Sunday, 7 April 2013

A slightly inconclusive posting on human interaction and bird flu

Last Thursday was a kind of Red Letter Digital Day for me. First thing in the morning it was Twitter that dominated my news – a 'lost load' of insulation material on the M62 first thing, one of my brothers announcing to the world he was just off to have a full English Breakfast, an ex-colleague recently relocated to Strathclyde University agreeing with my impression of the wonderful morning Thursday started off as, and another ex colleague, now living in New Zealand, who told  me that he had just seen a White Faced Heron in his local river. The latter, in response to my letting the Twitter world know of the 14 Herons I can see from my front window busy nesting in the trees across the estuary. 

Later on I had an email from a colleague from Australia due to come to visit the School in early May, wondering how she might get from Manchester Airport to University of Salford, and there were a dozen emails from colleagues at work, all seeking responses to issues and concerns  important to them. I belong to 8 or 9 e-bulletin boards that also daily send me many different views of the world. On Thursday morning, James Salwitz (an American Oncologist working out of Florida - see posted a blog on Kevin MD’s bulletin board ( a brilliantly informative blog on the world of medicine – a must sign up for site . Reading his blog, it was for me, a stop, think and reassuring narrative to read.

Salwitz posited the idea that both marriage and medicine are not exact sciences. Salwitz was sharing the lessons he says he has ‘learnt’ during 32 years of marriage. His top 3 tips, well the first 2 were hardly surprising – listen carefully, wives and patients need to be heard; 2nd prepare and think before you speak – but the 3rd tip resonated more seriously – he suggested that the hardest lesson of all is, that when necessary, we should be 100% inconclusive in our communication.

His argument is that in successful relationships, sometimes the best communication, the best approach to decisions, the best way to argue, is not to absolutely communicate, definitely decide, or take a rigid stand. The delicate art of effective human interaction requires balance. Being prepared to being inconclusive at times in the conversations and views we express was his way of describing how to achieve this balance.  

I have for a long time suggested to students that they need to learn to write tentatively – I am not sure there is anything that can be described as an absolute truth so why write as if there is? And I am passionate about advocating that our best work (in terms of working with others in health care) occurs when we work at the edges of knowledge and knowing – that is a place of not knowing.

On Thursday, Salwitz’s thoughts of the power of sometimes being inconclusive in our responses to others absolutely resonated with me. I have increasingly become fed up with having to respond to the fantasies of others and their sometimes distorted perceptions of reality which were often at odds with mine. Inconclusiveness, uncertainty and not knowing, are difficult, frightening places to be for many, but they can also be creative, liberating and satisfying places to inhabit.  

Thursday also saw my local pub (the Anchor) celebrate its own Red Letter Digital Day – Thursday was the day that 'free wi-fi' arrived. Sitting eating a huge bowl of Asparagus and Mushroom Risotto I was able to watch the emails land on my Ipad (there are other tablets available). One caught my eye sufficiently to stop me eating – China was reporting an increasing number of cases of people coming down with the H7N9 influenza virus (a new form of bird flu) – as regular readers of this blog will understand – the influenza virus is one close to my heart and in the forefront of my thoughts – as it will be for many others - the previous version, H5N1, claimed over 300 lives in 2003. Unfortunately as I write this post, my 17th month old grandson has spent a 2nd night in Bolton NHS Trust, with what will be his 4th admission since Christmas with influenza virus related problems. With the best science based evidence available, no one seems to know why it keeps happening – and as I say, inconclusiveness, uncertainty and not knowing can be difficult places to find one’s self in.