27 August 2009

An "ology"

After my last two posts, I can't stop thinking about a series of old British Telecom (BT) adverts on TV that used to feature the life of a woman called Beattie (BT, get it?!) played by Maureen Lipman. This particular one was always my favourite. It seems to have extra relevance this week!

21 August 2009

To dream the impossible dream

I apologise for my mad mother cow mode yesterday, but I wanted to shout the good news from the rooftops.

When Kay was a teeny tiny three-year-old, knee-high to a grasshopper, she used to love playing with a nurse's set. She would don the nurse's uniform and cap with the bright red cross on, sling the stethoscope around her neck and call for her next patient. This was usually my long-suffering Dad (her Granddad) who was visiting us. He had to lie down on the sofa and Kay would tell him that he had unfortunately just been run over by a runaway truck carrying glass bottles. Not only had he broken his leg but he had huge shards of glass embedded in his leg too. The most serious of accidents. She would listen to his chest with the stethoscope, then roll up his trousers to his knee and with painstaking concentration pick out the non-existent shards of glass with tweezers. Then she would x-ray his leg, waving her arm back and forth pretending to be the x-ray machine. She would write out a prescription for tablets and pronounce him well and able to go home. She would then call for her next patient (usually her granddad again but using a different voice and of course with a different ailment). This game went on for a number of years only until she outgrew the uniform.

She never outgrew her love to help other people though and, because she is fascinated by the workings of the human body, she always steadfastly maintained she wanted to be a doctor. She would devour every TV hospital fiction programme from Casualty to Grey's Anatomy. People would tell her that what you see on TV is the romantic's view of medicine, that in reality it is a lot harsher, with real warts and all, but still she maintained she wanted to do it. She would scour every documentary about Siamese twins or people with disabilities or real-life operations. She would look into the pictures of fractured bones and gore, often coming up with a diagnosis before the TV commentary had exposed the answer. She even watched her beloved granddad disappear from her eyes with leukaemia. When she was sixteen she did two weeks' work experience shadowing a consultant in one of the local hospitals, where she sat in on clinics and was even allowed to scrub up and observe real operations close-up, done by real surgeons a million miles from George Clooney or Dr Kildare. And she still loved it with a passion.

Her choice of A-levels was therefore none too surprising, but particularly this last couple of years she fought an uphill struggle to study the foreign language of chemistry, the varied miracles of human biology and the complications of maths while her father constantly ranted and raved his way through a blur of whisky. She watched him collapse on many occasions, saw him delirious in a hospital bed and still she fought on. There was many a time when she would be trying to study for a test or write a piece of coursework and she could not get peace because he was shouting all over the house and following us from room to room. There was many a time too when the night before the exam, she could not find a quiet corner in the house to revise. As I have said many times before, Greg is not quiet when drunk.

Medicine is not an easy subject to get a university place for. Every medical school Open Day we went to was punctuated with the difficulty we would face... about twenty applicants for every place... they don't just want straight A students - after all, they are ten-a-penny....they would prefer all-singing, all-dancing ones.... applicants, who not only acted in the school play, but wrote it.... who not only played in the school cricket team but captained it on a recent visit to Antarctica.... applicants who can play the cello standing on their head while singing Ave Maria in Swahili.... ones that
at the age of 16 have done their first brain operation.... You get the kind of thing I mean.

When Kay was rejected from three of her four university choices, it came as no surprise. "Sheer numbers of competition" was the standard reason in the rejection letters. You almost come to wait for the next rejection with stoicism. It was therefore with enormous excitement that she was invited to an interview at the last of the four grand institutions in February. To get an interview was an achievement in itself. Even if you get rejected afterwards, that is something to be proud of. At least you almost got there.

When, on the basis of that interview, Kay got an offer of a place (conditional of course upon getting certain exam grades), we were almost beside ourselves. It can't get better than this, can it? Against all the odds. Like a salmon swimming upstream. At least she had tried, even if the bubbling stream were to force her backwards in the end. Anyway, good things don't happen to us, do they?

The exams were hard. (When were they ever easy? Although of course there is much talk of dumbing down of exam papers these days. But a quick look at A-level Maths and Chemistry papers had me whimpering in pain at how I would cope with the answers. Even Kay found some of them hard and she had been studying the material for them for two years. Particularly when the night before she had yet again tried to work with yet another of Greg's outbursts.) Kay was worried about how she had done. In the end, she even had me convinced she had not done well. As each week passed by, I came to believe that she would not achieve her dream. The week in Greece was a great relief for us both, as we could switch off and relax, change the scene, away from the tensions at home, and forget. But once home again, the reality set in. We did not dare to plan for the future. In case. In case it was not to be. We did not want to tempt fate. After all the odds are that there are twenty for every place. Why should we be so lucky? Even worse, we did not have a Plan B. There was never a Plan B. Plan A was all Kay ever wanted.

As this week drew nearer and yesterday's date loomed, we felt sicker in the stomach. We were both nervous wrecks, though I tried to distract and make light of it all. By yesterday morning I felt like a pig facing the slaughterhouse door. Goodness knows what Kay felt. Neither of us had had much sleep. So imagine then, how we felt when she opened that envelope at school and
achieved her dream. I still feel as if I am going to wake up and it has all been a pleasant dream. I only hope her Granddad is watching up there from a passing cloud. He would be so proud that he was instrumental in nurturing in Kay an interest that has never gone away.

So again, I apologise for my mad mother cow mode yesterday, but I so wanted to shout the fantastic news from the highest rooftops.

20 August 2009

My Cup Runneth Over

Results day and I am pinching myself in case I am dreaming. I know many of you have been kindly keeping fingers, toes and anything else crossed for Kay over the last few days, so I won't beat about the bush. She has got amazing A-level results (after convincing herself and me all summer that she had failed.) So here they are:

A for Maths
A for Biology
B for Chemistry

What is more, the university has confirmed, accepted, definitely agreed it (pinch, pinch - nope, I am not dreaming.) SHE HAS DEFINITELY GOT A PLACE. Ooop North. To study medicine. There, I can even say what she is studying now. I did not want to jinx things before, by even mentioning it.

This has got to be the best news of the year, of the decade, of my life. Thank you everyone for being so patient with me up to now and for supporting me. I really appreciate it. Yayyyyyyyy!!!!!!

15 August 2009

Five, Four, Three, Two, One

Five more nail-biting days before Kay gets her A-level exam results. Kay is so on edge she is having anxiety dreams. Sometimes they are based on the fact she has got the grades she needs and is already at university, sometimes they are about the fact she has not got the requisite grades and has not got in. This time next week we shall know her fate. Having waited eight weeks for this, it can't come quick enough.

09 August 2009

More than meets the eye

I expect you may have wondered where I had got to this past ten days and whether I had disappeared down a black hole. I had in fact gone to spend time my mother again, this time taking Snoopy with me. Kay did not come as she preferred to spend some time with her friends before they all go their separate ways in the autumn to universities all over the UK.

I seem to spend my life at the moment administering eye drops. Greg had a cataract operation at the beginning of July. My mother had one ten days ago. Antibiotic and anti-inflammatory eye drops have to be put in four times a day for several weeks afterwards. Greg's operation was sudden, complicated by his diabetes. My mother's was long-planned, having waited many years for the cataract to ripen. It was pure coincidence that both operations were within three weeks of one another. As is usual with the operation, the patient needs someone to collect them from hospital and stay with them overnight. This has a lot to do with the fact that the eye is covered for 24 hours with a bandage and plastic shield which can cause the patient to become disoriented and misjudge distances and obstacles. Add the fact that, in my mother's case, the patient is an elderly lady who is prone to falls anyway, my presence was a necessity! I spent ten days with her in all and returned today. As always, we had a lovely time together and managed a few outings to shops and restaurants. I administered the requisite eye drops for her, tidied up her garden and did a few other chores. Because Snoopy was with me, I managed a few good walks with him too. He loves my mother's garden and enjoys rolling on the lawn as well as chasing the seagulls who dive-bomb him, thinking he is a threat to their young even though the latter are safely waddling about on the rooftops. The weather was (almost) in competition with Greece and I managed to top up my tan while I was gardening.

Kay had coped admirably on the home front looking after Greg. She had done food shopping, including lugging it home, cooked meals (which Greg as usual did not have the appetite to eat), stood over him to make sure he took his medication, washed dishes and still found time to tidy her room. Yes, I'll repeat that.... TIDY HER ROOM. I don't think it has seen a duster or vacuum cleaner in months because you have to hack your way into it. A maelstrom of clothes, shoes, books, jewellery and plastic bags covering every horizontal surface including the floor, so that walking across the room is a hazardous occupation and one I have refused to even contemplate in the last six months without a hard hat and elbow pads. I couldn't believe the transformation when I got back today. All this domesticity will stand her in good stead when/if she goes to university. I think too she has found it relaxing not having to spend all her time studying for exams for a change.

One thing that was very apparent to me while I was away is just how much Greg's mind has deteriorated. We would speak daily on the phone and he would repeat things over and over again. He would tell me some piece of news or information at the beginning of the call and then tell me again about ten minutes later as if it was the first time he had mentioned it. He would sometimes go on to tell me a third time. He can recall with remarkable clarity things that happened ten, twenty, thirty years ago. In fact his conversation largely centres on living in the past, recalling experiences and episodes long gone. But when it comes to things that happened or were said ten, twenty or thirty MINUTES ago, it seems he needs reminding or he has totally blocked it from his memory. Kay has noticed this too. One morning she came down from her room, had a long conversation with him over breakfast and then went to watch the television for a while. About an hour later Greg bumped into her and was surprised to see she was awake and had not come down to say hello to him! He had obviously forgotten that he had seen her and talked to her an hour earlier. Things are definitely worse in that department than I thought. Whether it is permanent damage or short-term (only while he continues to drink) I don't know.