May 15, 2009

Tree grows inside man's lung

This article caught my eye a couple of weeks ago and has been waiting for an opportunity to be blogged. There's actually a picture of the wee fir tree inside the lung, if you follow the link to the news story.

Tree grows inside man's lung
A Russian man who was being operated on for a suspected tumour ended up having a fir tree removed from one of his lungs.

The 5cm tree, was discovered by surgeons when they opened up Artyom Sidorkin, 28, according to Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Gazeta.

It is believed Mr Sidorkin inhaled a seed, which then sprouted into a small fir tree inside his lung...

The article continues...
He went to doctors complaining of extreme chest pain and coughing up blood.

Surgeon Vladimir Kamashev told the newspaper he was sure it was cancer.

"We did X-rays and found what looked exactly like a tumour. I had seen hundreds before, so we decided on surgery."

The tree was discovered when surgeons took a biopsy before removing the major part of the man's lung.

"I thought I was hallucinating," said Dr Kamashev.

"I blinked three times as I was sure I was seeing things."

"It was very painful. But to be honest I did not feel any foreign object inside me," a relieved Mr Sidorkin told the paper.

Craziness. And I always thought that those stories of not eating seeds because they'd sprout inside you were utter wives' tales. Turns out that, if you're a bit woolly on the difference between swallowing and inhaling, the old wives might not be so wrong after all.

May 11, 2009

Outdoor Hour #5 - making a list

As I was sitting down to read over the suggestions for our next Nature Study, I remembered that I hadn't as yet shared our previous Outdoor Hour. About a week and a half ago we looked at the Outdoor Hour #5 - making a list.

You may recall that our focus topic is 'rocks'. The task for this session is, briefly;
Pick one item in your focus area to study, turn to those pages (in the Handbook of Nature Study, by Anna B Comstock), and read to your child about that subject. At the end of each section, there are observation ideas for each subject and these observation suggestions will be the parent’s reading assignment this week.(see below) As you find things in your focus area, keep a running list in the front or back of your nature journal of those items.
Then, during the walk, to quietly observe anything we came across, but paying special attention to items in the focus area.

On this occasion, we went for a walk around the block. Miss5 requested a visit to the playground but the wind was bitterly cold so I restricted our outing to once around the block.

According to Miss5, we heard "chickens bok bok", "trees rustling", "a tiny sparrow chirping in a tree", and "noisy cars".

We found a lovely white stone with orange markings through it, just over the road from our house. Miss5 coloured in an outline of this once we got back home, and discovered the joy of coloured-pencils (which allow a much closer colour match than felt pens).

Passing one house, which is under construction, we saw a trench cut in the ground, which allowed us to see the layer of topsoil, and the layer of clay beneath. And we saw many retaining walls made out of igneous rocks.

Miss5 also collected a handful of different leaves and a couple of flowers for our nature journal.

For the readings, instead of using the Handbook, I read out a short passage about igneous rocks from the book Geology Rocks by Cindy Blobaum. I borrowed this one from the library for its "50 Hands-on Experiments!", and have been very impressed with it. We'll be more likely to use the Handbook when we come to study some of the more 'alive' bits of nature, as Comstock's treatment of Geology is quite cursory.

The Geology Rocks! experiments associated with 'igneous rocks' seem worth doing too - looking at the effect that cooling rate has on the formation of crystals in a substance (using molten sugar). This will (hopefully) demonstrate why some igneous rocks are shiny and glass-like, while others are coarse and grainy, when they both started out as magma. I plan to do this with Miss5 tomorrow, and (weather permitting) go on an igneous-finding walk later in the week - but we shall see how the week pans out!

May 8, 2009

catch-up on the week that was

My goodness! Has it been a week already since I last posted?! How time flies when the whole family has a tummy bug...

But we're all better now. The bug only lasted 2 days for me, and even less time for the rest of the family, although I have stayed fairly wiped-out for the rest of the week. Thank goodness for the 'self-directed learning' approach to home educating! It's enabled me to notice all the learning that Miss5 (and Miss2) are doing, even on the days when we don't do all (or any) of my planned learning activities.

For instance...

Today Miss5 spent a good 10 to 15 minutes reading poetry aloud to Miss2 - noticing for herself some of the different ways that words can be used, and some of the different layers of meaning in the poems. Her favourite is called "The Chameleon" by Roger Stevens (from the Poetry Alive! Footprints in the Butter anthology), which you really have to see to appreciate, and I can't find a copy on the 'net. But essentially it is the word "tree" repeated many many times, as a 'shape poem' in the shape of a tree - and the words "you can search all day but you'll never see the chameleon hiding in the" hidden within the myriad "tree"s. This appeals to her on many levels and it's neat to see her enjoying poetry all on her own initiative.

She has completely devoured a book on Cleopatra which I got out of the library. I had decided it was possibly a little old for her and put it aside to just take back to the library,but she found it and read it before I'd realised. So we have had a couple of discussions about how even grown ups can make bad choices, and just because famous and royal people did things, doesn't mean they were good things to have done (like... extra marital affairs, suicide, murder, that sort of thing). Which are good discussions to be having, I just wasn't really anticipating having them with my five year old. I've heard her announcing "Hey (Miss2)! Let's read our History Books! Here, I'll read this one, and you read that one." Then she gives Miss2 a less-favoured book on Egypt from the library, and they both lie on the floor with their books in front of them, reading away (or, in Miss2's case, just doing whatever her big sister is doing). Miss2 will occasionally announce "Hissty book!"

Lots of colouring in. This is all colour experimentation ("hey Mum, when I mix orange and purple, I get brown!"), social studies (various costumes being appropriate for different roles), realism vs interpretation ("I'm just going to do MY birds like this, even if God does his differently"), and narrative composition (she makes up stories that attempt to unify the different pages of the colouring book into some storyline that makes sense).

Playing with her sister. This is big for things like negotiation of personal boundaries, sharing, being considerate, self-defence, thinking ahead (putting delicate things out of reach), a sense of perspective (Miss2 pulling a bookmark out of a book is not the end of the world - we will find the chapter again), forgiveness, graciousness, and other important life skills. I am really impressed at how well they play together, given that Miss2 is definitely in 'toddler mode'.

Playing outside. This week she has brought in lots of leaves and flowers and is starting to notice which trees the different leaves come from. She found a small branch with some dead leaves on it this week and was able to tell me which tree it must have come from, based on the type of bark. So her observation and problem-solving skills are improving. Also lots and lots of trampolining and some tree climbing has got to be good 'physical education'.

Playing games. The maths skills acquired when playing card and dice games are fairly obvious - but its the sort of thing we do for fun on our family nights, rather than as a formal schooly lesson.

So there you go - all that on top of: learning how to write the letters 'c' and 'o';reviewing the other letters she already knows (i,l,t,u,w,j,y,n,m,r,h,b,p,k - we learn them in 'families' of similarly shaped letters); learning about 'odd' and 'even' numbers, and why they are called odds and evens; acquiring cultural capital through our read-alouds of Black Beauty and various Fables and Fairy Tales; and generally running around and having a good time with the other kids at our local weekly home educator's get together (which we don't get to weekly, but really enjoy it when we do!).

The only thing I'm a little disappointed about this week is that we didn't get a Nature Study done (we did do one last week, I just haven't blogged it yet!). The weather has been okay - I just have forgotten to take my iron tablets more often than not this week and my brain has largely been out to lunch and my body has been lying down and falling asleep whenever it thinks it can get away with it.


May 1, 2009

This is me, not panicking

By now, if you haven't heard of the imminent swine-flu epidemic, I'm not sure what you've been doing with your internet surfing time, but it hasn't involved keeping up to date with current affairs.

Here in New Zealand we've got 4 confirmed cases, 12 probable cases, 116 suspected cases and 388 people in isolation. Out of a total population of 4 million. Which is either massive or miniscule depending on how you look at it, I guess.

So, naturally, my thoughts have turned to what I can do here and now to prepare for an actual epidemic, should it come to that.

Step one of the flu prep kit
What you see here is the fruit of my first rush of blood to the head.
  • 3 weeks supply of paracetamol for 2 adults (each adult may take 2 tablets, 4 times per day. That's a lot of tablets!). Paracetamol is for controlling fever and easing the achy symptoms of flu. If the 'flu comes to our house, Merl and I will need this to make sure that the kids get looked after, food gets organised, dishes get cleaned, that sort of stuff - even when we are sick ourselves.
Okay, sure we probably won't need an entire 3 weeks supply, and it probably isn't good for you to take that much every day for 3 weeks - but I've erred on the side of caution. I'd also hate to need paracetamol for a headache and find that everyone else has beaten me to the supermarket that day.
  • paracetamol for the kids.
Sick kids are miserable. Ease their symptoms any way possible.
  • hand sanitiser (in pump bottle) For when we are out in public - I have sent one of these with Merl to his work and one lives in the car. You're looking at the spare one. We 'wash' our hands when we get back to the car after being in the library, the supermarket, anywhere that people may have coughed or sneezed and then put their hands on what we've touched.
This is a new thing for us. I've never done this before, although I do know people who do this as a matter of course. It has always seemed a little too far toward paranoia for me. But there you go. I must remember to pack some into my tinfoil hat.
  • honey, garlic, ginger, cayenne pepper. Ingredients for my kick-a-germ joy juice. I've got lemons on the shopping list. This is good for the early, shivery stages of flu, according to my alternative medicine guide. Fever can be eased with elderflower, peppermint and yarrow infusions, apparently.
Personally, my money is on the paracetamol, but a good strong herbal tonic with honey makes you feel better. And if the swine flu actually does come to town, we'll be fighting it with all guns blazing. We have peppermint in the garden (and I saw some yarrow the other day, too, now that I think of it). Perhaps I should go on a herb gathering expedition this weekend and get some drying in preparation.
  • tea tree oil. A decongestant, antiseptic all-round goody. Use for head-pickling or room-infusion.
This is fabulous when the kids are night-coughing. I have an old thermal coffee mug that I half-fill with boiling water, drop 3 or 4 drops of tea tree oil onto the top, and leave the mug steaming in their room. Sometimes I'll refresh the hot water in the middle of the night. This really does seem to ease their coughing.
  • Vicks vapor-rub. One of those strong-smelling eucalyptus, camphor, linamint rubs for rubbing on the chest.
I can't use this directly on Miss5's skin - she comes out in an irritation rash - but I wipe some on a tissue and pop it inside her pillowslip to help her breathing. She doesn't get the chest-warming benefits, but something is better than nothing! Miss2's skin is not so delicate so we can use it normally with her.

In my thinking, there are multiple layers of preparedness for the 'flu.

1. Preventing the spread
2. Dealing with the immediate effects of the 'flu illness
3. Preparing for possible complications of the 'flu itself
4. Preparing for possible social implications of the 'flu

Let's take these one at a time

1. Preventing the spread
For now, I'm happy with hand-sanitizing when we're out. If an actual epidemic is declared, we'll look at keeping away from libraries, supermarkets, swimming pools and the like. In preparation for this, we should check our pantry for essential supplies. Do we have enough of the basics to skip the supermarket for a couple of weeks if we have to?

Also, there may be people in our family/community who need us to care for them while they are ill. How can we minimise risk of catching the 'flu from them and bringing it home? Should we consider face masks? Disposable gloves? For us, this will depend on how fatal this 'flu turns out to be.

2. Dealing with the immediate effects of the 'flu illness
Not much you can do here, beyond what you'd normally do for a 'flu. Stay home, stay in bed, keep your fluids up, take paracetamol.

There is tamiflu, of course, but in NZ at present that's only available over the counter from the pharmacy if the pharmacist actually sees you and confirms you are suffering from 'flu-like symptoms. Or you can get it on prescription, but most doctors are only writing scripts if you actually have the 'flu. Which is all very sensible. The last thing we need is for people to be downing tamiflu like water at the first sign of a cold-virus, and creating the ideal conditions for tamiflu-resistant influenza. Regardless, in NZ just now, tamiflu is available if you have the 'flu - but it's not part of your preparedness kit.

Basically, ease your symptoms, and go to the doctor if you think it is swine flu, or if you suspect secondary bacterial infection, which can cause bronchitis and pneumonia.

3. Preparing for possible complications of the 'flu itself
This is the bronchitis/pneumonia bit. The very young and the very old seem to die of secondary complications of the 'flu. This is why it's important to keep them coughing the phlegm up. The first reason is so that it doesn't sit in their chest and foster infection. The second reason is so you can keep an eye on it to notice if it looks infected (brown or green phlegm is bad - go to the doctor for antibiotics, and really go to town with garlic and tea tree oil).

Oddly, in pandemic 'flu (as opposed to seasonal 'flu) there is often a bunch of people who die at the peak of their fitness, aged 20-40 years old. This is from what is called a 'cytokine storm' - essentially a super-effective immune response that leads to massive organ failure. There's nothing you can do about this except hope it doesn't happen to you.

4. Preparing for possible social implications of the 'flu
This is wide-ranging, and depends on how severe the 'flu gets. If the polio epidemics of my grandmother's childhood is anything to go by, the schools, theaters, swimming pools and all other communal type activities will close down for some months. This wasn't such a big deal when everyone had a huge veggie garden and nobody considered hanging out at the mall a valid social pastime. So at one level, this comes back to making sure you have plenty of food in the cupboards, to minimise those trips to the supermarket.

It also means making sure you have some board games, books, DVDs, computer games, bikes, a trampoline, a deck of cards... whatever it takes to amuse you and your family without leaving your neighbourhood. As home edders, we're pretty used to having our kids around 24/7, but if you're not, you should brace yourself for a couple of weeks for a form of culture shock - as you get used to hanging out with each other a lot more than you have been.

And of course, the darker side could be more job losses than we've already seen (especially if there is a massive shut-down of the CBD), meaning even less money. Meaning a well stocked pantry, a little bit of savings and perhaps some judicious spending before the going gets really bad, could go a long way.

By judicious spending, I mean things like making sure the kids have their winter coats and shoes bought, or putting in a veggie garden. I don't mean replacing the lounge furniture because you don't like the colour any more...

So there we have it - my personal take on the swine flu and what I consider to be sensible precautions.
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