Tuesday, July 25, 2006


For as many years as I have been reading the Morley Observer & Advertiser (and its previous manifestation as two supposedly independent papers) I have been both amused and vexed by the tactic of shilling, where supporters of political parties write in to praise their own and rubbish the opposition. Indeed, I once wrote a letter to the editor suggesting that letters to the editor include a disclosure statement so that the partisanship was out in the open rather than implied.

This ongoing campaign has had its comic moments, including the time when the Morley Borough Independents decided that some of the MBI bashing was from fictitious names and addresses. Other chuckles come in the form of lucid letters from individuals who struggle to string a sentence together in the flesh, let alone write coherently and cogently with well-phrased arguments.

In recent weeks, however, it has risen to new heights. There has been a long stream of letters in support of newly elected BNP Councillor Chris Beverley and the great things he is apparently achieving in the Ward. This has, of course, got the MBIs in a bit of a tizzy and an attempt by Robert Finnegan to suggest this was all down to shilling spectacularly backfired when it came across as arrogant and sarcastic with the subsequent postbag pointing it out.

Indeed, the BNP are proving to be rather good at this PR business. For a long time, the received wisdom mantra has been that when the BNP get elected they don’t actually get their finger out and do anything. Chris Beverley recently challenged Leeds Councillors to help him out on a clean-up campaign. For the others, this is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario; if they decline, they will be accused of hypocrisy, if they join in they will be accused of consorting with extremists.

I can’t say that I like the BNP but I do believe in freedom of speech, opinion and assembly. The more they express their views, the more apparent how odious some of them are which is a much better approach than simply proscribing views and thoughts. Their website is actually quite interesting and their news items, whilst inevitably partial, expose lots of things that the Government would rather we didn’t know about how they deal with opinions not in the mainstream. For example, did you know that a BNP activist is currently banged up on a trumped up charge after an argument with an Iraqi in a pub? They are positioning it that he is a political prisoner so are making mileage out of it but there is probably more to the story than meets the eye.

I recently read of the term Astroturfing, which is shilling carried to the next level- passing off something inferior as having wide public support by people in the pay of the beneficiaries. It is particularly in use for the battle for the Internet in America but applies just as well to our own Morley letters page.

(Disclosure: Independent Town Councillor, Moderate Libertarian, Heterosexual, Agnostic)

Monday, July 24, 2006

The longest night...

I was staying in a “high dependency unit” bed after grommet surgery as there is a risk that people with obstructive sleep apnea can stop breathing during sleep due to the residual effects of anaesthetic. On this basis, it was felt safer for me to kip in a ward where the nurses would know what to do if I stopped breathing, aided by being hooked up to monitoring technology. (Apparently, they give you a poke!)

I had three electrodes on my chest (two at neck area, one on the side, measuring heart activity and respiration), a sensor on my finger (for pulse and oxygenation), a Blood pressure cuff on my arm (which inflated once an hour or so to measure BP) and a nasal oxygen feed, the sort where a pipe loops over your ears and under your nose, with two small, short pipes up into the nostrils. I was also in a motorised bed with the head angled up somewhat for ease of sitting up in bed. I also had my home CPAP machine available, which I anticipated to be using later on.

Come sleepy time, I attempted to snooze but there were a number of distractions. One of the patients was constantly fiddling with his facemask which would set off alarms. Another patient was good at disconnecting the oxygen which would set off alarms. Patient drips would run out which would set off alarms. Patient responses would drift out of expected limits which would set off alarms. When I say alarms, I don’t mean strident bells or a big claxon that would sound “AWOOGA!”, instead it was an assortment of chimes not unlike that heard on long-haul aeroplanes. Indeed the whole experience was somewhat like a night-time flight with constant activity and noise but without the headsets & seat-back screens.

After a while, I got to recognise what the various chimes meant from what I could see of the screens and what the nurses said. Some were strident & insistent, others more subtle. I noticed that if I turned over in bed, my own box would make a solitary bong not unlike calling an aeroplane stewardess. Sometimes, my BP cuff slipped down my arm and would struggle to take a decent reading- it would try three times and then start to demand attention.

The level of attention that the staff gave to the alarms was enlightening- it varied from immediate concern to distinct indifference. The norm was to initially tune out the noises than pay attention if it persisted for more than 30 seconds or so (and a lot of the alarms cleared up on their own within that time).

A succession of doctors visited the ward, it was obvious that some were liked by the staff and some not!

I found myself drifting off to a fragmented sleep and I cursed not being able to reach the bed controls to make it flat but was too lethargic to ask the nurses. I eventually came to the conclusion that there wasn’t too much risk of me stopping breathing as |I couldn’t manage to get off to a deep sleep anyway.

Eventually, dawn happened and there was enough light for the staff to turn off the dimmed florry lights. The staff change happened again at round about 7ish and I met a third set of nurses. I had bled slightly overnight from my ear and they cleaned me up so that I could face the world. They made me some toast and coffee and after a wash and tinkle I was able to to get dressed and relax in a bedside chair. They offered me paracetamol & ibuprofen but I wasn’t actually in any pain so I declined it. After a while they decided that I would live and discharged me with a follow-up appointment in four months.

Has it helped? I don’t know yet, my ear is still plugged somewhat with dried blood so my high pitch hearing remains mediocre. Grommets cure symptoms, not problems and they didn’t find any underlying problem when they had a shufty in my nasal space with an endoscope. I did come away relieved that I wasn't seriously ill, though!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Theatre of dreams...

So there I am in hospital patient gown, cotton trolleys, stripy dressing gown and Homer slippers (that say mmm... beer... if strategically pressed) sitting in the chair by my hospital bed waiting for surgery. I've been asked very nicely if I'd not actually get in the bed as I won't be sleeping in it that night.

It is now 2pm and I'm 2nd on the list so expect to be on the table at round about 3pm. I have a good book to read and I appear to be surrounded by eccentric old ladies. An orderly tries to give us all a drink, which sends the nurse into a flap as it seems we are all "NIL BY MOUTH" but they don't put up signs any more and the other patients appeared too fruit-loopy to realise it wasn't a good idea.

A hospital orderly arrived at 3pm with a wheelchair but it wasn't for me. He then arrived again at about 3:45pm but it still wasn't for me. The Hospital Chaplin arrived, a lady in her late fifties with a certain manner of one who has given their life to god. We chatted for a couple of minutes but she rapidly realised that I wasn't in need of spiritual guidance and moved on. At the next bed, I overheard her discussing the finer points of where the patient worshipped and they had obviously found common ground.

Finally, at 4:30pm, the porter arrived for me. By this time, I was starving, rather parched and keen to get it over with. There is an interesting hospital ritual where a nurse accompanies patients on the way there and another one on the way back. Whilst there may be clinical reasons, I'm sure a lot of it is reassurance in the spirit of Florence Nightingale. It isn't far from the ward to the Operating theatres and I was delivered into the anaesthetic room of theatre number one. It was long and thin, with a large open sliding door onwards into the operating room itself. Here I was slightly surprised to see an infeasible number of masked staff gathered around the head of someone already on the operating table. Being an ear, nose & throat session, it was inevitable that this was what would be going on, however, they all looked as startled to see me as I did them! The door was quickly closed and I was asked to transfer onto the rather narrow table. I met the anaestetist, the technician and even the surgeon who wandered through to read my notes. I'd never seen him before (depite attending his clinic) and he wasn't the dashing surgeon type, being reminiscent of Walter matthau.

After various checks that i was who they thought I was, I was given a Cannula which I expected to send me off, but was in fact the drip feed device into a vein on the back of my hand. I passed my glasses to the nurse and waited for the inevitable, admiring the Disney characters on the cupboards and the ceiling. I had been intregued about going under, as the two previous times (as a child under dental gas) I can remember by hearing going all zingy and me half-thinking it was the dentist's drill. This time, however, it was simply like drifting off to sleep, by vision blurred, the room went slightly yellowy and my eyes closed.

As far as I recall, I simply dreamed in a normal fashion. After a bit I woke up again and after a moment of disorientation realised I was in the recovery room and the time was 5:30pm. I had a sore throat 9from the ventilator pipe) and a slightly tingly ear (from the use of a speculum to slightly enlarge the ear canal, no, not the sort that ladies are intimately familiar with!).

I came round fairly quickly, and whilst feeling somewhat lethargic, was fully aware of my surroundings. Before long, my bed was trucked off to my new ward, the HDU.

The HDU is about as far from the main block operating theatre as it can be and the linking corridors are rather narrow. However, the porter was a dab hand at driving the glorified pump truck that motorised my bed. No-one could come from HDU so one of the recovery room nurses came with me. The HDU is at the back of the intensive care ward and has four beds as well as a possible fifth in an isolation room (where the nurses went for quiet time). There were already two patients in-situ and a fifth was wheeled in a couple of hours later. The staff of three were kept busy attending to the needy cases but found time to hook me up (three electrodes, nasal oxygen feed and a blood pressure cuff) and find we some food and drinks. My bags & specs eventually turned up, at which point I was able to start reading again.

Karen & David visited and were pleased to see me awake & alert, although David understandably was concerned with the wiring up & the sight of the other patients. They had hoped to bring me an ice cream but all of the catering was shut up for the night.

After using one of those cardboard disposable wee-wee bottles, I was just pouring some water into a glass when the nurse asked me if I wanted alcohol. I said no thanks & she looked a bit puzzled- then she realised that I thought she was going to squirt it in the glass and I realised it was for me to wash my hands!

The shifts overlapped at about 9pm and they spent more than half an hour reviewing the progress of the incumbents. I couldn't hear too well as one of the patients had a very noisy respirator machine but it seemed that I had been only very lightly under and was doing fine.

I kept myself amused reading further and eventually they dimmed the fluorescent lights to make it easier for the patients to sleep. And so began the longest night of my life...

Saturday, July 15, 2006

I've been to Hospital...

The title was the suggestion for a particularly naff bumper sticker by Alexei Sayle in his comedy heyday. Lets face it, no-one wants to go to hospital, even as a visitor. I had been forewarned that my own particular visit could fall victim to bed shortages or more urgent demands but surprisingly enough, I managed to get admitted and my session carried out. Whilst a minor operation, it still involves a trip to the operating theatre which involves putting your life in someone else's hands.

Having an operation under general anaesthetic, it is necessary to fast for a while. The main reason for this is that any reflux (a polite word for sick) that gets into your lungs whilst unconscious can cause big problems, principally pneumonia. having said that, this reference debunks this and also has an excellent pun for a title!

My regime was to be as follows, for my afternoon surgery.

No alcohol for 24 hours. (No big deal, most of my alcohol consumption these days is mostly a glass of port on a Tuesday evening, Tuesday being scales night in the Grey Household.)

A light breakfast before 8am. (A Weetabix and skimmed milk at 07:30, I often don't have a weekday breakfast so that was a treat).

A drink such as a dilute fruit juice before 10:30am. (A glass of water at 10:25 and abstinence from coffee the day before to keep down the cravings).

Don't suck on any mints or chewing gum. (Nope, just my thumb, so to speak!)

Admission at 10:30-11am, ring rirst to ensure bed available. (Because I have obstructive sleep Apnoea I am at slight risk after anaesthetic, so the anaesthetist organised a high dependency unit bed for me. That is a half-way house between a normal ward bed and intensive care. I didn't hear until 11:50 that I was clear to go in).

All conditions being fulfilled, I arrived at the allocated hospital ward (Ward 3, Head and Neck) at round about 12:30. My bed wasn't quite available yet so I was blood pressure checked, met one of the ear, nose and throat doctors for the various questions, met my anaesthetist (not the one I had been expecting), had a felt tip arrow drawn on the side of my head and eventually was taken to my temporary bed. It was now 2pm and I was gowned-up with the familiar device that ties at the back. I was pleased to see that the gown did not provide ready access to the arse area as Billy Connolly put it and indeed the nurse said I could put my trolleys back on if they were 100% cotton. (It seems that Bri Nylon is a fire risk in the Operating Theatre). Wearing my dressing gown and Homer Simpson slippers (one of which said mmm, beer... if you pressed it) I settled down for the wait. I was supposedly second on the list and it started at 2pm so it shouldn't be long...

Monday, July 03, 2006

Tahw a Rissep!

Well, Morley FM has hit the airwaves, but our higher frequency of 94.9 FM doesn't carry as far. It actually does after a fashion, but is competing with strong signals from Radio Lincolnshire on 94.9FM to the South East and Radio Cleveland on 95FM to the North. Karen can pick us up in her office in Wakefield (with aerial positioned just so) and we had a confirmed hearing on Morley Bottoms as well, both firsts. The downer is that before, when the signal fluttered, it just dipped and hissed. Now, it flutters with breakthrough interference, or QRM in Radio Ham circles. My journey to Bradford loses the signal before I even reach junction 27, let alone the hotel at the end of the motorway feeder.

When we were down in the RSL bit (87.7/8/9), we only competed with other stations pushing out 10w or at most 25w signals (in rural areas). Now we are up amongst the big boys, there are hundreds of watts of power competing with our output which wouldn't even light the lamp in your fridge to full brightness.

We could get the mast higher, but it would need money or resources we don't currently have. Even 87.9FM wasn't available, being in use elsewhere nearby for some of our broadcast dates.

Fortunately, the online streaming is OK, although not from the studio. Instead, it is picked up by an old radio receiver in my spare room, fed into an aging laptop, streamed up to the docklands and pushed out to anyone who chooses to listen from our website link.

It strikes me as ironic that the school has a 10 meg connection but it doesn't work properly where we are: it has to go up my ADSL stream. Fortunately, another Member has agreed to lob in for my ISP bill, which will go up at least a Tenner over the next fortnight. (Although usage from Midnight to 8am is free, a time when we are only playing a sustaining service.)

The studio phone still doesn't work, after 9 months of being almost ready. Actually, it works if we plug it in to another bit of the network, but that area is not accessible to us out of hours. Being a Network based phone, we couldn't readily interface it to the studio kit anyway.

A BT line and broadband connection would have solved all of the problems, but the money wasn't available when we needed it.