On reflection

insomniaI have written this post intermittently while recovering from my worst case of flu in years. A really nasty and arrogant bug that took a serious toll on my health for almost 2 weeks.

First insomniac night: Sitting in my bed trying to fight a serious headache and I can’t help thinking that this is a tiny, totally dependent on me, virus. A Type A Influenza virus has an average size of 80-120 nanometers in diameter, that is about 10million times smaller than a human being. And yet, it’s enough to take you down. The first thought I’m having is on health economics; I lost around a couple of days of work because of this virus, it also prevented me from doing any proper housework for a week, which increased the burden to my household expenses. At least I had to buy some throat candy and pain killers, so I gave something back to the system! I won’t even start thinking how many people I infected in my network and how these add up. My next thought obviously is “imagine if this was deadly”. It’s very easy to realise how outbreaks like the 1918 influenza pandemic have taken such a deadly toll on the global population. It only takes a small mutation to a small virus transmitted through aerosols to create the ultimate killer. I fall asleep reassuringly thinking that my line of research on pandemic modelling is totally worth it…

Second insomniac night: Having just come back from a big conference in the States, I had another strong realisation of how the healthcare research world is changing. There is no doubt that Big Data is the next big thing in health care. And it will be about who holds and owns the data, who can access, what information is available and how it can be shared and used. Big Data is really the digital enterprise, the fact that a lot of the information we collect today (ranging from an X-ray to your “steps per day” recorded in your iPhone) is digital and we increasingly realise that it is useful and can be used in multiple ways. Healthcare systems accumulate millions of data rows every day globally. Of course, other science fields generate much bigger data quantities. Take astronomy for example: they have antennas, telescopes and arrays scanning the sky and Milky Way and generating every night probably as much data as the NHS generates in a month. The difference is that in healthcare we need to store and use this data, whereas in astronomy they can throw it away every morning (unless they hear that “Hello, we’re out there!” signal of course! I’m wondering if I’ll hear any of those myself tonight while my high fever starts allowing hallucinations).

Third insomniac night: Three nights of reflection and it’s time to reflect on my life, job, work relationships, the past and future. In those management training courses they keep telling you that those who grow to be good leaders have the ability and desire to frequently pause and reflect. I have to say, I love reflecting. I like closing chapters before starting new ones, extracting the best life lessons from new experiences, and reevaluating any recent changes or events. After 10 days of serious relapsing-remitting symptoms here it is, my note to self: influenza is good for your reflection.

Back to sleep,


PS. The painting is by Jeffrey Batchelor.