Saturday, 27 May 2017

The message of the massage

Rubbing and drubbing
For years, I have endured and suffered a niggling pain in my right shoulder blade, it has not been too uncomfortable, but I only had to swing my arm in a certain way to feel that sudden stab of pain that made you either gasp or groan.
However, recently, my waking moments have had that pain arrest my attention that no amount of posturing and stretching alleviated, I was beginning to accept it as a norm.
Last night, I decided to do something about it and I went online searching for locations offering deep tissue massages, but after reading up a bit about it and conjuring in my mind the idea that a 'no-hands massage' meant I could be both be elbowed and knee in certain delicate places, I decided on the more common Swedish massage.
That muscle from another
I have had massages before, but I was more interested in the professional angle of things rather than those that purported to offer a happy ending. I settled on one that offered sports massages called My Sports Injury with the view they’ll probably know more about muscles and what to do.
Making an early appointment for 8:30 AM and paying through PayPal, I made for the clinic and met up with Ray, the therapist who was outside and probably waiting for me. Friendly and nice, he introduced him and took me into the basement gym that had the therapy rooms.
I filled in a few forms about my health and regions where I was having muscular pain, the particular muscle I was told was the rhomboid muscles that connect up to the upper end of the vertebral column.
Stripping down to my underwear with my socks kept on, I lay face down on the massage table and as he moved my arms, I felt that stab of pain again, he provided some additional support for my arms and began to rub and knead my muscles.
Pins and needles
In our earlier consultation, he talked about acupuncture and I related an experience when I accompanied a friend to see his acupuncturist. Each needle being tapped into his back was exaggerated in my mind as a re-enactment of the crucifixion, big crooked nails being hammered into flesh with humongous mallets. That impression kept me off accessing this ancient Chinese therapy for my muscle pains.
He worked my shoulders down to my lower back before he suggested acupuncture to ease the tension in my upper back, he assured me it would not be painful. Meanwhile, he had also done some deep tissue massage that did not involve being kneed or elbowed, I was beginning to trust him.
So, I let him put in the first needle, a bit of a tinge, but no pain, and before I knew it there were 6 needles in my upper back. Then working on my lower back, he tapped in another few needles into my back and at final count, there were 16 needles in my body. All the while, we were talking about life experiences and how to approach issues, he was a listening and interested therapist.
Cups and mats
I had pictures taken of the needles, because being subjected to the acupuncture therapy has never been something I would have considered ever, here I was the literal semblance of a voodoo doll, only that I was both the doll and the target. Working down to my legs, he introduced suction cups to my calves before removing the needles, offering a final rubdown and then a few exercises on a floor mat.
One must always be open to new experiences and this was both relaxing and rejuvenating, Ray was a consummate professional with an easy and persuasively encouraging bedside manner that eased me into situations I would never have countenanced. I’ll be back for another session, a massage done by those who know what they are doing, is good. The message in the massage is, muscle, shape up.

My HAND on my head - Memory Screening Tests

Now I Remember
‘It loves the brain.’ He said. In fact, there are many things that go after brain for all sorts of reasons my lack of medical expertise cannot explain.
Quite particularly, sexually transmitted diseases, everything appears to happen down there and once contracted they want to travel to the very top and take control. Nature seems to have beings in the ascendancy.
I had an appointment at the hospital on Thursday, if I can remember clearly, I thought it was in relation to the abdominal scan I had just two Saturdays ago since the letters literally arrived at the same time.
I took an Uber cab for the 9:50 AM appointment which was on a surge pricing and we made it on time without any of the stress of the appointment before the last. Ushered in by the staff, rather than stand on weighing scales I sat on one and it appears with clothes on, I am dropping kilogrammes.
Correct in my assessment
My blood pressure also read within the limits of acceptable for the first time in 4 visits which was really good news for me. I was called in to see the consultant where I was told it was my appointment for the HAND clinic or the Memory Screening Clinic.
Now, for a person above 50, I needed to be sure that certain elements of my activities in forgetfulness, responsiveness and anxiety which I somewhat have found compensatory mechanisms for were either age degenerative or as a result of my long-term condition.
The session which lasted almost 90 minutes started with filling in a Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale form that pointed towards elements of anxiety that needed a bit more analysis. However, since this was our first clinical assessment, much was dependent on what I subjectively thought were issues bothering me.
Suffice it to say, I completed that form and even annotated a grammatical correction to give a sentence a finality in context rather than the open-ended inquiry. Then I was passed the 'Questionnaire for HAND clinic' that required long form writing and I probably gave a detailed treatise to about 20 or so questions.
Convention is indistinct
After that, a number of cognitive tests were performed on transcription, memory, recall, acuity, reflexes, alertness and so on.
One such activity required drawing a clock with time 10 minutes past eleven, I went for a square face with 4 cardinal point numbers and then the minute and hour hands. A majority, I was told, draw a round clock face with all the numbers in before putting in the hands. Minimalist and functional works for me and that was some reflection on the kind of personality that I am.
I was good with the numbers tests, but I was never able to recall the words in the right order, even though every time I got all the words right and then after ten minutes of other activities. The reflexes seem to be fine and it would appear I have good cognitive skills that fall well within the standard deviation of normal.
Remember to smile
It would take a couple of tests over years to determine if there is any degeneration and whether through the results of the blood tests there are other noticeable indicators that can be controlled with reference to my thyroid, my liver, blood counts or folate functions. I might be in for a computed tomography scan of my brain – awesome, but will not be keen on a lumbar puncture for the drawing of cerebral spinal fluids.
By process of assessment, analysis and elimination, it is good to have this kind of activity in professional hands than leave it to my personal perception and watch some deterioration as a matter of course. It would appear there is not much to be concerned about, but I can in future request clinical psychiatric assistance if needed.
The ‘It’ at the beginning of the blog is HIV and the HAND is HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorder which in my 15th year since diagnosis, though on my 8th year of treatment seems to be well managed with an improving CD4 count and an undetectable viral load. All other indicators from my blood tests of two months ago seem fine too. I guess I remembered most of what happened and kept some back for privacy.
Everyone with HIV should consider attending a HAND clinic and at least every 12 to 24 months thereafter.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Opinion: He was British, what changed him?

He was British
The Manchester bombing suspect has been named as a 22-year old British-born son of Libyan refugees. His parents were refugees from Muammar Gaddafi and they had recently returned to Libya.
Obviously, many questions arise and flags raised about how a person born in England, having attended local schools, was a Manchester United fan and was at one time a student at the University of Salford before he dropped out, became more religiously devout and outwardly hostile to his community before he took on a suicide terrorism quest against innocent people in Manchester.
In some of the news stories I have read, there are words and phrases that worry me, they show tectonic plates of acculturation that stand at the nexus of integration, assimilation, indifference or abnegation within the societies in which we exist.
How do we relate?
Wherever we were born, we have many roads to travel to some sort of self-ideation and completeness of personality and life within the communities and societies in which we live. I was born in England, I was exposed to significant culture norms of my parents but at the same time, I was raised in a culturally diverse community.
There are areas where certain animist activities of my father or the religious extremism of my mother could have impacted negatively on my outlook and worldview, for some reason, there was a part of my education and observation that meant that there was a more independent streak in me, as I have not so fully imbibed any culture, I am more of a world citizen with hopefully a healthy respect for our diverse humanity.
However, we cannot entirely ignore the influence of what the media terms ‘closely-knit’ communities, ethnic minority groups that cluster in areas for social, religious, cultural, economic and traditional validation and affirmation. To say I am suspicious of settings that attempt to create for offspring in host culture the semblance of home cultures long departed by forebears creates serious psychological problems for the children.
Dangers of little-stans
The tendency to create uprooted little-stans and ghettoes to ensure the children do not become alien to the culture of their parents, whilst laudable can be quite damaging too. Culture has become a fluid existence that is an amalgamation of many influences garnered from all the many places in which we interact, that to limit interaction to close-knit communities bereft of accommodation of the wider setting in which they exist is dangerous.
One such significant indication of this is where a cultural predilection to consanguineous marriages amongst certain communities in the UK is the leading cause of child mortality or congenital deformities in the newly born in the UK. The science is clear, but a deference to fatalism seems to reinforce the need to keep the traditional despite the avoidable heartache that comes with it.
The same goes for beliefs and teachings that appear to reject or criticise the norms and values of host communities. I remember whilst looking for a church to attend in the Netherlands walking into two services in different churches in two major cities one Sunday and thinking these were literally slum churches transplanted from Nigeria to the Netherlands.
The language was alien, the teaching was fundamentalist, the views were ultra-conservative that I left with the decision to seek out a church representative of the city in which I live, accepting of the broadest spectrum of humanity from all walks of life with an international and yet integrated cultural viewpoint. I found such in the Christian City Church which was consequently renamed to C3 Church. I felt I not only belonged but I could also contribute without the imposition of some Pharisaic authority over me.
We must attend to it
The process of acculturation is both slow and demanding, yet it is necessary for everyone who departs a home culture for a host culture to have discernment and make the best of every influence to be a net contributor to the fabric of society in which they exist. It means there is less stress on affirming who you are and reduces the necessity to adopt imported practices inimical to a proper and fulfilled life in host communities.
It should cut a swathe through demands of tradition that forbids intermarriage, that requires religious affinity or the person risks ostracism, that supports Female Genital Mutilation which is by terms an evil practice of butchering girls for some deluded idea of tempering sexual expression and worst of the lot, the murders termed honour-killing.
We must be careful what we project on our offspring as culture and traditions that they do not begin to rebel and revolt against sense, sensibility, reason, reasonableness and accommodations of diversity despite our innate beliefs.
What made the young man give up his life to such an atrocious terrorist cause? We may never know, but the signs were there and through the normal cause of minding our own businesses, he in plain sight became the mass murderer whose memory would attract eternal ignominy not only to himself, but maybe unremittingly and unfairly to his family and his close-knit community, when we should all gather together in our shared humanity to mourn the lost, comfort the wounded and strengthen the bonds that celebrate the best of who we are.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Manchester: Our humanity is our strength

21 years ago
On Saturday, the 15th of June 1996, I was visiting Manchester for the second time when just after 11:00 AM, I heard a very loud bang. I said to the man not far from me as I was on the towpath of the canal running through the centre of Manchester, “that sounds like a bomb”, he agreed.
Meanwhile, before the explosion, there were helicopters overhead and unbeknownst to me, there was already a warning about the bomb as the police had begun evacuating the town centre, but things did not seem to have an urgency around the situation.
Further on, a man had shards of glass fall on him, but he was not wounded, just shaken. There was no need to call the emergency services to his aid.
The revival
I left the canal towpath and walked into town and at Piccadilly Gardens I found a café where I decided to have a full English breakfast, it was open and serving meals even though the pavement outside was strewn with glass and debris.
It was almost an hour after that the police moved in to ask us to evacuate the place, we were moved out of the town centre and kept out for almost 10 hours before I could return to my hotel, late that night.
Whilst there were no fatalities there were 212 casualties, the centre of Manchester was rebuilt after that bombing that wreaked such great devastation on buildings and businesses.
Having been a resident of Manchester for over three years now, it is my home even if I don’t do much socially in the city apart from when I have guests. It is both a friendly and a hostile city, the latter is more evident in the somewhat parochial and insular native of the LGBTI community, it is easy to be unaffected and hence not belong, yet, and it does appear to have a thriving and bustling gay community.
A tragedy
Last night on the 22nd of May 2017, Ariana Grande whose music and career I have no inkling of was in town for a performance attended by kids, teenagers and some parents at the Manchester Arena, a venue that can host thousands. I know where the venue is, but I have never attended an event there before.
After her show, as her fans made to leave the venue, an explosive device was set off in the foyer, apparently triggered by a suicide bomber and between the danger caused by the bomb itself and the panic that ensued, 22 souls perished.
It is a very sad day for Manchester, I was not in town, but I caught wind of the tragedy on the news and through the night followed the developments as they unfolded.
It’s evil beyond words
There is only one to blame, the perpetrator who having lost the will to live had decided under the guise of a warped and misguided religious persuasion to commit such evil atrocity of dispatching himself from this mortal coil with the massacre of 22 innocent ones.
The sheer audacity and arrogance of a belief system that can constitute itself into judge and jury to determine in the stead of a deity who needs to live and who must die for the reward of paradise to the actor is plumbing the depths of inconceivable delusion, the fantasy of which there is no parallel.
To think that in killing the innocent anyone can appear before the courts of eternity and find vindication and exoneration just beggars belief. Yet, the instigators of this rotten criminality who set off brigands in jihadist and crusading fanfare would never subject themselves to the slightest privations as they sacrifice the gullible to manifestly evil exploits.
There is no cause that can justify murder, the murder of innocents is even more heinous and reprehensible, done in the name of religion, it must be so repulsive and repugnant to thought or concept, it is unmitigated cowardice by gutless cretins.
We will stand and memorialise
If there be an afterlife and a hell, the perdition that awaits them would be welcoming in its blaze, unrelenting in its torment and ruthless in its torture of every semblance of consciousness they might have. They will cry without respite and their bitterness will blacken them into darkness thick to the feeling and untrammelled foreboding, they will die continuously in pain and sorrow and yet not expire.
However, as we remain, they will not be remembered for our memory is for those who without fault were harmed needlessly and innocently. We will memorialise them and commemorate them as we unite in the celebration of our diverse humanity to comfort the survivors, bind the wounds of the wounded and unite in solidarity that none of the wickedness perpetrated on us would take root.
For Manchester, we would rise and stand for good and for life, we will not give up who we are, our freedom

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Dreamscape: The dream-wake

In what looked like a generation ago, we had a dog, a bitch, a canine with an aggressive feline temperament, she was big and fierce, masterly in territorial presence, a terror to the unwary.
She came to us a matriarch from family friends who had moved into town but without the space in which to keep her.
We had an expansive compound, high walls and sturdy gates, we accepted her into the household with rules that indicated an apparent lack of discipline from her former home. She came with an appellation, the name Winnie.
The taming of Winnie
I became the ringmaster to inculcate the better habit of dog friendliness in here because she had become a demigod to serve with trembling and never to be approached when eating. An infringement of that unwritten rule risked giving a digit or a limb to Winnie for her dessert. That was unacceptable behaviour in our household.
At one time, she nicked the head of the household’s finger as he tried to remove a fish bone from her food bowl, that called for an intervention and it was immediate.
Soon, she delivered a litter of puppies, but Winnie had no maternal instinct, we could not help the distressed puppies and within a week the whole litter of five died.
However, as a guard dog, she was menacing, even if when I took her for a walk, the looks from some of the neighbourhood signified a meal. As she protected us, we had to protect her, she was a well-loved family pet.
The mystification of Winnie
It transpired that one Saturday morning as we all were having a lie-in, I was in REM sleep, the subject of my dreams was telling off workers across the road from us where a building was being constructed for disturbing our peace. Our compound had the building materials and each time they needed stuff, they would knock on the gates for us to not only let them in but out of fear of Winnie, they would not access the compound until one of us had Winnie on a leash.
Into my dreamy existence came the rattling of the gate with a bit of hollering to have Winnie curtailed. My aunt, woken from slumber at the same time got up just as I did, she was going to give the workers a stern talking to, but since I was already on the roll from within my dreamscape, I asked her to let me deal with the situation.
If my words did not strike terror in the workers, they were left in no doubt that any other slight disturbance from them again would have them fed to my dog. They were warned once and it never happened again.
The dream-wake
This kind of arousal from dreaminess into wakefulness with a continuation of the same theme of the dream is what I have called a ‘dream-wake’. I had one such dream-wake today when having had a night of insomnia, it was well into the morning before I got some much-needed sleep.
In my dream, I had rushed to the train station to catch a train with just a few minutes to spare. There was a queue of undecided customers in front of me buying tickets and asking questions as I fidgeted about getting a ticket and making it to the right platform. When I was finally attended to, the train was pulling into the station and I had to go up a footbridge to board the train, I never really go on the train because I was suddenly aroused and awake.
In my wakefulness, I looked at my watch and almost panicked; my train was in 25 minutes and I have not even packed my bag, in fact, there were so many things to do. Empty the washing machine, take out the rubbish, turn off the water mains, lighten my baggage because I was having a short week away and I could not afford to forget some essentials for my journey. Luckily, I had picked up my tickets from Friday night, so I only had to make it to the station, some 5 minutes away and get my stuff to the right platform.
Phew! I made it
There was no time to waste, I unloaded the washing machine, jettisoned one suit, packed my bag, forgetting to take out the rubbish or turn off the tap, I was out of the house with just 13 minutes to spare. Panting like I had just done a marathon unprepared, I got to the station, with all the heft I had, carried my baggage up the stairs rather than wait to use the lifts at the far end of the platform and only had to wait 2 minutes for the train.
Thankfully, I could choose one of two stations to board the train and the easier one did not require a labyrinthic journey to the platform. I had to board that train to make a connecting train just under an hour away. My ticket had restrictions that meant I had to be on the particularly booked trains or I risked a full fare penalty.
I made both trains, but the dream-wake experience must have been the subconscious saving me the accident of misfortune at great cost. Whilst I do not seek meanings to my sometimes vivid dreams, I do not ignore the simple lessons, insights, warnings or triggers the dreams offer in terms of preservation, information and caution. Without my dream-wake, I would have been left in dire straits.