Very strange dream a few nights ago ... someone, whom I haven't seen for years now, choking on what I think was a slice of tomato (!) ... in a doughnut shop. We don't even have a doughnut shop locally! Fisher & Donaldson are bakers who make some very nice doughnuts, and there is a little Krispy Kreme kiosk in the Overgate, but no actual doughnut shop in that sense. So, quite how she might come to choke on a slice of tomato in one ...

I used the third of my four £10 off vouchers for Asda. Again, the delivery arrived a full hour early: 7pm, having chosen an 8-10pm slot. Not really a problem, I'd only chosen that late slot because it was the cheapest, but still a little irritating when they specify a time. A new record for problems: six items missing (five individual rice pudding pots and one of the various bottles of fruit cider I'd ordered to take to the Halloween party tomorrow*), three bad substitutions (two whole milk instead of one skimmed and one semi-skimmed, and taramasalata instead of tzatziki) - and one of the bottles of fruit cider arrived leaking from a damaged top. The driver was very helpful, but seemed to be having technical problems with the portable barcode scanner and only managed to process the damaged item; I had to deal with the rest online later.

Somehow, I suspect once the final voucher is used, I'll be reverting to Tesco. I like Asda's prices and many of their own-brand products, but their delivery service just isn't up to the job.

* - really yesterday - I'm a bit behind at typing entries in, but trying to get closer to real-time updates now. Excellent fireworks and food as always, which I'll be writing about tomorrow and calling it today, even though by then it'll be two days ago. Except we've just passed midnight, so now that's today as well ...
Finally, my appointment with the neurosurgeon. Good news at last!

Delayed almost an hour because a nurse had fainted on the ward - certainly an unusual explanation - the surgeon, Mr James Galea, and a slightly nervous-looking 4th year Dundee University medical student named Rebecca, went through the MRI scan results and a quick physical examination of the leg containing the affected nerve.

As expected, the sacral disk, S1, had collapsed extruding debris into my spinal canal, crushing the branch which controls my left leg causing all the pain and impaired motor control. The MRI also revealed some new details: the disk above that has also been crushed, but apparently without collateral damage; there's also facet joint damage, inflammation and fluid in some nearby joints. (He also recommended some changes in medication to reduce the side-effects: in particular, switching from gabapentin to pregabalin.)

The main surprise was that, contrary to the GP's predictions based on looking at the MRI, surgery may not be needed after all! Physiotherapy only started the day after the MRI scan; after the first four weeks with little to show, it brought a sudden and dramatic improvement. (Of course, at the time I was talking to that GP by phone, I was still unable to sit in a chair at all, and only able to stand briefly!) If the problem deterioriates again, he will operate without further delay; otherwise, just a case of continuing the exercises and waiting ... for 6-12 months, for a "full recovery". Presumably - since I've already recovered most of the strength in that leg, just not the "ankle jerk" reflex - that means being pain-free and regaining that reflex; now that the pain is well-controlled with just the occasional topup from oramorph, I should be able to wait that out easily enough.

Recent physio assessment also brought the first clinical observation of my joints - my knees, in this case - being hyperextensible, although a previous physiotherapist had noted abnormal flexibiity and adjusted some exercises to compensate. (Combining that as a "symptom" with my resistance to lidocaine anaesthetic and unusually dramatic myopic reversion after LASIK in 2012, that might be significant later, but I'll leave that for now.)
Finally, three months after the first symptom and two months after being immobilised by the resulting pain, I get both the physiotherapy assessment (which my GP had expected to be done within a week!) and the MRI scan.

Officially, the MRI scan is supposed to be done after six weeks of the symptoms persisting, if physiotherapy is not resolving it. In my case, physiotherapy hadn't even started by the eight week mark, so of course it had achieved no improvement yet!

NHS Tayside apparently has a total of six MRI machines, divided between the three major hospitals in the region; of course, Perth has the smallest and oldest. This was my first MRI scan: it's surprisingly hot, cramped and noisy inside the MRI, compared to my encounter with a CT scanner years ago, which is why they pipe in music to headphones to reduce the impact of the noise.

Guess...

Jul. 24th, 2015 07:00 pm
 Even worse pain! The codeine appears to be doing nothing at all - perhaps explained by the discovery that my brother is a codeine non-metaboliser, a genetic condition in which the liver doesn't produce the enzymes which make codeine work. Unfortunately, it seems we both inherited this and a resistance to a common family of anaesthetics from our mother, which has already caused me two painful experiences in Perth Royal Infirmary - one of those experiences taking place lying in the operating theatre. That really wasn't a good time to discover the anaesthetic doesn't work!

The pain is slowly increasing day by day - waking me during the night now, as well as immobilising me much of the day. Clearly, I will need much more potent analgesia ASAP.

So, somehow I struggle in to see a GP in person: the summer relief GP, Dr Bigham. She seems good: a nice thorough assessment, confirming my suspicion about the cause, then prescribing 100mg Tramadol 4x daily for the pain. It's a long-standing part of my brother's pain control regimen, so I know it will be effective despite the enzyme deficiency (specifically, it seems it loses about 30% of its effectiveness, but the remaining 70% is still quite potent).

More pain!

Jul. 20th, 2015 07:00 pm
 The weekend didn't yield any improvement - quite the opposite. I'm starting to miss my kidney stones now!

Visiting the GP would be very difficult in this state, so I try a telephone appointment instead. Dr Matthews listens, understands, seems very sympathetic and writes out a prescription for a much higher dose of codeine than I had from over-the-counter, a strong anti-inflammatory to replace the ibuprofen (Naproxen, twice a day with food) and a muscle relaxant, since that worked well the previous two times. She also advises me to get a referral in to the Musculo-Skeletal triage team, who should assess me and arrange further treatment, such as an MRI.

The phone conversation with their operator was somewhat surreal, though, sticking rigidly to a checklist however absurd it got:

"How severe is it?"
"I'm unable to stand up."

"Is this affecting your hobbies?"
(uhh ... I can't stand up or walk ... just how many hobbies are there which can be done while lying on the floor?)

Two of the questions are checking for caudal equina syndrome, which is a serious emergency situation; my answer to every other item on the list is 'yes', though: yes, it is impacting life, preventing me working, requiring medication etc. Hopefully that will at least produce a swift referral!

Pain

Jul. 17th, 2015 07:00 pm
 A night's rest certainly didn't help - indeed, by the morning, I couldn't even get to the downstairs medicine cabinet to fetch more painkillers! (I crawled to the stairs, slid down them carefully, then was found lying at the bottom an hour or so later.)

After the painkillers kicked in, though, I was able to walk a little bit, or at least move around, so decided not to call the doctor - I was in that unfortunate limbo, not well enough to go to the GP, but not quite acute enough for A&E or an ambulance.
 It was a struggle to get to work today: I was due to work a half day in Dundee, so I planned to get in early, thus finishing early. As the saying goes, "plans never survive first contact with the enemy"!

There are two good trains to take from Perth to Dundee, the 9:40 and 10:40: both terminate there, meaning they avoid the heavy traffic of Glasgow-Aberdeen services. Struggling a little with the pain, I wasn't quite ready for the earlier one. I may just have made the later one, had there not been an elderly passenger at the ticket machine (clearly unfamiliar, she paged through ten pages of alphabetical listings beginning with A before working out she could hit 'E' to select Edinburgh!) - the timing was already tight, though, since the walk had taken a lot longer than I expected.

In the end, I caught the 11:20, reaching the middle of Dundee at 12: almost two hours later than I had planned, so I decided to get lunch first, rather than break for it later.

On the way in to the office, the MD commented on my pronounced limp - it was getting obvious I was struggling to walk by now, but I thought I would be OK once I was seated. I was wrong.

With the benefit of hindsight, I know that sitting puts pressure on the sciatic nerve; it would appear this was the cause of my pain, so sitting didn't help. A dose of paracetamol may have helped slightly, but I soon had to leave; rather than struggle all the way back to the railway station (a mile exactly, per Google Maps walking directions) I picked the bus, which happens to have a stop much closer to the office, then got a lift home from the stop at the far end.

Possibly a third incidence of the trapped lumbar nerve (L3-L4, the left femerogenital nerve) I had experienced before; both of those times were resolved with some rest, painkillers, a muscle relaxant and a bit of careful stretching to ease those vertebrae back into line.

PhD!

Jan. 1st, 2014 12:00 pm
After a long delay (apparently due to staff absence) I have official paperwork: I will be starting my PhD on Wednesday, the 1st of January, 2014. The university is, of course, closed that day, being New Year's Day. In reality, I start several weeks later, Wednesday the 22nd of January.

Had I applied a little sooner, I could have started on Sunday, the 1st of September 2013 - on which the university is also closed, being a Sunday. Half of the six-monthly reports will be due for submission on the 31st of December, and the university is shut between Christmas Eve and a week or so into each new year. There seems to be a pattern here...
My second MacBook Pro has taken on an exciting new shape!

The lithium-ion goo inside which holds the power seems to have expanded dramatically, breaking the battery casing open.

My first MBP had a faulty battery, which ceased holding any charge after a month or so and was replaced (after some quibbling) as part of Apple's battery recall; the replacement battery's capacity tailed off over the next few years, eventually holding about a minute's worth of power by the time I replaced it, but never bursting its casing.

Let's hope the new unibody ones with non-replaceable batteries don't have the same problem...
 Last night, I started an online grocery order for today. Tesco would deliver for £5.50, which ASDA beat at £3.00 for a slot later in the afternoon. ASDA also has far better search facilities (you can refine your search by category, brand, type - Tesco only has a crude text search and a single restrictive hierarchy) - what Tesco does have, however, is a website which actually stays operational. On two separate occasions in the course of ordering, I was told that ASDA's website was "temporarily unavailable"; the first time it returned after several minutes, the second time I gave up. So, I paid slightly more to order through the site which actually functions reliably. Tragic - but far from the first time this has happened.

To make matters worse, I woke this morning to find the shower room flooded: the new radiator valve installed by British Gas/Scottish Gas on Wednesday had started leaking. One of the selling points of the new heating package I bought was that it included their "Homecare 200" cover, a 24x7 helpline to call an engineer out to fix anything that might go wrong — apparently, they will be out "today" to fix the leak they caused, but couldn't specify a time. In the mean time, I suppose I just have to keep emptying the bucket and hoping this is the only valve they screwed up...

Now, any bets what kind of apology I will get for their botched installation having flooded the house? Or if they'd have been any more helpful or apologetic if this had happened on a weekday, with work to go to rather than being able to wait in all day for a plumber to fix their mess?
Just back from my high school reunion in Glasgow last night — as usual, not great food, but good company (sitting between Gareth, an old acquaintance who is now a jeweler, and Mike Thomson, Finance Project Manager at DC Thomson).

The guest speaker was "Charles Falconer, Baron Falconer of Thoroton", a former Cabinet member. Probably the most memorable moment was his reference to having "achieved something no other Cabinet member, in either the Blair or Brown administrations, had" — he paused for dramatic effect at this point, during the answers "competence" and "literacy" were suggested. He was actually referring to having every major newspaper call for his resignation on the same day.

Before catching the train home today, we had lunch at a Mongolian restaurant, Kublai Khan's: Wah Ho, Gansukh and Khoor Shoor to share, various vegetables, meats and sauces from a buffet cooked in front of us for the main, then Yum Tum, Gwai Ho and Hung Yum for dessert. All delicious, certainly somewhere I will visit again!

(We actually tried TGI Friday first, but even at 2:15 they were reporting an hour's wait for a table, so we decided to give Kubai Khan a try instead. Very fortunate.)
My little brother Ed graduates from Dundee University next week - the third generation of my family to do so, despite Dundee University only having been a university for 40 years, so the Courier ran an article on the subject today.


DSC_3869.jpg
Originally uploaded by JamesS2
A beautiful low-speed approach to a very short landing strip in Fife.
You Are An INTP
The Thinker

You are analytical and logical - and on a quest to learn everything you can.
Smart and complex, you always love a new intellectual challenge.
Your biggest pet peeve is people who slow you down with trivial chit chat.
A quiet maverick, you tend to ignore rules and authority whenever you feel like it.

In love, you are an easy person to fall for. But you're not an easy person to stay in love with.
Although you are quite flexible, you often come off as aloof or argumentative.

At work, you are both a logical and creative thinker. You are great at solving problems.
You would make an excellent mathematician, programmer, or professor.

How you see yourself: Creative, fair, and tough-minded

When other people don't get you, they see you as: arrogant, cold, and robotic
Disturbingly, almost every single so-called "Superdrive" (the same rebadged Matshita drives you'd get from any no-name box-shifter, but with a bigger marketing budget) I know of has failed, including my own. However, since mine is still under warranty (until the end of this month) and we now have an Apple Store just an hour away, I thought I'd take it to the Genius Bar.

Initially, quite a pleasant experience: online booking of an appointment time, directions to the store in case I needed it, all very good. I arrived on Saturday, a few minutes early, was seen straight away by a helpful 'Genius' who confirmed my suspicions and ordered the replacement part, which arrived in the store on Tuesday, at which point I was told by phone that they were ready to install it.

That's where it all went wrong. Installing this module would somehow entail my laptop being with them for a ridiculous seven to ten days, during which time I would have no computer. Since it's my primary work system, that is of course out of the question - rendering the warranty effectively worthless for me.

For comparison, I have had two other systems repaired under warranty at work this week, one Dell, one Compusys. Both were repaired on site, one the following day, without any effort beyond making a phone call or online repair request. One was out of action for the 24 hour wait (the faulty power supply meant the machine wasn't usable until repaired), the other was out for the hour it took the engineer to replace the laptop motherboard - not the week or more Apple wanted.

It's a great shame: OS X is a very good desktop operating system in most respects, but comes shackled to some of the least reliable hardware I've encountered - battery recalls, more dead 'Superdrives' than working - and worse warranty service than any of the PC vendors I've used. They've managed some very impressive transitions in the past, from the dead-end 68000 CPUs to PowerPC and then to x86, from a rather flaky old-fashioned operating system where the most trivial of application bugs could bring down the system to a rock-solid Unix core - now, can they get an adequate repair service going? If not, my next "Mac" might just have to be a Dell with OSx86, where getting a warranty repair doesn't mean losing the machine for a week or more.
Last week seemed to be full of dead or ailing Macs of varying vintage: Mat's four year old Powerbook with a dying HDD, Toby/Kate's Powerbook with an intermitten screen fault and my own 11 month old MacBook Pro with a Superdrive which had mysteriously degenerated to work only as a CD ROM drive, rejecting DVDs entirely and refusing to burn CD-Rs.

So, I made an appointment with Apple's Genius Bar at the Apple Store in Glasgow. The Genius quickly confirmed my diagnosis and warranty status, then discovered there were no suitable drives in stock there. One has now been ordered - it should arrive Tuesday, but then I need to get it inserted, which may be a pain. I'm afraid I may have to leave it with them rather than get it done while I wait, which would be a pain logistically.

To rub salt into the wound, I was supposed to have an all-day Wednesday meeting in Glasgow - I could have dropped the laptop off in the morning when I arrived, then collected it again either that evening or Saturday, only leaving myself Macless for two days. However, the meeting was replaced with a conference call for no sensible reasons: one of our junior opponents from down south can't make it - every single other team member has missed at least one meeting without any impact, but this one can't travel and the meeting's off!

On the bright side, I had a very nice burger at Buzzy Wares, then a very nice Apple Concierge named Sarah (with a lovely American accent, too) helped me find a good pair of speakers to dock my iPhone with, since my previous set (a cheap pair from Maplin in Cambridge, which could only charge 2G iPhones and required the iPhone to be in Airplane mode) gave up the ghost a few days ago. Sarah told me she had the same one herself, which seemed like a good endorsement - or a good sales pitch - but they certainly sounded good to me in the store.
For some reason, I woke up an hour early this morning. Lucky, since I'd forgotten to put my laundry in the dryer last night...

So, after a more relaxed start to the morning than usual, I headed round to the station to catch my train, which was running late due to flooding (almost every other train being canceled entirely) - more good luck, as it turned out, since the staff put me on the replacement bus instead, saying not to bother about a ticket, saving me £5.

Later, I had a very nice Christmas lunch with my grandfather, mother and brother. Normally, we dread lunch with him: his first choice of restaurant is an expensive poor-quality Indian restaurant - we all like curry normally, but make an exception for theirs! This time, however, they have a nice set menu with edible non-curried options, so we all enjoyed it!

On the downside, my MacBook's U key seems to be getting reluctant, and the train disruption meant I didn't go to the meet-up for my old school down in Glasgow as I'd planned. To make up for it, though, I saw someone mention a restaurant called Buzzy Wares in Glasgow. Apart from sounding like a website distributing legally questionable software, the menu sounds pretty good to me!
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