Monday, 26 September 2016

Red Thread

 Observing surgery at St. Mary's, a hospital in central London it felt as though I was going down a dodgy back alley to get there. Feeling tired and nauseous from the extremely early start, I am not an early riser by any stretch of the imagination.
  It was a labyrinth. Blank windowless tall walls, the backs of buildings but I get there. I watch as others enter this strange building with its coffee shop and shiny floors like a cross between a shopping mall and a train station. People arrive clutching A4 sheets of instructions and are redirected around the maze. Then it's my turn to enter and I go straight to the heart of it.
  Blues, all in blue cotton clothing and hair nets.
  I look at scans of people's internal structure and watch the beautiful undulations of contours, the waxing and waning as the mouse moves over the image. Light patches and black voids, these are read like words.Decisions,complex choices and frustrations with technology.
  Suddenly we are ready and we go straight into theatre. Gore.They cut through the thick white cocoon  of dressing ,dead flesh and live blood, two stitches.
 I am impressed by the scrub nurses' system and shall never look at hanging 'shoe tidys' in the same way. They seem to use the VAK system and it appeals to my sense of order.
   Another cocoon,it reminds me of when I bought some bumble bees and they arrived sleepy and wadded up for protection.Bursts of compassion through the routine like the blood bursting through,alive. I see the battle between the caring and the struggle with the system. I see emotional lightning as they carry each other,get each other through.
  Surgeons are frustrated when they can't work, like me.
Next a five hour replumbing. Complex, orderly, and intense. I can only see so much of the stitching but the room and it's workings are a dance of people with purpose. We wear radiation protection and the surgeons look like medieval knights going to do battle.
  White light, sea green paper, sky blue scrubs, orange stents and red thread. It ties the clean swabs together and is methodically counted and collected.
I leave after ten and a half hours and the outside world seems ridiculous.

Thursday, 1 September 2016


 Vascular surgery is founded on some lacemaking techniques and so it seemed obvious that I should be showing a senior vascular surgeon how to do a single brussels stitch. The focus was on the importance of tension of thread and spacing of stitches in the cordonnet. With this stitch you also need to go backwards with every alternate row. Unlike knitting where you turn the work over and always work from left to right (if right handed) with needlelace you have to turn the stitch. This is where all my insistence of using the less dominant hand and thinking about things differently comes into play.

   I had focused on embroidery stitches which have similar hand movements or techniques so that the muscle memory was there to cope with the mental rigour of the exacting repetition of lacemaking. There is little room for mistakes with needlelace as it is not always easy to unpick and the thread must not run out mid row .You must be thinking ahead to observe the condition of the thread and all thread ends must be hidden away and evenly hidden away at that !
  The twisting of the thread must be kept in mind and it was the revelation to some surgeons that a quarter turn to the needle every few stitches keeps the thread from buckling or twisting which began this project. Most embroiderers can just let the needle spin out when it becomes too twisted to work with but when that is not possible you turn the needle 'back'. This is also useful when you have a patient! but it is not taught as standard. This is referred to by Prof. Kneebone as 'reciprocal illumination' and is the gold of this project that we are looking for.

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