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The Nurse Card

Green Swimming Pools and Medicinal Hickey: The Surprise of Rio

Published August 24, 2016 8:22 AM by Diane Goodman
If you're a nurse, you spend an enormous amount of time explaining the unusual and uncommon events of everyday life, especially when those events might be concerning the health or safety of our Olympics team. This year, we were so busy focusing on mosquitoes and Brazil's ability to handle the crush of possible terrorism/mass casualties that we were totally unprepared for the banality of the questions we received.

What on earth was happening with the Olympic swimming pools?! One day they were a beautiful azure blue, and seemingly before everyone's eyes, they turned a murky, unpleasant shade of green. What was happening? Were the swimmers in danger? Could the athletes be ingesting or swimming in water that was toxic? The press scrambled for answers, and so did we. Finally, answers began to arrive to clarify the "murky" (downright scary) concerns regarding the green swimming pools. In preparation for the Olympic events, Rio had allegedly underestimated the amount of supplies required to maintain the appropriate acidity for the pools. The abundance of swimmers had begun to alkalinize the water, changing the beautiful blue coloration into green, almost overnight. While proclaimed to be safe for the swimmers, the pool color was alarming, so the green pool was quickly drained, and swimmers were switched back to the blue pool. Oh, OK. Fears were calmed for the moment; it was safe to get back into the water.

But wait-what about those large purplish marks on many of the swimmers' shoulders and backs? What were those? They appeared to be medicinal hickeys, described as "cupping" marks by Michael Phelps and a few of the other swimmers.

Suddenly, patients watching TV as well as family members and people standing in line at the grocery had questions about cupping. What is it, does it work, what is it used to treat, etc., etc. A bit of immediate reading was indicated, and fast!

Cupping, used by Michael Phelps prior to the Olympics, has been considered a type of alternative medicine in which cups are placed on the skin to create suction. It can be utilized in conjunction with acupuncture or used alone. It has been used for many purposes, but the most common indication is to help with pain, inflammation, and relaxation. It has also been claimed to work as a type of deep-tissue massage, and thus has become trendy with many athletes. The deep-purple "hickeys" are marks left by an increase in blood flow and capillary perfusion to the surface of the skin, which is created by the use of suction as the cups are applied. Cupping therapy may seem like a newer treatment, but it has been around since the era of ancient Egyptians. As far as research regarding efficacy, studies have been conducted but have been criticized for potentially containing bias. The best that can be said about cupping is that it is probably not harmful. It may even create a placebo effect for those who believe strongly in its use.

Ok, the pools had gotten back to normal, and cupping appeared to be an appropriate therapy for athletes. Nurses could relax and plan for answering the usual questions regarding travel and mosquitoes. The Olympics closed with the Americans in great form, a gold medal count that was absolutely astonishing, and everyone in great shape. There was an itty bitty accountability and behavior issue, but that appears to be winding down in the press, too.

Here's an idea of how green the pools actually became:



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About this Blog

    Diane M. Goodman, APRN, BC, CCRN, CNRN
    Occupation: Clinical Educator
    Setting: Advocate Condell Medical Center, Libertyville, Ill

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