26 September 2012

Alive and Kicking

I've mentioned it before, but every five years, I have a thorough health screening .... all for free and in the name of research. I was first approached 27 years ago, when I was working as a Civil Servant in London to take part in what is known as The Whitehall Study. It takes a random group of people and studies them over their lifetime to look into such things as health and stress and what affects it. The research is carried out by University College London (UCL). Ever since that first approach I have been invited at five-yearly intervals for medicals and to fill out beforehand extensive questionnaires about my lifestyle, mood and health. I consider it a good thing. The University gets to do their research and maybe unearth important data and I get to have a free top-to-toe medical. It's a win-win situation.

Every time I go, they change the format slightly or add another test on. The sessions usually can take anything from three to four hours. You don't have to agree to anything you are unhappy with and can even opt out of the whole thing if you suddenly decide you no longer wish to participate in the project. Yesterday I went along for my sixth medical. Naturally I was inquisitive to know whether Greg's death (which had occured since my previous medical) had had any effects on my health or stress levels. 

The only thing I personally hate about it, is that you have to turn up having fasted for about 12 hours, which in practical terms means no breakfast. Not even a cup of tea or coffee. Since it takes me well over an hour to get there, changing onto three different trains (overground as well as underground trains), up and down escalators and a good 20-minute walk at the end of it,  I arrive starving hungry and croaking for a drink. Yesterday the format was to start with blood tests to get the DNA, cholesterol and glucose levels out of the way, as well as my blood pressure which I was pleased to see was 100 over 67. Normally you don't get to eat until lunchtime, as they need to take more blood tests two hours after you are given a glucose drink, but I was told that the second blood test had been scrapped for this round of medicals, so at ten o'clock I could help myself to tea/coffee, a sandwich and piece of cake. Boy, was THAT was the best part!

After that there were all sorts of computerised mental arithmetic and IQ tests, memory tests and face recognition tests to test mental function for the onset of dementia.  There then followed a section where I had an ECG (I was told my heart rhythm looked fine, although it is sent on to a cardiologist for more detailed study) and a test to establish the elasticity/health of my veins in the neck and groin. Hip/waist/ height and weight measurements were taken to find out my fat content/BMI and I was told I was well within the range of "normal". That cheered me up no end!

The final section was to measure my hand grip strength, my finger tapping agility and general mobility (the speed I walk,  the speed I stand up from and sit down on a chair without using hands etc). I had to blow three times into a machine to test my lung function. I passed with flying colours.  A piece of hair was removed to test cortisol (stress) levels in it and I was finally fitted with a waterpoof watch-like contraption on my wrist which I have to wear non-stop for the next 10 days. This will record my activity levels and I have to fill in an accompanying diary which will show when my waking or sleeping periods are. The watch will be sent back eventually to be studied to see what my activity levels are over those ten days.

All of this is used in some way for research, although I will only get the official results of the blood tests and ECG. If there is anything wrong, my GP (who also gets a copy of the results) can then act on it and discuss it further. But so far all looks very well and it would seem I am alive and kicking.

20 September 2012

All by Myself

People keep me asking me how I cope on my own now without Greg, particularly as I don't have Kay living at home full-time with me any more either. The answer is simple..... I am an only child.

I have never had the luxury of brothers or sisters and have always  had to find things to entertain myself from a very young age. When I was very small, I had all sorts of imaginary friends I would speak to and play with. As I grew older, I read avidly or got absorbed in solitary hobbies. As a teenager growing up in a city as big as London, my schoolfriends lived quite a distance away (my school was at the time a well-sought-after grammar school and so could pick and choose their girls from a very wide catchment area) so it was not the norm to hang out with them in the evenings and at weekends, as they lived too far away or a visit involved a train journey across London.  It was really only when I went to university that my social life really took off. I don't have cousins either, as my mother ended up as an only child, although she was originally had two little sisters (see here) and my father's brother never had children at all.  I have always been used to a solitary way of life.

At present, my mother lives 60 miles away, Kay lives about 200 miles away, my two best friends live about 60 miles away in opposite directions, so it is never a simple matter to get to see any of them.  I have passing acquaintances I have made over the years and very good neighbours if I need someone in an emergency. Snoopy keeps me tied to the house at the moment as leaving him on his own for more than about 3 hours is nigh impossible. (I usually have to do a mad dash just to get to the supermarket and back before he frets). I always find something to fill my day and am always surprised when I look at the clock and see how late it is.

I've always been a simple home bird,  I don't really fidget to see whether the grass is greener in another part of the world (all grass is the same ultimately and  with few exceptions we all end up coming back to the place we call home). That is not to say I don't occasionally want to do something different for a change, but I don't feel deprived if I can't. I am happy with my own company too,  although that is not to say I don't welcome others visiting me.  It's just that having been an only child, I am used to dealing with (and content in) my own company.

So you see, the answer is.........I am doing all right...... (I think).

13 September 2012

Back to the Future

Picture from firsttutors.com
Kay has left home again after the summer break to start her fourth year at university. Those who have been following this blog for some time will know that she is studying medicine.... a five year course in all. However, medical and dental students have the option to intercalate and take a year out. This is summed up more here (although she does not go to Bristol university and different universities that offer intercalation do so at different stages of the medical degree. Where she is, they do it between year 3 and year 4.) It is basically a year out of medicine to do the final year of a medically-related science degree and get a BSc degree at the end of that 12 months, the idea being to enhance her career prospects in the future. She's quite looking forward to the opportunity to mix more with non-medics and occasionally work in a lab for a change. This time next year, with hopefully a published dissertation and the BSc under her belt, she can continue with her fourth and fifth years of medicine. It's still a long haul ahead, but we're hanging in there.

Meanwhile, the house seems awfully quiet again.........

03 September 2012

Back to the Past

I've been putting off meaning to clear out some of the dross in the integrated garage for a while, but have always found more pressing things to do or just couldn't be bothered. But things have been piling up in there, because the garage has always been the place to throw in things that were superfluous in the house, it is also used as a laundry room, storage for electrical/garden/car/tool paraphernalia and it houses our camping equipment (several tents ranging from two-berth to sixth-berth/chairs/mattresses/tables/cooking equipment and even the camping kitchen sink) which we collected over 15 years odd of serious camping. Not to mention all the paintbrushes and tins of paint that have built up over the years. There is a substantial shelving system along both long walls of the garage , but stuff has just ended up getting jumbled up and lost. Not only that but boxes of junk have ended up in there making it impossible to get from one end of the garage to the other. There's no way you could fit a Dinky toy car in there, let alone a full-size adult one.

Kay was away for a long weekend visiting a uni friend in Chester, so I decided it would be a good opportunity for me to get up to my eyes in dust, dirt and cobwebs and have a good old clear-out. It was quite a trip down memory lane going through all the camping stuff on the garage shelves, as I practically remembered each and every item and where we had supplemented things for our gypsy-like holidays under canvas.  As I touched things, I suddenly became aware that the last person to touch them had been Greg and I felt a pang of grief/nostalgia that I was touching where his hands had been and no-one else's since. The garage had always been Greg's domain.  He was responsible for storing away the camping equipment at the end of a holiday, getting it out again when it was needed and packing the car in the way he liked to pack it. He did a lot of therapeutic DIY in the garage, either making things for the house or constructing things to make our camping experience more homely. He spent a good part of his days off in there pootling about. But what I had not bargained for was finding this little hoard amongst it.


Towards the last few years of his life when Greg became alcohol-dependent, he would try to convince me (and himself) that he was not an alcoholic,  but I knew he was buying small bottles of whisky to decant from larger ones and obviously hid them in the garage to take a sly sip from, while at the same time he was protesting to me that he was not drinking so much because, as he kept pointing out, the level of the larger bottles in the kitchen was only going down slowly . Over the last year or so, as I have decorated the house, I have found the occasional bottle stuffed away between books in the study or under his side of the mattress or even once inside a music hifi speaker, but finding this little hoard (11 bottles in all stashed amongst the garage shelves) took my breath away and brought everything over those last few years flooding back in glorious technicolour. It also left me very sad to think that he had to result to hiding them to con me and himself.