Those hospital headaches
Surgery patients often recover consciousness only to find themselves nursing a wicked headache. For years, it's been assumed that headaches are a side effect of general anesthesia. But a group of British doctors suspected that it might instead have something to do with the hospital rule forbidding patients from eating or drinking anything for at least 12 hours before surgery. Since headaches have already been linked to caffeine withdrawal, they wondered if this could also explain the typical surgery patient's plight. They surveyed nearly 300 patients four to six hours after surgery surgery to find out. Among those who drank coffee or tea every day, the odds of a post-surgical headache developing rose by 16 percent for each cup consumed (100 milligrams or so of caffeine). The chances of a headache occurring before the operation increased 12 percent for each cup. So if you're planning surgery, you might want to wean yourself from your caffeine beforehand and save yourself a headache later.
Getting the point:
This is the story of a man who overcame an extreme fear of needles. More than 4 percent of Americans -- some 10 million people -- share this fear, and many avoid health care because of it. But this story is not so much about needle phobia as about how the man got over it. He relied on a method that has become a popular way of treating most phobias. The subject is a 39-year-old emergency room physician -- an interesting career choice for someone with needle phobia. He cured himself by gradually increasing his exposure to needles and thus desensitizing himself. He started by imagining his worst nightmare: Each day for an hour he pictured sticking a needle into his forearm. After a week or so of this, he advanced to actually rehearsing this act with a tourniquet and an alcohol pad, substituting a cotton swab for the needle. After another month, he managed to break his skin -- just barely -- with a needle, and eventually, he was able to draw his own blood. Desensitization calls for sneaking up on fear by taking small steps. People terrified of speaking in public, for instance, might try reading a book aloud in a park, or delivering a speech in front of a trusted friend. For more information on overcoming phobias, contact the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, which publishes Help Yourself: A Guide to Organizing a Phobia Self-Help Group, as well as other booklets and pamphlets: 6000 Executive Blvd., Suite 200, Rockville, Md. 20852; (301) 231-8368.