Archive for May, 2010

Too much

Despite my newly found unemployment (or perhaps “extended holiday” would be a more appropriate term – unemployment can be a horrible and overwhelming thing. I’m just on 3 months off with a guaranteed job in the pipeline) I have had the busiest week for a long time.

I am beginning to realise that there really is quite a lot going on in my life in a rather short period of time:

1) quit work, quit medicine… (gulp…)

2) move out of house and leave housemates

3) move back home with wee Liz

4) move (again) to Maynooth and clean and paint and garden new house

5) play a gig with a full band

6) organise, plan and partake in “stag do”

7) get married

All within about 3 weeks.

It was a good idea to finish work this far before the wedding.

It has not been without its stresses – whilst remaining immensely enjoyable. I find it hard to really feel it until i’m in the situation. People say “wow, you’re getting married, that’s huge” and i think “well no it’s just something that will happen”. But when I get married I’ll realise – “wow this is huge”.

That’s OK I think. Any time I anticipate the feeling too far in advance of the event then it actually always turns out to be anxiety. And I can’t be arsed with that. Who by worrying has achieved much of anything.

Maybe that makes me a cold-unfeeling bastard. I am desperately impatient in vitrually all aspects of my life. But perhaps not in my emotional life. I’m not quite sure what that means yet.

All the small things

[This will no doubt become a series of posts on moving house…]

Compared to most people (and I am very much like most people in that I find a sense of self-righteousness in comparing myself to most people) I am not a very “stuff” orientated person.

If you allow the Volvo as an exception of course.

Fight Club had a big impact on my life with the lines about stuff ending up owning you and my own personal favourite – “you are not your fucking khakis”

When I lived in NZ I earnestly tried not to accumulate any “stuff” bar what I considered useful/functional/”essential”.

Mainly that worked out. It’s always a good idea to be able to squeeze eveything you own into your car.

Despite having the Volvo I’ve now broken my own rule. The furniture was the killer. If it wasn’t for the desk and the sofa I would have been in with half a chance.

Frankly it is disturbing the amount of stuff one can accumulate in such a short period of time.

Rage against the machine

Just in case you’re wondering I think this is a bad idea.

So there.

The accuracy of clinical symptoms and signs for the diagnosis of serious bacterial infection in young febrile children: prospective cohort study of 15 781 febrile illnesses BMJ 2010;340:c1594

I read on average about eight published medical studies a week. Mostly from the emergency medicine literature (about 5 or 6 journals).

I listen (rather unpredictably)  to 18 different medical podcasts. Mainly I listen to EMA cause I think it’s the best thing out there even if you do have to pay for it. I have 10 different medical blogs on my reader subscription.

That is a lot of information.

I retain abou 2% but at least it stops me getting bored.

Over the past few years I have got much better at critical appraisal and I have become far more cynical about a lot of what is published and a lot of what people typically think health care provision should consist of.

Every now and then the thought flutters through my head that I should share my cynicism and rambling reviews of papers on the blog. [Those who come here for the pictures of my brothers dog and my quotes of books by dead people will be most disappointed I know… I’ll give the postings titles that aren’t song titles to make it easier for you to tell the difference]

So maybe I’ll start today. And I’ll try and keep it readable to the non-medics too.

The accuracy of clinical symptoms and signs for the diagnosis of serious bacterial infection in young febrile children: prospective cohort study of 15 781 febrile illnesses BMJ 2010;340:c1594

Let me start with a brief comment on accuracy. Most people would think that being accurate means getting it right. Unfortunately, like most things in medicine, and indeed in life, it’s more complicated than that.

We can get it right most of the time but not always.

I’m afraid you’ll have to live with that. Or if you’re one of the one where we get it wrong then you won’t have to live with that cause maybe you’ll be dead.

We can do better, no doubt. But we cannot give you the “accuracy” you want. For lots of reasons that would distract me from the paper.

Kids get fevers a lot. They seek medical attention (or their parents do) fairly often when they get a fever.

The vast majority are fine (in that they are miserable, grumpy, with a fever and poor feeding but will get better all on their own if you give them a few days.). Some of them have nasty things wrong with them and will either do badly or even die if you don’t do something. Incidentally there are lots of the ones who do badly who will do badly no matter what we do but I like to at least try rather than miss it altogether.

If I had a 100 kids in the waiting room with a fever (and sometimes it feels like it) then if I sent them all home then it would only matter (as in some one comes to actual proper harm) in about 2 maybe 3 of them.

So even without a medical degree you’re off to a good start just by saying that everyone is fine.

These guys think that doctors aren’t quite cutting it with their history taking, examination and decision making (or educated guesswork as I call it) so they thought that if they measured all the symptoms and signs (“like it hurts when I pee”, or “you’re breathing is twice that of normal”) in 18000 kids with a fever that they could use all the information gathered and make a computer algorithm that will tell us which ones have the “serious bacterial illnesses”.

That’s the basic summary.

More technically they did something increasingly common:

1) identify a target population – in their case every kid under 5 with fever –  inevitably you start with a low prevalence population.

2) come up with a proforma to prospectively collect lots (more than 40 variables) of data on every kid with fever. All data collected by the Emergency Physician (EP) looking after the kid. My problem here is that they didn’t do interobserver agreement on the proforma – two doctors can look at the same kid and disagree substantially on points of history and examination.

3) let the EP come up with a probability of diagnosis before they do any tests. While this is nice in theory it’s not what we normally do in practice. Often the urinalysis is done before I’ve seen the patient or a GP has sent the child in with a provisional diagnosis. So in practice coming up with a probability (especially in terms of actual percentages) is not everyday practice. I imagine we’re not great at it. A computer model may give you a number, an EP is unlikely too. So it seems unfair.

4) use logistic regression (which I still don’t entirely understand but everyone does it) to come up with a list of variables that predict certain diseases of interest. Bung these altogether into a computer algorithm, identify and enter the relevant data and hey presto out pops your probability of an SBI (serious bacterial illness).

5) compare which was better at picking up SBI, the doc and his “judgement/gestalt” or the computer model

Besides the issues which I take with their methodology the big issue i take is their definition of “serious bacterial illness” (SBI). In fact it’s not really just their definition – all of the literature on this stuff uses the same crazy idea.

Let me use their own numbers to tell the story:

By their definition they had 1140/15781 (7.2%) had a serious bacterial illness by their definition.

A third did not get any antibiotics prescribed. Of these:

“One death occurred in a child with a lethal congenital disorder on end of life management.”

And of the others:

“eight were unwell at follow-up an average of 10.2 days later and none was febrile.” (unwell at follow-up could mean poor feeding, poor form).

So of 363 kids with an SBI who did not get treated (the whole point of the study is that kids with SBI need treated, the word serous implies this don’t you think?) only 2.2% were even considered “unwell” at follow up and no one (it seems) died of anything relevant.

They don’t tell us how the 2 thirds with an SBI who did get treated did – which would have been interesting because serious bacterial illnesses do exist in children and they do kill children.

So, how do they define SBI in kids:

Bacteremia (pretty serious most of the time I think)

Pneumonia – though this meant CXR changes mainly – lots of kids have pneumonia, lots of them just need some antibiotics and can go home fine and do great, lots of them probably have viral pneumonia and if we hadn’t done the CXR they would have been fine with nothing – best example is all the legions of kids with bronchiolitis.

Urinary tract infections – some kids get UTIs, actual significant infection in the urinary tract. Lots of them grow bugs from your urine when you test it – I’m not sure the two are the same thing. I’m pretty sure lots of them aren’t serious by any definition.

All of this is a little silly.

Let me be clear, someone who has a fever and happens to grow a bug from the urine does not necessarily have an SBI, in fact most do not.

So back to the numbers. In this study of the serious bacterial illness?:

Bacteremia – 6%

Pneumonia – 48%

UTI – 48%

[Incidentally some must have had both has the numbers don’t add up]

Sick kids, look… well… sick. Most of the time. Sometimes they can be difficult to pick up. I’m not saying it’s easy but I’m not sure this helps us any.

The drive to identify this definition of SBI (which is what all the published papers are pushing at) makes us switch off our thinking as soon as we “exclude” an SBI missing out on the other bacterial illness that probably are serious – for example they excluded mastoiditis and epiglotitis from being an SBI, because they are rare and didn’t fit the model.

It also doesn’t cover other really important things that cause fever like Kawasaki’s disease.

Leaving is an exit

Last night hailed the end of an era. The end of 2 years living with these likely lads in the Little Portugal/Lithuania area of the most republican part of Portadown.

It has been an awful lot of fun.

I moved here in the midst of my Dad’s last illness and the lads followed shortly after.

The original plan was to be there for a bit longer but then Transfarmer came along and plans change. Funny how that happens.

In many ways I think I would have far preferred living on my own. I am a touch of an introvert and am a big fan of my own company (poor taste I know) but I’ve also got just enough self-awareness to realise that living on my own would be a really bad idea.

People are good for you. When you’re confronted with other people’s lives and habits intruding and pouring into yours you have to learn to re-shape your life to fit them in. The minutiae of kitchen etiquette exposes your own petty little obsessions and highlights how ridiculous they are.

It comes as a shock each and every time that I do not have all the answers to life, that these other people I come into contact with on a daily basis have experiences, wants, dreams and wisdom far beyond my own.

Only when something is considered “past” and no longer “present” can I get nostalgic about it. I like our green walls. I always did, but only now am I nostalgic about them. Somewhere over the past few days the memories of the times in the house have moved from being memories to good memories in the fond and warm sense. Somehow it seems to take the fond and warm sense to appreciate the lessons learned and the time passed.

Back to Saturday night.

We had a BBQ/party

It was an awful lot of fun. Sitting in the pokey back yard smoking your eyes red from the BBQ smoke and eating undercooked pork ribs.

Incidentally the Office spent a good 30 minutes with the white board on the fridge trying to explain to Transfarmer his solution to plug the Deepwater horizon oil leak. Apparently they’re adopting it now. So he tells me…

And so now we have one week left. Then the big move out happens. Lots of boxes and hoovering and driving the Volvo round packed to the roof with stuff and junk. I couldn’t be happier. And then a week after that I get to do the same thing in reverse and move it all in here. (well not actually St. Pats, as nice at that would be, but in the near by area.)

It’s got to be better than sleeping on the floor in the Transfarmer’s living room…

Bands with managers

Thursday 27th May


Exodus – Lisburn

29 Railway St, Lisburn

This is something you should all go to cause it’ll be beezer.

I’ll be there which will make it even better. I’ll even have a band to make pretty music to make up for my lack of ability.

The Turf Brothers will be there in their first live performance since the last one.

I need to go practice singing in tune.

I’ve been to a marvellous party

Friday night was my chance to see Divine Comedy as close up and personal as I ever likely will.

I am, it could be said a big fan. The man knows how to write  lyric and a melody and a chord sequence. The man is a living legend.

I kept leaning over to Transfarmer and recounting tales of when we used to play that song or this song in the wedding band or some school concert.

I fondly remember busting a string on the second note of the guitar solo in National Express in the civic centre in Craigavon during  school concert.

It is odd that Neil Hannon seems like one of ours, an Irishman, a much beloved Irishman. It’s odd because the whole persona he has created is intensely English. This is the man (who with another Irishman) made an entire (and wonderful) album about cricket. Yes of course there’s satire, and parody but then we Irish can’t pretend that we’re not just a little bit English at heart…

The Sugar Club is a wonderful place for a gig. Despite missing the early rush to grab a seat we managed to get a seat that some lovely young folk were willing to share. Rarely have I been more happy to get a seat a gig.

This was a civilised gig. He came in a suit and bowler hat and there was even an interlude. He rattled through some really high quality new stuff (can’t wait to hear the full version of the Complete Banker – the man knows how to capture the mood of a nation) and some old classics too. I’d be happy if he’s just stopped at Tonight we Fly (the second song).

The thing that everyone will remember is the mistakes. Firstly that they happened at all – I was a little bit surprised at the frequency of the cock ups of the lyrics and chords. And secondly – the mistakes were half the banter of the night, it became like a little bit of stand up mixed with pop.

Bring on the album.

Sam Hall

I grew up in the church of Ireland. We sang psalms. Or rather the choir did and the congregation mumbled along behind.

I now go to a Presbyterian church. Where they also sing psalms.Though they use four rather than the COI’s two notes for the melody.

Simy pointed out an amusing thing to remember while choking your way through a metrical psalm:

It is entirely possible that Yoda composed the wording for the metrical psalms

Playing Dead

Seeing as I will be doing this for a living next year, I figured I’d need the appropriate reference tomes.

When I came through medical school we had a horrible useless book that I’ve now given away. I bought myself Last’s anatomy to get myself through. And getting myself through with solid below average marks is exactly what I did for five years.

When I started teaching some anatomy stuff at Queen’s 3 years ago I bought myself Gray’s anatomy for students – which has excellent pictures but I found it a bit light on the text.

Given my shall we say limited academic acumen at undergraduate level I had some difficulty distinguishing a hippocampus from a hypothalamus and so I bought this book on neuroanatomy (check out the cover with the guy whose head hurts so bad from trying to understand it all…) which has served me well even if I still somewhat struggle to quite grasp the significance of pyramidal tracts. (maybe it’s how the ancient Egyptians evangelised?..)

The most famous of all anatomy texts is that by Henry Gray which has been recently televised in one of the most faithful TV adaptations ever seen.

Being out of copyright you can pick up a copy for 2 quid on eBay. So I did.

I even got a copy on my iPhone too.

There are of course some new developments in the field of anatomy since 1858 – not that human beings have changed all that much just our knowledge of them. The hip bone is apparently still connected to the thigh bone in case you were wondering.

This was also back in the days when you could just a lift a body from the poor house instead of asking them before they died.

Gray’s anatomy has continued and is now up to a 4oth edition and after dropping enough hints Transfarmer sold a kidney and bought me a copy for my birthday.

It is comprehensive to say the least. If not particularly portable.

The main thing I realise when I buy such books is how little I actually know. Depressing really.

Free Coffee

Since I met Transfarmer I have writen one song.

Most rejoice at that.

Simy would say that I’m no longer miserable and therefore can’t write the sad bastard music any more. I’m still miserable, she has that effect on people, it’s just I seem to have spent all my time driving or training (should really be a verb…) up and down from Maynooth.

Though I do drive an automatic it is still hard to master the corners while singing and playing guitar.

I still like some of the old songs. Well 5 of them at least. And I like the idea of playing them more often. However singing in front of people gives me the willies like nothing else. I get nervous about very little (if anything) but singing is one of them.

On Tuesday I got to play in a Starbucks where I live (some guys I know had got the use of the place for the evening and I got a chance to sing a bit).

Transfarmer even took some video. Some better than others it must be said. If you stick the video to the end then there’s another guy doing something really cool.

It went remarkably well, in that I enjoyed it and even occasionally hit the right notes.

Will be good practice for a gig I’m playing here (with the legendary Turf Brothers) at the end of May. We have our first practice on Saturday morning in our living room. Hope the neighbours won’t mind…

Downhill from here

I have a bunch of mates who are currently 5 months into cycling the length of Africa. From Tangiers to Cape Town.

Let that sink in.

They’re clearly mental.

Anyhow they have a great website and blog that you should follow and you should donate some cash to support their sponsorship


May 2010