Trade-offs

In my field of biomedical imaging, we often talk about having to make trade-offs. The idea behind this concept is that reality is never perfect and you will always have to make choices between rocks and hard places.

When doing a heart scan, for example, there are a lot of requirements to take into account. Preferably, you would like to have as much detail as you can, so the resolution should be as high as possible. At the same time, you would like to have as much time frames as possible to give you enough temporal information. Also, you don’t want to put your patients in a large, noisy and claustrophobic MRI machine for too long. Sounds reasonable, right?

However, the problem is that it takes time to generate a high resolution image. Choosing a better image quality is definitely possible, but this will limit the maximum amount of frames and will force the patient to stay in the MRI machine for a longer period of time. Vice versa, you could choose to make the scanning time very short, but this means you don’t have enough time to scan in a high resolution or produce a lot of frames. In the end, as a biomedical researcher, you will have to choose what you think is the most important.

These kinds of decisions, of course, are not limited to technical problems, but arise everywhere in life. Although we like to think our choices are binary -good or bad, healthy or unhealthy-, almost nothing is! In fact, my favourite comedian wrote a song about this called ‘The Fence‘.

As you can imagine, eczema comes with its entirely unique and frustrating set of trade-offs. In fact, it can sometimes feel like I have to choose between being healthy, comfortable and sensible or uncomfortable, compromising my body… but happy. For example, going out and spending quality time with loved ones is basically a basic need. But other people don’t live in sterile homes, restaurants can be very dusty and pub owners have the horrible habit of supplying drunk people with peanuts. 

POISON EVERYWHERE!

Making the decision to prioritise not having a flare up over your temporary happiness sucks, but it gets even worse if you feel like you have to choose between two impossible options.

A clean house is paramount to good skin care, but cleaning a dusty room immediately triggers an allergic reaction.

Stress is the main cause for flare ups, so being unemployed is not the best situation to be in. Nor is writing perfect cover letters and hoping to get hired for jobs.

Sunshine is very good for my skin, it makes my skin much stronger and will help my wounds heal faster. So is tar ointment, except for the fact that it makes my skin extremely sensitive to UV. Like, go outside for 5 minutes and you are red. Oh, and the tiniest amount of sunburn will immediately trigger a flare up and of course increase the chances of skin cancer. The kicker? My skin is way too sensitive to stand sun screen. Seriously, I’ve tried all of the brands. Also, wearing too much layers when it’s hot out will make you sweaty, itchy and can cause an inflammatory response. But well… not covering yourself up when it’s 26 degrees Celcius and sunny… How the hell am I supposed to decide how to dress in summer?!

Of course the answer lies in balance. Much like a rope-dancer, the challenge for someone with a chronic illness is to figure out what is the right decision for you at this exact time, in this exact situation and for your exact state of body and mind. Of course you can’t reasonably decide to stay home every single time just because this is the safer option for your skin. Neither is it wise to throw caution in the wind and just stop cleaning altogether, have nothing else but pillow fights and adopt sixteen cats. Your decision has to be contextual.

But this can be quite difficult to grasp for people who are close to you. How do you explain to your good friend that you can’t attend their birthday because they have a cat, even though they know you spend the night at your parents house last week and they have two…? Or that you politely decline the allergy-proof food that they prepared specifically for you because you have a bad skin day and you prefer to skip dairy, but you just had ice cream together last week.

Well… you can start by writing a blog post about it 😉

 

We divide the world to stop us feeling frightened
Into wrong and into right and
Into black and into white and
Into real men and fairies
Into status quo and scary
Yeah we want the world binary
But it’s not that simple.

The Fence – Tim Minchin

Scratch that name

Two weeks ago my parents were complaining that I had apparently been keeping this blog more or less a secret. Which was not unfair.

I have been writing more or less frequently for about three years now and became a regular columnist at the magazine GAAF! about two years ago. Not something to be ashamed of, certainly. But somehow it had not really occurred to me to share the content of my work with friends and family. Luckily, this was not difficult to remedy; a facebook post definitely sufficed.

And the responses were great! Comments were nice, some family members were shocked that eczema has such a big impact on my life and people that I don’t know that well came up to me in person to tell me that they recognise themselves in my stories. So much validation!

Because of these conversations I decided to go a step further. I had been thinking about rebranding for a while now and even have some plans for expansion. And most importantly, I had been looking for a new name that’s more on-topic. I have been gravitating towards eczema and mental health topics and I wanted the design and name to reflect that.

So I got to work. I consulted my oracle for a good name, dove into the world of hosting and got myself an almost-perfect domain. This means that I stopped using Tumblr as my hosting service, although I will still be active there.

So without further ado, I present my new site: scratchthat.blog

The oma-vlogs

In the last decades the society I live in has apparently changed a lot. My generation is often accused of individuality. Rightly so? I don’t know. But the fact remains that many older people in my country live in solitude and loneliness.

And I am aware of this, sometimes… But when one of my grandmothers broke her leg recently and had to stay in a recovery facility for many weeks, it became painfully obvious to me that loneliness is hard. She has a loving husband who helps her, the rest of the family tries to visit as often as they can, but we can only do so much and I, especially, live quite far away.

And it got me thinking. About loneliness. About time to kill. About spending hours stuck in a bed. About what it was like when I broke my arm a few years ago. It dawned to me that of course I have the privilege of being young. I have an active social life filled with young people who can travel easily. But apart from that, I also spend my days rather differently than my elders. My life is a lot more independent from physical abilities. A huge chunk of my life is… online.

And although my grandmother has adapted astonishingly well to the new age -she is quite active online- I do still think that there are resources that are untapped by her. So I decided to introduce her to my favourite kind of entertainment. This would hopefully provide some distraction from her boredom, but it would also create a new way of including her in my daily routine. The oma-vlogs were born.

Letter to the EU

I wrote this letter to send to the “Online public consultation on investment protection and investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement (TTIP)” of the European Union.

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“It has come to my attention that there are ongoing negotiations about including an Investor-to-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) into the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP). Through this letter, I would like to express my concerns for these plans. I will do so by expressing my thoughts in a simple manner, for my feelings are so strong that I think just displaying the concept of the problem should be enough to convince you.

I think we can agree that concepts such as the economy, governments and collaborations between countries were once invented to help people to live happily, safely and healthy; and to continue to do so for a long, long time. A government of a country, or union of governments such as EU, represents the people to do exactly that: make sure that all citizens can be protected by their human rights.

Of course, governments are not perfect, which is why people can appeal to the independent judiciary which is empowered to tap governments on the knuckles if necessary. I think it is obvious that it is extremely important that the judiciary is organized in an independent and transparent way. Otherwise, people may be unjustly convicted and/or for the completely wrong reasons.

So far so good. Now, in the current system, however, the power has been shifting from governments to large investors and multinationals. They control more and more of the money circulating in our economy and due to their international character, they can operate almost without having to answer to governments. This has been made extremely clear by the recent scandals about tax evasions, or the difficulties that governments have to enforce environmental regulation.

This power shift in itself is already a big problem because, in contrary to governments, the main interest of companies is not driven by, or even affected by, ethical choices. Nor are they enforced to be transparent about their actions. They simply don’t represent the people, but their shareholders. And by design, they are pushed to grow, make profits and earn as much as possible from their customers; a direct consequence of the capitalistic design of the economy, which was supposed to help people, right? And especially now that multinationals are becoming ‘too big too fail’, but mostly too big to control by governments, you can see how people are simply not protected any more against the institutes that hold the most power.

Now, on top of all of this, by including the ISDS in the TTIP, companies shall be allowed to sue the governments of countries. Which means that apart from the fact that they already effectively held all the power by having most of the money, they can also directly enforce their way on to governments that they might disagree with. So, companies, which represent shareholders and who are not bound by ethical motives but profitable ones, get to enforce their way on governments, that are supposed to protect the people and the country. Doesn’t that sound insane?

But it gets worse. Before, I stated the importance of independency and transparency of a court. It should be clear what were the reasons of a certain verdict, but most importantly the judges should be completely independent. In the proposal that is discussed now, however, the companies don’t get to sue governments in the normal court. No, their case will be judged by three top lawyers that will come to a conclusion behind closed doors. And there is no way of reassuring that these top lawyers are not also frequently representing the companies in other lawsuits. That does not sound independent to me at all!

I hope it is now clear why I feel so strongly about this and felt compelled to write this letter to you. I see nothing but horrible consequences from this proposal. If you ask me, we should be restricting the multinationals and force them to obey laws concerning taxes and protection of nature for example, instead of giving them extra power to ignore all this.

Yours sincerely,”

About me

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My name is Hanne Kause and I prefer describing myself as an outgoing, wild camping and rock climbing treehugger, who is passionate about singing and dancing and loves playing the five chords she knows on her guitar and ukulele next to a fire. But actually I am a mathematician gone biomedical engineering stuck in a PhD.

I am an absolute sucker for Sherlock, Dr Who, David Mitchell, Harry Potter, Bastille and other British Products (including some of my dearest friends ;)). And when left alone with headphones and my music collection I’ll probably listen to Royksopp, Olafur Arnalds, Massive Attack, Kyteman Orchestra or one of Tim Minchins rare but fun rants.

Of course this all sounds great. You’d almost think I am a perfect person. Don’t worry, there are downsides! Apart from the fact that my emotions can go everywhere in quick outbursts (so much fun but sometimes difficult to be around) I have major allergy issues (not so much fun and sometimes not even really manageable). Luckily most of these stresses can be stroked away by a loving hand.

No, seriously, caressing my skin actually really quickly improves my eczema and will decimate the effect of allergies on my body. No wonder I am most happy in any form of cuddle puddle!

 


Picture by Abel Planting.

A blog

Well, this is embarrassing. Apparently I decided to start writing a blog. It is intended mainly for personal development. I just want a place to order my thoughts. A place to go to if I have forgotten to breathe and am extremely stressed. Or a place to dump my frustrations when the sadness of politics and nature have taken the better of me.

And who knows… maybe this will die a sad and quick death, maybe I will be writing here for years but nobody ever reads it. And maybe… well, we’ll see.

In any case, I challenge myself to make it a place where I will not paint the sky (much) more blue than it is. You’ll find the beauty, the pain and the reality.

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