The element of surprise

Recently, I (re)discovered the art of coming out of the closet. This was due to a combination of awkward questions about girls and my own compulsion to "tell the truth", a habit that, ironically, may have been drummed into me in my Islamic Studies class at school.

I am no stranger to closets (said he of the poor dress sense). I have had to come out to various groups of people as a vegetarian, an atheist, a Hebrew-speaker, and oh, as gay. The reactions to all of them have ranged from non-chalant 'Oh right's, to tight-lipped, wide-eyed nods masking a profound horror, to questions about my sanity.

But not long ago, I was in the company of some bona fide straight blokes who were, until then, unaware of my inclinations. We were intellectually discussing the group of Latin American girls that we had met the night before, with the guys admiring bust sizes, facial features, and even personality traits. Throughout this discussion, I was sitting on the sofa smiling, biting my tongue, patiently waiting for the brownies to bake and the topic to change.

Suddenly one of them, who was standing in the balcony smoking, turned to me and asked, "What about you bro, what's your story? You have a girlfriend?"
"Nah.. I don't.."
"Really? You've never had one?"
A short pause followed.
"Erm, I bat for the other team," I said, decidedly not beating around the bush.
"Oh," replied one of them, having understood the expression. He took a long drag from his cigarette, as if contemplating a better response.
I had to be more explicit with the other one: "I am gay."

What followed was the standard barrage of questions - do you have a boyfriend, does your family know, have you really never fancied a girl etc., - which I patiently answered whilst scraping the slightly burnt brownie off the baking tray.

I've been 'out' for over seven years now. I am well past the Tell-Everyone-On-The-Street phase and I now view my sexual orientation as just another part of my biology, rather than a defining feature of my character. 'Coming out' to someone new usually doesn't arouse such awkwardness in me.
But this time, it was different. I don't know why, I wasn't too comfortable at first telling these (straight) guys. I guess I just cared about my friendship with them and didn't want to give them a rude shock. But a (smallish) rude shock now is better than a bigger shock later on.

Later that night, before we went out for a party, one of the (allegedly) straight guys berated me for wearing mismatched clothes and footwear and proceeded to give me fashion advice. It was my turn to be shocked!


For my last rotation, my supervisor Dr Lawrence offered me the chance to do an audit of his clinic for him. I showed polite interest, as one does, and he may have misconstrued this look of interest as genuine because he seized the chance to tell us about the minutiae of the previous audit. Before I knew it, I had been cornered into doing the audit. I didn't sweat it, I thought it would only be a short one and it wouldn't encroach on my clinical time.

Dr Lawrence took me to meet his beleaguered secretary, Jess, in whose office he explained how the audit would work and that Jess would be 'happy to help'. He droned on a bit about how his clinic functions (...shockingly similar to all the other clinics I've attended). When Jess thought he wasn't listening, she turned to me and pleaded in a whisper, "Why are you doing this?!". Half-disgustedly, she started to print out a list of clinic patients within a particular six-month period. The printer hummed happily as it churned out page after page, filled with names. My first job was to find the 'new' patients in the clinic (i.e. those who were seeing Dr Lawrence in clinic for the first time); this job I duly delegated to Jess who highlighted their names for me.

Next, I had to find these patients' hospital notes in the fabled land of Medical Records. Jess proceeded to explain to me the rules and regulations of Medical Records: You can only go in after 1 pm. You can only get three sets of notes from the staff. You can't wear striped shirts. You must never turn your back on a shelf of notes. You may only communicate in Morse. And on it went...

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Jess very kindly took me to Medical Records that afternoon. It is hands-down, the most abysmal place that I've set foot in, a sort of purgatory for medical students and junior doctors. Not a window in sight. Reams of medical notes stacked in claustrophobia-inducing shelf after moveable shelf. Queues of medical secretaries, receptionists and porters waiting their turn to get into the aisles to 'pull' a set of notes, whilst secretly dreaming of crushing someone between two shelves. Looks laden with suspicion passing between the inmates. A loud radio - a beacon of hope in this dull, stagnant environment - playing a cheery pop tune.

Jess tread carefully and I followed suit, not knowing what was coming next. She showed me how to locate medical notes using the patients' unique ID numbers - encrypted within the ID numbers was a code to work out which aisle and shelf the notes could be found on. COULD be found on - not WOULD be found on, a discovery that led to me pulling a few clumps of hair off my head.

Having imparted this miniscule amount of information, Jess briskly shuffled us out of there. For the next few weeks, Jess found suitable patients for my audit and I dragged myself to Medical Records two or three times a week to find said patients' notes. Many a time I'd go in with a list of five ID numbers and only return with one or two sets of notes. I began to recognize the faces of the similar downtrodden and crushed souls like myself and even attempted to befriend some of them: there was a youngish boy, whose polite smile veiled the horror in his bespectacled eyes. After thanking me for finishing my note-pulling exercise and giving way to him, he told me half-jokingly that he was going to go kill himself. I briefly wondered if I should call the psychiatry team, but decided that it would be too much of an effort and would mean having to stay in Medical Records a bit longer - a thought that was enough to induce suicidal ideation in me.

Then one day I struck gold. I had a list of ten patient ID numbers that I needed to get. I went into Medical Records, determined to hunt them down. I strategized my route through the place, going to shelves where I was less likely to find a queue or where I could glare my way to the front of the queue. Pulling notes out successfully at super-sonic speed, I came to the bottleneck - between shelves 50 and 70, where the queues were always the longest. It finally got to my turn. I started to turn the handle to get into the aisle I needed when all of a sudden, a mammoth receptionist popped out of nowhere, mumbled a paltry 'Sorry darling' and began to push in the other direction. When I protested this blatant act of playground bullying, she dismissed my outburst saying that she needed the notes for a clinic which trumped whatever else I was going to use my notes for (i.e. an audit) and that I could speak to the manager if I wished to take the matter further. Looking daggers at her and silently wishing her an early demise, I let go of the handle.

When I finally left Medical Records that afternoon, I discovered that I had pulled 9 out of the 10 notes that I needed. An exhilaration rushed through me and for a few brief moments I felt like I had won the lottery. Then, realizing what a pitiful reaction that was, I hung my head and went to find a computer to feed the data from the notes into a dull, soul-destroying spreadsheet.

Broken Skin

Friday afternoon in a big teaching hospital, I had just finished observing a general neurology clinic which had been interesting - not because of the patients, but because the neurologist running the clinic had told me (quite politely) that I ought to shave as he didn't approve of my day-old stubble. I had glanced into the small mirror in the clinic room and instantly and wholeheartedly disagreed with the neurologist, thinking to myself that I looked rather dashing with a bit of facial hair and a shirt that was somewhat tight around my arms.

I lazily floated from the clinic to the café, foraging for food. I met two of the doctors from the neurology ward there, and since they didn't object to sharing a table with me for lunch, I sat with them and munched on my mustardy Quorny sandwich. They were (rightfully?) whingeing about their jobs and how they had to be on call etc., and I smiled stupidly thinking, "This is going to be me in a few years' time."

As part of the whingeing, one of the doctors was listing the jobs she had to do that afternoon, one of which was a lumbar puncture (I love how the caption under the picture on Wikipedia's lumbar puncture page says 'a patient undergoes a lumbar puncture at the hands of a neurologist' - doesn't sound persecutory at all...). The doctor turned to me and asked me, half playfully, "Do you want to do the LP?" using the sexier-sounding abbreviation.
With my mouth full of sticky bits of Quorn, lettuce and bread, I stopped chewing and gaped at her in disbelief. I nodded and agreed quickly in case she withdrew the offer.

After finishing lunch (which took a painfully long time), we went back to the neurology ward - not to do the LP, but to type up a letter for a different patient. Nearly bursting with excitement, I offered to type up the bloody letter for the doctor, in a bid to finish the 'small jobs' quickly so we could hurry down to the patient who needed an LP.

The patient arrived. Mr V was an elderly gentleman who had come in for some routine tests (LPs are "routine" for neurologists, as are MRI scans of the brain.. but I digress). The doctor went to see him first and explained what the procedure was going to involve and the associated risks etc. I patiently waited outside for Mr V to agree to letting me stab him quite deep with a fine needle. He agreed.
I went over the introduce myself to Mr V and his wife, who looked a bit hesitant (perhaps because I exuded inexperience). I then went to fetch the doctor so we could get the equipment ready and watched as the doctor assembled gloves, needles, swabs and specimen pots on to a trolley. We pushed the laden trolley and a cheerfully yellow sharps box to the patient's bedside. Once Mr V's back was adequately exposed, we asked him to lie on his side in the fetal position so we could have a feel of his backbones between which we would be inserting the needle for the LP. I marked the right spot on his lower back with an 'X' (which incidentally was a few centimeters off).

After making a fool of myself trying to put on a pair of sterile gloves as the unnerved Mrs V looked on, I proceeded to clean Mr V's back with some good old-fashioned iodine. The doctor then gave the local anesthetic, and we put our things together as we waited for the anesthetic to numb the area. I got the giant needle out of its packaging and saw Mrs V go a shade paler out of the corner of my eye as I began to insert the needle under the doctor's verbal instructions.

I hit bone the first time I went in. We withdrew the needle, reinserted it a different angle and then hit bone again! This went on for a good ten minutes with some pretty extreme repositioning, but I kept hitting bone. The doctor then tried on her own and managed to reach the border between the backbone and the spinal covering. Not wanting to take the glory of doing a successful LP away from me, the doctor handed over the rest of the procedure to me. I pushed the needle further in and lo, and behold! we had spinal fluid leaking out of the other side of the needle (which was facing me). We collected the spinal fluid in specimen bottles and testubes, withdrew the needle and put a disproportionately large surgical wound dressing over where the needle had broken his skin.

All throughout, Mr V remained calm and patient, mumbling a few words to his wife every now and then and to us when we needed him to. I was absolutely exhilarated, having done an LP. I relished the feeling of novelty and accomplishment at the time, fully aware that the procedure will become an oft-repeated, tedious chore for me if I am to carry on training as a physician.

I had flashbacks of one of the other doctors telling us students - in jest, may I add - that we'd have to sleep with one of the junior doctors if we wanted to do an LP, and I silently rejoiced at the fact that I didn't have illicit relations with anyone in order to get this awesome opportunity to injure someone with a needle (for their own good).


Take me to New York, I'd like to see TA

My elective isn't far off - only seven months away. Basically, during the summer between fourth and fifth year at med school, we get to go anywhere in the world to study medicine (or to drink cheap alcohol on an Asian beach whilst reassuring the medical school office by e-mail that we are, indeed, learning about the management of neurocysticercosis). Note that 'anywhere' excludes a few countries where wars have broken out or natural disasters (e.g. Justin Bieber) have struck. Therefore, the great big question staring me in the face is 'Where do I go?'

I had it all planned out. In fact, I had an idea about where I wanted to go for my elective even before I'd started medical school! The answer back then was 'Israel!' with a big grin on my face. I still very much want to go to sunny, hummusy 'Israel!'-with-a-big-grin-on-my-face. As with most things in my life, people question my odd choice. Why Israel? Depending on who's asking the question, I reply with standard one-liners like 'It's really warm there' or 'I'm fascinated by Israeli culture' or 'They have really good research opportunities there!'.
But my (slightly wet) dreams of going to Israel appear to be getting dismantled, slowly but surely, by a cruel mixture of medical school rules, Middle East politics and a magnetic force called family. This is how:
1. As mentioned above, since we are the medical school's responsibility on this extended holiday known as The Elective, it is their job to make sure we don't get killed by floods, stray bullets and the like. So the medical school office, depending on the advice of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, simply doesn't approve requests to go to countries that are currently being buggered by other countries e.g. Afghanistan. Surprisingly, Israel doesn't fall into this category - the FCO seems to be fine (at the moment) with Britons traveling to the Land of the Crazies. My worry (and prediction) is that this will probably change as Mr Liar-yahu and Hamas are having a round of friendly fire at the moment which might escalate to Total Apeshit War, prompting the FCO (and hence the medical school) to discourage travel to Israel. So should I even bother applying for an elective in Jerusalem? But I really really really weally want to go! Should I apply and have a firm Plan B i.e., an elective in a different country, in case Israel doesn't quite work out?
2. Family - cousins, to be precise - are planning to get happily married around the time of my elective. BUT WHAT ABOUT MY HAPPINESS?!! I want to attend their weddings but I'm quite certain I can't be in two places at once (I've tried.. it made my head spin) so it's going to be an extremely astronomically difficult choice between a dream-elective in El-'uds (assuming that no rockets are falling on it) and dancing at my cousins' week-long weddings.

If I did my elective in America, I could overcome both problems, innit. So I'm desperately trying to contact medical schools in the States that might accept a poor, downtrodden 4th year medical student for a clinical or research placement. No luck so far (oh thanks a ton, Universities of Florida, Texas, California and Harvard - I will have my revenge!). I'm still waiting to hear back from a few places - some do not have access to their own e-mail, as they are in the Third World (southern California).
The only downside to spending 10 weeks with Americans is that I might absorb some of their Neanderthal ways and come back with a deficit in my intelligence...

White stuff

I've come to the end of my second week on a placement in anesthetics and intensive care. It's been really exciting for me so far, specially because I've just finished a six-month-long research project which involved very little clinical medicine, and it's refreshing to come back to it, albeit at the expense of my short summer break!

"GASP! I can't believe he's on a voluntary placement... that too in anesthetics!"

I'm technically attached to one of the consultant anesthetists in the hospital, but in reality I'm attached to the whole department which is made up of dozens of drug-peddling anesthetics doctors. I've been shadowing a different consultant each day. For my placement, I've been timetabled to spend time on the intenstive care wards as well as in the various operation theaters doing fancy anesthetisty things. When people find out that my placement is entirely voluntary (or self-inflicted - depends how you look at it), some give me a verbal pat on the back; others look at me as if I've just admitted to being a cannibal.
I was in theater with the anesthetists for a backbone operation, and was making small talk with the surgeon. It came out in conversation that contrary to his assumptions, I was doing this placement of my own free will. Somewhat cynically, he said "That's very keen of you. It's nice to know The System hasn't beaten it out of you... yet!"

The placement involves a good mix of revising my knowledge of various medical conditions (if I can be motivated enough to open a textbook), as well as practising hands-on skills like inserting cannulae, catheterization and airway management during general anesthesia. Some anesthetists let me do quite a lot by myself in the anesthesia induction room before an operation - stuff like bag and mask ventilation (which is not as easy as it looks!), inserting tubes of various descriptions down people's throats, and setting up fluid lines. Once the patient is anesthetized and ready for the operation, there isn't a lot for me to do, so the anesthetists quiz me on those vague bits of physiology and pharmacology that I was sure I'd never have to remember after exams.
Often, one of the anesthetists will slip out for a coffee or a lunch break if the operation is particularly long. Last Wednesday, when I was still new to the theaters I'm currently placed in, the anesthetist offered me a cuppa. Trying not too look too desperate for caffeine, I said "It's alright, I don't need one." She sensed that deep down inside, I very much did need one, so she gave me some very useful advice: As a medic, you should never turn down an opportunity to have a cup of tea, to sit down and to empty your bladder because you never know when you're next going to get a chance to do these things.

The other thing that I get to do sometimes is to attend to emergency calls in the hospital with the anesthetics registrar on call. These can range from a collapse mimicking a more serious problem to continuous seizures (status epilepticus) to actual brink-of-death cardiac arrests. The anesthetist in this situation tries to secure the patient's airway and make sure they're still breathing and their heart is still pumping. They often end up taking charge of the patient's care and I get involved where I can e.g. inserting a urinary catheter (the fun only starts when the pee starts going everywhere).
The first emergency call I attended was quite interesting. It was an old lady who was visibly unwell and quite breathless, despite the oxygen that was being given to her. There were at least 10 doctors of various grades and specialties, and three medical students standing around her, trying to work out what was wrong with her. Words like 'edema', 'tamponade' and 'nephrotic syndrome' were getting thrown around. A sticky, lubricated ultrasound probe was giving us a grainy view of her heart. The anesthetics registrar whom I was with tried to ask her what had been going on with her. Lifting her oxygen mask off her face with some difficulty, she said keeping a stiff upper lip, "Just a bit out of breath, doctor.."
She eventually got transferred to one of the intenstive care wards and I got told to follow her care through the intensive care department. When I went to check on her the next day, she had disappeared. I saw her again briefly when I was on a different ward for a different reason, but I never quite caught up with her story.

It's been a good learning experience so far. Anesthetics is starting to grow on me as a potential career option - even though I'm still very loyal to neurology/neuropsychiatry. It's definitely on my list of Cool Medical Specialties; obstetrics and gynecology, sadly did not make the cut.
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"Most women would kill for your lips!"

Two weeks ago, not far from the deadline for my master's degree dissertation, my lips decided to have a little party.

It started as a harmless-looking spot of acne in the center of my bottom lip. It hurt all day but I didn't think much of it because I've had acne around my lips before. Pretty much overnight, the lip swelled up to twice its size, leaving me writhing in pain and unable to really focus on anything. I could feel a circular structure inside my lip knocking against my teeth every time I tried to talk or eat. The lip continued to balloon at an alarming speed and my resemblance to a primate also began to increase with it.

The sore lip and the dark rainclouds hovering over the city made Monday morning a real treat. I must have had on an unusually tired face because one of my workmates asked me if I was hung over. Eventually the pain (and the fear of the looming presentation that I had to do) got the better of me and I went to the chemist's to get some paracetamol and ibuprofen. On the way to the chemist's I passed a man with an amputated right arm - that really put things into perspective for me. I decided to quit complaining and get on with it (for the rest of the day anyway).

The swelling was decidedly there to stay, so I went to see the doctor. Their earliest appointment wasn't for another six days, so I made a fuss about it being an emergency. They booked me in with the nurse that afternoon. When I went to se the nurse, she seemed disoriented in time, place and person: she asked me what the date was twice during the consultation, which was enough of a push for me to disregard her diagnostic skills completely. Without so much as feeling the lip, she declared the swelling to be a (viral) cold sore and then proceeded to prescribe antibiotics in case it was a bacterial abscess (which it most likely was). She was just a bag of inaccuracies, that poor maid. She refused my pleas to get it lanced and drained because it wasn't 'ripe' enough according to her.

Back at the lab, my workmates sympathetically mocked my misery with comments like, "Most women would kill for lips like yours!" or "When are you getting your next (collagen) filling?" Once the antibiotics and the painkillers were in me, I was able to laugh with them. I maintained myself for the next few days on a steady diet of pills and potions (mostly the pills) so I could attend to the more important things in life, e.g. my dissertation. The abscess drifted in and out of consciousness, oozing pus every time something (usually my finger) woke the beast. Puckering up, which had never before been so satisfying, played a big role in squeezing the last droplets of pus (which looked suspiciously similar to my hair conditioner) out of the abscess's two mouths.

The abscess finally gave up the ghost last Monday. Its remains now lie buried deep inside my lower lip, and I'm not sure if there will be a Second Coming.

I handed my dissertation in on Thursday afternoon. Two Soft-bound Copies and an Electronic Copy, word-processed and double-spaced. At least 15 (Bonsai) trees will have died for all the copies of my dissertation that got printed. My journey with the dissertation was a bit like my experience with the lip abscess: a small, inconspicuous dot that was going to get very big and painful very quickly, and which would leave me with pure relief once it was gone.

I had finished writing my dissertation at least a week before I was supposed to hand it in. But then my idea of a finished dissertation was of a much, much lower standard than my supervisors. Mistakes were corrected, sections were removed, whole new were sections added and last minute analysis was done to convince ourselves that what I had written did actually make some vague sense. It still hasn't hit me that I have finished my dissertation (and with it, the project, which was part of the most challenging six months of my life) - or maybe I'm just in denial. The complete lack of work in the next few weeks should hopefully help me with that realization.

I'm really going to miss working in my lab. For six months, I felt like I was employed. I had a set of goals to accomplish, and I had helpful, friendly people watching over me to make sure I wasn't straying too far from the course. And of course, the continuous supply of coffee (and inventively designed fruit tea) - sometimes half a dozen in a day! - made it feel like a real job. I'm looking forward to going back to medicine and being on the assembly line to becoming a bog-standard doctor, it will just be difficult for me to cope with being told to be in a particular place at a particular time on pain of failing the year, by the medical school. I'll settle down eventually I suppose.

Between the devil and the deep blue King

Reason #523342 why I don't want to work in the Gulf: Bahrain is criminalizing medics for doing their job.

Don't get me wrong, I'm totally in support of filthy rich, oil-washed oligarchies inhumanely killing their own subjects under the watchful eyes of their sympathetic neighbors, not to mention crushing said subjects' hopes of ever having a voice. That's just the way some people roll..

But was it really necessary to charge doctors and nurses with treason when they were only doing what they were trained to do - medically treat the injured, be they protesters or by-standers? Because of course, when you're faced with a shot wound or a mangled limb as a medic working in a busy trauma department, the first thing you should do is not check A-B-C or write a prescription for fluids and analgesia - ridiculous! No, you should check the patient's political inclinations before you check their pulse.

This whole thing is a travesty, a weak government trying to cover up for its inefficiencies by bullying the easiest targets. The Bahraini government is essentially prosecuting the poor medics for not defying medical ethics and for not placing loyalty to a king above their professional duties.

Someone needs to draw the line.

Behind the scenes

My diary for Saturday 7th May said one thing: '8AM - CONFERENCE!!'

The excitement that built up rapidly in the weeks leading up to The Conference took many shapes and forms, some of which were quite unproductive e.g. closing my eyes, rolling my fingers into a fist and letting out a silent scream for as long as the thought of The Conference persisted. When I wasn't doing that, I was wrestling with different spreadsheets, trying to put delegates into unpopular workshops, or trying to assign judges to posters and oral presentation while simultaneously e-mailing higher-ups i.e., the academic doctors whom we had asked to speak at The Conference or lead a workshop.

The week before The Conference itself was slightly manic. With some workshops' leaders cancelling and some delegates dropping out due to 'unforeseen circumstances', there was another round of putting people into different workshops. When the workshops were finally sorted (or so we thought), we e-mailed all the delegates their workshop allocations... and the next morning, another workshop got cancelled! C'est la vie...

'Bagstuffing' (the official term for filling plastic bags full of paper items and a pen for each delegate) was unnervingly left until the night before The Conference itself. Simultaneously as bags were getting stuffed, clipboards for the committee members and judges were being made, feedback forms and lists of posters and workshops were being printed en masse. Meanwhile, poster boards were being set up and signs to lecture theaters and toilets were being stuck on to walls using trusty blu-tack. One of the committee had brought cupcakes, which quickly disappeared. A few of us stole away to a lecture theater to practise chairing a session of oral presentations, but we were actually just (internally) jumping for joy at the prospect of being the Chair of a whole session.

And so arose the Day of the Conference on 7th May. Having ironed my favorite shirt the night before, I ironed it again that morning (just in case) before putting it on with a black tie and trousers. After trying various hairdos in front of the mirror, I abandoned all hope of having a good hair day and set off on my way to the Medical School. Some of the committee were already there, setting up shop.
I made myself useful where I could: barking orders, moving furniture, taking large swigs out of someone's cup of mocha (it certainly wasn't exclusively mine!) and waving my clipboard about in panic just for effect. The delegates started trickling in 10 minutes before we had expected them to. We must have managed to come across as organized because we didn't get any bad feedback about registration! Everyone got involved in registering the delegates, hunting for their name badges and giving them their (stuffed) bags.

The next few hours were quite stressful as I waited outside for speakers who only turned up 10 minutes before their talk was scheduled to begin (I had naively planned for them make an appearance at least 30 minutes before their talk - silly me!). I also shuffled judges into the board room for coffee and biscuits and shuffled speakers into the main lecture theater. Later I even chaired a whole session by myself! There were five presentations in my group and I got to say official-sounding things like 'Thank you for that very interesting presentation', 'Any questions?' and 'There is lunch outside.'
Lunch wasn't really lunch for me as I had to take a stroll with one of the senior judges, trying to pick the best poster out of forty-odd posters.
After lunch, things began to settle down a bit. I got to attend a few talks and (despite my history of verbal diarrhea) I was even allowed to talk to some important people and say goodbye to them with relatively posh wine.

The tiring day slowly turned into a semi-debaucherous night out on the lash in Newcastle - just to show the world that geeky academic medics can have fun too!

Now that The Conference is over, I'm suffering from withdrawal symptoms and life is a wee bit less exciting. One of the speakers wrote back, heart-warmingly telling us how the older generation of doctors and researchers can learn something from us. Being on The Conference's organizing committee was definitely one of the best experiences I've had and I'll cherish it more because of the incredibly talented, level-headed and determined people that I worked with.

Sitting, waiting, wishing...

On Friday, I finally had my first participant come through for testing for my study.

Research takes its own sweet time, as I'm learning the hard way. There isn't, as I previously thought, a conveyor belt bringing volunteers to participate in our study, to do our exhausting, montonous tests. No, they have to be phoned up and asked very nicely when they can come to the research center so you can schedule an appointment. Of course it's not just you who is doing the testing, so this appointment needs to be slotted into various other people's diaries. Laboratories and rooms need to be booked and balanced so you're not pissing everyone else off by hogging the facilities.
And when you have everything set for one participant, they call and cancel.

Last week, two participants - my first two participants - canceled their appointments. It was a true headdesk moment. Besides getting demoralized, I also had to reschedule them almost immediately to a different date, which involved running around the lab's office headless trying to juggle booking experiment rooms to get a time when the participant AND the experiment rooms would be free!

Fortunately one of them had rescheduled to the end of last week, so I was really excited on Friday afternoon as I got the experiment rooms set up for his arrival, printing out the consent form and all the score sheets in the order that I would use them. He was a bit late. As I sat watching the clock, I felt what many people starting out on a new venture feel: the never-ending wait for things to fall into place, the self-doubt and the frantic search for a shred of confidence in oneself, the wish for a successful first trial before your work becomes routine and second-nature.

In the end it all went well. Because our tests are so montonous and because he's a smart man, he got used to them pretty quickly (which may or may not be a bad thing!). I think we got good data. Ready for the next few now!
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A lot has been happening in the Middle East that I have many thoughts about.

The butterfly effect that a Tunisian street vendor started in a remote town by setting himself on fire has clearly demonstrated that the power of a very large group of people who won't budge, is a force not to be underestimated. I'm pleased that the Tunisians and Egyptians got what they wanted in the end, and I'm sort of pleased for the Libyans, Bahrainis and Yemenis who are still trying to fight it out, tooth and nail, for political reform.

But we must remember that what has been happening in the Middle East is not an entirely new phenomenon. The region seems to undergo spasms of nationalism every generation; indeed it was the last movement that installed into place some of the leaders who are now being overthrown by their people.

Especially in places like Libya, where public anger has spilled over into violence, blindly supporting the rebels may not be the most humanitarian thing to do. We don't know their background, they could easily be just as violent with pro-Gaddafi Libyans as Gaddafi's forces are with them.
And why have Western countries been so quick to help the Libyan rebels out anyway? Surely not to rid them of a calculative, brutal dictator - if that were the case, they should have intervened in Zimbabwe years ago where the dictatorship is unimaginably more restrictive. Libya has something that Zimbabwe never will - oil. Would be nice for our shattered economies if we secured an energy supply, won't it?

Bahrain is a whole different kettle of fish, though. A worried monarch who really has no basis for being the head of state brings in too-ready foreign forces to "rein in" peaceful protestors. I was ashamed that the UAE sent in forces to quash the protests. They shake their heads at Iran for violently quelling any anti-government protests, such as in 2009, but then participate in attacking another country's citizens for the very same reasons! It is unacceptable. The UAE ought to concentrate on simply maintaining its bling-bling image, and not tarnish it by sending in troops to attack fellow Arabs.
And where has the West been in all of this? There have been murmurs of protest from Western heads of state, but that's it. What's the matter? Can't go about telling your oil-producing friends to stop and do what the citizens want, can you? Actually, a good friend is one who points out your faults and mistakes to you, but the US et al are shying away from pressuring Bahrain's Sheikh into democracy, in order to remain socially acceptable to their Gulf Arab friends.

Despite all of this, we should be cautious in accepting whoever has been installed as the country's leader in those countries that have been successful in purging out the previous leader. There's no guarantee that the new leader won't get drunk with power too.