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Why Tuesday?

The Girlfriend's Guide to Health will be updated every Tuesday.... Stay tuned dear readers and let me rock your world.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Who's New?

Can you smell it my dear girlfriends? As distinct as Chanel No.5, or apple scented deodorant, here it comes, like a boxing day sale in hell, the New Year. Make no mistake, I am a fan of rebirth (my closet is a testament to the very fact). And when it comes to change, I welcome it with an open mind and an AMEX card. Of course I will continue to embrace the new years as they come as long as the following conditions are met:

1. I can still call it “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s” and do not have to refer to Ryan Seacrest’s participation in said event in any way shape or form.

2. I am not subjected to an obligatory New Years Eve Party where the scrutiny and expectation of the evening forever outweigh the night’s enjoyment. But I maintain, I must be able to watch the BALL drop from wherever I decide to ring in the new year.

3. Real Champagne will always be provided, preferably pink. A sparkling wine substitute will just not do.

4. My outfit is my choice. This is the one night of the year where if I want to wear pajamas and a tiara, then by God I will. The occasion will not chose the attire- I will. (Those of you who do not understand this last statement, think about how you were- on picture day in grade school and you will now know what I mean) .

5. If I so chose, I am able to ring in the new year as any grown adult past the age of 35 should be allowed to; fast asleep in my bed, belly full, alcohol coursing its way through my veins as I sleep my way towards a morning hangover.

Having made my list and checked it twice, I continue to be baffled by inventories of another kind… the ever dreaded New Year’s Resolution. Truth be told, I hate New Year’s resolutions. Each year we spend a good month of valuable planning time (you know who you are and be frank you time would be better spent cleaning your bathroom) anticipating the person we would like to be in the future.

Make no mistake, as human beings, anticipation is truly a key to our happiness. I myself can wait for the 2010 Olympics, the Oscars, The Golden Globes and Fall’s Ready to Wear collections. But I realized long ago (probably around age 30) that planning for a change only delays it further.

Here’s what the evidence shows…

There is actually a study called the New Year’s Resolution experiment done in 2007 on 3000 people in the UK. This research shows that while 52% of participants in a resolution study were confident of success with their goals, only 12% actually achieved their goals. Men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, a system where small measurable goals are used (lose a pound a week, instead of saying "lose weight"), while women succeeded 10% more when they made their goals public and got support from their friends

Professor of psychology at Deakin University, Bob Cummins, says making New Year's resolutions helps us feel better about ourselves.

"One of the fundamental features of human beings is that we need to feel good about ourselves. It's a very, very strong need that we have," he said.

In fact, Professor Cummins says making a New Year's resolution is our way of seeking forgiveness and clearing our guilty consciences.

"The end of the year constitutes a kind of secular absolution that people earnestly say to themselves and their friends and their dear ones, 'I'm going to change'," he said.

"This turns them into not only a good person because they've got these good ideas, but it also makes them feel very good because they're absolved of their sins during the past year and they're not going to do these things any more.

"So in a way it's like an addiction in itself. People just must make these very ambitious personal claims of absolution at the end of each year."

And so, some years ago, I stopped it all. I refused to spend another year standing on ceremony willing the change to come. And my New Year’s Resolutions faded into oblivion as I decided to take on each day…

And so, today really is the day. Whether it is a ten pound weight loss or an exercise regimen; quitting smoking to embracing bargain shopping; from bad habits to bad dating… today is the day to get off “The Tomorrow Merri-go-Round”. I will not spend another year with resolutions to fill as empty as champagne flutes.

So my dear cyber sisters, my advice on this dawn of a decade and for all other new years to come is this… Be it resolved that we will live each day in a celebration and promise. I will think of you all as I done my tiara and my flannels and settle in for my date with Dick and his big crystal ball. And that is the best (and only) resolution I’ve made in a long time…..

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Small Town Dreams

Truth be told, I really am a small town girl. My Grandmother came from a tiny village somewhere in Poland, my mother was born in Esterhazy Saskatchewan and although my birthplace (Winnipeg, Manitoba) boasts a population of 600,000 it still would be considered by many as a relative village of sorts. In fact, my mother was born in Melville, Saskatchewan because when my grandmother went into labour, there nearest hospital was 100 kilometres away and so Melville was where she came into the world. I tell this story with nostalgia and pride at times and I venture into this small town world of thinking because here I sit on a snowy night in December in Trail, British Columbia, population 7000.

There is really not much to say about Trail. It is a sweet little town in the Kootenay (pronounced /ˈkuːtni/ KOOT-nee) mountain region of the Rockies, which according to Wikepidia and a sign in my hotel lobby comprises the southeastern portion of British Columbia. It takes its name from the Kootenay River, which in turn was named for the Ktunaxa (or Kootenai or Kutenai) First Nation first encountered by explorer David Thompson.

There is not a great deal to do in Trail as I have learned over the last 72 hours. From a sporting perspective, there is a great ski hill, several cross-country ski trails, and an aquatic centre. I have a cross country skiing lesson tomorrow with a man called Eric who was born and raised in these very mountains. It should prove to be a highlight of my holiday season. Entertainment-wise I have one movie theatre to chose from as so my movie choice is automatically made for me. There is a Wallmart and a Zellers should I chose to shop and finally and most severely, the nearest Starbuck's is 45 kilometres away.

I have met a dozen people who do not own televisions and an equal number who do not drink coffee. It has been, overall, an adventure. Needless to say, I am out of my element. So I could not help but wonder if small town folks have a lower mortality rate? Without all the stress and the shoe departments and caffeine highs would these folks in Trail be on to something?

Unfortunately, as I have found out.... Trail is not only lacking for television and good coffee...
According to Health Canada (the stats are from 1998- I love a good bureaucrat) 31% of this country lives in rural communities where the average distance to a family doctor is 25km away and the average distance to a specialist is over 60km away. I myself am here for the next 10 days on call in the Intensive Care unit because there is such a lack of medical care. Overall 200 people die every year in rural Canada from farming related accidents and large majority of the rural Canadian population is over the age of 60.

Yes I know I sound bitter and perhaps a bit outraged. I find myself raging against the machine for what we have done to ignore this country's "little people". And now it pisses me off that my grandmother had to drive 100 km to the next town holding it in because they did not have a local health care facility! No longer will I tell the story of my mother's birth with the same charm and nostalgia!

Since it's inception, I have tried not to use the Girlfriend's Guide to Health (GGTH) as political "soapbox". I wanted this sight to inform and entertain and to be a beacon of internet positivity in a sea of negative freaks and anger balls. I do apologize and I will try before Boxing Day (the holiest of holey days) not to be so negative but I will blame it on the fact that I have not had a decent coffee since last Thursday. I have gotten so desperate that I begged one of the ambulance attendants who lives in a neighbouring town to stop by the only Starbuck's for miles on her way into work today and pick me up a Venti mild just so I could face the dawn....

I know it is the holiday season and as the GGTH winds down for the year I find myself a bit nostalgic for the days when life was simpler. Yes, there are parts of this town where there is no cell reception. Yes, there are only two grocery stores and one dry cleaner. Yes, there is really only one hotel and it is 2 stars. But despite all of this and my cable and caffeine withdrawal... there is an uncomplicated kindness about this little rural place that is making me smile.... Perhaps it is because I have spent the last three days watching the entire first and second season of Friday Night Lights and I am bathing in a warm glow of small town wonders. Perhaps it is because it cost 5 cents to park for 15 minutes in downtown Trail and the metre takes nickles. Or, perhaps it is because the unit clerk in the Emergency Room thinks I am a superhero because I have real PRADA snow boots.

What I have found here that you don't see in the big cities can be summed up in the following story...
A man walked into the Emergency Room at the Trail hospital last night wearing only a pair of socks and holding his white fluffy Lhassa Apso (yes it was his actual dog and not a euphemism for his penis) on a leash. He was a schizophrenic from a neighbouring town who had been living up the mountain in his truck and had been off his medication for some time. It was 2 degrees celcius outside and he had taken his dog for a walk wearing nothing but sport socks and a smile. The nurses persuaded the man to stay the night and got him and his dog something to eat. He was given a hot shower, and a bed to sleep in and even though the hospital has a "no pets policy", the little fluffy ragga muffin slept with the man in the emergency room all night long. This morning, the Psychiatrist was consulted and the man was admitted to the Psych ward. His dog was allowed with him. The entire staff of the Emergency room took up a collection and sent someone out on their coffee break to buy dog food, chew toys, a water dish, pet shampoo and a flea collar.

After rounding on my patients in the ICU and admitting a woman with heart failure, I was given the honour of giving "Jake", the Lhaso Apso a bath. Instead of a Sunday afternoon filled with big city brunches and big city dreams, I spent a few hours in a Psychiatry Ward in a rural hospital in the middle of the mountains giving a white fluffy dog a much needed bath under the watchful eye of his owner. Both dog and owner were equally appreciative. I placed the community flea collar around the dog's neck and knew that this moment truly was one of the highlights of my career.

So despite the disparity between big city shoes and little town hospitals, tonight I proudly proclaim myself a rural kind of girl. For here is where I can not find a latte for love or money, but there is enough good will to get me through the longest of days.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Much Needed Rest

My dear Girlfriends.... working too hard these days as are many of my cyber sisters. Between training for a Half Iron Man, to updating my shoe closet to fighting H1N1, I am beat. As such, I am taking this week off and will be back next week with not one, but two fabulous posts. So as with the September Issue of British Vogue.... all good things come to those who wait... xo, az

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Truth be told, I am now an addict. I know what you are thinking and the subject of my addiction is not SHOES. Let us clear that up. Make no mistake, I have a rather extreme fondness for expensive footwear, but such a relationship can NOT be classified as an addiction for the pure reason, that one does need shoes to live.

No, my new found unhealthy relationship is to.... wait for it.... a video game. This may possibly be one of the signs of the Apocalypse and after seeing the movie 2012 this past weekend, I realize we don't have much time left. However, I honestly thought I would take a liking to prescription medication before a PlayStation 3 and so I was the first to be shocked and awed when a certain little video game called Ratchet and Clank became a part of my vocabulary and my personal belief system.

This relationship was in short, a whirlwind. We are not talking years of getting to know the game and then slowly making it a part of my life. No, I bought my husband a 52 inch television for his birthday based solely on the premise that:
1. He is a challenge to buy gifts for at the best of times and when I find something he wants.... I jump on it (from a retail perspective, of course)
2. Our new found and newly dear friend bullied me into a bigger television on the premise that my "pathetic" 36 inch television was an eyesore and an insult to the large wall it hung on. Apparently having a TV that is too big is like having too many shoes.... enough said.

And so the day the massive television appeared so did the PlayStation 3 and several video games. And in an event to not let this "black box" kill the fabulous relationship Jason and I had spent the last 15 years building, I decided it was high time for me to "break out" my inner "thumb-blaster" and grab the joy stickey thing and yes, play on

And so I slipped the game, Ratchet and Clank (let's be clear, I have been calling it Ratchet and Crank for the past two weeks and only yesterday did I learn its real name.... but like all drugs of choice, we often use euphemisms). The first thirty minutes seemed quite benign. I was a complete idiot at working the controls and felt (and still do) that lurching my body to either side of the couch would somehow will my character to jump higher, run faster or shoot farther. Let's be clear.... the last time I operated a "joystick" was during the Carter administration. It was a plastic stick on a black plastic box and if you wanted to go up, you pushed the stick up, left WAS left and right WAS right and so on. There was a little red button on the box that was considered your "fire power" and really that was it.

Operating the controller for the PS3 is more challenging than performing a colonoscopy. Trust me- I have learned to do both.... I would honestly say, (and no disrespect to my Gastroenterology colleagues) that maneuvering through an alternate PlayStation universe is more of a challenge than transversing the Sigmoid colon any day of the week. In fact.... I do think the guys at Sony may very well be on to something...

And so, ever a type A personality, I have spent the last two weeks of my life perfecting my joystick abilities. I do believe my right thumb will never quite be the same but thanks to Advil and perseverance my grip strength has improved considerably.

For those of you who like the "me of two weeks ago", have little experience in all things PlayStation, I will take you through the baby steps....

Firstly one needs a gamer name and mine of course was an obvious choice. I am ShoeGirl_Z and when I turn on the PS3 my screen is a lovely purple. I tell you this just in case you should be wandering in some alternate video game universe and come along my tag name.... please tell me to get off the damn game and get some real work done. I am slowly losing the self control to auto regulate....

The game in question, Ratchet and Clank (or Crank- call it what you want in the privacy of your own home) is about a pussycat and a robot who are friends. There is an evil villain and a labyrinth of space to traverse and various missions at every turn. I do believe I am doing the game little justice. The truth is, I leave the details of the story line of the game to my beloved, Jason, while I, just like shooting things.

Truth be told, I LOVE shooting things. I spent an entire day on the couch last weekend, pajamas unchanged, hair unwashed, shooting things. I have now had to set the oven timer on the stove to 60 minutes in order to restrict my shooting pleasure. I am officially allocating no more than one hour of cyber ass kicking per day in order that I may continue to function as a somewhat productive human being.

Make no mistake I am not begrudging my fellow blasters their healthy amount of thumb time, but after 3 hours my hands are killing me and I am up way past my bedtime....

I must admit, I thought that medicine would be very much against my video gamer alter ego. In fact, the evidence FOR game play is more abundant that against it. Video game play has been shown to increase hand- eye coordination and is now being used in the management of chronic pain, post stroke and the elderly. Make no mistake there is evidence to show that in children, video games may increase tendency to violence and contribute to a more sedentary lifestyle, but interestingly, video games provide children with more "activity" than just watching television. A wonderful editorial in the British Medical Journal by Dr. Mark Griffiths shows that,

"On balance, given that video game playing is highly prevalent among children and adolescents in industrialised countries, there is little evidence that moderate frequency of play has serious acute adverse effects from moderate play. Adverse effects, when they occur, tend to be relatively minor and temporary, resolving spontaneously with decreased frequency of play. More evidence is needed on excessive play and on defining what constitutes excess in the first place. There should also be long term studies of the course of video game addiction."

(BMJ 2005;331:122-123 (16 July), doi:10.1136/bmj.331.7509.12)

Until those studies come about, however, my own 60 minute rule applies. The oven timer now has a loftier purpose and order has once again been restored. Yes, My name is ShoeGal-Z and I am an addict. But like any healthy relationship, be it shoes, or wine, or chocolate, I have now established limits to keep me sane and for now... that will have to be enough.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Big O

Truth be told, I blame Oprah. I know she is a cultural icon, a hero and truly a life-force for many women all over the world, but Oprah, the WOMAN is killing me. She is quoted more readily these days than the Old and New Testaments combined. In fact I would argue that my patients respect and in fact solicit Oprah's medical opinion more often than they do mine. I am not trying to pull rank here, but do they teach medicine at broadcasting school?

Up until last week, Oprah and I had a pretty decent relationship. I respected her as a legitimate voice of the "post-menopausal" fifty somethings. She tried at times to speak to my generation as well but often lost me when she had shows about "working moms". In fact there were often times where I could even identify with Oprah. She had a weight problem, I had a weight problem. She had no kids; I had no kids. She liked expensive footwear, I like expensive footwear. She was a woman in a man's world and I could draw a similar parallel. IN fact when her dog died, I felt badly for her. I could count on one hand the times I have watched her show this year, but I never miss her "favorite things special" or her "post-Oscars debrief". In short, Oprah and I were okay. We were never going to hole up in some high rise penthouse in Chicago and talk about our connection to the universe but we did have a "live and let live" relationship.

Secretly I wished I had been a guest on her show or a member of her book club, but I could easily contain my feelings of misgivings and coexist long enough to watch one of her shows that promoted one of her movies based on one her books.

And then Oprah dropped the gauntlet and announced her retirement in 2012. It was then one of my patients, "Mrs. Smith" walked into my office and asked in desperation, "what am I going to do? Who will give me medical advice?". And it was in that moment that I broke up with Ms. Winfrey and promptly asked for my "stuff back".

I know we live in a world where there is just too much to process and I know that the media IS the message. I know that on some level it is the very Oprahs of the world who help many make sense of the planet. But did she really have to steal MY thunder? Could she not be content with her one of many homes in Hawaii or Chicago or Florida or New York or wherever? Did she not already have it all? Did she have to be a doctor as well? Here she was a cultural icon, a prophet even and now she was practicing medicine from the comfort of her own HARPO studio? She already was best friends with Barak Obama and Mary J. Blige. She had advised everyone from popes to presidents. Could I not have just one little "Mrs. Smith" of my own.

And so I smiled at "Mrs. Smith" and handed her a tissue amidst her grief for Oprah's impending "office closure". I reassured her that in the absence of the great and powerful Winfrey, I would try my best to scrounge my very little medical brain and measly 20 years of training and practice and do my best to give her MY opinion. And maybe, over time, the wounds would heal and I would just have to be enough of a doctor to make up for the Oprah version she was currently using... We will have to wait and see. After all, fortunately, like the Aztec calendar, we have another 2 years until the world and the Oprah Winfrey show ends, and maybe by then my patient will have found another set of TV land advisors to listen to in lieu of the live blooded human being sitting before her. One can only hope...