Thursday, 5 July 2012

Change and Discovery

Change is something that I, like most of us, have as a constant companion. If you had asked me at the start of this year whether I was ever going to stop my career in healthcare I would have answered 'highly unlikely'. However, I have discovered that even though something may be highly unlikely, it is still entirely possible! 
I found out a few months ago the reason that I have never felt quite right. I was born with a genetic condition that affects the collagen in my body, known as a Connective Tissue Disorder. This is not to be confused with autoimmune conditions such as Lupus, or Rheumatoid Arthritis, where the body begins attacking itself. My condition is due to a mutation at the genetic level. What this means for me is that I am very flexible. Flexibility is often considered a positive attribute to have, and sometimes for me it is. Mostly though, it is not. My ligaments (the connective tissue that holds one bone to another) do not behave 'normally', in fact in so far as I can tell, they don't do much at all. Like over-stretched elastic they allow my bones to move around and often bones move out of position (known as subluxation). Again, in some people this is not an issue, and some people are able to dislocate joints then relocate them with no pain or obvious damage. For some reason my body seems to be in a constant state of inflammation, focussed around the joints that readily sublux. Frustratingly, with inflammation comes pain. It is not always very severe, and I often try to quantify it on a scale of 1-10, 1 being virtually no pain, 5 bearable and 10 the worst pain I can imagine, this allows me to keep my pain in perspective. I also have the likelihood of joint damage to look forward to as I age, and I already have had the cartilage removed from my right ankle (from an injury in 2001), so it has reduced function. I manage the condition with lifestyle aids, the same as are used for people with arthritis, activity modification, diet and medication. When needed, physiotherapy is very helpful to me, as is acupuncture.
This all sounds pretty dreary, and when I came to the realisation that I would have to give up the work that I loved I was understandably devastated. I had been working as a Remedial Massage Therapist for the best part of 10 years and specialised in treating Lymphoedema as well as Injury Management. I was informed by a number of healthcare providers that if I chose to continue doing this type of manual work I would most definitely cause irreparable damage to my joints. 
This is not the first time this has happened to me. When I broke my ankle I had to leave my career in IT (which I wasn't so devastated about), and figure out what to do next. So, here I am again, but this time I am better informed and in theory better prepared.
This has given me the perfect opportunity to follow a childhood dream. Like most kids I was fascinated by dinosaurs and fossils, and now many years down the track, I still am. My parents partially shaped this fascination. My father is a retired Dr of Geology, and even though he didn't specialise in Palaeontology he has always loved and collected fossils when the opportunity arose. My mother was a Librarian, an avid collector of books and has a background in English Literature. So as my closest childhood friend often said, 'you can always find a book on any subject at your (my) house,' this is particularly true for books on nature and science.
I didn't get the opportunity to do studies into Geology or Palaeontology in High School, there just wasn't enough interested students to run it. In hindsight though I am not concerned about this. My careers so far have given me a very nice foundation. From IT I discovered that I am good at pulling things apart and putting them back together, also I have a great aptitude for problem solving. In healthcare I often joked with patients that I was helping their bodies heal or improve by 'putting them back together', and I now have a reasonable knowledge of anatomy, especially musculoskeletal. There was an incredible amount of problem solving in my health work, and I even dabbled in teaching, which requires even more problem solving and extensive research for teaching materials. In the last few years I began to wonder, why, if people are so prone to injure one particular shoulder muscle (supraspinatus, part of the rotator cuff), has it evolved that way? There are many other questions surrounding why we have evolved the way we have that I would love to get my teeth into!
So what does this have to do with dinosaurs, or for that matter, why feathers pre-date birds? I am hoping, that by studying the creatures that came before us and that surround us now, I might better understand why we are the way we are. I am going to apply to do a degree in Science, majoring in Biology and Palaeobiology. The degree will encompass evolution, basic geology, palaeontology (study of fossils), physiology and a great deal more. This blog will be part of this road to discovery and will also include my escapades observing the world past and present. We might all even learn something!

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