Keeping the Cold Away

I’m looking through my window at the first snowstorm of the year. It’s always so pretty when viewed from a nice warm and dry spot!

It made me want to share the reasonably priced beauty products that help me get through the winter. Due to my health craziness, they’re also all unscented or fragrance free and do not contain ethylhexylglycerin, a preservative which greatly irritates my eyes.

I make efforts to use Canadian products and companies (hence the many Well.ca links), but I draw the line at the lack of effectiveness which is why U.S. companies are also well represented.

Some of My Favourites

Face

Marula and Squalane Oils

Drunk Elephant has a marula oil that retails for CA$50 for 15ml at Sephora Canada, but I use the one from DECIEM The Ordinary retailing at CA$9.90 for 30ml through Well.ca and the company itself. ACURE also offers 30 ml of the oil for CA$22.49 but I haven’t tried it though.

Mixed with my moisturizing lotion, I use the marula oil at night because of its richness (word to the wise, it gave me milia under the eyes so be careful not to overdo it) and squalane oil in the morning, accompanied by one drop of tea tree oil for my rosacea areas. I found out about this trick by listening to this Forever35 podcast featuring Courtney Chiusano.

Lips

I indulge in Clinique Pep-Start Pout Restoring Night Mask before going to bed. It retails for CA$22 at Sephora and in pharmacies. A nice “dupe” for it though is the much cheaper (retails around $7 or$ 8 if I remember correctly) Eucerin Intensive Lip Balm. The tube is less cute, but sometimes small sacrifices need to be made!

When I need less of a goopy feeling on my lips, I love Earth Mama Organics Coconut Smoothie Lip Balm made with coconut oil which melts on your lips and goes for less than CA$5. An American company, Earth Mama also offers a wide range of products for pregnant and nursing ladies.

Before going outside, I just started using the Shea Butter option of Jack Black’s Moisture Therapy Lip Balm SPF25. Not too sticky on the lips, it remains for a while to protect me from the sun as I go out. It’s also reasonably priced at CA$11 for 7 grams.

Cuticles

I had never tried cuticle oil before because I always expected it to be messy, but I was intrigued by the bottle carrying the Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Oil. It includes a small and precise drop dispenser and has really helped my dry cuticles. Sephora Canada still has it on sale at $17, but I like it enough to spring for the full CA$24 if I have no other choice. Plus a little goes a long way.

Eyes

Moisturizing

More and more I need A LOT of hydration under my eyes. My favourites so far are Clinique Pep-Start Eye Cream (CA$33) and the cheaper (you know me by now!) at around CA$25 but often on sale at a pharmacy near you  Hydra C Eye Contour Gel Cream from Marcelle, a Canadian company. I especially like the metal applicator that gives off a cool feeling and find it slightly more moisturizing than the Clinique option for winter.

Decorating

Right now, you can just look at my eyes and they’ll get irritated so I’ve been looking high and low for a gentle as can be mascara, particularly when it’s time to take it off as I wanted to avoid getting specs in my eyes. I had been hearing a lot of good things about the “tube mascara” called Blinc. [Spoiler – it does not turn into tubes around your lashes as I naively thought, it just creates an easily removable coating]. I finally saw a smaller size one at Sephora for CA$19 (full size price is $30 (!)) but when I tried it, all I could see was that my lashes looked like spider webs.

Thanks to my favourite beauty podcast however, I found out that L’Oreal had a similar product called Double Extend Beauty Tubes Mascara. It has drawbacks, like being available only in the Darkest Black colour and being a 2-step process (first you put on the “liquid paper” like primer coat, then the colour coat) but the fact that it doesn’t smudge on its own (try not to rub your eyes though), doesn’t hurt my eyes and can be taken off just by using warm water seals the deal for me. It’s price of CA$14.99 at Well.ca and the fact that as a drugstore brand it can also go on sale regularly does not hurt either.

Body

In a previous post, I discussed my love of the CeraVe® products you can buy at the drugstore or at Well.ca. In winter, I’m particularly fond of the Renewing SA Cream. The beauty podcasters also like Egyptian Cream, but since it’s almost twice as expensive, I have yet to compare them.

Hair

Carina Organics is a North Vancouver, BC based company launched in 1972 which offers an array of unscented bath and beauty products. For my oily hair, I use their Extra Gentle Shampoo and Daily Light Conditioner and particularly like their Leave In Conditioner, which I can use on my damp and/or dry hair. I will also be trying their Daily Moisturizing Shampoo to compare. All of these products are about CA$15 on Well.ca and even cheaper on the company’s site, depending on shipping costs.

Have you already tried some of these products and would like to share your opinions or offer other options? Don’t be shy!l

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My Quest for Better Health – Part 3

Nothing defeats you more than illness. Nothing, except for the accompanying insurmountable medical system red tape. (I’m loath to call it “Canadian” system because we have different provincial systems throughout the country and I dearly hope things are better someplace else.)

The more modern you’re work and life environment are, the higher you will fall from into the abyss of the medical system. Well, the patient medical system that is. There is clearly a divide between the medical personnel and the patients.

If you’re a patient at the University Clinic I am registered to, you can only contact your Nurse Practitioner (NP) or doctor by making a phone call. It will be answered by someone on a rotation system. You will then need to provide that person with a summary of your information that he/she will then forward it through an instant messenger system to the recipient. Then it suits them, the doctor or NP will provide information back, and the receptionist will call you to forward it to you. Talk about efficient (not).

Anecdote 1

When it comes to test results, some of the medical personnel (dare I say the younger cohort) will be OK sending you the results by email as my NP does. However, I hadn’t seen my doctor in a while and didn’t remember if she did too so I called the clinic: “Can you tell me if she or her nurse send out emails when tests come back normal?” Answer: “you have to talk to her nurse, we’ll ask her to call you back”. 37 hours later she calls me back telling me:

– “You have to make an appointment with her or go to the walk in clinic.”
– “Can you make that appointment?”
– “No, I can’t. You have to call the general number.”
– “When is she working at the walk in clinic”
– “I don’t know, we don’t even work in the same building
– (…)

I call the general number. The next appointment with the doctor is 6 weeks away. I tell them why I need it and they say: “we’ll put you on a cancellation list, but you can also go to the walk in clinic or make an appointment with an NP”. At this point you may think, “that means there are no issues with your tests, just forget it.” Except I’m still sick and I need answers and to move to the next stage (whatever that is) pronto.

After a week and a half I give up on the “earlier doctor appointment” and make an appointment with the NP. She can’t explain the results of one of my blood tests, because they can only be ordered by a doctor. She does tell me the doctor referred me for an echocardiogram which is a surprise to me. She tells me to call the Cardiovascular Centre to see where it’s at. [I have already blown my cell call minutes since whenever I call the clinic’s general number, I waste a minimum of 15 minutes.] I called. The appointment requested at the end of October is January 3.

When I see my doctor again, I ask if she can send a note to have them move my appointment sooner and she agrees. After waiting three additional weeks, I call again the Cardiovascular Centre again. They see an available slot, but their system is having major issues so she tells me to call back in a few days. I call back in a few days the lady answering is less than agreeable:

– “The message from your doctor says it should be “within weeks and the request was made November 29”.

[I don’t know why it took 10 working days for the doctor’s note to make it to the Centre, but I know January 3 is more than mere weeks away  so I add:

– “But the original request was made October 19.”
– “We received it October 26.”
– ?!?
– “I can give you December 20 at 9:15 am.”

And I then thank her as if she’d given me $500.

Anecdote 2

I’m back from the clinic again today. The 4th time in 7 days. I had gotten a phone message from my doctor’s office. I called back and the woman on the phone read my file and told me that the doctor had filled my insurance form and that I could go in and sign it.

So I went. And… they were unable to locate the nurse who had called me and the form. They did however surprise me by saying they needed a $40 fee for the doctor to have filled the form. A piece of information they had cleverly omitted to tell me when I called to make an appointment, when I showed up in person to ask if I could have an earlier appointment, when I saw the doctor, and when they had me pay $20 for a medical certificate she had filled, or when I returned the nurse’s call an hour earlier.

This is just a few examples of the medical red tape from hell. Can you give us another you ask?

Anecdote 3

This one is more about erroneous information, bad training, inefficient rules, or a combination of all three.

I’ve been scheduled for my first biopsy (an easy needle aspiration one to be performed by my doctor). I’ve never had this procedure so I’m a tad worried. I call the general number (from hell) of the University Clinic where my GP practices to make sure my latest blood test results are forwarded to the specialist. [For some reason, this is not done automatically as my Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist works in private practice and, of course, they don’t share the same system.]

The exchange:

– “We can’t simply forward them to her, we have to get your written authorization”
– (Knowing it’s useless to ask, yet…) “Can I authorize it by email?”
– “No. You can come to the clinic and fill in a form. It takes about a week for a release.”
– “My biopsy is in 3 days”
– “You can go to the walk in clinic and leave with a copy of them you can give your doctor, or come to the clinic, fill the form and then call person X in records to see if she can release them earlier.” [Through the general number, no doubt.]

Thankfully, I had paid for a yearly subscription to the private lab I went to for my tests (they pretty much have a monopoly in my city) and they told me I could generate a report from my blood test results and send it to whomever I wanted to.

During the biopsy appointment, I found out the ENT also had a subscription to the private lab company and she could see them without any transfer on my part.

Anecdote 4

I show up at one of the eight (8) registration desks of a hospital for my biopsy appointment  and they couldn’t find my appointment in the system. How much does bureaucracy affect the brain of poor health employees who are just trying to do their job as best as possible? They told me: “are you sure you haven’t had the biopsy already and this is just a follow up appointment?” Now I know I just wrote a post about being overmedicated but how many drugs do you need to be on to forget you’ve had a BIOPSY?

Anecdote 5

One last “fun” anecdote. Last winter I had a bad throat ache that lasted more than a week so I dragged myself to the walk in clinic. I didn’t have to wait too long, which was great, but… instead of writing a prescription for a special mouth wash (I thought I had thrush from my asthma meds, he thought I had a cold), the NP wrote instead a prescription for a vaginal cream. My millennial pharmacist realizes this and tries to reach the University Clinic to ask them to change the prescription. I could see him choke on the words: “you want me to send you a FAX?!!”.

I followed up with him in person and with the clinic by phone for 2 weeks, until I finally got better, sans mouthwash. [By better I mean no longer having a throat ache, it moved to my ears, my sinuses, my lungs and back again, ergo another trip to the doctor.]

6 weeks later, an annoyed pharmacist called me at home to ask “when are you going to pick that mouthwash up?” Turned out that instead of sending the new prescription to the pharmacy that had asked for a prescription change, they sent it to one I hadn’t used in 5 years.

Next post, I promise, will be more up-beat. Maybe beauty products, or books, or medical lessons learned.

Any preference?

In Sickness and in Health…

A wedding vow.

I’m not sure how many marriages live through the sickness of one partner every year. In spite of vows, we never know how many partners are truly supportive of a sick loved one. And I doubt they make books and movies about it. Nonetheless, this type of support is expected by society.

There are no friendship vows. Hopefully, there is mutual benefit, proximity (virtual or otherwise), shared memories, good food and drink, but no vows.

So when one of the friends get sick there are no social expectations, just a totally free giving thing.

Over the past three months, health wise, I moved from believing I would soon be fine and simply needed rest, to feeling very inconvenienced, to losing hope that I would find a light at the end of my tunnel, to expecting a freight train to run me over any minute.

When I went on sick leave, I lost contact with all my work colleagues, including work friends.  I also lost the professional friends you meet for drinks or lunch. All the people who surround you day in and day out, who make you believe you’re part of a community of support. It’s often easy to think this, being so taken by neverending work duties and challenges.

Then the friends I interacted with every other day, or week, started ghosting me. Maybe they would’ve been fine if I hadn’t started telling them about the realities of my situation, but now that I have and they have to face their own mortality, I’m a chore. What if I start asking them for favours? Or maybe, having been running on fumes for so long, I was myself not there when they needed me the most and they don’t have it in them to give something they didn’t get. I will probably never know. There is no time or this type of indepth conversation when you are caught between mounting work and personal obligations (sick parents, sick kids, relationship challenges, work, work, and more work).

I did experience some pleasant surprises though, like the employee who messaged me through Instagram with good wishes – twice. The former boss, not to keen on sick people who met me for breakfast and gave me good practical advice. The colleague who often felt like a vocal rival, unequivocally and sincerely offered me her support. The friend going through a hard time who still finds time for breakfasts and dinners and still responds to my texts on the same day I send them. The work friend with two kids and an overwhelming job who met with me for drinks because she thinks I’m worth her making the time to do so. The long-time friend who even  living in two cities, pulled in many directions by work and personal obligations, emails me almost every day.

What am I complaining about then you ask?

It’s that in spite of not having made vows, sometimes you develop expectations… And after three months without the constant maelstrom of work that others fight through every day, you have a lot of time to think about them.

My Quest for Better Health – Part 2

Blue Friend, Blue Foe

When I was 14 years old, my grandmother was taken to the hospital due to her increased weakness. We assumed it was her heart, but instead she was told she had been overmedicated by her doctor.

A few years ago, my 76-year old aunt couldn’t remember how to drive to my parents place, a trip she had made for over 50 years. Her daughter is a nurse and she saw right away that my aunt needed to see a geriatrician, and, importantly, had the connections to make it happen. It wasn’t dementia, as we all jump to think when we see someone of that age struggle mentally. No, the meds she was taking were not interacting well with each other and this caused her to become confused. As in, could’ve gotten into a car accident confused.

So I’m going through Iife thinking that overmedication (or polypharmacy) is exclusively an elderly issue.

I’m wrong.

At 49, I’m taking 7 medications daily just to function. Some for my asthma (a bronchial dilator and a corticosteroid), my chronic sinus issues (steroid nasal spray), my environmental allergies (antihistamines), and following a depression, two antidepressants (one which pumped me up too much, one to calm the pumping) and an hormone to stop me from having excruciating periods because in 2018, they still haven’t found a cure for those.

How did I reach what I consider to be an overmedication stage? By desperately clinging to the thought that a medication could make me suffer less and perform better. At work, of course, but also in my life where I was slowing down so much that I could hardly get anything done.

In spite of this, I get sicker and weaker, fighting through six months of what I felt were upper respiratory infection symptoms. These did go away after a bought of antibiotics, but I was still experiencing shortness of breath (in spite of my asthma medication) and major fatigue.

Maybe this stems from food allergies or intolerances I thought. Visits to a nutritionist did not help, they actually made things worse in their own way.

I was living with 30 symptoms of ailments, getting worse and worse. Medical tests were being done so incrementally and over such a lengthy period of time, I did the only thing that I was in control of, and slowly weaned myself off of all of my recent medications.

My reasoning: with so many symptoms, how can I know what is a possible medication side effect, a masking of symptoms of something more acute, which of my medications were actually helping, which ones were not?

Over the past weeks I’ve talked to nurses, doctors, medical technicians about my decision, and not one of them piped up with: ” that could be dangerous” or “what a terrible idea”. Instead I got: “allergists and these off like candy” and “you wanted to have a clean slate” and other non verbal ways of telling me, that it wasn’t a bad idea at all.

No longer taking my strong antihistamines took away my bad headaches for example, and without my revving antidepressant I’m slowly able to sleep restfully again after 2 years. I’m not any stronger physically, but more specific symptoms have risen to the surface (hello, lymph nodes my old friends) and I’ve just finished a more focused battery of tests.

It included a pulmonary function test which confirmed that I didn’t need a bronchodilator. I was told by the technician that they should only be prescribed if your breathing function is 88% or below as they can only improve your breathing by 12%. My breathing rate was 96%. The best it could do was improve it by 4%. Here are it’s possible side effects. I experienced a number of those, for a 4% improvement. I will have a Bronchial Challenge test in two weeks for a more specific diagnosis.

Did the medications mask severe symptoms and delay a diagnosis? Maybe, maybe not. Stay tuned.

My Quest for Better Health – Part 1

I haven’t written anything I wanted to post for a good long time. The biggest reason why, was that I didn’t want to put negative thoughts out there- we have enough of those as it is. Another, was that I like to write about “solved” events so that there’s a beginning, lessons learned, and a nice finale. “Capsule posts” is what I’ve been aiming for – I clearly have watched too many Hollywood movies. Life is not like that at all.

I want to begin by stating that I believe everyone I’ve encountered on this “quest” has had good intentions and none of my words should be seen as directly refuting or disparaging specific individuals, just lousy circumstances.

I’ve been going through the wringer of trying to fix my lack of physical health which has dogged me for over a year, muting my 50th celebrations, putting a damper on my once in a lifetime trip, and making most of my work days utterly draining.

Now I feel like I’m fighting with myself, as well the traditional medical and alternative medicine establishments, in a race to get better. My therapist said I was in “survival mode” and I needed to move to “living” mode. I don’t need to write that it’s easier said than done, do I?

In order to simplify diagnosis, the medical establishment works with boxes. Diagnostic tests are devised

to fit in those boxes. If your ailment cannot be measured within test boxes or discovered in the regular 10-15 minute appointments and you still feel unwell… You’re out of luck.

If you’re a woman going through fertility treatments, pregnancy , recovering from a delivery, or within menopausal age range, there’s a very good chance that whatever ails you will be blamed on that period of your life. If you happen to be older than menopausal age, then everything is linked to your older age. If you keep asking for more diagnostic options, you will be gently guided to the semi-automatic anxiety and/or depression suggestions, akin to the “hysterical” diagnostic of Victorian times.

Don’t just take my work for it, read Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick by Maya Dusenbery.

Maybe I went from sneezing and having a runny nose to colds, to sinus infections, to chronic sinus issues to nausea and headaches, slow digestion, chills and hot flashes, needing recovery time for even 15 minutes of mild exercise, slow kidney function that came and improved to normal range for unknown reasons, and dizzy spells because… It’s all in my head?

I thought I would even out my chances of getting better by also seeing alternative medicine practitioners. I had lovely Reiki and reflexology treatments. Based on traditional Chinese medicine, I will forever believe in acupuncture and reflexology in balancing out your body’s energy.

Contrary to traditional medicine, alternative medicine specialists take a good amount of time to listen to your symptoms and your current life situation and they are always trying to help… for about $100/hour… not always refundable by your insurance. Where I live, you don’t have to spend a penny for traditional medicine appointments (just medication, doctors’ notes, certain vaccines, etc.) but you only get 10-15 minutes and often have to wait weeks for an appointment.

Have you gone through similar experiences? What made them better?

All my best.

Back to My Reality

Have you seen the 2010 movie Eat, Pray, Love? I loved that movie and its sceneries, totally identified with the love of Italy and its wine and food, a little less with the rest. It was always my aspiration to accomplish a bold move like the main character did, leave my real life for a prolonged adventure and come back a different person, with a new life.

When it came down to it though, I chose to establish a good financial and professional base for myself, then leave for a set period on an organised jaunt, and come back to the same life. No one makes movies about that.

Still, I couldn’t let go of the ideal of a fantastic personal transformation. Once back home though, I didn’t feel transformed in the least.

As I walked around for most of my trip with a sinus infection and a bum rib, I was in major need of rest, so I slept like crazy my first week back. I then started decluttering my apartment. I knew from the beginning that living so many days with a set number of clothing pieces would help me streamline my wardrobe. The same turned out to be true of living in hotel rooms with only functional furniture. My place looked way too full.

Doing this busied my body and left me with space to think and allowed me to distil the gains from my trip. Not having to worry about anything but what was happening today and tomorrow, or about anyone other than me, meant that I benefited from ample head space to think about what I wanted and needed. I can’t remember ever having that luxury before.

Over the past years reading specialized books and seeing therapists, I realized I had become completely blind to what was best for me. I just went through disappointments and hardships  repeating, like a mantra, “I can handle this”, “I’m strong enough to do this”, “I’ll make do”. It depleted me.

You know what helped me think differently throughout my trip? Being sick and injured – ha!

Early on, I made me let go of the idea of traipsing everywhere, and going on exerting adventures. I also made my peace with fact that everyone who travelled where I did would go: “You didn’t go there?! You didn’t do this?! But it’s the most important part of X!!” and not care. Pain has a way of letting go of needless thoughts. Had I been at home, I would’ve gone to work every day, and continued with my detrimental mantra.

On a poshier side, what also helped was the fantastic opportunity of being upgraded to business class on my longest flights for a minimal cost. (Air New Zealand and Hawaiian Airlines have a fantastic “bid to upgrade” system where, if you’re lucky, you bid an amount a fraction of the cost of purchasing a business class ticket.) Especially on ANZ, you feel so nicely catered to, and the food, and the drinks! It’s a feeling I’ve very rarely experienced and it opened my eyes.

My time away allowed me the space to get back to myself and take my rightful place at the head of my decisions table. I need to let go of the idea of adapting to all situations and muting my needs, and instead spend time asking for help, and for changes, even slight ones, to try and modify them to my benefit, instead of living through them to my detriment.

I may not be able to change all difficult circumstances coming my way, but I can try and what I can change, will leave me with a better life. I hope.

Trip Post #6

“Mistakes Make the Best Stories”

I saw that saying on a woman’s t-shirt in Melbourne, I really wish I had taken a picture because it seemed to represent my life trajectory so well.

I wound up staying a bit too long in Rotorua because I had no idea that the full bus going to Auckland was also the bus heading to Hamilton (sigh). During my wait though, I met this lovely lady who lived in a city nearby and was waiting for her returning home bus.

When I started being worried about my bus not coming, she offered to look after my luggage while I went it the bus ticket office. Sadly, the woman mending the desk told me my bus was coming in a few minutes. She was wrong. The “Auckland/Hamilton” bus had already been out there for 15 minutes and I let it leave without me. It would also mean missing my 4:30pm train to Auckland. I didn’t cry over that part though, due to issues with my Wellington to Hamilton trip.

Getting back to the lovely lady, she talked to me about what the city was like 50 years ago, and how she has been a widow for two years now and was travelling on her own for the first time, to see her brother in Rotorua. I told her she really appeared to me like a seasoned traveller (classy, walkable sandals, leather coat, rolling suitcase, etc.) and she got a kick out of that. She said that she looked at what her daughter was doing when she travelled, and then tried to imitate her. “I looked, and I learned”. [Ndlr. We need more of that in the world.]

I hope if she so chooses, that seeing me travel on my own will help convince her to do it again. We didn’t share our names, but it didn’t matter, she gave me a nice hug as she was leaving, and for a bit less than an hour, we had a nice meeting of the souls.

I was then stuck for 4 hours waiting for a 3-hour ride to Auckland, in an overheated bus. In the end, had I planned this ahead of time, it would’ve been the easiest way for me to get more time in lovely Rotorua and travel to Auckland. But I hadn’t. I was therefore not dressed for getting around in 30 Celsius weather, which led me to feel and smell like melted cheese for a good long while (sigh). Oh well.

Note: Do you know what happens when you get into an unknown city at 9pm? You wind up walking for 15 minutes to get to a neighbourhood grocery store, when there’s a big one on a cross street,5 minutes from the hotel [facepalm].