It’s Hypermobility Awareness Week!

Hypermobility - "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

The Hypermobility Syndrome Association is running an awareness week, so I thought I’d contribute.

To be hypermobile, at the core definition of the word, is to have a range of motion that exceeds ‘normal’ range. In clinical usage it describes having a wide range of joint movement. And more than that, it can refer to having a range of inherited connective tissue disorders which include Joint Hypermobility Syndrome, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, and others such as Marfan’s Syndrome. In these latter cases it is never as simple as just ‘being that one kid in the class who can bend their thumb backwards’ – it comes combined with a range of symptoms that can interfere with daily life on a wide scale – from small troubles with minor dislocations and minor pain, to larger troubles with major dislocations and pain that impedes walking or driving ability, to gastric disorders or even spontaneous rupture of blood vessels, or spinal issues like scoliosis and Chiari Malformation. It’s a huge umbrella of various conditions that can be interconnected, and all of which affect each person with them differently.

I have EDS Hypermobility Type, which means I synthesise collagen badly and it primarily affects my joints and gastric system. My neck and back are bent out of shape, although you would never tell from the outside, and sometimes my head sinks into my neck enough to give me terrible headaches, particularly when lying down or using pillows / resting my neck on things. My blood vessels are extremely elastic (giving blood is difficult) and so is my stomach – it’s easy for me to get ulcers. The ligaments holding my eyes in place are too loose and it gives me double vision. But the main problem that affects daily functioning is the joint laxity and the daily dislocations. Every joint in my body does it, but particularly the feet, hips, shoulders and ribs. I used to use various walking aids – stick, wheelchair, crutches – but as my condition changes and adapts so do I – these days I mostly use shoe orthotics and stick to a specific exercise regimen to keep the muscles supporting the joints strong.

To get an idea of how different the disorder can be for different people, I have had friends with the disorder – one of whom was able to drive while I could not, but who struggled picking things up from the floor while I was fine with that, and another who got excruciating hip pain but was still able to wear high heels, which I cannot. And another still, whose main issue was preventing her blood vessels from rupturing from the smallest and most insignificant of tasks. Some of us can give birth easily, some cannot. It really depends on your personal makeup.

So that’s a general overview. I want to spend a bit of time looking at complications someone with hypermobility might encounter when having another medical issue or situation. In the past I’ve shattered bones easily, but luckily have not had to deal with plaster casts. It’s a relief, because the thought of dislocating while in a cast and being unable to set it back in myself while also having a broken bone scares me a little.

Therefore it’s topical that recently I elected to undergo surgery to remove breast tissue, which (among other reasons) I expect to lessen the number of rib and shoulder dislocations I currently experience per day. A quick note: this is not suitable for the majority of folk with EDS, because surgery is not a cure for the collagen problem, and it comes with many complications. However it was suitable for my particular case. For a non-EDS patient, undergoing this surgery forms about a few weeks of pain, the first three or so days being the most intense, and then mostly, things go fine with little complications other than potential infection.

For an EDS patient, the complications are somewhat different. My body fought off infection pretty well following the surgery, but having to not move much in the weeks following, combined with compression bandaging around the chest, meant that a lot of my joints fell out and I was unable to manoeuvre them back in properly. The shoulders and back have been the worst, but I’m actually quite happy to say that, barring the first three days of recovery, that’s where the most pain is actually coming from. It’s important to remember that hypermobile patients need to pay the most care and consideration to re-mobilisation techniques post-surgery. We cannot allow our ligaments or tendons (the connective tissue around the joints) to become too foreshortened, or we run the risk of joint issues complicating and lengthening the recovery period, and of muscle cramps and frozen nerves. But we also cannot move too much to relocate a dislocated joint if it runs the risk of reopening the surgery stitches, et cetera.

Because the surgery was largely to solve an EDS-related issue, I prepared well enough that I’m handling it okay, but it’s definitely one of those things, along with giving birth, or getting a plaster cast, that needs to be approached with extra attention for those with hypermobile conditions.

I would dearly love to write more on this, but I do need to take a break and heal up more – I have already spent too much time typing. Well, I hope I have educated you at least a small amount!

For more info do head on over to the Hypermobility Syndrome Association’s pages:

Hypermobility is only the tip of the iceberg


I’m writing one-armed for fear of awakening the devil in my shoulder blade. Seriously, this devil wields my shoulder like a knife.

If I could harness this power, I’m sure I could have been a fantastic performer for Cirque du Soleil. But real life has other plans, it seems. Ehlers Danlos is not an appealing illness, unless you like pain. And not the fun kind.

It’s been a trying week. I’m sure that the cortisol produced by extra stress has a part to play in how cruddy my joints feel, and this week there has been a lot of that in the mix. I’ve counted a couple major dislocations and around twenty five minor, on the right shoulder, since Tuesday. Bra straps are killer.

This week the theme for the Oslo Writer’s League Anthology 2016 was announced. It’s an incredibly fitting theme for me right now: the journey of metamorphosis.

Our minds, our identities are always in a state of metamorphosis, as we find out who we really are inside. Our bodies we tend to assume only have two real states of metamorphosis: the pubescent transition from child to adult, and the process of ‘becoming old’. That whole life span in between is seen almost as a static state of ‘adult’, when, for the body, it is anything but.

I have always been aware of my mental state changing, but the real shock to the body system came in 2009 when my Ehlers Danlos syndrome ‘advanced’, and left me feeling like Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle, an old ninety-year-old woman in a twenty-two year old’s body. I imagine that others who have had health issues thrust upon them early in life have felt similarly, have felt the change of body like the change of seasons.

And now the time for transition is upon me again.

I will be having surgery soon, to reduce breast tissue and decrease the pressure put on my shoulders and ribs. I’m getting tired of being unable to even run up a flight of stairs without my bra pulling my shoulder joint out, or my rib pinging apart. I have scars around my torso even from the most expensive and well-fitted, soft bras. It’s almost like God knew I was going to be born with EDS and decided to double the difficulty level.

The difficulty setting is more so unwelcome considering my identity lies somewhat between genders. I’ve never felt a strong association with having a body that’s easily gender-definable. It feels like never owning any pairs of shoes that fit, so you’re always uncomfortable and getting blisters.

So the imminent changes are exciting. I’m not naïve about what these changes entail: I’m aware that the entire process of metamorphosis is itself a journey, not an endpoint. Changing one thing doesn’t mean you’re ‘finished’ as a person. I don’t really think people have a Final Form (contrary to the meme). All we have are things that change and concepts that we align ourselves closer to, like satellites around planets, when those concepts make sense for our current situation.

My current situation is going to change. I am going to find relief, when my ribs don’t pop out with every step, and I am going to feel more comfortable in my skin. It’s not going to cure everything, but it will be an important lesson.

What Watt is what? An experiment with 27 candles.

27 candles on a coffee table

It’s cold today, and my new house has one of those annoying pay-as-you-go electricity meters with a horribly expensive energy company that I’m pretty much stuck with until I get it all changed to my preferred energy supplier.

It’s all electric heaters here, and loath to guzzle more electricity, I was doing ok in the cold until I realised one of my pet rats had started hibernating. That’s worrying, because rats don’t naturally hibernate. Something had to be done.

Now, I do have enough on the meter to get us through this cold patch, but I also have rather a lot of candles – a whole box full in fact – lying around since the move. And in my realisation that the candles could be placed on the coffee table far closer to my pets’ cage than the electric wall heater, lo and behold, a scientific experiment was born.

It’s a known fact to everyone who has stuck their hands too close to a fire that fires generate heat as well as light. So I wanted to know how much I could heat the room by burning candles. And I want to know the output in terms of Watts, so I can compare it to the power of my electric heater.

To start with, it is helpful to know what a Watt is. It’s a SI unit for power, measured in Joules per second.

Tea lights weight roughly 20 grams and burn for around 5 hours – that’s four grams an hour.
6 inch dinner candles weigh 60 grams and burn for around 6 hours – that’s ten grams an hour.
3 inch high pillar candles weigh roughly 300 grams and burn for around 40 hours – that’s 7.5 grams an hour.

So it seems that the tea lights burns the least grammage per hour and the tapers the most grammage per hour. But how does that convert to heat? Which is better?

I am going to approximate that all my candles are made from paraffin wax. Now, paraffin wax burns at about 43kJ per gram of material, or 43000 J per gram.
For my tealights, at 4 grams an hour, that’s 4 x 4300 = 172,000 J per hour
For my tapers, at 10 grams an hour, that’s 10 x 43000 = 430,000 J per hour
For my pillar candles, at 7.5 grams an hour, that’s 7.5 x 43000 = 322,500 J per hour.

I have 21 tealights, 3 tapers, and 3 pillar candles.
(21 x 172000) + (3 x 430000) + (3 x 322500) = 5 869 500 Joules per hour.

But remember, Watts are Joules per second. So we need to convert this.

There are 3600 seconds in an hour, so we divide our answer by this to get the Joules per second.
5 869 500 / 3600 = 1630.41667
That’s ~ 1630 Watts for my 27 candles.

Now, the average candle emits light at only around 0.05% efficiency. So the most significant part of that wattage output is as heat (infra-red) rather than visible light, and therefore it’s really negligible to try and calculate how much of that total radiative power is emitted under the visible spectrum rather than the infra-red so I’m just going to leave it out.

My electric heater produces 2000W (in other words 2000 Joules per second).
1630W for my 27 candles really isn’t all that bad in comparison. I know that the amount of joules per second will vary as the candles will run out at different times, and I know that this is a very sketchy exercise in a field I’m no expert in, but it’s still a pretty decent amount of energy being emitted.

For now, though, I am going to whack the heater on full blast in addition to burning the candles. And Porkchop, my wee pet that started this entire exercise, is certainly benefiting from this double output of heat.

Fun facts I didn’t know before I started this exercise: The temperature in the centre (blue bit) of a candle can get up to 1000 degrees Celsius! And light is measured in lumens, the SI unit of luminous flux (or the portion of radiative power falling in the spectrum of visible light).

Good Things And Not So Good Things About Dundee

I come from Dundee, in a far-removed sort of way; both my parents are from there. My impressions of Dundee are always rather miserable – there’s a reason my parents moved away!  – but I mean miserable in that kind of appealing, affectionate Scots way. So, anyway. It’s a depressing city of grey stone and gloom. So I thought I would make a list of good things and not so good things about Dundee, and weigh it up.

Did you know that the name Dundee comes from the Gaelic dun and , meaning FORT OF FIRE, and the city is in fact surrounded by extinct volcanoes. Sort of. That actually makes it pretty badass.

Good things that have come out of Dundee.

  • Oor Wullie and The Broons.
  • The Dandy and The Beano.
  • That university observatory that made those really cool images of Britain in the 2009 Big Snow.
  • Camperdown Park. CAMPERDOON! It has a pirate ship playpark! Who could forget this place? (It’s probably a lot smaller than I remember it…)
  • The Discovery, the ship that took Scott to the Antarctic.
  • Dundee Cake!

Not so good things that have come out of Dundee.

  • The Strathmore, which sank in 1875 and killed a load of people.
  • The Tay Bridge rail disaster, which also killed a load of people.
  • Which in turn inspired William McGonagall’s godawful poem about it, reportedly the worst in history.
  • The 1906 fire, which reportedly had rivers of burning whisky running through the streets.
  • The grey brick that’s used to make practically every building in the city.
  • The terrible, terrible comic-book font ‘City of Discovery’ sign at the city entrance.

Just noticed, someone has very kindly archived a load of not-so-good things about Dundee on this webpage:
I am much obliged to them.

(It’s not that bad really…)


In which I tell my sister that Scooby Doo is wrong

So I went round my parents house at the weekend, for a quick catch-up since my France trip, and ended up revising my continental geology textbook in the garden whilst my little sister drew on a whiteboard.

She drew a volcano, a pretty generic strato-type cone, and proudly announced to me that she knows how to draw them now because she watched Aloha Scooby Doo the other day.

Uh-oh. Once my brain’s in geo-mode I can’t seem to stop. Aloha = Hawaiian, and I know there are no stratovolcanoes on Hawaii.

So I said to her, ‘Well, Scooby Doo’s wrong.’

Cue blank stare.

‘Shall I tell you why?’

‘Okay,’ she agrees enthusiastically.

So I tell her that Hawaii is full of shield volcanoes, which look very different to the sticky lava cone she has just drawn. I draw her an example on the whiteboard, and I show her what pahoehoe lava looks like, and she says ‘Coool.’ When she found out that sometimes the lava in Hawaii can flow so slowly you can outwalk it, she drew a couple of guys walking past my pahoehoe flow with a wee speech bubble saying ‘Catch up!’

I them draw some lava bombs coming from the top of her stratovolcano, and tell her this is a Strombolian type eruption, and that I went to Stromboli last year. I told her I’d watched the eruptions from the side of the volcano itself, but that it was safe because the eruptive material always tended to go down the same ash slope, so we could avoid it. She proceeded to draw a little stick figure me halfway up the volcano.

Then I showed her another type of volcanic eruption, Plinian eruptions. I drew a picture of a lava dome resembling Mt St Helens for ease of understanding, and explained that in these kind of eruptions, there are huge clouds of ash that kill more people than the lava does. I told her about Pompeii – she’s pretty young still, and hasn’t yet done the Romans at school – and when it got to the fossilised ash people thing, she was pretty horrified. To annotate my diagram she drew a person lying on the ground to signify one of the ash mummies and added a ‘x1000’ after it.

She was still pretty hungry for more info, so I told her about hydrothermal vents, to which she replied, ‘Oh I saw something about those on TV.’ I told her that the crabs and worms that live there feed off the chemicals from the vents, and can live on the sides of the vents even though it’s very hot.

She then told me a fact – that islands are actually mountains rising up from the sea floor. She even drew me a picture of it. I said ‘Did you know you can get mountains under the sea too?’ and she was astounded. We added an undersea mountain chain to our diagram.

I didn’t do much revision after that, teaching was too much fun.

Later we watched Futurama, in which they happened to go up Olympus Mons. I realised they’d made the mistake of drawing it as a stratovolcano, exactly the same as Scooby Doo had done, but I think by now I’d given my sister enough food for thought. Maybe I’ll tackle Olympus Mons next time!


…to Geology Nerd on, where I shall mostly be blogging about geology and a few other things. I have no regular update schedule and some posts may include more complex lingo – just ask if you’re unsure about anything. This blog should be compatible with mobile viewing, and iPad. Let me know if there are any technical hitches and I’ll try and resolve them – my hobby and current profession is web development so it’s something I’m pretty interested in.