Jul 06 2013


Tag: JournalKal @ 1:45 pm

Walking through a hotel corridor in Abu Dhabi, the stream of people coming the other way are smiling and friendly. Hotel staff and other guests alike catch my eye and smile = “Good morning, sir.”

In reception, most everybody is in a reasonable mood. The locals in dish-dash sit on sofas and smoke, the enormous families of visiting Russians add ever-more luggage to an already heaving pile in the middle of the floor. The bell-hop is relaxed and happy. It’s his job.

Everybody smiles.

Children run up and down the marble floor, skiting along on their knees. They get in people’s way. The people smile and gently side step them, occasionally someone pats a stranger’s kid on the head as they pass. Nobody immediately assumes that person is a paedophile – some people are just nice.

Nobody grimaces. Nobody screams at each other.

Nobody uses “Excuse me…” as a softener before making some passive aggressive demand. Nobody starts their line with “I’m sorry but…” and then follows it with “You’re a cunt.”

It’s a civilised country, in the most literal sense of the word, in that people are civil.

It’s refreshing.

Ten days later I’m landing in Edinburgh. Outside looks beautifully damp and cool and there’s no sand everywhere.

There’s a scrum when the plane sets down, people push and shove, glare and bitch at each other as though there’s only enough Edinburgh for the first twenty people off the flight.

At immigration people stride past one another to get one place further up the queue.

At luggage retrieval three kids play tig around the pillars, occasionally sitting on the luggage carousel as it spins, empty.

Their parents shriek. Passers by bitch. Someone mutters about a “damn good hiding.”

I feel my mental attitude shift back to a British one, feeling mafi mushkila bleed from me all too fast.

Jun 19 2013


Tag: JournalKal @ 11:20 am

So I have this colleague, hugely senior in his field.

A friend and I once sat down and realised that not only did he have more than double our combined clinical experience, but that he was practicing medicine at a senior level before we were born.

He’s internationally renowned, travels the world lecturing and consulting.

He’s gentle, kind, garrulous and generous almost to a fault. His pragmatism in medicine and in his personal conduct is exemplary.

He is exactly the sort of person you should strive to be.

A true target for one’s future.

But you’d never know it.

Because (and I’m onto him on this) he has this neat little trick. He’ll engage you in conversation, ask you about yourself, find something in your response to hang the next question on (and this may well be a topic that he is very familiar with) and then he’ll hit you with this:

“It’s really not my area, you’ll know much more more about it than me…”

I’ve seen him do this in several situations. I’ve flown into Med-Evac jobs in the desert with him and he’s come over the intercom in my ears.

“This isn’t my field…you take the lead.”

It’s not buttering you up, or sycophantic. He manages to make it sound like a simply practical matter, and then acts on it. This is no empty gesture, followed by him taking the lead anyway, as I’ve seen others do in the past. That’s the adult equivalent of giving your kid a “big boy’s job” because they’re desperate to help in the kitchen.

No, he deliberately puts himself onto the back burner to allow you to shine, and you come away from any encounter with him thinking “What a thoroughly lovely bloke…”

And I’ve stolen his trick.

I hate awkward conversations, that feeling where one of you is desperately paddling to get the other one to come along and keep the discussion flowing. The best conversations, I tend to find, are those where both parties are secure in their own understanding of where they stand. I never feel awkward when discussing with a patient what my thoughts are regarding their condition, because we each have a clearly stated role – patient/clinician.

These roles can be clearly defined, but not necessarily always comfortably. Often when one party is driving the conversation by trying to appear interested, it can fall into a pattern of interrogator/prisoner. Equally not good.

So the other day, as I’d met someone for the first time, I asked them about their day job. They were, it turned out, studying an area of psychology, particularly memory creation. It turned out that I had listened, just the day before, to a podcast about exactly this and I was excited to find someone to discuss it with.

But before I jumped in with “Oooh, I know about this…”, I started with “I heard something like that…it’s probably very simplistic compared to what you’re doing, though.”

She, sweetly, encouraged me to elaborate and together we vanished down a path of animated discussion.

Anybody else out there got any conversation hacks?

Jun 07 2013


Tag: JournalKal @ 11:43 am

Over the past few weeks I’ve had a pleasant and interesting experience. I’ve found myself with a drive to create, to experiment and explore.

Mostly I’ve been baking, which is fun, and ends up with cake at the end.

I’m happy. And fatter.

The point that has genuinely surprised me, though, is that my desire to cook, or play guitar, or write, or go for a fine long walk? None of them have arrived with a nagging doubt in tow. Gone is the suggestion that, really, I should be doing something else. That I’m doing those things to the detriment of other, more pressing, tasks.

To a small part, this is due to the ending of a number of training courses. My level two sign language is finished (I have no idea if I passed my final exam, I get my results in a month or so) but on the night I finished that, I immediately turned to reading and preparing for an Instructor’s course I was scheduled to attend a few weeks later.

It was only the other night that I came up for air, looked around and realised…hang on…I have nothing to do.

Nothing is nipping my heels, nagging at my head when I sleep.

The things I aimed to do, I have achieved.

The worries I had are easing away and as I march up the sides of Maslow’s hierarchy, the sensation of occupying a more creative, self aware, confident and self realising frame of mind is enormously strong. It’s as though I’ve discovered a room in my house I’d forgotten I owned.

It’s present in so many ways. I’m more sociable, enjoying the company of other people so much more than I had previously. I’m more productive, nailing tasks and sweeping past them.

What’s surprising is it’s palpability. I can *feel* extra space inside me, like someone has expanded my mental bandwidth. Even as I write this, I can feel creaking cogs and wheels that used to spin like watch workings slowly oiling themselves up. I used to sit and bang out a thousand words at a time without thinking, now I’m struggling to hit 400.

But I’m writing .

These past months have been brutal, and looking down the hill I can see myself working, living, maybe existing, in a field in which safety and security were supremely important to me.

Up here at the top? Up here with the cool breeze of “acceptance of facts” “problem solving” and “creativity”?

The view’s grand.

May 22 2013

Sock it to me.

Tag: JournalKal @ 8:59 am

Sitting at a bistro table in the sun, Edinburgh has stretched itself out in the light and warmth; though in truth it’s not as warm as we’re all pretending.

We’re cold pints and calamari, I’m telling Kate about the This American Life episode where they double blind taste tested squid rings versus deep fried pig rectum.

We stil eat the calamari.

Out of the bar, a waiter.

Black apron, neat tie, neater facial hair.

He drops something on top of a barrel beside us.

“Anyone lost a…sock?”

We laugh.

“Just found it lying in the doorway…weird.”

We joke about checking our feet, but we’re confident we haven’t lost any socks, thanks.

He returns to clearing tables around us.

In the interests of confidentiality, I shift into sign.



She’s right, it does, black and grey. I have dozens of the things, because I figure nobody ever faced death wishing they’d spent more time pairing socks.



She’s laughing.



We return to beer and snacks, finish and settle up.

“Last chance…” she teases me.

“I’ll buy another pair…”

Because what it if wasn’t?

Surely there is little worse than dropping your underwear in a public place?

Except maybe rescuing and adopting someone elses?

May 02 2013

Early morning, airport, cafe.

Tag: Journal,PoetryKal @ 7:13 pm

She dolled up

And he with a yard of cashmere tartanry

Around his ears.

Two muffins (blueberry,

Two croissants (chocolate)

And a cake to share;

For pudding.

Apr 28 2013

Wheely, wheely awesome.

Tag: JournalKal @ 12:17 pm

So yesterday we all, as a flat, went off to a Go Kids Go wheelchair course. I’ve heard about these guys from Kate and Sean before, they’re a wheelchair skills teaching charity for kids and young people with mobility challenges.

The thing that’s truly awesome about Go Kids Go is that, if they wish, everyone works in a wheelchair. Kids, siblings, carers, parents, grandparents. You want a chair? They’ll give you a chair for the day.

My main drive for the day was similar in my drive to learn sign language. I feel it’s important that anybody involved in the care of kids is able to contribute to that slow, osmotic learning that happens with every child on every day. With a kid who can walk and talk, you’d correct their pronunciation, or hold their hand as they tottered along a low wall.

If I can’t expand the kid’s signing? Or talk him through how to navigate everyday life in the chair? Then I’m not a carer.

I’m a watch-dog.

So off we went and met another half dozen or so families, all of whom had kids with varying degrees of mobility and ability. Big empty gym hall, huge array of wheelchairs, both adult and kid sized and a clear message that if you want to be on a chair, then you go ahead and grab that chair and play.

We raced up and down the hall, we played British Bulldog (with all the aggression and brutality of the bipedalist variety I remember from school). We danced and wheelied, we practiced falling out of chairs and getting back into them. The thing that struck me most about this exercise was the enormous emphasis the trainer placed on independence. Sure, you’ve fallen over backwards in your chair, but here are the skills to make sure the handles of your chair hit the floor before the back of your skull does. And sure, you’re now lying on your back in the chair, belted in and immobile.

But you know what, I bet you can unclip yourself and get out of the chair in whatever way works for you.

For some kids that was bracing their arms against the floor and shuffling. For others who evidently had great abdominal strength but little lower limb control, they crunched their bellies and flipped their floppy legs out of the chair and over somewhere where they wouldn’t get in the way. For some it was a matter of blithely standing up. For others it came down to deciding when to ask someone else for help.

But throughout, it was down to the kid on the chair to decide how it was going to work.

I’d had reservations, I must be honest.

I was worried I’d feel silly. I was worried my desire to learn skills would eclipse the kids who were actually there to participate. I was worried I’d be self conscious.

I was an idiot.

The simple act of putting everybody on a chair created an atmosphere of total equality. As people arrived through the day and joined in, it readily became impossible to tell who was using a chair for the first time or who was a regular.

Actually, that’s not entirely true, as there were several kids who operated their chairs like stunt drivers. They were plainly not on a chair for the first time.

But predominantly the immediate labels of “able bodied” or “disabled” became meaningless. By lunchtime I was reminded of Iggy Pop.

Except clearly, you can substitute “on a chair” for “being a woman”.

By the end of the day I was more uncomfortable standing up than sitting down and it became the most natural thing in the world to wheel over to a kid, tap them on the shoulder and shout “Tig! You’re it!” before wheeling away as fast as my pathetically under-developed upper body could carry me.

We wrapped the day up with a short game of basketball and I had a beautiful illustration of something that, I fear, many of us have done in the past.

Because whenever we see someone on a manual chair, particularly a kid, we’re so quick to say “Oh…they must have terribly strong arms…” and while it’s meant well, it’s often said with a pitying subtext of “This is the thing we can congratulate them on, poor loves, it must be terrible…”

The whole game ran for ten minutes, I played for five and by the end of things, my shoulders, chest, forearms and wrists were alight. The regular wheelchair users? Even the ones who were tiny? They were ready to go another half hour.

“Terribly strong” doesn’t come close to it.

Apr 20 2013

Night time.

Tag: JournalKal @ 8:56 pm

My eyes are tired.

Itchy, dry.

They feel like my contact lenses have been in too long.

I keep thinking I should take them out before I go to sleep.

Then I realise I’m not wearing any…and laugh.

Then I realise that you normo-vision freaks have never had the joy of peeling the ‘front’ layer of your eye off and bathing the under layer with cool, clean saline; such as those of us who were contact lenses might.

I’ve also had a few moments of thinking “Oooh, I can’t see well, I’d better put my specs on.”

Do you poor fuckers really spend your days blundering around unable to manually adjust the focus on your eyes?

Apr 20 2013


Tag: JournalKal @ 1:23 pm


Terrible nights sleep. Hopefully I’d be tired after the op. All advice is that the best thing to do is go to sleep afterwards as apparently it helps the cornea heal.


Sat in the waiting room of the laser clinic, the sun bright and cold outside, four others sitting around and waiting to be seen. I wonder if we’ll become a little happy band of laser victims, cheering each other on as we go in and out, like contestants on a reality TV show. A woman walks out of the treatment rooms, squinting and smiling before pulling sunglasses on and walking out with her husband…”I’m not too bad….” she mentions, sounding surprised. I’m feeling optimistic.

In the corner, rolling coverage of the Boston man hunt. Newsreaders struggle to say something original over and over.

Sitting next to me a young woman reads aloud from a Penguin Classic paperback. I wonder if I can figure out what the title is over the next few hours?


One woman is taken through “just for a chat…” and returns a few minutes later, clutching her coat and handbag across her chest.


Reading woman is still reading, just subaudibly, I can only hear S’s and T’s, a random collection of hissing clicks that make her sound like a coffee machine cooling down.


It’s Virgina Woolf “The lady in the looking glass”.

If you’re reading Virgina Woolf, surely you can read to yourself without imitating white goods?


The receptionist checks my paperwork, he’s a friend of a friend and teases me. “If you fill this out wrong, we don’t give you any anaesthetic…”

“And then you use a hammer for the surgery, right?”

“And a chisel. Just to make the flap, then the surgeon uses the power of his mind.”


The surgeon takes me into a room and runs through questions. Do I understand the risks of infection? Have I read the information leaflets? Do I have any questions?

“Only one…you’ve seen my notes, do you foresee any difficulties?”

He laughs at me.

“If I did, I’d be discussing them, you’ll be fine.”


I’m taken into a side room asked to confirm my name, date of birth and post code. There’s a short chat about eye drops, the importance of avoiding infection post operatively and then I take my glasses off, drop them in my bag and am led through to the treatment room. I saw it on my first visit, it was clean and reassuringly clinical, a long bed in the middle with large machinery hanging over it.

I’m pretty clueless without my specs on and the assistant with me introduces me to the people in the room, they’re friendly, but I can’t see their faces so it makes little difference. I smile and say hi, then lie on the bed and shuffle my head into position.

The procedure itself is difficult to keep up with. There are various phases that I don’t understand well enough to describe in detail, but my eyes are anaesthetised with drops and a range of lights flashed into my eyes. At times the surgeon tells me to look up, or stare into a red glow. I’m aware of ‘seeing’ things in my vision, though I suspect they’re refractory artifacts landing on my retina. At one point I can see a system of blood vessels, at another a circle with rainbow coloured spots over it hovers in my vision which I wonder is the Wavefront aspect of the procedure, where bumps and dips over my cornea are smoothed over.

The laser ablation itself is almost comically sci-fi. There’s a loud BZZTing noise and the smell of burning flesh for twenty seconds or so. Then the laser is swung away from my eye and I’m able to look up at the surgeon placing the flap of cornea back over my eye. Nothing hurts, but it’s odd to watch someone working on your eye from the eye itself.

The left eye is less comfortable, though I’d been warned that it tended to be as you’re anticipating the less pleasant bits. I’m worried that I’m blinking, as I can feel the muscles in eye that would make me blink contracting.

“You guys have a speculum holding my lids open, don’t you?”

“We do.”

“Cool, I think I@m blinking, but I’m not, am I?”

The surgeon chuckles.

“No, we are in complete control…”

Once we’re done I’m sat up and immediately struck by the fact that the world looks sharper. It’s not perfect by any stretch and my entire visual field is foggy, as though the room was full of smoke. But looking through the smoke it’s immediately obvious that lines and edges are more defined than they were beforehand.

I sit in a recovery room for ten minutes, call Kate to come and rescue me and get a lift home.


In the car on the way home the anaesthetic wears off. It’s horrible. Both eyes feel intensely dry and itchy and it’s sore to hold them open, it’s as though I’ve opened an oven too fast and had a blast of hot air across both eyes. I suddenly just want to go to sleep and it’s all I can think of as I walk through the front door. Thankfully I’ve lined up some painkillers and a sleeping tablet by my bed side table so it’s a matter of taping the eye shields on, taking some meds and lying down.


So, I guess I slept. I wake up, put drops (antibiotic, anti-inflammatory and artificial tears) into my eyes. Drink a cup of tea and eat some dinner. Phone my Mum (because that’s what you do, right?) and watch a little blurry television. After a few hours my eyes are knackered again so I repeat my meds and head back to sleep.


Wake up, pee, eye drops. Confused by being able to sort of see on waking, panic that I’ve left contact lenses in.

Oh wait….


Awake, eyes gritty and dry, but vision in right eye pretty good. Left one still hazy and blurry, but undeniably sharper than before. My left eye has a circle of bloodshot-ness from the suction cup, but my right eye is largely white and clean. I wonder if this has something to do with the difference in vision between the two of them? A day of drops and rest, I think.

Apr 19 2013

Sign language exam

Tag: JournalKal @ 2:06 pm

I said I had an exam.

Last night I got my marks.


Pass mark is 9.

That’ll do, pig.

Apr 18 2013

And I still can’t shoot lasers from them…

Tag: JournalKal @ 1:39 pm

So I’ve worn glasses since I was about ten, my parents noticing me scrunching my face up in an attempt to focus on, well, almost anything. There is surely nothing more attractive than a pudgy pre-pubescent kid trying to make his face implode and pushing that imploded face RIGHT up to yours so he can see you better.

Back off, kid, you’re creeping me out.

I had a lovely collection of plastic NHS frames and, when I went to high school, graduated up to some highly alluring steel aviators. Step up, ladies, it’s all for sale.

And I broke them, a lot, adding the requisite tape and glue as I went along.

Are you getting a picture yet?

Teenage years brought daily disposable lenses and many thrilling hours of poking myself in the eye in the mirror. Daily disposables certainly allowed me to avoid the rigmarole of cleaning and storing, but they were essentially made of cling film and not really designed to be handed by a ham fisted teenager.

So I stuck to specs, wearing lenses only on occasion, mainly when I want to wear sunglasses.

Earlier this year I was out in the UAE and Sean suggested laser surgery to me. I was less than convinced, as I firmly believe that something will go horribly wrong and I’ll end up looking like this guy.


But he was insistent. He’d had it done, his wife has had it done.

And I’d be all up for “Maybe I should discuss this with a doctor…”, except he IS a bloody doctor. And he’s not even going “Well…these are the risks….you should know about the possible outcomes.”

He’s just saying “You’re a bloody idiot, go and do it.”

So I came back to Scotland with the intention of doing exactly that.

And what’s why tomorrow I’m going to go and have a man shoot lasers into my eyes.

My eyes.


Oh and, AND.

I’m going to pay him money for doing it.

There’s an enormous part of me who thinks that what I’m doing is fucking stupid. My vision with lenses and glasses is just fine and I’m aware that the surgery carries a risk that I may come out the end still needing corrective lenses. Or, even more excitingly, I may end up MORE short sighted than I was before.


But on the other hand, there’s a much higher chance that I’ll have a day or so of discomfort and from there on in I’ll be able to do such luxurious things as waking up in the middle of the night for a pee and not having to blunder about in the darkness.

I’ll be able to swim! (I can swim already, by the way, I’m not expecting the LASIK to turn me into Flipper…)

And I’ll be able to travel away from home without the constant worry of having a spare pair of lenses with me, or losing my glasses

It’s not even as though I can sell them afterwards if I don’t like the results…I don’t think EBay has a section for “Burned body parts.”

Also, I’m not sure how I’d ship them.

There’s an entire story to be told about how I chose which person shoots me in the face.

With lasers.

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