Sunday, 12 November 2017


I have decided to use this blog for my own nefarious ends for a change, instead of pandering to the masses. (My mum, my Trusty Companion and the Russian bots count as masses, don't they?)

So I am going to do a bit of laptop-tidying and move all my bookmarks onto this page, so I can finally figure out why I was interested in them in the first place. And because giving into OCD feels good.

In no particular order:

Sick Enough? Doctors, Illness and the Scaffold
Dr Philip Berry

Discussing the reasons why doctors are now more likely to call in sick than they were in the past. Also presenteeism, illness-martyrdom, and rising mental health issues in doctors. With a good reply from Jonathon Tomlinson, whose blog covers pretty much every aspect of doctoring you could think of. 

Let My Dataset Change Your Mindset
Hans Rosling

Engaging, entertaining, visually-impressive explanation of the changes in worldwide population and health data in the past fifty years.

A Guide for GPs on Mental Health and Autism
Coventry University. 
I was directed to this by Adam Harris of AsIAm, an Irish organisation that support people with a diagnosis of autism. 

What strikes me most is that a lot of the suggestions in relation to improving the GP experience (low lighting, quiet, a peaceful place to compose oneself before leaving the surgery) would all be of huge benefit to other patients too - people with dementia, bereaved people, those with anxiety or enduring mental illness, people who have just received bad news. In fact, I can't see how this wouldn't be appealing to everyone who has to attend their GP.

It's Probably Their Fault
Rosamund Snow

A fantastic 12 minute presentation on the disconnect between how we perceive patients' perspectives and the reality. Great insight into DNA rates and the reasons for patients failing to attend clinics.
This is also from Rosamund Snow, about grieving the loss of a "normal" life when you are diagnosed with a serious illness: Bereavement Without a Death

The Dark Side of Doctoring
Eric Levi

A trilogy of blogs about burnout, stress and mental despair in doctors. Cheerful stuff.

What's it Like to go through Cancer Treatment
Dread Pirate Khan

No clue where I came across this, but the analogy of the chemo being the bear and punching your husband in the face is pretty spot on.

Always Look on the Bright Side of Death
Crispian Jago

My favourite cancer blog.

Pain is Weird         
Paul Ingraham 

This includes two videos that made me think a lot about prescribing for and treating chronic pain conditions. Maybe we need to look at pain differently?

A Mile in my Shoes - Suddy Davidson, shoe size 8
The Empathy Museum

A collection of audio stories from people involved in health and social care in the UK. This one is from a GP who works in Sheffield. An interesting project. I bookmarked it to remind myself to listen to some more of the stories. 

Literature about medicine may be all that can save us
Andrew Solomon

My most recent addition and I haven't read it properly yet. I was directed to this by my sister-in-law who is wise and good, so I know I am going to enjoy it. 

There are others: the Home Renovation Incentive so I can get money back when we finally fix our roof, SouthDoc so I can check the rota, Standard Issue magazine though it has now moved to podcasts only, but the quizzes were good fun. 

Great, now I can tidy it all up and start again.

Thursday, 9 November 2017


Things are different now, than they were. 

My body is different. 

My hair is huge. Oodles of the stuff. It's wiry and sticks up and out. I always had too much hair, and my fear or hairdressers meant that I would do what I was told when they mentioned layers or thinning out, even though my pathetic hair-drying skills left me looking like a Christmas tree (without the decorations). But after losing so much of it, I am too scared to mess with it now. I went to the most expensive man in the salon, and told him to just cut the ends off. Straight. No fuss. He was delighted with himself, it was like going back to Hairdressing Pre-school. Easiest seventy quid he ever pocketed. I told him I had lost a lot of it before, and he said "Oh, how many babies have you had?" I said, "Three. Same as the number of chemo cycles." We didn't chat much after that.

I have scars. Now they have faded, and some are barely noticeable. I still don't have any sensation underneath my liver resection scar on my belly, so I can scrape my nails over it and feel nothing. My portocath just sits there in my upper chest, dutifully waiting. I don't like it. 

I forget that I am missing parts of me. I don't think I ever asked how much bowel they took out. A couple of feet, I suppose, since we all know that there's miles of the stuff in there. But it was Large Bowel, not Small Bowel, and there's less of that (weirdly). So my transverse colon presumably became my descending colon. All very boring technical stuff, but I never thought about it before. I never asked. For someone who is generally so curious, I seemed to wilfully ignore most of the nitty gritty about what other people have been doing to me over the past few years. Go on the coping mechanisms!

It shouldn't be much of a surprise, so, that my bowel doesn't work like it used to. One of the main symptoms of bowel cancer is "change of bowel habit" (where your poo puts on a different monk's outfit each day. Kidding.) I never had any noticeable poo problems before I was diagnosed. Now I have the full range. Constipation is, without a doubt, the devil's work. Piles - also no fun. Flatulence - nuff said. 

My muscles and joints are achey and creaky. Perhaps chemotherapy accelerates the ageing process. Researchers, look into it, will ya? Cos otherwise I'm just a moany middle-aged woman. 

I don't work as much as I used to. I am not in work as much as I used to be, is possibly more accurate. I have had to change how I approach that famous work-life balance. If you got less life, you need less work. I feel guilty about it, sometimes, but not as guilty as I would feel if I spent all day every day working, and then told my children, sorry chaps, I have two weeks to live, shame I didn't get to hang out with you more. (This, of course, applies to everyone. It's just I think about it more. Daily.) 
I also feel like I couldn't work more and still be safe. My brain hasn't quite recovered from the chemo fog yet. I hear people say that it never does. I have nominal aphasia, where I cannot find the right word when I need it. I realise this happens to most people, but I noticed it getting much worse during chemo, and it has stayed with me since. It is very frustrating. I feel like I need to take my time at work, that if I rush I will make mistakes.

An aside -
This is so obviously true for all doctors. I have an excuse to slow down. I wish everyone else did, though ideally a non-fatal one. A prominent GP recently called the doctors who work less-than-full-time "portfolio GPs", in a disparaging tone. Like they were wasters, selfish, not fully committed to the cause. Pissed me right off, I have to say. Working eighty hours a week is not a sign of your greatness. It will kill you, or hurt you, or hurt those around you including your patients. It smacks of machismo, which is frankly embarrassing. 

So I can't work as hard as I used to, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. I have started doing other stuff, that I enjoy and that help, like writing, and reading, and engaging with the wider world (that's a euphemism for hanging out on twitter). I am less scared than I used to be. I am happy to make an eejit of myself running down the hill to my house and stopping after about 30 yards puffing and panting. I will dance anywhere, any time. I cry every time I hear the opening bars of Don't Stop Believin'. 

And despite the aches and pains and memory lapses and farting, that's a good thing. 

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Saturday Night at the Movies

Ads with high production values and slightly racy content. No booster seats. No trips to the toilet at the best part. No snooze during the bit where they can't find the unicorn. 

It's been so long since I went to a grown-up movie in the cinema, I had forgotten what it's like. 

Of course it's a cliché to talk about "living your life to the full" or "making the most of the time you have" when you have been faced with your own mortality, but sure it's inevitable. Our brains are simple things, and if you tell them they can't have something than they suddenly really really want it. 

So I have decided to start going to the cinema again. When a movie comes out that I want to see, I'm not going to just read the previews and reviews and watch the promo chatshow appearances, and then regret that I didn't go, and then watch it four years later on a Bank Holiday Monday on RTE, and curse the ads. 

I am just going to go. 

The only realistic way to do that is to go by myself, because organising a babysitter adds a layer of complication that will make me simply give up. Besides, I am the right kind of movie-watcher. I like to sit, rapt, from the beginning to the very end. Zero chat. Zero noisy sweets. Zero texting or tweeting. And despite the dodgy pelvic floor, no bloody going to the toilet. (What the heck? I mean, what the actual heck is wrong with grown adults that they can't sit still for two hours?)
So I am much better off by myself, where I can sit in the spot of my choosing and isolate myself from the poor quality movie-watchers. 

I went last night. I brought camomile tea in a travel mug, and two triangles of Toblerone in a little plastic bag. My mother's training has not been wasted. ("The price of that popcorn! Sure you could go to Paris for a week for that money!" And she could, too.)

A wave of nostalgia and emotions surged over me as the opening credits rolled. Not least because I was watching the sequel to a movie I had watched probably ten times on a grainy VHS in our near-slum of a flat in college. It was probably the first movie I saw that made me realise that science fiction can be more about humanity than alienity (em, err?)
My point being that the story was touching and moving and thought-provoking, and not (just) about shooting people with far-out guns. 

I don't really know what I thought about Bladerunner 2049, from a critical perspective, because I was so immersed in the whole cinema experience. The sounds, the taste, the smell - I'd forgotten the beauty of it all. 

So another one to add to the list of Stuff I Am Going To Do Because I'm Not Currently Dying - regular trips to the local cinema. Next time I'm going to bring my slippers.