Martyn K Jones

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Cogitus interruptus…


As someone who both writes and holds down a fairly mundane day job, I tend not to have very many adventures here in Victoria BC. Life is mostly routine with little real drama worth recounting. However, a few weeks ago I had a little medical discumbuggerance which threatened to upset a number of apple carts. My own especially. Let me expound.

My wife frequently complains about my snoring. It’s been costing both of us sleep. So, after considerable trial and error I worked out that the problem was catarrh based. During the hours of sleep, mucus was collecting at the back of my throat thus causing a partial blockage resulting in a sound like someone sawing a depressed camel in half. So just before Christmas I elected to try an extra strength sinus medicine to dry up the offending excess secretions and hopefully let the household get a good nights repose. The first night went reasonably well, I took the maximum dose and the morning consensus was that we’d all slept the better for it, so around eleven on the Wednesday evening before Christmas I popped another two of these over-the-counter nostrums and decided to stay up writing until two to let Angie take a run up at a decent nights repose.

At around two in the morning my heart began to pound uncontrollably. Just like a regular heartbeat but impossibly fast. Boom-boom-boom-boom. My body’s heretofore reliable muscle pump felt like it was trying to jackhammer out of my chest. Even at rest I couldn’t find a steady pulse, just my heartbeat thundering in my ears, my chest and fingers reverberating.

I went into the main bedroom. The light was on. Angie was awake and reading. So much for letting her get some sleep without me. “Hon. I’m not feeling so good.” I said. Truth be told I felt bloody awful. Light headed, unsteady and with an urgent need to call an ambulance. However, a quick run down a mental check list came up with no symptoms that might indicate a full-fledged heart attack. No pain, no clamminess or tightness in the chest. Just a super fast hammering inside my rib cage and the weird feeling that my head was going to float away.

Angie got up and joined me in the front room, checking my temperature and pulse as we sat on the couch. By now it was two thirty in the morning. “Emergency?” She queried.
“Please.” I said.
“Get dressed.”

I managed to pull on some clothes and stagger into the garage and thus the car. Angie hopped into the drivers seat and we took off into the early hours of a damp December night, me failing to bite my tongue as she put her foot down, pushing hard through suburban bends, nipping artfully through several tail end amber lights. As if my heart wasn’t hammering hard enough beforehand it was pounding even harder when we reached Victoria Hospital emergency. Angie decanted me at the door and I wobbled through the doors to the front desk. I managed to hand over my BC care card and burble something about having a fast heartbeat before slumping into a chair at front desk. A ponytailed girl in dark blue scrubs checked my heart rate and blood pressure. “Can we get a wheelchair for this gentleman?” She asked a colleague. By this time my vision was greying around the edges and I was too tired to walk down to the treatment area. Fortunately I was the only sick person in the emergency waiting room that night, so the road to treatment was short and timely.
“Thanks. I’m not sure I can walk. I’m a bit lightheaded.”
“With a heart rate of over two hundred I’d be light headed.” Someone, I’m not sure who, commented as I was wheeled into the very beige treatment area. I recall my head wobbling a little on my shoulders and commenting that my spatial sense was very disturbed. The simple act of being pushed around a corner in a wheelchair made me feel very uncomfortable bordering on nauseous.

A male nurse named Fraser, or was it Frasier? My normally accurate memory skips a groove every time I try and recall certain details. All I remember of him is an image of a jocund, portly young man with black frame glasses, short dark hair and jawline beard. He handed me one of those draughty hospital gowns and allowed me the dignity of changing behind curtains. Jeans and jacket draped over a cabinet I slumped onto one of those all singing, all dancing hospital beds that act as support, occasional operating table and sometime hearse.

One thing I noticed was a distinct distortion of my colour perception. Everything but the nurses and doctors scrubs seemed beige. Curtains, walls everything. Even if they were pastel shades of light blue or green. Which left me with an overwhelming impression of Victoria General Hospital’s curtain draped ER as an overall beigeness. I might have been mistaken but even the defibrillator-laden bright red crash cart parked at my beds foot appeared somehow pastel and muted. All I could do was lie back and let the medical staff get on with their jobs. Plugging leads into a heart monitor, taking various samples for testing. Ripping off bits of my chest hair when they had to move the electrodes for a better signal.

When properly wired up to a monitor I recall someone trying to find a vein in my left arm to stick in a needle and failing. Which in my semi-stupor struck me as odd as I used to be a blood donor and never had a problem with hidden veins before. A week later there was still a three inch long oval bruise on my left forearm punctuated with at least half a dozen bright red needle marks.

Then there was the annoying bleeping of the heart monitor alarm. My natural breathing rate is about five or six breaths a minute when the monitor alarm default was nine. Sometimes if I’m concentrating hard I’ll stop breathing for at least half a minute at a time. Some people stick their tongues out, others frown, I hold my breath. It’s an old habit from when I used to meditate a lot. Which of course set off the alarm every time I tried to focus on what people were saying.

Angie arrived, I’m not sure exactly when, after parking the car and chatted to the male nurse, filling in medical history details I’d omitted in my foggy mental state. She was briefly quizzed on why we hadn’t called 911, but that’s one of those questions you never have a decent answer for because you’re too caught up in the moment. Our attitude was, why call an ambulance when you can still walk?

At some stage the collector of blood samples switched to my right arm where they actually struck oil. I was also told to try various things like holding my breath and clenching my belly, which seemed to help. I believe it’s called the Varsalva manoeuvre or some such. After five minutes of this the pounding eased and I felt my booming heart gradually slow to a more leisurely eighty beats per minute and my hands stopped vibrating. To the point where I could actually use one of those cardboard urine collection bottles without spilling any. For some reason I really needed to relieve myself and couldn’t have hung on to it much longer.

What I do remember precisely is offhandedly wondering whether I was going to die that night. For some reason the thought did not worry me overmuch. At least I don’t remember feeling frightened. My heart hadn’t failed at the peak of the attack when I’d almost gone into full defibrillation, so now things were calming down I felt able to relax. I reasoned that the worst hadn’t happened by now, so it probably wasn’t going to. Panic over.

After my heartbeat steadied I dozed until four thirty despite the comings and goings of staff and one loudly complaining woman with a sand-rasp voice. At which point a slight bespectacled man with short sandy hair appeared at my bedside and introduced himself as a heart surgeon. He told me my bloods were all within normal range and we could go home. I was also quizzed about medication and confessed to maxing two doses of extra strength sinus medicine. With this revelation it was generally agreed a lack of decent regular sleep plus the medication had unbalanced my electrolytes, to the point where my cardiac electrical system literally shorted out, which was the cause of my ultra fast heartbeat. The medical name for my condition was Paroxysmal Supraventricular Tachycardia. Which is usually first noticed in much younger people. Highly unpleasant and not to be recommended, but watch the meds and get more sleep in future. At least that was what I remember being told.

After that advice I dressed, still a little unsteadily, and we walked out into the damp darkness of the early morning, arriving home just after five. Angie and I went to bed but all we could do was doze fitfully for another three hours, our little bit of hospital drama at an end.

As anyone with the slightest imagination might attest, the whole experience made for a rather thoughtful, sober and reflective festive season.

It’s a curious thing, this not-dying. Very curious indeed.

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New light though altered windows


Yesterday I had my eyes altered by Lasik eye surgery. My old prescription was right eye 7.5; left eye 7.0(ish). Today my distance vision is as close to 100% as makes no odds, and after a little blurring first thing this morning my still healing vision no longer required correction by contact lens or glasses. Pain is barely a little dry itchiness, I’ve had far worse with routine displacement of a contact lens and I currently find myself needing 1.25 magnification ‘readers’ to work at a keyboard. Although as the swelling in my corneas goes down, they’re presently a pale pink, this need should disappear. Another three months will see everything totally healed and stabilised, although I’m already signed off as being fit to drive. After less than twenty-four hours. I’m seriously impressed.

As far as the healing process goes, it’s a weird sensation having to wear sunglasses around the house. A happy by-blow of which was finding a whole ready-made screenplay with tagline unreeling from my overactive subconscious in front of the bathroom mirror. Lots of stunts and gags with a whole ream of ready to write sardonic asides. Overlay onto a fairly standard ‘save the world’ plot with a twist that is more of a mobius loop and Robert is one’s Father’s brother. I can have a lot of fun with the idea, even if no-one wants to buy. Maybe I’ll put together a script treatment have a go pitching it to a few of the studios and see what happens. All they can say is no, right?

Inspiration comes from the oddest places. Maybe it will help me finish ‘Darkness’?

One of the problems with writing….


One of the biggest problems with writing are not about grammar, spelling etcetera. As far as I am concerned the biggest issue is lower back pain. Most of my problems arising from poor posture for long periods, like sitting the wrong way in the wrong chair at the wrong height for hours at a time while writing. Which is an occupational hazard for anyone involved in the craft.

When you’re ‘in the zone’ and focussed on your work, it’s easy not to notice what you’re doing to yourself. Nothing matters but the web of ideas you’re spinning and the fact that your own hip and back muscles are about to turn traitor is immaterial. You leave sensible at the office door and spend long hours twisted and cramped into the wrong posture. Which is the source of my problem.

Now I’m not talking about some relatively mild discomfort you can shrug off with a good nights sleep or a couple of painkillers, this is the real deal. Pain like someone’s sticking a butchers blade into the top of your pelvis. Pain to almost make you cry. You can’t put weight on the afflicted limb. The discomfort is so acute it locks down your lower spine, making it impossible to bend, turn, stretch, walk up, or even down a short flight of stairs. Pain over the counter painkillers hardly make a dent in. A relaxing nights sleep becomes a stranger and every waking step becomes a purgatory in microcosm. It’s also depressing. When our new Canadian passports arrived on Friday I didn’t much feel like celebrating.

For the last two nights I’ve been tied in knots, hardly able to sleep and unable to get out of the house to visit a doctor. Now I’m fine. For a given value of ‘much better’.

The simple little video below came as a complete revelation. A lacrosse ball under the buttock? Who knew the answer to my problem was so simple? My relief was almost immediate, and a succession of cold packs further tamed the fierceness of my lower back’s agony to make it jump through flaming hoops.

Which is not to say that the pain is completely gone, simply reduced to manageable proportions where the painkillers work and I can actually function again. Fabulous.

Update January 3rd; Pain is gone. Completely. Last painkillers were taken 6pm 2nd January. Remarkable. Work chair has been changed for something a little more sensible.

Apologies….. #VATMESS


… To anyone in Europe who wants to buy an eBook via Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.es, and Amazon.it.

The 20% UK price hike from 1st January 2015 is not due to publishers and authors getting greedy. Far from it. Collectively we’ll be taking a sizeable pay cut. Because in the New Year (2015) eBook downloads and similar are being subjected to Value Added Tax. This will hit anyone who is an ePublisher, both coming and going. Especially the small independents.

As a Kindle Direct Program Author I received an email containing this bombshell;

On January 1, 2015, European Union (EU) tax laws regarding the taxation of digital products (including eBooks) will change: previously, Value Added Tax (VAT) was applied based on the seller’s country – as of January 1st, VAT will be applied based on the buyer’s country. As a result, starting on January 1st, KDP authors must set list prices to be inclusive of VAT. We will also make a one-time adjustment for existing books published through KDP to move from VAT-exclusive list prices to list prices which include VAT. We’ll put these changes into effect starting January 1st; you may always change your prices at any time, but you do not need to take any action unless you wish to do so.

One-time Adjustment for Existing KDP Titles:
Starting January 1st, for any titles already published in KDP, we will make a one-time adjustment to convert VAT-exclusive list prices provided to us to VAT-inclusive list prices. Subject to minimum and maximum thresholds, we will add the applicable VAT based on the primary country of the marketplace to the VAT-exclusive list price provided. For example, if an author had previously set £5.00 as the VAT-exclusive list price for amazon.co.uk, the new VAT-inclusive list price will be £6.00 because the applicable VAT rate in the UK is 20%. Please note, if an author had set a consistent VAT-exclusive list price for all Euro based Kindle stores, those prices will now be different due to varying VAT rates for the primary country of each Kindle store. For example, if an author had previously provided a €6.00 VAT-exclusive list price for amazon.de, amazon.fr, amazon.es, and amazon.it Kindle stores, the list prices including VAT will be €7.14 (19% VAT), €6.33 (5.5% VAT), €7.26 (21% VAT), and €7.32 (22% VAT) respectively.

Minimum and maximum list prices for the 35% and 70% royalty plans will now also include VAT. For books published before January 1st that would fall outside these new limits after VAT is included, we will adjust the list price to ensure the book remains in the same royalty plan that was previously selected.

I have only one title available on Kindle alone and that’s ‘Head of the Beast’ special Kindle edition. Which has me thinking of withdrawing said ‘Kindle only’ eBook and producing a new edition for general distribution on all the main platforms.

In the interim, there is a way around the EU’s tax grab, which is to surf Amazons listings via a VPN service like TunnelBear. Avast! antivirus also offer a reasonably priced VPN solution for subscribers. Or go to your chosen author’s offshore web page and purchase a download directly from their US or overseas publisher. In my case Lulu.com (See sidebar). This is a win-win for both independent author and reader, as the author of a chosen title will probably get a bigger royalty than if purchased via Amazon. In my case that works out at CAD$3.46 (About GBP1.90) from Lulu.com out of a CAD$4.99 priced title (Currently about GBP2.75) or CAD$1.92 (About GBP1.05) if the same title is purchased via Amazon and the reader can duck the EU’s tax hike. Currency conversions are based on the current rate of 1.82 Canadian Dollars to one British pound.

We should have seen this coming like a twister on the horizon. Staring at this dark cloud but not quite believing it was heading our way. A tax on eBooks? Surely not. Too late. If you can’t use technology to duck the extra tax, buy all the eBooks you can before the 1st January 2015 deadline. For my part, I’ll try to work out how to trade direct to consumer with a virtual currency like Bitcoin.

The UK’s Daily Telegraph is not impressed. Neither am I. It’s hard enough trying to make a little money in the writing game without being subject to daylight robbery.

Pass it on.

Commerce and the world wide web


I’m old enough (Don’t remind me) to actually remember the ‘world wide web’ being ‘born’ in 1994. At the time I was trying to be a Business Development Executive, writing PR pieces for an IT consultancy amongst other things. Wrote a few trade piece articles, did a couple of local radio interviews. I do so hope they no longer exist. Cringe. I might be lucky as these low points of my career predated even the Wayback Machine. Everyone was trying to work out how to use the Internet to sell stuff and apply old business models to new technologies. Which still happens.

Back in the mid 90’s I recall penning a piece called “The Cybermarket, the future of retailing?” about how virtual 3D shops might work on line if sufficient bandwidth was available. Forget where I managed to place it. Didn’t foresee the rise of Amazon, Craigslist or eBay of course, but you can only get so much into five hundred words. With today’s big plasma screens and cable connections, creating virtual stores like in Second Life would be relatively easy. Think of an HD shopping channel connected to your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts so you could gossip with friends while doing the weekly shop. Cruise along behind your virtual shopping cart and not block the aisles for those with more pressing needs on their mind. No unruly children or other people’s personal issues. No waiting in line at the checkouts. Virtual shop assistants.

There is both an upside and downside of course. You couldn’t choose exactly what Oranges or Avocados to buy or do a first hand check for freshness. Unless there’s a real time arrangement where a robot arm and camera can physically pick and test the exact fruit / vegetable selected. Which is now possible. Delivered directly to your door by Drone. Fewer jobs in the retail sector as the need for physical supermarket premises shrink. More employment in non-public contact jobs like in legal departments thrashing out customer disputes. At first only available to the rich or avid early adopters, then as costs reduce over time available to the rest of the population. Should they want it. Rather like Amazon, eBay or Craigslist.

Is the Internet over?



Commenter Misha tells me that ‘the Internet is over’ and that ‘I won’. Oh dear, did I break something? I’ll try and fix it. Didn’t realise it was that delicate. After all the Internet was first designed to survive a first strike in a nuclear war and even famous rock stars haven’t been able to stop it (Even though they have subsequently changed their mind). Hmm. Maybe I can glue everything back together and no one will notice. All that TCP/IP and subnet mask setup, the horror, the horror. I’m so sorry. Didn’t mean to.

Yes, I know I was being teased. No offence taken and none, I hope, given.

Seriously; there’s an idea here for a new collective noun. An “Internet of argumentsfirst seen here. The Internet is full of argument and debate; from polite, studied discourse to flaming and virtual fist waving. There are virtual feuds and even death threats. People actually losing their jobs for making bad jokes (Which is a greater wrong than any original perceived wrong or slight). Which tells us that there are certain people who really should step away from the keyboard and take a chill pill once in a while. Which we all should do occasionally before adjusting our viewpoint and returning to any given discussion. That or become crazed obsessive compulsives.

In closing I would argue that arguments are very rarely lost or won, but they can achieve resolution. Even lead to new understanding if we learn to use such a useful sounding board as the Internet intelligently. Although this is only my opinion of course. There are others. Billions of them.

Why does the world have to be doomed?


In many Science Fiction movies there’s one plot device that, like a broken down show pony forced to perform despite old age, is dragged out time and again to strut its stuff. That of the Earth being ‘Doomed’ somehow by mankind through overpopulation or environmental disaster. Something that only a ‘hero’ can ‘save’ a sacred few from. It was a tired idea by the 18th Century CE (Seriously) and it’s worn to a nub of nothingness now. This premise is what’s put me off going to see the movie ‘Interstellar’.

In looking at possible (or impossible) futures I’ve always found it a good idea to examine what has sparked human migration since our species first learned to walk upright. From observation, the biggest motivator is that the grass will grow greener over the next hill. Fresh ground to occupy, new resources to develop, new ideas to explore. It’s part of the human condition. Only in the very early days of bipedal endeavour has environmental disaster played a significant role in mass migration. In the more modern era, migrations tend to be generated more by politics, war and economics than simple resources. To illustrate by analogy; when the fattest of cats have locked the dairy, the kittens will go elsewhere for their cream. And they will cross continents, even galaxies if the means are available.

It’s also worth noting that most of us simply want to get away from our parents and make our independent way in the world. Visit other places, learn other languages, meet other peoples. It’s been part of the human condition ever since we evolved to spread out a little. Mate, carve out a patch for the next generation and expand. If anyone were to ask me the meaning of life, that’s how I’d describe it. The Earth may well be our mother, but frankly wouldn’t it be embarrassing to tell other intelligent life forms that we still live in her basement?