Monday, December 28, 2009


Properly dispose of your medications

Finding information about the importance of taking your medications, and how to properly do it, is easy. And that’s a good thing.

But what do you do when you no longer need them? That is also an important question and the answer is not so easy to find.

So what do you do? If you’re like many you simply place the unneeded bottle of medication back in the medicine cabinet and leave it there for years to come.

The wiser thing to do would be to dispose of them properly; in a way that prevents others from using them and limits the impact on our environment.

Piling up old medications in the medicine cabinet causes a number of problems. A cluttered cabinet can lead to confusion and mistakenly taking the wrong medication, and one that is likely out-of date.

Prescription drugs are also being stolen and abused at alarming rates, therefore a cabinet overflowing with medications could be inviting trouble.

Years ago, the advice handed out about drug disposal was to flush them all down the toilet. It quickly and easily gets rid of them, but also adds more pharmaceutical compounds into our ground water.

Today, the best advice is to dispose of most medications in your household trash after mixing them with an undesirable substance.

Remove the medications from their prescription bottles and mix them with old coffee grounds, kitty litter or other not so pleasant substances. Then place the mixture in a sealable container such as a margarine tub or plastic bag and throw them out with the trash. This disguises the medications from those who might want to steal them as well as making them undesirable to pets and young children who might otherwise accidentally ingest them. But not all medications should be disposed of this way.

Some medications may be very harmful, even lethal when just a single dose is taken by those it was not prescribed for. For these drugs, it is still suggested to flush them down the toilet or wash them down the sink. This method of disposal immediately and completely removes the risk of harm that these medications could case if improperly used.

What about the ground water you ask? While it is true that this method of disposal could end up in our water supply, it is a tiny and inconsequential amount that is far outweighed by the harm that could occur if these drugs are ingested accidentally.

Most experts agree that the pharmaceuticals that are found in trace amounts in ground water have gotten there from our body’s natural process of drug elimination and there is currently no evidence that shows any harmful effects to our health.

What medications then should still be flushed away? The information you receive with your prescriptions medicines should list the proper disposal method. If you can’t find it, you can get a list of which medications should be flushed by visiting the FDA’s website:, call them at 1-888-INFO-FDA or visit their partner website with the National Library of Medicine called “DailyMed.” In general, the list includes most narcotic pain relievers and some anti-anxiety medications.

Michael Smith is a pharmacist and Clinical Coordinator in the Department of Pharmacy Services at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Mr. Smith or any of the Healthy Living columnists at comment on this or other Healthy Living columns, click below or go to the Healthy Living blog at

Monday, December 21, 2009


Preparation leads to better surgical outcomes

Our lives are filled with experiences and examples that teach us the importance of preparation in order to achieve success.

As schoolchildren, we learned study skills and how to prepare for exams. As we grew older, we also learned the importance of preparing physically by getting a restful night’s sleep and eating a healthy breakfast. Athletes and dancers attribute their success to a combination of training and visualizing their goals. We prepare in similar ways for the many milestones in our lives, and surgery should be no different.

When patients are asked how they prepared themselves for surgery, the most common response revolves around tying up loose ends related to family, work, or home. Meals are prepared in advance, the house is cleaned, and babysitters are arranged for. Yet through all this careful planning, most patients have neglected one key step to a faster recovery -- to prepare themselves emotionally.

For many people, the word “surgery” alone is a stressor. Added on top of regular daily stress factors, many patients report high anxiety levels pre-surgery. Studies have shown that long term or high stress levels negatively affect the immune system, and if not addressed can compromise the body’s natural power to heal. In order to reduce the fear and anxiety associated with surgery, patients need to become active participants in their healing.

Studies have shown that positive visualization assists with healing. Learning how to focus the mind to imagine to best possible outcome helps to release stress, and a short 20-25 minutes of deep relaxation or meditation can decrease anxiety, lower blood pressure and boost the immune system.

The William W. Backus Hospital offers a “Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster” program to teach patients how to approach surgery with confidence and calm. Ideally taken one to three weeks before a scheduled surgery, the program teaches guided imagery and relaxation techniques. Patients can even learn a quick five minute method to assess stress factors and remain calm throughout their daily schedules.

“Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster” is a 90-minute workshop that includes a book and CD. Patients learn how to use five healing steps to ease the recovery process and prepare for surgery emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

Most patients who complete the program and apply the techniques see a marked reduction in their pre-surgery stress and in their recovery periods.

Preparation is essential for success in all areas of our lives; treat your body well by preparing for surgery as well.

Classes are held every Monday night at 5 p.m. at the hospital and every Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m. at the Backus Outpatient Care Center. For more information or to register, call 860-889-8331, ext. 2163.

Paula Novak, a registered nurse and certified Healing Touch practitioner, is the Clinical Coordinator for Healing Touch and Integrative Care at The William. W. Backus Hospital. This advice should not replace the advice or instruction from your physician. E-mail Ms. Novak or any of the Healthy Living columnists at comment on this or other Healthy Living columns, click below or go to the Healthy Living blog at

Monday, December 14, 2009


Low-carb craze gave potatoes a bad rap

No New England holiday feast is complete without a potato dish. Holiday dinners often feature mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes or potato latkes.

In the midst and the aftermath of the low carbohydrate craze, the noble, humble potato has gotten the reputation of being fattening, and an all around “bad” food. People will say to me with pride, “I don’t eat anything white, I don’t eat potatoes.”

The reason for the ban on potatoes in the low carbohydrate world is the misunderstood glycemic index. The glycemic index (GI) is an index of how fast a food makes blood sugars rise.

Baked potatoes happen to have a higher GI than a candy bar. So, given the rationale that low glycemic index means that a food is good for you, I guess a chocolate bar can be considered health food.

Boiled potatoes have a lower glycemic index than some candy bars. GI is based on an average of people consuming a 50-gram portion of a food (1.6 ounces). Glycemic index varies depending on many factors, including cooking method, foods eaten at the same time, ripeness, personal attributes and even time of day.

Eating potatoes as part of a meal with vegetables and a protein reduces the overall glycemic index. Putting a pat of butter on the baked potato reduces the glycemic index.

That said; most dietitians that I have asked do not use glycemic index when teaching. In the real world glycemic index is not very useful for most people.

Potatoes are a great, low cost source of energy, about 115 calories for a 5-ounce portion. They taste great too. For the same carbohydrate value, a 5-ounce baked potato has fewer calories than two slices of whole wheat bread, more vitamin C and Potassium than whole wheat pasta and more fiber than brown rice. As a source of complex carbohydrates potatoes have it all covered.

To retain the health value of your potato, refrain from loading it with fat. Adding butter, sour cream or cheese can easily add 10 grams of fat and 90 calories to a portion of potatoes.

Try using light sour cream, low fat milk or less cheese when making your favorite recipes.

Roasted potatoes are a favorite in my family. Dice four or five medium potatoes into 1-inch pieces, toss with a tablespoon of olive oil (I use a plastic baggie for this) and season with black pepper and rosemary. Spread onto a sheet pan and bake in the oven at 425 degrees for 30 minutes until potatoes are soft and browned. Sweet potatoes and carrots can be added for extra flavor and color.

Mary Beth Dahlstrom Green is a dietitian at The William W. Backus Hospital. This advice should not replace the advice from your physician. To comment on this or other Healthy Living columns, click below or go to the Healthy Living blog at E-mail Ms. Green or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, December 07, 2009


Every second counts when it comes to stroke

There used to be little that could be done to treat a stroke. Patients were made as comfortable as possible and often spent their remaining years on the sidelines of life.

Today physicians have the ability to stop some strokes before permanent damage is done. There are clot busting drugs available to dissolve blockages and surgical tools that can actually pluck the clot right out of the vessel.

The key is to get to the hospital as soon as possible. All of these treatments must be done within a very few hours of when the stroke starts, which makes Backus Hospital’s recent designation by the state as a Primary Stroke Center most important.

The designation from the state Department of Public Health means Backus offers, fast, high quality stroke care for its patients.

This is crucial because every second counts when it comes to strokes. Approximately 750,000 Americans suffered a stroke in the past year, and 160,000 of them died. For the remaining stroke victims and their loved ones, their lives were forever changed.

Stroke remains the number three killer of Americans. Each year more than twice as many American women die from stroke than from breast cancer. It is the number one cause of disability in our country. These are staggering statistics for a disease we don’t often hear much about.

A stroke is a lack of blood flow to the brain. This can be caused by a clot, as is the case in an ischemic stroke. A stroke can also be the result of a brain bleed, also known as a hemorrhagic stroke. When the blood flow stops brain cells are damaged; if flow is not restored quickly the cells will die.

The American Stroke Association estimates that up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented through simple lifestyle changes. So know your numbers — blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol. While not the only causes of strokes, these are the big three.

You may have no symptoms when your numbers are elevated, so it is imperative to see your doctor regularly so she or he can monitor them and help you maintain healthy levels.

It is also important to know the symptoms of stroke. Know these warning signs and teach them to others:

• Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
• Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
• Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

If you think you or a loved one has symptoms of a stroke, it is vital that you seek immediate emergency medical treatment. Remember the acronym F.A.S.T.

Facial Droop — Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the mouth droop?
Arms — Ask the person to extend their arms. Does one drift down?
Speech — Have the person say a simple phrase. Are the words slurred or garbled?
Time — Time is brain. Call 911 and get the person to a Stroke Center fast!

Don’t delay. Time lost is brain lost. For more information visit

Cindy Arpin, is a registered nurse and Stroke Coordinator at The William W. Backus Hospital. This advice should not replace the advice from your physician. To comment on this or other Healthy Living columns, click below or go to the Healthy Living blog at E-mail Ms. Arpin or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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