Friday, January 30, 2009

Too Much Information

For reasons that you do not want to fully think about I happen to have recently developed a deep personal understanding of the words "colon" and "colonoscopy". By themselves they are a simply a punctuation mark and a spectrometer for punctuation marks. In the lives of middle aged men though they are the chill words that whisper "You know that whole dignity thing you have been working on since you became a professor? ... it's all over now".

Now, colonoscopy examinations are the cornerstone of preventative medicine for bowel cancer and it seems that women (who seem to be more reconciled the loss of dignity that the medical establishment demands) are just fine with the procedure. There have, however been some pretty spectacular accounts of men who have had colonoscopies in the popular press.

This is Dave Barry's account of a colonoscopy procedure (Danger, do not read this while eating or drinking unless someone familiar with the Heimlich maneuver is present)(LINK)

This is Peter King's account of preparing for a colonoscopy (LINK)

It is the preparation that prompts this posting gentle readers. In the good old days they treated you like a vet would treat a horse and made you slam down a glass of trisodium phosphate to empty the system. Yes, that is the same trisodium phosphate that you can buy by the kilo at the hardware store as TSP to remove wallpaper. It seems that this treatment was particularly effective but rather harsh on the lower bowel and dramatically lowered your electrolytes to a dangerous level if you were ill. So now they have these mixes that they give you. The one I am now familiar with is GoLytely.
Now the good people that make Golytely have a webpage (LINK) that declares that Golytely "Was the first bowel prep not contraindicated for cardiac and renal patients ". So, with that confidence you whip up a four litre batch of this stuff. Now, 4 L of anything is a lot to drink but it tastes as Dave Barry says "like a mixture of goat spit and urinal cleanser, with just a hint of lemon". What you are drinking has to empty the bowel without wrecking your electrolyte levels so the ingredients are interesting (at least they are if you are stuck in the bathroom with nothing to read for six hours).

Polyethylene glycol (LINK) (this is the primary active ingredient)
sodium sulfate (LINK) (this is also known as Glauber's Salt and is also an active ingredient)
Sodium bicarbonate, Sodium chloride and Potassium chloride are all present for electrolyte balance.

In any event I now have an excellent solution assignment for my first year students. What are the molarities, mole fractions and mass percentages of the different electrolytes in the prepared four litre solution of Golytely?

Just remember friends, do not golytely into that good night.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Chemical Optical Illusions

I was reading through a back issue of Chemical and Engineering News (LINK) and saw this ad. Now, the ad has a number of problems that reveal (a) that Chem. Eng. News does not proofread the ads and (b) the good people at B&C Pharmaceutical R&D Co., Ltd. have much better English language skills than I have Mandarin language skills.

On the other hand I always thought that structural chemistry was a kind of universal language. Which means that I was kinda surprised that this adamantane was drawn with the usual perspective that suggests the three dimensional structure but with an odd selection of bond interruption that causes an chemical optical illusion. If you focus on the top part of the molecule everything is fine but trying to make sense of the lower cyclohexane moiety makes my eyes cross.

Or I could be wrong and they really are making what appears to be Dewar adamantane.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Winter Reflections

Ten Reasons why having a snowblower is better than having teenage children when the driveway needs to be cleaned.

10. Snowblowers don’t complain.
9. A snowblower will not shovel out your driveway like a prisoner of war and then run off to happily shovel the neighbours driveway.
8. Snowblowers don’t think that shoveling the driveway once means that it doesn’t need to do it again for the whole winter.
7. Waking up a snowblower means changing a lever on the side of the blower to “START”, you ever tried to wake up a teenager?
6. A snowblower will not clean your driveway and then ask for money.
5. A snowblower will not start a Facebook group “Why My Owner Sucks”
4. A snowblower will not wander the neighbourhood dragging back leaf blowers and lawnmowers for you to feed.
3. When you are done with a snowblower you can legally throw it away.
2. If your snowblower breaks there are people out there who can fix your snowblower for $20 an hour.
1. A fixed snowblower stays fixed.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tainted Blood

In the early 1980's NATO had a program to encourage scientists to work in the research labs of other NATO countries. All that was necessary was that two research groups agree on a project of "strategic importance" to NATO and agree on who the exchange scholars would be. Our group co-operated with a group in the chemistry department of Durham University (In Durham Town (recently (and disturbingly) in the news). Wouldn't you know we got the grant, I got married and headed for England.

Now, we loved our time in Durham. It seemed every street had a convenience store, a pub and a candy shop. We developed an unhealthy love of Thornton's toffee and prawn flavoured crisps (there were root beer flavoured ones as well). Every night we went for hour long walks that were always rewarding. All in all it was a precious combination of honeymoon, adventure and research. The setting was fantastic and the research done in those four months in fact laid the foundation for the research discoveries that would form my thesis three years later. The last two months however I was on my own and my cooking skills were rudimentary at best.

I can well remember rummaging through the tins of prepared meals. I remember one especially that was labelled "Irish Stew with Meat" the list of possible meats in the tin was a bit more than what you would see in Canada and included horse and rabbit. There were other tins of stew that contained something called "Super rabbit" (whatever that was). I figured "when in Rome" heated it up and ate it like a soldier.

The reason why any of this is at all relevant is because the Canadian Blood Services came to our university today. Here in Canada blood is donated and distributed to anyone that needs it. The system has its problems but all in all it works for us. A few years back my family doctor suggested that I start taking a blood pressure medication as a preventative measure since my blood pressure was "high normal" and heart disease runs in my family. That was fine with me but it meant that I could no longer donate blood. It turns out however that since then they have changed their policy and can use blood products containing my medication.

So I wander on down to the mobile clinic and started the procedure, got interviewed three times (with an obsessive interest in my recent sexual history) filled out three forms with redundant information. I finally was eyeballed and interviewed by a nurse, who noticed that I had checked "yes" when the form asked if I had ever lived in England. Suddenly, there was a flurriment and skufflement and a hushed conference behind a screen and I was informed that the Canadian Blood Services did NOT want MY blood because I may be harbouring bovine spongiform encephalopathy prion. Indeed, they did not seem so keen to even be in the same small space with me any more and I was informed that I should leave by the employees exit.

It all explains so much. The loss of my hair and memory, having to pee in the middle of the night and the fact that when I cross the blueline and make a hard cut to the left I fall down (much to the hilarity of the defense). So it is only a matter of time ... I blame it all on the "Irish Stew with Meat".

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For a while it was all about research and then it was all about teaching and now it's all about trying to find a balance while teaching at a small liberal arts and science university.