Tag Archives: autobiography

Medic or futurist – A personal history

This article is autobiographical drivel and nothing to do with the future. Read on only if you are bored enough.

I sometimes wanted to be a doctor when I was young, but when I was 17, I looked about 12, and realised that I would probably look about 16 by the time I graduated, and that, believe it or not, is one of the two main reasons I chose to study Physics and Maths at university rather than medicine. (I was proved right – I was last asked what age I was getting on a bus when I was 22, the child discount ending only when you hit 16, and I was last turned away from a night club for being under 18 when I was 25). The 2nd main reason was that although I was reasonably bright, my memory was rubbish, and while Physics and Maths rewards intellect, medicine rewards memory.

I do like to read medical articles occasionally, even if the microbiology and chemistry side of it often leaves me bored. However, I’ve also invented quite a few things in the medical space, so I do find it fun sometimes too.

A few days ago I was very pleased with myself after reading an article on the wondrous properties of Marmite, suspected to increase GABA levels in the brain, and since it mentioned poor memory, anxiety and overactive neurons, some quick Googling then linked that to both epilepsy and childhood febrile seizure.

Suddenly a lot of my family history fell neatly into place. I had such a seizure followed by a coma apparently when my parents cruelly abandoned me screaming at a Scottish petrol station because they counted their kids wrongly. The last thing I recall is their car disappearing into the distance. They did eventually come back for me, but the damage was done. According to google, or rather one of the articles it showed me, these seizures damage the hippocampus, causing lasting problems with memory, and I’ve always had problems memorising stuff. So my first major conclusion from my Googling is that my poor memory was likely caused by my parents abandoning me at the petrol station, and that then caused me to choose Physics and Maths degree, end up as a systems engineer and then a futurologist.  So, I am a futurist and not a doctor, because I was abandoned as a child. Hmmm!

Low GABA levels that make kids susceptible to that also cause hyperactive neurons that don’t stop firing properly and cause anxiety, which I and many others in my clan suffer from. I suffer a lot of neural noise, making it hard to play musical instruments because of unwanted signals, hard to settle and relax, hard to ever feel calm, very often feeling unsettled and anxious for no reason. It also links to epilepsy and to transient ischemic attacks and strokes, more family history and again to myself – I had a suspected TIA 3 years ago. On the upside, I do wonder whether that hyperactive neural firing isn’t one of the main reasons why my brain often works well at making cross-links between concepts and imagination-related tasks generally. Or that could be one of the other effects of low GABA, the inefficient neural pruning in teen years that normally should channel the brain into narrowed but more stable thinking processes. That would even explain why I am still waiting to group up, at 56!

As a result of that article, I have eaten a dose of Marmite religiously every single day since I managed to get some, for two days now! It is probably too early to tell if there are any major benefits, though I can already confirm that it doesn’t taste as nice if you eat a teaspoonful straight off the teaspoon rather than on toast.

Google isn’t perfect by a long way, but its search engine makes up for a multitude of sins. My conclusions above might be rubbish, but it was fun coming up with them anyway.

Time moves on. I was just having my daily look at phys.org, a great website that has links to many interesting recent articles across science, and it mentioned that celiac disease (coeliac disease in UK) may be caused by a virus. I know a few people with that, but I don’t. However, a long time ago, in 1989 I did have cancer, a rare and aggressive T-cell lymphoma, and I am grateful to be one of the 65% survivors. Because it was rare, with just a few cases a year in the UK, not much was known about it at the time, but it had already been suspected that it might be triggered by a severe trauma or a virus. So, having had my memory triggered by the phys.org article, I checked up to see if there had ever been much progress on that, and yes, it is now known that it is caused by the HTLV-1 virus. (e.g. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK304341/)

So, I wondered, how did I get it, since Google says it is apparently almost unheard of in native Europeans. That connects to the other suspected cause, trauma. When I was a young man, I was badly injured in a motorbike accident, and my GP later suggested that might possibly have caused the cancer, but he was wrong. The connection wasn’t the trauma itself, but the virus, the infection route being that during my treatment for that trauma, I received several pints of blood, the only mechanism possible for me personally getting the virus. I could not have been infected via the other mechanisms.

So now I know that I must have received contaminated blood and that is what later caused my cancer, though in fairness to the Belfast City Hospital, they could not have known about that at the time so I won’t sue. (I’ll also generously overlook the fact that the Staff Nurse (let’s just call her Elizabeth) tied my traction so wrongly that it was prevented from applying tension to my leg, and it was only corrected weeks later when I was sentient again and complained and finally got someone to fix it, resulting in my left leg being permanently 4cm shorter than my right leg.)

Reading still further, it turns out that HTLV-1 was almost unheard of in native Europeans, therefore it must have been blood from a donor of foreign origin. 1983 Belfast had very few people from the regions most likely to carry the virus – sub-Saharan Africa, South America, Caribbean and a few parts of Japan – so few in fact, that it would very likely be possible to check the blood donor records from that period and infer exactly whose blood it would have been. It is possible they are still alive, still a blood donor, still infecting people with HTLV-1 and up to 1 in 25 of the recipients developing a T-cell lymphoma. On the other hand, since I had cancer, I have been banned from being a blood or bone marrow donor, which I now know actually does make perfect sense.

But hang on, I had my motorbike accident while travelling to work, as an engineer. If I had done a medicine degree, I wouldn’t have been on that road, I’d have been in medical school. So I wouldn’t have needed the blood, wouldn’t have been infected with the virus, and wouldn’t have later got cancer.

So, a fascinating week for me. Several personal and family medical mysteries that our GPs don’t have time or inclination to look into have been solved by two random press articles and the google searches they triggered.

Thanks to two ordinary press articles I now know that something as everyday and trivial as my mother not checking her toddler was in the car before they drove away caused me to be a futurist, via becoming an engineer and having a crash that left me permanently disfigured and later led to cancer. On the fun side, I can solve some everyday issues by eating Marmite, but doing so might adversely affect my thinking process and make me less creative. What a week!

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