20 June 2021

Michelin man is still alive and kicking

Well, two weeks on from my last post and I'm accumulating more plasters and making Michelin man look positively naked! The broken toe continues to be bound up with the adjacent one, but is not too much of an inconvenience. I have mastered the art of going up and down my five flights of stairs to even get a cup of tea without putting too much pressure on it. Thankfully I can still drive too. I have not been out walking to get fresh air, as I don't think I could manage too far a distance without it telling me it's there, but, all in all, I am managing well.

However....

the cyst on my back has not been so compliant. It started to erupt more and more and become so painful that I could not comfortably lean back on a chair, bed or car seat. The 7-day course of extra-strong antibiotics I had been prescribed at my local urgent-care walk-in centre had done nothing to deflate it.  In desperation, I went back to the urgent-care centre last weekend to get some more antibiotics. The doctor I saw decided surgical removal of the cyst was the only option, as cysts can build impenetrable walls around them, making it difficult for antibiotics to penetrate, as was obviously the case here. He rang the surgical team at the parent hospital to warn them he was sending me. However, as it was late on Saturday evening, they told him I would only be waiting around all night, as they were extremely busy and likely to be on Sunday too, so advised I best turn up nice and early on Monday morning.

A neighbour kindly agreed to take me, as parking can be a nightmare at the hospital and I did not have a timed appointment nor know how long I would be. On arrival at the Surgical Assessment Unit I seemed to be the only one there and was seen very quickly by the consultant surgeon. He was very odd and proceeded to deal with me in gesticulations and grunts. His English was not brilliant when he did speak and by the look of him, he should have been long retired. He was not very forthcoming on explaining things or giving me a management plan, so I had to drag information out of him which tended to be monosyllabic. To cut a long story short, a much younger man did the procedure of cutting out the cyst, on occasion advised by grunts from the consultant. Despite six needles of local anaesthetic circling the cyst, the whole procedure was extremely painful and I ended up digging my fingernails into my palms to get through it. (My daughter later explained that the cyst walls again can prevent anaesthetic reaching the area to numb it). For ten minutes or so, although it felt like ten hours, the young surgeon snipped round  perimeter of the cyst to remove it. 

They packed the open wound with gauze and asked me to return the next day. I spent the most excruciating 24 hours not able to get comfortable. The pain was 15/10 Not even codeine could suppress the pain and I was not a happy bunny. However, on Tuesday when I went back, they removed the packing and the relief was instantaneous. The pain immediately plummeted to 0/10. They did not stitch the wound but instead Manuka honey cream was put into the open wound to help it heal from the inside outwards. I was advised to have the dressing changed every other day at my GP surgery. That in itself has been problematic as my GP surgery could not do that for over a week. There is no way I can do it myself as it is on my back below my shoulder blade and so difficult to reach. However, I have been able to bully to get appointments (not easy in these covid-restricted times) at the urgent care centre and also the hospital again to get the dressings changed. I am pleased to say that it looks as if it is on the mend. 

Now I just need to sort out the broken toe....


Before - swelling to the size of a walnut
Picture taken by Kay



During - showing the packing
 



After - wound healing nicely.
Picture taken by consultant


09 June 2021

Michelin man

Back in April, I mentioned that I had hurt my right foot whilst sitting at my desk. To this day I still don't know what I did to it. I recall resting it on the pedestal of my desk chair and curling my toes slightly and then came the pain in the ball of my foot spreading down into my second toe. Seven weeks on it is still not right. Then last week I did an injury to my left foot. 

Kay had come over to see me for a few days to help me sort through some things in her room with a view to clearing it. There are some major cracks appearing at ceiling level on her walls and I need to get someone in to look at them and advise me if there is a problem. Since she moved out last August, her room has been in a semi-state of devastation, waiting for her to come back and sort through it. But, of course, the poor girl has been up to her eyes in saving lives in Intensive Care and the clearance job took a back seat. Finally last week she was able to devote some time to it.

While she was with me, I decided to dig out a very old Karchner power cleaner that had been hiding in the garage. The patio hasn't been deep-cleaned in about 15 years - the last time was when Greg used it and he's been dead 11 years. I have never used it and, given its age, was a bit worried about electrocuting myself, so waited for Kay to be on hand to administer CPR if I needed it! It worked of sorts though was painfully slow (I think I had the wrong attachment, but, with no other to hand, I persevered.) Kay joined in too as she found it therapeutic watching the stone tiles change colour from a grimy grey to a light pinky terracotta. I think the machine needed a new washer as there was water spraying out from the side of it. As we had to keep it close to the house to reach the power switch inside, it meant some water did get inside the kitchen, as we had to keep the door slightly ajar to allow the electricity flex through.

All was going well until the very last when I went inside to turn off the water supply. I slipped on the wet kitchen floor, both my feet went up in front of me and I landed on my back. Kay rushed in to help me up slowly, fearful I had broken my back or hip. Thankfully I was fine, apart from a painful toe on my left foot. I can only think I must have thwacked it on something as I landed. After two days hobbling around on both painful feet, I took myself to our local walk-in urgent care centre (or in my case hobble-in). After a delightful two-hour wait surrounded by limping, bleeding adults and a toddler throwing up in a sick bowl, I finally got to see a doctor who announced that I had broken my toe.  It is now bandaged up with its neighbouring toe. I am gradually beginning to look like Michelin man.

What with a very painful recurring cyst on my back for which I am now taking antibiotics, I look a sorry sight and am chair-bound. Just in time for the lovely weather we are at last having and all the gardening I intended to do!

21 May 2021

Unlucky for some

Thirteen. Unlucky for some, but what's in a number? Tomorrow is the 13th anniversary of my blog started in May 2008. Thirteen years have passed since I felt the need to spill my churning guts out into a blog. Sometimes, it seems like yesterday. Sometimes, it seems like a lifetime ago. The topsy turvy existence I led thirteen years ago now seems like a bad nightmare, from which I have thankfully awoken. Life is so different now, quieter, more peaceful, less stressed. The Kafkaesque feeling of being powerless in a crazy world, stuck in quicksand with nobody hearing my call for help, has passed. My only problems now are what to choose for supper today. 

Of course, peace comes at a price. Nobody to share my day or future with. Socialising is very much the onus on me to make the first move. Most people rarely give thought to someone living on their own and what that really means, particularly during lockdown... talking to the wall, talking to the television. But the peace is infinitely better than tripping over empty bottles or waiting for the house to go up in flames from a dropped cigarette, as he slumbers intoxicated. My heart then was forever in a state of having run a marathon, waiting for the next crisis, the next shouting match, the next ambulance. Such a wretched disease is alcohol addiction. It doesn't just affect the addict but the whole family as well, even when the addict is long gone.

I feel most for Greg. Since his death in 2010 he has missed out on eleven years of living -  eleven years of news that made him come alive (he was an international radio journalist after all). What would he have made of Trump, of Boris, of Brexit, of Covid and the various disputes going on all over the world? I feel guilty for knowing about them, when he doesn't. He has missed out on Kay graduating and becoming a successful doctor. He has missed out on meeting her wonderful boyfriend. Sadly, he will miss out on her becoming a wife and mother with more career successes than the ones so far to date. I feel guilty he cannot experience that. It is not my fault and yet I still feel guilty.

Thirteen years and 560 posts. Not a lot compared to some, but written when I had something to say, something to get off my chest. At its peak, I had 70 comments per post including those from alcoholics and those living with or having lost an alcoholic family member. Like with anything, it helps to know somebody else is going through the same rollercoaster of emotions, to make your scary ride more bearable. I don't think I could have survived the last thirteen years, if he were still here, drinking each day into oblivion. Certainly, with lockdown, it would have been hell on earth. 

On balance, thirteen is unlucky for some, but not for me.

08 May 2021

Getting back to some kind of normal

This has been a strange old 15 months for me under Covid restrictions. Shielding for all of that time because of an underlying health condition has meant almost total isolation. In all that time shopping has been delivered to the house, courtesy of the local hypermarket, outings have been restricted to the occasional walk round the block and I have only made a handful of adventurous visits to the optician and dentist for check-ups when it was slightly safer to do so last summer. I have only seen my daughter on a handful of visits as she is effectively part of my "bubble" and I have had a rare outdoors encounter with the odd neighbour or two on my walks. 

In the last week, this has begun to change. Now that I have had both Covid vaccines and, now that things generally are beginning to come back to some kind of normal, I have been nervously testing the water to see how things go for me. I have been to visit a friend and had afternoon tea in her garden. Then yesterday I resumed duties at our local food bank. My pilates instructor has emailed to say that she is resuming classes again and I've been asked to rejoin the rota at the local park information centre where I volunteer. The shift yesterday at the foodbank seemed very strange. I met up with loads of new as well as old faces, but noticed how I had almost lost the art of small talk, having been so much on my own. It took great concentration. I am sure I shan't be the only one in this position. Just another side-effect of the pandemic to add to all the mental health problems people are suffering.

Covid is here to stay for a very long time, if not for evermore, so we all need to get used to the new kind of normal. I am gradually getting bolder about how that will look for me. I am ready to leave my cage and try it out with the right kind of precautions. 2021 here I come.....

25 April 2021

The joys of being seventy

I have been a pathetic lump these last couple of months or so. I just seemed to have lurched from one ailment to another in a sort of continuous chain reaction. I don't seem to have been normal since Christmas (no rude comments about when have I ever been normal, thank you). The first few months were taken up with the sore throat and "sliding hiatus hernia" as documented here. The sinus washes that the ENT doctor also prescribed led to me being dizzy for a few weeks, so that even walking across a room has been challenging.....like being drunk, but without the joys of getting drunk in the first place. Then yesterday I was sitting at my desk writing some emails when I felt something crunch in my foot. How on earth could that happen while I was peacefully sitting immobile? A searing pain shot into the ball of my foot and one toe making it impossible to weigh-bear on it. Several paracetamol tablets, ibuprofen and an ice pack later I was able to get some mild relief and today it is a little better. During all those catastrophes I have also had my two covid vaccines, thankfully with little worse than a sore arm, but I shall be glad to see the end of the last few months and hope that I can hobble or stagger into summer with some degree of better health. Being seventy stinks, I tell you. I hope it's not all downhill from here.

12 April 2021

Five years on

Today mark's the fifth anniversary since I had a tumour removed from my stomach. Here is the account of the where, what and when.  The tumour was at the very top of the stomach near the sphincter that shuts off the oesophagus, so my stomach is an unusual shape now, as one-eighth of my stomach was removed rather accentuating the crescent shape of it at the top.  I have been doing remarkably well since - until recently.

Shortly after Christmas, I developed a sore throat that refused to go away. Swallowing was painful and I was even aware of it in my sleep. After some weeks had passed trying to use various over-the-counter remedies, I had to seek the advice of my GP. At first, I could not get a face-to-face appointment because of Covid restrictions, but eventually, as the throat did not improve, I managed to see my GP who took a swab to see if there was an infection. The results came back negative. My GP then put me on a fast-track 2-week programme to see the ENT (Ears, Nose and Throat) department at the local hospital. They in turn fast-tracked me for a CT throat scan and a barium swallow.

The results of those tests are both good and bad - good in that there is nothing seriously wrong with me; bad in that it showed I have a "sliding hiatus hernia". Following my surgery 5 years ago, my stomach is now a strange shape and very narrow at the top which means it can now slide through a small space in my diaphragm up into my chest and the stomach acid can be squeezed into my throat, causing my sore throat symptoms (oesophagitis is the medical term). I particularly have problems with reflux at night now, so cannot eat beyond 7pm in the evening or eat anything too spicy or too large a portion.

I suppose we all have something go wrong as we get older, but, given that I enjoy my food, it is a little hard to get used to. It could be worse, I know.



22 March 2021

Singing my heart out

Recent articles in the press have suggested that singing is good for you and has helped many people during lockdown to control anxiety as well as being good generally for physical health. Those with long-covid have also benefited as it has helped exercise their lungs and restore their breathing to normal. 

I joined a choir several years ago and have made some good friends in the process. However, with lockdown last March, the choir came to an abrupt stop and ultimately disbanded for good leaving me feeling quite bereft. I found a choir that did zoom sessions online and, although it takes some getting used to, singing on your own to a computer screen, I have found it whiles away a few hours a week, not to mention the earworms that pass through my mind and I keep singing at any time of the day to cheer me up.

The zoom choir has been challenging in all sorts of ways but the most difficult was the production of a virtual choir performance to collect donations for the charity MIND. A professional recording and production company was hired and we were asked to record our videos and voices against a backing track played into our ears on earphones so we could all be synched into one performance. Here is the finished result. I feature somewhere in the sea of faces that appear throughout the production. Spot me if you can - I am definitely there - and, if you can, spare a few pennies.  Mental health has been affected very much by lockdown, so a donation to this worthy charity will help.

Donations to  https://justgiving.com/fundraising/singyourmind





15 March 2021

SARAH EVERARD

The recent death of Sarah Everard was tragic for various reasons, but mostly because she was an ordinary woman going about her own business walking home on the streets of London after visiting a friend. Something all of us should feel comfortable doing, but it was not possible on that evening, because a man, a police officer at that, chose to abduct her, murder her, and then dispose of her body some 65 miles away in woodland. What makes it even more chilling for me, is that her killer worked for a while as a police officer in my borough of London at a time when my daughter would have been walking home through dark streets. Of course we do not yet have the facts of what happened after she disappeared off CCTV in Clapham and subsequent events.  But it is a fear nearly every women will admit to having when walking along streets in the dark. The outpouring of solidarity among women over the last few days and the conversations started amongst friends or on social media shows that this has been festering for too long. We have all had experiences where we have been grabbed or molested by strangers, carried keys in our hands as some form of protection should we be attacked, or felt a chill down our spine when we have heard quickened footsteps behind us and, turning, seen a man following far too close and far too quickly.

I hasten to add that I do not include myself in the wave of anti-men hysteria that seems to be building. It is not all men. It is not even most men. It is a random minority who for some reason think It is OK to behave like this. Most men are just as likely to be vulnerable on a dark street as a woman, but for different reasons.

We all have our own stories. I can remember at the age of 12 coming home on the bus from school. My grammar school was a good 4 miles away from home and I had to take a 40-minute bus journey to get there and back. One afternoon, on the way home, a very fat man came and sat beside me blocking me in. He half sat over me. He then proceeded to fold his arms and with the hand nearest to me started to fondle me.  Even at the age of 12, I knew this was wrong. If it were now, I would have probably yelled at him so loudly that the whole bus could hear, but then I was young and timid and very scared. I felt the best thing to do was get off the bus straight away and catch the next one.  Unfortunately, he got off the bus with me and tried to chat with me at the bus stop. I remember being petrified, but somehow I kept my wits about me and as soon as the next bus appeared (it wasn't even going where I wanted to go) I hopped on and left him standing there. I told my mum about it when I got home, but of course in those days, it was just notched up as bad luck and not reported. It was a different world then and we did not have social media or anything like that to alert us to these things or report them. There have been countless times since when I have walked home late alone and quickened my pace and heaved a sigh of relief when my key was in my door. The thought of what might happen is always there. In a supposedly civilised society, we should not need to think like that.

Kay tells of an incident at university when she was walking along the road one evening, a group of men were walking towards her and, as she passed, one of them just reached out and indecently grabbed her breast, so much so it hurt. They all thought it was funny as they went on their way. I am sure there are thousands of similar stories we women could all tell of things that have happened on the street, or even at work, which have been inappropriate. Many is the time I have sat up till 2am waiting for my daughter to come home from a night out with her friends and met her at the station or the night bus stop with my car, rather than let her walk down our road alone. I wonder if I would be less worried if I had a son? 

I am not sure what the answer is. As I say, most men are decent and aware of these issues, but how do you stop those dangerous few?  What is it that makes them like that in the first place - a loveless childhood, misogyny, looking at too much porn which debases women, a row with a partner? And how do you police every street in every town and village to make women feel more safe?  

The first thing that would help, I think, is to have more CCTV, although it is impossible to cover everywhere, but maybe in addition we should ALL be more aware of a single woman walking alone and keep a distant eye on her if we are near or looking out of our windows. The other thing is for parents to teach their sons that women are not objects of violence and to teach them to be more aware of what that single woman walking in front of them might feel if they get too close. Crossing over to the other side of the road, would indicate that they are not a threat and respect their distance.  Little things like that would help.  Women should ensure they have an SOS on their mobile to press if they feel threatened and not wearing earphones when walking alone would help them be more aware of their surroundings. 

I was upset to see that many women were arrested at the Clapham Common vigil on Saturday for staging a vigil for Sarah Everard. I can see both sides of the argument. Women just wanted to express their sadness and anger over her death. At the same time, they were breaching lockdown rules and the police were trying to break up a mass protest for their health and safety. I meanwhile lit a candle at the appointed time and stood in my window along with other neighbours both to express my sadness that another life has been snuffed out pointlessly and to thank God it wasn't my daughter.

08 March 2021

Anniversary time

It was lovely having my bubble-buddy (Kay) here for the weekend and to speak to a human being for a change and have somebody to fuss over. At her insistence, she came over immediately after her night shift ended on Saturday morning as it was the 11th anniversary of Greg's death. A year ago we visited his home town in the Midlands where his ashes reside, but of course that was not possible this year and in any case we usually just visit the local crematorium where his name is entered in a book of remembrance. We took flowers, "chatted" to him all about Covid, Kay's boyfriend/ new home and my new car - to update him since we last "spoke to him" a year ago.

Kay also insisted on celebrating Mothers' Day a week early as she is working on the actual day next week. I keep telling her that it doesn't bother me, as it is purely commercialism at its worst. Not to be moved, she bought me a wonderful bunch of multicoloured tulips, a sign that spring is on the way.

She also came to bolster my morale as I had to have a procedure done in hospital today that I was dreading. Following a sore throat that has dragged on for over the last 9 weeks and a swab that was negative for infection, my GP referred me on a fast track pathway for a nasal endoscopy to see what was going on. I was really quite nervous beforehand but needn't have worried. The scope was so thin, it passed up my nose and into my throat without any problem. The good news is that there is nothing sinister there but the bad news is they still don't know what is wrong, so I am being referred for a CT scan on my throat and a barium swallow to see what that shows up, as the problem may be related to gastric acid.  Even though it was a hospital visit, it was lovely to get out and about among people and have a goal to drive to, as opposed to driving around aimlessly just to charge the car battery. 

20 February 2021

Square Eyes

 "You'll get square eyes", mum used to say, if I sat huddled up to our black and white television set as a child. She was from an era between world wars when you listened to the radio and occupied yourself with make-do-and-mend. To her, in those early days of my childhood, the advent of television was still something you watched on high days and holidays.

She was right really. Too much looking at a TV screen was not good for you, rather more because you weren't doing anything really useful or getting any fresh air, than because it would harm your eyes. But nowadays, screens are everywhere and not just on televisions. Computer laptops, tablets, smart mobile phones vie for your attention too and screen time has increased our attention. Mothers nowadays plonk their children in front of the TV or give them a tablet to play with, while they themselves scroll down through endless social media chats. Screens have taken over our lives.

Living as I do in lockdown, in complete isolation as I shield from any passing Covid germs, and with only the rare outing round the block once a week to get a bit of fresh air, I have found I too am facing a screen for a lot of the day. Try as I might, there is only so much dusting a girl can do and the recent inclement weather has not made gardening a barrel of fun, so I have had to make distractions where I can. I try to telephone someone at least twice a week - usually someone I have not seen in a year or more - and catch up, but then again there is a limit how many times I can do that without appearing needy or racking up a huge phone bill and so screens have helped me out a lot. 

As soon as I open my eyes each day, I grab my mobile and check BBC News,  BBC weather and emails to see how I should shape my day. That can take half an hour luxuriating in my bed as something else will inevitably catch my eye on other apps.  

Mid-morning with a coffee, I have started in the last two months learning Italian on the tablet Kay bought me for my 70th birthday. I can already speak German fluently and French to A-level standard with a smattering of Russian, so another language has not been too taxing. The Duolingo course online has been amazing and I have already made some progress. I am not sure how useful "the turtle is eating the red spider" (la tartaruga mangia il ragno rosso) will come in handy for a trip to Venice, but who knows? There might be a red spider in my room and I can ask the hotel reception to provide me with a hungry turtle.

After half an hour or so of Italian animals and verb declensions, I progress to my laptop to do some admin or write emails. Then lunch beckons, so I make a snack to eat in front of the midday news on TV. 

Mid-afternoon, I'm back on the laptop as there might be a zoom meeting I have joined. I have taken part in various Covid studies and there have been quite a few zoom meetings on their findings. The foodbank where I used to volunteer pre-Covid often has zoom meetings too. In addition to all that I have joined a choir online and they regularly send backing tracks and lyrics for you to practice the song before the next zoom session, all done (you've guessed it) on my laptop. Sometimes, those zoom meetings are the only human contact I have had all week, so they are a godsend. Thank goodness for technology!

By suppertime, I am winding down for the day and will cook a meal and eat alone whilst watching TV. Before I know it, four hours have passed in front of back-to-back TV and the evening is long gone. It's often just a noise in the background to drown the silence in the room.

I do feel rather embarrassed that I have spent so much of my day in front of a screen, although to be fair I was more out and about before Covid came along but obviously cannot do that again yet. Screen time has kept me connected with the outside world during the pandemic and distracted me from my isolation. It's educated me too. So I justify it to myself.

Soon it is bedtime. Time for me to turn off the light and rest those square eyes. Sorry, Mum!


06 February 2021

Alcohol in a pandemic and a soap story

Growing up as a child in the 1950s and a teenager in the 1960s, alcohol wasn't even a word in my vocabulary. I came from a fairly working-class background - I was the first in the family ever to go to university - and alcohol was only something we had at Christmas as a special treat. My father had two jobs to afford the mortgage of our modest terrace house - by day as a patissier manager at Fortnum and Mason and then five evenings a week teaching patisserie to bored housewives at evening school. At Christmas we would splash out and buy a bottle of sherry, some advocaat (egg flip) and maybe a few cans of beer or my Dad's favourite tipple of Guinness. I cannot ever recall us buying wine or ordering it on the very very rare occasions we went out for a meal to celebrate a major birthday. Supermarkets, such as there were in those days, did not sell alcohol and the only place to buy it was in pubs or off- licences that had strict opening times. Things have changed a lot in the following decades. Alcohol is available everywhere and most hours of the day and night - in supermarkets, corner shops and petrol stations, as well as pubs, online deliveries and specialised wine and beer shops. Little wonder that alcoholism is on the increase.

The covid pandemic has made things worse. With people shut indoors and poor mental health on the increase, it seems people have grabbed for a bottle to still their anxiety or boredom. Financial worries, juggling work with homeschooling, relationship issues, anxiety about Covid-19, boredom, and devastating isolation for many of the over 60s, have left people 'self-medicating' with alcohol to a significant degree. According to the Office for National Statistics,  there were 5,460 alcohol-related deaths between January and September 2020, a 16.4% increase on 2019. For many, instead of a starting time of 6pm for opening a bottle of wine, it had become 5pm, then 4pm, 3pm and then lunchtime, with people drinking throughout the afternoon and evening on a regular basis.

As if that were not bad enough, Amazon has been adding to the problem. Apparently, they have been offering customer discounts if they subscribe to regular deliveries as much as 10% off for fortnightly deliveries. People may be tempted by the benefit of the discount but then having bottles delivered at regular intervals effectively sets a target to finish the previous order. That "pressure" may then encourage people to drink faster and more than they usually would leading to an addictive behaviour or exacerbating an exiting one.

I'm always annoyed when I see alcoholics depicted in dramas. The usual outcome is that they see the error of their ways and they make a miraculous recovery never to have a single drop of alcohol again. They go riding off into the sunset with a happy ever after. The reality is far different of course as the statistics say that only one in ten alcoholics ever kicks the habit and sadly nine out of ten revert to drinking heavily and even die from it. I saw it in Greg - as much as he wanted to stop, he simply couldn't. After every hospitalisation and supervised detox, he was back on the whisky within days of coming home again and so the merry-go-round continued until his death. He never wanted to do rehab as he didn't want to be away from home for too long.  (Note to the uninitiated- detox is just the process of removing alcohol from your system - best done for a few days in hospital under medical supervision to monitor side effects of withdrawal - but rehab goes into why you drink and ways of looking for the triggers - often a lengthy soul-searching stay of some months in an institution away from temptation.) That temptation never truly goes away for the rest of your life and it takes a strong constitution to keep on the straight and narrow forever. Just one drink is all it takes to set you off again.

I was therefore pleased to see the latest storyline in the long-running soap Coronation Street in which Peter Barlow, a recovering alcoholic,  falls off the wagon yet again and is told both that his liver is now beyond repair and that he will need a transplant. (When was it ever that easy? Medics are not keen to do transplants until the alcoholic can live a good six months without alcohol, but we'll skip lightly over that.) At first he decides against the transplant as he knows it is his own fault he is that ill and also because his life is no longer fun. In his attempt to drink himself into complete oblivion again, he ends up in hospital and has a major rethink. Meanwhile he and his family are absolutely surprised to hear from the doctors that he must carry on drinking for the time being.

The times I heard that said too from my visits to A&E with Greg after one of his drunken downfalls. It may seem crazy that doctors would suggest that but there is a good reason. For an alcoholic to go cold turkey is more dangerous, as it will more than likely cause hallucinations or seizures which can be very serious indeed. Alcohol withdrawal is always best done in hospital under medical supervision and then followed up immediately by rehab, but particularly now with beds full of Covid patients supervision is not possible and there have always been long waiting lists for rehabilitation centres (particularly free ones), so reducing alcohol content slowly by as much as one glass or an inch less of a bottle a day, will still achieve withdrawal in the end, but not so drastically that the body reacts in a dramatic way. The onus of course is on the alcoholic to maintain that slow reduction without being lured back into increasing alcohol consumption.  It will be interesting to see how this soap story pans out, but my money is on him sailing off into the sunset and never drinking a drop. Sadly the reality is far from that.






28 January 2021

I've been microchipped!

Today I got my Covid vaccine and I must say I was really impressed from start to finish. 

I first received a text message on my phone a few days ago to make an appointment and with one click on a link it was made for today at our local mini-hospital.

When I arrived at the hospital entrance there were about ten people ahead of me, all made to self-distance, stewards every ten yards affirming you were in the right queue,  directing me to shuffle along to the next steward, and so on until I went inside and was handed a pre-printed sheet of paper with my name and medical details already on it.  More stewards directed me along corridors until I finally reached my designated room with two nurses inside. After questions about my medical background, allergies etc, the deed was done (didn't feel a thing) and leaflets about what to expect were handed over. Then more stewards directed me in a one-way system out of the hospital to a marquee where about 30 chairs were distantly spaced for us to sit out the 15-minute wait for any anaphylactic shock.  Before I knew it, I was on my way home in my car again.  It was fantastically streamlined and I could not fault it. The next injection is in 12 weeks, I am told.

So far, so good and I don't have any side effects, although I expect a sore arm and maybe slight temperature in the next 24 hours, if reports from others are accurate. If anything, I felt a distinct fall in my anxiety levels that at last I have some protection against this Godforsaken virus. 

18 January 2021

Drowning

In my last post, I alluded to the NHS drowning under the current pandemic. I wrote about the social media morons who believe that Covid is a hoax and that the whole world has been duped into believing the falsehood to keep the populace under the government's thumb and to pour money into pharmaceutical companies' coffers. Fortunately, these idiots represent a small percentage of the population and most of us have our heads tightly screwed on so that we would rather take advice from the scientific experts than Tracy on Facebook. To those who refuse to wear a mask or stay at home, I have a few words. Yes, it may not seem to do a great deal in preventing the spread of the virus, but then maybe, if we ALL wore the masks and ALL stayed at home, we might see a difference pretty quickly.  If I thought standing on one leg and singing the national anthem twenty times in Latin would work, I'd give it a go, rather than moan about losing my civil liberties. Jeez, how would these people survive in a war?

I get my information on the current state of the NHS from my daughter who works as a doctor in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in a large hospital. She is facing Covid down a barrel on a daily basis, so frankly I would rather believe what she tells me in exhausted phone calls after her shift. So here are some answers to questions some people may have.

The hospitals and ICUs in particular don't look busy, so why say they are?

Unlike other wards, the ICU units are not designed to take many patients as under normal circumstances they care only for the sickest patients in the hospital who need 1:1 monitoring. They have specialised equipment and doctors (often anaesthetist-trained ones) who in many cases take over the patient's breathing. Currently, they have TWICE the usual number of ICU patients with FOUR times the usual number of ventilated ones, so ICU units are full to the rafters with Covid patients and the overspill patients are placed in cordoned-off hot-Covid bays elsewhere in the hospital, often requiring the installation of a whole second ICU unit,  but with only the same amount of staff to run the whole lot. Lots of hospitals at the moment are not running their clinics and instead are doing appointments on-line or over the telephone to keep people away from the hospitals. A lot of operations have been postponed to give beds over to Covid patients and staff are off sick too. Additionally,  you don't want lots of visitors or sick patients wandering around corridors infecting one another, so it can look like the hospitals are quiet, but they are not.

The media shows lots of staff around a patient, how can you say they are short-staffed?

ICU has the sickest patients in the hospital and this is even more true with Covid cases who struggle to breathe and need intubation. As I said above, ICU has double the number of usual patients and four times those requiring ventilation, so they have had to open additional ICU units on other wards, with only the same amount of staff to spread thinly. The patients need turning (proning) onto their fronts to help improve their lung function. This is not as simple as it sounds. It can take up to half an hour for eight staff to turn one patient. They have to prepare them first to ensure for example that their skin doesn't get sores, then they encase them and roll them slowly in sheets, making sure at every stage that all the thousands of tubes and lines attached to them don't get kinks. Each member of staff has their particular job to do in the turning. If a patient is obese (as some of the patients are) this just adds more to the time taken. Multiply that by the number of patients to be proned (say 32) and you can see where the time goes. Meanwhile, a crisis can suddenly kick off in another bed and it's all hands to the pump. These really are sick patients where anything and everything can deteriorate in a second. 

Why are they not using the Nightingale Hospitals?

Although the Nightingale hospitals have plenty of beds and equipment, they do not have the staff to run them. If they transferred doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and radiographers to the Nightingales, then there would be even more pressure on the normal hospitals in terms of staff shortage. Appeals for retired medical staff to come back into the workplace to help out did not get much take-up ...... understandable, if one is retired, not to want to go into the lion's den!

It is no worse than flu

Oh yes, it is. Flu can kill, but it usually only happens to the extremely vulnerable and we have vaccines to make this such a rare thing these days. Covid is worse to start with.  Oddly, some people have mild or no symptoms, but when you do get symptoms, it is more deadly. It is not just old or vulnerable people who are dying. Kay has seen otherwise healthy people in their 20s, 30s and 40s dying.  She has seen young colleagues die. Covid is on a level never hitherto seen with "just flu". This is why getting the Covid vaccine has never been so important to stop the infection rate.

The NHS has been struggling for years in winter, so why is this any different?

The NHS has always had more of an uphill battle in winter as more people become sick then (think of waiting times in A&E alone), but this time it is different because they have Covid patients to add to their normal pressures.  Covid hit us out of the blue and we still don't know a lot about how it behaves, mutates etc, so it has been a learning curve whilst trying to get on top of it at the same time. The different strategies used by our government to deal with it (tiers, lockdowns, closing down the economy) may seem haphazard and inefficient but it is because it is so unprecedented. Trying to implement a solution when the unfathomable thing you are dealing with is new, mutating and running amok is not easy. Countries all over the world have had the same problems. Nowhere can truly say they have solved the problem yet. 

What is a day in the life of an ICU doctor like?

I can only go on what Kay tells me but it seems to tie in with what you see on the news. She works 12-hour shifts (often as much as 13 and sometimes even 14 hours if they are short-staffed or an emergency arises that she just cannot turn her back on.) Let's say she starts at 8am.  After three hours of ward round and dealing with urgent problems,  the PPE she wears makes her feel faint. The best thing to do would be to sit down and have a drink, but that would result in more visits to the loo, something that is not a good idea, as taking all the PPE off and on again is such a pfaff, so best to keep going. Only another 9 or 10 hours to go to the end of shift and maybe a 15-minute lunch break if she is lucky. 

Proning patients and dealing with countless crises take up the bulk of the time, as well as phoning relatives with bad news. It is hard to break bad news over the phone. Not being able to see the recipient's reaction and to give a sufficient pause for them to take that news in can be a tricky thing and is emotionally taxing. The patients are not all in the ICU ward so crises can develop all over the hospital, often involving running from one place to another. The less sick ones are shipped out to hospitals further afield, some as far as 300 miles away. As fast as the patients are being shipped out,  ambulances are bringing more in - on occasions as many as six all requiring instant intubation. During all this, case notes must be kept up to date to document all changes in medications or procedures. The hands of the dying are held out of respect, as relatives cannot always be present. Death is very much the norm as opposed to a rarity. The individual stories can play on the mind, long after the shift is over.

Handover to the next shift might come at 8pm, but case updates often take time to explain or an emergency will inevitably happen which you cannot turn your back on, unlike in any other job. So with a bit of luck you get away by 9pm or even 10pm. Once home there is a meal to cook or washing to do and then fall into bed ready to start the shift all over again next morning with a forced smile. Colleagues are in tears and you feel physically spent before you've even got going. Your face is scarred with eczema and pressure sores caused by wearing masks all day. (If masks can fog up those who wear glasses, it fogs up your face too). Night shifts are pretty much the same, but the only difference is, it is dark outside and your body is screaming for sleep.

Silly things will make you cry. A nice word, a nasty word. Anything. Emotionally and physically it is relentless. No 29-year-old should have to have seen the number of deaths she has witnessed since last March. Kay has had ten days' leave since last March. A week in August to go to Yorkshire and a week with me in my "bubble" at Christmas. She was lucky to even get that Christmas week. But a few weeks back at work and she is exhausted again. I can hear the wobble in her voice over the phone.

I am sorry to have gone on so long, but it makes me seethe when I hear of those who deny Covid or say they can't possibly wear a mask in a shop for ten minutes. My reaction is to say a mask is far better than a ventilation tube. If a mask is not possible for medical reasons, then you should not be out and about anyway. I know that Covid is real and so tough for the frontline staff who put their whole lives at risk for everyone who comes through their doors. It is so demoralising for them to hear that people doubt it even exists or selfishly can't be bothered to do the right thing. 

Spread the word and make other people see sense. Wear a mask, stay at home and literally save lives. Only by doing that can we get on top of this dreadful pandemic and give my daughter (and her ICU colleagues) back the life she yearns for and deserves right now. 

11 January 2021

Yours disgusted

I am unashamedly a follower of Facebook, having first signed up when Kate was at university to "stalk" her and see what she was up to. I don't have many "friends" on Facebook as seems to be the case with the younger generation, but I have joined up in the last year or so to two local community groups. They can be useful for all sorts of information.  People post beautiful photos or proffer history about the local area or will ask questions on a range of subjects from where to find someone to repair a washing machine or a leaking roof to whether a certain shop is still open during lockdown or not. There might even be warnings of car thieves about or road blockages.  Like I say, the information can be useful and I often save the answers for when I might need the same advice in the future.

However, lately, the tone of the "conversations" has become very aggressive and personal. I get that people are frightened and stressed by current events. Lockdown is not easy for some and mental health issues, that some didn't even know they had, have come flooding to the fore. A lot of people are stuck at home, furloughed, or working from home with a young family to homeschool or even out of a job altogether. They're bored or stressed or terrified as each week the news ramps up the grim figures of Covid deaths and restricts our movements even further. Another tier. Another lockdown. More closures of this and that. More rules. It is tough, but at least we are all in this together, as we combat this faceless foe. Or are we?

Some of the posts people have put on these facebook groups have questioned why people are galavanting around the parks, towns and countryside other than to do essential shopping, when they should be staying at home or exercising close to home.  I get that. As one who has been shielding since March, I barely leave the house except for once a week or so to post a letter and walk round the block carefully avoiding people, but I have put up with long stretches of isolation and inactivity, partly for my own health, but also for the common good to try to get to grips with the pandemic, so we can all get back to normal soon.  Personally, I don't consider driving long distances to exercise a reasonable excuse, as exercise can be had in your garden or in close proximity to your apartment. I also think that in a middle of a pandemic, exercise should not really be classed as essential.  A walk to the shops is a good enough workout especially if carrying heavy shopping, although I don't even do that, as I get online supermarket deliveries. The emergency services are already stretched enough without having to deal with car accidents or people injuring themselves doing daft things far from home. I think "stay at home" should mean just that. Lord knows the NHS is drowning as it is (a further post on that to follow any day soon). We should put them first and not insist on our individual rights to do what the hell we want in the name of freedom. There has to be some community spirit and putting others first, surely.  

I have watched the arguments develop on these facebook threads. There are definitely two camps. The first camp contains those who selfishly refuse to wear masks, think Covid is a hoax or a joke and will go out when they want and where they want for as long as they want.  "Stuff you, I'm not doing you any harm" kind of attitude. Then there are those who abide by the government's Covid advice for the benefit of the wider community. They think of others, stay home, wear masks and are appalled by the behaviour of the others. When the two sides clash on these facebook threads, the language and personal attacks get really nasty. The anarchists and nutters among the first camp obviously get off on irritating others and being aggressive which of course exacerbates the situation. On one thread this weekend alone there were over 700 comments going back and forth between them over 24 hours, which in the end showed human life form at its worst.

I feel disgusted by that first camp. I know how hard Kay is working at the moment in Intensive Care (14-hour shifts and only ten days' leave since last March). She is physically and emotionally exhausted and she would give anything to have some free time to relax, but these idiots who selfishly give no regard to wearing masks in the community or staying at home have made her job harder, and she is selfLESSly mopping up after them. It saddens and disgusts me in equal measure that in a time of real crisis, such as we are in, we are not pulling together and doing the right thing to end this pandemic once and for all.

04 January 2021

100

My best friend's mother is 100 today. What an amazing achievement to reach that grand old age. Sadly she has dementia and is not aware of reality. Although she may realise it is her birthday from the abundance of cards (including one from Her Majesty the Queen), flowers and presents, she will probably not realise the significance of her age. She will probably spend it, like most days, dozing with small glimpses of wakefulness. She still lives at home with a live-in carer, visiting carers and a cat. Her wider family will send whatsapp videos via my friend to sing Happy Birthday to her. An amazing lady. An amazing age.

31 December 2020

Good riddance

As I write, 2020 is drawing to a close, and "good riddance", I say. What a ghastly year this has been for the world. Little did we know 365 days ago what was in store for us. I think, had we known, we would have stayed in bed until it was all over. As it was we stumbled along, trying to make sense of what was happening and to continue our daily routines as best we could, which was often not at all.

My poor daughter, a doctor in an Intensive Care Unit of a large hospital, has faced Covid down the barrel on a minute-by-minute basis, watching helplessly as patients fought this awful disease and giving bad news to relatives, when all else failed. She is exhausted, having taken only one week's leave all year, way back in August, as staff shortages (staff on self-isolation) meant all hands to the pump. As I would have been on my own for Christmas, she took another week's much-needed leave to spend Christmas with me, as I am part of her support bubble. It was wonderful for both of us. I was able to have some company for the first time in months and have someone to fuss over. She was able to empty out and relax. We ate lots, drank lots, chatted lots, walked in local parks and watched lots of TV. She was just emptying out completely when she got a text from her bosses to say they were deluged with Covid cases and needed extra help. Her stress levels immediately went up several notches. She returned to work after Christmas and within days she is, as she puts it, drowning, as Covid case after case is brought into the hospital with not enough beds or doctors to cope with it. She has not even had the vaccine, much-promised for front-line staff. I am disgusted and worried in equal measure.

For the first time in ages, I shall be spending New Year's Eve alone. I shall stay up until midnight, not to see in the new year, but to make sure the old one goes. I hope the vaccines will play their part and make 2021 a better year. It surely can't get any worse, can it? Happy New Year!

24 December 2020

Happy Christmas


Happy Christmas and here's to a better 2021 for us all. 


30 November 2020

70th Birthday

Yesterday (29 November) was a milestone birthday in my life - one with an 0 on the end. I don't know why they become such important birthdays, as in theory, you are only one year older than the year before, but we feel the compulsion to celebrate them more than the others. However, apart from feeling joyous, it can make you depressed as you are then pushed from the last decade into the next decade of numbers. In my case, I turned 70, which meant I was starting to descend into what most people consider old age. From now on, I would be seventy-something. You see the headlines "Granny of 71 mugged on way to collect her pension. "Granny of 73  abused in care home". You know the kind of thing. I felt I was on a slippery slope. One Foot in the Grave as characterised by that lovely sitcom with Victor Meldrew. I was therefore approaching this birthday with a certain sense of trepidation. 

Back at the start of this year, when Covid was not even a word in the dictionary, Kay and I had been musing on what format my 70th would take. We had grand ideas of a party at a grand venue to invite everyone I had ever known, or as near damn it. But by March, with news of Covid and cancellation of big events, it had become clear that was ambitious if not foolhardy. Not only might the event be cancelled, but the venue might go bust, or getting many invitees in their 70s and even 80s together under one roof would be dangerous in the backdrop of the virus. As the months went by, the event morphed into maybe a small gathering of six people inside or outside and then, with the latest lockdown, not at all. Kay was adamant she would come no matter what, as she is in my "bubble" and did not want me to be on my own for this special day, but to be honest I wondered how realistic this would be as she works in Intensive Care and is facing Covid on a daily basis. I am shielding because of an autoimmune problem called sarcoidosis. The two are not necessarily compatible. I joked that maybe I would just stay 69 for another five years until Covid would allow me to celebrate in, say, 2025. Or start to move back towards the age of 21 like many an actress or film star did in the past. There had to be some advantages to Covid. 

Kay's boyfriend, a dentist, has a box of Covid testing kits, as he has to test twice a week for his job. The results are ready in 30 minutes (a bit like a pregnancy testing kit) and are about 75% reliable. So he and Kay tested themselves on Friday and with negative results turned up here in the evening after work. Kay and he busied themselves on Saturday with my access to the kitchen strictly banned. I could hear bashings and bangings, cooking smells wafted around the house, questions were asked "where do you keep the.....?"   I was intrigued.

My birthday dawned and I came downstairs at the agreed breakfast time to party poppers, balloons and Bucks Fizz. Kay had set up a zoom meeting in the morning with family. We went for a long walk to our local park at lunchtime. More zoom meetings to friends in the afternoon. Then mid-afternoon Kay laid on the most amazing spread - all hand-made.  In our earlier musings we had considered a cream tea of Ritz or Savoy proportions, so Kay emulated this and far excelled what I would have had in those prestigious hotels. The sandwiches and handmade white and dark chocolate tartlets were amazing but the birthday cake alone was a masterpiece and her grandad would have been so proud of her as he was a Chef Patissier at a famous hotel. If ever she should fail as a doctor, patisserie is her way forward.

Although I was somewhat dreading the day, it turned out to be wonderful, mainly because of the hard work and love my gorgeous daughter put into it. So now  I am 70 but hopefully not yet one foot in the grave.










22 November 2020

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music

Today is the third anniversary of my mother's death. How that time has flown in many ways. I am so grateful she is no longer around to witness Covid-19, nor to be parted from me, as so many are now from loved ones in care homes. I was her only carer in her twilight years, so dread to think how we would have managed now.

When Mum died, I felt temporarily bereft. I had immersed myself in her care partly to distract myself from Greg's alcoholism and death, but also to occupy the hole left by Kay when she was at university.  Shortly after Mum died, Kay went on her world travels, so again I needed distraction and started to build up hobbies and pastimes. One such venture was to join a choir. I had never sung much before. I do recall being in my grammar school choir and the choir being wheeled out at prizegivings or assemblies to sing to the school, mainly classical stuff, but otherwise my singing was restricted in adulthood to the odd warble to music on the radio.  So joining a choir was slightly uncharacteristic of me and pushed my boundaries.  I found I liked it. I'd hum the tunes we learned all through the week - a strange earworm would niggle way as I went to sleep or was there again when I woke. I made some lovely new friends - a small group of us became so close that we'd even meet once a month to have lunch somewhere and will again when fear of catching Covid is a distant memory. 

The choir required no auditions, so you could be classical church choir standard or Mrs Mop the Cleaner humming as she cleaned the urinals, so we were all welcome. The more, the merrier.The songs we sang varied from pop, soul, rock, Abba, Beatles, songs from musicals, carols. Such a mix but it was a pleasant variety. There were at least eighty of us, sometimes more, with a ratio of 70 women:10 men, split into Sopranos, Altos, Tenors and Basses. We did at least one concert a term and the proceeds usually went to charity. You'll notice here I'm using the past tense.

At our Christmas social last year, the choir leader dropped a bombshell. She said she was finding it hard after ten years,  to juggle all the many balls she had in the air - her demanding job, her children and our choir - so she was considering closing the choir down. You could have heard a pin drop.  We were all crestfallen. The following week she agreed to give it another go, if we could help with various things like photocopying the lyrics,  putting out chairs before the start of a session, contacting concert venues etc. We all rushed eagerly to offer our help and she said she would limp along until Easter to see how that worked.

Then Coronavirus hit the world and our choir sessions came to an abrupt halt, well before the Easter deadline and we heard nothing more all through the summer. That and many other of my distractions were non-existent, so living alone through the various lockdowns and restrictions was hard. Then in September came the devastating news that she had finally decided to disband the choir for good. One dismissive email and no replies to ours. We felt well and truly abandoned. 

Not to be beaten, I looked around at other choirs in the area for my friends and me, although most are not operating at the moment as meetings in halls are not allowed at present, because of Covid restrictions,  but at least I thought I'd find something for the time when we could all meet again. Some are very highbrow and require sightreading - something I could do once upon a time, but am out of practice nowadays. Others were far too small to take on 80 of us. In the end, I concentrated on just me and discovered quite a big choir (almost like a franchise but comprising four different venues, the nearest to me being about eight miles away). They currently meet on Zoom, so I decided to give it a try. At present, this particular choir meets different voice parts on different days, so I joined the Monday Soprano group. The idea is that we practice separately in our own parts and then come together for a big zoom sing at the end of the month

It is very strange indeed, logging into the Zoom meeting online, seeing about 30 other sopranos but not hearing anyone else as their microphones are all muted. So I am singing effectively all by myself along with the choir leader as she plays the keyboard on the main screen. It takes a bit of getting used to, particularly when my computer freezes and I get a time lag, but I have to say it has cheered me up no end again and I find myself singing the rehearsed songs all day (and in my sleep!)

For as long as I am living in solitary confinement, it plugs a gap and gives me an outlet until we can get back to some kind of normality again. I'm just off to climb every mountain, river deep and mountain high. Falalalala.



08 November 2020

Bad loser

It is quintessentially part of the British way of life, particularly in sport and politics, to be a good loser and to accept defeat graciously. That has obviously not commuted well across the Atlantic. It has been embarrassing in the extreme to watch the departing President Trump in all his glory, fists flailing and throwing his toys out of the pram, declaring the vote for Republicans has been stolen. I wonder if that was the case when he was elected?

Biden looks to be a breath of fresh air but he is no spring chicken. What is it about America that they can't pick two decent YOUNG candidates out of a population of 331 million?  Biden is 77 and will be 81 when his office comes up for re-election. At that age he should be taking life in the slow lane, drinking cocoa by the fireside and pursuing hobbies, not responsible for the nuclear button and 331 million Americans (not to mention the rest of the world).

31 October 2020

Bad and Good

This week has shown me the best of people and the worst. Locally there has been news of thieves stealing catalytic converters like it is going out of fashion, break-ins, ransackings, bitchy comments to people's harmless posts on Facebook, and stabbings.  Also, a friend of ours in the Midlands had a visit from her carpenter son who was on his way from Newcastle to a very prestigious job in London and called in to see her for an hour or so en route. In the time it took him to ring her doorbell and go inside for a while, someone broke into his van and stole all his tools and clothes, which of course meant the prestigious job was scuppered. It's enough to make you ashamed of the human race.

On the flip side, I have personally experienced various kind acts this week, which has restored my faith in human nature. The first was that I had amongst other things ordered online a candle in a glass jar. It was so poorly wrapped and loose inside a box that the jar was in a hundred pieces when it arrived. The candle was worth less than the postage, so I did not necessarily want to order another on its own, but I emailed the company - more to pass on the information to their packing department for future reference. They have since sent me a replacement candle free of charge.

The second thing was that my hairdryer decided last week to throw a hissy fit. Instead of blowing out hot air, it blew freezing cold air on any setting at any speed. Kay had bought me the hairdryer (at some expense) just under two years ago for Christmas. For some reason and quite unnatural for me, I had not kept the guarantee or instructions or the box, so had no idea if it had a guarantee or not. All I knew was that I had had it less than two years and used it modestly about once a week, so it should have had a longer life than that. I emailed the company for their advice. After sending pictures of proof of payment, the dryer itself and its model number plate, they advised me that it had a three-year guarantee but as they sadly could not repair that model anymore, they were sending me a completely new replacement.  It came yesterday. 

Finally, I had ventured out six weeks ago to have my eyes tested and had been wearing the new glasses ever since, but they did not seem right. I kept trying to justify that my eyes (and brain) were just not used to them, but in the end I admitted defeat this week and went back to the optician for a retest. Instead of maintaining they were right, they conceded that one eye was different on the retest to what they had thought it was weeks ago. Also the pupils were not in the right position they should be on the lens, so to cut a long story short they are remaking them for me.

That's three things inside a week that has cheered me up no end. There are some good people out there after all.

20 October 2020

All in the name of science

Although a linguist, I have always been extremely interested in medicine, devour medical programmes on TV and like to think I am doing my bit for future medical advances, so for the last five months, I have been taking part in Covid research for Biobank, a biorepository that stores biological samples (usually human) for use in research. Once a month I am sent a kit which involves cleansing and pricking your finger to let blood into a small phial, which is then returned through the post. You are supposed to follow a strict regime of drinking two glasses of water half an hour beforehand to hydrate your system, be quite active to ensure the blood flows well round your body and then prick your finger(s) with the lancets in the kit. You are supposed to fill the phial with blood to the 0.5ml line. It doesn't sound a lot when you think a teaspoon is about 0.5ml, but I have had the devil's job of getting that much out of my finger. I have to press and squeeze, press and squeeze to get as far as 0.25ml.  At the end of the session, my finger is sore and bruised for several days afterwards. It seems in no time at all, the next month's kit is sent to me to repeat the whole process.

Today was this month's collection of my blood and I spent a good hour preparing (drinking three large glasses of water and exercising), before taking the sample. I have just come back from the post box and am now typing this with a throbbing finger. All in the name of science. My one consolation is that in four weeks' time, that will be the last sample of the six-month study.

05 October 2020

Covid rollercoaster

picture courtesy of bbc.com

So,  President Trump has caught Coronavirus. Obviously, the disinfectant didn't work. But then the whole world could have told him that. Still, he knows best. 

The next wave of Coronavirus (aka Covid-19) is raising its ugly head once more and means business. Kay tells me her hospital is getting more and more cases, Ministers on TV look serious again and warn we must adhere to the advice or face the consequences. I feel their (and my) tension rising. Batton down the hatches and prepare for another rocky ride.  This time we do not have the comfort of long barmy light evenings and warm sunshine to distract or buoy us, but endless dark winter evenings, rain and chilly days to push us further into the doldrums. It's going to be a long haul before Spring and the lure of warmth and a vaccine.

Meanwhile my 70th birthday is just within touching distance in November. I am not particularly looking forward to it as it makes me sound ancient. I still feel like 25 inside (and am told I look 50 on the outside), but psychologically, 70 makes me feel old. I've just had to apply for my over-70 driving licence, as if the world thinks I am too decrepit to drive without reapplying and three-yearly checks.  Still, at long last, I now have a credit-card-type driving licence with a photo I can use as ID. Up to now I still had the old paper version minus the photo, so always had to use my passport as photo ID.

Back in the New Year, Kay and I were considering having a grand party and inviting everyone I know to "celebrate" my 70th with me, but by March we had soon shelved that idea. Even if we had booked a venue, there was no guarantee that the venue would still be trading by the end of the year, so I may well have lost money on it, just as many have done over recent months with their cancelled weddings. Also inviting some of my older septuagenarian and octogenarian friends and family to a large party was not advisable as Covid was worse among that generation. Now, of course, the current guidelines prohibit meetings in England of more than six people anyway, so another reason it was prudent to shelve the idea.

It does of course mean that my big birthday will be spent sedately with just Kay and a handful of others. Maybe like the Queen I should have an alternative birthday  - maybe next year when the Covid dust has all settled. If the blimmin virus doesn't get me first.

01 October 2020

Facelift

My doorstep was looking a bit tired and weather-beaten lately (it faces west so gets the brunt of our common westerly-driven winds and rain), so last weekend I decided to smarten it up a bit. I began by sanding down the cracked and peeling paint of the bottom doorframe. Two fresh coats of white gloss paint were applied. On Monday I painted the doorstep tiles with some striking red tile paint. To finish, I polished up a very grubby brass step protector plate. It was black/brown with tarnish, but I googled how to clean it with things already in the household. I experimented with various methods, but what worked the best was equal quantities of flour, salt and white vinegar. It polished up a treat. The job kept me entertained for the last few days and now I have the smartest doorstep in my little culdesac, all ready to battle with the winter elements.  I tried to take a picture, but the photo doesn't do it justice, so you'll have to imagine it!

23 September 2020

Baffling


The one clear thing to come out of this covid pandemic is that it is baffling. To be sure I had chosen the right word, I looked up " to baffle". The answer was, as I thought.  

to totally bewilder or perplex.
Similar:
perplex
puzzle
bewilder
mystify
bemuse
confuse



The virus is indeed perplexing We still don't have a full handle on how it spreads, mutates, damages, stays away and for how long.

It is puzzling because it differs so much from one person to another. Some don't even get symptoms yet have antibodies. Some get a cough, some don't. Some just lose sense of smell. Some die. Some don't.

It is bewildering, because guidelines keep changing and sometimes from one week to the next, so you can never be 100% certain you are following the correct path. If you cross a border from England to Scotland or from Wales to Northern Ireland, the guidelines can change in a second. Why can't we all in the United Kingdom be doing the same thing to avoid confusion, another definition of baffle.

It is certainly bemusing, the way the guidelines change from day to day and week to week. Stay home to avoid people, but go out to exercise. Work from home, but go to work, then try to work from home. Wear a mask, but don't because masks don't really work. Don't meet in groups of more than six, but go to a pub and mix with many more. Frequent pubs but not after 10pm. One thing we have learned is that the virus must like a late night and does damage after 10pm. It lurks behind bushes waiting for a 7th person to join a group of six. It doesn't like soap. It hates the long jump of 2 metres. It doesn't like bubbles or alcohol (note to self - to buy some champagne as a safe deterrent).

In all seriousness, a second full lockdown could do so much damage economically, let alone cause more deaths from other causes and the rise of mental health issues. The cure could be worse than the disease. I know our government has been heavily criticised for the way they have handled things, but I doubt any other government would have got it right either.  Covid-19 is truly baffling and may baffle us for some time to come.

Boris' rousing speech to the nation last night made the same point over and over. It's a delicate balance between stopping the virus spreading out of hand and still allowing us some freedom before we all go bonkers. It's not ideal, it has its flaws, but it is a compromise.  We shouldn't need to go into full lockdown if everyone did their bit, stopped being selfish and not seeing beyond their own noses. The non-believing "there is no virus, it's all a conspiracy to boost the pharmaceutical industry" brigade should also stop knitting yogurt, moon-gazing and hugging trees and get real. So it's noses to the grindstone, shoulders to the wheel and a massive effort to roll that heavy weight of a virus back into touch. I'm in. Are you?