Book Review: Life in a Medieval City

You should know first off that in this book, the word “city” is used loosely. The specific city on which this book focuses is Troyes, a French city in the Champagne region with approximately 10,000 inhabitants in the year 1250. However, Troyes was also a “fair” city which hosted two major merchant fairs every year — the Cold Fair in November-December, and the Hot Fair in May-June. Continue reading Book Review: Life in a Medieval City

Book Review: Inside the Outbreaks

In 1951, the Epidemic Intelligence Service was organized under Dr. Alexander Langmuir as a part of the Centers for Disease Control. At that time, there was already concern about biological warfare in the wake of the developing Cold War and conflict in Korea. EIS fellows (who were literally “fellows” — no women — at that time) served for 2-year terms as investigators into disease outbreaks both domestic and foreign. Their job was to find and identify diseases, determine their sources, and if possible, help the suffering population. Continue reading Book Review: Inside the Outbreaks

Book Reviews: 1918 Flu and Britain

I recently finished these two books:

Great Influenza    20th century Britain

I would recommend both  books to anyone interested in the topics. I have read books about the 1918 influenza pandemic before, but this one went into more detail about the state of medicine leading up to the pandemic, the relationship of politics to the spread of flu, and the story of the scientists who tried desperately to find a way to fight the disease — or even understand it.

It is hard for us to believe, but the idea that germs cause illness did not occur until the mid-1800s, and even then, it took a long time to be accepted by the medical establishment. Continue reading Book Reviews: 1918 Flu and Britain

Paradigms and Creativity

I was thinking recently about one of the scientists in the typhus book. In the late 1920s and 1930s, Lukwik Fleck developed a philosophy of science in which he explained that science is a collective activity based on knowledge plus a specific mood; together these are called a thought style, and the individuals who follow it are a thought collective. The thought style consists of active elements, which influence the interpretation of reality and are socially constructed, and passive elements, which together make up what is called objective reality.

An example of this can be seen in medieval European medicine. Continue reading Paradigms and Creativity

Typhus, Lice, and Fighting the Nazis

I completed the book entitled The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl yesterday, a little late but at least I finished (I am notorious for not finishing books). I had to stop reading it for a couple of days due to bad dreams about lice. Seriously.

Typhus is a serious febrile illness that is no longer common. It is spread by body lice (not head lice). The disease was well-known during wartime, especially in the trenches of World War I & II. It spreads quickly in crowded, unsanitary conditions where people are rarely able to wash or change clothes. When the Nazis herded the Jews of cities like Warsaw into ghettos, epidemic typhus struck explosively.

A Polish biologist named Rudolf Weigl began studying typhus during World War I. By WWII, when the Nazis occupied Poland, Weigl had developed a vaccine that was produced using live lice infected with the bacterium. Continue reading Typhus, Lice, and Fighting the Nazis

Holistic Self-Management of Bipolar


My primary chronic illness is bipolar disorder. Most chronic illnesses, whether physical or mental, require the individual to take regular action to maintain the highest possible level of health. The illustration most commonly used is diabetes — people with diabetes must check their blood sugar regularly, follow a plan of diet and exercise, take oral or injectable medications, examine their feet often, and so forth. Failure to carry out any of these actions can lead to serious consequences including kidney failure, hypoglycemic coma, amputations, or even death.

Self-management of bipolar disorder also requires certain actions, but it is much more difficult to know just what these actions are when a mental illness is concerned than it is when it is a physical illness. The easiest action to discern is taking prescribed medications. Having gone off my meds several times in the past, including once for almost a year, I know very well what can happen. I know the insidious downward spiral of bipolar that can lead to the brink of death just as surely as a disease like diabetes can.

So taking meds is number one, but it is not the only habit I must develop. Here are some others that are equally important:

  1. Therapy — For some reason, I’m having a problem doing this often enough.
  2.  Eating properly — Research suggests that the Mediterranean diet is the best for bipolar.
  3.  Exercising regularly — I have a shirt my mom bought me that says “Exercise? I thought you said ‘Extra fries!'” That is my usual attitude towards exercising, but I know that regular exercise, outside when possible, is crucial.
  4.  Spiritual practices — This is one I have lacked for a long time, but I am beginning to realize (not for the first time!) that I have to depend on God to help me with the symptoms of bipolar, especially my bad temper.
  5.  Having a routine — Although I enjoy visiting my daughter and my mom, the break in my routine that results can be very disruptive to my mental health. I need to keep my routine as much as possible even when I am away.
  6.  Laughter and relaxation — Laughter can definitely be a powerful medicine! If I don’t practice relaxation, I develop excessive anxiety.

Of course, there are others, but at present, I will address these. Where does holism come in? Many of these issues overlap. For example, I can keep up with all of them better in the context of a routine. Prayer and meditation are spiritual practices that help me relax; yoga is a relaxing type of exercise. A healthy diet gives me the strength to exercise and to think rationally. These are not independent bits of my life that are related only because I am the one doing them. Rather, they are strands of activity that are woven together to create the fabric of my days

I shall go into each one in future posts and then revisit how they work together.

Dealing with Death


Yesterday my best friend’s dad passed away. We went to visit her family over Christmas, and it was clear that he would not live much longer. I am going with her to the funeral.

I’ve never been close to death — never wanted to be. I avoided being near my family members when they were dying. I guess it frightened me, or at least my emotions frightened me.

Sometimes it was due to an issue I had with the individual. For example, I had hard feelings towards my paternal grandmother due to a variety of seemingly small incidents (and a couple of big ones)
that had accumulated over the years. When she was close to dying, I was living in another city attending graduate school. I could have gone home sooner, but I waited, and by the time I reached home, she had already died. I was greatly relieved.

But that was 21 years ago, and I have changed in those years. Two years ago, my maternal grandmother passed. I am living in another city again, and I was not there when she died, but I had visited several times over the preceding year, and I had no issues with her. I wish I had been there. I don’t know if it would have made any difference to her, but it would have made a difference to me.


Word for 2017: Holistic

I just read a post on Colline’s Blog in which she discussed her word for 2017, discipline. This is her theme for the year. She described how the word discipline relates to her goals for the year.

The idea intrigued me, so I looked inside myself for a word that could be my theme for the year. I thought of spirituality at first,  but I finally decided on “holistic.”

I tend to focus on just one area of my life at a time, a habit which is probably related to my bipolar disorder. In spite of medication, I still have episodes of depression, hypomania, and mixed states. During these times I may obsess over my physical health, compulsively work on my writing, or ruminate about my relationships, to the exclusion of everything else.

In 2017, I want to keep in mind the “big picture.” All areas of my life are important: spirituality, physical and emotional health, family and friends, relaxation and leisure, writing, housework and cooking. I often feel overwhelmed when I think about doing all that! But part of the overwhelm is that I think of it as doing everything at once and doing it perfectly. I will need to remind myself that I am human and that’s okay. Trying to be aware of my whole self may feel like herding kittens sometimes, but I think it’s worth a try!

Baby Steps Part 2

by Emilio Garcia
Brainade! The Brain Grenade by Emilio Garcia

In the last post, I mentioned the poisonous thoughts that arise when I try to ask other people for help. I’ve been thinking about this idea. Are there Deadly Elements (e.g. grenades) in my brain that can get triggered by my thoughts, feelings, or actions? If so, how can I find and destroy those pockets while simultaneously employing the baby steps concept?

Clearly, this is an area in which I need help…. no irony intended! Where can I get it? Continue reading Baby Steps Part 2