medical

Not King Coal

Well who would have guessed it? Well to be fair, I don’t think I would have guessed it, at least not quite in this way … because according to a report in yesterday’s Guardian, coal-fired power stations are more injurious to health than nuclear ones.

In what’s described as a “natural experiment”, researchers followed the switch from nuclear to coal following the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident, where they could compare power generation by nuclear (before) and coal (after) in the same area. They found particulate pollution increased by 27% and average birth weight fell. And that’s without any effect of the particulates on things like asthma.

Your Interesting Links

OK, so here goes with this month’s selection of links to interesting items you might have missed the first time around …

Science & Medicine

Those of you with youngish children … they might like the science magazine Whizz Pop Bang. I wish there had been such a thing when I was young.

Since the 1950s we’ve had the nuclear technology to provide power for perhaps millions of years, without creating humongous, and ever increasing, quantities of radioactive waste. So why aren’t we using it? [VERY LONG READ]

Most of us hate ironing clothes, but you’ll be glad to know that there’s some science which does make it a bit easier.

Changing tack … What is the world’s top predator? Well apart from humans it seems the answer is spiders!

New research suggests that fish evolved in a surprising way before they invaded the land – and it all started with their eyes.

The Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, has been extinct for almost 100 years – or so we think. But there are some new, and credible sounding, sightings in northern Australia (not Tasmania as one would expect). They are sufficiently credible that researchers are following up on them with camera traps. Watch his space; we might get some exciting news.

Those of us who have close relationships with cats know they have wonderful rasp-like tongues. And it turns out those tongues are indeed rather special. [VIDEO]

In a different study researchers are suggesting that cats sailed with the Vikings to conquer the world. As someone commented, I didn’t even know the Vikings had cats!

Still with cats, scientists are doing DNA sequencing on their faecal output to try to understand their gut microbiome. It turns out it is just as variable as the human microbiome.

It’s very unlikely the Neanderthals had domestic cats, but they did share one thing in common with us: dental plaque. By looking at their dental plaque researchers are working out the Neanderthal diet – and again it is highly variable.

While we’re on diet, it’s well known that eating asparagus makes your pee smelly. But not all of us can smell it, because genetics.

Now here’s another real oddball … it seems there is a connection between synesthesia and having absolute musical pitch.

And finally in this section, two posts about things feminine. Firstly Gillian Anderson and Jennifer Nadel talk about their experiences of going through the menopause.

Secondly, news that scientists have created a “lab on a chip” device which mimics the female menstrual cycle, something which could help enormously with research.

Environment

Here’s a look at the environmental impact of pet food manufacture.

History

I love it when new work changes our assumptions about what we know. Here’s news of the archaeological discovery of a Greek tomb which did just that. [LONG READ]

Archaeologists in Egypt have found an unknown statue of Pharaoh Ramses II in the mud under a Cairo slum. Except they haven’t, because it turned out not to be Ramses II but another Pharaoh altogether.

An academic is suggesting that the writings of mediaeval mystic Margery Kempe contain an early recipe for medicinal sweets to cure her religious mania.

In another case of turning what we think we know upside down it looks likely that late medieval (ie. post Black Death) peasant houses survive much more often than we thought, at least in the English Midlands.

While on housing, here’s a potted history of the British bathroom.

Harry Mount, the newly appointed Editor of The Oldie magazine, writes indignantly in the Spectator about how he sees the National Trust dumbing down and spoiling its treasures.

Meanwhile a Dutch researcher has discovered a wonderful collection of 16th-century drawings and watercolours of animals hidden away in the library of the University of Amsterdam.

London

The Londonist takes a look back at photographs of London in 1907.

400 years ago this month Pocahontas died in Gravesend. Our favourite London cabbie, Robert Lordan, looks at six places in the capital which are associated with her.

And Robert Lordan is one of the people featured in a new book For the Love of London on what makes London great by the people who make it great.

Lifestyle

It has long been known that London cabbies have an expanded area of brain associated with mapping, but now it’s been shown that using a satnav switches off the brain’s mapping ability leaving users unable to navigate without their device.

OK, so it is American, but here are eleven everyday objects with unsuspected uses.

On the importance of public loos, and knowing where they are.

People

London Bridge is falling down. What happens when the Queen dies.

Shock, Horror, Humour

And finally, from the School of Shock Horror … enormous insects and where to find avoid them.

Phew, that was a bit of a marathon! More next month.

Worse than Chernobyl

Yesterday, New Scientist posted an interesting news item on the Soviet nuclear tests at Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan in the 1950s.

The tests were known about, but what’s new is that New Scientist have seen a hitherto unknown secret Soviet document containing scientific evidence of the effects of the tests; something which was hushed up at the time.

Needless to say the tests were conducted with total disregard to the local population. The Soviets knew this – even setting up a (disguised) research institute to monitor the medical effects – but carried on regardless. As a result it seems the effects produced a worse human “disaster” than Chernobyl.

Read the full news item at New Scientist.

The Knee’s Progress

[If you don’t like things medical, look away now.]

Just for those crazy people out there who might be interested in the progress of the knee, following the total replacement op on 28 December … it’s doing very well. And just t prove it, here are the pictures:

9 days
9 days after the operation
just after having the dressing removed
14 days
14 days after the operation
when the final dressing was removed
4 weeks
After 4 weeks
7 weeks
After 7 weeks
effectively fully healed although still some swelling

Result!

Just a quick post as I must log today’s result — and indeed those of the last week.

I’m currently in the usual cycle of medical things. Let’s go back to last Thursday, 9 February …

Thursday. Physiotherapy session for the new knee. Although I’ve had a flu-like bug (not full flu nor a head cold), so I haven’t done a lot of exercises, the knee is progressing well. I no longer need a stick; I’m walking easily; and taking very few pain killers. The Physio is delighted, especially as the flex on my knee is 119° — he says a “fairy tale” knee replacement would be 125°. Now to concentrate on a handful of the exercises to rebuild strength and extension; and see him in a month probably for a final session.

Friday. Horribly early appointment with surgeon for the 6-week check-up on the knee. Surgeon is equally delighted. The scar has healed well; the flexibility is good; the extension is already better than it was (it is now about the same as my left knee). Book another appointment for 6 months time and we can discuss doing the left knee.

This is followed by going to the supermarket with Noreen for the weekly shop. I walk round half the store before retiring to drink coffee. That’s more than I’ve been able to do for over a year.

Tuesday. Two meetings about things to do with our GP’s patient group (PPG; of which I’m Chairman): one with the Practice Manager and the other with CCG people. Good results and progress from both on ways the PPG can work with the Practice and the CCG. Downside: more work for me over the next 6 months.

Today. This afternoon I’ve had an appointment at the big health centre where our local cottage hospital once was. This is my annual diabetic retinal eye screening — that’s where they take a picture of the back of your eye to see if there is any damage. [The image is one of my scans from last summer.] This means drops in the eyes to dilate the pupils so they get a good view — and then you’re semi-blind for the rest of the day. Well usually that’s what happens, except today it didn’t. The charming young lady technician went through all the usual checks, plus can you read the chart (yes, even the bottom row with my glasses on). She was about to put the drops in my eyes but said “Oh your pupils are already well dilated. We might be able to get the pictures without the drops”. Excellent; let’s go for it. And yes, she got all four pictures (two for each eye, at different angles) first time, without any drops. Results in a couple of weeks, but no reason they should be abnormal. I was out 10 minutes before my appointment time!

So I’m home. And I’m not blind. Which is great as dilated pupils give me something like mild travel sickness. The downside is that I don’t have an excuse to be idle for the rest of the day.

So lots of wins!

Next week it’s hearing aid check-up time. I need another result there too.

Monthly Links

Apologies that due to an incursion of lurgy this month’s collection of links is somewhat late. Anyway here goes …

Science & Medicine

Unlike most other animals, roughly 90% of humans are right-handed. But why?

Another peculiarity of humans is that we are one of only a handful of species which has an appendix. Again, why?

Evidence is emerging that women with severe PMS, called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), really do have an aberrant cellular response to their hormones.

How do doctors measure pain? Answer: inconsistently. And they’re trying to understand this better. [Long read]

I suspect most people don’t notice the pigeons around them, but there are three which are common in the UK: the feral pigeon (rock dove), wood pigeon, and collared dove. The first two are genuine natives, but the collard dove is a recent arrival from Asia which set out to conquer Europe.

Sexuality

Ten things you probably didn’t know about the clitoris.
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The here and there of (female) pubic hair through the ages.

On attitudes to masturbation in a relationship.

The BFI now has an archive of erotic films covering the late nineteenth century to around 1960s.

History

And bridging seamlessly into the really historical, it seems the Ancient Chinese were into sex toys, just as much as modern generations.

Researchers are getting really quite good at dating ancient objects and events. An ancient volcanic eruption has now been firmly dated using fossilised tree rings.

The myth of Medieval Small Beer — no, everyone didn’t drink beer, rather than water, in olden days.

Someone has found what is alleged to be the long-lost skirt from one of Queen Elizabeth I’s dresses being used as a church alter cloth.

A research student has been able to uncover the movements and exploits of a Renaissance spy, who successfully masqueraded as a garden designer to the rich and powerful.

London

Each year IanVisits provides a calendar of the gun salutes in London for the year.
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Crossrail have unearthed yet more archaeology in an unexpected place: jammed and pickled under the old Astoria nightclub.

There’s a section of tunnel under the Thames on the Northern line tube which was bombed and flooded in 1940. And it is still sealed shut.

To go with the previous item, here are a few vintage pictures of London tube stations.

And, just in time for your next pub quiz, here are a few things you may not know about London buses.

Lifestyle

Some thoughts on how to talk meaningfully with children. And not just children, I suggest.

Even the most macho bloke has his bit of feminine. Here are some on the feminine things men would do if they thought they wouldn’t be judged for it.

Unless you’re doing a really dirty job (like down a coal mine) it’s likely you’re showering much too often for the good of your skin.

And finally … Just what did those prudish Victorians have to hide?

More next month.

Taboo Vocabulary

I’ve been going on, for a long time, about how we need to normalise nudity and sexuality, and become much more familiar and at ease with our bodies and bodily functions.

Apropos this I recently caught up with a July 2016 press release from The Eve Appeal, who are a charity devoted to fighting women’s cancers.

The press release reports on research they conducted into women’s, specifically young women’s, knowledge of their sexual anatomy, language and attitudes. The results are quite worrying.

Almost two-thirds of young women have problems using words such as “vagina” and “vulva” and only half of 26-35 year-olds are able to locate the vagina (compared with 80% of 66-75 years-olds).

But it gets worse …

It’s not just a knowledge gap … the data also showed a distinct difference in attitudes towards talking about gynaecological health issues … more than one in ten of 16-35 year olds said they found it very hard to talk to their GPs about gynaecological health concerns, and nearly a third admitted that they had avoided going to the doctors altogether with gynaecological issues due to embarrassment …

These findings are in direct contrast with the popular misconception that society is more open these days, making it much easier for women of younger generations to talk about gynaecological health.

I find this very worrying. It means there is a huge section of the population who are at much higher risk than need be of serious gynaecological health issues.

And according to Men’s Health Forum, men are no better about knowledge of, and attitudes to, their genital equipment. So don’t go getting all smug, guys!

I dread to think how bad is the knowledge of the other sex’s anatomy and the naming of parts. Or of normal bodily functions like menstruation.

We just have to change this! We have to get everyone much more familiar with their bodies — with bodies of all sizes, shapes and genders. We have to teach people the correct, as well as the incorrect and slang, names for body parts. We have to overcome the embarrassment and the knowledge gap.

There is really no reason for us to be embarrassed, because medical professionals aren’t — they’ve seen it all before. When I was in hospital recently for my knee operation I had a conversation with one of the (more mature) nurses, who remarked that they all, very early on in their careers, stop seeing genitals in any sexual way; they just become another piece of body no different from a finger or toe. And that is how it should be; just another part of a body. Until one gets into a specifically intimate and sexual situation.

It is also important that we teach when it’s appropriate to use various terms. While “penis”, “vulva”, “testicles”, “anus” are appropriate for a medical context, “prick”, “cunt”, “balls” and “arse” (although perfectly good Anglo-Saxon words) are much better kept for more intimate, private or jocular occasions. And even greater circumlocutory euphemisms are best abandoned completely.

Moreover, if we were all more attuned to, and comfortable with, our intimate anatomy how much more difficult it would become (and we would make it) for sexual predators/abusers. It would be much easier for (potential) victims to speak up, either at the time or afterwards. How much easier would it be for us to fight against female (and indeed male) genital mutilation and to reduce STIs.

I don’t know how we do this piece of public education, especially when we are starting from a base of such poor knowledge and attitudes. What I do know is that the responsibility has to lie with both parents and teachers. Actually it lies with all of us … we all need to use the correct words and not be frightened to do so.

If we can achieve this I feel sure it will result in much better health for all of us, because there will be no stigma in discussing “sensitive” subjects with medical professionals, or indeed with each other, just as we are all comfortable talking about ears, eyes, knees and backache.

It beats me why we can’t just do this.

Knees Up

[Skip this if you don’t like things medical.]

For anyone who wants to know what a total knee replacement looks like 2 weeks post-op, here’s mine today just after having removed the dressing. Slightly longer scar than I had been led to expect, but no stiches/clips but glue. Still swollen and uncomfortable, but definitely on the mend.


Click the image for a larger view, if you dare

Notice about 2/3rds the way down the incision, a small scar on each side where I had arthroscopy some 10 or more years ago.