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More on the California Fires and What They Left Behind; Air Pollution in Southern California; Interview With the Dalai Lama; Hidden Horrors of Halloween

Aired October 27, 2007 - 08:30   ET


SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Welcome to a very special edition of HOUSE CALL. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta, reporting to you from Rancho Bernardo, California. We are just north of San Diego. And we are here because this is one of the hardest hit places by all those blazes you've been seeing on television.
Take a look at this house behind me. There's literally nothing standing except for a few brick pillars, chimneys. That is all left of that house. You can see one house standing behind that. So random, some of these blazes. Nothing seemed immune in so many ways, not even the hospitals, as we found out.


GUPTA (voice-over): Over the past few days, firemen and paramedics working overtime.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 110 for medical aid.

GUPTA (on camera): So as soon as we basically got to the fire station here, they immediately got a call for medical aid. And this is just what's happening all the time here. Lots of vehicles, basically going out on a medical aid call. We're going to see what we find. OK.

I'm still looking at the computer screen here. It's a 56-year- old woman with a life threatening emergency. That's all we know right now.

(voice-over): Shauna looks OK. She has a normal heart rate, normal breathing, but something catches the EMT's attention.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think I had too much smoke. Smoke in the fire.

GUPTA: That's a red flag. The paramedics whisk her off to Scripps Memorial Encinitas. It's lucky for her the hospital is even still there, because when a town catches fire, sometimes its hospital gets caught in the path. So this hospital was potentially in the path of a fire?


GUPTA: George Rodriguez is the head of the emergency room at Scripps Memorial. At some point you had to decide we either evacuate or we don't evacuate?

RODRIGUEZ : They had us on stand by. So we were ready to go if anything should happen.

GUPTA: At the last moment, the winds changed. And Scripps Memorial remained open. That's obviously a good thing for Shauna and also for Annette McCulley. Get this. This is her second time here because of wildfires.

ANNETTE MCCULLEY, HOSPITAL PATIENT: I was actually working and caught in the fires in 2003.

GUPTA: Does the air quality of southern California always going to be sort of not great because of these wildfires?

RODRIGUEZ: During this period of time, there's always that problem with the fires.

GUPTA: A lot of people are pretty curious about just how toxic this air is. You can sort of see the haze out there. I was curious about it as well. You can actually measure it with this. It's called a particle counter. And actually looking at the number here, outside, about 16 million particles per cubic foot. Give you a scale of reference. It should normally be about 1 million. It's about 16 times higher than normal outside right now.

Inside, they tell me inside the hospital, they got up to almost 1 million, whereas normal is about 100,000. So ten times higher in the hospital as well. That's what's happening with the air both inside and outside hospitals in San Diego.

(voice-over): For now, it appears this hospital is going to stay open. And that air is going to make sure they stay busy.


GUPTA: Air pollution is obviously a big concern. I mean, you can just see it in the air all around us. But how serious is it? Well, medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has the latest research on wildfires and their impact on your health.


ELIZABETH COHEN, MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So how bad is the air in southern California? This filter paper started out pristine white. And now look at it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This filter ran for 24 hours at one of our monitoring stations.

COHEN: So what's in the air? Soot, at levels four times higher than usual. Carbon monoxide levels at some points have been 13 times higher than usual. And particulates, those tiny pieces that can get lodged in the lungs, ten times higher. If you've been breathing in this air every day...

KIM PRATHER, UNIV. OF CALIFORNIA, SAN DIEGO: Your lungs are basically filters. So they'd be blackish or brownish in color.

COHEN: Kim Prather is an environmental chemist at the University of California, San Diego. She's been monitoring the air ever since the wildfire started. Her data shows it's an airborne toxic soup.

COHEN: It's not just trees that are burning.


COHEN: There's some other stuff that's burning.

PRATHER: Right. You would worry about plastics, you know, metals, cars, rubber.

COHEN: Breathing in tiny particles affects more than just the lungs.

PRATHER: They end up in your liver. You're shown to appear in every organ in your body, including your brain.

COHEN: And the long-term effects of breathing in this every day? Prather says no one really knows.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, San Diego, California.


GUPTA: So when the fires are contained, does it mean that the air pollution is contained as well? It's a good question, and one that we're giving to Chad Myers who's at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Sanjay, this smoke is going to last a long time. And it's actually blowing back inland now. You can really smell it down to the inland empire.

The smoke plume extended 700 miles into the Pacific Ocean. And now all this smoke still in the air, really the fine particles, the most dangerous ones are in the air. Some of the bigger particles obviously have fallen out. But now this is blowing back into the inland empire, back into L.A., back all the way to 29 Palms, even smelling a little bit of smoke in Los Angeles and into Las Vegas.

So, I mean, this -- here is what the forecast for the plume is to do. This plume has moved offshore. And now it's actually going to be blown back onshore with these onshore winds.

Some of the numbers here from Palm Springs, the particulate numbers, went to like 1600 for the forecast for today and into tomorrow. So a lot of smoke in the air, dangerous smoke in the air for the rest of the time.

This isn't going to go away any time soon because the winds not going to blow from any one direction for a very long time.

So what can you do in your house? And my assistant -- like a magician here -- Dave is going to help me out. Here's what you can do. You're obviously being asked to conserve energy, conserve electricity. If you don't want to put your air conditioner on, you can just leave your fan on in your furnace. And it will blow through. And it'll catch some of that smoke, but those filters in your furnace usually aren't that great.

You can buy better ones if you want to spend the extra money. But here's what you can do. You take an ordinary towel, bath towel. You soak it in water. Ring it out so it's not dripping wet. Hang it up somewhere. Hang it over a chair. Hang it over a banister. And then take an ordinary fan and blow the fan in the air into this towel. Do it a couple times. If you have a couple fans, you can do that as well. The more, the merrier.

This towel is going to get very dirty, so don't use your best ones. But this towel, the wet towel, will collect the dust particles. Now once it dries it won't do it anymore. So rinse it out and start all over. But this is the best way to get at least some of the smoke out of the air that's in your house right now, because it's going to be dangerous for a couple of weeks at least. Sanjay?

GUPTA: OK, thanks, Chad. And for the latest on the wildfires, including some amazing pictures, plus ways you can help and all the other news CNN is covering, make sure to click on our Web site,

We're going to have much more on the California wildfires. That's coming up straight ahead.

Plus, I had an exclusive interview with the Dalai Lama this week. I'm going to give you a dose of some spiritual advice that might be good for your health.

And trick or treat, be aware the hidden horrors of Halloween.

And finally, the wildfires in California, a topic of our quick quiz. That's coming up in 60 seconds.


GUPTA: Before the break, we asked only people with respiratory problems need to be concerned about the smoke inundating southern California? The answer to that, as you might have guessed, false. Respiratory issues are only part of the problem. Smoke can also cause people with heart problems to have chest pains or rapid heartbeat. The young and the old are especially susceptible to smoke exposure.

Of course, there are many more severely injured patients as well, including burn patients. I got a chance to go inside exclusively into the burn center at UCSD, University of California San Diego. It is the largest, really the only burn center in this entire county. For them, the day started on Sunday, when 13 patients came in, starting around 1:30. And the number of patients coming in has been steady since then, although recently starting to taper off.

We got a chance to tour the burn unit and show you what we saw, as well as talk to the concerned family of one particular firefighter. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA (voice-over): All that fire and dangerous smoke, we've seen these images over the past few days. But it's not often we get to see the people so directly and so catastrophically affected by it.

(on camera): One of the things we really want to do is talk to the family members of the patients that have been so affected by this. As you might imagine, they haven't been really wanting to talk about this, but one of the families has agreed to speak to us, to tell us what happened to their child in the middle of this entire blaze.

An anguished, worried mother.

LINDA LEWIS: Her first response to me was, I'm sorry.

GUPTA: Linda Lewis is talking about her daughter, who is also a firefighter. So these are pictures of your daughter?

LEWIS: Yes, this is her with her daughter, and then her with her sister.

GUPTA: So pretty. And now, she's critically injured. Do you know what happened to her? Have they told you what specifically happened to her?

LEWIS: She told me that the -- she was in the truck when the fire overtook them and had to get out of the truck. So that's how, with their all protective gear, everything was covered, but her face was exposed somewhat. And so that's why she's burned there.

GUPTA: Initial reports were that she was dead. The reality is she's very much alive, thanks in large part to this trauma center.

So what's going on here? These are guys are all burn patients?

Dr. Raul Coimbra gave me an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at what has become the home for the sickest of the sick patients.

You can obviously see a patient over here. We're not identifying any patients, but can you tell me anything about some of the injuries these patients have?

RAUL COIMBRA, DR., UNIV. OF CALIF., SAN DIEGO BURN CENTER: Yes, here is a patient that was one of the last that we got early this morning. 40 percent total body surface area burn patient with severe inhalation injuries, that was promptly intubated in the trauma room, stabilized, and brought up here to the burn unit.

GUPTA: So we're giving you a look inside one of these ICU rooms here. We can see all the equipment over here that are used to provide sedation. They're used to actually paralyze the patient. They're used for pain control. We won't show you the patient's face, but it's amazing how much swelling they get just as a result of all that fluids. This patient was someone who was actually caught in the fire, who's actually in what's called a chemical coma now, given so much medication to keep her pain under control and so that her lungs can rest as well and recover from all this. So you're pretty optimistic about your daughter's recovery?

LEWIS: Very, very optimistic.

GUPTA: Dr. Coimbra is confident that Linda's daughter will survive and even fight fires again. But for now, she still has weeks, if not months of healing ahead.


GUPTA: With flames threatening their lives, so many people had just a few minutes to claim their most precious belongings and flee their homes, sometimes for good. The psychological effect on that just devastating. And the crisis counselors at Qualcomm stadium are now seeing the effects.


JACQUELINE GARDINER, VOLUNTEER CRISIS COUNSELOR: What we've seen here is amazing, lost eyes, a lot of grief, a lot of what do we do next? The insurance companies are here. The people who are needing services, not just now but into the future, because their immediate needs are being taken care of now, but they're not knowing what to do with their emotions, the anger, the loss of well, what's happened? You know, the evacuation is in place, but is my home still standing?


GUPTA: People's response to a crisis varies, but can include fear, grief, depression and physical symptoms as well, like nausea, dizziness and changes in sleep and appetite. Experts say if these issues last longer than a month, the person should seek help.

In just a little bit, I'm going to show you part of my exclusive interview with the Dalai Lama, who's one of the most fascinating of the year. Also, cool tricks and sweet treats. Could your kids be in danger this Halloween? Details coming up on HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: As this past week has shown, life can be, well, unpredictable. Sometimes it can take a huge toll on your body and your mind. But as I learned, sometimes it's meditation, not medication, that provide the answer.


GUPTA (voice-over): Two years ago as a freshman at Emory University, Sally Mengel discovered that along with classes and freedom came stress.

SALLY MENGEL, COLLEGE STUDENT: I'm a college student. So I tend to, you know, procrastinate and then have that night before an exam and just cram it all in. And then of course, I get stressed out.

GUPTA: So Sally decided to take a unique approach to remedy that, enrolling in a clinical study.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've actually been looking at a type of meditation that has not been examined much scientifically.

GUPTA: Not just any meditation and not just to relieve stress. Dr. Raison and his team are studying a unique practice called compassion meditation, and the possibility that it could prevent depression. It's based on Tibetan Buddhist teachings. And the team got its inspiration directly from the source, his holiness, the Dalai Lama.

DALAI LAMA: Some depression due to something wrong with physical conditions. And some purely due to one's own thought process. In that case, the remedy must come from within mind.

GUPTA: Raison and his colleagues agreed.

CHARLES RAISON, DR., EMORY UNIVERSITY: So the compassion meditation technique that we've been studying basically is based on this idea that our perceptions of other people are flawed, that we tend naturally to see some people as friends and other people as enemies and a whole bunch of people in the middle as sort of non- entities.

GUPTA: It's those people in the middle, like the guy who cuts you off in traffic, who can become critically important later on.

RAISON: If you're not married yet, a stranger is your wife, you know. A stranger is your next boss. It's a way to change your mind so you more rationally say I should be more equitable toward everybody.

GUPTA: By improving your outlook about people, in theory it'll reduce your chances of depression.

Can you show us how you meditate?

MENGEL: You just breathe through your nose and then out through your mouth.

GUPTA: Sally says for her, the technique has helped ward off depression, stress, and anxiety before they start.

MENGEL: I think it's kind of like, you know, an apple a day keeps the doctor away. So it's like meditation is that prevention as well.

GUPTA: So far, study results are looking good. Dr. Raison recently presented his findings to the Dalai Lama at Emory University.

RAISON: We are in the first stages of this. Yes, results are very promising.


GUPTA: As you may know, exercise can also be helpful in alleviating some of the symptoms of depression. In my exclusive interview with the Dalai Lama this past week, I asked him, how does he maintain his own health?


DALAI LAMA: I usually get up 3:30 morning. Then meditation start, or recitation, some recitations. And meantime, some exercise. Then some jogging within the hotel, within the room, jogging, about 30, 40 minutes. Then some yoga exercise. On the tradition practice. Then two days ago - existing some (INAUDIBLE) sort of practice. So it seems quite useful.

GUPTA: You go to the doctor. Do you get your cholesterol checked, and blood pressure, and all that checked on a regular basis?

DALAI LAMA: Yes, every six months I got checked. They say perfect.


GUPTA: And if you want to see more of my interview with the Dalai Lama, go to It was a fascinating interview, lots of spiritual advice, some of which you may have never heard before. Now I had a lot of questions for the Dalai Lama, but apparently you had even more for me. So our ask the doctor segment, well, that's coming up.

Plus, it's trick or treat time again, what parents need to be aware of this year when it comes to those goody bags. Stay tuned.


GUPTA: Well, the "h" in Halloween doesn't stand for health, everybody knows that, but some of the most frightening aspects may be in places you least expect. Judy Fortin now with some tips on how to keep your kids scary but safe.

JUDY FORTIN, MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Sanjay. Most of us who are parents believe that Halloween is supposed to be fun for our kids. And following some basic safety tips can also make it a real treat.


FORTIN (voice-over): When it comes to Halloween, most kids care about the candy and the costumes.

CHILDREN: Trick or treat.


FORTIN: Some careful planning can help make the evening fun and safe. Pediatrician Jennifer Shu says it all starts with picking an outfit that fits.

JENNIFER SHU: Make sure it's not too long to avoid tripping. Make sure the costume is fire retardant. And finally, use reflective material or something light so that children can be seen at night in the dark.

FORTIN: Accessories can also create a safety hazard.

SHU: Some of these accessories are really large, so you want to make sure that they're not bigger than the child and that they do have rounded edges and are made of plastic rather than metal. Also make sure that there aren't any small parts that can be broken off.

FORTIN: She warns parents to supervise their young children. And teach them never to go into a stranger's house. As for all that candy?

SHU: Make sure there's nothing that's already opened or anything that could be a choking hazard for younger children.

FORTIN: She says when in doubt, throw it out.

In fact, I spoke with a pediatric dentist, who recommends sorting out the good candy from the bad candy and throwing away half of it. Of course, you might want to do this after the kids go to bed. Sanjay?

GUPTA: So Judy, what's considered good candy and what's considered bad for kids teeth, for example?

FORTIN: Well, the most damaging candy is gooey, sticky or hard, really anything that would take a long time to eat and would stay in the grooves of the teeth for an extended period of time is considered bad candy and can cause cavities.

Now, the dentist I spoke with actually suggests that kids try eating some chocolate instead. Chocolate dissolves more quickly. And it also contains tanins, which help get rid of some of the bacteria in our mouths that can lead to cavities in the first place.

And if you're a parent or a grandparent and you really want to avoid problems, why not try some non-candy treats. Pencils and stickers are always fun for the kids, not going to cause cavities here. And they'll like them as well. Sanjay?

GUPTA: And Judy, here's another question. Are food allergies a big problem during Halloween?

FORTIN: Well, they can be pretty tricky. And experts tell us that some of the most common food allergens can be found in candy, things like milk, eggs, nuts, wheat and soy. An increasing number of candy manufacturers are labeling their products with warnings. So it's up to parents to really keep an eye out for these sorts of things. Sanjay, back to you.

GUPTA: OK, Judy, thanks. Well, apparently you've got questions about acid reflux and candy. Well, I've got some answers. Those are coming up in the ask the doctor segment. Stay tuned.


GUPTA: Well, it's that time again, one of my favorite segments of the show. We want to see what's on your mind. So you ask the doctor. Here's a question that a viewer in Atlanta had for me.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My question is I'm six months pregnant and I'd like to know some alternative treatments for acid reflux.


GUPTA: Many pregnant women get as acid reflux. And the best way to treat it without over the counter medicines is to avoid the foods that tend to trigger acid reflux in the first place. Now that can include chocolate, citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes as well, that's surprising, and tomato based products, mustard, vinegar, mint products, and spicy, highly seasoned, fried, and fatty foods. Just about everything, it seems.

Also avoid drinking, caffeine, and alcohol. Also, try not to eat big meals. Eat several small meals throughout the day instead. Wait at least three hours after your last meal before going to bed. And sleep with your head and your shoulders propped up. This is going to help keep your stomach acids where they belong, in your stomach, not in your esophagus.

GUPTA: Well, here's another question we got. This one's about Halloween.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a two-year-old at home. And I'm wondering if there's any candies I should avoid this Halloween.


GUPTA: Well, according to pediatricians we talked to, kids under five really shouldn't be eating candy at all. But if they're going to eat it, small candies that dissolve quickly are the best, such as M&Ms and Skittles. If you're going to give your child a candy bar, cut it into smaller chunks, pieces that are less than a quarter of an inch. Also, kids under five shouldn't be chewing gum at all. And if they're going to eat lollipops, make sure they're sitting down.

Well, unfortunately, that's all the time we have for today. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks for watching. And stay tuned now for more on news on CNN.