Category Archives: Random

Has google made my brain soft?

So I’ve been staying with my folks post surgery because the challenge of a top floor tenement flat is just too much with crutches. They’ve been great: making my porridge, carrying cups of tea to the table, taking care of my washing etc. When you’re independent it’s hard to let others care for you but I guess it’s at the heart of the parent-child relationship.

One thing that’s struck me while I’m recovering from surgery and have nothing in my diary, no deadlines to meet, no fixed purpose for my day, is my lack of concentration. While I could get away with blaming the anaesthetic hangover and poor sleeping pattern, I simply don’t have the ability to focus on anything beyond a bite size chunk. Extended prose narrative prompts distraction. I struggle with information plaques in museums, skim newspaper articles and lose interest in TV and films.

I’m an information hopper.

Is the internet and social media to blame for my short attention span? A study found that post length is one of the most consistent determinants of engagement levels (1) so twitter seems to have got it right with the 140 character limit.

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However, it may be that the internet is better at stimulating brain power than sitting down to a novel. In a study, researchers asked subjects to read a book and then perform searches on the internet while MRI monitored their brain activity. While significant brain activity using the regions controlling language, reading, memory and visual abilities was reported during book reading, different regions of the brain controlling decision making and complex reasoning were also activitated during internet use – but only in those with prior internet experience and knew what they were doing (2).

There is also a suggestion that internet is reprogamming our brains. In a book about how the internet alters the way our minds work, Nicholas Carr writes “If, knowing what we know today about the brain’s plasticity, you were to set out to invent a medium that would require our mental circuits as quickly and thoroughly as possible, you would probably end up designing something that looks and works a lot like the internet”. He suggests that the internet stimulates the parts of the brain that deal with fleeting and temporary stuff that deep thinking becomes almost impossible, as the neural circuits responsible become weakened.

My memory also seems to have taken a hit, another by-product of the internet. I’ve become lazy. While it would be nice to be able to remember things, I just don’t need to. We don’t have to remember key bits of information anymore. Phone numbers and addresses are stored in our phones, I take photos as a way of remembering and even at work everything is just a few clicks away.

When people expect to be able to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall for the information itself but rather higher recall for where to find the information (3). Are we becoming a transactive memory society – we don’t have to remember everything, just a different range of things like who knows it and where to find it.

Ok so how can I expect people to read a blog over 140 characters?
1. Arnold MJ. Optimising facebook engagement – the effect of post length.
http://tracksocial.com/blog/2012/06/optimizing-facebook-engagement-part-3-the-effect-of-post-length/

2. Small GW, Moody TD, Siddarth P, Bookheimer SY. Your brain on google: patterns of cerebral activation during internet searching. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 2008; 17(2): 116-126

3. Sparrow B, Liu J, Wegner DM. Google effects on memory: cognitive consequences of having information at our fingertips. Science 2011; 333(6043): 776-778

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Being (a) patient

After almost 5 years of struggling with a hip injury I’ve finally had surgery for a labral tear and femoral acetabular impingement. Rehab is likely to take 10-12 weeks so thought I’d have a positive outlook and set up a blog pre-empting a return to adventures and tales of climbing mountains and surfing my first barrels! One thing I’m keen to start, when able, is microadventures – simple expeditions and challenges which are close to home, affordable and easy to organise. You’ll find lots of ideas and info about microadventures here.

But for now, I’m paying the consequences of ignoring a sports injury. On average, a person participating in sport will pick up 1.65 injuries every year and almost 25% will end up quitting sport (40% of which involved tendon/ligament damage).

Mine all started when I bought a new white water kayak; it was heavier and needed a stronger hip flick to control.  At first there was a niggle after every paddle which would go away after a day or two. I’d started doing a lot of running training for an adventure race and the pain would come on towards the end of a 12 mile run. But before long I could hardly stand up when I got out my boat and 30 minutes of running was all it took. My body caved in after 8 months and I’ve not ran, kayaked or mountaineered since.

The impact was huge. It wasn’t just about not doing the sports I loved, it was also about not spending my evenings and weekends with the people I did them with. I wasn’t suddenly going to become someone who hit the shops at the weekend or be glued to the big screen.  I trained as a sports massage therapist, began teaching the fiddle and thankfully discovered a new sport compatible with my hips…..surfing (the most addictive yet slowest to progress sport I’ve ever tried).

So after years of trying physio, acupuncture, pilates, myofascial release, rest and massage I still had pain and wasn’t able to do the things I loved.  It was time to give surgery a try.

So as someone who works in a hospital, what was it like being a patient?

My surgery anxieties peaked two weeks before the operation; thoughts of having a stroke or drop foot. My back up plan for the latter was trying to emulate the success of the Paralympic handcycling team. I then found myself surprisingly calm, even in the moments before I was put to sleep.  All the worrying had been done.

In the past I’ve found myself reflecting on the contrasting perspectives of the healthcare professional and patient. Surgery, heart attacks and pneumonia are common reasons for hospital admission. Guidelines and protocols tell us how to manage them but for the patient and their family/friends it can be an extremely worrying time.

Some of my reflections from hospital:

General anaesthesia – I was all set for a dramatic count down from 10. By the time the syringe of propofol was injected I was out.

I didn’t realise that hypothermia and shivering are common side effects. Peri-operatively, the drugs used in general anaesthesia promote heat loss through vasodilation and impaired hypothalamic thermoregulation. After anaesthesia induction, vasodilation and a lower cold threshold in the hypothalamus cause heat to be redistributed from core tissues to the skin where it is lost. The mechanism is a bit more complicated post operatively but I woke up to find myself shivering more than with recent ice dips. I was actively warmed using the ‘Bair Hugger’ which forces hot air into a blanket placed on top of the you…..I want one! The anaesthetist said when I came round I told her I’d been busy ice climbing to the top of a mountain!

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Don’t abuse the morphine patient controlled analgesia (PCA) pump! You feel sick, your bowels become jammed and if you use it the day of planned discharge, you risk another night of hospital food.

Old ladies beat men on the snoring front.

If anyone with normal bladder function thinks they could sit at their desk and pee wearing incontinence pants (recent conversation, don’t ask!), I would say no after my bed pan experience.

Nursing care was great and very ‘hands on’ in contrast to one of Jeremy Hunt’s proposals in response to the Francis Reportstudent nurses to spend a year on basic ‘hands on’ care as part of their nursing degree.

As a food lover, this was my only area of concern. Hospital food in Scotland has to meet nutritional standards but I’m not sure this applied to my Sunday evening meal.

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My friends know me well and had kindly selected some of my favourite foods to take into hospital. Thankfully I was able to supplement my meal with fresh fruit and homemade muslei bars (I was starving) but you have to wonder about the nutritional status of long term patients? Nutrition is key to recovery and reducing the risk of complications; hopefully the celebrity chef drive to improve the standard of hospital food will be successful and lead to sustainable change.

So I’m now back at home resting up and patiently letting my body heal. I’ve been surprised just how much surgery takes out of you. The tiredness takes a while to shift and at just over two weeks post op I’m now managing to get through the day without a nap. I’ve been dreaming…..I dreamt I’d been paddling one of my friends boats (which I would never fit into), mountain biking and doing a ridge walk so hopefully that is a sign of things to come. My glute has halved in size during this time which is astonishing so lots of hydrotherapy and physio to follow.