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The Best Scholarly Article You Might Ever Read

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Long about 1992, back when I actually read most of the print magazines I subscribed to, I came across an excerpt in Harper's of an essay printed in the Journal of Medical Ethics entitled "A proposal to classify happiness as a psychiatric disorder" by Richard P. Bentall of Liverpool University. I was so intrigued by the excerpt that when I went to Iowa, I schlepped my book bag over to the medical library, tracked down the relevant volume of the journal, photocopied the article, then read and highlighted it.

I still have my 18-year-old photo, and recently told a friend I'd make her a copy of her own. Today it occurred to me to see if it was available online. Turns out it is. Here's the abstract:

Worse Than a Hangover

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The following is a public service announcement on a topic most people would probably rather not think about. Truth be told, I'd rather not think about it. But you just might be glad to know about this someday anyway, so I'm going to tell you what I've learned recently.

Here's a scenario for you: It's Friday. You meet a couple of your close friends and a dozen of your favorite acquaintances for a nice meal. Over the course of several hours, you have a couple of beers. You get a mild buzz but don't drink nearly enough to give you a hangover the next morning, and you're happy. People are good. Life is good. You have an absolutely fabulous Friday evening, and think that you've just started the weekend in one of the best possible ways.

You then go home, go to bed, and have an absolutely miserable Friday night.

Saturday morning you get up and type a question into your favorite search engine: Can alcohol cause diarrhea? In .11 seconds you get over two and a half million results, all of which inform you that the answer is a decided YES.

Turns out that alcohol impairs the body's ability to absorb water. As cells in the intestines absorb the alcohol you've consumed, its toxicity disrupts the cells' ability to absorb water. Your intestines are flooded with liquid, which has to go somewhere.

Second, carbonation, which is present in sparkling wine (including champagne) as well as most modern beers, ales and ciders, can irritate your GI tract. Carbonated water is more acidic, which can be good if you want to kill bacteria in liquid, but bad if your intestines are already upset. Also, more bubbles and gas aren't really a good thing to add to the mix if things aren't working the way they should be.

Also, with beer, there's the possibility of gluten intolerance. (That's right: if you can't have gluten, you can't have beer.) I don't think that's my problem because I don't generally have trouble with gluten, but others might want to know.

If you're 24 and rarely drink, you probably won't have any problem from a couple of beers. If you're 40-something with a history of GI problems, you might want to limit yourself to one vodka tonic. You might not feel quite so rosy throughout the evening, but you'll have a much better weekend over all.

To your health.

Greener Mayo

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Yesterday evening I got a phone call from an administrator at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix in response to the letter I sent in a few weeks ago, expressing my concerns about Mayo's seemingly nonexistent environmental policies. I neglected to note the name of the administrator, which I suppose is just as well, as his identity doesn't really matter; what matters is what he told me. He said he had called me because it seemed easier than writing a letter, and as he was still at work at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday, I have no problem understanding why he would want to save a little time.

What he had to say was pretty reassuring overall. I wasn't so thrilled when he explained that Mayo discourages people from using the stairs because a few patients have tried to use the stairs, then fallen down and broken stuff. OK, I don't want sick people falling down and injuring themselves either, but I still don't see why signs leading to the stairs can't be available for others. Or why there can't be a sign requesting that patients use the elevators, out of concern for their well-being, but for anyone else who wants to take the stairs, well, hey, they're right over here.

But he told me that Mayo does a lot of recycling; it just happens behind the scenes. He said that at one time there had been bins in the cafeteria, but people hadn't sorted properly--which is essential to effective recycling--so now most of the recycling happens after the trays are returned. (Make a note of that: if you ever go to Mayo, send all your plastic back on your tray; don't throw it away.) He told me that they recycled vast quantities of paper, metal, glass and plastic--as much waste as possible that they themselves, rather than visitors to their facilities, produce.

Sustainable Death


I have been thinking a lot about sustainability lately, mostly because I have been confronted with a few situations that were absolutely unsustainable. The most dramatic was my mother's illness. Terminal illness is by its very nature unsustainable: the "terminal" part means that it's going to kill you, sooner or later, more or less painfully. Mom's illness required a lot of arrangements and accommodations that we could not sustain indefinitely, but we figured we could keep them going long enough. Turns out we didn't have to sustain a lot of them....

I confess to being freaked out at the massive resources devoted to end-of-life care. I don't know what to do about it, but I think something has to be done. When my mom died, the cupboard was full of different medications, some of them still in sealed packages that had never been opened. What do you do with such things? We hoped we'd be able to return them to the pharmacy, not even for a refund (even though some of them cost thousands of dollars a month), but just so they wouldn't get dumped down the toilet and end up in our water supply.

And then there are all the resources devoted to conventional burial.... You embalm someone, and then you put them in a casket, and then you put the casket in a vault, so that the embalming fluid won't leak and so that the the ground over the grave won't settle and make the cemetery lawn hard to mow. What? Really? I have long said that I don't want to be embalmed, but I don't especially want to be cremated, either. I want to be tree food. I want to be wrapped in an old cotton sheet and buried in a deep hole so I can be recycled. Turns out that I am not the only person who feels this way and that there is a natural burial movement. But it's definitely not the norm.

My friend G used to have a completely huge, hideous, disgusting wart on his wrist. Actually it wasn't so much a wart as a cluster of warts, and it was in a place where you couldn't help but notice it. He used Compound-W to get rid of it; it came back, worse than before. He had it frozen off; it came back, worse than before.

Then he quit his job, which he had hated devoutly for about two years. Within ten days, the wart had gone away of its own accord.

My friend M developed a horrible case of eczema. It was ugly, and it hurt. Then he came out of the closet. Within six months, the eczema was gone, never to return.

My friend D wet the bed every single night from early childhood into adulthood. Then he came out of the closet, and the bedwetting stopped forever.

Me, I had horrible digestive problems, respiratory infections and very unsettling bouts of vertigo while I was a missionary. Then I finished my mission and came home. Right away, the respiratory infections cleared up and the vertigo ceased, and though the intestinal problems didn't go away entirely, they at least lessened.

An Order of Green Mayo, Please


a letter I sent to Mayo Clinic this morning, about its environmental practices, which quite frankly stink.

Mayo Clinic
13400 East Shea Boulevard
Scottsdale AZ 85259

Dear Mayo Clinic Administrators:

On Friday, March 19, 2010, I visited the Mayo Clinic Hospital and Specialty Building on the Phoenix Campus with my mother, who was a patient of your clinic. [a bunch of redacted stuff about my mom's doctor, who was great, and the fact that the lab lost my mom's blood work, which her doctor said happened all too often.]

I would also like to bring to your attention a few matter unrelated to my mother but still of great concern to me. When I went to the Hospital with my mother for some tests, we used the elevator to get to the second floor. I left her while some procedure was performed, and went to get a cup of coffee. I tried to use the stairs, but couldn't find them, largely because there were no signs leading to the stairs. (This could be very bad in the case of an emergency.) Eventually I simply took the elevator down to the first floor, which required me to wait for an elevator and also needlessly used electricity, two things that really irritate me. When I wanted to return to the second floor, I asked the volunteers at the help desk where the stairs were. "Why do you need to know where the stairs are?" one of them asked me.

"I like taking stairs," I said. "It's one way I get exercise. Plus I hate waiting for elevators."

"Our elevators are very fast," the volunteer replied.

"Not if a lot of people are getting on and off at every floor," I said. "And anyway, what does it matter to you if I want to take the stairs?" Still nonplussed that an able-bodied person would voluntarily climb one flight of stairs rather than take an elevator, they gave me directions, which proved inadequate. I gave up and took the elevator again.

Watch This, and Then Pray Obama Watches It Too

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I would say that watching this made me feel sick, but illness is too risky these days, given what's going on.

Bad Blood

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gwa sya.jpgIn case you've never tried it before, let me assure you that It's really hard to take a picture of your back. I had to use a mirror to make sure that the camera was actually aimed at me and not at the wall behind me.

Yes, that splotchy red expanse of skin is my right shoulder and back, and no, I was not injured in some horrible accident. Or rather, I WAS injured in some horrible accident, once upon a time, and the gross bruising is evidence of that. It's just that the injury is old, and the bruising is recent. Also self-inflected.

See, I was employing a technique called gua sha (read all about it in a Wikipedia entry or at a website called Gua Sha), which I LOVE both because A) it works and B) I can do it myself--at least on some parts of me.

Telling Senators All About God's Will


If there's anything I enjoy, it's coopting Mormon discourse and using it for my own ends. Especially rewarding is turning heated rhetoric on old white guys who have deployed it as a weapon against any who defy them. Which is why I so enjoyed sending the letter below to Senator Orrin Hatch:

Dear Senator Hatch:

Sunday So Far

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Here's what I've done so far today:

1. Woke up and got out of bed at 5:30 a.m., which is about 90 minutes earlier than I usually get up. However, it's also three hours later than I got up yesterday, so I was happy. Furthermore, even though I tossed and turned last night, even though I was bedeviled by strange dreams and woke up often, it was a chemical-free night. That's right: no sleep-inducers, not herbal, not prescription, not OTC--not even liquid! I try to vary what I take during a really bad stretch of insomnia so I don't become too dependent on any one thing, and a really bad stretch of insomnia is what I've dealt with for the past few weeks. But I hope that after last night, it has broken--I hope, anyway. I HATE being awake in the middle of the night and exhausted during the day.

2. Read this really awesome piece in the NY Times magazine about our interactions with whales. It was moving and interesting and profound, and after reading it, I thought, "Well! No matter what happens during the rest of the day, at least I've read this, and that will salvage this entire day, and overall, I will count today as a good day." Ha!

3. Went for a nice long walk while the humidity wasn't grossly intense and the temperature uncomfortably high and the sky overcast and gloomy. Which was another reason I figured today would be a good day.

4. Tried to feed my cat, who had most of her teeth removed on Tuesday.


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