Friday, July 21, 2006

The Great Gonorrhoea Outbreak of 1990

As a nursing student in Portsmouth I didn’t really get to attend many lectures but I certainly managed to attend a great number of parties. I only got caught out when after 8 months into the course I felt guilty enough to attend a regular Wednesday tutorial session. “Are you new?” the lecturer asked and of course my cover was blown as I blustered incompetently something about being in the wrong classroom.

As an 18-year-old guy, straight from home and into an accommodation block with 52 student nurses, life was suddenly very good indeed. Friends who went to male dominated university courses elsewhere turned an interesting shade of green and some showed a sudden interest in having me as one of their best friends. With a female dominated environment and mythically synchronised menstrual cycles, a good number of parties were built from combinations of local navy lads and the nursing students, leading to a hormonally driven trail of broken hearts, broken promises, drunken misunderstandings and virtually limitless one night love affairs.

The Great Gonorrhoea Outbreak of 1990 curtailed such activities for a week or two, but after a mass administration of antibiotics and a noticeable drop in alcohol sales at the local bar, normal activities were reinstated with a renewed, if not more cautious, passion. However, owing to a slight indiscretion of one particularly “popular” person who had failed to complete the course of anti-bugs, The Great Gonorrhoea Outbreak of 1990 returned to re-infect those whose livers had undoubtedly been grateful for the respite.

Sensing a gap in the market the local bar installed condom machines (choice of ribbed or fruit flavoured) in both sets of toilets but they never did get round to replacing that missing toilet seat.

Yet in the midst of all the Bacchanalian revelry, every once in a while something more lasting would develop into what could be called a “proper” relationship.

I remember the general surprise concerning the sudden ending of one such proper partnership. Young, Christian and born-again-believers (two doses of the clap in quick succession can change one’s mind quite rapidly about morality, so I understand) these two were tipped as potentially being the first marriage of the group. However what we see on the outside doesn’t always translate to what occurs on the inside and this guy’s previously secret transvestism and fetish for nurse’s uniforms had finally pushed his girlfriend to the limit.

“He really didn’t look good in tights” his girlfriend was heard to have said one day, “he just didn’t have the legs for it.”

Funnily enough, after the public revelations about his wardrobe preferences we never saw him again. Rumour had it that he and his pet rat moved to Brighton with a man called Michael the following day.

Another one who vanished was Chris. A naval officer, one day he went to the shop for a pint of milk and never returned. We suspect that it had something to do with the not insignificant issue of his girlfriend of one month having just told him about her exciting new pregnancy. Ever since I first met her she had been telling everyone that she intended to find herself a man and when she got one fall pregnant by him straight away.

So the rest of us knew long before the hapless Chris that she’d bagged her officer and really wasn’t going to let him go very easily. Now this really wasn’t a good example of thinking things through properly and unsurprisingly [to us guys] Chris was gone faster than she could splutter “child support.”

Richard Bandler talks of a similar strategy when needing to escape an unwanted social interaction at parties, “I am just going for a packet of cigarettes” has now become a code sign between my friends for, “I’m getting the hell out of here, meet you outside in 10 minutes.”

Several buckets of tears, a discreet absence and a swift abortion later and she was back on form. So she then fucked Chris’s supposed best friend as a supposed act of revenge whilst the irony was that the best friend was fucking her apparently only in order to “get one over” on Chris.

With Chris nowhere in sight, both boasted of their conquest and in a strange twist of intentions got married very soon afterwards. Interestingly maybe, this marriage lasted only as long as it took news about Chris to filter through to the effect that the inconsiderate bastard had found himself a more suitable and very leggy partner and had long since left Portsmouth to settle down somewhere happily in Spain.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Memorable Lolly Moments

I’ve had exams this week – NEBOSH health and safety. Not sure if it’s a good sign or not, but I’ve tended to finish them within less than half the allocated time. I answered every question to the best of my knowledge, so either I’m just a speedy writer or my knowledge is less than half of what it should be. Either way, I’ll find out the results in September.

So, with just over an hour to sit and ponder I found my mind wandering and revisiting past patients who, for whatever reason, continue to lurk inside my subconscious. The first to spring to mind was an elderly cardiac patient who was well known to the department. He was well known partly due to his repeated hospital admissions, but the real reason for his over-familiarity was largely due to his unfathomably big penis.

Amongst the nursing staff this guy was a legend, it seemed almost everyone knew about this monster penis. Each admission, the most naïve student would of course be assigned to him to assist him with bed bathing, urination or whatever as some kind of initiatory trial. Being 92-years-old and bed-bound didn’t curtail this guy’s enthusiasm one little bit – he was still very proud of that penis and would happily show it off to anyone who cared to look. His rather tired looking wife of 40 years used to sigh when he started showing it off and one day she sighed to me, “You know, it really was the reason I married him - he was always so full of fun.”

Needless to say, it was a heart attack that killed him in the end. Apparently, his wife died 2 days later and they were buried together on the same day.

Another one that I recall was from my Accident and Emergency days – one 19-year-old lad with an eighth of an ounce of cannabis resin lodged quite firmly in his ear canal. He’d shoved it down there with a pencil. “My mate told me it would absorb straight into my brain,” the brainless idiot told us.

Another memorable one was Michael, a five year old boy with a number of snails stuffed up his nose, and Eric aged 7, with a moth in his ear, (“I’ve got earwigs!” he told me.)

So sat in the exam room, mentally killing time, my mind wandered. For a moment, self-doubt must have crept in as I remembered vividly the moment I was gluing a 4-year-old’s scalp back together with “superglue” and I discovered with some embarrassment that I had accidentally glued my fingers to his head. “Great!” declared his father, “you get to keep him for the weekend!”

“Does this normally happen?” asked his mother as though I’d make a habit of such activities, whilst the four old asked very simply if he could have the lolly he’d been promised for being good.

This of course then got me thinking about lollies. Who invented the lolly and why? As a child I used to love the “drum” lollies – they were almost too big to fit and so chewy that they’d pull out loose teeth and fillings, but invariably I’d pull out the paper stick and stuff the entire thing in my mouth regardless.

Lollies were great, but the sticks sometimes seemed unnecessary.

So, will I pass my exams? Who knows, but if I don’t – there’s always the lolly logic of small children, which is: “I’ve got a man stuck to my head that I split open when I fell from the climbing frame earlier on. Now, I’ve got a man stuck to my head – so can I have my lolly now, please?”

Saturday, June 03, 2006

More Poo

I was searching for a medical discussion that I chanced upon the other day in order to reproduce here, when I found this. It's a Japanese children's book called, "The Gas We Pass - The Story of Farts" aimed at the 4-6 age range.

Review: "...The latest Japanese import by Kane/Miller continues in the same vein as Everyone Poops and The Holes in Your Nose, exploring yet another subject generally considered taboo. Brevity reigns in both illustration (cartoons and diagrams tinted with swaths of clashing color) and text (which doesn't even attempt to be subtle). Both informative and blunt, the book provides young readers with solid facts as well as plenty to snicker about, including some sage advice ('Don't hold them in - pass that gas!') that will send parents everywhere running for the air freshener." Publishers Weekly

What I was actually looking for was this, a discussion from the British Medical Journal Online about farting and medicine: and the follow up:

Did you know an elephant produces 1000 litres of methane a day? Who the hell measured that? And more importantly, how and why?

Friday, June 02, 2006

Beach Cows

Beach cows.
Anjuna, Goa, India.

Bombay Linseed Nightmares

I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently to the state of my gastrointestinal tract and the effect it has on my mind. Since I did my O-Levels at school I’ve been aware of the effect that state of my mind has upon my gastro-intestinal tract. The bowel loosening effect of stress is familiar to many, as is the difficulty peeing when having to use the middle urinal in a busy facility.

A while back I woke up feeling quite depressed having had a few nightmares – quite uncharacteristic for me. After rolling about under my duvet in a state of mental distress, it started to dawn on me that maybe it wasn’t my head that was in distress but rather that is my stomach that was in turmoil. This realisation accompanied a rather urgent need to sprint to the bathroom and I only just managed to make it in time without leaving a trail of Brown Matter across the hallway. The 24 hours that followed were most unpleasant indeed but I felt remarkably clear headed once it had passed.

This reminded me of a horrific afternoon spent on a cramped and stifling bus ride in India. With hindsight, maybe catching a bus for an 18-hour ride out of Bombay down to Mapusa is not the best of ideas when one is infected with a rather unhealthy dose amoebic dysentery.

Four hours into the journey, I realised that I was not going to be able to make it to the next toilet stop, which are pitifully rare at the best of times. The uneven roads, the constant acceleration and deceleration and that bloody awful Hindi musical that was being broadcast at ear splitting volume all conspired to add to the profound sense of dis-ease.

My mind wrestled to work out the best survival strategy. It struggled and realised the inevitable.


There was no doubt that this was not going to be at all pretty. Additionally, I doubted the natives thatwere packed onto the hell-bus would appreciate it very much either and such an event could seriously damage international relations. Also, the thought of spending the next 14 hours with my trousers filled amoebic diarrhoea was really quite unpleasant enough and somehow just didn’t appeal. Not one bit.

I just knew that this was the universe extracting revenge on me. I knew that something like this would happen sooner or later because when I was 9, I was one of a small group of boys that pushed a kid called Jason into a cesspit. He toppled in and for a brief but poignant moment was completely submerged. It happened whilst we were on a cub scout camp and the last that we ever saw of poor Jason was as the Arkela-with-the-dodgy-hip was hosing him down whilst waiting for his horrified dad to come and collect him. Unsurprisingly, Jason never came back to cubs after that. So, stuck on the bus ride from hell, I just knew there was an inevitable element of Karma involved in all of this.

Meanwhile an astute native recognised what was happening and thrust a small plastic bag into my hand. I looked at it in horror as a small commotion broke out amongst the locals. Almost immediately another larger bag was then passed to my sweating hands, but this one had holes. Again, another brief commotion before magically a small kind of fragile bin liner appeared. Evidently, one of the natives had come prepared.

And...then…in front of about 2000 horrified faces... and one grinning child (I bet he was called Jason)….I….quickly squatted…and….Oh God!

Well, you can fill in the rest yourselves.

Needless to say, such an experience was one of those life-changing moments. For a Stiff Upper Lipped Englishman Abroad this was a good lesson in humility and how to be looked after and tolerated by a foreign culture that is all to often looked down upon by the Western mind.

So I thank you God for engineering that one. Next time, please could you make it something less messy, I’d sure appreciated it. Many thanks.

The reason I raise all this is that I am becoming aware just how much the functioning of my stomach and greater and lesser intestines affect my mental functioning. I used to always have quite a big lunch and spend the afternoon feeling mentally sluggish and bloated. Now, I just have a roll and two pints of water. Oddly, once the shock of, “Is that really all I’m having!!?” wears off (about 20 minutes after eating) I don’t feel hungry any more – my guess is that this is because the blood sugars have stabilised. The result of this is no more feeling fat and bloated and sluggish and my energy levels are better.

I was in the health food shop yesterday whilst stocking up on “health oil” stuff (it tastes horrific, a bit like the time I was chewing on a battery when I was a kid and it split open in my mouth) I also bought a big bag of linseeds. Take two tablespoons 3 times a day, say the instructions.

So, three times yesterday I took three tablespoons. It took me a while to work something out which I’ll share with you. Don’t chew them as this is impossible. And for God’s sake, whatever you do, don’t breathe in and inhale one of them or you’ll end up either dead, or, spending the next week finding seeds in every nook and cranny of your kitchen.

Instead put them in the mouth and take a gulp of water. If you don’t choke to death and survive, then you'll get to experience the effect I had this morning. You'll get to wake up in a hurry reliving the moment that you were on a bus leaving Bombay and have make the mad dash to the bathroom in order to avoid the Brown Matter Trail across the corridor.

You’ve been warned.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Green Tongue and Bright Pink Faces

Despite a late night, I was awake at 430am today. On awakening I wondered if the central heating thermostat was broken - I was roasting.

The bright pink face that looked back at me from the bathroom mirror suggested I had a temperature. After a weeklong headache, the headache has finally cleared and I’m bright pink. Ok, all very interesting, but here’s the weird thing – my tongue is bright green and all furry.

I’ve been used to my camel-clumps white tongue for some time now, but bright green? Snot green at that!

So, at about 5am and fully armed with a nice big cup of tea and digestive biscuit, I Googled “Green Tongue” – here is what I learned…

“Green Tongue” is a clothing brand.

“Your tongue is the color of spring, all cool and friendly-like. Believe me, it's not so easy having your tongue this color. You feel more attuned to the natural world, as well as slightly sick from eating so much corn syrup.”

The Ayurveda Institute advise: “A discoloration and /or sensitivity of a particular area of the tongue indicates a disorder in the organ corresponding to that area. A whitish tongue indicates a kapha derangement and mucus accumulation; a red or yellow-green tongue indicates a pitta derangement; and a black to brown coloration indicates a vata derangement. A dehydrated tongue is symptomatic of a decrease in the rasa dhatu (plasma), while a pale tongue indicates a decrease in the rakta dhatu (red blood cells).”

The Sacred Lotus (TCM) site advises:

· A green tongue body usually indicates Excess Yin Cold or the presence of a strong Excess evil with weak Zheng Qi. The Yang is not properly moving Blood and Fluids and there is Stagnation in the body.
· Internal Wind may also present with a green tongue body

So, I'm stagnant. All very well and good, but dissatisfied with these results, I Googled “green tongue” on Google image search. Click this:

It gets worse. I don't know why, but I typed "passport" into Google images search. Faster than you can splutter "identity theft" you find 306,000 happy google returns of passport scans.


I then found this:

It is a soap for smelly dogs.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

More Anxious Moments...

When working with patient’s with anxiety or self-esteem issues it always interests me how it is rarely it is the big stuff that is troublesome. Many people report what I call the “5am Horrors” – the early morning wakening where the brain replays over and over in every tiny and painful detail each social faux-pas from the night before. The alleged social faux-pas, of course, went unnoticed by everyone except for the wide-awake perpetrator themselves.

When I was a casualty nurse, we’d regularly be faced with high-stress, high-risk scenarios that would result in something heroic, something horrific, something miraculous or something that was just fucking horrible. I remember one situation in particular with a horrifically injured victim from a traffic accident – chances of survival were small, but our experienced and highly trained team did our best. It strikes me as funny how people watch these scenarios played out on TV shows, and enjoy watching that.

We did it for real.

So, it was a tense, and admittedly exciting, 45 minutes that proved futile and the patient died. The team quickly moved on to the next scenario, whilst a colleague and myself cleared up the body and the mess and quickly prepared the trauma room for the next patient.

As we cleaned up, I could see that my colleague was upset and so I enquired what was wrong. “I think John [one of the doctors] thinks I am no good.” She told me. I enquired further as I knew for certain that this wasn’t the case at all (actually, the previous day he had been telling me how much he fancied her). “It was a look he gave me…”

So despite the blood, the screaming and the gore, the horror of the situation and the fatality of a young woman, it was none of this that affected my colleague. This stuff rarely did affect any of us. No. What affected her was a “look” that may have lasted just a fraction of a moment from one of the doctors. It went on to bug her for days.

Sometimes staff would berate themselves or give themselves a really hard time because in the pressure they’d opened the wrong ampoule, reached for the wrong bit of kit, or fumbled something – all inconsequential stuff – but these were the things that played on people’s minds.

It was during this time in my life that I’d started training as a psychotherapist and so had started noticing this stuff. In one of my own sessions of introspection, I realised one of the most defining moments in my emotional life – I was 7-years-old and something happened that had so emotionally traumatised me, I was still significantly affected as an adult.

It was lunchtime and I was playing marbles in the playground with my friend, Paul Waterman. Then the whistle blew and it was our turn to queue up to go into the dining hall to eat our packed lunch. As we were filing in and being directed to our seats, I realised that I didn’t actually have my lunch. In fact, as I struggled to remember where it was, I couldn’t recall even having seen it at all that day. I grew into a panic, and was trying to work out what to do before I sat down…I couldn’t come up with anything and my panic grew and grew until I exploded into a blubbing and hysterical wreck.

I can imagine now that those dinner ladies were trying their best to work out what could possibly have happened for a child to have such an emotional eruption in the dinner queue. One of the girls explained that I didn’t have my lunch and so I was picked up from the “packed lunch table” and put into the queue for the school dinners.

Now, this was even worse as I didn’t do school dinners, this just wasn’t what I did, and so my freak-out grew far, far worse.

Eventually, one of the teachers came and got me to remove me from the hall. It was at that moment when every kid and adult in the place is staring at me that I realised...

…I was carrying my packed lunch in my hand.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Anxious Moments

I’ve been thinking about anxiety recently. As a former anxiety-monkey who’d get palpitations just picking up the phone or going to the post box, I thought I’d re-examine modern anxious moments. It’s not whether our leaders will lead us unto a nuclear exchange with Iran, the icecaps will melt or whether the sun will explode that causes us anxiety.

I think it is the other unavoidable and tiny little things that cause the problems. And these tiny little things all add up. For example, on entering a public convenience and there is only the middle urinal that is available.

Ladies, despite the issues you have with queuing, at least you don’t have to dangle your undersized/oversized/oddly-shaped bits merely inches away from other men doing the same. There is also the issue of shaking off the drips – a quick and vigorous shake risks flinging drop of urine dangerously into the face of the guy stood inches away – whilst a slower, but more thorough shake risks arrest. The average guy has to pee 3-12 times a day. This is 3-12 times a day whereby he has to expose himself to this petty anxiety inducing trauma.

And what about the toilet cubicle? Sound proofed? Of course not. What is worse is that just when you have managed to relax sufficiantly to drop the motherload without risking, (i) splashback, (ii) letting rip a thunderous gas escape or (iii) managing to pee accidently through the gap between the seat and the rim, thus down the back of your dropped trousers, some bastard comes and sits in the cubicle next to you. The anxious moment? Try to continue silently, quit losses and leave, or hope that he is quick.

But of course, the third option doesn't happen, because you just know that it will take him half-an-hour to relax enough to drop the motherload without risking, (i) splashback, (ii) letting rip a thunderous gas escape or (iii) managing to pee accidently through the gap between the seat and the rim, thus down the back of his dropped trousers. He might, of course, require that you vacate the premises in order that he can do this. The risk is that you end up with two guys in a cubicle, patiently waiting for the other to hurry up and leave.

There are worse things too. When I was 19, I was in an empty motorway service station toilet – there were about 20 urinals. I thought I was safe. But no, some guy in a suit came in and took the urinal right next to mine. Odd behaviour and a scary moment indeed. So I fled with a small, but noticeable dribble down the front of my khaki jeans because I didn't get time to shake off the drips.

Another common anxious moment is the “two-seats-left-on-a-bus” scenario. Everyone seems to prefer to find a totally empty seat, not just a seat with a person already sat in it.

Anxious moment: “Do-I-look-harder-for-an-empty-seat-and-risk-not-finding-one-and-then-having-to-sit-next-to-that-strange-looking-man-to-whom-I-have-already-given-a-clear-indication-to-him-and-to-everyone-else-that-I-initially-preferred-not-to....oh-God-I-do-hope-I-haven’t-offended-him-now-that-I-have-to-sit-next-to-him!”

Versus the alternative...


It gets worse of course – substitute: “strange-looking-man” for “very-attractive-girl-who-has-suddenly-looked-uncomfortable-because-she-thinks-I’m-going-to-have-to-sit-next-to-her” and you begin to get the picture.

More anxious moments to follow…tell me yours.