Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 73, Tuesday, June 23, 2009



Airport rant

I am in hell again. Modern day hell. Here, time crawls on your skin giving you spider bites. You forget to sleep, eat, you only remain thirsty and you buy bottles of 250 ml water only to forget them behind in chairs, restrooms and airplane seat pockets.

I am back again at yet another airport waiting out my lay over. Enclosed portals trapping you in time while it swipes your passport through machine after machine and you feel perpetually dizzy and nauseous and everyone around you looks pregnant.

You follow lines here, everyone is almost equal. It's called globalisation and you are a part of it, so you take the stench of the next guy and the perfume of the woman ahead and float somewhere in between. You cross moving belts like pulsirat and wait in cues as if to find out how many sins you have committed and how you will be punished.

The rich here always arrive at the least cruel tier of hell- the business and first class lounges. While the rest of us watch and burn. We roam around like goats and lambs, never really feeling like full humans. Looking at duty free shops, people open and close their mouths, each with a different language, we don't make sense to one another, so we push, shove and yell.

I see people of Rajasthan, bare feet, afraid of escalators huffing up the stairs, men in turbans spitting up bitterness. I feel like helping them up the escalator but they look a bit scared of my full smile and they look away.

I feel angry and I start this rant inside my head. I feel disgusted and then tell myself, I am a soulless moron for judging and looking down at almost everyone. And that's when someone cuts in line in front of me and I want to physically hurt him.

I stop at a make-up counter and put on tons of midnight blue eye shadow with my thumb. I also mistakenly smudge a bit of it on my lips, which I try to rub off but it remains, giving me blue lips to match my blue eyes. I look like horror, and feel like a girl.

I forget which airport I am in, is it Dubai or Heathrow? Did I just wake up or did I not sleep at all. I try to use the counting lines of my fingers to calculate the amount of hours it's been since I left “home.”

I run out of lines so instead I try to count how many hours I slept so far. But I keep messing up so I give up. I stretch my body horizontally along the airport chairs. I hold on to my carry-on luggage with my life while I try to sleep. For a second I feel 1/1000000th of the pain of how it must feel to be a refugee.

And then I realise I am really freaking lucky. At least I am not on a boat crossing the Atlantic or on a camel crossing the Sahara. So I chew on the tasteless gum a few more times, spit it out and head for my gate; the one that carries you to the middle of the sky, closer to God I presume, with clouds and all.


Dear Doctor,
On my way to work everyday I come across books being sold on the footpath claiming to have answers to dreams. I am pretty sure none of the interpretations are scientific. Is there any scientific way of interpreting dreams?
- Abul Kalam Azad.

Dear Mr Azad,
I don't know which specific books you are referring to and what exactly you mean by scientific interpretation. Dream interpretation may not be considered part of regular legitimate science; rather some may argue that it is Para Science or even Pseudoscience. Science is defined as systematic knowledge of the physical or material world through observation and experimentation.

Science deals only with truth and facts. Dream interpretation deals with a volatile subject matter that is neither an object nor a behaviour that can be observed and measured, tested and retested. No doubt that we all dream (Polysomnography, EEG recordings confirms that) although we tend to forget most of our dreams; mainly, the NREM ones.

Our dreams are highly biased on our personal experiences, emotions and memories. All these make dream research quite difficult to be scientific in the conventional sense. However, sleep researchers do follow scientific methodology to minimize biases, preconceptions, personal beliefs and emotions to establish their hypothesis. However, a great need for further research in this field is undeniable.

Scientific research on the living human brain has many limitations as brain is a vital organ and access to living brain is minimal (even if you split the skull of a volunteer to expose the brain, that brain will hardly be dreaming at that time!). With the advancement of modern technology (EEG, PET, SPECT, etc.), there has been tremendous progress made in studying the living brain, though it can't be of much help in dream interpretation. That doesn't mean scientists are sitting idle.

In my opinion, Medicine that we practice on a daily basis is not a perfect science either.

Conditions like atypical symptoms, pseudo symptoms, unknown aetiology, unknown transmission, etc., tend to make medical science less than perfect science.

In daily practice, we assume, predict and experiment with treatment on the basis of our acquired knowledge. Although Psychiatry is a branch of Medicine, it randomly mates with subjects like Psychology, Sociology and Philosophy leading to further confusion of its scientific authenticity. I believe modern science is quite accommodative as long as the methodology of research follows the basic rules.

Dream analysts apply Freud's interpretation method in their individual work to test its reliability and validity. Although Freud believed some dream symbols have universal meaning, the present notion is that symbols are specific to the dreamer. So, his hypothesis is very controversial.

According to Activation-Synthesis hypothesis, dreams are simply the brain's attempt to make sense of the random firing of brain cells during REM sleep. I suppose there is general consensus among major scientific communities that some dreams (particularly the recurrent ones) do have psychological meaning as it is woven from our personal experiences and emotions.

From my limited knowledge and experience, it appears that dreams have images, words, feelings, characters, objects and events in it. Dream analysts use all these symbols in the present life context of the dreamer to interpret the meaning of it, which may not be accurate but usually does have some truth in it.

A dream portrays a part of us. The external figures or emotions sensed in the characters of the dream are usually the dreamer's own internal mental structures and repressed feelings. Our unconscious (again a concept, not a scientific entity) processes repressed issues in a cautious manner and communicates with the conscious mind in a very subtle way. This is a difficult concept and many people can't grasp it.

People seeking any interpretation of their dreams are usually given some hints and general guidelines to put it in their present life context to see if it means anything to them or not. Interpretations are made in a tentative manner and are left to the recipient's discretion to draw the final meaning based on honest and free communication.

It is never like the case of a cardiac surgeon who walks in and declares that the heart has to be operated on right now based on solid scientific grounds to save the life! Here, medico-legal aspects are covered by firm reproducible scientific evidences.

After all this being said I'm still not sure whether I could answer your question or not.

Hello Doctor,
I am a 30-year-old male, and my problem is that I have small spots on the sides of the neck. They are blackish in colour and project from the skin. My mother says that they are "achils" and that I should take homeopathy medicine for them. Do you think so too? It looks very bad and I have to keep my collar button done all the time. There are also a few on the sides of my face. Could you please advice me on how to deal with this? Thank you.
- Abed

Dear Abed,
The lesions that you described sound like viral warts, which are very common. You should definitely get it treated as soon as possible. These warts have a tendency to spread from one area to another. They are very slow growing and thus we tend not to treat them until they are all over the place.

I am not an expert in homeopathy so I cannot advise you on that. As a cosmetic surgeon I would treat them by CO2 Laser ablation. The warts are gone instantly and there is a remaining redness, which goes away in a few days. The procedure is done under local anaesthesia and no admission is necessary.

Dear Doctor,
I am a 40-year-old male. A few days back I experienced a severe pain in the ear, which initiated after I had cleaned my ears with cotton buds. I thought it would go away but after two days the pain got worse. I went to a doctor who gave me painkillers and asked me to consult with an ENT specialist. As the pain went away I never got to that but my ears feel very heavy and now there is a discharge. What should I do?
- Bashir

Dear Mr. Bashir,
Well, you should definitely consult with an ENT specialist. It sounds like your ear developed an infection after you used cotton buds. Most probably bacteria or fungus got into the ears through the buds. As the weather is hot and humid now there is a lot of fungal infection in the ears. Whatever it is, it needs to be cleared immediately or you may end up with a perforated drum.

Dear Doctor,
I have a son who is 4 years old. After his birth we noticed that one of his ears looked different from the other. The upper part of his right ear is flat and really sticks out. Now that he is getting older I am worried that he will be teased at school. I know that he needs plastic surgery but at what age do we undergo the procedure?
- Habibur Rahman

Your child has congenital deformity of his right ear. Without examining it I cannot say what kind of deformity it is, but you need to get your child checked to see if he has any other anomaly.
As for the ear it can be fixed by plastic surgery. More than one session may be needed to fix it. It should be done at age five or six before they start going to school so that they don't go through that teasing phase. Please consult with someone who is used to doing this kind of work, as such procedures can be very challenging.



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