Don’t forget to relax


A few months ago, I found this poster on the website that reminded me to relax. This is one of the notes I keep within sight at all times. This is important because I have a habit of being high strong, and my blood pressure has a habit of being high.

I found out I had elevated blood pressure while still a teenage. Right after migrating to the United States, one of my first medical acts was to go to a clinic at the same time every day for five straight days to check my blood pressure. The doctors were convinced I had high blood pressure. For the record, I don’t. From that time onwards, I would usually spit out my blood pressure reading even before the machine kicked out it’s numbers.  However, during the past few years, my blood pressure has been slowly going down due to lifestyle changes and I guess my attempts at relaxation. I’m still amazed when I see a low numbers.

As I start my doctorate and during this entire stage in life. I’ll have to remember to relax. It’ll be ok. And, my blood pressure will continue to thank me.

Like the message “keep calm and keep walking”, this is one of the simple mantras that can aid in better health. Sometimes, it’s the simplest communication messages that have the biggest impact (on our health).

Image source:

Caribbean literature for health communication lessons?

In three months, I’ll begin my pursuing my doctorate in Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I’ve decided to blog about my experiences in the program, which promises to be intense but rewarding.

Before classes can begin; however, I have to get through the summer. And, that means summer reading. Many people have a summer reading list, which might include catching up best sellers from the past year or great novels published decades ago. For mine, I’ve decided to focus on Caribbean authors, beginning with Elizabeth Nunez, having read having read a few of her novels many years ago.

I picked up Boundaries (2011) at my local library about a month ago. It’s a quick and easy read that tells the story of a 40-year-old Caribbean-American woman who left her home in Trinidad to study and then work in the United States. Well-educated Anna tries to navigate the publishing industry, balancing her duties as a book editor and her commitment to her aging parents. In the middle of reading Boundaries, I realized that the book is actually a sequel to Anna in-between, Nunez’s 2010 novel.

So, what does this have to do with health communication?

Anna’s mother, Beatrice, is suffering from breast cancer, one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among Caribbean women.

Beatrice first attempts to pray the lumps away. She wakes up in the middle of the night to pray, hoping that the lump will get smaller. She also wakes up to address the lump because it is beginning to bleed out.

It’s about family communication of medical history; the conversations we have with our families about health and illness. Anna’s mother’s mother died of breast cancer. Anna’s mother had breast cancer. Anna knows she is at higher risk. Despite this, Beatrice husband refuses to bring up the topic unless his wife gives him the okay. She hasn’t. In their house, privacy is respected and takes precedence, even in times of illness.

It is also about the discussions we have with our doctors. Beatrice will not allow the ‘unofficial’ family doctor to examine her, to see her nudity. This is too private. Pak, the family physician, recommends she see an oncologist. Beatrice reluctantly agrees. But the strength she shown up to the point of the appointment date is shattered. She is scared. She fears she will die like her mother.

It is also about the faith we have in our health systems. What does it mean to be sick in the Caribbean? What does it mean to be sick on Trinidad? Anna’s mother has faith in the island doctors. She wants to see them. She does chemotherapy on Trinidad. At the urging of Anna, Beatrice travels to New Jersey for her mastectomy, where she is cared for not only by her daughter but also by the son of a family friend, an oncologist why performs the surgery. After surgery, she immediately returns to Trinidad and the care of her local cancer doctor.

Image courtesy of Repeating Islands.

Applications open for training workshops – UNAIDS Caribbean

The Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC) and El Centro de Orientacion e Investigacion Integral (COIN), with support from PANCAP Global Fund Round 9, is inviting experienced community activists, HIV/STI Prevention workers, and health promotion trainers to apply to participate in CVC/COIN’s Facilitators training for delivery of Workshops in Sexual Health Promotion for Peer Educators working with Gay, Bisexuals, Transgender, Men who have sex with men (GBTM), and Sex Workers.

This new training resource manual is written for trainers who are interested in strengthening their capacity building initiatives with outreach workers and peer educators working with vulnerable and marginalised populations. CVC/COIN will host two trainings with the aim of creating a regional network of trained facilitators. The first training intended for Spanish-speakers will be held over five days in the Dominican Republic from 11th to 15th June 2012. A second training intended for English-speakers will be held in Trinidad from 25th-29th June 2012.

Find out more about the programme, eligibility criteria and the application process. Applications are due by May 29th, 2012.

End-of-life decisions–one of the most difficult topics to talk about

Have you told your family what to do if you were in a critical state? Have you talked to your loved ones or medical professional about their decisions?

A few years ago, my great grandfather, who suffered from cancer told us emphatically that he did not want anyone keeping him on ‘drips’ or life support. He was dying and he was ready to go. The family honored his wishes, for he has always been obstinate and forthright. He’d lived a long and happy life and knew that staying any longer would not make life any better. How many other people know when it’s time to let go? How many other families are refusing to let go?

End of life decisions are nothing lightly to discuss. In my great-grandfather’s case, he had advanced stage cancer. What about when it’s a young person who may have been in an accident, ends up in a coma, and the family tries to hold on in hopes of the person becoming conscious again?

A few weeks ago, popular medical drama Grey’s Anatomy aired an episode in which a young adult had to make end-of-life decisions on behalf of her parents. The family had been in an accident. The mother died on the scene. The father was hospitalized but needed to be resuscitated numerous times. A doctor asked the young lady about any discussions she had had with her parents about whether they wanted to be kept alive. She responded, “We don’t talk about things like that. We talk about normal things.”

Well, end of life decisions should become part our or new normal medical discussions. As we live longer and become engaged with more medical technologies, we need to start talking to each other–young and old–about what you want to happen if placed in a situation where you are unable to make medical decisions on your own.

In the middle of writing this post, I learned that my father had suffered an accident on the job. Although he was not badly hurt, I saw this as a clue for my own family to start making this part of our ‘normal things’. This decision was also made easier because my dad often spoke of how he wants his body handled after he dies.So, communicating about what to do if something serious happens was a natural follow-up question.