Tuesday, 29 May 2012

On being clinically withdrawn from the blood donor list...

I've just read this back. It's really rather ranty, and not very well written. But I thought I might as well post it. Anything's better than revising the philosophy of science!

Before I start, if you're able to, please consider giving blood in the next few weeks. The UK has a very busy few months coming up and blood stocks are going to dwindle. As the supermarket I won't name says, "Every Little Helps". :D

I wanted to give blood as soon as I was able to. Our neighbours would go every six weeks and I thought what they were doing was amazing. I had the option to help people by giving, literally, a part of me that I didn’t need. And that’s all I wanted when I was younger, to help people.

So when I was in Lower Sixth I signed up. And I got invited to a donor session one night. And as weird as it sounds, I was oddly excited.

My mum wasn’t over the moon with my decision. Neither was my dad. They both thought it was too risky, that I wasn’t well enough, that I would suffer because of it, because I already gave enough of myself to others, not in a physical/bodily sense but I was always helping out with things at school.

I am pretty sure I told them it was my blood and so my decision. That’s what I said when I signed up to the Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow Register.

And I went. And I donated. And it went really, really well. I felt fine afterwards and there wasn’t much of a bruise. I drank my orange juice and ate my biscuit and felt perfectly healthy for the rest of the night.

Then the next morning I fainted in the bathroom.

I used to faint a lot in the bathroom. It would always be first thing in the morning. I put it down to getting out of bed too fast. There was one time when I was getting ready for school and fainted. After I came round I went downstairs and told my dad. “Oh,” he said, “that was the bang I heard.” Another time I fainted off the toilet and hit my shoulder on the sink and the toothbrush holder on the way down. That left a very impressive bruise. There were numerous other times when I realised I was going to faint and so sat down until it passed.

It never fazed me. It was just something that happened. I was an ill child. I always had a cold or a cough or was on antibiotics. I put it down to never going to nursery; I started reception with an immune system that had only been exposed to family members. I haven’t fainted in a few years now. I think the last time was the toilet story, and that was (I think) in my first year at uni. I’m pretty sure it’s a blood pressure thing. Mine’s normally about 110/70, although when the GP checked a few weeks ago before she prescribed me propranolol for my fluoxetine tremors it was about 100/65.

Anyway, so I fainted. I was determined to give again but the appointments they sent me were always during exam times and mum flat refused to let me go.

Then I went again in November 2010. Everything was going fine until they pricked my finger. Apparently I was anaemic.

I’ve been anaemic for as long as I can remember. My brother is the same. I’m what I like to call “transiently anaemic” – sometimes my iron levels are normal, other times they’re a little low. I’ve been advised to take iron tablets and, when I remember, I do. There’s no internal cause, nothing wrong with my diet. They tested for the thalassemia gene and the results came back borderline inconclusive, so I’m either anaemic or a carrier for one of the most evil diseases in the world. Either way, they wouldn’t take my blood.

Fine, that makes sense. My health comes first.

I went again yesterday. With all the public events that the UK is hosting this year there have been numerous adverts requesting people go give blood. Now I’ve been trying to all year but they were always fully booked. But I decided I would go yesterday and hang around until they could fit me in.

Everything went fine until the interview.

She called for a staff nurse because I had had a sigmoidoscopy (for my IBS) about four years ago. I think I had finally convinced her that my IBS and anaemia were utterly under control (I had taken an iron tablet and a generic multi-vitamin and iron tablet that morning to make sure) when she asked how the first donation went. And then she flat out refused to let me donate, despite the fact that they were going to let me the second time until the anaemia thing came up. Apparently “guidelines change”.

I may have gotten a bit annoyed. All I wanted to do was help. I have a lot of little individual things wrong with me, and some larger things, but I feel healthy. I am me, if that makes sense. None of my illnesses – with the exception of the depression – have much of an effect on me anymore; they’re just part of my life.

Either way, I have now been “clinically withdrawn” from the blood donor list, which sounds pretty indefinite. Apparently it won’t affect anything if I’m a bone marrow match. And God help anyone who stands in my way if a family member needs a blood transfusion.

I keep seeing Give Blood adverts. And even though there’s nothing I can do about it, I still feel a little guilty that I can’t help.

Edit (29/5/2012 at 3:39pm): On the advice of brokenangel I rang the NHSBT to discuss the withdrawal. They were very, very nice about it all and said they may be able to let me re-register in 5 yeas. He also said "cheerio". I haven't heard anyone say "cheerio" except in old movies before!
Lexie :D

Sunday, 27 May 2012


I keep saying on Twitter that the season finales of all my favourite American TV shows are trying to kill me with their emotional roller-coasters and emotion-bombs. And that’s true. But so far I haven’t cried. And come to think of it, I haven’t cried in a while. A few tears, yes. At shows and real life stuff. And I’ve had the shaky/rocking hyperventilating thing you get when you cry. But I haven’t had proper tears in a long, long time.

When people tell me I’m going to cry at a movie or TV show, the chances are that I won’t. Because I spend the entire movie/episode thinking ‘Is this where I’m meant to cry? Is this where I’m meant to cry?’ The Notebook is a perfect case-in point. I only watched it two years ago, in my first year of uni, after everyone I’d met was shocked that I hadn’t seen it and told me earnestly that I would cry all the way through it, especially at the end, because it was such a tear-jerker. But I didn’t. Because for the entire movie I was wondering if this was the scene that would turn on the waterworks. And, frankly, cause it’s not that emotional a movie, or that good a movie. But recently it hasn’t been *that*, whatever that is, that has stopped me from crying.

I get emotionally attached to a lot of things. Books, movies, characters from TV. Mugs, USB sticks. And I promise an in-death blog post about that after my exams (I’m avoiding watching Grey’s anatomy until then!) And I do get very emotional about things. And it hurts, right here *points to heart* My stomach does this things where it spasms and seizes up, and it feels like there’s a black hole inside me sucking everything away. And I’ve felt like that about so many things recently. TV shows – Glee, Vampire Diaries – and situations in my life – dissertation panic, not being able to help my brother, life. A year ago I would be in the foetal position soaking the pillow. But this year, or at least in the last few months...nothing. It feels like the tears are there, building up inside of me. But there’s something stopping them from coming out.

So much has worked out this year, with my depression and me personally. I’m writing again, which is something I stopped doing when I got really ill, although I haven’t tried to make any progress with anything fiction yet, just sticking to poetry. And I’m reading again, although not as much as I used to. The crying is something which has seemed to go the other way.

I know it’s stupid, getting worked up and blogging about not being able to cry. But for a girl who cries regularly, or at least used to cry regularly, this build up of emotion and tears inside of me is starting to freak me out. And it’s not like last time, when the damn was up for a reason, and I was making the effort to hold everything in. Maybe this time I’m trying too hard to let everything out.

So for now I will try and be content with the black hole of emotion inside of me when I get sad at the TV or at real life. I wonder what it will take to crack the damn this time? And I just hope it doesn’t have the same effect as last time.



Now Playing ~ Big Girls Don't Cry ~ Glee Cast Version

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Quick "hello" to all you lovelies who have amped up my views in the last few weeks...

Hi :) I'm about 36 hours from the dissertation deadline, and 9 from my personal print deadline. But I've been getting a lot of hits on the blog (lots of them from google.ca, not sure why Canada is so interested in me) and wanted to say hello to all the visitors. Don't be shy to leave a comment and let me know what you think :)

Normal service will resume soon :D


Saturday, 19 May 2012

Cardiology, again...

They're over!

I'm not sure how they went. They didn't go badly, which is great. I wouldn't say they were wonderfully amazing either. Somewhere in the middle. They kind of felt the way exams did in first year, which I suppose is a good sign. But a) I don't want to jinx it and b) I don't trust myself anymore (see previous post).

Either way it's pointless thinking about it now. I still have my dissertation to do, and then the philosophy exam. And anyway, thinking about the fact that that was my last chance and if I fail they'll kick me out and I won't be able to graduate from Bristol either is both depressing and distracting. Ahem...

I should go and at least try and get some sleep. Because yes, the insomnia still plagues me. Wow that sounded ridiculous...I don't know why I don't just delete this entire paragraph...

I will leave you with this.

Cover Photo

Somewhere in the Firth of Clyde, Summer 2008 :)


Saturday, 12 May 2012

Cardiology and a whole lot of doubt...

Listening to: Maroon 5 - Payphone

So, previously in my life I failed the second year of my medical degree. 3 modules - neuro, renal and cardio. I resat them in August and failed cardio again. Because of my mitigation (the depression) the resits were classed as first-sits and I got one more chance. They offered me the option of going back to Birmingham and attending the cardio lectures again but Bristol (bless them) decided that I could still go there and intercalate, and that's what I did. The cardio became an external resit ie no fees to Birmingham, no registration to Birmingham. I would just go in May/June and sit the exam.

Fast forward about 9 months. The cardiology resit came around. I had the SAQs (short answered questions) on Wednesday and I have the 40 min MCQ/Anatomy TrueFalse questions next Thursday (4 hour round trip for 40 mins grr).

The SAQs went...I think they went well. It was almost the same paper as last year, and there was a few bits and bobs that I didn't go over again thinking they wouldn't come up (people talk between the years!). But I think overall it was alright, if we ignore my pharmacology slip up - I KNEW phenylephrine was an alpha agonist not an antagonist but I wrote it down in the hope of some literally paradigm shifting miracle.

I think.

Here's the problem. I'm not entirely sure that medicine is the career for me but I want to go back and give 3rd year a fair shot. 2nd year was hell because I was ill. I failed those modules because I was ill. I want to go into 3rd year and make up my mind afterwards. But if I fail cardio I will be asked to leave. No more second chances. And what's more, because I won't officially have completed two years of medical education prior to my intercalation, the chances of me being allowed to graduate from Bristol are next to none. So the last three years will have been a waste and the great Lexie Bellafonte will be a failure.

I don't think I'm great. My family does. I'm the eldest cousin on my mum's side in England and they all look up to me. I think I do well not because I'm smart but because I don't have a life to distract me from revision.

Here's the real problem. Prior to the depression I was a straight A* student. I got the highest grade possible in everything (except an AS Critical Issues module but we don't talk about that :P ). I'm not boasting. That's just how it was. I would hand in an essay or come out of an exam and genuingly think that it had gone badly, and would say so, to the point when everyone started to get exasperated with me and my so-called modesty. It wasn't modesty, it was honest doubt. But every time I worried about an essay or an exam, or anything really, everyone, EVERYONE would say "You'll be fine."

You'll be fine.

That's what they said in second year. And that's what they believed. Because the great Lexie Bellafonte doesn't fail. She's had crap in her life before and no matter what she's always pulled through, always prevailed, always passed.

And despite being really ill there was a part of me that started to, wanted to, believe that everything would turn out fine.

And then I failed.

I know that the reason I failed wasn't because I was stupid. It was because I was ill. Seriously ill. And I'm better now. And I've done the work for cardio, done so much revision. I wrote on the back of almost every single page in that exam. But I'm worried. Partly because I do think I may have slipped up. And when I worry about cardio everyone says, "You'll be fine."

Problem is, I don't believe them any more.


Lexie (who needs to stop blogging and go write her dissertation)

Friday, 4 May 2012

The Hospital Theatre: A Spoken Word Poem

This is in the poetry-slam kind of vein. Never heard of a poetry-slam? Watch this AMAZING kid from America.

Sometimes I feel like an imposter
When I don the stethoscope,
Put on the metaphorical white coat,
Go out and say
“Hi. My name’s Sarah. I’m a medical student.”
It feels like I’m just kidding myself
But out there front of house
The receptionists are checking referrals the way you check tickets to a show,
And I wonder
If I’m just the next generation of performer
To go out and convince you, the punter,
That I know what I’m doing.

It’s Shakespearean at times:
All of medicine is a stage
And every doctor, nurse, physio only a player
In this drama
That I’ve had to audition for.
I’ve learnt drug names
Like dance steps
To be waltzed into memory:
Because, after all,
They call it a theatre for a reason.

But are we doctors just playing concerned?
Because we’ve been taught a script,
Been shown how not to trip
Over the awkward questions
And the odd proposition.
How to be exuberant,
To connect with the audience
So they believe that we
Know how they’re feeling
Through the medium of empathy or
We’re to gauge just how much physiology to tell you
 Depending on our private character study
Of you and your life,
Which we have reduced to pixels
On a screens before us.

And all the time I’m just screaming
That I really don’t know what I’m doing,
But internally of course
So as not to cause panic.
Those people –
The patients –
Are human,
And I hold their Faberge egg lives
In my tiny T-Rex hands
And I know that at some point
I will drop one.

And it doesn’t help that you look at me
With such admiration in your eyes.
Why do you think that I am going to be great?!
Why do you trust me
With your secrets and lies
The alternative lives
That your partner doesn’t even know about?
I am just a girl from Leigh.
I am nothing special.
I am only human too.

And there it is
The realisation
That this is meant to be a relationship of equals.
Both humans
Endowed with human error
And at times a lack of grace.
I will make mistakes
But then, so will you.
And it seems like theatre
But really it’s just life
And after all
All the world is a stage.
We are only people,
Mostly patient,
Human and identical
As far as possible.
And so I apologise in advance
For the slips
And trips,
The mistakes
And the times
I don’t quite understand.
And I realise
That you will come
With your stories
And lives,
And I will try
To treat you as humanely
As possible,
And not as a case study
Or a file on the computer screen before me.
(C) Sarah Ahmed

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

High School Memories Part 1...

It’s the first of May. Why is it the first of May? That means part 1 of my resit is in nine days, there’s an essay due in in eleven days, another resit in seventeen days, dissertation due in twenty-five days. And I’m still procrastinating.

But I do love spring, especially the weather. There’s something about April spring weather, when it’s sunny with a breeze, that reminds me of high school. If I haven’t said this before I loved high school, and I miss it terribly. But then last night I had the most appalling dream where there was some sort of major world war that had its basis in the school’s junior playground and carpark quad that resulted in people being fed, still alive and screaming, into a grinder to kill them (blame Emad, he asked :P) I can still see their faces. But anyway, most of my memories of school are good memories. Surprisingly some of them come back when I hear a particular piece of music (I was never into music at school), or when that April breeze wafts the smell of spring into my face. And I have been getting s lot of these flashbacks recently, and I thought I would share.
The Killers -- Human: Sixth Form English Lit lessons. I think this particular incident was in lower sixth. We had quite an in-depth discussion about the meaning behind the song’s lyrics, instigated by the teacher, not any of us. I always sat in the same place, on the corner, and out of the old casement windows you could see a tree in blossom. I remember once thinking ‘I need to remember how that tree looks, because I won’t be here next year to see it’

Maroon 5 -- She Will Be Loved: Coach journeys to (not from) school, especially when I was in years seven to nine. We had to wear skirts, and even with my uber-long Islam approved-ish skirt I still manage to ladder my very thick tights. They would get caught on the Velcro on my bag, or on part of the generally very dirty coach chairs. I used to read Harry Potter out load on the coach, and we would play cards and The Word Association Game. But most of the time I would just stare out of the window. My brother thought it was weird but I didn’t. I could just think. And there were those early mornings when I would be the first to leave the house and the world looked so beautiful and unsullied with a perfect layer of frost and mist and a terribly bright sun that we would drive into and left me with white spots on my vision.

Red Hot Chilli Peppers -- Scar Tissue: The first Arvon Foundation writing course that I went on. We had an evening where we had to read from our favourite book. I remember choosing Mort by Terry Pratchett and practised reading it to a few of the girls in the lounge because I was worried I wouldn’t be any good. That was the year with the thick pink cardigan that I wore ALL THE TIME. One girl read from an autobiography or something about the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and about suicide and one of her friends. Surprisingly didn’t freak me out. I remember where I was sitting, and that it was dark and homely, and I literally sank into the chair when it was my turn to read.

The Pride and Prejudice theme tune: Arvon again. The 3rd or 2nd time. There was this old piano and one of the girls would play the theme tune. You could hear it all round the house and I remember feeling like I was in a film, in one of those scenes from the movie when they drift from room to room except it wasn’t Austen it was my life. And it was perfect. Crisp weather outside, fire and friends and writing inside. Not a care in the world.

Toccata and Fugue by Bach: The Head of Music would play it on the organ in assembly. My friend played so many different instruments and was a huge music geek – I would tease her by calling it Tobacco and Fudge, because that’s what I heard when she said it. In the final assembly for the old headmistress she (the head) sat on the stage as the music teacher played the entire piece. It was over nine minutes long and people were getting bored and agitated but looking back I can remember the smile on the head’s face as she looked out at us all. We gave her a standing ovation at the end that may have lasted longer than the organ music.

Any Christmas Carol: Christmas at school and the Carol Service. Every year the Art Department put up these beautiful paper angels that had tinsel halos and hung from the rafters in the hall. It would already be going dark outside, and there may have been candles inside and even if there weren’t it felt like there were.

Viva la Vida -- Coldplay: The Gold D of E expedition that I did on the school’s boat (yes we had a boat...). We must have played the album over ten times, and I was listening to it whilst washing up in a galley so small that I could fully stretch my arms out and where the oven was on a swing. One day half of us were downstairs whilst the other half tried to sail through some really stormy weather. The boat tilted over so far that down below water covered the port windows and we were literally flying and falling over things. We videoed it but when we played it back it looked like the ship was still and we were just throwing ourselves around.

Now that I’ve started this I realise there are so, so many more. I would love to write them all out now but then this post would get really, really long and I still have about 2000 words of an essay left to write. So we’ll call this part one.


Lexie x