Keeping an eye on people

Imago deiThe Mission office emailed us with ‘tools’ for keeping track of people who come to church. There are detailed spreadsheets to be filled in for every Sunday of the year, spreadsheets for names of regulars, names of visitors, space for notes as to what they do where they come from, where they go to, and why they came or went. And more.

It’s reassuring to know that Diocesan workers have parish clergy in mind as they create forms for us to fill in. We only work half a day a week, if that, and so there’s plenty time to make notes on where Mrs So-and-so was last week, and where her grandchildren were the week before. After the blessing at the 9;30 Mass, as I leave for the 11.00 service elsewhere, I brush aside people who wish to talk to me in order that I can fill in the forms before the memory fades.

This is an effort, I’m told, to make my job easier and help me keep watch over my flock. The Stasi were good at that. A correspondent wonders how this sits with Data Protection legislation. I really can’t think why the anonymity of Cathedral worship attracts more and more people.

But I am puzzled as to why properly trained clergy should need to be told pastoral practice. I’m put in mind of Medical Educationalists who are supremely gifted in the ability to tell others how to teach, despite never having taught themselves.

Little Weed

scaulbandbWatch with Mother on Wednesday afternoons in the 1950s and 60s (the BBC) was Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men. It was set in the garden shed down at the bottom of the garden. When the gardener went for lunch, Bill and Ben came to life spouting curious gobbledegook like ‘Babap ickle Weed’ and ‘flobble-op’ (like church and university committees). Bill and Ben seemed strangely attracted to Little Weed that grew between them, though perhaps it’s better not to delve too deeply into the nature of the relationship. Maybe weed is not unrelated to the Flowerpot Men’s speech patterns.

Little Weed in the form of tobacco officially gets short shrift here in Ireland, for there is unalloyed joy at 10 years of the ban on smoking in the workplace. This includes pubs. Yes, pubs. Wikipedia tells me that the republic was the first state in the world to introduce such a ban.

We are told that as a result, the death rate from lung cancer is falling. Wonderful. But since we all die of something, the death rates from other things must be rising. Mind you, treatment for heart disease has come on so much that folk who used to die of heart disease now die of something else—cancer probably—so maybe not. The success of cardiologists must have caused deaths from cancer to rise.

While I’m on this little scherzo, I don’t understand all the fuss about fat in food. I am fat. I like fried eggs. Low fat food is chock full of sugar, so if you don’t get heart disease from too much fat, you’ll get kidney disease and have your feet chopped off because of the diabetes from too much sugar. And then you’ll die of cancer.

There’s another way of dealing with the tobacco problem, and it’s quite simple. If everyone were forced to smoke, lots of people would die from cancer, but all those who were genetically resistant to developing lung cancer would survive and reproduce. So then everyone would be resistant. The tobacco industry would have nothing to worry about, and the government could take more and more revenue from tax on tobacco. Problem solved. Simples.

I like salt too. I don’t like food police. There’s a lot of them about.

Bleeding rain

red_white_blood_cells‘Been thinking about you all morning.’

A siren song assailed my left ear as I was in the filling station waiting to pay. It’s not something I expect to hear from ladies in queues. She’d been deliberating about whether or not to go for her morning run, and was just about to settle on ‘no’ because the weather was so vile, when her daughter piped up ‘Stanley said yesterday it didn’t matter if you got wet because once you were wet you wouldn’t get any wetter and anyway you’d soon dry.’ So she went.

That’s the first evidence that anybody ever listens to anything I say.

Yesterday’s Maryborough School Assembly was about water. My views about wetness come from experience from the age of 10 onwards. When you’ve grown up around Penrith, and got soaked most mornings walking the mile or so from King Street bus stop to the Grammar School, you get used to rain, and you realise pretty quick that once you’re wet through (after about 20 seconds, I recall), you don’t get any wetter. Furthermore, before long you dry out. Never mind that the first 35 minute class is endured amidst steam rising from damp uniforms and viewed through steamed up specs.

I also said how magic our dog’s coat was for it was self-cleaning. And maybe our skin was. And maybe we shouldn’t wash so much because being too clean did nothing for our immune systems. This did not go down well with the teachers.

After assembly I took the seniors for a short biology discussion about blood. There had been a recent death from leukaemia, so we did types of blood cells, what they do, and what goes wrong when they don’t. And a bit of Greek with erythro and leuko and cyte and aemia. As far as I can judge from their attitude and lack of fistling, they were seriously interested. They certainly asked intelligent questions.

There’s a market for public lectures about how the body does and doesn’t work.

A nose that runs in the family

Workhouse, then City General, then University (so full circle)

Workhouse, then City General, now University (so full circle)

Carlisle hospitals saw quite a bit of me when I was young. Chatsworth Square Nursing Home took my tonsils when I was about 5. All I can remember is dark green walls and glass partitions. The Ear, Nose and Throat fraternity made me one of theirs after that, with a sinus job, two nasal polypectomies and an operation on the nasal septum when I was about 17. Somewhere in all this came appendix, two teeth operations (they’re wonky at the front), and an arm job. Mostly, I was at the City General, but the appendix and arm were done at the (old) Cumberland Infirmary where for the appendix in 1960 I was in Ward 18 opposite grandfather W P Monkhouse, then in his 80s.

For one of the nose jobs I was in a side room with a boy from Workington whose sister was called—and this is what it sounded like to me—Hughery. I’d never heard of that name and asked him to say it again, just to be sure. Yes, it sounded like Hughery. So that’s what I said. It wasn’t until years later that it dawned on me that it was Hilary, and he was probably in for a palate operation, so pronouncing ‘l’ was a problem. He thought he was saying Hilary and I heard Hughery. No wonder he was cross with me: I suppose he thought I was making fun of him.

One thing illness does for you, popular wisdom has it, is make you patient. It makes you take each moment as it comes. It teaches you not to have too many expectations. You learn that when doctors say you might be home at the weekend, you equally well might not. You learn to laugh off these little disappointments. When you expect to be going for an operation on Tuesday, and it’s cancelled because you have a chest infection, you learn to take it in your stride. That’s what popular wisdom says illness does for you.

Let me tell you that popular wisdom is piffle. Complete twaddle. Especially if you’re a child. As is well known, I am the most patient and even tempered of God’s creatures, but not even I was able to bear with equanimity the unpredictability of illness. I was in despair when some sign of progress did not materialize as I thought it should.

Dangerous rubbish

Dangerous rubbish

My nose would have been less inclined to run in the family had I not had cow’s milk shoved down my throat ‘when I were a lad’. It should come in bottles marked ‘poison’. Cow’s milk for cows, human’s milk for humans. It’s a snot generator. In the 1990s an Ear, Nose and Throat colleague told me my nose would be better if I stopped milk. I have, except in tea, and it is. The other thing that affected me was grain and meal that, since my father ran an agricultural feed manufacturing plant, put money in our pockets.

Milk and wheat are not good for Rambling Rector. I wonder how different my life would have been if I’d known sooner. As for cats, which always know that I’m allergic to them, the best place for them is under the wheel of a heavy truck.

One of Grimm’s Fairy Tales has a man whose nose grows so long that people trip over it.

Pigeon ‘pie’

From the BBC website

From the BBC website

Something to cheer the drooping spirit on a cold and gloomy January day.

Frances Wadsworth-Jones makes brooches using crushed precious and semiprecious stones and sells them for up to £2,500. ‘Nothing special about that’ you may say. Oh yes there is. They’re inspired by pigeon droppings. She says ‘I like to try and find beauty in the unexpected and I quite often look at the floor. Ealing is great for inspiration.’

The streets of Ealing must be paved with—err—gold.

‘People must think I’m mad’ … surely not … ‘because I have to take pictures of poo too. I’ve got hundreds.’ There’s no law against it, apparently. Do you suppose they’re stored on computer?

I’m very childish. There’s nothing quite like talking about poo to bring on a smile, though maybe talking about farting does too. I was taught that before flushing it away one should always inspect poo for colour, smell, consistency, and ‘does it float’? Note particularly any changes. Poo is a good indicator of inner health.

Actually, the intestines aren’t ‘inner’ – they’re outer’ because the ‘inside’ of the tube is continuous with the outside world through mouth and anus. This is the basis on which rests the distinction between carcinoma and sarcoma. But this is not supposed to be a pathology tutorial.

Pigeon poo isn’t just poo. That’s the black stuff in the middle. The light stuff round the edge is, in our terms, urine.  Whereas we eutherian mammals have separate holes for wind and piss (though you wouldn’t think so listening to some people – and piss is in the King James Bible so don’t moan at me), birds have only one. Everything gets mixed together, so. The evolution of the sphincters and sex region is utterly fascinating.

I watched an episode of Benidorm the other day (I’m a recent convert to this wonderful, wonderful series) in which a turd is found floating in the swimming pool. I wonder if this will interest Frances. If pigeon poo brings luck, as she says, what will human poo bring?

Of mice and men


Animal experimentation is certainly an issue that polarizes. I wonder how many opinions are based on facts and experience rather than sentiment and propaganda. How many of those vehemently opposed are principled enough to refuse antibiotics, or question how they were tested?

For several years I worked on the mammalian adrenal gland. The mouse Mus musculus was the creature of choice. I could not have done the work without killing. The question is: was it worthwhile?

Zhou Enlai, when asked about the importance of the French revolution, is reported to have said that it was too early to tell. I feel rather the same about much research in general, and mine in particular. I certainly don’t claim it to have had any impact, but this is not to say that in the future someone will not build upon it in a way that enlightens us about endocrine processes.

Headline-grabbing results are rare. Scientific research is like chipping fragments from a stone, a sculpture gradually emerging. Researchers build upon the work of others, and slowly, slowly knowledge accumulates. After a great deal of accumulation, conclusions can perhaps be drawn. It is dangerous to draw them too soon.

Yes, there are alternatives to animal experimentation, and they are increasingly used. More will be developed. But, in the words of my friend Andy, ‘at the moment they can’t simulate the real deal because mammals are so delightfully complex and still so poorly understood—despite the hubris of the scientific community.’

Is animal experimentation evil, immoral, bad? It concerns me that too much is done simply as CV boosting, as truthfully in my case, and there are problems with the way that research is politicized by factions and industry, but that’s another story.

I suspect that opposition to animal experimentation is most vociferous among those who are furthest removed from living and working with animals. You won’t find much opposition in the agricultural community. If you hold that all creatures are God’s creatures like us, then the only logical position is Jainism: non-violence towards all living beings. How do you define living? Plants? Fungi? Bacteria? Slime moulds? Clergymen?

Much of what we know of how the inner ear works comes from research that was done on human subjects in 1930s and 1940s Germany, in circumstances that may well appall us. We have benefited from that research not least in the development of hearing aids and cochlear implants. Knowledge of some neurological conditions comes from experiments on monkeys and apes. It’s all very well to object—until, that is, you get the disease.

When we lived in Nottingham, our children attended a school patronized by sandal-wearers, amongst whom there were more than a few objectors. Our children said “my daddy works with mice’s kidneys” (kidney/adrenal confusion understandable at that age) and drew pictures of my office. I did rather fear reprisals.

I was a reluctant researcher—a disappointment to the eminent Professor Rex Coupland, I didn’t enjoy the nitty-gritty of research and much preferred teaching, scholarship and administration. Rex was a big man with a long stride, so there was warning of his approach as he stomped along the echoing corridors. When professorial footsteps were heard in the distance, one could either dodge into the Dissection Room, or dash into the khasi, or else nip downstairs, along the corridor on the floor below, and then up again at the other end. Silly or what?

Medical ‘exams’?

I hope he knows where to put that finger

I hope he knows where to put that finger

Over the last 15 years, I’ve witnessed the introduction of exam regulations such that examiners may not penalize students for bad spelling, bad grammar, and the inability to muster arguments.

Now, let it be known that I yield to no one in my enthusiasm for the worship of mediocrity, but there are consequences for medicine.

One letter altered in a word can change meaning: it could be the opposite of what was intended. One letter or syllable altered can mean an entirely different drug. One letter or symbol altered can increase or decrease a dosage by a factor of 100. An inability to organize thoughts logically signals an inability to formulate a treatment plan. And so on.

Students with certain conditions are allowed extra time in exams. I wonder how they will manage when they are on duty in the emergency room. Is it unreasonable of me to hope that they will not be there when I need attention? I know of one who claimed extra time on the basis of being able to read only the first syllable of a word, then guessing the rest. Tolerating that doesn’t have much to recommend it when over 70 drugs begin with ‘chlor’.

What drives this? Partly political correctness, and partly disability legislation.

Medical education is not alone in suffering from the baleful influence of theorists who lack common sense and practical experience, but it is one of the few areas where the consequences of such idiocy can be fatal. The public needs to know. When I need the services of a medical professional, I would like them to be competent and knowledgeable.

I think I shall form a new society: the Association for Restoration of Sanity in Education. ARSE. Also a new blog for the exposure of such lunacy. I am seeking a title for the blog. A colleague suggests Rumbling Rectum. Other ideas welcome.