Thursday, March 27, 2014

MH370 lost at sea. Finding and recovering things underwater.


It's very sad that Malaysian Airways flight 370 has been confirmed lost in the southern Indian Ocean with no survivors. But some closure must come to the family and friends of the crew and passengers knowing that the plane has crashed. The most plausible theory about what happened that I read was in Wired and explained how an electrical fire might have resulted in the loss of the plane and those aboard.

Conspiracy theories were thick in the absence of any factual information. This is a pet peeve of mine and was a partial motivation for making my sculpture, 'It became personal - Catharsis'' that's currently exhibited at the 2014 Heysen Sculpture Biennial until April 27. Sometimes bad things just happen, they aren't always the result of a terrorist activity. Remember the Asiana flight 214  plane crash on landing at San Francisco airport last year due to pilot error - the news channels were immediately saying that terrorism wasn't suspected. Well, if it wasn't suspected then why say it? It's so front of mind. Have the terrorists won, consider all the intrusions to our everyday lives by the increased 'security' measures in place to 'protect us.' The other motivation behind making that sculpture was in response to two separate cancer issues for me last year.

One of my many careers in Australia was working as a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) pilot/tech for a diving company called Solus Ocean Systems. I was part of a three man crew providing drill support to the drilling company aboard the Diamond M Epoch. The Diamond M was a semi-submersible exploration rig. It had two huge pontoons that were submerged beneath the surface and when mainly filled with water they would stabilise the rig in the ocean. When the rig was being towed to other exploration sites the pontoons were mainly pumped-out to increase the buoyancy of the rig making it float higher in the ocean. The pontoons could also be completely flooded causing the rig to sink, if necessary. That was an option the Company Man considered one night in Bass Straight when problems caused the rig to list to one side which could have resulted in capsizing. That was an exciting night. This book could be the report on what caused that situation.

Diamond M Epoch from helicopter

When the rig was on site it was held in place by huge anchors put-out from each corner of the rig. Some of the anchors weighed 13 tonnes and were massive. When bad weather hit the rig the forces were so strong that the chains holding the anchors could break. 

A condition of exploration drilling in at least some Australian coastal waters was that after the rig finished its exploration and moved onto a new location the ocean bottom had to be as clean as it was before the exploration drilling. Remember that the number of productive wells producing commercial quantities of 'hydrocarbons' is a tiny fraction of the number of wells drilled. It's an expensive business, and risky.

This is where the connection between a drilling rig and an airplane lost at sea happens. Now that the authorities roughly know where the plane was lost they'll search for it and if possible recover what they can find. 

Once the Diamond M Epoch finished drilling in Bass Straight an underwater survey would happen to check for any potential industrial rubbish left on the ocean floor. I was told that some of the areas where the Diamond M drilled were commercial fishing zones where huge nets were dragged behind the fishing boats. If one of the nets caught on an abandoned rig anchor it could cause major damage to the fishing gear and result in costly damage repairs.

Bass Straight is very shallow compared with the southern Indian Ocean, so any exploration and recovery work there is many times more difficult if MH370 is located.  The deepest that we operated in was about 800 feet and we thought that was deep.

To scan the bottom in shallow water a small survey boat cruised the target area using a specified search pattern. The boat used a side-scan sonar that would indicate if there were unusual objects on the bottom. When something was found the location was noted for visual inspection by us.

Normally our ROV was mounted onboard the drilling rig with a winch lowering the submarine within a cage through the 'moon pool' hole in the rig's floor down to the water. When the caged sub reached the working depth the winch would stop and the sub was 'flown' out of the cage to the work site. A stainless steel sheathed cable about 40mm in diameter containing power and electronics cables ran from the winch to the cage. In the cage there was another winch that had a smaller and neutrally buoyant cable running from it to the sub, providing a certain working area from the cage.

Sub in cage aboard Diamond M Epoch
The motors on the sub were powered by 3 phase 440 VAC and you don't want to mix AC electricity with salt water. There are depth limits to which you can use air-filled containers before they get crushed by water pressure (the pressure increases by 1 atmosphere for every 10 metres of depth.) The electrical motors on the cage and sub drove hydraulic compressors that provided liquid power to the fans that moved the sub around in the water, and to power the actuators that we used to work with items on the drill machinery or objects on the ocean floor. We were sometimes called-on by the rig's welder to find and retrieve his chipping hammer when he dropped it over the side.

Author with submarine (it was a long time ago)

In the photo above we fitted a hydraulic-powered cable cutter on the left arm of the sub. The right arm shows a sample bit of cable. At one point during my deployment on the Diamond M we had to have a replacement submarine, cage and winch flown from Singapore to the rig as we lost ours over the side. Long story but I'll just say that once the replacement equipment was installed we sent the new caged sub to the bottom to recover the original equipment. With the cable cutter we could cut the old winch cable and sub cables into manageable pieces then attach a lifting line from the rig to pull them up to the rig. It would not have looked good if we'd left an entire ROV system on the bottom of the ocean when were supposed to be cleaning-up the bottom. 

Our crew chief did have some major explaining to do to his boss in Singapore during his call, 'Tim, I've got some bad news.' 

'Ya Robert, I hope you're not calling to say you lost another fucking submarine [this does happen in the process of doing drill support]?!' 

'Well Tim, um, it isn't just the submarine this time. It's also the cage and the winch...' 

You don't want to hear the rest of that exchange. Robert did continue with a successful career with the company and I don't know if he ever lost another submarine.

So after the sidescan sonar finds something on the bottom the submarine, cage, winch and control booth and a big generator are installed on a work boat and sent to to investigate. We lower the caged sub over the side of the workboat and if we find something we bring it back.

Control booth: Crew chief Kevin flying, George in foreground


When were were flying the sub we had two video feeds from the sub, and one on the cage. The latter made it easier to return the sub to the cage when we'd finished the underwater work and had to bring it back to the surface.

The two arms on the sub are pretty dextrous. Once, while bored and doing a Blow Out Preventer inspection in about 800 feet some very slow fish lived near the stack because the water was warmer there due to the drilling mud and fluids pumped from the surface, and we caught one of the fish with the sub's actuator. We were probably as surprised as the fish was! The victor writes the history.

One of the arms on the sub has a rotating end effector that lets you do things like tighten-up a shackle pin on a chain. The image below shows the ROV pilot moving one of the arms to attach a hook from a lifting line from the workboat to the shackle at the end of the anchor chain. We were working in 201 feet of water at the time. See the 'OIL' indicator on screen that would indicate any leaks (bad news!)


On this occasion we did locate the lost anchor and were able to attached the lifting cable to it. After a lot of straining by the workboat winch as it had to break the suction of the anchor in the seafloor, they lifted it to the boat and recovered it.

Trophy shot: 13 tonne anchor recovered by Solus Ocean Systems ROV crew: Rick, Clay, Robert, Doug

In favourable circumstances debris from MH370 might be recovered using an ROV or even divers, but it gets more and more complicated with greater depth and currents. I wish them all the best and hope the cause of the crash is determined. My condolences and thoughts go to the families and friends of those lost on MH370.







Wednesday, November 27, 2013

3 month check-point following prostate cancer treatment

... and the news is good. My PSA is now down to 0.85 (a low number is good, high is bad.) I must have my PSA level monitored quarterly for a year, then it becomes less frequent over subsequent years. My radiotherapist said the PSA level may drop to as low as 0.1, which is as low as they measure.

I'm happy.

Now if only I could get Google to stop pushing incontinence pads and single-use catheters advertisements to me! I don't need them, everything works. Bloody computers!

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Post-treatment - Prostate cancer + 1 month; Thyroid cancer + 3 weeks

Prostate first then I'll work up the body: I had my one month post-procedure check-up with the urologist this week and everything is going very well. The temporary side effects caused by my body reacting to the radiation inside my prostate have almost disappeared and everything works as intended. So now I go into the monitoring phase where I'll have regular blood tests for Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) and those tests will become less frequent if the treatment has been successful. The cure rate for low dose rate brachytherapy is about 95% and it is about the same as that for radical prostatectomy where the prostate is surgically removed. Important point when considering a prostate cancer treatment - surgical removal of the prostate does not guarantee a cure, and if all goes well from the brachytherapy treatment any side effects are considerably less than even the best case of those resulting from surgery. That appealed to me.

Thyroid time: yesterday I had an appointment with an endocrinologist to discuss treatment post-thyroidectomy. The surgery can't guarantee that all thyroid tissue is removed and some might even contain cancer cells. So the normal follow-up is to 'ablate' any remaining thyroid tissue (including cancerous thyroid tissue) by internal radiation therapy. The patient drinks a liquid containing highly radioactive iodine that is taken-up by any remaining thyroid cells in the body. This dose is quite different than that of the brachytherapy and requires the patient to remain isolated in a shielded hospital room for two days, and then a need to keep a specific distance from other people for a short while afterwards. If I go ahead with this I'd almost pay someone to say, 'Man, you be lookin' HOT!'

My thyroid surgeon strongly recommended having the Radioactive Iodine treatment as a normal course of  treatment. But the endocrinologist said that I have a choice of whether or not to do so, or I could do it in 6 months or so if I wanted to get past the prostate cancer issue first. The risk factor that makes the doctors recommend that I proceed with this follow-up treatment is that I'm over 45 years of age.

So now it's yet another cancer treatment decision time - to treat or not to treat. What is the risk/reward trade-off in having the radioactive iodine treatment? If I have the treatment then it's easy to determine if the cancer reappears by an easy blood test as any activity of thyroid would indicate a new thyroid cancer development as all the thyroid cells would be 'ablated' by the Iodine. But a side effect is that I could end-up with a 'dry mouth' if the treatment damages the salivary glands. I don't know how bad a 'dry mouth' would be in this case but a dear friend of mine suffered from it terribly following external beam radiation for throat cancer. He also had terrible pain in swallowing and ended-up not being able to eat due to that pain. His was not a good result although his treatment was very different than what I'm facing. The doctor yesterday said the 'dry mouth' generally doesn't appear unless a patient has had multiple treatments with radioactive iodine. A scary potential side effect that I read about on the Internet (from an official cancer information site) was a very slight chance of developing leukaemia. But the doctor said that is something that he hasn't come across.

So next Tuesday my case will be discussed by a cross-disciplinary panel of doctors at Flinders University to determine the dosage and other details of how my radioactive iodine treatment would take place if I go ahead with it.

Ugh. One cancer treated and out of the way but another big decision to make about this second cancer treatment. What's another decision, right?

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Monday, September 02, 2013

Sculpture hired

Each year ArtSA selects an indoor sculpture to hire for 12 months, to be located in the foyer of the State Administration Centre building. I've applied several times but the competition is always very fierce and mine wasn't selected. But that changed this year and I'm thrilled that my sculpture, 'In Case of Emergency, Break Glass' was the winning submission and it has been installed at the State Administration Centre foyer. Woo hoo! The foyer is open during office hours for a visit if you are in the area (Victoria Square in downtown Adelaide.)



See my webpage for info about the work: http://rickclise.com/icebg12.php

Done and done, almost...

The brachytherapy treatment for prostate cancer seems to be going well. It has been over a week now since the radioactive Iodine-125 beads were inserted with no significant side effects apparent. Not even any impressive bruising as a result of the process - the urologist showed us a photo of a man who had extensive bruising everywhere around his groin following his brachytherapy treatment. I guess if you see the worst case and yours is not as bad then it's all reassuring. I'm reassured. Now the on-going treatment for prostate cancer becomes regular monitoring of my PSA level. In a week or two the urologist will check that all the physical processes work appropriately and if the PSA levels drop as expected then I'm on the road to cure for that cancer. One down.

On Friday I had my thyroidectomy operation to remove a cancerous nodule on the left side of the gland. A month or two ago I hadn't even thought of my thyroid but what seemed to be swelling and discomfort in my throat resulting from the general anaesthetic procedure for my brachytherapy 'volume study' was diagnosed as papillary thyroid cancer, which is the most common kind of it. There was no apparent link between the two different cancers, just bad luck of the coincidence.

Before the operation I was told that the left half of the thyroid would be removed first, tested by a pathologist in the operating theatre and if cancer was confirmed then the other side would be removed as well. So that's what happened Friday morning. By Saturday after lunch I was feeling well enough, and had recovered satisfactorily, for my surgeon to discharge me a day earlier than I expected. I'm taking it easy this week for a quick recovery following the surgery.

The follow-up treatment for the thyroid cancer might involve me having to consume a different isotope of radioactive Iodine that binds to and kills any remaining thyroid cells, including cancerous ones that might have remained despite the surgery. I'll find-out if that is required at a follow-up appointment with the thyroid specialist at the end of this week. Two down...

It's been a busy few months, hasn't it? And enough of all that now. Time to get this cancer nonsense behind me.

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Day 2 - post implants

I just joked with a friend of mine that my new prostate-based nuclear reactor seems to be going well.

What I thought would require an overnight stay in hospital turned-out to be just a day procedure and I was home late that afternoon. The implant procedure took about 1.5 hours and recovery was a couple more hours after that. I've got a copy of the x-ray showing the 66 I125 beads installed in what I hope is my prostate.

The radiotherapist said that it takes a week or two before the radiation effects are really felt by the prostate and surrounding tissues and that's when the side effects generally start to occur. I'm hoping that they aren't severe in my case.

My wife is documenting the daily spread of the bruising but I'll spare you those photos!

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Sunday, August 04, 2013

Tip-toeing into Vegan Land

Our youngest has recently developed a vegetarian eating habit, except for the occasional McDonalds, and invited us to join her for lunch in the city at a funky (my description) vegan restaurant.

Getting into the place was kind of like what I expect going through the wardrobe would have been in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - transported immediately from the familiar world into a disturbingly similar yet possibly uncomfortable one: you enter through what seemed to be a tiny unmarked wooden doorway off Rundle Street East End, up old wooden stairs, to another door at the top of the stairs. This door was closed and there were warning (my description) signs stuck on the door:

'New Staff Member - please be patient.'

and

'If you are in a hurry don't enter!'

and

'This door may be closed for extended periods.'

We bravely and ignorantly pushed through the closed door, deciding to take our chances with a new staff member no matter how slow he or she was today. We were in this experience with our beloved child, no matter how long it would take.

The decor inside was kind of in the style of rococo, I guess. Several large, heavily textural mosaic-framed images hung on the walls (wouldn't want one of those falling on my head while eating a vege-burger.) Interesting and precise hand-written menus on the walls that someone had spent more time than might be reasonably expected making. Is this, I don't know, 'vegan culture'? I had a fleeting memory about my days as a budding ceramic artist and the purists who wouldn't use clay that they hadn't dug from the ground and processed themselves. Sure we could all hand-write our menu signs. But I've got a computer and printer.

I don't know much about vegetarian food but I normally eat all my veggies, and I'd actually like to learn to cook vegetarian meals other than really unimaginative baked pumpkin blobs and things like that. Seriously. I do make a pretty mean spanikopita from a Greek cookbook that I stole from an old girlfriend, but that has cheese and eggs in it and I think vegan prohibits any animal products in the food. But it does taste good! Think lots of melted butter between those layers of filo.

I'm also known to make falafel in pita bread and learned that if one eats too many of them in one sitting that you'll soon be blasting loudly and noxiously from the backside. 'Everything in moderation' my dear wife would sensibly remind me. But I do love a good falafel in pita wrap.

So the falafel wrap on the hand-printed menu was my choice. I know falafel, and I like falafel. My wife ordered a different wrap. Youngest ordered a vege-burger - but without chips or Diet Coke.

Our food came-out pretty quickly in spite of the warning signs. I said to the server that I had the falafel wrap and the other wrap went to my wife, and of course that left the vege-burger through a process of elimination. The wraps were contained in Glad-wrap, which I thought would be an affront to vegan culture. Shouldn't they be in greaseproof paper or something a bit more eco-friendly? Brown paper? I don't know. My wife cut her wrap in half through the plastic, and I completely unwrapped mine. Big mistake.

The restaurant was a little underlit so I couldn't really see what was in my wrap but it was tasty. And oh so chewy. How can vegetarian food be so chewy? I tasted sultanas, coconut, alfafa sprouts - actually felt them more than tasted them as they are kind of hairy damp semi-crunchy nose-ticklers most of the time, something like blocks of butter but what turned-out to be avocado, and lots and lots of sunflower seeds. But did I find any trace of falafel in my wrap? No. Youngest child was wading through her vege-burger. Dear wife was enjoying her wrap saying 'this is unexpected'. I was chewing, chewing, chewing through mine while also watching it disintegrate in my hands. Shouldn't have unwrapped my wrap.

I got about 3/4 the way through eating my wrap, enjoying it but feeling a bit cheated that I couldn't find any falafel at all in it. But is one allowed to complain? Is falafel too expensive to use in a falafel wrap so instead it is padded-out with the rest of the ingredients? What if I upset the new staff member by complaining and she or he broke-down as it was the first day and the best effort possible and why was this customer being so unreasonable?! So I didn't. And I also thought that we had pushed our way into this tiny little restaurant despite the sign on the door and that perhaps vegan culture would have had us wait outside the door until invited in. We could have broken so many vegan rules without knowing it.

You know when you visit a foreign country and the customs are just different enough from your own that you don't know if some small, possibly accidental occurrence is just that, and not 'the way they do things here' that you make it out to be in your mind? That's vegan-land for me just now. I don't know my way around this place and what its rules are yet. What did that sign about the door being closed actually mean anyway?

Afterwards we paid for the meal - cash only of course. And like any group or amateur restaurant reviewers we dissected our meals while walking back to the car. I said that my wrap seemed to have a lot of coconut and avocado and sprouts and sultanas and sunflower seeds but not a bit of falafel which disappointed me, but that it was tasty, as my summary. My wife said that she was surprised that there wasn't a bit of avocado or coconut in her wrap but it tasted like a falafel dish, nice though. And youngest said she should have ordered a half serve instead of the full one.

Should have guessed it.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Started my prostate cancer treatment

On Friday I started my brachytherapy treatment. The first step is for what is called a 'volume study' of the prostate where cross-sections are taken at 1mm intervals and from that the urologist generates a 3D map of the prostate. With the map the urologist and radiotherapist can determine exactly where the Iodine 125 beads (in my case) will be put for most effect and to minimise the chance of cooking tissues that should be preserved. The actual mapping is done ultrasonically using a probe up your backside. (You quickly learn that there is nothing dignified about cancer...)

The volume study is a day procedure at hospital but they do put you under a general anaesthetic for it. In around 11am, and out around 4pm or so all going well. They won't release you unless you have someone responsible to collect you and drive you home. Not allowed to drive for 24 hours.

My volume study went fine except afterwards I had a tremendously sore throat from the breathing tube. It is still sore on Monday evening and the soreness extends down the left side of my neck as well. 'Humh, not usual,' but reassuring that I am able to breath and swallow normally, the medicos told me when I raised it today. 'It should settle-down, but if it doesn't within a few days call me back.' How reassuring.

During the procedure there is a catheter inserted into the bladder but that's removed while still under anaesthesia. It does mean a bit of stinging afterwards but that cleared-up within a couple of 'goes.'

The next step is to have the beads inserted which takes place in about 4 weeks. It too will be done under a general anaesthetic and I hope they get my breathing tube done correctly this time. I've paid my deposit for the beads today. Two days before the procedure I have to start taking Flomaxtra, and after the procedure I have to take antibiotics for 1 week. The Flomaxtra continues for at least a month after the bead insertion procedure.

So it's full steam ahead. Hoping that once the beads are installed that I will be in the majority of patients who have no problems and a good cure.


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