My name is Helen Jones and I’m a doctor employed by the British Antarctic Survey. For the next nine months I’ll be working on board the James Clark Ross as she performs scientific research in the Southern Ocean and supplies the British research bases of Antarctica.
I’ve started this blog in the hopes of entertaining and giving people a chance to see some pretty pictures. I might even throw some science in occasionally!
Thursday, 20 October 2016
Smoking and GUM
As many people would probably be willing to bear out, I’m
not the world’s most tactful person.Possibly a terrier with a rat is a better description. So the provision of
public health advice and education whilst on board ship has been a tricky
subject. In every workplace I’ve seen co-workers smoking or struggling with
weight issues, but not only did I not live with those people, I wasn’t their
I try to be aware that there is a fine line to walk between
actively promoting good health and simply being annoying. People are very
accepting of my sobriety whilst at the bar (I am going to be such a light
weight in Stanley!) but I imagine that might change if they were worried that
their alcohol consumption was being watched or their “fresh air” breaks were
being totted up. It’s important to switch the doctor brain off at these times;
people who don’t want to stop smoking aren’t going to simply because I harass
them in the bar.
The bar on the James Clark Ross
A darts board on a ship feels like the definition of optimism
I’ve also learned to recognise the “buts”. The
people who button-hole me in the bar to inform me that they really would engage
with smoking cessation or some other change, “but”... When I’ve provided the
tenth solution in a row to someone who is telling me that they “would have
stopped smoking but...” I realise that they aren’t really looking for
assistance with smoking cessation; they’re looking for absolution. Does that
sound horribly unsympathetic? It’s not meant to; it’s simply that I can’t force
someone to change if they don’t actually want to.
Imagine, therefore, my deep and unreasoning joy when some
poor beggar unwittingly released the full force of the Helen-educational-urge
upon himself. All he said was that he understood that lungs repaired themselves
fully if you stopped smoking by a certain age and I was away. I was drawing
graphs, waving my hands in the air, the scent of a convert in my nostrils. He
egged me on; there’s no other way to describe it. We passed swiftly from the
benefits of smoking cessation to discussion of the two-hit hypothesis in cancer
generation. From there we spent a brief but enthralling interlude with blood
transfusions before moving on, I know not how, to the lush fields of sexual
Sexual health education is a personal pet peeve. It is such
an incredibly vulnerable area of people’s lives and has the potential to make
people deeply unhappy. It follows therefore that when I have the opportunity to
disseminate (pun intended) information about sexual health, I seize it with
both hands (stop giggling at the back). I waxed lyrical about the various
different conditions and their symptoms. I expounded on contraception. Finally
I explained that for good sexual health, it is highly advisable to visit a GUM
clinic between sexual partners. And then I turned around and found the senior
officer gazing at me with an expression of utter bemusement, no doubt wondering
why on earth I had turned the bridge into a sexual health lecture theatre.
Ah...I’ll just be...that is to say...heading downstairs then...sorry Boss.