Monthly Archives: April 2006

Blossom

    

Saturday, April 29, 2006

 

Sat on a bench at the top of the hill this morning, staring out at the London skyline stretched out below. The trees on the grass around me against a clear blue sky were staggeringly beautiful, with their heavy, pink and white blossom, and my eyes, almost famished of beauty and colour all winter, kept swinging up towards them. I didn’t realise how much I had missed colour the last few months. It was a beautiful, spring day, and everything else in the foreground was saturated with light and colour too: the backs of all the houses backing onto the railway, the poles and pots and green netting on the allotments, the weeping willows lining the edge of the park, with their long hair lifting now and again in the breeze, and in the childrens’s playground the row of empty, red swings. But there was still a mist hung in the distance, and all the far buildings there were greyed out: all the skyscrapers and office blocks and steeples poking up among the rooftops. And sitting there, staring out at all those greyed-out buildings in the distance, London suddenly felt like a computer game I only had part access to as if what I was staring out at was not the full version, just a demo version, some of the icons and functions greyed out on the screen. That’s what life has felt like, for a very long time. Maybe all those greyed out parts will never come back into play, but maybe they can, maybe one day I will have full access again.

Bit worrying though, thinking of life in terms of interactive computer games – think I have been staring at computer screens for far too long!

In all that blue sky as I sat there, miles and miles and miles of it, there wasn’t a single bird flying. If I was a bird I would have dived right out into it and spent the day swooping and soaring. At times, sitting at the top of that steep hill, half asleep still, surrounded by all that blue, I almost felt I had.

Wandering Scribe

I read this story on the BBC website yesterday, and it has really affected me. I just thought you’d like to read it.

If you would like to read her blog, its here

Park and write

A homeless woman in London has been living in a car since last summer. But by writing a blog she has put herself in touch with an international audience.

It’s a tale of our time – about being cut off from everything around you but still connected to people thousands of miles away.

A woman becomes homeless, so she gets into her car and drives. Except she has nowhere to go – so she stays in the car, with all her possessions heaped in the back, sleeping in the front seats, parking in secluded streets.

For eight months, no one notices her, because she makes sure she looks respectable, taking showers and even ironing her clothes in public places like hospitals. She has made herself invisible, out of touch from anyone she used to know – and keeping separate from other homeless people.

But this is the information age. And even though she doesn’t speak to anyone, she can go into a library where she can access the internet and write an online journal – a homelessness blog – which she uses to describe all her unspoken experiences and feelings.

‘Bizarre life’

So even though she has no one to talk to in London, using the identity of Wandering Scribe, she’s exchanging e-mails with people in the United States – and the New York Times interviews her for its own story on homeless people living in cars. There’s even talk of a documentary about her.

WANDERING SCRIBE
This blog is where I come to be honest about my homelessness, not dishonest about it. I spend the rest of the day ‘outside’ in the ‘real’ world being dishonest about it, trying my hardest to cover it all up

How did this happen? How does an articulate, educated woman in her early 30s end up living in a car?

Describing herself as feeling “ashamed” to be caught in this “bizarre life”, the author of this Wandering Scribe blog wants to remain anonymous. But she explains how, last August, she began living in a car.

As with most cases, there wasn’t a single trigger for her homelessness, but a series of practical and emotional problems that built into a crisis.

Having already lost her job and with money problems, she was struggling to pay the rent. A previous relationship had ended – and last summer she says she went through what she now recognises as a psychological breakdown.

“Psychological problems can happen to anyone. If you’re lucky you’ve got your friends and family to support you – but I had a problem and had no one to support me,” she says.

Alone and without anywhere to turn, she got into her car and started driving.

‘Ashamed’

“It was frightening. The only way I could survive was not to think about it, to become detached, because if I thought about it, I just couldn’t do it.”

WANDERING SCRIBE
My body is deformed from all this cold and fear. Woke with stiff, painful joints, and every muscle, in every part of me, feels like flint. Today, all I want to do is lay down on a flat surface. A hard, flat, warm surface

“In denial” about being homeless, she kept away from other homeless people and deliberately concealed how she was living.

“I was ashamed of letting go of the reins of my life, and having nothing to back it up, without having any support network. What kind of person are you if you don’t have friends? But it happens.”

Her life has since become a surreptitious daily round of using public places for washing, keeping clean and staying warm, using her benefits to pay for petrol and food – and spending her nights in a sleeping bag, trying to keep warm in a car.

She says that it’s “exhausting, I’m at the end of my tether”, worn down by a lack of sleep, fears about being thrown out of her regular haunts.

Ambiguity

But in parallel with this grim experience, there is a separate writing life in the blog, revealing her inner-life, giving her a voice as Wandering Scribe – a process which has allowed her to reach out from her parked car to a global audience.

WHY PEOPLE BECOME HOMELESS
Family and friends unable or unwilling to accommodate them: 38%
Relationship breakdown: 20%
End of rented or shorthold tenancy, mortgage or rent arrears: 23%
Other, including mental health problems: 19%
Source: ODPM, March 2006

It’s often powerfully written, giving a human face to anonymous suffering, talking about her childhood, her sense of rejection and her struggle to regain her confidence and self-respect.

There is also a close-up view of the daily struggle of homelessness – the fears of sleeping in her car, her small victories in keeping warm, how she cleans her hair in hospital showers and gets discount food in staff canteens.

This blog has produced its own regular readership – people who e-mail when its author doesn’t post the next instalment. And she says that the blog has become an attempt to “keep me sane, and in a way to start to reach out”.

The blog’s anonymity is also part of this modern tale. As with any such online journal, there’s an ambiguity about its origin. One can’t see the author, or even know her real name.

There have been e-mails questioning whether this blog is a media “project”, rather than a genuine account of homelessness – a charge she wearily rejects.

In her blog this weekend, she wrote: “Some people see you struggling and want your complete downfall, living in my car is not bad enough, they want me on the streets completely, in every sense. I feel that.”

Her main aim now is to begin making the return journey to a settled life, she says, as she begins looking for a job – a process made more difficult by a lack of a permanent address.

‘Hidden homeless’

If the stereotype of homelessness is of unkempt boozers sleeping rough, Wandering Scribe doesn’t fit any of these expectations.

WANDERING SCRIBE
Took my boots off, walked up and down a few times barefoot. Was agony, blissful, painful agony. Never get a chance to stand barefoot.

Meeting her in person, she is dressed respectably; is intelligent, observant, engaging company. She could be the person sitting next to you in the cafe. Which makes it even stranger that she’s going back each night to a nylon sleeping bag in a battered old Rover.

But she certainly isn’t alone – she says she has had e-mails from other people living in cars – and in anonymous cities it’s all too easy for detached people who have problems in their lives to stumble and fall out of sight.

The scale of the problem of such “hidden homelessness” remains uncertain, but homeless charity Crisis estimates that there could be 380,000 such people across the country.

“A very common factor is family breakdown – and a lack of social networks – where there is no one able to support people,” says Lucy Maggs. “A huge part of homelessness is about isolation – which becomes very destructive in itself.”

Such disconnected individuals, who are often “not in a frame of mind to help themselves” are unable or unwilling to contact any support agencies and remain off the radar for homelessness statistics.

Wandering Scribe has her own ambitions: “Hopefully I’ll be out of here soon, somewhere with my own room where I can shut the door on the world … with curtains I can draw.”

    

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Vit D linked to baby birth weight

    

 
Milk bottles (BBC)
In Canada milk is fortified
Low vitamin D intake during pregnancy is associated with lower birth weights in babies, according to a study.

The research compared babies’ birth weights with the amount of vitamin D fortified milk and vitamin D supplements women took while pregnant.

The researchers from McGill University, Canada, suggest the study shows vitamin D may be an important regulator for foetal growth.

The study is published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The study involved over 300 pregnant women, based in Canada, who were asked to fill in questionnaires about their diet and lifestyle. This included information about how much milk they consumed and the dietary supplements taken.

“There is a lot of dispute between scientists as to how much is the optimal amount to take a day”
Dr Gail Goldberg, MRC

Milk contains protein, riboflavins and calcium, but in Canada it is fortified with vitamin D.

Sunlight is the normal source for vitamin D, but many people have vitamin D deficiencies, and it is difficult to get from common food sources.

Weight gains

The researchers discovered that women who drank less than 250ml of fortified milk a day had lower intakes of vitamin D and protein than women who drank more than this amount.

After recording the birth weights of the infants, the researchers found that women who drank less milk and had lower intakes of vitamin D were more likely to give birth to smaller babies.

They discovered that as the intake of fortified milk increased, birth weight went up, and for every extra 250ml drunk a day, there was an increase of 41g in birth weight.

An increase of one microgram of vitamin D per day was linked to an 11g rise in birth weight.

The level of protein, riboflavin and calcium were not found to be linked to the weight of the babies.

The authors of the paper are worried that increasingly women choose, or are advised to, restrict milk during pregnancy. They do this for a number of reasons, including lactose intolerance or wanting to prevent childhood allergies.

Developing babies

But the scientists believe milk and vitamin D are important sources of nutrition during pregnancy, and say the study shows their importance for childhood development.

In an accompanying commentary in the journal, Professor Bruce Hollis of the Medical University of South Carolina, US, highlighted the importance of vitamin D, and said it may be linked to neurodevelopment, immune function and chronic disease susceptibility in developing babies, as well as birth weight.

“This paper is important because it shows the benefit of very small amounts of vitamin D,” he said.

“If we could get this level to meaningful amounts, the effects could be dramatic.”

Dr Gail Goldberg, a nutritionist from the Medical Research Council’ Human Nutrition Research Centre, Cambridge, UK, said: “This is an interesting study, and very topical as there is a lot of interest in this area.

“In Canada, milk is fortified, and a lot of the vitamin D intake seems to come from this source.”

“In other countries, sunlight or supplements are the main source as it is not found in common foods, but there is a lot of dispute between scientists as to how much is the optimal amount to take a day.”

A star for Rosie

I dont know how many of you remember Rosie Tingey. She was a bounty baby, born in April alongside our little ones. But she had a rare genetic disorder called Spinal Muscular Atrophy and she lost her battle in December.

The condition is hardly known about, but it is suprisingly comman. To raise money for research into this A Star for Rosie Keyrings have been made and are being sold on ebay for

Mothers got wrong advice for 40 years

    


BREAST-FEEDING mothers have been given potentially harmful advice on infant nutrition for the past 40 years, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has admitted.

Charts used in Britain for decades to advise mothers on a babys optimum size have been based on the growth rates of infants fed on formula milk.

The organisation now says the advice given to millions of breast-feeding mothers was distorted because babies fed on formula milk put on weight far faster.

These breast-feeding mothers were wrongly told that their babies were underweight and were advised, or felt pressured, to fatten them up by giving them formula milk or extra solids.

Health experts believe the growth charts may have contributed to childhood obesity and associated problems such as diabetes and heart disease in later life. A government study has found that more than a quarter of children in English secondary schools are clinically obese, almost double the proportion a decade ago.

This week, the WHO will publish new growth standards based on a study of more than 8,000 breast-fed babies from six countries around the world. They will say the optimum size is that of a breast-fed baby.

The move will put pressure on British doctors to replace charts which, for the last four decades, have taken into account the growth patterns of bottle-fed babies.

Professor Tim Cole, of the Institute of Child Health at University College London, said: We should change to a growth chart based on breast-fed babies. During their first year they do not put on as much weight as those fed on formula milk. Breast-fed babies are less likely to be fat later in life and to develop complications such as diabetes and heart disease.

Six years ago, Cole developed an alternative chart based on breast-fed babies but it has never been endorsed by the British medical establishment. The Child Growth Foundation, a UK charity, campaigns for the adoption of Coles chart.

The foundation claims breast-fed babies are, on average, at 22lb at 12 months, about 1lb lighter than those fed solely on formula milk. It is thought that breast-fed babies grow more slowly in the first year because they control the rate at which they feed, rather than being tied to their parents notion of meal times.

Mercedes de Onis, who co-ordinates WHO child growth standards, said: Breast-fed babies appear to self-regulate their energy intake to lower
levels. Breast-fed babies have different metabolic rates and different sleeping patterns. Formula-fed babies seem to have higher intakes of energy and, as a result, are heavier.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned that being overweight as a baby is a key early risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.

The babies who were the models for the new WHO standards were selected for good health. They were all breast-fed, their mothers did not smoke and they received good health care.

The WHO says babies should be fed solely on breast milk for up to six months. In Britain, fewer than 10% of babies are getting only breast milk by this age.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is to meet this summer to discuss the new WHO standards.

The Department of Health said: Once WHO publishes the new growth charts we will assess the need for revisions to the UK growth charts.

Could you save Sarah’s life?

    

 
By Jane Elliott
BBC News website health reporter

Sarah Thompson
Sarah and her family are trying to recruit donors
Sarah Thompson has acute myeloid leukaemia and desperately needs a bone marrow transplant.

Because she is mixed race she knows her chances are slim as there is a shortage of ethnic minority donors.

But Sarah, a teacher, is convinced she has a match somewhere and says everybody should register.

“I was first diagnosed in May 2004 and was initially told that I had a good chance of fighting my leukaemia, even though by the time I went to the doctors with my symptoms it was already far advanced.

“My sister, mother and I get dizzy and feel faint when we are tired or hungry anyway, and I did not realise these were also the symptoms for leukaemia.

“If I try to think about it too deeply it is just mind blowing. We are just dependent on other people’s selflessness”
Sarah Thompson

“It wasn’t until I also started noticing the bruising, which had no other cause, that I started to worry there was something wrong.

“I had also had a number of colds, and the night before I went to the doctor I had a very high fever.

“The doctor I saw was a locum and he immediately spotted there was a problem.

“If I had waited even a few more weeks I would have probably died.

“I went to my hospital in Lewisham and collapsed while I was waiting to have my blood taken. I did not come out of the hospital again for another six weeks.

“They told me I had acute myeloid leukaemia and in the same breath they told me that I would also be infertile from the chemotherapy.

“The leukaemia was so far advanced they could not wait to harvest my eggs and I had to start treatment immediately.

“I had my first round of chemotherapy and went into remission and then had my next three rounds.”

Chemotherapy effects

Sarah says the real problem began once the chemotherapy had started working.

“It kills good cells as well as the bad cells and you become ‘neutropenic’ and have no immune system or protection against infection.

“You have to avoid certain foods and contact with people, the nurses must wear gloves and aprons at all times.

Sarah and Mark Thompson
Sarah’s condition was spotted late

“Visitors are kept to close family only and you are not allowed any contact. So when you are feeling at your lowest you can’t even hug your partner!

“I usually got at least one infection after each round of chemo. Some have been very serious and worrying.”

Sarah had a relapse and was warned she needed a bone marrow transplant as she would relapse again.

“So then my husband Mark and my family started the search for a donor. I knew that because I am mixed race it would be more difficult. I have only one sibling, Laura, and was told she was not a match.

Register progress

“If you are from a white heritage you have a one in five chance of finding a donor. This drops to one in 100,000 if you are from any of the ethnic minorities, because there are so few black and mixed race people on the register.

“It is scary waiting for a transplant and it is frustrating.

“It is bad enough to have to beat cancer once but for it then to come back and to face it coming back again and again is devastating.

I am relying on someone coming forward, and waiting is just so scary”
Sarah Thompson

“You go through all the chemo and they tell you that the next stage is to put you on the register for a transplant, but then you are told that there is no-one for you.

“To avoid becoming completely depressed I try to turn a negative into a positive.

“We have put over 100 people on the register and I feel we have made a difference.

“If I try to think about it too deeply it’s just mind blowing. We are just dependent on other people’s selflessness.

“If everybody put themselves on the register, I might not be in this position, but I am relying on someone coming forward and waiting is just so scary.

“I have done all I can on my own – now I need someone else’s help.”

Just hoping

Sarah says she has not given up hope that a match will be found.

“I feel sometimes that I have been chosen to go through this to help raise awareness and even when I find my match we will not stop campaigning for people to register.

“The doctors have told me that if they cannot find a match that they will try stem cell transplant and while I am well they are going to harvest my cells in preparation.

“But I am hoping this is not going to be necessary as it is not supposed to work as well. I am just hoping that they will find a match.

“I can’t keep on having chemo because it is highly toxic and has such a harmful effect on the body long term.

“In the meantime I must just wait for this unknown person to come forward.

“Please anybody reading this come forward and register. I feel I deserve a break and some good news. For the last two years I have been through such an emotional roller-coaster.”

  • The next recruitment drives are on 22 April between 10am and 6pm at the London Bridge Fire Station, Southwark Bridge Road and 26 April between 2.30pm and 9pm at Waverley School, Dulwich.

  • Caribbean Leukaemia Trust 0208 667 1122

Fear over ‘premature babies rise’

    

 
Newborn
Recent studies said the rate of preterm babies was increasing
Doctors are warning the trend towards more preterm deliveries could have considerable health implications.

Obstetrician Professor Andrew Shennan said early delivery can lead to physical and mental health problems, the British Medical Journal said.

A recent Denmark study said the preterm rate had risen by a fifth in 10 years.

Professor Shennan said doctors and parents should look to see if the number of preterm births can be cut.

The Danish research published by the BMJ in February found preterm deliveries had increased by 22% from 1995 to 2004.

“If these findings from Denmark are true, the implications for neonatologists, health economists, teachers, parents, and children themselves are worrying”
Professor Andrew Shennan, of King’s College London

It suggested fertility treatment, multiple pregnancies and elective deliveries were partly to blame for the trend.

But researchers also said factors such as smoking, teenage and middle-age pregnancy, obesity and social inequalities could also play a role.

Recent trends indicate the number of preterm babies are on the increase in England and Wales.

In 2004, 42,500 preterm deliveries were made, up by 2,500 from the year before.

Preterm deliveries account for fewer than 1 in 10 births, but result in three quarters of neonatal deaths and most neonatal intensive care admissions.

For instance, one in four survivors born less than 25 weeks’ gestation have severe mental or physical disability. Even beyond 32 weeks, one in three children have educational and behavioural problems by the age of seven.

Professor Shennan, from King’s College London, added: “Obstetricians should re-evaluate the risks and benefits of delivering babies earlier.

‘Worrying’

“If these findings from Denmark are true, the implications for neonatologists, health economists, teachers, parents, and children themselves are worrying.

“Other countries need to ensure that mechanisms are in place to detect such trends and assess their impact.”

And he added if the burden on health was to be reduced, the number of preterm babies needed to reduced where possible, although he said identifying the underlying causes was difficult.

But a spokeswoman for premature baby charity Bliss said: “One of the main reasons we are seeing a rise in premature births is because of the improving medical care which means premature babies who would have died 20 years ago are now surviving and are going on to have a good quality of life.

“While this is good news, we need to make sure that the NHS is increasing the resources put into neonatal care to make sure we can cope with the ever increasing demand.”

Toxoplasmosis and Pregnancy

Toxoplasmosis and Pregnancy

Toxoplasmosis is a common disease that occurs worldwide in most birds and warm-blooded mammals, including humans.
 
You cannot catch toxoplasmosis from contact with another infected person, but you are at risk from infection if you come into contact with any of the following:

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