Desktop issues

When I was a post-graduate student at the Biomedical Centre, BMC, in Uppsala, I shared an office with five other students. Each of us had a small desk, approximately 1 m wide, with panels on either side. My desk tended to overflow with lab notes and scientific articles – and a few other things as well.

Some things never change

Every now and then, the administrative supervisor would visit us on a safety inspection. On one particular occasion, he came into our office and suggested that my desk was so cluttered with paper that it posed a serious fire risk. He suggested that an overflowing and untidy desk reflects on the contents of my mind. I replied: “I assume that your desk is empty!” This he happily confirmed and continued with his inspection.

My desk was the cause of concern on another occasion. At the time, I was programme director at MASE-laboratories and we were, together with BioAgri, expecting a visit from the King of Sweden. A couple of days before the visit, the security police dropped by to ensure that everything was suitably presentable for the royal entourage. The police officer insisted that my desk should be tidied before the visit, and was not impressed by my suggestion that His Royal Highness would benefit more from seeing things as they are in real life. On the day of the visit, my door was kept closed so that the King was denied seeing the secrets that were hidden behind. I kept a low profile at the back of the room.

At the end of the storm there’s a golden sky

We recently returned from a glorious week at a training camp in Monte Gordo, Portugal. There, we enjoyed fantastic sunrises, morning jogs along the beach, various training sessions and really great food. The only cloud on the horizon was the approaching MRI-scan which took place today.

The scan itself is not a problem, but what it may reveal is a bit of a concern. I am confident that the results will be fine, as I have not shown any signs of quirkiness – other than those that have been with me for most of my life.

The scan today was fairly routine. I arrived at the hospital on time, and after a short interview about my current health status was told to put on a hospital shirt instead of the clothes that I had on. I was allowed to keep my underpants! During the scan I had to lie on a stretcher with my head strapped firmly in place. I had a set of sound insulating headphones to protect me from the noise of the scanner and to provide some musical distraction during the scan. The staff must have remembered me from previous visits, as they included “You’ll never walk alone” in the play list. I was quite moved as the song is about hope for a better future.

Cycling home from the hospital felt good. The sun was shining, the cold autumnal air was clean and crisp, and I had “You’ll never walk alone” ringing in my ears.

Moonlight

A few years ago, we (colleagues at work) were considering starting a research programme based on the use of smart materials. I needed to investigate the most interesting topics and figure out where the frontiers of the current research were at. As part of this effort, I enrolled in a conference in Busan, South Korea. We (Bitte joined me for the trip, the first time in over 30 years), flew, suitably compensating for green-house-gasses, to Seoul, and took the high-speed train from there to Busan. The train journey was very smooth, despite travelling at over 300 kmh.

We stayed at the Lotte Hotel, which was very nice and, apparently like all international Lotte hotels, includes a replica of the Trevi Fountain in Rome.

One thing that I found less pleasing was the call sign used by the lifts. This was the first bar of Clair de Lune, by Claude Debusy, a piece of music that I particularly like. Every time the lift arrived, it was greeted by the “Pling-pling-plong”. After a few times in the lift, I feared that I would never be able to listen to Clair de Lune again.

However:

I attended the 2020 AAAS meeting in Seattle, just before the pandemic restrictions were brought into force. Every morning and evening, while walking to and from the conference centre (they mis-spelled it over there), I passed by the Steinway piano showroom. My stops to view the merchandise became a little longer each time I passed by. On about the tenth time passing by the showroom, I could no longer resist, I had to go in for a closer look. Prices ranged from about $8 000 for an upright model, to $200 000. The expensive models, which were not on display, cost considerably more.

The sales assistant asked if I would like to try any of the models on display. I explained that I do not play the piano, but that I appreciate the craftmanship involved in their production and the skill required to play. She offered to demonstrate one of the pianos and asked if there is any particular piece that I would like to hear. I chose a grand piano ($150 000) and requested – you guessed it. The sound was absolutely fantastic, and my liking for Clair de Lune was restored.

I am so glad that I ventured into the Steinway showroom. If you ever pass by a Steinway showroom, stop and enter. You won’t regret it.

By the way, the photo on the MR Blue Sky entry was from the Seattle trip.

Naked and afraid, but not alone, in the healthcare system

It has now gone a little over one year since I became ill. The time since then has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride with good days and not-so-good days. Fortunately, most have been good days. The initial information was hard to take in. I could easily have quoted John McEnroe “You cannot be serious”. There I was, in the prime of life (60 is, after all, the new 30) being told that I have a life-threatening condition that will require surgery, radiation treatment, chemotherapy and some other stuff as well.

Are you serious?

I quickly learnt about my condition, its’ consequences and treatment and came to terms with having to live with it. Being on sick leave is quite challenging. In the middle of a pandemic this is made worse by not being allowed to meet with friends and family as much as I would like. Coping with the isolation and constant tiredness has meant that a good deal of time has been spent in front of the television. The European football championships and Olympic games have been a great help.

One programme which caught my attention, normally, I would have avoided it, has been “Naked and afraid”, where a group of contestants are left alone (with a camera team, sound team and production team, and probably a team of expert advisors and medical support) with no food, clothing or equipment, in a wilderness where they try to survive for a period ranging from 21 to 60 days.

Being an American programme, all expressions of foul language are censored with a beep and all anatomical naughty bits (check the goodies series from the 1970s) are pixelated. For the same reason, I doubt that is any major risk to the participants due to possible litigation in the event of a lion attack or similar incident.

The interesting part of the series is to see how the participants use their knowledge and ingenuity to secure food, water, and safe accommodation. In general, the series looks at how different individuals react to and cope with being in a very demanding situation.

I relate to this series because I also feel exposed to unknown dangers in a similar way. Fortunately, I get to keep my clothes, with the exception of a pair of hospital underpants (see earlier blog), food and other luxuries. I also have access to a fantastic support crew comprising the nurses, doctors, technicians, physiotherapists and other hospital support staff. Finally, I have my family and friends, who despite not being there physically, have given me a huge amount of support and encouragement throughout this time.

Thanks to all of you. I will pay you back by sticking around and continuing to be as irritating as possible.

MR Blue Sky

I went for an MR scan last week. It was fairly routine as I am not one of the claustrophobic types. I did have a slight issue concerning the vein catheter. I now have a multicoloured bruise on my arm.

After a few days of anxious waiting, I got to see the oncologist, who gave me the reassuring news that there have been no detectable tumour developments inside my head. So, we opened a bottle of bubbly in the evening and relaxed. It seems that I am coping quite well with the treatment and all that goes with it:

Surgery – done

Radiotherapy – done

Chemotherapy part 1 – done

Chemotherapy part 2 – done

Electromagnetic fields – ongoing

I have no picture to show the inside of my head. Instead, here is a photo that I took of the volcano, Mt Rainier, as I flew into Seattle a few years ago. A suitable caption should refer to the colours being a representation of the bruise on my arm and the blue sky as a sign of a bright future. Or simply a reference to the ELO song, “Mr Blue Sky”

Shooting stars from Perseus

Every year, between August 9 and 14, a shower of shooting stars, called the Perseids, can be seen in the night sky, providing that it is cloud free and that there is not too much light pollution. Tonight, being right in the middle of this period, and with the sky being free from clouds, Bitte and I sat out in the garden in our deck chairs, at about midnight, and watched for shooting stars. We were out for about 30 minutes, Bitte saw seven and I saw six, most of them were a bit dim, but a couple were quite spectacular. This kind of activity makes me wonder what the neighbours think of us!

Borrowed from the internet

The first time I saw the Perseids was at a summer camp in Scarborough in about 1975. I lay in a field on the side of a hill in complete isolation and darkness for a couple of hours and was enthralled by the display. Unfortunately, I could not convince anybody else to share the experience.

I remember a particular evening in August 1980, going to the pub with some college friends. I referred to my previous viewing of the Perseids and noted that the sky was particularly clear and that there would be a good chance of seeing some shooting stars if we could find a place dark enough. Light pollution is particularly problematic in central London. After some discussion we decided that the middle of Saint James’s park, not to be confused with St James’ park, which is where Newcastle United play their home football matches, was probably our best bet. We dispersed from the pub, having arranged to meet up in the park at midnight with cameras, tripods and a few bottles of beer and whisky. It was, in fact, very dark in the middle of the park, so cameras were set for long exposure photos and prepared to see the shooting stars. We even found some deck chairs that we set up and made ourselves comfortable in. After a short while, a park warden turned up wondering what we were doing. He shone his torch into all the cameras and ruined the photos. However, slightly amused, he accepted our explanation and charged us 10 pence rental each for the deck chairs. He turned a blind eye to the various bottles on display. At some stage, later that night, we dispersed to our different addresses in and around London, one interesting experience richer.

Come on England

The final of the European football championships will be played this evening, and naturally, I will be cheering England on. The last, and only, time I saw England IRL was in November 1981. It was the last match in a qualifying campaign for the 1982 World cup. This campaign included England’s famous first, and only, defeat to Norway. The match was most famous for the Norwegian commentators’ reaction after the match.

The match we saw was between England and Hungary. England needed to win to qualify. The match finished 1-0 to England and was very nervy towards the end as Hungary tried to score. The goal was scored by Paul Mariner causing most of the 92 000 at Wembley to celebrate enthusiastically.

Paul Mariner was operated on, lastNovember (2020), for the same type of brain tumour that I had, but sadly passed away on Friday, and will miss the final. I hope that the factors that have been in my favour so far will keep me going for a very long time. In the meantime it is time to put on a brave and happy face and cheer England on against Italy (unfortunately Wales and Sweden didn’t quite make it!)

Déjà vu

We are currently nearing the end of of major house renovations: new roof, new windows, bathroom upgrade, new veranda and a total garden makeover. Our (sort of) lawn had been churned into a muddy field by the heavy machinery and needs to be resown.

I envisaged that the new lawn would require constant attention and, therefore, thought that a robotic lawn mower would be useful. I checked a few things on internet and decided to visit one of the local experts selling garden equipment.

The new lawn is taking shape

The shop assistant required information about the lawn in order to be able to decide which lawn mower was most suitable. I gave him the information and was quickly informed that one particular model would be the most suitable. It came at a price of just under 11 000 kr (€ 1 100 or £850). I thought that this was a bit on the high side but decided to check out what you got for that amount of money. I quickly found out that the price was for the mower only. A base station was a further 4 000 kr. I expressed my opinion that a mower, with a rechargeable battery, should include a charging system (base station), otherwise it would be useless. The assistant was adamant that a base station is an accessory to the mower and that this should be abundantly clear for any customer with a reasonable level of intelligence. I enquired about a perimeter wire and was told that the mower came with 40 m wire. I pointed out that this was only sufficient for a maximum lawn area of 130 square meters (the actual figure is 127,3) which is much less than the size of our lawn. The assistant disagreed (I did consider offering to prove my hypothesis using differential equations, but decided against this as it would have been a complete waste of time, but offered a starter kit for a further 2 500 kr together with Installation for 4 000 kr and various other accessories for 1 200 kr. I was informed that the installation of a robotic lawn mower is far too advanced for most customers.

Needless to say, I did not buy a robotic lawn mower. As I cycled home, my thoughts were focused on why shop assistants, salespeople, feel a need to belittle their customers. I leave you with a sketch from not the nine o’clock news as a déjà vu example of how bad things can be.

In the end we bought an identical robotic lawn mower from another outlet for a much better price including all of the necessary accessories. I am looking forwards to installing the mower once our lawn is sufficiently established.

While the lawn and garden are growing, we are taking some time off in the south of Sweden for golf, seaside visits and general relaxation.

Life is good!

Back on track

Once again, it’s been a while since I added to the blog. Having just re-read my latest contribution, I think that the delay has ben quite ominous ☹ However, things are so much better😊.

With a good set of test results in hand, I restarted the chemotherapy. As expected, I was very tired for the first two weeks and slowly recovered my energy during the following two weeks. Once again, my lab results were satisfactory, so I started the fourth cycle of chemotherapy, and once again the energy drained away. I am now in the recovery stage and feeling quite good. The loss of energy is a common effect of the therapy, so there is not a lot to do about it. Fortunately, I have not been affected by nausea, vomiting etc. One fairly uncommon side effect is a general loss of hair. While my head is shaved for the electro-treatment, I have no other signs of hair loss.

The results from the MR-scan were very positive. There are no signs of tumour activity in or around the operation site. Similarly, there are no signs of tumour activity anywhere else within my brain. Just for interest, I have included two images from the MR-scan. The left-hand image was recorded in September and shows the tumour as a fuzzy white disc in the bottom left section of the picture. The same area in the right-hand image shows that the hole left after the operation is filled with cerebral fluid. No fuzzy white discs can be seen, so for the time being things are looking good.

I have another two rounds of chemotherapy in the current treatment strategy. These will be completed just in time for the Summer holidays! After completion of the chemotherapy, I will continue with the electromagnetic field therapy (Optune) for as long as possible, hopefully for another 18 months. While it is cumbersome to have a set of electrodes stuck to my head, and also a burden for Bitte who has to replace them every two or three days, the results will make it worth-while. Various activities are possible even with the Optune electrodes in place.

Even extreme bathing is possible with Optune

A slight setback

Three weeks ago should have seen the start of the third cycle of chemotherapy. However, tests showed that my neutrophil granulocyte (a type of white blood cell involved in the immune system) level was so low that my oncologist was not prepared to risk me getting ill with an infection. I have, therefore, been on a break from chemo until my immune system has recovered. This is both good and bad news. I am assured that there will not be any negative effect on my treatment, although I do not feel totally convinced. On the other hand, during the break in treatment I have had a lot more energy for daily activities – the tiredness due to the electromagnetic treatment is still there though.

I had my blood cell counts measured again today, with satisfactory results and have now been given the green light to get back on track with the chemo. I also went for a(n) MRI scan, which will show what is happening inside my head. The rumours of there being a complete vacuum are slightly exaggerated. My hope is that there will be no signs of adverse changes, and that I can start to get my life back. Fingers crossed that I should get some good news later this week.

In the mean time we are staying safe and taking all necessary Covid precautions.

Henrik making sure that I stay safe