David Stevens

Posts Tagged ‘science’

Dream not the impossible dream

In Uncategorized on April 9, 2017 at 8:40 pm

News of the bus misadventure in the Canutes caused me to reflect on an incident from my school days.

Those of a certain age will remember the tightening of the curriculum, when a scientific fine tooth comb was drawn through the hippy length hair of what in those days passed for the imparting of knowledge to the young.  How bracing we found the shock of the new, when the wool was pulled from over our eyes and we saw not through a glass darkly for the first time.  I remember our science teacher, nervous, looking around, perhaps unsure of how we would react to the “New Learning”.  Then he opened his mouth:

“Children.  Here is something interesting that I have to … need to tell you about.  Did you know that flight is impossible?”

How intrigued I was.  I recall the brand new text books that were handed around that day.  I had never had a new text book before, unsullied by the eye prints of ancient children.  One quote has stuck in my mind.

“Flight is not possible, and never has been possible.  It is a scientific fact, that despite the widespread availability of extension ladders, no part of the fossil record has ever been found in the air.”

That clinched it for me.  Magical thinking dropped away.  Years of superstitious nonsense gone.  Evolution proved it.

“But sir” piped up one familiar voice, and even in those days, the teacher dared not ignore it.

“Yes Trevor?”

“Sir, I dream of flying.”

The teacher was flustered, and he looked around more, sweating.  “But that…”

“Sir, I dream of flying.  I’m up in the air, looking down on all creation.  Without a care, I stretch my arms and just fly over everything.  It feels wonderful.”

“I’m sure it does.”

“But its not true, is it sir?”

The teacher was silent.

“Dreams are stupid, aren’t they sir.  We dream all sorts of ridiculous things, don’t we.”

“Yes that’s right Trevor.  Flight is not possible.  We dream all sorts of nonsense.”

“So sir, when you say all the time that we can achieve whatever we want, and that we should follow our dreams, you’re full of shit, aren’t you sir.”

“Yes Trevor.”

I like to remember that day, on nights when I hear the screeching low over head, when there is the illusion of scrabbling at my roof tiles, when something unseen triggers the alarms in my fortified compound.  It comforts me to know that the desperate screeching above, the whooping, the unearthly howls, are all an illusion, for flight is simply impossible.  It pushes thoughts of military experiments gone awry from my mind, so that images of crazed scientists splitting open the space-time continuum are restricted to my dreams.  Which, as we now all know, are full of shit.

Then tonight on the news, the story of the dreadful bus crash in the Canute Peaks, and the loss of 30 or so scientists as their bus plummeted into the unplumbable depths of the Siegfired Chasm, as they were trying to achieve the State of Bliss.  They were crazy themselves, of course.  They had been at a conference where they had been discussing whether the lack of fossils in the air was not because flight was impossible, but because over time, the ground has risen and absorbed the aerial fossil record.  Some things just should not be discussed.

I like to think that some of them survived the horrible, horrible fall, and that they will eke out an existence in those depths, surviving on the flesh of their comrades who died on the way down, but of course, I am an incurable romantic.

Warning

In Uncategorized on February 25, 2017 at 8:58 am

Goodness, I haven’t blogged this warning for quite a while. The most excellent Jared Diamond has warned us of the dangers of ecological collapse, but perhaps there is a more pertinent warning of the dangers of … well, of the dangers of sweets:

In 1849, hungry gold miners crossing the Nevada desert noticed some glistening balls of a candy-like substance on a cliff, licked or ate the balls, and discovered them to be sweet-tasting, but then they developed nausea. Eventually it was realized that the balls were hardened deposits made by small rodents, called packrats … Not being toilet trained, the rats urinate in their nests, and sugar and other substances crystallize from their urine as it dries out … In effect, the hungry gold miners were eating dried rat urine laced with rat feces and rat garbage.

– Collapse by Jared Diamond

Now you know: don’t, just don’t. Nancy Reagan was right. Just say no. Never accept sweets from a stranger. Or from rats.

Lyme Disease in Australia – living the li(f)e

In Uncategorized on February 5, 2017 at 11:21 am

Facebook reminded me of a post I made two years ago. I have updated it a bit and here it is, re-posted. This blog is meant to be about writing and fun things, not medical issues. However, maybe someone else going through this shit will see it and realise that they are not crazy.

Lyme disease in Australia is a nightmare world, and very sadly, we have been involved in it for a decade. You know that nightmare you can’t really explain it to someone else? Sure, you might be able to say there was a monster, or you were being chased. However, you cannot explain the horrible feeling of the corridor you walked down in the dream because you don’t have the words, and because the corridor comes from a childhood experience you didn’t share with the person. They cannot understand the horror of butterflies, or why in the dream, that particular smile on the face of a clown terrified you, because they did not have the same creepy neighbour, or did not watch the same TV show at just the right impressionable age. The quality of the nightmare comes from our different experiences. And most people using the Australian medical system say, but its good, it helps, they care. That used to be my experience as well.

That nightmare is what it is like with Lyme Disease. Most people in Australia are used to a world where you go to a doctor and they are interested in what is going on with you. Australia is a First World nation that invests a lot of public money in health.  Even if the first doctor is not very good, you can go to another doctor down the street. If things are a bit nasty, there is generally a specialist to go to. And if things are really bad, there is still a scheme to deal with it, horrible though everything is. It may not be a surprise to you that cancer is awful. You confront your own mortality. It is painful. There are great indignities with the treatment. There are many terrifying steps along the way. But there are industrial level schemes in place, a plan with every step staffed by expert doctors or nurses or other professionals, who all know exactly what to do, what comes next, and what the ultimate goal is. There is always someone you can talk to. (1) And if there is nothing they can do, someone will say it. They won’t tell you that you are imagining your illness just because they cannot treat it.

With Lyme, there might be say, twenty doctors in Australia who have any idea. One or two may be an infectious disease specialist – I’m serious. So you take your child from GP to GP, who refer them to specialists. Lyme is a multi organ, multi systemic disease, it will attack everything, but not necessarily in a predictable way. Specialists generally know only about their own organ or system. In Australia, they do not know to look for Lyme. So they end up saying: I can’t help you, there is nothing wrong in the area I work in. You’ll need to find someone else.  Sorry, not my job to suggest someone.  You end up where you started. Your child is getting sicker, but you’ve run out of doctors, AND THERE IS NOWHERE ELSE TO GO. There is nobody to turn to. Hospitals tell you not to come back. (A paediatrician shrugs and asks your child, “have you ever thought of killing yourself? I would, going through that sort of pain. Have you tried Berocca? (2)” You leave his surgery asking yourself, did that just happen? Did he say those words? Umm, yes. He did. And we had trusted this guy with all of our babies.)

You end up, after many years, at a particular clinic, in a particular children’s hospital. They deal only in symptoms, not causes, or so they say. You and your child need to live a normal life, they say. So Dad, you have to be the bastard in the family. You have to force your child to go to school, whether they like it or not (3). You have to show Tough Love. You have to keep pushing them, encouraging them, making them stretch themselves. They have to get on with life, despite their symptoms. Meanwhile, we’ll give the child a psychologist to help them deal with the symptoms. But that’s just what they tell you. What is really going on is that they cannot find a physical cause, so there must be a mental cause. Eventually, they say terrible, terrible things to you.  You challenge them on their deception, and they unashamedly admit it.  And you are angry, but you think, can they be right? Have we missed something all these years?  You doubt yourself completely.

Then one day, by the grace of God and His tool, the internet, you find a doctor who knows about this disease, and you do tests – pathology tests both in Australia and Germany;   tests of reactions to treatment; and clinical presentation, and you find that your child has all of these bugs in their body. Call it what you want (4). But in that mix there is borellia and babesia, bartonella, and a bunch of opportunistic parasites attacking a weakened immune system.

No amount of Tough Love was ever going to kill those bugs. The child could not force themselves to school because the bugs made them very weak and sick. All of the things you have been doing have been the opposite of what you should have been doing. You being the bastard, was simply being a bastard. It did not help one little bit.  Your child has Lyme Disease which was untreated for many years.  They also have a bunch of typical co-infections.

You find that many people in Europe and the US have had similar presentations and symptoms.  (Later you find that many other people in Australia have as well.  You are not nuts.  There are many other families out there going through the exact same thing. They start to connect with each other.)  Their illness was caused by the same bugs.  A doctor with familiarity with that could have started treatment earlier.

Then you find that the tests that helped you are not recognised in Australia. And you find that if you go to hospital and seek treatment in an emergency, the moment you mention Lyme, weird things happen. These things have really happened to us:

  •  attending doctors actually stand up and leave the room (I am surprised they did not cover their ears and chant “lalalalalalalalala-can’t-hear-you-lalalalalala” as they left.) Really and truly.
  • attending doctor telephones a specialist. The specialist does not leave his chair. He does not see your child. He gives a telephone “un-diagnosis”. The attending doctor tells you “We don’t accept the diagnosis you have”. He’s spent a total of say 15 minutes over a period of four hours with us. The specialist has never seen us.  The other doctors have spent many, many hours with us. We have attended specialists in Germany and the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. We have spoken to specialists in the US by skype. They were all wrong. Everyone was wrong. But the man at the end of the telephone, he is right.
  • We are about to obtain a surgery we need in Australia. The emergency doctor, trained overseas, recognises the symptoms, agrees with the proposed treatment. A senior doctor arrives. Like us, he is a person of a faith. We see his tzitzit hanging from beneath his shirt.  We think he is here to help. He tells us that “Lyme is a bit controversial,” so we should really go to another hospital for treatment. And we should keep seeing our GP who knows about it. But we should leave this hospital. She is not about to die, so she can go home now.
  • Doctors tell us we are wrong, there is no such disease here. (They ignore the contrary evidence. They also ignore that we have travelled to Europe and South East Asia.)
  • A doctor took us into a private room where no one could hear her, to tell us she believes us because she has Lyme Disease too, but she can’t say anything to her colleagues as she wants to continue to practice.
  • when we raised issues about strange rashes and blotches, a doctor said, “Parents are always imagining rashes that aren’t there, they probably didn’t occur”.  So I pulled out my laptop loaded with photographs of the rashes.  He was silent, then said, “So Dad likes gadgets, does he?”

As a sane person who has never believed in conspiracies, you find there actually is one. You find that there is politics beyond imagining behind all of this.

You wonder how you can explain all of this to people without sounding like a nut, because it is beyond their experience, they all know that doctors help people, there would be no reason for a doctor not to. (They do not have the experience of doctors denying symptoms that don’t fit facts.)  And when some people say, “What, they’re still not better?” and they look at you, you feel challenged. Am I mad? Have I done enough for my children? Have I been an effective advocate for them? Is there more I could be doing? Is there another doctor I could have found?  Because when all of the authority figures are lining up and telling you that you are wrong, and when what you go through goes against the experience of everyone you know, you doubt yourself. You doubt yourself all the time.

Then you think there is a breakthrough.  The Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer takes an interest in Lyme-like diseases in Australia.  He sets up a consultative committee.  They authorise a scoping study.

The scoping study raises concerns.  There are real issues with it.  There are problems.  You feel that you cannot begin to articulate what they are.  It is the shared nightmare again.  How can you explain it to these people?  How can you find the words to get it across?  How can you begin to say to the scientists and medical professionals, you have it wrong – you have missed the point – of more relevance is this – why are you saying those things?

And then two very sick people produce a document like this, to challenge the consensus and status quo. Despite their illness, they pick the brains of a community of desperately ill people, and they devote hundreds of hours to research and writing. Then they collapse. Then they get up again and keep going. And they collapse again.  But they persist.

The document shreds the medical consensus in Australia. It shows how the clinicians are wrong, and how they have ignored the best evidence here. They articulate the nightmare world of Lyme in Australia, and even though in our house we live it every day, I shake my head and say, how can this possibly be happening? But it is, and it is probably happening to tens of thousands of people. The science clearly demonstrates the medical establishment in Australia is wrong. Studies have proven the existence of the disease in Australia

But, nothing changes. There is no plan in place for Lyme treatment, unlike the systems in place for many other serious illnesses. Denial continues.  The pathologists continue to run the show. They continue to say that a positive result MUST be a false result. The infectious disease specialists say we are all idiots. We can only hope for change, and continue to work towards it.

Politicians become interested. There is a House of Representatives inquiry. There is a Senate Inquiry. Reports come out, supporting patients. But nothing is done. The Health Minister (later sacked/resigned in a scandal) does nothing.

The system is not responding. The medical establishment rouses itself for a moment, simply to go on the attack.

We carry on.

(1) we have all been there – we all have someone in our lives who has gone through this. It is scary and godawful.

(2) I guess he thought the problem was with the B – B – Bounce.

(3) That doctor seems so reasonable to your face. Then when you are not there, your child recounts how they collapsed at school, and how Dad had to come and collect them. The doctor interrupts and says, “And didn’t it feel great when Dad got you, when you left school”. Your child answers, “I was still screaming, but it was on the floor at home, not the floor at school”. The doctor dismisses them with a wave and a sneer. Apparently it was his job to be the bastard at hospital.

(4) There is war in the patient community in Australia about what to call it. It drives me insane. Apparently, if we hit on just the right name, then the doctors will have to admit, oh that, yes, we can see that you might have that. Oh, now we can treat it.

Comfortable Man

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2017 at 8:25 pm

My daughter, reading an internet quiz to me: “What super power would you like to have?”

I responded, “The power to turn red into green at traffic lights”.

The next day, walking to the bus stop, thinking about work, it came to me. My secret desire. What I have wanted my whole life.

To be at ease.

Simply, just to be at ease.

Can you get that by being blasted by gamma rays?

So Excitement

In Uncategorized on February 2, 2016 at 12:15 am

So excitement is right. There must just be something wonderful about being a ‘Tim’. I’ve raved before about Tim Powers, and of course there is Tim Brooke-Taylor, and, er, I suppose, Tiny Tim. But Australian Tims are in another category altogether – and I am not (just) talking about Tim Tams.

Tim Winton releases a book (for adults – not ‘The Bugalug Bum Thief’, for example, despite the intriguing title), and I’m there. Tim Flannery, (almost) ditto – ‘The Future Eaters’ remains amongst my favourite books. Hell, I even liked Tim from Big Brother a few years ago.

The darker moments of a former career can be interesting companions at 3am, but one moment of pure pleasure was when I arranged for Tim Low to speak at a conference. He divided the audience, and that was great. People came up to me afterwards, both pleased and puzzled. ‘Feral Future’ dealt with exotic invaders and pests, at the same time revealing much I never knew about the modern history of Australia, and it was followed by ‘The New Nature’. An important part of both books is how we are dominated by the thinking of our age, an alleged commonsense which often does not stand the test of time, and how important truths may be counterintuitive. I would wish these books on anyone with an interest in nature and/or Australia, and our ecological future. However, very important, read them in order – TNN has a greater degree of (cautious) optimism, and was meant to given the topic of FF. I, of course, being me, read TNN, thought, this is great, and hunted down FF – also great, but man was I bummed out. In the words of the immortal-ish Molly Meldrum, do yourself a favour and read them both (but yes, in order).

But: so excitement – I have in my hands the latest Tim Low. I cannot really comment because I have not read it yet, but it is about one of my favourite things: birds! And plenty of Australian birds! (have I mentioned that I am a birdwatcher, though a very bad one? has my wife told you how hard it is to work through our holiday photos to find a photo of our children, when most photos are of a branch where a bird had been sitting only moments before?) And science! And did I mention birds? – well, birds! And the cover is absolutely gorgeous …

song began

Low is an amazing writer and speaker, a fascinating man. He is a scientist who writes with both passion and where appropriate, dispassion, about such interesting and amazing things, especially on topics dear to my heart. I look forward to diving into this.

 

Senate Inquiry into Lyme-like illness in Australia

In Uncategorized on January 27, 2016 at 12:49 am

Thousands of Australians are suffering from a Lyme like illness. The Australian medical profession is failing these Australians by denying the existence of the disease,  failing to diagnose the disease, and failing to provide adequate treatment.

The Federal Senate is conducting an inquiry into this situation. This is great news. However, it requires material to work with. It requires submissions.

If you are an Australian who:

  • suffers from a lyme like illness
  • is a carer for people with a lyme like illness
  • has experience with a family member or a friend suffering from a lyme like illness

or if you are just concerned about this situation, IT IS VERY IMPORTANT that you make a submission. It is easy to do:

LEFT CLICK ON THIS LINE TO BE TAKEN TO THE LYME DISEASE ASSOCIATION OF AUSTRALIA RESOURCE PAGE

Here you will receive all the guidance you need to write a submission

It can just be a few lines or a couple of paragraphs, it does not need to be an epic.

LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD – MAKE A SUBMISSION TO THE SENATE INQUIRY NOW

APOLLO

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2015 at 9:39 am

I remember the moon landing. I kept asking my mother when they were going to put my cartoons on, instead of all this low quality space stuff. At about 3pm, I realised I would not be seeing my morning cartoons. It was just wrong. I think my basic sense of injustice springs from that event.

On this memorable anniversary, may I suggest you read my very short story, This Neil Armstrong is not dead, as presented by the lovely people at Cafe Irreal. The true story of the Apollo mission, finally.

(I have another Apollo story, an alternative history called Avoiding Gagarin, which I can’t provide a free link to. There was a comment by someone that they didn’t know anything about that time period. I despaired, and felt very old. It was the equivalent of someone my age saying they know nothing of the second world war.)

The Dope

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2015 at 7:41 am

“I’m looking for the dope with the microscope”

– Iggy Pop

One of my favourite lines, from the theme song from one of my favourite films, Repo Man, I was horrified to read yesterday that the quote is actually “looking for the joke with a microscope”. Several googles later, I was reassured by other sites that referred to “looking for the dope with a microscope”. Still. I prefer my brain’s version, I don’t picture anyone searching for minute quantities of dope with a scientific instrument, I picture a search for an actual science dude, referred to as the dope, who has a microscope and other tools (and driving a car, the boot of which you should not open). Just as I know that the line from Dirty Old Town is “springs a girl, from the streets of night”, I prefer to serenade everyone in hearing distance with “springs a girl, from the streets of time”. I’m old. Leave me with my small pleasures. It’s a mercy that won’t be forgotten. I mean, its not “Alex the seal”, after all.

Why I love GOOD horror fiction

In Uncategorized on April 19, 2015 at 8:05 am

Art is made to disturb. Science reassures. There is only one valuable thing in art: the thing you cannot explain.

– Georges Braque

My sort of advertisement …

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2014 at 5:52 pm

Featuring … Darwinian nightmares from David Stevens“. Who could ask for more?