Category Archives: Uncategorized

The most seasonally-confusing time of the year

clockJust about everywhere in North America, the weather has been weird this summer. Global implications aside, meteorological oddness can play havoc with our sense of exactly what day, month or season it is.

Exacerbating that confusion is that this may be the most seasonally-jumbled time of the year, with back-to-school promotions beginning almost immediately after the previous school year ends, and the ever-earlier appearance of Christmas anticipation.

Most of this calendrical consternation is driven by climate change and the retail cycle, but now the Canadian Red Cross has got in on the act. It sent journalists always-valuable water safety information – couched as pre-season advice, but issued on the Friday before the penultimate summer holiday weekend (in most of Canada).
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Word Watch: Track-a-holism

Athletic people sharing workout data from their smartwatches.

Credit: Viacheslav Iakobchuk/Adobe Stock

Track-a-holism (or trackaholism, whose adherents or victims are known as track-a-holics or trackaholics) is the latest addition to the lexicon noted by Canada’s Word Spy, Paul McFedries.

The term – meaning “a compulsion to monitor one’s health and fitness metrics, particularly those generated by apps and electronic devices – has a fairly recent history, with McFedries noting the earliest usage in 2014.

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Word Watch: verbicaine

Group of surgeons at work operating in surgical theatre

Credit: megaflopp/Adobe Stock

Canadian Word Spy Paul McFedries has flagged”verbicaine” as a new term that has entered the medical lexicon.

It comes from “verbal” and “-caine” (anesthetic), and refers to “soothing words used to calm or distract a patient who is awake during a surgical procedure.”

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Bad bugs, bad bugs – whatcha gonna do?


3D computer-generated image of a group of multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter spp. Courtesy: CDC/ James Archer

The World Health Organization (WHO) today published a list of bacteria for which new antibiotics are urgently needed.

The bacteria are ranked using priority ratings of “critical,” “high” and “medium.”

Carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii tops the critical list, followed by carbapenem-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa and carbapenem-resistant ESBL-producing Enterobacteriaceae. Continue reading →

Joan Hollobon turns 97!


Happy (day after) birthday  to Joan Hollobon, the former doyenne of Canadian medical journalists! A merry group of 10 friends joined her yesterday to celebrate her 97th birthday, with flowers and a FaceTime visit from several others.

(The pictures are from last year’s celebration. I didn’t bring my camera this year which freed me to have cake and chat with people.)

Joan was medical reporter for the Globe and Mail for 25 years, retiring in 1985.~TM

Download FREE booklet: How to ask for help when serious illness strikes


Hand of drowning man

Credit: Lilyana Vynogradova

My sister Roxe has always been generous. Generous to a fault. I’ve been a recipient of that generosity, as have friends in need, friends on their birthdays and other holidays, and complete strangers such as the countless people behind her in the Tim Horton’s drive-thru whose coffees she bought.

When she was diagnosed with metastatic endometrial cancer, I was happy to travel the roughly 450 kilometres (about 280 miles) from my home in Toronto to hers in Ottawa to be with her for chemotherapy sessions and the days afterward. But for the times I couldn’t be with her, Roxe was reluctant to ask any of her friends or neighbours for help. Continue reading →

Guide offers advice for writing about trans people


Two Toronto agencies have prepared a guide to help journalists write correctly and respectfully about transgender and gender-diverse people.

The 519, a Toronto LGBT community centre, and Rainbow Health Ontario, a provincewide Toronto-based programme designed to improve access to  services for and to promote the health of Ontario’s LGBT communities, released the guide last month.

The seven-page document, downloadable here as a PDF, provides appropriate and, just as helpful, inappropriate language. The guide’s stated intention is to help journalists write accurately and respectfully, while not confusing readers. Continue reading →

Colour your world

From the Oregon Health & Science University's colouring book

From the Oregon Health & Science University’s colouring book

Since 2013, colouring books for adults have grown into the “hottest trend in publishing.” And now the archives of major universities and museums around the world have got in on the act.

“#Color Our Collections 2016” is a week-long celebration (ending today, 5 February) of historical illustrations and images from the world’s leading archives. Continue reading →

Joan Hollobon – unstoppable!

guestsLast Friday (29 January), a few friends and former colleagues joined Joan Hollobon for a celebration of her 96th birthday.

Joan retired in 1986 after 25 years as the Globe and Mail‘s medical reporter. Post-retirement, she continued as a contributing editor of the then-Addiction Research Foundation’s Journal, and continued working with the Canadian Science Writers Association, of which she was a founding member. (The organization presented her with its first lifetime achievement award in 2010.)

Joan was a mentor to many, and in particular, a role model for me in my 35-year (and counting) medical reporting career.

Her memory has dimmed somewhat but she remains vitally interested in Canadian healthcare and politics, and had a great time at the party as these pictures attest.~TM


Zika, microcephaly link called “surprising”

In this transmission electron micrograph of Zika virus, the arrow indicates a single virus particle. Courtesy: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In this transmission electron micrograph of Zika virus, the arrow indicates a single virus particle. Courtesy: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Zika virus is a flavivirus, as are yellow fever, dengue and West Nile viruses. But none of those other viruses are known to cause microcephaly, which makes the Zika-microcephaly link “surprising,” according to Dr. Hugh Pennington.

Dr. Pennington, an emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, made that observation in a recent London Review of Books blog post.

“Diseases caused by the other flaviviruses have been intensively studied for many years without microcephaly turning up as a complication,” he wrote. “It hasn’t been clearly evident in Zika virus outbreaks elsewhere in the world. But flaviviruses mutate in real time. The classic example is West Nile virus. Isolated at the Rockefeller Yellow Fever labs in Uganda in 1937, like Zika it remained quiet for years. Then in the mid-1990s it got nastier, causing severe brain disease with epidemics in North Africa and Southern Europe. It took off in New York in 1999, and spread rapidly across the continent.” Continue reading →

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