Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Theme song to my life?

What was no 1 on the day you were born?

Click here to find out. Mine was Stevie Wonder’s ‘I just called to say I love you’ in the UK and Tina Turner’s ‘What’s love got to do with it’ in the US. Both classic toooones.

Apparently they are the theme songs to my life – diametrically opposed themes of how great love is for love’s sake and how love is unnecessary, lust is all you need. Hmmm. At least they’re both damn good sing-alongs.

(Interestingly enough, I checked the lyrics of what’s love got to do with it on the internet (love love love Google) and in the chorus the lyrics apparently are ‘what’s love but a sweet old fashioned notion’. I always thought it was ‘a second hand emotion’. I like mine better.)

Currently reading: Where Rainbows End – Cecelia Ahern. So far okay, but I have a feeling it will wander into vomit-inducing saccharine sweetness fairly soon.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


I went to the pub tonight, for a quiz. We didn't win, which was tragic really for a team of 8 medical students and a physio. Supposedly the brightest of the bright young things, the cream of the crop. Not so it would seem...

Tom was there tonight, he of my mysterious crush. Mysterious disappearing crush as it turns out. When you stand at the bar with a guy for twenty minutes giving advice on how he should sort out his love life, the friends thing has gone way too far, and having sex with this guy would be weird.

But I am ok with that. I am definitely not harbouring any residual lust, just the sad feeling that he wasn’t the right guy either. They never are. Life goes on though, and I can’t complain otherwise.

Ooo, my final housemate has moved in – Sylvia. She is kooky and chilled, and I am looking forward to getting to know her better in the next few weeks…

Currently listening to: Coldplay – The Scientist (from A Rush of Blood to the Head). One song lyric to sum up my whole life:

Nobody said it was easy,

No one ever said it would be this hard…

Mission Monday

I have been away for a while. I’ve been ill, and also lacking inspiration. Severely lacking, but now, thanks to Carmen, I’m back.

Each week she has Mission Monday. And this week the challenge is to write about school and a favourite or inspirational teacher.

I loved school. I was bright and enjoyed learning, but didn’t need to work hard to excel, so had plenty of time for socialising. I ought to have been a prime target for bullying – clever, liked to read, glasses, not pretty – but I always had good friends, who would stand by me. And I also had a big gob, and always gave as good as I got. So I became popular by default, like the honourary geek in the cool kids gang. I had a lot of friends and a lot of fun.

As far as teachers go, I was damn lucky. Over my early years I had some great teachers – Mrs Chester, Mrs Browne, Mrs Hlavaty. At A level, I took physics, chemistry and biology, and was taught by a fantastic group of young male teachers – Mr Wood and Mr Berry for physics, Mr Hutch and Mr Crees for chemistry and Mr Perry for biology. All in their twenties or early thirties, they treated us like adults, with lots of irreverent classroom banter, but put in 100% in everything; in the classroom, in organising trips, in getting us the best resources we could have. And in return, we gave back 100% - in our work, but also in irreverent banter!

One teacher in particular stands out though. His name was Mr Sloan, and he was my music teacher at secondary school. He probably wasn’t the best teacher in the classroom, but he taught me so much about enjoying music, and gave me so many opportunities to perform. Mr Sloan was fairly young – not that I thought so at the time! – and a very talented pianist. He gave me the confidence to sing my first solo piece in a school concert, and told me to go for it when I was offered a part in the chorus of Nabucco. Once the first hurdle was overcome, he went out of his way to provide me with the chance to sing, and was the best accompanist I have ever worked with – able to transpose anything to any key and follow you like a shadow. And he was just a lovely person – mad as a hatter, and bizarre, but sweet and kind. He left my school when I was in my final year, and I often wonder what happened to him. I don’t think I would be the person I am today without his encouragement. Being a solo performer, a singer, is such a key part of myself, and he gave that part of me the chance to grow. Before I was a musician – part of the orchestra or choir, but he showed me that I could be a singer, and a damn good one at that. He was also a good friend, and even had breakfast with my family on one memorable occasion!

Since starting at medical school I have met some inspirational teachers and some truly terrible teachers. But none have changed my perspective on myself and how I present myself to the world as much as he did. Maybe I would have found my way here anyway, and certainly others have taught me much about singing and performing. But I never had the chance to thank him for what he gave me. Maybe one day I’ll bump into him and be able to say it. I hope so.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Mmm Fireman Sam

I’ve discovered my housemate Sally has a weird fetish for cartoon characters. We played a silly game over house meal (we all take it in turns to cook for the others once a week) where you pick three men, and then of those three, pick one to marry, one to be friends with, and one to sleep with. It is amazingly good fun, and you get onto the weirdest discussions. Sally fixated on picking cartoon characters last night – Fireman Sam, Morph, Wallace, Bob the Builder, Postman Pat, the Lurpack Man. It was very very strange. We all unanimously agreed that there was something quite sexy about Fireman Sam (the uniform? the way he rescues damsels in distress? because he is the 'hero next door'?) but sleeping with Postman Pat would be sooooo wrong.

At least we’ve sorted Sally’s next birthday – a kissogram in a Fireman Sam outfit…

Currently watching: Hollyoaks. My new housemates have got me so sucked into it. Aargh! It's such a rubbish soap. But very easy on the eye...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

It goes on

In three words I can sum up everything I've learnt about life: It goes on.
Robert Frost

I am still enjoying haematology. It’s interesting – clinically and scientifically, the team of doctors I’m with are lovely, and there’s time to get to know the patients. But the most important thing I’m learning? The utter persistence of life, and the resilience of the human spirit.

At the multidisciplinary meeting this week, a patient’s karyotype (basically sorting the chromosomes into their pairs and seeing if they are all present and correct) was displayed on the main screen, to illustrate the presence of multiple chromosome disruption. It was amazing: he had deletions, repetitions, translocations, funny little stunted things that surely can’t be functioning. His karyotype was a complete and utter mess. I personally couldn’t understand how any of his cells were still alive. And yet this guy only has chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML). I say only, it’s no picnic of a diagnosis, but I was gobsmacked. Life is so extraordinarily good at surviving, at continuing in the face of apparent hopelessness.

Many haematology patients are dying. They have leukaemias that are refractory to treatment, or they relapse after treatment, or treatment for an earlier cancer gives them leukaemia. But they keep smiling. The patients I have met on this block have been some of the brightest and chattiest. It makes me want to drag those grumpy rude GP patients who only have a runny nose to clinic and show them: ‘There, you see – this person is DYING, and they are pleasant and friendly and enjoying life. You only have a frickin’ runny nose! Go away and STOP WASTING MY TIME.'

Not sure that’s ethically or professionally allowable.

That said, maybe having a life-limiting condition does actually make you a better person. When I was a wee thing, I sang in a church choir with a woman who was incredibly sour and miserable. She was rude and difficult, and I was terrified of her. But after receiving a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer she became a different woman. Pleasant, helpful, she even smiled. It's as if having a sell-by-date stamped on her made her see that there just isnt enough time to be rude. Life is so short; why waste it on being a horrible person? I think having a terminal illness makes you want to be the best version of yourself that you can, to lose all the anger and unhappiness, and see the best in life for the remaining time you have.

After all, who wants to be remembered for being a miserable bugger?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Saving Grace

So I read this earlier at one of my daily must-read blogs (I puffy-heart Carmen!). It seemed a good idea for a post, and since I certainly didn’t have a better idea, here’s a list, in no particular order, of 5 things I am grateful for right now:

1. My housemates. Living with three (soon to be four) very good but diverse friends makes me feel very grateful. I am grateful for their help and support, and that one of them is there for me whatever the situation – happy, sad, mad, drunk…

2. My family. They drive me mad, but I wouldn’t be without them. They are loud, off the wall, argumentative, bizarre, disgusting, loving, difficult, complicated, warm, generous, sharing. Pretty damn fabulous in fact.

3. My brain. Ok, so I’m not the cleverest person in the world, but without my intelligence I wouldn’t be here. I am grateful every day for being bright.

4. Chocolate. This can only be understood by people with ovaries (approximately half the population). Sometimes you just need it.

5. Music. I could not continue to live if music was taken from me. For me it is pleasure, pain, joy, religion, communication, an expression of my soul. Serious stuff. I would choose to hearing over any other sense.

Last night, I was in a black mood. Very black. And what saved me? A combination of the above of course.

My housemates, especially Mirabelle, who gave me a great big hug as soon as she saw my face. Then we all got in our pjs and watched Four Weddings and a Funeral (still a fantastic film 12 years on!) while applying henna all over each other. My family, who I phoned and just felt better for speaking to, because I could see that the world was still turning. The fact that I still have the presence of mind to be able to think these things through and see that I will make it, that I can survive. A good session of singing at the piano, which always turns me into a nicer person. It’s a metaphorical workout for my soul, leaving me all warm and stretched inside.

And finally, a tub of gooey melty Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream brought me back from the edge. Thanks Ben and Jerry!

Currently reading: Closer and Why God Won't Go Away. Yup, that’s celebrity trash magazine, plus a book on the biology of belief. Does it illustrate the healthy breadth of reading material of an enquiring mind, or that I’m a flighty gossip with aspirations above my station?!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

I like it

Haematology is pretty good you know. Nice straight forward basics, with gut wrenchingly complicated higher stuff. I attended a meeting of 3 Haematology firms this morning, a kind of patient review, and it pretty much all went over my head. But the ward round after was really good.

It’s the firm I’m attached to that’s made the difference. They are warm, friendly, good teachers, non-threatening and inclusive. The firm is headed by Prof Stone, with Dr Murphy, both consultants. Then there’s Nick, the SpR, with Kay, who’s a Reg, and Hannah the new house officer. She started last week, after graduating from Birmingham a few months ago.

<>The teaching I’m getting is great. I get asked stuff, but it a manner that I can have a go, and not be scared I’m going to get shot down (not like Dr Smooth– scroll to entry at the bottom!). And it’s really caught my interest. I am finding this firm fascinating. It just goes to show that medicine is all about the team. By yourself, medicine can be overwhelming. With a supportive team, it’s an exciting challenge.

Currently listening to: The Feeling - Twelve Stops and Home. I love the tracks ‘Sewn’ and ‘Fill My Little World’. Cute and happy.

PS Need a laugh? Watch this. Ah, the joys of having a slacker bro who has time to find these things on the internet

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Just a quickie

Sooooo Oncology proper starts tomorrow, following today’s riveting lectures at the Medschool. After getting my timetable, I am wetting myself over the fact I attached to Haematology, under a Professor. So I think I might need some serious cramming. Serious. I am also placed with the lad from my GP placement who annoys the hell out of me. Great, just the two of us for the next 6 weeks. We do have a day visit to a hospice, which I am oddly enough looking forward to. Lets hope I don’t go off palliative care, as so far this year I’m ticked every placement off on my list of careers I never want: elderly care, ophthalmology, neurology, endocrinology… At this rate I’m going to end up with nothing on the list of careers I would like. Rubbish.

I am currently stuck at Medschool, waiting for an elective evening to start. It looks as though it will be really interesting – it’s 5th years talking about their experiences just a few moths ago, and how they organised them. And that’s pretty important to us right now! The question everyone in our year asks is – where are you going on your elective? Everyone also has some sort of a reply; but no one I know has any firm plans as yet!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Electives and beyond

Uh oh. Oncology is going straight over my head. I do not get all the stuff about oncogenes and tumour suppressor genes.

However, we did have a session on communication skills and patient perspective, which was very good. A lovely lady with terminal cancer came in, and spoke candidly about her diagnosis and treatment, and most importantly the effect of cancer on her life, and how she has been treated by medical staff during her illness. I found her humour and straightforwardness (gosh, that is actually a word) amazing. I do not know if I would have the strength in me.

It also made me think again about working in palliative care. I have always been interested in working in pain management/palliative care, and working alongside alternative therapies to bring the maximum quality of life to patients. My dream is to run a centre based on treating chronic pain syndromes and terminal illness with an integrated system of medicine and alternative therapies, from massage and art therapy to Ayurvedic medicine and acupuncture, alongside a strong research facility studying the clinical efficacy of such treatment – both quantitatively and qualitatively.

I have no idea where to start with this. It’s a pipe dream; one that I am scared to go after. It’s pretty big!

We’re planning our electives at the moment, for next summer, and I had already decided I want to do something alternative medicine based. Our projects can be research or reflective, and I am determined to do a reflective project. So I must knuckle down, and find something that is going to give me experience in this area, and let me begin to see if I can make this dream a reality.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Playing Golf - well, trying

I played golf today, for the first time ever in my life. Well, when I say played…we went to the driving range and each hit a bucket of golf balls. My natural sporting aptitude is fairly low, but anything requiring minimal skill and a dollop of brute force I’m not so terrible at. So I wasn’t so terrible at the driving range, and actually surprised myself by having a really good time.

And it was a nice bunch of people I went with. Fahrat, one of the girls I was on mylast placement with, has decided to get us all together by organising us to do stuff. She intercalated last year (took a year out from medicine to complete a BMedSci degree), and so has dropped down into our year, where she doesn’t no many people. Therefore, she’s keen to consolidate new friendships. After coming out on some hospital socials with us - me, Tom and Laura, the three musketeers – she organised the four of us to play tennis. We were decidedly rubbish, but it was a laugh. Then she organised a trip to the Jam House, with some of her 5th year mates. It was a fantastic night out, despite the fact Fahrat and her mates did not dance. Today it was basically the main four – me, Fahrat, Tom and Laura – plus a few 5th years, and another 4th year guy. It was good fun, and nice to meet new people.

After golf, we headed to the pub for some food. And Tom and I made the shocking discovery that we probably are hardened alcoholics, at least compared to this lot. We both got alcoholic drinks – him, lager, me Pimms. Why? Because we like ‘em. The rest? Coke, lemonade and tap water. In a pub. On a Sunday evening. With dinner.

Ye Gods.

Anyway, we didn’t fancy anything off the pudding menu, butwewanted pudding, so headed to Frankie and Benny’s for pudding. I had cinnamon waffles. Mmmm.

Then the stragglers cameback to my house, and we watched Van Helsing, howlingwith laughter at the terrible overacting, crap dialogue and generally delicious campness of it. And of course, I lusted over Hugh Jackman. Ah, Hugh, my love.

And now I am knackered. At least its an AID (academic in day) tomorrow, so no fears about being shown up as a complete idiot. That’s for Wednesday, when placement proper begins.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Random thoughts on a train journey

We’ve on an ‘elective planning’ week at the moment. Despite stern emails from our year tutor that it is NOT a holiday week, we’re all treating it as such. I’ve been home for a few days, and just chilled. Slept in, watched films, played the piano, napped some more, played with our one remaining kitten (now named Phoebe, to go with Lucy, her mum) and done none of the things I was supposed to. I think I needed a battery recharge. No, I think I deserved a battery recharge. And now I am ready to get back to it.

The 1st block of the 4th year is officially over. I have passed EDEN (eyes, diabetes, elderly care and neurology). Do I feel confident in any of these topics? Hell no. I am feeling very inadequate, and a little terrified of my next placement. Its oncology, at the huge tertiary care hospital attached to the Medschool. A hospital full of clever professors and hard working doctors who want to be professors. So, just like me then! Seriously though, I know bugger all about oncology. I think I will have to peruse the oncology sections of Medicine at a Glance and the Oxford Handbook. Both of which are highly necessary for clinical med students!

I got my hair cut while at home. I’m generally low maintenance as far as hair goes, being blessed with naturally compliant follicles. I wear it up for ‘work’ situations, and down – either straight or curly – for ‘going out’. I had left it to grow since the last cut, which was Feb/March time, but it was getting a bit ridiculous – long enough for the tips to brush the small of my back. Looooooooong. So I merrily tell the hairdresser to cut 5 inches off the bottom, and off she goes. It was only as she was doing this I realised that cutting 5 inches off the shortest layers would bring them up to my chin. I am actually a bit gutted about it right now. I miss its length and weight. It was also very striking, having hair that long. Now I feel a bit ordinary. Ah well, it’ll grow back in the end.

I was browsing a selection of blogs and read this. So I though I’d do the same – take my close friends and tell you what I admire most about them.

1. Mirabelle: her compassion. She’s an incredibly strong person, and is always there for friends in need. I wish I could be as selflessly giving as she is.

2. Jenna: her ability to strike up a conversation anywhere, anytime. She’s so friendly and warm, and could engage anyone in conversation. As she frequently does.

3. Sally: her confidence in herself. She doesn’t care what the world thinks of her, she’ll like her own music, her own clothes, her own bizarre take on the world. And be goddamn happy about it.

4. Di: her hard-working attitude. She works so hard and makes sacrifices to achieve top grades. I’m hoping some of her work ethic will rub off on me this year…

5. Elsa (ex-housemate): her spontaneity and ability to turn anything into a party. I love the fact that so many times she’s persuaded me to do slightly off the wall things that have turned into some of my best experiences. And some of the worst…but she approaches them just the same!

6. Felicity: her dedication and hard work to causes dear to her heat, but always for others. She always makes me feel incredibly lazy and selfish.

(I wrote this on a packed train from Reading to Birmingham. Which I think accounts for the erratic nature...)