Monday, May 27, 2013


Drop boxes can stop drug abuse

Teens are finding drugs in places we would least expect it­ — right in their own homes. 

Recreational use of prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications is a serious problem. Every day approximately 2,500 young adults ages 12 through 17 abuse a prescription drug, according to the Foundation For A Drug-Free World.  Prescription drug abuse causes the largest percentage of deaths from drug overdoses. 

Abuse of prescription drugs can be riskier than abuse of illicit drugs. Teens are abusing some prescription and over-the-counter medications to get high; this includes analgesics (pain killers), depressants (sleeping pills or anti-anxiety medications), stimulants (ritalin or dexedrine) and antidepressants (medications for depression). Teens are also abusing cough medicine and cold remedies. The high potency of prescription drugs creates a high overdose risk.

There are many serious health risks associated with taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Taking pain killers or depressants can cause memory impairment, poor judgment, paranoia, suicidal thoughts and breathing difficulty that can lead to death.

Abuse of stimulants can lead to feelings of hostility or paranoia. Stimulants also can cause dangerously high body temperatures, an irregular heart beat and seizures. 

Antidepressants can cause violent thoughts and actions, suicidal thoughts or suicide, irritability/agitation, irregular heartbeats and hallucinations. The use of over-the-counter drugs mixed with other drugs can cause respiratory failure and heart failure. 

What can you do to help stop the use of recreational drugs? Talk to your teens about the dangers of abusing these drugs. Local law enforcement agencies have drug drop boxes to safely dispose of old, unused prescription medications.  Drop boxes are available at police departments in Norwich, Montville, Groton City, Groton Town, Waterford, New London, Colchester and East Lyme.

Let’s protect our teens, and take the time to rid our medicine cabinets of these unused or expired medications.

Lisa Cook is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Cook or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, May 20, 2013


Causes and treatments for lupus

Lupus is called a great imitator, because the symptoms can mimic multiple illnesses.

An autoimmune disease, the underlying mechanism of the disease is very complex. To complicate matters any organ in the body can be affected by lupus. 

Your immune system is your body's defense system. When healthy, it protects the body by making antibodies (blood proteins) that attack foreign germs and cancers. In lupus, the immune system misfires. Instead of producing protective antibodies, an autoimmune disease begins and makes "autoantibodies," which attack the patient's own tissues. As the attack goes on, other immune cells join the fight. These antibodies then end up in cells in organs, where they damage those tissues. We do not understand why this process begins. 

Lupus is predominantly a female disease. Women are affected 10 times as often as men. It is a chronic disease that can first present with joint pain and swelling. Over the course of time skin, kidney, heart and brain can be involved.  

At our Arthritis Center we provide care to multiple patients with lupus, ranging from 18-45 years old. The majority of patients are between 20 and 30 years old. The initial symptoms can be fever, joint aches, fatigue and just not feeling well. Skin rashes are common — they can vary from having a butterfly rash on the face, to a generalized rash throughout the body. The severity of the rash can sometimes coincide with the severity of disease. Sun exposure aggravates the disease.  Our patients can also develop mouth ulcers.

Some patients get really sick. They can have significant kidney involvement, ranging from mild protein in the urine to at times needing dialysis and kidney transplantation. Also lung involvement can range from pleuritis to significant fluid around the lungs. Heart involvement can range from fluid around the heart to involvement of the valves.

Once patients come with symptoms, and after clinical exam, we order a whole series of tests. The lab tests help us differentiate the cause and severity of the illness. We also do X-rays and sometimes echocardiograms. Some of our patients also need kidney biopsies.

The treatment is based on the severity of the underlying disease. Some patients may need prednisone for the management of their illness and others may need powerful chemotherapeutic agents. Recently a new medication was approved — Benlysta.

Given the chronic nature of the illness, we have to monitor our patients closely. They can have flare-ups and are at risk for  heart disease. To manage our patients we have to coordinate care with multiple specialists. Education and coordination of care can lead to better outcomes.

Sandeep Varma, MD, is the Medical Director of the Backus Hospital Arthritis Center. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Dr. Varma or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, May 13, 2013


It takes a team to run a hospital

A few years ago my son worked for the Yale Repertory Theater, on the technical team: the lights, sound engineering, and constructing the sets.

We attended a few of the performances. They were excellent, and the actors were well-deserving of the standing ovation following each performance. The technical team worked so diligently to enable the actors to perform.  Without them, the actors couldn’t function.  But there were no accolades or ovations for the essential support staff.

The same can be true with hospitals and health care.  Nurses and doctors get thank you notes, candy, and cards all the time from patients.

But too often we forget the “behind the scenes” people who enable the doctors and nurses to do their work.

For example, the greeter at the front lobby information desk that cheerfully directs you to the correct department?  Or what about the cooks that prepare the food for the patients and staff, or the dietitians that ensure the appropriate diet is prescribed and nutritional needs are met for the patient? How about the maintenance people who keep the lights and technical equipment going so the surgeons can see and perform the operations?

How about the hospital photographer who films, edits, and produces educational and informative videos by clinicians? Or the communications department that creates the signage, writes the newsletters, and facilitates the all-important communication between patients, staff and community?

The surgeon couldn’t diagnose the patient’s problem without the Laboratory Techs who draw the blood and provide vital lab tests results, or the Radiology Department that provides the crucial X-rays. 

If the Environmental Services Department personnel didn’t keep every room in the hospital clean, it would be disastrous.  There is a Sterile Processing Department that ensures sterility of all of the surgical equipment. Can there be any more important factor in surgical success than sterility? 

Electronic Medical Records are becoming the norm, but it takes a whole IT (Information Technology) Department to keep the computers functioning and electronic paperwork flowing. The Medical Records Department performs the vital function of transcribing doctor’s dictated notes, and keeping countless records safe, organized, confidential, and available.

The Biomedical Department keeps all the medical and monitoring equipment functioning properly and makes certain it is checked and serviced appropriately.  If the heart monitors, oxygen, anesthesia or dialysis equipment fail, there’s big trouble in the operating room.   The unit coordinators expedite the medical orders, answer the phone, and are invaluable in coordinating everything.  The Social Services department connects patients to home care or outpatient services, as well as facilitates a safe return home.  These are just to name a few, it would take too much space to mention every person or department — there are so many people who make the hospital function.  Nobody can perform their duty without the vital involvement of others on the team.

May 12-18 is National Hospital Week, when we celebrate the dedicated staff of hospitals and health care institutions.  All should “take a bow” and be recognized for the invaluable contribution each and every person makes. 

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, May 06, 2013


A crash course on motorcycle safety

It’s like clockwork — daylight savings time comes, the weather warms up and motorcyclists quickly populate the roads of Eastern Connecticut.

Unfortunately, this sure sign of summer usually coincides with crashes. This year is no different, especially with sand still on the roads after a brutal winter.

In the past month alone, we have seen approximately 15 motorcycle crashes, some causing serious injuries.

Inexplicably, some of the bikers were not wearing helmets. As a trauma nurse who sees the impact firsthand, I cannot stress enough how important it is to wear a helmet.

Head injury is the leading cause of death in motorcycle crashes, and motorcyclists are 40% more likely to suffer a fatal head injury, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Although in Connecticut it is not a law, it is in my book. Helmets should be worn at all times, as they are the best way to avoid head injuries.  If you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for your loved ones who might have to live with the consequences.  Trust me, I’ve seen the impact this can have. Here are some tips:
•  It can’t be said enough: Always wear a helmet.
•  Wear proper gear – flip flops, shorts and sandals are not safe. Boots, jeans and leather can make a big difference if a crash occurs.
•  Use eye protection.
•  Be aware that other drivers may not see you in their blind spot.
ˆ Obey speed limits.

If you are driving a car or truck, pay extra attention to motorcycles. According to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation:

•  Motorcycles are more likely to be hidden in blind spots. Take some extra time to watch out for them.
•  Don’t follow motorcycles too closely. In fact, allow more space than you would for another care because motorcycles sometimes slow down by down shifting, not using brakes, which means the brake light is not activated.
•  It isn’t easy to judge a motorcycle’s speed. For example, when turning left at an intersection, assume that a motorcycle is closer than it is.

Whether you ride a motorcycle or a bicycle, truck or tricycle, you can make our roads safer this spring and summer by taking a few extra precautions.
Gillian Mosier is Backus Trauma Center Program Manager for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Mosier or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?