Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I often wonder if the populations of large countries behave as oddly those in micro-countries such as Iceland, and am inclined to think they do – you just don’t notice it as much because of all the people At the moment the Icelandic nation is fixated on breast implants by a French manufacturer called PIP. These supposedly leak 1-2 % of the time and are suspected of causing illness ranging from mild migraines to Ebola. According to the news about 400 women in Iceland have these implants although the importance put on the topic seems more in line with the number being 400 000. Which would mean that every man woman and child out of the 300 000 people here would carry a pair, and 100 000 of us two pairs – back and front.

What is mostly discussed is who is to pay for the removal of these flimsy, leaking implants as there is no compensation coming from the bankrupt company PIP. At the moment the government will pay for an inspection and the ensuing operation if the implant is found to leak but otherwise just the inspection. Some find this too much, others too little. Many of the women involved do not care if they leak now or not, they want them out and find the government a bit stingy wanting them to keep them in until further notice. But others disagree and say to hell with paying for this. The reasoning of these individuals is that the decision to have the implants in the first place was the woman’s own and thus it’s her problem now that they need to come out. Others are more understanding and note that we have a health crisis and it is the social responsibility of the health system to step in no matter how things came about. The exchange of opinions between the two opposing sides becomes quite heated and at times it feels as if the 2-4 operations that are believed to be required will topple the nation into the abyss of bankruptcy.

And what do I think? Pay up. No question. I don’t think it is any of my business why the women involved had this done, no more than I would meddle in a middle aged guy’s right to jog so much that he ends up requiring all sorts of knee operations - which the health system pays for without a shrug. Pay it all for god’s sake. Spare us getting all judgmental when it involves something you yourself are not participating in. Or go for the other option: pay nothing for anyone. Which is not really something we want.

My sister is a doctor and in a recent conversation she mentioned that it is long timely to discuss more openly how the mind strongly influences how we feel and perceive our own health. She was not referring to the PIP fiasco but to a study recently conducted on mildew in older buildings such as schools. The study which took place here in Iceland was done in such a way that pupils in certain schools were at first polled about how they felt. Almost all noted being healthy and feeling well. A week later the mildew check was made and in some schools it was found to be present. This was announced to the afflicted school’s officials and they sent the kids home with a notice regarding what had been established and the ill effects it could possibly have on kids’ health. Soon after the same children were polled again and now they were all miserable, experiencing painful headaches, stomachaches, difficulty breathing, joint pains and all sorts of other symptoms. The presence of the mildew had made them sick although it had done so sort of once removed as its biological presence had nothing to do with anything if their first replies were anything to go by.

The mind plays tricks on us all if given half the chance. A lot of the women with PIP implants now feel very ill after the whole debacle has been on the news for days on end and the main topic of conversation in every Icelandic cafeteria. These same women would likely feel perfectly fine if the news had sprung next month instead of last weekend. But be it the mind, be it the popping PIP – it does not matter. What is being ill other than feeling ill when it all boils down to nothing? Take the shoddily made PIP implants out of the equation or scenario and then these women would not feel ill today. So they are ill because of the implants. Maybe not biologically, but ill nonetheless. So take them out if they want them out. What is the big deal here?

Maybe the minds of the guys working for the European CE certification body played tricks on them when they repeatedly provided PIP implants their stamp of approval for use within a human body.

Wednesday – Yrsa

P.S. I feel as if my point did not get across very well in the post above. What I was gunning for was that you don’t have to understand everybody or respect their decisions to be able to appreciate human diversity. It makes life wonderful.


  1. I'm at an airport in Houston about to end a week with with my two- and four-tear-old grandchildren. Believe me when I say Texas makes one appreciate human diversity, whether with or without PIPS.

  2. Hi Jeff - I lived in Texas for four years as a child but have not been back since. I really want to go though - in my memory it was all about the Astros (I lived in Houston), pickles and watermelons, swimming and sun, sun, sun. And a lot of people with cowboy hats proud of everything being big in Texas. I loved it and maybe it is the fear of the memory being tarnished by seeing things thorugh jaded grownup eyes that has stopped me going back for a visit.

    So have a good flight pardner!

  3. Yrsa, there was a great piece in the NEW YORKER about two weeks back about placebos, and the amazing role the mind seems to play in how we feel. Almost 50% of people receiving placebos for certain illnesses demonstrate the dame degree of improvement associated with the drug that the placebo is standing in for. Even more interesting, some drugs -- tranquilizers, for example, are usually effective only if the patient knows she is taking them. Give valium to someone without their knowledge, and there's no lessening of anxiety.

    So, sure, kids felt the symptoms associated with mildew, whether they were ill or not.

    I agree -- if the government is paying for some medical procedures, it seems kind of sexist and judgmental not to pay for this one. Although in the example you give, one could argue that a man who injures himself exercising was trying to improve his health and, in the long run, save the country money, while a breast implant, except for medical purposes, gives new meaning to the word "elective."

  4. I take your point, Tim, but is the guy who wrecks his knees trying to keep his heart strong any more praiseworthy than the woman who's trying to improve her self-image and so hasten the placebo effect on her health? Isn't that Yrsa's point?

  5. All I know is I laughed really hard, and yes, the mind is a powerful thing. The big question is does the government pay for PIP removal, and also ED drugs? That question seems to, um, show up here every once in a while.

  6. I agree - pay up. These women had these implants in good faith. I'm not sure the threat of leaking was one they were warned of. Or their partners.