Tuesday, 11 December 2007

UCLH A+E: Open day 6/12/07

Among the pallid faces and the heads in hands is a bubbly American woman who has staple-gunned a piece of wood to her thumb and a Scottish bloke with a suitcase.

He’s trying to chat up a girl with broken fingers – the result of a karate chopping nephew.

It’s University College Hospital’s annual open day but around the corner from the main entrance, where Gloria Hunniford is turning on the Christmas lights, it’s just another day in A + E.

London’s Tottenham Court Road is famous for its technology retailers.

Since 2005, the top end of this gadget Mecca has also been an appropriate home for one of the capital’s newest hospitals.

Today is a chance for healthy members of the public to find out what goes on behind closed doors inside this modern hospital.

UCH is big and glassy, woven together with white-painted steel.

It’s the antithesis to the gothic and ultra intricate St. Pancras station, not far away down the Euston Road.

As I stand outside the huge atrium that forms the main entrance to the hospital, a couple of men in suits are scurrying around studying surfaces for imperfections - “That needs cleaning, that needs polishing, and when is this getting painted?”

Today the sun seems to have barely lifted its shoulders above the horizon before going back to bed.

It’s gloomy outside but the huge Christmas tree and genuinely amazing carol singers help to brighten the spirits inside.

Their voices soar in the cathedral-like space.

A queue has formed in front of the table where tours of the different departments can be booked.

Pensioners are battling for slots on the most popular tours and when I am given a pass to A+E without queuing, my explanation that I am writing an article is met with unsatisfied glares through wrinkled eyes.

Blood, guts, vomit, chest-pounding heroics and a conveyor belt of lives brought back from the brink – this is emergency medicine, at least if you watch a lot of TV it is.

The public perception of what goes on behind closed doors in A+E makes this chance to tour the department a popular one.

Dr. Adeyoke, an A+E registrar at UCH somewhat dispels the myth that patients are regularly brought back from the dead after being zapped with electricity.

Indeed his single most memorable event after two years of working at UCH was a scenario like this.

“A young, middle-aged man came in with pulseless electrical activity”, a particularly bad kind of heart attack, “ and working as a team we managed to stabilise him and get him to intensive care”, he said.

Unrealistic expectations are sometimes placed upon A+E doctors as we imagine them flying around the department with their chests puffed out and a white coat flapping in the wind like a super-hero’s cape.

These people are humans and humans inevitably make mistakes.

Dr. Adeyoke says, “The hardest part of the job is the time constraints. There is such pressure and we can be prone to errors as a result”.

Back in the hospital atrium, the carol singers have finished and Kokila Gillett, a solo musician is performing traditional Indian music.

Before the tour begins, I drag myself away from the festivities and take in the delights of the A+E waiting room.

Facial expressions range from boredom to wincing pain, with not much in between apart from a beaming smile on the face of the cleaner who is gently chuckling to herself as she mops the floor.

From behind protective glass, a receptionist loudly asks a sheepish looking man, “When did you last open your bowels?”

The Scottish man with the brightly coloured suitcase has just arrived on a train from Dundee.

He sits down near to the girl with the broken fingers who has suffered at the hands of an overzealous relative, playing ninja.

“Are you married, love?” he asks, thirty seconds into their conversation.

She gently rebuffs him in a cockney accent that an American tourist would queue up to hear.

With this soap opera playing out around me, I’m a little aggrieved that the tour is about to start but I reluctantly join the group anyway.

We silently traipse around the department behind our amiable tour guide, trying not to get in the way.

Doctors cluster around light-boxes, carefully studying x-rays for signposts towards a diagnosis.

The atmosphere is industrious but calm.

I have my fingers crossed for somebody to come bursting through the swing-doors from the ambulance bay with a knife sticking from their back or something suitably dramatic.

No such luck. Our tour through the slick department passes without incident.

I remember my chat with Dr. Adeyoke - “It’s not like it is on TV”, he assured me.

Perhaps that’s because he doesn’t spend much time in the waiting room.

Great characters played out romance, comedy, pain and suffering in my thirty minutes there.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

When is it not appropriate to sit in your pants watching daytime tv?

(NB. A student colleague of mine has been threatened with legal action over a comment he made in his blog. Following this, I should point out that Jeremy Kyle doesn't actually eat babies apart from baby carrots and perhaps baby sweetcorn, although I'm not sure if anyone eats baby sweetcorn anymore.)

Students love sitting in their pants watching Trisha. I think.

I've never actually indulged in this particular rite of passage because the courses I've chosen at university have mostly involved me being in lectures as Jeremy Kyle eats babies live on TV.

Kyle: murderous hatred not pictured

If I'm not at home, how do I know about the venomous bile that spews from Kyle's foaming mouth each morning, you ask?

Well believe it or not, when I was doing my anaesthetics rotation, the coffee room next to the operating theatres was always religiously tuned into his show.

Anyway, when is it not appropriate to sit in your pants (as in underwear. In England, we call our underwear "pants") watching daytime TV?

If you are watching the show in question, live from the studio - then it is a bad idea to watch in your pants.

On Friday, I went with some of my colleagues from the journalism course at Westminster University to be in the audience for The Wright Stuff.

Slightly shamefully, it's not the first time I've been in the audience for such a show.

In my gap year, a friend of mine worked on Kilroy, hosted by the inimitable Robert Kilroy-Silk, and I appeared on that.

I spoke about prostitutes on that show.

Precisely what I said about prostitutes, I can't remember.

A while later, the same friend worked on Live with Christian O'Connell.

Me and a couple of mates went on the show on St. Patrick's day and had to hold a tray of Guinness while performing an Irish jig.

The idea was to keep as much of the booze in the glasses as possible.

And then there was my snowboarding mayhem on You've Been Framed!

£250 in the pocket thank you very much.

My most recent appearance on TV involved me discussing the virtues of inviting my ex to my wedding.

For anyone who knows me, don't worry, it was all hypothetical.

After the show, Matthew Wright who presents the show had a quick chat with us about journalism.

He started out in newspaper journalism, spending time at The Sun, among other things.

It was a fun morning and if you want to go on the show, there's a facebook group with the details here.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Doing a journalism fing.

Everybody knows that students are idiots and don’t have a clue about anything.

Students - idiots.

This is a fact and I’m not going to dispute it, particularly as I am one and there are loads of words underneath *here* to back this fact up.

Having been a student of medicine and now journalism, I’ve noticed that the two groups share a belief that they’re going to “make a difference”.

Doctors are going to relieve suffering and journalists are going to expose corrupt politicians and stuff.

I’m going to try desperately hard not to “make a difference”, especially in medicine because I’m worried that I’m more likely to contribute to some kind of major catastrophe than find the cure for cancer – I’m that kind of difference maker.

The plan is to play it safe, nice and safe.

Which has just reminded me of a poll I saw a while back about the most trusted professions in the UK.

Doctors are the most trusted professionals and journalists the least.

This is perfect as my two backgrounds should counterbalance one another in the trust stakes and leave me half way up the league – nice and safe.

Anyway, before that brief tangent, what I was going to say was that students have an admirable notion within them that they are going to do something positive.

That’s before the medics mutate into Harold Shipman and the journos become manipulative bastards with an agenda.

Maybe that’s a little extreme but if you’re going to make a point, you may as well make it sensational. I think.

This morning, I put on my rose-tinted spectacles that had a 20% student discount and went off to do what I consider my first bit of real journalism.

Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I asked Gordon Brown fourteen times what his favourite colour is or anything hard hitting like that, I just mean that I went out and spoke to some people before writing about it.

My reaction to this is what makes me a naïve moron.

I just couldn’t help feeling really good about the world afterwards and I’m sure that’s not what cynical journalists are supposed to think.

On my course, we had to write a piece that was based loosely around Christmas shopping.

I decided to do mine on what London’s foreign population buy for their Christmas dinners and so I went round to some of the cafés and restaurants near me to ask the people who work there.

My first stop was to an Italian café called Vesuvio where the chef warmly told me all about a traditional Christmas in Italy despite the fact that it was lunchtime and he was busy.

They also brought me a coffee which I was told was on the house when I went to pay for it – talk about perks of the job!

Later on I went to the amusingly named “Gung-Ho” Chinese restaurant

Eric chatted to me there and what a nice man Eric was.

I just wanted to share with you a devastatingly good air travel tip he gave me.

Oasis are a low budget airline that fly from London to Hong Kong for as little as £99 if you book it early enough.

I reckon if I take fewer showers and maybe flush the loo less, I could reduce my carbon footprint enough to jet off to Asia three times a year, guilt free.

Woop di doo.

Walter Sickert: Camden Town Nudes, Courtauld Institute

This is a review of an exhibition that I had to write for my course. I haven't handed it in yet so if anyone that reads it thinks it's rubbish, let me know:

Cows sawn in half, thousands of mutilated figures in scenes of the apocalypse, child killers portrayed using the painted hands of toddlers – modern artists go to quite some lengths in order to shock their audience.

Despite exposure to such things, it seems that the 100 year old paintings of Walter Sickert still have the ability to turn the stomach of today’s art fan.

Walter Sickert: The Camden Town Nudes runs until January 20, 2008 at The Courtauld Institute.

The exhibition displays works by the English artist from around 1902 to 1912.

Sickert’s reinvention of how nudes were portrayed in British art is a central theme although the big draw of this collection is likely to be the four Camden Town Murder paintings, which are displayed together for the first time.

Sickert, who once said, “all the greater draughtsmen tell a story”, used the murder in 1907 of a Camden prostitute called Emily Dimmock, to add a greater narrative dimension to his paintings.

The murder really captured the public’s fascination at the time and Sickert named a series of paintings featuring a nude and a clothed male, after ‘The Camden Murder’.

Ambiguity is a key factor though in Sickert’s paintings and alternative titles to these works exist, such as “Summer afternoon” and “What should we do about the rent?”

The truth about what is going on in these scenes is left up to the viewer.

Is the clothed man wringing his hands over money worries or has he just murdered the naked, lifeless figure on the bed next to him?

Unlike the elegant, grace of Degas’ ballerinas in one of the rooms next door, the form of the nudes in this exhibition is without poise.

The prostitutes who model for Sickert are mostly shown slumped, seemingly through exhaustion and as if their last reserve of energy was used to toss aside their clothes before crumpling onto the bed in ungainly poses.

This was Sickert’s response to the idealised nudes coming out of the Royal Academy which represented “an artistic and intellectual bankruptcy”, according to him.

The exhibition also gives audiences a chance to see how Sickert’s paintings developed.

Pencil drawn sketches are displayed alongside the finished works which allow us to see how the artist played around with composition before the final execution of his paintings.

While this exhibition doesn’t shock in a graphic, visceral sense, which is often the standard for contemporary artists, imaginative audiences with a sense of the story behind these paintings could be left unsettled.

Indeed when I arrived, a group of silver-haired ladies said, “I think we should move on. Jane finds these ones a bit difficult.”