Pique N' Your Interest 

Tales from a lab rat

The less you know, the better off you are

I’m not a hypochondriac. There’s a difference between being sick all the time and just thinking you’re sick all the time. Any attempts to label this column as the work of a hypochondriac will be answered with a full and graphic description of my recent trips to the doctor, complete with a full accounting of the organisms that have set up camp in my sinuses that I can’t seem to kill off with antibiotics. So careful what you ask for.

The specifics of my health are not the point of this column. I don’t want to get in a battle of one-up-man-ship with anyone’s dyspeptic grandfather.

My point is that I often don’t feel well in a variety of different ways, and I’m not sure it’s entirely the fault of my genes or my constitution – I run, I bike, and I eat pretty well for a guy who spends most of his time chained to a desk. I do everything a person can to be healthy.

So who do I blame for my health issues? After going through round after round of antibiotics and other treatments I don’t want to get into, I’ve come to my conclusion that not all of my health problems can be explained away.

Instead, I blame the fact that I’m pretty much a lab rat, part of a great experiment in the name of progress and capitalism that nobody really understands in any long-term kind of way.

I grew up in Toronto. I remember the first smog warning that the city ever had, and how the collective exhaust from a million cars, trucks, buses and buildings hung yellow in the air one summer day. It was about the same time that they finally got rid of leaded gas.

It was also a time when I rode my bike every day, played a lot of rugby, worked outside and went for jogs to build up my aerobic capacity.

Needless to say it wasn’t the last smog warning in T.O. – they’ve become a regular occurrence in southern Ontario, as they have in the Fraser Valley.

A short time later I got my first asthma attack and I became part of a larger health epidemic that appears to be growing exponentially. In the late 1970s only about three per cent of all Canadian children aged 0-19 had asthma. By 1996, that figure was over 12 per cent. In 1998 it was 13 per cent, and by 2001 the number was as high as 18 per cent. There are no recent figures, but some reports are discovering that as many as one in four Canadian children have some form of asthma, accounting for $12 billion in health care costs and spending.

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