Archive for December, 2006


I’m not a fan of new years eve. It’s an event thing. Like hating birthday parties (well my own any how), valentines day and school formals and all that. Enforced happiness is what i’ve come up with as a reason. The concept that someone in an office (say of clinton cards…) can dictate when people are to have fun and what form it’s allowed to take.

At new years ‘fun’ involves pubs and clubs making lots of money getting all the punters impossibly drunk. Jools Holland gets to have lots of famous people pretending they like him and you’re allowed to snog a random punter and face no consequences – depending who you snog I suppose. Incidentally I think ‘snog’ has to be one of the most unpleasant and offensive-sounding words in the English language. Or maybe it’s just that I’m not getting any.

Christmas, I see as an allowable exception to the enforced rule. A) they got me at an early age and it’s in my blood. B) it’s kind of cool getting all the family together and watching the banter flow. C) there’s pressies involved.

Back to new years. I like an anti-new-year. In the same way I like an anti-birthday (sitting at home reading a book trying to avoid realizing it’s my birthday and people wishing me happy birthday – get bent…) recent new years have been spent at various peoples houses mostly playing cards or board games. Best of all in Phil’s house in Donegal playing monopoly and wondering why knoker wins every flippin time. And of course – ignoring the whole count down business entirely and simply rejoicing in the bant.

So this year I decided to continue my own anti-new-year tradition. New years eve was the seventh in a nine day, 118 hour stint of a self-imposed workathon. I was loving it of course. But to be honest I was getting a bit bored in work that day. It was 8pm and I’d ran out of central lines to change and I just couldn’t manage another cup of the vile instant coffee.

They have this great computer system in work where you can look at who all the current ED (emergency department) patients are with a number (and colour) beside their name stating how sick they are. “Stat ones’ get a red box and they’re the ones I get. So I was staring at the screen in my office (broom cupboard) and all of a sudden a red ‘one’ appears. Off to work I go.

New years can be a bit depressing in A&E cause you end up seeing lots of patients marginally more depressed than you are who have taken pills or drank too much or tried to top themselves just to escape it. This guy had had enough and went out to the shed and swung a rope round his neck and had been swinging for five minutes when his sister found him and cut him down.

He was semi-conscious when we got him and he got a quick anaesthetic and a tube down his throat and a ventilator till he woke up the next morning. And as I wheeled him in to the unit we got a second call. High speed car accident, with a women trapped in the car.

45 mins later and she’s still trapped. You know she’s on her way as we hear the helicopter overhead. One of the bosses has a category of patients called PFOs. Standing for pissed and fell over. I suppose this was a PDT. Pissed and drove into a tree. As one of the ED nurses said – she was too drunk to walk home so she drove.

So at 11.45 pm she had 4 docs and 3 nurses, an X-ray tech a CT tech and an anaesthetic tech waiting for her. There’s these wonderful protocols and mnemonics that you follow in trauma and the boss had me ‘leading’ the team and you find yourself shouting out this ludicrous ABCDE algorithm just to keep everything under control.

Two smashed femurs (not lemurs, they’re monkeys), a smashed ankle, a facial fracture, a few ribs, lots of cuts and bruises, a central line, an arterial line, a catheter, a CT scan from top to toe, lots or morphine and a stack of good old fashioned x-rays later it was half midnight. Happy new year I suppose.

Got me out of going to some party and snogging some random bird. For that I’m eternally grateful.

Got home and watched the BBC news over the net and laughed at the stunned surprise and shock that outdoor events in Scotland at the coldest, wettest part of the year were being cancelled.

Merry Christmas everyone

Christmas means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But I don’t really care about them. For me Christmas is cold and wet and dark weather, my little felt stocking (ooh er missus – that didn’t sound quite the way it came out), all the Christmas decorations me and Simon made when we were kids. Well mostly Simon’s cause mine were mostly unrecognisable and were more ‘general pagan festival’ material.

Of course it changes as you grew up. When I found out that Santa was in fact real and not one of my Da’s mates in a funny suit then it changed my world entirely. Such a thing would. I don’t get up at 4am any more to open my Star Wars toys. Not this year anyhow.

I’ve worked the past two Christmas days but have woken up at home and slept at home, and this is the first time I’ve actually been properly away. I took my first real bout of homesickness the few days before Christmas as I realised how much I missed everyone. Plus it was grey and wet (unusually) and it just reminded me of home. I sat in the flat watched whole discs of Scrubs and read Johnny Cash’s autobiography. Feeling sorry for myself – needlessly so, a bad habit that I indulge far too often. Imaginary hard times and troubles are the excuse.

I’d planned to have a wee lie in on Christmas day itself – mostly cause I hadn’t slept the night before. A lie in round here means 9.30 or 10.00 or so. The people next door (a nice young family with an alarming number of pets including one of those miniature dogs with a rude name that I found trotting my flat one day when it managed to crawl under the fence) were up early cause they have kids and they were all excited bout Christmas. Though that wasn’t what woke me. I woke to the pumping bass of ‘crocodile rock‘, ‘rocket man‘ and I was convinced there was ‘don’t let the sun go down on me‘ in there somewhere. Sometimes Kiwis let themselves down so badly. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the kids CD, I think it was the missus who got the lovely Elton John CD. At least I hope so…

So lie-in ruined, I had brekkie, had a shower then got up and realised I’d got it all in the wrong order again and now had very wet jammies. Took a walk round the marina and was amazed by the emptiness of the place – it’s always buzzing round here and it was the first time I’ve seen it empty. Walking round the car park at the harbour mouth there was a wee old man in a car throwing bread at the sea gulls. I did my usual guessing what brought him here on a Christmas morning and I figured he was an old ANZAC war vet whose wife died a few years ago and now he spends Christmas mornings here feeding the sea gulls for company. This felt kind of tragic, but I do this to people all the time. I then realised he was aiming the bread at the sea gulls and was trying to hit them and given that they were really crowding round his car now I figured this was a self-defence tactic.

One of my bosses had invited me to spend Christmas day with his family and I took him up on the offer. It was great craic as we went to his friends house (an Irish couple, ex-teachers in Kenya,  the husband from the Castlereagh road and currently reading a Van Morrison biography – I liked them immediately). Had a wonderful Christmas lunch of turkey, ham and wait for it – beef as well. The day was going well. And even though it was someone elses family it was still kind of cool to be with a bunch of folk who grew up together and share their own idiosyncrasies and jokes. And they couldn’t have been more welcoming. They even bought me pressies which was entirely uncalled for.

Unfortunately I’d suckered myself into having to work from 5pm. One of those moments when you offer to do something for someone else for ‘brownie points’ but hoping, of course that they’ll not actually take you up on the offer. So I made a token gesture to one of the other bosses that I could work Christmas evening so he could get home and have a feed with his family. And of course he took me up on the offer.

Got home about 11.30pm and fell asleep in my clothes on the sofa while looking up Fructose 1,6 diphosphatase deficiency (we had a a patient in the unit with it) on the internet – guaranteed to put you to sleep I suppose. Woke in a sweaty, confused and nauseous manner at 5 am to ring home. I was top of the bill at the annual Neill family Christmas. I think I even managed to bump the queen off the top spot this year.

And so 14 of my family greeted me via webcam and skype from the far side of the world, and suddenly they didn’t seem nearly so far away. Disturbingly they had a cardboard Santa with an A4 sized head shot of me stuck over the face of the santa. Effigy is a word that springs to mind.

Fell asleep in the calm knowledge that I’m not forgotten (and that maybe I should ring my family a bit more often…) and that maybe I’m not that far away after all. Woke at 7.30am realising that I’d fallen asleep on the sofa again and I was now late for work and I was mostly adhered to the sofa – darn leather (sofa, not trousers that is…)

“Jute” on a triple letter

The first blog I ever wrote was after a weekend spent in Donegal, drugged up on scrabble and DVDs. And so in some ways it’s come full circle and now there’s gonna be another blog about scrabble. Of course in many more ways this is not in any way a full circle and I’m in fact nowhere near where I started. And anyway, someone told me once that people who can draw perfect circles are insane. And clearly that’s not me. Tiddly pop who’s stole my conkers mrs figgins… Glad that’s all as clear as mud

Jack and Jill (false names obviously…) are probably two of my best mates out here. They arrived the same time and Jack’s from the UK and the same age and doing a similar job and Jill is American and Jack’s girlfriend. Well I’m sure she does more than just be American and be Jack’s girlfriend but that’s how I know her.

Anyhow, we end up doing lots of stuff together, like travelling about and stuff and so we’ve spent a fair bit of time together. And it’s come to the point where we’ve kind of reached a conversational impasse. When we’ve all told our previous travel stories and inquired about each others backgrounds and culture and stuff. And it was beginning to annoy me, just that we had nothing interesting to say. We did spend one long afternoon talking about Christianity and Jill got up and walked off half way through so I’ve been treading relatively carefully recently. I have no issues with offending people for the sake of the gospel, (though that needs a lot of padding out), but I knew I had to draw a line for a bit. Goodness I could do a long extendied session on offending people and being popular over being authentic but I’ll stay away form that for now. It’s well past Kiwi bedtime.

So tonight I was round at their house for a bit if banter, and they even got me a hannukah present (Jill’s jewish – though I suspect it’s just a ploy for more presents). Quite touched by that really. And so again, I felt the conversational impasse approaching. But then came the scrabble.

All things change with scrabble. So we ended up playing scrabble for 3 hours and listening to divine comedy and duke special on a CD I’d made for them. As usual arguing about how long Jack was taking and whether vox/ pi or id should be allowed. I resisted using aa (a form of lava) as I’m saving it for the moment at the end of the movie when I have to save the world from evil hordes by playing scrabble against their evil leader and throw it on a triple word score to save the day, roll music and scene of me staring serenely into distance…

If nothing else the atmosphere changed between us. Well Jack may never speak to Jill again after she nicked his ‘Jute’ on a triple letter but hey… I was reminded that this is what friends do. Well it’s what my friends do. We don’t have to do something wild or exciting or appropriately youth like. We can sit in each others company and not feel the need to say a great deal. To not feel the need to be someone perhaps we’re not and show off all the time – which is unfortunately something I do all the time to my poor friends and I know I shouldn’t and our relationship is better than that.

Obviously I don’t want to over play the scrabble bit. It’s not that ‘scrabble will save your marriage’ or ‘scrabble cured my cats fleas’. But I am saying it may be the bridge to world peace.

I lost. Despite the use of axle, diodes, vanity and a wonderful 3 in 1 with dip, pi and id all in one play. Life is unfair.

Psalm of single-mindedness

A psalm of single mindedness (that I found in a 1970s magazine!)

Lord of reality, make me real
Not plastic, synthetic, pretend phony
An actor playing out his part, hypocrite
I don’t want to keep a prayer list
But to pray
Nor agonise to find your will
But to obey what I already know
To argue theories of inspiration
But submit to your word
I don’t want to explain the difference
Between eros, philos and agape
But to love
I don’t want to sing as if I mean it
I want to mean it
I don’t want to tell it like it is
But to be it, like you want it
I don’t want to think another need me
But I need him, else I’m not complete
I don’t want to tell others how to do it
But to do it
To have to always be right
But admit it when I’m wrong
I don’t want to be a census taker
But an obstetrician
Nor an involved person, a professional
But a friend
I don’t want to be insensitive
But to hurt where other people hurt
Nor to say I know how you feel
But to say GOD knows
And I’ll try, if you’ll be patient with me
And meanwhile I’ll be quiet
I don’t want to scorn the clichés of others
But to mean everything I say
Including this

Hard day’s work

New Zealand has about 4 million or so people in it. About 3 million live in the north island, more than a million of those live in Auckland and are known as JAFAs which is a rather uncomplimentary abbrevaiton that I’ll not go into. About a million or so live in the south island, half of whom live in Christchurch.

So it would seem sensible that the island with a quarter of the population gets to have the spinal surgery unit. At least someone thought it was a good idea when they put the Burwood spinal unit in Christchurch. If I was the family member of someone with a spinal injury then I’d feel ticked off if I was a north islander. Thankfully I’m not.

The one advantage, there may be more, of this set up that it gives me free flights to Christchurch to transfer our patients with broken backs to them. I doubt this was what they were thinking when they designed the system.

So at 0705 on the 6/12/06 Mr W, for no apparent reason cycled into the back of a parked lorry, breaking his breast bone, causing bleeding beside his heart and broke his spine, causing spinal cord damage.


At 0705 on the 6/12/06 I’m fast asleep, having woke briefly, and realising it’s my day off I’ve crawled back under the covers and am dreaming of sunsets and falling down.

At 1500 I get a phone call from my boss while I’m lying on my bum reading and it’s my boss ringing to see if I fancy taking Mr W to Christchurch in the morning. I arrive in work at 0630 and get things set. He’s conscious and in reasonable form, and he’s got no chest drains and isn’t on a ventilator – the pressure changes at altitude can make that type of thing tricky so at least this is an easy one.

We get an ambulance to the airport and get on a Cessna type plane with three seats and room for a stretcher. In an airplane with a patient you can pretty much see their chest going up and down as they breathe but that’s about the height of what you can do. If they got sick then I wouldn’t fancy trying to do anything too advanced at 3000m. so the idea is to only transfer ‘stable’ patients.

I’m in my ridiculous oversized flight suit, which makes me look more like the Michelin man than super man – which was presumably the desired image. At least it’s got plenty of pockets.

We take off with clear blue skies and I can see Mt ruapehu in the centre of the north island, all the way across to Taranaki (the mountain for the backdrop in the Last Samurai) on the west coast all in one vista. I pinch myself and remember that they actually pay me for this kind of thing.

Half way flying down the north island, the battery in my camera runs out. Gutted. The cabin service on the flight is pretty marginal, given that there is none. Cathy, the flight nurse is prepare enough to bring a snack and a bottle of water. I think about pancakes a lot.

You can feel the temperature change as we cross the cook strait, a high grey haze obscures the sunlight and I can see all the way from the Kaikouras to the Southern Alps (or the misty mountains as you may know them).

It takes about 2 hours to fly north to south and Mr W sleeps the whole way there. I consider it and then I think it’s kind of irresponsible. We land smoothly in Christchurch and an ambulance picks us up. Cathy looks after the patient and to be honest I just carry is two suitcases and lap top. Like a reject from top guun in an oversized flight suit who’s taken up portering to make ends meet.

We arrive in the ICU in Christchurch and hand over to a Scots doc who works with one of my mates who I trained with back home. The world is indeed a small place. We get a free cup of tea and some toast (non-stop glamour lifestyle I know) from the ICU staff and then we’re back to the plane.

Flying over the country on the way back I doze off occasionally into a guilt free bliss. Staring out the window at this vast and wonderfully pretty country I keep thinking that it was here for thousands of years before the Maoris even turned up in the 15 th century. It was full of bizarre flightless 9ft birds that made easy meals for humans with pointy sticks. Must have been amazing to travel the empty and virgin country. Then I realsised that they wouldn’t have a pressurised Cessna to travel in and that you’d have to walk it all yourself.

“Too much like hard work” I thought as I drifted off.

The grass is always greener

I have a small, 2m by 4m square of grass outside my flat. It’s not exactly a verdant jungle of tropical vegetation. It was some turf laid the week before I moved in. I had the high and righteous principle of not watering it cause wasting water is a waste and I didn’t want to waste money on a hose when I could easily spend it on… well whatever it is that people spend money on, I haven’t worked that out yet. And anyway I hate grass cause it’s pure aesthetic and no functionality and I felt the need to take a stand on functionality. Anyway it got sunny and the grass died and I felt bad cause it’s the owners grass and not mine and therefore guilt wins the day and I bought a hose for 4 quid and now spend a daily session watering it.

Now the grass is quite dead. It has been for some time. This isn’t one of those water your grass metaphors, that only works when you’re dry and need of refreshment – goodness this is turning into one of those dry grass metaphors. This grass is dead. The grass doctors have called time and packed up the defibrillator. All the family have come in and said goodbye. Even the funeral directors have been in to sew the lips together so the mouth doesn’t hang open. (things they don’t tell you in med school no. 478).

So watering it is doing little but make the mud a little muddier. But I like it. Just cause it’s a little time of the day to sit my bum on the kayak and think. Some would say I do far too much of that already. Some would say, me being a leading voice amongst them, that that’s what got me into this mess in the first place. Whatever that mess may be.

So I sit there and try not to look at the fat guy walking about the in his pants in the flat opposite and hope he can’t see me do the same. And I ponder life, the universe and everything. I think about my life, mainly cause I’m a self-centred (descent into swearing and needless adjectives….).

And I think a lot about catharsis. Which is a word most of us, including me, don’t really understand. It’s not the stuff you get up your nose – another C word I spell badly. I think a lot about my life and my job as being cathartic. At least I did till I looked up what it meant. Well, to be honest I still do, but I reconsidered it for a bit.

Of course where else would I turn for a definition but google. Which incidentally is what we use in work to find out stuff about diseases we (or I) don’t really understand. I have based treatment on stuff found on google. And so the first definition of cathartic that I find in the ‘Free online Dictionary’ is:

Noun: 1.cathartic – a purging medicine; stimulates evacuation of the bowels

And that kind of said it all for me. There was me thinking I could be profound and use big words and say deep stuff and then you find that. There’s definitely someone with a sense of humour up there and it ain’t me.

Thankfully, the definition continued:

Adj: 1.cathartic – emotionally purging

Somehow that was a little closer to the money. If you watch House (which I just watched four episodes in a row of, which stimulated this whole thing) then you realise that he can be a bit cathartic about the whole thing. Or just uncaring and bitter, not sure which. But that the medicine somehow keeps him going, that he vents the pain in his leg through his medical practice. Or something like that, I get confused.

I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie. Which if I ever took up real adrenaline intravenously would lead to a brief, cold palmed and sweaty end to my life. Now I’m not the traditional sort that jumps off buildings with a pair of stretchy knickers round my ankles or driving motorbikes or eating the sausages from those ‘fresh food served daily’ cabinets in petrol stations.

I’m more of an emotional adrenaline junkie. The highs and the lows, the sweet and the sour and the bitter and the sweet. That’s why I like medicine and dealing with all types of scary stuff cause it makes me feel alive, and makes me think of more than the price of cheese or what colour to paint the dining room. I think that’s why I like being alone cause I like feeling alone and depressed and miserable. And I only enjoy these cause I’m only playing at them. I’ve never been lonely, depressed or miserable in my life. I remain the luckiest and most blessed human being on the planet and I think I just dabble in it for the experience.

The other underlying, and if it was possible, even more sinister reason that I like catharsis is that it gives me a sense of achievement, progress and yes here it comes – atonement. Which lies behind so many of my actions. That I’ve skipped past the first 11 chapters of Romans just to get to the ‘live your lives as living sacrifices… and be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ bits. Cause I love self-denial and being zen and pursuing nirvana by the elimination of the self and all that. Because it’s all so wonderfully self-centred.

So I’ve decided not to think about catharsis any more. I’ve better things to be getting on with. And now that I’m fully equipped with a working definition then I’ll have more reason to believe that most of what I think about is closer to the noun than the adjective.

Delusions of grandeur

Now I know you’d all seen the billboards, and the TV ads, and the website promotions. So I must confess when you didn’t turn up to support me at my first solo gig I was more than a little disappointed in you. What do you mean you didn’t know, what do you mean it was too far to travel. Call yourselves friends…

So yeah, I’m just back from the café the church here runs, and I played my forty minutes and managed not to get booed off the stage. An achievement in itself. The church runs this café about once a month or so, when they provide some food and coffee and music and it’s free for people just to come along and enjoy the night. There’s nothing especially Christian or religious about it, but it’s a group of Christians enjoying music and giving glory to GOD in that. All things to GOD’s glory. And it’s a cool way to get non-church people involved in the church (in whatever little way) without the fear of what they think church might mean.

And they asked me to play at it. Which was perhaps the first in a series of errors. The second being – I said yes. Now I know I can play the guitar, I’m happy and confident in that. But singing is another thing. I can make a sort of joyful noise unto the LORD and can do a breathy norn irish accent thingy but it’s not exactly singing. And I’ve sang before but always with a group of people singing with me, and usually louder than me.

Now I had these delusions of grandeur that in fact my whole direction in life was clouded by this medicine malarkey and my shy ways (!) had prevented me from seeing my true talent as an international singer/songwriter and it would be first Napier Vinyard church and then the world. I have delusions and fantasies like this all the time. I only occasionally end up laughing at myself.

I figured, I’m 15 000 miles from home, where better to try this. No one really knows me so if I make a tit of myself then I don’t need to worry about it too much. So for the past few weeks I’ve been battering away at the guitar in the flat and trying to hit notes of songs that I shouldn’t really be singing at all. My neighbours must love me. And it didn’t really daunt me too much till the past couple of days when I realised I’d have to get up in front of people and sing into a microphone.

My heart started to pound and it felt like my bowels needed to move or open or emigrate or whatever (see last blog). This was a bad idea, was there no way I could get out of it? I figured I could just get up and play the guitar and not sing and get away with it.

I’d invited one of the guys I work with, (rejoicing in the name of Jethro) and his girlfriend along too. I was gonna invite others too but I give Jethro a lift to work every day so I knew he’d have to say nice things about me.

However, 8.30pm comes and goes and no sign of Jethro. And he didn’t know where to go and I was waiting for a phone call, but then my time comes and I’m up on the wee stage arranging my microphone for the guitar (it’s got no pick up) and my voice. I realised I would have to answer the phone mid-way through a song to give him directions. I managed to make a joke about this over the microphone and I got a laugh and I felt a bit less nervous. Though no one can make out if I’m speaking English or not so it may just have been a sympathy laugh. I kind of hoped he would ring during the song, cause then I could make another joke out of it and look cool. In the end he found his own way here.

I start with Mr Brightside by the Killers. Based on the well known ‘acoustic players’ principle of play a usually very loud and up beat song quite quietly and you’re bound to be on to a winner. I started singing into the mic and my voice sounds all thready and out of tune. I realised then that that’s what my voice actually sounds like. I have two options. Well I probably had lots of options but the two I was thinking about were a) stop and run away, and b) keep going and pretend no ones noticed. I find b) a good option in most situations, frequently in medicine. Moving on…

I found it easier to sing with my eyes closed, not cause it made me look like I was really into the song but because when I closed my eyes I couldn’t see the people and I didn’t feel as scared. It was either that or imagine them in their underwear and I had enough distractions already.

Next, I sing It must be love by madness. It went well, by which I mean no one walked out. I then sang I will follow you into the dark (death cab for cutie), which was one I could actually sing as well as I could. Unfortunately the monitor then started hissing at me, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t just my voice. Kind of distracting.

By that stage I’d kind of gotten past a lot of the nerves and I began to enjoy it. For completeness – I played – Crazy Bird (Iain Archer), Freewheel (Duke Special), a new song I wrote (which I half-inched bits from a Jose Gonzales cover of a Kylie Minogue song) and finished with Heartbeats (Jose Gonzales again).

And so I got away with it, cause they were mostly Christians and they’re mostly nice and secondly I’m Irish and everyone loves the Irish and they have no idea what I say to them when I talk anyhow.

So the world tour is on hold, as I have too many lives to save, and it’s more about the music anyhow or any other clichés I can throw in there. I’m aware that I can be a different person here than I would be at home. I have the options to be whoever I want, and present myself as whoever I may choose to be (see the blog – ‘Pablo’, back in june or so).

For all people know here I could play in pubs and cafes all the time – well apart from the fact that I’m not particularly good at it and they would wonder who would let me play there… and the thing about singing songs by Duke Special and Iain Archer is that no one will have ever heard them before and people will presume that they’re yours without having to pretend that they’re yours. Makes it easy to develop a persona of the ‘wonderfully enigmatic irishman’ (the term that has been floating about in my head for years), with deep mysteries of melancholy hidden below the surface. This has been my spectacularly unsuccessful tactic of wooing women for years.

This would be all well and good if I didn’t have a conscience, and perhaps even a smidgen of common sense and most importantly of all, a legion (well maybe not a legion… bad term…) of friends, family and acquaintances who know me too well and better than myself, who have enough sense to laugh at me when I’m taking myself too seriously to laugh at myself.


December 2006