Monday, 16 November 2009

Gone bloggin'

The winds of change have been sweeping through the knitting blogverse recently, rattling windows, flapping washing on the line, blowing dust from corners and sweeping the debris from nooks and crannies long untouched and uncared for.

Writers of blogs I’ve loved have either shut up shop entirely, or stopped posting very often. As for me, I’ve barely knit a stitch for the past year, let alone written about it.

I’m not quite ready to hang up my hat, pack up my yarn, and say goodbye to the corner of the blogverse that I've built for myself, but this little bloglet has run its course. I don’t knit enough any more to sustain just a knitblog, lots of things have changed both for me and the world since I started writing here, and I find myself wanting to post about other things – things like this recent entry that somehow didn’t sit quite right with this softly worn old blog.

So, in the spirit of this spring-into-autumn clean, I’ve moved to a new address, and am slowly furnishing it with new posts and the odd knick-knack. There will be knitting, but also cooking, random thoughts and medical conundrums, poems and adventures and all the things I get up to. So if you feel like it any time, stop by!

Monday, 25 May 2009

Garter stitch

... on big fat needles with thick squishy yarn.

Just the thing for restoring flagging spirits and an errant knitting mojo.

It is a bank holiday and boilingly hot here, and I'm indoors revising (and photographing last night's knitting). My boyfriend has gone to the Cheese Rolling.

I hope you are enjoying today, whatever you're up to.

Sunday, 24 May 2009


An important part of our medical education is patients. We are often told that the best way to learn medicine is to talk to patients, examine them to find any physical clues to broaden or narrow the picture we have built up from talking to them, and then go away to read up on everything we have learnt from that encounter. As medical students, we are expected to ‘clerk’ patients on a daily basis, to spend our days in between timetabled teaching sessions talking to patients, looking at their hands and inside their mouths, tapping their tummies and listening to their chests and generally trying to build up our knowledge of patients and diseases from the foundations of the individuals who happen to end up on the wards in our teaching hospitals.

‘Clerking’ a patient involves taking a full ‘history’ and examining them. Taking a history means asking questions about how and why they came into hospital, what led up to that, any other medical issues they might have, medicines they take and any allergies they have, their social and family background, and also doing a ‘systems review’, running through a checklist of questions to pick up any other symptoms or past events that might have been missed in the rest of the history. Examining a patient means looking at, feeling and listening to various parts of the body to pick up any diagnostic clues and to build up a better picture of their overall health. For students in my year, this means making a general assessment of the patient’s appearance, and examining the cardiovascular and respiratory systems (heart, major blood vessels, lungs, signs of oxygenation or carbon dioxide retention), the abdomen (including the digestive system, liver, spleen, kidneys, and bladder), and central nervous system, which involves asking the patient to perform lots of odd tasks like baring their teeth and tightening the neck muscles like a scary monster.

Clerking patients is an extraordinary privilege. You can ask patients about anything from headaches to their bowel habits, and most of the time they will tell you happily. Because you’re wearing an ID and a stethoscope (not a white coat; they’re considered infection vectors in this country!) people will tell you things they wouldn’t tell close friends. You might talk about what happened when they were giving birth, or learn that their daughter’s husband hits her and they’re not allowed to see the grandchildren, or that their brother was killed by a landmine.

I went into medicine because I am interested in people above anything. People are often surprised that my first degree was in Eng. Lit., but to me, they’re just different approaches to the same questions: about who people are, and how they got to be like that. Clerking a patient can be fascinating, gratifying, and inspiring. To begin taking histories from the most boring-looking patients can be to embark on stories that are complicated and challenging, uplifting and often humbling, and the relationships you can build from spending that time with a patient, and keeping an eye on them for the rest of their hospital stay, are rewarding beyond words.

There are times when it doesn’t go so well, of course. The patients with cancer who feel accused when you ask how much they smoke or drink alcohol, no matter how hard you assure them (truthfully) that these are routine questions you ask absolutely everyone. The patients from the local prison who will happily tell you about their past drug use, but absolutely clam up and become verbally abusive when you try to establish their social background or any illnesses that might run in the family. The professional patients who’ve been in and out of hospital so many times they know the format off by heart, and tell you you’re useless when you start asking questions they think aren’t relevant. All this before you’ve even got to the examination and started poking and prodding while asking them to take big breaths in out through their mouth.

A few days ago I went with a friend to clerk an elderly man who’d been in hospital for a few days. He was fairly happy to talk to us, although he became annoyed a couple of times during the history when we tried to clarify things, or he felt he’d already answered our questions. When we’d examined his chest and abdomen and were about to begin our neurological exam he seemed to be getting annoyed and M suggested we could stop if he was tired. His response was, ‘Look, I’m half naked, lying here being touched by two beautiful young girls. What more could I want?’. Neither of us said anything. M carried on with examining the cranial nerves, and I watched her doing it, looking at her red pen and waving finger instead of his cheerful face. When we finished, we thanked him, and as we were gathering up our notepads and stacking the plastic chairs he cackled and asked ‘When’s my turn?’.

I don’t really know what I should have done in that situation. I wanted to tell him he was behaving inappropriately. I wanted his cancer to disappear immediately so that somebody would realise it was a mistake his being in hospital and throw him out so I’d never have to see him again. I wanted not to be a student, to have some kind of role in his care so that I’d have at least some authority to tell him that his behaviour was not acceptable.

As medical students, we rely on the generosity of patients to give us their time and let us into their secrets. We are not allowed to give patients information, to tell them anything about their condition, advise them in things as basic as how to seek support for stopping smoking, or talk to them about the operation they about to have in any kind of informative way, although we are taught all of these. This is a recurring theme in my medical student support group. We find ourselves in a strange position as medical students: one with authority but no power, with responsibilities but few rights. We walk and talk like doctors, but if you try and catch us, you’ll find we are just shadows, flitting onward after the qualified doctor who actually can give you reassurance or answer your questions.

So instead, I am angry. I am pissed off with the patient for overstepping the mark. I am furious with myself for not saying anything, for not being sure what I should or could say. I’m annoyed with M for not thinking that this was beyond the pale. Above all, I am outraged with a society which allows a man in hospital for treatment and care to think that it’s acceptable to sexualise an encounter with two young women trying to improve their clinical knowledge and further their education.

GMC guidelines for students state that they ‘are expected to maintain a professional boundary between themselves and their patients … They must not use their professional position to cause distress or to exploit patients’ but there are no guidelines for when the situation is reversed. Guidelines don’t necessarily help anything, but I wonder if it’s time there were.

In the meantime, I am trying to get on with my day, and, in the spaces in between, to think of what I could do next time I'm in a similar situation, and how I could be better.

Incidentally, my mother thinks I am overreacting, and that this was 'harmless joking' from a man 'trying to regain some manliness' in a difficult situation in hospital. If you do too, let me know.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Yves Klein Blue scarf

I finally persuaded my sister to take photos of her scarf. She's been wearing it ever since I unpinned it from the row of towels on my bedroom floor, adding it to her work clothes, weekend outfits, and even her pyjamas first thing in the morning - which is obviously pleasing, but this bloglet is already too sparse to do without photos even of a plain vanilla scarf. And of course being my sister she stuffs it into the bottom of her handbag and leaves it lying on the floor, so it’s already looking a bit worse-for-wear. Also, my camera is broken, again, so I've had to ask her to persuade other people (thanks Ma!) to get involved in these antics, which complicates matters.

We're just about to finish our surgical rotation, and, as with many so things, I've only started to realise what I'm going to miss, and what I ought to have been doing with the last ten weeks of my time, as the ground slips away beneath my feet.

I haven't loved surgery; my feelings towards it are a strange mix of awe and horror, utmost respect and revulsion - not the actual operations themselves, which I find fascinating and beautiful, but everything else surrounding them, from the way surgeons behave toward each other to the post-operative complications.

In addition, we're moving hospitals, which is a bit like starting term in the middle of the school year. Half of my firm are coming with me, and the other half going to the third of our 'home' teaching hospitals, which means half of my next firm will be made up of new faces. It's exciting, but daunting, and I have really loved my time at this hospital, getting to know the regular patients and befriending people from the porters to the Professor of Cardiology who always stops to chat in the corridors and the SHO in A & E who goes out of her way to tell you when something interesting is happening so that you can go and see and learn. I feel quite sad to think that all these relationships, short-cuts through the hospital learned and bleep numbers memorised just disappear in a puff of smoke when I hand back my security pass on Friday.

Anyway, cheer up, P. Let's talk about some knitting.

Yarn: Malabrigo Merino Worsted, colour Azul Bolita, 2 skeins exactly. One skein from somewhere I don't remember, the other from Wool and Company, one of only two shops I could find on the internet selling this colour.
Needles: 5.5 mm Addi bamboo
Via the stash?: Kind of. I bought one skein years ago, intending to make a One Skein Wonder and try out some Malabrigo, and then the colour was too bright so it slumbered in my stash. A few months ago, Z mentioned that she'd love an Yves Klein blue scarf, and I realised that this yarn would pretty much fit the bill, gleefully thinking that I could make a tiny dent in the stash - and then I ran out of yarn, ordered some more (and of course ordered two more skeins, so that I wouldn't run out again, and now have one more skein of exactly the same yarn sitting in my stash, and am back to square one). For some reason this yarn doesn't photograph well, but it is a deep royal-blue-purple-ultramarine, similar enough to International Klein Blue.
Cast on: 22 November 08
Cast off: 24 January 09
Details: Cast on 25 sts using Estonian cast-on (instructions here). Knit in Brioche stitch: Plain Brioche Stitch Knit version - uneven number sts (good instructions here), with Annie Modesitt's Slip Stitch Double Knit Edge (Right Side: K1, sl1wyif, K1; Wrong Side: sl1wyif, K1, sl1wyif) until it seemed a good length. Cast off using EZ's sewn cast-off.

This would have been a very quick knit if I hadn't had to order more yarn in the middle, and one I'd happily knit again, if my To Knit queue weren't so intimidatingly long.

Hope you have good things lined up for the weekend! I'm off to Whitstable.

Monday, 2 February 2009


London's heaviest snowfall for eighteen years. (View from my bedroom window this morning).

It may not look like lots, but predictably, the city ground to a halt, with no buses running, trains and tubes delayed, airports closed, and not even any parking wardens around! (There is a car that has been parked in the bus stop outside my house all day, and no-one has even noticed. It is hidden beneath a blanket of snow, but I can see its little wing mirrors sticking out). I made it into hospital this morning, and was sent home. The people who would have been teaching us critical care, have more critical caring to do when people fall over and slide cars into each other. A bittersweet holiday. I have a heap of notes to write up, so I'm not going to spend this unexpected day at home reading Snowfall, but I wish I could.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

An unexpected afternoon

... with my sewing machine

... and these...

... led to a pair of hemmed jeans!

Imperfect stitches. Tiny little steps, but ones I've been putting off since before the new year. And a new pair of jeans to wear to have six inches cut off my hair!

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Something old and something new, both made by me, and both of them blue

Well, it's nearly February and I haven't even wished you a happy new year! - or Christmas, for that matter. Let's make up for that, shall we?

I wound down / ground to a halt towards the end of last term, and the closest I came to knitting was practising sutures on a little sponge! (We started surgery three weeks before the end of term, and I hated it. It's growing on me though, as I guess anything does when you settle in and start to make something your own - and of course the more I learn, the more I want to know, and it gets better). The day after term finished, Deri and I took the 7:20 a.m. Eurostar to Paris! Exciting, non? It was my parents' Christmas present to us (thanks padres!) and we ate lots, drank more, walked miles, went to the Musée d'Orsay, to the Mystery and Glitter exhibition (I loved Jozsef Rippl-Ronai's Un parc dans la nuit and William Degouve de Nuncques' Night in the Royal Park of Brussels), to the Pompidou, to night-time concerts in churches and to see the Sonia Rykiel retrospective at the Musée des Arts décoratifs, but not to the Picasso because we couldn't get tickets. We stayed here, which I would highly recommend (and go back to in the blink of an eye!).

I didn't take any pictures, I think I was too exhausted. In fact the only photographic evidence I have is...

I know, poor socks. One day of tramping around and suddenly, I fear they may be beyond mending. What do you think? I did say I was going to wear them until I wore them out, but I didn't think it would happen so quickly! I've probably only worn them about five times.

Christmas at home with my family was full of most of the things I love about Christmas (the only things missing were not having gone home in time to make the Christmas pudding, or made any pomanders): listening to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on the radio while making bread- and apple sauce and red cabbage on Christmas eve, visiting my granny, ransacking my parents' stack of newspapers on the way to the recycling and spreading them all over the dining room floor to read in as higgledy-piggledy fashion as I'd like, going to Christ Church for Sung Matins (yes, I am a godless heathen, but Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without, well Christmas), seeing old and much-missed friends on boxing day and going for frosty walks.

The much-bigger-than-intended-tree-bought-from-the-Sea Scouts, when I went downstairs on Christmas morning. Those lumpen stripy sausage things are our stockings. My mum used to wear them!

After Christmas I went to the Lake District with my parents for a few days, then caught a train back to London to spend New Year's eve cooking, drinking champagne, gossiping, and tucked up on the sofa watching Rome on DVD with one of my oldest friends, who was just a few days from the start of her first job as a Classics teacher. All in all, a very good holiday indeed.

Then back to university, and looming exams - and suddenly they are over, and I did OK, and am looking forward to the weekend, which should include darning in the ends of this scarf, going to watch some rowing, and making this soup.

Hope your weekend has some good things in store, too.