Wednesday, 20 June 2018

A reprieve and a celebration of goodwill

The signposts are appointments
The year in almost a decade now has been signposted by my visits to see my hospital consultants first in Amsterdam, then in Wrexham, London and now Manchester.
My visit today for which I took the day off started easy. My Uber ride to the hospital was without event, arriving with about 5 minutes to spare. I do worry about the rides because of the concern about getting to the hospital late has added more millimetres of mercury to my blood pressure readings as to put it in the danger zone.
Up and down and just about right
I booked in at reception and within minutes of my sitting down, a nurse I had not seen before called me in for the initial checks, weight, up a bit, height, down a bit, blood pressure, good, a bit can be improved upon.
After that, I met with a registrar who seemed to have swotted up on my notes before asking a few questions about how I felt. It seemed to me that my concerns about memory in terms of shortness and loss of it at certain times for which I had the HAND test last year had become something to do with my moods.
Moods are not memories
I had to immediately correct the impression, the medication I have been on for 8 years now, might cause cognitive impairment, that impairment is neither psychological nor psychiatric. Then the issue of folic acid deficiency anaemia, the counts are still low and this might need stronger medication than can be bought over the counter. My GP will be instructed to that effect.
The reason I was back for consultation within three months was to review my drug regime, a topic that had come up for the past two years. At my last appointment, I was given four choices to review. One that would have changed my drug regime from single-pill daily to twice a day, I ruled out, but I did have concerns about hepatic and cardiovascular side-effects, whatever is lactic acidosis and the dreaded lipodystrophy.
The registrar assured me that there would be stricter and frequency monitoring considering my medical history, however, we could postpone this activity for another three months.
Giving back wealth and experience
Through our discussions, as I had mentioned the many consultants I had met in that department over the last 3 years, we touched on the activities of the retired head of department who is out in Myanmar working for a foundation proving acute healthcare services in the region. He showed me his blog which makes interesting and revelatory reading, especially when comparing the advances in the West to the issues in less developed countries.
This is after 27 years of being an NHS consultant, he has retired to work in environments that would tax people half his age and he seems to be having a time of his life. Very inspiring.
I had a new drug prescription made before I went for phlebotomy, where the queue was 40 deep until 10 were called off to be fed to vampires in another consulting room, the waiting time was close to 60 minutes. When I did have 6 vials drawn, I returned home and went to bed. Until September comes.


Friday, 8 June 2018

Thought Picnic: I did not know I was clinically depressed

The foundations of woe
The so many ways I have been blessed and fortunate sometimes escapes my recollection and the constant need for expressing gratitude.
Having been brought up in an environment where everything was seen in terms of the supernatural, the spiritual, the paranormal and fates over which we had little control than to be in fearful supplication to deities that hardly be bothered with our pleadings because we had not flagellated ourselves enough to be worthy of a hearing. The psychological damage had the strongest foundations to build upon.
The result was fear, foreboding and premonitions, visions and apparitions of things that defy logical explanation, yet, were as real as they could be to one as the principal agent and victim of that circumstance.
Between critique and criticism
A constant questioning of one’s sanity not helped by the reasoning that was projected on my person as being slow, sometimes unsighted, probably dishonest and hardly reflective. None of this was helped by those who found opportunity and latitude to take sexual favours off me from childhood and the absence of someone in whom to confide in about my fears.
My fears as I would learn were signs of weakness, a feeblemindedness that needed a stricter and harder way of life from the simplicity of ease in my home. A boarding school beckoned and away I was from that presumed safety and left at the whim of tortuous cruelty to which I needed to adapt lest I be bullied more than I had the capacity to endure.
Beyond that, I was a bed-wetter, at a time when it was not considered a psychological issue, but one in which I lack self-control or discipline. The antidote it was to shame and to ridicule me, all of which I absorbed because I was the problem. For the first two years of boarding school, my mattress was given a daily airing in the sun, just as was the case for two other classmates.
The things I saw that none believed
It all came to a head, first at home when I thought the monstrous thing I saw twice in one night was the devil, having been primed earlier in the day with tales of horror. My experience was dismissed as excited exuberance and my life became the recitation of Psalms in a language I could hardly speak over cups of water to drink or buckets of water to take a bath.
From prophets to shamans, I found myself in hovels and grottoes, prognosticators, seers, mediums and sages, saw evils and perils ahead for which we needed to appease gods and God, none of which helped my psychological wellbeing.
I did not know I was depressed
It is only recently that I have been able to reflect on the fact that my late childhood into my teenage years' presented classic symptoms of untreated clinical depression. Irrational fears, sinking feelings and waves of terror that greeted my sighting our house from the beginning of the street that led to it. I could not explain it, but it was there, a burden, a weight, an unease and utter discomfort that I just pressed up against as other unhealthy habits and acts began to characterise my personality.
The times I attended lectures and could not for the life of me appreciate why or what I was in class for. The culmination of which was five wasted years of tertiary education, for what I had in mental capacity was nowhere near able to overcome the psychological stresses I was under, conveniently dismissed as lazy on the one hand and me not pulling my weight.
I just muddled through day after day until a sudden decision by my father to work the demons out of me at his flailing farm led to my running away from home. It probably was my saving grace, because the pressure in my chest lifted, but I could see no future yet.
A new lease of freedom
Then, in my darkest hour, my aunt invited me to stay with them, then, rather than press me into their way of life and belief systems, I was given the latitude to explore, to breathe, to grow, to assert and to thrive. That led to the rebuilding of everything that I had lost, the full force of facing my failures and having at the back of my mind that opportunities once lost can be regained, albeit after a temporary setback.
I have not even touched on the compounding issue of addressing, understanding and accepting my sexuality. That, I have borne as a refrain and undercurrent of my life since as early as seven.
I just coped and not out of ability
Depression presented itself too many ways that maybe the Psalms, the prayers, the rituals and much else helped me survive, even if I doubt I was ever free from its effects. The coping mechanisms were a kind of stiff upper lip stoicism, reserves of resilience I never could account for, or a sense of independence or even inviolability or invulnerability left me exposed to situations where I had a false sense of security.
Schooled on the idea that only the weak needed therapy, it was not until a few months before I was struck down with cancer, I had just survived a bout of shingles that discussing all the feelings and apprehensions I had with a neighbour with a career in medical sciences posited that these were signs of depression.
Things I left undone
I gave it no further thought as I ended up in the hospital and traversed a course of five days from denial that my life was in grave danger to the acceptance that whatever danger was presented, there was a possibility of a future beyond this. It meant that when a prognosis was given that I probably only had five weeks to live if I did not tolerate the treatment, I was more in hope than despair that I would see it through.
The fact that I had left this existential threat almost too late to be attended to might have in another setting drawn excoriation and rebuke, I was fortunate to have sympathetic and determined medical personnel supporting me through the ordeal.
How my personality attacked me
As I began the course of treatment, the way I presented gave the false impression that all I needed for the medical intervention, it took demanding a psychological attention to my situation before I was recommended for therapy and psychiatric counselling. My case was, having suffered a catastrophic loss in health, wealth, well-being, status, comforts and on the verge of losing my house, there was no other indicator needed to describe my need for urgent psychiatric help.
My medication presented other issues and side effects, diarrhoea, insomnia and occasional claustrophobia acute in vivid dreams and once experience that had I not resisted stepping out of my apartment, I would never have returned to that safety and enclosure ever again.
I did not present the classic signs or the way the questions were asked of me suggested I needed no help, yet, I felt just the opportunity to talk to a professional was more than necessary before I lost my mind. The bills were mounting, creditors were threatening and there were no easy solutions in the midst of undergoing chemotherapy, the loss of two close friends and no clear future prospects beyond surviving cancer.
The terror of suicidal thoughts
Then I was terrorised with a crazy thought, I lived on the 7th floor of an apartment block, my windows were tall and apart from a single bar at the lower end, I could step out. I had visions of stepping out and flying, then knowing I could not fly, a playback recurred of my body splayed out dead on the tarmac below. It haunted me many times, but something kept me from carrying it through.
I had a story and I did not want it to end in that way, there were enough tragedies and misfortunes swirling around than for my life to culminate in that, I never talked about it to anyone. I am just glad that the thoughts never got to the point that they overwhelmed my reasoning. I found times to cry, probably not to regret, I embraced my humanity and vulnerability and comforted myself with thoughts that things will eventually turn for the better.
I found the support that pulled me through
None of this would have been possible without help; medical, psychological, in friends, in neighbours, in lovers, in my faith, in hope, in God. I was not invincible, I never was, I just by fortune beyond what I probably deserve found peace with myself, an acceptance of who I am and an accommodation for the frailties and failures that have become part of the story of the successes and victories in life that I also celebrate.
As I think of life and also think of death; I hope that as long as I live, I continue to love life whilst not living in the fear of death.


Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Chris: Nine birthdays gone without you

Preparing for something
Today, I would have been so excited for the evening ahead. My best laid out plans for a sumptuous dinner at a swanky restaurant, celebrating another wonderful year.
Whilst, I do not consider myself a dancer, I would have loved to dance, caught in that embrace that always made me feel safe and happy. Infatuated and lovesick I would have been, my heart beating faster than I could gasp the breath to keep me standing. I would have swooned and fallen into those protective arms, those arms long and lanky.
I held back
As tall as he stood and indeed taller, my head never had the chance of getting in the way of my heart, I was silly, stupid and senseless in the elixir of love. I could never understand how in my sense of independence and individuality, I fell head over heels, tumbling down a hill of the most beautiful feeling I could not find the words to describe.
Then, there were times when I could have decided, but I hesitated, I was ready to take the plunge, but I faltered, I could have made a difference, but I left it different. If I had the luxury of a parallel universe, I would have moved out there to find out about what could have been, that never became it here.
Follow your heart
The hardest lesson I learnt in all this was I failed to follow my heart to the oasis of love, come what may. My fears overwhelmed my hopes and in that, I lost what might well have remained in my grip for the celebration tonight.
Chris would have been 45 today and we would have wined and dined just for the joy and fun of it. The story really is, Chris died at 36 and this is the ninth birthday without him. I cannot turn back time, I can only remember the good times, the fond memories and the rest that comes with smiles and sadness – that was the love I lost.


Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Thought Picnic: On the sudden passing of friends

On the cycle of life
It happens every time, first, you’re overcome with shock and then a numbness when you hear the news. Your mind then races into the recesses of your memory, opening closets and pulling out drawers, looking under tables and dusting off tops seeking the snatches of moments that defined relationships that signified friendship and more.
An emptiness descends upon yon the midst of the depressing circumstances, as realisation dawns on you that what you heard is true even if you have no other means to verify the story. As you reflect, you begin to compose yourself in ascertaining the right order, form and delivery of words of comfort and sympathy to express, none of which is easy.
On searching and yearning
Questions come and go, many of which would never be answered, for there is none in the extended surviving ones to relate to on the matters personal as one would have easily been able to do with the principal. Too many instances of unanswered questions like these that plague the curiosity makes one wonder if friendship is ever complete without having a friend of the friend in that circle of friends.
Beyond this is the need of someone close you can just chat to, unburden yourself of the suddenness of the sad tidings rather than have it churn within you. In our mortal vulnerability, we all need a touch of humanity with which to absorb the issues of life and death that makes up experience.
On realisation and fortune
Then part of the reflection you have especially when circumstances are revealed in the shortest delivery of missives pertains to self, the thought of similar bouts and different outcomes. For one, it is that we survived, for another, it is that they did not.
That they did not, does not mean they could not, cancer, as much as it is understood is also misunderstood. For each, and there are many different kinds from benign to aggressive, from treatable through palliative to completely untreatable.
In that mix, as I learn in my own experience is the ability of one’s physiology to withstand the poisonous and gruesome onslaught of medication, beyond hope, if there is any, we can only watch and wait, hoping for the best or accepting the worst.
On mortality and memory
For every time I am told a friend died of cancer, I sense within me a vulnerability like I die a little, saddened and grieved by the news that the encounter once again took away a soul too soon.
Then, too many times the news comes completely out of the blue, and all we are left with are flashes of the last time we met, when the goodbyes were meant to mean, till we meet again, not a final salute to a friendship and life that in many ways was well lived.
He was a colleague, a gentleman, typically with old English reserve, very affable and amiable, I liked him a lot. A year into our working relationship, he retired, but much of the work and documentation he left with us, proved useful, long after he had departed.
The team found times to meet up, we met at one of the pubs in town for a drink where he regaled us with lots of extracurricular activities he was engaged in with his wife in the community. For all intents and purposes, he seemed an active healthy man. Yet, he passed on last week after a short battle with cancer.
Adieu Nick, may you travel well and rest in peace.


Friday, 18 May 2018

Thought Picnic: Watching a blog have a life

When I do, it is still fun
In the fifteenth year of my blogging, I realise that I have not blogged as much as I used to. It is not for the want for what to write about, there is much from the mundane to the serious, but a kind of lethargy sets in beyond the feeling that there seems to be a monotony to covering the things that have been covered before, or so I think.
Yet, again, each event and day is different as reference points can be viewed from another perspective as products of both the imagination and introspection.
The life in a blog
Then, I remember writing a blog, five years ago today, it is just one of those topics about how people could sensationalise an issue based on false premises and quotes. There was nothing much to it until comments came rushing in and the readership climbed into the thousands. It is now just a few hundred reads below 30,000.
It goes without saying that a blog once written has a life of its own, some that I have expected to garner much readership have hardly budged and others that I may not have thought would be understood or interesting have just increased in readership much beyond my expectations.
What I would love is to rekindle that joy and fun in blogging, writing and opining about issues, in seriousness and levity, maybe with humour or disgust, finding expression for the many thoughts, observations and events that I find myself involved in.
Thank you!

Thursday, 17 May 2018

#IDAHOT 2018: Of allies and acceptance



At Cologne Central Station on my way to work.
A workplace joy
I have come to see the 17th of May each year as a day to celebrate and remember in my own little way. It is the day that has been designated the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT). [IDAHOT Website]
I became aware of this day when I was working at Barclays Bank, the organisation unfurled a big rainbow flag from the tower in the campus and with that were a number of events in branches all around the world to commemorate the day.
As an institution, Barclays Bank has been amazingly supportive of the LGBTI community, sponsoring and hosting functions within and outside the company on matters of inclusiveness and expression that I have not seen paralleled in any other place where I have worked. You had both a sense of belonging and safety in the work environment, that was just right.
Out and proud at work
Personally, I think I have always been out in the workplace since the early 1990s. I have been fortunate to have friends and allies who have not only been understanding and supporting who and what I am. They have in many ways been part of the network of confidence in expression and identity that has allowed me to thrive.
Whilst, I have never worn my sexuality on my sleeve, a direct question has always elicited an honest answer. I have had managers who have sought to learn and understand how and why we are wired so differently. Where homophobia has appeared to emerge overtly or covertly, I have seen managers call out such infractions and demand that profuse apologise with undertakings to be better behaved to be made to me.
To those as fortunate
In that, I have been blessed and fortunate, then I have to appreciate many others who have never had the opportunity to be themselves at work or at play, out of fear of persecution and prosecution, it is the reason we have an International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. To remind people of the inequalities and the dehumanisation of diversity and difference that still pervades in many societies and communities.
For that reason, the struggle continues, the recognition is needed, and the stories need to be told of those of us who have had it good and of those of us who suffer under laws and states that make them insignificant non-persons because of their sexuality. The violence must end, the persecution must end, and we must come to realise that difference is part of our humanity deserving of equality, respect and dignity.
It is for that reason that I celebrate the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, where the colours of the day, shades of purple, for the freedom to be who you are, what you are, wherever you are without fear, loathing or hate to contend with.
Happy IDAHOT!!!
Postscript: When I wrote this, I did not realise that the theme for 2018 was “Alliances for Solidarity”, but that is the truth, I have had alliances and allies for solidarity through most of my working life and I am thankful and grateful for the many friends and colleagues who have accepted me for who I am without reservation or question.


Monday, 7 May 2018

Hotel life: Looking for "Helpless people"

Woken too early for my liking
Considering I am a very light sleeper, I cherish every minute of sleep I get which rarely is longer than a 3 to 4-hour stretch before I am awoken and have to work myself to sleep again.
This morning at my seemingly lovely hotel which is part of a large hotel chain in Cologne, I was woken to an emergency by the fire alarm and after the catechism in German, we were given an English translation.
Evacuation! Evacuation!
“There is an emergency in the hotel, please leave your room and close the door behind you, do not use the lift and follow the directions to the front of the hotel.” Then, it said something about the staff and that I should look for “Helpless people”.
Bags and everything
That would be funny if I was not woken at that hour, but as I was in my pyjamas, it was easy to step into my trainers without even doing my laces and with my key card to hand I grabbed my cane and made down the three flights of stairs.
The number of evacuees that had left their rooms with their belongings were numerous, if we were fleeing a serious emergency, it would have been a looming catastrophe.
As we approached the front of the hotel, the “Helpless people”, which I eventually got to realise were supposed to be the “Helpful people”, the fire warden and staff assigned to handle emergencies beckoned to us to come into the hotel.
The frying pan was saved
He explained in German to the many guests and just told me in English there is no problem. Someone came to my aid and explained in detail that it was a kitchen incident of the chef leaving the pan on the stove for too long which triggered the fire alarm.
Thankfully, no one was hurt including the frying pan, but have I seen how not to do a fire drill or event a real evacuation? Then, please, like I always say in countries where English is not the official language, whilst you all speak English better I can ever speak your language, always get a native English speaker or a teacher of English to review your public announcements. Helpless people, indeed!

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Thought Picnic: Addressing irresponsible Facebook communication

Good manners still matter
I have at times had the misfortune of learning of the death of someone known to me on social media, however, I have hoped that the closest relations of the deceased did not suffer the indifference and insensitivity of being informed through the same medium.
It is just good manners to inform the bereaved on a more personal basis rather than have them collide with a wall of grief from a public and impersonal medium. Besides, I take cognisance of my cultural affinities that suggests news of deaths must never be conveyed with bluntness to the closest relations of the deceased either in informing them or in enquiring from them.
Wisdom and sensitivity applied
I remember a conversation I had with a close uncle over a decade ago, he did not know if I was aware that a cousin of mine had passed on, he did not blurt it out, rather he made a passing reference to my cousin that would have elicited a response or a question from me. The response would have indicated I knew, the question would have suggested I was oblivious to the death and then he would with wisdom settle me down before telling me.
I am writing this blog because after the episode yesterday, it is necessary to revisit the matter because I am quite incensed and annoyed. Another uncle of mine should have known better to be smart and wise about enquiring of me from my sister without putting them in unnecessary and preventable distress.
Utterly inexcusable conduct
I appreciate social media provides such ease of communication, the ease is no license to dispense with discretion, manners, decorum, sensitivity and empathy, all of which in my view was lacking from the question asked yesterday that it is contemptible and should be excoriated in the sternest terms.
Nothing makes the act of that distant relation uncle forgivable in the slightest, it was utterly irresponsible and reprehensible conduct. I have elderly parents, I would not want to predecease them, even as I am aware of my vulnerabilities and mortality.
The excuse is not social media or Facebook, it is just plain uncouth behaviour and bad manners channelled through a medium of expression.




Monday, 16 April 2018

Please, confirm is it true that Akin Akintayo is no more ...?

Blogs of fearsome death
I am in mixed emotions about this blog because it reads almost like a blog I read exactly a week ago. He had written that if that particular blog appeared, it meant he had lost his battle to cancer, the blog he wrote a few hours before that, he told us that it was possibly the last blog he would write alive.
So, imagine the feeling I had when a few minutes ago, I received a message from my sister on Facebook to call her immediately I got the message.
Losing my cool
She had been contacted and the message which in my view was in context an incomplete sentence read, “Pls, confirm is it true that akin akintayo is no more”.
I could take issue with many things wrong with that apparent inquiry, incomplete words, the gross levity and disrespect to my person in not capitalising my names; I guess I have suffered more indignities than this in life but accord me some respect in death if I am already dead. If that was a question, I am waiting for the interrogation mark.
I am still alive and well
However, let me assure you all that I am writing this as a living person, breathing, hale and hearty, all my functions intact and hoping that I have some retention of my sense of humour to laugh at this apparent attempt at my obituary long before it is necessary.
I can offer a few suggestions for this line of enquiry.
  • Please, confirm is it true that Akin Akintayo is no more under 50?
  • Please, confirm is it true that Akin Akintayo is no more angry at this message?
  • Please, confirm is it true that Akin Akintayo is no more distressed than my sister who was more upset than I could imagine for hours, unsure of what to believe that she received as a Facebook message?

I had everyone calling and messaging me to confirm whether I was no more communicating by whatever means possible as the enquirer himself is someone I have probably not seen or spoken to in nigh on 28 years.
Again, I am here, I am well, and I hope to God I get to write another interesting blog. Don't believe the rumours and lies, the man is still being the contrarian he is, and for another day, not suffering fools gladly, no, not once.

Please, confirm is it true that Akin Akintayo is no more writing another sentence on this blog? Yes!

Thought Picnic: The private grief we've had

[]
The private grief we've had,
As close friends passed away,
Our silent mourning souls,
Couldn't share what made us sad,
In closets, we all wept,
As kith and kin ignored,
The truth of who we were,
The secrets of our lives,
The burdens we still bore,
Of friends that mattered more.
The secrets of our grief
I wrote the poem above in a tweet just a week ago when a friend who I had just learnt had terminal cancer passed away. The realisation that I was sorrowful and yet without those with whom to share that feeling of loss just dawned on me.
It was not the first time that I have shared the demise of a friend and within the compartmentalisation of my affairs, there are relationships that are as public as they can be and others that are private, discreet, secret and not open to scrutiny.
For those who knew every aspect of my life, to whom I have had the freedom to share my thoughts, feelings and secrets, much can be said about grief, not only of the loss but the fondness and memories that made the person significant, to others whose knowledge of my more private truths are not that obvious, you’re left second-guessing how they would react to being let into the privy of a life.
The love I lost
When I lost my lover just a few days after being discharged from the hospital, I was dealing with a major crisis in my health and other issues that got compounded with the death of a partner. The continuous badgering to get married which could easily have been met with the great disapproval of my choices in life meant announcing my grief and the depth of it would not be understood.
There are many I have met in my social circle, which is varied, diverse, alternative and different that have been of some great significance in my life, friends, lovers, acquaintances, buddies of all kinds that would put the faces of polite society to full blush, we all have our kind of company and those who various kinds of fulfilment to the joy of living and the pursuit of happiness.
For them, there was always a tear, a sense of loss, the heartbroken feeling of the end, with all that is left is memories, thoughts, reminiscences and dreams. They occupy a portion of life that cannot be denied or taken away, whether or not they are acknowledged by others.
We all have our normal
Maybe, it would have been easier to lose someone that fits some norm, the fact is we all lose many that do not fit any easy norm without the need for extraneous explanation that would leave the listener more confused and open you to the negatives of disavowal, disapproval, disdain, disgust and consequent distress or disgrace, all of which is unnecessary in the scheme of things.
You can be a man and lose your boyfriend or husband, be a woman and lose your girlfriend or wife, none of which is insignificant to the heteronormative. We would not be denied the feelings we have for the living and grief we have when they are departed, even if we are denied the opportunity to pay our last respects to them.
We are always the truth of who we are, even in the secrets of our exciting and sometimes turbulent lives, for we bear the burdens of those dear and loving friends over the times we had the pleasure and privilege of knowing them, to the truth that they did matter more than anyone else would ever know.


Saturday, 14 April 2018

ACT UP brought the focus back to the urgency for human lives

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Setting the scene
I was all emotional when I left the cinema on Monday having gone to watch a film titled 120 BPM (Beats per Minute) [French with English subtitles] that was brought to my notice by my friend.
It was a historical perspective of ACT UP Paris in the early 1990s created along the lines of the direct-action advocacy group ACT UP in the United States.
To the many of us who live with HIV or have had the amazing turn-around from full-blown AIDS, we owe the greatest depth of gratitude to the people who initiated the ideas behind starting the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) and how they carried through their advocacy until governments and Big-Pharma were responsive to the plight of all afflicted by the scourge.
At the expense of the dying
From the early discovery of that disease that began to cut a swathe through first the homosexual community, then drug users and unto haemophiliacs, the governments of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Francois Mitterand simply ignored the fact that people were suffering and dying from this new disease.
We saw pictures of emaciated bodies, scientists were involved in a race to understand the disease and especially in the United States mostly for personal glory and national one-upmanship rather than for those who stood to benefit the most from their research efforts. The people who were dying cut down in their prime out of institutional indifference and corporate inertia, there appeared to be no urgency towards the emergency.
I could not have felt a better sense of justice when The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2008 honoured the French side of the research efforts and spurned the American side of the battle. Some of the people were playing with lives that were precariously at the precipice of total annihilation through AIDS.
Dragging their feet as people died
It was in the light of this discovery and understanding of the virus that pharmaceutical companies began to work on new drugs but were holding back research results and preventing the early adoption of experimental drugs that could possibly immediately health outcomes for people who already had HIV.
This is where ACT UP’s advocacy forced the question, pushed the debate and ultimately compelled governments and institutions to not only recognise the health emergency but get engaged in eradicating AIDS.
A primer on direct action advocacy
The film centred around the debating forum of ACT UP Paris with their Chatham House type of rules of engagement, the strategies for making the headlines, the resistance they faced from the authorities and pharmaceutical companies before they could no more be ignored and the real issue itself, for all the protests and advocacy, it was essentially about real human-beings, their private fears, their public rage, the loves of their lives and the loss of many who succumbed to AIDS.
More poignantly, ACT UP in its concept and activity was a model of activism that had people normally marginalised, usually persecuted, and generally ostracised decide they had had enough of being isolated and ignored by society, maybe even criminalised by the establishment to identify with a cause for which they had nothing to lose because many in their community including themselves were dying.
It was a movement of existential urgency and by that, it brought attention, engagement and radical change to the way HIV and AIDS was tackled and managed. There is no doubt that advocacy groups like ACT UP are needed today to fight for rights and freedoms that the comfortable and unafflicted enjoy. It is to those who found the courage to upset the status quo that I dedicate this, for without you, we would not be here.
If it is the only film you watch this season, it would have been worthwhile. 120 BPM (Beats per Minute) [98% on Rotten Tomatoes]

Monday, 9 April 2018

Cancer: You can’t keep winning this game at life.

Strumming the pain
It is heart-breaking and humbling to watch and he is strumming the ebbing signs of life in the departure lounge from a body wrecked even with a mind so lively and writing full of poetic movement.
I discovered on my Twitter timeline only a few days ago that a friend who had never met but was much an acquaintance was dying from terminal cancer. As I went through his timeline, he had cancelled a wish list, married his partner, signed over his house, began to receive visitors who had ignored him for years but were now seeking to see him for the last time.
The cancer commons
Cancer creates some sort of kindred spirit, in my case, I have been fortunate, I survived, but I never cease to feel as vulnerable when I learn of anyone being visited by this rotten scourge.
I immediately wrote a direct message to him expressing my deepest sympathies of learning of his situation. He had written in detail about all his feelings physical, mental and emotional, all of which I would well relate to. However, I have learnt that just because I have once had cancer does not mean I can say I know what you’re going through.
At best, I understand, maybe I can quite relate, but beyond that, each cancer experience is unique and different, from the diagnosis through the prognosis and the options you have to tackle the disease. In my case, I was given some hope, responding to treatment meant I would survive that episode else, I had just five weeks to live. In his case, it was an aggressive leukaemia or which all options had been exhausted.
He responded so graciously to my message wishing me a long healthy and happy life.
The slow goodbyes
I am the going through lots of emotions, a man so young watching his life ebb away because there is nothing he or medicine could do about it. Miracles we were taught to believe in seem to be in such short supply, they have become the substance of fable or fairy tales even if we are literally commanded to have faith.
Online, I am almost encamped in a vigil on his timeline at the sadness of this because this was one who brought love, joy, happiness and laughter to others in his prime and his strength.
His condition is at a point where what can be done is palliative, h has moved into hospice care and though he went in with his dog, he has sent his dog home with his husband because the dog can sense that things are not so good with his master and is taking on that strain too.
Reading through his blogs, I have not seen resignation or regret, but an acceptance of the inevitable and a desire to breathe his last in the arms of his beloved husband. Cancer, you can’t keep winning this game at life.


Thursday, 22 March 2018

Keeping my blood pressure normal

Will Uber help my blood pressure?
My biannual check-up came up again yesterday, and it is interesting that much as the same things happen, each episode is a story in its own right. First, I needed to ensure my hospital card and medical journal where I record significant milestones were in my pocket and for a 10:00 AM, the job of getting there had to go to Uber.
Much as I gave myself enough time, the Uber driver not only took a circulatory route to the hospital, I was again afraid that by the time I had my blood pressure taken before seeing the consultant, it would be reading at levels brought on by anxiety as in the case of my last two visits. Literally, through the ride, he was chatting on his handsfree phone as I sat beside him, not an activity that prepares you for a high rating.
In any case, I kept calm, arrived with 7 minutes to spare before my scheduled appointment and sat in the waiting area expecting to be called to take a few measurements of my height; as if that would change, my weight; which does change frequently and my blood pressure; which read within the normal scales.
The nurse who tended to me was a slightly older man who I was seeing for the first time, he had made a career transition from a driving instructor to nursing, quite unusual but interesting.
The bloody tales are good
When the consultant called me in, she who had taken over the department from the consultant who retired last year and was involved in some charity work in Myanmar, I reckoned we had not seen each other for about 18 months. When we first met, I had done my research about her, seen most of her recent seminar and conference presentations and determined how she had come about her foreign name.
In her consulting room was a quiet student doctor that I tried to involve and engage in the conversation. I am freely aggregable to having students sit in on my consultations, considering others allowed that for the expertise and treatments I now enjoy.
We started with the pleasantries before reading the runes of my bloods, the tests were done six months before, the counts good, the loads good too, then kidney, liver and cardiovascular functions looking good too. That niggling issue with Vitamin B12 and folic acid deficiency anaemia was still there, improved, but not yet the acceptable region.
All the jokes about how folic acid helps my maternal tissue along with returning to be served by the Bra Advisor at Marks and Spencer’s seemed to flow in the conversation to initial confusion and consequent laughter. We scheduled in a facility to get my full results electronically and apart from doing the blood yesterday, I also got the kit for bloods for my next appointment.
Besides that, there were questions about my love life and sex life, the former is non-existent whilst I search for someone and the latter, we all have needs.
A change of pills after 8 years is possible
During that discussion, we reviewed the situation with my HAND test which I had last year and the possibility that the drug regimen I have been on since May 2010 might have some contributory factors. New drugs also have become mainstream and there was a need to begin to consider switching to the newer drug therapies.
Whilst I have resisted the switch to generics, I was willing to review the options if provided with the information. I was given three options to research and we would select a course in three months’ time.
I was 12th in the queue at the phlebotomists’ when on going in, I was told the computers were down and that I needed to return to the clinic to get a printout of the bloods to be taken.
More to the vials and the colours
It was there that I learnt from the nurse who tended to me earlier that the colour coding on the blood vials was pertaining to the kinds of additives or reagents that were added to the blood for testing purposes.
Certain reagents clotted the blood, others thinned it, then colouration and other reactions with the blood helped in the test selection for each sample of blood taken along with the timeframe within which the blood must be tested. If you need to know, I have provided a few links for you to review. [Geeky Medics – Blood Bottles Guide] [KCH Vacuette® Selection Chart – PDF] [UHB – Clinical Microbiology Tests]
In some ways. I am surprised that I was never that curious about what those colour codings meant, I was more concerned about the number of vials being drawn to sate the thirst of the vampires’ convention.

I returned to have my blood taken, picked up my 3-month prescription and that was my appointment done until I get an email for my results and possibly a letter from my General Practitioner (GP), that is what we call family doctors here to visit for a booster injection for Vitamin B12.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Thought Picnic: Gentlemanly conduct still matters all the time

The setting in which we find ourselves
On the sacking of Rex Tillerson as the US Secretary of State by President Donald Trump, I can reflect on an episode in my own life just a year ago. I was into my fourth year at the same organisation, where after a stint of two years I was invited back to work on another project.
When I was leaving the first time in 2016, every manager I had worked for and there were 4 by then, one on the verge of leaving the firm had the courtesy to meet with or call me, even from South Africa to thank me for the work I had done.
When I was invited back, I acquired other managers, intermediary and direct who I worked well with until a reorganisation led to my having a new manager instituted over me. For some reason or another, apart from the introductions, we never got on to a smooth start.
It was not working for me at all
For the six months that I worked for him, he did not appear to have any confidence in any I did, I was constantly asked if I knew what I was doing rather than being given the support, encouragement and backing to do the sometimes critical jobs I needed to do.
On many occasions, I was not accorded the formality or structure of understanding the direction in which he wanted to lead the team, rather, my roles, responsibilities and work activity were changed without notice, without communication and frequently learnt about through third parties.
My workplace in the space of half a year became a place of disillusionment and unhappiness as every attempt to engage my manager yielded no appreciable result. Then, one Thursday morning, it came to a head where after undercutting my influence in a change that was primarily under my control, I had literally been reduced from designing systems to shifting boxes.
In the 29th year of my working in IT in various levels of expertise and reporting to middle and top-tier personnel, the conversation in conference came down to macho talk as to whether I was going to do what I had been instructed to do or not. That for me was the very last straw that broke the back of the camel burdened with indignity and disrespect. I handed in my phone and badge and walked out of that job. I was done.
I handed in a formal notice the next day explaining the reasons for my leaving and received no acknowledgement nor compliment, I had become a nobody to him.
Maybe some of us are too old-fashioned for modernity
There are many things I have encountered in my working life and what least impresses me of everything kind of attitude is the occasional lack of courtesy and disrespect that some people in management seem to have a natural expression of their personality that they have apparently never learnt is bad or just think is normal.
As someone brought up in a somewhat old-fashioned style of comportment, decorum and formality, in address, dress, communication and interaction, it does affect me, if those graces are absent.
It is such a grace that was absent from the way in which Donald Trump dispensed of Rex Tillerson by the deployment of a tweet. Rex Tillerson was once the head of the world’s largest publicly traded oil company.
Gentlemanly conduct still matters all the time
The very least Donald Trump should have done if he ever were a gentleman, which in my mind he never was despite the money he has, the kitschy possessions, the company he keeps and the way he presents, should have been to meet Rex Tillerson face-to-face and inform him of his intention to fire him.
To have done that with a tweet is utterly discourteous and disrespectful to Rex Tillerson, but it says much more about Donald Trump, he is crude, he is not cultured, badly brought and definitely not a gentleman.
You do not sack one of most senior members of your team without meeting them and having a chat to them, but it is sad that these basic elements of courtesy are disappearing from our communication, we are deserting the cultured for the uncouth and accepting that development as the norm. I can’t, I won’t and where such persists, I would neither tolerate nor accept it.
When a man decides I am nobody’s boy
It spoke volumes that when Rex Tillerson gave a final public address to his department, he never once mentioned Donald Trump nor thanked him for the privilege of being asked to serve his country and many noticed.
Rex Tillerson did not need to be the US Secretary of State, he was not being promoted beyond his capabilities that he needed to have fealty and obeisance in deep gratitude to Donald Trump, he was his own man, not a yes man.
There is no doubt that Donald Trump is attracted to two kinds of people working for him, those given positions they are neither competent nor capable of that they just step in not believing their luck for opportunities they never earned and that comes with serious issues, the others are stars and the successful in their professions that he taps in order to be able to brag that he can get the best people to work for him.
These stars or trophies owe Donald Trump nothing and eventually, there would be friction when whatever they do does not feed The Donald’s ego or when disagreement on issues gets taken personally for a president so insecure and constantly found defending himself caught in the warp of an impostor syndrome.
Sometimes, you have to jump first
It could be said that the smarter person would never consider the idea of working for a garrulous, truculent and immature person like Donald Trump, but sometimes a greater call is made of you and you almost begin to believe that you can contribute, for Rex Tillerson, he probably should have walked away a while ago, jumped before he was pushed.
I had that inkling too, for all that I had already done, it was very likely I would have been pushed when my contract came up for renewal in a few months then, I decided, rather than suffer that indignity, I would jump at my own choosing and it was the right decision.


Friday, 2 March 2018

Thought Picnic: Of habits and habitué

The difference is in the same
I cannot help being a creature of habit, much I seek adventure, I have a tendency to get comfortable with people, places, events, things and ideas. I do make the effort to break away from the mundane and the routine, but some things might just remain the same.
Returning to the same places where I went on holiday because the memories are wonderful and the sense of being and feeling was more than palpable if the hotel has been exemplary, it is unlikely that I will consider an alternative, the familiar loses peculiarity and becomes natural. I could say the same for restaurants and much else, I become a habitué.
I do not easily make friends, but the ones I do make, endure for decades, it is just the nature of who I am, I am quiet, reserved, introverted and in some ways conservative, though you won’t see me and think that.
The Left of mind, a right of loss
Then, when I was in Edinburgh, having been away from home for a week, checked out in the morning and went to work before going to the station to board a train back home. It was when I got back home that I realised I might have left two things in my hotel room.
A can of Brut Original Deodorant and a bottle of Hugo Boss Number One Eau de Toilette, the former I have used for almost 30 years, considering it came on the market in the year of my birth and if my memory serves me right, it used to be in my dad’s grooming kit. The latter I have used for nigh on 23 years, I have not been persuaded of any other deodorant or fragrance.
Now, these are no more in the shops, I must order Brut by bulk from Amazon, Hugo Boss, however, is a strange one, the carton says it was made in the UK, but no UK shop stocks the item. Bizarrely, I am only able to get this when I pass through the Charles de Gaulle airport duty-free shop in Paris and it is not getting any cheaper.
Beating myself harder than with a rod
So, you could imagine my sense of loss when a barely used bottle of Hugo Boss was inadvertently left in a hotel room and I had no inkling as to how to retrieve it. Like gloves, I always have at least one spare bottle to hand, but imagine my utter discomfiture when on returning from a trip to London, I could neither find another pair of these fanciful smell repellents.
I searched all bags, high and low, I could not for the life of me think of how I might have lost them again. For weeks, I was resigned to the fact that I had been a second time careless and had relapsed into mental flagellation occasioning regret.
At one time I had decided I would not more travel with them if I could not trust myself to keep them and return with them.
Redemption of self and soul
Then, a few days ago as I was rifling through my new trolley case for my laptops and work materials, I happened upon the zipped-up cavity where I had stored a power bank and there also was the can of Brut and a bottle of Hugo Boss.
I had neither lost nor misplaced them, I just did not remember they were there. I promptly forgave myself, thought about my possibly fading mental acuity and decided, the world is not lost, these things happen. The habit that has been going on for almost a lifetime serves its purpose, though year on year, I have watched the price of Hugo Boss rise by at least 15%, at such prices, one cannot afford to be careless or even carefree.
To each one his own and thankfully Hugo Boss Number One stands out as a class ahead of the rest because celebrity piss water flooded the shelves of perfumeries that if you venture into such shop floors, your departure will be greeted with a vapour trail of pongy effluent that polite company would rather don a gas mask than suggest you reek of the unmentionable.
To retain certain habits, you have to careful, mindful and resourceful, it is the only way to retain a sense of wellbeing and sanity.