Saturday, 17 October 2009

The Ninth One: Thermal under where?

Let the lord of the Black Land come forth! Let justice be done upon him!

Tick, tick, tick...BOOM! (I regret typing that as I saved this earlier and am about to post it while I’m in an airport) I was in the hospital and they have on many of the wards and in the hospital offices a chart of what to do in certain emergencies. I was idly having a glance at one of these and being generally unsurprised at the content; fire, phone system failure, bomb threat, volcanic eruption, flood...hang on...VOLCANIC ERUPTION! I didn’t read it but I imagine it said something like, “The entire area the hospital is set on is a giant geothermal hotspot. If the volcano erupts you will be blown sky high. In the event of an advanced warning leave as fast as possible and try not to think of Pompeii!”

The threat of the ground exploding beneath my feet has been a general theme of my recent travels, having visited two areas of recent geothermal activity.

The first one was The Craters of the Moon. Sadly this didn’t look anything like the actual craters of the moon and even more disappointingly it wasn’t made of cheese. It was however a fairly creepy walk across a desolate landscape populated only by those hardcore plants that give live in a soil with high sulphur content, extremely hot ground and where small portions of the ground frequently disappear in a puff of smoke. This is probably how the triffids got started. There was smoke coming out of the ground which was too hot to walk on so they had put down wooden walkways. I wouldn’t have picked wood as a very heat resistant material but there it was. Apparently this all started in this area in the 1950s when they built a local geothermal power station altering the geophysics of the area causing this but to go a bit “boiling mud”. They don’t mention that when they talk about renewable energy! In any case, at least now I can say I can moon walk.

The second “Journey Across Stuff from the Centre of the Earth” was a boat trip on Lake Tarawera in the Waimangu geothermal park. Again very nice with lots to learn and a multitude of bizarre rock formations that you get when you force energy from the middle of the earth to the top. I found out that where the ground goes bright yellow in these areas, it’s not actually sulphur (as I have been telling everyone) but a type of algae that like the triffid plants from the moon, just loves to live on a temperamental bit of ground. Is there an algae equivalent saying of “the foolish man built his house upon the sand”? I suppose not. I don’t think you could class algae as foolish. This area was apparently formed with an eruption June 10th 1886. If you’re foolish enough to ask where the volcano is, then you’ll get told, “We’re in it. This whole area exploded then filled up with water to form a lake. Anything else? Look at the swans and try not to think about it”. Thanks tour man.

Of course there isn’t really anything much to worry about as both of these areas are considered dormant in terms of volcanic activity. Then again, it doesn’t become active until it explodes which removes the comfort from the previous thoughts.

I also went kayaking. This was good and I was in more danger of getting wet than of exploding. I can live with that. I’ve rarely stayed wet forever whereas if you explode there is a sense of permanency about the whole process. There were swans there too. Perhaps they’re following me. No matter, I imagine if you’re getting stalked by swans then you soon know about it. They tend to stick out a bit. Unless that’s why all the swans in New Zealand are black. Stealth. Oh well, if I vanish in the next few weeks I know what I want on my gravestone. David Steele. Killed by stealth swans. Look out!

Monday, 5 October 2009

The Eighth One: To the crystal dome!

You have robbed my revenge of sweetness, and now I must go hence in bitterness, in debt to your mercy. I hate it and you! Well, I go and I will trouble you no more. But do not expect me to wish you health and long life. You will have neither. But that is not my doing. I merely foretell.

First some old business. In the last blog I forgot to mention what happened when I went to Mount Ruapehu. Nothing much. It was big and impressive as mountains tend to be. It was also used as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films. There was no burning eye on top of a tower to be seen. I would mention it but everyone here in New Zealand is obsessed with Lord of the Rings. Won’t stop going on about it.

(Myth I would like to spread #2 Everyone in New Zealand is obsessed with Lord of the Rings. They like it because there’s no swearing in it.)

This weekend I went to Hamilton. (Not the real one in Scotland, the backup they have in New Zealand in case the one in Scotland gets destroyed.) There is not much to report about Hamilton. It was raining the whole day so I can only assume that it always rains in Hamilton. There is a statue of Richard O’Brian dressed as Riff raff from the Rocky Horror show. I don’t know why. I think it would be better if the statue was of him playing the harmonica in the crystal dome. But sadly I don’t get to decide what pointless statues people erect (he he). For all I know there’s a plinth featuring Noel Edmunds on the other side of town.

There was a great story in the museum about the first white settlers to come to Hamilton. They were sailing up the Waikato river and this woman, Theresa somebody or other walked up to one of the other people on the boat and asked if they would hold her baby. They happily obliged and were probably quite surprised when she jumped overboard and swam to the shore laughing. She later became reasonably wealthy selling signatures as the first white woman to set foot in “Hamilton”. One day we may look back at this story and see the start of reality TV stars. Possibly today! (Probably not today)

Unconnected to this I also found out that foreign reindeer are not allowed to enter New Zealand. Apparently they carry some sort of disease that affects cows. New Zealand having a highly agricultural economy can’t allow this to happen. That is why even to this day, in New Zealand, it is always winter, but never Christmas.

I have also had my Maori Health/pronunciation class. This was very good and in the very least should help me with looking at road signs and saying my destination properly. This would be even more useful if I had a satellite navigation system. I don’t but it would be really useful. That’s why from now on when I watch the Haka I will nod afterwards and go yep. The pronounced that right. Unless it’s live in which case I’ll say nothing. I would very much like not to get beaten up by the New Zealand rugby team. Or all the Maori people.

A large part of my elective was to be experiencing how Maori health beliefs interact with “Western” (I don’t like that term but don’t have a better one) medicine. So this bit of teaching on Maori health beliefs was very handy. What I liked about it was that while I may be unaware of a lot of traditional Maori culture and particularly with how it should apply to medicine, was that essentially you could get around it by being polite, respectful and generally nice to your patients. For example it doesn’t matter if you don’t know that the pelvic exam shouldn’t be carried out because it is sacred as the source of all your future children if you explain carefully why it needs to be performed, ask if there’s any particular problems the patient has with it and then following this politely gain consent for the important examination. Obviously it’s good if you can be aware of your patient’s culturally held health beliefs but it is not essential. If you just assume that as a human being they care about what happens to themselves and that you respect this and ask them about what they think before you barge in and ram them in an MRI machine then it should come good.

This is obviously what I actually think but also a prelude to what I have to say next so you don't think I'm completely a terrible person. All kids that enter the library have to agree to be quiet and not run around like instead of blood they have amphetamines. If they don’t agree to this, they can still come into the library, but if I am there and I am trying to write some of my elective report on Maori health beliefs then they risk by being attached to a catapult, flung over a distance of 25 metres where they will land in a pile of books which on closer inspection will turn out to be copies of Hairy MacClarey from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd. On fire. The fire will then be put out by throwing rotten kiwi fruit full of water onto the flames. The children won’t die. I’m not evil. They will just learn not to run and scream in the library.

Last year was the 25th anniversary of the release of Hairy McClarey from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd. Since I used to love this book and since I didn’t know about the anniversary and since Lynley Dodd is from New Zealand I thought I might as well say Happy Birthday Hair McLarey now. Good dog!

Has everyone forgotten about that awful kids in the library paragraph yet?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The Seventh One: Driving Miss Kiwi

He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep and every path was its tributary. "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door," he used to say. "You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.

Doesn’t time fly. September is at an end (which reminds me, I need to go and wake up Greenday) and there are only just over two more weeks left for me in New Zealand.

I did my talk on Friday and I’m still alive. It wasn’t too bad in the end and I may even stretch to it being good. There weren’t that many people for me to speak at, three or four consultants (one of whom was the Head of Medicine at the hospital) and a few registrars. This in some way makes it worse than there being loads of people as you have to look in the eyes of the actual doctors while they judge your work. My biggest worry was that they would all start sarcastically clapping. Needless to say this didn’t happen so that was pretty good. I even got a couple of comments saying I should be pleased with my research and that it should be published. Which is nice. Perhaps they were also embarrassed by the relatively small number of people in the meeting room and were just being polite. Either way there was no sarcastic clapping so it would seem I got away with it.

So if anybody reading this runs a medical journal and you would like to publish some research on risk stratifying acute upper GI bleeds then give me a call. I am aware that this is possibly the laziest way to get published. Perhaps I will get my study in this...

Apparently there is no dedicated scientific journal for the subject of laziness or apathy. Perhaps nobody has been sufficiently motivated enough to start one. Perhaps I will. Nah, can’t be bothered.

Perhaps everyone else can get published in this... I am sure you saw that coming.

Having access to a car and a long weekend we decided to take a road trip around the North Island (the South Island being relatively tricky to drive to). Actually that last bracketed comment is incorrect as I had forgotten about the interisland ferry. This takes you from the North Island to the South island across the Cook Strait. The Cook Strait is one of the most dangerous and unpredictable “straits” in the world. On each side of the Strait the tide is almost exactly out of phase, resulting in high water meeting low water resulting in strong and unpredictable tidal surges. The remains of giant squid have been washed up from there. It would have been more accurate therefore to say, (the South Island being relatively tricky to drive to without a ferry, a strong stomach and a giant squid rifle).

Our trip was going to take us down the East coast to Napier where we would stay the night. Then on to Wellington where we would stay two nights. Then back up to Rotorua via Mount Ruapehu. Sorted.

Napier was a nice little touristy sort of town. All of the buildings are in the Art Deco style as the 1931 earthquake caused the previous town to fall down. Napier was then rebuilt in a style that was popular at the time. “This will never go out of style” They must have thought at the time. In a strange way it hasn’t. The town’s art deco, old fashioned appearance means that it remains on the map as a popular tourist destination. You can also pretend that you’ve gone back in time (if you ignore Starbucks and look at the collection of old-fashioned cars on display) which is fun Napier also has New Zealand’s national aquarium which is pretty good. You can see sharks, turtles, piranhas, crocodiles, tuataras (which technically have three eyes and whose teeth don’t replace themselves as they are actually projections from the skull rather than actual teeth. This means that as they get old they get worn down and tuataras need to switch from insects to softer food such worms or slugs. Perhaps I will make my millions by making false teeth for tuatara. ) and kiwis!

Kiwis? In an aquarium? Kiwis can’t swim (I didn’t check) but as they are fairly endangered I’m not going to begrudge an extra one hanging around in an aquarium. Kiwis are great. Obviously they are one of New Zealand’s national symbols, are one of the only birds to have a well developed sense of smell and are awake only for 4 hours, sleeping the rest of the time. Before you start getting carried away and start wishing you were a kiwi, dressing up as one at weekends and calling yourself, you should also know that they lay the largest egg in proportion to their body size (20%) of any bird. No wonder they are endangered. Perhaps conservations should concentrate on getting existing kiwis an epidural. Or at least some nitrous oxide. Surprisingly their closest living relative is the emu. I have never seen one attack Michael Parkinson though. I would like to.

Wellington was much different to any large city I guess but made a change from the smaller less lively New Zealand cities that I was used to. The national museum (Te Papa) is excellent and free! You can certainly learn a lot about New Zealand the country, the wildlife, the art and the people. As it was raining it was also pretty good to be inside. Well done Te Papa. Also your name is fun to say as it is silly. Also well done on pickling that giant squid. That is one big squid! (The lens from its eye was as big as an orange, but probably less tasty)

Not well done to whoever is in charge of New Zealand’s roads and also not well done to New Zealand drivers. Roads shouldn’t bend so sharply that you need a 25kph (15mph). Come on New Zealand. Anybody would think the Romans never reached you.
Now come on New Zealand drivers. I know that the state highways (New Zealand motorways) are single lane with sporadic overtaking lanes, but there’s no need to be such aggressive tailgaters. You are not haemorrhoids so could you kindly remove yourselves from my backside! Go and see Disney Pixar’s Up instead. It’ll put you in a much better mood as it is brilliant. You can see it in 3D as well. Imagine that! It might also inspire you to attach thousands of balloons to your car and float away from me. A good thing.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Sixth One: Raindrops keep falling on my vet

Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.

Oh flip. Turns out I may have to do a presentation of my research project on Friday as part of the registrar teaching. The doctor supervising me said that if someone pulled out of presenting the Grand Round then she would also volunteer me to fill in. I suppose this is good for me and it’s nice that she has faith in my project and its findings but that doesn’t help me in the short run. Oh flip, I have to do a presentation.

My project broadly involves retrospectively validating a risk stratification system for use in the emergency department. The idea is that patients presenting with certain symptoms can get classified as high or low risk and treated accordingly. Without boring you further I only mention it because it hints at scientific process involved in how patients are managed. Evidence is collected concerning a hypothesis or a model, examined to determine the accuracy of that hypothesis or model and the implications of how accurate the hypothesis or model is filters to patient care. This is obviously a very crude and as a result inaccurate description of the process of evidence-based medicine but I thought I should at least try to mention it before I start to ramble on the next subject.

I was in the library putting together my presentation when I looked up and saw the book
Homeopathic Care.... for Cats and Dogs: Small Doses for small animals!
(The dots and the exclamation mark are my emphasis.) I blinked and rubbed my eyes like a cartoon but the book was still there. If I had been a tramp in a 1980’s film I would have looked with disbelief at what I was drinking and thrown it away. It’s definitely real,

You can buy it on Amazon if you’ve run out of ways of wasting your money. If this really is the case perhaps you would like to invest in my latest invention. Powdered water for desert travel. Light to carry, just add water to activate. Genius or what? What?

This is may be of relevance in New Zealand as anecdotally I have heard that the New Zealand population are comparatively more likely to use alternative medicines such as homeopathy. I’m not sure about this however as I can’t find any evidence to support this online and in my experience it doesn’t appear to be the case. I haven’t asked any pets.
I didn’t read all of this book for same reason I don’t periodically open my own skull and pour a potent mixture of acid and Wiltshire cheddar onto my brain, but I thought a few quotes would at least have entertainment value.

(Incidentally I am aware of how a few quotes from a book can easily misrepresent the entire book, I promise that the quotes I have chosen do not do this and are fairly representative of the rest of its content. The content that I read anyway)

1. We choose medicines based on the law of similar – the medicine that can create a transient set of symptoms that closely matches the symptoms of illness is the one that stimulates a cure.

The “we” in this picture refers to those practicing homeopathy on cats and dogs. No I don’t know why just cats and dogs and not other pets. Perhaps hamsters are too sceptical. I also have to say that an investigation of homeopathy in animals may be genuinely interesting. Presumably the only reason that homeopathy in humans can be said to have any effect is that it is nice to be able to explain your problems to someone who is listening and the placebo effect. Is there a version of the placebo effect in cats and dogs? Probably not, without the cultural awareness of medicine, attempts to cure or help them. So if anything homeopathy should have even less of an effect on animals making this book even more ridiculous. Someone should check.

Anyway the quote is setting out one of the homeopathic principles in that if you want to cure something you have to use something that induces the same symptoms as that disease. i.e. if you want to cure a cat’s kidney failure you have to give it something that causes the same symptoms as kidney failure. The cat’s body then goes “Oh right, THOSE symptoms. I was ignoring them when my kidneys were failing. Now you’ve given me a double dose of them I had best get on and cure the kidney failure. Naughty kidney failure. What do you mean there’s nothing actually in the formula you’ve given me? Oh, you’re going to deal with that with the next quote. Well in any case, it’s a good job there’s nothing in this stuff you’ve given me as my failing kidneys probably couldn’t filter it out and it would be toxic.”

N.B The book does advise a homeopathic remedy for acute and chronic renal failure.

2. Homeopathic medicines are prepared through potentization – dilution and succession. The more dilute the potencies, the stronger the medicine becomes, this is due to succusion – vigorous shaking after each dilution.

You make homeopathic remedies by adding the substance that causes the same symptoms as the disease you are trying to cure and then dilute it out of the water until there’s none left it in. The water then “remembers” the substance and the symptoms it causes and when taken acts as a cure in the manner described above. It may then stand to reason that there can be no homeopathic cure for amnesia! So the more dilute something is, the stronger it becomes. That explains why on homeopathic remedies for headaches it says for mild pain, one drop, for severe pain two drops then! If this were true then it would be amazing news for physics. The fact that you can do it my shaking your mixture is even better. Remember that next time you have a vodka and orange. The smallest drop of vodka you can find, but shake the orange juice when you added. It’ll be drunk city, population you in no time. Explains James Bond’s choice of drink anyway.

3. Natrum Muriaticum- this remedy made from table salt is another good remedy for animals with kidney failure. Eating salt makes one very thirsty, so by the “likes-cures-like” principle, natrum mur is very useful for thirsty animals such as those with kidney failure.

Told you. “Hang on; it’s me, the cat’s body again. The last thing I want is salt! I’ve got kidney failure. Oh no hang on, you’re not actually giving me salt. You’re giving me water. Shaken water. I don’t suppose it’s possible for me to see an actual vet is it?”

4. Although liver problems should be treated by a veterinarian, I will give a few suggestions as to supplements and possible helpful remedies.

Yes cat’s body, you can see a vet, because all through the book the author states that for all an animal’s medical problems you should seek treatment for a conventional vet. This is sensible advice. It’s also interesting that there isn’t enough faith in the homeopathy for it to be more than an additional application to the authentic treatment. This is probably a good thing.

5. Silver nitrate – this is the same chemical that has historically been placed into the eyes of newborn children to prevent eye infections, especially those due to syphilis. This homeopathic remedy also has great affinity for the eyes. Many of the other symptoms of this remedy are similar to syphilis as well: there may be erosions or ulcers on the genitalia, ulcers and inflammation in the mouth and throat and severe nervous system impairment similar to that seen in chronic syphilis.

Burn your pet’s eyes. BURN THEM! Actually this is slightly more complicated as silver nitrate can be used to burn off warts and stuff. But you’re still burning it off and you’re not meant to get it on unaffected skin. IT BURNS! Also they did used to use it to prevent syphilis in children’s eyes and it was in a diluted dose. But this was to make it less powerful (obviously no shaking) The incorrect does and you would irreversibly damage your child’s eyes and cause blindness. Antibiotics seem like a good idea. Also I guess there isn’t any actual silver nitrate in whatever they are advising you put in your pet’s eyes.

So there you have it. Small doses of sense, for small animals.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The Whiwhth One: Heartwhelt Uhpologies

I am sorry: sorry you have come in for this burden: sorry about everything. Don't adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on the story.

The other day I said I thought Sam Neill was Australian. Nope, he is in fact “New Zealandish” or a kiwi as they like to be called. I assume the reason why New Zealandish is not a proper word is because the abbreviated form of New Zealand is NZ and NZ-ish starts to look a bit like Nazi-ish. (Verb: a bit like a Nazi). Since most people in New Zealand don’t want to be like Nazis, a bit or otherwise I suppose it is better to be known as a kiwi and be either a loveable bird that is awake a maximum of 4 hours a day or a hairy fruit. More on kiwis in a future blog. I think they probably deserve their own.

So sorry Sam Neill, I am sorry that I said you were Australian when in fact you were born in Northern Ireland, and your family are from the South Island. I am now aware that you merely lived in Australia and never became one of them. A bit like Jane Goodall.
Sorry Sam Neill.

Sorry I said in a previous blog that there was a sign in the swimming pool warning about Campylobacter when in fact the sign warns about Cryptosporidium. The difference is clear. Campylobacter is a gram-negative, microaerophilic bacteria with either uni-or bi-polar flagella, while cryptosporidium is a protozoan parasite from the phylum Apicomplexia. Everybody knows that. How could I be so stupid?

Sorry Crytosporidium

Sorry to the New Zealand education system. I was in the library the other day when I saw a young boy carrying a certificate that he had clearly been given by his school. It said “Kindest Boy in Class”. I thought this was a good thing although I had no idea how his teacher could legitimately judge such a thing. The boy suddenly starting pointing and laughing. “What are you laughing at?” His mother asked. “Look at that fat man in the wheelchair” the boy continued to chuckle. While his mother gave him a deserved talking too, I considered that this at least answered the question in my previous thought. How did the teacher judge this boy to be the kindest? He was obviously in a class of two. Him and Little Phil the Ripper, recent winner of “Boy Most Likely to Do A Murder” Certificate. And here’s me thinking you didn’t have a method.

Sorry New Zealand education system.

Sorry to the man I met when I was with the medical team on-call last week. When I asked you if you had any salt in your diet (because as we know for various reasons your systems can’t handle it) and you said that there wasn’t, I didn’t believe you. It was only because I was tired and there was a recently emptied McDonalds bag on the table in front of you. It was wrong of me to judge.
Sorry man who said he hadn’t had salt but who clearly had.

Sorry New Zealand. I mispronounce just about every place name that you have. I will try and learn that “wh” means “f” and that “a” (as in the sound the Fonz makes) sounds like “uh” (as in the sound someone who hasn’t heard someone else might make). I will learn and recant my ignorance. No matter how embarrassing it is to ask directions to Whakatane.

Sorry New Zealand.

Sorry Australia. I recently compared Sam Neill coming to live in Australia to Jane Goodall. And we all know who she went to live with. No offence was intended. I have never been to Australia other than a brief stopover on one of your airports and have only witnessed your culture by watching Crocodile Dundee and Neighbours. You can see where mistakes could be made.

Sorry Australia.

Sorry to anyone that read this. For obvious reasons.

Sorry anybody.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Fourth One: I'm a luger, baby

“10,000 Orcs now stand between Frodo and Mount Doom. I've sent him to his death.”

As I said last time I am going to write about my trip on the gondola and the luge. Just down the road from where I am staying there is quite a big hill. Or as they say here in New Zealand, a mount. Up that mount some enterprising folks have put a number of poles and between each of those poles there is a wire. Hanging from that wire are a number of boxes with seats in. With the aid of a motor at each end of the wire, the boxes can move to the top of the hill and back down again. This is the gondola. I don’t know why it’s called a gondola. As far as I was previously aware a gondola is a type of boat that you can sit in with another person, while a man with a stick uses that stick to poke the water and propel you around Venice, Italy, or if he really wants to get his speed up, Birmingham, UK. For as we know, Birmingham has more canals than Venice. I’ll wager though that there is less danger of colliding with half a sunken shopping trolley in Venice.

The trip on the gondola was good if what you are interested in is excellent views of the city and surrounding lakes and countryside. This being the principle reason we had gone up on the gondola it is fair to say I thought it was good.

The trip on the gondola was also good if once you’d got to the top you wanted to take out a mortgage to buy some disappointing looking sandwiches. To say the food and drinks at the top were a bit expensive is an understatement in the same league as saying James Blunt is a bit annoying. (For the purposes of disambiguation, I think James Blunt is a lot annoying.) Luckily I’d looked into this and deciding that if I sold my liver just to buy a cheese roll I would regret it we took our own sandwiches.

In New Zealand they have decided to find great entertainment out of pretending you are going to die. Of course commercial bungee jumping was invented here by A.J. Hackett in 1986. Bungee jumping in general has been going a lot longer than this (bungee being a West Country dialect word for “anything thick and squat”. For example, Danny DeVito is bungee. In the context of NZ, bungee is slang for the elastic cord used.) New Zealand was just the first country to make money out of pretending you are going to die. Since then, other pretending you are going to die activities available in New Zealand are Zorb (rolling to your death in a plastic ball), waterfall rafting (plunging to your death while wet), skydiving (plunging to your death while dry) and driving on the New Zealand Roads (sitting in a car hoping you don’t die).

At the top of the gondola they have another of these activities, the swing. The swing in question is a spherical metal cage, which if you are willing to give up a good deal of your liver-money will be lifted to a great height and dropped so it swings out over the edge of the hill. It will then swing back towards the hill before succumbing to gravity and swinging back to the edge again. While this is happening you can try not to die and make a loud noise doing it. There is something strangely relaxing about having your lunch while the high- pitched tourists scream over your head. Sometimes you can imagine you are listening to a James Blunt album.
Here are some of the things that can happen to you if you think bungee jumping is a good idea.

Krott R, Mietz H, Krieglstein GK. Orbital emphysema as a complication of bungee jumping. Medical Science Sports Exercise 1997;29:850–2.

Vanderford L, Meyers M. Injuries and bungee jumping. Sports Medicine 1995;20:369–74

Filipe JA, Pinto AM, Rosas V, et al. Retinal complications after bungee jumping. Int Ophthalmol 1994–95;18:359–60

Jain BK, Talbot EM. Bungee jumping and intraocular haemorrhage. Br J Ophthalmol 1994;78:236–7.

Another activity you can do at the gondola is a luge. This involves sitting in a tray with wheels and rolling down a road down the side of the Mount. Unlike most New Zealand activities you get a say in whether you die or not as you can steer your tray. This is great fun, especially if you use the opportunity to pretend you are in Cool Runnings. If you don’t think this is fun then you can kiss my lucky egg!

A more relaxing but just as fun time was had when we went to stay in a bach at the beach last weekend. A bach is just a New Zealand term for a little wooden holiday home, and while the weather wasn’t really beach weather, a good time was had by all. Better in a way, as I didn’t end up covered in sand. We did however find the jaw bone of some animal at the beach. I couldn’t tell you what animal it was, except that it was probably definitely a new type of dinosaur that should be named after me and can I have loads of money for finding it thanks. No, of course I can’t, I didn’t even pick it up. Collecting shells is one thing, but coming back to the beach house with some animals mandible is generally frowned upon.

Meanwhile on the elective front, the data from my project so far looks like it is showing what it should be showing and the hospital continues to be friendly and unexploded. It has also helped me disprove one of my own theories. I always thought the perfect crime would be to fart next to a patient with an open colostomy bag. Ha ha ha. I was wrong. The perfect crime is to fart next to a patient with an open colostomy bag in a geothermal area where the air smells of sulphur. You will actually be thanked for improving the overall situation.

(Note to the Rotorua tourist board – I know it doesn’t smell that bad. Please don’t kill me or make me wake up with a kiwi’s head in my bed!)

Monday, 7 September 2009

The Third One: Hoffi Froffee

"The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it. It began with the forging of the Great Rings."

First off, a couple of things that I have overheard or seen that made me laugh. Both of which occurred at the swimming pool.

I was changing in my cubicle when judging by the noise a number of young boys had entered the changing room and seen it as their duty to make as much noise as possible. One of them, we’ll name him Boasty, the incredible Shouting Boy was showing off about a big holiday that him and presumably his parents were about to take. I think it was to Germany. As he went on and on about how good Germany was going to be to his friend who we shall name Larry Idiot-Face it was clear that Larry was becoming increasingly jealous. Eventually Boasty, apparently quite pleased about his ability to induce jealousy in his peers, said to Larry “I mean have you even ever left New Zealand!?”
Larry hastily replied, “Of course I have, I’ve been to the South Island!”

The second thing is just a sign they have in the men’s toilets at the swimming pool. There is a sign warning how Campylobactor, if it got into the swimming pool could close it down. This sign then goes on the list the symptoms which if you have them you shouldn’t go swimming. One of these symptoms is, “Headache and electrolyte imbalance” How would you know? The headache is obvious, your head would ache. But I for one have never woken up thinking, “Oh dear, best not go swimming today, I don’t have enough potassium. Damn you Campylobactor!”

In every other respect the swimming pool here is lovely. It is geothermally heated so is lovely and warm when you get in. Also it sits at the centre of the park which was the site of the last geothermal eruption in this area. This is great as there is smoke coming out of much of the ground, the pools of water around the park and indeed many of the drains. While you are swimming you can give the odd thought to how you could blow up at any time, giving a hint of danger to the whole proceedings. I am James Bond. And so is the old man doing Aqua Jogging in the lane next to me.

The hospital where I am doing elective is up the hill from this park. I guess if you’re going to build on the area in the city most likely to explode you may as well put all the sick people there. It also means when I come to work in the morning I have to head towards the permanent cloud and smell of egg in direct contradiction to what I would normally do in this situation.
The elective is going well. There isn’t much to tell you about at the moment. A large part of my elective is a research project and I am sure my collection and analysis of data concerning accident and emergency patients wouldn’t make a particularly good read. Having said this I am fully aware I just wrote about a sign in a swimming pool toilet.

The hospital is very nice and the staff are all very relaxed and friendly. Many people have gone out of their way to help me settle in and to help me get started on my project as well as setting up more clinical opportunities for me to take part in. Added to this I am going to be taking a Maori pronunciation class. We’ll see how that goes and if I am allowed back in New Zealand after it.

The consultant who is supervising me is great. Very relaxed with an all-important sense of humour.

We were both working in her office at the end of the first Friday of my elective (I have a desk in the corner of her office where I do my project work. It has been pointed out by others that I am sort of like her pet. If this were the case then I am sure I am owed some biscuits.) She turned to me and said, “It’s probably time you should go, I make it Wine O’clock”, I looked at my watch and replied, “Actually I think it’s half-past wine. I should get a move on!” She laughed. I think we’ll get on fine.

On my first day I went to make myself a coffee in the kitchen they have along the hall. It turned out someone had spilled sugar in the coffee pot. Instead of taking it out they had decided to try and hide their mistake by stirring the sugar into the coffee. I don’t take sugar in my coffee and was confused by this sight. My initial thought that this was some sort of special Frosted Coffee with sugar already mixed in, like a coffee version of Frosties. Before I started looking for the plain coffee my stupid bran worked out the nature of the accident. Then it started to think how Frosted Coffee (Froffee) would be a good invention (Frosties seem to do alright) and that I would make millions. Then I became more sensible and realised that this was a ridiculous idea. Frosties themselves are a ridiculous idea. Aimed solely at people who like that exact amount sugar on their cornflakes. If you want less sugar then you have to buy cornflakes and add that small amount of sugar. If you want more sugar then you either have to add more sugar to the Frosties, defeating the object of the Frosties in the first place or you have to buy cornflakes and add loads of sugar.

Bloody Frosties! Ruining my coffee/Froffee.

That’s probably enough for now. I will write about my trip on the gondola and the luge next time.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The Second One: Clip clop, hip hop, pick up my dead cat.

“He often used to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep and every path was its tributary."It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door," he used to say. "You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to."”

So I have been in New Zealand for two weeks now. I think it’s going well as far as these things can be judged. The flight was a success at least. We took off on the Sunday, spent the Monday not existing and landed on the Tuesday. In between I didn’t die or end up crashing and having to land on an island where some “Others” repeatedly try to kill me and I have flash-backs revealing shocking things about my past life. With a hatch.

Good job really. I would have been a rubbish character in Lost.
Dave is in a jungle. Dave drinks coffee while watching telly. Dave is in a jungle looking at a hatch. Dave has another coffee while watching telly. Dave is in a jungle looking at a tree. Dave has a coffee while turning off the telly. Dave gets killed by a smoke monster. Dave makes himself a cup of tea, which he actually prefers! LOST.

I don’t think I would watch that. Even if it did have a polar bear in it.

Before starting work at the hospital I have been doing some touristy things. I have been to a climbing centre and learned how to climb a wall as well as going on a horse trek.
I am not sure climbing is really for me. I wasn’t particularly good at it making it only three quarters of the way up the wall. I think the problem was that my goal while climbing was to move as far away from the ground as possible. This is the opposite of my normal goal (recent plane trip aside). I like the ground. It’s where I spend the majority of my time. The higher I got I realised that if I were to fall off I would very quickly reacquaint myself with the ground. The ground would then show me how much it missed me by giving me a great big hug. Then I would die. I know I am being overdramatic. I was off course attached to a rope, so even if I did fall, I would certainly only end up severely broken. Still I did spend a lot of time wishing I was Spiderman. Or that I had gecko gloves. Apparently some clever engineers have developed an adhesive material designed around the same concept as how geckos climb walls. That is millions of micro-fibres packed into a very small area.

If I’d had some of that I would have been much happier. Probably happier than if I was Spiderman anyway. The last thing I need as I worry about where my next foothold is, is if the Green Goblin is going to attack. No, as a great philosopher once said “I would rather have me a pair of gecko gloves than be Spiderman and no mistake” Wise words.
Horse trekking once more successful. Mainly because while you occasionally have to point it in the right direction the horse does all the work. And I had a good horse. His name was Moose. Good old Moose. Second best name for a horse there is. The first is obviously John McLane. But that’s because John McLane is first for everything. Except dying. Yippee kay yay, Mother flipper.

(Myth I would like to spread #1 There is no swearing in New Zealand)

The only problem with Moose (apart from it seeming like the people in charge of horse trekking had picked a horse with a name that would make me sound fat. “Look at that guy, best bring out Moose!”) was that he wasn’t too keen on walking in mud. As most of the land he was walking across was muddy this meant he had to take increasingly bizarre routes, risking his (and as an extension my) life and limbs by climbing up relatively drink banks and jumping to distant islands of dryness. This made for a jarring ride, jeopardising my future sitting down happiness. Anyone who thinks I should have tried steering him has never seen a horse. They will do exactly what they want. Especially a horse called Moose. As it happened, Moose was very well trained and would react to some steering so I definitely didn’t die on that ride, despite what the British tabloids might be saying.

At least Moose didn’t suffer from narcolepsy. Horses can. Also while they can sleep standing up they need to lie down to experience REM sleep. If they are denied this they will randomly collapse while slipping into REM sleep while awake and standing. These are one of the things you can know if you have a psychology degree or have access to Wikipedia.

I will have properly started my elective by the time anyone reads this (I know you’re there, I can hear your imaginary breathing) and hopefully should be able to write about it soon. I have fairly sparse access to the internet as it takes a while to shovel enough coal into the furnace and then crank it up but this is hopefully improving soon.

A fairly glum note to finish on, but then it would be. As I was leaving the house this morning, I saw a man walk round the corner with a spade with something peculiar looking on it. It is hard to describe but it looked a bit like a stuffed toy of a cormorant that had been in an oil spill. They will never make this toy. They never take my suggestions. The man then dumped this object at the side of the road; looked into my eyes with a look that would curdle sour cream and walked off. As I focussed on the object I realised that it was a cat in what can only be described as in the advanced stages of rigor mortise. Welcome to New Zealand!

Monday, 10 August 2009

The First One: Wool Runnings

"But still she was there, who was there before Sauron, and before the first stone of Barad-dûr; and she served none but herself, drinking the blood of Elves and Men, bloated and grown fat with endless brooding on her feasts, weaving webs of shadow; for all living things were her food, and her vomit darkness."

Since this first blog post is essentially a prequel; I will be writing it before I head of to New Zealand for my elective placement, and since I am starting off from where I live in Cardiff, Wales I thought I would get this highly important subject out of the way.


In Wales there are approximately 2-3 sheep per member of the population. In New Zealand this ratio skews to about 8 sheep per person. Your view on who wins depends on your opinion on sheep I suppose. Either way, if you're worried that some lunatic will plant a bomb under your country which will detonate if the sheep to human ratio falls below a certain number then either nation is a fairly safe bet. Don't go to Antarctica. That bomb will go right off. Unless you can trick the elaborate sheep-counting system the villain has set up by putting some Arron-wear over some penguins.

I'll stop this train of thought before I start to think Speed 3: Ewes Control is a good idea for a film. It goes without saying that Sandra Bullock would definitely agree to star in it.

That so much of their economy relies on our woolly friends means that both the Welsh and the New Zealanders have to put up with a fair few unsavoury jokes about their ovine love. Needless to say I won't be making any of those here. I'll be spending a lot of time in New Zealand, live in Wales and value my knee-caps. I use them all the time. It's not as if we make fun of many other nationalities as a result of their agriculture. For example China produces most of the world's apples (41%). We would never get the following joke:

Q: Why did the Chinese person cross the road?

A: Because there was an apple that they definitely wanted to have sex with on the other side.

Nope. Can't see it. We can thus draw two conclusions.

1.) Out of all the racisms, which are very stupid anyway. Farming-based racism is one of the most stupid.

2.) I have grossly overestimated the number of conclusions that can be drawn from that joke.

On Sunday 16th of August I will be flying the to New Zealand for my elective placement for my medical degree. Essentially the idea is to experience the health care system of another country by working in a hospital in that country. This is not always the case, many medical students will complete their placements in the UK but it is what I am doing. I thought it may be fairly interesting to write a blog of my experiences in New Zealand for my own benefit (predominantly) and so that I don't have to write so many e-mails to update my friends (who definitely exist) on how I am getting on.
Hopefully it will be amusing, hopefully it will help me write my elective report and hopefully it will inform anybody that happens to read it about more than sheep.
Which by the way, may not be as stupid as we are led to be believe. For example, a flock in West Yorkshire were observed to have some problem-solving ability while getting over cattle-grids by rolling on their backs. (
Apparently they also recognise faces using a similar cognitive process to human beings

I don't understand why the ability to recognise human faces would be an advantage for sheep. They can't get mugged that much and probably don't get asked to partake in many line-ups when they press charges. The gist of (part of) the study is that sheep recognise the faces of other sheep better, and in a slightly different way to how they recognise human faces. So if you are going to mug a sheep, where a human rather than a sheep mask. Also sit down and take a long hard look at your life. You've taken to mugging sheep and reading scientific studies on how to do it best. Sort it out!

So hopefully that's enough mention of sheep to satisfy the imperative of a blog set mainly in New Zealand by someone who lives in Wales. With that I'm going to round-up (ahem) with the main points of this introduction

a.) New Zealand and Wales won't be exploded by a sheep-terrorist.
b.) Racism is bad, farm-based racism is worse.
c.) I am going to New Zealand for my medical elective.
d.) While I am there my sheep will either roll-away or frame me in a police-line-up.

Until next time...