Health Life

On Falling Over…

In 2008 I moved to the US and within six months I’d paralysed my left arm doing something stupid in the office. For a while I didn’t know if it was ever going to recover. It was one of the most disturbing experiences of my life and it happened in the most trivial of ways.

I first published this piece on Medium in August 2012 and only moved it over to in March 2013. If you’re interested in seeing it in its original context you can do so here: On Falling Over.

I’d moved over from the UK with some trepidation. I’d always wanted to spend some time living in America—I’d spent so much of my time online with SF natives in the nineties—but the mechanism I’d found to make the move was less than perfect. I’d found myself in a job that was relatively well-protected but working in an organisation that I couldn’t stand. I’d had some other—in retrospect rather better—opportunities, but I’d turned them down for a solid prospect. And then I’d delayed the move several times because of the scale of the commitment and my feelings towards it.

I’d have to work at this company for at least another two years in the US (potentially a lot longer), and I had absolutely no idea what the job would be like once I got here. It felt like the most grown-up thing I’d ever done. I was committing to do something I thought I’d hate, purely to be in the right situation a few years down the line.

Once I arrived though, things picked up pretty much immediately. The area I was working in was good and I got quite a lot of agency to improve and refine it. Within a few months, I was having a great time – working with clever, fun people in a familial, creative environment and on stuff that seemed actually important and interesting. I’d be working myself to death, of course – so much that I’d still not managed to get out of the corporate housing that I’d been placed in when I arrived in the country. Sixteen hour days were not uncommon. But honestly, it didn’t seem to matter.

One of the benefits of our particular relaxed environment and distance from the mothership was that we could turn our space into anything we liked. We had sofas and weird screens and neon signs and loads of space. We let dogs and children come in and play around us. We had people giving talks over the other side of the office. There were finger dart battles.

And we had a Balance Board.

The board was the property of our lead engineer and he used it to practice for snow-boarding. Very gradually all the rest of us started to play with it too. We’d stand on it and trying to stay upright and laugh at each other’s clumsiness. I started off worse than anyone else—I’d never had much sense of my body—but gradually started to improve. I mucked around on it every day. In the end something was bound to go wrong.

Picture the scene – I’m standing next to the lead engineer, looking at his screen. We’re talking about an element of the product we’re working on. We’re probably making some ridiculous joke or something. And I’m balancing on the balance board. And I fall off.

Everyone comes around and laughs at me lying on the floor, but I’m not laughing. I can tell something is wrong, but I don’t know what. I feel a bit irritated because they’re all having fun at my expense and honestly I’m not very good at being embarrassed. A co-worker makes a dumb joke and I say something like, “I think there’s something wrong with my arm” and then she looks and her eyes widen quickly and she shrieks and runs off. My arm is at a funny angle coming right out of my shoulder and it’s moving … strangely … I can’t seem to control it properly. And it hurts. Although not as much as it maybe ought to…

Ten minutes later I’m in a friend’s car driving to the hospital. I feel incredibly strange. I’m scared out of my mind. I’m in pain, but again, not as much as I ought to be, but every time we hit a pothole in the car it feels like something inside my arm is sawing through my shoulder muscle. My arm hangs off me strangely. It’s not moving properly. I have to hold it in mid air with my other arm or it feels … bad … Really bad. In the back of my mind I’m wondering whether it’ll be fixable. I’m trying to work out if I’m being melodramatic. Does this kind of thing happen to people all the time? My friend is being calm in that way that only someone who has had two children can be. She knows it’s a big deal, she’s not pretending it isn’t, but she knows that panicking won’t help. She’s awesome.

We get to SF General. I’m clearly not freaked out enough, because it takes me about ten seconds to notice that all the junior doctors and orderlies and people who are working there are absolutely stunning. It takes me about another five seconds to realise that I don’t like SF General. There’s a wide-eyed woman handcuffed to a railing who screams ‘Rape!’ whenever a doctor comes near her. There are two men who are mostly naked, covered in red scratches and dust, moaning like zombies and reaching out for one another with dirty, bloody hands. A woman runs in as the doctors start cutting off my t-shirt shouting, “Do you have insurance?” over and over. She’s shouting at me like I don’t have other things on my mind right at this moment. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how this works. I have insurance in theory, but I haven’t looked into it at all since joining the company. I have no idea what one’s supposed to do. And also—by the way—my arm is hanging out of its socket…

I’m put in a strange position and my arm starts to feel incredibly bad and painful. They inject me with something, but I don’t feel the pinprick. I start talking to my friend. “This isn’t doing anything…” I say. “It’s rubbish.” Then a few seconds later… “Shit, It had been doing something. Shit. Give me some more!” I’m in a room covered in tiles with equipment around me. I’m losing track a bit of who is in the room with me and who isn’t. They give me something stronger—something wonderful—and I start making jokes. Brilliant jokes. I’m the wittiest man alive. Also I’m English and that counts for something with these people. I’m dimly aware that I shouldn’t flirt with any of the doctors. I can sort of see them talking to my friend in the corner.

Time passes and honestly I don’t remember them setting my arm, but they clearly did. And next thing I know I’m lying exhausted and only semi-aware of what’s going on in a corridor on a gurney. One of the dirty blood-covered men is being wheeled past me on another gurney. He reaches out for me as he passes. My friend blocks him. I close my eyes and hear his groaning zombie-noise pass me by.

I’m sent home in pretty good order. Their suspicion is that the shoulder has just been dislocated. Now it’s been put back in place everything will sort of return to normal. I mention that I don’t seem to be able to move it that much and they say that’s common and that it’ll get better in a few days. I go home and collapse.
And time passes. The next day my arm doesn’t hurt that much at all. I can’t move it very much. I’m not that concerned. But the day after, it’s still not moving. It’s a long holiday weekend, but I stay at home trying to get better. The Monday comes and I’m starting to freak out. I’ve tried to work out what’s going on. A few things seem to be working. I can clench my fist. My bicep works. But I can’t straighten my arm, I can’t lift it up. I can’t straighten my fingers at all. And the outside of my arm from my shoulder to my finger tips feels cold and dead. My left arm can only really do one useful thing. I can hold out my arm like I’m begging. That’s the limit of what is practical. My arm has been replaced by a cup-holder.

Over the next few weeks I learn what’s going on. The brachial nerve in my shoulder has been ‘damaged’. No one knows how much. It could be bruised. It could be severed. If it’s bruised it will recover, at the rate of about a millimeter a week. If it has been severed, then it won’t recover at all. I’ll be stuck with a barely functioning arm for the rest of my life.

I visit a shoulder therapist who tries to calm me down about the whole thing. He’s a tall, tanned middle-aged man who looks like he surfs. He’s relatively positive, but says it’ll be a long wait to find out if I’ll heal. I want to know what happens if I don’t heal, but he doesn’t want to tell me. I have to force him to go into detail. He talks of opening up my arm and moving the muscles around so that they connect to the other side of my hand. He talks of fusing the bones in my wrist together so that my hand doesn’t flop down like a gay stereotype every time I move. He talks of braces and assistive devices. I sort of take some of it in. Knowing there are options—even weird cyborg, body-mutilating options—is weirdly comforting.

My friends try and help—some more than others. None of them really know what to do. None of them know how to react. They’re looking at me unclear as to how serious it is. At one level, I’m just a guy with his arm in a sling. At another level, I’m the guy whose arm doesn’t work and may never work again. They very graciously offer to help.

Very gradually a kind of black humour dredges itself across me, as I start to think about what my life could be like. You believe that you treat people with significant problems like this normally, but your illusions go away pretty quickly when you’re in the situation yourself. As the muscle starts to waste away on your arm, you start wondering what you’ll look like with one flaccid, scrawny arm, clawing upon itself. You wonder if you’ll be able to drive a car or ride a bike. What if you fall over on it? Would you be able to feel if you’d damaged it more? Will you be stuck looking after your arm like you would an insensate vegetative child?

How are you going to type? How are you going to do the work you’ve been doing for years? Within a few weeks I get my typing up to forty five words a minute one-handed. Everyone is very impressed, but what do they know? It’s half the speed I could type before. Am I going to be half as productive? My mother calls me and starts talking about assistive devices. Should I get a chording keyboard? It all feels like preparing for a life without a functioning arm. That’s not a view of the future that I’m capable of dealing with. I’m not able to think like that. It makes me angry that anyone would think that I should think like that. I will not think like that.

I find myself doing things in my home that I’d been meaning to do for years but never got around to, purely because doing them one-handed is borderline impossible. I refuse help from people. They mean well but they don’t understand. If I start taking people’s help now, then it’s accepting that I’m a broken person. It’s accepting that I’ll need some kind of assistance for the rest of my life. That I’ll always be dependent on other people. Fuck that. Fuck it so hard. I move every piece of furniture in my house. I rip up the carpet. I fold it up and drag it out into the shed. I’m swearing every step of the way. It’s a war between me and the carpet. It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. It takes me four hours. At the end I’m victorious. I feel strong and angry and determined and relentless.

I don’t take a single day off work from the moment the fall happened. In retrospect this was one of the most stupid things I’ve ever done.

I wonder about sex. I wonder whether anyone would want to have sex with someone with a gimpy arm. I wonder whether or not I’d want to have sex with someone who wanted to have sex with someone with a gimpy arm. I try and imagine the mechanics. I visualize the look on their face as we go through the motions. I have fairly dark patches.

I go and see a neurologist who inserts long needles into my arms and asks me if I feel anything. He runs current through my body. He’s not impressed by the results. He tells me there’s a fifty percent chance of me getting something back, but that’s all. I leave composed and balanced. Sitting on a chair outside the surgery, I feel myself falling. I get a phone call from my boss. It’s the worst possible time and the poor man gets an earful of quite un-British set of emotion. I walk around for a bit. When I get back to the office, no one knows about my blip.

Months pass, and I start physiotherapy with two guys. One of whom is incredibly athletic and looks at me as if the arm is the least of my problems. Apparently working eighteen hour days and not getting any exercise is a bad thing. The other guy spends every minute manipulating my arm and asking about how to set up a tech start-up in San Francisco. I humour him. I wish he’d shut up.

I get an exciting new device that runs an electrical stimulus through my arm. When it’s on, every muscle clenches. All the muscles I can’t control. My fingers splay out like a maniac. It hurts a lot but it’s a pleasing kind of pain. It feels like I have some control over opening my fingers for the first time in months. I’m supposed to hold my arm out, trigger the device, watch my hand lift up and then turn off the device and try and keep my hand in the air. Every time I turn it off it flops down like a dead fish. Every time I’m a little more disappointed.

Friends are fascinated by this device. It gives them insight into how their bodies work; that you can route around the nervous system so easily. They sometimes want to try it on themselves. I’m eager to show them how it works. Partly that’s because I want them to understand the process, but there’s a part of me that also wants to hurt them for having working limbs. It’s not a feeling I’m proud of.

No one knows what to say, and I don’t know how to help them. After a while I start to wish they’d just pretend not to notice it. The following is the standard conversation that people had with me, borderline unedited:

“So what happened to your arm?”
“It doesn’t work”
“How did you do that?
“I fell over. I don’t really want to talk about it.”
“Oh well, I’m sure it’ll be better soon.”
“Well, actually, no. It’s paralysed and may never get better.”
“Are you right-handed?”
“Ha! Well at least you can still masturbate, amiright?”

I have this conversation fifty times or more. I start to want to hide from people rather than have the conversation. I can sense when it’s about to start and try and steer the discussion in a different direction. It never works. I start to avoid talking to new people because I know they’ll do it. Every new time I have to explain myself forces me to go through the whole process in my head again. Yes, that’s right. My arm doesn’t work. It may never work again. Yeah, it’s a big deal. Thanks so much for asking.

Other concerned people ask me questions and sound so upset by the answers that I find myself having to make them feel better.

After a while I find a new script to stop things spiraling out of my control – a better script, a script that scares people. A script that stops their homilies dead in their tracks.

“So what happened to your arm?”
“Horrific fisting accident.”
“I’m sorry. What?”
“Horrific fisting accident. I hurt myself fisting someone.”
“Holy shit.”
“This is nothing. You should see the other guy…”

That shuts them up.

Four months after I fell over, I started noticing that I could lift my left hand up a couple of millimeters. I didn’t want to get my hopes up – maybe I’d always been able to do that, but the swelling from the injury had just masked it. But then a week later, it was getting stronger. I could move it half an inch. And then stronger and stronger. A couple of months later, with regular physiotherapy, I had a fully functioning left arm again. It was weak, certainly and it took a long time before it felt the same as my right arm. And there are still moments where the joint hurts a bit. But every day throughout all of the healing, while working hard to make things better, I’d say to myself, “This is fine. If it never gets any better than this, I’ll still be grateful.”

Today it’s back to normal, and it’s so easy to forget how hard it was and how I felt during the process. During the time it happened, I never once wanted to go onto my blog and write up what was going on. It was too big, too hard, too upsetting. All it would be was spreading my black mood around the internet.

The first thing I learned when this happened to me was the difference between something that will heal and something that may not. People break their arms every day. They know it’ll get better. They’re in pain and sad and limited, but they’ll almost certainly get better. So they can take help, lean on their friends and family. Accept a short burst of incapacity, then get back to normal.

But if it might not heal—if it’s something that you could have to live with for forty or fifty or sixty years—then it’s very different. We don’t tend to think about disease or illness in that way. We have very few mental tools to help us understand that kind of shift of life-expectations – that deformation of your future. You may not get better. You may not heal. You may be like this forever. Are you going to be a burden to everyone around you? Are people going to treat you like a child or look at you with ‘profound sympathy’ until the day you drop dead? Are you always going to be unable to carry your own weight? Are you always going to rely on others?

People always say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…”, but I’ve come to ruefully add in my head every time I hear that, unless it maims you. Unless it maims you.

So I’ve got a newfound respect for all the people who have had these experiences. My experience was thankfully brief but I feel I have a little more understanding of what it means to fall over and feel that you have to get up, no matter what you have to leave behind in the process. No one wants to have their independence and sense of self diminished by some trivial and stupid accident. I now understand a little more the absolute determination of people who live with a condition that won’t go away – the guts it takes to get through fear and self-doubt and the need to demonstrate that you’re not a wasted person, a mutilation, a wreck. Looking that battle in the face, however briefly, made me admire people who fight through it every day all the more. They don’t need our sympathy. They need our admiration and our respect. My arm healed. I was lucky. Many other people are not.

I have no moral from this story. I wish I could say it changed my life dramatically, or that I brought something back from the abyss that I can share and we can all learn from. But really, all I have is that you should appreciate what you’ve got. Very few people whose bodies get broken were injured rescuing children from ships or fighting against dangerous psychopaths. Most accidents are in the home or in a car, doing something normal and stupid. Falling from a ladder. Tripping on a curb. Trivial, embarrassing things. And they can happen at any time. There’s little you can do to avoid all risk in life, and it would be a pretty dull life if you did. So just be careful. Be decent. Be nice to each other. Because it could happen to you.

Update: I’ve received a number of comments from people about this piece who have said that it’s given them some extra perspective or helped them through tricky situations, and obviously that makes me feel quite good. However, I’ve also had a couple of people who have experienced much worse situations respond to it very badly indeed. Absolutely the last thing I would ever want would be to piss these people off – my goal, if anything, was to try and share with able-bodied people some small amount of the change in perspective I went through. Nonetheless, I’ve pissed them off, and I have to accept that. Rather than change my piece above, I’ve decided to link instead to this response: Alexander Williams on Google Plus. It’s far from flattering about me, but if you want a different perspective, there it is.

Health Science

On Ben Goldacre on Gillian McKeith…

There are times when I feel that Ben Goldacre—author of the Guardian’s Bad Science column—should be knighted. His services to the British people are astonishing and crushingly under-rated. Occasionally I have questioned his style and on one particular occasion I’ve thought his sense of the ethical ramifications of a particular line of research was a bit naïve, but this is not going to be one of those times. Today he’s written a piece that shows him at his absolute best, taking on bastardised popularised notions of science and nutrition and systematically ripping it to pieces. There are times to celebrate the Guardian and this is one of them.

His target today is Dr. Gillian McKeith, who has become rich and celebrated on the back of a series of TV shows and health products focused around demonstrating you are what you eat. Her British TV show involves exploring the symptoms and excrement of chronically and dangerously overweight people with terrible diets and then putting them on diets rich in fish, fruit and vegetables. Nothing wrong with that, you might think. Except she’s only sort of a doctor and many of her theories are absolute hogwash. I’m going to quote some of the article below, but really you’d be better served by reading A menace to science yourself. In the meantime, I look forward to ‘Dr’ McKeith’s response to the article and leave you with Ben Goldacre:

McKeith is a menace to the public understanding of science. She seems to misunderstand not nuances, but the most basic aspects of biology – things that a 14-year-old could put her straight on. She talks endlessly about chlorophyll, for example: how it’s “high in oxygen” and will “oxygenate your blood” – but chlorophyll will only make oxygen in the presence of light. It’s dark in your intestines, and even if you stuck a searchlight up your bum to prove a point, you probably wouldn’t absorb much oxygen in there, because you don’t have gills in your gut. In fact, neither do fish. In fact, forgive me, but I don’t think you really want oxygen up there, because methane fart gas mixed with oxygen is a potentially explosive combination. Future generations will look back on this phenomenon with astonishment.

She says DNA is an anti-ageing constituent: if you “do not have enough RNA/DNA”, in fact, you “may ultimately age prematurely”. Stress can deplete your DNA, but algae will increase it: and she reckons it’s only present in growing cells. Is my semen growing? Is a virus growing? Is chicken liver pate growing? All of these contain plenty of DNA. She says that “each sprouting seed is packed with the nutritional energy needed to create a full-grown, healthy plant”. Does a banana plant have the same amount of calories as a banana seed? The ridiculousness is endless.

Diet has been studied very extensively, and there are some things that we know with a fair degree of certainty: there is convincing evidence that diets rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, with natural sources of dietary fibre, avoiding obesity, moderate alcohol, and physical exercise, are protective against things such as cancer and heart disease.

But nutritionists don’t stop there, because they can’t: they have to manufacture complication, to justify the existence of their profession … These new nutritionists have a major commercial problem with evidence. There’s nothing very professional or proprietary about “eat your greens”, so they have had to push things further: but unfortunately for the nutritionists, the technical, confusing, overcomplicated, tinkering interventions that they promote are very frequently not supported by convincing evidence. And that’s not for lack of looking. This is not about the medical hegemony neglecting to address the holistic needs of the people. In many cases, the research has been done, and we know that the more specific claims of nutritionists are actively wrong.

PS. The thing that disturbed me most about the article was Dr McKeith’s apparent behaviour in chilling debate about her theories through legal threats. I’d like to suggest that there’s strength in numbers here. If you think this use of threats to chill legitimate debate about an individual’s theories goes against everything that an academic or scientist stands for, then I’d recommend that you too link to this article. Obviously you should also feel free to point out its flaws, inaccuracies or places where you just don’t agree with it. Such is the freeflow of debate.

Conference Notes Health Technology

Brain stimulation for the masses… (FOO '06)

There was one speaker at FOO this year that would literally have blown my brain away if he’d happened to have had his equipment with him. Ed Boyden talked about transcranial magnetic stimulation – basically how to use focused magnetic fields to stimulate sections of the brain and hence change behaviour. He talked about how you could use this kind of stimulation to improve mood and fight depression, to induce visual phenomena or reduce schizophrenic symptoms, hallucinations and dreams, speed up language processing, improve attention, break habits and improve creativity. Frankly, the whole territory sounded extraordinary. Some examples – a depression study found that stimulating parts of the brain for half an hour once a week massively lifted mood and that the effects lasted for around six weeks after the treatment had stopped. Another study found that by stimulating deep reward centres associated with addiction you could ween someone off smoking.

The whole session was sort of terrifyingly awesome and itself rather brain-melting. Apparently complications from this kind of treatment have been reduced to nearly zero after some safety rules were proposed in 1998. There have been over three and a half thousand papers written around the subject in clinical settings as well. It’s pretty much mainstream science. The only reasons – apparently – that it’s not more widespread is because of (1) the disjunction between neurologists and psychiatrists and (2) the cost and size of the units themselves.

So Ed Boyden’s proposal (along with some colleagues) is to create an open source community that could develop and apply safe brain stimulator technology. They’re currently using Sourceforge, following in the tracks of the Open EEG project. Apparently to construct a brain stimulator is surprisingly easy – you only need a reinforced coil, a high-capacity capacitor, a power supply, control circuitry for discharging the capacitors, hardware for holding and positioning the coil on the head, safety circuitry, optional measurement devices and some form of software and hardware combination to act as an interface. Absolutely fascinating. I shall expect to see pictures of Schulze and Webb experimenting with one shortly.

He ended by telling the story of one prominent thinker in this field who developed a wand that she could touch against a part of your head and stop you being able to talk. Apparently she used to roam around the laboratories doing this to people. She also apparently had her head shaved and tattooed with all the various areas of the brain and what direct stimulation to them (with a wand) could do to her. She has, apparently, since grown her hair. I’d love to meet her.

Academia Health Journalism Politics Religion Science

On Ben Goldacre's "Bad Science"…

While I’m talking about the Guardian (reports from friends within the printing presses are that it’s looks beautiful), i thought I should probably mention an article that I read on Thursday last week which I thought was one of the most important things I’ve heard people say in the media for a long time. Ben Goldacre’s piece on why bad science gets promulgated by the media hit more chords for me than any nearby troupe of jazz pianists could have accomplished in their natural lifetimes. And while I thought it was a little blanketly dismissive of ‘humanities graduates’, I do fundamentally agree that humanities graduates are now taught to mistrust science and push the idea of it as just one of many competing discourses. Over the last six or seven years I’ve become more and more suspicious of these rhetorics in the arts, and more and more aware of how they’re being appropriated by mystics and creationists in the States.

The other thing that frankly scared me was that the article – for the first time I think – really expressed the damage that the media can do with the rubbish it writes in search of a story. That I’m not sure I could stand up and point to one news organisation that takes their responsibility in this area particularly seriously really brought home Ben Goldacre’s point for me. If you can stomach it, you should read the whole damn thing: Don’t dumb me down – We laughed, we cried, we learned about statistics…

A close relative of the wacky story is the paradoxical health story. Every Christmas and Easter, regular as clockwork, you can read that chocolate is good for you, just like red wine is, and with the same monotonous regularity, in breathless, greedy tones you will you hear how it’s scientifically possible to eat as much fat and carbohydrate as you like, for some complicated reason, but only if you do it at “the right time of day”. These stories serve one purpose: they promote the reassuring idea that sensible health advice is outmoded and moralising, and that research on it is paradoxical and unreliable.

At the other end of the spectrum, scare stories are – of course – a stalwart of media science. Based on minimal evidence and expanded with poor understanding of its significance, they help perform the most crucial function for the media, which is selling you, the reader, to their advertisers. The MMR disaster was a fantasy entirely of the media’s making), which failed to go away. In fact the Daily Mail is still publishing hysterical anti-immunisation stories, including one calling the pneumococcus vaccine a “triple jab”, presumably because they misunderstood that the meningitis, pneumonia, and septicaemia it protects against are all caused by the same pneumococcus bacteria


On people who can't smell…

Last night I cooked myself a meal on my gas hob. This morning, on the way into work on the bus I became convinced that I hadn’t turned the gas off. I had to get off the bus halfway through my journey, find another bus and return home to check. Fourteen hours had passed.

For most people this kind of situation would be unthinkable. If the gas was lit – how many times would I have had an opportunity to notice the flames? If the gas was not lit, how strong must the smell get? How obvious must it have been? Except, of course, that (along with all my other freakishnesses) I have no sense of smell. Or if I do, it’s so ludicrously truncated and ineffectual as to be useless. The signals that other people take for granted just aren’t present for me.

For the most part, I’m highly suspicious of gas appliances, although it’s practically impossible to find a rental flat without them. And if you don’t believe that it’s a real issue, then I’ve got an example for you. When I lived with my ex-flatmates Kate and Mella, on at least two separate occasions they returned to the flat to find it stinking of gas. On one occasion the cooking flame had been blown out by a breeze and I simply hadn’t noticed. Not getting any heat from the hob, I’d simply assumed it was off. The flat, slowly but surely, had been filling with gas (with me in it) for getting on for fourteen hours. I’d had a terrible headache all day and had no idea why…

Here are some interesting facts (and links) about (and for) people who can’t smell (which is known as Anosmia):

  • Anosmia Foundation
    A slightly melodramatic association attempting to get Anosmia considered a disability and taken more seriously as a problem. While clearly not being able to smell does cause difficulties in life (from safety issues, food appreciation and anxiety about personal hygiene), I’ve never considered it a particularly serious problem. Maybe I should reconsider…

  • Congenital Anosmia Pages
    Most interesting for its reader feedback, where people talk about their experiences of limited or total lack of smell – the most scary ones being associated with horrific cases of food poisoning and gas leaks. I never eat anything that’s even vaguely past its sell-by date, and often throw things away even if they just look a bit dodgy.

  • Dangers and Safety Precautions Related to the Olfactory Dysfunction Anosmia
    Some interesting points here that I hadn’t fully considered: “Household cleaners can be a risk factor because the odor of the chemicals will not be noticed to warn the person that the chemicals are toxic and should be used in a well- ventilated area. Warning labels should be read as a reminder of the chemicals involved in such things as hair products, bathroom and kitchen cleaners, insecticides, etc. Our sense of smell keeps people aware of automotive troubles.”

  • Diagnostic pathways
    How to diagnose what may have caused anosmia by following a simple flow-chart.

  • The Cranial 1 Quick Sniff
    Diagnose problems with your sense of smell with this astonishingly weird smell flick-book thing. Every home should have “single-use odor presentations for the testing of olfactory function”.

  • Anosmia Yahoogroup
    An Anosmia mailing list for sufferers and their friends discussing treatments, information and providing support for those who have lost their sense of smell later in life.

On cramping and burning…

Massive stomach cramps that double you over in pain. Acidic excretia that burns as it’s released. It’s past midnight now, and so I’m in the fourth day of my bodily rebellion. The initial putsch subsided on Friday, but stray contingents believe their cause still has a chance of victory. They fight on. The front moves forward. The front moves back. And the body politic reverts to biochemical anarchy. That came from there?
Some people revel in illness, some people fight against it. I just get bored. You need a nearby spouse or mother to make the experience of illness worthwhile. Otherwise – without someone to be ill towards – you’re left with nothing whatsoever to do. Concentrating on anything swiftly becomes impractical. TV shows get repetitive and dreary. It’s like being at work with nothing to do and no one to talk to. That is – of course – if your job happens to be ‘Crapping for England’.
I’ve been out, it’s true. I went to meet some webloggers on Friday night. I had breakfast with Matt and Cal on Saturday morning. Because you work on the assumption that you’re probably getting better. Because you don’t think it’s still going to be going on later in the day…
The films are the good bit. The being in bed when you can’t sleep late at night, letting them flow over you. The gentle films with fields in them. The ones with quilt-making and home-cooked foods. The sweatless pornography of domestic wholesomeness that’s so desperately appealing when you’re feeling a bit sorry for yourself in your pigsty of a flat. I like the films.
They’re nice because they’re distracting and they make you think of nicer things – important things. Maybe just fragments of images – like kisses for dares in crappy pubs, like cool air in the night with a view over the city, like a body in the blue light of a cross-road streetlamp when the curtains aren’t quite closed properly. I suppose there’s a need for the mysterious when you’re reduced to belching piles of squirting pouches filled with lurid liquids…

Health Humour

101 interesting facts about bruises…

I’ve got a huge black bruise on my leg. It’s the size and colour of an over-ripe plum. I don’t know where it came from. In fact all I do know is that I didn’t get it through doing anything fun. But enough about my complete lack of a sex life – today I’m here to tell you where bruises come from.

A bruise or contusion is caused by some kind of knock or bump to the skin. The soft tissues under the skin are full of tiny blood vessels called capillaries. When you bash yourself, these rupture and spurt out red blood cells all over the shop. This is bad. When your body starts to metabolise these cells – literally reabsorbing them – then the bruise will go through a series of colour changes – from red to purple, purple to blue/black, blue/black to green, green to yellow before finally turning a browny skin tone. This colour means the injury is nearly completely healed.

Smurfs are blue – but don’t leap to the conclusion that their skin is simply bruised all over. In actual fact Smurf skin is naturally blue. It would therefore be wrong to assume that they are experiencing serial physical abuse of any kind. If you think about it carefully, you will realise that you have never seen a yellow, black or purplish Smurf, which you would expect if their skin colour was a result of being bashed around by callous human beings or Gargamel.

Many types of people have blue skin which isn’t the result of being beaten up. My favourite non-bruised blue people are The Blue People of Troublesome Creek who intermarried so much that they had loads and loads of children with blue skin. Sometimes people think that Nightcrawler has blue skin, but I’m reliably informed that it’s actual fur. Whether or not he is bruised underneath the fur is between him and his God.

Some people find bruises and being bruised really really sexy. They’re a bit strange, but much less strange than the people who like to pretend to be furry animals or robots. And way less strange than people who find squeezing spots or watching footage of nuclear bombs to be trouser rocket-launchers (or whatever the girl equivalent is). If you like sexy bruises, then you’re probably in the top-left corner of this map of fetishes.

I believe that if you pick up the magic key in Bestiality and build up enough experience points fighting the kobbolds around Furverts, then it’s possible to completely traverse the map, building up a number of exciting STDs in the process, before coming upon the Orthopaedic Braces in the citadel of Medical Bondage. Watch out for elves. Especially the ones interested in Messy Fun. But I’m wandering off topic…

There are a lot of pictures of bruises on the internet. I found lots and lots via Google images. Some of them are really grim and upsetting. But sometimes they’re quite funny. These two guys have bruises and are quite funny, for example. And this guy’s bruises are really impressive. If I was going to have a bruise that didn’t hurt much to get and looked really cool, I’d get some like his. I wonder, what kind of bruise would you like most?

If you like bruises or are interested in bruise-related issues discussed above, you can find out more about them here:


Experimenting with Melatonin in the US…

I am currently trying out Melatonin pills as a way to regulate my sleep patterns while I’m out here, as not only do I have the eight hour time difference to deal with, but I also must content with my gorgeous hosts’ nocturnal debauchery. Essentially this amounts to a thirteen hour time difference from how I live in London.

It has rained pretty much constantly since I arrived in the city that Time Out says has ‘possibly the most temperate climate in the world’. Last week apparently was near tropical heat. Next week is expected to be more pleasant as well. In the meantime though, this makes two trips out of three to LA which have ended in near flooding. I must be cursed in some way.

I am having a cool time though – went to see a cheerleader movie yesterday with Kerry and Sean. I was hoping that the movie would resemble in some form the awesome ‘Bring it On‘. It didn’t. In fact ‘Sugar and Spice‘ sucked arse. Don’t see it.


Eighteen Hours of Horror…

  • 2 am
    Wake up feeling sweaty and shivering at the same time. There are various gurglings within my body. I have a pounding headache. I get up and drink a pint of water. Return to bed.

  • 2.45 am
    Suddenly feel extraordinarily bad. I’m shaking all over and sweating and my legs feel weak. I think I’m going to barf so I go to the bathroom. Am suddenly gripped by an overwhelming urge to go to the loo. Do so. Lots. Return to bed.

  • 3.15 am
    Run into bathroom and vomit everywhere for about twenty minutes. Feel considerably better. Rinse out my mouth, take two painkillers and return to bed.

  • 4.15 am
    Run into bathroom and vomit everywhere for about twenty minutes. Run out of things to regurgitate once the painkillers reappear. Start producing small amounts of yellow bile. Frantic need to go to the loo happens again. Go to loo. Have a glass of water.

  • 5.00 am
    Glass of water terrible mistake. Run to bathroom again and vomit everywhere. Go to loo again. Clean bathroom. I decide to go and sit in the sitting room and watch some television while waiting for the horror to stop. My eyes are watering, I feel like I’m going to fall over at any minute, shaking all over and I seem to be completely incapable of controlling my body temperature.

  • 6.30 am
    Wake from dozing. Vomit.

  • 7.30 am
    Kate emerges from her bedroom and finds me half asleep on the sofa in the sitting room. Her movement wakes me up. I’m feeling a little better so have a little Coca-Cola. This feels wonderful. Decide to follow it with a glass of water. Vomit everywhere. Retire to my bedroom.

  • 10.00 am
    Having slept for a couple of hours I feel slightly better although I am still shaking and the headache from 2 am is still present. A man arrives to fix the shower and my bedroom light. I move into the sitting room wrapped in my duvet and ring work. Go back to bed.

  • 1 pm
    I wake up feeling like I haven’t eaten in two days (which I suppose I hadn’t), but every time I look at a piece of food it turns my stomach. Over the next two hours I manage to eat one eighth of an apple, a spoonful of cereal and a third of a small bowl of plain pasta with a little olive oil and salt. Return to bed when familiar queasy feeling returns, thinking that I can fight my way through it.

  • 4 pm
    Wake up. No desire to vomit is present. Feel incredibly cold, and decide that I need to buy a book to distract me. Put clothes on and go outside.

  • 5.30 pm
    Going outside a bit of a mistake as I keep meandering into people in the street. Finally decide the time has come to actually try and eat something solid. Find a fast food place and order about four different things, reasoning that I can eat small bits of whatever I think I can keep down.

  • 6.30 pm
    Get back on bus and return home. Fall asleep in front of Buffy.

  • 8.40pm [now]
    Feel rough as fuck.