Tag Archives: learning

Shit I Am Going To Have To Relearn Going Home

Travelling through developing countries is a whole other world compared to the cushiness that you experience living in a country like Australia. For the last year or so, I have developed habits that I daresay are going to follow me around for a while. Some of the things that I am going to have to relearn when going home are as follows:

  1. Toilet paper belongs in a toilet, not a rubbish bin

It is fair to say that plumbing here is fairly shit. So shit in fact that if you throw toilet paper in the toilet and clog it up, you’re facing more shit than you could ever dream of. After my very first trip to Asia, I came wandering into the kitchen of my flat with my toilet paper and my housemate asked me what the fuck I was doing. That is a superb question really. After a year and a couple of months of this, it is going to be a hard habit to break.

2. Taking toilet paper with you everywhere you go

Because they bloody well don’t provide it anywhere. And if you’re lucky to get charged for a toilet that actually has paper you can be sure that they will give you four squares and look at you strange because you ask for more. The truth is, if you’re a woman peeing, you need more, sometimes that shit sprays. If you’re a woman on your period, four squares is also definitely not cutting it. And if you are anyone taking a shit, especially diarrhoea, a measly four squares isn’t going to do the job. As such, you find yourself resorting to the following; stealing napkins from restaurants you eat lunch at, or sitting on a hostel toilet with a cardboard roll and rolling that thing full of paper for ten minutes and then trying to sneak it out of the bathroom down your pants so that nobody sees you.

3. Toilets with actual plastic seats

Long gone will be the days of sitting your arse directly on a cold porcelain bowl or trying to squat over it because someone has kindly pissed all over it and hasn’t cleaned it up due to their lack of access to sufficient toilet paper.

4. You can drink water from the tap without having to boil or purify it.

The days of pouring yourself a glass of water from the tap ended long ago. The constant need to think about where you are going to source your water from and how you are going to purify it is a constant thought process. As one that hates constantly buying plastic bottles from shops as it is bad for the environment, planning for water is a constant thought that I will not have to worry about.

5. I do not need to keep and do surgeries on things that are broken

Everything I own is somehow broken. But when you have no money and having new things isn’t a priority, makeshift fixing is high on the list, when in ordinary life you would just throw it away. Surgeries that have been conducted on this trip include:

  • Using a hot metal spoon over fire to melt the plastic back together of my neck pillow
  • Duct taping around the strap of my backpack to try and hold it together long enough to get me home
  • Sewing holes in the crotches of my pants with patches
  • Wearing a garbage bag as a poncho because your rain jacket is totalled and no longer waterproof
  • Sticky-taping the screen of my iPad together so that the glass doesn’t fall out
  • Using stickytape to hold your shoelaces together so that they don’t fall apart
My engineering mate helping out with neck pillow surgery.

6. Using a telephone.

Broke the awful thing that had no battery life on the kitchen floor of my flat in Colombia….. yeah I don’t need another one of those. These days I function with good old fashioned paper maps and email. WhatsApp? What’s that?

7. Having keys

The current check is passport, wallet, water purifier, lip gloss. Keys don’t register in this because I haven’t had to deal with keys for a very long time. Incorporating them into the daily check is going to be interesting.

8. Sleeping in a room alone

When constantly sharing a room with up to twelve people having privacy is kind of weird. When you finally find yourself in a room alone you start freaking out because, well, where is everyone?

9. Sleeping in a double bed

That and you’re always in a single bed with a shitty mattress and pillow. I don’t know how I am going to survive fluffy doona covers and decent pillows. Life is going to be hard.

10. Not packing your bag everyday

This is a reality. Every single day, you pull shit out of the bag, you put shit back into the bag. You are on constant alert as to where everything you own is and trying to make sure that it is in a safe area where it won’t get mixed up with everyone else’s stuff. Watch out Mum, I’m spreading throughout the house.

11. Wearing nice clothes and doing hair and make up

Enough said. Some weeks, I don’t even look in a mirror. I don’t brush my hair. I never put on make up. I don’t care. All of my clothes have holes in them, are faded, and look like shit. It is going to take a bit of adjustment to get used to normal people clothes and feeling like I belong in them.

12. Not constantly saying goodbye to people

Of the most exciting things on this list, is that I will be able to keep in touch with people I meet. Saying goodbye constantly takes its toll and is something that I do on a daily basis. It makes you somewhat closed to meeting new people because you know that everyone is transient.

Well, five more weeks of this and then life changes. Until then, I better get back to brushing my teeth from the bottle and going to bed in my holey socks! Cheers!

 

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Being A Human Guinea Pig

As promised from the previous article “Five Different Ways To Challenge Yourself Daily”, my experiences with the medical testing world.

So when work keeps telling you consistently ‘sorry there are just no hours this week’ (which to be honest is a crock of shit, but we are trying to keep this light and the topic of workplace rights and legislation in Canada makes me very angry), we resort to the only thing we know for more work…. Craigslist.

There is a marvel of things you can find in the ‘ETC.’ section of the Toronto Craigslist and so this is how my run as a human guinea pig began. ‘Oh you will pay me a couple of hundred dollars to do a PET scan and and MRI? No problem! You want to pay me to stick electrodes to my head and play me pulses to see how my brain responds? No problem! And so it goes on.

To clarify, there are specific types of testing that I am not willing to do. For one, I am not happy about being a guinea pig for drug trials. I don’t particularly feel that my ovaries or the rest of my body would be appreciative of me pumping it full something in it that is going to render my parts dysfunctional for a measly couple of hundred bucks. But if you want to look at how my body functions normally by doing a series of tests, then be my guest. As a scientist, I am more than happy to do my part for science.

So, here we go….

The other day I went to the geriatrics hospital. They do a lot of research for Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain disorders and I have done multiple experiments for them. Of the most basic is the EEG, which is where you go in, they strap electrodes to your brain, put some earplugs in and they make you listen to semitone sounds on ‘ooh’ or ‘ahh’ and make you hit buttons to tell you if it is an ‘ooh’ or an ‘aah’. The best part about this is the second part where they make you listen to random sounds for an hour while you watch a kids movie on silent. For me it was a crazy movie about a raccoon that steals and destroys a bears stash of food for the winter and then sets about manipulating other animals into reacquiring what it is that he lost by stealing from the humans. Awesomely funny, even if it is on mute with subtitles. I did this twice before I started getting called in for different tests.

Other EEG tasks I have done have been musical tests where I listen to two sounds and decide if they are the same or different and then replicate the sounds singing later. I have also done tests where they give you 35 sets of 2 completely unrelated words and you have to try and develop a correlation between them in five seconds so that later when they flash you the first word, you have to remember the second word. Hugely frustrating as this is most difficult of the tasks I had ever been given. One time I also had to sit with an eye movement tracker on while I watched a series of video clips and pictures to see where I was looking at on the screen.

EEG
Smashing out some memory games with the electrode cap on

Two days ago they did a test on my memory and how the brain stores information. They sat me at a computer and they would flash a word at me like ‘giraffe’. I would then as quickly as possible determine whether it is living or non living using the buttons strapped to my fingers. From there I had to do this really quick mathematical addition in my head with numbers flashing up on the screen at me and then decide whether the number they showed me at the end was the correct answer to the addition. From there, you then have to recall the word. They do all of this while you are strapped into an MRI machine measuring the different activities of your brain in doing the sums and the recall. The hypothesis that they are testing is whether or not the long term memory is more effective when you focus more on the word that you have to remember or when you are busy with a distractor task, ie. the maths sums. Strangely enough, they have been finding that the words that you do the distractor task with are more likely to be remembered long term as the way that these words are processed in the brain is different. Really interesting study. Probably why I did so well at university studying with the TV on, the radio on, talking on the phone and trying to read at the same time! Me being as competitive as I am too, I had to try and beat my own scores and the scores of others with the decision making and the maths. I was killing it to a point. 85-90% 🙂 Not bad when the average is around 60-70% for the maths! Looks like all of the learning books and the brain training games are paying off!

1016 axial
MRI scan of my brain. I told people I have one, they didn’t believe me

Of the most lucrative and probably most uncomfortable of the medical tests that I have done was the PET scan. After doing a two hour screening of different IQ type tests with shapes and logic and a psychological evaluation, they sent me off to do the scan. They put me in a hospital gown, laid me onto the table and then started to put in the arterial line in my left wrist. Luckily they hit it the first time so it wasn’t too bad in the healing process. They put the radiotracer into my right arm and then I pretty much laid in the machine for 2 hours while they scanned my brain to see where the radiotracer was collecting and if it was more concentrated in specific areas of the brain or not for a specific enzyme that they are attributing to swelling in the brain that is related to depression.

They took different blood samples from my wrist throughout the experiment to look at the concentration of the radiotracer in my blood and I have to say it wasn’t the most comfortable of situations. What I didn’t realize was that they actually put a plaster cast thing over your face to lock it into place for the scan so that your head doesn’t move. So here I am, head locked in in a plaster cast, needles sticking out of my arms, the most ADHD I have ever been and all I wanted to do was go for a dance or move around or do something! The two hours were finally up, I had my arterial line out, went for a 20 minute MRI and took my cash for the day. More money than I would have earned in the space of a week and a half working for minimum wage in Toronto on half a day of being a guinea pig for the advancement of science. I will most certainly take that.

I do find all of these things quite interesting so in the grand scheme of travelling, it is something new and different to add to the resume and it pays quite well. And hey, it is just another thing to tell the grandkids right? Provided that my memory holds out in the long run. Hopefully my participation in research will help them find ways to overcome memory degeneration with age so that I can continue to achieve my million and one goals. And so I won’t have to be a drunk nana in a nursing home rocking chair on the porch enjoying the blissful ignorance of my existence.