Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine Flu, Allergies and Health

Allergies, Sickness and Food.

OK, let me start by stating a few things:

1.      I am not a doctor. (Though I am smarter than my family physician.)

2.      I do have allergic reactions from time to time. (Usually flowers, like Lilies)

3.      I also react unfavourably to many of the same caustic and corrosive chemicals in the same way that most, if not all other human beings do.

Here’s where Darwin and I get off.  I am sooo freaken’ tired of hearing about another allergic or disease “pandemic” spreading fast throughout the world. 

At the moment we are being news-hounded with the latest “Swine-flu” which has ruined vacation-goers lives .  An advisory against non-essential flights into Mexico has been set by some Ontario gov’t.  People everywhere are starting to wear particle-filtration masks.  I’m buying my family plastic bubbles right now!  Hogwash!

There have been outbreaks like this before.  We have survived them all.  The weak ones, maybe not, but Humans, yes!  Spanish Flu circa 1918-1919, 9-20 million dead!  Asian Flu 1957, 60-70,000 dead.  Hong-Kong Flu 1968-72, 2 million dead.  SARS Feb 2003, 800 dead.  Influenza of various strains kills 250,000-300,000 people annually, through its ability to transform and mutate.  Diseases like the Flu are bothersome, but for the most part not what I personally worry about.  Things like Polio, Tuberculosis, Small pox and Meningitis are far more scary to me!


When I was and adolescent growing up on a small farm in rural Haney (Maple Ridge), I was in contact with everything.  I mean everything!  We had almost every kind of farm animal and pet.  There were dogs, cats, birds, hamsters and Guinea pigs.  We had geese, ducks, chickens and turkeys.  Horses, cows, pigs, goats and rabbits.  We had a fleet of incubators which we used to brood wild ducks and geese (Canada geese) and Sandhill Cranes.  As a child I used to swim in the pond with the 50 or so baby Canadas: something that I’m sure the local Health Authority would lock up my parents for today.  Cleaning out Dog kennels was also part of my chores.  The pig pens also needed to be “dunged-out” occasionally.  Not to mention the horse stalls.  Yup, being in close proximity with poo is something that was part of my life. 

We didn’t use many Chemicals on our farm; no need to.  But there were things like Warfarin to control the rats, “Round-Up” for unwanted weeds, Gasoline and oils and hydraulic fluids.  Potent cleaners like Lye and Bleach were sometimes used (for freezers, and sterilizing butchering tools).  This was before anyone considered “organic” as the wave of the future. 

Now, when I grew with all these things, I never had any huge Illness.  I had the odd cold that went around, but never for any great length of time.  Strepto-viruses on occasion, yes.  I was a boy!  We never washed our hands as well as we should!  The one thing that was bad for me was Haying Season.  Every summer we cultivated the hay that we’d need to feed our livestock for the winter.  Some of the Hay-grasses that are in the lower-mainland of B.C. drive my nose insane!  And to top it all off, in the late seventies-early eighties, the only antihistamines available were things like “Chlor-tripalon” which would work a little bit, but made you sooo sleepy!  This was brutal on me.  I could help with the outside work, but put me inside the loft, and I’d be itchy and “gumping”, (“gumping” is what mom called it; closed-mouth forcing air through to your nose, which vibrates the tongue acting like a scratching motion against the soft palate.) which helped ease the pain a little.  Hay-season and when the Cottonwood trees would bloom were the only things that affected me.  As I have grown older, however, I have noticed that fewer and fewer grasses bug me.

Today, after moving to the Island, there’s not much in the way of pollen that bugs me.  Once a year, when the trees that run along Pandora (in front of John’s Place) bloom, or when I mow the lawn in late summer.  Other than this… nothing. 

There was one thing that wasn’t around as I grew up that’s here now that really bugs me though: Allergy Doctors.  Ok there were doctors studying allergies back then, but there wasn’t a Specialist with his shingle set up in the plaza, ready to tell you exactly what to avoid.  There seems to be a huge increase in the amount of Doctors who have “specialized” to focus on the latest syndrome-flavour-of-the-month.  And what’s more is the Family doctor is just too eager to refer you to one of these.  Seems like a little bit of palm greasing going on to me.

Let’s look at one of my own family’s stories.  My lovely wife works as a housekeeper (ok,ok… “Room Attendant”) in one of Victoria’s biggest hotels.  Last winter she came out with a strange rash on her face and inner arms.  She was very itchy.  An aside here for a second – She is highly susceptible to many allergic-type reactions and up to this point had taken antihistamines daily, against my advice… This reaction at work that she got had all the ear-marks of an allergy, swollen face, red blotchy marks on her face and hands and arms.  She went into the walk-in clinic in the neighbourhood, where the doctor referred her to an “Allergist”.  Two months later her appointment with this specialist happened.  Of course by this time, her problems were cleared up; the company that does the laundry for the hotel had started using a stronger cleaning agent on the sheets, which was reacting with one of the cleaners that she uses.  This of course took six months to figure out:

1.      The hotel management was loathe to get the cleaning chemicals from the cleaning company. Protecting their liability interest. Took 3 months!

2.      The appointment with the “allergist” slowed it down another two months.

3.      The results from the lab took another month and a half.

The end result of all this?  Well, it wasn’t an allergic reaction.  It was a Caustic reaction between two chemicals, which when she wiped the sweat from her brow penetrated her epidermis.  The final answer?  Be more careful.

Pretty stupid if you ask me.  We have grown into this society of over-protection, which in the long run is making it easier for more people to become sick.  Antibiotics, Antihistamines, Medicines for daily life!  Alcohol gels to use before, and after entering any Hospital (the place I work too!)  Anti-bacterial soaps advertised as the latest and greatest! (News Flash!  All soaps are and were anti-bacterial!) 

New pseudo-governmental Big Mother agencies (like the CRD and VIHA) writing rules, and edicts on cleanliness and health-related topics.  (Sorry to some of my friends who work in these government-funded jobs) 


When I started working in the restaurant industry, there was no such thing as the “BC Foodsafe Program”.  This is a pseudo-legislation, for those of you who don’t know, that trains cooks, wait-staff and other food service industry people about the hazards of food-bourn illness.  In the early part of my career as a cook, cleaning the kitchen simply made good economic sense!  Without the enforced “Clean-police” of BC Foodsafe breathing down your throats, keeping the kitchen clean meant a more efficient work-space.  Less chance of unhappy customers, and plain… common-sense.  This Foodsafe thing hit BC in about 1985, and (don’t get me wrong, I agree it is somewhat of a good thing!) became part of the training at all college level cooking schools. 

On the other hand, I have travelled and worked in other places in the world where “Foodsafe” might be something not high on the list of priorities.  In Damascus, there were open stall eateries.  Pita bread stacked man-high from the floor up.  Shwarma stands, with sheep flank stacked on a spit slowly roasting around. Candy shops with the seller shooing away the flies with a palm leaf.  No sign of the local DRD (Damascus Regional District) Health Inspectors! 

I have seen many a tiny kitchen in Japan, where cleanliness might be considered “questionable”.  Not that this is true everywhere, the Japanese are the cleanest people of the world.  But their understanding of the Foodsafe “danger zone” for temperatures is not that great. 

After being trained with “Foodsafe” and visiting these places, one might think that the entire population would be constantly sick, or dying.  However, this just isn’t the case.  People just don’t go to restaurants that “appear” to be unhealthy.  Word of mouth and common sense prevail.  Why can’t we let that happen here anymore?

Before licenses for operation are handed out, strict rules must be enforced.  Why not have the CRD enforce a sound Business plan too?  This would stop bankruptcies which are a burden on the taxpayer.  Or why can’t all our food be prepared and shipped shrink-wrapped from Calgary to save on cost?  Oh yeah, our Hospitals already do that!

I realize that common sense is not inherit.  It must be taught.  The only way to teach it is by example.  And many “Professionals” do not posses it.  How many practising Doctors do we have who barely passed the exams?  How many four week training courses does it take to become a health inspector?  How many Peanuts is it going to take before you are allergy free again?  How many News companies are going to sensationalize and twist the story so they can get more hits as the top headline on Google?

My common sense is this:

-        Don’t take any medicine for anything that lasts less than a day. 

-        Don’t eat in a restaurant that has dust in the candy dish or twice used parsley.  Don’t eat Sushi from a place with a clientele-base of ten.

-        Don’t wrap your children in plastic bubble-wrap; but let them drink out of the toilet or eat a cricket once in their life. 

-        Teach your children that fire is hot, alkali and acid don’t usually make “good bedfellows”, and slugs hate salt.

-        Live with that little headache, and understand that having a positive outlook or being negative is contagious. (I don’t want to know how crappy you feel about being at work.  If you hate your job so much… QUIT!  …I love my job!)

The worst thing about the “Health” of ourselves is the fact that we have everyone telling us we are so unhealthy!  We have more sources for “news” now than ever, each one trying to vie for that all-mighty advertising, or tax dollar.  When you (yes you! ) realize that you are responsible for your own healthy state of being, and that there is no agency, organization or company that is able to “fix your woes”, you will live a healthy life.

Oh… except for some Cancers… that’s just bad Karma!

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