Linkworthy 3.2: the midsummer edition

Ah, midsummer. What’s not to like about long June days? Grab your lawn chair and laptop for this latest edition of Linkworthy, a roundup of thought-provoking and/or interesting items encountered recently online.

- What do you say to someone who has cancer (or any other serious disease, for that matter)? “You look great” and “What can I do to help?” are not on the most-recommended list for Bruce Feiler, who vented in last week’s New York Times about “‘You look great’ and other lies.”

What’s wrong with “You look great”?

“We know we’re gaunt, our hair is falling out in clumps, our colostomy bag needs emptying,” Feiler writes. “The only thing this hollow expression conveys is that you’re focusing on how we appear.”

He suggests helpful things to say instead: “I should be going now.” ”Would you like some gossip?” “I love you.”

Feiler’s essay seems to have hit a nerve. More than 160 readers responded with their own experience and insights. An especially thoughtful reaction came from Lisa Bonchek Adams, a blogger who has been on the front lines of breast cancer. The problem with lists of what not to say, she writes, is that one size doesn’t fit all – and if people become too self-conscious about saying the wrong thing, they may withdraw altogether:

In those cases you may lose people who may have been well-intentioned. Sometimes forgiveness and compassion need to go out from the person who is sick and not just flow to them.

People who’ve known me for a long time know that I had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma several years ago. Probably my least favorite on the list of what-do-you-say was “Call me if I can do anything” because it was so vague. What if the one thing I needed most was someone to change the cat litter? Would the response have been “Sure, great!” or would it have been, “Eewww, no thanks”?

People who made non-specific offers of help invariably meant to be kind and supportive, however – and that’s what counts. It seems wiser to cultivate gratitude for people’s good intentions, even when they’re sometimes clumsily expressed, than to react with eye-rolling or annoyance. (Readers are welcome to share their own thoughts in the comment section.)

- “Give doctors a break,” implores Dr. Elaine Schattner, who blogs at Medical Lessons. Her plea is prompted by ”a heartless op-ed” by Dr. Karen Sibert, a Los Angeles anesthesiologist, who asserts medicine cannot be a part-time endeavor.

Is this yet another round in the mommy wars, or is the deeper issue one of balance between work and the rest of life?

The huge investment in a medical education confers some responsibility to use that education to benefit patients, Dr. Schattner writes. But what if a physician truly needs to cut back her hours or stop seeing patients altogether? Macho attitudes about medicine can put tremendous and ultimately harmful pressure on doctors, she writes. “A flexible, more realistic system would allow doctors, in whom the system has invested so much, and who have invested so much of themselves, to take time off when they need it, and flexibility in their schedules, so they can continue in their careers after prolonged illness.”

Other reactions to Dr. Sibert’s op-ed can be found here and here.

- Good news for those of us who can’t imagine life without a companion animal: A new study published in the Clinical and Experimental Allergy journal has found that the presence of a dog or cat in the household doesn’t increase children’s risk of developing allergies.

Researchers followed a cohort of children from birth to adulthood, checking in periodically to collect information about their exposure to dogs and cats. At age 18, 565 of the study participants gave blood samples that were analyzed for the presence of antibodies to dog and cat allergens.

Interestingly, the results suggested that being exposed to an animal during the first year of life seemed to be critical – and that for some people, this early exposure may actually be protective.

The men in the study who lived with an indoor dog during the first year of life had about half the risk of becoming sensitized to dogs as those whose families didn’t have a dog. Both men and women were about half as likely to become sensitized to cats if they lived with a cat during the first year of life.

- How much do you think it costs for adult children to be caregivers for their aging parents – $10,000? $50,000? $100,000?

A new study by MetLife calculates the total: a collective $3 trillion in lost wages, pension and Social Security benefits for those who take time off work to care for their parents. On average, women lose $324,044; for men, it’s $283,716.

The researchers analyzed data from the National Health and Retirement Study to assess how much caregiving is provided by baby boomer adults for their older parents, its impact on their careers and the amount of potential lost wages and retirement benefits.

Among other findings from this study: Adult children 50 and older who both work and provide care for an older parent are more likely to report their health as fair or poor than those who don’t combine work and caregiving. The percentage of adult children providing personal care and/or financial assistance to their parents has more than tripled over the past 15 years and currently represents 25 percent of adult children, primarily baby boomers.

A key conclusion of the report is that workplaces need to become more flexible and adopt policies that support working caregivers. The report also points to a need for more resources to help middle-aged caregivers with retirement planning and stress management.

- Other worthwhile reading: GeriPal, the geriatrics and palliative care blog, reflects on “Lessons I Learned by Examining Miracles.” A compelling story from CNN examines miscarriages and when they become something that requires deeper medical investigation. The latest issue of Proto, the magazine of Massachusetts General Hospital, contains several intriguing in-depth articles. If you have time to read just one, check out “Foreign Bodies,” a fascinating and creepy look at the strange things people swallow and the early-20th-century laryngologist from Pennsylvania who amassed a collection of swallowed objects. The article includes an online photo gallery that will make you think anew about the hazards of swallowing foreign objects.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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