August 31, 2008

Down and out

I probably shouldn't be posting here during the tricky "Post-op Blues" period, because anyone who's had a general anaesthetic knows that it can mess with your mood and metabolism for several days. 
As well as the normal post-surgical "bleagh" feeling (a technical term covering pain, tiredness, nausea etc), many people report feeling unaccountably emotional, and patients are advised not to drive, operate machinery or make any important decisions for 2-3 days.

Fortunately my most recent surgery was only about an hour long, and a lot less complicated than the original operation, so although it has set me back a few weeks with regard to wound healing, I'm doing pretty well really. Admittedly, I find I can't get warm without a ridiculous woolly hat (*see below), gloves, scarf and about 6 layers of clothing despite the fine spring weather, and if anyone were rash enough to get between me and chocolate I would kill them without a second's hesitation. Although that's not so unusual. ;-)

But I do know from an unfortunate experience after the first anaesthetic that I will get more easily upset about things than usual, so now is not the time to comment on a couple of conversations I have had today about the frustrations and disappointments which make dedicated and valuable volunteers leave something they care about - in this case, the Open Directory Project
No indeed.
Besides, it's all stuff I have already posted about quite recently, not to mention the analysis I made when I resigned back in April, and I'm certainly not in a hurry to revisit all the distress that caused.

So instead, I will focus my mind on serene thoughts and concentrate on replacing any nasty lingering anaesthetic chemicals with good honest chocolate molecules. 

*And, finally,  in acknowledgment of the above-mentioned (and much-appreciated) woolly hat, here is an exhibition recently visited by a friend: The Alice Springs Beanie Festival.

August 26, 2008

Forewarned is forearmed

There's a lot to be said for a repeat visit to a bad experience. 
Sure, it's a bit demoralising to already be aware of the unpleasantness which may occur, but at least it lacks the elements of surprise and disappointment, and in many cases it's possible to plan ahead and ameliorate the experience. I hope to be able to use this tactic in the following two important areas.

1. Unfortunately the post-operative complications I mentioned in earlier posts mean that I have to go back to hospital later this week for more surgery. This is depressing enough in itself, because it means undoing 4 weeks of healing and starting almost from the beginning again, with the accompanying limitations to daily life, activity, and general well-being. But in addition I am now more aware than previously just how dispiriting a place hospital can be, largely due to the sad loss of the "TLC ethic" in favour of "performance markers" and "duty-of-care", and other similarly fatuous socio-politico-legal phrases.
However, I am now ready to take a much more active role during my stay, even at the risk of not being considered a "good" patient (ie quiet, undemanding and compliant). 
  • Instead of meekly waiting for a suitably qualified staff member to wander past so that I can ask for assistance, I will make much more use of the bell. 
  • Rather than smiling inanely at the people who enter and leave my room without speaking or even looking at me, I shall greet them cheerily and ask about their role and the purpose of their visit. 
  • And I will remind each and every person to turn off the spotlight and return my bedside trolley within reach when they have finished attending to me.
Yes I'm afraid this time I will definitely be a "pain".

2. Since my return to ODP/DMOZ a month ago, and for similarly self-protective reasons, I have adopted almost the opposite tactic (equally uncharacteristic for me).
Sadly, I have still not recovered from the shock of having my previous efforts devalued and publicly ridiculed by community management, so this time I am making much greater use of an already well-practised Ostrich Attitude to matters outside my immediate control. I admit that it still feels very strange to be working in a state of semi-isolation, because I used to put a lot of effort into what I saw as essential teamwork, but I now understand why so many of my volunteer colleagues long ago retreated to similar positions. 
One of my greatest enjoyments as an editor was the interaction and friendship with people from all over the world, and unfortunately it's quite a fine line between serenity and loneliness, but I am gradually learning to balance the two.

Wish me luck with both of the above endeavours!

August 21, 2008

A sort of tribute from a DMOZ editor

There are many reasons why being a volunteer at ODP/DMOZ can be a worthwhile and enjoyable hobby, but today I once again did something that many experienced editors say gives them the most satisfaction of all: creating an entirely new category by searching for and finding useful sites.  

Sadly, this one was prompted by the death of a young veterinarian in Queensland, but at least now there is a collection of sites which may help those who, like me, knew nothing about the disease which made his death front page news.

August 18, 2008

Dithering is dreary

I've been a lifelong ditherer, so it has been bemusing in recent years to find the word being used in all sorts of  incomprehensibly technical ways involving words like "scatter", "amplitude" and "oversampling". 
I can see the connection though. In my form of dithering I do indeed rapidly oscillate back and forth between two choices, endlessly evaluating the pros and cons in a state of perpetual motion which is exhausting in its futility. I often feel like one of those desk toys popular in the 1980's, where metal balls hung from a frame and could be swung so that the ones on each side kept smacking into the one in the middle, which was therefore prevented from joining in. 

Off-topic: Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I have just now learned that this toy is called Newton's Cradle, and that link has a mesmerising video of the principle I just described. I was also highly impressed to see some very fine minds at work on creating the world's largest one, which looks almost worth a trip to Kalamazoo, Michigan.

OK, play time is over, back to the topic.

Maybe dithering increases with age, because I'm sure I used to be better at making decisions. Certainly it's something I always put on my resume, and in fact when it comes to decisions involving expertise rather than emotion, I can still make a snap decision as easily as the next confident know-all.
But when my feelings get involved, the whole process becomes woolly and ineffectual, which is deeply irritating.

At what point does "weighing up the possible risks and benefits" become just an excuse for avoiding a decision? When does it become necessary to say "Oh for heaven's sake just pick one and move on!"

I've had two such situations in the last few weeks, which is what has prompted me to examine the actual process involved.

I have already written (at interminable length) about the ridiculous difficulty I had in deciding whether or not to resume volunteering at what is basically just a hobby (at ODP/DMOZ). Actually, I am facing a similar decision regarding another volunteer activity from which I have long been absent due to injury: bush firefighting. But that can be legitimately left for later, because I am certainly not fit to resume training and active service, and in any case, the fire season is still a few months off.

The matter over which I have spent the last week in a state of exhausting indecision is whether or not to allow the surgeon to re-operate to fix the painful post-op complication that I mentioned in my previous post.  I'll spare you the medico-surgical details, but basically it's been a choice between fixing it "properly" with surgery and another hospital stay, or letting me muddle along at home (as I have been doing without any real progress). I feel the time is approaching for one of those "Pick One!" moments.

Well, I see him yet again this afternoon, so perhaps the Correct Decision Fairy will be back from her holiday by then. :-)

August 15, 2008

Getting the point

Most medical folk know the following quote from "The House of God" by Samuel Shem
There is no body cavity that cannot be reached with a #14 needle and good strong arm
There was, thankfully, no need of arm strength, but today I did meet a large bore needle, because another truism of medicine is that surgeons have two ways of treating patients: stabbing and slicing. Having already been sliced 2 weeks ago, it was inevitable that I would get my turn on the pointy end of a cannula. The lurid details (while undoubtedly fascinating to those of a similarly clinical bent to myself) will be omitted out of respect for the squeamish, but let's just say it was somewhat reminiscent of the visuals which accompanied the first verse of the Beverly Hillbillies' theme song. ;)
The aim was to relieve the prolonged discomfort of the last week, which would be a Very Good Thing. It was also a huge relief to learn that my post-operative complication was not only rare, but was absolutely not caused by my own over-enthusiastic attempts to return to normal activity, as my friends had feared. So I'm innocent! :-)

The other point I got today was that I have slipped even further out of touch during my absence from the Open Directory Project/DMOZ. I have always been determinedly and deliberately inept at political manoeuvering, and it has definitely made life difficult at times, in a large organisation with its fair share of agendas and alliances. However, I have muddled along with a combination of dogged commitment and a genuine enjoyment of the volunteer community. 
It was therefore depressing to realise today that my lack of political expertise might have adverse effects on other people. That is very unfortunate, and it is further proof (if any were needed) that we are in a constant battle of style over substance in all areas of life.

August 12, 2008

Double double, causes trouble

If there's one thing guaranteed to ruin my mid-year resolution of serenity (of course there are way more than one, but I'll try to focus), it's hypocrisy.
I realise I'm not alone in feeling outraged about this sort of thing, because society has developed a number of common words and expressions to describe the behaviour:
being duplicitous
speaking with a forked tongue

We see it in our public and private lives, and it is as insulting as it is infuriating, because acting like this implies that the other person is too stupid to see the truth. Unfortunately, people often do not realise the true situation, but I don't think it is due to stupidity. More likely it simply does not occur to them that they are being deceived or misled.

Please indulge me while I describe two specific  instances, one public and one private, because they illustrate the phenomenon well.

For reasons which escape me, I had to pay all the (large) fees for my recent surgery in advance, but I could not claim anything from medical benefits until a week afterwards. So as soon as I could drive I went to the claims department, and after waiting 20 minutes in line I presented my accounts and underwent the usual interrogation to determine that I wasn't a dangerous criminal with counterfeit documents. (I'm surprised they don't demand to see the scars.) Then she asked for all my bank details so that she could transfer the refund. I had expected to receive a cheque, and didn't think to bring all the required numbers, so she handed me a long, two-sided form and told me that if I filled that out and posted it in, I should get my cheque within 4-6 weeks. Yes, weeks.
Alternatively, if I returned with the required banking details, she could transfer the funds electronically and they would be in my account in 6-10 working days. 
Excuse me? How on earth can it take a nanosecond to extract funds from my account, and a minimum of 2 weeks to deposit them? Arrgghh.
(By the way, there's no need to send me similar banking/government stories. I do know what they are like. This was just the most recent and my blood pressure is still raised over it.)

On a more individual level, I learned earlier this year that I had allowed myself to be misled about what I had thought were friendships. It happens to most of us at some time, and I'm not really whining about it - we live and learn. However, I recently discovered that one of these people has been deceptive in far more than just friendship, and in fact has been for a long time. It's not a criminal deception, or I would have no hesitation about reporting it, but it does represent a prolonged case of being two-faced. The individual holds a senior position in an organisation to which I belong, and has frequently disciplined others over precisely the same behaviour, which has apparently remained undetected until now. I doubt there is anything to gain by exposing this person, but I am glad that I had already realised our friendship was not as I had thought, or I would be distressed rather than merely very disappointed.

But finally, to balance the above two whinges, here are three glorious headlines from today's news:
"Economy slowing faster than expected" (It's an oldie but still a goodie.)
"Dead 'collector' leaves behind stolen works" (Really?)
and just to show that I like toilet humour as much as the next person:
"House-sized dog poo causes chaos at museum" (Not to mention the actual dog!)

August 06, 2008

It's the little things that count

Many thanks indeed to all those who sent kind messages here and via email and Facebook while I was in hospital. 

I took my laptop just in case, and was thrilled to find free broadband via ethernet, so I was able to keep in touch with people and while away the days with some soothing editing in ODP and BOTW

As I expected, it was an eye-opening experience to be an in-patient, and I rapidly came to realise that once you know you are going to go home eventually, the big issues fade to insignificance and the tiny things exert the greatest influence on your day, for better and for worse.

Day Brighteners
  • The friend who ensured that flowers were in my room by the time I woke from surgery.
  • Free internet (for reasons of sanity and companionship)
  • Prompt attention by IT (who first had to "test" my laptop for presumably dangerous somethings. It passed. Phew.)
  • Great food (no, really, it was outstanding, and all patients know that meals are the highpoints of every day.)
  • Food not only varied and tasty, but arriving hot. (See above)
  • Proper cutlery (eating in a semi-upright position is hard enough without bendy plastic knives and blunt plastic forks)
  • Endlessly patient "Service Assistants" who refilled my water jug umpteen times a day.
  • The surgeon's young son who came with his father on Sunday morning and gravely assured me that "Daddy will fix you up. He always does."
  • The wonderful crispness of a sunny winter morning the first day I could walk outside.

Day Darkeners
  • Staff not explaining who they are or why they have come to speak to you.
  • Staff coming into the room and reading my notes without even looking at me or saying hello.
  • "Duty of care" taken to ludicrous extremes. Many infuriating examples, but this was the silliest: I asked the meal-delivery person if she could please raise the head of my bed so I could eat, but she was "not allowed" to do that, so I had to wait for an "authorised" person, by which time my dinner was cold.
  • Leaving the bright examination light on when leaving the room. (It was out of my reach.)
  • Not returning the bed/door/curtain to its pre-visit state before leaving.
  • Leaving the bedside trolley out of reach.
  • Putting the pillows on a shelf wayyy out of post-op reach (can you see a theme here?) 
But I am home now, healing as fast as I can and hoping to avoid further surgery (for a troublesome complication). If I do have to go in again, I will be forewarned, because I now understand that "nursing" has become less about patients and more about administration, "performance indicators", "quality assurance", and the afore-mentioned "duty of care". Dozens of staff helped to care for me, and they all did their jobs, but it's very sad that I remember only two who treated me as an individual with needs, fears, or concerns of my very own. 

I was a very "good" patient, and did not bother the staff at all, but perhaps I need to attract more attention next time. I don't know when or why it apparently became too time-consuming, out-dated, unprofessional, or perhaps just inefficient for nurses to provide, but I would have given a very great deal for some good old-fashioned TLC.


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