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How to survive an MRI

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a technique that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of the organs and tissues within your body. Most MRI machines are large, tube-shaped magnets. When you lie inside an MRI machine, the magnetic field temporarily realigns hydrogen atoms in your body. Radio waves cause these aligned atoms to produce very faint signals, which are used to create cross-sectional MRI images. (Mayo Clinic)

I don’t know how many of you have seen an MRI machine in reality. I did see lots of those but only in movies. The latest that comes into my mind right now is House. I didn’t have any strong thoughts about them besides that they are cool and then i was just curious to read how they work. Of course, i couldn’t see myself in one of those, only the thought of it made me claustrophobic. I was supposed to have a knee MRI last year, but the doctor i complained to of knee pain thought i have nothing serious so he just send me home. (That’s what they also said about my endometriosis).

So, after being diagnosed with a 7 cm tumor on my right ovary, the last doctor i went to see (was it maybe the fourth one this year) sent me to an MRI to see if i have deep infiltrating endometriosis or any other tumors for that matter. I took some blood tests before and got an instruction sheet which didn’t tell me much i didn’t know already. I knew the test was lasting about an hour, i knew MRI machines are very loud, i knew about the contrast dye, and i knew i had to sit very still throughout the whole procedure. And i knew those machines give you a very claustrophobic feeling. That was the thing i was most afraid of. One hour in that thing? No way i could manage.

But things weren’t quite as I’ve expected. The preparations before the MRI took about half an hour and included making sure i have absolutely no metals on me, this was quite logical, huge magnet there. I thought i’m going directly into the MRI room but instead i had to lie down on a special bed in the preparation room and of course, change into hospital clothes. I had an IV put into my right arm for the contrast dye (that really hurt; note that i am very sensitive to pain). Then the doctor came and i was given some kind of gel in the area down there for better imaging. Now, i know why they gave me hospital clothes, because that gel started to come out from my insides – needless to tell that was very uncomfortable. Some kind of frame was also placed over my abdominal area and tied to the bed which gave me the impression i was actually tied to bed. I was also given a device so i can contact the nurses of i have issues and headphones with rock music on.

After that i was taken into the MRI room, the IV was connected to some device containing contrast dye and had to stay inside, lying on my back without moving for an hour. The only time i was taken out, was to be given an injection to calm down my guts as they were quite active and it was disturbing the image quality. That hurt very bad and it still hurts now after about three days.

I think they injected the dye only once, i didn’t feel anything. But the hardest part was being still for an hour. My back started hurting me, the air conditioning inside the MRI made my hands so cold and as much as Kurt Cobain was screaming, i still heard the MRI machine and heard it very well. I tried to close my eyes, make time go faster but i got the feeling that i was running of of breath and at one point i wanted to call the nurse but i just started to focus on my breathing and meditate (thank you pilates) so i could just get over with it. Then i noticed that keeping my eyes opened and focusing on the machine’s ceiling was much better. I tried to keep away the thoughts about the results because they gave me so much anxiety and instead think at something else.

It was an experience that i’d rather not repeat but given my situation i highly doubt so. I was though quite amazed that the tight space was not the actual problem but the standing still, needles and gel thing . With these exceptions, maybe, i can say the experience was cool in a weird way. *plays House intro*

After the procedure i was taken back to the preparation room, had my IV taken out and given some pads as that gel came out of me for about the rest of the day. I didn’t feel weird at all and continued my daily activities as if nothing happened. So in that way it was very ok.

Later on my friend texted me and she said that the way i described it to her, made it sound like i was abducted by aliens. *plays X-files intro*

Later edit: I just got the MRI results this morning and besides the cyst, which is a bit smaller than seen on the ultrasound, there is nothing suspicious. That is the best news I’ve had in a while.

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19 years for a diagnosis

It took me a while when deciding to write this post but i finally decided for it because of two reasons: if there is anyone out there who won’t feel so alone with their pain, it’s a step forward, please know that you are not alone, and second, there is so much ignorance and taboo surrounding this issue that i can’t remain indifferent.

It all started when i was just 12, a kid basically. You know when girls get their periods and it’s celebrated like some kind of rite of passage. For, me it was nothing to celebrate. It was the beginning of a life of pain and nightmares. All my memories about it are blurred because i wanted to forget the horror, the pain, the misery.

I remember my dad picking me up from the floor, i fainted because of the pain. It was like a thousands of knives were shoved into my belly. Regular painkillers didn’t help me anymore and i had to take much stronger ones which made me sick. The bleeding was horrible. Two times i landed in the hospital with severe anemia. Instead of finding relief, i met horrible doctors. The first and last time i was to see a gynecologist, i got so humiliated and traumatized that for the next 14 years i would avoid them like plague.

I just learned to live with the pain because random doctors told me it’s normal: “That’s a woman’s life – get over it.” I was given random birth control pills by GP’s who didn’t even bother to send me for further tests as there was basically no test to determine what was wrong with me. I tried fours different brands; they all made me sick and the last one, Diane, send me directly to emergency room with severe stomach aches and vomiting. It took me three months to recover. I swore i would never take those things again.

I had to skip classes, couldn’t join sports activities anymore. The real reason was not accepted as a valid medical explanation so i usually came with medical certificates which stated: stomach disease. When i started university, sometimes, i had to go to the exams after a sleepless night. Because i was crying in pain waiting for the painkillers to kick in. Sometimes i had to leave the lectures because of too much pain or bad hemorrhage. But i passed all my exams and graduated with good grades.

Meanwhile, during my university years, i was told about a very good endocrinologist and i went to see her. I thought that this is useless, it won’t help me but i said let’s give it a try and so i made an appointment and told her the whole story. She sent me to all kinds of tests that would take about six months and lots of money. It was a private hospital. To my disappointment, the results were inconclusive. But at one of the last appointments she told me that i might have endometriosis. Unfortunately, because the tests were clear she couldn’t send to to surgery which is the best way to diagnose endometriosis. She gave me instead birth control pills and assured me that these one would be ok because of the low hormone dose.

I gave them a try although i was afraid the previous unhappy episodes will follow. They didn’t. Instead my pains were gone and everything started to be normal. For the first time in my life, i felt that a huge black veil has been taken off me. I knew what it meant life without pain and it was awesome. I went off and then on again on these meds and about two years ago i decided to just stop them. I wasn’t comfortable using hormones for so long and i thought, well, maybe my body has changed and it’s not that bad anymore. And yes, somehow it wasn’t that bad. Until six months ago.

It was the last day of March and i needed to go to the grocery store but i felt this weird pain in my lower belly. It got worse over the next days and i called the local health center. The nurse said to come immediately the next morning. I had some basic tests and the suspicions of ectopic pregnancy, appendicitis and urinary tract infection or any other infection for that matter were shut down. But the pain continued and soon i was able to function only with over the counter painkillers which were useless. During the following two months i completed my chemistry studies and went to work although the pain was present 24/7. In the end, i called a private hospital and made an appointment there.

I told my symptoms and the doctor nodded: “I can’t get anything concrete but let’s have an ultrasound”. A procedure they didn’t two months earlier. After few minutes i see the doctor frowning: “You have a 7 cm cyst on your right ovary”. At that point i froze, i saw the screen and that thing was huge. She continued saying it’s most likely an endometriosis cyst and i need surgery. She sent to the central hospital for further tests. I did have further tests including CA 125 for ovarian cancer which turned negative and i was given birth control pills again to manage the pain. The diagnosis was confirmed by a second doctor. I told her i want to wait and see how the meds are working. She said they won’t work and i also need to consider the small chance it might be malignant. She told me to stop any harsh physical activity because the cyst might burst or i might have ovarian torsion. I had to stop my dear fitness hobby and alter my life around this thing.

The meds though helped me to get my normal life back and in one month i was back to doing pilates. I did have though occasional cramps and the one time i took the 7 day break from the pills, hell broke loose. At this point i knew, i still had the cyst which was confirmed at the follow-up. So, right now i’m on the surgery waiting list, having more tests and trying to stay sane as this is my first major surgery and there are lots of scenarios passing through my mind.

So, it’s not 100% sure what it is but according to my symptoms it sounds very much like endometriosis. A disease whose cause is unknown, which doesn’t have any cure but very bad treatment options (hormones and surgery) and which affects lots of women. I think though that the hardest part is accepting it and learn to live with it although it has been there for long. Before it was a regular inconvenience that just passed but now it has a name.  Before, i had the mindset that this is normal and i should be ashamed for crying out. After 19 years, i learned that i lived with something which i should have never endured alone. This disease is still brushed aside, not taken seriously and patients face lots of judgement from both medical professionals and random people. But i’m tired of being silenced, judged and ashamed. So I decided to speak out.

Art history is one of the subjects i took in university for my bachelor as well as for my masters in museum studies. The courses were quite brief and although i read a lot on my own, i can say i covered just a small part of the world’s art history. Recently i borrowed the movie Seraphine (2008) directed by Martin Provost which is based on the life of French painter Séraphine de Senlis. And so, i discovered a new favorite artist.

Séraphine Louis (1864–1942) also known as Séraphine de Senlis was a French naive self-taught painter who got her inspiration mostly from her religious background, stained-glass church windows and religious art. She came from a very modest background and led a very modest life herself before being discovered by the German art collector Wilhelm Uhde. She managed to lead a better life after her paintings started to sell but unfortunately the circumstances of Great Depression and her mental illness led to her fall and eventually death.

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What caught my attention first was the fact that she prepared her colors by herself using exotic ingredients and i immediately thought that would it be possible nowadays to determine the content of the pigments? Wouldn’t it be necessary for conservation? I would really love to see the conservation reports on her paintings sometimes. An excerpt from the film review mentions: So extreme was her passion to paint that the laundress and maid by day would stay up all night in her tiny rented room mixing her own paints, which she made from everyday items: blood stolen from the local butcher carefully poured into a bottle, melted candle wax from votives pinched from church, what appeared to be pigments yielded from fruits and flowers, and home-made red wine. 

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What i really like about her paintings is the vivid colors and fantasy like plants and flowers in which you can see quite clearly the inspiration from the stained-glass. As i have read, some of her canvas are about two meters high, i think it must be really impressive and breathtaking to admire them in the museum. At one point, the paintings also remind me of colorful handicrafts, for example, used in traditional, regional costumes or in different pieces of clothing. The whole beauty of Seraphine’s paintings come from the fact that it’s naive art, it doesn’t involve professionalism and the flowers do not depict in any way the flora of the real nature. The paintings’ individual charm lies in fantasy like forms and you can see very clearly the passion of the artist in the way she combines the colors and her minute attention to detail. The paintings have a certain repetitive pattern but the repetition lies mostly in forms rather than color and at some point, if you look long enough they seem like they are living and moving.

seraphinelouis

 

Photo source: Google images

 

 

I pressed “Register” button after some hesitation and there i was, enrolled in university level chemistry courses. There were five of them, two dealing with general chemistry, one of organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry and chemistry of the environment. I looked over the syllabus and i panicked. Just to be clear, i did have some basic level chemistry while in school but i skipped most of the classes because i was not into it at all. I didn’t see any purpose in studying chemistry when i was enrolled in a humanities class and i was planning to study in a humanities field further on.

But now i had to find a way of studying the whole five courses of high school chemistry they teach in Finland because otherwise i wouldn’t manage to get even through the first course of general chemistry. I bought the books second-hand (here new high-school books are insanely expensive) and i discovered a great channel Opetus.tv which had very detailed chemistry lessons (a big thank you to the persons who created it and put effort into it). So, during August and September, i spent most of my time watching videos, reading books, taking notes and most of all, solving chemistry problems. Things i’ve never heard of in my life became now very clear to me or at least somehow clear. The most difficult part in learning alone, was that i had nobody to ask when i was confronted with difficulties in solving the problems. Some of the solutions i found online, accompanied of good explanations, some i had to struggle to find a solution for days.

And then i had my first class which started with chemistry of the environment. I remember well up to this moment, i was so nervous about it, i had a knot in my throat and i felt like puking. I was so afraid that nothing will come out of this and i will just give up. This fear of failure made me sick although i promised myself not to come to this point because the whole experience was supposed to be educational and fun.

Then it came the first course in general chemistry, we usually had those on Friday evenings from 17 to 20 and Saturdays from 9 to 17. So, if you wonder how did most of my weekends go last year, there you have it. I’m also really grateful for my work colleagues who covered sometimes my Saturday work shifts when i needed to be in the chemistry class. Of course, it was not compulsory to attend the Friday seminars where we solved problems or Saturday lectures but for me it was crucial to be on set as i was a beginner.

After the first course in general chemistry i found out that all my colleagues had actually a strong background in sciences. I was the only one who had no background at all. All of a sudden, i felt myself so little and out of the place. And after the first lectures and seeing our first homework, i left the class…crying. Yes, i cried half of the way home and a good part at home and asked myself: what the fuck did i get myself into?!

But i didn’t give up. All my free time went into studying chemistry. I re-read the lectures, i took notes, i drew schemes and tried to solve problems. I checked online the things i didn’t understand and even if the result was not correct i tried solving the problem for hours on end and even returned to it before the seminar, trying to solve it one last time. I tried to understand the lectures by myself and most of the times i managed to. Those few times i really didn’t get something during a lecture or i didn’t understand the way one came to a result within a problem, i did ask the teacher.

And now to be honest, i was so afraid to ask the teacher because i was afraid of giving away the fact that i didn’t study chemistry before and i would ask stupid questions and i would be laughed at and not taken seriously. And the teacher would ask: what on earth are you doing here? I was wrong. He never asked me my motifs and he did answer every single of my questions, having the patience to sit with me after class and explain in detail how to solve a certain problem. I did not have the courage to ask in class because i was afraid my colleagues would laugh at me.

Besides chemistry of the environment which was mostly online work, the rest of the courses had exams and i’m proud to say i passed each of them from the very first try although sometimes it seemed impossible. Afterwards i did manage to get higher grades when i re-took some of the exams and realized that upon a second look, things were becoming more clear to me. The courses i enjoyed the most were chemistry of the environment and organic chemistry because it was not that much math involved and since i haven’t studied math in a very long time, my skills were very rusty. I did enjoy though the thermodynamics, kinetics and electrochemistry, some of the subjects i was very good at in physics while in high-school. (Yes, i did have a very passionate love affair with physics in my first year of high-school, believe it or not.)

The courses were not applied in any way to the field of conservation but the main idea was to study the basics of chemistry in order to understand more complex processes. As they were university level courses, the notions surpassed quite a lot what they teach in high-school and sometimes it felt like an impossible mission to keep the pace. High-school chemistry is not that difficult but when you have to cram all the notions in about two months by yourself, you can imagine that the basis i had was not a very strong one. I just barely scratched the surface, not being fully in control of the theory. Even now after the whole adventure, i still feel i need to revise some of the things i learned because i don’t master them completely, especially the pH problems.

What now after the whole business? Well, i can say i don’t regret a bit taking this journey and every sleepless night, effort, tear, frustration, hardship and minute invested in studying chemistry was worth it because it didn’t only teach me precious information but it has made me learn to love a science i once hated, it has opened a whole new world and taught me to think from another perspective. It has given me that precious experience only the people studying science and humanities have it and taught me multiple ways to analyze and see things. On this one i really pushed my boundaries and got way out of my comfort zone. It was very hard and very scary but in those moments i learned to think at the whole experience as a challenge not as a burden. And however difficult things got, there was always a solution, i just needed to calm down, think and find it. And i did.

Was it difficult? It was very difficult but the difficulty was not due to my mental capacities, it was because i ventured myself into university level courses without any previous studies and chemistry is not an easy subject. This was a very crazy thing to do and there were moments when i really wanted to give up and felt so stupid. But patience, work and a change of attitude when looking at things managed to lift me back on track.

Lately, at a lecture within a recent conference i attended, the lecturer talked about neuroscience and the left / right side of the brain as dealing in a very limiting way with science respectively art. Those who are familiar know that this theory categorizes people as having just one dominant side of the brain though being good only at art or science. The lectures mentioned that this theory was wrong and gave as an example well known artists who were also scientists. That was the moment, I’ve had validated my personal thought that being interested in both it’s not impossible. I grew up, and probably many of us did, with the idea that art and science exclude each other and you can study only one at a time. I do think strongly that this is not the case and i would only hope to see in the future humanities degrees combined with science and the other way round.

Where there is will and passion, there are no boundaries.

This august I finally received my diploma for the basic studies in chemistry I undertook for the past year. I came from work and upon checking my mail box it was there, together with a course offer leaflet from the university. I couldn’t believe my eyes and myself because as I mentioned earlier, chemistry was not at all among my favorite subjects. But how did I get to this point anyway? Looking back it seems so absurd and if somebody told me about two years ago that now I would be standing with a chemistry diploma in my hands, I would have laughed in their face. But here I am and the journey started quite long ago.

In 2010, while doing my master’s in Digital Culture, I saw museum studies offered as a side subject so I enrolled myself for the basic courses. The courses were in Finnish and I was a beginner with the language but I could manage to submit my work in English. The lectures weren’t though hard to understand. Museum studies courses and some of my own MA’s courses offered some lectures in preventive conservation and paper conservation. Chemistry was part of them but only at a very basic notion-like level, nothing in depth. I never had a good relation with chemistry because of my teachers who, I think, hated the subject more than I did.

But something in those lectures created a spark. That was not the dry, theoretical chemistry we did in school. It was applied, and it was applied in a field that has always fascinated me, cultural heritage. Chemistry was the key in understanding materials’ properties, deterioration processes and how to prevent or to stop them by relating the properties with outer and inner destructive factors. I understood that paper is of different types, I understood their properties and for example, why light can be so damaging for it. I learned about different pigments used in paintings, their chemical properties and ways to analyze them. I learned about various cases of deterioration of underwater archaeological materials. We also had primary notions of microbiology dealing with bacteria and fungus on historical materials. That was the time I learned the fascinating relation between a field I always loved and a science I never liked. And I started being more interested in it to the point that I decided to study conservation and major in chemistry conservation.

But life has stirred me in a bit of different direction and although completing my studies in museology and working in my field, I never gave up the idea of studying conservation one day. Until last year, when I had an attempt at the only conservation school in Finland. I remained the first on reserve places at textile conservation, a thing that disappointed me a lot. But since the exams are mostly focused on handicrafts and I come from a purely theoretical background this was to be expected. One thing though I was happy about was my chemistry exam grade which was very good despite the fact that I studied chemistry on my own only four months before the exam.

Then while browsing through the list of subjects that our university offered, I got the idea that basic chemistry courses would be perfect for me to get at least a basic education in the field. So, without taking into consideration that the courses were university level and I barely had some high school chemistry knowledge, I signed up for them. And the fun started.

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This is a conversation from a page on Facebook, the initial post was about salary, respect and difficulty for different jobs. I usually do not read comments but scrolling down through them i didn’t help not noticing these two. They are talking about cleaning jobs or blue collar jobs and they assume that if you work these types of jobs, you are automatically stupid.

The first person says that if she (cleaning lady) was smart, she wouldn’t have to clean. She would have more money then and be able to educate herself. He is polite with cleaning ladies but avoids talking to them on complex subjects because they would look at them in a strange way. The second person says that not everybody is smart and must be jobs for stupid people also. But they should be paid decently. (I agree with the last sentence).

This comments left me a bitter taste because as many people do, these two also see things in black and white and tend to simplify life situations a lot. Life isn’t that simple. And to put it straight, working in a blue collar job does not make you automatically stupid. I won’t get into discussions about the present job market and the number of highly educated people who work below their qualifications because they can’t find suitable jobs but they need to make a living. And working in a blue collar job is nothing to be ashamed of. Many of us did it and are doing it in order to earn a living or to pay our studies in hope for a better future. Not all of us are born in rich families or some of us might have the misfortune not to have a family to support us.

By writing this i would like to open the eyes of people who think exactly like the above persons, a mentality which unfortunately, is quite spread in my country of origin. I did deal with similar comments from different individuals because i worked blue collar jobs during college in order to pay my rent. Luckily i didn’t have to pay a tuition fee but life in Finland is expensive and besides it felt very good to earn my own money. Besides that i also learned new skills and a totally new perspective on some jobs that are looked down to. I never looked down and still don’t on blue collar jobs and i can honestly say i met several people with bachelor and even master degrees who cleaned, worked at the grocery store or laundry services in order to earn some money.

Or the situation might be that you move to another country, you barely know the language and that’s quite sure they won’t give you a job as a manager. That is also depending on the field you are working in. In my case, it wasn’t that easy, when most of employers regarded my bachelor studies as useless just because they were done in another country and i did not even get the opportunity to prove my knowledge.

And my last point is that in Finland being a cleaning person requires special training which usually lasts for a year and you learn quite lots of stuff from different cleaning equipment, products, materials to basic chemistry. You can also specialize yourself in different kind of areas like for example hospital or office cleaning. I can talk from my own experience but cleaning in a hospital is very challenging and requires lots of skills and attention. You work in a highly sterile environment and you get in contact with all kinds of sick people and bodily fluids.

I did have a week pre-training before starting and i do admit that sometimes i was amazed at the things i learned that never crossed my mind they existed. I am ashamed to say that i came there with the prejudice that i know everything, this is an easy job, just swipe the floors just to leave with a tone of new knowledge about bacteria, infections, prevention, chemicals, how to dispose of hazard waste, sustainable cleaning or customer service.

Never judge the difficulty of a job by its salary or by the skills you think a person should posses for it. Especially if you never worked a day in your life in that job. Yes, some jobs are easier than others. Does that mean the people who are doing them are stupid? No.

I decided to write here some of my thoughts on presents for loved ones, be it Christmas, birthdays or other occasions. My principle when buying presents is very simple: keep it simple and don’t complicate yourself. For the people I know and sometimes acquaintances I have the following rules:

  1. Keep it minimal. Buy few things but usually quality ones. I sometimes buy just one, maximum two items but I take care that the quality is very good. For example, handicrafts, handicraft shops or fairs are perfect to buy presents. The presents can be also food.
  2. Ask the person. I do that almost all the times in order to avoid buying unnecessary stuff or stuff they don’t like. The can tell me few things and I choose something from those things. Of, course it might now be a surprise but I prefer to offer them something they will really use instead of a disappointing surprise. In case you don’t know the person, money can be a very good idea. At least here, we do that quite a lot. I also received money for my birthday and I didn’t mind because it came in really handy, for example I once loaded my bus card for a month during winter.
  3. Presents don’t always have to be things. I got this idea from my friend who invited me to a cake buffet. You paid a certain sum and ate as much cake as you wanted. You could invite your friend to a restaurant, a concert, a trip, a movie etc. Experiences can make the best presents sometimes.
  4. Gift cards. Different shops have gift cards for different sums of money. This is a bit similar with money offering but it can be used only in that certain shop. It works great for people you don’t know that well and it could be for a shop with a wide profile of products so they can choose from. Gift cards saved me from situations where I was invited to different occasions by people I didn’t know very well. It is an honor that they thought of me but sometimes it can be challenging when it comes to presents.
Tarkan markan blogi

life is a journey, not a destination

Ekojalanjäljillä

life is a journey, not a destination