Friday, December 30, 2011

The least bad parenting win

There have been a couple of parenting lapses in Chez PTR recently.  I won't reveal who is accountable for what, but I'm interested in your feedback on which lapse is more irresponsible.  Once you've read the descriptions, please vote in the poll to be found for a limited time only to the right of this page.
  1. Allowing the Hatchling to grab a steak knife off the table whilst distracted by one's own dinner.
  2. Allowing the Hatchling to eat dead bugs off the floor whilst distracted by the cricket (not the bug, the sport) on the television.
Please encourage your friends to vote.  If I end up being less irresponsible I will buy myself a coffee mug saying "World's Greatest Dad".

Thursday, December 29, 2011

It's just not croquet

Gee I miss Peter Roebuck. 

Not personally of course.  For those of you scratching your heads, he was an Australian cricket analyst of English extraction who flung himself to his death out the window of his hotel room in South Africa a month or two ago after he was questioned by the police regarding an allegation of sexual assault.  A sad story - and who knows what really happened?  Not me, that's for sure, but he was a great cricket writer and for that I miss him.  He tended to write sprawling articles reflecting on the events of the day and how they may enlighten us to the struggle inside the players' heads, and thus inside our own.

After the annual Christmas gulag I've finally allowed myself to relax enough to sit back on the couch and listen to the Oz summer of cricket on ABC's Grandstand.  The Hatchling seems a bit bemused by it all but she applauds along with the crowd whenever there's a dismissal.  She keeps me busy enough that I miss a fair bit of the action, so I have to check the scoresheet online once she's gone to bed. 

And in the morning, I get up and look at the Sydney Morning Herald website to see what Peter Roebuck made of the day's play.  But he's dead.

I would have liked his opinion on the latest shenanigans involving the Decision Review System, which has been blocked by the Indian voting bloc and would have avoided a couple of howlers by the umpires already in this Test, versus, ironically, (or is this just Alanis irony) India.  There has been some interesting discussion on the radio about it but I feel like everyone so far is missing the big picture, and perhaps Mr Roebuck would have been able to sit back and ponder the big issues to my satisfaction.

I feel that everyone is obsessed on the idea of "getting it right".  We have the technology to find out what really happened so we should use it to ensure that the game reflects as accurately as possible the "true" battle between the two teams without the shadow of the umpires eclipsing the brilliance of the performances. For example, they are shocked at the idea that in one country the DRS might have 150-fps cameras whilst in another only 30-fps cameras.  This inequity cannot stand, they cry.

And if this was medicine, I'd agree with them.  It's important to get medicine right.  Or stopping an airplance falling out of the sky.  That's important too.  Or even designing a voting system for the Americans so the less adept of them can actually vote for the person they intend to.  Those things matter.  But cricket is - gasp! - a game.

I'm pretty sure that cricket players would scoff if the ballroom dancing fraternity insisted on using high-speed infrared cameras to figure out who had the "best" tango.  They would point out, I am sure, that in cricket there are rules that clearly define the circumstances of whether someone is in or out, and we should strive to use all the investigations at our command to ensure the game follows its natural course.  They would say that ballroom dancing is subjective and that the judge's decision are interpretive, whereas cricket is all about hard facts and numbers and is thus amenable to technological intervention.  To which I would reply that to a man with a hammer every problem resembles a nail.

My opinion on the matter is that this is a game, a.k.a. a sport, and human error is what it's all about, for the umpires no less than the players.  Variations in umpiring from country to country, from game to game, or from day to day have as much relevance as the weather, which is to say that they are hugely important and help to make the game as interesting as it is.  High-speed cameras and remote bowler-assassinating drones are all well and good for spicing up the viewing experience for the audience.  But please, please, leave them out of the game itself before it gets sterilized and vaccuum-packed, like every other part of Western culture.

Vale Peter Roebuck.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas jeer

My Aged Mother said to me this morning, "You know, PTR, we do pretty well at Christmas, don't we?  A lot of families just get totally drunk and get into beating each other up but we're not like that."

Part of me feels proud that she's right, but the other part of me feels sad that our threshold of success is so low.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Investigative phrenology

My parents had a small phrenology bust sitting on the mantlepiece in the seldom-used dining room, where the shiny table, uncomfortable chairs and musty lounge-suite also lived.  I was poking at the lumps and bumps in the Hatchling's head and wondering what the significance of them might be when I started wondering if perhaps the entire scientific bulwark of phrenology might be undermined by interpersonal variation in the character of each region of the skull.

A small amount of experimentation on myself involving three D-batteries, a wire coat-hanger, and a couple of largish gramophone needles enabled me to map out the contours of my own cognition.  A fascinating GAAAAAAAARRRGHH process indeed.  Since I'm not much of a artiste on ye olde computer I googled up a numbered version of the phrenology head (pictured above), which you can correlate with the list below:
  1. Pride
  2. Envy
  3. Corduroy
  4. Love
  5. Depth perception
  6. Embezzelment
  7. Puns
  8. Man-o-wars
  9. Beft
  10. Musicality
  11. Vengeance
  12. The Spanish civil war
  13. Chocolate
  14. Slip-slop-slap
  15. Soviet monuments
  16. Running writing
  17. Writing running
  18. Willpower
  19. Blogging
  20. Chronic condition self-management
  21. Batman
  22. Fashion
  23. Sex
  24. Arithmetic
  25. Taxidermy
  26. Comparative religion
  27. Black powder
  28. Bacon
  29. Architecture
  30. Flattery
  31. Insolence
  32. Procrastination
  33. Politics
  34. Fatherhood
  35. Erbium
What I find fascinating GRAAAAAAAGHH is the fact that every single experience, thought, emotion and memory that I ever have had or will have can be expressed as a combination of items from the list above.  For example, last week when I graduated with a medical degree and stood proudly on stage as a doctor, that experience was basically 1 + 18 + 23 + 26 + 28, or more descriptively, Pride + Willpower + Sex + Comparative Religion + Bacon.

You should try it yourself.  It could change your GAAAAAAHKK life.

Monday, December 19, 2011


It's funny that more people aren't named after insects.  Insects are pretty common. If a person can have a colour as a surname (Black, White, Green, Brown, etc) which is a pretty abstract and subjective notion, why can't they be named after insects?

The only insect surname that I can think of right now is Slater.  It's a good name.  But why not Millipede or Cockroach or Ladybug?

One day I'll write a novel and all of the characters will have insect surnames.  I think it'll really be big.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

True story

I have an unquenchable thirst.

For power? Knowledge?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bloody Oath

I'm a doctor.  *boggle*

At the qualifying ceremony we all had to stand up and read out this thing called the Physician's Oath.  As Physicians we had to promise to be good guys and to always do our best and where-ever there's injustice, you will find us, and so forth.  Unfortunately it wasn't the pithy old Hippocratic Oath in which you vow solemnly to put African wildlife in boxes.  No, this was lengthy and sounded like it was written by someone with a Diploma in Public Health and a shiny pair of pants. 

As a result, my mind wandered.  I started thinking - which is always dangerous.  I thought to myself, Hey!  Hey Self!  You've got this degree: Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery.  Is that two degrees or just one?  And how come you know a little bit of medicine but almost no surgery.  And how come I'm taking this Physician's Oath but not a Surgeon's Oath?  Maybe nobody has written one!

Ladies and Gentlemen, in the red corner, may I present...

The Surgeon's Oath


I am honoured to make this declaration in front of such of my family and friends that I still have, my colleagues whom I have not yet backstabbed, and teachers and mentors that I have been sucking up to;

I commit myself to practising surgery with speed, speed, and ... um ... speed;

My relationship with my patients will be built upon masculine slaps upon the shoulder and brisk promises to have them back on their feet in no time;

I will value all aspects of my patients - cash, credit, and other convertible assets;

I will not permit considerations of gender, race, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation, nationality or social standing to influence my duty of care - but I should mention that if I do you on my private list I can get it done next Thursday even though the public waiting list is chockers until September 2013;

I will work with my patients to enhance their quality of life and provide support both in times of suffering and well-being - unless it's outside my specific area of research interest in which case I'll just expect the intern to handle it.

My commitment extends to the health of the community, valuing the diversity of people within in it as valuable providers of novelty ethnic food and taxi drivers to/from the airport;

I will support my colleagues working in health care, and treat them with honesty and respect, if they are both senior to me and within earshot; otherwise - shrug...

I will contribute to a work environment that fosters learning and cooperation.  I commit myself to passing on my loudmouthed opinions on topics of interest to me such as luxury watches, sportscars and Fascist politics whenever I have a sharp instrument in my hand, as have those who have gone before me;

I will acknowledge my limitations and mistakes, should they ever occur, preposterous as that may seem to all of us here today in light of my obvious talents;

I will strive for satisfaction and enjoyment in my work but reserve the right to brutalize those in my power should I be having a bad hair day;

I will maintain balance in my life, drinking both red and white;

May these affirmations guide, strengthen and inspire me in practising the art and science of surgery.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hypothetical awards for which I coulda been a contender

  1. Most destructive relationship with clinical supervisor.
  2. Most adorable baby.
  3. Most patient wife.
  4. Most prolific blogger.
  5. Least sociable.
  6. Most consistent seating position in First and Second year.
  7. Lunch.
  8. Fewest appearances in theatre during a surgery rotation.
  9. Most arty tie.
  10. Least kempt.

Assault and pepper

Here in RrrrrrAdelaide! there is a well-known restaurant that specializes in serving big thick steaks to big thick men.  The kitchen has a window that abuts the footpath so that passers-by can peer in and marvel at the juicy cuts.  Cuts, I say, cuts.  There is something compelling about it that causes everyone to stop and look, even people like me who don't eat much in the way of enormous slabs of meat anymore.

I invented a fun pastime last week which involves strolling up behind the people ogling the thick steaks and interjecting in their conversation.  The game is simple: every time somebody makes any reference to the meat, you must say, "No, that's one of the chefs."

Here's how it unfolded:

Stranger 1
Oh my god, look at the size of those steaks.

No, that's one of the chefs.

Stranger 1

Stranger 2
Is it all just steak?

Stranger 1
I think there are some lamb chops up the back there.

No, that's one of the chefs.

Stranger 1

Stranger 2
Look they also have chicken.
No, that's one of the chefs.

Stranger 2

Stranger 1
I don't even think I could finish something that big.

No, that's one of OW!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Worth it

As usual, my Aged Mother asked me today whether I thought that it was a good idea to study medicine and be a doctor.  Normally I brush off these questions with a glib answer in order to avoid losing my mojo.  Let's face it, dwelling on whether you've made a really really bad decision to throw your career away is not fun.

But now that I am halfway there, in the sense that I have studied medicine but not yet actually worked as a doctor, the question made me sit back and wonder.

Had I known four years ago how much work still lies in front of me I don't think I would have ever started.  But now I'm here I'm glad I did.  The work is actually enjoyable.  It's interesting.  It's fulfilling.  It's rewarding.  It's a shame though that the medical uber-institution, by which I mean the grand total abstract "church" of medicine at whose altar we are apparently expected to sacrifice our lives, takes itself far too seriously.

Here's a great quote from Thoreau that I read yesterday:
"The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them."
The upper ranks of medicine are heavily populated by people who burned up their youth trying to build that bridge to the moon.  I honestly don't know if they believe they succeeded or if they know they failed and hate the world because of it, but I often get the feeling that they look at older students like me, just trying to achieve modest goals, and get angry that I'm not trying to emulate them.

Back in first year, one of my tutors once said to me that being a doctor is not a calling, it's a job.  At the time I thought he was just being a cynical old bastard (despite the fact that I was actually older than him).  Actually, I still he think he was being a cynical old bastard.  But even stopped clocks are right twice a day, and in this case I have grown to appreciate his words.

I don't deny that for some, medicine IS their calling.  They will devote themselves entirely to it and will achieve incredible things.  They will spend their lives making an amazing contribution to other people and I admire them greatly for it.  But it's not for me.  Not anymore.

I'm not prepared to make medicine my life.  Maybe that will make me a bad doctor.  But I think it will make me a better person.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Care factor

So that's the end of medical school I guess.  Looking back, by far the most useful classes I got were the tutorials on taking a medical history from somebody.  I'm not sure if it's true that 80% of diagnoses can be made on the basis of history alone, but it certainly is true that if you can't take a good history you'll look like a idiot at least 300% more frequently.

In those classes we were also given a few other useful tips.  The one I have made best use of is how to handle the inevitable questions that you start getting from family and friends as soon as you start medical school, asking for medical advice.  The advice was to simply say, "You should talk to your doctor about that."  Not only does it absolve you of responsibility for serious illnesses, it also avoids getting entangled in dull discussions of minor ailments.  In fact, it can be used in a wide variety of contexts, even non-medical ones!

Here are some real-life examples:

Friend: "I have this terrible rash in my crotch, what do you think it is?"
PTR: "You should talk to your doctor about that."

Friend: "I'm incredibly thirsty all the time and I've been losing lots of weight."
PTR: "You should talk to your doctor about that."

Friend: "I have crushing central chest pain that radiates to my jaw and left arm, shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, and a feeling of impending doom.  Aggggghhhh the pain!!!!  The pain!!!!  Hhhhhh ... can't ... breathe ..."
PTR: "You should talk to your doctor about that."

Supervisor: "You're the worst medical student I've ever supervised."
PTR: "You should talk to your doctor about that."

Mechanic: "Looks like you've blown your head gasket."
PTR: "You should talk to your doctor about that."

Try it tomorrow, you won't be disappointed!

All Australians are thieves

The Hatchling was just over a year old when I first caught her shoplifting.  She was in the pram, we'd done a circuit of a shop, nothing much had really caught my eye, so we'd moved on down the road to another store.  En route I looked down and saw that she had a bright green toy bird in her hand that I had never seen before.  She looked very pleased with herself too.  She must have just reached out and grabbed it without me noticing.  Very light-fingered.

I took it back to the shop and asked if they sold birds like this.  They did.  I explained that my daughter had stolen it.  They complimented me on my honesty.

I've spent the three days since trying to get her more interested in Omega watches and black truffles.  No progress so far.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


As you may have noticed on your daily peregrinations to the shrine of this blog, I ain't been updating it much recently.  Reason being, we've moved.  Again.  You know how much I hate moving and also how often I've had to do it, so I won't bore you with the psychological background this time.  But the circumstances of this move are interesting (I think).

Way back in the dawn of time, in October 2010, we shifted into House Minus One (present house being House Zero).  At the time I had just had a nasty fall-out with my clinical supervisor, my exams were a few weeks away, and my beloved Smaller Half was about to give birth the Hatchling, and we had to find a house to live in.  Time was short, so when I found an airy, spacious house in the hills I signed on the dotted line and didn't worry too much about the little niggly voice in the back of my head telling me to be careful, especially since the landlord seemed so houseproud and promised that the collection of little maintenance issues would be taken care of pronto.

Fast forward 6 months and nothing had changed.  The landlord had gone awol somewhere in Bulgaria to star in adult films and as a result the curtains were still moldy, the paint was still peeling off the ceiling in the Hatchling's room, the fan in the bathroom still didn't work, and so on in that vein.  We kept hassling the real estate agent but she was helpless to act without the landlord's say-so.  When the hot water system leaked into the ceiling we could get that fixed.  And when the drains blocked up time and time again we could get that fixed.  But that was about it.

Then the landlord came back and started hassling the real estate agent about the fact that we needed a plumber every week.  Somehow this was our fault.  He'd done so much for us already, apparently.  Then the smell started.

The smell was more of a stench.  It started one day immediately after the plumber had come round to ream out the drains again.  Strangely, it was localized to one room only and got worse when we opened the windows.  We kept complaining about it and the agents kept saying that there must be a dead possum in the roof despite me telling them back that it didn't smell like a dead possum unless perhaps the possum had died of dysentery.

Eventually we cracked.  There was mold growing on the walls of our bedroom and on the curtains and windows all around the house.  The Hatchling's room stunk.  The drains kept blocking. And and and and and and.  So we bailed - we got a new house next suburb over and wrote to the agent saying that we were giving them two weeks notice to break our lease and we weren't going to pay a penny more because the house was a dump.  We also got a letter from our GP saying that mold was a health risk, just to put a nice medicolegal aspect on the whole thing.

The agents were a little taken aback but it turned out that they were so jack of the landlord that they wanted to ditch him too because it was more trouble than it was worth.  So they bullied the landlord into letting us not pay any more rent even though we had six months left on the lease.  The landlord pushed back a bit and insisted that we let a building inspector take a look at the place.  And his conclusion was that there was a leaky sewage pipe under the house.  Which would account for the smell, the damp, the mold, the blocked drains.  So ha ha sucked in Mr Landlord.  Take your smelly house and jam in up your cribriform plate.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Functional anatomy of the tongue

The muscles of the tongue can be divided into two groups, extrinsic and intrinsic.

The extrinsic muscles are named for their bony attachments.  Their function is to control the position of the tongue within the oral cavity.  The extrinsic muscles are:
  1. Genioglossus, which attaches to the mental prominence of the mandible and acts to protrude the tongue,
  2. Hyoglossus, which attaches to the hyoid bone and acts to depress and retract the tongue,
  3. Styloglossus, which attaches to the old-school stylus and acts to scratch up some wicked beats,
  4. Cranioglossus, which attaches to the head-bone, and acts in amateur local theatre.
The intrinsic muscles of the tongue have no bony attachments and are named for their function, which is to modify the political affiliations of the tongue.  The intrinsic muscles are:
  1. Tyrannoglossus, which acts to increase centralized control of government,
  2. Populoglossus, which acts to decrease centralized control of government,
  3. Socioglossus, which acts to move to the tongue to the Left,
  4. Conservatoglossus, which acts to move the tongue to the Right, particularly in New South Wales.
The innervation of the tongue is complex.  Motor control of the tongue is primarily via the 59th cranial nerve, the Diagonal Tongular Nerve (CN LIX).  Sensory afferent fibres from the anterior 2/3 of the tongue, carrying gustatory sensation for salt, sour and umami, course westwards along the state boundary, evading authorities for weeks before holing up in an abandoned farmhouse and dying in a shootout at the end of a protracted siege.  Sensory afferent fibres from the posterior 1/3 of the tongue, carrying gustatory sensation for sweetness, bitterness and elbo cheese, join the lingual nerve, before diverging acrimoniously and writing a tell-all memoir.

Vascular supply to the tongue is via the lingual artery, a branch of the external carotid artery, which is a branch of the carotid artery, being the twelfth exit from the Southern Expressway, but only between the hours of 2pm and 1am.  Venous drainage occurs in the reverse direction between 2am and 1pm.  This schedule is inverted on weekends and public holidays when the tongue is expected to be more active in the evening.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Clinical spills

It's kind of hard to believe, but soon I'll be a doctor. 

I've done all of my assessment.
I have eleven days left on the wards.
Two weeks after that I'll graduate.
In January I'll start working.

And yet, frighteningly, I am unable to diagnose a simple case of tonsillitis.
Despite having been in the ear-nose-throat team for just shy of a month.
And it was in my own child, the Hatchling.
I shone my torch down her gullet and said, "Nope, those tonsils look fine".
Well, apart from the exuded pus, apparently.

I'll give myself part marks for actually thinking of it and checking for it, but zero (obviously) for my actual clinical skills.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Majestically swept back

Here's a time-saving tip: you don't need to keep track of whether or not you need a haircut because eventually people will start reminding you themselves.

I was late yesterday morning and intercepted my team halfway through the ward round.  I apologised for being late and said that I'd been racing around trying to find them.  The Big Boss said to me, in his kindly voice, "That's okay PTR, we can see from your hair that you can walk very fast indeed."

Monday, November 14, 2011

A nifty quote

"It is interesting to note that patients who have been stabbed do not usually describe the pain as stabbing." - Pocket Clinical Examination, Talley & O'Connor, 3rd Edition.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


A couple of weeks ago I got roped into a teaching session for the 2nd year students by my surgical team.  They were running a rotating series of 5 or 6 learning stations for about 8 students per group, and since one of the registrars was away they got me to run a station instead of him.

In the other stations the big boss surgeons sat the students down and presumably taught them surgeony things like the best bottle of red between $50 and $75, and who the best trainers for racehorses are.  My station, bizarrely, was a test.  Tough luck if you got the test first before you'd been taught anything.  Not that it really mattered because the test didn't count for anything.

It seemed to me to be a pretty pointless exercise.  Also, watching people do tests is not my idea of fun, so as each new group came into my room I would explain that they could choose between doing the test by themselves or having us all sit around and talk about the answers.  To their credit (I thought) the groups all chose a middle path and had a crack at it themselves before having a discussion afterwards.

The discussions were good. I would let them air their theories about what they thought was the right answer and why, and I made sure that everyone contributed at some stage, before I would tell them what I thought was the right answer (note the important caveat there - I was not given the answers) and why, and then we'd discuss it some more.  I got the impression they all found it kind of useful and somewhat interesting.

I was told to collect the papers but made an executive decision that the students might as well take them home instead, seeing as I pretty much told them all the answers anyway.  As a result I had this almost surreal conversation with one of the surgeons:
Indignant Surgeon
Where are all the test papers?

The students took them home.

Indignant Surgeon
How will the students know what the right answers are if we don't mark their papers?

I suppose they could always look things up.

Indignant Surgeon
But they'll pass the information on to the other students in other groups who haven't sat the test yet!

The test doesn't count for anything, right?

Indignant Surgeon
We'll have to change the test.

To recap, he was upset that students might go away and learn something, and even worse, might help other less motivated students to learn something too!  Silly me - I forgot that medical education has nothing to do with educating people.  It's actually all about making sure that people feel bad about how ignorant they are.

I was discussing this with my Smaller Half and she pointed out the additional absurdity that there is no way in hell that a surgeon is going to sit there and mark 50 exam papers that don't even count for anything.  I suggested that it would probably have been passed down to the Fellow, who would dump it on the Registrar, who would delegate it to the RMO, who would handball it to the Intern, who would sling it to me.

So not only was I able to actually teach people something, I also thwarted a stupid plan and saved myself some dull work in the process.  Win-win-win.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sticky dates

Centrelink, from whom all benefits do flow, is ever so slightly frustrating because their payment timetable does not accord with my Smaller Half's pay week.  This means that I need to analyse her paysheets and divvy them up into the overlapping fortnights into which Centrelink carves up time.

A similar situation exists in the unit that I'm with at the moment at the hospital.  Rather than having a weekly schedule so that I can turn up to the operating theatre and say, "If it's Wednesday you must be Mr Farkas", they have a four-weekly schedule.  So there are meetings that happen on Wednesday of Week 2, or Friday of Week 4.

Although this complicates my life slightly, I can cope with it.  It gets annoying though because there are other meetings/events that happen on the third Thursday of the calendar month, for example.  So there are clashes with the four-weekly timetable which means that things are Never As They Seem.

Again, this is something that a somewhat intelligent and sophisticated person such as myself should be able to deal with.  Unfortunately the Big Boss Surgeon is quite old and grew up in Tsarist Russia and still denounces the Gregorian calendar as a communist conspiracy.  As a result, whenever he's around we all have to pretend that it's thirteen days in the future.  This meant that not only did I have to come in on a Sunday, I also missed out on my birthday.

I got so fed up with this that last week I didn't bother to go in at all.  When I turned up this week I was going to tell them that I'd been at home preparing for the Mayan apocalypse, but since I'd been using a reconstruction of Antikythera Mechanism to calibrate my diary I'd erroneously thought that it was going to happen on November 3 2011 rather than December 21 2012.  Unfortunately I'd forgotten that it was Daylight Saving so I was an hour late and they'd already finished the ward round and gone off for coffee so I missed them entirely.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


So today's lesson for beginners is this: when the surgeon walks up to the team and asks, "Is everyone good?", the wrong answer is, "I'm great thanks!"

They are not interested in you.  They are asking about the patients.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Timing is everything

So what structure do I need to be careful of when operating just here, PTR?

The facial artery?

The external carotid?


The cervical branch of the facial nerve?

No, the marginal mandibular nerve.


[Enter Consultant]

So, PTR, what structure should the Registrar be careful to preserve in this area?

Hmmm.  The marginal mandibular nerve?

Yes, that's right. Excellent!

[Exit Consultant]

So - what's this marginal mandibular nerve then?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bohemian rhapsody

People often ask me why I decided to study medicine.  I usually lie to them and tell them that I wanted to help the helpless, bring hap to the hapless, and so on, especially if it's an interview panel or they are dressed like the Three Amigos.  But the truth is that I did it because I really like funny names.

Medicine is chock full of conditions, diseases, syndromes, body parts, microbes, and devices that have been named after people.  The number of things is so vast that all of the Bakers, Browns and Smiths got in early, meaning that the field is wide open for people with unusual and sometimes amusing names to be enshrined for all posterity.

So it helps me while away the hours thinking about how Reiter's syndrome is different to writer's block, or why Kawasaki disease has nothing to do with motorcycles, or how Wohlfart-Kugelberg-Welander disease has the word "fart" in the middle of it.  Snigger.  This is PTR's First Law Of Comedy: funny names are funny.

The problem comes though when you find out that the condition that you're laughing at the name of is serious, horrible, and generally dire for all concerned.  This is PTR's Second Law Of Comedy which contravenes the First Law: dead people aren't funny.

Fortunately, I have recently discovered PTR's Third Law Of Comedy, which contravenes the Second Law: dead people are funny if they happen to have been officers in the Prussian army during the 1866 campaign against Austria in Bohemia.

As evidence, may I present Exhibit A:
  • Verdy du Vernois
  • von Wartenleben
  • Schlotheim
  • von Tumpling
  • Finck von Finckenstein
  • Prince Kraft zu Hohenlohe Ingelfingen
These names are fantastic, and in fact I feel a bit disappointed that they chose the military life rather than the medical.  Just imagine finding out that you've ruptured your Ligament of Ingelfingen, or that your doctor was about to slot home the Schlotheim speculum.  Now that would be worth the pain.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Eye opener

My new team starts at 7.30 a.m. which is slightly challenging for me, but no more so than, say, waxing my eyebrows.  It simply takes an effort of will to haul myself out of bed.

But from time to time my willpower fails me and I end up running just a smidgen late.  I was late this morning.  I stylishly swerved my car into the carpark and trotted towards the hospital entrance.  Glancing at my phone, I realized that I'd missed a call.

Oh no!  Perhaps it was my new registrar and she'd called me up to urge me to redouble my efforts to arrive on time.  Or perhaps to tell me that the notes I took yesterday were so good that I'd better take the day off as a reward.  Better check my voicemail.

My voicemail had a call from an mystery number - a man's gruff voice:
"When ya git outta the shower washin' that beautiful body of yours, wanna give me a ring?  Thanks darlin'."

Hmm.  I guess it wasn't my registrar after all.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Play it as it lies

The most useful thing I learned in my recent six week stint with the psychiatrists is that psychiatrists are doctors too.  Here's the evidence:
  1. They know all about "Code Brown".
  2. They get really annoyed at inappropriate referrals, such as the person with confusion due to an infection that the ED docs think is bonkers and should get detained and given anti-psychotic medication rather than something more appropriate such as, say, antibiotics.
  3. Their handwriting is illegible.
With regard to point 3, although it's illegible, it does have the benefit of being voluminous.  They write so much that often you are able to get the general vibe of their notes even though the actual words are gibberish.

In contrast, the surgical team I've just joined, while they also have unintelligible writing, don't seem to be able to use sentences in their notes.  To be fair, this is probably because they are scribbling madly, desperately trying to catch up with the surgeon, who conducts the round so fast that windows are shattered by the sonic boom.

It's pretty intimidating getting thrown into the midst of this as a student because it means that anything in the notes is thruply confusing.  Not only is the handwriting terrible, the actual text is just bizarre abbreviations of things that you wouldn't understand even if it was actually written out in full.  On the round this doesn't matter so much because as a student my main tasks seem to be to hold the tongue depressors in case anybody wants to do some Playschool craft projects and to not get trampled underfoot by the aforementioned rampaging surgeon.

Clinics though - clinics are a different story.  Today I was given the job of taking notes, which is fine (in fact, the surgeon told me I was a "born note taker", which may actually be an insult, but anyway) except it means that I'm holding the notes and hence also have the job of flipping around in the previous notes and trying to answer questions about the previous appointments.

The surgeon would turn to me and ask something like, "What was the original plan when Mr Smith first presented last year?".  I'd find the page and see that it would seem to say something like, "P) OPO f/u A/S2 w C+R".  Now if you're roolly smart like me you can mentally adjust for the scrawlings and say, "Outpatient followup up in 1 month with a chest x-ray".  Which is fine. 

But the next line says, "2. FFfFt + ananas - ref/ chok", and what do you do with that?

I can't figure out what it means, nor even what it might mean.  The nihilistic part of me wants to throw caution to the wind by saying, "Klaatu barada nikto", just to see what happens.  However, that is not how you establish credibility on day 2 of a new clinical placement.  It's more suitable for a morning tea in week 5 when everyone already knows you're a bit of a nut.  So I simply say, "It looks like the plan was for fffffft, ananas and ref chok."

The surgeon pauses and stares at me long enough for my heart to skip two beats.  "Hmm, fair enough.  It wouldn't be my approach but I'm pretty conservative", he says, and carries on.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

I've got your deposit right here

My Smaller Half and I want to buy a house.  But we've hit a snag - we have no money.

Apparently a few years ago there was a big stink-up because some chumps in the USA borrowed more money than they could ever afford to pay back, plunging the world into a screaming spiral of horror and causing a number of billionaire sociopaths on Wall St to temporarily lose their jobs.  As a result, Australia's pinko government rammed laws through parliament infringing my democratic right to borrow more money than I could ever afford to pay back, thus grossly offending my inflated sense of entitlement.  This country is stuffed!

After ringing 4 banks and 3 other non-banks (by which I mean non-bank financial institutions rather than other non-banks such as ice-cream vans or Belgian pederasts) I resigned myself to having to live in penury for another 3 months until those juicy payslips giving me substantially less than I used to earn in my old job start rolling in.  But then I got put onto a mortgage broker in town who turns out to have all sorts of tricky tricks up his sleeve, so maybe we're still in with a chance.  Actually it's not so much that he has tricky tricks, it's more that he seems to motivated by wanting to succeed, whereas the loan processors at the banks and non-banks seem to be motivated mostly by malice and spite.

We had a two hour meeting with him on Friday where he sussed us out and did some brainstorming of possible ways around the road blocks.  It was really interesting to watch a professional from another field work.  It reminded me of nothing so much as a good doctor taking a really thorough medical history.

For example, it's important to know what medications people are on (for both doctors and banks, but I'm talking about doctors now).  So you ask them, and they tell you.  And then you typically ask them about a whole bunch of medications that most people don't think of as medications, like the contraceptive pill, asthma inhalers, anti-inflammatories and other analgesics, insulin, and so on.  It's easy to start thinking that people are pretty dumb for not telling you this the first time.

But lo, yesterday the shoe was upon the other foot.  He asked me if I had any debt.  No, I said, quite proud of myself.  Any credit cards?  Oh, yes, sure.  Any HECS debt?  Oh, yes, that too.  Oops.

And, just like a doctor, sometimes he used words and jargon that I didn't understand.  It's incredible how many times I've seen doctors walk up to a patient, dump a mouthful of polysyllabic Graeco-Latin blah-blah on them, then consider the job done.  It's excruciating to witness, and now I know how difficult it is to get it to stop when it's done to you.

It's really hard to ask questions about what something means when you can't remember what the thing was even called.  I'm sure he was horrified when I got my Third Party Mandated Lending Policy Exception mixed up with my Conditional Approval Pending Party People Mandate.  Or something.  It'd be like confusing your cardiorenal syndrome with your velocardiofacial syndrome.

I reacted by just calling the different things "The First Thing" and "The Second Thing" and so on.  I must try that on Monday morning when I turn up to my first surgical ward round of the year.  I'm sure it'll be looked upon kindly.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Praise me

I was feeling generous and expansive, so I was talking up my Esteemed Colleague who is going to be replacing me after tomorrow in this unit.  The registrar obviously found me unconvincing in my universally positive comments, so he asked me if there was anything bad about him. 

"Why yes," I said, "He compulsively makes inappropriate jokes."

"Oh," said the registrar, "He sounds just like you."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


So once the mRNA is produced, what happens then?

I have the word "ribosome" in my head.  But maybe that's just something in my breakfast cereal.

As it turns out, ribosome was the word I was after.  The other word that I was afraid I was confusing it with was "riboflavin", a.k.a. vitamin B2, which is essential to life because it makes your pee yellow.  All those nutri-grain ads on the idiot box when I was a kid nearly derailed my medical career.

My vulnerability to the all-pervasive cereal advertising industry in lieu of any kind of actual medical training is regrettable.  But still, I can walk the walk and talk the chalk or something like that when I have to.  Check out this picture from a talk I gave earlier this year on tuberous sclerosis:

It's complex but I think it captures the essence of what I was trying to say, which is that I had no freakin' idea of what is really going on but it's probably too complex to matter in an informal talk.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Not really

Checkout Person
That'll be $87.76

Smaller Half
The register only says $28.76

Checkout Person
Oh, you know what I mean.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I wasn't aware until now that I was an apologist for sexual predators

There is a well-known case here in this city of a psychiatrist who had sexual relations with no fewer than five of his patients.

That's terrible.

No, it's not.


It's unacceptable.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Extreme child care

Most mornings, I drop the Hatching at child care then come in here to the hospital.  Yesterday morning, it was the child care workers who dropped the Hatchling - literally. 

I got a phone call around 10am, it was the child care boss.  My first thought was that she was ringing me up to rouse on me for not paying our bills.  This is a splendid example of a conditioned stimulus.  The first thing she said to me though was, "The Hatchling is fine.  There's been a bit of an incident."  Good first line - I guess lots of parents would assume that disaster had struck as soon as the child care centre calls them at work, so it's sensible to defuse things immediately.

But "an incident"?  That's too vague.  I suppose she said it was "a bit of an incident" so I wasn't thinking of sieges and hostage-taking so much as perhaps she's had her finger bitten or something.

Anyway, it turns out that two other kids mugged one of the child care workers while she holding the Hatchling, with the result that the Hatchling plummeted earthwards.  Fortunately she landed on the child care worker so there wasn't much of an impact.  Nevertheless I scurried up the hill to go give the Hatchling a cuddle.

As soon as I walked in the door the poor woman who'd dropped her burst into tears and started begging for forgiveness.  "YOU BITCH, I'LL SEE YOU IN COURT, YOU'LL NEVER WORK IN THIS TOWN AGAIN!", I screamed, spittle flying from my lips.  No wait, that was the feedback I gave my supervisor a few rotations back.  What I actually said yesterday was, "It's okay, she's not hurt, accidents happen, you must have got a real scare but it's all okay now."  That made her cry even more. 

Once the staff realized that I wasn't going to burn the place down in righteous fury they all got kind of manic with relief.  They launched into a detailed account of how it happened, where it happened, who was standing where, what similar incidents had occurred in the past, re-enacting how people had rolled around on the floor in desperation trying to catch the babies that were raining from the ceiling, and generally creating a ruckus.  It was quite a scene so I beat a hasty retreat, shouting reassuring words to them as I went.

I reckon they probably have a policy that if anything bad happens to any of the kids, they call the dad first.  Dad turns up, nobody is missing any limbs, so he jiggles the kid a bit and takes off again.  Saves time for everyone.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Clouds in my coffee

In the middle of my day I found myself lost in a bureaucratic meeting.  People were talking words that I knew but their meaning was obscure to me.  There was discussion of leveraging client actualities, of service overlap, and of negative expression of emotion prior to an upcoming facility transfer.

So I wrote some poems in the haiku style instead.

There's a cardboard box in our doctors' office that has the coffee supplies in it.  On the sides are written poems in the haiku style about or inspired by coffee.  Coffee haikus - I hear you think - what a bunch of hipsters. And truly, there is no defence against such an accusation.  The ones I wrote are pretty damn good though...
A warm cup to hold
To take the place of a hand.
Welcome to the tribe.

Black? White? Some sugar?
Do you embrace or mask the
Bitterness of life?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The top 10 songs in which you can substitute "fart" for "heart"

  1. My Fart Will Go On - Celine Dion
  2. Unchain My Fart - Ray Charles
  3. Two Strong Farts - John Farnham
  4. What Becomes Of The Brokenfarted? - Jimmy Ruffin
  5. Achy Breaky Fart - Billy Ray Cyrus
  6. Good Farted Woman - Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson
  7. Fart Of Glass - Blondie
  8. Fartbreak Hotel - Elvis Presley
  9. Listen To Your Fart - Roxette
  10. Sgt Pepper's Lonely Farts Club Band - The Beatles

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Not thinking about elephants

Well, what would you like to talk about in today's tutorial?

Oh, anything at all, as long as it isn't the Oedipus Complex again.

It's interesting, isn't it, how the Oedipus Complex often brings out these types of very strong reactions from people.  It just makes you think that Freud must really have been on to something.  I know you don't want to talk about it but there are some fascinating things to consider such as how...

[One hour and fifteen minutes pass]

... ending in the destruction of civil society and the slow rebuilding up again which is, of course, the tragedy of man's inability to process or work through the Oedipus Complex.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Urban legends

The Candyman
Legend:  If you look at your reflection and say "Candyman" five times, he will appear and brutally murder you.
Status: False.  This is actually the plot of a 1992 slasher film.

The Handyman
Legend: If you look at your reflection and say "Handyman" five times, he will appear and unblock your drains.
Status: False.  There is no way to summon a handyman when you need one.

The Randyman
Legend: If you look at your reflection and say "Randyman" five times, a sexually aroused man will appear.
Status: True.  But only if you're a highly narcissistic adult male.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Clinical audit audit audit

Although most medical students are accustomed to producing audits, few are used to audit auditing.  Thus, this audit audit audit audits audit audits to measure their compliance with the protocol suggested by the Trans-Tasman Council of Amateur Humorists (TTCAH) and makes recommendations to improve the audit auditing process.

Ethics Approval
Ethics approval was sought for the audit audit audit because of the high likelihood of two adverse events:
  1. That those exposed would find it so unutterably funny that they might bust some kind of internal valve from laughing so hard.
  2. That those exposed would find it so unutterably tiresome that they might lapse into a narcoleptic coma and miss their next dental appointment.
The Ethics And Human Research Committee advised that ethics approval would not be granted for such diabolically try-hard self-deprecation as contained in this sentence and thus the final audit audit audit would contain no such sentences. Otherwise they said it would be fine.

Selection of audit audits
The auditor briefly considered a range of semi-humorous methods that may have been employed to find and select audit audits before deciding that it was getting reasonably late and he wanted to get on with the main business of making stupid jokes so he would just present the selected audit audit for audit as a fait accompli with a white wine sauce and simply post a link to it.  (LINK)

Analysis of audit audits
The selected audit audit was briefly reviewed to refresh my memory and some suitable categories were invented in order to produce a few graphs that were relevant to the audit audit.  These, coincidentally, are also identified in the TTCAH protocol for audit audits as being both necessary and sufficient for a late night blog post stretching one simple idea out to several hundred words, to wit:
  1. Snappy title
  2. Thin veneer of respectability
  3. Classical allusions that are actually totally bogus
  4. Leaving the door open for a sequel just in case it works this time.
The audit audit audit revealed that the audit audit had been undertaken with due regard for TTCAH processes.  This is clearly illustrated by the following charts:

 Snappy title - check!

Thin veneer of respectability - check!

Classical allusions - check!

Sequel - check!

  1. That I go to bed soon.
  2. Bacon and cheese toastie.
  3. More charts.
  4. Sell! Sell! Sell!
  5. Shift down a gear once you hit 2000 rpm.  This is also true of driving.
  6. Winning the Victoria Cross twice.
  7. Banana (serving suggestion).

Monday, September 19, 2011

Clinical audit audit

As part of the final year of the medical degree at this Fine University, students are required to complete a clinical audit.  This audit examines the adherence of the auditors to the auditing protocol and makes recommendations to improve the auditing process.

Ethics approval
Since this audit was conducted only upon the auditors self and was entered into voluntarily, no ethics committee approval was sought or, therefore, granted.

Selection of audits
A retrospective selection of all audits undertaken by the auditor during the 2011 was performed.  The auditor's email account and hard drive were searched for all files containing the words "audit", "overdue", "panic" and "apathy".  This resulted in the retrieval of several thousand files which would be impractical to search by hand, so they were further searched for the tags "piece of shit".  One record was retrieved, a clinical audit recently submitted by the auditor.

Analysis of audits
The audit was examined for the following key items, drawn from the guidelines to auditing published by the International Lazy Students and Bullshit Artists Association (ILSBAA):
  1. Excessive verbosity clearly intended to boost word count.
  2. References farmed from unreliable online sources such as Wikipedia.
  3. Formatting and structure plagiarized from example audits provided to students.
  4. Meaningless recommendations.
  5. Precision in statistical calculation used to distract from data collection flaws.
For each audit audited, a high degree of adherence to the ILSBAA protocol was found, as shown in the charts 1 through 5 below:
Notwithstanding the recent episode where the auditors audit was submitted late for no reason other than his inability to submit the audit on time, the auditor found that the audit was conducted largely in accordance with the ILSBAA protocol, or else in a sleep-deprived stupor, which is also an approved method of production of student audits.  Acute observers may question why confidence intervals were not calculated and quoted above, to which the audit auditor may only quote Demosthenes in the Palladium when he was stabbed in the Ides by the Emperor Octagon: "Auditor, audit thyself".  Whilst the relevance, and indeed the veracity of this quote are lost in the dawn of time, it cannot be denied that they most usefully added some sorely needed bulk to this paragraph and furthermore avoided it being a one-joke section, albeit at the expense of some rather heavy-handed surrealism.

It is recommended:
  1. That further audits by this auditor be audited to determine adherence to the ILSBAA protocol.
  2. That this audit audit be audited.
  3. That the audit audit audit be audited in order to complete the third repetition really needed to hammer the point home.
  4. That you send money now.
  5. That you read Dune by Frank Herbert.  It's full on shit, man.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


There's a scene in one of my favourite films, Star Wars, where Indiana Jones is describing how clueless his colleague is by saying, "You know Marcus.  He once got lost in his own museum".  Well - today I got lost in my own Emergency Department.

In my defence, it was only my second day.  Plus, there are extensive renovations happening so there are temporary walls being flung up that seem to move on a daily basis, opening up mysterious corridors haunted by bull-headed freaks (sorry - by surgeons) or sealing up unwary strangers inside wall cavities to be entombed forever. 

Also, when I was given a tour yesterday I got the impression there was (currently) only an A side and a E side (don't ask me what happened to sides B,C and D.  Perhaps a mad geometer proved them to have zero length, or perhaps they got together with Type 3 renal tubular acidosis and ran away to join the circus).  But it turns out that the A side has two halves which look really similar, like the Olson twins, so I went to the wrong one and walked around it several times looking like someone on one of Escher's endless staircases.

Plus, I was tired.

It's not the first time I've gotten lost (or as I prefer to think of it, afflicted by momentary topographical ambiguity) but it was the most embarrassing.  Not only did I run into two of my Esteemed Colleagues who had to free me from where I had become wedged behind a vending machine, I had in tow an unfortunate and quite distressed woman whom I was attempting to take to her husband who was a patient.  So at first I got just a bit sheepish when I couldn't find his bed number.  Then I got to side A part 2 and located his bed, flung back the curtain with a dramatic flourish, only to find it occupied by a complete stranger.  Awkward!

I recruited the help of some bemused nurses who checked the compooters and showed me that while we'd been careening around in circles in the wrong area, my guy had been transferred to the E side, which is where we'd come from.  It didn't take me too long to find our way back but I could only do it leaving the ED and starting again as if I was arriving in the morning.

Tomorrow I'm taking in a bag of breadcrumbs.

First depressions last

Like you, I've been feeling under the hammer a bit recently, what with the Hatchling to look after, a rogue assignment rampaging through my spare time, and some pesky Hittites to suppress.  Busy busy busy.

Or so I thought.

Today I met someone who is about to complete their big scary ED exams, they are also training for some intense athletic event, they have two kids, they dress with elegance and poise, and they are a really nice person too.  They probably also play woodwind in a symphony orchestra.

People like that should be banned.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

New adventures in cheese

Like you, I bought a big block of Nimbin cheese today.  No, "Nimbin cheese" is not some kind of euphemism for psychoactive substances.  (For those of you not from Australia, Nimbin has the widespread reputation, rightly or wrongly, as a hive of hippies with heaps of hemp.)  Nimbin cheese is in fact a cheese produced in Nimbin.

I was so surprised to see it right there in the stupormarket that I bought it without really thinking about it.  I don't even know what type of cheese it is.  Presumably it's a tasty cheddar or something similar.  Gets up to look in fridge ... oh my god - it's something called "Elbo style cheese". Eurgh.  I know that Elbo cheese must be a real and delicious thing, but the name is very unappealing, sounding like the consequences of a long-neglected personal hygiene regimen.

Anyway, I think that the reason I bought it was because of its colour.  Sitting there on the shelf amidst the other (non-elbo-style) cheeses it really stood out.  Yellow, dark yellow, yellow, pale yellow, green, yellow ... wait - green???

Yes, Nimbin cheese is green.  I was so enraptured that I threw it into my basket without a moment's further thought.  I thought about it all the way home though.  This cheese, from the home of the hippie, is a triumph of marketing.  Distinctive name, distinctive colour, colour has multiple connotations directly linked to the distinctive name (green = eco & green = dope).  The only comparable idea I can come up with right now would be to sell a Tony Abbott blue.  But the idea of somehow extracting milk from Tony Abbott to make it is an even worse concept than Elbo cheese.

Which is why I was so bitterly disappointed when I got home and unpacked the shopping and found a plain old boring block of pale yellow cheese in my bag.  Had I grabbed the wrong cheese off the shelf in my excitement?  Was the green colour just a product of my fevered imagination when I read that it was Nimbin cheese?  Was I stoned out my mind?

No, no, and no.  It turns out that Nimbin cheese is not green at all.  It's just ordinary looking cheese inside a wrapper which is green on the front and clear on the back.  Man...  I've obviously read Green Eggs and Ham one time too many.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


Like you, I've been pondering this strange thing called "blogging" a bit recently.  I very nearly called it quits with this blog recently but decided to just leave it and stew for a while instead.  Ultimately I seem to have decided to keep things going, so I suppose that's good for those of you who come here to read this stuff because you enjoy it rather than because you hate me and you're slowly assembler a dossier to clonk me over the head with one day when I'm running for Prime Minister.

Anyway, one I'd stopped writing here frequently I suddenly became unable to figure out how to start again.  I kept thinking of ideas but was unable to develop them in my head into fully-fledged posts ready to leave the nest and soar the information superdooperhighway without me.  It took me about three weeks to realize that that has always been the case.  I don't develop these posts in my head at all. 

What actually happens is that I have an idea or two, or maybe not even that - sometimes just a feeling that I need to discover or explore - and I sit down and let things go.  That's why it's fun.  Planning things is not fun.  Doing things is fun. 

When I succumb to the urge to plan I usually find myself trying to perfectionize things, which results in a clean crisp dull icy ache in my brain and a clean crisp dull icy ache on the page.  Sure, structure is good, and structure is something that is probably a good idea to plan, especially if you're trying to make some kind of point.  Fortunately for me I seldom am in such an unfortunate position.  I have the liberty of just blabbing all this stuff down onto the page.

And why?  Why do I do it?  Mostly just so I don't think so much about it any more.  Once I notice that there's a post welling up inside me I tend to start to overthink it, which, as mentioned above, kills it.  So the more frequently I blab this stuff, the sooner I can launch my unconscious out through my fingertips and onto the screen.

Stand by stomach, here come banana!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Horse artillery

Like you, I've always been unsure how to use horse artillery effectively.  I've been doing some research on the matter, and it seems that the way to handle them is to gallop right up to the enemy infantry and use your cannon to shoot large iron balls at high velocity into their ranks, rending limb from limb, soaking the ground with blood, and tearing the veil from Death's face so he stares them right in the the eye.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Art meets science meets Aspergers

Like you, I'd never really paid much attention to textures until I tried to get my computer to recognise and classify them using a Wold-like decomposition.  This was for my honours project in engineering - as previously noted in these pages, I managed to get an electrical engineering degree even though I only did two classes on electricity, one of which I failed the first time around because it was too easy.

As a result of my hate-hate relationship with electricity, I fell into signal processing, basically because the mathematics of it all kind of clicked for me.  What I was trying to do was nothing particularly original - I was just trying to duplicate some results I found in a paper with a view to extending the method later on.  Of course the extending bit never eventuated because I sat on my backside for 7 months then crammed all the work into the last couple, but anyway.

The general idea was that I would feed these texture swatches into my computer which would do some two-dimensional signal analysis on it, treating it as a sum of a deterministic signal found by Fourier analysis and a random signal being a random number generator being fed into a filter.  This is a Wold-like decomposition.  The computer would assemble a library of texture signatures and then if you gave it a new swatch it would spit out a list of which textures resembled it the most closely. 

The hope was that the textures that the computer thought were most similar would also be the ones that a person would think are most similar, thus ushering in a new era of happiness and plenty throughout the globe.  This too did not eventuate.

The textures I was working with were a semi-standard set of photographic plates known as the Brodatz Textures.  Here's a link to them: <linky>

So that's all a prelude to the main point, which is this: textures are interesting.  Once you start really looking at textures and trying to think about what makes them unique, you notice that lots of things - in fact, pretty much everything - are covered with interesting textures.  Grab some random object and examine it right now.  Really peer at it closely, turn it to and fro in the light.  Take the time to notice what you've always taken for granted.  The object may be ugly but it's not because of its texture.  What is an ugly texture?  Do this regularly, day after day, and pretty soon the world is a richer and more beautiful place to be in, which will compensate for all those friends you've lost by behaving like such a freak.

If you're now more enthusiastic about textures, here's some things to ponder:
  • Is the texture you're looking at more cellular or is it more amorphous?
  • Is the texture you're looking at designed or is it emergent or natural?
  • Is the texture you're looking at due to colour variation on a surface or is it due to lighting effects on a surface of varied elevation or both or neither?
  • Does this texture have a direction?
  • Does this texture have a size or scale?
  • If a person had this texture on their forehead would they resemble an alien from Star Trek or a severe dermatological condition?
It's not an exhaustive list by any means but it should be enough to get you started.  Go forth and enjoy textures today!

Sunday, July 31, 2011


Just so you know, I'm hanging up ye olde keyboarde for a while.  I need a break from this place.  Lots of ideas coming and going all the time but to be honest my interest in bothering to capture them for the Library Of Congress and the CIA is pretty minimal right now.

So I'll be going back to basics for a while.  See you when I see you.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


This is something that I almost didn't write but I need to write it to keep going here, so forgive me my sentimentality.

I won't lie - having the Secret Cat die last week was awful.  She was 19 years old, and although we didn't start to look after her until she was about 10, it still feels like a lifetime.

In the end, we had her put down by the vet.  She had been deaf and blind for about a year.  Surprisingly, she adapted well to moving into a new house, and she learned to find her way around.  Gradually though, she got sicker and sicker, slowly getting thinner and thinner and wasting away.  Part of it was arthritis.  She clearly was uncomfortable moving.  But part of it was the slowly evolving diabetes that we didn't know about.

Lots of people said we should have her put down, but we always thought that she was still enjoying life.  She'd find the sunny spots somehow.  She'd find her way to the kitchen when she could smell us cooking and ask us for some meat.

In the last fortnight though, things went downhill fast.  She got painfully thin.  She seemed to have trouble walking straight and seemed to get lost.  And she sometimes got very weak and couldn't straighten her legs out.  We would find her crouched on the floor in the morning, stranded in the dark for who knows how long, waiting for us to rescue her. 

A cat that can't or won't move is a cat that is suffering.  And we couldn't watch it, and there was nothing we could do to help her.  So we took her to the vet one last time. 

It was such a hard decision to make.  I knew what my decision was though, when I found myself hoping that she had died overnight so that it would be over for her, and for us.  At least this way we could be there with her as she died.  I think she deserved that.

I'm glad that we had her put down when we did.  Any earlier and it wouldn't have been right for us - we would have felt that we did it for convenience.  Any later and it wouldn't have been right for her - she would have suffered too much.

But it doesn't make it easier when the time comes.  It had never occurred to me that you sometimes need to plan these things.  There was no last minute call to the vet, begging for help in an emergency.  There was just an appointment made, a schedule to keep.

We walked out with an empty cage.  And she danced by the light of the moon, the moon, the moon - she danced by the light of the moon.

Friday, July 22, 2011


The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
'O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!'

Pussy said to the Owl, 'You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?'
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

'Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?' Said the Piggy, 'I will.'
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

           - Edward Lear

In memory of Belle, 4 March 1992 - 22 July 2011

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


After my glorious salmon joke yesterday, I was zinged back by the consultant today.  He was examining a little 5 month old girl and she kept craning her head back to peer at me where I had suddenly appeared above her head.
She is trying very hard to look at you.

It's because I'm so handsome.

I am very worried about her eyesight.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Sometimes an opportunity to make a stupid joke arises and you just have to seize it.  This morning I was standing in the room with a patient, her mother, the consultant, two registrars, an intern, and four other medical students.  We were discussing animal vectors of infectious enteritis.

So, PTR, what type of animal is a frequent carrier of salmonella?


He laughed.  In a strained, God-help-me kind of way.  I was so proud of myself for not wussing out. (For the record, the correct answer is "reptiles".  So not only are Galapagos tortoises immune to ouabain, they are also dangerous to kiss.)


I usually have a small notepad secreted somewhere about my person where I jot down phone numbers, book references, interesting quotes, and other things that I am otherwise liable to quickly forget.  Scattered throughout the book will be little seeds of ideas for things to post about here.  About half the time I follow up on it.  About half the rest of the time I'll decide the idea is a dud.  Very occasionally I'll decide that an idea is good but would be more effort to complete than I'm prepared to give.  And the rest of the time I find the note at some later date and think to myself, "What the hell is that supposed to mean?  I must have been smoking crack."

Sometimes I can look at a note and clearly remember the circumstances under which I wrote it - just not what the note actually signifies.  Sometimes a note makes me think of something quite definite - but I'm pretty sure it's not what I meant myself to think of when I wrote it.  Sometimes a note is truly mysterious - it's in my hand but I have no memory of it at all.

Here's a collection of extinct blog prompts from the last couple of years.  It resembles the ravings of a madman, so I've chosen to arrange it visually to resemble poetry - the poetry of driftwood and lost balloons and old photos. 

favourite bowl
Thar she blows!
character "in" a book - from? of?
Greatest American Hero
Wolf Creek Cafe
Calendars and other people's dogs
Kit fox

itch! actual ants!
glasses with bizarre sideboards
Shadow puppet - doctor?
Sad second-hand stores
David Bowie over 20 years
Body dysmorphic effect vs re-reading own writing
aqueous humour - watery joke?
visualizing blood vessels!

eating vs studying - good-bad or bad-good
gold injections!
stress reduction kit
only girls and Italians cook
presentation - ongoing fear
who wants a ride up?
tuning fork
chopping veggies - not dice!/cubed! chinese style
on screws

book cover/binder
concentrate on not reading things
awards for med school
a blob for you
psychic expo
smelling like chicken
towel - bee - cold - A-delta - alfalfa
lostradio - insulting people, standing in dog shit

Colonel Light's laser powers!
evil genius of Pat Rafter accumulating sinisterness
What's next?

Monday, July 18, 2011

New poll

It's been quite a while since my last poll.  If I remember rightly, the Mob called for my child to be female and lo, I complied.  Since then I've been a bit distractabubble and haven't been able to think up something to poll you about.  So that's what I'll poll you about.  It's up now to the right ->

Vote now or else you won't!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Maslow's hierarchy of blogging

  1. Naming.  When finally committing to starting a new blog, a blogger needs to find a unique name for his blog which at once indicates his depth of thought as well as his insouciant whimsicality toward the whole thing.  He also needs an online handle which will fulfill the same needs for him.
  2. Posts.  Now that she has a blog name and a handle, the blogger actually needs to post something.  She feels fulfilled by coming up with an idea and writing something observant or clever which is long enough to be worth reading but not so long as to not be worth reading.
  3. Comments.  Once fulfilled by his ability to generate posts on a semi-regular basis the blogger is driven by his insatiable need for comments.  He will seek them out by asking questions in his posts, leaving comments on other blogs to lure readers to his blog, and casually mentioning the fact that he has a blog that people leave comments on to acquaintances.  He will check his blog dozens of times each day to see if there are any new comments.
  4. Subscribers.  Comments are eventually taken for granted as merely the blogger's due return for her efforts.  What she really wants now are subscribers, a.k.a. followers.  She wants a little band of imaginary friends who owe her fealty and might perhaps, in the event of some kind of internet war, be drafted into her private army to fight for her.  She imagines that they check her blog dozens of times each day to see if there are any new posts.
  5. Notoriety.  The blogger has now gathered his disciples but what he wants is fame.  He'd like, for example, for his blog to be mentioned in another blog, or in a newspaper, or for him to overhear people at the next table in a trendy cafe discussing some uproarious post that he recently wrote.  Ideally, he'd like for one of his friends who doesn't realize that it is in fact he who writes the blog to recommend it to him.
  6. A book deal.  If only someone would just email her and offer to print out all these years of crap and sell them in time for the Christmas gift rush, she'd never have to work again!