June 27, 2017

Mindfulness

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” – Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

For me, yesterday was just one of “those days”. You know that type of day — when you’re all in your head, you’re just a tangled knot of anxiety, and it feels like nothing is going your way. It’s the type of day wherein you feel like maybe Zeus has gotten his toga in a twist and is taking it out on you personally.

Realizing that I really wasn’t managing to get anything productive done, I decided to take a moment and step away from the ever-growing mountain of things I needed to do. I made a cup of tea, cooked myself a nice meal, and took some time to just relax.

Normally, when I cook, I put on some TV show to look at while I’m in the kitchen; but yesterday I decided to instead try out something I read about ‘mindfulness’. I’d been hearing a lot about mindfulness, and during my psychiatry rotation, I learnt about it being a useful way to deal with stress.

Mindfulness is simply a Western adaptation of the ancient Eastern practice of “stilling the mind”, which is the goal of meditation. It’s the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal experiences occurring in the present moment.

So I decided to give it a go.

As I was cooking, different thoughts started popping into my head — most of them trivial and more than a little ridiculous. But then the more serious ones started to bubble to the surface; thoughts like, “Did I fail my last exam?” And instead of doing the usual of just stuffing the thought into a drawer in the back of my brain, I decided to deal with it head-on. I needed to acknowledge the thought and how it made me feel.

Of course the thought of failing an exam made me extremely anxious. But would I be able to fix anything about that test now? No. All I could do is wait for results to come out. I needed to change my perspective — instead of looking at that test with regret and guilt, I needed to look at it as a lesson for things I could do differently moving forward. By acknowledging that, I was able to feel less anxious.

And, for the rest of the afternoon, I just tried to be in the moment. Instead of being all caught up and swept away in my thoughts, I acknowledged thoughts and worries as they cropped up, dealt with them as best I could, and moved on. I finished cooking and enjoyed my meal. I lingered over my cup of tea, and really just tried to appreciate the little things.

When it was time for me to get back to work, my head was clearer and I got much more done that I thought I would. I would say that the mindfulness experiment was a success. I also figured out why the Japanese have such an elaborate “tea ceremony” and why Hindu Pujas can be so relaxing.

I think everyone experiences anxiety at some point. And many of us tend to get into our heads about it and, as the old folks would say, just “gotay” the problem — make it revolve in a never-ending series of circles. It’s important to take a step back, examine our thoughts, and try to notice when our thoughts are derailing us. By acknowledging and being more self-aware about our anxieties, we can start to deal with that anxiety in a productive way, before it spirals out of control.

So maybe you should give mindfulness a try; you might find it helpful!

Shots!

‘Vaccines are the tugboats of preventive health’ – William Foege

Vaccines, shots, immunization – so many names for this agent of childhood trauma. But apart from making little kids terrified of anyone with a stethoscope, why do we need vaccines anyway?

Well, diseases are caused by various micro-organisms, like viruses and bacteria. When the micro-organisms breach the body’s initial defences (like the skin) and infect the body, the body fights back internally with its own arsenal of defence mechanisms that it creates, and eventually beats off the infection.

Vaccines have a weakened form of those micro-organisms, so when you get vaccinated, you get infected with a little bit of a weakened form of the virus — not enough to actually get you sick, but enough for your body to recognise the virus and equip itself to fight it off when it actually hits you.

It’s like taking a self-defence class. You take the class and you might get a few bruises as you learn the moves to fight off an attacker; but, at the end of it, you’ve learnt exactly how to defend yourself. But what if you didn’t take the class? You won’t know where to hit, what to do – you’d be defenceless. The mugger could rob you; injure you so severely that you’d have permanent damage, or you might even die.

Vaccines are the self-defence class for your body’s immune system. It’s the dress rehearsal before the main event, so your body has everything in place to deal with the actual full-strength virus.

And vaccines aren’t just important at the individual level; they help the population as a whole. There’s this concept called “Herd Immunity”. Let’s say, for example, there’s a room of 50 people — all unvaccinated — and someone walks in with a dangerous disease. The infection will spread from person to person until the entire room is infected. But what if everyone in the room were vaccinated, except for 5 people near the door and 3 people furthest from the door? Well, the 5 people near the door would be infected, but it won’t spread to anyone else; it’ll never reach the 3 other unvaccinated people, because the 42 vaccinated people between them and the door acted as a buffer, preventing the disease from spreading.

And if you apply that concept to the entire population, if enough of us are vaccinated, we’ll be able to control the spread of disease, protecting those people who cannot be vaccinated. And who are those people? Well there are some people who are born without a functioning immune system; they can’t even fight off the weakened virus in the vaccine. Cancer patients on chemotherapy can’t get vaccinated because the chemotherapy weakens their immune system too much for them to be able to tolerate the vaccine. That’s why herd immunity is so important. It’s like when a herd of elephants are under attack: the adults gather in a circle around their young to protect them. That’s what we do when we’re vaccinated: we help to protect those who can’t be vaccinated.

Vaccines can also help to prevent cancer. Cervical cancer is highly linked with HPV. There’s a vaccine against HPV, making cervical cancer one of the most preventable types of cancer. This is good news to us women, and we ought to take advantage of this.

I received three vaccines last week. I finally got around to getting my chicken pox and HPV vaccines; and, for the first time, I got a flu shot. So when I exhort all of you to make sure you’re up-to-date on your vaccines, I’m not all talk; my still-sore arms can attest to that!

 

Fighting disease with antibiotics

“Antimicrobial resistance: no action today, no cure tomorrow.”
– World Health Day 2011 theme

Growing up in Guyana, I now realise that our rather casual approach to antibiotics – in prescription and usage – has a serious downside risk.

Back in high school, we learnt about microbes like bacteria that cause so many diseases and illnesses. The discovery of these microbes after the invention of the microscope led to the search for an agent – an “anti-biotic” – that would destroy them and cure the diseases they caused.

Last week we had a class about ‘Antimicrobial Resistance’. During the class, we learnt that many of the antibiotics that used to be able to kill specific bacteria were no longer effective against those bacteria. Physicians now have to prescribe newer, stronger antibiotics to fight the bacteria that have developed resistance to the old antibiotics.

Antimicrobial resistance is a growing global concern: more and more bacterial species are becoming resistant to the antibiotics we used to use to treat them. In fact, the theme for World Health Day way back in 2011 was “Antimicrobial resistance: no action today, no cure tomorrow.” The theme was a call to action for us to start making changes now, or else we won’t be able to depend on antibiotics to be able to cure deadly diseases in the future. It’s terrifying to think about bacteria so resistant that we won’t have any drugs that are able to kill them.

So what are some of the actions that we as individuals could take? Well, first of all, we could make sure we’re using antibiotics correctly when we’re prescribed them. Doctors don’t usually choose a random course of antibiotics for you to use; there’s a method to their madness, I promise. So make sure you complete the entire course of antibiotics that you’ve been prescribed. Don’t stop the course three-quarters of the way just because you’re starting to feel better. Finish the course to make sure you’ve zapped all of the bad bacteria out of your system.

There are all sorts of bugs out there that can cause disease — bacteria, viruses, fungi. Not all disease are caused by bacteria. In fact, the flu that we all seem to get yearly is caused by a virus: the influenza virus. Antibiotics don’t work against viruses, so they won’t do anything to cure your bout of influenza. That’s why your doctor won’t give you antibiotics for your flu. Instead, they’ll tell you what to do to manage your symptoms — things like taking Panadol for the fever, getting plenty of rest, and using fluids.

The medical system isn’t the only reason for our problems with antimicrobial resistance though. The agricultural industry actually plays a major part as well. There is a growing concern about the use of antibiotics in the rearing of livestock.

It is natural for bacteria to develop resistance; all living things adapt and evolve to survive in a changing world. But the problem we’re facing is how quickly the bacteria are becoming resistant, and that’s largely in part to the way we’ve been misusing and overusing antibiotics.

Antibiotics are a vital part of our fight against diseases. The discovery of penicillin, the first antibiotic, was a revolutionary turning point. Let’s make sure we’re doing our part to make sure that the antibiotics we have are still effective for many more years to come!

 

Appreciating mothers

“A mother’s arms are made of tenderness and children sleep soundly in them”
– Victor Hugo

Sunday, the second Sunday of May, has been set aside as Mother’s Day. Kids all over the world will try to do whatever they can to make their mothers feel special. Some will give their mother flowers or cards. Some might even prepare a home-cooked meal, or take their moms out for dinner.

When Mother’s Day became a recognized holiday in the US in 1914, it quickly spread to the rest of the world. And just as quickly, by the 1920s, it had become as commercialized as any other holiday. Say “Hip! Hip! Hooray for commodification of even being thankful for mother’s love!! The world soon plunged into the Great Depression, and mothers really had to become mothers!

But why should you only honour your mother on the second Sunday of May? It’s just a date chosen arbitrarily. It could’ve been any other date; or, better yet, it doesn’t just have to be one date. Why can’t people show their love for their mothers every day? Or rather, why don’t they? Your mother should be important enough to you that you would have no problem with showing her that you love her every day; whether you want to show your love by just saying ‘I love you’ or by showering her with gifts, it’s your prerogative. Be spontaneous — show your love every day in all of the little ways that count much, much more.

Let’s hear it for those wonderful women who had to put up with our wailing in the middle of the night as babies, our whining about going to school, our teenage angst, and everything else. The women who, all too often, are our shoulders to cry on, the persons we share our hopes and fears with, the persons who worry about us more than we ever worry about ourselves.

And when we become mothers, we often pattern our behaviours after our own mothers. And my mom has certainly set the bar pretty high: ten years from now, I’ll have some big shoes to fill. But the good thing is that your mom would be there to help you get through your own journey through motherhood. She’ll teach you how to hold your newborn child, and of course she’ll spoil your kids rotten, so they’re always more excited to see their grandmother than you.

And this Mother’s Day isn’t just limited to celebrating your biological mother. It’s a time to honour all of those great women who were mothers to you, who at some point treated you like you were their own child.

And even though you should be showing your love every day, it IS a nice gesture to go that extra mile on Mother’s Day.

Happy (early) Mothers’ Day!

 

Nostalgia and movies

“HakunaMatata, ain’tno passing craze. It means no worries for the rest of your days”
– Timon and Pumba, The Lion King

We all have heroes and heroines from movies we saw as kids. Some of these movies we can re-watch and they take us back, even just for two hours, to that time, when things were so much simpler. Much of the appeal of those movies comes from the nostalgia accompanying our memories of when we first saw them, and what things were like back then. Movies and songs can be really powerful in the way they evoke certain emotions from us.

For me, ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ are some of the movies from my childhood that manage to take me right back to the first couple of times I saw those movies. And I still cheer when I see Shahrukh running towards Camp Sunshine with Raghupati Ragav playing in the background. Shahrukh has clearly mastered those dramatic running sequences. These movies still make me laugh, cry, sigh and sing-along.

And I can’t help but reflect on how Indian movies have changed since the days of ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’. I know this may make me seem like an old fudfy-duddy but honestly, I really don’t enjoy most of the newer Indian movies. Maybe some might call the older movies cheesy, even I quickly lose patience with the seemingly never-ending ‘running-around-trees-while-singing sequences’, but at least they didn’t have the actors ‘getting down’ to Raghupati Ragav in a club like Hritik and Priyanka did in Krissh 3. That’s not on my nostalgic memory lane.

I finally got to see ‘Rogue One’ a couple of weeks ago, when I was back home and I was thrilled it managed to inspire the same sense of awe as the original Star Wars movies. In itself, the movie was wonderfully crafted and paced and while the central characters were completely new to the series, it was not just the self-references to the previous episodes, but the central message of sacrifice for a greater cause that evoked the nostalgia. And imagine there was not a single make-out scene in a modern movie that continues to break box office records! Good narratives still matter.

So it’s nice that there are still movies that you can enjoy that can take you back to your childhood days. I know we should be moving forward, forging onwards, setting goals and trying to achieve those goals. But life also needs some constants and most of what is evoked nostalgically is centred around the particular constants formed in our early years. They will never get old because they’ve become part of who you are.

For me, and perhaps many people my age, we’re in the throes of adjusting to adulthood. Getting used to living on our own, doing our own grocery, driving ourselves around and doing you know, ‘adult-things’. And a few years from now we’ll be responsible for keeping our patients alive, defending our clients in court or keeping our business afloat. So with our futures quickly hurtling towards us, it’s nice to escape for a few hours into a nice movie that makes us connect to our younger selves. In a sense, were are completing our narratives.

So what movies take you back to your childhood? When last did you look at those movies? I can guarantee that those movies will be the ones that can cheer you up when you’re having a bad day.

Women and the end of Indentureship

“Remember one-third quota/Coolie woman./ Was your blood spilled so that I might reject my history?”– Mahadai Das, “They came in ships”

During last May, “Arrival Month”, I wrote some pieces about the contributions of women during the period of Indian Indentureship, which lasted between 1838 and 1917. With the 100th anniversary of the End of Indentureship coming up, I thought maybe I could share a few thoughts on the role women played to bring about that end.
In the line from Mahadai Das’ poem above, she’s referring to the quota stipulated as to the minimum number of women that had to be recruited for each shipment of “coolies” – as the Indian Indentureds were scornfully called. With those numbers, you can imagine what the competition for women did to social relations on first the ships and then the logees. Murders and choppings and desertions were rampant.
On the ship Allanshaw’s voyage to Guyana in 1885, along with my maternal great-great grandmother, was a woman Maharani who was raped by some sailors during the voyage and died. Her story is told as “Maharani’s Misery: Narratives of a Passage from India to the Caribbean”, by Professor Verene Shepherd, one of the present champions of the Reparations Movement. It should be read by all persons in the Caribbean to get a glimpse of what it took to bring the half-a-million Indian Indentureds to the Caribbean. Seventeen persons died on that voyage and were thrown into the “Kala Pani” – the dreaded “Black Waters”.
To secure women for their “one third” quota from a 19th century India where women were completely sequestered, even the recruiters (“arkatis”) must have been challenged. Most of the female recruits were listed as “single” and there is much evidence that there was a high percentage of youthful widows. At that time, they could not remarry and would have lived a very miserable life of semi-servitude if their in-laws were willing to keep them, or more frequently, not a much different one in their home village.
Even in modern India, many widows have a liminal existence of “betwixt and between” the living and the dead and it is not surprising that many of them in the 19th century were persuaded to start a new life in a foreign land. Some of them went into relationships in the depots while they waited for the ship’s complement of immigrants to be filled. They would be described as “married” before the final boarding. This behaviour – breaking of caste rules! – scandalised later commentators such as Gandhi, one can imagine their reaction to the reality on the plantations when women were in such demand that even older widows with children could remarry – between religions much less caste boundaries.
Additionally women were harassed by both white overseers and Indian drivers for sexual favours and it should not shock the sensibilities of anyone that several women would have voluntarily entered into “liaisons” with men in power. How much different is it in the modern world of the office world? Starting in the beginning of the 20th century, Indian Nationalists started to take up the cause of overseas Indentured Indians – mostly because their degradation gave life to their claim to be “brown Englishmen”. The “cause” of “protecting Indian women abroad attracted the greatest interest and even attracted one of the top Indian Nationalist of the time – Sarojnie Naidu.
Women were also an integral element in the several episodes, beginning in 1872 in Devonshire Castle on the Essequibo Coast, when immigrants protested their working conditions – including abuse of women – and the Police were called in to open fire. In Rose Hall, Canje in 1913, 15 Indians were shot and killed – including one woman. News reached India as the matter was discussed in the Indian Legislature.
When a similar number of Immigrants were killed in Fiji in 1915, this served as a death knell to Indian Indentureship which was finally ended on March 12, 1917.

The 5 R’s of motivation against cigarette smoking

Last week I wrote about the 5 R’s of motivation to deal with alcoholism, this week I’d like to apply them to cigarette smoking. It’s an interesting quirk of history that our part of the world, the West Indies, first became important for producing both rum and tobacco, which are both now conceded to present severe health challenges.

As we try to motivate others to quit these two addictive products, we should be aware that the mega corporations that make billions in profits from their sales are spending commensurate sums to motivate the same people to INCREASE their usage.

Especially with cigarettes, as the developed countries became aware of the severe negative effect of cigarette on the human system and their governments began to take countermeasures, such as warning labels, the producers shifted focus to developing countries such as the West Indies. We are at even greater risk than before.

And just to recap the 5 R’s: in trying to motivate a patient to make a change in their behaviour, it’s important to explain to them how the change is relevant to them personally, to talk about the risks of their current behaviour, to educate the patient about the potential rewards of change, and to address possible roadblocks they might encounter while trying to change. And the final R is repetition- doctors should try to respectfully repeat the 5 R’s each visit to try to motivate their patients to make the changes to live a healthier life.

In terms of relevancy to the person, there should be a discussion about how quitting smoking would directly impact their life – it could save them money, improve their quality of life, and decrease the chances of heart attack, cancer or stroke. Quitting smoking would also improve the quality of life of the persons they live with – secondhand smoke can be as dangerous as if you were smoking the cigarettes yourself.

Each person is different, and there will be different issues that are relevant to them and it is important for their doctor to discuss those issues with them in a respectful, non-confrontational manner.

In terms of risks, there are long-term and short-term risks of smoking. In the short-term, risks include a reduction in taste and smell, a continuous cough and a weakened immune system.

In the long-term, heart disease, lung disease, lung cancer, throat cancer, stomach cancer, bladder cancer and a host of other cancers.

The discussion of risks isn’t meant to be a scare-tactic, it’s supposed to be a frank discussion where the abuser is made aware of the risks and where their perception of those risks is explored.

In terms of rewards, there are all of the health rewards – add on more than a couple of years to your lifespan, regain your sense of smell and taste. And of course, there’s all of that money that you can save. And for each patient, there are specific areas where their smoking is causing a problem, so there should be a discussion about how those problems might be ameliorated by cutting down the drinking.

And of course, change is never easy – if it was, they probably wouldn’t have had to come up with 5 R’s to motivate people. But that brings us to the 4th R: roadblocks. There should be a discussion with the person about possible hurdles they’ll have to face on the road to change and the smoker and doctor should come up with strategies on how to handle those problems when they arise. They may suffer withdrawal symptoms, or they may live in an environment that encourages their smoking.

The final R is repetition. As I mentioned before, doctors should try to respectfully repeat the 5 R’s each visit to try to motivate the smoker to quit. Concerned friends and family should also do the same.

And doctors should also break the stereotypes of being high abusers of alcohol and cigarettes.

The 5 R’s of motivation and alcohol abuse

“Alcoholism is a devastating, potentially fatal disease. The primary symptom of having it is telling everyone – including yourself – that you are not an alcoholic.” – Herbert L Gravitz& Julie D Bowden

In school, we’re taught that an important aspect of taking a patient’s history is asking about whether they smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol. And then we’re expected to quantify the person’s cigarette or alcohol use. How much? How often? When did you first start? And invariably most people try to lowball their usage. It’s only after a bit of careful prodding that the truth comes out – or at least something close enough to the truth.

While the legality of alcohol in our culture might not suggest it – cigarettes and alcohol are two of the most potent psychoactive substances. So not surprisingly, we’ve been taught about our role as doctors in counselling patients to quit smoking or to reduce their alcohol intake.

This past rotation in family medicine, we learnt about the five A’s of intervention and the five R’s of motivation. I am sure that each of us, even if we are not doctors, will encounter persons who abuse alcohol and this approach can prove useful.

In trying to motivate a patient to make a change in their behaviour, it’s important to explain to them how the change is relevant to them personally, to talk about the risks of their current behaviour, to educate the patient about the potential rewards of change, and to address possible roadblocks they might encounter while trying to change. And the final R is repetition – doctors should try to respectfully repeat the five R’s each visit to try to motivate their patient to make the changes to live a healthier life.

Let’s take alcohol abuse as an example where the five R’s can be used to motivate a person to cut down on their drinking.

In terms of relevancy to the person, there should be a discussion about how cutting down their alcohol consumption would directly impact their life – it could save them money, improve their quality of life, and if they’re pregnant, it would increase their chances of having a healthy baby. Each person is different, and there will be different issues that are relevant to them and it is important for their doctor to discuss those issues with them in a respectful, non-confrontational manner. Maybe friends can be more casual…but certainly not confrontational!

In terms of  risks, there are long-term and short-term risks of alcohol abuse. In the short-term, risks include disruption of sleep, blackouts and a whole host of others. In the long-term, all that assault on your liver can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure and eventually death. Alcohol abuse is one of the most common causes of pancreatitis which comes along with its own range of complications. And then there are all of the emotional risks that come along with alcohol abuse. Long-term over-consumption of alcohol can significantly increase your risk for depression. And I’m sure by now, especially in a country with one of the highest suicide-rates in the world, we’re well aware of the link between depression and suicide. The discussion of risks isn’t meant to be a scare-tactic, it’s supposed to be a frank discussion where the abuser is made aware of the risks and where their perception of those risks is explored.

In terms of rewards, there are all of the health rewards – add on more than a couple of years to your lifespan. And of course, then there’s all of that money that you can save. And for each patient, there are specific areas where their alcohol abuse is causing a problem, so there should be a discussion about how those problems might be ameliorated by cutting down the drinking.

And of course, change is never easy – if it was, they probably wouldn’t have had to come up with five R’s to motivate people. But that brings us to the fourth R: roadblocks. There should be a discussion with the person about possible hurdles they’ll have to face on the road to change and the patient and doctor should come up with strategies on how to handle those problems when they arise. They may suffer withdrawal symptoms, or they may live in an environment that encourages their alcohol abuse.

The final R is repetition. As I mentioned before, doctors should try to respectfully repeat the 5 R’s each visit to try to motivate their patient to make then changes to live a healthier life. Concerned friends and family members should also do the same.

Alcohol abuse is a problem in our country. With alcohol, and I suppose most things in life, moderation is key. Our health professionals have a duty to their patients to motivate them to make the changes towards moderation. And so do we as ordinary citizens.

Wear Red

“Prevention is better than cure.” – Desiderius Erasmus

The first Friday of every February is designated “National Wear Red Day” in the US. Heart disease is actually the number one killer of women in America. Attention has been brought to this since 2003 by wearing red to raise awareness about heart disease. I’m not big on picking up American practices (no Halloween, please!) but I’ll make an exception on this one.

There are so many decisions we can all make (not just women) about our lifestyle to reduce our risk of developing heart diseases. Things like checking your cholesterol levels regularly, and getting in a bit of exercise can go a long way in keeping you healthy.

A few semesters back we covered digestion and metabolism – all the chemical reactions that goes on inside us to keep us alive. As a part of that, we had to cover nutrition extensively. In addition to the “food” that comes to mind, our classes really emphasised how important the micronutrients like vitamins and minerals are, even though they’re required in much smaller quantities than rice and dhall – carbohydrates and proteins.

Eating well is vital to staying healthy. And while that may sound like common sense, you might be surprised by how many people actually don’t eat that healthily. Eating well doesn’t just mean eating your three meals a day; it’s what you eat that’s really important. In primary school I learnt about the different food groups, the food pyramid and the importance of a balanced diet. Remember “Go” food, “Glow” food? and “Grow” food?!

And now I’m in Med School learning even more about all of that. So one would assume that with all of this knowledge about how I should be eating, that I’ve been taking the time to plan and eat balanced meals. But in truth, it took a horrible flu, and my mother flying in and stocking my room with fresh fruits for me to finally start eating fruits regularly. And I’ve finally started taking my multivitamins again – some of those pictures on our lecture slides of what vitamin-deficiencies can look like definitely scared me into keeping up with my vitamins. (Yes, Mom!)

What we need to eat varies according to our gender, our age, our occupations and other such factors. So take the time to do some reading, or visit a nutritionist to discuss what nutrients are particularly important for you. Girls for example, need a lot of iron in their diet to replace all in the blood we lose monthly.

It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of the foods that you’re choosing to include in your diet for particular nutrients. Lots of people eat liver for its high iron content, but liver also has a really high cholesterol content and that’s not that good for keeping your heart healthy. If you already have high cholesterol levels, it might be better for you to eat other iron-rich foods instead of liver. I love liver, incidentally.

Technology is also quickly advancing to make it easier for us to stay healthy. There are so many fitness apps that keep track of your meals to let you know whether you’ve eaten enough of each particular nutrient. There are apps that you can use to keep track of whether you’re drinking enough water.

Heart disease is very serious. The heart is responsible for pumping blood all over your body. If the heart is affected, the rest of your body gets affected as well. Ease up on the fast food that’s flooding our shores, now that the US declared them unhealthy. I just heard that we’ll be getting back the Colonel serving up his chicken with his famous herbs and spices at KFC. They don’t mention all the oil needed to get that wonderful fried taste! Not good for the heart though.

rinidad is one of the most obese societies in the world. They’ve had the fast food joints longer.

So let’s all try to live better, healthier lives. There’s so much useful information at our fingertips via the Internet, that we really can’t cite ignorance as an excuse for not knowing what constitutes a balanced meal.

Remember, prevention is better than cure.

Happy New Year

“Of all sound of all bells… most solemn and touching is the peal which rings out the Old Year.” – Charles Lamb

On Friday, we officially kicked off the New Year with music and good food, family and friends. Interestingly, though the “New Year” was celebrated more than 4000 years ago, in Western cultures it was only celebrated from about 400 hundred years ago. For instance, in India, New Year is celebrated in the Hindu month of Chaithra (Mid April) and it’s been observed for more than 5100 years – of the present Kali Yuga.

In fact, the current date celebrated as “New Year’s” day was chosen in 153 BC by Julius Caesar. If you’re a fan of Roman and Greek mythology, you’ll be interested to know that the month January was named after the God of Doorways – Janus. He was given two faces – one which looked ahead to see what the new year would bring, and the other looked backward to see what happened during the past year. This is symbolic since you can never move forward if you completely ignore what happened in your past.

There is the caution that “those that forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them!” I guess in the case of Janus, being ‘two-faced’ wasn’t a bad thing!

They’re so many different traditions and superstitions concerning New Year’s Day in every country, it’s impossible to keep track of all of them. From the Dutch tradition of eating a donut (representing completing a year’s cycle) for luck or to the Scottish belief that it’s especially lucky if a tall, dark and handsome man is the first person to enter your house, it’s clear that different cultures have very different ideas about what makes you lucky!

But what is common in all cultures, is the fact that the New Year represents a new beginning – a chance to start afresh with new resolutions for the New Year (unfortunately, I’m as guilty as anyone else of conveniently forgetting those resolutions by the next week!).

Of course, we won’t be hoping for only ourselves to change for the better this New Year, we’ll be wishing for other things as well. Maybe for West Indies to become the number one Test team again (please?)

New Year’s Eve truly is a magical time. When we were very young (and still naïve) my father insisted that we be up and outside to see the “Old Year Clouds” move over and be replaced by the “New Year Clouds”. Do others also have this tradition? There’s a special joy in counting down those last few seconds until you light off the fireworks to usher in the New Year. And then the invariable hugs, shouting and general pandemonium as everyone celebrates making it through yet another year – another year full of possibilities and dreams.

But the New Year doesn’t just have to mean moving on, the New Year is also a time to strengthen bonds with those you love, keeping in mind that January 1, 2016 isn’t the end, in fact, it may only be the end of the beginning.

Happy New Year (or as they say in Greece, “Eutychismenos o kainourgios chromos!”)!