When Doctors Can Hear, but Can’t Help

article-1286369-07BA6D6D000005DC-830_468x347Last week, I read a troubling article that fell under the column title “Hard Cases” in the New York Times. Read on and you’ll understand why.

The author, New York Times writer Abigail Zuger, M.D., wrote about a patient’s wife who called her to express concern about her husband drinking. Dr. Zuger was surprised to learn about her patient Tom’s drinking, and yet without Tom’s admission of a problem, there was nothing Dr. Zuger could do or say.

Dr. Zuger goes on to write about the difficulties doctors have detecting drinking problems that are not extreme, and that many patients try to save face. “A new analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that of the 38 million problem drinkers in the country, only one in six have come clean to a  health professional,” she writes.

The phone call from Tom’s wife made the situation clear to Dr. Zuger, yet she was forced to reply, “I’m so sorry. I can’t talk to you about that.”

There are moral and ethical standards whereby an adult patient’s health issues are his business alone. And of course, there is the law and the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) which govern patient privacy.

Dr. Zuger did tell her patient, Tom, that his wife called, but didn’t say what she’d called about. She asked Tom if it would be okay for his wife to come to his next appointment, to which he replied, “Absolutely not.”

The story ended there. The doctor never met Tom’s wife or spoke with her again. But she listened and never forgot.

To read Dr. Zuger’s article, “What Patients Don’t Tell Their Doctors,” click here.


photo credit


DRINK reviewed by The Washington Post

UnknownCalling it “a wallop of a book,” DRINK by Ann Dowsett Johnston was recently reviewed in The Washington Post. One particular part of the interview (see below) struck me, as it so related to the skewed cultural attitude about women’s drinking versus men’s–a disturbing element we’ve written about repeatedly since we started the Drinking Diaries blog.

The book is meant to alarm us, one searing fact at a time. Let’s start with why women drink. Men tend to imbibe to socialize and heighten positive feelings, she [Johnston] writes, but women drink to drive away negative feelings. They’re at an immediate disadvantage. Women, on average, have more body fat, which fails to dilute alcohol. They also have a lower level of an enzyme that helps the body break it down. Hormone fluctuations make them more vulnerable, too, particularly when estrogen levels rise.

Click here for the complete review, and here to read Johnston’s Q&A interview on Drinking Diaries.


Hotel Minibars: Love Them or Dread Them?

minibarDid you know that hotel minibars—which have been a prominent fixture in hotels since the mid 70s–are an endangered species? I hadn’t noticed, but then I recently came across this elegy for the minibar in the Atlantic magazine.

Apparently, big hotel chains such as Marriotts, Hiltons and Hyatts are phasing out refrigerated minibars. When I think of it, the last few hotels I’ve visited have had scaled down versions of the minibar, such as baskets of unrefrigerated snacks and bottles of water. So what about the booze?

The author of the Atlantic piece writes how “the minibar is an essential part of being alone, which is what hotels are about… a faithful sentry that had stayed up late and kept me company in times of danger and personal sorrow. It had never failed to deliver something—liquor, candy, clean T-shirts, fresh socks—that made me feel less alone.”

For me, the minibar has nothing to do with being alone, as I’ve mostly traveled with other people. Rather, the minibar equals a decadent part of being on vacation, where you don’t even have to leave your room to have a party.

On our honeymoon in Spain, my husband and I were thrilled to spend half the day in bed, partaking of the wine and champagne in the minibar. It was part of the laziness of being away, of being on vacation. You didn’t even have to bother to dial room service to have a drink or a snack. You barely had to move.

Maybe some people will be relieved when minibars are phased out. How must it feel to be a recovering alcoholic, knowing that the alcohol over which you’ve admitted being powerless is just a few steps away?

What do you think, readers: Do you love minibars, or dread them?


Turning Wine Into Water

Parch students playingBeginning today and continuing through the month of March, the Parch campaign is setting the stage for people to turn their wine into water for people in Haiti. For those wanting to engage in the effort, the campaign is asking people to support the cause by cutting back, or abstaining from drinking alcohol (or bubbly drinks for kids), and donating the money that they would’ve spent on that bottle of wine or case of Pepsi to the Andrew Grene Foundation. The foundation’s mission is to use the money to supply fresh drinking water to the students at the Andrew Grene High School in Cite Soleil, Haiti, where 247 children–between the ages of 11 and 19–currently attend.

Parch ways to help

The Parch website explains the benefits of cutting back on drinking, as well as those for cutting back on fizzy drinks—basically your kids’ dentist will be happy not to mention the nutritionist in the family.

As for the finances, the Parch site says the average person spends 3,000 English pounds—equivalent to 4,548 US dollars attoday’s exchange—so by cutting back for a month, you’ll be saving about $380, some of which can provide drinking water for these students.

On the Parch website, click on the tab that says “Choices for Taking Part,” and you’ll be able to choose whether you’d like to be a “Parcher” on weekdays, weekends, both, or just be a donor or supporter.

Sounds like a very worthwhile cause.  Up for the challenge?


Monks Export Craft Beer–One-time Only

Who said monks weren’t crafty? In an effort to raise funds toward the renovation of their abbey, the Belgian monks at St. Sixtus Abbey chose the the 12th day of the 12th month of 2012 to offer devout American fans a delivery of Westvleteren 12, a beer that is brewed by the monks in small amounts and was exported for the first time.

According to an article on CNBC.com, the coveted Trappist Westvleteren 12–a dark beer that has been named the world’s best by beer aficionados–is typically sold exclusively at the abbey store and only after reserving a limited quantity of the beer through the “beer phone number.”

But last week, patient American customers were given a one-time chance to get their hands on six bottles of beer, each of which would set them back over $20. Just 15,000 packs of six bottles of Westvleteren 12, including two special tasting glasses, were sold in the United States at $85 each this week.

The monks live at the abbey in western Belgium’s countryside, and their days are focused entirely on prayer. They rise at 3:00 a.m. to start the first of seven prayer sessions and in between, they work in the kitchen and garden and perform tasks such as painting–and brewing. The monks have brewed the same amount of beer every year since 1945, said a piece on npr.org, which amounts to about 3,800 U.S. barrels, just the amount needed to sustain the abbey. Sales of the beer are tightly controlled.

One of the few people allowed inside the abbey, Mark Bode, the longtime spokesman for the Westvleteren Brewery, thinks this will be the first and last time the monks export their very popular nectar. “They say, ‘We are monks, we don’t want to be too commercial. We needed some money to help us buy the new abbey and that’s it,’ ” Bode explains. “Back to normal again.”

photo source