If you follow me on the Tweets and/or manage to read them by some other convoluted method, then you may well have noticed that I got myself involved in some right old shenanigans at the start of last week. In essence it resulted in a night long trip to the Accident & Emergency Department (A&E) at Wexham Park Hospital in Slough but thankfully it turns out that I am absolutely 100% fine and I had really got myself worried about not a lot.
I had intended to work on the second part of the Hotel Chocolat HOTC Blogs but to be honest I still feel a bit jet-lagged at the time of writing this first draft and I’m not really in the right frame of mind for it. It also struck me earlier today that there could be some useful insights into Psychology that apply to life in general and very much to Investing and Trading that arise from my recent nonsense and it makes sense to get them down on electronic paper while they are still very much fresh in my memory recall circuits. I’m sorry the HOTC Blog will be delayed but in the current Markets it’s not like there is a huge urgent need to buy any Stocks and it won’t hurt if it slips a bit. I am not sure what I have on next week but in theory at this point in time I should be able to do it then.
For a long time I have wanted to write a Blog about my Spinal Injury and what it actually means but I have never really got around to it and I was not sure of a context to write it in. Anyway, this Blog should address that in part as well because it contains a lot about what being paraplegic really means for me. I always say that being unable to walk and having to use a Wheelchair is the easy bit and it is all the other nonsense that goes along with it that makes it pretty tough at times.
I’m not totally clear on where to start but I feel like I want to flow and I have not done a plan for this blog (often a huge mistake !!) so I will try to just rip into it following a sort of timeline and knowing me I’ll go off on a few tangential trips along the way.
I think it all started around Friday or Saturday Night the week before last and the bit that sticks in my memory was lying in bed and trying to get to sleep and feeling a pain in my chest on the left hand side and feeling really ‘weird’ when I tried to draw a deep breath and starting to have some very worrying thoughts about what was wrong with me. It was really strange because I was lying on my Left side and while I just breathed in small breaths I was fine (apart from the chest pain) and it was at the point where I was starting to drift into sleep and my breathing was getting slower and deeper (anyway, that is what I think was happening to my breathing) that I suddenly got an uncomfortable sensation in my stomach and more vitally I was simply unable to take a deep breath and I woke up instantly with a jolt and feeling very concerned. This happened a few times I think.
Oh, I need to shove in some essential background for Readers who don’t know me much and/or are fairly new to reading my Website and/or new to following me on the Tweets. Back in 1998 I had a motorcycle accident which involved a Roundabout near Didcot Power Station and a Honda VFR750FM and me flying through the air. The upshot after a lot of crunching and bumping and cartwheeling around was that I broke my back and severed my Spinal Chord at the 3rd Thoracic Vertebrae (T3) meaning I am paralysed from the chest down and use a Wheelchair all the time (apart from sleeping when I use a bed !! And for clarity I don’t sleep in my Wheelchair in the bed unlike what a child assumed once….).
Because I did not suffer a Neck injury I am Paraplegic (the condition is Paraplegia I think is the term) as opposed to Tetraplegic or Quadraplegic and the huge advantage for me is that I have full use of my Hands and Arms and live independently although compared to many Paraplegics with lower levels of injury (for instance down at waist level) I endure many extra complications which probably didn’t help with the situation I got into which made me go to A&E.
A few paragraphs ago I mentioned that I could feel in my stomach that something wasn’t right. Of course this is actually rubbish because I cannot feel my stomach (I can feel and move nothing below my chest) and what was really happening was that my Brain was interpreting weird and unusual sensations as emanating from what it thought was my stomach but this was false signalling (there we go – ‘Noise’ and ‘Signal’ is coming into the Blog already !!). It is a bit like that well known concept that many people who lose an arm often say they can feel their hand etc. (I think Suzanne Vega did a tune about that !!).
So, by this stage, bearing in mind most people have Hearts on the left (unless they have Dextrocardia – why do I know that?) I am starting to think there is a problem with my ticker and that this probably ain’t a good thing. The obvious next action was to switch to lying on my right side although I am very conscious of the risks this poses to me of getting Pressure Sores because my right side hip is very ‘weak’ and I have had problems there before and shouldn’t really sleep for a whole night on that side (I normally start off sleeping on the left and then somehow wake up during the night and turn myself over to the right side).
Once on my right side I felt much better although my breathing was still not great but I could slip into sleep now and did so. Anyway, all along I was thinking that I would be fine in the morning but unfortunately when I woke up things still didn’t feel right although perhaps they were better than when I was lying on my left side. I am pretty sure that during the day I tried to do deep breaths but couldn’t and it was painful. I need to set the scene a bit more – as a result of being a T3 Paraplegic (which in the terminology is a very high level of Spinal Injury but luckily not high enough to be Tetraplegic), my Lung Capacity is reduced from ‘normal’ anyway and it is actually quite pathetic how little breath I can take in and I often get breathless simply for this reason. This is particularly galling for me because prior to my injury I could swim a length of a 33 metre pool underwater (it’s all in the mind by the way and you can hold your breath a lot longer than you think - don’t try this without expert supervision because I cannot be held responsible !!).
Another important consideration is that I get a lot of ‘hyper-sensitivity’ on my Chest at the ‘line’ between my Paralysed body and the bits that I can move and feel and this is particularly the case on the left side. I am pretty sure that for the first few years of being Paraplegic (it is nearly 21 years now which is nuts) this hyper-sensitivity used to really bug me because it sort of hurts and is uncomfortable and like a constant dull nagging ‘ache’. However, in recent years I don’t think it has bothered me much at all and I have sort of tuned it out I guess (I have so many other problems arising from my condition that I need to worry about and as a result I probably just completely forget to feel the pain !!).
OK, where was I? So I must have got up and gone about my day as usual and felt a bit ‘under the weather’ and not right and this went on for a few days I think and I even remember going out the front of my house and spending about 2 hours vigorously buffing and polishing my BMW Z3 on that now infamous rear-wing with Metallic T-Cut as I am still trying to get that paintwork looking half decent (fortunately at the time of writing this final draft the wing is looking much better after a huge amount of work and I am very happy with how it has turned out). This should have been a big important piece of ‘information’ for me (you will understand this more further down the blog – I know this is tough going but stick with it. Hey, what are you whinnying about? It’s a damn sight harder to write this garbage than to read it I will have you know !!) as I was clearly huffing and puffing and getting my heart rate up and my breathing going big time so this was stacks of aerobic exercise.
So I went through a few more nights of the same and I guess the only difference was that I was progressively worrying more and more and most crucially I was getting less and less sleep. My approach, and it is probably not a good thing, is to ‘ride’ with health problems for a while because for most of my life things have tended to heal on their own and sort themselves out (sadly this did not work when I was first paralysed – I vividly remember waking up lying on the grassy bit in the middle of the Roundabout when the Ambulance chaps were attending to me and saying that I couldn’t move my legs but in truth I was not worried about it because I knew they would be fine and working as normal in a few days – of course this time I was very wrong) and this means I don’t bother a Health Professional unless I really have to. This is partly because going to the Doctor is actually a big hassle and I have plenty of such things in my life anyway.
It went on like this but finally by Monday I got to the stage where I could not put it off any longer and my health situation was not improving and I was by now very worried that my Heart was pretty knackered and my Brain was starting to obsess about all the possible things that were wrong with it like a dodgy valve, blocked arteries, need for a stent, Heart infection, dodgy lungs perhaps and I was also moving on to solutions like being on drugs for the rest of my life and all the various operations I was about to undergo !!
So on Monday afternoon (this was 10th June 2019) I phoned up my Surgery for a GP Appointment and the Receptionist there is lovely and when she asked me what was wrong and I told her about the Chest Pain and how I couldn’t breathe, she straight away said “You need an Ambulance” which of course totally freaked me out (funny enough it has just struck me as I type this that the last time I had a trip in one of these was 21 years ago !!) and I said something along the lines that it wasn’t that serious and that an Appointment that ended up being booked for 11am on Tuesday would be fine.
This fed my mental fires though, as did many other things that happened as the saga drags on. Next thing was that a mate TXTd me around 7pm and asked how I was as a general thing and must have had the absolute shock of her life when I replied that I thought my Heart was screwed. Straight away she came back with a wonderful and so so generous offer to drive from Reading to pick me up and take me to A&E to which I said thank you very much but I will be ok and it can wait.
But this also fed the mental fires of my personal hell. All Monday afternoon I had been restless and I remember trying to read Investors Chronicle (as you know, this is never a problem for me and a Desert Island stacked with old copies of IC would be like my dream abandonment) and not being able to concentrate at all and just not taking anything in. I am sure sleep deprivation was starting to really impact my brain by now and I recall doing things like the Washing Up was all I could manage but of course whilst doing that I just worried more and more and it all added up.
I had some food and was watching Eastenders (it’s a documentary don’t you know?) and I must have watched most of it but I could tell you nothing about it now as I was simply unable to focus and my mind was all over the place. I got to the stage where I had to take action and I decided that my friend was spot-on and I needed to go to A&E but by this time I was actually at death’s door and I could not wait for her to drive from Reading as that would waste valuable and precious minutes of my remaining time on the planet and the quickest and easiest way was to jump in the Cupra and get there in a flash. Valuable minutes of my life saved.
I actually have to laugh at myself so much sometimes. I continually amaze myself. In the midst of me being pretty much a goner, I decide that there is no way I can possibly be seen in A&E in my scuzzy ‘at home’ clothes so I waste valuable time getting on my bed and changing my clobber so I am suitably attired for a Hospital trip – not too smart but with a hint of sporty casual – you know the thing, ideal Hospital antire like the de-riguer Jogging Pants and sweatshirt. It was an absolutely stinking night and was utterly torrential rain and wind and stuff, but despite my need for ‘smart’ clothes, I didn’t actually require a jacket and I just went out to the Car and got pretty soaked but I guess it is irrelevant when you are about to snuff it. When I got to the Hospital this was even more an insane decision because I had to wheel through a huge Car Park to actually get to A&E as I had forgotten where it was.
It was a horrendous drive to the Hospital; again I guess this was because my mind was all over the place and the awful weather and the fact I couldn’t remember how to get to the Hospital didn’t help. And this was after I had seemingly forgotten how to drive and I had nearly put the 290bhp Rocketship through my Neighbour’s front door !! It was like I had never seen the inside of a Car before and I drove in such bizarre ways like doing 20mph down a dual carriageway and I have no idea what was going on there (I didn’t actually know my Car could be driven that slowly !!).
Next bit of confusion was because once I got sort of near where I thought the Hospital was I saw some signs for ‘A&E’ in huge characters and that was a big help but once I got into the Hospital grounds, the signs became massively more prolific and now the magical term ‘A&E’ had vanished and it took me a while straining in the dark and rain to see that the sign I wanted was ‘Emergency Department’ but I gave up quickly and just abandoned the Car in the first Disabled Bay I came to and stuck up the out of date Blue Badge and pretty much assumed yet another Parking Ticket would be on the way. Oh, and it was Slough so it was essential that I fitted the bright yellow anit-theft thing onto the Steering Wheel !!
After splashing through the puddles I get into the A&E Building (sorry, I mean the ‘Emergency Department’} and of course there is a massive queue. Anyway, I am about to shake off my mortal coil any minute now but despite this there are a lot of other people ahead of me and they have terrible injuries and stuff and they should be seen first, it’s only polite, especially as I am British and we specialise in queueing. It is strange though that there is no blood and they are all laughing and joking but I guess that is Gallows Humour. It seems like a crazy long time but eventually the 2 Ladies in front of me finally get their turn at the Reception and I am a bit perplexed that they are just visitors and want to know where a particular patient is……. Ah well, it is a bit annoying because I am nearly a corpse but soon I am at the Reception and I tell the girl there that I am in terrible trouble and pretty much nailed on for a trip to Purgatory. I should have picked up on this but she just tells me to go and wait with everyone else until I am called (what I should have realised is that she didn’t seem that bothered by the fact I was about to pop my clogs).
So I go into the most crowded A&E waiting room in history and of course there are no possible places for someone in a Wheelchair to ‘park’ and I end up blocking some doors and generally getting in the way. I remember sending some TXTs out and I think I even put a Tweet out saying that I wouldn’t be able to look at the Charts that night but I’m not sure if I said anything about A&E or the fact I was as good as dead. I remember they had Sky News on a big TV and I was trying to watch that but it was useless because I felt really pukey and nauseous and the other huge problem was that they had subtitles but for some unknown reason there were missing words every now and again which made it very hard to follow – especially in the last few minutes of my life.
Eventually I get called and I go into a little room where a lovely Nurse or maybe some sort of Doctor or something did the old triage bit and asked me loads of questions about why I was there but I didn’t tell her I was about to peg it because I didn’t want to worry her and they would figure out just how serious my condition was soon enough anyway. She tells me to go off with an HCA bloke who was there (Health Care Assistant) and he takes me to a room / bay with a curtain and all that on a ward and helps me onto the bed they had and he wires me up and does an ECG thing (I think that is an Electro Cardiogram). I can’t remember but I think he did my Blood Pressure with the old Arm pumping thing as well and then he tells me to go back to the public waiting area again.
So more time goes by and luckily an old fat (I hope she’s not reading this !!!) gypsy sort of woman in a huge NHS Wheelchair starts talking to me about my Wheelchair and about how light it obviously is and how I drive and if I have a family and all sorts of surreal chat. Normally this sort of talk can get a bit tedious but I’m always polite and accept that it goes with the territory of being Paraplegic but this particular time it was really useful because it took my mind off my problems and probably extended my lifespan by valuable minutes !!
Loads more time goes by (oh, I must just chuck in that I got to the Hospital at about 9pm) and finally I get called in again and this time another nice young nurse takes me to a room and says she will do an ECG – to which I obviously reply “hey, you guys have just done one” so she goes off to find it and I am left in a little bay with a curtain again for seemingly hours and I think this was when I saw the same cleaner with her mop about 5 times and I remember looking through the drawers in the ward and thinking about what bits of medical stuff I could pinch for my own cupboard at home. At least I guess I was thinking I might just about survive this episode although they did seem to be taking their time.
I am a bit fuzzy on the sequencing but I think next up was a bloke coming along to do a Blood test. This of course would be fine and sensible but I think by now the penny was dropping that they didn’t seem all that concerned about me and were clearly not rushing so any thoughts along those lines were seriously undermined when the bloke stuck a Canular in the back of my left hand. This started to worry me again because at best it meant I had a Heart Infection and they would use a drip to get Intravenous Anti-biotics into me and at the other end of the worry-scale they were about to do a full-on Heart operation. Gulp (I have since been told that this is pretty much standard practice for anyone going into A&E with similar problems).
I might be wrong but I think I then ended up in yet another Ward Bay with a curtain and this time I had also needed to use the toilet many times because even though I was only sipping slowly at a bottle of water I had brought from the Cupra, I was filling up the bag on my leg that my wee goes into extremely fast. I think it might also have been the boredom factor of the waiting as going to the loo broke it up and gave me something to do. On one trip back from the latrine, I spoke to the Sister and asked her how long she thought it would be before I saw a proper Doctor and she said there were 4 or 5 people in front of me and I guess I was calming down a bit but was still very worried (and actually quite frustrated that after hours and hours in A&E I had no idea what was really wrong). I now had another worry and that was around the time of night – it must have been midnight by now and my stress was that if they did not get on with it I would be too tired to drive home once they had fixed me up and I was thinking about how I could get mates to come and pick the Cupra up and stuff.
Due to the potential delay and fears I would get too tired to drive home, I suggested to the Sister that I sleep on the bed and the Doc could wake me up once he/she is ready. This was settled on as a good plan and after helping me onto the bed (it is mystifying why the beds were so high and that was with them set at the lowest they would go) she gave me the smallest and thinnest excuse for a blanket ever and another one rolled up for a pillow. I tried to sleep but it was very difficult despite the lights being out and the curtain closed and the biggest challenge was some bonkers mental nutty woman screaming her head off and clearly causing the Nurses immense problems and I so nearly shouted out at her that I desperately needed sleep and she needed to zip it or I would come out and whack her !!
Next I am woken by some geezer in a red suit and it turns out he is the long awaited and very welcome Doctor. Finally I might actually get some facts and a steer as to what is going on (I’m not sure what time this was but I would guess it was about 1pm).
Of course I am in a bit of a daze because he has just woken me up and I lift myself up in the bed and try to focus as he fires loads of questions at me about why I am in A&E and countless questions around my Paraplegia and what it means. It was clear that he was quite fascinated by my condition and he said that it was really unusual for him to see Patients with Spinal Injuries and this was especially the case for fairly high level injuries (I guess many people just go straight to specialist Spinal centres like Stoke Mandeville and I think there is one in Stanmore which is not far away). As I respond to his questions he is writing everything down and after a while he says he is not sure what is going on and he says I need a Chest X-ray.
So we both head off down the corridor and it is on the way that this remarkable Doctor performs one of the most outstanding Miracle Cures of all time. As we are casually strolling and rolling along, discussing Cars and suchlike, he suddenly says something like “I’m really not sure what is wrong but your Heart is very strong” and the change in my mood is simply remarkable. Instantly I am feeling far better and my thoughts start drifting to how there is actually nothing much to worry about and how I can get home and into bed as quick as possible.
He leaves me at the X-ray department which is utterly freezing (and I hate the cold and apparently it’s because the equipment gets very hot) and the girl there asks me to strip off for the pictures which just makes it worse. She shoves some sort of electronic ‘plate’ thing behind me which is really uncomfortable and as she is taking the pictures my stomach muscles are going into spasms and I am desperate to get comfortable by sitting properly in my Wheelchair again. So as soon as she says “ok, that’s it”, I move back in my seat and at that moment the plate thing clatters to the floor – the X-ray girl was really panicking that I had damaged it but thankfully it was ok. It looked very expensive !!
I then go back to my ‘bay’ and await the next step and after yet more waiting the Doctor returns but this time with a lady Doctor who is apparently more experienced than him but she looked about 16 years old !! She was also fascinated by my condition and I am convinced that is why she was really there to see me !! She asked me all sorts of questions and it was slightly before they arrived that I remembered some rather essential information that I had neglected to tell the male Doctor earlier.
Pretty much the day that all this started I had been out the front of Wheelie Towers doing some digging with a small long-handled Fork in a tiny area of ‘garden’ off to the right of the house. In my own back garden I have raised beds for my vegetables and this is much easier for me to dig but out the front it was normal ground level and I was reaching down probably in an awkward way and of course I was also lifting piles of dirt and moving them around. A couple of weeks before I had used a pair of hand-held clipper things to cut some grass at the front of the house and this had made me feel a bit weird with a lot of muscle spasm in my stomach for a couple of days afterwards and I reckon the digging pulled a muscle in my back or chest or something and this was what was causing all the problems (of course I cannot ‘feel’ such a muscle pull in my paralysed body but it could easily make me feel unwell and perhaps impact my breathing).
Anyway, the Doctors didn’t seem to take much notice of my genius explanation of why I was feeling rough but I am pretty certain to this day that that is what was the root cause. I did perhaps mislead the Doctors a bit because I had mentioned the likelihood that I had a Bladder Stone which is what my Consultant at Stoke Mandeville Hospital had noticed earlier that week, and I suggested that this could be causing the problem. However, since all this happened I have received a Letter from my Consultant and it turns out I do not have a Bladder Stone which is what I had suspected (I pointed out to him that it looked exactly the same shape as the Balloon which holds the Catheter Tube in place within my Bladder….)
The conclusion the more senior Doctor came to was that there was not much wrong with me and that a lot of it was psychological and that I had made myself ill – I don’t disagree with that much and I think the lack of sleep was most definitely a contributor. However, she said she wanted to be sure and there was one other thing to check for which was a Blood Clot or Deep Vein Thrombosis – so this needed more blood to be extracted from me and she said the results would be back in 20 minutes but of course it was more like 45 minutes by the time I was told that everything was fine and I at last managed to escape from the Hospital at 6am !!
When the Nurse came to take the blood this time, I was pretty relaxed about it and said “ah, no problem, take it from the Canular” – which seemed like a good idea until she said that was impossible because it had been washed through with water and she had to stab me again in the arm. It took about 3 attempts which really pleased me as you can imagine although these days it doesn’t really hurt much.
I have no idea how I managed to drive home as I was completely drained but I remember I even thought seriously about stopping at the Drive-Thru McDonalds simply because I was never up that early usually and it was a rare chance to have an Egg-McMuffin – but luckily I came to my senses and realised it would be a serious detour and I desperately needed to get to bed.
I tried to call the Doctor’s Surgery because there was no way I was going to make the 11am Appointment and I felt terrible that I would be letting them down – but unfortunately they do not have an Ansaphone and I ended up calling them when I finally woke up mid afternoon but thankfully they understood and the Receptionist even said she could see my A&E Records on the system. There was also a funny moment where she said, “Oh, we don’t see you very often do we?” and apparently I had only been there about 4 times in 20 years but then she said I should come for Blood Pressure tests and stuff to which of course I said she had to be joking because I had just spent the whole night having that stuff done and I had been to Stoke Mandeville for a check-up just a week earlier.
Why did I get so worked up?
The psychological side of what happened to me is very noticeable and it really looks like something that was a fairly minor problem got blown-up in my mind to be a massive health issue which perhaps if I had not been so sleep-deprived might not have occurred. I’m sure that I pulled a muscle as I mentioned above and this caused my breathing to be affected such that I could not take a deep breath and the chest ‘pain’ was not a problem with my heart but merely my brain focusing on the hyper-sensitive area and misinterpreting that signal.
The fears around my heart were also fed by the following points which had recently come to my attention:
Right, that’s finally it. The real lesson from all this is that our Brains are highly prone to being selective about individual snippets of information (or Signals) and then joining them together with other snippets in a way that comes to false conclusions even though they appear highly logical and sensible at the time. The example of my parents and brother having Heart issues is a great one because I drew totally questionable conclusions that they also applied to me without making any allowance for the ages of my parents and without even knowing what condition my brother has.
On top of this, due mainly to my distressed state I suspect, I was unable to calmly and rationally consider information which contradicted the dominant belief I had that my Heart was as dodgy as anything. For example, when the Receptionist initially told me to go to the waiting area that should have rung alarm bells because clearly she wasn’t that bothered. I am pretty sure they train the frontline staff to look at the patients and they could tell a lot by my appearance in terms of colour or sweating or suchlike and they could also tell from my speech etc. how bad I really was. I recall I was joking with her which is perhaps not a sign that my expiration was truly imminent !! In a similar way, I should have picked up that the Nurses and Doctors weren’t exactly panicking about me and there were other clues like when an HCA did a temperature check, my body was pretty much perfect so clearly not much was really wrong (and I doubt you could have a Heart Infection or similar and still have normal body temperature). Another sign that I wasn’t at death’s door was how I had managed to spend hours polishing the Car – if my heart really was duff then I wouldn’t have been able to do this so vigorously.
The simple fact is that my silly Brain, and this was exacerbated by lack of sleep from the worry that I built up and the discomfort I suspect, added 2 and 2 and came up with 57. Of course we need to be aware of this and think about how this kind of error of analysis can affect our Investing and Trading activities. It was very much about Confirmation Bias and selective focusing on certain events and coincidences which conspired to get me in quite a state. The Miracle Cure of the Doctor telling me my Heart was fine shows how much of this was probably psychological although I do think there was an underlying problem which was probably caused by the digging in the front garden.
The inability to calmly weigh-up what conflicting information was telling me was also classic symptoms of Cognitive Dissonance and how my brain was unable to objectively take a view on what was happening to me. It is also the case that I was selectively fixating on particular bits of information which supported my belief that I was about to snuff it – classic Confirmation Bias and we can throw in plenty of Recency Bias from the recent Heart Attack of my neighbor and the dizzy spells I was having.
Obviously all this is about a particular visit I had to A&E but the psychological biases I displayed are clearly relevant to Investing and Trading and we need to be on the look out for when we are not thinking straight. It is also a great example of how important sleep and good diet are etc. to making sure your mind is able to cope with the challenges we face.
P.S. There was another great example during my spell at A&E which arose and gives insights into how easily my Brain can come to false assumptions. It started when one of the HCAs did yet another ECG on me and for some reason it went wrong. Anyway, he left the Print-out on the side and I had a look at it when he slipped out to get something. On the Print-out I noticed that all the Heart Traces looked pretty good and even (I know nothing about such things but of course I was an ‘Expert’ this particular night) but at the bottom there was the following: **ACUTE IM**.
I figured that ‘ACUTE IM’ was really very bad and it was clear evidence that my Heart was in a right mess (although strangely this was after the Doctor had told me my Heart was absolutely fine), however, I had no idea what it actually meant. Anyway, eventually the HCA managed to do a good Print-out and at some point I got a look at this one and again it said **ACUTE IM** which was strange because everyone was telling me I was fine. It then dawned on me that it probably was just a Setting for the machine and I would guess it is ‘Acute Immobility’ !!! (which would sort of make sense).
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