Thursday, 28 September 2017

Metal Nurse Sojourn, Devin Townsend Project and first day in Plovdiv

So my journey begins, as usual, in a slight panic with a sprinkle of anxiety in my hometown of Lancaster.

At Preston Station
The surrounding area of Lancaster always makes me happy because it reminds me a little of my hometown, and thus also how happy I am that I don’t live there anymore. Not trying to take a giant shit on my hometown, I’m just glad that I don’t live there. But the first feeling is overshadowed and strong-armed when Preston comes into the horizon and I wish I was back in Iceland.  It has to be said that England is beautiful. I’ve spent 14 years living here and that opinion hasn’t changed. Just like any other local inhabitant the British are so muted to their surroundings. Except when it comes to the Lake District and Yorkshire folk, those people make the average 17-year-old elder look like an agnostic.

Currently, I am making my way to Bulgaria. Might sound random, but I am going to see Devin Townsend play in a Roman Amphitheatre in Plovdiv. Not only that he is playing the entire Ocean Machine, as well as a “By Request” set list with an orchestra. Goddamn, the price was right. Fucking Devin Fucking Townsend. Playing the entire Ocean Machine.  In Bulgaria. In a Roman Amphitheatre. Makes me wonder how much it would have cost if he had found a similar setting in the UK. Come to think of it, the Fountains Abbey and Kirkstall Abbey would have both provided excellent venues.

And I am going on my own. The last time I travelled to foreign lands on my own was in 2001, to the monolith… I mean the UK. Which incidentally was also the first time I had left the Icelandic shores since I was 5 years old.  I did try and find someone to travel with. But the only people I considered couldn’t due to one reason or another. But nevermind. I am going to see Devin Townsend. With an Orchestra!

Maybe it’s because it is not the usual flying time. But Birmingham International Airport is nice. The security wasn’t stressful, there weren’t a lot of people milling around. It almost feels peaceful. Or maybe it’s because I am not accompanied by three teenagers and a 7-year-old.

The flight itself was relatively painless. I manage to sleep through pretty much all of it. There’s not a lot to see when everything is black outside anyway. The terminal I landed in Sofia is tiny. And I mean tiny, it feels almost like the airport in my hometown with its one flight strip. Whilst I am trying to get my bearings, a man approached me saying that he’s a taxi driver. Something about him just screamed predator, he looked like a man who’d be willing to sell children into servitude and his grandma to a Soylent Green factory. Took a long time to get rid of him, but when I did he just transferred his creepiness to other unsuspecting, tired travellers. So, yeah. I got my bearings, thanks to Google Maps. Thank god the EU has banned roaming charges. Find out that Terminal 2 is about 30-minute walk away and there’s a Metro Station there. So I start following G-Maps instructions…. And they want to take me through a restricted area, with armed patrol… Shit. Never mind, I do like a tourist and walk around it looking a little lost yet interested. Finally got to Terminal 2 which is huge! Massive! And very glossy. And there’s the Metro Station! Now I’m here, and now I need to not panic again. I need to find a way to get from the Metro station to the Central Station, I know I need to change somewhere. And I don’t understand the language or the alphabet, which by the way is very pretty. But makes no sense to my foreign, Latin alphabet leaning, eyes. So instead what I do is look out for other travellers, with luggage and I just decide to follow. Like a knock-off badly written police procedural. I finally get to the station and at 0655 I managed to get a ticket for the 0700 bus to Plovdiv. Get on, fully intending on looking around. But promptly fall asleep.

Hikers Hostel
Then I woke up as we arrived into Plovdiv, what looks like a particularly rough area of Plovdiv. Not unlike some British estates, except with nicer roofs. But it gets lovelier and lovelier. We get to the Bus Station, gods I am so tired. So very very tired. And it felt cold. So cold. Maybe it was just me shivering more due to tiredness. So I buy myself an espresso and some kind of long pastry with what I hope is cheese in the middle, whatever it was. It was nice, filling and most of all warm, and it wakes me up enough to get my bearings. Thank goodness for Google Maps. I pop in where I need to go, and after a few wrong directions, I am finally on my way. The way to the hostel is nice, I walk through Tsar Simeon Park, past the Odeon of Philippopolis and up the market street. Past what I assumed at first was a statue of a monkey man, but I come to find out later was a tribute to a local legend. Towards one end of the Roman Stadium and Dzhumaya Mosque. I finally find my hostel, The Hikers Hostel, which is smack right in the middle of Old Town, 5 minutes away from the Roman Theatre! It’s a friendly hostel, definitely marketed towards younger backpackers. The staff are extremely friendly, there is cheap and nice beer for sale, coffee on the go. I check in, go to my room which includes 3 bunk beds and two single beds. 8 lockers but only 4 of which have lockers. As previously mentioned, the staff are friendly, to the point where I get the feeling that some are chemically assisted to be so. In the background, there’s Dave Brubeck playing. I kick off my shoes. Put down my backpack. I crawl into my bed after making it and promptly fall asleep. After a short, while I get woken up by another guest snoring, sounding like a motorbike with a broken muffler, and the nurse brain in my kicks in wondering worrying that they suffer from sleep apnea and whether they had brought their CPAP with them. Only for another part of my brain kicks back in and reminds me that I am not at work.

Nebet Tepe ruins
When I finally wake up I grab some coffee, okay lots of coffee, look at the map and make my way out. I do the touristy bits and walk around the ruins that are 2 minutes away. Mostly looking out for other metalheads. There’s a lot of them. Long hairs, scraggly beards, black t-shirts with metal logos. Everywhere. And there’s me in my short sleeved shirt, purplish-maroon hooded cardigan and a shoulder bag.

Wall art in Plovdiv
It cannot be overstated. But Plovdiv is a beautiful city. There are ruins everywhere, that also just happen to be littered with rubbish, but the amount of litter cute stray kittens compensates for that. I keep on walking around, wander into Regional Historical Museum. As a museum, it is fascinating, as a building it is awe-inspiring. I’d happily buy it. The one guy working there seems more interested in sitting in the garden and read his book, get the overwhelming feeling that I am getting in the way. But I want to see, so I pay and I walk around, let him get back to his book. After that I wander towards the Street of Art & Crafts, don’t see a lot of Art & Crafts. But I get into a nice cafe, that also specializes pottery and home baking. Sit down for a nice slice of Orange & Lemon cake and boiled coffee. Enjoy it in the garden, have a piece of serenity.
Coffee, cake and relaxation.

After a couple of hours wandering, I return to my hostel, now with Miles Davis in the background, and got to know some of my roommates. All of whom are here to see Devin Townsend. 3 guys flew from the UK. One medical student flew from Helsinki via Istanbul! And then there’s Dave who came from Chicago. Devin does seem to have extraordinarily dedicated fans. But it’s not only the people in the room, its everyone in the hostel whose going to see Devin! Three of us, me, not-Finnish medical student and Chicago Dave decide to walk together to the Roman Amphitheatre.

I bought a bottle of beer while waiting to get in, but before I get to finish it I have to leave it with security :'(.

Devin Townsend Project
But anywho. I entered the arena. 5 and half hours later I leave utterly dumbfounded. Devin, his band, the orchestra and the choir blew my, and everybody else, mind away. I knew it was going to be good, but this good? Wow. There was no need for an encore. Devin did plenty. They started off with playing ‘By Request’ set list that included the orchestra. The setlist couldn’t have been more perfect. Yeah, there were a few songs I’d have like to have listened to live like “Solar Winds” and “Suicide”, but honestly all of the songs were perfect. And perfectly performed. I wasn’t sure if Devin would be able to perform all of his vocal styles in a live setting. But I was wrong. So very wrong, it was better. Much much better. Not only that Devin and the band seem so happy to be there. Devin being the humble guy that he is, thanking everyone. He does do a little talking in between songs, but nothing that distracts from the whole spectacle. To the gathering of nerds. Almost 5000 socially awkward people watching another socially awkward musician who loves to write serious songs and crack fart jokes between songs. From the explosive and hopefully "Truth" to the closing notes of the majestic and serene "Deep Peace", the band don't let up for a single minute. After the break, the orchestra disappears, and all that is left is Devin Townsend and his project. Onto the stage, he gets the original bassist from Ocean Machine, and it was heartwarming to witness. The live rendition of Ocean Machine also turned out to be better than the studio album, it was played to perfection. Including Devin’s finishing shriek. A couple of people start shouting for an encore, but after three hours of music, the majority feel that Devin Townsend and his band have given plenty. In terms of vocal abilities, he is up there with Freddie Mercury.

Best. Concert. Ever.

Got back to the hostel, and fell very happily to sleep.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Metal Nurse: The Wonder of the NHS

Hopefully, it might not have escaped you, eagle-eyed readers that I am a nurse, I live in the UK and I work in the NHS. So far I have worked in in the NHS for 11 years, I started off working as a healthcare support worker in 2006, in a mental health hospital. In 2010 I got a job within the acute trust and did some extra shifts within various medical and surgical wards. 2012 I went into training as a student nurse and qualified in 2015, and since then I've worked as a registered nurse working in acute settings.

I am very proud of my job. And I am very proud of working for the NHS. Just a little background, NHS stands for National Health Service. It was founded 1949, it was launched at the behest of a man called Aneurin Bevan, with three founding principles:
  • Meets the needs of everyone
  • Free at the point of delivery
  • Based on clinical need, not ability to pay

It is the fifth largest employer in the world, with over 1.5 million people working in various roles, to break it down that includes over 300,000 nurses, health visitors and midwives, over 100,000 doctors, almost 20,000 ambulance staff and more. Operating on a budget of £116.4 billion. NHS treats over 1 million people every 36 hours, including those people who come to the UK to travel. Services range from antenatal to palliative care. From routine health screenings to cancer care. Mental health services. Learning Disabiliy services. Organ Transplants, IVF and much much more. With over 16 million hospital admissions, over 23 million attending to our Accident & Emergency departments, and so on and so forth. The statistics regarding the NHS just general boggles the mind. All funded directly from taxation. There are few services that will be charged and those include prescription charges, opticians, and dentists. Probably the biggest socialized program ever put in place. It is for everyone in the UK. As far as I am aware it is the only type of healthcare system in the world, most other ones tend to be largely government funded but some sort of payment is usually needed when people access them. I know for example in Iceland you'd have to pay a small fee to see your GP, and also foot part of the bill for any type of procedure that was not an emergency. All in all, it's an amazing system. It works extremely well, not perfect obviously.

The NHS consistently performs highly when compared to other systems. In terms of finances, it is cheaper to run than the US system, for example, the US spends 16.6% of its GDP on their system whereas the UK spends 9.9%. These were findings from the Commonwealth Fund, an American Think Tank that performs these sort of studies on a regular basis, and the NHS has regularly ranked highly.

And yet. And yet. It is in trouble from powers that be. Every successive government seems to want to use the NHS as some sort of a political football to kick around in order to gain more votes. This is especially evident with the current Conservative government that seems to be hell-bent on austerity policies even though it looks like austerity is making good on killing people off. There is this need to streamline everything and making savings on every single front, without actually taking into account that as medical science advances the population ages, and with that the average 80 year old costs the NHS 5 times more than a 30 year old. Even according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies have stated that this low level of funding from the UK will be below what is needed come the year 2020. Our population is getting top heavy with age. Essentially this government, like so many others, is only looking at the short term even though it means that we all lose in the long term. This isn't helped by the fact that the last Labour government, even though they spent considerably more on the NHS, started saddling a lot of NHS trusts with PFI agreements. Which has led to a lot of other financial issues. The number of nurses is falling, for the first time since forever.  Student nurses will not receive any bursaries, which has lead to decreased number of student nurses both due to lack or places and due to lack of interest of people actually applying to do those courses. All in all some reports indicate that there are 86000 vacancies within the NHS.

What I personally would like to see is more money being spent on public health and preventative care. Because that is one avenue that the NHS could save money on in the long term, as well as a bigger increase in social care spending. Because most people who end up with long term conditions can be managed in either their own homes or in special social care settings, but more often than not they end up in a hospital which can be disastrous for them. And this is without touching upon what has been happening to mental health services under the Conservatives, that have said all the good talk but haven't performed any of the good deeds. The number of nurses working in mental health settings has gone down dramatically and the funding has been severely reduced. Patients who are going through acute psychiatric episodes are being treated more and more in places that are not suited to their needs.

But even with all of these issues, we still strive towards providing the best care available. Because that is what we do. The NHS is the perfect example of that good healthcare is not a privilege, but a right. To be able to live a healthy life without having to worry about how much you have to pay for your health. A good healthcare system pays for itself in the long term, as will a good educational system (But I am not getting into that just yet). Thankfully, hopefully, there will be enough people in the UK who will fight to keep the NHS as it is. I am extremely proud of working for it and I will continue to do so for as long as I can. I am not a nurse to take care of those who pay the best, I am a nurse because I want to take care of people because they need it. The NHS gives me the best platform to do so. Because at the end of the day we are all just people on this same planet trying to get through lives the best we can, and we should all help each other doing so.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Metal Nurse: Alternative Medicine scam

Before I get right into it. Maybe have a read of my little confessional. There was a time where I had a fairly sizeable collection of herbal medicine books. Even went as far and bought a couple of equipment to assist (which now live in the kitchen and I use on a semi-regular basis). When I started my nursing I had sort of hoped to integrate herbal medicine into it. But since then, my belief in it has taken a nosedive. I had aspirations to try and do "Evidence based Herbal Medicine" only to discover that the evidence base was practically none existent. So here I am wanting to write about alternative medicine. Or as it's also known as, Snake Oil.

Let's get it out there. Alternative medicine harms people. Every day.

There is this misconception that Alternative medicine is more natural, more holistic. I hate the fact that these quacks have hijacked the word holistic. They somehow imply that the care given by doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists, dieticians, etc etc etc are not holistic. Oh, and as for natural? Nature tries to kill humans every day. Volcanos are natural. Adders are natural. Hurricanes are natural. Homoeopathy is not. Chiropractic "care" is not. 

This argument is pure fallacy, known as 'Appeal To Nature' fallacy. I hate to break it to these people but a large portion of ACTUAL medicine is based on nature. Most famous example is of course aspirin, it's proper name being acetylsalicylic acid. Which was originally first extracted from the leaves of a willow tree. It is now used to treat patients who have ischaemic strokes and myocardial infarctions. There has been some evidence that it might prevent certain cancers, and of course, it works great for hangovers. There is also digoxin, derived from the foxglove plant. That is used to treat atrial fibrillation and/or atrial flutter with rapid heart beats. Opioids are commonly used painkillers that we get from poppies. The list just goes on and on and on. A Huge number of our cancer treatments are plant based. For example, Taxol, which is used to treat ovarian cancers, breast cancers, and lung cancers, is derived from Pacific Yew. So I suppose in a way you could say I did end up working in an evidence based herbal medicine field. The problems with naturopathic remedies is that they are not studied nearly well enough and regulations are few and far between if any. For example, Medical Journal of Australia published a study on how dangerous some of them are, causing acute hepatic and renal failure. Some herbal preparations having ingredients that are not listed, or not in the quantities advertised. Others containing toxic chemicals and heavy metals, and illegal ingredients derived from endangered animals like snow leopards. So they don only harm people but nature as well. Who would've thunk that?

To quote Dara O'Briain:

“I'm sorry, 'herbal medicine', "Oh, herbal medicine's been around for thousands of years!" Indeed it has, and then we tested it all, and the stuff that worked became 'medicine'. And the rest of it is just a nice bowl of soup and some potpourri, so knock yourselves out.”
Now, I work as a nurse in the NHS, which provides free care to the point of delivery. So you can guess how much it irks me when I hear these people complaining about how evidence based medicine is about profit. Like they give out their homeopathic/naturopathic advice for free. Just a quick Google search will show that these people charge anywhere between £25-£59, and that's only for consultation. Chiropractors charge £75 for the initial visit than £35 there after, and all they are are glorified masseurs.  The tinctures and everything else that goes with it is charged at premium rate. Then these people ask their sucke... custo... Sorry, patients to come again in a week or two for more. In the US the alternative medicine market was valued at $40 billion due to rise up to $192 billion by 2025. Worldwide we are looking at £2.8 trillion! And these people have the nerve to criticise pharmaceutical companies for earning profit. The most recent numbers I can find for the UK are from 2012 and even that shows an eye watering £485 million. All in all the European market is due to get bigger and more profitable. So for these hack-jobs to claim that proper medicine is all about money and that their treatment isn't, is just amazingly disgusting. 

Then there is the fact that these horse-shit peddlers try and elbow their way into proper medicine by calling it "Complimentary" medicine. Others who want to somehow call it integrative medicine. All that these people do is get in the way of real physicians, by masquerading as real physicians. As Mark Crislip MD, from my favourite science blog says:
"If you mix cow pie with apple pie, it does not make the cow pie taste better; it makes the apple pie worse."

This apple-cow pie trend is especially prevalent in cancer care, but that's a whole blog entry of it's own. 

These people will try and say that al they do is provide service to those who want it, which would be all fine and dandy if it wasn't for the fact that an awful lot of these people and their sucke... Sorry. Customers also are then hellbent on turning other people AWAY from medicine that actually works. Take for instance vaccinations. Now because of these arseholes we are having more and more cases of illnesses like measles, whopping cough and mumps because they deter new parents from vaccinating their kids. And that is not on. That is putting their own false ideology above others safety. And then these bastards will wash their hands of those cases and say that they were only offering a different opinion, or that it wasn't their doing. Like that fraudster Andrew Wakefield denying that he had any kind of responsibility of the low uptake of the MMR following his "study". Or when he visited Somalian people in Minnesota to "warn" them about the supposed dangers of the MMR vaccine, sparking a huge measles epidemic in that community. Or when these people tell cancer victims that they should spend their last money and last months using bogus therapies like the Gerson Protocol. I've even come across quacks encouraging diabetics to come off their insulin!

These people are no better than those who call themselves psychics or mediums. These people feed on the vulnerable in our society and then deny any responsibility for their words and actions. These people need to be stopped, or at the very least ignored. They do not deserve to be listened to. They do not deserve any kind of false equivalency, if I want to know about how to give a good massage, or which herbs to put in my roast or how to grow my garden then I'd consider asking them. But health advice? No, these people do not deserve to be put on the same platform as those who do provide real, evidence based holistic care. They come into people's lives when they have the least mental ability to fight off, offer hope in exchange for money. Then they leave taking the money away with all hope. And for that alone these people need to be stopped.