Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Zoobiquity: What Can Physicians Learn From Veterinarians?

By Kris Kramer

My backyard is a haven for wildlife. Neighbors’ chemically-enhanced lawns drive critters here: an oasis of dandelions, bird-feeders, fresh water, tall trees, thick bushes, and a deck to hide under. Rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, moles, deer, and a wide variety of birds (chickadees, cardinals, woodpeckers, finches, and hawks, to name a few) visit and entertain while I eat breakfast every morning.

A few months ago, one particular squirrel caught my eye. At first I thought he had simply overstuffed his mouth with nuts and seeds because his cheeks looked as if they were about to burst open. Upon closer inspection, I realized this poor fellow was covered with tumors. Even his tail was balding, and his eyes had swollen shut leaving only his other senses to find food and navigate his way.

During the day, he’d sprawl out on the deck and lay flat on his belly--legs spread like an eagle. The sun would warm his swollen body. Every few seconds one of his legs would tackle yet another itch. I doubted his discomfort was ever alleviated.

How could this innocent creature have such disfiguration? What other illnesses inflict wild animals? Could animals contract cancer or depression? Surely, there are some conditions that are unique to humans.

Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, cardiology professor at UCLA, investigated these very questions. Her interest in connections between human diseases and those found in animals began after a call from the Los Angeles Zoo for a consult on an emperor tamarin in heart failure. Instead of focusing on what’s different between humans and other animals, Natterson-Horowitz began looking for similarities and found them: “The human genome is 98.6 percent similar to that of chimpanzees.” As a medical doctor, she got excited at the prospect of finding out if the work veterinarians were doing could be used to aid physicians with their patients.

The results of her findings are documented in her newest book—Zoobiquity, co-authored with Kathryn Bowers—where Dr. Natterson-Horowitz consulted veterinarians to discover similarity after similarity between human and animal conditions both physically and mentally.

Jaguars get breast cancer. Penguins and buffalo have been found with leukemia, dinosaurs with gout, arthritis, and cancer. Wild chimpanzees have been known to die of depression, some octopuses and stallions self-mutilate just as cutters (people that intentionally cut themselves) do.

So, why aren’t more human and animal doctors working together? After all we are animals. Dr. Natterson-Horowitz speculates that a superiority complex may be at play. There is a stigma surrounding this topic. Human doctors, as Dr. Natterson-Horowitz confides, think they’re “better than” doctors that treat non-human animals.

But this attitude didn’t always exist. Over a century ago, communities frequently had one doctor, and if you were a living creature with wings, scales, hooves, or two legs and opposable thumbs, you were treated by the same care-giver. The division of human and animal doctors occurred around 1900 when cities started to grow. Urban versus rural communities began to form. As one might imagine, there was more money and prestige in treating the top of the food chain. This created further distance between physicians and veterinarians.

In 2007, two men challenged this separation: a veterinarian, Dr. Roger Mahr, and a physician, Dr. Ron Davis. The duo compared their experiences and found a significant overlap of diseases: cancer, diabetes, effect of secondhand smoke, illnesses spread between species such as the West Nile virus, and more.

The team solicited others in the medical community to join forces, but their recommendations (even though Dr. Davis was the president of the American Medical Association and Dr. Marh headed the American Veterinary Medical Association) fell on deaf ears. The stereotype that human disease differs from animal disease was too ingrained.

Finally this stereotype is losing its grip. Studies are being set up to learn more about fertility in the houbara bustard (a North African bird), addictions of wallabies to opium (they raid opium fields in Tasmania), and dogs to hallucinogenic toxins found on the backs of Texan frogs, obesity in zoo animals, and other issues such as heart disease, sexual potency, and cancer.

In the U. S. alone, cancer takes the lives of almost 600,000 people, about a million dogs, and other household pets and zoo animals such as cats, rabbits, parakeets, reptiles, and horses every year. Wild animals are not free of this deadly infliction: Cancer has been found in sea turtles, rhinoceros, Tasmanian devils, prairie chickens, barred banditcoots, and this is just the beginning of the list! Even insects and plants aren’t safe—although plants only get tumors that inhibit growth and not cause death.

Dr. Jedd Wolchock, M. D., realized the cancer found in canines was essentially the same as the cancer found in humans. So, he began extending research of a new cancer therapy (the xenogeneir plasmid DNA vaccination) from mice to dogs. The mice trials had gone well, but he needed more data using animals with a longer life and in situations where tumors occurred spontaneously. Dr. Wolchock teamed up with veterinarian, Dr. Philip Bergman. Within three months, the two doctors had nine dogs (all household pets) registered for a study. All had cancer and the owners were anxious to try the new treatment. The survival rates were so promising that soon dog owners from around the globe were flying into New York for treatment. Over 350 dogs have now undergone this new therapy with booming success. Continuing work is currently being done to create a similar vaccine for humans.

Another cancer study using canines began this year. The Canine Health Project, initiated by Dr. Michael Guy, consists of three thousand golden retrievers from all over the United States. Each will be followed for the rest of its life providing a plethora of data: diets, household cleaners, secondhand smoke, proximity to power lines, and other environmental factors. Cancer rates will be monitored and compared to the data looking for commonalities to shed light on this deadly disease.

Because a laboratory setting is not used; no question of ethics can be raised. These creatures are living out their lives with their human families, running, sleeping, and playing catch. The only novelty is researchers are keeping a keen eye on them. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll find a cure for one of the most feared diseases by studying the dog we call friend.

Monday, December 31, 2012

A direction for 2013

I’ve never been one to make New Year Resolutions.

However, I see value in looking back, not with the intent to cling to or live in the past, rather with the intent to consider who I have been for the past year. Through an analytical lens, I question: Am I who I want to be? Based on my actions, what kind of person am I? Can I do better? What characteristics or qualities would I like to incorporate into my personality?

I have yet to find that I’m who I want to or aspire to be; my actions, when I’m totally honest, show me that I’m not quite as kind and accepting as I thought I was, and I can always do better.

There’s no point in beating ourselves up over what we uncover. Perhaps we aren’t loving enough, patient enough, creative enough, or compassionate. The importance lies in the simple act of looking—really looking—at who we are. Only when we know where we’re at and where we want to be, we can chart our course and take off in the direction of our dreams for 2013.

New Year is a time of new beginnings—forgiving ourselves, forgiving others. A time of hope. A time of possibility. A time to review the past and set a path for the future.

No resolutions. No promises. Just a direction—a place to set our compass and begin. Storms will arise; obstacles will stand in our way; priorities will change. It’s okay. We pick ourselves up and celebrate mini-new-years throughout 2013: looking to the past, setting our course, and beginning again and again.

Not a resolution, rather a journey always changing, always hopeful, always filled with new possibilities. And at the end of the year, we’ll know we did our best with who we were and what we had. Then we begin again—steering our course in the direction of our dreams.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

I Am From

I am from a family of three self-centered girls, a strict German mother, and an Irish-German father.

I am from alcoholism, firm hands, and harsh words
from food on the table, clean clothes on my back, and a sturdy roof over my head.

I am from suburban Illinois, Florida, and Wisconsin
from friendly churches, long sandy beaches, and summertime festivals.

I am from white schools and red-necks with two parents longing for separation but too frightened or too lazy to leave.

I am from lonely scoliosis, back braces, and scars
from friends that drifted across the states.

I am from childhood education, mathematics, science, independence, and reason
from adulthood faith, arts, compassion, and generosity.

I am from Christianity, Judaism, Taoism, Atheism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

I am from the engineering world of suits and ties to spandex-clad yogis
to spiritual meditators to placers of words.

I am from motherhood, two sons, wealth, and loss
from joy, sorrow, health, and pain.

I am from sushi, beef, and vegetarianism
from pesticides, herbicides, and organics.

I am from farmer’s markets and gardening with aged manure and soil under my fingernails.

I am from dashed dreams, hopeless hopes, and internal unrest
from peace, love, and calm.

I am from many colleges yet know nothing – no skills to share with certainty.

I am from here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Nursing Mother

Moonlight streamed through the horizontal blinds marking the bedroom wall with soft lines as Mary and her son, Andrew, swayed slowly in the gliding rocking chair. She looked down at his suckling infant lips watching him peacefully drink with a steadily slowing rhythm, as satisfaction replaced hunger. No sensation is quite like that of nursing a baby. Parenting books claim to inform the mother and father of what to expect. Yet, only a mother truly knows. As Mary nursed, her heart stood still and every cell in her body filled with gratitude, knowing her body nourished this child.

Earlier that night, Mary had sung a lullaby to Andrew and then had tip-toed out of his room hoping to get some rest herself. A few hours later, crying filled the night and worked its way into Mary’s dream. Eventually she realized the crying was not rising from her subconscious, but from down the hall. She had no choice but to get up; she and her husband had agreed nursing for the first several months was the best thing for Andrew. She stumbled out of bed and groggily made her way down the hall to her son’s bedroom. Opening the door, she tried to soothe him, “Shhhhhhh.”

She laid her hand on his small body lying in the white painted crib. She was grateful for her short stature, because had she been a bit taller her head would have knocked into the musical mobile. Starting music going at 1 am was not a good idea. Hoping Andrew would go back to sleep without having to be fed, she continued whispering, “Shhhh,” as her hand gently attempted to settle her child. Some babies stop feeding at night by three months, so it was possible. Not tonight.

His crying got louder, and she conceded to picking him up and brought him to the gliding rocker in the corner of the room. She had selected this corner for the chair because there were two tall windows, only two feet wide, where she could enjoy the view of their backyard and the tree line not more than twenty feet away. When she nursed, which felt like a full-time job, she looked outside and gently glided back and forth while spending precious time with her son.

It’s difficult to think of being woken at various times of the night as “precious;” fatigue tries to block the realization of how special these moments are. But as Mary sat there that night seeing the moon cast long shadows against the wall over the crib and feeling the pull upon her nipple as her body let-down the milk, her eyes watered over. She gazed lovingly at her child and cherished the sleepless night.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Battle of the Red Wine Headache (RWH)

“You need to start drinking,” a lactation consultant insisted during a home visit. I had been having trouble nursing my firstborn; the hospital had offered to send an expert over to provide advice about nursing a pre-mature infant. She determined that I was too uptight, and that’s why the milk wouldn’t flow.

“Won’t alcohol hurt the baby?” My fatigue-stricken eyes glanced nervously at my son.

“Just a glass or two of wine. I’m not telling you to get drunk.” Her voice held a care-free quality. “It’ll help both of you to relax.”

So, I started drinking; ‘doctor’s orders,’ I thought. It was my first drink in almost ten years, and I’m still enjoying red wine several times a week twenty years later. However, in the last year, occasional headaches follow my glass of relaxation.

A few days ago I attended a party. Food was everywhere: chocolate chip cookies, cheese balls covered in chopped nuts, tangy meatballs, corn chips, salami slices, and more. A variety of alcoholic beverages were offered as well. I sought out some red wine, staying true to the lactation consultant’s advice from twenty years ago. After searching three rooms, I found a sole unopened wine bottle off to the side of the hard liquor: rum, vodka, brandy, and gin.

It was too sweet for my palette, but at least it was red wine.

Several hours later, after I had returned home, my head began to throb as if water was sloshing around in my skull. Usually a red wine headache (RWH) dismisses itself within a couple of hours, but this time the pressure lasted well into the following day. Could it have been from cheap wine? Was it high in sulfites? My husband thought tannins might be the culprit.

After some research, I discovered sulfites impact less than 1% of the population. If you were sensitive to sulfites, you would experience more than a headache such as a rash or congestion.

As for tannins, responsible for wine’s astringent taste, they were unlikely to be the source of a headache unless you were to get headaches after drinking black tea as well – another beverage containing tannins.

Some folks blame histamines and tyramine (an amino acid formed during fermentation). However these are found in other foods such as smoked meat and aged cheese and thus an improbable origin.

Congeners, a toxic by-product of the fermentation process, might be the reason for nasty headaches after drinking red wine. Another possibility is where the wine was fermented: oak barrels or stainless steel tanks. While oak sounds romantic, retains color, and enhances flavor, it also releases compounds that the drinker might be sensitive to. However, stainless steel is not in the clear, because a vintner may use oak powder bags in the tanks.

As for cheap wine, taste tests repeatedly show no difference between cheap versus expensive wine, and resulting headaches vary based on the person not the cost.

In summary, an oenophile, inconvenienced by RWH must run a personal experiment to determine wines to enjoy and those to be avoided: notice the grape used, the area it was grown (some theories blame the soil for RWH), and the vineyard’s fermentation process.

This might sound like a time-consuming process just to have a glass of libations before dinner. Any daunting task goes easier with a glass of wine. Might I suggest a Qupé Syrah?











Friday, October 12, 2012

Writing and Our Need to Connect

I dance around the notion of writing without actually doing any.  I research blogs, portfolios, job types, and read books on writing and breaking into the business.  Yet, I do not write; I prepare to write.  Perhaps, I am scared of doing it. 

I have done some practice writings but feel the need for more focus.  Brenda Ueland and Natalie Goldberg, authors and teachers of writing, recommend “not thinking” in order to write.  While in theory this could open one’s mind to ideas lurking in the subconscious, I find by not thinking my writing declines and becomes mere blathers. 

I must think!  I am through with not thinking.  I need to share and be heard.  I yearn for connection with others.  To share ideas, learn together, and grow together.  I must share lest I collapse from lack of worth right this very moment! 

Lee Gutkind, founder and editor of Creative Nonfiction Magazine, speaks to this desire to connect through the written word, especially now:  population grows yet human contact lessens.  We go to the library or grocery store and can check out with a machine omitting the need to speak with another person or look someone in the eyes.  We shop online, never communicating with a living soul.  We text instead of meet for lunch.  20% of people, determined by a 2012 Reuter’s poll, work from home with no one to swap stories with during a coffee break.  Twenty-first century conveniences are driving us apart.  That lack of direct contact with others shows in Facebook’s growing popularity and tools such as Skype and Blogger.  We need to connect; we need to think; we need to share.

The question remains:  how?  Blogging provides one means. 

With that this blog emerges – a journey into the world of words guided by whims and experiences.  Hopefully, others will tag along and find new insights or perspectives and might be compelled to share their own ideas and viewpoints.  And who knows, we might actually have something fascinating to say.

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up by Lee Gutkind
If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland
Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg