That One Resolution

              Break bad habits, start new routines, evolve a new, improved you. For some reason, the turn of the calendar to a New Year inspires change; an inspiration which soon proves burdensome in its realization. I have made too many resolutions to count and I was determined to keep them but did I?

               The answer is yes, I kept one. Forty-three years ago, I decided to give up smoking. Cigarettes and I had developed a strange relationship and an expensive one. I was married for a year and my husband didn’t smoke and never had. His brief experiments with tobacco were laughable; he didn’t even know how to hold a cigarette. I had been a smoker for about nine years, starting when I couldn’t even blame adolescent curiosity for trying it out. The thing was, I lit a lot of cigarettes, took a couple of puffs and then snubbed them out. Not all, of course, but there were enough barely started smokes sitting in ashtrays to let me know it was time. Time to quit.

               I grew up with smokers. Mum and Dad both smoked in the house, the car, and for my Dad, on the tractor. It was normal and there were warnings about lung cancer seemed bogus. No one we knew was afflicted so the enjoyable habit continued. It was normal.

               December 31st, 1974 arrived and when the clock struck midnight I was done with cigarettes. It wasn’t easy and my ‘withdrawal’ was exacerbated by the supportive husband strolling by, cigarette in hand, blowing smoke in my direction. He claims it was to make me angry enough to keep my resolution. I have my doubts.

               I didn’t smoke again. At first, I not only missed the nicotine hit, but the social aspect of the habit. One girlfriend and I, in particular, shared cigarettes and smoked together. It was like a part of relationship was gone…how ridiculous.

               In 1975, my daughter was born. She developed asthma and when we first consulted a specialist, his questions were, “Was she breast-fed and who in the house smokes?” When I answered, yes and no one, 50% of his treatment was gone. The doctor was almost dejected that he couldn’t deliver the rest of his speech which would have added guilt to the stress. How glad I was that I no longer smoked.

               Years later the health effects of smoking were revealed. Big tobacco’s campaign of false science was debunked and independent research revealed the use of tobacco in its various forms was implicated not just in lung cancer but in a variety of illnesses. Heart disease and stroke, hypertension, bladder cancer, emphysema (now known as COPD), and more chronic conditions were linked to tobacco.  Birth weights were lower in the babies of smokers and there could be further complications, after all, the nicotine and other components of tobacco smoke entered the blood stream and crossed into the placenta.

               My brother, a type one diabetic, smoked. The tightening of blood vessels, in part caused by smoking, contributed to the peripheral artery disease that led to amputations of both his l9egs. A heavy price for cigarettes. He once said, “You’d think the choice, a leg or smokes would be easy.” It wasn’t and like millions of others, he couldn’t quit.

               I am so glad I kept my one New Year’s Resolution and it did break a bad habit, start a different routine and did improve my health. For these reasons, I just might make resolutions, again this year. Maybe this will be the year I keep another one. Happy New Year.

When Antibiotics Fail

Modern medicine is losing its battle against bacteria. The original penicillin is ineffective. In hospitals and around the world superbugs have developed that are not touched by any of our antibiotics. When this happens, patients are left to fight off the invaders with only their own immune systems. Often, they succumb. The appearance of superbugs is a huge threat to our health and the days of popping an antibiotic and feeling better in a couple of days are numbered. How did we get to this point? Antibiotics are over-prescribed, patients demand them, and when they feel better, don’t finish the course. Any resistant bacteria are left to reproduce and pass along their resistance.

An old therapy which was abandoned when antibiotics proved so effective may provide a new weapon in our fight against bacteria. Bacteriophages, shown below, are viruses with a protein head and in the case of the ones shown, a “landing” tail which is specific to a species of bacteria and is used by the phage to inject its genetic material (DNA or RNA) into the cell. Once in the bacteria, its machinery is taken over and it produces more and more phages, until it bursts, is destroyed, and releases new phages. The new phages seek out more bacteria cells, inject, infect, and kill them. Cells of a human or animal are not harmed by the phages.

The purple “lunar landers” are phages on the surface of a bacterial cell.

It sounds wonderful. The best part is that phages are everywhere, the ocean, in sewage, soil; wherever bacteria are found, phages are, too. It’s not so wonderful when the actual problem of identifying a phage to attack a specific multi-drug resistant superbug, isolating it, and preparing it for human use is involved. Research is ongoing and this forgotten therapy may hold the key for the next advance against bacteria. Without a new treatment, infections will be our next health menace and millions of us may die. Before antibiotics, a simple infection was life threatening provides it.

I have included a short Youtube video that explains how bacteriophages kill bacteria. If you are interested further, ABC’s 2020 and CTV’s W5 have documentaries exploring the future of phage therapy. In the meantime, we should all limit our antibiotic use as much as we can.