Thursday, 31 May 2012

Les miserables

It's a while away, but the trailer for Les Miserables certainly gets the movie juices going. I believe it'll be released December/January time. Can't wait.

About 3 years ago as a church we did a series on films and plays called God in the West End.  We thought together about what we could learn from them-and how we could trace Biblical themes of forgiveness, redemption, sin, and hope and many more . I gave a short talk on Les Miserables. Take a listen here.

Goodbye to all that

Just this morning I bade a final farewell to my parents' home at 49 Heronscroft Bedford. We moved there in 1971 and I lived there until 1973 (although retuned on and off whilst training for medicine between 1973-1978).

49 Heronscroft
Dad died three years ago and mum almost one year ago. How proud they were of their first owner-occupier home, having moved from the council house where I was born and grew up in at 5 Mareth Road Bedford. Heronscroft has always been such a welcoming and peaceful place and was beautifully maintained by mum and dad, who especially enjoyed caring for their sweet garden. How many memories flashed though my mind as I stood looking at it now-sadly overgrown with weeds.

Mum had left everything in such neat order, but like me was something of a horder with old newspapers declaring the Second World War over and lots on our Queen's coronation, in addition to papers on various other national issues. My sister has done the baulk of the clearing and until very recently her husband Alan had maintained the garden.

Biddy and I shared a short thankful prayer just before we left. I thanked God for the privilege of consistent, loving parents. For the ongoing sense of 'home' which I, Biddy, Sarah and Hannah always felt when we were there.  How often mum would leave whatever she was doing when we arrived, just to sit and spend time with us. "I can do that later...I want to make the most of being with you", was such a lovely thing to say and mean!

For many years going right back to my childhood, my parents had a plaque on the wall stating,

Christ is the head of this house
The unseen guest at every meal
The silent listener to every conversation

It was perhaps somewhat quaint, but in many ways I think the reality of it contributed hugely to the atmosphere that mum and dad created. Whilst they have gone and now their home is gone,  the ongoing presence of Christ and the richness of His resurrection, and the hope which that brings, fills me with anticipation of that welcome which God has in store for those who-like mum and dad- have put their trust in Christ.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Be still my soul

Great to hear the Getty's performing in Spitafields last night. What a wonderful gift they are (with Stuart Townend) to the worldwide church, bringing profound theology and  beautiful music together.

This fairly gentle song is a sweet meditation on some helpful words from Psalm 62.5ff
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.

He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. 
On God rests my salvation and my glory;my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us

Sunday, 27 May 2012

The Holy Spirit and me

Today is Whit Sunday, also called Feast of Pentecost. In the church throughout the Western world it is the Sunday when traditionally the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the first Christians is celebrated. So what difference does the Holy Spirit make in our world, in the church and in me?

My journey towards faith in Christ began in a fine Pentecostal church in Bedford when I was in my early teens. Douglas Quy was the able and gifted pastor.  Moving to London as a medical student I tried out some large evangelical Anglican churches but eventually settled in a small, vibrant and amazingly cosmopolitan Pentecostal church just off Edgeware Road.  Bernard Porter was the pastor and a wonderful, humble and godly man he was too (he had a particular ministry amongst the prisoners of Wormwood Scrubs).

For the rest go here

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Spurgeon and Prayer

Quite often dip into Spurgeon's daily readings, Morning and Evening. This morning a helpful and somewhat salutary word about a Christian's prayer life,

What a God is He thus to hear the prayers of those who come to Him when they have pressing wants, but neglect Him when they have received a mercy; who approach Him when they are forced to come, but who almost forget to address Him when mercies are plentiful and sorrows are few. Let His gracious kindness in hearing such prayers touch our hearts, so that we may henceforth be found "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit."

I'm one in a (1.7) million!

For some time I have said that I work for the world's third largest employer-the NHS. However listening to BBC Radio 4's More or Less last week I now have to accept that i work for the world's fifth largest employer.

And here, pop pickers, is the top 10

What does this tell us about society?

Well the top 2 are basically about protection. Or rather protecting ourselves from each other. So curious for those who interpret society from an evolutionary perspective, and would suggest that we have made enormous progress from our ancestors who basically put all their energy into killing for food and staving off dangerous animals. It would seem that far and away the most dangerous animal is and me.

And then there's the Walmart. Giant organisation providing all many of goods at reasonable prices. I'm glad they provide employment for so many, but I do worry about the effect the giant supermarkets have on our local shops. If we all shopped more regularly at our local shops it would potentially increase our social relationships. It would lessen the anonymity of the 'big shop' when you never meet anyone you know and are served by a different person each time.  It would increase our chance of 'loving our neighbour' (well described in Mark Greene's excellent little book, The Best idea in the world).

And Madonald's. Oh dear. I struggle with the company. Ok cheap food and very large numbers of employees, but there's a heavy price to pay in obesity and high cholesterol levels.

So the good old NHS comes in at number 5. I'm proud to have worked in it for 34 years after 5 years of training. Employing 1.7 million people is never going to be easy and I fear for the ongoing tinkering with it of recent successive governments. But 1.7 million people whose raison d'ĂȘtre is to bring relief and well-being seems pretty inspirational to me. It says something for our national Christian heritage that the NHS exists and that not only do we  recognise that human beings are subject to sickness and sadness (ultimately as a result of turning away from God), but that part of responding to the good news of the Christian gospel is to try to facilitate the  gradual restoring and healing of all things (albeit partially), which are signs and glimpses of the ultimate renewal of all things at Christ's return.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Life lessons from Nellie

Biddy and I have just returned from a long weekend-hippy-ish style. We rented a bright red 1972 VW camper (christened Nellie by the owner-Carl) and pottered around the Cotswolds staying at a different campsite each night from Thursday till Sunday. It was a somewhat challenging and learning experience!

Nellie and Me (I'm the one in grey)
Carl gave us an extended talking-to about the dos and don'ts of hiring his vehicle and then insisted on an observed test drive to ensure that I would be able to cope. It was fair enough since it is a very different animal to my 2010 VW Golf.

What did Nellie teach us?

1. Anticipation is a necessary life skill: Carl pointed out to me that I would have to learn to begin breaking much sooner than normal. I would also need to indicate and position myself much sooner for a right turn, since cars behind might easily become impatient with my slower speed and begin to overtake. Advanced drivers tell me that the skill is in anticipating what may happen-so drive slower in rain, keep a good distance behind the vehicle in front, constantly look ahead for warnings of speed limits and other street furniture designed to make our roads safer.

But what about life skill? Doing our best to anticipate what may happen in our lives and prepare accordingly (ok there's still lots of uncertainty....'break-downs' at any moment), whether its exams, preparing to get married, having children, spending time with ageing parents, developing interests to sustain us in retirement and...dare I say it? Thinking about 'dying well'..a subject for another day.

2. Pay attention to your innards: Nellie certainly looked wonderful on the outside with her reasonably fresh coat of bright red paint. However Carl was at pains to point out how old she was and that anything could go wrong at any time. The engine may fail, the clutch might go, the gears may play up (did we really want to do this for a leisurely four days??). But then on each of the campsites we had lots of admirers.

It's a bit of a cliche to say that so many of us pay so much attention to our appearance but are negligent of our souls. Nothing epitomises this more than OK! and Hello! magazine which focuses upon youth and beauty and all things external. Cliche or not, it's true.

3. You get a better view if you go higher and travel slower: We were warned not to go above 50mph and in fact spent most of time (no doubt annoying drivers behind) going 30-40 mph on the undulating roads of the Cotswolds. We realised how much more we noticed around us, whether it was being able to see over low hedges or just by virtue of our slowness. How fast other drivers seemed to go, and then sometimes only getting in front enough so that we joined them at the next junction.

Slowing up is difficult to talk about, since some of us need to speed up! But for those of you like me it's  important to be reminded of pacing yourself in life. Sometimes going fast is necessary, but you can take so much more in by slowing up, whether it's the sound of birdsong or just enjoying the beauty of the British countryside. Our ancient tradition of enclosures may have been a mixed blessing for our forebears, but what a patchwork we have to behold.

I try to go 'slower and higher' most mornings when I aim to set aside 30 minutes to be with God. I tend to read a short letter by John Newton, usually full of pithy spiritual advice, to pray and think and read and then muse on some part of the Bible. It provides a focus for the day which would otherwise rush away from me. Not every Christian can or should do it in the same-we are all made very differently (just read a really helpful book on this subject by Larry Osborne A contrarian's guide to knowing God:Spirituality for the rest of us), but to find some way to 'get higher' is really important.

And by the way, I don't mean higher in a kind of Hendrixian 'purple haze up in the sky', kind of way, but rather attempting to view life and its priorities from God's viewpoint. The kind of experience the Psalmist had, who when writing in Psalm 73 struggled with various things going on around him, but then found a measure of clarity when he 'entered the sanctuary,,,then I understood' (verse 17).

Thank you Nellie!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Do not be quick with your mouth

I was at a most enjoyable medical social function yesterday. I hadn't met the guy sitting next to me before and asked what sort of doctor he was (I knew what I meant).  He told me that he wasn't a doctor but his wife was a Consultant (with a very capital C). As we continued our chit-chat he made a few obliquely disparaging remarks about general  practitioners (in lower case of course).  I can't remember at what point I told him I was a GP (capitals!!), but there wasn't much chat after that.

How much we all need to be reminded of the words of the old 'Teacher' who compiled the enigmatic Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. With the help of our associate pastor Martin Salter we have been looking at this teaching over the last few Sunday evenings. Martin spoke helpfully from chapter 5, a salutary section of scripture.
Do not be quick with your mouth,
    do not be hasty in your heart
    to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
    and you are on earth,
    so let your words be few.

I'm reminded again of habit number 5 in Seven habits of highly effective people 
Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Foot in mouth syndrome is indeed epidemic.

Friday, 11 May 2012

And you thought your marriage was hard...

As Biddy and I approach our 34th wedding anniversary in a couple of months,  a humbling reminder from a young couple of 'true love'.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Caught napping

It's taken me a while to master the afternoon nap, but I think I've cracked it and I'm gratified to read that it's actually rather good for me.

I've just read a really excellent book called Say Goodnight to Insomnia with the strap line, Learn to sleep soundly again. It's full of very practical advice and comes with the clout of Dr Gregg Jacobs, the Harvard clinical psychologist who is its author. It is a six week self help program looking at the physiology of sleep and then a sequence of chapters revealing the best way of giving yourself a fair chance of cracking the sleep thing. And if the book statistics are to be believed, 60% of us report the problem insomnia on a regular basis.

If I had time I'd summarise the book, but to get real benefit from it you really need to work through it yourself. However one little aspect caught my, 'to nap or not to nap'?

According to Jacobs, the universal tendency to nap of toddlers and the elderly in the afternoon, the afternoon nap of the siesta cultures and recent research, all lead to the suggestion that we are hard wired to nap sometime in the early afternoon. Now this is far from practical for most of us most of the time, but I do manage it most Tuesday afternoons, which is one of my longer and busier days. It seems there is a natural dropping of our body temperature in the early afternoon (he explains earlier in the book the importance of body temperature fluctuating over 24 hours). and the body is consequently 'prepared' for sleep in a way which emulates, albeit in a weaker way, the impetus too sleep at night.

And what of health benefits? Sleep researchers in Greece have found that napping  correlated with a 30% drop in coronary heart disease (although in the current crisis presumably it had an adverse effect on the economy!). Other research suggests that a nap of just 10 minutes can enhance alertness, mood and mental performance after a night of poor sleep.

Japanese businessmen napping
Practically he suggests taking a nap for no more than 40 minutes and not to take it after 4pm, otherwise you may enter deep sleep and feel groggy for half an hour or so when you wake and it will have an adverse effect on the subsequent night's sleep.  Cambridge scientist Paul Martin in his excellent book Counting Sleep, suggests napping for no more than 20 minutes for similar reasons. I have followed this latter advice and so drive to the local sports ground car park, read a few pages of a book then set my phone timer for 20 minus, recline in the drivers seat and then...nap! It really does seem to work. Martin notes that you do not have to feel fatigued to benefit from napping. And Jacobs says that there is even some evidence that a mid-afternoon rest-even without sleep- can improve mood. That's good to know because many people say that they simply wouldn't be able to fall asleep quick enough to benefit from a 20 minute nap. All I can say is that practice worked for me.

It's rather daunting to think that 60% of the patents I will see tomorrow have problems with sleep-and as Jacobs explains at length, sleeping tablets are generally not the answer. I'll certainly be recommending his book. Whoops have written to much I'm off for a nap.

My heart is broken..

I'm a big fan of the Proclaimers. Their passion, harmony and lyrics blend so wonderfully together.

But when you take their song Sunshine on Leith and mix it with a victorious Hibernian crowd in the 2007 CIS Scottish cup, you get something really quite special. There's just something magical about a lot of people singing together which is so much more than the individual parts. I love birdsong, but I've never heard 30,000 birds all singing the same song for minutes at a time. Thank God for the gift of music.

Enjoy. Even if you're not a football fan...

Friday, 4 May 2012

Gollum and me.

Saw a young patient this week whose mum requested that his bat ears were operated on, to 'pin them back'.  I thought I was being helpful when I told him that I had had my bat ears operated on when I was 11 years old. And just to further reassure him I showed him how I would have looked were it not for the miracle of 'cosmetic surgery' (and all paid for by the wonderful NHS).  Sadly he just laughed!

What's so funny?
The NHS is great but it 'aint what it was. So no longer do pinnaplasty (Ok 'pinning back the ears') operations get done unless there are exceptional circumstances. So the option was to pay for a private operation. Trying to soften the blow I offered to check what sort of money would be involved. It took a while but eventually I was put through to someone who had the info at the local private hospital. "For a unilateral pinnaplasty it will be £1900". I had to point out that my patient actually had two ears. Just operating on one because of limited resources would be worse than useless.
A unilateral pinnaplasty
Rather unkindly my daughters suggest that without my surgery I could play the part of Gollum at any upcoming theatre productions.

Surely not..

I guess it's fairly par for the course for the private sector to charge 'per ear'. It's the ultimate in viewing patients are merely component parts, rather like the parts department at the local garage. I'm so often reminded of the need to view the patient in their entirety. 'What sort of patient has the disease rather than what sort of disease does the patient have,' as Parry would say.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The 'R' word-key to everything?

Relationships are at the heart of everything. So what does economics have to do with relationships? Take a listen to  the economics editor of the Sydney Morning Herald!

Such a different tack from the the weekly dose offered up by The Apprentice.

"After you.."

A patient this morning was a little surprised that I called them into my room and then allowed them to enter first. "I s'pose it's age before beauty' said a lady a tad younger than me." "Nah, it's just good upbringing, 'manners maketh man' and all that," was my somewhat confident reply. My dear mother would have been proud of me.

So what place manners in modern medicine? In an article by Christian Patterson of the Independent , as part of it special report on there Crisis in Nursing, she closed,
Let's, by all means, train people in compassion. But when I was in hospital I'd have settled for good care, and good manners.
Sadly I too have witnessed very poor care and compassion by nursing staff during the hospital admissions of both my mum and dad over the last 4 years. There have been exceptions, of lovely thoughtfulness and concern. However this was almost exclusively whilst both my parents, at different times, were inpatients at the local hospice. Why the difference? I guess higher staff to patient ratio helps, I guess the lack of tests and investigations for the terminally ill, lessens the interruptions in care on a ward. But it's more than that. At the hospice there just seems to be the expectation that our fellow human beings merit the best we can give, whether patient or concerned family or friends.

On a general hospital ward there so often seems a failure to realise that although the patient may not be dying, they are by definition, in some way un-well. A bell may be rung several times before a nurse responds, confidentiality is ignored with the sham of the curtain drawn around the bed having no effect at all on the transmission of sound, and patents are discharged with little or no information about what to expect or what they should be doing upon return home. (Just today I received an apologetic phone call from a consultant at one of our spanking new central London hospitals about one of my patients who was discharged on a Saturday with a dressing left over his anus preventing evacuation and having had no examination by the discharging doctor, 'we rely on locums at the weekend' was all my colleague could say in defence.

Thank God some people are trying to reverse the trend. I'm impressed to read of Andy Bradley who founded Frameworks4 change to train' health professional in compassion, and especially for those working with those who have dementia. He must have felt like  Popeye who would say, 'I can't stands it anymore'. But rather than just complaining Andy is doing something about it. 'All the is necessary for evil to triumph is for  good men to do nothing' as Edmund Burke is purported to have said, although what he actually wrote was,
 "when bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
Think that means the same thing

A message from the other side

No, not that side! But thank God got through surgery ok yesterday. And thanks to all for love support and prayer.