Open Thinkering


Tag: health

‘Beast mode’ as permission-seeking behaviour

I realised something about myself over the past week. It’s a character flaw which presents itself as a kind of ‘Type A’ humblebrag.

I’m an adult who doesn’t need to ask permission from anyone to do anything. I don’t have an employer to please, nor do I need to achieve anything more in my life to be deemed ‘successful’.

And yet, I rarely give myself a day off. In fact, it’s worse than that: I ‘beast’ myself physically, mentally, and emotionally to to a point where I struggle. This gives me an excuse to engage in self-medicating behaviours (which are almost certainly less exciting than the ones you’re imagining).

For example, I walk too far and too quickly and do far too much work for a single module. This leads to periods of time when I’m unable to function at my usual level, so I can actually do things for my own enjoyment rather than perpetuate a system I’ve designed for performance rather than pleasure.

Perhaps I should follow Morrissey’s advice to do your best and don’t worry. Easier said than done when the permission slip you’re seeking is from yourself.

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

They say that as you get older, you get to know yourself better. I think that’s true on several levels: over the last decade in particular I’ve got to know my physical limits and quirks, my emotional temperature in different situations, as well as my spiritual leanings.

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to get to know myself even better by spending six hours in hospital. This, apparently, was unrelated to my previous episode, and followed 45 minutes of literally heart-wrenching pain in the night. If you know the scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the first 15 minutes of that pain felt like the temple priest forcing his hand into the prisoner’s chest and ripping out his heart.

Fun times.

I won’t give a blow-by-blow account, but suffice to say that I was looked after well (as ever) by the NHS with care and attention. The reason I was in for so long was because I had to have two ECGs and two blood tests a certain number of hours apart. This revealed that I had slightly elevated levels of Troponin, a protein released by the heart when it’s damaged. This damage can occur when it’s stressed through exercise, so it’s normal to have some Troponin in the blood, even when you’re otherwise healthy.

I was discharged when the cardiac consultant said he wasn’t too concerned that my Troponin levels were showing 15 when the ‘normal’ scale goes up to 14. I have to go back if I have any problems and I’m allowed to continue my normal exercise regime.

Both yesterday and a couple of weeks ago I found myself having to tell the story of what happened multiple times. As a patient, you’re also kind of expected to remember anything that might be at all relevant, including all of the details of it. My wife works for NHS Digital, so I have a small insight into some of the difficulties of sharing data even within the same hospital, never mind between services.

But it got me thinking.

In the film Her (2013) the main protagonist falls in love with his very human-sounding AI, who acts on his behalf in many different situations. What I’d like is some type of machine learning that works on my behalf with my data, and surfaces potentially-relevant things to healthcare professionals.

With the best will in the world, busy doctors can’t have read every bit of relevant information about every injury and health condition. Nor can they surface data from quite newly-presenting symptoms, for example with heart conditions that may or may not be related to Covid.

I realise this is a very long way off, and that I’ve acted against this by refusing to share my health data with third-party services. But I’d love something to use something that I could actually trust, and provided benefit both to me as a patient and to the healthcare professionals trying to help me. I’m sure people are working on it. I just hope they have patient care instead of $$$ in mind.

Title from Adam Curtis’ excellent documentary series. Image by Deepmind.

Migraines and TIAs

Some people, perhaps most people, choose not to publicly share their health information. Perhaps I’m a fool, but I choose to do so — at least selectively. This is mainly because over the years I have been helped by people putting things online about themselves that I have subsequently recognised in myself.

This post is intended to use my own experience to be helpful to anyone else who might find themselves in a similar situation. A word of warning, though, I might be a ‘doctor’, but I am not a medical professional!

After I woke up on Friday, for a period of 5-10 minutes I had visual and auditory disturbances, a slight loss of balance, and co-ordination issues. These happened sequentially, followed by me feeling like I couldn’t get my words out and a slight slurring of speech. It was weird, but it passed.

The next day, I had a headache. It was persistent enough for me to take one of my migraine tablets (Rizatriptan). In the afternoon I felt well enough to do some sprinting in an attempt to improve a Strava segment personal best. On Sunday I felt fine and went for a longer run.

Family and friends insisted, quite rightly, that I should get checked out. I saw the doctor on Monday and he suspected I may have had a Transient ischaemic attack (TIA) or ‘mini-stroke’. He checked me over, took bloods (which came back fine) and referred me to the stroke clinic. The NHS is awesome, particularly in Northumberland.

Today is Tuesday and I’ve been to the stroke clinic who have assessed me. I wasn’t allowed to drive myself there, or indeed at all until they gave me the all clear. Thankfully, they’re pretty certain it wasn’t a TIA as what I describe came in a ‘wave’ rather than all at once. It’s almost definitely just my pattern of migraine symptoms changing as I get older — but they’re giving me a non-emergency MRI scan in the next couple of weeks just to double-check.

Although I (probably) didn’t have one, if you’re reading this and recognise something similar has happened to you, then get checked out! As the Wikipedia page for TIAs states:

The occurrence of a TIA is a risk factor for having a major stroke, and many people with TIA have a major stroke within 48 hours of the TIA. All forms of stroke are associated with increased risk of death or disability. Recognition that a TIA has occurred is an opportunity to start treatment, including medications and lifestyle changes, to prevent future strokes.

I’m really pleased it was ‘only’ a migraine-related issue that I had on Friday, but I was stupid to wait more than 48 hours to follow up on it. Again, if you’re reading this because you had a ‘funny turn’, go and seek some medical attention.

Life is short. It’s easy to get into a good routine and feel pretty invincible. But this was a reminder that we should all count our blessings.