Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rain & Glyphs

It finally rained! On Friday a few rainclouds went over the country and gave it the first decent rain since January. It was maybe 1 cm max but it was nice to have a bit of rain hit your face. Now I just have to get my car cleaned again -- the raindrops pick up the dust in the air so when it dries your car is all dusty. The air is clearer though.

This Friday I went out with the Qatar Natural History Group to see a group of petroglyphs in the north of the country at Jabal al Jassassiya. The glyphs had always been mentioned in tourist guides but I've been here almost three years and never went out to see them so I did not want to miss the field trip.

The glyphs are a number of carvings, date unknown, made into the limestone rocks. When they were first discovered back in the 60s there were over 900 of them, but for some inexplicable reason a company started blowing up the limestone mounds as part of a quarry. Now about half of the glyphs are gone but thankfully I do not believe there are any plans to blow up the rest.

The carvings are mostly on the ground rather than on vertical surfaces and most of the carvings are of two themes -- boats shown from above, and a series of dots, usually 7x2 (like this ::::::: ). What the dots represent no one is quite sure of, there is some speculation it was for a game as the placement and spacing of the dots is similar to an African game. Others have pointed out that some of the series of dots are carved in the angles of the rock that would make them useless for holding counters. Because they cannot be dated, and no archaeological expedition has been undertaken to try to see if there was a nearby village or settlement, the origins of the carvings remain a mystery.

They were interesting to see as they were a lot bigger than I thought, some of them were over a foot long so would have taken a bit of effort to carve. Tonight I'll attach a couple of pictures that I took of the glyphs, hopefully you can see them and not a big red X.

Friday, November 28, 2008

End of November updates

So far the changes I've taken to help heal my knees have been going well. Every day I have been doing my isometric exercises, balance exercises, and swimming 10 laps of the compound pool (yes, a lap is to the end and back). One positive thing that should keep me doing the exercises is that after a day at the office my knees feel sore but after doing the exercises they feel better, so I start doing some my exercises as soon as I return home. My sister also sent me some other exercises and I have been starting to try them out. Hopefully they help as well. I don't think I will be able to get into physiotherapy until January because the physiotherapists here are very busy.

As for the diet it is also going well. Breakfast is a small bowl of healthy cereal, no dipping into the snacks at work, and lunch has been usually a chicken taco salad (no sour cream and I do not eat the bowl). Since lunch is my "big" meal as well as my daily source of protein dinner is usually a couple of slices of wholegrain bread, a banana and an apple. If I manage to stick to eating along these lines then the weight should gradually come off. My only lapse has been on Wednesday, when my friend Serdar offered a chocolate-covered marzipan that he brought back from Germany, and one of my Qatari colleagues was going around offering every one fresh dates stuffed with walnuts. I didn't think I could refuse when an Arab offers you dates, y'know? The other days at work I was good.

Let's see how this goes, my knees are definitely feeling better than they were last week so I'm not complaining.

In other news the men's Tennis tournament has been announced for January 5-January 12, and both Federer and Nadal are scheduled to play! This would mean that in the span of two months I will have seen both the top two men's and ladies tennis players. I sure hope they can both make it, I have never seen either one of them play before so I'm looking forward to watching their matches.

The property market in Dubai is starting to reel, and I don't think anyone is pretending it is not going to go down. Conservative estimates are 20%, while I have heard estimates as much as 60%. Banks in the region have really tightened their lending for mortgages and hundreds have been laid off from the real estate developers. There is even some concern that if the crash is big enough it will take a few regional banks with it and everyone is analysing bank financial statements to see how exposed they are to real estate. The three big property developers in Dubai have already agreed to scale back the completion dates for many projects so that further oversupply does not hit the market. However I think this means that anyone who put a down payment on an apartment in said projects is out of luck -- their apartment or villa will be delayed likely for a year or more and I highly doubt they will be getting whatever money they paid back. Let's see how this plays out over the next few weeks.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Last week I saw an ad in the local paper for a lecture on the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) at the Islamic Cultural Centre. I remember some of my Qatari colleagues telling me about all the little rituals and things you had to do during Hajj so I figured I'd go to the lecture to hear about all the details. The city of Mecca is closed to non-Muslims so going to a lecture about the Hajj is probably the closest thing I'm going to get since there is no way I will be able to actually witness it.

The Islamic Cultural Centre actually has a really nice lecture hall capable of holding at least 300 or 400 people at the ground level, with an upper tier that can probably hold another 100 to 150. Men sat on the ground level while women sat in the upper tier. I guess at least a hundred men or more showed up for the lecture, a number of women were there as well but I'm not sure how many. The lecturer was Dr. Bilal Phillips, a Canadian who converted to Islam in the early 1970s and became an Islamic scholar.

It turns out the lecture was part of a series that was being held throughout the week to prepare pilgrims for the Hajj, which is in early December. Unfortunately this lecture was about the historical/religious underpinnings for why the Hajj takes place. Dr. Phillips was very specific in the Q&A that people not ask about specific details as that would be covered in two other lectures later that week. Thus the talk didn't have the kind of stuff I was hoping to hear discussed but it still was pretty good. The first part of it was more like a sermon, discussing the story of the prophet Abraham and his second wife Hagar. There were a few stabs at Christianity and the Bible, discussing how some of the biblical accounts had to be wrong since prophets such as Abraham and Soloman would never act in a manner depicted in the Bible. There were also attacks against the Catholic rites of confession, with Dr Phillips pointing out that only Allah (God) can forgive sins, a man (i.e. a priest) cannot grant forgiveness for sins.

I was not fussed by the criticisms of Christianity. The Qur'an states that the Bible cannot be relied upon because priests have modified the text over the centuries, thus the actual message of God has been lost (according to the Qur'an this was why God chose to reveal His word to the prophet Muhammed because the Bible does not truly reflect His word). So it came as no surprise to me that an Islamic scholar would say that biblical accounts are incorrect, it is a core belief of the religion. The stuff about Catholicism was unexpected for a lecture about the Hajj but again I wouldn't expect an Islamic scholar to be overly positive about catholic rituals -- heck most other denominations of Christianity are not positive on them either.

For me the most interesting part was the question and answer as it revealed a few details I was not aware of about the Hajj, or the views of other Islamic societies towards it.

-- you can do the Hajj on behalf of someone else, even a deceased person, but then it does not count as your Hajj
-- you can do the Hajj multiple times for yourself if you have the opportunity, but it is the first one that counts the most
-- it is a requirement in the Qur'an that any Muslim who has the opportunity to do so (and can afford it) must perform it at least once in their life. Therefore if someone offers to pay for your Hajj you should not instead use the money for other expenses like food for your family etc. as you are now being given the opportunity to perform the Hajj.
-- similarly, you should not hold off performing the Hajj until you have finished things like marrying off your daughters. If you have the means and the opportunity to perform Hajj then you should do so and it should take precedence above other matters.
-- an Umrah is a similar ritual to the Hajj, but performed on different days than the Hajj is supposed to (i.e. going to Mecca and performing the pilgrimage at a different time of the year). If one has the means and opportunity to perform Umrah, but not Hajj, then by all means perform Umrah, then start saving for Hajj. Dr Phillips noted that you if you don't you have no idea what is going to happen in the future, you might die suddenly, at which point you performed neither the Umrah nor the Hajj.
-- an Umrah does not take the place of a Hajj, but is still a valuable ritual
-- part of the ritual requires drinking water from some sacred source in ?Mecca? called "Zamzam". Dr Phillips was against Muslims doing things like bathing themselves in it, bottling some for later, or washing a shroud in it so that when you die you can be buried in a "blessed" shroud. None of these things are mentioned in the ancient Islamic teachings. Also, the water is unlikely to heal people so should not be seen as some healing fountain or Fountain of Youth. Dr Phillips noted that while some people have had medical problems that they claimed were cured by drinking Zamzam many people have not been cured, ancient Islamic accounts do not mention miraculous cures from the water, and similar claims of miraculous healings have occurred at non-Islamic places (for example Lourdes).
-- it is okay to be assisted during the Hajj if for medical reasons or age you are unable to do all the walking on your own. In ancient times you could perform the Hajj riding a camel, but nowadays you can't because there are too many pilgrims.
-- if you mess up one of the rituals there are apparently various atonements that you can do afterwards to make up for the error.

While I am intrigued about what other details there are to the Hajj I am not sure if I will attend the other lectures. It seemed to me from listening to Dr Phillips that the subsequent lectures really are meant for Muslims about to go on the pilgrimage, so I am hesitant to intrude. I will talk to my Qatari colleagues and see what they have to say.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

While all of you up in Canada and Europe sit there shivering in perhaps the latest cold snap I am proud to announce that I have finally turned off my air conditioners. The temperature has finally dropped consistently below 30°C and now the evenings are pretty pleasant, so I no longer need the air conditioners on during the day and can sleep without one during the night. And it only took until late-November.

Health update

Well I got back from the doctor and, not surprisingly, I need to do more physiotherapy and work harder at this. I explained to him the exercise programme I had been undergoing with my physiotherapist and then three weeks after I stopped physiotherapy I did my exercises (exercise bike) and the next day my knees were in agony. I figured I was pushing myself too much so did not exercise for the next two weeks to let the knees rest and heal. The doctor was not happy with me for that.

Apparently there are three ways I can do this: not exercise (bad), exercise but do it incorrectly (very bad), and exercise properly (good). He figures what was happening was that the exercise bike had too large of a radius on the pedals so I was either straightening my leg out completely on the bike, which is not good because it rubs the kneecap into the cartlidge, or I was bending the knee too much, which is also bad because it pushes the kneecap into the cartlidge. I need to make sure that I do neither of those things because it will make the injury a lot worse, as I discovered. But stopping exercise is also bad because the only way I will get better is if the quadricep muscles strengthen to help hold the kneecap steadier.

Then it was time for the Serious Talk. My legs are not perfectly straight and the knees bend inward a little. (I think it is genetic as I recall my father had problems with his knees as well.) This causes the bones and the knee to rub a little more against the medial cartlidge than it should, wearing down the cartlidge and causing inflammation. While this is the first time I have had this pain in my knees it was only a matter of time. The injury from the hiking and walking around during my summer vacation only highlighted the issue early, even if that hadn't happened I would have been in the same situation maybe a few years later. So the doctor said to consider this as a very early stage osteoarthrosis (i.e. arthritis). It is likely that sometime in the future I will develop arthritis in the knee joints. How long in the future depends on me, if I do not take this seriously and don't do the right exercises and strengthening then arthritis will set in early, do the right thing and it could be a long time (?decades?), if ever. But this is not a problem that will just go away, my knees will never just "feel better after a rest" and then I can go back to living the way I did before. I have got to keep up a proper exercise regimen to prevent this occurring in the future. He was even using terms like "it will help reduce the pain and discomfort and make it more manageable".

Make it more manageable!?! Arthritis!? Never go away!? *Ack*

So that was that. More physiotherapy, proper exercise, take this seriously. I also have an MRI scheduled for late December just to see how much the cartlidge is damaged.

Surprisingly I took it rather positively. I think it's because I'm one of those types of people who would rather know what was going on, even if it was not a great diagnosis, then be in discomfort and have no idea what was going on. Uncertainty makes me nervous. So having more information such as why I was in agony after exercising a few weeks back was really helpful and made me feel relieved. We had a long talk about proper exercises and other things to do. I left his office feeling fairly upbeat to be honest, which on reflection is strange considering I have a chronic long-term problem.

So that means it is time for serious changes:

1) Physiotherapy. I did six sessions before, the doctor told me that was not enough and I should be doing a lot more.

2) Exercise. Something I've always done but now the type of exercise has got to change.

Out: running, hiking/long walks, stairclimber

In: swimming, isometrics, exercise bike (proper size, might have to buy one)

Maybe: weight training (doc warned me that if I do weights it is VERY important I do that properly because if I don't it will really mess my knees up)

3) Take care in how I sit at work, I should avoid folding my legs under the chair as that bends the knees a lot.

4) Lose weight. Simple logic, the less you weigh the less stress there is on the knees.

Now I have always been on the overweight side but never obese (according to BMI). Like many people I lose weight and regain it, and so on. Unlike most people that yo-yo-ing is only in a range of 10-12kg (22-27 pounds). I think in the last 10 years I have never been out of that range. Time for that to change, and that will likely be the hardest part of this all. But I've started already -- the fridge is now full of fresh fruit and vegetables. For the last two days I have been cutting back on portions, and will tell friends and colleagues why I am dieting so that hopefully they will help stop me if I start reaching for the treats and snacks that seem to flow frequently around the workplace. Hopefully after a few months my weight will have dropped a decent amount.

And so starts a new beginning...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Camping Qatari-style

I was speaking to one of my Qatari colleagues the other day about his plans for the weekend and he said that he was probably going to go camping with his friends. That sounded intriguing, I did not know young Qataris go camping in the desert, so I asked him more about camping in Qatar. The conversation kind of went something like this.

(me jokingly) " so how do you guys camp, a big tent with an air conditioner?"

"No, it's cool enough now that we don't need one, but we will have a generator"

"A generator? What for?"

"Well for the lights and the television."

"Television?! You guys are going to bring a television?"

"Yeah, one of my friends is going to bring one."

(laughing) "What, you guys have a satellite dish or something as well?"


"So why bring a television?"

"Well my friend had better bring one because I'm bringing my Xbox."

(laughing, then sarcastically) "Sounds like you guys are really roughing it! And do you have servants do the cooking for you as well?"

"One of my friends is looking for one to bring along."

"Huh . . . WHAT?! He is going to bring a servant?! What for??"

"For the cooking and cleaning. I don't have a problem with doing it myself but some of my friends don't know how to cook, so if only some of you are doing the cooking and cleaning it will just lead to arguments, in which case it is better to have someone else do it." . . . "and he can watch our stuff while we are away at the dunes."

"ummmmmm . . . let me get this straight. Camping = a big tent with a generator, a television with Xbox, and a servant doing all the cooking and cleaning."

"Yeah, it's fun."

I joked that setting up a tent on the beach of the 5-star Sharq Resort would be roughing it more -- you would have waiter service but not have electricity.

Is he pulling my leg? Maybe, but he is a decent guy and devout Muslim so is not the type who would usually make up extravagant lies as a practical joke. If anyone out there can verify the Qatari "camping" experience let me know. It sure is a heck of a lot different than what Canadians consider camping.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Computers and Health

I'm getting really fed up with the computer access at my compound. Not only has it been very slow in the last month or so but it will time out about every 20 seconds, making accessing web pages a real chore -- and forget uploading anything. I have had my Czech Republic e-album ready for almost a month now and I can't upload it! (No I can't even stay late at work to do it there, the office network blocks photo sharing sites) It is starting to drive me nuts. Another person at the compound told me he spoke to management about the Internet access and management doesn't seem that bothered with it. Hopefully it gets fixed soon.

Health-wise the knees are still a problem. Patella chrondromalacia (runner's knee) apparently takes a long time to get better and I guess I rushed it because after two months of ups and downs I now think I am back to square one. I have a doctor's appointment this Thursday afternoon so hopefully I can get back on track -- and rule out that it is not some other affliction. I will probably need another round of physiotherapy sessions. According to some of my Internet research it may take a good two months or more to get better.

What is really annoying is that even driving a car irritates it, I think due to all the lifting of the leg and moving it around between the gas and the brake. That means that not only is walking a potential problem but also driving. Also, one of the symptoms of runner's knee is if you have pain or irritation in the knees from activities such as sitting at a desk for a long period of time. Why in the world that would be irritating I don't know, maybe the knees don't like to be in the sitting position for long periods of time? I agree though -- I do not recall my knees ever feeling better after a day at the office (sometimes they do not feel any worse, but they are never better). My knees usually are at their best in the morning after I wake up so obviously laying in bed is pretty good for them. I will ask the doctor about that.

The hands (repetitive strain injury) are generally okay though. Using a tablet instead of a mouse, and having speech recognition software, has been a real saviour. I doubt I would have been able to work in the office anymore without them.

It sometimes depresses me that in the last few years I have been getting a lot of long-term/chronic illnesses. Tennis elbow (2 months to heal), repetitive strain injury (will never fully heal), bronchitis (1month+), and now this. Why can't I get those simple injury/illnesses that go away in a few days? I'm not even 40 yet, so I'm now starting to get a little concerned about what I'll be like when I'm retirement age. Gack!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Obama & Tennis

Now that everything has settled with the US election I guess I should join the tens of thousands of other bloggers to voice my opinion on the results. First of all I was not really following the candidate's positions on issues. After all, I am not American so I was not really concerned with their policies regarding economics, social services, housing etc. I guess I should have cared about their stances on the economy given that their decisions would reverberate throughout the world's economy, but at the end of the day me caring or not caring is not going to have an impact on their policies.

I did however get caught up with the drama. The changing poll results, the shifting media focus from Obama to Palin to Obama again, the battleground states, the subtle racial, gender and religious undertones (will whites vote for Obama? Is McCain "Conservative Christian" enough? Will Hillary voters shift to Palin? The accusations that Obama is a Muslim.). I'm not even American and I can give you off of the top of my head the electoral votes for probably 20 states. What a bizarre election it was. I really liked how early on a guy on the street was talking to a reporter and said something to the effect of "minorities feel really charged about this election because for the first time you can vote for someone other than a rich white man".

So am I happy with the result? I would have to say that yes I am. Not because I am sure Obama has better policies, more because if I were an American I would have probably voted for him. Actually the truth is I would have voted for anyone who stood a chance of defeating McCain/Palin. Palin was a very conservative Christian who I believe was in favour of teaching creationism as a scientific alternative to evolution, and for that alone there is no way I could have voted for them. So Obama it is!

Obama has a tough job ahead of him and he is entering the presidency at a time when his country is really in a mess. On the bright side that makes his chance for reelection better since after four years it is highly unlikely things will have gotten worse so he will be able to take some credit for improving things (even if nothing he did caused the improvements).

I also forgot to mention that the season-ending women's tennis championships were in Doha a week ago. Thus I got to see the top eight women play which was awesome considering my tickets in the middle stands cost QR20 (~US$5.50). I saw Venus& Serena, Jelena Jankovic, Elena Dementieva, Vera Zvonareva. No Sharapova though, she had to pull out of the tournament due to injury. By and large the tennis was good but I did not get to see the finals since I had to leave for Dubai that day.

There were three things about the tournament that were annoying though.

The first was people who brought babies to the tennis matches. Seriously, people actually brought their babies to an event where you have to remain silent while players are serving. The tickets specifically state that no one under two would be allowed into the stadium but obviously it had not been enforced. Not surprisingly at least once each evening someone had to run out of the stadium with their screaming baby. I do not think you would ever see that at any other major tennis tournament. Leave the babies and toddlers at home people!! With any luck next year security will enforce the "no one under 2" policy. Maybe it should be no one under 4. (And before anyone starts thinking that it was Arabs most of the people with the babies were Westerners)

The second was groups of schoolkids aged around 7-9 on some kind of evening field trip. Do you remember what field trips were like when you were that young? Right, we were all noisily laughing and chatting with our friends. And these kids were no exception. At one point both players stopped and stared at the umpire, who had to specifically tell the children to be quiet. Remember this tournament is broadcast by at least 20 major networks, so do have to stop play for something like that would be a real embarrassment for Qatar. The Qataris knew it as well, because after the umpire's comments security guards were up there in a flash keeping an eye on the kids for the rest of the set, and they were gone by the next set. There was another group of school kids the next night that security was there right from the get-go to keep them quiet.

The third was the distribution of tickets. At no point in time in the three nights I was there was the stadium more than 40% full, yet there were people waiting outside hoping to get tickets but the ticket booth didn't have any to sell. I know this because a friend of mine wound up with four extra tickets so went out front of the ticket booth and announced "who wants tickets?". 10 people surrounded him immediately. (By the way he sold the tickets at face value, he wasn't scalping). Obviously Qatar needs to take a look at this issue to try to figure out how to get more people in the seats. Since tickets for the middle and upper sections were so cheap (QR20 and QR10) I assume people were just buying a whole bunch and then not being too worried if they could/couldn't make it. But if the organisers make the tickets more expensive they probably won't sell them all so it is a bit of a conrundrum.

Now despite my comments above I have to say that this tournament was the best run out of the four major ones I have attended in Doha. Obviously the Qataris have been learning from previous tournaments and improving things. Hopefully next year's tournament will be even better.

And congrats to Venus Williams for winning. It was a shame that in her match with Serena that Serena's game fell apart in the last two sets (5-7, 6-0, 6-1) but it was still great to watch them.

On travel

So what has been happening? I just got back from four days in Dubai where I was giving a brief presentation at an IFRS seminar. IFRS stands for International Financial Reporting Standards, which are used in most countries by accountants in creating financial statements. I won't bore you with the details of an accounting seminar but suffice to say there were two things on everyone's mind:

(1) the global financial crisis; and
(2) the Dubai property market

The Dubai property market is getting really nervous right now as banks are tightening their lending, property development companies are laying off staff, and the share price of local real estate companies plummet. Everyone is now selling but no one appears to be buying. Prices are starting to inch down but there have been no dramatic decreases (yet). The next few months should be very interesting, hopefully there will not be a full-blown panic as a lot of Dubai's economy relies on property.

Otherwise prices on everything else in Dubai could really do to go down. When I got to my hotel I did not want a big dinner so I just went to the hotel pub to have a burger. The price of a burger and fries in a pub at the Sheraton? 69 dirhams, which is about US$19 (Cdn $21). 20 bucks for a burger and fries! I could not believe it. The Middle East is becoming such a rip-off nowadays, I'm getting tired of having to pay prices like $4-5 for a coffee. That is why I hate going out to fancy places, give me a $5 dinner at a cheap indian place any day. But it is getting more and more difficult to find anything reasonably priced around here.

Thanks to my trip I did get to see the brand new terminal 3 in Dubai airport. It is apparently one of the largest single terminal buildings in the world and since it opened only a few weeks ago everything was still new. My impressions? It is too big, it felt very empty to me (then again it will not be fully utilised for another month or so) and because the decor is white, silver, and muted green it seemed very sterile and cold. But that still makes it way better than Terminal One, which many of us jokingly refer to as a refugee camp. Terminal one was always crowded and had inadequate seating so whenever I went there I would see lots of people sleeping on the floor. Waiting times through security were hit and miss as well and transit passengers going through terminal one could spend an hour or two waiting in the security line. At terminal three there were so few people I wasn't waiting in any lines at all. I even went through the security/X-ray without a single person behind me, try to think about the last time that ever happened to you. When I got to a coffee shop I joked with the staff if they had any seats available since they had over 30 seats and I was the only customer. Like I said I was not that impressed but if being in an empty and sterile-looking airport is the price one pays for having no lineups or hassles I will gladly take it.

Once terminal three is fully running it should cease feeling somewhat like an empty warehouse, and thankfully terminal one will now be far less crowded and easier to deal with.

(And for those of you not that familiar with Dubai terminal one yes I do think the crowding was worse than Heathrow 3 & 4)

Since I'm talking about airports I may as well give everyone my general views on them since I have now seen so many. The general rule seems to be that the more famous an airport is the worse it will be. I think this is because the "big name" airports were built decades ago so are now completely inadequate compared to a modern airport. Heathrow, JFK, O'Hare, Charles de Gaulle, Atlanta, none of them are particularly nice and I do not look forward to going to any of them. There are exceptions when those airports have new terminals, JFK's new terminal nine is nice and modern while their older terminal reminded me of a subway station. And Heathrow is particularly infamous. I haven't seen Heathrow terminal five yet but maybe now that the opening disaster has settled it will be nice.

Airports I liked? Vancouver, Hong Kong and Zurich are all very pleasant and generally efficient (especially HK and Zurich). Washington-Reagan airport is pretty good. I do not remember much good or bad about Beijing and Shanghai so I guess I will put them in the "okay" category. Miami is poorly laid out requiring you to walk a 1,000,000 miles to get to different terminals. Abu Dhabi is small and old, Muscat & Bahrain are not bad but wait times on arrival can be a pain. I will put Doha in the okay category although many might disagree. At least you don't have to walk a lot to get to places and there is plentiful seating. I am in Calgary airport at least once a year and it is decent.

I guess I will leave it there for now, happy flying everyone.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Get a second opinion!

A colleague of mine recently had his family away for a few weeks staying with relatives in the Far East and while the family was there they took their year-old son for a medical checkup. The results came back -- the child had high levels of lead and mercury in his system! Needless to say my colleague was quite concerned but couldn't for the life of him figure out how his son could have lead and mercury in his system. The water here is reverse osmosis filtered seawater, which does not contain those chemicals to any degree, and the family normally drank bottled water anyway. They've never fed him fish or other seafood that tends to concentrate heavy metals. I was a little suspicious of the situation as well and was glad when he decided to have his son tested at another clinic. If the results came back positive again he was going to get the whole family tested (and I was going get myself tested too in case it had something to do with the water).

Test results -- nothing found! And doctors at the second clinic were of the opinion that if the baby had heavy metal levels that high the child would also have readily apparent behavioural/development issues.

So what was with the high levels of lead and mercury from the first clinic? My "critical thinking" sense started tingling and I think I knew what was going on. I asked him a simple question:

Did this first clinic seem eager to offer chelation treatment?


Sigh. Sounds to me like this clinic was another one of those places that finds "problems" with someone so they can immediately offer them treatments. Basically a medical scam.

So what is chelation? Before I begin, chelation treatment is not in-and-of itself a scam, it is a viable medical treatment, it is just overpromoted in some "alt-med" clinics. It involves injecting a chemical called EDTA into your system, which is a chemical with an excellent ability to bind to metal ions. Once bound to metal the resultant metal-EDTA composite is then more easily removed by the body. Chelation treatment is actually used in the medical community for metal poisoning for that reason, but like any treatment you do have to be careful. EDTA is not choosy about what metals it binds to so chelation therapy will remove even beneficial metals such as iron from your body. Someone undergoing this treatment would need to make sure that they are taking extra doses of metals important to your health. And EDTA, like all medications, is not 100% safe as some patients can have side-effects or adverse reactions. Unfortunately many dubious clinics like to promote chelation therapy for removing "toxins" and other nonsense, at a nice price as well of course. It is also not uncommon for such clinics to diagnose patients as having high levels of some harmful metal in order to get the now-worried patients paying for expensive chelation treatments. That the clinic would do this to someone is annoying, that they would try to get a baby to go through chelation therapy in the name of making a few bucks is sickening. I hope my colleague reports the first clinic to that country's medical authorities.

So what is the lesson to be learned here?:

1) get a second independent opinion for any serious diagnosis

2) be skeptical whenever a clinic seems eager to promote a certain therapy, perhaps even offering you discounts or special prices for it

3) do some research if the clinic claims to be the only one in the area to offer a certain therapy. There is a chance they are either not the only one to offer it, or that there is a good reason why they are the only ones to offer it (i.e. because the treatment is either ineffective or unproven to work).

4) be wary of any clinic that claims to help you remove "toxins", without telling you what specifically those toxins are.

5) Oh, and be skeptical of any clinic that is critical of conventional medicine and tries to warn you away from regular doctors or hospitals, or tells you to stop taking medications prescribed from a doctor so that you can take their treatment instead.

6) and do your own research on your medical condition before accepting treatments. can be a good starting point.