Feedback is not just for Hi-Fi Systems

Wanna tell me what you think? Email me at and I may just devote an entire entry to your comment.

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 24, 2013

Oh Holy Shit

Tis the seasons my sisters and nothing says Winter holidays like minus 40 degree Celsius. Yes, as I write this, I am in the coldest place on earth. I am working for the weekend in Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Fort Mac, as it is affectionately called is an interesting part of the world. A sweet little town born of the oil sands and mostly made up of young families a men from everywhere else in Canada who have come here for work.

I imagine that this is a bit of a modern day version of Gold Rush towns. If you are in need of a visual frame of reference, think HBO’s Deadwood meets The Wire. Yes, my sisters, I’ve been spending some time watching “boxed set” series…. A Zentner holiday tradition.

I should say that indeed, I thought I was brave to the cold. Afterall, I was a little girl on the prairies. Having been born and raised in Winnipeg, I was indeed the girl who walked to school in 4 feet of snow.

Prairie kids are tough as shit; made of  steel and the salt that rusts it. We are proud of the ice water that runs in our veins and eager to claim a new member to our tribe. We are born of mothers who send us out to play in unzipped parkas in minus 40 (minus 80 with the windchill) and tell us to come inside only when we REALLY can’t feel our faces. We grew up knowing that we came of strong, proud stuff. We shared the same hallowed snow banks as Joni Mitchell and Neil Young.

I continue to take pride in my prairie girl status. Somehow I knew it grounded me to the plains that “raised me good”. No matter where I would call home someday, I was a prairie girl and that was as solid as the ground beneath my feet.

So imagine my surprise when I stood outside the Air Canada airbus 8566 on the tarmac in Fort Mcmurray on Friday with the wind teaching me who was really in charge.

Was I dressed appropriately? Hell, yes. Did it matter? Fuck no. If you must know, I had on winter boots. Yes, gone were the heels. I was in those big unflattering winter monstrosities (fine… they were Prada, if you must know- I have not lost all civility) and a wool double layer winter coat. I had a hat, two scarves and a decent set of gloves. This was purely for show as nothing could have saved me.

Never mind that I had played in this weather for many a formative years. My years spent in the snow of the 1970’s and 1980’s was immaterial. For there, on that tarmac in Northern Alberta, I realized in an instant what I had become. Eight years on the west coast had undone years of prairie training…. I had grown soft. I had lost my edge. And as I waited for my Sky-check baggage to arrive (damn you Air Canada)- the minutes seemed like hours. My prairie girl pride slipped from my freezing gloved fingers as one thought ran through my brain…

“They should pay people for populating this area”.

Make no mistake. I love the north. The Northern lights are something one must see at least once in a lifetime. I love the uncomplicated kindness that one is afforded in any town across this great nation that does not take itself too seriously. Fort Mac is such a place. People often turn their noses up at the rural communities in this country.

They praise the likes of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. They feel sorry for Saskatchewan and the misunderstand the Maritimes entirely.

But if you look closely in the smallest places of this great nation you will find the wonderment that really does make this land a magical place.

Make no mistake- I did not find wonder in my first moments on the first day of winter at the 60 parallel. I received my rental car with a smile and an extension cord and instructions to “plug it in all the time, or it won’t start”.

And so my weekend adventure began. I split my time between the hospital and the hotel, grateful for “auto-start” and underground parking; a woman who does not own a car now spending hours worrying if this one would start.

After two days in a deep freeze, I have taken to running on the hotel treadmill and wearing leggings, cashmere sweaters and winter boots… everywhere. I was not taking off these boots for love or money. I was freezing and my prairie girl core was buried under a glacier. She was not coming out till the thaw. The mighty had fallen. I I missed my bike and my “fit bit” (more on this in a future post) was calling me names for being such a lazy shit.

Three days in minus 40 had reduced me to the human equivalent of a hibernating grizzly. I could not help but wonder what this kind of weather does to anyone calling places like this a permanent home.

Was there an adaptive process to this freezing pain or does it indeed get the best of us all?

According to the Canadian Death Survey from Stats Canada, (2006) there is indeed an increase in death rates in winter months in this country. An average of 656 Canadians died daily in January compared with 546 daily in August. What’s even more interesting is that this phenomenon also applies to the USA, Australia and New Zealand. Does temperature have something to do with it? Sure enough… it’s only a small factor.

One theory is that winter months do indeed place an extra stress on body physiology. The theory is that the cold adds added physiological factor on a body’s usual functioning. Other factors to consider are what tend to do in winter months. Many of us are far more sedentary and we then only get active when we need to shovel snow. We fall more in winter and break things and well… you get the picture.

But some of this does not explain the fact that this phenomenon is even present in warmer states and countries. Sure this might be the case for Northern Alberta, but Florida? What about Florida?

Yes, my sisters- I could ponder this all day long. Perhaps subtle temperature changes are indeed the issue, perhaps it’s a post Christmas hangover… perhaps January is just a good month to die. Sometimes a pattern is just a pattern… sometimes it mean so much more.

All I know is that I spent the weekend in the ice age and lived to tell about it. My hard-hearted prairie girl is a bit of a wimp and I hate driving cars- especially ones that need to be plugged in.

Sure, I learned that the freezing cold on the tarmac in Fort Mac won’t indeed be the death of me any more than my winters spent playing in a prairie winter with my parka undone.

But on Tuesday as you read this- think of me back in Vanlover running the seawall in the rain, blissful once more on a winter day that I can indeed handle.

I am weak my sisters but I am all yours. Merry and Happy sweet girlfriends of mine…. Bundle up, wherever you are… it’s cold out there. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Just in Time

Forgive me dear sisters if the following dwells a little too much in the heart and not enough in the head. But I’ve been thinking lately about the steps we take in this world and how all too often we live less in the moment and more in a future that may or may not be.

Let me explain.

10 days ago I did the Honolulu Marathon. Yes, insert cheer here.

This was my fourth marathon to be exact but I am not one to keep score. Indeed however, it was the first marathon that I have ever WALKED. Yes, my girlfriends, I’ve ran marathons before. Indeed I RAN the Honolulu Marathon last year. But this year, I walked it…. All 42.2km of it.

Am I injured you ask? Did I have a bad race? No, none of the above. I am injury free and the race was indeed glorious.

You see 18 months ago I started a walking group for my patients. Every Tuesday and Thursday we meet in my office after work and we walk the seawall in West Vancouver. Rain or shine we huddle up and soldier on. At first it began as a means for people to meet with their doctor and ask any question they wanted. They would come for the “doc talk” and stay for the walk so to speak. But over the year and a half it has grown into a community of its own.

Each night these brave souls come one and come all with or without me

Ah, what can I say about my Seaside Walkers?

They have become a group in and unto themselves. For the last 18 months we have seen members come and go. We have many faithful each night and many a “drop in”. But overall- these people are a community where fitness is king and the rest of the world’s troubles fall away if only for an hour.

This is a group of people who have come together by chance and are now bonded together by a common sense of friendship and a pursuit for better health. 

I know you think I am being a romantic about all this- but they really are remarkable.

I’ve learned a lot in my almost 20 years in medicine. Yes, Its been almost 2 decades since I stepped foot into my first medical school class (and thanks to my fabulous dermatologist – it only seems like 1 decade). I’ve learned a lot in that time- about the science of the human body in sickness and in health. I’ve learned about the bravery of the human spirit and the importance of maintaining one’s own connection to the human condition.

Some may say that walking with patients is not very “doctorly”. I could not disagree more. Truth be told, when it first began I was a bit unsettled. I was unsure if I could maintain a sense of professionalism while “out and about” on a seawall and not in an office.

But indeed my fears fell away as the weeks went on and I watched my walkers, those brave and fabulous souls grow stronger and faster before my eyes.

Truth be told- nothing makes me feel MORE effective as a physician than those moments on the sea wall.

That is until I crossed a finish line with a patient.

She indeed gave me permission to share a bit of our adventure as it went down, two Sundays ago on a perfect day in Honolulu.

The weather was a glorious 28 degrees celcius. We met in the lobby of the hotel at 4am, I was half asleep and drinking a coffee she was excited and a bit nervous.

My patient’s name is Elizabeth (no I’m not using her real name, duh) and she is a superhero. Now 70 pounds lighter since the day I met her two years ago, she has trained for this moment for the last 10 months. She has walked countless hours and given up months worth of Sundays all in pursuit of this goal. She has logged anywhere between 30 km/week to 70km per week all in pursuit of a dream.

And on Sunday, December 8, 2013, the dream became a reality. No matter that she was nervous. I knew she would be glorious. 

She wonders in the lobby if she has what it takes. Will all that she has trained and prepared for be enough? Will the heat get the best of her? Will she finish strong?

I don’t let a doubt enter my mind. Not because it is 4 am and my coffee has not kicked in but because I have seen what determination and resilience looks like and it bears an uncanny resemblance to Elizabeth.

We head towards the start line and find our place among the 30,000 people. The energy is amazing and the gun goes off. Our race has begun. Not a race against time- but a race of the human spirit.

We start out strong and she is a beast. We are making amazing time. We had hoped to finish at 8 hours and I check my watch after the first 10km to find that we are on track for 7:30. Elizabeth takes the hills like they are flat land. I am having to pick up my pace to keep up with her.

I give instructions at each water station on how much water and Gatorade to drink and she follows like a trouper. This is a woman on a mission with a quiet grace in a quest for glory. 

The miles fall away as do the hours. 

We talk about the weather, our stay thus far. I ask periodically how she is feeling asking her to assign a number between 1 and 10 as to how "full is the tank"; how much energy she has. we check in from time to time but mostly we just walk. I play my music on my playlist on little speakers to motivate her and move her on. 

At 35km she shows signs of wear. There is fatigue in her step but determination on her face. When I ask her how she is, she smiles and tell me “tired, I want this over. Let’s go”.

We round out 41km as we make our way into Kapaioloni Park. The finish line is now one long stretch of road ahead- and we can see it in the distance.

We begin the 900 metres or so long walk home and I start to cry. Yes, me.

And then as if on cue, Elizabeth turns to me and says,
“Oh get it together Zentner, Let’s go.”

And so we do. As we walk across the finish line I grab my patients hand and raise it in triumph. They announce her name and I look at my watch 8:03:23. We are just 3 minutes off our goal time. Considering we stopped to pee twice, (Too much information?) that’s pretty much a goal met.

I lead my weary soldier past the finish line where I place a finishers medal around her neck. She gives me a hug and begins to cry.

I have spent many nights sitting at patients’ bedsides in hospitals across this country. I have slept in ICU’s more nights than I can count worried for the safety of my patients. I have spoken the best and the worst news a person can say to another. I have relieved pain and caused it. I have uttered thing to patients that could make their day or ruin their lives.

I am very aware at how fortunate I am do be THIS close to the human experience every day.

I often worry about how my patients will do in the future. I wonder about the ones who have made such amazing changes in their own lives; those who have lost weight, found fitness, or fought a disease and won. How will their futures play out? Will they continue to be healthy? Will all the effort be for not?

On that glorious Sunday in December, I placed a medal around a very brave lady’s neck and the worry for the future was banished. For in that moment I was the best doctor I could be. In those 8 hours I learned that sometimes in life, as in medicine, it is indeed about THIS moment, right hear and right now.

We can not fix everything in this world. There are sometimes when the disease is too great and the will is just not willing. I think I’m a pretty good doctor, most days. I try my best, I really do care more than enough. I hope beyond all things that I don’t do any harm and that the benefit of everything will outweigh the risk; the good outweigh the bad.

But there is no better day than the one where as a doctor a patient inspires you with their grace and their courage; Whether it’s a bedside or a finish line.

Last week I stepped out of the doctor’s office and onto a marathon course to escort a patient across 42.2km to glory.

For in those hours I learned that medicine comes in all forms and life is not about the breaths you take…. It’s how you breathe. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I know, I'm late... I suck. Best we all learn to live with a bit of disappointment. Sorry my sisters.... the day got away with me. Promise to be up and brilliant in the next 48 hours.....

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Do They Know It's Christmas?

Merry and happy dear girlfriends and welcome to the most stressful time of the year. Make no mistake, my cybersisters… I do love me a good retail festival but even I lately have found myself avoiding the shops as if they were a small screaming child. (sorry, I don’t like screaming children- on further thought- I don’t like screaming anything- unless there is a PRADA sale and then- well who can’t help themselves.)

The past few weeks have gotten me asking myself, who but bitchy in the water? No one holds doors open for anyone any more. Walking down Robson street lately is like playing a real life version of retail WHACK A MOLE where people come at you with parcels and packages and you have to avoid being hit by them regularly.

Yes, I know Christmas is an emotional hardship of a holiday. Shopping is polarizing sport. People love it or hate it. That coupled with the judgments of families and friends. It’s a challenging time. Who wants to defend their life choices at a table full of family members for hours on end?

I’m not being a Grinch when I say that perhaps we could tone down the nasty for the next few days? I know we live in a materialistic society- and I’m not suggesting we turn it around- hell I love my closet; but can’t we all, I don’t now… just get along?

Do you remember when we were little and times were so much simpler? Your handbag HAD to match your shoes and your nail polish HAD to match your lipstick. “Please” and “Thank-You” were a given and people were always happy around the holidays. Life was simpler, air was cleaner, and people were nicer, no?

Maybe I just remember it that way. I remember being mesmerized by Charlie Brown Christmas Specials and big trees in malls. I remember how the days always had a little bit more sparkle around their edges. We never celebrated Christmas (and no Hanukah really is not the same) but as an outsider looking in I always thought December was a special time where people seemed more hopeful, and quite frankly… nicer.

Was I just a victim of the marketing ads? Was there really no PEACE ON EARTH, no GOOD WILL TOWARDS MEN? I never paused to ask my parents if the times in fact have changed. Maybe it’s just that I’ve grown up and grown a bit cynical. Maybe times in deed were as stressful back then as they are now it is just that I no longer have Charlie Brown to keep me hopeful?

Magazines everywhere talk about the “Christmas Depression” and how the holidays are more stressful and people more likely to have mood disorders and even suicides around this time of year. My VOGUE magazine had always been a source of knowledge but could it finally be speaking my medical language as well? Was CHRISTMAS DEPRESSION in fact a true disease? I wondered....

If in fact this were true than perhaps I was being too hard on my fellow shoppers. They were bitchy for a reason! They had Christmas depression? Mankind was in peril trying to find the perfect sweater set/iPod/perfume gift set for their loved one.

And then I went in search of a real scientific answer.

According to an article published in the JAMA in 1982- this idea of CHRISTMAS DEPRESSION is scientific bullshit. Although anecdotal notions are all about us suggesting that the stress of the holidays impacts peoples' mental well being, the science just does not back it up. There is no such thing in the medical literature as CHRISTMAS DEPRESSION. There is in fact a CHRISTMAS DISEASE but this is a form of hemophilia that has nothing to do with the holiday itself.

Several meta-analysis show that hospital admissions and suicides around this time of year are actually down. Less people visit Emergency rooms and doctors offices around this time of year. Sure you could say that they are all too busy but in my experience as a physician diseases don’t usually wait for you to get your “to do” lists in order before they rear their ugly heads.

Interestingly hospital admissions dramatically climb AFTER the holidays either suggesting that all the self indulgence over Christmas eventually catches up with us or in fact that people now have “the time” to be sick. Not really sure how to navigate that one my girlfriends but I will leave it to you to ponder.

Make no mistake- I do love me a good festive time. But medically speaking there’s no reason to be bitchy especially when gifts are involved. So on this holiday of holidays I say let's just all take it down a notch my sisters… pour yourselves a glass of mulled wine, settle down and let the joy begin.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Breaking Bread

(I stole this Photo from Mike Bickerton - he's a creative genius)

It has come to my attention sweet sisters of mercy that the war on gluten is upon us. It started off slow, insidious almost. First there was a shelf at the supermarket, then a small area in the frozen food section. Slowly but surely gluten free items were popping up all around the world.

The world (well, the New World- North America seems to be hardest hit) is now officially GLUTEN SENSITIVE.

A recent poll of Americans shows that 30% are afraid of gluten. Seventy percent are afraid of public speaking and 60% are afraid of death. This of course brings a whole new thought to the bagels and shmear served at funerals these days.

Let's be clear... I'm not a hater. I love gluten; and by gluten I mean bread, pasta, all of it. Anytime you take a wheat kernel and turn it into something magical, I'm a fan.

I must admit that when this whole "Gluten sensitivity" experience descended upon us, I was indeed a skeptic. How could something that had literally been a part of civilizations "daily bread" be Satan? Was it not just a fad? Gwenyth (Paltrow) went gluten free so should the masses follow? To be clear, girlfriend names her kid Apple.... her judgement is questionable.

But could 30% of American be wrong? Sure they had some lapse in judgements in the past (George Bush?) but when 1/3 of a nation cites a food sensitivity I stand up and take notice.

And so like any good cybersister.... I went searching for the science behind our culture's fear of all things pizza dough.

Gluten, my sisters is indeed Latin for "glue". It is composed of two proteins Glutenin and Gliadin and when you combine these two proteins together and with water you get something truly magical. I should say, I'm a woman who loves to make bread. I love the tactile experience of kneading the bread and watching it become smoother and springier in my hands. This very act is indeed gluten in action. Mix flour and yeast with sugar and water and sure enough you activate the proteins in the granules- Gliadin and Glutenin which come together to form gluten. The yeast ferments to form carbon dioxide which aerates the dough. The dough rises and when you bake it these bubbles expand even further and stiffen. When the bread is fully baked, the bubbles stiffen and the starch solidifies. Gluten keeps these bubbles intact as air pockets in the dough. Without it they would flatten and just dissipate (insert sad face here).

As beautiful as gluten is- it has an ugly side. On the extreme side there is celiac disease. This is a disorder that has a significant genetic predisposition. Celiac is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system of the small intestine reacts to gluten. As a results the immune system indeed attacks the small intestine causing erosion of the lining over time. Symptoms of celiac include abdominal bloating, pain, diarrhea. Other systems can also be involved in celiac. Patients can experience skin rashes and irritations and even neurological involvement.

Patients with celiac indeed have autoantibodies towards gluten that can be measured. They also have genetic markers of celiac. These can be measured by one or more blood tests.

Howvere, only 1% of the population in North America suffers from celiac.

So what's with all the gluten sensitivity? Well here's where the lines indeed blur. The scientific literature has well documented cases of patitents with gluten sensitivity. These are patients who lack the autoimmune component of celiac but who have significant symptoms ranging from malabsoprtion to abdominal pain to memory dysfuction when eating gluten. In other words- there really is no blood test for these patients. They do however report a wide variety of symptoms that respond when gluten is taken out of their diets.

I'm not disputing the existence of gluten sensitivity.

What about gluten free for weight loss? This one is a tough one, my sisters. Studies actually show that patients who are diagnosed with celiac often gain weight after switching to gluten free diets.

A study published in 2012 looked at weight gain in 1018 patients with documented celiac. The study showed that 30% of the patients were overweight or obese (less than nonceliac patietns). After switching to a gluten free diet patients gained a significant amount of weight (4kg on average). This is thought to be due to the fact that celiac patients on gluten suffer from malabsorption and after switching to a gluten free diet, their gut heals and absorption improves.

In real life people who do not have a gluten sensitivity who go off gluten have variations in their weight. This depends not so much on whether they give up gluten products but indeed what they replace them with. If you give up cookies for gluten free cookies- we have a problem If you give up gluten for vegetables and fruit.... bingo. Weight loss.

Sweet sisters... clearly this topic is a complex one. I suspect there be many a post in the future about this bread of affliction.

TO some it up as any good sister should?

Steering clear of gluten won't kill anyone. It;'s actually not that difficult. meat, fish, chicken and seafood are all gluten free. Vegetable and fruits are all gluten free as are milk, cream anything you can make from them (cheese glorious cheese).

Benign grains such as quinoa and corn and rice are gluten free. Chickpeas, amaranth and soy are all gluten free. Hell, check the Internet my sisters.... the web is full of all rules gluten.

Are you indeed gluten sensitive? Yes? No? Maybe so. Celiac is real and then there is this medical grey area called gluten sensitivity that I would argue the medical community will take years to figure out..... in the meantime my sisters? Eat bread or abstain. Take your pick and pick your side. Should you come to my house you may not want to partake in my home made bread or award winning pies.... but I promise to win you over with my stunning conversation and impeccable table manners.

I Am a Doctor.... I don't play one on TV

I graduated from medical school in 1996. The television show E.R. had been on the air for more than two years. IN fact I can remember my medical school class convening on a local pub in September of 1994 to watch this "brand new MEDICAL show"!! The show would speak to us. The show would guide us to through the maze of future inadequacies and insecurities and emotional landmines that would lay ahead. When we were feeling sad and lonely and just not good enough, NBC and the cast of ER would help us make it through.

And so we huddled around the pub television in Hamilton, Ontario and awaited our prime time salvation. Fortunately he appeared as he did every Thursday for years after in the form of George Clooney. Now, I have been in medicine since 1993 and it is safe to say that there are thousands of doctors nurses, pharmacists and support staff who have come into my life. It is safe to say that there has only been one George Clooney and we have yet to meet.

In fact I mean no disrespect to any of my medical colleagues past, present or future when I claim that no one in medicine looks like George Clooney. Now one could make an argument that things have changed in the television hospitals since the 1990's.

Let's take Grey's Anatomy for example. It is a show on ABC about surgical residents in a Seattle hospital. Examine the evidence please.... Meredith Grey is a babe. Lexi Grey is a hottie and Christina Yang has phenomenal hair. They are all surgical residents at Seattle Grace hospital with impeccable skin and all the right answers. They have a ton of friends and all get along famously. They drink like functional alcoholics and look remarkably fresh and stunning after 36 hours of sleepless call. One of the show's male leads could easily be considered the George Clooney of the 21st century. Dr. Derek Sheppard aka Dr. McDreamy is played by Patrick Dempsey.

The closest I have ever been to someone of Patrick Dempsey's hot-ness in any academic setting is that I had a tiger beat poster of him up in my junior high locker in 1983. Enough said.

I am not saying that doctors are not a good looking group of professional. Okay, I am. No seriously, it makes perfect sense that there must be some division of talent. Intelligent quotients of 140 and above do not usually come in genetically gorgeous packages. As a rule, God, or Buddha or Alla or whoever DIVIDES. Great skin; bad hair. Big eyes; big thighs. Big brain; small boobs. Nobel Prize winner for Medicine and a runway model..... not likely. The world works better when we all are allotted a certain amount of fabulous and are not too greedy in this regard. Well, at least MY world.

The other day, my dear friend emailed me that he is 3/4 of the way through season one of Nurse Jackie, a cable television show starring Edie Falco about an Emergency room nurse addicted to bad choices and Percodan. I find the show amusing and a revelation in character studies. He is finding it a bit too unbelievable and frustrating. In Nurse Jackie there is a character called Dr. O'Hara who is played by Eve Best. She is brash and stylish and I suspect her role in the show is to be a reality anchor for the lead character as well as a bit of comic relief. Dr. O'Hara wears Manolo Blahniks and has no verbal filter. She is enraged when blood spills on her $500 dollar shoes. In TV speak... her character is brilliant. Yes her footwear is fabulous, even in an Emergency setting, she smokes too much, drinks too much and her bedside manner is crap. In the real world, she is not the doctor I want to be.

So when my dear friend tells me that I remind him of Dr. O'Hara, I can't help but put up my defenses and say..... "It's the shoes". On the one hand, I should be somewhat flattered that I am compared to a woman of gumption and style who wears chanel nail polish beneath her latex gloves and can swim with the sharks in Prada Scuba wear so to speak. But on the other hand was I being reduced to a single image in a cable TV show? Was my entire career a parallel to a character on Showtime? Was it just a number game where 12 years of school and 10 years of practice been reduced to 13 episodes so easily?

And then it hit me. When people ask me what kind of doctor I am, I tell them,
"I'm a specialist in Internal medicine"
"what's that?" They say.
"You know the show HOUSE?"
"Yes. "
"He's in Internal Medicine"

And for some reason that does it. No I am not a crotchety, damaged, lonely man with a fondness for Vicodin. okay, maybe damaged, but the rest.... no resemblance what so ever! It was then that I realized that television is our reference library for life. It allows us to get the headlines without delving into details. Of course if Life really is in the Details.... then as far as my Sony goes... I am missing out.

Research argues that glamorizing the profession on medical dramas is a contributing factor to increases in applications to medical resident programs, which increased from 4% in 1994 (the year ER began) to 5.2% in 1997 According to one study published in 1998 by Dr. M. O'Connor in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In essence, O'Connor argued that students watching weekly episodes of ER over 4 years is comparable to a medical student's time spent in a typical emergency medicine rotation. Taking into account television depictions of physicians along with physicians' and public perceptions of physicians, a similar study found that television portrayals and public perceptions of doctors' interpersonal style and physical attractiveness were more favorable than physician perceptions. Interestingly, network television depictions and public perceptions toward doctors' character and power were more negative than physician perceptions. These studies suggest that viewing medical dramas can impact perceptions.

And so like it or not, we all reach for archetypes. My lawyer friends have Law and Order to contend with. My Chef friends have Top Chef. Housewives have Desperate Housewives. Canadians have Corner Gas and we all have Sex and the City. My accountant has no show. Are these accurate comparisons of the lives that we lead and the jobs that we do or are they a sexy, compelling "sum-up-manship" that fails to capture our true vocational essence? I submit the latter but know that despite my protests I can thank all things Prime Time for at least some of the misperceptions the public holds when it comes to the nature of my work.

Let's clear it up people here and now. Medicine is not sexy. My graduating class was of average looks. I have yet to meet a doctor who looks like Eric Dane or Patrick Dempsey or George Clooney. We do NOT have sex in call rooms and I have never seen the boiler room of any hospital I have worked in. And after a long day of saving life after life after life every 15 to 20 seconds,we do not crowd into the same bar where everyone knows us to drink into the wee hours of the night.

The truth? Yah, it's hard work, yes people die. Yes, some of us are jerks and other try their best not to be. Yes, we make mistakes and yes sometimes we do not clean up after them. It's lonely and long and somewhat isolating but the value of the work is there and undeniably there is a commitment that can not be measured.

As for me? My hair could easily rival Dr. Christina Yangs and I do not have her stylist. I look like hell in scrubs and never wear a white coat (not my colour). I don't have nearly the friends in medicine as they do in Grey's Anatomy. I like my job, but I love my life outside of it more.

I'd like to think I am as honest as Dr. O'Hara but that my bedside manner is far superior. I try to treat each patient I see with kindness and respect, regardless of the hour. And as for my shoes? Blood stained or not... they are in a word.... fabulous

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How Does God Take Her Coffee?

Here is a thought… Wouldn’t more people attend church/synagogue/mosque regularly if their local house of worship served coffee? There I was in a card carrying agnostic sitting in a synagogue last Saturday morning. It was 9:45 in the morning and brunch was nowhere in sight. My mother stood up on the “bima” (the stage) where she was being honoured in front of her community for celebrating her 70th birthday. The rabbi was saying some lovely words about this woman of valour and all I could think of was “why can’t I drink a coffee in here?” Wouldn’t religion be much better served if they had a little late cart just outside by the prayer books and skullcaps? You could help yourself or even order up the perfect Americano... all while you sat in a lovely comfy pew. While worshiping the God of your choice can't you drink from the nectar of another?

Admit it, the thought is somewhat unconventional, perhaps even disquieting but quite frankly I AM ON TO SOMETHING. In fact, I think the problem with prayer is their marketing. Bookshops have adopted cafes, as have movie theatres, airports and luxury retail outlets; should churches be far behind? You can have your late while you buy your Louboutins. Why not mix a macchiato with Mass or Musaf or Mosque?

All this sitting in a house of worship made me wonder about the scientific evidence was for prayer. Now let us pause for a moment, as I understand that I am now entering the unholiest of unholy. I am about to find scientific evidence to support or refute FAITH. I am aware that by definition FAITH does not need science, in fact it is by its very nature a pure leap away from scientific dogma. By our very beings that which we cannot prove, we believe. This is my disclaimer should I be banished to hell for writing this or worse… should my mother be reading my blog.

According to the scientific data there are three different types of studies involving prayer. The first is known as first person prayer, where one prays for oneself. It is widely accepted that prayer can aid in recovery, not due to divine influence but due to psychological and physical benefits. Many studies have suggested that prayer can reduce physical stress, regardless of the god or gods a person prays to, and this may be true for many worldly reasons. A study published in Gerontology in 2001 looked at 256 patients aged 65 and over awaiting cardiac surgery. The study prospectively examined outcomes post surgery and one of the variables they looked at we if the patients prayed for themselves. Although there was no correlate with outcomes, patients who prayed were deemed to be more optimistic going into surgery.

The second type of prayer is when someone prays over you (think “DEMON BE GONE!!”) in a sort of “heeling hands” type of method. A 2005 study published by The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine alleges evidence that eleven healers sent thoughts at a distance and were able to remotely influence the MRI-measurable brain activity in chosen partners who were physically and electrically isolated. Unfortunately this study has never been reproduced.

The third type of prayer studied is the most common and is called Third Party Prayer. This is where people pray for another person’s well being. Regardless of religious denomination, everyone has this. From Catholics to Buddhist, from Mormon Prayer circles to Mecca we all have some way to hope for someone’s well being. Even the best atheist among us has hope for her fellow sister’s health and welfare. Third party prayer has evidence on both sides.

The largest trial to look at Third Party prayer was The STEP trial (Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer in patients undergoing coronary Bypass Grafting) published in the American heart Journal in April 2006. The study involved over 1800 patients having Coronary Bypass Surgery and randomized them into three groups.
Groups one were patients who were being prayed for by others but the patients were told that there was no certainty that they were being prayed for.

Yes, doctors are assholes.

Group two were patients who were NOT being prayed for by others and were told that there was no certainty that they would be prayed for.

Group three were patients who WERE being prayed for and were told that they WOULD be prayed for.
In other words, the study looked at both the power of prayer and the power of knowing if you were being prayed for.

Unfortunately, the group that were prayed for and were told as such did the worst in terms of 30-day mortality and complications. In terms of any kind of complications anything from an infection to death the rates were 52.5% for group 1, 50.9% for group 2 and 58.6% for group 3.

The study showed that prayer itself had no effect on whether complications occurred after bypass surgery. Furthermore patients who were certain that people would pray for them had a higher rate of complications than patients who were uncertain but did receive prayer.

Yah, Science sucks.

But my dear girlfriends, ever the optimist (I have to be…. Skinny jeans are back in style) I will leave you with one thought….

In 15 years in medicine I have seen two patients literally come back from death after receiving “last rights”. One was on Christmas Eve 2002; the other time was Easter 2010. On this last occasion, I had told the family that their loved one had a catastrophic stroke and would never recover. The CAT scan confirmed my worse belief and the patient was in a comma. His family prepared for their ultimate nightmare and the priest came in and administered last rights.

Two hours later while we were moving the man to the bed in the ICU he woke up and asked for a drink of water. Hand to heaven… no word of a lie.

Make no mistake, I’m as good a cynic as the best of them, but both of those occasions made me believe for a fraction of a second; not in a god with a name… but in something more than science and myself.

Now if only I could get a good latte in a house of worship I might REALLY join the flock…

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

You Make it a Marathon

I know my sisters. I have been remiss. I have let my duties slack and for that I am truly sorry. I blame my right hip. You see I had the best intentions last week of filling the interweb with stories of my New York state of mind but indeed the pain and the recovery got the best of me.

Good news? I am indeed human after all.

Allow me to elaborate.

As I write this Ladies and gentlemen, let it be known, I am nursing my right hip. Not the joint itself but more the muscles and tendons that keep it together. I am sitting in the lobby of some fabulous hotel in my pajamas with an ice back under my right ass cheek so as to elevate it to a point where I can sit still for 2 hours straight and be witty and amusing with words.

Yes dear friends, on Sunday November 3 I crossed the finish line in central park and put a year of longing to bed. I finished the NYC marathon. I had run the dream. I had faced my demons and slapped the shit out of them.

Swiftly with a smile on my face and tears in my eyes I crossed the line, got my medal and 5 minutes later my ass froze. I know this sounds rather dramatic (what me? Dramatic?) But yes indeed my butt went into spasm and it has not let up since.

Ever a warrior I soldiered on. I hobbled to my hotel with medal in tow, poncho on my shoulders smiling to the masses passing by. I was a marathoner, ass be damned.

My race was perfection. The 5 boroughs indeed did deliver as promised. From Staten Island to Manhattan with Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx in between I ran for glory in what could easily have been the largest parade of my life. For 26.2 miles crowds filled the streets and cheered me (and 50,000 of my closest running friends) on. Indeed, I WAS a parade.

The crowds were incredible. Three deep lining the streets with signs, music, high fives and love. There was no end to this street party. For the first 16 miles I had forgotten that indeed I was running. I soaked in the love and one foot magically followed another.

Where else in the world do you spend the day having complete strangers scream your name with adoration and encouragement. I could not help but wonder what it would be like to go to work every day with the same kind of sentiment.

This indeed must be the way it is for many professional athletes. They get up in the morning and go to work only to have thousands cheering their glory. An Olympian enters the stadium to the roar of the crowd. A Pro-football player calls for quiet to the screaming fans so he can complete his superbowl play.

I ran down 1st avenue with thousands of New Yorkers yelling my name and screaming “You got this, Ali”.

And indeed I did.

I could not help but wonder what this kind of enthusiastic encouragement can do to one’s performance?

I have long maintained in work and in life that people respond so well to kindness.

What kind of day would you have at work if while getting into your car you were greeted by a team of random strangers telling you to have a great day and “you got this.”?

Would I be a better doctor if after every patient, the occupants of my waiting room stood up and cheered?

How would my day begin or end differently if on my ride to work in the morning the bike paths in Stanley Park were lined with random strangers cheering me on?

Could this kind of idea spill over into every task we do? Would I cook better with a cheering section in my kitchen? Would I shop for Canada with a crowd of sisters in the shoe department letting me know that when it came to buying those Manolos I was indeed a superhero?

Yes, I realize that is a bit of a stretch. My cooking is not bad, but when it comes to shoe shopping I am Wonderwoman…. No help needed.

It’s a crazy idea but indeed one to ponder on this Tuesday as the ice and ibuprofen take their effect.

I have not run for 9 days and will likely need another week before my right hip heals completely and gives up the ghost of its glory.

But amidst the pain of this injury I remember the moments- and there were many- of the kindness of strangers who stood on the streets of New York with noisemakers and coffee, signs and bottles of beer all to usher praise and support to 50,000 weary souls with dreams of their own and an inner battle to rage.

Running a marathon is such a personal crusade. Whether you are first across the finish or last to complete 26.2 miles indeed shows you who you are. Each marathoner has a unique and challenging experience regardless of their time. And in the end, win or lose we all realize the sum of our standard and the quality of our character along the way. A marathon is not so much a race but a metaphor for life.

And so in that metaphor I pause to wonder what our lives would be like if along the miles of road ahead of us we had a packed house or even a few sporadic cheerleaders letting us know that we indeed were seen; that our race had value and that in the end the race, win or lose would be glorious.

No evidence this week my sisters- I blame the injury. It has impaired my ability to search for the science behind my blogging ways. Instead, here I sit with ice and ibuprofen safe in the knowledge that I am made of decent stuff. But even safer in the knowledge that in a world filled with unrest there is hope among the strife; there are pockets of light amidst the darkness.

People do indeed respond to kindness and in turn our civilization has its great moments. If you ever doubt the wealth of the human spirit…. Go stand along the route of the marathon and cheer along with the masses. Take a moment and lend your voice to the song that fuels humanity. I promise it will feel your soul. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sorry sweet sisters but I'm nursing a sore hip and a marathon hangover.... give me 24 hours and I promise to blow your mind..... stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Will Run for Shoes

Big week this week my girlfriends. I am counting down for glory as they say. No Barneys is not having an early bird sale, but yes I am off to Manhattan and many, many outfits must be worn.

As some of my sisters know (yes I have been rather vocal.... me? you say? A loud mouth? Heavens no)  come this Sunday, I and 50,000 of my closest friends will be running the ING New York Marathon.

Yes my girlfriends 42.2 kilometres stretched out before me, all five boroughs of New York and off I will race for glory.

Big love to my running coach, whose arms shall remain nameless (you know who you are, Kristina) and an equal debt of gratitude to my personal trainer, Mr. V. for tolerating my endless, breathless chatter, excuses and yes, witty profanity over the last few months from the confines of the gym while we prepared this object (who really prefers to stay at rest) for motion.

I should tell my sisters- that although I have later in life become somewhat of a fitness fan, I was not always a person who liked to get her heart rate passed 100. Yes, my sisters- I would say that for most of my life I was somewhat of a lazy pants. (FYI- "LazyPants would be a great name for a fashion line- you heard it here first)

Allow me to explain.

When I was a kid- my mother enrolled me in little league. I was a rather chubby child and as such lacked the grace nor the genetics needed to hit a ball a respectable distance. Nor did I really have the physicality to chase a ball that was hit my way. Truth be told- i hated the sport- I found it unstimulating and rather pointless. I was competitive in school but my ambitions ended there. And so if you stuck me in a baseball diamond- the only thing that really appealed to me is that there was the word "Diamond" in the name and unfortunately jewelry was not part of the sport.

And so, like any good coach worried for the success of his team- mine put me in centre field.

I ask you dear sisters- do you know of any 6 year old girls who can hit a ball past the infield? It's a rare feet. And so, I spent 9 innings sitting (not standing- what was the point really? No 6 year old chick was gonna hit a ball my way) in centre field eating grass and daydreaming.

It was torture.

Fast forward to age 9 and my mother enrolled me in hockey. I was on an all boys team and was of course - given my girth- place in goal. The coach thought that my generous hips would be more likely to stop the puck. The boys, knew better and had an unspoken rule to "aim for her boobies". yes, they yelled this freely from the ice and the bench.

Good times, my sisters- good times.

In medical school my roommate was an aerobics instructor. I liked to use the step aerobics set she had in our apartment to hold my coffee and ashtray. It was my moment of rebellion perhaps?

But then about 12 years ago, I got religion. My journey to health began and now, in my head, at least, I'm a machine.

And so I have spent the last 20 or so weeks training for my marathon. Why a marathon you ask? Why indeed. I have no great answer only to say - BECAUSE I CAN.

You see dear girlfriends, I ran a marathon in 2008 and was convinced it was my last. It was brutal- as most marathons are. From there I switch to smaller distance races and triathlons.

And then I got injured. I tore my hamstring and was told I could not run. I went to rehab and physio and was the worst patient ever- but I did heal and sure enough back in March could start running again.

All that time off from running of course made me focus on cycling and swimming and I loved it. But I did miss the running. Make no mistake- I did not miss the pain and the pounding- the feeling you are going to die at moments and the fact that it just really is a sport that I will never be good at.

Instead I think I do it because of the the fact that I just don't like being told that there is something I CAN'T do.

And so I run.

I've heard it all- running causes arthritis, running a marathon can kill you. On this week the eve of my 26 miles to glory I say with science and a smile.... BULLSHIT.

A 2006 study in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association found that “Long distance running does not increase the risk of osteoarthritis of the knees and hips for healthy people… long distance running might even have a protective effect against joint degeneration.”

The article went on to say that running also decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, and depression, helps with weight control, improves bone density, and decreases mortality.

One of the best studies to prove this point is the 50 Plus Runners Association Study that was started in 1984. When it was launched a control group of subjects age 50 + were chosen and studied at 5 year intervals.

The study compared runners who averaged 26 miles per week with a non-running group. The most recent report published in 2009 in the Arthritis Research & Therapy Journal found that the runners experienced about 25% less musculoskeletal pain and that women runners benefited the most.

Those at risk of joint damage are runners who log high mileage (more than 120 km/week) every week for many years and who have a previous history of injury.

On the marathon and dying front, it seems that every year there is at least one news story of a person dying during a marathon. There have been a few cases of runners dying suddenly and it is important to look at some of the potential reasons for this.

Marathons don’t cause heart attacks- heart disease causes heart attacks. Studies show that almost all marathon deaths were as a result of underlying cardiovascular disease in a person who was exerting themselves.

A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2007 looked at the mortality rates from marathons compared to motor vehicle accidents in a retrospective analysis.

The study looked at how many people died in these marathons and then compared these numbers to how many motor vehicle fatalities occurred during these events in the given city they occurred. The hypothesis of the study was that there may be less motor vehicle fatalities due to the fact that there were road closures during these events (and therefore less traffic) in order to allow the marathon to occur.

Marathons  in the USA with at least 1000 participants between 1975 and 2004.
The marathons provided results for 3292268 runners on 750 separate days encompassing about 14 million hours of exercise. There were 26 sudden cardiac deaths observed in all, equivalent to a rate of 0.8 per 100000 participants.
Because of road closures, an estimated 46 motor vehicle fatalities were prevented, equivalent to a relative risk reduction of 35% . The net reduction in sudden death during marathons amounted to a ratio of about 1.8 crash deaths saved for each case of sudden cardiac death observed.
The net reduction in total deaths could not be explained by re-routing traffic to other regions or days and was consistent across different parts of the country, decades of the century, seasons of the year, days of the week, degree of competition, and course difficulty.
There you have it my sisters- I am officially a runner and on Sunday, do pray for me my sisters, for I will be a marathoner; with no real increase risk of arthritis and la 35% less risk of death than dying in a car accident.

Given that I don’t own a car and rarely drive- I’m not sure those numbers are indeed correct but I am making a point, No?

A fabulous week to all my girlfriends, I will be resting up and eating carbohydrates without guilt. When next we meet I will have a medal around my neck, a suitcase full of New York’s finest fashions and of course a belly full of Advil. Who could ask for anything more? 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Bite me

I bite my nails in a way that is truly offensive.  Truth be told, I come by it honestly. My mother bites her nails as well. I can remember as a child her perfect long finger, with elegant fingernails polished to perfection. She sat in the front of the 1975 Oldsmobile cutlass while my father drove. She chewed on her cuticles as if she was manicurist on a mission.

And now more than 30 years later, I chew my hands with a vengeance. It used to be a nervous habit and now it is just routine. I have tried everything. I have tried bitter nail polish and gloves, acrylic overlays and weekly manicure. I have bitten through it all like a fanatical rodent.

My nails have born the brunt of every nail fad known to women. In the 1980’s I wore Lee Press on Nails. They were plastic nails that were self-adhesive and pre-polished. They came in a variety of colours and sizes and promised in a half an hour to transform any hands into movie stars.

My Press On’s were not available in Canada and were thus bought typically on trips to the United States with my family. We drove from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Fargo, North Dakota (it was 1983- there was little else to do for fun) and there in a Target I was introduced to the fabulous world of fake nails. I could bite my fingers to my heart’s content and within 30 minutes in the safety of my hotel room, my nails could instantly be polished and perfect again.

There I sat in the Holiday Inn in Fargo packet of LEE PRESS ON’s in hand anticipating the magic. I looked down at my stubby, bitten nails and imagined my long perfectly polished future.

Make no mistake; my future was perfectly polished, but lasted only 12-14 hours. The nails rarely stayed on for longer than THAT day and were no match for the chlorine content at the Holiday Inn pool. I loved my nails, but I loved the water slide even more.

In the 1990’s I fell victim to the craze of the Acrylic French Manicure. These fake nails are now popular among the adult film industry stars and Intensive Care Nurses in Alberta. This is not an association but merely an observation.

I spent most of my 20’s in the hands of various women of Vietnamese descent as they painted my nail beds with acrylic based products in pink and white in order to mimic a French manicure. They then took what can only be described as miniature bench saw to may nails and sculpted them into my own Sally Hansen advertisement.
My chewed up nail stubs were replaced by perfect long nail beds that smelled like acetone and looked like a dream.  I was on a contact high from the chemical fumes and deliriously happy from the visual effects.

But when the look and the fumes wore off, my sober self bit through the acrylic and the pain like a beaver from hell. Ten days and ten fingers later and I was back where I started. 

Now another decade has passed. Chanel comes out with a new nail polish every season that is the “must have” of the moment. Each winter I paint my nails a dark blue or black or red and promise to stop biting. I last a week perhaps two or three and the polish is gnawed upon over and over again. I make resolution after resolution and each one is broken as I bite back my promises... one finger at a time.

In spring I paint my nails a pale pink or pearl or nude colour and at $20 per bottle; the promise is renewed.  I have paid for Karl Lagerfeld’s car with the amount of Chanel nail polish that has been purchased in an attempt to banish my bad habit and to no avail.

A study published in 1971 in the Journal Of Child Development and Neurology showed that there may be a genetic component to nail biting.  According to the authors, nail biting is a frequent habit in children. It usually appears between 4 and 6 years of age.  About 35% of children bite their until puberty when the rates increase to 40-45% of adolescents. The majority of nail-biters give up the habit during their teens and it is only occasionally observed in adults.

The habit is markedly familial. In a large percentage of cases a history of nail biting during childhood by one or both of the parents can be obtained. It has been suggested that the children learn to bite the nails by imitating the parents, but this cannot be the case since parents usually stop the habit before their children are born.

The study in the journal looked at identical and fraternal twins and found that identical twins were twice as concordant for the habit of nail biting (both twins biting) compared to fraternal twins. In severe nail biters, identical twins were more than four times more likely to be concordant for the habit than fraternal twins.

This points to more than a learned behaviour because logic would argue that fraternal twins would both learn the same behaviour.

Winter  has come once again. I have bought Chanel’s now sold out colour (it is a puke brown but apparently fabulous) and have piled on the paint and the promises once more. My genetics will conspire against me as soon as I finish typing and I will stare at my fingernails with wanton abandonment in preparation for my next chew….

And now, I only have my mother to blame….

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Cup Runneth Over

It has come to my attention more so lately than before that people indeed “keep score”.  I suspect that evolution or survival has really made us this way. There is indeed a force around us as a species that makes us want to take stock in what we are and where we should be…. Relative to the person or even species next to us. Let’s face it people (brothers and sisters alike) we really are a bottom line kind of species.

I grew up in the North end of Winnipeg (insert shout out here). In the winters (and there were many) we played hockey in the streets. In fact I would argue that in cities across the great nation of Canada, street hockey was (and still is) somewhat of a religious practice. You bundled up, kept you jacket unzipped (zipped up jackets are for sissies) and you hit a puck around and ice covered street for God and country.

Sure there were those among us who indeed were pretty good at this game. There was even the group of kids who would graduate from street hockey to pond hockey. We never really kept score. We pushed a puck around a street or a pond and we played. Win, lose or draw when it was all said and done we were just happy to be able to feel our feet again once we came inside.

In those moments it was not so much about the game as it was about the moments. Make no mistake- I’m not one of those people who believes every kid should get a trophy just for playing. I believe in wins and losses in games and in life. But I think somewhere along the way we went to far.

Back in those winter streets there was inevitably one or two kids who were pretty good at the game. Inevitably at one time or another one of us would dream of growing up and playing for the NHL. Most of us however just grew up. We dropped the stick long ago and picked up a remote or a set of car keys that would take us to a game to see our favourite team. And then it became all about the score. If our favourite team won the world was good; if they lost…. Well I live in Vancouver, we riot in the streets.

Never mind the hockey analogy. I’m not even a hockey fan (yah, pass the judgment please). Sorry- but I grew up in a football family and well sports are like religions…. You are usually born into one.

Here’s my point. That one kid on the pond who grew up to play for the NHL? This was his lifelong dream. And now he’s playing in the “greatest game on earth” and it’s all about the score- who won and who lost and not about the game.

I can’t help but wonder if that indeed is a metaphor for life?

I’m a doctor. I work in a profession where a good majority of my peers were conditioned to believe that this was what they were going to do since birth. At cocktail parties someone inevitably asks me

“Did you always want to be a doctor?”
I watch the disappointment wash over their face when I laughingly answer,
“no” and take another sip of my drink.

But here I am, living the dream. The men and women I work with? They are living the dream. We have a job we can indeed be proud of. We get up every morning and we make a contribution to the world. And yet, even in medicine we keep score. We count treatment failures and side effects of drugs. We focus on the ones we leave behind more than the ones whose lives we change. We have become a culture that emphasizes our failures repeatedly and without any lesson learned.

I think that is what I mean by “keeping score”. Somewhere in the game of life, we have begun to take the “wins” for granted and count the losses with a ferocity.

I can’t help but marvel at how this has happened. Have we as a generation descended into cynicism?

It’s not just in sports and medicine where this is rampant. Pick a profession, a politic or even a theoretical concept and you’ll see that as a society we are focusing on the LOSERS more than anything. We’re keeping score everywhere; we emphasize the loses in every day activities and we celebrate the mediocrity around us.

Even this blog has become a bit of a bitch fest into that which sucks in the world. Is this a learned behaviour? Are we preconditioned to see the world as a win or a loss? Is a glass half full or half empty?

A recent study has shown that cynicism may be a bit of a birth right and less of a learned behaviour. A “glass half empty” attitude or a set of rose coloured glasses  may indeed be genetically predetermined… in part. Researchers from the University of British Columbia, Cornell University and Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health report in the journal Psychological Science that a gene variant may be the link in people who perceive the negative side of every situation.

It turns out that a deletion of the ADRA2B gene influences emotional memory and people perceptions of real time events- or whether or not we see the good or the bad in a situation.

It’s not surprising that your genetic code would indeed determine how you perceive the world around you.

In the study, 200 participants with and without the gene variant were shown a series of words in rapid succession. The words were preclassified as either positive, negative or neutral.

All participants tended to perceive the positive words better than the neutral words, but individuals with the gene variant tended to perceive the negative words better than those without the gene variant.

In other words, if you had the deletion- you were more likely to perceive the negative in a situation…. A glass was indeed half empty.

When I told my beloved about this discovery, the conversation went something like this:

ME: “They discovered the gene that makes people think the glass is half full.”
HIM: “Is that even possible?”
ME: “Clearly you don’t have it.

I should say that overall I am indeed an optimist. I suspect that I was in part baby, born this way. But I do think that optimism, like any skill is something that needs to be practiced in order to be mastered.

It is my concern that the world’s ever growing cynicism may be emptying my “half full” attitude. And so here and now, I am taking a stand. Genetics are not destiny. Every day we fight for or against what we are given in life in order to make the best of it.

And so I leave you this week my dear sweet sisters with a challenge to indeed stop keeping score…. Not everywhere… but in certain places. In a world where all too often it has become more about the win and lose and less about the play I wonder if we might stop once in a while and return to the days when it was all about the moment and less about the win.

Try it my girlfriends… for just 7 seven days and get back to me. After all in life, in medicine and in fashion we take what we are given and we make the best of it.