Tuesday, June 23, 2009


When I was about 23, I went out with on a blind lunch date with a guy who was finishing law school at Northwestern who already had a medical degree. I was a graduate student at the Medill School of Journalism when the campus was in the 680 N. Lake Shore Drive building, so we decided to meet at Corner Bakery.

We sat down and after asking me if I was a liar because I was in journalism school or “do they teach you to be liars” I knew the date was awash, and tried to eat my turkey sandwich as fast as possible without choking.

However, I am not rude, and didn’t leave abruptly. Also, I can talk to anyone, so we started talking about medicine, and I said, “yeah, my mom takes a lot of pills.”

And his response was, “Shocking! A Jewish woman who takes a lot of pills.” (followed by a roll of the eyes)

Although this guy was clearly an ass, this tale (and let me tell you, I have many like this one) came to mind when the autopsy report of Jay Bennett, former band member of Wilco, was released on June 23 concluding he had died of a pain killer overdose. In the last couple of years, other, celebrities have died of accidental overdoses specifically Heath Ledger and Anna Nicole Smith.

Many people are taking prescription medicines, and while I make no judgment about this fact, I do worry (Shocking! A Jewish woman who worries.) the medications are not being taken properly and that many are at risk of accidental overdose or permanent damage to major organs. Call it self medicating, call it drug abuse, call it illiteracy, this is a huge problem that seems to be under addressed.

According to a 2008 article from webmd.com, 24,000 people died in the U.S. from accidental drug overdoses in 2006, a 100 percent increase from the year 2000.

The biggest rise in these accidental poisonings is among men and women of working age, 20 to 64, and is mainly due to abusing prescription pain medicines such as oxycodone, methadone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and buprenorphine. source: Webmd

In our culture, the first instinct would be to blame physicians for allegedly overprescribing medications or the drug companies for glamorizing medical products on commercials. Whether this is true or false, consumers of medications must take personal responsibility for prevention of dangerous drug interactions. How can you do so?

First of all, I need a disclaimer. I have no medical degree or experience. These are just some suggestions based on my own experience as a consumer and the experience of friends. If you are a medical professional and have something to add or dispute, please feel free to do so in the comments section.

1. Keep all of your prescriptions at one pharmacy. That way if your orthopedic surgeon prescribes something that interacts with something your internist prescribes, your pharmacist will hopefully catch it in case you forgot to tell one doctor about a medication you are on or your doctor made a mistake. (it happens) Also (this happened to me once with sulfa) if a doctor doesn’t know that a minor ingredient in a medication contains something you are allergic to, if your pharmacy records are accurate, the pharmacist won’t fill the prescription.
2. Update your pharmacy with any drug allergies.
3. Keep a personal record of drugs you have taken and any negative reactions. Even if they aren’t allergies, it’s good to record sensitivities.
4. If your heart starts racing, call a doctor or 911 immediately. If you lose any kind of sensation of anything, can’t breathe well, or have any other unusual symptom after taking a medication, call your doctor immediately.
5. Ask your doctor and research the effects of alcohol in conjunction with any medication that you are being prescribed.
6. Know if you need to take a medication with or without food or at a certain time of day.
7. Don’t take more or less than you are prescribed of a medication.
8. Don’t take Tylenol or acetaminophen after a night of drinking. It can cause liver damage. Don’t take more acetaminophen than recommended. It can also cause liver damage.
9. Don’t just stop taking a medication (unless you are instructed to do so). Call your doctor and plan a way to wean off of it if necessary.
10. If you are in emotional or physical pain, don’t take a little extra of whatever you are taking to dull the hurt. Call a friend. Call your doctor. Call 911. Get help. Be aware that self medicating may kill you.

I Must Be High

You always wanted more time,
To do what you always wanted to do
Now you got it

And I, I must be high,
To say goodbye
Bye bye bye

You never said you needed this
And you're pissed that you missed the very last kiss,
From my lips

And I, I must be high,
To say goodbye
Bye bye bye

And you never looked in my eyes,
Long enough to find any piece of mind
But now you got it

And I, I must be high,
To let you say goodbye
Bye bye bye

Condom study worth the money

People, mostly men, are up in arms about the $423,500 grant the NIH has awarded to the Kinsey Institute to study: why men don’t like using condoms. The guys laughing at the study say, “Duh. Just ask me. I can tell you. It doesn’t feel as good, it’s awkward, and ruins the mood.”

The issue though is less about why men don’t like using condoms as why they don’t like them enough to risk their own health and the health of the person with whom they are having sex when they often knowingly carry an STD or at the very least know they were exposed to one (and leaving out that information from their sexual partner).

Also, why do some men willingly use condoms? The answer involves ethics and psychology more than anything else. Or perhaps a perfectly good, ethical man will whine about condom usage, and pressure his sexual partner into not using one, when his testosterone reaches a certain level.

In addition, according to the article, some men cannot maintain an erection with a condom. If you asked those men, I bet they wouldn’t mind tax payer money being used to find out why.

If your answer to this problem is monogamy, that’s great, but what about pregnancy prevention. Why should a woman be forced to swallow hormones 21 days out of the month when condom usage can prevent pregnancy just as well if used correctly?

Perhaps the outcome of the study could be a better condom? Maybe a spray on one that doesn’t spoil the mood. Ok, too much. Sorry.

It’s just funny how people are so opposed to sex studies when most everyone has sex, and with sex comes such great risks from fatal illness to unwanted pregnancy. Also if condom usage increased, that could decrease the cost to the government on monies needed to treat the uninsured who suffer from STDs include AIDS and receive their treatment via Medicaid or in emergency rooms.

David Williams, the vice president for policy at Citizens Against Government Waste, a non-profit watchdog group that tracks mismanagement and wasteful spending by the government, said that he is "frustrated" by the grant.
"It's hard to see this kind of research going on when we have such bigger problems as a country that we need to face," Williams said. "The NIH is studying things that on the face of it sounds like it isn't really needed right now or that the answers are pretty obvious at times."
Williams concedes that while the amount of money given to this project is a "drop in the bucket" compared to the total amount of monetary support the NIH doles out each year, he says that cutting back on several projects like this one could go a long way.

"There needs to be more scrutiny over what is and is not funded," he said.

Mr. Williams is being very myopic in his view. According to the Centers for Disease Control “approximately 19 million new sexually transmitted infections occur annually, almost half of those affected are between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four.”


Mr. Williams, isn’t that a big enough problem for you? Or perhaps it’s not because while many of those diseases have major repercussions for women’s health and fertility, for men, many STDs are just viruses that they carry around and transmit to woman after woman without physical impact to themselves. A man can carry HPV with no knowledge while a woman infected with it can develop cervical cancer.

I wish the Kinsey Institute the best of luck with this study and I think so should every dude I know.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Best thank you note ever!

This post is dedicated to all of my friends who work in schools. Congratulations on finishing another school year. You are amazing professionals who give so much energy to so many kids. We are lucky to have you educating and caring for our children.

For the past three years I have had the honor to participate in the “Flat Stanley” project thanks to my friend Leah Harley Schwartz. Leah is a teacher at public elementary school in San Leandro, California.

Flat Stanley is a running character in a series of children books written in the 1960s. Stanley, is a child suddenly flattened by a freak accident, however he turns the trauma into a positive by slipping into envelopes and visiting friends around the world.

A teacher in Canada took the story and turned it into a project to teach elementary school students letter writing and about other parts of the world.

Leah adapted the project a bit and because she knows people from all over the United States, she has had her students write her friends. The student learns about Flat Stanley, colors in a cut out of him (which Leah laminates), and then writes a letter to one of Leah’s friends. Each student puts his Flat Stanley in an envelope with a personal letter, seals it and then goes to the Post Office to learn about the U.S. mail where they then mail the letter.

When we receive it, we have to answer the letter and write about our adventure with Flat Stanley. If we want, we send souvenirs from where we live.

The first year I participated, I sent Flat Stanley to South Bend and asked (begged) my dad to drive around the University of Notre Dame with him and take pictures next to the Golden Dome and the football field with a view of Touchdown Jesus.

Last year I walked around the North Side of Chicago taking pictures with Flat Stanley by the lake, Wrigley Field, the El, etc, developed the pictures and sent the photo album to Leah’s student with a letter.

This year I received a letter from J.M., a Somali immigrant from a large family. With the crappy weather we’ve had this year and because I’ve been really busy, I decided to just pick up a Cubs baseball cap, a Cubs teddy bear, and some post cards and send them with the letter.

In the letter, I told J.M. the story of the Cubs’ curse.

The Cubs have not the World Series in over 100 years. Some people say it’s because a man, many years ago, brought his goat into the stadium and when they refused to let him stay, he cursed the Cubs and said they would no longer win games.

The package was mailed and although I didn’t hear immediately from J.M, I heard from Leah via email.

Thank you so much for sending the Cubs hat and bear to J.M. I truly appreciate your kindness and generosity!! J.M. was thrilled to receive it and has been wearing the hat to school. J.M.’s father just passed away two weeks ago so I think he enjoyed knowing that someone was thinking about him. Thank you also for participating in Flat Stanley once again!!
Take care,

Today, I received a thank you note from J.M., and I can honestly say it’s the best thank you note I’ve ever received. It was handwritten. I guess I should scan it in for full effect, but I hope you enjoy my typed version.

June 5, 2009

Dear Sharna,

I love the bear and I love the hat. Even though I’m an A’s fan. I wonder if you feel good in Chicago. I hope you have a good time there. I don’t know why a person holding a goat is that powerful to curse a whole baseball team. Have a good time in Chicago. Thank you again for the bear and the hat.

J.M. is wise beyond his years. Maybe the Cubs will win the World Series this year. Or there’s always next year.

Related Links:


Cubs Curse

Cubs Coverage from the Chicago Tribune

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Will burning my bra make me happy?

A study by University of Pennsylvania researchers for the National Bureau of Economic Research entitled “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness” declares that women are “less happy after 40 years of feminism.”

I have so many problems with this study. First of all, whoever said the goal of feminism was happiness. I can’t think of another ideology in which the ideal is determined as such. Is the goal of liberalism or socialism, “happiness?” Are there smiley faces in the U.S. Constitution that I’ve missed all of these years?

Feminism, although not a monolithic ideology, at the very least espouses equal rights in the public and private sectors, public being the workplace, health care, government and private being rights relating to human sexuality and the home. What does that have to do with being happy?

Also, and maybe I’m depressed, but the notion of happiness seems to be a modern one that is based on unrealistic expectations promoted by popular and consumer culture. I never look as happy as the people in the commercials when I brush my teeth, put on deodorant, and I’ve definitely never had an orgasm shampooing my hair.

I find joy when I’m with my family and friends. An intimate relationship evokes happy feelings for as long as it lasts or is healthy. I find “flow” when I am doing something interesting at work or am in front of a classroom or writing. The point of feminism is to allow women the access to any prospect. The goal of access is not happiness, it is opportunity.

And I can’t imagine being happier with less opportunity. I don’t think the decline of happiness correlates with the rise of feminism. Rather, the expectations of what exactly makes a person happy have been increasingly fictionalized during the past 40 years, and therefore the brutal reality of what is life causes us to find less joy in what is good and what is beautiful. We take those gifts for granted and throw them to the side of the road until it’s the “right time” or the “perfect” situation. The lack of appreciation for the ordinary and the need to forget the past and move on to the next thing, is what dehappifies, not feminism.

Check out Buddhism. According to their tenets, life is suffering and the goal of life should be to end suffering. Perhaps that’s too extreme for our culture, but even if you go to Western Religion, you will see that God was never happy, nor were his patriarchs. They were “good,” “righteous,” and “blessed.” Happiness and joy are reserved for special occasions like life cycle events and holidays.

This study should not be an indictment on feminism but rather one on the concept of happiness and its exaggerated definition and role in our imbalanced culture.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Will the FB generation teach the Holocaust?

My article for Oy Chicago. I won't forever write about the Holocaust, it's just I'm studying it a lot and taking a group there in July.