Thursday, February 25, 2016

Dear Jeremy - the rhythm of a hospital

We are hanging in there, thanks for asking. I thought you might find it useful to see how actual users of the NHS find it, given that your experience of the NHS is through reports and spreadsheets rather than as an actual patient/family member.

Tuesday was Dave's first chemotherapy treatment.

As I walked around the hospital (the restaurant was in a different block than the oncology wards and I walked loads on Tuesday) it occurred to me that when you visit a hospital it's probably a bit of three-ringed circus. You and the Queen probably think hospitals smell of new paint and pine-scented disinfectant. When you go for your carefully controlled walk around, you are surrounded by a retinue that is ready to step in between you and something unpleasant that may come walking around the corner. You see a hospital at an arranged time, when corridors can be cleared of the riff raff. It's all a bit safe, isn't it Jeremy?

I am beginning to see the tides of the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital and let me tell you, they doen't smell of paint or pine-scented disinfectant. 

The N&NUH smells of food, hope and despair.

When I walked along the corridors patients, family members and staff all made eye contact with me. Some smiled, others stretched their lips in an attempt at one. But as we all moved through this microcosm, we all knew and acknowledged that our reasons for being there were likely to be painful ones. 

In the restaurant, I always have to stop the catering staff from loading up my plate. They smile and try and heap on more food. It's ridiculous, it's not like I'm wasting away. But they know that food helps. The food in the main restaurant isn't too bad surprisingly. They've got a good selection with comforting additions: crumbles, sponge puddings, lumpy custard - food to stick to your aching ribs. Food to soothe ragged souls. 

Dave and I hate the coffee, but then we would. We drink a lot of tea there instead.

On one of the first visits Dave and I made to the canteen together, there was a guy who gave Zero Fucks. He had a dressing gown wrapped loosely around his emaciated body and walked with a drip. His pyjamas did not do a good enough job of covering the bags attached to various parts of his torso, or the murky coloured fluids they contained. At first, I was shocked. How could he display his physical degradation, pain and impending demise this way? And as I drank my tea and he ate his meal with one of his family members, I came to have a great deal of respect and admiration for him. After a while he finished his meal and moved off. Dave went off to use the facilities and when I glanced outside, this brave man was having a cigarette in the car park with his family member. Good on him. 

Zero Fucks to give. 

So it should be. This is what Life is really like for the patients who inhabit the weird world of the hospital. Life, dying and death aren't a pretty experience, there's lots of bodily fluids, vile smells and as much as we try and pretend otherwise, it's going to happen to all of us. All of us. Even you Jeremy. 

I met one of the Junior Doctors you are so determined to demonise. Oh, and a handful of those horrible nurses you try to chase away. They were all efficient, personable and tired; and so very, very kind. We were there for three shift changes. Or at least Dave was. I eventually, perked up the courage to ask the staff nurse at about 8 pm, when I was going to be chucked out. He shook his head. He gave me permission to stay as long as I liked; overnight, if I wanted. I couldn't. I'm too old and creaky to pretzel myself into the comfy chair in the corner. But that kindness took the pressure off the anxiety of knowing I'd have to leave Dave attached to the poisons that would hopefully buy us more time.

Walking back to the car, I wasn't walking the corridors alone. There were doctors, nurses and other staff hustling through, going about their business. I recognised faces from the canteen, they'd been here when I first arrived over twelve hours ago. They moved with the same energy and purpose. I don't know how they do that. The days of me pulling an all-nighter are long gone. Yet, they were still going strong. 

If you don't mind this suggestion, ditch your retinue, don a disguise and go and sit in a hospital canteen for a day and night. Experience the rhythms and heartbeat of a hospital for yourself, not as a distinguished guest, but as a participant. It'll change the way you think about the NHS, I promise you.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

What gets you up in the morning?

I had an email flurry with a long-standing friend of mine this morning. In and amongst the news catching up on, she asked me this question. It wasn't difficult to answer, but it's stayed with me since. 

I had intended to spend the day in my onesie, but the question got me up and writing in my journal, which I haven't done since the beginning of November. It got me dressed and kept me company as I mucked out the chickens and tidied up their area, something I've been meaning to do for a couple of weeks.

It's incredibly useful, being asked questions like that. It allows me to solidify my watery thinking and to mull over context and content. I've been doing an awful lot of feeling in the past few months, not a lot else. No writing, no thinking, no poetry, no art, no gardening. I have been looking after my house, looking after the cat, the chickens and me...and Dave when he lets me. 

But that question and thinking about the answer made me broaden my contracted feelings into the bigger, broader picture.

Love is the answer. Love is what gets me up in the morning.

You see, I love living here. I live in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. I wake up every morning and there's a surprise waiting for me, if I'm observant enough to look. Yesterday, I woke up to two magpies arguing over breakfast outside my bedroom window. Today, I woke up to Rummy purring. I'd overslept and he thought he'd try the subtle route to get to his breakfast. Before I open my eyes, I become aware of Jenga crowing. 

I put my onesie on, my Uggs and the pleasure I get from starting the grinder, putting on the kettle for my coffee and going out to let the chickens's hard to describe. I drink my coffee and catch up on Facebook. I get to catch up with people all across the world! We gossip and moan and put the world to rights.

I laugh every day.

Sometimes it's a chuckle, sometimes it's a big belly laugh. 

My velociraptors and Rummy make me laugh so much. 

Z is nearby and she keeps an eye on me. Her cat Eloise, likes to come visit. She has her own place to eat in my kitchen. She and Rummy are like brother and sister, the sort that like to play rough and tumble. When Z goes visiting, I get to look after her tortoises and flock of bantams. 

I'm thinking of the coming growing season. I'm thinking of tomatoes, onions, potatoes, leeks and cauliflowers. Do I want to grow squash again? What about peppers? And of course, will I have time to tend them? 

My Boy is on the other end of the phone. We don't have a dedicated time to talk. Somehow, he always makes me laugh. He's finishing off his degree with determination and grit. I'm not worried for him. He's playing with plans for after university. The only thing I've told him, is that whatever he choses to do, it must be fun. It must excite him.

I also have tentative plans for myself. I have a novel to finish, poetry to write, paintings to bring into this reality. I also want more learning. I want to become a Core Process Psychotherapist. How I manage that, I still haven't figured out. When the time is right, I will. 

Life is hard right now. Not "challenging" or "interesting" or whatever else euphemisms get to be used. It's really hard. But it's also good. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Dear Jeremy Hunt (again)

Further to my letter of 11th January 2016, I am writing to you once again to ask you to reconsider your political (and apparently, personal) stance on junior doctors and the NHS. 

Last year before the election, my friend Z and I discussed politicians and the way they were being vilified in the press. She believes that politicians, in the main are good people who try to make the best decisions they can for their constituents and that the press' treatment of them was very unkind. As you may deduce, she is a kind and gracious lady. Me? Not so much, but I am trying to be a reasonable human being when I write this. After all, you catch more wasps with honey than vinegar.

I wonder if you truly understand what it is to be afraid for someone you love?

Your wife, when you broke your leg, attempted to move heaven and earth to get you sorted. When she couldn't, she took to the press in a damning indictment of the service you received. The fact that she was trying to get help from the wrong institution is neither here nor there really. This is old news anyway.

The point is, she should understand where I'm coming from right now. 

You see, the news regarding my beloved, is terrible. The very lovely oncologist told us what the other consultants were unable or unwilling to say. Next Tuesday, Dave begins his chemotherapy; and frankly, the treatment regime is brutal. If he can endure it, we hope it will give us time. I said I would eat the turkey he cooks for me on Christmas Day...and let me tell you, turkey and I are not fond of each other. I promise you if Dave puts that plate of food down in front of me on Christmas Day this year, I will eat every bite of turkey joyfully and with deep gratitude.

I wonder if you wake up in the middle of night to watch your wife breathe or when you touch her hand, she curls her fingers round yours and kisses them without waking?

The afternoon appointment we had a couple of weeks ago was pretty much the last in the clinic. Dave and I sat waiting for the results of the PET-CT scan in the large, empty waiting room. However, we were not alone. Our phones' volumes were turned right off, but they both vibrated like sex toys, all the messages of love and hope from friends and family, on Facebook, from blogs; locally and from around the world. The waiting room would not have held all of the people who sat with us. 

You politicians seem to thrive on ramming home the point the world is a dangerous place and the most dangerous of all people is The Stranger. In my experience, The Stranger is the most kind. Hospitals are filled with strangers. Some of whom we will get to know well, some of whom we will never see again. 

I wonder if you have ever cared for someone? Not as in 'liked a person', I mean cared as in feeding them, washing their face, keeping them company as they tell you the same story, they told you yesterday.

My father after a lifetime of smoking, succumbed to lung cancer six years ago. I was lucky enough to be with him in the last two months of his life and the experience of caring for him changed me. Caring for a stranger, wanting the best outcome you can provide for someone who you know little about, is one of the highest callings a human being can answer. To do so and incur great financial debt, to work long and hard hours, to know it could cost intimate much more sacrifice do you expect?

You may argue that your job entails that you make hard decisions and there are consequences. 

Dave and I are now in the hands of your hard decisions and I need you to make better ones. I need the Strangers who will be looking after us, to be fit and well, to be strong so that they are focussed completely on buying us more time together. A couple of weeks ago, I gave Dave his birthday present (his birthday is in June), I didn't even know if we'd have that. We are acting on the assumption I will need to go out and get him another present for his actual birthday, but I'm still desperately afraid that we won't even have that.

Stop picking fights with the people who are trying to look after us. Please. Help them, so they can help us. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

No woman is an island...

This was the message that a few people have being trying to drum into my stubborn head in the last couple of weeks. Personally, I think Life has been taking a monumental dump on a lot of people around me and frankly, my problem shared is a problem doubled. But I took their point and have been leaning a little more on those around me.

Last Tuesday, I went for my New Patient check up in my new doctor's surgery. I've only been out in the Wilds for 18 months, I figured it was about time to organise my healthcare over. I got a bit of a shock when the nurse went through my stats. It seems I've been a little too successful in my comfort eating. Yes, my butt has become the size of a South American country. I have been meaning to get back to the gym, but struggled. I sat down, thought about it and signed up for a fitness class before I thought about it too much.

In the past, I've avoided fitness classes like dog poo on the pavement. Generally speaking, the ones I've gone to in the past were filled with bright, shiny, thin, fit women bouncing all over the place. I've got an amazing history of signing up to one class...

I signed up to a Stretch and Flex class, billed for all fitness levels. The women in this fitness class ranged in age from early 20s to mid-60s and were a wide variety of shapes and sizes. They were so welcoming, they pointed me towards the equipment I needed and helped me get settled. The instructor was exactly as you'd expect: young, gorgeous and bouncy - totally lovely. She talked to me beforehand to emphasise that I must only work within my level and to find out what issues I may have. And then we went to work. It was only yesterday that I could move without moaning and groaning. I could barely walk the next day.

I knew I'd let things seriously slip...but good grief...I didn't think it was that bad. But yes, it really has got that bad. It's clear I can't fight my way out of a paper bag and that just won't do. 

The gym I go to is amazing in that the prices of the classes are included in the fees, which is very unusual. Given I'm not particularly robust and quite tight and blocked up, I've decided the more gentle the class, the better. Today, it was a Stretch class (without the flex) and I was practically purring by the time we finished. It was pure bliss. 

Keeping that in mind, I'll do yoga tomorrow and Thursday and do the Stretch & Bitch class again on Wednesday. Because of the booking process, you have to be quick off the mark to get a place on the popular classes, therefore, if I miss a class, I'll hop on the exercise bike or elliptical machine, but keep things fairly low impact for the moment.

It's not the way I envisaged doing gym stuff, I miss lifting and running, but I can't face doing either of those things right now. It's too much. Both those activities require more willpower and effort than I have now. If I keep doing classes, it'll be fun, get me moving; and doing something is better than not moving at all. I also hope that by doing yoga regularly, my knee, lower back and wrists will strengthen up and become more robust. 

That's the Plan. 

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Two tales about chickens

Things here are...well...challenging. I've responded by doing what I do best: hiding. I've become a little turtle pulled into my shell which for the most part has worked quite well. But I miss blogging. So here are two things my lot did, that had me roaring with laughter.

I think I told you Jenga discovered sex? He decided that he wants his three ladies and as many hens from Z's flock as he can get away with. Unfortunately for him, Cocky (his dad) has his number. When both flocks are out and about, I've seen them interact fairly reservedly. They puff out their chests, bob heads and then back off to chase hens. 

A couple of days ago, I went out to get them back in. I wasn't surprised to see my hens at the bottom of the garden, they like hanging about there to try and get into the walled garden to dig through compost heap, it's a veritable cornucopia if you're a hen. Z's flock were in their coop watching Jenga and Cocky have a set-to.

I've never seen anything like it. The two of them were bouncing up and down, feet flinging about, shouting rooster insults. It would have been quite worrying had there not been the wire between the two of them.

Jenga is the Scrappy-Do of the chicken world. Daft bugger. He's all big and brave when there's a fence between him and Cocky, but knows not to push it too far if they're out and about.

I know Z's concerned that they might kick off properly one day and I'm certainly keeping an eye on my boy. But damn, watching the two of them perfectly mirrored in bouncing, made me laugh. And by the way, roosters curse worse than sailors.

Polly & Scrabble 

Canasta & Jenga
The first time Jenga displayed this behaviour, I thought he was being daft as a brick, but Z explained it and now it makes perfect sense. Dave suggested I treat them with mealworms, that they love above all treats. The first time they got them, the hens gobbled them up as quick as they could. Jenga on the other hand, wondered around with one in his mouth, doing a little song as he did. Polly or Scrabble would go up to him and take the mealworm out of his mouth, whereby he'd go find another and thus, the performance would continue.

Z says that's his "Look at what a good cock I am; here is delicious food!" He puffs himself out and struts around enough to make a young John Travolta look effeminate.

When I let them out, my flock mill about for a bit and then head out to forage. They will often pop back and come into the greenhouse, Jenga will call for me to come and dish out the treats they know I keep near the door for them. This time it was only Jenga and Scrabble who came in. I gave her some currants and then switched to mealworms.

When Jenga saw the mealworms, he ran off doing his little song and came back soon after with Polly and Canasta who had been around the front of the house. 

He's so sweet. He might be a bit of a tart, but he really does try to be a good bantam husband.

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