Japan must take responsibility for its past

Yesterday the news broke that the Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe is considering watering down the 1995 apology over Japan’s wartime past.

My father was a Japanese Prisoner of War in Java2014-07-15 13.24.28 with all the horrors that entailed. He, along with thousands of others, was subjected to the most horrific torture. Torture which included being staked out in the midday sun with a glass of water just out of reach, to routine beatings and operations without anaesthetic. Some prisoners told stories of being forced to drink pints of water, being tied to the ground and then having gleeful guards jump on their stomachs.

My father spoke of the terror when the Kempetei (the Japanese equivalent of the Gestapo) would arrive at the camp and order ten men outside to dig their own graves. Nobody knew who would be called next-all they could do was listen to the shots being fired and the thud as the men fell.

Prisoners were starved and the camps were rife with cholera and dysentery. My father spoke of eating anything he could find including frogs, spiders and snakes. When the Americans finally liberated Java, they were faced with a vision from hell, as they were greeted by thousands of skeletal men with sunken eyes and broken bodies. Many could not cope with “normal” life on return to the UK and simply dropped dead. Many others, like my father, who survived, often never recovered psychologically.

My father’s experiences damaged him for his whole life. He lost his Catholic faith and indeed his faith in the whole of mankind. He was prone to long bouts of deep depression and terrifying nightmares which had a tremendous impact on our family and particularly my mother. For her part my father was not the husband she had fallen in love with four years earlier. She often spoke of her fear he would wake from one of his nightmares and strangle her.

It took years and years to get the Japanese to even recognise that they played a part in the ill treatment and torture of prisoners of war (they were not subject to the Geneva Convention as Germany were). Although many of the more brutal guards were brought to trial and hanged, an apology seemed never to be on Japan’s radar. When it did come it was too late for my father-he died fifteen years ago. However, there are still survivors of those hell camps for whom it would be a terrible insult to hear Japan reneging on its statement.

It took a very long time for Japan to come to terms with the part it played in World War II and manage to say sorry. Even now some Japanese, just like Holocaust deniers, still believe that accounts of Japan’s wartime atrocities were lies or gross exaggerations. They believe it is time for Japan to become proud of itself once more.

On the other side liberal defenders of Japan’s Constitution say the country should never forget how it invaded Southeast Asia and the disaster that arrived in its wake. I am pretty sure that if my father was alive he would be quite certain on which side of the fence he would sit.

This year is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of all those prisoners in the Far East. I feel strongly we should not forget the horrendous experiences they went through and that the Japanese should face up to their responsibilities for their past actions.

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Cutting A&E attendance is not rocket science

UnknownWith all political eyes now on the NHS, the relentless rise in patients using A&E as a first port of call has even more significance. Recent research shows that one of the main reasons people head straight for A&E rather than any of the other NHS urgent services is that they simply do not understand how they work.

Research done by Resonant-a London based agency specialising in behaviour change and social marketing recently worked across three major South London hospitals to try and find a solution. What they found was that parents in particular do not know the difference between urgent care, walk in services and minor injury units. More importantly they found that this patient group do not know why and when to use them. In fact the only services universally understood were GPs and A&E.

Resonant devised an intervention called Get It Right which tackled this problem head on and delivered an 18% drop in demand on A&E services in this area of London. After much collaboration with local people and a variety of community groups Resonant came up with a simple and engaging guide to local services which gave local families across southwest London the confidence and capability to use other parts of the urgent and primary care network to access the care they needed.

John Isitt, Director of Resonant says: “Local NHS organisations have not learned that it is not enough to tell people not to go to A&E. Instead it is vital to address people’s underlying motivations, anxieties by making the system simpler for them. Managing demand is not the answer to the whole problem but it is an effective, evidenced and good return on investment”.

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Why ‘good’ sleep is so important

UnknownIn today’s society we are expected to fit more and more into our lives. Yet this work-life balance struggle is causing many of us to trade in precious sleeping time to ensure we complete all the jobs expected of us. Sadly this is a ticking timebomb for our health.

Scientists now believe that if we sleep less than six hours a night and have disturbed sleep we stand a 48% greater chance of dying from heart disease and a 15 per cent greater chance of developing or dying from a stroke. So our ‘work hard, play hard’ society encourages us to sacrifice sleep to the detriment of our health.

More than 3.5million of us suffer from excessive sleepiness usually caused by poor sleep. Everyone has experienced the occasional night without sleep. It makes us feel tired and irritable the next day but won’t harm our health. After several sleepless nights however, the mental effects become more serious.

Brain fog, difficulty concentrating and inability to make decisions follow. Some people drop off during the day causing injuries at home, work and on the road. Long term lack of sleep affects our overall health. A recent Sleep Alliance Report showed how excessive sleepiness is damaging the health and economy of the nation. Sleep disorders are a major contributing factor to fatal road accidents, heart disease, strokes, lost productivity and the breakdown of marriages.

A recent Dutch study in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology showed that good quality sleep can reduce 57% of heart related deaths each year. It looked at the risk of chronic disease in 14,000 people over a 12 year period and showed that poor sleep is as important a risk factor for Cardiovascular Disease as other lifestyle factors such as being overweight or smoking.

Over 3.5 million people in the UK suffer from excessive sleepiness but what’s the answer. If you have trouble sleeping your first port of call should be your GP who will be able to advise you about what you can do at home to help you sleep. This is known as good sleep hygiene and includes:

  • establishing fixed times for going to bed and waking up (try to avoid sleeping in after a poor night’s sleep)
  • trying to relax before going to bed
  • maintaining a comfortable sleeping environment (not too hot, cold, noisy or bright)
  • avoiding napping during the day
  • avoiding caffeine, nicotine and alcohol late at night
  • avoiding exercise within four hours of bedtime (although exercise in the middle of the day is beneficial)
  • avoiding eating a heavy meal late at night
  • avoiding watching or checking the clock throughout the night
  • only using the bedroom for sleeping and sex

Disturbed sleep may be caused by snoring with more than 3.5 million of us being regular snorers. Snoring occurs because of the vibration generated as air rushes past the tissues of the mouth, nose and throat. When most people think of snorers they picture an overweight, beer drinking bloke. Yet snoring is not confined to men. Older women and children also snore. In fact after the menopause women catch up with their male counterparts.

Snoring can be caused by a number of factors. Being overweight often means you have extra fat around the throat which can stop air flowing smoothly. Sleeping on the back causes the tongue to fall back into the throat narrowing the airway. Colds and allergies can also trigger snoring as sufferers end up breathing through the mouth. Drinking too much alcohol or taking sleeping tablets at night can cause the throat muscles to relax.

‘People with respiratory disorders such as asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) are also more prone to snoring’ says Dr Matthew Hind who runs the Sleep Clinic at the Royal Brompton Hospital, London. Lifestyle changes such as losing weight can sometimes improve the problem. There are also a range of anti-snoring devices such as mouth guards and nasal strips which can help prevent snoring.

The health consequences of snoring can be serious. Around 6-7 per cent of men and 3-4 per cent of women have obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) where they repeatedly, stop breathing at night (see above). As well as daytime sleepiness and concentration problems, the condition is linked to a raised risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

‘We have to stop treating snoring as a bit of a joke. Snoring can affect all aspects of life if left untreated. It can cause excessive tiredness, poor concentration and relationship problems’ explains Dr Hind.

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Goodbye Asthma!

stock-photo-a-conceptual-look-at-asthma-and-the-problems-it-brings-145677698OK. It’s time I let everyone into a big secret. I have cured my asthma! Yes that word cure is a funny one isn’t it? Doctors don’t like it at all. When I told my GP I no longer wish to be registered as asthmatic and she could stop prescribing me inhalers she was genuinely shocked.

How had I done it she asked. Buteyko Breathing I replied. The look on her face was a picture. Clearly she had never heard about this alternative treatment for asthma (and incidentally, a whole raft of other health problems).

So who was Buteyko? Konstantin Buteyko was a Russian doctor who, in 1952, was the first scientist to discover the major cause of a number of diseases of the respiratory, hormonal, cardiovascular and nervous systems which were incurable by modern medicine.

Scientific trials of the method in the treatment of asthma in Russia during the 1960s and in Australia in the 1990s showed amazing results.  The secret of the method is correct breathing.

Sounds too good to be true but it is based on good science. Most of us breathe too deeply so we don’t take in enough carbon dioxide to enable our systems to absorb the oxygen we need. The Buteyko exercises aim to reprogramme our breathing and get rid of asthma forever.

In the only clinical trial carried out outside Russia, on 40 people in Australia in 1994, asthma sufferers who tried the Buteyko method reported a 90% reduction in their dependence upon medication. The results however were deemed controversial and the trial considered too small to be conclusive.

Well now I can report that it has worked for me. I have been doing the exercises for more than two years and can honestly say I have not used my inhaler in all that time. The exercises are tricky and need real persistence but once you get the hang of them, any time you feel that familiar wheezing start, simply find somewhere quiet, sit down and do the exercises and the wheezing will pass.

It can be frightening to begin with as it is not the quick fix an inhaler gives. But if you persevere it is a fantastic feeling to know that your own body has the ability to sort the problem out. As time goes on the attacks have grown fewer and fewer until now I very rarely have one and am confident I could deal with one if it did occur.

So how can you find out how this amazing breathing method works? One of the best known Buteyko therapists is Patrick McKeown who has a website at: http://www.buteyko.ie. There you will find everything you need to know about the method including YouTube clips of how to breathe correctly. It has been the best thing I have done in a long time and wanted to share this with my faithful SurgeryCat followers!

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How to be dementia friendly!

I am now officially a dementia friend.  Dementia Friends is a joint initiative between Alzheimer’s Society and Dementia UK to try and raise awareness of what exactly Dementia is. I duly registered online and turned up at the local library where Josette Simon (a very beautiful and talented actor) was ready to tell us all about how we could help.

I was a little bit nervous I would be asked to befriend someone with dementia. Both my parents lived with the condition and it was a very difficult time for all the family. However Josette had a lively way of describing why ‘there is more to a person than the dementia’.

She explained the five things we should all know about dementia. Firstly it is NOT a natural part of ageing. It is caused by diseases of the brain, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s. Dementia is more than just losing memory, it can affect thinking, communication and undertaking everyday tasks.

However, it is possible to live well with dementia-especially if everyone in society plays their part in being more understanding of those who have it and trying to make people with dementia feel included in their communities.

Josette, being a brilliant actor, had a fabulous way with words. She explained how dementia affects two main parts of the brain-the Hippocampus which is where we store our memories and the Amygdala which is really ‘who we are’.

She compared the Hippocampus to a rather shoddily built bookcase which when dementia strikes rocks back and forth displacing all the books. The books on the top shelves represent the most recent memories and the bottom bookshelf represents childhood memories.

She then compared the Amygdala to an extremely well built and solid oak bookcase which represents the ‘who we are’ bit. That does not change when dementia strikes. She then told a poignant story about someone whose mother was living with Alzheimer’s. Often she would wonder if it was worth visiting because her mother would soon forget her visit.

But once she understood about the ‘bookcase’ she realised that although her mum may have forgotten her visit she she still knew her daughter and what she meant to her. So although her memory might have been going she never forgot her family and the warm feelings they all evoked.

If I took away one thing from that meeting it was that dementia is not the frightening thing I once thought but that with a little help and understanding we can all be ‘imagesdementia friends’.

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