08 February 2016

The saga goes on

Following on from my last post, I saw the lung consultant last week. He decided I needed a further three tests before everything can be wrapped up. So last Thursday I had a PET scan where they inject a radioactive tracer into you and scan you. The worst bits were the (by now usual)  nil by mouth for 6 hours, having to lie completely still without moving a hair and keeping my arms above my head for 20 minutes while they scanned me. I never realised how long 20 minutes can be. Thank goodness I didn't get an itch or want to sneeze.

On Thursday this week  I am having a bronchoscopy with ultrasound. The medical term is EBUS. Sounds like you are going on an electronic magical mystery tour, doesn't it? In reality it means EndoBronchial UltraSound - in other words they shove a camera and an ultrasound probe down into your lungs. O joy! After two gastroscopies and a colonoscopy since December, I'm getting a dab hand at this.

The following week I'm having lung function tests. Yay.......

Hopefully once that is all wrapped up, I shall know a bit more what has also shown up on my lungs and when I am having the stomach operation to remove the tumour. Unless, of course, in the meantime another bit of me shows up in these tests needing urgent attention.

The good news is that there is very little of my inner anatomy that has not been explored these last few weeks (apart from limbs and brain), so I'm getting the best of medicals imaginable.

26 January 2016

For the want of a nail

Do you remember that old poem "For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost"? For those, who don't know it, you can look it up here. Basically it reminds us that sometimes seemingly insignificant things can have enormous consequences and how one thing can lead to another.  My life seem a bit like that at the moment. A seemingly small thing has has become enormous and taken over my life.

About eight months ago I started to have slight indigestion. Nothing that I couldn't cope with, but I noticed I'd get the occasional excruciating pain in my lower abdomen. I didn't go to the doctor  it hardly seemed worth the bother and in any case they'd probably prescribe indigestion tablets which I could get myself. A few months on, I noticed it was getting more frequent, so I decided to keep a food diary to see what exacerbated it. Things like beans and peas seemed the main culprits, but also onions, cheese and fizzy drinks (not that I drink these hardly at all, I swear, but I had had a few on ice while we were in baking-hot Rome). The list started to get longer. I started to think maybe I should go to the doctor, but always made excuses not to go - too much to do and it wasn't after all that serious. However, in late October I managed to pass some black blood over the space of three days and that made me sit up and  take notice. So I finally went off to the doctor imagining they'd say it was something simple like an irritated bowel or something minor.

Instead, the doctor said black blood indicated I had been bleeding from my stomach (only red blood comes from the bowels, apparently) and instantly referred me to a private hospital to see a consultant  gastro-enterologist. Now, I do not have private insurance, but I am told that these days in order to help the National Health Service get their waiting lists down, private hospitals have been helping the NHS by taking on NHS patients. Along I trotted in mid November and got seen in luxurious 5-star circumstances by the private consultant. His view was that, as I had obviously had  a gastric bleed, he needed to send a camera down into my stomach (gastroscopy) to see what was going on in there.

The gastroscopy  was on 16 December and revealed I had a tumour, a grand-sounding Gastro-Intestinal Stromal Tumour or GIST, in my stomach. Biopsies revealed it was benign but it would still need to be removed as they can turn malignant and it had already obviously bled. However, the case was becoming more complicated than the private hospital could deal with, so I was referred back to the NHS for further treatment.  Because of the nature of the beast, I was to be fast-tracked, so I saw an NHS gastro-enterologist a few days later on Christmas Eve. He decided I needed to have a full-body CT scan and a colonoscopy to make sure there was nothing else lurking within. Those tests were done in early January. 

The colonoscopy revealed nothing at all, despite that being the area where the original pain was, but the CT scan revealed some questionable deposits in my lung, so now I have to see a respiratory consultant next week. Meanwhile, because the stomach tumour is rare and not all hospitals can deal with it, the operation has to be done at a Central London teaching hospital and they have first asked for another gastroscopy with ultrasound, in which an ultrasound probe is put down into the stomach together with a camera, so that the ultrasound can be done from within and get a clearer picture than it would on the skin surface. That will happen this week. I am so not looking forward to that.

See what I mean....... what turned out to be something simple is now becoming a hospital fest. My 2016 diary is full of hospital appointments and we're only in January. Add into the mix the fact that my 92-year-old mum, for whom I am sole carer, is having a knee replacement operation in 5 weeks' time and you can see life is getting a tad complicated.

Image result for hospital  signpost

13 January 2016

Five minutes of fame

Image result for stethoscope
Kay had her five minutes of fame yesterday - her photo was on a lot of the media websites as she protested about junior doctors' working conditions. I do hope the paparazzi don't camp on my doorstep wanting an interview. Joking aside, it has been clear talking to a lot of people that they don't understand the real issue of the strike. They see junior doctors as money-grabbing, not devoted to their calling and not caring about their patients.The reality is so different.

First the term "junior doctor" suggests someone straight out of university like Kay, but "junior doctor" can mean anyone who is not yet a consultant or a GP. Therefore a lot of those on strike are thirty-somethings (even older) with spouses, families and a mortgage to support.

The strike has never been about pay, in fact at no point in this current debate have the doctors made any request for more pay. The strike has been all about the safety of patients, but seeing as I've mentioned pay, the starting salary for a junior doctor fresh out of university is £22,600. Bear in mind they have studied for 5 or 6 years to get to that point and have a lot of student loan to pay back, they are at least aged about 24 or25 when they start work. In some cases they can be considerably older as not all would-be medical students get into medicine first time round and have to do another degree first to demonstrate they can cope with medicine. To start in your mid-twenties at £22,000 when other graduates are being offered a considerable lot more is disappointing. Even shop assistants earn more than that without any training at all. But, as I say, the strike has never been about pay. Doctors know what the pay is going to be , when they start, and they accept that, because they are doing the job they want to do. If they work on-call and at weekends they get paid extra, but on-call varies according to where you are and what you do, so that is not a given salary booster for most of them. Kay for example regularly had to work weekends (as well as the weekdays either side) resulting in 12 days in one run without a break. For the Government to say they are offering an 11% pay rise is misleading. The 11% would be based on the £22,000 and abolish the extra for working weekends, so 11% to work 12 days without a break every so often would actually work out as a pay-cut.

So if not about pay, what is the strike about? Surely doctors are doing what they do as a calling and not to endanger patients? Exactly. Doctors love their job and want to do their best to help every patient. The reality is that they work such long hours that they are tired and make mistakes. They recognise that this is not safe for patients. In Kay's case, she has had  to work 13 or 14-hour days, starting at 7am and finishing around 9pm, sometimes longer. You get up, go to work and come home in time to grab a snack and fall into bed. Social life or even an evening slouched in front of the TV is non-existent. For those who are married or have children, it means they hardly see their loved ones. Kay is often so busy she doesn't have more than 5 minutes for lunch.  After 12 days of 14-hour shifts, she says it is like thinking through mud. Even a simple mathematical calculation, such as working out the correct dose of drug per kilogram body weight of patient, can cause her problems, because she is so tired. Fortunately so far she has not killed anyone or done anything dangerous but she has narrowly escaped overlooking something vital , because she was too numb from tiredness. This is the hub of the problem every junior doctor can see. There are not enough of them to bring the hours down to more manageable shift hours. If someone wants to take a day's leave, it falls on the few left to cover. 

The argument has been made that there are other jobs which involve unsociable hours. In the retail trade, for example, people are required to work late into the evening and at weekends. That is true. But they probably get a decent break for lunch and, if they make a mistake, the worst that can happen is that they undercharge someone or tell them it is not in stock, when it actually is. A doctor does not get a sufficient break during their hectic day and, if they make a mistake, the consequences can be dire. I don't need to spell it out.

Much keeps being said about a 24/7 service, but that already exists, so far as doctors are concerned. If you are ill out of hours or at weekend, there are on-call doctors to treat you. If you are already in hospital, there is  (pardon the pun) a skeleton staff of on-call doctors working over the weekend to treat you.  But it is no good treating patients, if there are no x-ray staff or physiotherapists or cleaners or whatever to support the doctors. This is where the 24/7 service needs bolstering, as well as extra doctors to cope with a fully operational 24/7 service rather than overloading existing staff with even more hours.

So next time you see the doctors striking, please do not think they are selfish, money-grabbing and uncaring. It is because they care for their patients' safety that they are striking at all.They do not want to strike, but nobody is listening to their cries for help and before long it could be too late to avoid a tragedy.



Image result for tired doctor

12 January 2016

Home Sweet Home

Today I got quite a big shock. The 12th January is the date Greg and I moved into our house.................in 1988. When I worked it out I've been here 28 years. Twenty-eight! That's more than a third of the average lifetime and more than a quarter of the longest lifetime. I'm a creature of habit, love the familiar and hate surprises, but even I was shocked at how part of me this house has become. If ever I should decide to move from here, (not that I have any plans to at present), it will be like tearing a limb off. I can still recall  in detail the very first day we moved in. This and so many happy memories of Greg and I as young-marrieds, of getting pregnant, planting the garden and gradually putting our stamp on the house. Some bad memories too of when Greg took to the amber liquid and  threw his life on the scrapheap. But thankfully the good more than outweigh the bad. There have been some fantastic neighbours over the years (and there are still). Twenty-eight years, eh? It just doesn't seem possible.

02 January 2016

A rather belated Happy New Year

Christmas always comes and goes in a flash in our house. I spend weeks, if not months preparing for it, making lists, ticking things off lists, buying, sorting, wrapping, organising and, come the day, it is over so fast before you can blink an eyelid. Presents unwrapped, food gobbled and too much to nibble or drink.

New Year is usually different.  Kay is usually off somewhere with her friends and I sit up until midnight, some years with my mother, at other times on my own. It tends to be a non-event. Sometimes I even go to bed rather than wait up for something to happen at midnight (turn into a frog maybe). 

This year was different. Kay was working both on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, so did not have time to come home to celebrate with her old schoolfriends, as she usually does. One of my close friends, who lives in Brighton, had invited me and another close friend of mine down for an overnight stay at New Year, so I jumped at the chance to catch up with them. I was also animal-free for the first New Year in decades ages, so was free to just up and off without having to make arrangements for cat- or dog-sitting.

It was a very magical different sort of New Year for me, celebrating with my two closest friends. We ate a lovely meal, sipped fine wine, chatted and played a hilarious card game into the wee small hours. The wind howled and the rain lashed outside, but we were all warm and cosy by a real fire. Happy New Year to you all.

 

19 December 2015

Sledgehammer

I mentioned in my last post that I had had a health scare a few weeks ago that required further investigation. Part 1 of the investigation (a gastroscopy) was a few days ago and has sent my world spinning. What was hitherto a seemingly minor one-off of no great consequence (even if I did pass a little bit of black blood) has now been revealed as quite a bit more than that. It would seem that unknowingly I have been growing a tumour in my stomach. Not just any old tumour but one that is apparently quite rare (trust me to be choosy)- only 900 cases in the whole of the UK and only handled by specialist hospitals. Great. The consultant "thinks" it is benign, but has done a biopsy just to be sure and wants a full body CT scan done as soon as possible to make sure I am not growing any more for next year's Chelsea Flower Show. An operation will follow at a Central London teaching hospital to remove it. I do have a tendency to grow these things - a fibroid 15 years ago was the biggest they had ever seen (seriously, it was of rugby-ball proportions) and I have lumpy bits of lypoma growing where they shouldn't. This is yet another to add to the list yet I am scaring myself half-stupid reading it up on Google where some articles even refer to the complete removal of the stomach. It even has a rather grand-sounding name.....Gastro-Intestinal Stromal Tumour (GIST). The worst of it is that, living alone as I do,  I sit with the thoughts churning and nobody to share it with. 

I am trying to keep my head (what is left of it) and make an attempt to be jolly over Christmas, so will lie low, lick my wounds and blog again in the New Year. Turning 65 obviously has its down-side - I knew I wouldn't like it.   In the meantime, hope y'all have a lovely Christmas.

30 November 2015

Milestone

I had a milestone birthday this last weekend and am now officially an Old Age Pensioner at 65, although these days the retirement age is anything between 60 and 70. I wasn't particularly looking forward to this transition and hoped I'd just wake up after the day was over. For someone who didn't want to celebrate it at all I don't know how it happened but the celebrations are stretching over 10 days. First I met up last Wednesday evening with a gang of "girls" (the youngest one was 50), whom I have known for best part of 20 years, when all our children were at  Kindergarten together. They showered me with presents and cards and even tipped the waiting staff at the Italian restaurant to sing "happy birthday" to me with candles in my tiramisu. We were the last to leave the restaurant at 11pm. What a riot.

My actual birthday yesterday was spent in a slightly more sedate manner. Kay was on-call at the hospital and couldn't get the time off to come and celebrate with me (though she sent me a beautiful arrangement of flowers), so I booked lunch at a quaint Kentish pub and celebrated with my old mum, who, after all, was responsible for me being here at all. Sitting by a real log fire with views out on the wintry Kent countryside was a real treat.

In a few days, I am off to visit my closest friend in Hertfordshire, where we shall celebrate again and on Saturday I am off to meet my sister-in-law and her daughter halfway somewhere in Buckinghamshire for a further gathering and swapping of Christmas presents. Kay is hoping to join us for that too. Even the Queen only has two birthdays!

I had been dreading this transition into old age (even though everyone says I don't look as old as 50 let alone 65), but despite that, I have enjoyed the celebrations after all. Just a few hospital investigations to brave before Christmas to identify the cause of a health scare I had a few weeks ago and then I can hopefully get on with organising Christmas.

Old Age Pensioner


16 November 2015

Why?

Why can't the world live in peace?
Why are there some evil people in the world who want to destroy things for everybody else?
Why are they so unintelligent that they behave worse than animals?
Why?



09 November 2015

My Get Up and Go has Got Up and Gone

I don't know whether it's something to do with these dark early mornings and  dark late afternoons or the cold windswept swirly-leaves landscape everytime I look out of the window, but I have lost all impetus to carry on with the house renovation.  I keep making excuses why I can't rather than enthusing on why I can. Added to that, a few recently emerging worrying health problems which need referrals are also preoccupying me, whilst I try to juggle with caring for my Mum. I wish I were a dormouse and could just wake up when it's spring again, but with only six weeks 'til Christmas, that aint ever going to happen. Too much to buy and prepare.



25 October 2015

When did that happen?

Greg's sister has been staying with me for the weekend and yesterday we had a lovely drive down from London through the beautiful autumnal Kent countryside, albeit sometimes in pouring rain, to visit Kay for the evening. I say "for the evening" as she was on shift at the hospital all day, so we could only meet in the evening. After a lunch in one of the Kent towns, we moved much further on to the town where Kay lives. I showed sister-in-law the general area and then towards the end of the afternoon we went into Kay's hospital to "sightsee" and have a coffee to kill a bit of time. After coffee, as we wandered aimlessly along the maze of hospital corridors deep in conversation,  we were nearly bowled over by this young doctor coming hurriedly out of one of the side wards.  She was rushing for the staircase to go up to the next level where we could hear a klaxon going off even from our distant vantage point . As she flew past, she threw over her shoulder " Oooh hello. Sorry, mum, I can't stop, I'm off to a cardiac arrest." She disappeared in a flash.

Sister-in-law and I left the hospital shortly thereafter and met up with her again about two hours later in an Italian restaurant. She seemed so confident. So buzzing with energy. So interesting to listen to. So grown-up. My big little baby girl.

20 October 2015

Have you noticed?

I'm not sure why, but I have noticed a definite downturn in blog production. Not production of my own blog - I've always been a once-a-week or even once-a-fortnight blogger - but the blogs of others. The most avid blog writers have stemmed their production to a trickle and some have even disappeared off the face of blogland altogether. Not quite sure what all that means. Suffice it to say, I've got bloggers' block and can't think of a darn thing to say. Maybe it's something in the air or water ..........

picture courtesy of miratelinc.com

07 October 2015

A good place to get sick?

A good friend of mine has recently been diagnosed with cancer. She is not comfortable with hospitals or things medical, tending to feel faint as soon as her first footprint enters the building, so I have been accompanying her to the various appointments and scans as moral support and a distraction.

Yesterday she had to have yet another scan which took more than two hours from start to finish. During that time I had to make myself scarce, so I wandered round the hospital, its grounds and the surrounding area, taking a few photos at the same time. Not that I am recommending it, but if you are going too get sick, the view from the hospital couldn't surely get any grander......



and a 5-minute walk away got me here.......


Meanwhile,  still on the subject of hospitals and the good old National Health Service, my gorgeous daughter Kay has already completed two months in her role as a junior doctor (not at this hospital, I should add) and is thoroughly enjoying the experience. She has to do three 4-month placements in her first year as an F1 (Foundation Year 1) doctor and will need to follow this with another three 4-month placements as an F2 (Foundation Year 2) doctor next  year, after which she will be fully accepted as a registered doctor. So she is already halfway through her very first placement. 

Her contracted hours are 9 am -5pm, including being on-call  one weekend in four. The on-call shifts covers responsibility for "emergencies" around the whole hospital and that includes new patient intake from A&E.  That's the theory, but in practice on weekdays she usually starts on the ward at 7am to prepare for an 8am ward-round and the earliest she gets away is about 6pm, though the norm is about 9.30pm.  She gets something like 20 minutes for lunch. She's reckoned she is working around 20 hours+ overtime a week, although she does not get paid for overtime. When she works weekends, she is working 12 days in a run without a break (5 weekdays, the weekend and another 5 weekdays) and all averaging 13-hour shifts. The pay compared with other non-medical graduates' starting pay is not fanstastic, but comparable, except other graduates are not working 20 hours' overtime and get to experience a lot of spare time. By the time Kay walks home at 9.30pm and grabs a meal, it's time to fall into bed and start the process all over again the next day. By the time she's paid off six years' student loans and accommodation, it doesn't leave much in her bank account.

Now, don't get me wrong, she loves the job and is still in that phase of excitement that she is doing the job of her dreams. Her fellow junior doctors are the same. They wouldn't dream of walking out on a patient because the deadline of 5pm has come. They stay longer,  and much longer again, out of the goodness of their hearts to wait for the results of an urgent blood test, speak to a patient's family , or prescribe an urgent drug. However there is love for the job and then there is being treated like a doormat.  The Health Secretary wants to reduce their pay and extend their hours even further. He clearly thinks they are currently only working to contracted hours (which they aren't) and should work longer (which they're already doing). All for less pay.  Meanwhile some MPs are campaigning that MPs should work shorter hours so they can see more of their families and get a 10% pay-rise. What an amazing juxtaposition! No wonder then that the junior doctors are set to protest about their conditions. The point is also not that these poor young doctors should have fat wallets and (God forbid) some life outside work,  but that an exhausted doctor does not make a good doctor and could make life-threatening mistakes. Would you want your sick relative to be treated by a doctor who is barely awake?

How pertinent that the hospital my friend and I attended yesterday is already geographically in the face-off with the government.


29 September 2015

Blogging versus Al-Anon

It suddenly dawned on me the other day that it has been a whole year since I last went to an Al-Anon meeting. The  Al-Anon meeting I used to go to always seemed to coincide with appointments I needed to take my mother to, so it had to be missed and then as weeks went to months and now to a year, I have got out of the practice of going. I daresay the people I got to know there have moved on too, so, even if I did turn up, there'd be few faces I recognise.

Al-Anon works for some people and not for others. To some people Al-Anon is a drug that keeps them sane and helps them cope with living with an alcoholic. Some people swear by how it has helped them. They are often the people who have been going for years and not only that attend several meetings in different locations each week. (That's the beauty of being in London. There's always a meeting somewhere at some time of day every single day. It's probably less often in smaller towns, but you can guarantee there will be one somewhere reasonably close.) 

Personally I have mixed feelings about Al-Anon. First there is the whole ethos, which I find a bit difficult to swallow. There are slightly religious overtones although it is stressed religion does not come into it and you choose "the God of your understanding" to help you. Nevertheless, there is talk of turning to your "Higher Power" for help and guidance. It took me years to work out what my Higher Power was. Having been raised a Christian, I am no longer particularly religious and nowadays only make it to church for festive Carols every other Christmas. I sit on the fence about a lot of things to do with Christianity. I don't buy into seas parting or water turning to wine or immaculate conception. I don't care to burden my God with all my problems in prayer as I am sure He (or She) has quite enough to do without me adding to the list. It was only recently I decided if anything my Higher Power was probably Fate. Yes, I am quite a Fatalist, when it comes to it. What will be, will be. I found the mantras and advice from Al-Anon did not really fit in with the way I see things. Probably the best bit of advice I gleaned from it was "One Day at a Time" and I do still use that a lot when I get overwhelmed with things.

Another problem I have with Al-Anon is the fact that inevitably there are other people there. I am quite a shy person at heart, which comes from being an only child, I suppose.  I've got better as I have got older and  better still since Greg died and I have had to push/assert  myself to get things done. But I have never liked public-speaking. My tongue gets in a  knot if I know other people are hanging on my every word and I find it impossible to string a sentence together without feeling a complete idiot. [I once had a job as a 24-year-old which involved giving lectures to a room full of businessmen and I used to dread them. I'd often take a sickie to avoid them.] With Al-Anon, people sit around in a circle and take turns to speak on a given topic for that meeting. There is absolutely no pressure to speak at all. Once a person starts to speak, the others remain silent and listen to that person's "share" on the topic. Each share lasts about 5 minutes on average. Of course, if there is a small meeting of, say, up to ten people, it is quite normal for everyone to have taken a turn to share, so if you are then the only person who has not shared a view at that meeting, you DO feel pressured to say something. For me that was always purgatory. Instead of the meeting making me feel calm and relaxed (as it obviously did for the others), I felt nervous that I had to say something as it was blatantly obvious I was the only one in the room not to have said something. Sometimes, the silences between speakers would be embarrassing, where we all sat there in the circle waiting for someone - anyone - to speak again. If I was  the only one who hadn't spoken, all eyes seemed to be looking at me as the obvious next choice. So I would blurt something out and feel incompetent and stupid. It often came as a surprise when the meeting had wrapped up that people would come up to me and say I'd made a very useful contribution and provided food for thought. It certainly did not seem like that to me at the time.

Conversely, I did find the other people at the meetings the main reason I went. When you are living with a huge problem like alcoholism in the family, it helps to know there are others out there who have gone/are going through what you are. Before Al-Anon, I felt I must be the only person in the world encountering the problems I faced. That my alcoholic was in some way peculiar to any other. Meeting other people in the same situation was a huge relief and it was interesting to compare or seek advice or comfort from them. They were all lovely people from all walks of life and by large from well-to-do backgrounds. Not your typical prejudicial  stereotype of what constitutes an alcoholic's family. We all got on well and at the beginning when my alcoholic was still alive and causing me all sorts of upset,  I found the hourly meeting once a week a huge escape among "normal" people. However, I much preferred the informal chats at the end of the meeting as we stacked chairs back up and put away the literature into the boxes for the next time. On the rare occasion we would even move on to a nearby cafe and just chat, which I also found more useful than the meetings themselves.

Having started my blog before I even discovered Al-Anon existed was, I suppose, the main reason why Al-Anon did not help me personally. I was able to pour out my frustrations and to reason with the whole situation on the blogosphere. It didn't matter at first whether I received comments or not, but when I did, particularly from those going through similar situations, it reassured me the blog was a good idea. (I had felt uncomfortable at first about washing dirty laundry in public.) If I was having a particularly bad day or night, I could just go to my computer at any time and hammer out my thoughts. It immediately helped rid me of tension to deal with the situation and to cope with the management of the alcoholic, the home and raising Kay, not to mention care of the animals and my aged mother (at that time some 60 miles away).

As I said at the start, Al-Anon works for some and not for others. Al-Anon recognises this and suggests people give it six sessions before they decide whether it helps. I gave it 5 years. It helped in some ways, not in others -  "Take what you want and leave the rest" is one of their slogans after all. I think I have moved on now. If I have not missed the meetings in a whole year, I am not likely to need it any more. I'm still in touch with one or two of the people I got to know and we meet up every few months for a chat - as friends. 

If you are living with an alcoholic and feel Al-Anon might help you, click here for your nearest meeting in the UK. (Al-Anon operates all over the world so just google your nearest meeting place for you.) There are blogs a-plenty and organisations which offer advice- whatever you find helps, but do not  suffer the burden on your own. There are definitely others out there going through the same as you.

10 September 2015

End of an Era

The last of the Alcoholic Daze menagerie has sadly met her maker. 

In the summer of 1999, we took on two kittens and a puppy. We must have been mad to take them all on in one go. Initially we had hoped to cure Kay of her fear of dogs, brought on when she was attacked at the age of 3 by a farm collie, when we were camping on a Yorkshire farm holiday. However, trying to find a suitable dog that would not intimidate her proved difficult and we had all but given up, settling for two kittens from a rescue centre instead, as at least they had a leg at each corner and would give her something to care for and love.  The kittens (Tabitha and Velvet) were still being weaned off their mother, so we had to wait a while before we could collect them from the rescue centre and near the end of that wait we were shown a batch of abandoned puppies that had just come in. We fell hook, line and sinker for Snoopy and ended up bringing the kittens and Snoopy home all on the same day in June 1999.

 
The kittens, Tabitha and Velvet, on their first day with us


 
Snoopy as a puppy

After much toilet training on their part and a big learning curve on our part, we all settled down together happily ever after. Except after two years, Tabitha (the tabby) got run over by a car, leaving just Velvet and Snoopy.

As regular readers will know, Snoopy had to be put down two years ago aged 14½ following ill-health  and yesterday Velvet had to be put down too aged 16½ , as she too had become very ill and the treatment was not working. The vet said he could feel a tumour. It was unthinkable to put her through tests and operations at her age, so a decision had to be made. I didn't like doing it, but it had to be done for her sake. It's the end of an era. I don't fancy replacing any of them right now and do think a pet-free environment suits me for the moment, but I don't rule out changing my mind in the future. Meanwhile, Rest in Peace, dear Velvet.

04 September 2015

Rain, rain, go away!


Well, September's here, the kids are back at school and the shops are getting ready for the usual Christmas retail madness. So that was summer! Did I blink and miss it? It's been a strange one this year. For nigh on 20 years, I have been conditioned to the usual six-week school summer holidays (starting late July and ending beginning of September) and then latterly uni summer holidays, but this year was so different.  Kay's final days at uni were in early June, she then went on an inter-rail tour of Europe and started work at the end of July, just as schools were breaking up, so the summer was already over by then for us. The last 6 weeks since seem to me to have gone slowly.  It would have helped if the weather had been more, well, summery. It seems to me that  August has been cold, wet, wet, cold and wet with a lot more wet thrown in for good measure. And here we are at the start of autumn with more wet and cold stretching into the distance.

I live in a small private cul-de-sac development where we pay in so much every month to a communal kitty used for issues such as the communal garden or road and this includes having our houses painted externally every five years or so. This year was the year to have it done. The committee made up of volunteers in our road appointed a painting firm to start at the end of July. When the painters first approached me in late July, I was unable to let them start on my house, as I was away a lot at that time, so there would have been no way to leave windows and doors open for the paint to dry.  Instead they started on my house in mid-August. Every time they painted the top-coat (with dark grey clouds swirling overhead), it not only rained a few hours later but really bucketed down. The paint bubbled up. They had to sand down the next day and start again.... and again.... and again. I have no control over the painters really as I do not pay them and I do not employ them, but any pleas to leave it to a drier day fell on deaf ears.They were back again yesterday to do yet another remedial repair on the mess that now looks like my front door! Two hours later the heavens opened and stayed open.  That was not the only thing open........my front door had to remain open for at least 6 hours for the paint to dry. I closed it finally at 10pm last night. The snails climbing up the doorpost were most annoyed, as I think even they were fed up with the rain and wanted to come in to say hello. This morning I needed a ten-ton truck to pull open the front door - it had swelled and stuck to the frame. 

I could be marooned for some time!

24 August 2015

Addiction

I guess we are all addicted to something. My poison is chocolate. I can't be in the same room as chocolate and not eat it. It worries me until I've eaten it up. I have to hide a box of chocolates somebody has bought me or I would probably eat the whole box in one sitting. But I can go months without it, so it's under control (unless I'm in an exceedingly long queue at the supermarket and it winks at me from the checkout display!) Alcohol - I can take or leave. I love a glass of wine or a cocktail like the next person, but can count on one hand the number of glasses I consume in every two months. I used to smoke cigarettes a long time ago as a student but stopped 35 years ago. I have never taken drugs.

When you are really and truly addicted to a substance, it is hard to ignore. No matter how much people tell you you are going to die from it, you cannot see that. You can only see that your body is crying out for more and craves it so much that dying is far less of a problem than the craving. You need it and you need it NOW. (Greg wanted nothing more than to stop drinking but try as he might, he could not, even with professional help. )You know you are hurting the loved ones around you and you gladly want to stop for their sake if not your own, but the craving pushes you on to your next fix.... and the next..... and the next. You lose your family, your friends, your job, your money, your home and you eventually hit rock bottom, where you either claw your way back to recovery or surrender to the grim reaper.

The following  is a song written by Rick Hale who has lost a brother to addiction. I think the song and video beautifully encapture what it is like to be an addict or live with an addict. The video contrasts the present with the addict as a child in a family setting. The words are below.....


The muffled sound of old regrets
Burning out like cigarettes
Halfway gone and half to go

Fill the air with darkened haze
And all my empty yesterdays
Have brought me down a deeper low

And I can hardly breath it in

Chorus
What if there’s no end at all?
How much further can I fall?
Getting higher as my life’s descending

Something’s taken over me
I’m not the man I used to be
And I can’t take it if it’s never-ending


I know it’s hard to understand
You’ve only breathed it second-hand
But never walked inside these shoes

You hope someday I turn around
When I’ve crashed against the ground
And I have nothing left to lose

Chorus


Trace the marks across my skin
Laying draped around my frame
They tell the story of my sin
But you turn your back and wash your hands of all my shame

Chorus

17 August 2015

Two weeks on

Kay finally got through the first twelve-days of her new job and came up to see me yesterday to celebrate my mum's 92nd birthday. It was lovely to see her again. When she was up north at university, I probably saw her once every few months. Now she is only about 30 miles away, we shall be able to see one another more often - I shall be able to pop over to see her for a few hours or vice versa. Lovely jubbly, as Del Boy would say.

As reported in my last post, her initiation in her first job was horrendous. The first five days on the ward with 28 patients, some of them very ill with no senior doctors (or junior for that matter). Just her and the nurses. She did 5 days of 13-hour shifts with no (or no more than 5-minute) lunch breaks. Everything changed at the weekend. She was on-call which meant she was floating round the whole hospital, dealing with newly admitted patients, but she did have a Registrar senior doctor to advise her. Then on the second Monday, she was back to the old ward again firefighting single-handedly. One patient had died over the weekend, meaning her first Monday morning job was to perform an examination of the corpse in the Mortuary to issue to the undertaker. The Registrar was back from his holiday but spent little time with her. It was Wednesday before he realised the extent of her work and arranged for two locums to come in swelling the ranks from one doctor (Kay) the previous week to five doctors (Kay, two locums, Registrar and the F2 who had also just started)  at the end of the second week. It was bliss. Kay only had 6 patients to deal with  for the last 3 days of last week , was able to finish at 5pm and even had a whole lunch break, sitting down! Her consultant returns from his holiday today so maybe she'll even get some recognition for what she did. Miracles can happen. Meanwhile she's made a heck of a lot of friends in just the space of two weeks and her fellow junior doctors all around the hospital have elected her to be president of the doctor's mess, organising their socials. She's not quite sure how this has happened, but is looking forward to taking the role on in her spare time!

I waved her off last night in her car filled to the roof with home comforts to make her digs more home-like. She says she's very happy. And that frankly makes me even happier.

05 August 2015

Working Girl

Two days ago Kay started her first ever real job (not counting Saturday jobs as a teenager or the hospital placements as a medical student). This is her first ever paid "proper" job and her first as a doctor. After two days handover with the outgoing junior doctor, she is on her own from today.  Apparently her Consultant and Registrar are both on two weeks' annual leave, which means she is effectively on her own with any of the problems that could arise (God help her). She's already signed her first prescription. She's doing 12 days on the run before she gets her next break (she's on-call over the coming weekend). Welcome to the World of the Workplace!

(Added 24 hours later. On her first day, with no senior staff or peers, she single-handedly looked after 28 patients. She did a 13-hour shift with a 7-minute lunch break. That's what I call a baptism of fire and very bad rota planning.)

28 July 2015

Too much excitement

I don't get out much. I'm a very stay-at-home kind of girl usually. I like my home comforts, my own four walls and am easy to please - a chocolate biscuit in front of the telly and I'm anybody's (well almost). But this last month has been busy with a capital B.  First of all a few days in York with Kay, then almost a full week in Rome and then a few days up in North England for Kay's graduation as a doctor. The poor cat thinks I've left home permanently and superglues herself to me when I return to show her undying love in case her lack of emotion is the reason I have left.

Kay's graduation was lovely, although it nearly wasn't. We checked into a hotel in the busy part of town, mainly because I wanted to be close to shops and restaurants at times when Kay was off with her friends. However the room was noisy with the window open (which we needed to open on account of the muggy but overcast  weather). When we went to bed on the eve of the graduation, Kay donned earplugs to drown out the noise of buses, cars and passing drunks at all hours of the night.  The pillows were like bricks and we tossed and turned all night. Next morning(the day of the graduation) she shook me awake with the news that she had awoken hot and agitated from lack of sleep, tried to remove her earplugs with difficulty and had managed to get one stuck in her ear. In trying further to remove it, she had heard a pop, followed by a rushing of liquid and had gone deaf. In her own self-diagnosis - she had perforated her eardrum! We were both on our feet in an instant and by 6.15am sitting in the local hospital's Accident & Emergency department. Thankfully it was the tail end (and quiet end) of the night shift and we were seen pretty quickly. Kay's diagnosis was confirmed by the doctor. It might clear up by itself or need some help with a minor operation, he said. GREAT. He was about to conjure up the ENT specialist when we said we were from London, only up for Kay's graduation in a few hours and could we get it done back in London? He agreed and suggested we see our GP once home to get the ball rolling.

We rushed back to the hotel, got changed and met Greg's sister who had come up from Lincolnshire. We had invited her as Greg was conspicuous by his absence on such a milestone day and in the circumstances we wanted his sister there in his place. (It was bittersweet that this was yet another milestone Greg has missed out on and sad for us too not having him by our side in the family photos!) By 2pm we were sitting in the Great Hall watching the ceremony like a scene from Harry Potter. The students were called up one by one to receive their diplomas and then had to quote the Hippocratic Oath. Shortly thereafter we adjourned  for champagne and nibbles.  On getting back to the hotel at 6pm, Kay lay down for a few minutes  on her bad ear and was shortly surprised to see a small plug of blood on her pillow. She sat up and COULD HEAR CLEARLY for the first time all day. We were able to go out for a lovely celebratory meal in the evening feeling far less anxious and able to enjoy it. To cut a long story short, our GP in London was able to confirm that the eardrum seems to be healing nicely and there is probably no long-term damage or need for an operation.

Kay departs today for her first hospital job. Shortly I am off to a wedding in Hull, but I can do without all this excitement, I can tell you.  I'm looking forward to a nice chocolate biscuit in front of the telly to recover!

20 July 2015

Roamin' in Rome

Well, Kay's back from her European tour, having taken in Amsterdam, Berlin, Krakow, Auschwitz, Budapest, Zagreb and Split. Her companion had to come back to the UK earlier than Kay, so I offered to meet Kay for the last few days she had left, particularly as it meant she would have been on her own for her 24th birthday. Where to meet? First choice for both of us was originally Prague, but then the logistics let us down, meaning we had to choose somewhere else she could easily reach from Split and me from London without arriving at midnight or leaving home at 3am. We stuck a pin in the atlas and came up with Rome. Neither of us had been there before.

I booked hotels and flights feeling very pleased with myself that I had chosen a hotel equidistant from all the sights and flights that were at reasonable times. What I had not done was check the climate.  O stupidity!  Rome in July is like walking into a furnace. Whatever possessed me to book a break in Rome in July? Even the Romans leave Rome in July!  What was I thinking?

To say it was hot was an understatement. The average midday temperature was about 37C. It only fell to about 25C at night.  For a post-menopausal lady of a certain age given to frequent tropical moments even in the middle of a snowy January, this was not good news. Even blinking brought me out in a sweat. Thank heavens for air-conditioning in the hotel. Kay threatened to disown me as I had invested in a UV-resistant parasol to dive under when shade was sparse, but I did notice she was quite happy to dive under it too at times. And, no, I did not  have a trail of tourists following me around thinking I was their tour guide. There were enough like-minded tourists doing the same.

There was one spooky moment, when we were sitting in a square and musing about Greg, when all of a sudden a street musician started to play a very old song which was one Greg used to strum on the guitar. It was a hair-raising moment.

Despite the intense heat, we packed a lot into 5 days. Here are some of the places we saw.

Colosseum outside


Colosseum inside at 8.30am (to beat the heat and the crowds)
 A lion I fought earlier


Pantheon outside


Pantheon inside


Trevi Fountain complete with scaffolding and no water!
St Peter's Basilica and Square (also at 8.30am- half an hour later, the queues were half a mile long)


San Giovanni in Laterano
Vatican - which one's the Pope's bedroom?



Il Vittoriano

Roman Forum

The Forum's bigger than you think

Presidential palace


Spanish Steps

Somewhere to recharge the batteries


A beautiful city - from the Borghese Gardens