Fixing my smile.

My pearly whites, actually looking white…
I’ve been very lucky with my teeth so far in my life: no braces or retainers, no fillings, and – save for one small chip on the edge of my right maxillary (or “top”) central incisor – no tooth-related injuries to speak of!

The only thing I’ve ever been less satisfied with is the whiteness of my teeth; some had become yellowed (I blame my fondness for coffee), and others had what I supposed (correctly) was slight plaque buildup between teeth and leaving some hardly noticeable – yet unsightly – streaking. Therefore when Gloria told me she could help me get an appointment for professional tooth cleaning with her hometown’s best dentist, I jumped at the opportunity!

Here in Spain to become a dentist you used to have to first complete a medical degree, before specialising in dentistry (impressive, right?), and so their family dentist studied alongside Gloria’s father (who went on to become a GP). As a result, when Gloria’s mum called him the day we arrived I was given an appointment for the next day.

The experience of having my teeth cleaned was entirely new for me, having had nothing more than general tooth health check ups done before (and too long ago at that). After some questions about my general health (in case I’d need antibiotics), I was told to rinse my mouth with a disinfectant and anaesthetic mixture, leaving my mouth feeling completely numb; my tongue feeling particularly strange (I will admit that the sensation unsettled me a little at first). Next, the dentist took a look at my teeth and told me that they, aside from the aforementioned cosmetic complaints, were looking nice and healthy.

Then the clean itself began. First plaque was removed from between the teeth and my gums, and between the teeth themselves, with a drill, before polishing and cleaning with a rough paste, and ultimately flossing, following which I was told to rinse and saw my new smile for the first time. Whiter, smoother, and “gappier” (I suppose the plaque buildup was worse than I’d thought, as particularly my bottom teeth were left with gaps larger than I thought they were) than they have looked for a very long time.

All in all, the experience was quick (about an hour in total), comfortable, and completely pain free, but most importantly of all my teeth look and feel amazing. Plus, I was charged mate’s rates, which is always a positive…

X.

Poisoned!

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This blog is up a little late, but for good reason: I accidentally poisoned myself.

If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you’ll know that I work in a laboratory, and it is here that I accidentally inhaled phenol fumes. Soon thereafter I began to struggle to focus on written words and verbal communications alike, becoming increasingly light headed. Being so close to the end of the day I battled through the final minutes of my shift but upon reaching my car to head home I recognised that I was in no fit state to drive, so called the NHS (the British public healthcare service) non-emergency number to ask for advice on how best to proceed…

Before I knew it I could hear sirens in the distance, and for the first time in my life they were coming for me. The ambulance staff were incredibly kind and well mannered, helping to keep me relaxed and even putting a smile on my face. They performed some basic tests to check my blood pressure, pulse rate, blood oxygen and glucose levels, before performing an ECG. Whilst my condition appeared to be stable, the specialist toxicology team with whom the ambulance staff were consulting requested that I be taken to A&E for further evaluation. As my workplace is outside my home county, and given my stable condition, the ambulance staff asked if I had a family member available that could take me to a hospital closer to my home – but that if not they would ask for permission to work within a different remit and take me there themselves.

I am blessed to have the mother I have. She had just received the keys to her new home, and had hardly taken a step inside when her phone rang, but not even twenty minutes later she pulled up next to the ambulance to take me to our local A&E herself. Despite the devastating effects phenol poisoning may present, after eight hours of constant observation, regular ECGs, several blood tests, and chest x-rays later I was discharged.

I am very lucky that the exposure I suffered lead only to mild intoxication and nothing more serious, but am glad that I took action when I did and didn’t try to just tough it out. There are times when it’s good to be a little tough, but sometimes you’ve got to know when to play it safe. May this serve as a reminder that you can never be careful enough when working in a potentially dangerous environment.

X.

 

#StandWithScotty

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Having ridden BMX since 2008 (pictured: my battle-scarred steed), and followed the sport for almost as long as I can remember (first introduced to the concept I believe by the father of a primary school friend), I could be considered a little biased when I say that the BMX scene in particular, and extreme sports in general, is one of the most tight-knit and supportive groups in the world. In my opinion it is made all the more amazing by the potentially solitary nature of the sport; you can ride practically anywhere at anytime, and you need never do it with anyone if you should so wish – all you need is a bike.

The BMX community has proven time and time again that it will come together to get behind individuals facing hard times: coming together to show support for the family and friends of Dave Mirra following his untimely passing in February this year, a true pioneer and legend of the sport (and lifelong hero of mine); and the thousands of people (so far) who have sent letters of support and donated to an emergency fund to help contribute towards the medical bills of Scotty Cranmer following a life-threatening crash (and subsequent complications) he suffered this October – to name just two instances in 2016 alone.

I would like to take this opportunity to draw your attention to the latter, Scotty Cranmer’s cause. Whilst he is making phenomenal progress in rehabilitation – once referred to by a doctor as a quadriplegic, yet now slowly regaining control of his limbs – he is still a long way from recovering completely, and the process will be long and unfortunately very expensive. Please watch and share the videos below (or this post) to learn more about the situation from the man himself and those around him, and click here to access his Road2Recovery profile (a non-profit organisation that help professional extreme sport athletes and their families with financial, motivational, emotional, and spiritual support following career-ending injuries), where you can donate to his recovery fund if you should so wish.

 

 

 

 

 

Stay strong Scotty, we’re all behind you every step of the way.

X.

How to fight loneliness and win.

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Thanks to the development of new technologies the world is continually getting smaller.  Travel and communications have become easier, faster, and cheaper than ever before. Social media allows us to keep in touch with people that in days gone by would have had nothing more than a bit part in our lives, and offers the opportunity to get to know people we’ve never actually met.

So why do we still see so many articles about the “loneliness epidemic”? Maybe society is forgetting how to really connect, and the importance of genuine human contact? Or maybe it’s because people only show their best on social media, and we’re forgetting the uniting (and healing) power of sharing our insecurities, pains, and secrets in private with another person? Maybe it’s because we are more aware than ever of what we weren’t invited to or included in by our “friends”, or because we can see that person our crush (or ex, etc.) is spending a lot of time with, at the click of a button…

The truth is the reasons why don’t really matter. What really matters is what you do about it: loneliness may seem utterly debilitating, but it can also be defeated. It may affect people differently – from mild to devastating, short lived to seemingly endless – but it will affect everyone and anyone indiscriminately, if it is given the chance. In fact, everyone I have ever spoken to about it has felt the same at one time or another.

Here are the five things that I have found to be most powerful against loneliness, and help to keep it at bay when it comes for me:

1) Exercise. The endorphins will make you feel better, as will the satisfaction of swimming a length that little bit faster, or lifting that little bit more, or even being a little less out of breath when you walk up the stairs. You’ll also start to look better too, which will only help your confidence grow and make you feel happier in your own skin. It’s also hard to find time to feel lonely when you’re trying not to notice that your lungs are burning and your muscles aching. Outdoor exercise can get you out of the confines of your lonely room, and simple things like an amicable nod from a passing stranger may have a subconscious effect on how you feel for the rest of the day. Joining a club, participating in team exercises, or even simply working out at the gym can also lead to new friendships!

2) Set goals and document it. What the goal is really doesn’t matter, whether it be getting a new job, passing an upcoming exam, eating a cleaner diet, or even just sleeping more (which is also proven to help boost one’s mood, and will help get you through the next day’s exercise!), set some goals and fill your free time working towards them. Not only does filling empty time reduce how much time you have to wallow in your loneliness, but by documenting your progress you can look back and see the progress you have made, which will not only give you the satisfaction of having improved yourself but can help keep you motivated until you have completed your goal. And once you have, give yourself a pat on the back and get busy setting yourself some more!

3) Find a creative outlet. Loneliness is a powerful emotion, and one best not left to build up inside you. Creativity is a wonderfully powerful emotional outlet, and a great way to express yourself, work through problems in your head, or to simply let off some steam without needing to rely on anyone else. Paint, sing, sculpt, make, design, write, dance… Whatever works for you.

4) Find people like you. Loneliness is not the same as being alone. If you feel like you don’t belong, find where you do. Go to see bands you like in concert, or to watch your favourite sports team. Find your niche – be it a religious centre or a car meet. Don’t be afraid to do things alone, and go with an open mind. I have been to Reading Festival twice, once in a group, and once alone, and genuinely had as much, if not more, fun on the latter occasion – meeting new people and doing my own thing!

5) Disconnect. Get off social media! And if not completely (it is a phenomenal resource for keeping in touch with people after all), why not try to limit the time you spend using it? Social media feeds typically show a mixture of posts from all your contacts, so it can be easy to compare yourself with everyone else collectively rather than as individuals, compounding feelings of isolation and exclusion. What’s more, it can be hard enough to live your own life, without simultaneously trying to keep up with everyone else’s.

X.

No more bad days.

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This morning the sun came out, and it even stayed dry. England hasn’t seen this bright a day for a long time, so obviously I headed out to the local skatepark to make the most of the weather. The photograph with this post is actually from around a month ago – I forgot my tripod today so couldn’t get a good photo – and unfortunately doesn’t nearly do today’s weather justice (though it was taken at the same skatepark, if nothing else!).

Today’s efforts were mostly focused on manual pad, ledge, and rail tricks, and I had one of those sessions where things seem to just work – the cherry on top of an already glorious morning. The park wasn’t completely deserted either for a change (though the others there were riding scooters, but you can’t always have it all). The only negative this morning was that I had intended on trying to fastplant over the larger ledge from the manny pad (which I have always thought would look awesome), but completely forgot once I was at the park. But there’s always tomorrow…

The session’s highlight came in the form of an epiphany on my skate home. I realised the only difference between today and any other of late is that the skies were clearer than they have been for a while: I had nothing special planned for the day; temperatures have actually continued to drop, despite the brightness of the day; and there were more job applications waiting to be done when I got home. It occurred to me that I had essentially chosen to be happy, and justified it with a minuscule factor that is completely out of my control anyway. But there needn’t be a justification for feeling good, and I have vowed from now on to cut out the middleman and choose to be happy just because.

After all, nothing makes a day good like having a good day.

 

X.

Top nosh: guiso de lentejas!

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Yesterday was very grey. And grey days sometimes call for warming, colourful foods! Perfect for a cosy night in, mum and I threw together an easy yet nutritious and superfood-packed meal (and personal favourite of mine), before settling down to tuck in while watching the Vicar of Dibley and Only Fools and Horses (a perfect mix of the best bits of our native Spain and adoptive England). Sorted.

Anyway, here’s how it’s done (and as with any ‘casera’ dish, this ‘receta de lentejas’ can be experimented with and modified to taste):

Things you will need (to do it our way, anyway; serving four):

  • Olive oil
  • 1 small leek
  • 2 sprigs of celery
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 fresh tomatoes
  • 2 small potatoes
  • 2 carrots
  • Pancetta
  • Cooking chorizo
  • Vegetable stock
  • Cumin
  • Pimentón
  • Green lentils

 

What you need to do:

  1. Chop all the veggies!
  2. Heat some oil in a casserole dish, and sauté the chopped celery, leek, tomato, and garlic.
  3. Add a fistful of pancetta.
  4. Once the pancetta has lightly browned, add the vegetable stock, lentils (around 300g or so), some chunks of cooking chorizo, the chopped potatoes and carrots, and a pinch of cumin.
  5. Bring to the boil, then add casserole dish lid and simmer for about 40 minutes.
  6. Serve, and top with a sprinkling of pimentón. Perfect with some sliced bread for dipping!

Enjoy!

 

X.

Eye exam results.

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Yesterday’s eye exam was a bit of a mixed bag. My left eye (the more severely affected of the two) has got considerably worse since its topography was last measured, now distinctly conical at the visual axis – which explains its particularly poor vision. My right eye, however, was shown by topographic examination to be considerably less conical overall than my left, and has changed less over the last 12 months; it has undoubtedly worsened, but only slightly. Measurement of each eye’s corneal thickness also brought good news: both eyes are only slightly thinner than the average thickness of a healthy eye. This is a very encouraging sign, and means I have a greater range of treatment options available.

I am due to be fitted with new gas permeable or scleral rigid contact lenses, and my doctor believes that as a young person with continued degeneration and suitably thick corneas I will also benefit from corneal cross-linking (a process briefly explained in my previous post). This should greatly help my prognosis and hopefully reduce the likelihood I ever need a corneal transplant. However in the grand scheme of things I am fortunate as the cornea is just the window of the eye, and at the worst windows can always be replaced.

X.

Eyesore: what is keratoconus?

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By the time this is posted, I will have returned from the local eye hospital, where the progression of an eye condition I have called keratoconus will have been assessed. I have written this before setting off as sometimes the eye examination requires dilation of the pupils and other irritating procedures that can affect one’s vision for several hours, making using a computer difficult.

The condition causes the cornea – the clear, outermost layer of the front of the eye largely responsible for the eye’s ability to focus (by refracting light onto the retina) – to progressively thin, which results in cone-shaped bulging, rather than the usual dome shape of a healthy cornea. This can lead to a range of visual disturbances and symptoms including seeing multiple images or “ghosting” in a single eye, glare or halos around lights, sensitivity to light, and blurred vision. I personally find that ghosting and halos of light to be my most significant symptoms, particularly in situations with high levels of contrast such as when looking at headlights or streetlamps at night, whilst my daytime vision only suffers from blurring that is correctable with contact lenses.

Initially visual impairment can be corrected with glasses, but as the condition progresses one must upgrade to contact lenses; typically soft hydrogel contacts are first used, sometimes upgraded to rigid gas-permeable or large scleral lenses as required, and sometimes two kinds of lenses can be combined, or “piggy-backed”. If even contacts fail to correct vision a range of surgical procedures can be considered, from inserting rings (called Intacs) into the cornea to reinforce it and artificially restore a more dome-like shape to corneal transplants.

Whilst the underlying causes of the condition are poorly understood and as of yet no cures exist, a newer procedure called corneal cross-linking (or CXL) has shown promise for slowing, and even halting, progression of the disease. In CXL a riboflavin treatment and Ultraviolet-A radiation are combined to induce the formation of new bonds between collagen molecules in the cornea to recover and maintain mechanical strength. However, this treatment is only suitable for cases in which the condition is continuing to progress, but has not yet thinned or scarred excessively. If today’s investigations show my eyes as progressively worsening this treatment option may be considered, but we’ll have to wait and see.

X.