Category: health

Listening to the Experts

I wrote a while ago about the pain I was dealing with brought on by TMD, and how I’d started to go see a physical therapist about it. Mind you, this is now months that I’ve been dealing with this, which I realize is a drop in the bucket compared to how long others have faced it, but I just mention to say that it’s been a perpetual problem for quite some time.

After that initial visit with my physical therapist (shout out to Justin at Allied Physical Therapy!), he gave me some exercises I was supposed to follow. I was expecting the to be around something to do with my jaw. I don’t know: maybe moving it side to side, or yawning a lot? The pain’s in the jaw, so that must be where I need to work on the muscles, right?

Except instead of that, he told me to stretch my neck twice a day from two different angles, paying attention to both sides of my neck. I agreed, because what else was I going to say? (I was tempted to remind him I came for pain in my jaw, not my neck, but I decided not to do that.) The whole point of me going to see a physical therapist was acknowledging that I didn’t know enough about this pain to beat it on my own, and an expert would.

So I started stretching my neck, morning and evening. Maybe after I did that for a while, I’d start to feel the stretch in my jaw somehow as well. Maybe they really were all connected. Except the longer I did it (and the more practiced at the stretch I became), the more I knew I wasn’t feeling a stretch in my jaw at all. Not even a little.

The day after my first visit, my jaw felt pretty good. A feeling that ended the next day, and made me wonder if it was just a fluke. I went back for my second visit, and Justin assured me that was a good sign. He seemed optimistic that this was all going to help. And then he proceeded to massage my neck to death. Yes, he massaged the jaw a little, but 80% of his attention seemed to be focused on the neck. The next day, the biggest difference was that now my neck hurt more than my jaw.

It would have been easy at that point to throw my hands in the air and decide I was done with PT. I had tried asking “the experts,” and “the experts” had done something completely nonsensical. They’d even made things worse! But Justin had also mentioned that it might feel sore for a few days . . .

So I kept stretching my neck.

And you know what? A week and a half later, I’m seeing a real difference. My jaw only hurts occasionally. My teeth feel better. And when the pain comes back at all? I stretch my neck, and it goes away. I’m not ready to declare “Mission Accomplished,” but I do know this whole neck stretching thing is really making a difference.

Which is just to say, if someone knows more than you about a topic, it makes a whole lot of sense (to me at least) to listen to them. Especially when listening to them can improve your life in a potentially significant way. Food for thought . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Fun with TMD

Perhaps you’ve heard of TMD (also called TMJ). Maybe you even know what it is, or maybe you’re like I was: aware of the concept, but kind of fuzzy on the details. TMJ stands for your temporomandibular joint: the joint at the base of your jaw. Thus, saying you have TMJ is kind of like saying “I’ve got elbow” or “I’ve got knee.” Everybody has TMJ. TMD, on the other hand, stands for temporomandibular joint disorder.

I, unfortunately, have both.

I’ve always been a teeth grinder. I had one special night guard made, and I actually ground right through it, so I had to have a second one made that’s much more durable. I wear it every night, and it’s helped keep me from grinding my teeth to nubs. However, with the stress of the pandemic and everything around it, I think my teeth grinding really kicked it up a few notches. This is incredibly frustrating, since it happens while I’m asleep, so it’s kind of difficult to just force myself to stop it.

Because of all that grinding, I’ve developed TMJ. It’s been here for the last couple of months. At first it was much more severe, kind of like an ear ache that wouldn’t go away. Chewing anything hurt a lot. Initially I tried to deal with it through medication and rest. A doctor prescribed a muscle relaxant, which seemed to help, but it was just going on and on still, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the medication. (It really zonked me out and had other side effects that were no fun.) So I stopped that.

Now I’ve decided to try physical therapy. The debate was seeing a dentist vs. PT. I have a good friends who’s a physical therapist, so I had him evaluate me to see if it might be some muscular things that are causing it. The result? It seems the whole right side of my face and neck is one big bundle of tension. He also observed that a lot of the problem can be exacerbated by bad posture and poor sleeping habits. I typically sleep on my stomach, which I’ve now learned is the worst possible position for your neck. And while I’ve been consistently striving to have better posture, I can definitely still do more.

So now I’m trying to train myself to sleep on my back (ideally) or my side (if the back doesn’t work). You wouldn’t think a minor change like that would be a big issue. I seem to be able to fall asleep in long meetings, regardless of the position I’m in. But it’s been harder than I thought it would be.

Still, it feels good to be trying to take more steps to solve the problem, and it was a good reminder to me that often the things you think are causing the problem have many more roots than you initially suspect. (Either that, or my physical therapist just thinks everything in life is due to bad posture. The sad thing is, he’s probably more right than I’d like to believe . . .)

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

COVID Then and COVID Now

Yay. Another COVID topic. I know that’s just what you all want to read. (Not really. I know from my blog statistics that these COVID posts don’t get many views these days. And yet I persist.) However, I was looking at COVID numbers today and thinking back on where we were a year ago. The contrast was surprising, and (unfortunately) disheartening.

Come with me, back to Maine in mid-August of 2020.

The university was ramping up for a return to in-person classes. Masks were required everywhere (indoors and outside on campus), we had strict social distancing caps on all indoor spaces, we had a testing plan to test all on-campus students and 10% of everyone else every week, and the popular bet was that we weren’t going to last longer than the beginning of October before we had to go fully online. I was feeling quite discouraged. You probably were too. After all, we’d just gotten through our second big spike of COVID a few weeks before: cases had been up to 40 per day on average, almost as bad as May, when it was in the 50s. The current 7 day average was 21 cases per day in the state, but our hospitalizations had been steadily falling, down from 97 people hospitalized in May to 34 hospitalized now. The two spikes had resulted in death rates of 2 people per 100k per day. Yes, the current rate was .1/100k, but I was still very worried about what might happen when we all started getting back together in person.

Compare that to today. An indoor mask mandate just returned to campus, but there are currently no social distancing measures in place, and I would say people feel generally positive about the prospects. After all, there’s a vaccine mandate in place for students (and one in discussion for staff), and Maine is already at 65% of its population being fully vaccinated. Better yet, Maine right now has the lowest number of COVID cases (per 100k people) of any place in the country. We made it through last year, we can make it through this year. Right?

Not to be the bearer of bad news, but let’s just take a look at the actual numbers right now. Last year we were at 21 cases per day on this date. This year? 172. Last year we were at 34 hospitalized on average, but right now we’re at 98. Last year we were at .1 deaths per day per 100k. This year we’re at 1.1.

When you look at the actual data, we are in a much, much worse position now than we were a year ago. And that’s in Maine, with one of the highest vaccination rates and lowest COVID rates in the country right now.

I understand why it feels so much better now than then. Maine went through January, after all, when we peaked at 625 cases/day, 248 people in the hospital, and 12 people dying per day. It’s all relative, and we’re far off from where our numbers were at their worst. But then I remember that we’re still in the summer, and we’ve got that lovely stretch of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s on the horizon, when everything went crazy.

The good news is that we do have more experience with the virus. We know how effective wearing masks can be, when everyone does it. We’re not worrying about fumigating our mail or our groceries anymore. The vaccines really are helping, particularly with the death and hospitalization rates, but the Delta variant is not messing around.

I really (REALLY) do not want to go back to being at home 24/7. I want my kids in school in person. I want what normalcy we can scrounge up. But to get there, we need to be following basic common sense precautions. My church’s leadership recently came out with a statement on masks and vaccines:

To limit exposure to these viruses, we urge the use of face masks in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible. To provide personal protection from such severe infections, we urge individuals to be vaccinated. Available vaccines have proven to be both safe and effective.

It is perhaps telling of our times that this statement, given by the group church members believe are literal prophets of God, has resulted in . . . less than enthusiastic responses. It appears to vary by location and local leadership, according to this article in the Salt Lake Tribune. I’ve read some of the justifications members are giving for not wearing masks and not getting vaccinated. Typically they’re falling into the “if the Prophet really wanted me to do it, he’d make it a commandment and not a suggestion.” (To which, if you’re a devout church member, I’d simply remind you of D&C 58:26–“For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.”) Personally, I read it and decided to mask up when I can’t socially distance. Even in Maine, where the rates are “so low.”

To hear some people talk, masks must be made out of acid or something. For me, the question shouldn’t be “do I want to wear a mask and vaccinate or not?” It should be “do I want to go to another home quarantine or not?” I would also remind even those who have already had COVID that getting the vaccine is still recommended for them as well, as the protection it gives is stronger than the natural protection they have. (Again, sort of like saying “I don’t need a seat belt because I’ve got air bags in my car.” I’ll take both, thanks.)

Anyway. I’ll get off my soap box now. I know half of you agree with me, and half of you don’t, and I also realize practically nothing I say will make a difference. The main point of this post was to share the realization I had when I compared the COVID stats today with those from a year ago. I’m very grateful for the vaccine, as I believe those numbers would be much, much worse than they are without our high vaccination rate.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

On Doing Your Own Research

It seems these days more and more people are encouraging each other to “do the research” so they can be properly informed about a subject and make their own decisions. As an academic librarian, you would think I would be thrilled with this newfound desire to delve into research. Instead, I’m left scratching my head.

The problem is that what I mean by “research” seems to be quite different than what many other people think it means. Perhaps a lot of this stems from the fact that I believe different levels of research are appropriate for different projects.

For example, if you’re interested in finding out where you recognize that guy in that movie from, then doing a quick search on Wikipedia or IMDB makes perfect sense. It’s a simple question with a simple answer. The stakes are relatively low. What’s the worst thing that happens if you turn out to be wrong? You look foolish at a party? I think we can all live with that. Likewise, if you’re interested in different Big Foot sightings, you can no doubt find no end of web pages that will regale you with any number of them. Again: very low risk if those sites end up being wrong. Worst case, I suppose you head out to where some of the sites swear Big Foot visits all the time, and you waste a weekend searching for him in vain. (Hmm. Or would the worst case be that you actually find him and are torn limb from limb? Maybe this was a bad example . . .)

When the stakes get raised, the importance of the quality of the research goes up dramatically. Say you’re writing a paper for your college biology class. In this case, citing Wikipedia as your main research source isn’t nearly as appropriate. You’d want to be using academic, peer-reviewed journals to persuade your professor that you really have “done your research.”

(A quick aside, as I recognize not everyone knows what a peer-reviewed journal means. In essence, it means that for an article to be published in that journal, a scholar in that field does extensive research, writes it up, and submits it. The editor of the journal then sends that article on to other scholars in the field (anonymously, so they have no idea who wrote it). Those scholars then evaluate the research and its findings, ultimately recommending that the article be published, be rejected, or be revised. No article makes it to print without being verified by other experts in that field. Thus, this research is far more reliable than anything else you’re going to find online.)

If, when people said “do your research,” they meant, “go scour through peer-reviewed journals for a while and come back when you’re better informed,” I might feel a bit more comfortable with the suggestion. But that’s not what they mean. The research people typically end up doing consists of reading articles by reporters, watching YouTube videos, reading websites around an issue, and asking their friends. Worse yet, they’re typically doing this in an effort to prove that what they want to believe is actually the truth. (Pro tip: never start your research with your mind already made up. These days, you will almost always be able to find someone who says you’re right, and it will be that much easier for you to mentally dismiss anyone who disagrees with you.)

What’s particularly alarming in these instances is the ultimate worst case scenarios if the “research” people have done turns out to be wrong. With pandemics and climate change, that can result in millions dead and entire areas ruined for decades to come.

Let’s say for a moment that I decided to do some real research into vaccinations. As a trained reference librarian, I know how to sift through sources to find and evaluate the best research. Let’s say I spend 100 hours combing through the various studies before I come up with an opinion. Even after all of that, that “opinion” isn’t nearly worth as much as an actual expert in the field. Why? Because while I’ve spent 100 hours of my life doing this, that person has spent decades of their life becoming familiar with the field and its nuances. Knowing how to effectively discern between a good study and a bad one. I realize there is no way I can compete with that sort of background.

Ultimately, when it comes to issues like “is the vaccine safe?”, no amount of research I’m going to do is going to be able to reliably contradict the general consensus of experts in the field. And that’s if I’ve done everything right. Science is self-correcting. Researchers do studies. Those studies are evaluated and replicated. They learn from their past mistakes and findings. Through that process, better and better information rises to the surface.

The science on climate change or COVID or the vaccines might have been up for debate decades ago (in climate change’s case) or a year ago (for the others), but the more you see those expert opinions aligning, the more solid that science becomes. Yes, you still might find some studies that contradict the consensus. But those studies will in turn be evaluated. If they prove correct, then the consensus will change. If they don’t, then they’ll be dismissed. In issues like these, the currency of the study is vital to knowing how much credence to give it.

If I come down with a series of symptoms that seem alarming, I will undoubtedly do some “research” to find out just how alarmed I should be. I just can’t help myself. But I know better than to assume three hours of WebMD scanning is going to help me in any meaningful way. To do that, I need to go to an actual expert. A doctor. And even then, I might get a second opinion.

So for issues like the safety of the COVID vaccine, I wish the general public would realize that “doing the research” isn’t really going to help them at all. Or rather, it won’t help them nearly as much as simply listening to the experts in the first place. Right now, Florida is averaging 19,000 cases each day. Their earlier peak was just under 18,000. They have 13,000 people hospitalized with COVID. (Their earlier peak in the first wave was 12,000.) And still they have a governor who’s insisting masks are an option, not a necessity. People who believe the vaccine is more dangerous than the disease. 617,000 Americans have died of this so far. (The worst recent yearly flu death total for the US is around 61,000.) The global death total is coming up in 4.25 million. It’s almost certainly much higher than that.

Not all research has the same weight. Please get vaccinated now.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Assessing COVID Risk for Kids

I’m going to lead off with the obvious: I’m not a doctor or a medical professional. I’m a librarian. I’m good at finding and evaluating information, but nothing in this post should be viewed as some sort of ironclad definitive statement when it comes to COVID risk for kids.

My main reason for posting this is that I’m the father of an 8-year-old, and I’m tired of vague statements floating around in the interwebs about “COVID isn’t as dangerous for kids, but it can still affect them.” My daughter can’t be vaccinated yet, but there’s a whole ton of things she’d like to do (and things we’d like to do as a family). Playing with friends. Going on trips. Heading to the store to go shopping. Mask mandates and usage are going down, and I recognize there are plenty of unvaccinated people who are going to be out and about not wearing masks.

What I really wanted to know is “how dangerous is it (really) for my daughter?” I understand that she might contract COVID. There are a whole ton of things that might happen to her in the course of any day. She could get eaten by a shark when we go to the beach. She could get struck by lightning. Where exactly does COVID rank in the order of “realistically dangerous”? Since I was already poking around online for the subject anyway, I thought I’d share what I came up with.

The CDC has a page that goes over some of this in a strange way. Using children age 5-17 as their reference group, they show how big of an impact COVID can have on different age groups in terms of hospitalizations and death. So looking at it, I can see that I’m 130 times as likely as my daughter to die from COVID. But that’s such a fuzzy number. I have a hard time wrapping my head around it in any meaningful way.

I tried to look for specific numbers from the CDC, but all I could find was this page that showed how many deaths occurred in children 0-17 years old. (As of this instant, 295 involving COVID. 1,152 if you include COVID and influenza and pneumonia.) That doesn’t seem like much. How many COVID cases have kids actually gotten?

The American Academy of Pediatrics answers that over here. 3.94 million. On the same page, it notes that kids were hospitalized in .1-1.9% of the cases. They died in 0.00-0.03% of their cases, which lines up with the CDC numbers I found. (0.03% of 3.94 million is 1,182, so if you attribute all influenza, pneumonia, and COVID cases as “potentially COVID,” then it’s about the same.)

I’m all about worst case scenarios. Let’s say that 1,152 number is all COVID (it isn’t), and let’s say all those deaths happened in a single year (they didn’t). How does that compare with other causes of death in children. (Talk about a chipper topic today . . .) I can’t find the data for 2020 yet, but here’s a study that details the leading causes of death for children in 2016.

  • 12,336 came from accidents
  • 4,074 came from car crashes
  • 3,143 came from firearms
  • 1,853 came from cancer
  • 1,430 came from suffocation
  • 995 came from drowning

So COVID deaths in American children rated (at worst) less likely than suffocating, and just a bit more likely than drowning. A more realistic view would put it much lower on the list. (Told you this was chipper.) But isn’t this line of argument the same thing that was criticized back in 2020 when people tried to downplay COVID as a whole? What exactly did the 2020 cause of death numbers end up at? Look no further. In the US, COVID was the third leading cause of death, below heart disease and cancer, but well above everything else. People trying to brush it off as No Big Deal would have to argue suicide, diabetes, Alzheimers, and strokes are NBD either.

Is COVID potentially dangerous? Yes, for children and adults. But it’s much more dangerous for adults. For kids, it’s around the same danger as drowning. And like drowning, that’s a danger that can be further reduced by taking a few basic steps. Avoid deep water. Learn how to swim. Don’t swim unsupervised. Water is a thing that’s familiar, and we know how to do things to make it safer. COVID’s getting to that point as well.

Mind you, this is just looking at deaths. It’s ignoring hospitalizations or long COVID, though the numbers for children in those areas are also much better than for adults. I heard someone say to treat unvaccinated children about the same as you’d treat vaccinated grandparents. The risk levels are about the same. So would I take MC to a huge indoor party, unmasked? Probably not. Would I be fine having her play with friends outside? That seems quite safe to me, as does smaller play dates inside.

COVID cases in the country and in our area continue to fall. I don’t think you have to treat everyone you see now as a potential carrier. In all likelihood, they don’t have it. As I’ve said before, for me fighting COVID was never about getting to 0 deaths. It was about keeping the curve low enough that our healthcare system wasn’t overwhelmed. And in most places in America, we did that. Unless cases begin to spike again for some unforeseen reason, I’m good with having my daughter return to normal in most aspects of her life.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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