26 October 2017

Bad bad news

I've been saying it enough times to people over the last few months but now a professional has told me the same. It somehow has more gravity and is more of a shock. 

My mother is dying.

Mum has been in hospital for 6 weeks now and we had not managed to see a doctor older than 25 years in all that time. The young girl looked out of her depth most of the time every time we asked for an update and gave airy-fairy unsatisfactory answers to our questions. Finally after much pushing Kay and I managed to get an appointment with the consultant on Tuesday and the news was not good. 

Mum is dying.

The arterial narrowings in her abdomen and legs have caused poor blood flow to her lower legs.  The huge postcard-size ulcer or wound on her leg is never going to heal, because oxygenated blood cannot get to it. Now she has infections in it and similarly the antibiotics cannot reach the wound. This means Mum has a permanent leg infection. The wound is getting bigger and bigger and turning the leg gangrene. The toxins building up are making her confused. 

She also appears to be losing blood somewhere internally (from her low blood count) but to find out where would involve uncomfortable tests which for a 94-year-old very frail patient would be horrible. So they are giving her blood transfusions as well as fluids as her blood pressure has crashed.

She is so weak that the physiotherapists have given up trying to get her to stand let alone walk. She is bed-bound. So going home is never going to be an option as she cannot even get from a chair to a commode now let alone to the bathroom.

She is in so much pain, they are drugging her up to the eyeballs with a strong cocktail of opiates and other painkillers. Ninety per cent of the time when I visit (which is every day) she is in a deep sleep and no amount of shaking or yelling in her ear will rouse her. Her lunch lies untouched at her bedside. I sit and write text messages on my phone while she sleeps and then I go home again. On her more wakeful episodes she talks in a whisper and comes out with weird stuff. On Monday she asked me what time my husband Greg was coming home from work that day. He's been dead seven years. It was like a knife through my heart.

The hospital have said she does not have long. From what they say it might be a matter of a few months, but obviously they cannot say for sure. To me she looks like she will barely manage it through the next few weeks. They want to move her to a nursing home to get more palliative round-the-clock medical care. This is now being arranged. Although I have guessed this all along, hearing it from someone else's mouth as a definite fact is hard to take. This is my mum. WAS my Mum. IS my Mum.

As if that news was not bad enough, on the same day, my best friend rang to tell me her husband died the night before of a heart attack. I have known him over 40 years. She was my best pal at university and my bridesmaid. By association he became a good friend too. He was fit and healthy and had not been ill until Monday night. At 73 he was not particularly old.  He was taken ill suddenly and died in A&E. It has been such a shock I cannot get it out out of my mind. 

What with the news of my Mum too, Tuesday was the worst day imaginable.

22 October 2017

Nightmare or Halloween?

Mum is STILL in hospital, just completing her fifth week and commencing her sixth. She exists in a nightmare world - half true and half made-up.

The half made-up nightmare is explained by the strong cocktail of painkillers she is on.  She tells me quite confidentially that the patient in the bed opposite arrived last night through the ceiling, so if I hear a bump from above, it's another one arriving. I swallow hard, trying to stem the tears I feel coming into my eyes. That is not the mum I know. The one who, five weeks ago devoured the BBC News Channel for entertainment and read the newspaper cover to cover. Some days I cannot rouse her at all and spend an hour of my visiting time just watching her sleep. A few days ago, when a nurse was administering some more oral opiates, she asked mum to confirm her date of birth and mum could not remember it. Who forgets their date of birth? My mum is currently a basket-case. Her eyes show very little consciousness behind them even when they are open. She will be in mid-sentence and either drift off to sleep or get easily distracted into silence, if a nurse walks by, and forget her thread of conversation. She speaks slowly, barely audible, as if conversation is an effort and as if she would prefer to return to her twilight world.

The half-true nightmare is that to date she has not improved at all, but got far worse. The infection in her leg (although it could be anywhere for all we have been told) rages on and the pain is still not under control. Until she is medically fit, the hospital do not want to discharge her, either to her home or to a half-way rehab care home. In five weeks we have not seen or been contacted by a consultant once. As my mother is hard of hearing and in a world of her own, you would think they would contact the relatives to discuss the plan. There is a consultant, I am told, but they have yet to make themselves known to me and I have tried to contact them without success. The day-to-day running of the ward is left to two juniors fresh out of university and definitely both under the age of 25. They looked overwhelmed, when I approach them for updates, and naively experiment on the patients including my mother. I have tried to be patient and let them get their practice in, but after five weeks I am losing patience (and they are in danger of losing patients), as I watch them struggling to cope. My mother is now so institutionalised and confined to her bed/chair/bed/chair that she cannot now stand up from her chair on her own even to use the commode. They now need to use a hoist to move her about. What a difference five weeks make when she was living independently in her own flat and getting around, albeit slowly behind a zimmer frame. She has deteriorated 100% both physically and mentally in the space of 35 days.

I have expressed my concerns repeatedly over the last few weeks. The infection has not gone and the pain is still there at the expense of her being almost unconscious or confused the whole time. Every time I express concern, they do not listen, but instead bump up the levels of painkillers, making her even more senseless.  I feel the anger in me rising. Enough is enough. I want some answers and real solutions. Time to knock some heads together methinks and demand to see someone over the age of 25 to sort this out!

10 October 2017

La-la land

Mum is in her fourth week in hospital. Every day I make the exhausting journey there and back to provide some sort of familiarity. Little did we know when she was admitted on 17 September that she would be in for so long. They are still fighting the infection  and the pain. She's on her third type of antibiotic and swallowing a cocktail of painkillers.  She has been poked and prodded with needles for all manner of tests and x-rayed a few times, all to no avail and no nearer to a cure or care plan. She is in a ward for the elderly and most of them, as far as I can tell,  have lost their marbles. Purely because of the unfamiliarity of the place, the pain and the infection, my mother is slowly joining them. She doesn't always realise she is in hospital. If she leaves her room to go for tests, she thinks she is being taken to another part of London, when in reality her bed has just been wheeled downstairs.  Sometimes her ramblings make no sense at all. The mum I took to A&E four weeks ago is not the same woman. She's worse. This is a woman who, four weeks ago, was reading the newspapers and hungrily devouring the news on TV.

I seek advice and an update on mum's progress from the young junior doctor  who sits at the nurse's station glued to her computer screen. I might add she is the only doctor I am able to approach, because the consultants keep well out of sight on the wards during visiting times. The young doctor, fresh out of uni, looks like a rabbit in headlights every time I enquire about mum's progress. A few days ago she attempted to put a cannula in mum's arm, spent a good half hour, preparing, feeling for bulbous veins, bathing the arm in antiseptic and feeling for veins again. Each time she inserted the needle, mum shot six feet into the air and screamed with the pain and the doctor had to admit defeat after two attempts. A nurse came along and did the procedure painlessly in 2 minutes. 

Before every meal (breakfast, lunch and supper) they test her blood sugar. A  needle prick in the end of the finger to draw blood which is then measured for blood sugar levels. They always come back within the normal range. Quite why this is necessary over a period of at least a week is questionable. Mum is not, and never has been, diabetic. They could surely establish that in a few days of finger pricking tests, but, no, the relentless finger pricking continues.

My mother is 94 and should be enjoying her last days. The leg ulcer is already causing immense pain, so quite why she needs to be subjected to more with pointless tests which get us no further, I don't know.  I am worried she is becoming institutionalised and may have transgressed into a la-la world from which she will never return.

25 September 2017

A turn for the worse.

My mother has got worse. A week ago, I went in - as I do every day - to prepare her lunch and found her floppy, confused, shaking like a leaf and not at all like my mum. I dialed 999 and an ambulance crew arrived in ten minutes. She was whisked off to A&E where we spent ten hours!  Yep, you read right - TEN HOURS. In the first few hours, she was undressed, put in a gown, bloods taken, a catheter put in and then we more or less sat in a cubicle for a few more hours waiting and waiting and waiting. I studied the scratches and gouges on the walls and got  to know them intimately. Mum writhed on the trolley in agony.  We then saw an A&E doctor at about the  3-hour stage. The blood results finally  came back, showing a severe infection - but where? More waiting. Then after about nine hours one of the ward doctors came down to assess whether she was ill enough to be admitted. She was. But first a chest x-ray, which thankfully was all-clear. Finally after ten hours (and not a drop or morsel past our lips) she was taken up to a ward, where she has been for the last week.

The infection is coming from the nasty leg ulcer she has had since May. Back in May it was the size of a grape, then grew to a kiwi, then a peach. It had been more or less peach-sized for weeks, but now with the infection it is the size of a postcard! It is not healing as her leg artery is blocked meaning blood cannot get down to heal the ulcer. It is virtually eating away her lower leg and is quite an horrendous sight.  District nurses have been dressing it three times a week but now the hospital has left it exposed for it to dry out and thus stop the moist warm conditions that bacteria thrive on. The infection would explain my mother's quite dramatic decline over the last few weeks when even making a cup of tea was too much effort for her and she has been eating less and less of the meals I have prepared for her. Thankfully over the last week the infection is losing and the IV antibiotics are winning. However the excruciating pain she has been in since November (which we recently found out is caused by the arterial blockage) is still driving her crazy and she cannot get any rest. The hospital are experimenting with new drugs to try to lower the pain, but so far nothing has worked, even morphine. Even amputation has been considered by the doctors but, we are told,  is really too risky for a 94-year-old. We wait and wait with bated breath.

18 September 2017

Bone weary

I am tired. The sort of tired that, when you open your eyes first thing in the morning, you would happily close them again for a few more hours' sleep. I force myself out of bed and into the onslaught of the waking day. I am pushing the boundaries of sleep in both directions. I often do not get to bed until 2am and am up again at 7am. No wonder I am tired. I am caring for an aged parent on the one hand and an adult child on the other, both having time clocks on the opposite end of the spectrum.

As I heralded in my last post, Kay has moved back home with me for six months to save money for a big trip of a lifetime to Asia and South America next year. It is lovely having her home again and (so far) we have not torn one another's hair out or thrown a vase at the wall. We have not had this much lovely girlie time together in years. However she is working as a locum doctor, often on late night shifts in a different part of London, so by the time she gets home it is near midnight or, as in the case of last night, 2am. Silly as it may sound, I cannot rest until I know she is home safely. When she was in Yorkshire or Maidstone, I had no idea what time she came home, so I slept peacefully in ignorance. But now she is home with me again, I cannot rest until I hear her car pull up and the click of the front door. Then I can sleep.

On the other end of the spectrum, my 94-year-old mother is getting frailer. She now weighs only 7 stone, but her legs are enormous, swollen with fluid like tree trunks. A huge ulcer, which is the size of a plump peach, on her right leg is not healing. It will never heal, we are told, as the blood supply to it is very poor. She has stenosis, or in other words narrowings of the arteries in her pelvis and leg. It's just an old-age thing. Furring up of the arteries. One day the narrowings will close completely and the blood flow to her leg will stop altogether. Presumably that means gangrene. We have already been told amputation is the only real option to help her leg pain, but how is a 94-year-old, who can barely move, supposed to cope with an amputation or a prosthesis? The outlook is bleak. My mother has visibly deteriorated in the last six months. Back in April, she was coming with me to the local hypermarket to do a big shop and pushing a trolley up and down the aisles all by herself. Today she can barely lift herself out of her armchair and walk across the room to get to the bathroom. She sleeps all night in her armchair because she cannot get any rest from the relentless pain in her leg if she sleeps with them flat out in bed. She only gets relief if her feet are down on the floor. The armchair has become her home - day in, day out, night in, night out. The less she gets about, the less she is able to.   A vicious circle.

She needs to be woken up early, as she has daily appointments in the mornings that require her to be up and dressed....regular visits from the district nurses who dress her leg ulcer, appointments at hospitals, surgeries, you name it. Because of her medication for the pain, she sleeps quite deeply and so needs me to telephone her early at 7am and at regular intervals thereafter to make sure she is awake.  For the last ten weeks, I have visited every day at about 11am to make her lunch and prepare a supper to put in the fridge. Sometimes I get there to discover she is still undressed, having dozed off again after my last telephone call. Sometimes I find her eating her breakfast at 11.30am just as I arrive to cook her lunch. I feel as if I am in the middle of a nightmare world where strange things happen. As an only child and a widow, I have nobody else to call on to help. It's me or complete strangers and she's dismissed the idea of the latter. Living with me is not an option. My house is on 6 storeys with too many stairs. She would be incarcerated in one room - my bedroom, as it is the only room with a bathroom on the same level.

I'm so run-down, I've even had a gum infection (the first one in my life ever)  with a swollen cheek that made me look like a lop-sided hamster and pain I didn't know was possible. Occasionally, I am so battered by the relentless early starts and late nights, that I nod off after my lunch. I try not to, as I don't want to waste the precious hours when I could be doing something for me.  I guess I'm just going to have to find some bigger matchsticks.....


Image result for matchsticks to keep eyes open




05 September 2017

Happy chaos

Bags bursting with contents lie strewn across my hallway. A full-length mirror is propped precariously up against the hall wall. A pile of four pillows and duvet are unceremoniously dumped in a corner. A crate of kitchen utensils are balanced on my dining chair.  In the lounge a bag containing two (now defunct) laptops lies on the floor. There are jauntily stacked piles of DVDs and CDs here and there on the floor. The kitchen cupboards are bulging with two of everything - gravy granules, flour, jam, herbs sauces, rice, pasta, teabags, coffee.  Absolute chaos reigns. The interior of my house looks like a cyclone has hit it.  The reason?  Kay has moved back home and brought with her eight years' worth of gathered essentials (and non-essentials) of independent living to merge back into my house. 

It is hard to believe that it has been eight years since my one and only child, Kay, left home to go to university up in Yorkshire. Ever  since that tear-stained day, she has lived away from home - predominantly six years at uni in Yorkshire, for one year working in Maidstone and for the last year in another part of London close to the hospital where she works.  Six months after she left home, Greg, my husband died, and I have been rattling around this big house for over seven years on my own. Until now. She has come home and I must adapt to sharing my home once more.

A few weeks ago, Kay finished her two years - first in Maidstone and then in London -  as a foundation doctor or houseman, as it used to be called. That is the period between graduating from medical school as a young doctor and starting to specialise, gaining experience in different disciplines. She now has to start three years of core training in an area she wants to specialise in.  As yet, she is still not 100% certain what that will be, but does not have to commit at this stage, as she will have more placements in various fields to narrow her choice down further.

However, she is young compared to her peers.  First she is the baby of her year, as her birthday comes at the end of the academic year (July) here in the UK. Also she got into medical school straight from school, whereas many applicants for medicine fail to get in first time and go off to do another degree first before trying to get into medical school again. Kay is currently 26, whereas many of her peers are in their late 20s or even 30s. Therefore she has decided she can afford to take a belated gap year to see a bit more of the world, while she still can, before she gets sucked into the career ladder.

Her aim is to work as a locum doctor for the next six months to squirrel away enough money to fund the ensuing six months of travel. She and her boyfriend aim to visit various parts of Asia and then go on to cover  large parts of South America. By living at home, she can save the £800 per month she has been paying for one room in a flat-share in central London for the past year. As a locum, she is not tied to one particular hospital as she was before, so can travel in any direction from my house to a variety of hospitals on an ad hoc basis.

It is lovely for me to have some company at home and it is great for her not to have to worry about shopping or cooking or the laundry. Don't get me wrong, she has offered to do all three, but she is busy with her work (and has a big exam to do in the next few days as part of her membership to the Royal College of Physicians) and I am quite happy to have someone to look after, so it suits us both. Someone jokingly said they wondered who would crack first. It won't be me, I am certain.

Image result for mother and daughter figurine

14 August 2017

The other side

Following on from my last post on Passchendaele, I thought it only fair to mention that my paternal grandfather was on the other side in the First World War. I am a mongrel, being half German, a quarter English, an eighth Irish and an eighth French. No wonder I am confused.



My paternal grandfather was born in Berlin and, like my maternal grandfather, also enlisted early on in the war. He fought for a time in France, where he was shot in the leg and then, after he had recuperated, he was sent to the Russian front which was notoriously freezing and conditions were unbearable. He was awarded the Iron Cross for his bravery. Ironic really, as he went on after the war to marry a girl with Jewish connections (he was Lutheran) and in 1939 they were forced to flee for their lives and settle here in England, some number of months after their two teenage sons (one of them my father) had already come here with the Kindertransport.


 My German grandfather in exact centre front row.

When my mother and father got together in the Second World War, announced their engagement and introduced both sets of parents to one another, my two grandfathers amicably shook hands and joked "I bet you were the b*****r that shot my leg/eye".  It was good that they could be so forgiving, given the extent of their injuries. It does however highlight the futility of war - human beings but for the grace of God on opposite sides ordered to kill one another. We haven't learned the lesson of the last hundred years - war still goes on all over the world at any given time and will continue to do so alarmingly, if Kim Jong-Un and Trump get too trigger-happy.

08 August 2017

Passchendaele

I remember my maternal grandfather very well. My parents and I lived in the upper storey of my grandparents' house until I was eight and after that we moved a few miles away, but still visited him and my grandmother regularly. At least once a week. He died when I was 26, so, yes, I guess I remember him well.

When I was old enough to study French at school, he would boast that he too could speak French. It was just the odd word, but he liked to show off, throwing words like "oeuf" and "petit dejeuner" and "boeuf, s'il vous plait, madame" at me, as if it made him fluent. I subsequently discovered it was a handful of words he had picked up from his First World War days in France and Belgium, when trying to order food in villages, as the soldiers passed through.

As a child (and female at that) I was not particularly interested in what he had done in the war. Come to think of it, he was none too keen to regale us with stories, as I think it was all rather painful and horrific. There was no such thing as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in those days and precious little in the way of counselling. People just had to man up and cope the best they could. I did pick up that he had terrible pain in his legs from the shrapnel wounds and when the shrapnel moved around he would suffer from terrible headaches. He used to shout a lot when that happened. My childhood chattering and running about on the floor upstairs used to make his headaches worse apparently. As a small child, I was fascinated with his glass eye. I never quite cottoned on which eye to focus on, when I spoke to him,  not really understanding that the glass one would not actually see anything.

The little I do know was that he fought at Mons, Ypres, the Somme and at Passchendaele. He was in the Royal Artillery and had a black horse called Smiler that pulled the gun carriages. It was at Passchendaele in 1917 that my grandfather was badly wounded in the leg and lost his eye. Not only that but, in the same explosion, Smiler was fatally hit and that upset my grandfather more than anything. My grandfather was brought back to England to be nursed and his eye apparently ended up in Northampton Museum. That was the end of the war for him.

It is exactly one hundred years since that battle at Passchendaele.  My mother still has his medals and some excellent needlework he did while recovering in hospital. As I think of him now,  I so wish I had asked my grandfather more about his experiences. As always, we leave these things far too late.


01 August 2017

When Pain just isn't Fair

Mum is in immense pain. The driving-you-demented kind of pain. Think of a pain and multiply it by one hundred. THAT kind of pain and I am tearing my hair out trying to help her.

It all started last year. Back in May 2016 at the ripe old age of nearly 93 she had a knee replacement operation on the right knee. She was booted out of hospital after a few days and then went on to have a week's respite care before going home. The knee more or less behaved itself for a few months, but by November, she was getting intense pains up and down her right leg from her knee to her ankle. In addition to that she had swollen legs (on both sides) so that her ankle and shins were the same thickness as her thigh. I won't bore you with the minute detail, except to say the diagnosis changed from DVT to cellulitis to arthritis each time we saw anyone for help.

In March the GP referred us to an orthopaedic consultant, or at least that was the plan. By July we had not heard a bean from anyone.  Meanwhile in May she suddenly developed a leg ulcer the size of a kiwi fruit which looks black and yellow and frankly deadly. District nurses have been coming in to dress it twice a week and each time tut and murmur about it getting bigger and not responding to treatment. 

 
The deadly leg ulcer

In early July, my mother fell out of bed (asleep!!) four times on almost consecutive nights within the space of a week. Her panic alarm system called an ambulance each time and I was woken by a shrill telephone call in the wee small hours to attend too. Each time she was scooped off the floor and (surprisingly) had broken nothing. Her observations (pulse, GCS, blood pressure, blood sugar etc) were all fine, so the ambulances left without her. However, it would seem after the last fall she had done some damage to her ribs and was getting pain there too. There's not a lot you can do about cracked or broken ribs, except take painkillers. I puzzled hard and long as to why she had suddenly started to fall out of bed at such alarming regularity when I discovered she had been hanging her throbbing leg out of the side of the bed to get some relief and in her sleep had just slid out behind it. In a heap. On the floor.

Two full-length parallel bed rails were commissioned pretty smartly via occupational health at social services. But it seems the rails can only be raised and lowered if you are outside the bed. My mother lives on her own, has no carers and is fiercely independent. How on earth is she supposed to get out of bed if the rails can only be lowered from the outside? The compromise has been to only have one rail up on the side of the double bed she sleeps on and to build a bank of pillows on the other side to stop her rolling out that side, where the rail is down.

However the pain is so excruciating that the latest development is that she cannot get more than an hour's sleep in bed before she is getting up to move to her very deep old-fashioned armchair, as she finds hanging her legs down is more comfortable. She's spent the last three weeks sleeping in that armchair.

Painkillers do nothing at all. We've worked our way up from paracetamol to codeine to tramadol to morphine patches and back down again - nothing works and the higher you go, the more woozy and dizzy she becomes, so more at risk of falls. Two weeks ago we saw a private orthopaedic consultant (we were fast-tracked to a private one by the GP as the wait for an NHS one had gone over 3 months) and their view is that my mother has both vascular problems and neuropathic/nerve ones too, each requiring different contradictory treatment. For the vascular problems and the swelling, you need to raise legs, but for the neuropathic pain, my mother finds it easier to let legs hang down. It would seem the pain may be attributable to a trapped nerve caused by the knee replacement operation, although the jury is still out on that one.

My mother has now been prescribed pregabalin - a drug primary used for epilepsy but with useful application for nerve pain. (We scared ourselves half to death just reading the leaflet that came with it and were very nervous about starting it.) The side effects can be horrendous.  Not only that,  the drug has to be taken in steps to allow the body to acclimatise, so you start on a low dose and build up gradually over about a month. First one tablet at night, then one in the morning too, then two at night, then two in the morning too and so on. We are halfway along that course and still there is not the slightest improvement to the pain, yet spectacularly my mother is slowly losing her marbles. One of the side effects is confusion and, boy, is she confused. We spent a good part of yesterday morning discussing something in great detail over the space of two hours, only for her to ask me a question as I was leaving, which showed not a single sentence of it had gone in at all. I'm not sure if it is the pain or the drugs or dramatically sudden onset of dementia.

My life is not my own at all at the moment. I have been going in every day mid-morning to make her coffee, deal with problems, cook her lunch, wash up, make supper to leave in the fridge, administer pills and
leave her with a cup of tea, before I crawl home at 3-ish, somewhat disheartened by the physical and more alarming mental state of her.  She is in so much pain and we seem to be getting nowhere fast. She talks of Why Me? and I'm past my sell-by date and she is already telling me what to take of her personal effects, as I may not be around much longer. She has suffered with arthritis and back pain for a good deal of her life but this is different. The district nurse this morning said she will chase something up which has been outstanding and we are planning yet again to badger the GP (currently on annual leave).  Nobody deserves to be in that much pain, but we seem to be getting nowhere fast at the moment.


25 July 2017

Worried about somebody else's drinking?

Image result for alcoholic


Alcohol dependency is a condition that over a million people deal with in the UK. In fact, the NHS estimates that 9% of men and 4% of women in the UK are dependent on alcohol. However most don’t seek help.

It's usually a good piece of advice that if somebody's drinking is causing a problem with others, then it is a sure sign they are an alcoholic. Far too often the drinker is in denial. What? I don't have a problem with drinking. I can control what I drink. I know how much I can safely have before I stop. I can still hold a job down without any problems. I provide for my family etc etc etc. 

If truth be told, it is better to ask those around the drinker whether it is a problem. The wife/husband/partner,  the kids, the work colleagues will all tell a different story. Angry outbursts, fights, hangovers, sickness, poor work quality, struggling to cope with what little money is left once the rest has been spent on drinking - that's what they see. Sometimes the families prefer to remain in denial too, as to admit their loved one is an alcoholic comes at a huge cost - which can involve separation, divorce, moving house, coping on reduced finances, kids going into care - situations which are all traumatic in their own right. Sometimes it is better to pretend everything is fine, until it is not and more than likely until it is too late.


The Priory Group (one of the many useful contacts listed on the top of my blog) is a UK independent provider of alcohol rehabilitation and support services and is committed to helping people overcome their addiction to alcohol and start their journey towards recovery. Their consultants treat people from all walks of life – often it is those you least expect who are struggling. They have just launched a campaign based on helping people to spot the signs of alcohol addiction, should they be worried about a partner’s, friend’s or relative’s drinking. This is the link to start their interactive web page. If you are worried about somebody else's drinking (or even your own), don't leave it too late to seek help.  If the drinking continues unchecked, remind yourself in the PROGNOSIS tab at the top of my blog of the physical changes you can expect to happen. Your body is a temple, but there is only so much it can take, before irreversible damage sets in.


The Temple of Bel in the historical city of Palmyra, Syria on August 4, 2010. ─ Reuters/File

10 July 2017

The Lady of the Hydrangeas

I visited my friend in Brighton last week on a boiling hot day and for a while we sought shade in her garden. I thought I'd share a photo she took of me.... I'm calling this work "The Lady of the Hydrangeas".


Today would have been my 41st wedding anniversary. It was a scorching hot day then back in 1976. What with a veil over my head and long lined wedding dress, I positively melted down the aisle. Thank goodness we had an open-top vintage Rolls Royce to take us from the church to the reception so I could cool down in the breeze. Happy 41st  Anniversary, Greg, wherever you are.

27 June 2017

Courage (but not of the Dutch kind)




I am sure many of you will have heard recently that Ant - of Ant and Dec fame - has gone into rehab for an alcohol and prescription drug addiction. As most alcoholics live in a state of denial, it takes immense courage at the best of times to admit to yourself that you need help.  Incredibly more so, if you admit it to the entire world and its grandma, who are largely responsible for your bread and butter. Only those who have had such an addiction or families who have truly lived alongside such an addiction can appreciate what this means.   I can well imagine what his wife is going through and wish her the courage (as well as him) to cope with this. Let us hope the rehab works and he does not relapse when he comes out, as is most often the case. Being in the public eye will make it a thousand times worse.

20 June 2017

Dearly beloved

I do enjoy a nice wedding. It's an excuse to get all dressed up and meet friends or family you haven't seen in years. A chance to catch up. A chance to see how grown-up the children have got or how decrepit the elders.

When I was small and cute, I was asked to be bridesmaid on five separate occasions. By the time I was in my thirties I had been to quite a few weddings as a guest, not to mention my own during that intensely hot summer of 1976.  Compared to me, Kay has been devoid of any weddings. There simply hasn't been a single wedding in our circle for the last 25 years or more. At the grand old age of 25, she has NEVER  been a bridesmaid and the first ever wedding she even attended was three weeks ago when we crept into the back of the church to watch a not-so-close friend of hers  from primary school days marry at our local church. (We just happened to hear about it by chance and thought as it was a five-minute walk away, we would go, but we were not officially invited.) A few days ago we were invited to be guests at a family wedding in the Midlands. Kay's first ever proper wedding invitation.

I suppose it is a sign of the times that weddings are not as commonplace as they used to be. Cohabiting is far more common that it was forty or fifty years ago. Rightly so, people marry only when they really want to, but it is no longer a given and therefore the ceremony to cement the relationship becomes a rare event. Having children outside marriage is no longer taboo either  (I so weep at the stories that unfold on Long Lost Family, where unmarried mothers were forced to put their babies up for adoption).  Shotgun weddings are a thing of the past. In fact, the little page boy at our family wedding was the couple's two-year-old son. 

I've noticed the wording of the service has changed a lot too. No more thees and thous and plighting troth. No more lawful wedded husband or wife. I was quick to abandon the obey at my service in 1976 (something I think Mr Alcoholic Daze may have later regretted), but it was still peppered with thees and thous.   There's still the usual titter and nervousness when the congregation is asked if there is any just cause why those two people should not be married but on the whole there's a lot more jollity and less solemnity from the vicar.  

For Kay's first proper wedding this was the best. It was perfect in every way..... perfect weather, beautiful bride, handsome groom, adorable children, lovely food, incredible venue, hilarious speeches.... the perfect day for the perfect couple.



12 June 2017

Flat

I haven't blogged for a while and, whilst wanting to keep up the momentum, I've run out of steam. I'm a bit flat, so to speak. First of all, the election result has made depressing news, whatever party you voted for. Nobody really won, did they? And now we are left with a government in tatters, when 10 weeks ago, things were more or less, er, strong and stable.  So many things to fix - Brexit and terrorism to name the two biggest problems facing us at the moment - and a weak government on the one hand and an excitable mob on the other. God knows how far we have sunk in the rest of the world's eyes.

It's funny how when the Leavers won Brexit, the Remainers said it was the wrong result and wanted another referendum. Now the Conservatives have the biggest number of votes compared to any of the others and Corbyn is demanding the PM's job.  I stand by the rules of democracy.  You win some. You lose some. I'm just sick of all the back-biting, name-calling, witch-hunting and wish we could go back to good old-fashioned politics where gentlemen (and by that I mean polite people, not gentry) discussed our state of affairs. I'm currently hooked on Channel 4's The Handmaid's Tale which is a realistic but scary look into the near future. Let's hope it remains fiction and doesn't come true.

Added to that, I have had a throbbing tooth all weekend, which has been driving me crazy.  I hope the dentist is about to fix at least that problem for me. So it's onwards and upwards from now on, I hope, and an upcoming family wedding in a few days to lift my spirits.

28 May 2017

Grim news and the Grim Reeper.

Image result for grim reaper

When you are young, for most people anyway, thoughts of your own death tend to be far off. It seems so far away as to not be worth thinking about. You have energy and plans which are all-consuming as you work and play your way through the early years. Jobs, relationships, families, exploring new places.... so much to do and so much time stretching ahead to do them in. However, as you get towards the end of your three score years and ten, it is inevitable that those thoughts of your demise start to feature now and again. I am currently 66 going on 50, feel I have many more decades to enjoy, but unfortunately at the moment seem to be surrounded by illness and death, which makes me a little nervous about my own. Funeral invitations seem to outnumber by far any for weddings or christenings. I suppose it is to be expected as you get older and friends of your own age start to come down with things. But I am not liking it. I am certainly not ready to shake off my mortal coil any day soon. I am a spring chicken.

In the last month I have learned that:

  • my husband's best friend recently found out he has bowel cancer and three days after his successful operation to remove it, he had a stroke.  He is slowly recovering. He is 65.
  •  the husband of good friend of mine has been told he has a few days to live. He has kidney failure and associated heart problems. I am trying to buoy up both him and his wife but it is emotionally draining. Admittedly he is 94, but it is still upsetting as he is still very with-it and intelligent (ex-headmaster and WW2 bomber pilot).
  • a member of my wider family has bowel cancer and is about to undergo 6 weeks of chemo and radiotherapy followed by a colostomy. She is in her fifties.
  • an old school friend died two days ago of a muscle wasting disease (MSA).  She was 66, like me. 

I suppose we all hope to go on forever and don't really consider death until it stands up and punches us on the nose, but when it surrounds us and attacks many of those close to us in age within a short timescale, you cannot ignore it.  Of course death can come to those well before their time, as we have witnessed in Manchester recently. Does a time ever come, I wonder, when we accept our time is up and go quietly? Or do we rail against it with all our might until our very last breath?

16 May 2017

Slim chance

I've been doing a lot of knitting lately. 

I've also been trying to lose a little bit of weight. Not a lot but a little. About ten pounds to be precise.  My weight had crept up over ten stone and I didn't like being in double figures (number-wise, that is, not shape-wise!) As I have an occasion I want to lose weight for, I decided to go hell for leather for it. I'm going for a combination of an old Rosemary Conley diet which has been successful in the past plus a smidgen of common sense - high fibre, low fat, low sugar and exercise. I've got a mere three pounds to go until I get to my target of 9 stone 7 pounds, but they are proving the hardest to shift.

I manage very well during the day. I have a small breakfast, small lunch and have my main meal in the evening at around 6 or 7pm. I am usually quite occupied during the day and often out of the house all day, so I barely think about food, but, come the evening, after my main meal of the day, I could happily go on snacking until bedtime. That has always been my downfall. Particularly in the wintertime when I hunker down in front of the TV I get bored and, well, peckish. It seems like every ten minutes I am resisting the idea of getting something to nibble. Sometimes I win.  Sometimes I lose. But when you are on a diet, you cannot afford to lose (except lose weight of course).

That's where the knitting comes in. In a desperate attempt to keep busy and keep my mind on something else (and not food), I decided to knit. I can do that AND watch television without the feeling I am wasting my time. It's also difficult to put the knitting aside (especially in the middle of something complicated) to go off to get a snack.

But what to knit? I don't really have anything specific to knit for and prefer small items where I can see the results quickly. In the last few weeks I've knitted 40 beanie hats and matching socks for small babies and sent them off to four London hospitals for their neonatal wards. Stupidly I didn't take pictures of those, but here's some of the blankets I have been knitting for our local animal rescue centre. So far I've done 3 cat-sized blankets and 3 dog-sized ones. Way to go.

At this rate, by the end of the year, I'll have knitted my own furniture and hopefully be stick-thin in the process. Some hope. Mind you, my fingers do seem a lot slimmer.





 

10 May 2017

Denial

There's been a lot of publicity recently about alcoholism.  First the  revelation from Brad Pitt that alcohol was responsible for breaking up his marriage to Angelina Jolie.  Then a report that baby boomers are at risk of developing deadly conditions by regularly binge drinking. Then a feature in ITV's Loose Women in which Nadia Sawahla spoke of her husband's alcohol addiction.

Brad Pitt calls himself a "professional drinker" who has been sober for six months. It dangerous when people are in denial and do not truly recognise their alcoholism and use another term for it, as if "professional drinker" makes it sound more respectable. He's a recovering alcoholic plain and simple. "Professional" sounds like he could like it or leave it, switch to another "profession", if it did not agree with him. The fact is that an alcoholic has an uphill struggle to leave that profession. That Brad Pitt has been sober for six months is good - all credit to him - but it takes even harder work to keep that up. Time will tell whether he succeeds. Meanwhile, it has cost him his marriage and constant contact with his kids, as is so often the case with alcoholism. All too often, it costs you your life.

As for the baby boomers, they are in their sixties. They probably have reasonable pensions, considerable savings stashed away and a lot of time on their hands. Either living it up on the Costa del Something or housebound in grey Blighty, the time on their hands gives them carte blanche to drink, because they can and they're bored. No need to get up for work the next day. If they drink too much they can sleep it off. Nobody is going to rebuke them for being late or not turning up. Sitting in front of the TV with a bottle of wine each evening probably doesn't count either - in their eyes - so they too are in denial. Apparently a quarter of men over 65 and 13% of women drink FIVE days a week. This increases their risk of common cancers (bowel and breast), liver and heart disease. (My hairdresser is one of these... she recently confessed she cannot wait for seven o'clock to come round each evening when she can crack open a bottle of wine to remove the stresses of the day, but sometimes she cannot wait and opens it at five o'clock.  She finds it hard to have an alcohol-free day let alone alcohol-free week.) Figures published last week reveal an estimated 339,000 alcohol-related admissions in 2015/16, up 22 per cent from 2005/6.   Of course these figures will not all be attributable to baby-boomers, as the young too are on a car-crash course with their drinking habits. Thanks to the Labour government who relaxed drinking laws in 2005 because they thought the British public could handle 24-hour drinking. What were they thinking?  Maybe we DID need a Nanny state to stop us all becoming a nation of zombies with medical problems. Governments can be in denial too, although cynically the increased tax revenue they stood to gain on alcohol probably had something to do with their decision.


My heart went out to Nadia Sawahla on Loose Women when she revealed that her husband is a recovering alcoholic. It had nearly cost them their marriage too. Often partners of alcoholics are in denial too and hope it is just a passing phase that their partner will grow out of. However,  Nadia gave him an ultimatum and thankfully he responded by becoming sober - something that has to date lasted 13 years. He is one of the lucky ones. Statistics show that only one in ten manage to pull themselves out of their addiction and of course staying that way takes a lifetime of immense will power. Just one little drink can lead to addiction again.

04 May 2017

When is enough enough?

About fifteen years ago, when Kay was about ten years old, we took a camping trip to France. We used to go camping a lot in those days, as we had our lovely dog Snoopy then and putting him in kennels while we went away was out of the question, as he was terrible at being left. It was no great hardship. We loved camping and could still explore abroad, as we got him fixed up with his own pet passport. We did trips to France frequently and found a good vet in Calais who would do all the necessary checks and paperwork to get us safely back through Dover again. We went to Germany, Denmark and Ireland too and have many memorable photos of us all crouched inside the tent in pouring rain! Seriously, we had some truly fantastic times.

On this particular trip fifteen years ago, when Kay was ten, we had been returning to the UK from a trip to the Loire. After a long motorway drive, we pulled over to a very small parking area on the side of the motorway somewhere in France for a bit of leg-stretching. It was shielded from the motorway by trees, so it was only when we had parked in one of the twenty or so parking bays that we noticed the very small bungalow building was derelict and the "cafe" was most definitely closed and looked as if it had been for some some years. There was only one other car there apart from ours, but nobody in evidence, so goodness knows where they had gone.  No problem for us, though, as we virtually had the kitchen sink and kettle in the back of the car, so we set about boiling some water on a small camping stove on the ground at the back of the car. Kay had got out with the dog on a lead and stood near us.  Engrossed in finding the jar of coffee and the teabags among the huge heap of luggage, dog bed,  tent and camping paraphernalia, I suddenly turned round to find Kay and the dog were not by the car. They weren't in the car. They weren't in front of the car. They weren't even in view. I called her name. There was silence. Greg and I called and called. Nothing but silence.

Sheer panic set in. My heart was beating two thousand to the minute and it seemed as if it would burst through my throat. Where was she and why wasn't she replying? Before Madeleine McCann there had always been threats of child abduction, the most famous one at the time being the James Bulger case. Did the owners of that other car have something to do with it? I felt sick with fear. We were flailing around searching bushes, trees and about to go towards the derelict building, when Kay and the dog emerged from behind the building. I cannot tell you how relieved I was at that sight and when we ran towards her half-angry, half-relieved demanding to know where she had been, she looked totally surprised at our concern, saying she had just decided to take the dog for a walk to stretch his legs. It was all of about ten minutes, but it seemed like ten years.


Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the day Madeleine McCann went missing. I cannot begin to imagine what Kate and Gerry McCann went through and are still going through. How do you cope with something like that for ten minutes let alone ten years? I admire their tenacity, but they must be putting their life on hold until she is found. At what point do you give up and think enough is enough? 

Image result for madeleine mccann now and then
Madeleine in 2007 and how she might look now

29 April 2017

Happy Birthday

It would have been Greg's 68th birthday today. Happy Birthday up there on the clouds, doing whatever they do up there. Are you allowed any alcohol to celebrate, I wonder?

I cannot picture Greg as 68. He is still the 60-year-old who died just over seven years ago. I suppose that's one thing about dying relatively young. You never age beyond that point. Whereas for the rest of us, you cannot stem the slowly oncoming tide of ailments, poor eyesight, tottering gait, failing this and failing that.   He has escaped the drawbacks of ageing, but has been cut off in his relative prime by the demons of drink. Which is worse?

Damned if you do and damned if you don't.


19 April 2017

The thin end of the wedge

"Have you heard the news?" said Mum animatedly yesterday. "Theresa May is calling for a general election."

"I know", I said. "It's quite unexpected, isn't it?" 

"Hmm." she replies. "I can't understand why she's doing it, though.  Errr.  Forgive me for being ignorant, but what does Brexit stand for and what is it all about?"

I feel a sledgehammer hitting me sideways.  How on earth do I answer that? I'm not very good at masking. Lying. Pretending.  So I go for the full-on honest approach. "You are kidding me, mum. There's been little else discussed over the last 12 months. You even voted on it last year in the Referendum. It's a shortened form for British Exit."

There's a pause. "Oh I see." But clearly she doesn't, so I venture "It's the British exit from the European Union. You know, the Common Market."

"Aha".

This is not the first instance that I have felt something is not quite right. There have been a few others. On Easter Sunday, I brought her over to my house to share with Kay and me  in an old-fashioned English meal of roast lamb and Easter Simnel cake. There is just the three of us now. Mum's husband, my father, died in 2001. My husband died in 2010. Kay is an only child, as am I.  So on important occasions it has been just the three of us for the last seven years. The three musketeers. 

Kay helps mum from the lounge to her seat at the dining table. I dish up the meal and put it in front of mum, before I return with the plates for Kay and me.

"Where are the others?" asks Mum. "Are they not coming down for lunch?"

"What others?" I ask, not daring to imagine whom she means.

She looks confused. "Er. Er. I don't know. Er. "

Kay and I exchange glances. "Do you mean Kay's boyfriend?" I suggest as a possible way out, although he is 40 miles away with his parents, as my mother well knows. 

"Yes", she replies, although not with conviction.

I worry if these instances are just a slight wobble or a symptom of something much worse. She is in a lot of pain with her arthritis and the painkillers don't even touch the sides. Even then, she only takes paracetamol and the occasional codeine, as she has done for years, so there is nothing really heavy to cause her mind to behave strangely as it seems to be doing lately. Stronger painkillers make her woozy, so we have experimented with them way back in the past but dismissed them as too dangerous as she lives on her own and could have a fall.

Are these the first signs of dementia? She is approaching 94 after all, but then again her next-door neighbour is going to be 100 next week and is as bright as button. My mother is very interested in the television news and would read more if her poor eyesight did not let her down, so she is not completely gaga and at least knows what year she is in and who the Prime Minister is. 

But I can't help feeling these little instances are worrying and I don't know what the next few months will bring. I am not sure I am prepared for it, whatever "it" is.
 
Kay made a Simnel Cake for Easter


Isn't she clever?