Posts Tagged ‘health’

Talk about Crazy

April 13, 2011

I just listened to this story on NPR about the lack of care given to psychiatric patients in emergency rooms. I hope you will too.



January 8, 2011

For my new year’s resolution, I decided to make 15 recipes that I have collected over the years, but never got around to trying. I let my readers pick which 15 I should try. Vegan sausage just barely made the cut, but not before being derided by a few folks on my facebook page. I had actually been wanting to try this recipe for awhile, so it launched my new year’s effort. I was quite happy with the results and I imagine I will add this to my somewhat regular repertoire.

The recipe (from Recipe Binder on facebook):
Prep time: 1 hour, cooking time 10 minutes.
1/2 C cooked pinto beans, rinsed and drained and mashed
1 C. cold vegetable broth
1 Tbl. olive oil
2 Tbl. soy sauce
2 cloves minced garlic
1.25 C wheat gluten
1/4 C nutritional yeast
1.5 tsp crushed fennel seed
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
Optional: sage, apple, or liquid smoke

Method (more…)

Haitian Farmers Raise Cane over Monsato

June 11, 2010

Chavanne Jean-Baptiste, of the Peasant Movement of Papay

Organic food.  Does the phrase conjure images of high-priced specialty items being served to privileged suburbanites?  For some reason, this is the image purveyed in the media.  The idea is that you would have to be both rich and out of touch to dream of the luxury of food grown without toxic chemicals.  Except this is how most of the world has always done it, and many are now fighting like mad to keep doing it that way. recently ran an article about Haitian farmers planning to burn “aid” in the form of Monsato seeds. Some of these seeds carry chemical coatings so toxic that in this country, the EPA requires workers who handle them to wear special protective clothing.   Sam Smith, a 74-year-old farmer from Massachusetts visited Haiti, observed the seed-burning, and shared his thoughts on a blog devoted to Haitian issues.  Since Monsanto has been pushing for market share in Haiti for years, and since seed supply was not impacted by the earthquake, Smith says farmers are asking:

“What was the purpose and meaning the gift at this time? Did not Monsanto know that we had a sufficient supply of our own seed for the coming planting season, seed that is our cherished inheritance as well as appropriate – unlike Monsanto’s foreign, hybrid cultivars –to our diverse soil habitats and subsistence, agricultural infrastructure? And, if indeed, we were to plant the hybrid seeds, what would we do with our own indigenous seeds – the seeds that we saved from the previous harvest – other than sell them for food or let them rot?”

Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, of the Peasant Movement of Papay, (more…)

Worker Deaths Highlight Public Safety Issue

June 3, 2010

This 112-car CSX train derailed and caused explosions in Ohio in 2007

Once again, a rail worker has been struck and killed by a locomotive.  Greg Kastner, a 63-year-old hostler for the New Jersey Transit died on Monday.  (A hostler services engines in between runs.) He is one of more than 650 workers to die on the job in the last seven months.

My blog has focused on some of the rail industry deaths in part for personal reasons. I have many good friends who work in the railroad trades and I know how the needlessly difficult working conditions endanger them. But I also focus on the railroads because they represent an enormous public safety issue.  If the railroads skimp on maintenance of track or engine or train, the public is endangered. If they push workers to the limits of exhaustion (and they do) while also short-staffing, the public is endangered. The danger lies not only in derailment, which can kill passengers or passers-by, but in the cargo itself.  In 2002, for example, 15 tankers of anhydrous ammonia were part of a train that derailed in Minot, North Dakota. As hundreds of thousands of gallons leaked out, the fluid vaporized in a toxic cloud that killed one person and hospitalized many more. In 2007, another derailment released the chemical solvent cyclohexane, which caught fire and forced an evacuation of more than 500 people near Louisville, KY. That same year, a freight train carrying hazardous materials caught fire in Ohio near an elementary school. Earlier this year, a derailment of another train carrying chemicals forced an evacuation in a 1-mile radius near Santa Fe, Texas.  These are just a few examples out of many.

My heart goes out to the family and co-workers of Greg Kastner, who was so close to retirement age. And I hope the regulators will pay attention to all these deaths, for the sake of the workforce and the sake of us all.

Worker Safety Railroaded

April 28, 2010

Today is Workers Memorial Day, a day of commemoration for the thousands of people who die from workplace injuries every year. Like the 29 miners recently killed in West Virginia, or the 11 killed in the oil rig explosion this week. And like the 5,214 people killed on the job in 2008. And the 50,000 who died from occupational illnesses. Sadly, we can add two more workers to the toll from railroad accidents in the last few days.

Melinda Carter, killed on the job, April 24, 2010.

Melinda Carter, a conductor for the CSX Railroad, was killed while switching cars in a rail yard in Chicago. Early reports indicate that she was operating the trains using remote control technology, as is increasingly required of workers. She had just bought a new home for her family, for whom she was a rock. A few days later, New York Transit worker James Knell was electrocuted by the third rail while conducting track repair in the pouring rain. He had been married for two years with his high school sweetheart, after being apart for two decades.

I’ve written before about some of the particular dangers that rail workers face, and how the nature of their work means that dangers to them also represent dangers to all of us. But today I would like to ask all of us to consider the safety conditions at our workplaces, and the safety conditions of the work others are doing for us. Take the extra step to insist your employer provide protective gear (this works better if you are in a union, but even nonunion employers are required to provide a safe workplace). If you hired some guy to trim your trees or work on your roof, insist they work safely too. Pay extra for it if you have to. And if you can make a donation to an occupational health association that fights for everyone’s rights, please do! That’s a fitting way to give  tribute to the thousands of people dying at work every year in this country.

Remote Control Is for Toys, Not Real Locomotives

January 7, 2010

You’ve seen locomotives, right?  Those enormous hulks of steel that haul things like people, coal, corn, and poisonous gases such as ammonia?  It turns out that the geniuses that run the railroad companies have all sorts of schemes to have them go barreling through the country with only one or even no crew person inside!  In fact, in recent years they’ve already starting instituting remote control operations (RCO) in train yards.  But don’t worry folks, the technology makes things even safer than before.  Does anyone else feel like they’ve seen this movie before?  It doesn’t end well.

It certainly didn’t for Jared Boehlke, the young conductor killed on Mother’s Day in Selkirk, New Jersey, performing RCO duties. Nor for Jody Allen Herstine, another conductor run over while moving cars with RCO in 2003. Nor for another man—a switchman—run over in Utah in 2005 while another worker moved engines using RCO. And a few days ago, came news of another death.

“My heart goes out to the Lundy family, I know the pain that they are suffering. This is exactly what I have been dreading the thought of, for the last seven months. The thought of yet another family in pain, it makes me so sick.” said Heather Boehlke, widow of locomotive remote control operator Jared Boehlke, upon hearing the news of the death of Samuel W. Lundy, who was killed while performing locomotive remote control switching in Minneapolis on Tuesday, December 29.

Railroad workers and concerned humans across the country are writing to Congressman James Oberstar, the powerful chair of the House Transportation Committee, to urge that strict regulations be imposed on the railroads using RCO.  You can get a sample letter here.  I’m sealing the envelope tonight and sending the letter tomorrow, because poorly regulated remote control operations of locomotives is a really dumb idea, and it’s costing people their lives.  If the railroads keep expanding the operations, how long before an accident involving hazardous materials seriously impacts not just one family at a time, but hundreds?

Combat as Care

October 27, 2009

NPR ran a story yesterday about mental health care on campuses. About half-way in, a woman with bi-polar disorder describes what happened when she confided in her family about the extreme emotional pain she was suffering. She felt better after talking and went to sleep, but they called 911.

“And about an hour later, there’s banging on my door,” Gelender remembers. “I go to the door, and there’s two armed police who barge in, [saying] ‘Where are your pills? Where are your pills?'” The officers ransacked her room, she says. They searched her shelves and combed through drawers, all the while yelling a steady stream of questions.

“I’m half-naked,” she remembers. “I’m dressed for bed, and you know, they’re like, ‘Are you going to kill yourself? Are you going to kill yourself?’ And I’m just like, ‘No. I’m not going to kill myself.’ And they’re threatening to take me to the psych ward, and they’ve got their handcuffs in their hands. I don’t know what you say to convince someone that you’re not going to kill yourself besides, ‘No. I’m not going to kill myself.'”
The police phoned the psychiatrist on-call, and after some back and forth, they left. But the whole experience left Gelender horribly shaken.

A moment later in the story, a professional explains that “It’s better to have someone angry and alive than dead and dead.”

Talk about missing the point. How likely is it that someone who undergoes that kind of treatment will make themselves vulnerable again by telling someone how they feel?

Police, the general public, and even mental health providers often take a “combat as care” approach to people with mental illness. As someone who has worked in the mental health field, I have known police who respond with care and kindness, but I have also known them to needlessly escalate incidences and even to beat people who failed to respond as the police wanted them to, even though they posed no threat.

Even when people voluntarily report to the psych ward with thoughts of harming themselves or others, care may be denied until the patient agrees not to leave the ward until given the permission of the psychiatrist. In many cases, the doctors in this ward are wanderers who have been unable to establish their own practice or keep a steady job. In other words, they aren’t always up to snuff, though certainly there are also many that do a good job. The power dynamics are so skewed, that if the patient and psychiatrist are a poor fit, the experience can be hell for the patient. A doctor might insist a patient go on a certain med, even if the patient has had a bad reaction to it in the past, or a patient might have to listen to a doctor’s views on things that have nothing to do with mental health, such as gender roles, religion, atheism, or politics. Only once that doctor gives the okay can the patient return to their job, family, pets, etc.

Will a patient in this situation ever again willingly seek care?

As a nation, we are doing better at demanding that our doctors treat us as partners in our health care. This needs to be true in the mental health field as elsewhere. Yes, patients that are psychotic or imminently dangerous need to be stabilized before fruitful conversations can begin. But when the professionals accept a battlefield mentality on the part of the police or staff, they should not be surprised by casualties.