Wednesday, April 28, 2010



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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Doctor Henry Marsh

Tuesday nights on SBS at the moment are medical night, starting with "Blood and Guts: A History of Surgery", a very informative show.  But last night I caught the better part of a documentary called "The English Surgeon" which was screened later in the night.

The central subject is Dr. Henry Marsh, a British neurosurgeon who has been making trips, in his own spare time, to the Ukraine to assist an out-of-the-box doctor named Igor Kurilets.  I use the term more for his treatment setup than his personality.  He works in a country historically dogged by the Communist regime and its manifold ways and structures that have left it with a health system, among other systems, that many western nations would consider barely functioning.

Unfortunately I missed the beginning of the show, unaware that it was on.  I was hooked once I stumbled across it, even though it was a quarter done.  In one of the first scenes I caught it showed Dr. Marsh, annoyed at the bureaucratic tangle of the UK health system, leaving his computer and stalking off to cool down.  He explains to the camera once at home that he is taking medical equipment to the Ukraine on his next trip, displaying drill bits that the UK system disposes of after one use.  They have a plastic insert, so cant be re-sterilised, and at £80 for each one, he estimates that they use, in his hospital alone, 10 of them each week.  And then they throw them out.  £800 a week, £4000 a year, more or less.  He and Igor open one up after he arrives in the Ukraine, remove the plastic insert, sterilise it, and it is soon put to good use with a Ryobi cordless drill to remove a brain tumour from a young man suffering epileptic fits.

Dr. Marsh himself proved to be fascinating man of some depth.  Throughout the documentary, a young girl named Tanya is mentioned.  His face and speech seem to change whenever she is discussed.  Dr. Marsh had bought her to the UK a few years before the documentary was shown to remove a tumour that had paralysed the side of her face, after Moscow and Kiev surgeons said it was inoperable.  He looked and sounded genuinely haunted by the fact that Tanya had suffered as a result of what he had done.  Her quality of life suffered after two operations he performed on her, her death seemingly inevitable by Ukrainian standards, but possibly not by UK standards.  He visits her mother at her home at the end of the documentary, wholly welcomed by the family.

He sits in Dr. Kurilets office meeting with patients, honestly and rapidly assessing their chances, realistic that the majority of cases are inoperable or too far developed to render enough assistance because of the systems in place.  While a brain scan may only cost $50 to $100, many Ukrainians cannot spare that amount.  And when they do manage to, or are forced to through physical problems caused by the tumours, they often result in a dire prognosis.  We see a young girl who is already blind from her tumour growth.  The grandmother who is told her young granddaughter is inoperable and left with a year or so to live.  The 23 year old woman with the spreading tumour that no surgery anywhere could repair.  And Marian, the young man with the epileptic seizures who is operated on with the home handyman tools available.

I hope I can see all of this in the future. If you get a chance to watch it, it's well worth seeing.

Handy Henry Marsh at the Times Online

Henry Marsh interview at (transcript and download at US National Public Radio)

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Monday, April 19, 2010

A Sunday Ride

Seeing as not much and too much is happening at the same time, and I'm not getting anything written down at all, its time I did something.  So I'll tell you about my Sunday ride.

Every Sunday (mostly) I meet up with three other guys and go for a ride.  Sometimes nobody turns up, sometimes I don't, sometimes we get less than four.  Actually, it's unusual we get four.  It's not a testosterone-fuelled blitzfest, nor is it necessarily a sedate amble.  Nothing dictates your speed, there's not a 'no drop' policy in force, and you're not obliged to keep up or slow down for anyone else.  There's a turnaround point where we join up, chat for five or ten minutes, then ride back to the start point in much the same fashion.

Yesterday was myself and one other.  I'll call him John, cause that's his name.  John is a strong rider, and is generally stronger on the flat than I am.  Up short hills he just powers on at the same rate while I drop back a gear or two and spin faster to try to keep up.  He's also a better descender than me.  He rides motorbikes for enjoyment, and is pretty seriously into it, so he has better skills than I do at speed.  We swapped the front going out to the turn-around and had a light tailwind, which of course means headwind going back.  This middling weather brings people out a lot, and there were a lot of riders out on the regular route we ride.  In a few weeks it will get colder in the mornings and I reckon numbers will drop off.  It'll get darker too, so the lights will make an appearance soon.

We also have a pair of Gary's to complete the four.  To be honest, I don't know if they're Gary, Garry, Garey or otherwise, I've never asked.  One is a strong flat rider, who usually tows us outbound at a fair pace.  The other is happy to pull his 25km/h from start to end and meet up.  It's a good bunch to be involved in.

There's the obligatory post-ride coffee, supplied by whoever reckons its their turn, combined with more talk regarding whatever.  Motorsport, football, politics, etc.  Typical stuff.  Then we part ways till next weekend, or whenever someone thinks they'll be back.

I won't bore you with the in-depth stats, but 37km @ 29.7km/h is what we ended up with.  Last sunday we ticked the 30km/h average box on the to-do list for the first time, probably thanks to a tow out and a good pickup for a little way coming back.

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