Monday, October 05, 2015

So Maaaaaaaagical

Once, I was at LLL and we were talking about how we felt about nursing.  Predictably, there was one Amber Necklace Nut who affirmed that it mde her feel so wonderful!  Euphoric, even!  So powerfully life-giving BLAH BLAH BLAH.

"I feel trapped," I said.  "I can't leave the baby for more than 20 minutes*, there's someone pawing at me all the hours of the day, and it drives me crazy."

(I was reminded of this as the baby whacked me with all her might, and then grabbed my tank top strap and snapped it repeatedly, while nursing.)

"Ooookay.... but most people really find it rewarding!" the leader said (doubtless trying to reassure all the new moms. Plus, probably deluded.)

Readers, I feel about breastfeeding like I feel about science.  We do it because we find some aspects of it rewarding, but many parts are really annoying. These can both be true at the same time.

What's your least favorite part of baby-feeding (or, if you have no baby to feed, other people's annoying children)?

*this was when she was too small for people food and hadn't yet figured out bottles. 

Friday, October 02, 2015

Does Vaccine Hesitancy Matter?

A friend asked me this week if it really matters if other people delay vaccinating their children.  As long as their child has received at least one dose of each vaccine, they asked, isn't their own child protected?

Absolutely not!  For one, most vaccines require multiple doses for full effect; for another, even the best vaccine is not completely effective.  The current pertussis vaccine, developed because of worrisome but not dangerous reactions to the cellular vaccine, is only about 85% effective.

Let's take measles FOR EXAMPLE. Modeling - based on lots and lots of data- shows that for one, about 95% of the population needs to be vaccinated to prevent outbreaks.  Here is a particularly good REAL WORLD EXAMPLE of what happens, in a densely populated area, when this isn't the case.  You can read the whole paper for yourself, but the summary is: not twelve years ago, the Solomon Islands had a big measles outbreak.  There were only 50,000 people living on the islands and at least 800 of them caught measles.  The outbreak lasted six months.  Six months.  They finally went and re-vaccinated 35,000 people regardless of whether they'd previously been immunized.

Take that in for a minute.  They re-vaccinated 70% of the population.

"From 1989 until 2003, the RMI did not report a single case of measles, and World Health Organization (WHO) cluster surveys showed single-dose vaccine coverage of 93% and 80% among 2-year-old children in 1998 and 2001, respectively, although second-dose coverage lagged behind at 40% in both years." 
"The outbreak ended only after vaccination of ~35,000 persons among a population of 51,000." 
"[T]he reported coverage of 1-dose measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine was 80%–93%..... [Of the measles cases] (23% involved infants who were below the age of routine vaccination), 100 hospitalizations (34% involved infants), and 3 deaths. Of outbreak cases, 41% were reported to have been previously vaccinated." 

That's right! This large outbreak happened even to people who had been vaccinated. The percent of the population dropped below the protecting-everyone threshold- in part because many children did not receive their vaccines on time, especially the second dose!

Why stick to the recommended schedule?  Because in general, there have been lots and lots of studies demonstrating to test the schedule and determine what sequence gives the best immunity - while protecting children as much as possible.  In other words, vaccines are given as soon as it's been shown they'll be both safe and effective in children of that age.

Whenever someone, because they read a dumb book or heard someone on the radio or for any other not-medically-indicated reason, delays their child's vaccines, they are increasing the chances of an outbreak.  Infants are disproportionately vulnerable in outbreaks - but also even children old enough to be vaccinated are at higher risk.  They're putting your kids at risk, but they are also putting their own kids at risk.  Please, tell them.

Have you ever convinced someone to vaccinate their child in a more timely fashion? Or informed them of FACTS about vaccines?  Told them a personal story ('my cousin got pertussis and gave it to my grandma')?

(Retrospective irony alert: "In contrast, (less than) 120 measles cases have occurred annually in the United States since 1998 [2, 3]. The success of the US measles program is based on (greater than) 90% preschool vaccination coverage for 1 dose of measles vaccine and the near-universal requirement of a second dose for school entry [4–6].

Monday, September 28, 2015


I never have a length of time sufficient to write about my list of things I need to write about (now including how overwhelmed I am by keeping track of all the things and how I need to get some of it out of my head).

So I'll tell you this instead: A student died at my university- suddenly, probably of an undiagnosed heart problem, as young heathy people sometimes do.  I don't know what happened because I cannot bear to even read about it.  There was an EMT right there and they couldn't save this child.  Someone's precious baby is gone.

There's an old psychology book called 'The Denial of Death' about how much we cannot bear to confront mortality.  For me, it's since having children: I cannot bear to read about or see or hear of violence towards, or death of, children.  

What are you not thinking about this week?

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Brief Prayer

Creator, grant me the courage to help my children succeed at school, the wisdom to answer other parents with kindness, and the patience to not stab people proposing 'Psychology Today' as a reputable evidence-based source.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Hand-Holding, Or Not

This is the second year I'm teaching the same chemistry lab.  It is an intro course for non-majors, and it is fucking boring.  They spend an entire lab period measuring the density of water.*

I don't pretend the labs are riveting; instead, I tell them why we bother (to learn, for example, about how much confidence we have in our measurements, and what accuracy is, and why it is not the same as precision.)  I have a brief lecture for every week, which summarizes what they're learning and doing.

However, they must also READ THE DIRECTIONS.  I cannot prevent them from making every dumb mistake.  There are detailed procedures for every lab!  And some of them do, in fact, read the directions and do the lab correctly.  Also, despite the fact that I offer to look over their lab reports before they turn them in,** only the very clever ones ever take me up on this, which ensures the clever ones get high As instead of low As, and the ones who really needed the help... don't ask for it.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm teaching them anything, or just applying punitive consequences for being, as my spouse says, 'bad at life'.

* Which is only 1 g/mL to a first approximation.
** Due at the end of each class period, before they leave.  So they don't even have to come to office hours!!!  AND YET.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Placeholder for:

  •  A very long summary of how I came to give my baby (some, as it happens, as opposed to all) formula; with FEEELINGS
  • My students' latest train wreck, which makes me wonder if I am the worst teacher ever (probably not, two got 93% even though the mean was a 56)
  • Lots of feelings about my health, or lack thereof, and the hopes that the nice ENT will help the headache I've had for.... 18 months
  • Where Does the Time Go and Why Is My House So Messy, A Multi-part Lament
Also, in response to ongoing comment woes, I have switched all the comments to moderation, which should fix at least the LJ login problem (I tested it) and possibly also WordPress.  Let me know.  I mean, once I fish the comments out of the mod queue.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Good, Not Good, Both, Surreal

Living in a very (VERY) small town means it takes me five minutes to get to work.

It also means that ten minutes before I am standing before a room of college  students using my Listen Up I'm In Charge Here Loud Voice, I have a nursing baby in my arms. Right before I run out the door.  (They have all, by the way, been properly trained to call me Dr. Scientist this year.)

In a few months, it'll be easier.  If I'm still doing this next year, it'll be fine  (and maybe she'll even be weaned).  Right now it is strange and transitionless and jarring.