Sunday, 21 August 2011

Clay, Felt Tips, Grand Theft Auto and Other Scientific Things

This post is about my night shift week. Now when I first heard the phrase “night shift week” I groaned, but it’s actually been really good. Let me tell you why.

The sleep lab runs for 3 nights so that’s Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights so Monday was a normal day for me so 8.30-6 in the office as usual. That day was spent phoning round all 4 patients to check that they remember that they are coming in and to ask them not to have any caffeine from then onwards. This was really bad news for one of the patients as he was a 6 cups of coffee a day man and had been for like 50 years or something. Oh and also I have to tell them not to eat and tomato, banana or turkey on Thursday because it mucks up the results on that night. Apparently there’s a chemical present in them that can mimic melatonin which is being measured on Thursday night. But all of them remembered they were coming in and I even managed to get a couple excited about it! 

Tuesday I was in at 3pm. I had to swing by the cafĂ© where the patient’s dinner was made to pick it up and then carry on into the lab. Then we had to do really hi-tech things like making the beds and setting up the paperwork. At about 5pm the patients start to come into the lab and we make them comfortable and settled. Dinner was next and then the fun bit of putting all the electrodes on them. Its a lot of fun putting the head electrodes on because you use this clay that dries in their hair to keep the electrode in place. They have 12 on their head, some heart monitors, a muscle sensor on each leg, respiratory bands across their chest, a position sensor to see what side they are lying on and urm oh yea an oxygen saturation monitor on their finger and a tube clipped to their nose monitoring their exhalations. So they look pretty funny with all these stickers all over them and all the wires coming off them into this little battery pack they have to hold. 

High tech neuropsych equipment
Then they get to do some fun fun testing. Some of them quite enjoy the testing but some of them seem to get quite annoyed by it all. One of them is a figure we give them to draw and we want to look at what order they draw in so we swap the colour of the pen every so often so we use felt tips. There’s another test that’s a night time driving simulator. It’s a quiet night time road and they have to just catch up to a lorry in front of them while staying in the speed limit, then break then head off again. Sounds easy right? Wrong. It’s really hard to steer the car and a lot of the time the patients just drive straight off the road and crash. So it’s more like grand theft auto – pensioner’s edition. 

After that most of them settle down and go to bed but as they are plugged into the wall for the power pack for the electrodes, it means they need to ask to be unhooked when they want to go to the loo. So there are at least 2 people in the sleep lab working. Fortunately on Tuesday I was only there till 11.30pm so I stayed till they were all tucked up in bed (no bed time story required) and then I could get the bus home. Wednesday was harder. I had to work from 8pm till 7.30am the next morning. All the departments in the building give us little jobs to do overnight, mainly photocopying and binding and things but a lot of the time I could spend doing whatever I like so I was on Facebook a lot which was great because even though it was 4am here, it was 7pm at home so a lot of friends back home were online and I could chat and let them know what I was getting up too. But I spent some of the time just watching their brain waves as they sleep. Also you can see their breathing and when they snore so that’s funny sometimes. 

Going home at 8am in the morning is… interesting. I was so tired I missed my bus stop and because it was the morning rush hour traffic the traffic was mad and a lot of the bus stops were full so I ended up miles away from where I wanted to be! I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice so I walked back the rest of the way which took me another 20 mins. Got home and just face planted the bed.
Thursday I didn’t stat till 11.30pm but I was there till everything was done the following morning. So it was another night of Facebook, reading and photocopying. I downloaded and scored some of the watched they have been wearing which monitor light and activity levels for the 2 weeks before the patients come into the sleep lab. Some of their sleep patterns are just plain weird. But I have to download the data and highlight the times of sleep and rest from the activity, light and the sleep diaries they have been keeping. 

The night passed in a half-asleep blur. At about 6am they started stirring but it wasn’t till about 7am that they were all awake. Breakfast, showers and packing seemed to take them forever but finally they were all ready to leave. Goodbyes were said and then it was just getting all the little things done after. The beds were stripped, the laundrette was called to come pick up the linens, the dishwasher was put on with all the plates and bowls etc. and everything was put away. All finally done and I got home about 9.30am. I blinked and then it was 5pm. No, wait, that’s not true. Throughout the day I was getting calls from my housemates about these house viewings we had and forms to fill in etc. but that’s more than enough writing today so I will talk about houses later. 

So that was my week this week. It’s really good to be able to do some hands on science. I try to ask as many questions as I can so I can understand all the processes involved and I’m learning a lot. And it’s not just my science background I’m drawing on, lots of other things like my time being a floor manager in retail has helped a lot with the interactions with the patients and being able to be friendly and maintain the professionalism that the lab needs, and my psychology A-Level helps me understand some of the testing involved. I seem to be made for this job which means I can have a lot of fun with it but it’s still stretching me to new places. I’m looking forwards to seeing where else it will take me.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Devil wears Prada without the fashion

I wish these came with the job
So this post is about work. I’ve been working for a week now and it’s all been very hectic. I haven’t had time to think or breath or sleep it feels like. The title explains my job rather well; I am a lot like Anne Hathaway in the devil wears Prada bit atm. Only I don’t get amazing clothes to wear, I don’t have a hot boyfriend who cooks for me and hopefully I won’t turn into a career obsessed bitch like the film though. Well she quits in the end and is better off for the experience (yay for happy endings) but I’d rather not go there in the first place.

Right, analysis of film over. But yea, I am working in the sleep lab which is looking at the sleep patterns of cognitively impaired individuals by giving them a series of cognitive and psychiatric tests and then wiring them up with electrodes and watching their brain waves while they sleep. I actually get to do a lot of the processes, actually I don’t think there has been anything that I’ve been told that I won’t be doing. The sleep lab runs every 2 weeks overnight as duh, that’s when people sleep. So next week I will be doing evening and night shifts, I will have to do the housekeeping, the cognitive testing, the entertaining, the electrode sticking, the overnight watching and the waking up for all the old dears that come into the sleep lab. I am kind of looking forward to doing some hands on science and developing a repertoire with the patients as it’s the same patients all week. But at the same time it’s a lot of responsibility and there isn’t really time to re-do things if I get them wrong.

But this week I’ve been doing the PA thing for my two immediate bosses. I do things like scoring the test papers that patient have completed and phoning patients up to confirm their bookings or to ask them to participate in a new study. But then every now and again one of the big bosses will send me out to run an errand like Friday I was sent to pick up a CD from another lab somewhere in the city that I had no idea where it was but I found it in the end. 

So that’s my life for the next few months at least. The idea at the moment is that they will cycle the three of us though the three jobs but if we end up just getting into the swing of our jobs by the time the 4 months is up then they might keep us there as it seem to take ages to train us all up. I honestly feel like I don’t even know a quarter of what I will need to by the end.
The days are fairly busy as when I’m not dealing directly with patients then I’m doing training or I’m doing paperwork or I’m in a lecture. The lectures are a good chance to grab a much needed coffee but they are (mostly) really interesting, some of them are like student lectures with the medical school that’s nearby but we go to the ones that are relevant to our work regardless of the university level, and some of them are “in house” lectures where someone from the institute is talking about their research and where they would like the research to go to next, or its some specialist from a partner lab that’s been invited to speak and talk to the staff. 

The last one we went to was really interesting, it was about the future of genetic tailoring of drugs to suit different pheno types. It all sounds really interesting but the amount of red tape it will have to go through means that it won’t ever get used. Imagine the law suits if someone died from too much or too little drug after they had been genetically sequenced and prescribed the supposed amount. Just getting the infrastructure would take decades as a general database of everyone’s sequenced genome would have to be recorded and made available to hospitals and GPs everywhere. Also the cost of all this would be astronomical. So like so many medical breakthrews, it will be technology that would greatly benefit mankind that will be put aside because of the way society works. It’s a real shame. Maybe it will be used some day but I doubt it will be widely available within my lifetime. 

Oh and they want the three of us to give a lecture! In 6 weeks!!!! They have given us all research projects to work on in our own time and they want a preliminary report done in 6 weeks’ time to present to the entire staff, including the big bosses. Its rather scary as I can’t even remember what my project is! Something about dim light melatonin levels I think.

Anyway, so that’s what I do. Stay posted for my overnight shift shenanigans. Sorry about the lack of pictures but it’s not very professional to take photos of the patients or the workplace.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Jet lag sucks!

Hello from the land down under! Its winter here and I’m wearing shorts and a vest, its 9 hours ahead so when I have to get up at 7.30am my body thinks its 4.30pm here which is weird and they work in dollars which are brightly coloured and look a lot like monopoly money! Ok so now you’re up to speed on Australia.

Our plane
We arrived only slightly delayed in Sydney airport on Thursday morning (having set off from the UK Tuesday evening) to a cooler temperature than we left England! Well it is winter here, it’s so odd to think that this is winter but it is! There aren’t any leaves on the trees and there aren’t any bugs so it must be winter. The flights were easy and we were kept well entertained with on-board games, TV and movies. I watched tangled, which was the expected amusing fairy-tale gone wrong you have come to expect from Disney, water for elephants, which was really good and I would recommend it, and inception which was an interesting concept but a tad predictable. I also slept as much as possible. Time seems to have no meaning on a plane and your body has no idea what’s going on so the only way to tell the time is to look at how long the plane has been in the air.

Our room
Anyway, we finally got here and we were met by Eloise’s sister and Nat who is the girl who is out here from Uni from last year. We all bundled into a taxi and were taken to our new home for the next 4 weeks. Our room is nice and large, our small amount of belongings we were allowed to bring look rather sad and small in the cupboards and drawers. There is a large kitchen and a pretty little roof terrace so it’s a nice place to live. 

The first couple of days we spent doing boring things like setting up bank accounts, phones and food shopping. I can honestly say I had the most fun I have ever had in a bank when I set up my account here. The guy was chatting about all the British celebs and gossip so the conversation was more suited to being at the hairdressers or something rather than the bank! I sorted out a new mobile too. It’s annoying that they don’t do pay as you go phones here! You have to get something called prepaid and you buy a $30 minimum recharge (aka top up) card and then the network multiplies that to give you your credit. Like I get $300 worth of calls but free texts to Oz numbers and unlimited Facebook but my phones looking for English mobile internet so can’t connect. I will get it fixed soon. But the credit expires after 30 days so it’s a bit like a rolling one month contract but you don’t have to renew as soon as the 30 days are up, you can go without your phone for a bit. Oh and Mum, I was food shopping and I found Anzac biscuits! They are a bit like soft hobnobs but with peanuts and coconut. Sounds odd but they are nice. Everyone else reading this won’t get that but never mind.

Opera House!!
Where was I? Oh yea, walking down George street. George Street is the main street that goes from the bottom of the city right the way through the middle to the very top where the opera house and the bridge are. This city is so odd! The architecture is all higgledy piggledy. As in none of it matches. You can have a skyscraper made of all glass next to what looks like a really old red brick town hall! And there are banks everywhere! Literally every 200m there’s one of every bank. It’s a really long walk down to the water but when we got there it was like being in a poster or something. The bridge and the opera house are just as impressive if not more so in person. We had a beer from the opera bar and sat and watched the sun set behind the bridge. It was very cool. 

Our internetz
All of us are getting on really well. Eloise, Georgina and I are all in the same room for now but it’s really not an issue. I feel very lucky that I’m not here on my own and I’m with people I like. I get on with Nat too, even though she’s bonkers but it’s a good bonkers. (I hope you laughed at that Nat).
Shopping has been interesting. Shoes go up to like $300+ which is like £200 so I really can’t afford to keep my shoe addiction at its high level. Things are so expensive! Like going out last night, yes we were in this club by the water (love being so close to the water) but it was $8 for a vodka and cranberry which is like over a fiver! I am living off my credit card till I get paid and that first pay cheque can’t come soon enough! Mind you we did go to this cool little vintage market yesterday and that’s got some really nice things and cheaper than the city. I found a really nice dress that I want but didn’t get this week. Maybe if it’s still there next week I’ll get it then. 
Sunset behind the bridge
I’m going to go to bed soon as it’s our first day tomorrow! Quite nervous but excited too. I’ll let you all know how we all get on.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Last Goodbyes

So here I am in Australia! I’m so tired right now so please excuse any incoherency.

Right, so my last weekend was amazing. Very last minute I managed to get a wristband for the Saturday night at Global Gathering. So I had to run about to get the wristband from James. I was meant to be going for lunch but as I was still sorting through all the stuff at my parent’s house (some of which has been in boxes since I left Essex nearly 4 years ago!) and that over ran so I ended up only just making it to town before James had to jump on a train. We actually met at the station, that’s how close cut it was! I bought his ticket for him as he was running so late he might not have got one in time, however he was probably late because I had messed about so much with the plans for the day that he didn’t know what was going on, poor boy. So yea, I swapped a train ticket for a wristband and then, later that evening, I disappeared off to Global. Camping is never very glamorous and true to form this night was no exception but it was better than nothing and I think I even got a sizeable amount of sleep till the heat of the sun through the plastic tent became unbearable and I got up. But the music was good and the sets of the acts I had seen before were better than last time. We went on some of the rides which was fun. Didn’t go near any of the big scary rides like the one where you slingshot into the air or the one where you get spun about on the giant arm, but that didn’t stop the big burly guy behind us throwing up on what I thought wasn’t a particularly up-chuck-ey ride! So to summarise Global: Good music, fun rides, wish I’d taken my hoody and good company.

Sunday it took us over an hour and a half in the car to get out of Global as there was so much traffic. And when you’re in a non-air-conditioned car and it’s a gazillion degrees, that’s far too long! When driving thought Stratford the butterfly farm was pointed out as a place of childhood memories since it seems it was a mandatory school trip, but since I didn’t go to school here I had never been. Therefore it was decided that we must go there and then and it was actually really fun! I like bugs and creepy crawly things and you could buy giant snails and millipedes and I think that if I wasn’t going to Oz I would have come home with a new pet! I took lots of photos on my new camera. My 5pm my brother had finished work so I went home with him in the evening. 

Dani and I matching hoodies
When I got back I was meant to be packing but, urm… yea that didn’t happen. Woops. Instead Dani came and picked me up after dinner and we went to “her place”. Now that doesn’t mean anything dirty and I don’t mean her house but it’s a place she goes to in the countryside to think or when she’s sad etc., so we went there. The only problem was that it was pitch black by this point so she kept screaming at plants and stopping dead because she had heard something and it could have been an axe murderer or something. Anyway, eventually we made it through the fields and got to this little patch of grass that you could see for miles from. It was dark but you could make out the towns and villages from the little twinkle of the lights. We sat there for a while and she gave me a goodbye letter to take with me. I am turning the book Rachy got me as a leaving present into a scrap book (well I will when I get some pritt stick to glue all the things in) so that letter will go in along with things like the receipt for last coffees and cards people have given me, I even have the reserved sign from my leaving party to go in there! Dani and I went back to her house and I slept in “my spot” (again not dirty, it is the side of Dani’s bed that belongs to me) for the last time for a year! I left early in the morning and tried really hard not to be sad about leaving. 

James trying to play piano
I spent that afternoon packing and sorting more things to take with me, the 23kg limit was looking increasingly out of reach, but in the afternoon James came to see me on the train after work. He actually spent all the time at mine either shooting me with a nerf gun that my brother had left out or mucking about on the piano trying to transpose my leaving song from guitar to piano. I told him we had many guitars but no, he wanted to play the piano. I still haven’t heard my leaving song so I do expect an email with the file attached very soon boys!!!! (That’s aimed at James and Dave, not all boys on the planet) He had to get the train back at about 7pm so off he went after lots of last hugs. 

All my shoes I left behind :(
It was starting to get repetitively morose in my life because of all the goodbyes but it had to happen sooner or later. Eventually I was all packed up late on Monday evening only to realise that my suitcase was 5kg overweight – damn. But it was too late to do anything about it then so I went to bed exhausted. Tuesday morning I was awake at 6.30 and I hadn’t slept very well at all! I had various phone calls from friends wanting to wish me a good flight before they went off to work and then I set to work trying to loose 5kg from my already very basic packing. I got it down to 25kg after some clothes and cosmetics and shoes were taken out. But that was the lightest I could get it!
All I have in the world!
Ben had to work so it was just me and the parentals going to the airport. We arrived an hour and a half early thanks to my dad not wanting to be late so making us leave ridiculously early! Airports really are weird places. Everyone is kinda in limbo, everyone’s waiting to go somewhere but cant. I sat and people watched for a while and it was very obvious who was off on holiday and who was traveling for business. There were families and backpackers and business men and some people who just looked plain weird! When Georgie and Eloise arrived all our parents were introduced and numbers exchanged yadda yadda yadda. Eventually the time came to say goodbye and after some last min texting to my besties (lol spell check wants to change that to beasties which might be more apt sometimes) and some very tight hugs from my parents; we checked in and that’s it we were off on our adventure!!!