In October I was invited to take part in some medical tests by the research organisation Biobank, for which I’m a longstanding volunteer. I’ve taken part in various tests for them over the years, most of which have been short and uninvasive, but my latest call-up was for a whole afternoon of full-body and brain scans.
As I’d never had a full-body or brain scan, I figured it might be useful practice. Then, if I ever need to have one for medical reasons, the prospect might be less scary.
With hindsight, I’m not sure this strategy stands up to scrutiny. I’ve never broken a limb, but I wouldn’t deliberately snap a tibia just for the experience. Nor would I purposely wreck my car to make future motoring accidents less stressful. Even so, I’m glad I decided to accept the invitation.
The scans were to take place at a tiny research laboratory tucked away in the corner of a Patchway industrial estate. Decades ago, my very first job was in a similar corrugated tin shed in Avonmouth. Half expecting to enter a familiar grubby warehouse full of men in dusty boilersuits, I was astonished and relieved to find myself in a pristine, gleaming suite of rooms kitted out with expensive high-tech equipment and staffed by medics in spotless surgical scrubs.
All very reassuring until I realised it reminded me of the film set for Coma in which patients’ organs are surreptitiously harvested for the black market.
It was thinking about another classic movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey, that got me through the full-body scans. As I was being fed, immobilised, into a large, noisy white tube for half an hour at a time, I pretended I was entering the suspended animation capsules used by the astronauts to while away their long journey to Mars. In my head I played on a loop the film’s soothing theme tune, Strauss’s “The Blue Danube“, as I tried to interpret the machine’s raucous noises as music. It seemed odd that the scanners were so loud when I could see no moving parts. I began to understand why primitive cultures thought cameras were stealing their souls.
Yet when I left the facility several hours later, my overriding impression was not to do with the extraordinary technology, but with the kindness of the staff as they explained the procedures and gently manipulated me into the right positions for the machines. I was just one of a huge quota of subjects they process every week, day in and day out, for years, and they’ll probably never see me again, yet they treated me with such care and consideration that I felt like a VIP.
While I was only a tiny dot in the vast data sets they’re assembling, Biobank’s findings might eventually make an enormous difference to medical treatment and outcomes for us all. No matter what nonsense is going on at government level just now (I’m writing this article on the day of the appointment of our fourth Chancellor of the Exchequer in four months), if our country has projects like this working away in the background for the common good of ordinary people, I like to think we’ll be ok.
This article was first published in the November 2022 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News
Shortly after writing this article, I read a book called Musicophilia by Dr Oliver Sacks, who wrote many moving and compassionate patient-focused studies of neurological conditions. An accomplished musician himself, in this book he addresses the power of music on the human mind. The following extract struck a chord with me (if you’ll excuse the pun) following my Biobank experience:
There is certainly a universal and unconscious propensity of impose a rhythm even when one hears a series of identical sounds at constant intervals… We tend to hear the sound of a digital clock, for example, as “tick-tock, tick-tock”, even though it is actually “tick, tick, tick, tick”. Anyone who has been subjected to the monotonous volleys of noise from the oscillating magnetic fields that bombard one during an MRI has probably had a similar experience. Sometimes the deafening ticks of the machine seem to organise themselves in a waltzlike rhythm of threes, sometimes in groups of four or five. It is as if the brain has to impose a pattern of its own, even if there is no objective pattern present.
I highly recommend reading this wonderful book – and indeed all of Oliver Sacks books. Although drawn from his career as a highly specialised physician, they are highly accessible, immensely moving works that will enhance your understanding of people and your appreciation of your own neurological make-up. Find out more about his life and work here:
IN OTHER NEWS
Boldwood Books has now published not only their new editions of my first two Gemma Lamb Cozy Mysteries, set at St Bride’s School for girls, but also launched a brand new adventure for Gemma and friends, Wicked Whispers at St Bride’s. The titles for the first two are a bit jazzier than my originals – Secrets at St Bride’s has now become Dastardly Deeds at St Bride’s, and Stranger at St Bride’s is now Sinister Stranger at St Bride’s.
All of these books are now available to buy in all formats on all the usual sales platforms, including ebook, paperback,large print, hardback and audio. A fourth novel, Beastly Business at St Bride’s, is now at the planning stage and will be published in the summer of 2023.
Boldwood Books has also now published its beautiful new editions of the first three of my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, and the fourth will be out on 15th December, with the other three of the series of seven to be issued in January and February. (Murder at the Vicarage was previously published as Trick or Murder?) These will all be available in ebook, paperback, large print, hardback and audio.
The first seven audiobooks of the Sophie Sayers novels are being published by Saga Egmont with different covers as below, with Boldwood Books publishing subsequent audiobooks.
Meanwhile, over in Germany, new translations of the first three Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries are being published by DP Verlag, with these beautiful covers under the series title “Cottage Crimes”. The first two are out now and the third will be launched on 15th December.
With all this going on, is it any wonder that I haven’t had time to publish any blog posts in November?! My Christmas holiday project will be to update my website to reflect all these exciting developments. I may be some time…