Unmasking the Fashion of Masks | Covid-19

It has been over a month of lockdown in Thailand, and yesterday marked the cautious resumption of some businesses and re-opening of local parks. Though the number of new Covid-19 cases each day have dwindled down to single digits, looking towards a post-pandemic society still feels wearily distant, and the uncertainty will most certainly pollute our minds for much longer after that. I somehow fantastically managed to acquire runner’s knee during my 14-day quarantine (in my room, may I add), but it meant a rare opportunity to leave the house and explore Bangkok’s streets from the car window. Indeed, there is no doubt Covid-19 has transformed the way the world looks, and yet, much has remained the same. The local coconut shop has stayed open, supermarket queues trail all the way to the frozen section, Bangkok road rage is still a thing, and the nation’s addictive usage of Line has only increasingly stoked Thai people’s notorious social insecurities the more isolated we have to be (more from where that came from). Yes, the tourist traps are eerily empty and you’ll see the oddly heartwarming sight of Grab delivery motorcyclists making smalltalk in-store, but the biggest visual change? That would have to be the masks.

…a common site in many gardens here…

Masks everywhere, on everyone. Devoid of smiles, an abundance of expression. And as with any wearable item humans deem fit or have to tolerate, I’ve watched the inevitable emergence of something from the humble breath-catcher: fashion.

Masks now boast extensive diversity — from rugged motorcyclists adorning cartoon animal masks, to AirPod-wearing users boasting sophisticated minimalist designs that flatteringly pronounce their jawline, to young girls prancing around in pastel-coloured flower masks. (Also, what is it with so many people still not wearing a mask properly? I swear if you cross paths with me and I can see your nose I will not hesitate to SPRAY BOTH YOUR EYES WITH ISOPROPYL ALCOHOL, VERY LIBERALLY)

Mask-wearing isn’t a new practice in Asia, and since masks do claim dibs on a fair share of our face, the demand for more aesthetically appealing designs is pretty reasonable. However, I can imagine that masks becoming a mainstay item in the foreseeable future in Western cultures is an unfamiliar and radically different practice. It’ll become a “popular accessory” — and though I feel a bit uncomfortable about using that phrase in the wake of Covid-19’s devastating destruction, there is no dying that the demand for masks is more than just its efficacy.

Here’s a quick story. One time during residential back in Year 6, a classmate gasped when she saw me, and proceeded to exclaim in front of the entire year: “Oh my gosh I can’t believe you’re wearing patterned shorts with a patterned shirt! Everybody knows that’s wrong!”

People sniggered at me. I guess I was meant to be embarrassed, but alas, you can’t really care about something you put zero thought into. Plus, looking back, that statement definitely does not seem like something your average 11-year-old would say, but hey-ho. Not to brag but present-day me now harbours some fashion sense — you know, the fantastic clothes that’ll make you win “Best Dressed Delegate” at yet another overseas MUN conference (I’ve never won), all-black attire for concerts and performances that specifically have no shoulder restrictions (!!! very important !!!), and the increasingly popular all-in-one “Clerk @ 5, Club @ 11” outfit.

…sigh. Help me catch some of that pitiful despair, now would you?

Point being, despite my disturbingly limited sense of style, I do know that fashion is all about fitting in and standing out. It is an outlet of self-expression and personal value; a snapshot statement of individuality. Like wearing a poppy badge for Remembrance Day or adorning NHS rainbow badges on your lanyard, wearing a mask is not just about being the right thing to do but also being seen doing it. “Hello, it is I, pledging my allegiance to citizenship, and you should too.” The self-consciousness of mask-wearing has flipped its polarity from the embarrassment of wearing one to the embarrassment of an exposed chin.

At first I thought, great. Of course the characteristic nature of people is to extrapolate the phrase “high-in-demand” plastered all over the news as “a trendy opportunity”, a way to ride out this viral storm whilst desperately trying to stay relevant, stand out, look cool, versus the stark kind of desperate call from frontline workers for surgical masks and N-95s to simply feel a bit safer; aren’t fashionable masks a mockery, expressing sympathy for those at high-risk to our followers on Twitter from the comfort of our couch, basking in the affordable luxury to wring out the celebrity angle of this “popular” item?

But after much thought and mildly frustrated confusion, I’ve concluded this: 仕様がない. Just, 仕様がない*. Because yes, it is indeed the typical fashion of humans to take advantage of a situation, but lets at least put the “fun” in functional, because life goes on. There’s no denying the age of coronavirus is indeed dire, and the stats are more than horrendous; one can complain that ordinary people wearing fancy designer masks are not taking the situation seriously, but maybe those same people are simply getting on with life’s new normal. Don’t get me wrong, I find it digusting that some ‘social influencers’ and ‘celebrities’ purposefully exploit their audience with hiked prices for less-than-mediocire quality (that’s a whole other topic in itself) — all I ask is that if you’re going to make masks, you better do your homework, do it right, and if you will, sell it reasonably. And if we scoot past that, regardless of whatever intention you may have in mask-wearing, at least it still sends a very clear message of hygiene and safety to both yourself and everybody around you.

So if it is a coping mechanism for your feelings of helplessness to post numerous #maskies, so be it. If your post-pandemic routine before leaving the house becomes “Keys, wallet, phone, mask”, then you proudly whack on that (questionable) plague doctor bird mask, you do you. As long as they’re CDC-approved and not useless self-proclaimed “PPE” (looking at you, Boohoo), I think a little bit of colour is exactly what we need. Don’t you think?

©TMK

Music: “Stand Out Fit In” by ONE OK ROCK

*A Japanese phrase that basically means “can’t be helped” with all sorts of nuances (at least, that’s how I’ve interpreted it from living in Japan for a while!).

Sorry, Not Sorry | Covid-19

“So, this next consultation will also be done via phone.” Keyboard clacking sounds ensue. Then, “Even I have a 1 in 40 chance of dying.”

I’m mid-sentence making notes: “SCLC — paraneoplastic, LEMS, 40 dying–” Wait, that’s not what I was supposed to write down and wait what did she just say?

It’s March 12th, 2020: a bizarre Thursday with flip-flop weather that switched at a simple glance and the majority of this lung cancer clinic list being done over telephone. The respiratory consultant — a short-haired lady whose mind, I observed, had a certain zippiness that can knock you out for a second — had had her iPhone propped up behind the keyboard since I walked in. She was constantly refreshing worldometer’s Covid-19 statistics, fervently attending to every blaring BBC notification sound, and relapsing into solitary moments of a sighing & head-shaking combo as she checked the respiratory doctors’ WhatsApp group chat.

It was the first thing I asked about; of course it was. I’d walked in already on edge about this Covid-19 situation. I wasn’t feeling anxious up until two weeks beforehand — not when I couldn’t find hand sanitiser in Boots for the third weekend in a row; not when there were rumours swirling around about two confirmed and one suspected case in the trust I was practicing in. Maybe I didn’t want to admit that I had my doubts about not taking this seriously, but heck, I was still scoffing with friends in car-rides about how this was “just the flu 2.0”. It stemmed from this borderline prideful thinking that as future doctors, we have a duty and responsibility to prevent the spread of panic — but in retrospect, the horrendous cost we’re dealing with now is probably caused in part by that excessive downplaying attitude.

Perhaps it hit me hard after realising this wasn’t a blip — that this situation was not wavering. It was a consistent regression from what we knew and what would happen in the form of my Mum sending Line messages everyday in our family group chat (“Buy hand gel” “Keep some in stock” “Wear mask, take from hospital” “Buy Dettol”), a simple search for antiseptic spray and alcoholics wipes for electronic devices on Amazon Prime yielding “Out of stock” messages, the empty aisles of tissue paper and dried pasta — but most importantly, it was how light-heartedly everybody around me was taking it and laughing at those who were anxious. Thus, after much internal resistance, the palatable sense of worry suddenly got through to me because clearly, I wasn’t the only one worried if there were all the stock issues going on.

My concentration fluctuated drastically in the last two weeks before being shuttled off. I still risked clerking patients in the respiratory ward despite it being closed off due to a norovirus outbreak, brilliantly left my water bottle in one of the infected bays, put a cannula dressing on the wrong way in front of a consultant, lost a page filled with haematology notes somewhere in ED. Yeah, I was a bit of a mess — so, I made it a point to get into any respiratory clinic before the weekend, so at least I could hear what an expert in the field had to say. Luckily I was on a respiratory rotation.

“How worried should I be?” I remember asking. “Because I am, but people around me aren’t. So I don’t know if I should be.”

I remember her abruptly swivelling on her chair and looking directly at me. When unquestionable resolute, she replied, “You should be”, before turning back.

The entire clinic was a lot of her abruptly stopping to check something Covid-19-related and me immediately prompting her about it. I’d ask a Covid-19 question out of the blue that would’ve probably been deemed inappropriate manners in another setting, but she always answered without hesitation. After internally battling the two ends of putting on a face for my family to not worry, to getting my own worries immediately deflected by my colleagues, talking to her was…nice. Mildly cathartic, even.

As a sort of final assessment of how serious she felt about Covid 19, I remember saying, “Well, I guess I’ll be canceling my meeting at the library this weekend, do online grocery shopping, and freeze my gym membership.” At this point I wasn’t even sure I’d do those things. But her reaction: an approving nod, and a simple “That sounds very reasonable.”

That sort of cinched it for me, and I felt oddly lighter. It was a huge, ironic relief to meet somebody who felt as anxious (albeit much more knowledgeable and sensible), even more so as a freakin’ respiratory consultant. I felt I could justifiably worry.

Besides the racist floodgates that this pandemic has outrageously opened, looking back, it was a massive conflict in attitude. Me, at the beginning of February, thinking how ridiculous it was to buy a box of masks to send back to my family in Bangkok as per my Mum’s order, embarrassed to see predominantly Asians wearing masks on the street, and healthcare professionals laughing about how this was being blown out of proportion. Then me, experiencing a sudden turn in tide at the end of February, being scoffed at for sanitising my tuff box and my stethoscope, berated at when telling colleagues to “At least wear a mask if you’re coughing”, and being told repeatedly that I’m worrying way too much as people rolled their eyes at me. “Stop contributing to the panic, I’m not going to wear a mask, they don’t even help” to “We’re gonna be fine if we get it anyway, whatever” were common things being said.

It was hard to predict what was going to happen. Fast-forward to present day, numbers have sky-rocketed unbelievably high, healthcare systems are more than exhausted worldwide, and PPE is horrifyingly running out. No one had any way of knowing.

But, why wait? It was unnerving to see my surrounding colleagues blissfully at ease with everything as if life was completely fine, because that was what I was like before my wall ‘crumbled’. It was more unnerving that even after we were told to permanently go home and an official statement was made by Boris Johnson, some people were still going to concerts, clubbing, and traveling for the weekend, like “Oh, maybe I can catch the tail-end of the last bits of freedom”. On a more personal level, I was stunned that yet again, we were all medical students — but hey, we’re all human in the end.

I wholeheartedly agree that panic is bad, and like I said, we had no way of knowing how bad it’d be — but at that point, after a couple serious official statements were made, surely it’d be a bit daft to think you could go on with life normally. Okay, so wait until you get symptoms before deciding to self-isolate. Wait and hold out against wearing a mask because they’re not even that effective until WHO officially says you must. Wait until the number of deaths creeps up until you decide social isolation is convenient for you. But why should we sit tight twiddling fingers until an official statement is released, at which point, things are usually pretty dire?

This conflict in attitude is what made me question myself in those last two weeks. That because I was acting and worrying on my own accord, I was in the wrong. Medical school hasn’t said anything. The news hasn’t said anything about a mask. ScIeNcE hasn’t told me what to do yet!11!! I was using the “but we are medical students!” reasoning both ways — a duty to not spread panic? Yeah, but a duty to prevent the worst-case scenario is just as important. A tricky balance.

That’s something I’ll remember if there is another pandemic of sorts — it’s okay to sensibly worry. You’ll know you crossed the line if you start gulping down Dettol.

©TMK

The Dirt On Clean Eating

“I’m eating clean,” the postgrad says, not for the first time that week. Six of us are crammed around this tiny three-person IKEA table in the Chulalongkorn Biomedical Laboratory, eating a spread of grilled fishballs, red pork covered with gravy, and spicy somtam. I slurp a mouthful of tom yum noodles, briefly tasting the phrase before moving on. She proceeds to enviously eye the others eating blissfully carefree, but not before she pulls out a homemade salad, completely drenched in Caesar salad dressing. The overwhelming stench of mayo made me nauseous; I had to hold back a gag.

“Yeah, you guys should try clean eating,” she says with this smug expression, popping open a can of Diet Coke; it froths over slightly and trickles down lazily. “Like, I feel so much healthier, instead of putting junk in my body.”

Hoo boy.

Perhaps my mind was completely enraptured on my lovely E. coli battlefields holding little wars between the awesome antioxidants and the feisty free radicals, but I didn’t realise at the time “clean eating” would soon be taking over the minds of millennials in years to come. Fast forward, shall we?

***

Year 2 has begun, and consequently, so have the diets.

Besides all the How Was Your Summer?’s, It’s So Nice To See You!’s, Did You Do Anything Cool?’s talk that becomes heavily saturated between lectures, I see a bunch of loaded veggie wraps, skinny lattes, and quivering self-control. And if this was the scenario a few months ago, my mind would’ve crumbled from the toxicity my relationship with food was creating.

I’m all for eating clean. I’m happy that people are striving to nourish their bodies with nutritious ingredients and are spending a little longer looking at supermarket food labels. This is an awareness I admire, but “clean eating” is a little different from your quack conspiracy-theory-like diets; it has challenged mainstream ways of eating, powered by the ever so convenient social media, and has become absolutist in its claims.

The phrase “clean eating” must’ve began with good intentions; to eat fresh, natural, whole foods minimally processed – vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, animal & plant-based protein, oils, nuts, pulses. Eating as close to nature as possible; cooking at home and seeking high-quality ingredients for your own health. This healthy approach towards nutrition is fantastic. Eating clean sounds modest, almost like Mum’s cooking – no calorie calculators, but simply eating as much nutritious home-cooked substances as possible.

So, #eatingclean, #eatclean, #clean – what the heck happened?

This definition has become incredibly misguided and misconstrued. It’s clear “clean eating” is more than a diet; it’s a belief system. That if you’re not “eating clean”, you’re the very opposite – sloppy, careless, and damaging your body. And that’s when this becomes a dangerous game to play. It’s morphed into a beneficial sense of awareness of food into this diet-driven caste system. Not only is “clean eating” establishing a hierarchical model for eating healthily, but it is yet another bolstering means for food-shaming. And just to make it all worse, its taking over the entire Instagram platform, shovelled into the mouths of millennials, resulting in a heightened paranoia about the foods we eat consequently falling onto an obsession with the way we look. It’s the latest fad to prompt nationwide lack of self-acceptance in this millennial generation. I miss the days when “eating clean” simply meant not getting nachos down your front (napkin, miss?).

What I realised from my personal experience – the hours and hours of searching up vegan burrito bowls on Pinterest and anxiously scrolling through the infinite #cleaneatinginspo thread – is that this whole “eat clean” culture disregards the lack of access, both in time AND money. Not all of us can find the little organic farmer’s market; not all of us can afford dried gogi berries, a kilo of coconut sugar and cacao nibs on the daily. The surge in #avocadotoast aesthetic, Amazon searches for spiralisers and cauliflower pizza bases. Frankly, it’s elitist – this isn’t food education or nutritional economic awareness. This is buying into the attempt to be, let’s face it, media-skinny; the fat-burning green juice, protein powder lovin’ pictures of health. This isn’t the “eating clean” I signed up for, but a movement I unfortunately became a part of.

In addition, the phrase “clean eating” misrepresents scientific evidence of food ingredients – more and more food products begin boasting a “clean ingredient” label. But how could it be, if your product is mostly filled with a trendier version of oil and not providing consumers with educated choices? Kale is no better than good ol’ spinach; coconut oil is high in LDL cholesterol; commericalized cold-pressed juice is essentially a bottle of expensive sugar. And like with any revolution, “clean eating” has its hardcore leaders. I know you know them.

The trend claims to be easy, but just like every YouTuber who attempts the Pinterest Challenge, it is always much more complicated than that. The rules are endless, and you have the power to choose which one to adhere to – you can begin with the vegetarian diet, pescatarian diet or vegan diet. Pretty harmless, huh? Well, let’s go further – the Atkins diet, juice cleanse diet, paleo diet, carb-free diet, gluten-free diet, dairy-free diet, or the sugar-free diet. Oh, but it doesn’t even stop there – how about the anything-cooked-above-a-certain-temperature diet, or the raw food diet? What’s next, food-free diet? Breathing-free diet? If that sounds extremist, you bet your fancy pants it is.

Unsurprisingly, this philosophy birthed unrealistic, guilt-inducing fads – and falling down to our knees, we pursue its promised attractive outcome despite its disguise as an instructional guide to becoming unhealthy obsessive and/or feeling ultimately terrible about ourselves with failure. If any kind of diet whispers into your ear, “Hey, food is the enemy. Take it down.”, drop the weapons of restriction, because there is something very wrong. Don’t you ever view your food choices as sources of guilt and shame. This war makes you delusional, and it has consequences.

©TMK

 

 

Listerine | Time Capsule Log 💊

Listerine did not invent bad breath. Human mouths have stunk for millennia, and there are ancient breath fresheners out there you can read up about. But here’s a nice little story of how Listerine advertisements transformed bad breath from an ordinary albeit awkward personal circumstance into an embarrassing medical condition with heavy implications of social suicide. Treatment that very conveniently was sold by the company themselves.

The History Of Listerine

What: Listerine was invented originally as a surgical disinfectant.

Who: Doctor Joseph Lawrence, inspired by the research of Sir Joseph Lister. Oh, who was Joseph Lister? Well, back in the nineteenth century, “hospital disease” (now known as post-operative sepsis infection) was prevalent; that is, mortality rates post-operation were high despite successful surgical procedures. For example, Lister reported in the Male Accident Ward in the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, between 45-50% of amputation cases died from sepsis between 1861 and 1865. It was in this ward he did his experiments – in line with his earlier research on the coagulation of blood and role of blood vessels in the first stage of inflammation, he had already formulated theories and disregarded the concept of miasma (popular, but not obsolete medical concept, stating diseases were caused by “bad air”). By that time, bacteriologist Louis Pasteur had arrived at his theory microorganisms caused fermentation and disease; thus, Lister’s education and speculations that sepsis could be caused by pollen-like dust compelled him to accept Pasteur’s theory. An amalgamation of his previous research and Pasteur’s theory, he began conducting experiments; he soaked dressings with carbolic acid to cover wounds (an effective antiseptic already used as a means of cleansing foul-smelling sewers). The results were dramatic: surgical mortality rates decreased from 45 to 15% between 1865 and 1869 in the Male Accident Ward. And in 1865, Lister was the first surgeon to carry out an operation in a chamber sterilised by pulverising antiseptic into a fine mist of carbolic acid into the air around the operation. 

Why: So, here comes in an inspired Joseph Lawrence, who made a unique formulation of surgical antiseptic himself in 1879…and in honour of Sir Joseph Lister, called it LISTERINE®. He formed a partnership with pharmacist Jordan Wheat Lambert, creating Lambert Pharmaceutical Company, producing & selling this disinfectant in operating theatres and bathing wounds.

How: …but it was pretty small market. So, to increase sales, its advertised use became extremely varied: a cure for dandruff, a floor cleaner, a hair tonic, a deodorant, and even a cure for diseases ranging from dysentery to gonorrhoea. Okay, so this did put up company revenues. But the Lamberts had another idea in the 1920s. 

They began putting the vaguely medical-sounding term “halitosis” in their advertisements, framing it as a health condition hindering people from being their best. During that era of time, a lot of companies were offering products that could cure every known illness, including catering to the emerging middle class’s social anxieties. I mean, look at this ad below – the sad, unmarried Edna doomed to be a bridesmaid but never a bride just because she has this condition “halitosis”.

sf3591

This marketing campaign was incredibly successful, and over 7 years, revenues skyrocketed to $8 million. And now, we all know Listerine primarily as the antiseptic for oral health & hygiene. This must be one of the best iterations in history of the modern advertising industry creating a problem to sell its solution. Well played, Lamberts.

Sources:

http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/people/josephlister

https://www.listerine.co.uk/about

Listerine Was Once Sold as Floor Cleaner

Click to access listerine.pdf

©TMK

Vibrators | Time Capsule Log 💊

I just came back from the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies titled “Globalized Thailand? Connectivity, Conflict, and Conundrums of Thai Studies” in Chiang Mai – my amazing sister presented her LSE dissertation, Thai Youth Sexual Culture: Exploring Representations of Gender and Sexuality in the Thai Controversial Series, Hormones (2013).” If you’d like to read the masterpiece, here’s the link (scroll down to Tammarin Dejsupa and press that PDF logo); there were way too many intelligent words coming out of her mouth, and needless to say, I was immensely proud, but also very confused…

The panel was on sexuality, media & commercialisation – and so, to kind of continue on a similar theme, I decided to dedicate this time capsule log to that by writing about…vibrators.

•••••

There’s a tale that goes Egyptian Queen Cleopatra invented the vibrator; she supposedly had the idea to fill a hollow gourd with angry bees, and the violent buzzing caused the gourd to vibrate…and the rest is history. Or is it?

If you do a quick Google search on the history of vibrators, many will state it was invented by Victorian doctors as a prescribed “pelvic massage” treatment for patients with hysteria to induce “hysterical paroxysm” (read: orgasm) because the medical professionals back then complained about the manual labour being tiresome. It’s a great conversational story, huh? Imagine breaking the ice with “Hey! Did you know, the vibrator was invented to treat women with hysteria because Victorian doctors got tired of manually stimulating them?” And then there’d be shared boisterous laughter, suggestive nudges and comments like “Ugh, tell me about it!”

hysterical.png
Source

The story makes the Victorians sound reserved, that they were oblivious to the art of self-pleasure and never saw pelvic massage as anything other than medicinal. And until the 20th century, it was even more so believed women did not experience sexual desire; to be a lady was to lack sex drive, with a duty to put up with their husband’s sexual needs. It would feed directly into the stereotypical connotations I’m sure most of you have about the Victorians – the whole high prudery attitude resulting in shrouding piano legs and a “Lie back and think of England” kind of mentality.

It’s true that some doctors during that time believed the art of self-pleasure was highly dangerous to your health (check out these painful looking anti-masturbation devices – moment of silence for all the teens during 1840 to 1900). However, Michel Foucault famously critiqued these stereotypes, and in his book “The History of Sexuality” explains the repressive hypothesis: “…that Western man has been drawn for three centuries to the task of telling everything concerning his sex; that since the classical age there has been a constant optimization and an increasing valorization of the discourse on sex; and that this carefully analytical discourse was meant to yield multiple effects of displacement, intensification, reorientation, and modification of desire itself.”1 Basically, as readers, we’ve read into the history of the past three centuries assuming sexual repression. Whether or not you accept this hypothesis, Foucault sparked much academic work exploring the various ways Victorians did indeed openly speak of desire; there are a lot of examples. Victorian attitude towards both male and female sexuality can be seen just as expressive and expansive as it is today – a prime example being the glamorous courtesan of Paris, Cora Pearl, who lived a very erotic life. In fact, Victorian women had a healthy interest in protecting their bodies whilst still enjoying a sexual relationship; Annie Besant’s “Fruits of Philosophy”2 published in 1877, was a guide that listed every single possible contraceptive method available to the Victorian reader, becoming so popular it even reached out to 125,000 Brits in the first few months alone.

So, back to that whole women-with-hysteria-treated-with-massage-and-vibrator-was-invented story. In actuality, it was only a hypothesis by Dr. Rachel Maines, famed sex historian and author of seminal 1999 book, The Technology of Orgasm”. She even said so herself, “Well, people just thought this was such a cool idea that people believe it, that it’s like a fact. And I’m like, ‘It’s a hypothesis! It’s a hypothesis!’. But it doesn’t matter, you know? People like it so much they don’t want to hear any doubts about it.”3 Truth! Even when I began researching about the topic, I thought it was a hoot and a half to tell. But now we know – yes, the vibrator was officially invented in Victorian times, but that is definitely not the full story. Number one, doctors were fully aware what they were doing; keep in mind, people thought real sex was only penetration to male orgasm, and sex education was incredibly limited. I just wanted to make clear Victorians weren’t this prude, unaware society. Number two, the vibrator’s history is much more complicated. Hopefully we can get past the party story version.

So, what’s the actual history of the vibrator, then? Well, we definitely know its origin was very much within the medical setting; the earliest vibrators, as stated by Dr. Maines, “…came out of massage, hand technology for massage.” Not with the intention of inducing orgasm. But other than that, there is vast amount of speculation out there, which in turn further deep-dives into a plethora of ancient obstetrics & gynaecology papers. I particularly enjoyed Helen King’s critical analysis of the history behind therapeutic masturbation associated with “hysteria” – it’s 32 pages long, but 32 pages of such splendidly interesting information citing many dated texts (honestly, worth checking out). However, I attempted to comb through the tangles of speculated knowledge so you don’t have to (but there is still so much out there I haven’t mentioned). Here we go.

The History of Vibrators

We begin with Hippocrates, widely regarded as the Father of Western Medicine (we swore the derivative of his medical oath during the promise ceremony first week of uni). Despite his brilliance, there was a lot about the female body Hippocrates did not grasp – he believed the womb was an actively moving organ that even travelled to the trachea during orgasm, contributing to heavy breathing. The label “hysteria” is never used in early texts, but that weird womb-moving theory Hippocrates thought of is mentioned as a condition called “suffocation of/from the womb”. The womb, he believed, was to blame for “nervousness, fluid retention, insomnia, and lack of appetite”4 Later, Greek doctor Galen, most admired for being a brilliant anatomist ahead of his time and a master of medical philosophy5, proclaimed the symptoms were caused by retention of semen and saw widows as a particularly high-risk group. The cure: herbal remedies, pelvic massage, and even getting married6 (can you imagine getting this as your prescription). Mind you, the concept hysteria hasn’t been mentioned yet.

It persisted through the Middle Ages; treatments still included marriage and pelvic massage, but also “irritating suppositories and fragrant salves”7This treatment continued throughout the Renaissance period, and Nathanial Highmore was one of the first doctors to publicly acknowledge the end result of pelvic massage – the hysterical paroxysm8Orgasms became kind of a socially acceptable treatment for this strange condition that hadn’t been named yet. Whatever the condition was, doctors agreed it included a wide variety of symptoms including nervousness, anxiousness, emotional outbursts, hallucinations, “tendency to cause trouble”, fluid retention, and yes, sexual thoughts/frustration. 

In the 1700s, speculated causes of this condition shifted from the womb to the brain, but it wasn’t until the beginning of the 19th century when the condition was finally labelled hysteria (the Greek word for womb) and was something in need of treatment. The treatment was hysterical paroxysm, horse-riding, and even unpleasant blasting of water on the abdomen.9 Doctors apparently dreaded giving hysterical paroxysms because it was time-consuming, taxed physical endurance, and hand fatigue giving the massages meant they couldn’t always produce the desired result. They pushed for an invention to aid them – thus, here enters the very first vibrator: the Tremoussior, a strange wind-up clockwork contraption invented in France, 1734 (mind you, this was before electricity was invented). Then, in 1869, came along the steam-powered vibrator, “The Manipulator”, invented by American physician George Taylor – however, it was this cumbersome, immovable thing that you constantly had to shove coal in.

Finally, an enterprising English physician, Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville, patented an electromechanical vibrator during the 1880s, which became greatly popularised and was soon a permanent installation in the doctor’s surgery at that time. It became incredibly popular and soon, battery-powered vibrators were introduced as a household appliance; it was a huge commercial success, becoming the fifth electrical appliance to be introduced into households alongside the kettle, sewing machine, fan, and toaster10.

 

But then the vibrator had its debut in pornography and became unacceptable as a household tool to treat hysteria, labelled prurient rather than respectable. Women could no longer disguise their intentions of buying one, and doctors dropped the devices because of their sexual connotations. Vibrator ads disappeared from consumer media, and lips were sealed shut – that is, until the women’s movement in 1970s. Feminists like Betty Dodson11 made it a symbol of female sexuality, and vibrators became just as popular as before.

As for hysteria – being such an amorphous condition, the diagnosis surprisingly only recently fell from medical grace in American Psychiatric Association’s mental disorders in 1952.12

So there you have it. From womb-moving theories to feminism, that is how a medical cure became a female sexual icon.

Sources:

1: https://g.co/kgs/Z5hx6H

2: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/38185/38185-h/38185-h.htm

3: http://bigthink.com/ideas/18073

4: http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/article4032852.ece

5: http://www.greekmedicine.net/whos_who/Galen.html

6: http://www.vonnaharper.com/history-of-the-vibrator.html

7, 8: http://www.motherjones.com/media/2012/06/hysteria-sex-toy-history-timeline/

9: Cosmacini G.  The long art: the history of medicine from antiquity to the present. 00. Rome: Oxford University Press; 1997.

10: http://www.thedailybeast.com/hysteria-and-the-long-strange-history-of-the-vibrator

11: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-10-15/the-history-of-the-vibrator/7925988

12: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-vibrator/

©TMK

Spider-Man: Homecoming | Kind Of A Review, But Not Really

Warning: This post contains spoilers about Spider-Man: Homecoming. You have been warned…

Spider-Man’s web shooters have become such an iconic gadget ever since his debut in Marvel’s Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962 (a rare, near-mint copy was auctioned off late last year for $454,100!1) – I mean, it seems every interview promoting Spider-Man: Homecoming ends up with the ever-patient Tom Holland strapping on a silly-string shooter for a Marvel knowledge quiz. Like watching any other superhero film, I was questioning the plausibility of the science behind it all – was the web fluid formula Peter secretly making a batch of in Chemistry class legit? Can the thin bundle of web actually support Peter’s urban jungle-swinging? When the cable on the elevator snapped, how could his webs suspend it long enough before saving everybody inside?

I love science so, so much. Thus, seeing the scientist side of Peter Parker in Jon Watt’s “Spider-Man Homecoming” and Mark Webb’s “Amazing Spider-Man” movies that Sam Raimi’s movie trilogy never showed gave me palpitations of nervous excitement (you think I’m joking…). There is an extremely high chance I’ll be doing a much more in-depth research of the science behind it all, but for now, this post is going to be a review that’s quasi-scientific. Bear in mind, I’ve only watched the film once, so details are a bit hazy. Huge shoutout to Marvel Studios for the Thai restaurant scene with the picture of our beloved King Rama 9 of Thailand; thanks a million. I am so grateful. 

I’m gonna start off science (or of what limited knowledge I have). In Peter’s Chemistry class, a long row of black & white portraits of brilliant scientists line the top of the whiteboard; there were the likes of Marie Curie, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Sir Isaac Newton…and even Bruce Banner. I loved that, because the film treasured Bruce Banner for his contributions as the famed thinker he is and not the superhero he can also be. The science teacher quizzed the class on how to calculate the linear acceleration from Point A and B (you can see the problem on the whiteboard in the screen-cap below). She was essentially asking for the formula for the angular acceleration of a pendulum, and Flash Thompson incorrectly responded (gravity times sine theta)/mass, but a dozing Peter awaken from his nap with Spider-Man YouTube videos playing on his laptop was able to correctly answer, “Mass cancels out, so it’s just gravity times sine theta.” (“You’re dead!” Flash later whispered, because ooo trig burn). I mean, regardless if Peter is a genius, I love that sly reference to Spider-Man’s mode of transport i.e. swinging like a pendulum on webs.

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Source

Spider-Man’s web shooter. The classic design, as you’re probably very familiar with, is strapped to Peter’s wrists beneath the costume sleeves. You can watch Tom Holland briefly talk through it in behind-the-scenes footage; he even shows you the piece of tech. There’s a palm release button high up on the palm to avoid unwanted firings, and when tapped, the web fluid stored in small cartridges made up of mainly nickel-plated annealed brass passes through an internal spinneret mechanism made from stainless steel (except for the turbine component & bearings). I really liked how the film kept going back to Peter picking up spare web fluid cartridges he stored underneath a row of lockers; it’s these kind of details that makes it so much more realistic. The very small turbine pump vanes shears the web fluid, forcing it through the spinneret holes with an adjustable nozzle, which cold-draws it and shoots out through the air where it solidifies. There is so much detail about Peter’s web shooters, and I recommend you go scour through all the Amazing Spider-Man issues and read Marvel Wikia for more.2

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Amazing Spider-Man #2 Panels

And, what’s the web fluid made of? Well…no one really knows. The chemical composition remains a mystery. Potassium carbonate? Toluene? Silica gel purification?  I saw sneaky salicylic acid amongst Peter’s notes in Chemistry class! “Spider-Man: The Ultimate Guide”3 states Peter spent hundreds of hours in his high school labs working with multi-polymer compounds to create an adhesive substance – we do know it’s related to nylon. It’s thought the web fluid exists as a shear-thinning liquid inside the cartridge (solid until a shearing force is applied to it), and according again to the “Ultimate Guide”, each cartridge holds approximately 1000 yards of webbing. I assume when exposed to open air, the web fluid begins to harden, though I’m wondering what high school lab equipment Peter uses to pressurise the fluid at 300 p.s.i. (though this official number has been known to change, this would be enough to shoot a stream of web approximately 60 feet, but once again depends on forces of resistance). According to Marvel Wikia, “On contact with air, the long-chain polymer knits and forms an extremely tough, flexible fiber.” In the film, Peter does mention the webbing takes about 2 hours to wear off, so I guess the web fluid’s adhesive quality diminishes rapidly with exposure to air. Indeed, Marvel Wikia further states “After approximately 1 hour, certain imbibed esters cause the solid form of the web fluid to dissolve into a powder.”

I’ve only just scraped the surface of the basic science at work with Spider-Man. There is way more science out there concerning Spider-Man’s heroic feats and his web shooters, but I just wanted to give a little taster to get you pumped about how extraordinary the science is. I’m obviously no expert in the realm of physics, but from what I’ve read, the science is pretty plausible – it sticks within the rules of the MCU, and there are sufficient calculations to show the web fluid tensile strength, slinging capabilities, etc. are all quite legit.

Now for a more general overview of the movie: I’d like to start off by saying how much I loved the montage of all the high school scenes. Not only is it devoid of the stereotypical cliques of cheerleaders & jocks with the lead character clearly a twenty-something with a backpack chucked on, but the various encounters reminded me of my own time as a 15-year-old kid. The little things like when Ned questions back what the chess team are doing when he’s creeping around the hallway (and the kid vaguely gestures to the classroom, “Chess…” in such a mannerism that’s so relatable), Michelle reading Somerset Maugham’s 1915 novel “On Human Bondage”4 (if you read the book, you’ll find a very familiar parallel with that of Peter’s life), the very millennial-style editing of the morning school announcements (zooming in on Jason’s rejected face), building the LEGO Death Star (3,803 pieces!5) with that heart-warming moment Ned gave Peter the very last piece (Emperor Palpatine) to finish it all off, Peter practicing in the mirror what’d he say at Liz’s party alongside his Thor impression, Ned’s questions after learning about his buddy’s secret identity (“Do you lay eggs?”), playing kiss/kill/marry Avengers style during gym class, telling Happy about the churros he got because as a teenager food is always such a joy but not when freakin’ Tony Stark mentions it after the ferry incident (you’ll never see a greater combo of frustration, regret & embarrassment on Peter’s face), searching up how to do a Windsor knot on YouTube for homecoming, the Academic Decathlon team’s quirks (I liked the dude who confidently answered incorrectly in response to what the heaviest naturally-occurring element was and immediately realized out loud, “…that’s not the question, okay. Yeah.” with a sheepish smile). There’s a lot more I could mention, but you get the point – it realistically depicted a high school kind of life, not some kind of Easy A, Avril Lavigne music video kind of vibe. 

Another thing: the portrayal of Peter Parker. We all know he has a brilliant mind, which is ultimately his biggest weapon as a super-hero, but the film doesn’t portray him as a model student.  He did lose five backpacks, and I would most definitely assume he’d be in much more severe trouble than the film suggests (losing your notes, coursework and textbooks was something almost unbearable to watch when he stood in dismay in that alleyway). In addition, he so discreetly had his “Web Fluid: Version 3.01” page underneath the “Identifying Ions” practical (because nothing like big block words WEB FLUID to keep your secret identity under wraps), which he frantically concocted in a wooden drawer. And he quit marching band and initially chose not to go to Washington DC for the Academic Decathlon. So, he’s not that picture-perfect student, but that’s what I loved because we see him do literally everything else in the world except actual work. And when he is doing work, it isn’t to serve the movie plot, but because he’s a 15-year-old kid and that’s what high school kids should be doing. It makes sense, then, that with such a rad internship, you can’t help but try to have as much fun as possible just like this 15-year old taking over Southern Rail’s Twitter. I’m sure this is a unanimous review of Peter Parker when I say he’s the most relatable and realistic one yet (at least for me, he was) – the examples are endless.  And let’s not begin on how delightful Peter’s science pun shirts were.

Overall, to me, the movie wasn’t just all about that With great power comes great responsibility” talk, but a story about Peter taking the reigns of his own life. Much like when we were younger, we took cues from authoritative figures like our parents or teachers (or in this case, Tony Stark), but ultimately, you have to learn to act for yourself and deal with the consequences of deciding who you want to be. Peter did just that, and I think the title “Homecoming” has just taken on a whole new meaning for me.

Sources:

1 http://www.cbr.com/rare-spider-man-comic-sells-at-auction-for-record-price/

2 http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Web-Shooters

3 https://www.amazon.com/Spider-Man-Ultimate-Guide-Amazing-Publishing/dp/0756626757

4 http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31548.Of_Human_Bondage

5 https://shop.lego.com/en-LU/Death-Star-10188

©TMK

Coca Cola | Time Capsule Log 💊

I hope you’ve all enjoyed the Six-Word Stories I’ve been putting out! I’m now beginning a new segment called “Time Capsule Log”, which I’m extremely excited about. I’ll be exploring inventions & breakthroughs with weird origin stories, whether it be failed pharmaceutical drugs eventually fated for non-clinical use or accidental products that have ended up medically successful. Curiosity is one of the great virtues of mankind, and it just goes to show purpose doesn’t have to be born out of intention. Alrighty, enough introduction – onto the fun!

The History of Coca-Cola

What? Coca-Cola was initially formulated as a cure for morphine addiction. What!?

Who? John Pemberton was a pharmacist and “the most noted physician Atlanta ever had” according to Atlanta newspapers1, but he was also a Confederate veteran of the Civil War.

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John Pemberton. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Pemberton

Why? He was almost killed fighting in the Battle of Columbus in April 1865, and with his background as a pharmacist, his access to morphine and need to appease the pain from his war injuries lead to a strong morphine addiction2.

How? In 1884, Pemberton began experimenting to create opium-free medication as an attempt to cure his addiction, and along the way, another doctor claimed coca (cocaine) had the ability to do so. Thus, Pemberton devised “French Wine Coca”, a concoction containing coca leaves, caffeine-containing kola nuts, and wine. The product was advertised dramatically as seen on the label below (well I’ll be; it cures heart disease!). However, the city of Atlanta enacted legislation bringing about local prohibition in 1886, and Pemberton was forced to remove the alcoholic element from his formula, despite selling it as a medicine. Thus, he had to revise his to-be popular beverage by using sugar syrup to replace the wine’s sweetness and carbonating the mixture, eventually marketing it as the Coca-Cola we all know and love today. This new drink was advertised as “delicious, exhilarating, refreshing and invigorating” whilst retaining “the valuable tonic and nerve stimulant properties of the coca plant and cola nuts.” The cocaine ingredient persisted, however, only until the beginning of the 1900s because a series of stories spread throughout the South that black men were getting high on cocaine before raping white women (yikes!)3.

In such devastating irony, despite claims made about Coca-Cola’s restorative powers, Pemberton remained addicted to morphine; he never realised the long-potential of the beverage he created, slowly selling off the company in pieces to various partners before dying of stomach cancer in 1888.4 It is said that on the day of Pemberton’s funeral, the owners of all the drug stores in Atlanta attended the services as a tribute of respect, and “not one drop of Coca-Cola was dispensed in the entire city.”5

I’ve always admired how Coca-Cola holds these joyful campaigns that celebrate authentic, genuine moments in life. Perhaps Pemberton couldn’t cure his own morphine addiction, but he created something pretty beautiful out of it. Lest we forget, let’s clink together a couple of Cokes and say cheers.

Sources:

1: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/business-economy/john-stith-pemberton-1831-1888

2, 3: https://books.google.co.th/books?id=dFRd2MMrtiUC&pg=PA152&lpg=PA152&redir_esc=y&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false

4: https://www.amazon.com/God-Country-Coca-Cola-Mark-Pendergrast/dp/0465054684/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1388434759&sr=1-1&keywords=0465054684&tag=bisafetynet-20

5: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/business-economy/john-stith-pemberton-1831-1888

©TMK

I Wore A Heart Monitor For 24 Hours

Spoiler: I’m okay for now.

Approximately three weeks ago, I went for my regular health-checkup routine. There was nothing spectacularly negative about my results – my total cholesterol level increased compared to last year, but it was due to an elevation in good ol’ HDL; my TSH level was 1.960 uIU/mL, smack-bam in the middle of the hospital’s normal range; my hematocrit percentage, usually presented with a taunting “L”, was surprisingly normal for the first time in years. It’s safe to say, living on my own in Bristol the past year has made me much healthier on the micro scale.

Ah, but the results came with a little more excitement than anticipated.

Last year, my EKG result stated: “Sinus bradycardia with sinus arrhythmia; borderline prolonged QT interval; otherwise no pathological findings”. It wasn’t necessarily denial, but an unimpressive knowledge about ECG/EKG interpretation that allowed me to shrug nonchalantly about the situation. But this year, my EKG result stated: “Sinus bradycardia with junctional escape beat and bigeminy premature ventricular complexes”, and after having crammed an outrageous amount of information about various cardiovascular system abnormalities (I’m panicking as the phrase “Quick lids flecking at amiable dilettantes” scrolls across my vision), well, what can I say…I still shrugged nonchalantly about the situation.

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14/06/17 EKG Results (For You Keeners Out There)

A follow-up was required a couple weeks later. I was *this* close to napping face-down all day listening to the ironically motivational movie soundtracks of Rupert Gregson-Williams, but thankfully dragged my lazy bum off the bed due to post-exam hopelessness (I hope today all you IB kids got the results you wanted – remember, there’s always a pathway for you!). So there I was, in the doctor’s office – not to be worried about at all, she said. It’s common for people under 40, and it’s very rare for it to be serious. Two things would happen: I’d get an echocardiogram done, and then wear a Holter monitor for 24 hours.

I remember watching one of the demos talk about echocardiography during an anatomy session, and this image was put up:

echocardiogram
Source: http://www.cardiachealth.org/sites/default/files/2011/echocardiogram.jpg

Um. I mean, what a truly wondrous photo. Find a person who’ll look at you the same way the patient and sonographer look at each other, am I right? (I swear I learn in anatomy sessions).

Anyways, that didn’t happen in my case (painfully grateful); I faced away from the sonographer and counted the number of vertical stripes per coloured block on the wallpaper (seven, if you wanted to know), and there was barely any talking. Despite being half-nude and having this transducer basically kneading my left boob, it all felt incredibly systematic. I almost fell asleep. But by hearing sudden spitfire beatboxing by my heart, occasionally being asked to hold my breath, and catching a glimpse of the Doppler echocardiography’s explosion of pretty colours, I just managed to stay awake.

After swiping away the ultrasound gel, I was then suited up with the Holter monitor: five electrodes plastered on, and a little pouch that held the ambulatory device itself. It’s basically just a piece of tech that records heart activity continuously for 24 hours (or 48, depending on the doctor’s suspicions of the final diagnosis) – since ECG/EKGs are performed only within a short snapshot of time and abnormal heart rhythms/cardiac symptoms come and go, the monitors are pretty great for doctors to evaluate irregularities, severity and patterns over an extended period.

I left the hospital feeling like an amateur espionage agent (watch out Agent Cody Banks!1!!). Here are a couple of images to show the Holter monitor itself and where the electrodes were placed – the former displays a countdown of the exact amount of time I had left of the 24 hours, and shut down once it reached zero; it was like a microcosm of every dystopian novel ever. 

So comes the next day, after having slept as still as a log (subconsciously afraid I’ll roll onto the Holter monitor and suffer the pricey consequences), and they go analyse the data. Here are my results in brief.

Echocardiography Summary: function and anatomy normal albeit mild tricuspid regurgitation (TR). Seeing the real-time videos of my heart beating made me oddly vulnerable – I mean, if you think about it, nobody will ever have the privilege to set eyes on your beating heart (with the exception of those lucky enough to partake in open heart surgery). I’d feel more naked posting a snippet of the echocardiogram than a revealing swimsuit photo of myself.

Holter Monitor Summary: The doctor said if I had 10% or more ventricular ectopic beats in the total number of heartbeats in the 24 hours, I would be sent for treatment. If it was 5% or below, I’d be alright. Luckily, I only had 4.1% – whilst she did appease my mother by stating there was nothing to worry about (“All you need to hear is that her heart is completely normal”), she turned to me and asked me to be more aware of my body. That is, if my palpitations become more frequent or if the tight squeezes I feel in my chest increase in severity, I am to go back to see her.

“How many hours of sleep do you get?” she asked in the middle of history-taking.

“Well, 7 hours on average, now that it’s summer.” I think back to how my heart rate was only 48BPM just before the appointment; that armchair was really quite comfortable…

With a small smile, she casually said, “Ah, wonderful – when you get to clinical years of medical school, you won’t get nearly as much!”

Honestly, I really like this doctor.

Anyways, I got this incredibly exciting full report with an hour-by-hour analysis (I can sense what a funky, wild Friday night I’ll be having).

You can see how the number of PVCs vary during various times of the day; a few examples of the activities I was engaged in included:

8:00PM = delicious dinner at MK with the family + a McDonalds cone (the simple pleasures of life)

10:00AM = extremely fervent Kyle Landry piano-playing; I even got a cramp in my left hand (watch this space for a cover…)

3:00PM = serious car talks in traffic

It’s extraordinary to actually see the direct play between the physical environment and the electrical activity of my heart – the times with high PVC frequencies correlated with some form of intense emotion; “Strike fear into the hearts of your enemies” “With a sinking heart” “Eat your heart out” idioms suddenly became exceptionally reasonable to me. It should be blatantly obvious that everything you do cascades upon your inner mechanics, but I previously could only resonate so much so as if watching a devastating BBC News segment from the comfort of my own home. It just further highlighted the stark opposition of medicine being both routine practice and blindly grasping in the dark.

At the end of the day, the treatment literally stated “reassurance” – drink lots of water, sleep for a minimum of 6 hours per day, no caffeine, stress less. Such basic courses of action to take, and yet so subconsciously overlooked by the generation of today. Anyways, I think as a medical student, having the opportunity to personally experience particular examinations/procedures you see portrayed via cringe-worthy stock photo compilations in lectures provokes the same level of excitement you have as you are about to watch one of the most anticipated block-buster films of the year (I am at this very minute on the way to watch Spider-Man Homecoming). And that’s probably the very reason I documented it all…I guess I’m just young at heart.

©TMK

 

Sir Paul Nurse: University of Bristol’s New Chancellor!

     On Wednesday, 22nd of March, marked a monumental day. And with most monumental events in Bristol, it took place in the Great Hall of the Will’s Memorial Building. So, after a failed session of attempting to write up notes on heart arrhythmias, I skedaddled down to the post office room, because I forgot my admission ticket was mailed to us personally, and rushed out at approximately 6:35pm.

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     I walk into the foyer, and enter the Great Hall with uttermost shock – there, right in the centre above the audience, hangs a 1:500,000 scale reproduction of the moon’s surface. It’s part the Museum of the Moon exhibit, conceived & created by Bristol-based artist Luke Jerram, happening on the weekend. I mean, outer space. That is my absolute dream, my version of a fairy-tale without the fancy bits of characterisation, the embodiment of every single star-gazing app on my iPhone. Since the event was in honour of Sir Paul Nurse whose work was on fission yeast that eventually led him to win the Nobel Prize of Physiology or Medicine in 2001 (in conjunction with Tim Hunt), there were projected electron microscopic images of Schizosaccharomyces pombe on the walls. Being in that place, surrounded by just raw science rooted in curiosity from the incredibly detailed craters on the moon (I saw Newton’s crater) to the rod-shaped cells swirling around, I might have almost teared up. Almost.

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     I won’t dwell too much on the actual programme details – it was a beautiful ceremony, with great background music by the prestigious Bristol Hornstars (fantastic jazz band that I was so confident about joining back last summer but too intimidated when I heard them play), and the opening ceremony. Let me just say, in the latter, there was a performance by the poetry & creative writing society of Bristol’s SU, and it was this grand poem of the journey and advancements in science. I mean, yes, it was very delightful, but…“like how the microorganisms festered in the library textbooks” and “oh, like yeast, *looks up to a higher power* let my mind grooow…”? I appreciated the science metaphors but it was a tad difficult to take seriously. Hey, wasn’t just me – the professors around me were a choir of collected muffling of laughter.

     Moving on swiftly…the installation itself. Watching the robing of Sir Paul Nurse and presentation of the ceremonial items felt all very royal – one of the items included the key used by King George V to open the Wills Memorial Building in 1925, and the new chancellor made sure the audience could catch a glimpse of it. And then his address. Wow, I’ll just say, I was blown away by the end of it. I’ll admit, initially I found myself zoning out occasionally as he went on about the merits of education and university, but it’s hard to get bored by him, because he is a fantastic speaker. He talked about 9-year-old him in his pyjamas on his front porch watching Sputnik-2 being launched, and the long & lonely walks back from school that allowed him to observe spiderwebs and growth of nature which fuelled his curiosity of science. And to think, just over a year ago, I had been reading about his discovery in the IB Higher Biology textbook in the Nature of Science box, thinking, “Man, just imagine…” With a very subtle lisp and a razor-sharp enunciation of his words, there was only one word I could describe his entire presence: historical.

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     I don’t know. Maybe it was the moon. Maybe it was the Great Hall’s beautiful architecture that dates way back. Maybe it was the spirit of the predecessors, including Winston Churchill, that I felt throughout the ceremony. But to me, it was all history. Sir Paul Nurse’s history of his childhood, the Great Hall’s history, the ceremonial item’s history, science’s history…and suddenly, I had this sudden urge even greater than before, to be part of that. To be part of history. I want to do something great and meaningful. I can only do so much but I’ll try my best as I’ve always done.

     I was in a bit of a daze afterwards – from the Elderflower Champagne at the drink’s reception, meeting my lecturers (pharmacology gang), racing up the stairs with a friend to gaze at the moon again, trespassing up into the high levels via steep winding stairs for better views, silhouette photos against the moon backdrop, sprinting back home at 8:48pm realising I’ve got a pre-practical quiz that I have to do before 9:00pm, getting 100% on said quiz (took literally 4 minutes), and eating a forgotten dinner. It was such a fantastic event, and I am grateful I had the opportunity to go (respond to your emails fast!). Really, I could say more about how inspiring the entire event was and how excited it makes me to know Paul Nurse is Bristol’s new chancellor, but it wouldn’t end if I began. So, here’s to an incredible future of science that I dream to be a part of.

©TMK

Skull

Despite having examined juvenile skulls frequently in the past anatomy sessions, I am still always in awe at how breathtakingly light and fragile they are. And as I trace my fingers over the fontanelles in amazement, I’m constantly thinking to myself,

“This will never get old.”

©TMK