Sunday, 14 September 2014

For The Good of My Health: Part Two...

Last Thursday, I visited the Dublin Neurological Institute as what I hoped would be the final part of my investigations into the health-related episodes I encountered earlier this year.

My appointment was for 3:15pm, which gave me time to take a guided tour of my home city, to see what the tourists see (more of which later).

Arriving at the DNI's premises on Eccles Street, opposite the Mater Hospital (Best Care Anywhere - trust me on this), I checked in and was shown to a well-lit, brightly decorated waiting room that contained, unbelieveably, a baby grand piano. Although not in use while I was there, I was assured that occasionally a volunteer or member of staff would play, and that most patients appeared to like it. Fair enough, although I doubt I would have been one of them.

The room was full; about a dozen people, some by themselves, others with a friend or family member, all waiting to be seen by a neurological specialist. For myself, I wasn't worried: I had already learned that my CT and MRI scans had come back clear, and that blood pressure and cholesterol were my immediate issues. But the subject of neurology covers a wide field, and so it was possible that my fellow patients were awaiting diagnoses of other, potentially more serious conditions.

A lady, perhaps in her seventies, sat by the window. Accompanied by her daughter, she displayed a slight tremor that I mistook for nervousness, but upon reflection could have been Parkinson's.

A couple in their late sixties; the husband, asleep on one of the large leather sofas along the opposite wall; his wife, evidently troubled by back pain, unable to get comfortable on either the sofa or any of the hard wooden chairs. When they were called, I couldn't tell which of them was the patient.

A young couple, he Irish, she Polish, sat quietly at one end of the room. They were called shortly before I was, and I met them halfway down the stairs as I was being led to my meeting. They embraced quietly, and I can only hope that it was due to having received good news.

I was called by a young woman who introduced herself as Adrianna, and who led me to a small examination room in the basement. After taking my blood pressure to compare it with other readings, we discussed my case and an action plan.

Firstly, Adrianna confirmed what I already knew - that my scans showed no irregularities, other than what she termed "normal wear and tear" - not an expression I ever expected to be used in conjunction with my brain. And while she were satisfied that what had sent me to A&E in the first place may well have been stress-related, Adrianna felt that my chances of a stroke or heart attack were not high. It was up to me, however, to keep things that way.

So I have to work on my general fitness and diet, and keep taking the meds prescribed for me - they, apparently, are for life, not just for birthdays...

We also discussed the possibility that the pressure in my head, combined with loss of feeling, blurred vision, etc., might be due to migraine. I had seen a poster in the waiting room which described the symptoms of migraine, many of which tallied with what I had been feeling, and indeed what prompted me to seek further investigation.

Migraine does not necessarily involve a piercing, blinding headache, which previously I had believed, but can also produce effects as shown in this video produced by the Mayo Clinic:

While my symptoms don't include the visual element, I have experienced many of the other effects, so it was a relief to learn that it isn't all in my head after all - sorry, that it is all in my head... you get the picture.

Joking aside, though, this diagnosis will in itself help to reduce my stress levels. Now that I know what's happening to me, I can start taking steps towards taking control of the situations in which stress can become a factor. Chief among these will be in work, where a reassessment and reorganization of my responsibilities will be among the first tasks I begin following my return from vacation, the week after next.

Shouldn't be too difficult - I am, after all, The Mightiest of Men...

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Doctor Who - Robot of Sherwood...

Tonight's episode saw The Doctor and Clara travel back to 1190-ish Nottingham in an effort to meet Robin Hood, Clara's childhood hero, someone whom the Time Lord claims is 'made up'.

Arriving in a leafy forest, they indeed meet the legendary Outlaw of Sherwood Forest (Tom Riley) and his, ah, 'Merry Men', much to Clara's delight.

But if there is a Robin Hood, there must also be an evil Sheriff of Nottingham, in this instance played by a suitably-bearded Ben Miller (Death in Paradise), there to subdue the peasants in the name of Prince John (not appearing in this picture). With an army of robot knights.

The episode covers many of the elements of the legend, with Riley's Robin played very much in the Errol Flynn mode, and Miller's Sheriff reminiscent of Alan Rickman in Prince of Thieves. There's an archery tournament, a castle rescue, a duel or two, and a lot of laughter and thigh-slapping. To say any more would be to spoil it for those who have yet to see it, so I'll simply share this image:


Plenty of laughs, a lot of running around, and Clara as a Saxon Princess - what more could anyone want?

Next week: Something under the bed is...?

At Last...

Yesterday, I finished what has been one of the most action-packed weeks of my recent career in preparation for a two-week vacation that will hopefully cure my stress levels, if only for a short time.

I've also taken myself off of the on-call rota for a while, if not indefinitely. It means a pay cut, but I think the tradeoff for a proper night's sleep is worth it.

How on-call works is that, one week in four, I have to be available 24/7, Friday to Friday, for any IT-related emergencies that might arise. Fair enough, you say, how many calls are you likely to get in a given period, and surely it's money for (practically) nothing?

There's that, of course, and I'd be lying if I said that being on call hasn't, in the past, provided me with a reason to avoid the occasional social event I might have felt uncomfortable attending. And in the earlier years, this was very much the case.

But now, as I've gotten older, I appreciate social contact and cherish my free time, so I've grown to resist anything that might interrupt my so-called life.

My health has also taken a hit, however, mostly from stress, something I don't deal well with (It's one thing being an interplanetary hero with powers and abilities far beyond those of ordinary mortals, but when you have to hold down a day job and deal with politics and personalities as well...).And since when I'm on call I don't sleep much, well, something had to change.

I had a chat with Dave, my team leader, a while back - he noticed that I was having trougle dealing with something and wanted to make sure things were okay.we discussed what was going on, my health concerns and the stresses I felt I was under, and he said something to me that I hadn't considered:

"You put too much of yourself into your work, Bob."

Dave's a good guy; I've worked with him for nearly twenty years at this stage and consider him a friend, and value his opinion.

And maybe he's right.

I used to enjoy my work. Data backup and recovery might'nt sound the most interesting of subjects, but I think of it in terms of a logistics exercise; I have x amount of data to be written to y number of tapedrives in z hours. The schedule is ever-changing as clients are added or removed, and resources are limited, so it's a challenge; and I'd think nothing of staying back in the evening to finish something or going in for an hour or two at weekends. I still do, but not so much.

Storage administration is my secondary speciality, one I have less time than I would like to spend suitable time on.

But I do my best with it, and I'm good at what I do.

What I don't enjoy is work that I'm not good at, don't have training or background in, or being in a position where someone might have to depend on me to solve a problem in one of those areas, something that's happening on a more-frequent basis than before.

So I guess I've been internalizing a lot of frustration lately, because the cracks have been starting to show, and I may well have been headed for some sort of episode, which hopefully will not now be the case.

So I'm going to relax and chill, maybe blog a bit, see if I can't start to write that book I've been tallking about, that sort of thing.

Let's see how I get on...

Sunday, 24 August 2014

I Need A Holiday...

Last Wednesday, I almost destroyed the company payroll system.

This was not my intent; indeed, I was assisting the application support team with their annual disaster recovery test by restoring a copy of their live database to their test environment. However, when the files were restored in error to the live server, there was potential for database corruption, since it was open and in use at the time.

The irony would be apparent even to Sheldon Cooper.

Fortunately, the files restored to a parallel directory structure, so no harm was done, but the fact that I made such a rookie mistake is testament to the fact that I need a holiday. As usual (and it's my own stupid fault), I've worked without significant downtime since January, and that, combined with some health issues, has culminated in a degree of stress that I need to address.

I have a system upgrade this week, then two more the following week. I'm going to take them as they come, then take a couple of weeks off.

I might even get away for a couple of days (somewhere)...

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Robin Williams, Your Table's Ready...

Robin Williams died the other day.

Even now, it seems wrong to have written those words. I mean, this is Robin Williams, FFS* - the man's lived so many lives he's got to be immortal.

Doesn't he?

Genie, Patch Adams, Walter Finch, Andrew Martin, Adrian Cronauer, John Keating, Popeye, Armand Goldman, President Eisenhower, Peter Pan, King of The Moon (!), Perry, Eupheginia Doubtfire (the name alone deserved an award), Teddy Roosevelt, Sean Maguire, Mork.

He had the ability to mix humour and pathos in just the right amounts; he could make you laugh so hard you'd cry, or cry until, finally, there would be a laugh.

Like many people, Mork & Mindy was the show that introduced - no, make that 'unleashed' the comic genius of Robin Williams onto an unsuspecting audience. The character's charm was his naivete and complete guilelessness, and his weekly reports to Orson were witty, if sometimes poignant, observations on life and the highlights of humanity.

I read somewhere among the many tributes in the press today that the writers on the show couldn't keep up with Williams's sheer creative energy, and would just leave gaps in the script so that he could ad-lib. I can't imagine what it must have been like to try to keep up with him on the set.

He made the move, naturally enough, to movies and found roles that gave him a chance to develop his dramatic abilities while still allowing him to use his manic comedic talent. He played doctors and teachers, and, in a curious sense was both a doctor and a teacher, healing our hearts and our souls while teaching us how to just let go and enjoy the things life has to offer.

I especially enjoyed his impression of Elmer Fudd, and recall his saying in an interview that he wanted to make an album of Bruce Springsteen songs in Elmer Fudd's voice. Then he sang 'Fire'. I fell off the sofa laughing.

And yet sadly, as happens to so many of those gifted with the ability to entertain, the spectre of depression was never far, and finally took him from the world to which he had given so much joy.

There are so many tributes being paid to this incredibly talented man, with many people posting quotes and videos by which to remember Robin Williams, but I found this clip on Youtube, posted by Jen Luckey Dancel and I thought I might share it:


Thank you for the tears and the laughter, sir - NaNu, NaNu...


*not his actual title...

Monday, 4 August 2014

Star-Lord? Never Heard Of Him...

This evening, a Bank Holiday Monday in Ireland, I went with my nephew to see Marvel Studios' latest release, "Guardians of The Galaxy."

Here is a brief, spoiler-free synopsis:

Peter Quill is a ten-year-old boy whose mother lies dying. In his grief he runs from the hospital, only to be confronted by an alien spaceship, which abducts him.

Fast-forward 22 years: Quill, by now grown, is a Ravager - a sort of Indiana Jones-type character - who recovers artifacts for money. His latest acquisition, an orb of unknown properties, promises to yield a sizable sum, so he decides to cut his partners (led by Michael Rooker) out of the deal and go, ah, Solo (see what I did there?). The only problem is, Quill is also an asshole.

Others want the orb also, however, and their agent (Zoe Saldana quite recognizable in Orion green) tackles Quill as he visits his buyer. Quill's partners have put a bounty on him also, and a couple of bounty hunters, a sentient raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and an ambulatory tree called Groot (Vin Diesel) attempt to intervene, as does a revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer (professional wrestling star Dave Bautista). All five are captured and imprisoned, and with Rocket's genius, they plan their escape.

The adventure, far from beginning here, actually began half an hour earlier, and doesn't let up for the entire length of the movie. Chris Pratt is excellent as Quill, or as he would like to be called, "Star-Lord", and the chemistry between him and co-star Saldana is believable and effective. Rocket and Groot aren't simply there for comic relief - everybody, even Drax gets a chance to play for a few laughs.

As my nephew commented, it's a long time since a movie like this has had such a good balance of action and comedy. The story sets itself up nicely for a sequel or two, which I for one and Mitch for another will be eager to see.

Here's the trailer - do not miss this movie...


Oh, and here's the other trailer:


And the soundtrack's cool too...

For The Good Of My Health...

So there I was, returning from vanquishing the latest Xylak outbreak while also having to deal with a case of Argonian 'flu and plan an integration workshop for some Pcinian Security officers on an exchange program, when suddenly I lost all feeling in my left side.

No loss of strength or ability, just a general feeling of numbness. It passed after about twenty minutes, and I resolved to seek medical attention if it happened again.

Fast-forward a week: It happens again.

Sort of. I was having a stressful time in my day job, and on this particular Tuesday afternoon, things were out of control. Trying to deal with a half-dozen things at once, I suddenly developed a pain in my upper left arm, coupled with a sense of numbness in my left hand.

That did it for me so I excused myself from duty and, after a brief stop at my apartment to gather some essentials, headed for the nearest A&E department, fortunately only a short distance away.

3:00PM:
Arrived at the Mater Hospital's Emergency Dept. I check in with Reception, noting that it isn't particularly busy, and I am seen by a triage nurse after a short time. I explain what I am experiencing, she takes an ECG and checks my blood pressure and other vitals, and I am sent back out to the waiting area while the results were processed. Having expected this, I had come prepared, so I take out my book and settle in for the inevitable wait. Since I'm not in immediate danger or distress, this is likely to be some time; however I am renowned for my patience.

4:30PM:
My name is called, this time by a young woman who introduces herself as Roisín and who leads me to a treatment area for further testing.

As she does so, another patient, whose name is Gary, becomes impatient that his name isn't being called, but Roisin gently but firmly tells him they have to wait for his rest results to come back, so he'll be seen as soon as they are available. I don't think he hears - Gary is a little high.

In the treatment bay, Roisin goes through my details - the hospital is fastidious about records - and I describe what's going on with me. I explain that I had suffered no cognitive or other deficiencies as part of my symptoms, and she performs some reaction tests to see whether any have since developed.

I will admit to perhaps misunderstanding one or two of her instructions, albeit not at the time, which may have coloured her diagnosis somewhat, because she tells me she wants to confer with a colleague before deciding on a course of treatment. I joke that I'm not going anywhere, but I am the only one who smiles.

After a short time Roisín returns and says that she has ordered up a CT scan for me, which would happen as soon as they could get a radiographer on-site. For that, I'll need a line in my arm, through which a dye would be fed into my bloodstream to, ah, light me up. She hooks me up on the spot; I don't feel a thing.

Then it's back out to the waiting area and my book. Gary is wandering about, talking to people as if they were old friends. A World Cup match is playing on a TV, but I can't get interested in it, so I stick to the printed page. Thinking back on it now, I can't recall what the book was called nor the name of the author - it may come to me later...

6:00PM
I decide to phone my parents to let them know where I am; and, while I don't want them to drop everything and rush to my side (I am the Mightiest of Men, after all), that's more or less what they do, arriving about fifteen minutes after my friend and office colleague Gerry is brought in by ambulance, having been the victim of an assault on his way home from work an hour previously.

With his head bandaged, shirt stained with blood, he is surprised when I ask,

"What the hell happened to you?"

After a double-take, and a "What are you doing here?", we swap stories and sit in for the wait. Gerry has a bandage on his head from where his assailant had struck him, presumably with some sort of object in his hand. The EMTs, called by police on the scene, had patched him up before bringing him to A&E for treatment and possible stitching, but as he wasn't in immediate danger he went on the waiting list with everyone else, while life (but not death) went on around us.

7:00PM
My parents arrive - they remembered Gerry from a party we were all at the previous year, and we spend the next few hours in conversation. Gary continues to wander about the place talking to anyone who makes eye-contact. He offers my mum a can of Coke, which she politely declines, then wanders away.

10:00PM
No sign of my radiographer or Gerry's stitch-up artist (or Gary's test results, for that matter), so I suggest that my parents go home, that I'll be fine and that Gerry and I can probably share a taxi home, he living only a short distance away from me. My dad says he'd be back for us, and takes Mum home.

Ten minutes after he left, I am called for my CT scan; at almost the same moment, Gerry is called into the treatment area. Talk about timing...

I've had my head stitched before (many years ago: I was ten) so I won't talk about it here; however I've never had a CT scan before so this is new territory even for me. It isn't what I'd expected; I figured I'd be inserted into a machine similar to the one that turned Dr. Banner into The Hulk, but this is nothing like that.

The radiographer notes the line in my arm and hooks up a bag of clear fluid which he explains is dye. He also explains that it would produce in me a warm feeling that might make me think I had, ah, urinated, but that that would not be the case.

Easy for him to say - I've been holding it in for a half-hour and was about to go for a pee break when he came to get me.

The test is short and painless, and after about fifteen minutes I am back outside to wait for the scan results. Dry, I hasten to add.

Gerry has returned also; seemed that his wound won't take a stitch, so they're going to use glue instead. I had heard of soldiers in the field using superglue to close a wound, but am surprised it has become part of standard treatment. But you live and learn, I guess.

11:30PM
Back into treatment area again - this time where I speak with a doctor who introduces himself as Aongus and wears odd socks, something that I notice but don't comment upon.

He tells me that my CT scan is clear, and shows no signs of TIA, or Transient Ischaemic Attack, which the layman will interpret as a Stroke warning. We go through the same tests as Roisín had done earlier, and I suggest that I may have misunderstood one or two of her instructions.

We discuss my job and lifestyle; whether the job is stressful, etc, my diet, exercise and so on, and Aongus says he wants to send me for further tests as he feels the earlier incident (the numbness) points to something neurological, so he'd make some appointments and I'll be notified when and where to go.

In the meantime he is happy to release me; just needs to have the line taken out of my arm and give me a prescription for aspirin and I'd be all set. With that, he disappears, and I sit cooling my heels for a while until someone comes to remove the device and patch me up.

As I'm sitting there, trying (and failing) to get a phone signal, Gerry is ushered into the treatment bay next to mine, where he has his head glued by a pretty nurse and a fresh dressing applied.

We are both then released, whereupon leaving the treatment area we find the waiting area half-empty. It seems that one of Gary's friends (the amateur pharmacist) had brought along some contraband and was ejected by Security, followed by Gary, his other friends and the curious, wanting to see what transpired.

What transpired was a fight, resulting in several individuals not being allowed back inside and one or two arrested. Gary had sustained sufficient damage to warrant being patched up, so he was finally being seen to. We leave him to it and go outside, where my dad is waiting. He tells us about what had happened and then drivse us home, dropping Gerry off first before swinging back past my place.

I tell him about the tests, and how the doctor wants to schedule an appointment for an MRI and to speak with a neuro-vascular specialist, and we agree that I am a lucky man and should take things a bit easier. He also advises I take a day or two off, which I do not argue about.

He leaves me at my door; I go inside and collapse into bed.

It is 1:30AM...

What will happen next?

Tune in again for another exciting adventure!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Tin Star...

I must preface this post with a brief statement (for clarification purposes, you understand):

I really hate Country & Western music.

I've had long discussions with a friend and colleague over the years regarding this particular genre; Tony says that it's about "real things, happening to real people." These generally involve divorce, infidelity, drunkenness resulting in a spell in jail, having to shoot your dog, etc. In short, misery.

Okay, I know I'm oversimplifying things here - there is, I will admit, a complexity and deepness of meaning to all music that resonates with those who enjoy a particular style. For me, it's jazz. For some, death metal. But for me, C&W has and always will be the Music of Pain, and to quote Forrest Gump,

"That's about all I have to say about that."

But back to our story:

I was watching TV a while back,  channel-hopping during the damnable commercial breaks,  when I came across some sort of arts programme on the national broadcaster.
There was an interview with a young Canadian singer named Lindi Ortega, around which was shown a live performance of a song from her latest album,  "Tin Star".
It had a country flavour to it that ordinarily I steer clear of (see preface), but I was captivated by her voice and style - reminded me of Emmylou Harris with a touch of Dolly Parton (yes, I know who they are, Tony) and stayed with it before downloading the album on iTunes.

Here's why:

 (Video by Lindi Ortega / LastGangRecords)
Ladies and Gentlemen,  Ms. Lindi Ortega...