Sarah Burnett-Moore

Sarah Burnett-Moore is a consultant radiologist in London

Walk like an Egyptian to tackle obesity

By Sarah Burnett-Moore - 26th April 2012 12:16 pm

I have just come back from Egypt, and even a brief foray off our luxury cruise ship was enough to see that many Egyptians are living in abject poverty. In a country economically dependent on tourism, money is increasingly scarce as the Arab Spring has scared 85% of the tourists away.

In fact, living conditions were somewhat worse than those we saw in Namibia last year. An uncharacteristically charitable and political blog you may be thinking…

Well, here’s the thing, looking at these Egyptians, you wouldn’t think they were poor. Why not? Not a single one of them was fat, let alone obese. Presumably no-one has bothered to inform them that poor people can’t afford to eat decent, healthy, freshly cooked meals. Don’t get me wrong, there are fast food outlets on the streets, and I don’t mean the largely empty Golden Arches on the Cornish de Nil in Aswan. There are shawarma and kebab sellers, shops seemingly devoted to the sales of non-diet fizzy drinks, and literally dozens of different types of pastry made from filo and sugar syrup. Yet the locals remain as lithe as the depictions inside the Temple of Karnak.

Our government (in the few minutes free between taking calls from the Murdochs and saddling up Rebekah Brooks - sorry - I mean her horse) is seriously considering imposing a fat tax. Now a logical fat tax, imposed as a percentage of BMI might make some sense, but additional taxation on Asda’s pizza and Fry’s Chocolate Delight makes none at all. How would they decide precisely which products would attract this new F.A.T. - Flab Added Tax? Sausages or salami? Camembert or Comté? I wouldn’t want to be the arbiter of that.

Don’t get me wrong, in the eight days we were there I did see fat people, but they were all tourists. Of the 88 temporary residents on the Royal Viking, I would say at least 25 were clinically obese, four morbidly so. Like the dinosaur’s approach in Jurassic Park, the floor of the restaurant deck would vibrate under the stampede of the human Tyrannosauri after the dinner bell was rung.  They would return from the buffet with plates piled as high as the Great Pyramid of Cheops. After meals, including breakfast, they would bask like sunburnt albino crocodiles on the banks of the plunge pool, emerging only to sink another bottle of Sakara beer.

To be fair, these Brits weren’t poor, just greedy. Andrew Lansley please take note: no new taxes on food. As Joan Collins once said about her weight maintenance strategy: “It’s simple, eat a little less, move around a bit more, and walk like an Egyptian.”

I added the last bit - poetic license.

Why should we pay to remove your maracas?

By Sarah Burnett-Moore - 20th February 2012 4:36 pm

Those of you who known me for a long time will be aware that in November 2005 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had a mastectomy and immediate latissimus dorsi (or Doris, as my autocorrect function just suggested) reconstruction.

Then I had the spacer changed for permanent implants. Then I had two more ops to get the symmetry right. The last was in 2007 and unfortunately I got a peri prosthetic infection and septicaemia. Two weeks of Tycoplanin and we’d saved the prosthesis.

Nearly five years later the capsulation around the prosthesis was sufficiently bad to warrant having it changed again, so three weeks ago I found myself back in hospital. I had the right prosthesis revised, my droopy left boob mastopexied, and at the same time a huge ventral hernia repair.

As ever I woke up in recovery absolutely starving, and I had just missed lunch. I was offered an omelette which proved to be so overlooked and crumbly that I aspirated some. Fortunately there were two nurses in the room to help with the choking, but I must have dislodged the mesh and I have now developed a huge haematoma. I was sent home on antibiotics and pain killers, and with sats of 92% on air.

To say that I have been feeling utterly crap since would be an understatement of epic proportions, at one point I could barely even string a sentence together because I was so breathless. I still feel completely knackered, and wonder if I really needed to put myself through all of it.

Except I did. I ended up with implants for medical reasons, and thank goodness they are checked regularly. Contrast that with the women who, for reasons of sheer vanity, decide to have their breasts enlarged. Having handed over their cash for ‘enhancement’ they are completely lost to follow up, hence the debacle about the PIP implants.

One colleague of mine reports that they go back to the private clinics, who advise them to have their ultrasounds done on the NHS, then see them privately after.

The first evening I was able to haul my sorry self, and gigantic jelly of a haematoma, into our local. I bumped into a friend, who instantly demanded advice. She is an ex pole dancer, and assured me that the PIP implants she had inserted back home in Venezuela were for professional purposes.

She now wants them removed, but as her pole dancing days are long over, she cannot afford to have it done privately. Her GP has started on the process of having them taken out on the NHS.

With unwanted reforms looming, likely further job losses and a lack of resources, should the NHS really have to sort out her maracas from Caracas?

Christmas is finally thrown into sharp relief

By Sarah Burnett-Moore - 23rd December 2011 9:52 pm

Do you remember those ads that said “Give the gift of sight this Christmas”? Some may have viewed that as the beginning of the slippery slope of the ghastly festive charity present, imagine granny’s joy when she’s expecting an M&S gift card, and she gets a picture of a goat she’s fostered in Ghana.  But I digress.

To be fair, I could hardly have viewed it at all, and for a radiologist that’s a pretty poor state of affairs. So last week I took myself off to my local branch of a well known 2 for 1 high street opticians, for a new prescription for my reading glasses. For years I’d coped without, but my eyesight deteriorated quite rapidly after chemotherapy, so I’ve been a four eyes for the last five and a half years or so.

They were very thorough in their assessment - pressures (family history of glaucoma), retinal photography, and seemingly hours with those Steampunk-style glasses on my nose exchanging lenses.  In fact, I spent so long with those on I was toying with the idea of having them as my permanent frames. Eventually, I emerged, blinking like a nocturnal creature, into the brightly lit green-branded retail space. I was asked to choose my frames. I have always favoured the advertising exec style colourful rectangular frames, but this year I chose a rather sober black and mother of pearl. The girl behind the desk looked a little perplexed (oh how I wanted to make a joke about perspex, or per specs there, but frankly it’s too early), and asked about the other frames.

Others??? Apparently I now need three different sets of glasses.

I need one pair for close work, i.e. knitting, reading the paper, making jewellery and so forth, one pair for intermediate work, computer, cooking and eating - how could I not have realised how blurry my food has been for the last two years? - and glasses for driving and stuff like going to Wembley. In fact the latter is two pairs, as I need one with tint as well as a prescription for driving in sunshine. So I’ve had to go to the expense of ordering four new pairs of glasses. Thank goodness I went to Specsavers, one friend of mine has just paid £600 for her latest solitary pair of specs.

So I am very excited that on Christmas Eve I will be heading to the opticians, to collect my three gifts of sight for Christmas, and for the first time in a couple of years, I will enjoy my turkey even more, as it will be in focus.

Not just tabloid hacks that invade patient privacy

By Sarah Burnett-Moore - 1st December 2011 10:38 am

Sorry it’s been a while since my last blog. I’ve been, er, busy. I can’t say what I’ve been busy doing in case my phone has been hacked by…(insert hated tabloid of choice). You’re laughing at me now, paranoid you say, well it’s wise to remember, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

What’s triggered this is all the celebrities jumping on the hacking band wagon, the two that have intrigued me in particular are Hugh Grant and Charlotte Church. Grant made an interesting point, it’s not about defamation, to paraphrase - he got caught with a hooker and still made loads of money - the main concern seems to be the fundamental issue of confidentiality.

Both Grant and Church believed that their phones were hacked because of details emerging about the births of their children. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to either, that details may have emerged from rogue members of staff, or indeed other patients. Funnily enough, I am currently ploughing my way through Information Governance online training modules, so this topic is quite ‘live’ to me, as they say in the press. You may imagine that patient details are sacrosanct, but let me assure you that they are not.

A good friend of mine is a well known actress and national treasure. A while back she was admitted to a private hospital for a fairly major operation. Within hours of returning to her room, she had a call for her surgeon, to say that a red-top journalist had called him on his home number asking for details of the op. The hack knew what the operation was, her room number in the hospital, and the pseudonym under which she had booked. She hadn’t used her mobile phone once, so clearly a member of staff was quite happy to sell details to the press.

Unfortunately she felt that a formal complaint to the chief executive might potentially lead to further breaches of confidentiality, but needless to say, she won’t be going to Hospital X ever again.

A thornier issue is how to deal with other patients and the famous, since the other patients are presumably under no legal obligation to keep their gobs shut. The cheap weekly glossies encourage ‘celebrity spots’ and covert photography. The worst infringement I have ever seen was when I was conducting a brief consultation with a very famous footballer, just outside the MRI suite in a private hospital. One of the other patients was brazenly filming this on his smartphone.

To give the footballer his due, he calmly walked over to the perpetrator and offered his hand for a friendly shake. The guilty party spluttered and looked abashed, my World Cup-winning patient smiled sweetly and said: “Sorry, I assumed from your behaviour that I must know you.” What a charming way to handle it.

Tabloid journalists may be vile and disgusting, but they’re not to blame for all breaches of confidence.

‘The disappointed mother’ - a B-movie about exams

By Sarah Burnett-Moore - 26th August 2011 9:17 am

Today I am deeply disappointed.

It’s the first of those seminal parental days, when the exam results that start to count come in. We are in Crete so Perry’s GCSE results were a little late. By 11.10am I had established by text that Perry’s best friend, James, got a B in Art, five As, and four A*s. By half past I was a deeply disappointed mother.

I wasn’t disappointed by the A in Biology, or the C in French - frankly the latter was a miracle - but by the slew of Bs in between. I wasn’t disappointed that I would only have to buy him one genuine Ralph Lauren Polo shirt, the likes of which you can’t buy in Crete. I wasn’t disappointed that he won’t get in to his posh boarding school, because he has.

I was a bit disappointed that by nearly one o’clock, he hadn’t surfaced to share my disappointment. I wasn’t disappointed that somehow my mother is going to make this all my fault. I don’t know whether to be disappointed that on the way to the beach to write this I got asked if I was Norwegian.

What really, really does disappoint me is that in the eyes of bourgeois intelligentsia he will be viewed as a failure. He doesn’t want to be a doctor, or a dentist, or a vet or go into one of the tiny minority of jobs where academic qualifications actually matter. Yet the pushy mummies around me will look askance when I shamefacedly have to fess up his results.

In fact my son is brilliantly clever, just not in the way that tends to show up in exams. He’s got more smarts than his full house A* mates. He could have someone’s eye out with his wit. He’s a blond model and actor starring in music videos and Nintendo ads (my daughter is currently in a Tesco car insurance advert, you can’t have it all). He can charm the scanties off any woman he’s not related to, and he’s even clever enough to have convinced an educational psychologist that he’s dyslexic when he patently isn’t.

He has both an inquisitive and acquisitive mind. He’s brilliant at pub quizzes - in fact he’s just come over to inform me that the world’s tallest dwarf (medically) at six foot eight, is also the world’s shortest giant. Timing. The problem is that an admissions tutor is going to look at his results and think he’s thick.

Then the horror started, a text from pushy mummy numero uno: “How did perry do? (sic)” Perry asked me to lie. “Not very well,” I replied. “All Bs apart from one A and a C.” Response: “I would be pleased, george got all b’s (sic).”

Maybe I don’t feel so disappointed after all.

Robert Ettinger is dead…but only temporarily

By Sarah Burnett-Moore - 29th July 2011 8:41 am

It is with regret that I have to announce the death of Robert Ettinger. “Who?” I hear you cry. The man who invented cryonics.

As a child I was obsessed with his particularly bonkers field of research, freezing the rich, so that they can be re-animated in the future. His corpse has now joined the 200 or so, predominantly stored in either the US or Russia.

Some of those wanting cryostasis, could only afford to have their heads saved - think Nixon in Futurama. These bodies are preserved at around minus 200 degrees celcius, in giant thermos flasks. Maybe I’m being unfair to imply that this is just for the rich, but how many of us would waste over $200,000 on a bet with extremely long odds on winning?

With his ‘never say death, say cryostasis’ optimism, Ettinger created a not so hi-tech facility for storing his collection of corpses. You can see some photos here. My particular favourite is perfusion-kit-in-a-suitcase, sitting in front of the fire and the telly.

Even when I was 14, and read his original work, The Prospect Of Immortality, I could see that Ettinger was, how can I put it nicely, a NUTJOB. Bizarrely, one of the highest concentrations of takers for the scheme is in Peacehaven, hordes of men and women running from the bowling green, asking where to sign for this complete nonscience.

Here are the fundamental flaws…

Surely for cryonics to work you would have to have your cellular fluid replaced antemortem, so you would have to murder your clients.

Why bother resurrecting a decrepit 92-year-old, who is just going to peg it immediately?

If you’ve just had your head frozen with the hope of uploading your personality to a future body donor, wouldn’t you wait until the technology was ready for you to download it first.

Come to mention it, whose body would you be planning on snatching?

Surely in 2011 the technology to clone you would be a better investment. Why would we want to wake up to a world filled with Sussex blue rinses? And most importantly - how long can you leave a leg of lamb in the freezer before it gets freezer burn?

The first ‘client’ of Ettinger’s was his mother, followed by his two wives. Both wives??? I hope for his sake the technology doesn’t work, it could get very messy.

Typhoid, malaria, rabies? No just a kids’ rash…

By Sarah Burnett-Moore - 3rd July 2011 1:23 pm

As you know we’re back from Namibia - after renovating a school and building a football pitch - and on the advice of an eminent travel doctor, the only protection we took was sun cream. Don’t start carping on at me about what I said about Cheryl Cole, although she has clearly had a cerebral relapse since she is trying to ‘make things work’ with Ashley.

Back to the point, we put ourselves at risk of the following: tetanus from getting desert mud in the inevitable work related cuts and grazes, typhoid or worse from the local water, and malaria. Then there was the curious incident of the dog in the night. Due to some inadequate flap management, we woke to find a stray dog sleeping between us - apparently all desert dogs are called “Rabies” out there.

We got home without too much in the way of medical incidents in the group of 40 volunteers, the PVD in the previous blog, and a couple of slightly dicky tummies. Then ten days after we got back, Troy’s face went bright red, and he developed a mild fever and bilateral hand and wrist pains. I fob this off, as I normally do, with the old “take two Nurofen and shut up” type of response.

The following day, along with feeling systemically dreadful, he developed a centrifugal severe maculopapular rash, which was kind of difficult to ignore. Tropical hysteria set in, and visitors to the house ran away screaming. Troy started looking on Amazon for a bell, and the builders bought some red paint to do a cross on the new front door. Then the penny dropped.

Troy had developed Fifth disease. When my two kids were babies, they went to full time nursery school, and they caught pretty much every exanthem out there. Troy has never had toddlers of his own, so I can only assume he caught it from contact with so many young children.

So we went to Africa, and could have come back with something exotic, but Troy got a childhood rash. Ain’t that a slap in the face.

p.s. we need to raise a total of £8,000 for the Bobby Moore Fund, and it’s not too late to sponsor us! Visit

Poverty? We don’t know the meaning of the word

By Sarah Burnett-Moore - 22nd June 2011 9:52 am

I’ve just got back from ten days in the Namibian desert. There were things I thought that would bother me that, in fact, didn’t. There were no showers, so maintaining basic hygiene was a struggle. The long-drop toilet flaps wouldn’t velcro together properly, so excreting became something of a communal exercise.

I didn’t even mind ex-para Daz screaming “Wakey, Wakey” at 6am each morning, batting pots and pans together to wake us up. I didn’t mind being on site at 7.30, armed with a paintbrush. The real surprise was that I didn’t mind being detached from my laptop, iPad or even my phone. In fact we were miles away from ‘civilisation’.

The nearest hospital was two-and-a-half-hours drive through the Namib desert, in a coastal town called Swapokmund. It was like Barry Island, but with palm trees. I had to escort a possible detached retina on a thoroughly bumpy truck ride, and with each bump I could picture it detaching even further. Fortunately it was only a posterior vitreous detachment, and we headed back to camp, a six hour round trip.

I was on the mural team, decorating the school rooms with jolly octopuses, rainbows and flowers. One of the teachers approached me, and asked me to paint the ‘school symbol’ in each classroom. Having struggled to freehand a Welsh dragon onto one wall, I had visions of some complex crest. Far from it, all she wanted was a AIDS awareness symbol, with the words ‘Take Control’ writ large beneath. This even needed to go in the room for three to four year olds. Having completed this task, I was asked to paint giant genitalia in the science room, which I think is something of a mixed message.

The 170-odd children at the school spend 11 months of the year there, only seeing their parents in August. They are segregated into two locked dorms, with a total of six showers between them. They sleep three or four to a bed. Yet they were all clean and neat, and minor playground squabbles didn’t end in tears once while we were there. Even gifts of hair ties or crayons were greeted with the reverence that I would give to a little turquoise box from Tiffany.

At the end of the trip, having finished renovating the school, we were rewarded by a night in a lodge. One with wifi. Being a news junkie I immediately hit Sky News on Twitter. The headline? 1.6 million children in the UK are living in extreme poverty.

I think not.

You can see the pictures here.

Operating on a bank holiday - the way to go

By Sarah Burnett-Moore - 3rd May 2011 12:53 pm

Maybe you were like me last Friday, glued to the 40 inch plasma screen, waving my bunting and working my way through the Kleenex mansize.

Or perhaps you are a rampant republican, fervently hoping that it was going to rain on the big day, like my friend Dan. To contextualise Dan, he’s a fifth generation ‘Paddy’ who supports Ireland on rugby days, he went to public school and works for a bank, and thinks that private healthcare is a venal sin, despite the fact that his wife works in a private hospital.

Dan has been moaning for weeks about the anachronism of the monarchy, the expense of the security, blah blah blah…Then Dan hit on a remarkable mechanism for avoiding the global coverage, and the Battersea High Street Party (billed as the biggest in the country, with donkey rides and fire eaters and, well EVERYTHING). He was under the knife, having his anterior cruciate ligament repaired.

Dan has been hobbling around for months now, since a 5-a-side football injury. The gaffer, my husband, thought he was faking to avoid having to play after Sunday lunch. It turns out he’d buggered his ACL and medial meniscus. I know this because Troy made him email me the report to be doubly sure. So he went off to the orthopods a fortnight ago, and was hoping for fairly prompt surgery before the imminent arrival of offspring number one. Oddly enough not because he was so keen to pull his astroturf boots back on.

They gave him an appointment for last Friday, a bank holiday! Well done the NHS. I have always said that hospitals would be far more efficient if they did routine lists at the weekend and on public holidays.

So hats off to St Local General, except Sam Cam obviously. It was win-win for Dan, he missed the dress, the kiss, the Aston Martin, but he was home in time for a pint and the fire eaters.

Why ruin a perfectly decent ski holiday by skiing

By Sarah Burnett-Moore - 15th April 2011 9:21 am

It’s late in the year for an Alpine blog. So late, in fact, that I arrived at Les Arcs 2000 in flip flops, and although there is a smattering of snow currently descending, much of the week has been spent sunbathing.

It’s a great opportunity to sit on a lounger and watch the walking wounded go past. Outside the crèperie I can spot a fractured scaphoid here, the unmistakeable gait of a ruptured cruciate ligament over there…

You may be wondering what I am doing on the slopes: A. with flip flops, B. with a swimming costume, and C. lounging about in the sun, instead of hurtling down the mountain on the small patches of icy snow that remain. This is because, as one of my colleagues put it: I am “one of the sensible ones”. In other words I have decided to stop pretending that I enjoy skiing. I think I only skied because it’s what middle class people are supposed to do with their holidays at this time of year. Why any musculoskeletal radiologist, or worse still, orthopaedic surgeon, still skis is totally beyond me.

Not skiing has several advantages. I don’t have to drag myself out of bed ridiculously early when I am supposed to be on holiday. I don’t have to spend hundreds of euros on a ski pass, then feel guilty if I’m not on the slopes the whole time. I don’t have to spend hundreds of euros on heavy bits of metal with sharp edges, poles, and boots that must have been designed by a Conquistador. I don’t have to sit on a wobbly contraption purporting to be a ‘chair’ dozens of metres above exposed rocky outcrops. I don’t have to brag about my spectacular wipe-outs. I don’t have to view falling over and breaking bits of myself as the height of macho bravery.

I can swim. I can sunbathe. I can go in the steam room and the sauna. I can sit around in my dressing gown at - checks watch - 1.56pm while my husband pops back for a change of hat and goggle lenses. I can write my blog while the smattering picks up to be a blizzard (hence the brief spousal visit). The only ‘drawback’ is that the husband has had too invite two good-looking 25-year-old blokes from his football team to keep him company on the slopes…

Finally, after all these years, I have figured out how to enjoy a ski holiday. Perhaps you’ll join me for a glass of vin chaud later…