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The $456 Billion Meme

Many thanks to Dr. Rob at the Musings of a Distractible Mind
blog for tagging me with the 456 billion dollar meme…  The idea of this game is to think of the best
way to spend 456 billion dollars.  Sam at
BlogMD started this meme when considering how the total amount of money spent
on the war in Iraq may have been better spent (he suggests that we could have
cured cancer by giving that money to the NCI instead).  By contrast, Rob’s proposal is rather whimsical, exploring
the number of llamas and goats that could have been purchased for that amount
of cash.

I’m of two minds – part of me wants to be silly, the other
wants to be serious (a tension that is part of Rob’s daily inner struggle)… but
in this case I’m afraid that silly wins.

Silly Val

My apologies to Sam for allowing his noble meme to
deteriorate so rapidly into chaos but what did you expect, tagging a goat loving
guy who blogs about the history of accordions?
It’s not surprising that his pals would wander off into uncharted animal
territory, rather than suggesting solutions that might actually achieve world

I myself have a special fondness for any animal whose face
bears an expression of astonishment, goofyness, or inquisitiveness.  Some animals are just plain cute because of
their whimsical behavior.

Given my recent concern about melamine and pet food tainting
– I suppose the 456 billion could be used to create US regulated, safe, animal
food factories to support the culinary needs of kitties and doggies everywhere…
except in China, of course, where they make pet food but eat pets.  There’s some kind of irony in there somewhere…

Of course, humans are people too… and I also worry about the
safety of the food supply for them.  The
latest food debacles (salmonella in Cadbury’s chocolate bars and in US
peanut butter, as well as the E. coli/spinach issue) highlight the fact that
even the West’s attempts to regulate and monitor food safety have fallen down
on the job.

So… in honor of the culinary medical blog “The Blog That Ate Manhattan” – our Grand
Rounds host this week – I am voting to use the $456 billion on safe food for
pets and people.  Since math isn’t my
forte, I’m not sure exactly how the cost break down will go, but I think it’s
something like:

Cost of creating internationally safe pet food: $50 billion

Cost of creating an air-tight FDA process for ensuring human
food and drug safety: $100 billion

Cost of setting up safe, organic producers of healthy food
all over the world: $306 billion

The cost of a fat, juicy, 100% Salmonella-free wild fish
steak on summer barbeque grill… priceless.

I tag the following bloggers to tell me what they would do
with $456 billion…  Dr. Charles, Dr. Joe,
Dr. Charlie, Dr. Jeff, and Mira Kirshenbaum.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

Globalization Poses Health Risks

The global economy is a mixed blessing – while we may
benefit from access to less expensive goods and services, by using them we rely
on the quality standards of their country of origin.  In an alarming expose, the New York Times
reveals how far behind China
is in the application of quality and safety standards to their food and
pharmaceutical products.

I have voiced concerns in this blog before about the
melamine/pet food scandal and the implications it may have for humans, as well
as the fact that many Chinese citizens trust western medicine over their own
traditional practices for matters of serious illness.  But this latest Times article has further
described the risk that counterfeit Chinese products can pose to the global community:

Toxic syrup has
figured in at least eight mass poisonings around the world in the past two
decades. Researchers estimate that thousands have died. In many cases, the
precise origin of the poison has never been determined. But records and
interviews show that in three of the last four cases it was made in China, a major
source of counterfeit drugs.

“Everybody wants to
invest in the pharmaceutical industry and it is growing, but the regulators
can’t keep up,” Mr. Zhou said. “We need a system to assure our safety.”

… Families [in Panama] have
reported 365 deaths from the poison, 100 of which have been confirmed so far.

When it comes to your health and the safety of the medicines
you use, you’re only as safe as the weakest link in the manufacturing or regulatory
process.  Prescription medications are
carefully regulated in the US,
but there is no such oversight in the herb and supplements market.  So buyer beware…  Check out places like to get
some objective information about safety before you pop those “health pills.”

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

Best of the Blog, Part 2

The best way to cheer
yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.
Mark Twain

In this post we focus on cheerful, positive stories – my favorite
blog theme.

The cookie series

Girl Scout cookies – the story of a little girl who went
beyond the call of duty

9/11 cookies – what some of us did on that fateful day

Baking cookies part 2 – how one man made it back from near

Good can come from

The strength of weakness – Dr. Rob shows how we can turn
suffering into a force for good

Back Pain 911 – my own back injury teaches me compassion for

More than skin deep – a burn victim finds a way to “pay it forward”

Unexpected heroes

Two teen girls take on Glaxo Smith Kline – the ultimate
David & Goliath story

Spider saves man from cancer – a spider bite called
attention to a suspicious nearby lesion

Make a wish – An 8 year old “President” shows great bravery in
his final months

Your mom will always be your mom – and mine has impulse
control problems

My medical heroes – some doctors who are making a difference

Slice of life

Easter exercises – how creative parents get their kids to

An elderly woman assesses her healthcare problems

Understanding introverts – they’re worth getting to know

What the heck is a rehab doc? – my specialty is the least
understood in all of medicine!

Well, there you have it.
My thoughts in a nutshell from the past 6 months.  Stay tuned for more random thoughts… or make
a suggestion and I may blog about it!

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

More than skin deep

A few weeks ago I tripped and fell on the sidewalk.  I went down on hands and knees and scraped my left knee pretty badly.  The onlookers pretended not to notice, I suppose sparing me the embarrassment of asking if I was ok.  I dusted myself off and bled down my leg en route to work.

Since then I kept the wound moist with neosporin and band aids, allowing the skin to heal with minimal scarring.  But as I marveled at how painful this little patch of road burn is, I remembered a young girl I met about a decade ago who had a much more serious burn.

Inga was camping with her parents in a synthetic tent.  They had spent the day fishing and canoing near a campground somewhere in Eastern Europe.  They were huddled together inside the tent in the cool of the evening, speaking animatedly about the day’s events and the beauty of nature when Inga accidentally knocked over the kerosene lamp situated near the exit flap.  The kerosene spilled out onto the tent and the fire ignited immediately.  The tent began to melt in the fire and the zipper got stuck in the hot plastic material.  The unimaginable screams of her dying parents as they burned alive, trapped in this tent, brought help just in time to save Inga’s life.

But Inga was horribly disfigured by the fire.  She spent nearly a year in the hospital, receiving skin grafts and fighting off infections.  She was eventually able to return to school, but was treated like an outcast.  Her former friends were too horrified by her appearance to welcome her back and she spent most of her days sitting alone in the corner, covering her face with a scarf, blaming herself for the death of her own parents.

Her story reached the compassionate ears of a plastic surgeon friend of mine.  He traveled to Eastern Europe to meet Inga and see if he could help her.  As it turns out, she had no living relatives and was dirt poor.  He could see that the medical team taking care of her had carefully covered the defects in her skin, but had not attempted to restore a normal appearance with modern plastic surgery techniques.

The surgeon knew that it would take many surgeries over many years to give her the best result possible.  After some debate and soul searching, he decided to sponsor Inga to come to America where he committed to taking care of her financial needs and to giving her a new life.

I first met Inga after she had been in the states for several years.  She looked like a burn victim, with tight facial skin and abnormal contours – but compared to how she appeared in the photos of when she first arrived (with no nose or cheek flesh at all) this was a huge improvement.  She was meeting with the surgeon to have a seroma evacuated from under her left cheek.  He had to remove the extra fluid with a large syringe.

As I watched him numb the area and sink a deep, large bore needle into this young girl’s face, I cringed internally but tried to appear unphased for her sake.  She didn’t flinch, but sat staring forward bravely, her grey eyes fixed on the wall in front of her.  I saw a tear well up and trickle down her disfigured cheek during the procedure and I instinctively reached for her hand.  The tears continued in silence.  This burn had penetrated so much deeper than the skin.

I haven’t seen Inga since, though I’ve heard that she’s doing well in school, has made some good friends, and is planning to become a nurse one day.  Her decision to devote her life to caring for others is a beautiful example of “paying it forward.”This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

Smelling the flowers

There are cherry trees just outside my patio and 2 days ago
they decided to drop the majority of their pink petals on the ground.  It created a luxurious, 2 inch deep floral
carpet that surrounded my home.  It was so
beautiful and soft in appearance that I couldn’t resist scooping up fist fulls
of the flower bits and holding them out to my husband.  It was a sunny blue day and I giggled as I
asked him to join me in my child like glee.

“I’m not touching them,” he said, “It will make my nose

“Aw, come on honey,” I cajoled him, “these petals won’t be
here like this again for another year!
Touch them, they’re so soft!”

He glanced at me sideways.
“No, I don’t want to touch them.
They’re dirty.”

I was crest fallen at first, but then I started thinking
about how something so beautiful to one person, can look entirely different to
someone with allergies.  What a sad thing
to have taken away – the ability to truly stop and smell the flowers.  I count my blessings that I have no allergies
to anything.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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