How I overcame insomnia

GarfieldI used to love to sleep.

Way back in time, when I was living in the U.S., I remember as a late teenager, turning the ceiling fan on full blast, plus some form of air conditioning. Curling up in a fetal position, shivering, was my favorite sleep inducer. No better sleep! Continue reading

Natural healing for skin and scalp

Since as far back as I can remember being on earth, I’ve struggled with sensitive skin, my scalp included. As I aged, eczema and psoriasis both ravaged my body. I remember, very vividly, as a child, using combs, brushes, anything, to scratch my dry, scaly skin.

As time passed, the severity of my sensitive skin diminished. But not entirely.

In around 2008, or so, I started having Alopecia blotches in my beard. I went to Dr. Fox, my dermatologist in Jersey City (New Jersey). He gave me shots in the hairless area (I forget the content). And the hair grew back. Continue reading

The Art of Shaving

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Back when I was a kid, which was only about 28 years ago, I used to love to go to the barber shop, and only under 2 conditions: 1) it wasn’t my head that was being cut and 2) I could watch barber’s practice the art of shaving.

It brings me back to famous scenes in movies, like when Woopi Goldberg was shaving her husband on the porch in The Color Purple. I forget the bastard’s name.

I don’t see that art practiced much anymore. Instead, I see men taking the quick and easy way out by purchasing multi-edge razors and foam in supermarkets. They are cheap. They are quick. And they offer a closer shave than electric shavers. But a clean shave with a multi-blade razor can quickly become a nightmare for many men: in-grown hair, pimples and rashes are sure to follow.

When we look at old photos from not even that long ago, rare are men who appear in them with rashes, pimples or in-grown hairs in their beard area. And there’s a good reason, too.

Men previously would have a barber, wife or child shave them. And time had to be placed aside for this. A steaming hot towel would be placed on the bearded area to be shaved and left there until the follicles were soft. Shave foam or gels were then applied to the beard with a badger-hair brush and a careful, close shave was executed with a single-edge shaver (image above). A splash of cool liquid followed when the process was complete.

Shaving in 2013 usually consists of: walking into the restroom, applying a shave gel, shaving oneself with a multi-blade shaver, then washing the residue and remaining hair with warm water. Look at men’s pictures today and you’ll quickly see that, dermatologically, a lot has changed from 30 years ago.

It turns out that the process employed in the past is vitally important, and I cannot urge shavers enough to revisit this art. If you follow the steps below, I promise, your skin reactions will be greatly reduced, or, better yet, will vanish. I have zero irritation, now.

Products

A. Invest in a double- or single-edge shaver. No ifs, ands, maybes, or buts. Go get this. You can spend hundreds of your currency on this (if you want to, but it is not necessary. I purchased mine at Boots for around £4 and it works like a charm. No multi-edged, disposable shavers. Repeat: no multi-edged, disposable  shavers. Multi-edge shavers, the most common sold in stores today (cf. Gillette) are no good, as one blade yanks the follicle from the pore, another blade trims it, while the remaining blade cuts the follicle at surface level. This yanking process turns out to be quite violent for follicles, as it irritates the pore, making it bleed internally. The congealed blood prevents follicles from reaching the surface, hence in-grown hairs and pimples.

B. Invest in a badger-hair brush. This will be your most important investment as a good brush will cost you a little money. Mine costed me £50, but it was only because it was the medium-range brush at the barber I went to. Any price less is sketchy. Generally, the more expensive, the finer the hair on the brush (from the badger’s neck) and the more effective.

C. Razor blades (single or dual), can be purchased at any pharmacy for little-or-nothing. I got a small pack of 10 at Boots for £4 6 months ago, and I still have 80% remaining. You don’t have to go all out there and deplete your finances on this.

D. Get yourself a good shave cream or gel. This will depend, largely, on the texture of your hair in the beard. This is pretty important, because creams tend to do a better job at penetrating coarse, wirey, curly, or thick beard hair. When it penetrates, it softens the shaft rendering the follicle supple, reducing any chance of irritation during shaving and during regrowth. Gels and foams may work better for beards with finer hair, but all hair types can benefit from the various premium creams on the market. Again, you can pay spend loads of money on these products, or you can pay less. My favourite product is Zirh’s Aloe Vera Shave Cream.

E. An aftershave product is useful. 

Steps to a clean, safe shave

1. Never be in a rush. Have a good 30 to 45 minutes set aside so that you can take your time. Speedy shaves yield cuts, burns, bruises and eventually, irritation.

2. Always shave after a long, hot shower. Make sure to allow the warm-to-hot water to splash on your face in the bearded area for as long as it takes to soften the follicles. Warm water opens the pores of the skin making shaving safest. This is massively important.

3. After shower (or a reasonable bit of face splashing with warm water at the wash basin, or through a steaming towel), place your shave gel or cream by way of your badger-hair brush. Don’t forget to rince your brush before use. No need to saturate the brush in your shave product; enough to coat the edge of the brush will suffice. As you apply the cream or gel to the bearded area after a warm shower or intense, warm beard wash, make sure to massage the product into the beard by going up-and-down and back-and-forth. The brush serves to exfoliate during this process as well.

4. With your single- or double-edge shaver, take your time going with the grain of the hair growth. You can make multiple passes with the grain to get as close as possible without a problem. And, if needs be, you can reapply cream or gel, and make a softer pass going against the grain to clean up any visible signs of hair, if a perfectly bald shave is what you desire. This step should not be altered.

5. Once the shave has been successfully executed, wash your face/beard with cold water. We used warm water during shower or in steamy towel to open the pores of the skin, making the shave less prone to irritation. We will now use cold water to close the pores after a shave, protecting the pores and remaining shaft of follicles from infection. When warm water is used in this step, residue from the products and skin tend to clog the pores (which are still open), preventing impending follicles from penetrating the surface of the skin. This is what causes in-grown hairs; they’ve no place else to grow except back into the skin if the surface is impenetrable. This is monumentally important.

7. You can apply an after-shave product after the cold rince. The product can only help to cool the skin and close the pores, reinforcing the cold rince. It also medicates the pores from any damage during the shave process.

If you shave your head, the exact same process applies. Learn the directions in which your hair grows on your head to ensure that when you shave, you shave with the grain (and not against it). Learning to navigate the head is crucial, and is also tricky, as the hair on our heads grow in multiple directions. Generally, the crown of the head is a good starting point, as hair tends to grow outward from there (exceptions with cowlicks). The nape of the neck is also a tricky area, as the hair most often grows in the opposite direction from hair growing in the area just above the nape. As a result, one has a tendancy to assume that the growth is the same in that especially vulnerable and sensitive region of the head.

You will notice that when your beard does grow back, if following these steps, you will be free from rashes, irritation and in-grown hairs. The hair may grow back softer but, most importantly, it will have penetrated the surface without obstruction ensuring clear skin.

It’s an art; master it and love it.

Bon razaj!

At the Emergency Room

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Last week, at about 5am, I was wripped out of bed by one of those son-of-a-gun clusters. I was completely out of the medication my GP (general practitioner) prescribed (doesn’t do much, anyways), and I could not cope with the nagging pain.

So, I walked to Brighton’s General Hospital, which is about a mile from me, perhaps 3/4 of a mile. I got there around 6am, birds weren’t churping yet and the dew was still fresh, condensation still on vehicle windows. I slightly escaped a moment of pain as I thought about having a nice box of warm donuts from Mèche’s in Lafayette. Back to reality. I had to take the bus up the hill, though, which burns the living daylights out of my shins.

And there I was, at General Hospital, at 6am, which was all boxed up. I mean it: the place was closed, doors locked, not a person in sight. As the pressure around my eye increased, my crying from the pain became more apparent, I swiftly and drunkingly (from exhaustion and inability to focus) perused the grounds for an Emergency Room, called A&E (Accident and Emergency) in the UK, to not find one. This I thought was a unique case at the Royal Sussex County Hospital I had been too last year this time for the same issue.

I finally saw a living soul and quickly staggered towards him. I must’ve looked like a mad man. He was standing at the entrace of the “hospital” whose doors were locked. I begged him to let me in, not knowing/caring whether he worked there, or not. He informed me that the hospital was an outpatient hospital exclusively, and that it would be closed for another hour, anyways. But, more importantly, there was no A&E; I needed to go to the Royal Sussex down the hill in Kemptown.

I thanked him and ran like a drunk fool to the one taxi I saw sitting out front, before anyone else would grab it. Jumped in. Final destination: the Royal Sussex County Hospital. By that point, I had reached the breaking point in the cluster episode, and the pain just simply lingered at a constant rate.

We arrive at the destination. And, the building is ginormous and confusing as hell. The main entrance is like a labyrinth with the Emergency Room is tucked away in the northeastern corner of the facility; hidden away from the street. It literally is about a 10 minute walk to the A&E from the main entrance. Anyway, an employee, likely a doctor, saw me confused and pointed to a quicker way: go out to the street, take a left, then another left on first street, then walk up the hill, take a left when you see the Accident and Emergeny red sign, then access that way. Right.

I entered. No admin personel at the desk. I waved my hands. I even silently shouted “hello.” The 2 clerks sat at a distance reading The Daily Mail and typing at the computers. Finally, I got one’s attention. She lazily and unenthousiastically made her way to the main desk. I didn’t wait for her to ask what I needed: I have cluster headaches, I am out of medication, my GP is unavailable until 9AM, I cannot cope with the pain and must see a doctor at once. As I spoke, she typed. She asked my name and some other detail then: alright, go and have a seat in the waiting room, which is around the corner, first corridor on your left at the end of the hall. I thought to myself: I’m getting dizzy from all the halls and doors, can’t it be easier than this?

I got into the waiting room around 6:45am. I waited. And waited. And waited. And waited again, until 8:45am. There were 4––maybe 5––patients before me. The waiting room was really quiet, then. By 7am, all hell broke loose and all the screatchy-pitch wives and grumpy husbands were arriving.

7:45am: Christopher Vannnnn (puzzled) Lawndry, is called. I don’t even have the strength to correct her; I just go. What brings you in? I repeat what I initially said to the admin clerk, verbatim. Which meds do you take: a subcutaneous dose of Sumatriptans, and Verapamil. I’m out of all. Ok. She takes off and, I can hear her being asked and repeating what I said to her, likely to a superviser/doctor, but the idiot told the superviser “he’s taking some meds that I have never heard of before and whose name I cannot recall.” Was she just writing hieroglyphics whilst I explained everything in detail? Anyway, some other dude came and took my BP and pulse, he seemed new, and walked off. The nurse returned with 2 pills, one a codeine tablet, the other, something else. She told me: these are pain tablets. Take them for now, then sit in the waiting area, as we’re too busy here. We’ll call your name in a bit.

photo9:55am my name was finally called again. This time it was a doctor. She asked all of the same questions all over again. The codeine and whatever had not had the slightest effect on me. And I was at exhaustion point. I would’ve fallen asleep in the waiting area had it not been for the lingering pain, which is simply annoying, by that point, but not excruciating. She, the doctor, plainly asks: what can I get for you to make the pain go away? I told her a bullet in the head! But I repeated the medication I had been taking, and told her that pure oxygen tends to help the most. She says: hold on. She dashes off then returns. Okay. We cannot get you the Verapamil, nor any of the Triptans; we simply do not have it in our stock of medication in the A&E pharmacy, and we’ve no way of getting them for you, either. We can put you on the oxygen and a drip to hydrate you, and then you can go to your GP and get the meds you need.

I thought it was so strange that an emergency did not have––and could not make/get––the meds that I needed acutely. Her explanation was that it was because it was “specialised medication and the A&E is only an outpatient type facility for accidents,” “and emergencies,” I added.

Later I was telling my friend Ahmed, a Radiologist for the NHS at the exact same hospital, about what happened. He told me that the NHS is a system in which each individual hospital has a particular speciality and, provided that one goes to the A&E and the situation warrants it, the patient would then be redirected in ambulance to the appropriate facility. The neurology department in the area is in Haywards Heath at Hurstwood Park’s Neurology Centre. That’s not that odd, actually, but I simply could not understand how an emergeny room was limited on medication for pain! I just could not wrap my mind around it.

There’s something else that was bizarre: Brighton & Hove is a city of some 300,000 inhabitants with one Emergency Room! My hometown, New Iberia, has 40,000 inhabitants and has had, since 1980, two hospitals both with Emergency Rooms, both of which have all the meds anyone can ever need in the immediate sense. The US medical system may not be affordable, but anyone can go to the Emergency Room and drugs, the ER, has!

I guess it’s another British thing that I will not ever understand. The conditions and time in the Emergency Room are for another entry, as it was no different from being in a hospital in Cairo or in Santo Domingo. Surprising for a system that prides itself on cutting edge medicine. As a patient, I only care about one thing: immediate care.

Long live effective medicine and swift services!