Health Hack: Bringing Back The Bandana

Time was, most men carried a bandana or a handkerchief (depending on whether they were country folk or city folk).  Most women carried handkerchiefs too.  But, somewhere along the way, cloth handkerchiefs fell out of favor and were replaced by disposable paper ones.  However, I have decided that what my life was missing was a bandana, and I have decided to bring them back.

The idea began, as many good ideas do, over lunch.  

While researching safety razors, I had discovered a new (to me) Zero Waste blog: Kathryn’s blog, “Going Zero Waste.”  After noodling around on her blog a bit, I had gone to the archives and started reading my way through her posts chronologically.

[I have been reading Zero Waste blogs for some time, beginning with the woman who started the genre: Bea Johnson and her blog “Zero Waste Home.”  Ideally, I aspire to create less and less waste until I would approach zero waste.  However, my ability to live a zero waste lifestyle tends to wax and wane depending upon my health.]

Newly reinvigorated by Kathryn’s example and enthusiasm, I set out to do my grocery shopping armed with my zero waste shopping kit and my Kleen Kanteen full of drinking water.  Having completed my shopping, I decided to eat out at a restaurant that uses real plates.  Since I had my own water bottle, I was able to avoid the plastic disposable cup with plastic disposable straw in a paper disposable wrapper.  In fact, my entire lunch was waste free except for the sandwich toothpicks (with frilly plastic decorative ends) – and the paper napkin.

Suddenly, I was determined to stop wasting paper napkins.  I remembered Kathryn saying in her blog that she carries reusable straws, cloth napkins, etc. in her bag, but I’m not ready to start carrying a pic-i-nic basket with me everywhere I go.  And most cloth napkins are pretty bulky to be carrying around in one’s pocket, just in case.  So I pondered…and pondered…

And then I had a flash of inspiration: Bandanas!  Large but thin, and *made* to be carried around in a pocket.  Not only could I easily carry a bandana around with me, but it’s also multipurpose.  A bandana can be a handkerchief, a napkin (not necessarily in that order), a dust mask, a head band, or even a make-shift tourniquet.  *And* I could wrap up the remains of a sandwich or a generous helping of potato chips in a bandana as well, thus avoiding a disposable food carton.  (Anyone else remember learning how to make a hobo sack on a stick in scouting?)

I am well pleased with my elegant (in the engineering sense of the word) solution.  Bandanas are lightweight and multipurpose.  I have selected some that are 100% cotton (beware! some are made of polyester these days), and intend to use them to replace disposable products such as tissue paper and paper napkins, thus saving the planet and my bank account.

There are a variety of designs, including traditional cowboy paisley, and several sizes.  I have selected a traditional 22″ x 22″ size, although you can also get them in 27″ square.  If you shop around a little bit, you can buy a bandana for less than $1.  I call that a pretty good deal.

Why is this a health hack?  1. Less garbage.  2.  Most disposable paper products are made using toxic chemicals, including bleach.  3.  More money to spend on healthy food, healthy products, or to invest in a healthy savings/investment account.  Financial security is very good for your health!  4.  You never know when you might need an emergency tourniquet…

In fact, here’s an entire blog post on survival uses for a bandana.  Awesome!

Now go and buy yourself a bandana – Tell ’em Crew Dog sent you. 😉  Might even still be time to grab some as stocking stuffers…  Heck, maybe we’ll start a stampede.

Health Hack: Using a DE (Double Edge) Safety Razor

Some things in life are intimidating when you first attempt them – like jumping out of an airplane, getting Botox injections, or using a safety razor.

Backstory: I started using a cartridge razor (the kind with the disposable heads [cartridges] but permanent handle) decades ago.  I was thoroughly, completely, and in every other way satisfied with my razor.  And then disaster struck.  

I dropped my razor one time too many, and a tiny plastic piece broke off – a piece which, it turns out, was critical to keeping the cartridge heads in place.  I tried to keep using my trusty razor, but the head kept coming off while I was shaving – not ideal, to say the least.

Since I had a significant cache of cartridges (bought on sale at the BX/PX), and I had always been happy with my razor, my first thought was to buy a replacement handle.  No joy.

It turns out that those handles are no longer being manufactured.  Furthermore, I could not find one on Amazon, eBay, or anywhere else on the internet.  In fact, I discovered that replacing that particular handle was a  Holy Grail quest.

My search led me to shaving forums – oh, yes, there are multiple forums online, on which shaving enthusiasts debate the relative merits of cartridge razors vs. safety razors, various shaving brushes, shaving soaps/foams, and even razor blades.  It turns out, my cartridge razor, unbeknownst to me, is considered one of the last good ones, before the handles became all plastic, and the cartridges kept sprouting more and more and more blades.

People from all over the world were searching for replacement handles for my razor, but the lucky few who had found them were not parting with them.  Even individuals who nearly exclusively shave with safety razors or even straight razors clung to their [brand name] cartridge razors for travel, or just nostalgia.

Having failed to procure a replacement handle for the world’s best cartridge razor, I turned to Plan B.  Although cartridge razors generate less garbage than plastic disposable razors, the cartridges are still thrown away after use.  But safety razors only generate used steel razor blades, which can be recycled (please use a blade bank or a tin can to safely house the blades when you recycle them – don’t cut some poor unsuspecting person or animal who encounters your used blades to shreds!)

I had long been thinking that if anything ever happened to the world’s best cartridge razor, I would switch to a safety razor.  Many people who are trying to reduce the amount of garbage they generate and the impact they have on the planet have switched to them – safety razors are typically all metal, and generate no plastic waste at all.

The process of selecting a safety razor to purchase was arduous – I read blog posts, search engine results, and many, many, shaving forum discussions.  I did not find a safety razor with the same handle length as the best cartridge razor in the world.  My cartridge razor is 5 inches from the top of the cartridge head to the end of the handle, and has always felt very good in my hand.  I could not find any safety razor this long.  The best I could find was 4 1/8 inches from the top to the end of the handle.

Having selected the razorI then needed to select blades.  I learned that quality razor blades are made in many countries: Sweden, Germany, Egypt, Russia, Israel – even the U.S.  According to the forums, some brands of razor blade are “more aggressive” than others.  This is important if you have sensitive skin or if you are a beginner.

One of the significant differences between cartridge razors and safety razors is that the head of a cartridge razor swivels to maintain a fairly constant angle between the blade(s) and your skin.  Safety razors, on the other hand, hold the blade in a fixed position, and the human must adjust the blade angle manually in response to the changing contours of the surface being shaved.  Fortunately, since humans have wrists, this is fairly easy to do.

However, there can be a bit of a learning curve during the transition from cartridge razors to safety razors.  Therefore, the forums recommended beginning with a “milder” or “less aggressive” blade.  I narrowed my list of possible blades down to two, and ultimately ordered the brand that could be delivered to me on the same day as the new razor.

The initial shave: It is a bit intimidating to unwrap the double-edged razor blade and place it in the razor.  Especially if, like me, you only saw videos of safety razors with butterfly clasps, but the razor you purchased doesn’t open that way.

Unable to “open” my razor to insert the razor blade, despite my best efforts, I turned to Google, and eventually discovered how to work my razor (the entire head screws off, then it comes apart in two pieces, you insert the blade between the two places, sandwich them together, and screw it back on the handle – carefully).

Having watched several tutorials, I gave it a go, using the same old soap I always use.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover how easy it was.  The intimidation was for nothing – the hair disappeared easily, with fewer strokes than I was used to making, and I didn’t nick myself at all.  Although I started out slowly, I soon was shaving with my normal speed.

Although there were a few moments when I missed the handle length of my old trusty cartridge razor, overall I was very pleased with my new safety razor.  I’d call it a successful experiment that will lead to a lifestyle change and less plastic in the landfill (and everywhere else plastic migrates).

Why is this a health hack?  1. No plastic.  2.  No garbage.  3. Many people report less razor burn and fewer ingrown hairs with the use of a safety razor.  4.  Less expensive – so you can spend your money on quality food, exercise, or other healthy things (or invest it in a retirement fund).

Intimidated by the thought of trying a safety razor?  Here’s a tutorial for men:

And here’s one for women.  (There’s an article and an imbedded video at this link.)

Have you tried a safety razor?  Why or why not?


Weekly Wrap-Up (28 November-2 December)

In case you missed it (ICYMI), here’s a list of the links that appeared on One Sick Vet’s Facebook page this week:

Monday: New Post!

Health Hack: How to Eat (Mostly) Healthy for Thanksgiving

Tuesday: Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) and Dementia

“UTIs can cause a significant and distressing change in someone’s behaviour that is commonly referred to as ‘acute confusional state’ or ‘delirium’. Delirium is a change in someone’s mental state and usually develops over one or two days. There are different types of delirium and symptoms may include agitation or restlessness, increased difficulty concentrating, hallucinations or delusions, or becoming unusually sleepy or withdrawn. Symptoms of delirium vary in severity (fluctuate) over the course of the day.

It is important that family and friends who know the person well seek medical help if they see a sudden change in behaviour, to ensure that an assessment takes place.”


I don’t know what the heck happened to Wednesday’s scheduled post.  Gremlins.

Thursday: Airman Reflects on Cancer Battle

“Combs advises other men that knowledge is the best weapon against cancer and not to let the “macho” view of something abnormal going on to deter them from seeking help.”

Friday: Liver Damage from Supplements is on the Rise

“A new review suggests that many herbal remedies and dietary supplements can also harm the liver, including some that you can easily buy online or over-the-counter in drug or health food stores.

The study also found that injuries linked to those supplements are rising fast, jumping from just 7 percent of all drug-induced liver injuries in 2004 to about 20 percent in 2014.”

Health Hack: How to Eat (Mostly) Healthy for Thanksgiving

I will confess that I am a foodie.  I love trying new foods (and beverages), especially when I am traveling.  But it doesn’t have to be a gourmet restaurant – I’m more of the food truck, street stall, Mom & Pop restaurant, diner type of foodie.  (I’m certainly not opposed to a gourmet dining experience – I’m just too frugal to do it often.)

But, as you can imagine, my recent allergen-elimination diet has had quite an effect on my foodie ways.  

Lately I’ve just been eating to live, getting little enjoyment from the same few bland foods.

However, I was determined to have a delicious Thanksgiving meal.  It was too depressing to think of forgoing the holiday treats.

On the other hand, I didn’t want to be sicker than a dog afterward either.

So, balancing taste and health concerns, here’s the Thanksgiving menu Spousal Unit & I created:

Cornish Game Hens

  • We weren’t having a crowd for dinner, and these are easier to cook than a turkey.  No seasonings – just basted with olive oil and butter and cooked in a rotisserie.
  • We select game hens that are NOT packaged in a flavor solution, as many meats are.  These flavor solutions often contain MSG, a known migraine trigger.
  • allergens: butter (milk/dairy)

Paleo Thanksgiving Stuffing

  • We delete the onion (hard to digest if you have gallbladder issues), mushrooms (prohibited if you have a mold allergy), and pecans (because I don’t like them).  We also substituted apple cider vinegar for the white wine vinegar (more flavor, lower in histamines).
  • Rather than using pork sausage, which often contains MSG, nitrates and/or nitrites (all known migraine triggers), we buy ground pork that is not packaged in a flavor solution, and add spices ourselves.  Melissa Joulwan’s book, Well-Fed, has great recipes for DIY spice and seasoning mixes.
  • We use uncured bacon (cured foods are prohibited if you have a mold allergy) with no nitrites or nitrates (which can trigger migraines).
  • We also buy chicken broth that contains no MSG (a known migraine trigger).
  • allergens: eggs; apples; celery

Paleo Sweet Potato Casserole

  • We delete the pecans/walnuts, because I don’t like them.
  • This dish satisfies the sweet potato craving, but is less sweet than traditional sweet potato casseroles.
  • allergens: eggs; apples; cinnamon/nutmeg/allspice

Maple Bacon Braised Brussels Sprouts

  • Spousal Unit hates Brussels sprouts, but will eat them prepared like this.  If you really REALLY hate Brussels sprouts, you could make Coconut-Almond Green Beans instead (if you can tolerate the spices).
  • We use uncured bacon (cured foods are prohibited if you have a mold allergy) with no nitrites or nitrates (which can trigger migraines).
  • allergens: butter (milk/dairy)

Cranberry-Orange Bread

  • We modify the recipe from a Betty Crocker cookbook.  Instead of using all-purpose flour (which contains gluten), we substitute 1/2 almond flour and 1/2 coconut flour.  This makes the bread slightly more dense (and crumbly), and gives it a slight coconut flavor.  We also substitute orange extract for the grated orange peel, because it’s easier.
  • allergens: gluten-free; butter (milk/dairy); eggs; orange juice (citrus); almonds (nuts)

[Dessert] Pumpkin Harvest Crunch

  • This year we modified the recipe we traditionally use, substituting 1/2 almond flour and 1/2 coconut flour for the yellow cake mix.  This reduced the amount of sugar and eliminated chemical additives in this dish.
  • Instead of canned Pumpkin Pie Mix, we buy canned pumpkin and add pumpkin pie spices ourselves.  This eliminates chemical additives.
  • This year, instead of homemade whipped cream (milk/dairy), we made Whipped Cream from Coconut Milk (recipe from James L. Gibb’s book, Is Food Making You Sick? The Strictly Low Histamine Diet).  We used coconut sugar to sweeten the whipped cream, and substituted vanilla extract for caramel essence.
  • allergens: gluten-free; eggs; almonds (nuts); cinnamon/nutmeg/allspice


You may or may not be able to drink alcohol.  Alcohol is not recommended on my allergen-elimination diet – particularly fermented beverages such as wine or beer.  However, I really wanted one drink with Thanksgiving dinner.  So I selected Cranberry Margaritas, since tequila is distilled, not fermented.

  • We used agave nectar to sweeten the margaritas.
  • Be sure to select a cranberry juice that is either 100% cranberry juice, or just cranberry concentrate and distilled water – no added sugar, no other ingredients.
  • I had one margarita.  It may have affected my sleep patterns, but it did not cause my allergies to flare.

NOTE: We did not have mashed potatoes or mashed potato substitutes this year, to reduce the dairy load (and because we already had plenty of food).  If you really want to satisfy that craving, try Mashed Cauliflower.  It might sound weird, but it really does satisfy the mashed potato craving.

NOTE: We are not a gravy family.  If you want gravy, try this recipe from nom nom paleo.  We haven’t tried it ourselves, but it sounds easy and tasty. Allergens: gluten-free; butter (milk/dairy); heavy cream (milk/dairy).  See previous information on onions and chicken broth.

BOTTOM LINE: You *can* have a healthy and tasty holiday meal.  Just pay attention to the ingredients and select recipes that your body will tolerate.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a health professional.  All content is for educational or informational purposes only.  Do not eat food to which you are allergic or which will otherwise negatively affect your health.


Health Hack: What Does “Take On An Empty Stomach” Mean?

So, for the first time, I was prescribed a medication that had the instructions “Take on an empty stomach.”

I was aware such medications existed, but I’d never been prescribed one before so I’d never given those instructions much thought.  But, now, I started wondering – what exactly does that mean?  HOW empty?

I mean, I could take one dose in the morning when I first wake up but then how long do I have to wait before I can eat?  And what about the *other* doses I have to take throughout the day?

And does empty only refer to food, or does water or other drinks count too?  So many questions!

Turns out, it’s not as straightforward as you might think.

Even the “expert” medical websites don’t agree.

After reviewing multiple health websites, I decided I was probably safe waiting one hour after I took the medication before eating, and waiting two hours after I ate before taking the medication.  But I didn’t know for sure.

Turns out, some medications are particularly finicky.  Hopefully, if you are taking one of those, your doctor or pharmacist will give you detailed instructions.

The National Institutes of Health asserts that “on an empty stomach” means you should take these medications either 2 hours before eating or 2 hours after eating.

And what about beverages?  There’s even *less* information to be had about that.  A few sites mention “plain water” as being ok, in moderation. But it appears that there is no “blanket” advice on beverages.  Medications  vary widely, and some medications interact with certain drinks – grapefruit juice being a well-known example.  Milk can also interfere with absorption.  And hopefully everyone knows that many medications don’t mix with alcoholic drinks.

I eventually looked up my specific medication on the Mayo Clinic website, and learned that I could take it with water or fruit juice (8 ounces for adults).  This website also confirmed that 1 hour before meals or 2 hours after was correct for this medication.

Bottom Line: You should discuss specific instructions for taking medications with your doctor or pharmacist.  The Mayo Clinic website (see above) can also provide useful information.  A broad rule of thumb is 2 hours before or two hours after eating.  Taking your medication with plain water (up to 8 ounces) should be fine (but I am not a doctor or a pharmacist, so this information is for educational purposes only).

Finally, I leave you with a commentary, written by a medical professional, on how ludicrous these medication instructions can become.

WARNING: Food and medications can interact, which could make the medications less effective or could cause adverse side-effects.  See this FDA pamphlet for more information on Food-Drug Interactions.

Health Hack: Chia Seeds

Ch-ch-ch-chia!  Lately, eating chia seeds has been all the rage.  But for those of us of a certain age, all we knew about them was Chia Pets (as seen on TV).  Slightly more fun than a Pet Rock (perhaps), a Chia Pet is a terra cotta shape that you soak in water and slather in chia seeds.  When the seeds sprout, your Chia Pet grows fur.  (I don’t know what the deal is with the alligator.  Who ever heard of a furry alligator?)

It never occurred to me that you could eat the chia seeds – it would have been like suggesting you could eat Sea Monkeys.

Flash forward a few decades, and suddenly the health food crowd is eating chia seeds (Salvia hispanica).

Touted as a “super food” by some, chia seeds are relatively high in protein and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.  Many claims have been made regarding possible health benefits of chia seeds but, since this blog is for informational purposes only and I am not a healthcare professional, I leave it to you to do your own research and due diligence.

This article provides an overview, and is a good place to start.

Not much scientific health research has been done on chia seeds yet.  However, according to one journal article, “the historical use of Salvia hispanica suggests that it is safe for consumption by nonallergic individuals. Further rigorous examination is warranted pertaining to the use of Salvia hispanica as a dietary supplement, as well as in the treatment or prevention of human disease.”

If you are skeptical about the health claims being put forth in the popular media about chia seeds, and you want more scientific information, this blog post is just the thing for you.

My Experience: I read that chia seeds grew slimy* when they were reconstituting, and I thought the texture might be gag-inducing off-putting.  (*Apparently the less unappetizing adjective is “gelatinous”.)

In fact, “Chia seeds have the ability to absorb up to 27 times their weight in water,” according to Dr. Rebecca Rawl, from Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C.

The articles I read suggested that the easiest way to start eating chia seeds was to mix the chia seeds into something where they could absorb moisture but the texture wouldn’t be noticeable, like yogurt.  So that is how I began eating chia seeds – mixed into yogurt.

To me, chia seeds don’t have a noticeable flavor.  But if they haven’t fully reconstituted they are a bit crunchy, which is fine, as long as you’re expecting it (yogurt, for example, doesn’t typically crunch).  So, if you want them to get good and slimy gelatinous, you have to give them a few minutes to soak up moisture from whatever you’ve mixed them into (or pre-mix them with water).

I currently mix them into a 6 ounce glass of low-sodium V-8 juice (which I season with Tabasco sauce), and wait for them to reconstitute before I drink it.  [Stir well – they tend to clump on the bottom of the glass!]

I have found that I don’t mind the consistency of the reconstituted chia seeds – it reminds me of tapioca pearls.  But a few always get caught in my teeth at the gum line.  So check your teeth before you leave the house…

“Why are you eating this slimy, disgusting seed?,” you might ask.

Good question.

To put it delicately, chia seeds help keep you regular.

Chia seeds are high in fiber*, and the gelatinous coating around the seeds helps them ease through your digestive system.  *“Just 1 tablespoon of chia seeds will give you 19% of your recommended daily fiber.”  It also helps your stool to be “fluffier,” if that makes any sense to you.

In other words:

“Chia seeds are a good source of insoluble fiber. The seeds expand quite a bit and form a gel when they come into contact with water. This gel adds bulk to your stool, which keeps bowel movements regular and helps prevent constipation.”

Certain medications, like iron supplements or opioid painkillers, cause constipation as a side effect.  Eating chia seeds helps counteract that effect.  Instead of getting dense and compacted, your stool stays more liquid and continues to move through your system.

It’s up to you whether you decide to take them daily, as preventative maintenance for your digestive system, or whether you choose to use them on an “as needed” basis.  They do seem to act relatively quickly, so you don’t have to wait days for the effects.

If you happen to keep an eye on your stool, you can make adjustments as necessary.

“Bottom” line: Many health claims have been made about the benefits of eating chia seeds.  Most of them have not been substantiated by scientific research (although much research remains to be done).  I use chia seeds as a natural means of maintaining regular bowel movements.  They contain only one ingredient, they’re easy to add to my regular diet, and they counteract the constipating effects of some prescription medicines and supplements.

But chia seeds are not for everyone.  See cautions below.

CAUTION:  WebMD lists several possible side effects of consuming chia seeds.  If you have one of these conditions, consult with your health care provider before consuming large or frequent quantities of chia seeds.  

CAUTION:  Some people are allergic to chia seeds.  These individuals should not consume chia seeds.  If you are allergic to sesame seeds or mustard seeds, you may also be allergic to chia seeds.

CAUTION: “If you plan to consume chia seeds or chia seed oil on a regular basis, talk with your doctor. Chia seeds can thin your blood and may affect how medicines such as Coumadin (warfarin) and aspirin work. You may need to avoid chia seeds before surgery.”

CAUTION: Although you can eat chia seeds wet or dry, it is not recommended that you eat a bunch of dry chia seeds and then drink a glass of water.  If you do this, it is possible to have problems with chia seeds lodging in your throat.  People with a history of swallowing problems or esophageal strictures are cautioned to only eat chia seeds after the seeds have fully expanded (same source as previous link).

CAUTION: It is recommended that you not consume more than 3 tablespoons of chia seeds at a time, as this can cause you to visit the bathroom more frequently than you might desire.  According to one source,  the recommended dose for children ages 4 1/2 – 18 is 1 tablespoon per day, although research has not yet established optimal or maximum doses for any age.

NOTE: For an overview of scientific research conducted on the health benefits/side effects of chia seeds, see here.

NOTE:  Nowhere have I found clarification as to whether the suggested doses (in tablespoons)  refers to the dry seeds or the reconstituted (wet) seeds.  I measure approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons of dry seeds into my food or drink and wait for them to reconstitute before consuming them.

Health Hack: Travel First Aid Kit

When I was much younger, I travelled the world without a care.  I took for granted that I would always be healthy.  Then came the time that I got food poisoning (salmonella) on a trip.  I had no first aid kit with me, and I didn’t know how to get medications in another country.

I had a two-day layover in the UK and no way to get even an aspirin – the hotel staff said it was illegal for them to give me any, not that they had any in the hotel.  After a very miserable 48 hours (plus the interminable flight home), I decided to start taking some over-the-counter medications with me when I travel.

The list of remedies I pack has grown with subsequent experiences (an epic hangover in Russia led to the inclusion of an antacid, for example).

My travel first aid supplies currently include:

  • A pain reliever/fever reducer (aspirin/Tylenol)
  • A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID; such as Ibuprofen/Alleve)
  • An antacid (Pepcid/Rolaids/Tums)
  • An anti-diarrheal (Imodium)
  • upset stomach medicine (Pepto-Bismol)
  • sleep aid/jet-lag remedy (Melatonin)
  • decongestant/expectorant
  • cough/sore throat lozenges (Cepacol)
  • a travel thermometer
  • tweezers
  • alcohol swabs
  • band aids

You could also include an anti-histamine (Benadryl).  [Update: having had my first allergic reaction, I am adding Benadryl to my kit.]

If you know you will be walking or hiking a lot, you might also want moleskin and an ace bandage.  Depending on local conditions, you may also want to include some travel toilet paper (think MRE TP, but commercially available).

[NOTE: Brand names are included for familiarity.  I buy bargain-sized generic versions of these drugs whenever possible.]

[NOTE: When possible, I buy these drugs in blister packs.  I can take a few sheets of the blister packs with me, instead of an entire bottle, to save weight in my bags.]

[NOTE: I don’t include polysporin because of TSA liquid/gel restrictions.  Soap and water and alcohol swabs are usually sufficient.  You can include polysporin if you place it with your other liquids for screening, and if the container is 3 ounces or less.]

[CAUTION: Do not mix aspirin and NSAIDs.  It can cause stomach ulcers or other problems.]

[CAUTION: Medications which are over-the-counter (uncontrolled) at home may not be uncontrolled in other countries.  For example, Melatonin is only available by prescription in Australia.]

In addition to my travel first aid kit, I always take a bottle of Afrin nasal decongestant spray with me when I fly.

It is a very bad idea to fly with a head cold, but sometimes you don’t realize you’re coming down with a cold until you have trouble clearing your ears on descent.  Afrin can help relieve congestion, which should make it possible for you to clear your ears (equalize the pressure).  If you cannot equalize the pressure, you could rupture an eardrum.  This is why I always carry a bottle of Afrin in my carry-on luggage, just in case.

Even better than having remedies with you when you travel is to avoid needing them in the first place.

I will talk about ways to maintain your health while traveling in another post.

[DISCLAIMER: All information is provided for educational purposes only.  I am not a trained healthcare provider or medical expert.  Use common sense, know what works for your body, and if you have any questions, consult with your healthcare provider.  Many medications, including over-the-counter medications, are contraindicated for patients with specific health conditions.  Do not take a medication if it is unsafe for you or may aggravate other health conditions you have.]

CALL TO ACTION: If you currently do not travel with a first aid kit or over-the-counter remedies, I encourage you to assemble a kit before your next trip, TDY, or deployment.  You don’t need a fancy container – I keep mine in my toiletries bag.

What do you pack in your travel first aid kit?

Health Hack: How to Select Properly-Fitting Eyeglasses

Long ago, when I was young and had better than 20/20 vision, I sat in a briefing room for training day and the flight doc announced to us all that, despite our current acute vision, we would all need reading glasses someday – probably by the time we were forty.  Most of us, including me, scoffed.  “No way!  My eyes are great.  *I’ll* never need glasses!”

Sadly, the flight doc was right.  Just before my 39th birthday (didn’t even make it to 40 – bogus!) I started needing longer arms to read things.  Teenagers would bounce up and shove phones in my face to show me something, and I’d have to make them back up.  Whippersnappers!

I didn’t want to start wearing glasses because I didn’t want the hassle.  And I only needed them to read up close.  Solution?

I remembered a Marine aviator from my impressionable youth who used to brag that he just bought “cheaters” at the drugstore.

So I went to my local superstore and tried on the sample glasses by the pharmacy to find the right magnification, and bought a multi-pack of those magnifying reading glasses.  I don’t remember if they were one-size-fits-all, or if they came in small, medium, and large sizes.  I just opened one of the (resealable) packages, tried them on, and decided the fit was ok.

I put a pair on my desk, a pair in my pocket, and a pair in my vehicle, and that solved my problem for several years.  They didn’t look spectacular (ha!) but they did the trick.  They tended to slide down my nose a bit when I was reading for an extended period of time, but they were cheap and easy.

The cheaters solved my problem for several years, but my near vision gradually got worse.  Eventually people started to get blurry at conversational distances.  They started to feel like “close-talkers.”  I’d try to casually back up so they weren’t blurry any more, but they’d close the distance.  Can’t do that dance for long without looking like a freak.

Since I now needed glasses for more than just reading, I decided it was time to start wearing glasses full-time.  I went to the optometrist and got my prescription, but of course Tricare doesn’t cover eyeglasses.  So I went to a local eyeglass store and got totally screwed.  In the interest of blog length, I will spare you the gory details.  Let’s just say I wound up several hundred dollars poorer with a pair of glasses that didn’t fit correctly, didn’t solve my vision problems to a satisfactory level, and, therefore, didn’t ever get worn.  I went back to my cheaters.

My first pair of prescription eyeglasses are still rotting in a desk drawer.

Life went on, and I made due with the cheaters for a few more years.  My near vision continued to deteriorate, but Tricare will only pay for an optometrist visit every two years so I had to wait.  Two-plus years later, I got my new prescription and decided to buy new glasses from a membership warehouse.  I figured the glasses would be cheaper there, and they wouldn’t try to pressure-sell expensive designer frames to me.

I went to the membership warehouse and was shown a couple of frames that were reasonably priced and looked decent.  My optometrist had suggested that, instead of trying to make one pair of glasses work for everything (a tri-focal progressive lens), I get two pairs of glasses – one for computer work and reading, and one for everything else (both bi-focal progressive; one mid & near distance and one mid & far distance).  The salesperson suggested I get two different styles of frames, so I could easily tell them apart.

For less than I paid for my first pair of prescription eyeglasses at an eyeglass store, I got two pairs of prescription glasses from the membership warehouse.  Unfortunately, neither of them fit.  After several months of returning my glasses to the warehouse for adjustments, I spent a day researching eyeglasses fit (see previous post, How Many People’s Jobs Do I have to Know How to D0?).  I learned quite a lot.

I had repeatedly told warehouse employees that my glasses felt too tight on my nose.  They responded by adjusting the glasses’ arms/temples, repeatedly. Did you know that glasses come in different bridge sizes (as in, the width of the bridge of your nose)?  I didn’t.  Apparently they didn’t either.

I learned I had frames that were ~2-4mm too small across the bridge.  The temples, that I had repeatedly suggested were too short, were at least 5mm too short.

Armed with my newly acquired knowledge of frame fitting, I returned to the membership warehouse.  The pair of glasses that fit least-badly were finally adjusted to my satisfaction (more or less).  The other pair (with a smaller bridge size) were returned, and I selected a replacement pair with a wider bridge and longer temple pieces.  I would have preferred to return both, but that was the best compromise I could get.  (Initially they were refusing to replace either pair.)

How can you avoid my mistakes?  Knowledge!

Although I am not endorsing this company, this page provides a decent overview of eyeglasses frame measurements/fit.  Unfortunately, none of the websites I could find had information on how to determine your eyeglasses size if you didn’t already have a pair of glasses.  One recommended I use a ruler to determine the width between my temples, which would give me an idea of total frame width.  Others recommended I just go to a store and try a bunch on.

It turns out, when Spousal Unit got glasses for the first time, the technician used calipers to measure Spousal Unit’s various facial dimensions.  Spousal Unit’s first pair of glasses fit perfectly.  Go figure.

Eyeglasses frames are typically labeled with their dimensions: the lens width, bridge size/width, and temple length (in that order).  These dimensions look like this: 52 [symbol that looks like a hollow square] 18 140.  The dimensions may be on the temple piece (arm) or the bridge.  Sometimes the first two dimensions are on the bridge and the temple length is on the temple piece.  They might even be on the ear piece!  For examples of what you’re looking for, see here (again, not a product endorsement).

Lens width (aka eye size) is the horizontal width of the frame’s lens (in millimeters).  Lens width typically ranges from 40-62mm.  This dimension is given for one lens, so you must double this and add bridge size and end piece size to get total frame width.  [The end piece is the part of the frame that connects the outer edge of the lens frame to the temple/arm.]

Bridge size is the distance between the closest points of the two lenses (in millimeters).  This is the space where your nose goes.  Bridge size typically ranges from 14-24mm.  Temple (arm) length is measured along the length of the temple from one end to the other and also includes the bend.  Temple length typically ranges from 120-150mm, but often only by multiples of five (130, 135, 140, etc.).  It is important to have enough length so the temple sits horizontally and does not tip up over the ear.

Lens height is often not labeled on eyeglasses frames, but may appear as the last number of the sequence.  It is the height measured vertically from the top to the bottom of the lens.  Lens height is important for bi-focal or progressive lenses as there needs to be enough area for the multiple parts of the prescription.

Once you get a pair of glasses that actually fits, write down the dimensions!  (The printing may wear off your frames over time.)

When you shop for your next pair of glasses, make sure you select a pair that is +/- 2mm for the lens width, +/- 1mm for the bridge size, and +/- 5mm for the temple length (different styles may fit a bit differently).

If you are concerned about your cosmetic appearance while wearing glasses, it is recommended that your eyes be nearly centered within the width of each lens.  This site (again, not a product endorsement) gives more information on fitting glasses for various types of faces (close-set eyes, wide face, etc.).  In particular, their information on bridge location was very useful to me.  You can also google information about face shape and corresponding frame shapes.

I’ve settled for a look I call “Goofy as hell, but at least I can see and I’m not in pain from glasses that are too small.”  I think it’ll catch on. #trendsetter #form_follows_function

How to be attractive: I still don’t know.  I think I’ll just hide Spousal Unit’s glasses.

Have you figured out how to procure glasses that fit, are attractive, and don’t cost an arm and a leg?  Please share your knowledge with us.  I need all the help I can get.

Health Hack: Evening Checklist

It’s easier for me to run my nightly health and hygiene routine without needing a checklist, since I’m a night owl, not an early bird, and since there’s less to the night routine.  However, on a bad day all bets are off.

So, in the interest of symmetry, and since early birds (or off-their-game night owls) might find it helpful to use checklists at night when they’re tired and thinking less clearly, I have also created an Evening Health Checklist:

Evening Health Checklist – One Sick Vet

Again, feel free to print it out and use it, or create your own.

What will you do to hack your health today?

[In case you missed it, the Morning Health Checklist is here.]

Health Hack: Morning Checklist

The military loves checklists.  For some career fields, it feels like there’s a checklist for every action except going to the can/head/toilet. (Number 1 – check.  Number 2 – check.)

For many of us veterans, using checklists has become a deeply ingrained habit pattern.  So why not harness the checklist habit pattern and utilize the checklist tool to create a healthier lifestyle?

Particularly if you have a health condition that affects your memory, thought-process, or motivation, a checklist can be a very helpful aid.  Why not use  checklists as a health life hack? (“Life hacking refers to any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life.”)

Research indicates that it is often beneficial to take positive actions whether or not we “feel like it”.  Since I frequently wake up feeling crappy and either forget to accomplish some or most of my morning routine or just don’t feel like doing it – but I know that my morning routine is good for my health & wellbeing – I have decided to implement a morning checklist.  While it’s easy to destroy my morning routine by gradually skipping more and more days, it’s much more difficult for me to intentionally not accomplish the checklist.  So, for me, routine checklists are an effective life hack.

This is my Morning Checklist:

Morning Health Checklist – One Sick Vet

(Feel free to print it out and use it, or create your own.)

You could also use a daily health journal, a spread sheet, or a chart (like a kid’s chore chart) on the wall or refrigerator or bathroom mirror.  Whatever works for you.  (Anyone know of an app for that?)  The key is to find a way to get yourself to consistently make healthy choices and take healthy actions whether or not you feel like it, or to find a method that helps you remember when you are having difficulty remembering.

What will you do to hack your health today?