Saturday, December 29, 2007

Nights over New Year

Started my week of nights over New Year. Currently dying of a head cold but can't call in sick to night shift or festive season shift because everyone woud think I was taking the piss. Propping myself up with caffine, paracetamol and ibuprofen.

Medicine sucks.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sicko by Michael Moore - DVD review

Michael Moore may not be the most objective film-maker in the world but I think that his heart is in the right place. Sicko (which I have just picked up on DVD from America) looks at health inequalities in America.

Health services in America are not free at the point of need. You only get essential health care if you can pay for it or your HMO will let you have it. Sicko is filled with examples of avoidable death that is due to insurance red tape. The worst example, for me, was the story of a young girl with sepsis who had health insurance. Her mother called 911 and an ambulance took her to a hospital that was not approved by her insurance company. The insurance company told her mother to drive the girl to an approved hospital but she died on arrival.

The NHS and other European health services are held up as a model of excellence which does seem odd to me as an NHS doctor. However we are a social medicine provider and that makes me feel good. I never have to tell a patient that we can't treat them because their insurance will not cover them and I hope this never happens in Britain.

The archive footage of the American Medical Association opposing state funded health care is rather offensive and I now have another reason to dislike Richard Nixon. This film may be propaganda but I like it.

For more see

If you are American and you want free health care you can always marry a Canadian


Escaping d&v for christmas

I'm happy today cos I've finished my last shift for 7 days without catching the winter vomiting bug that is doing the rounds at work. Most (if not all) of my colleagues have been off with vomiting and diarrhoea and I've been scared that I would end up spewing my load during the festive season. I've been washing my hands about once every 30 seconds which is possibly pathological and generally acting as if everyone I meet has SARS.

I've survived and I'm home for christmas.

I do have to go back to work to start nights next Friday but by then the virus might have left the wards. A week of nights at New Year is a bit of a bastard but at least I don't need to worry about finding a good party. I expect to see a lot of overdoses and alcohol withdrawal which is never cheery. Overall though I prefer to have christmas off.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Medicine Balls: Consultations with the world's greatest TV doctor by Phil Hammond

As a doctor I like books about doctors. I like some TV programmes about doctors (like Cardiac Arrest and House) and I hate others. I like Phil Hammond although I realise that some people might not.

Hammond has been a medical correspondant for Private Eye for many years and was involved in exposing the Bristol heart surgery problem several years ago. He has honestly exposed medical culture to the world. He has appeared on TV several times and he also does occasional stand-up comedy shows. I saw him at Warwick University about 6 years ago and I enjoyed the show. I have read some of his last book Trust me I'm a Doctor.

I was a bit disappointed with this new book. It consists of transcripts of his 89 minutes to save the NHS and an earlier stand up show. The transcripts are funny and interesting but the book is padded out with some less amusing stuff ('comic' skits about consultations). Hammonds negative view of modern medicine and the NHS is resonant with most junior doctors that I know but I hope his next book is better. From what I remember Trust me I'm a doctor was better.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Musicophilia - Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This book deals with two of my obsessions - music and neurology. I first got into Oliver Sacks in the third year of my Neuroscience BSc at Glasgow Uni. Until I read his work I'd never really thought about being a doctor but I found that his writing put a human face on the various conditions that I learned about in my lectures. Eventually I decided that I wanted to be a neurologist like Oliver Sacks and applied to medical school which got me to where I am today.

In this book Sacks looks at how music interacts with the brain. He describes musical auras which precede epileptic seizures and seizures which are triggered by music. He writes about the neurological basis of advertising jingles and musical hallucinations. He also talks about how music can help people with conditions like Parkinson's Disease or amnesia as well as the specific neurological problems that can affect musicians (which has left me thinking that I might have a bit of a dystonia affecting my left hand when I play guitar too much.)

He also describes musical hallucinations in deaf people and synaesthesia. I actually wish that I had synaesthesia, a neurological condition in which sensory input is cross-wired and musical notes can be associated with colours or tastes. It is for the most part harmless and it sounds like it might be interesting.

He writes about a rare congenital condition called Williams Syndrome that results in unusual musical abilities and about musical savants. I have learned a fair bit from this book although much of what he writes about has already been covered in his previous works.

I enjoyed this book although I would advise a new reader to start with The man who mistook his wife for a hat (which supplied the title of a Travis album) or An anthropologist on Mars. I would also tell a new reader about the film Awakenings although I would reassure the reader that Sacks books are not as sugary as the film inspired by his work.

For more try

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Required Records - Gulag Orkestar by Beirut

I kinda got lazy and stopped writing the Required Records blog ( ) about a year ago. I never really wrote on that page much anyway which is sad because I love CDs and I love writing about music. I've decided instead to just do all my writing on this page for ease.

Gulag Orkestar (combined on CD with the Lon Gisland ep) is a great record. I picked it up randomly about a year ago from Avalanche Records in Glasgow. I liked the cover, a faded photograph of two women and a car. The photos were apparently found in the back of a library book. I might have read something about the band on the internet before then but I'm not sure.

The music is very folky, unlike most of the indie and alternative stuff that I listen to. Many of the songs have little or no guitar on them and much of the instrumentation is entirely acoustic. Zach Condon (the main Beirut guy) has clearly been very influenced by Eastern European music and makes use of time signatures that are unfamiliar to Western ears. He is backed by some good musicians including Jeremy Barnes (of Neutral Milk Hotel and Hawk and a Hacksaw fame).

A lot of people seem to have an immediate response to this CD because it sounds very different to much of what you hear on the radio or TV. It has a more natural sounding production. The stand-out track is probably Elephant Gun from the Lon Gisland EP although it's all good.

I recommend this record to anyone with jaded ears.

Try for more

Die Hard 4 - DVD review

Die hard 4 (or 4.0 as it seems to be called for some weird reason) is a violent, stupid superhero film. I admit that I enjoyed it but I was pissing myself with laughter for much of the film. Bruce Willis returns after more than a decade as super-cop John McClure who always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In this film he somehow ends up in conflict with some evil superhackers who manage to destroy America with a ZX Spectrum. He kills them all easily while performs superhuman feats. He can jump onto a fighter jet and survive falls from great heights. He is immune to explosions and falling masonry. My favourite scene involves him firing a bullet through his own body to kill a baddie. I'm not a surgeon but I do have some knowledge of anatomy and I know that he should at least have a pneumothorax and probably massive internal bleeding from his right subclavian vein but McClure is still able to walk about and make smartass comments with no obvious disability.

Kevin Smith (of Clerks and Chasind Amy fame) makes an appearance as a fat computer nerd who likes Star Wars. He does this well weirdly enough.

An enjoyable movie but I hope to fuck that viewers do not think they have the endurance of John McClure because he is tougher than Wolverine.

Friday, December 07, 2007

American Gangster - Film Review

I didn't know much about this film before I went to see it. Obviously I knew it was a gangster film and I am not averse to good gangster films but I did not realise that it is based on a true story.

Frank Lucas was an inventive and violent drug dealer in New York in the late '60s and early '70s. He found a way to obtain high quality, cheap heroin and sold it at a price that could not be beaten. He created a smack supermarket. He must have been indirectly responsible for a great deal of misery and early death in Harlem.

Despite this negativity Lucas was a 'good family man' who always took his mum to church on Sunday. He rubbed shoulders with the good and the great. He made a lot of money before he was finally arrested.

Lucas admitted all his crimes and gave evidence that led to the conviction of many corrupt policemen and criminals. He was released from prison after 16 years.

I enjoyed the film. It is well made and is one of Ridley Scott's better films. The only thing that made me uneasy was the thought that some people might see Lucas as a role-model. That would not be good.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

radiohead tickets

I now have tickets to see radiohead on glasgow green in june. that is almost as cool as having my bloody valentine tickets but not quite

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The end of the Sopranos

I've just finished watching the last few episodes of the Sopranos. I'm a bit sad that it's over. I don't want to spoil the end for anyone but it does go against expectations. The last few episodes perhaps aren't the best of the series but they are still good. As a body of work the six seasons of the Sopranos are close to perfect.

I know the show is not to everyones taste. Many people would not like the violence, or the swearing ot the drug abuse. I guess that many people would feel that these things are glamorised by TV. I hope that the Sopranos attracts intelligent viewers who realise that Tony Soprano is a bad man and not someone you should aspire to be. There will be stupid people out there who would want to model their lives on the fictional New Jersey Mafia but most people will just enjoy the inticate plots and the well-rounded characters that made this show so good.

I would love to see more but I guess that is unlikely to happen.

The Night Watch books by Sergei Lukyanenko

I'm guilty of buying books and not reading them. I love books as objects. I love the way they look and the way they feel. I really love reading them but sadly work conspires to stop me from reading as much as I would like. Sometimes you just have to make the time to sit down and read. Over the last week I managed Night Watch, Day Watch and Twilight Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko and I'm glad that I did.

Elsewhere in this blog I have written about the film versions of Night Watch and Day Watch which I enjoyed. They are strange Russian language fantasy horror films about the supernatural in modern Moscow. The films are good (if a little weird) and they led me to the books. The books that I bought and put in a pile beside my bed several months ago.

I sat down and started reading the books two weeks ago and they captured my brain. The blurb on the cover describes them as 'the Russian Harry Potter' but they are better than that. These books are for adults. I don't think you could describe them as serious literature but they do deal with moral relativity and the difference between good and evil. And vampires. And werewolves. And ancient great magicians.

The series deals with Anton, a young Other (supernatural being) and his 'hero's journey' as he develops from an inexperienced Night Watchman (a supernatural policeman who upholds the law and controls evil vampires) to a Great Magician who can do lots of cool shit.

Lukyanenko is writing another book due out next year and I am waiting for it with baited breath. You may enjoy these books.

30 days of night - film review

I went to see this film last sunday after a particularly traumatic afternoon at work. I'd been wanting to see it for some time as I had enjoyed the comic book several years ago. The comic book was based on a rejected film script and sold loads of copies. This raised some interest in Hollywood and now we have an above average vampire film.

The story is set in Barrow, a small town in the arctic circle. Barrow is so far north that the normal pattern of night and day does not exist. Barrow is about to enter darkness for a month and some visiting Russian vampires intend to take full advantage of this. I've always liked Russian vampires.

The film is a bit more intelligent than Blade or your average bite-nite horror. It looks great, avoids cliche's and it has a couple of nice twists. I loved it and I will buy the DVD.