Q. After major surgery, my 67-year-old father developed what doctors called "ICU psychosis" during his three days in the intensive care unit. He was totally disoriented, had hallucinations and didn't recognize family members. He improved somewhat in a regular hospital room, but wasn't completely normal until he returned home. Is ICU psychosis common? What causes it? A. ICU psychosis is extreme disorientation -- a form of a "nervous breakdown" -- triggered by severe stress. It's similar to the shell shock soldiers experience during combat, and clears when the patient's medical condition improves and he returns to more familiar surroundings.
Fortunately, most ICU patients don't have this problem. It's usually not a sign of serious or permanent mental impairment.
In hospitals, it tends to happen in the intensive care unit because patients there are usually sicker, under more physical and emotional stress, and exposed to a more artificial environment.
At times, the powerful medicines commonly used in ICUs can provoke an attack of the psychosis. But it can also happen in a regular hospital room, especially to very elderly people who are suddenly thrust into a foreign setting.
You can reduce the risk of ICU psychosis by keeping your sick family member oriented to what's going on. Useful aids are newspapers, radio or television, a clock and calendar, some familiar objects from home and, most of all, the presence of caring family members. If disorientation develops in spite of this, treatment of any contributing medical problems or use of a a tranquilizer generally helps. Q. How can I get rid of dark hair over my upper lip and a few hairs growing out of my chin? I'm a 20-year-old woman and find over-the-counter hair removers irritating. A. Chances are your hair growth is something that runs in your family, but once in a while a few hormone disorders cause abnormal hair growth in women. Signs of an underlying hormone problem are: recent onset of hairiness; unexplained weight increase; deepening voice; absence of periods; masculine pattern of hairiness (such as heavy beard-like growth).
Certain medications may also cause hairiness, including phenytoin (Dilantin), minoxidil (Loniten), steroid medications and even some birth control pills.
Clues that your hair growth probably runs in the family are: onset before age 20; hairiness in female relatives; hairiness present for years.
For large areas, such as the forearms, bleaching with peroxides is probably best.
You can remove unwanted hair by various methods: Shaving. This is short-lasting (but hair doesn't grow back darker, as many believe). Hair-removing creams. Also short-lasting, these may irritate skin. Plucking. Longer-lasting (three to six weeks). Useful for small areas. Waxing. Also long-lasting, and similar in effect to plucking. Electrolysis. Usually permanent. Electrolysis destroys the hair roots with a tiny electric current. It's expensive, and if not done properly can leave small scars. It's ideal for small, cosmetically important areas. Q. Our new microwave oven has made our lives much easier, but friends are telling us it causes cancer. Is there any truth in this? A. In spite of reports about the dangers of microwave radiation, household microwave ovens don't seem to pose any threat to your health.
A recent report linked impaired mental ability in radar workers with exposure to microwave radiation. The duration of exposures was more than 10 years and at doses 10,000 to 100,000 times what people normally experience. Also, an animal study showed a possible cancer-causing effect in rats exposed to microwave radiation 21 hours a day for their entire lives.
But these studies don't really reflect the extremely small amounts of radiation people might receive from microwave ovens. Besides, most ovens tested by the Food and Drug Administration leak no microwaves at all, and FDA standards regulate the maximum allowable leak to what is considered an acceptable level.
Microwave ovens appear to be very safe, but if you're especially concerned, you may be able to have your oven checked for leaks at the store where you bought it. Some stores sell leak-detecting meters, though I'm not sure how accurate they are.