seems to help as well — tea or Coke. Perhaps the latter helps more than the former.

The pain is so intense that when it just fades away and you’re back to normal, for a while there’s a huge feeling of relief that it’s gone… until it returns.

And the medication? In previous years I wrote that I thought the Veracaps SR the doctor prescribed helped. But I’ve got to say that now I’m not totally convinced it does. Perhaps it’s not really been doing anything, and the headaches have naturally faded after a week or two. Certainly this time around, I’ve been taking it since day one, and while it’s possible it’s taken the edge off it, so far they’re still hitting me every morning. (Though this morning’s first was later than previous days’, and not quite as strong.)

Maybe it just needs a few days to kick in. Hopefully in the next week or so mine will disappear again until next autumn.

Support

Every time they come around again, I end up doing a little more research.

This time around I’ve discovered that there is an Organisation for the Understanding of Cluster Headaches (“OUCH”). The US arm had a conference in Nashville in July — they have a bunch of videos with Peter Goadsby which I intend on watching soon.

A recent Triple J Hack story on chronic pain, which opens with a guy from Darwin describing his cluster headaches. Well worth a listen.

I’ve just discovered a Facebook group, which has some posts from fellow-sufferers which, I can tell you, are inspiring to read. Because people are sympathetic, but I’m not totally sure anybody can really fully understand it unless they’ve experienced repeating bouts of extreme pain themselves.

And there’s now an Australian support site as well.

I might lurk a bit in some of the forums. The more I read, the more it’s clear to me that while mine are very painful, I’m not getting them anywhere near as badly as some other people. But it’s nice that know that other people understand what it’s like.

Down down, smoking is down

Excellent. Smoking rates are continuing to drop, from 21.2% in 1998 down to 15.3% now.

So, how about the next step, government? Now that smoking is almost entirely banned indoors, what about extending smoking bans to include all undercover areas — I’m thinking particularly of under shop awnings.

(If I ran the world, I’d be looking at smoking bans in highly trafficked outdoor areas, such as CBD and suburban shopping centre footpaths. And the following step might be banning it everywhere except in private homes and designated smoking rooms/areas. It’s one thing to have a bad habit; it’s another to have a bad habit that blows poisonous fumes into others’ faces.)

My red, swollen eye

Red eye

I’m sure (more than usual) people were staring at me on the train today.

And you should see the amount of gunk that was in it this morning.

The doctor’s given me some eyedrops for it.

I’m not a drinker

I’ve never been a drinker.

Oh sure, there were the social pressures in my uni days. But it’s a habit I just never picked up.

My parents weren’t drinkers. My partner isn’t a drinker. It’s just not my thing.

I’m not a teetotaller though. Occasionally (perhaps a few times a year) I’ll indulge in a beer or a glass of wine, but (particularly since the discovery that alcohol can sometimes help trigger cluster headaches), most of the time I’ll decline and stick to water.

So I find it a little puzzling that some people drink to excess. I can understand the enjoyable, social drink if that’s the kind of thing you like, but binge drinking, to the point of being sick? Why would you?

I suppose everybody’s different.

The health check

Apparently there have been some alarming results from the workplace health checks underway at the moment.

Victorian workers have been given a scare by a State Government-run health program which has found a high percentage don’t exercise enough with a number of people asked to see a doctor within 24 hours.

We’ve had ours on Friday (everybody opted-in, I think), and we seem to be a pretty healthy workplace.

At least, nobody’s been carted off in an ambulance.

My own results were all okay, with one exception.

Some of the points are self-assessment; others like cholesterol were checked by the nurse on the spot. I’ve summarised the take-home brochure, and my results below.

Diet

2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables (per day) should be your target

I’m on 3 serves of fruit, and 2 of vegetables, so need to increase my vegetable intake. It was noted that a variety is good. I probably eat more spinach leaves than most, as I know the kids will chow them down.

In all honesty, I’m not sure how achievable 5 serves of vegies per day is for me, but I can try.

Drinking

I barely drink (perhaps a one standard drink per month if I’m lucky), and the nurse decided this was closer to no alcohol of the three options on the questionnaire.

I’ve never drunk a lot; it’s reduced even more since the cluster headaches arrived on the scene, as alcohol can help induce them (though just at the moment they’re not around).

Phsyical activity

Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most, preferably all days

I might not play sport, but I do a fair bit of walking. It’s generally three 30 minute walks a week with the kids, and one or two 60+ minute walks with Marita and her dog on the weekends. Add to that the shorter walks to/from the train each weekday (12 minutes x 2 x 5, though no doubt that doesn’t have the same benefits of the longer walks), that’s 270-330 minutes of walking per week, or at least 38 minutes a day.

So I think that’s fine.

Smoking

There is no safe level of smoking

No problemo. Never smoked, sure as hell not about to start.

Body shape

Normal — Men: 94 cm or less. Women: 80 cm or less

I’m 86 cm, have been since I was a skinny yoof. Do have a little bit of a pot belly, but nothing major.

Blood pressure

Normal — Less than 120/80

The brochure explains that the first value is systolic — the pressure in the arteries as your heart squeezes blood out during each beat. The other is diastolic — the pressure as your heart relaxes before the next beat.

Mine’s a little high: 113/83. On this basis there’s a recommendation to review it when I next see my doctor, but the nurse emphasised that there’s no real problem.

This seems higher than usual for me. Normally when I give blood it’s lower — it was 117/76 the last time I noted it in my blog. In fact this time round the nurse thought it might be unusual and did an average out of four readings.

Cholesterol

Normal — Total cholesterol 5.5 or less, HDL cholesterol 1.0 or more

Mine is 4.8 total, and 1.8 HDL, so that’s good.

Diabetes risk

Diabetes risk score — low risk: 5 or less. Medium risk 6-14. High risk 15 or more
Random blood glucose levels — normal: less than 6.5. High 6.5 or more

My diabetes risk score is 2 points for my age, 3 points for my sex (that would be male), and 3 points because someone in my family has it — my Dad has type 2. So 8 points makes me a medium risk for diabetes, and worth reviewing with my doctor at some stage.

My blood glucose level was 5.4, in the normal range.

Overall then

I’ll enquire about blood pressure and diabetes risk, the former isn’t a big problem at present, and the latter I can’t really do much about other than keep up the exercise and improve the diet.

I suppose there’s no big surprises for me in all this, but in terms of preventative health measures, I can see how this kind of far-reaching basic health check might help others to think about their lifestyle choices and modify them if possible.

And of course it’s only a fairly superficial check. I’ve still got headaches, Bowen Belly (much less so recently) and other minor ailments which hit me from time to time.

Anybody else do the check? Any surprises?