Of tsetses and dik diks

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dr. daveMost of you realize I tend to incorporate useful information in, well, a useless format. My writing reflects an “unusual style” which is consistent with comments I often hear about my sartorial taste and my personal interpretation of the foxtrot. I relate common experiences to medicine and as I have just returned from the dark continent, the heart of East Africa, and as I have run out of stories related to my experiences at Chez Hepburn, you will be regaled with exotic Serengeti-style stories about the dung beetle’s constipation, the dik dik’s ED, the warthog’s condylomata etc. for the next 17 years or until I go on safari to Saskatoon.

But front and center, why do zebras have stripes?

“Sir you can’t wear that shirt today” the guide pointed out as we headed off on our safari de jour. “Why? Does it make me look fat? I’d hate to be the first pick of a pride of starving li...” “No, but it is the first pick for the tsetse fly.” Sure enough, flag-sized swaths of my electric blue and black shirt are spread out between poles in different parts of the savannah by the Masaai tribesmen as a tsetse fly trap. These very nasty flyflies of death happen to lovelove this color, and so gleefully land on this cloth unaware that it has been impregnated with heavy duty tsetse fly insecticide. Actually were they aware of this they likely would still land on it as they are rather stupid flies.

Buzzing about staring through those compound eyes, something in their less-than-sophisticated brains goes, “Wow, blue and black! That reminds me of, well, I’m not sure of what, but as a tsetse fly I think I really dig that pattern. Perhaps I am unusual and have an unusual sartorial taste and dance a poor ... Oh crap!” and they die. But one pattern that they can’t process in their wee frontal lobes is the black and white stripes of the zebra. It confuses them and appears to their compound eyes as a Rorschach inkblot representing their grandmother being squashed by a dik dik.

The tsetse fly carries with it a nasty deadly wee bug that many of you might wish you could catch. I will clarify this because failure to do so will cause many of you to think I am unusual.

Tsetse flies are the vector, host and chief bottle washer for sleeping sickness and I happen to know that many of you wish you could sleep better, or at all.

Insomnia represents no small part of any doctor’s practice, one of the more difficult parts. Insomnia is often due to one of four problems: chronic pain, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea (for the bed partner more than the snorer) and the huge basket of psychological issues which include: anxiety, depressions, and chronic stress. Some have a problem falling asleep, others staying asleep. Our treatment varies depending on which type of insomnia you have.

Many of you are in that nervous Nelly category of those who lie down and start to ruminate, fretting that “I just can’t shut my brain off, doctor.” Well that would be a good thing because if your brain is turned off you will be having somewhat of a bad day given that you would be dead. But you can control what you choose to think about and/or how long you want to think about that specific thing that is keeping you awake. So should you decide to ruminate incessantly about something that keeps you awake, you are, in fact, participating in your own insomnia. Learn to distract yourself from those thoughts or to mitigate the amount of time spent thinking about them. A very interesting study showed that those with primary insomnia who placed a cold compress over their foreheads an hour before sleeping, cooled down the niggling frontal lobe of the brain and fell asleep much easier. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has also been shown to be highly effective and even hypnosis works for many worriers. “Sleeping pills” are NOT the answer as they should only be used for a very short term. There’s too much of a dark side of long term use of sleeping pills including memory loss, confusion, and even weakness to say nothing of addiction. Yet many of you are not willing to try anything but sleeping pills even though it means your sleeping sickness really gets no better.

So close your eyes, shut down your brains, put away those pills and start counting dik diks.

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