Paper:2 Me:0

Papercuts. Not one, but two papercuts – one on each hand. Right now, my pain level can be described as potentially pretty much around the grizzly-bear-mauling proportions experienced by Leonardo di Caprio/ Hugh Glass in The Revenant. You can watch the gut-wrenching scene here (3 min duration not for the faint-hearted). Fortunately though, I don’t have to find a horse carcass to recuperate in (another 3 min video not for those of a delicate disposition). This is a good thing as I busy myself wiping the trail of blood around my home whilst I bravely battle through the brain-fuddling agony.

Perhaps I should admit that my pain threshold is pitiful at the best of times (in direct contrast to my penchant for occasional overstatement). You may recall my 2015 foot injury which resulted in a trip to hospital A&E during which my dear friend Lola sat beside me giggling satanically at my predicament. I still haven’t entirely forgiven her for that (although we continue to be the best of friends), but am duly grateful to her for chauferring me around following that harrowing near-death experience. I’m happy to report that I made a full recovery from my broken fractured mangled mutilated dismembered pulverised seriously injured toes and am once again able to perform the perfect ballerina pirouettes and twirls on my tiptoes like I was able to before the incident (in my imagination).

But back to my current gash/wound/laceration. The researcher in me immediately started looking up scientific papers about this moribund experience. Of course, I have been beaten to the punch, as there are numerous papers and articles summarising research into it, including one disdainful project resulting in a model for measuring fear of pain (including papercuts on fingers). Fear of pain? Are they joking? What I feel is not fear – it is very, very real, very, very present and very, very intense, pukka papercut pain. More reassuringly, though, another brief article titled ‘Paper May Be the Unkindest Cut‘ reported that “The thought of it makes the strong tremble and the weak pass out.

Fortunately, I have not passed out from a papercut – yet! – although I almost do whenever I momentarily forget about having one and use hand sanitiser. Oh! the anguish, the torture, the utter tribulation of this mortal wound! As visions of my martyrdom flash before my eyes, I search valiantly for words to describe the degree of my suffering.

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The Subjective Pain Scale [image source: https://remotemedicine.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/importance-of-pain-scale.html (click to open full size in new tab)]

There are many variants of the pain intensity scale, but the most common one, which is also used in hospitals across the world, is the Numeric Rating Scale (NRS-11). It is an 11-point scale (0-10) for patients’ self-reporting of pain in clinical settings. Known as the Subjective Pain Scale, I was amused to see an edited version of it floating around the internet. I share both versions here for your entertainment.

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The Edited Subjective Pain Scale [image source: https://i.redd.it/gyyndb3xfowz.jpg (click to open full size in new tab)]

Please note that my current papercut-driven pain scale is hovering somewhere between Levels 9 and 10. Level 10 in the amended version of the scale states that it is “pain so intense that you will go to the internet and joke about it hoping that the absurdity of it all will make it more manageable” – hence this blog post.

NB: This post is meant as a tongue-in-cheek catalogue of my papercut woes today.  It is no way meant to be insensitive or disrespectful to those who are poorly, and particularly those suffering from chronic pain and illness. Good health is one of the greatest blessings on earth and its value can never be underestimated.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2018

Tommy’s: the baby charity

As the Christmas trees are slowly de-baubbled and brought down, and the festive lights that adorn homes, shops and streets are switched off and tucked away for another 11 months or so, I find myself reflecting about the commercialisation of the holidays. In 2017, I was one of the guilty ones who hit the Boxing Day sales from early morning on 26 December, on the hunt for anything and everything that I could buy for my adorable baby niece Ayzah. Considering that I am not fond of shopping – even for myself – at the best of times, this was a record-breaking feat for me. Of course it goes without saying that I consider it to be a demonstration of the pure love that I have for my darling little girl, whose every smile turns me into putty and every tear breaks my heart. But I digress.

The purpose of this post is to comment on how I try to mitigate my guilt over my contribution to festive capitalism. This year, I did not give out any Christmas cards or gifts. Instead, I made a donation to one of my regular charities – Tommy’s, the baby charity – which funds research into pregnancy problems to save babies’ lives. The work that Tommy’s does is particularly meaningful to me at this time each year, because it is around the anniversary of my Aleena’s passing. Aleena was still born due to foetal cardiac arrest only one week before she was due to enter this world. She is an angel in heaven and now has a little sister here on earth who will one day learn all about her big sister who is loved boundlessly beyond the realms of time and space.

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image source: http://www.who.int/maternal_child_adolescent/newborns/every-newborn/en/ (click to open full size in a new tab)

The statistics are eye-watering: 2.6 million babies (of those births that are recorded) die annually in the last 3 months of pregnancy or during childbirth (stillbirths) out of which 75% are preventable!* In the United Kingdom, 1 in every 224 births ends in a stillbirth – that’s 9 babies every day in the UK alone! Aleena was born in November 2015 in a country where healthcare (even the private kind covered by health insurance) leaves much to be desired. Poignantly, in January 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a report consisting of a series of papers titled ‘The Lancet Series: Ending Preventable Stillbirth’ which  was developed by over 200 experts including staff from WHO and HRP (the UNDP/UNFPA/UNICEF/WHO/World Bank Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction). You can read a brief overview here. What is most damning is how the complications and dangers of stillbirth were absent from the Millennium Development Goals and are still missing in the Sustainable Development Goals. It is no wonder then, given this indifference at a global level,  that “stillbirths remain a neglected issue, invisible in (national or regional) policies and programmes, underfinanced and in urgent need of attention.”**

All this astounding disregard – despite a 2014 initiative by the WHO, called Every Newborn Action Plan (ENAP), (endorsed by 194 member states of the United Nations!) which aims to reach the every newborn national 2020 milestones – led the WHO Director for Reproductive Health and Research in 2016 to comment:

“What is especially tragic about stillbirths is that they are largely preventable. We know key interventions such as syphilis treatment in pregnancy, fetal heart rate monitoring and labour surveillance have the potential to save around 1.5 million lives. The challenge is to deliver these within an integrated care package that extends from pre-pregnancy through delivery.”

Ian Askew, (World Health Organisation, January 2016)

A research project into national, regional, and worldwide estimates of stillbirth rates in 2015, with trends from 2000, concluded “Progress in reducing the large worldwide stillbirth burden remains slow and insufficient to meet national targets such as for ENAP.

Fortunately, some progress has been made, including the use of an ENAP progress tracking tool. A May 2017 report Reaching the Every Newborn National 2020 Milestones was released, which charted the roadmap of actions that now 48 countries have made towards addressing the issue of stillbirths as per eight strategic milestones. A really good poster summarising the ENAP country progress report can be found here. However, a lot still remains to be done.

Institutional-level initiatives, such as Save the Children’s Saving Newborn Lives program have given rise to the the Healthy Newborn Network (HNN). HNN is an online community dedicated to addressing critical knowledge gaps in newborn health on a global scale. The information and resources available on its website can also be broken down country-wise.

Back to Aleena. Feeling devastated and helpless to support Aleena’s parents, at the time, I did the only thing I could – pray and offer words of solace. I didn’t know how else to support them across the continents. In desperation, I googled ‘stillborn support for parents’ and that is how I came across Tommy’s. The charity strongly resonated with me, because it not only funds medical research into the causes of premature birth, stillbirth and miscarriage; Tommy’s offers support to those parents who have lost a child soon after, as well as information for parents-to-be to help them have a healthy pregnancy and baby.

There are many ways to ‘give back’ during the year, but more so, during the holiday season. If you are looking for a cause to support for either an event, a fundraising activity, or you’d simply like to make a donation to a charity, I would highly recommend Tommy’s. You can donate directly here or through JustGiving. Read about some of the impact of the work that Tommy’s does here. Its research breakthroughs in stillbirths, pre-term births, miscarriages, and obsesity in pregnancy, mean that more babies globally will have a chance in the future.

*Kingdon, C., Givens, J. L., O’Donnell, E., and Turner, M. (2015). Seeing and holding baby: systematic review of clinical management and parental outcomes after stillbirth. Birth42(3), 206-218. You can read the research here.
**de Bernis, L., Kinney, M.V., Stones, W., ten Hoope-Bender, P., Vivio, D., Leisher, S.H., Bhutta, Z.A., Gülmezoglu, M., Mathai, M., Belizán, J.M. and Franco, L. (2016). Stillbirths: ending preventable deaths by 2030. The Lancet387(10019), 703-716. You can read a summary paper here.

NB: My blogger friends have advised that I point out this is not a sponsored post. I genuinely believe in Tommy’s work and that is what has compelled me to write about them.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2018

A Celebration of the Elderly

Normally, on this blog, I like to write light-hearted pieces, or short posts about any random topic that tickles my fancy; but sometimes, a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do. And I cannot shy away from writing this any longer.

In Africa, where I grew up, there is an oft-used adage, “When an old person dies, a library is burnt to the ground.” This proverb has stayed with me through the years and moves me every time I think of it, because its very essence is based on the utmost respect and regard for the elderly, for the wisdom they possess, for the value of their experiences.

So today, in the spirit of the Easter holidays and commemorating the renewal of hope and life, I’d like to use this forum to celebrate the elderly: the values they stand for; the rich, cultural and familial histories they symbolize; their infinite patience and forbearance; their love for even those who are at their most unlovable; their special bonds with their grandchildren. The list is simply endless.

Indeed, such recollections remind me of various unique “only-with-the-elderly” moments in my life. Memories that I wouldn’t exchange for all the gold or diamonds in the world!

A darling Grand-Aunt has often surprised us with some astounding slips of the tongue which undoubtedly deserve a place of honour in the family hall of fame. Indeed, the family has often ended up in stitches of laughter, literally laughing till the tears flowed from our eyes, with priceless name gaffes such as Graffi Stef (Steffi Graf), Silver Stallion (Sylvester Stallone), Madeline Fullbright (Madeline Albright), not to mention a dear personal friend whose name is Arish, but is known to Grand-Aunt Dearest as “Ashar”.

Then there was the family acquaintance who was in hospital recovering from operative surgery. Grand-Aunt, ever the concerned mother-hen, called him up to enquire how his “elastoplasty” went. The patient was gracious enough to reply that all was going well. Meanwhile, myself and the rest of the family busied ourselves in prayer that his stitches wouldn’t come undone from the hysterical shock of hearing Grand-Aunt’s ‘minor’ mispronunciation of his “angioplasty” procedure. It was not an easy task, I assure you, as the image of the poor chap being constantly “twanged” with elastic bands by the nurses continuously replayed in our minds.

My all-time favourite though, has to be when Grand-Aunt was telling a friend of hers, during a serious conversation, that my mum used to be a “medieval” reading teacher. She meant remedial! – but since then, whenever I tell people about my mum’s work, I visualise her dressed up in apron-topped antediluvian clothes with a bonnet on her head, perched upon a barrel in a castle courtyard, teaching phonics to children of aristocratic knights and proletarian cottiers.

When it comes to economic issues though, no one brought a brighter smile to my face than my grandfather. For in his “real world”, his haircut used to cost a whopping thirty Rupees (equivalent to current £3)! Of course darling Grandpapa was blissfully unaware of the additional two hundred Rupees (equivalent to current £20) that my Uncle used to secretly slip to the barber. God rest both their souls in peace.

Even more amusing were the various covert acts that the family had to resort to whilst taking Grandpapa shopping. It still makes me smile to recall an incident when, as a student, I had to buy some stationery items. As luck would have it, I was accompanied by my grandfather into the shop. I tried unsuccessfully to get him interested in the various books on display, but by the time I had selected what to purchase, he was right there with me at the cash counter. Initially, I tried to make eye-signals at the shop-keeper to convey the hint that he should follow my cue. However, either the man had never seen a James Bond movie, or read a spy novel – or he thought I was making eyes at him! Literally. Actually, in hindsight, as I reflect on the episode, I fear it must have been the latter case. Oh God. The horror of it all! Poor man. Needless to say, it’s one shop that I never had the mettle to visit again.

Anyhow, as you might guess, when the actual tab was drawn up and announced in full hearing of Grandfather Dearest, his outrage lasted for quite some time. For months on end, the family was treated to the story about how “Saneeya was conned by a shopkeeper,” having paid a mind-blowing hundred and twenty Rupees (equivalent to current £12) for a set of markers (Crayola ones, mind you!) and some manilla sheets!

There are so many respects in which the elders around me have enriched my life. For me, they are a much-beloved source of strength and courage. They serve to inspire me during my own tough times and to bring out the best in me.

For every time I think of the worth of elderly persons, I feel humbled and blessed to have them around me. To me, they are indeed, one of God’s miracles. A celebration of what hopes and dreams still lie in the future. A celebration of all the goodness that still exists in this world. I salute them all!

Saneeya Qureshi © 2017

The Jeevan Bindi

A recent item in the ‘Times of India’ newspaper piqued my interest the other day – an exciting new health initiative aimed at tackling iodine deficiency in Indian women. Many countries in the developing world face health-related concerns in burgeoning populations which do not have access to appropriate and timely medical care. Such issues are addressed by a variety of charities and organisations that are set up with the primary objectives of developing innovative and enterpreneurial solutions. One such NGO or Charity, is the Neel Vasant Foundation, based in India. It’s listed aims include “developmental activities among the rural and tribal population of India.”

The Foundation has recently pioneered what is known as a the Jeevan Bindi or ‘Life-saving Dot’. The idea is essentially similar to that of an iodine patch, except that in this case, delivery is through a religious symbol – the bindi, or visible dot on the forehead –  which is worn by Indian women. For a brief explanation, I invite you to watch the 1-minute introductory video below:

Whilst I commend the initiative, and how “The bindi does not have any side effects or cause skin rashes and can be worn for many hours at a stretch. After the iodine of the bindi is absorbed by the body, it becomes a regular dot,” I am slightly concerned by the following section in their press release:

“The bindi needs to be worn every day for up to eight hours to be effective. It can be worn at night and even by pregnant women… (however) the NGO has yet to monitor the impact of the bindis on the iodine levels of the tribal women, Grey is now working on the second phase of this project wherein they plan to make these bindis available in the market.”

If the NGO has yet to monitor the impact of the Bindis on women’s iodine levels, then why are they releasing the product to the public, instead of first conducting a clinical study or randomised control trial? Apparently, I am not the only one with reservations. This article poses a number of medically-informed questions regarding the Jeevan Bindi, some with answers, some without. My aim in writing about the Jeevan Bindi project in this blog post is to raise awareness of the wonderful potential of this initiative, and to try to garner support for further research into the medical questions that should ideally be answered before it is mass-produced and disseminated to women. I whole-heartedly support such ideas, purely because of their simplicity and the wide-reach that they have with regard to those who need them the most.

Let us hope that all testing for the Jeevan Bindi occurs under monitored conditions, and that all outcomes favour the mass-distribution of this life-saving instrument.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015

Lessons from my physical disability

Growing up, I often heard what is purported to be an American-Indian saying, “Never criticise a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.” Regardless of the veracity of its origins, the empathetic notions that are meant to be derived from it were made patently manifest to me after I experienced near-labour-levels of pain broke fractured mangled mutilated dismembered pulverised seriously injured two of my toes some days ago. (note to self: play down the degree of severity incase mother reads this blog)

I shan’t bore you with the technicalities of the incident, suffice to say that I was saved from going into shock on the spot because my dear friend who accompanied me to the Accident and Emergency Unit at the Hospital could not stop giggling at the incredulity of the situation. What’s that saying about a true friend being someone who sits with you and laughs whilst you have visions of needing reconstructive toe surgery as you almost faint from the pain of a crushed foot – yes, I’m looking reproachfully at you Ms. LOL-A. (What a coincidentally apt acronym of your name!)

Anyhow, so back to the purpose of this blogpost. What an eye-opening few days I’ve had. Now, although my doctoral studies have been about the support given to children with special educational needs and disabilities, actually having a disability – albeit a temporary one – has afforded me a first-hand insight into the daily travails faced by those whose physical mobility is impacted to some degree.

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image source: National Council for the Development and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities (CONADIS)

The time taken hobbling between offices, for instance, has doubled. As has my planning in terms of the accessibility options available within various buildings. I now have to think twice before making multiple trips to and from the printer in my office, and have also been constrained by my inability to dash up the stairs to pick up a notepad from my desk whilst en route to a training session directly after a meeting at a different location. All these examples have led me to reflect on just how much allowance we make for those with physical disabilities during our day-to-day activities. Working in a higher education institution, I am aware of expectations for instance, where students sometimes have a mere 30 minutes between lectures, during which time they are expected to not only buy lunch from the bustling campus cafeteria, but also move speedily between lecture locations, which could be from one end of campus to the other.

My doctoral  research afforded me an insight into support levels for those with disabilities, but my first-hand experiences of disability have afforded me the empathy that is so critical when it comes to planning for provisions and initiatives which take into account those who are “differently-abled”.  This website has some useful practical tools and tips that we can implement in our daily lives.

To conclude, on a light-hearted note, I can finally say that I achieved one of the items on my bucket-list: I literally brought traffic to a standstill this morning, as the drivers waited patiently for me to hobble across the road. Granted it wasn’t because of my stunning beauty – but hey, my attractiveness played some part in it, right? You can’t blame a girl for trying!

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015