Monday, 29 May 2017

The Manchester Bombing: Predicting the Unpredictable

You will all be familiar with the tragic events in Manchester on Mon 22nd May. 22 people died in the worst terror attack my local community has experienced since the IRA bombing in 1996. In 1996, no one lost their lives. In 2017, children, siblings, friends, parents lost those who meant the world to them and others will have their lives affected by the injuries and scenes they encountered that night. The community is grieving but fighting for the love, respect and diversity that makes Manchester the greatest city in the world!

I was in Manchester that night for a meeting that ended up being cancelled so was safely tucked up in bed by 10.30pm. As my train pulled into Piccadilly earlier that evening, I was struck by the feeling that there was going to be a bombing. As I walked through the station I found myself looking at the other commuters more closely. I’m a nervous traveller so these kind of thoughts are not uncommon. After I heard the news that night I dismissed this feeling for what it was: A COINCIDENCE!

The ability to (seemingly) predict the future is a skill that societies and cultures have valued for millennia. Those soothsayers who got it right (or agreed with the actions of those in power) were rewarded and those who got it wrong were dismissed or worse… In these more enlightened times we would like to think we are beyond this. Sadly not. There are still those who claim they can accurately predict future events and that with their help they can be prevented. 

Dr Louis Turi believes he can predict the future via a method called Divine Astrology or Astropsychology (astrology and ESP). Helpfully, this is the method used by Nostradamus. As all good psychics do, he has a backstory involving his grandmother. He claims to have predicted a number of world events such as hurricane Katrina, Columbia shuttle disaster and 9/11. Standard. His prediction for the Manchester bombing, which was included with a number of other statements, seems to have amounted to the following:

         “Ugly face of death drama horror surface”

If you needed further convincing, you can check out his predictions for the TV show Weird or What in January 2012. For the more sceptical among you, you will note there are 6 vaguely worded general statements involving commonly-occurring events (weather, natural events, scientific announcements, explosions in war zones etc.) and a range of dates. Despite this scattergun approach, ‘only’ 4 of the 6 can be linked to real world events. For believers, this is still above chance level. I’ll let you decide.

Rather than Dr Turi’s self-promotion, you can genuinely help those affected by donating to the MEN or Manchester Bee Tattoo Appeal Just Giving pages. Please remember, the small acts of kindness and understanding you show your fellow humans means the terrorists have not won. Love will always win over hate. 

Monday, 1 May 2017

A Sceptic Gets Acupuncture!

15 years ago I was diagnosed with suspected endometriosis. I had been having progressive pain and soreness which appeared to be related to my monthly cycles. I was prescribed progesterone and sent on my way. Unfortunately, the hormones give me depression. Once the course ended I resolved to spend the rest of my reproductive life without children, a meaningful sex life and unable to wear tight clothing. 

This was fine (there are worse things!) until I approached the perimenopause. After having a year where my symptoms (vaginismus) seemed to improve following a new relationship, it got significantly worse. The pain became more frequent and intense. I also had a delayed reaction to triggers that were difficult to predict. I sometimes physically shook with the level of discomfort. Instead of looking forward to an end to pain (menopause) I was unable to do activities I used to enjoy. 

After being given the all clear from fungal and bacterial infections I was diagnosed with vulvodynia or vulval pain syndrome. This is essentially the label they give to unexplained vulval pain when there is not obvious cause. It is believed to be the result of overactive nerves which the brain interprets as pain. There is no cure and the condition can last for years. Obviously, I was upset at the diagnosis as I had gone from a condition that would last another 5 ish years to one that could last a lifetime! 

The Vulval Pain Society website is an excellent resource Vulval Pain Society It recommends a range of treatments to alleviate the symptoms including; creams, anaesthetic gels, a low oxalate diet and acupuncture. The scientific evidence for the latter is sketchy at best, but I figured I had nothing to lose. My only other option was the antidepressants my doctor had prescribed. I spent a fortune in Boots on various products and avoided high oxalate foods, e.g. spinach, leeks, dark chocolate, alcohol, carbonated drinks.

I found an acupuncturist in the local area who had previously treated a woman with the condition. I had previously had acupuncture for shoulder pain on the NHS. I was therefore hopeful but sceptical. The process is as you’d expect. You discuss your symptoms and then have pins inserted where the issues are or are connected to (meridians). Some of these pins hurt, others don’t. You then lie there for 20 mins to relax. I went once a week. For the first 3 treatments I had a nice floaty, out-of-body type experience which was probably due to a release of endorphins. Pleasant enough but would it work?

Now I have had 5 treatments I feel in a position to comment on its effectiveness. I started to see a positive effect after 3 sessions but was cautious to accept any improvement at first. Whilst I still have the soreness, the triggers are fewer and periods of intense pain have been limited. I have now also seen an NHS specialist who has diagnosed me with dermagraphism, prescribed antihistamines and sent me for allergy testing. If I get the all clear from this, there’s an excellent clinic in Manchester for vulval pain. 

Whilst I’m not out of the woods yet, this improvement has had a positive impact on my mood and my closest relationship. I now have some hope that I can get the symptoms to a point where they no longer significantly interfere with my life. Acupuncture may not have contributed to this but those who find themselves with conditions with no ‘cure’ need to feel they have some agency in managing it. The placebo effect is well documented but a different mental frame of reference is invaluable to getting you through dark times.

DISCLAIMER: I have made a lot of lifestyle changes during this time so any improvement may be caused by one or more of these things!