A Long Attachment

Read no further if you are squeamish, read on if you are going to have an operation or look after an operatee.

Torrential rain immediately after my operation meant helpers did not have to water the garden and I wasn’t missing much in the outside world. I wasn’t as incapacitated as I expected, but for nearly two weeks I was attached to a long tube which led to the wound drainage bottle – a contraption the district nurse said she hadn’t seen before, patients often have bags that are changed daily. A green concertina device showed if the vacuum was still intact, the same principle as syphoning petrol.

In the days when people spent a good few days in hospital after an operation they would be attached to all sorts of tubes putting fluids in and taking other fluids out; people who managed to avoid hospitals would know little about such mysteries. One of the the district nurse’s daily tasks was to measure output and replace a bottle if the suction went. Carrying this bottle, even with the handy bag sewn by a kind patient who had invented them, was like never being able to put your shopping bag down. I was also constantly forgetting it was attached. If I had known that the amount of tube inside me was about a foot long I would not have worried so much about pulling it out. Family and visitors wondered what was going into the bottle to make the ‘strawberry smoothie’ – some blood plus a lot of lymph fluid that wasn’t sure where to go after all the lymph nodes were removed. We all know about blood circulating and kidneys etc, but the lymphatic system is unfairly ignored by most of us!

This long attachment precluded any serious attempt to get dressed or try on the surgical bra and foam falsie, but haven’t half of us lived in our dressing gowns since Covid started? So what to do except sit and receive visitors, cards and flowers? I soon got bored with resting; thank goodness for the back garden, I could sneak out and do some dead heading when the rain stopped. I tried to avoid the kitchen; family were great with meals and coffee and tea for visitors, but there was a relaxed attitude to washing up and tidying the kitchen!  

The wound was sewn up with dissolvable stitches, sealed with ‘superglue’ and a hundred steri strips and to my relief the dressing stayed put for the required two weeks. The super glue allowed showering, though soaking in the bath was not recommended. The whole area stayed numb for ages and I felt like a first stage Cyborg, half my rib cage replaced by a steel plate. There are exercises to do from day one, then more after the drain is taken out and continued for ever… Lifting is forbidden to start with and reaching up for things catches you out.

I was glad to get out for walks once the bottle had gone, now there was another week to wait before going back to the hospital for pathology results.

The Long Corridor

If you are purposely going into hospital for an operation, perhaps purposefully, elective, not elected… you will probably be filtered through the system with all the operations for that morning, afternoon or day; so make sure you get the right operation and don’t assume the time on your letter has anything to do with the actual time you meet your doom go to the theatre.

The basic procedures are much the same for all of us and after our many lockdowns and isolations at least we get to talk to lots of people and answer lots of questions, again, from nurses, anaesthetists and surgeons. This is your opportunity to remind the surgeon which side they are doing. You can also mention to the anaesthetist that documentary you saw thirty years ago about patients who wake up during their operation, but can’t alert anyone because their eyes are taped over and they are paralysed. Point out this is in the notes on general anaesthetic under Rare Risks AWARENESS, just above Very Rare Risks DEATH. Anaesthetist reassures you that there is only a very slight possibility of waking up, just wave your arm if you do. You have more chance of being involved in a road accident on the way home… reminding you of something else to worry about. Of course, there is also a very good chance of waking up at the right time in the recovery room.

In this long corridor of waiting rooms and little consulting rooms and long waits, at some stage you will have to change into a hospital gown, tight black stockings which are hard to pull on ( ladies, you needn’t have worried about shaving your legs after all ) and your dressing gown and slippers, which hopefully you haven’t forgotten to bring. Then you realise the overnight bag you brought isn’t big enough for all your street clothes.

When I went for my interview with the breast care nurse the week before, she produced the consent form for me to sign and it said mastectomy left hand side ‘NOoo, it’s the Right side’

‘That’s funny, only the second time that’s happened to me in twenty years, I’ll do a new form.’

Because I was slotted in at an earlier date I hadn’t met the surgeon who was going to do my operation. He asked if I was happy for him to examine me or did I want a nurse present. I thought hmm, not worried about being molested at my age, but I just said ‘No, that’s fine.’ I was tempted to add ‘well you will certainly be the last chap to play with that breast… ‘ I did add ‘…as long as you know which is the right side, which is the right side…’ He did some drawing with his felt tip pen, saying don’t worry, it will come off.

The worst part was being back in the waiting room in the middle of the afternoon with no food since 7.30am and no water since 11am and more waiting; there were not many patients, but they all seemed to go before me...

Then at last yet another nurse comes to collect me, my bags are confiscated secured and tagged. Now the long walk to the theatre, the walk down long corridors, this is why you bring your slippers. It was a relief to get moving and stretch my legs and interesting seeing all the secret parts of the hospital. Everything is blue; corridors, doors, uniforms, scrubs…

These days patients wear masks as well as the medical staff, so naturally I was wearing my favourite mask to get Brownie points. My last general anaesthetic was in 1978 and most of those involved tonsils or teeth. I had all my caesareans with epidurals and some hand surgery under local anaesthetic, so I didn’t miss out on what was going on…

Destination anaesthetic room, next door to Theatre Number One; the nurse let me peer through the porthole where people in blue scrubs were getting everything ready; all that just for me! My elderly neighbour who had the same operation a year ago had reassured me that being an anaesthetist is an actual job, an important job and my friend who watches all the hospital programmes said they look after you all the way through the operation!

Everyone who has an operation will tell you that they put the canula in, put an oxygen mask on and tell you to take some deep breaths, next thing you know you wake up in the recovery room. I kept taking the deep breaths and I was still wide awake, it wasn’t working! Then the anaesthetist said ‘Okay, I’m going to start putting the drugs in now, first the pain killer, tell me when you feel funny.’

It was a lovely warm glowing feeling and then…

Wednesday Wonderings

Have you had the jab yet – whoops sorry, those who have a phobia about needles do not like to hear that word and certainly do not like seeing the constant images on the news of smiling pensioners being vaccinated against Covid. But this is the biggest programme of vaccination in The World ever, so there is plenty to talk about; have you had it, why hasn’t my ninety year old aunt had it yet, which one did you have, should I have it…

I had the phone call on Friday to turn up at 4.30pm on Sunday for AstraZeneca; all weekend  the news was about the effectiveness of AstraZenica, would it resist the South African variant etc.   Who do you trust? There is a sizeable group of people, in every country, who do not trust any Covid vaccination, ranging from those who have a genuine medical reason and have been told not to have it, those worrying if animal products or alcohol are used to make it, through to CIA involvement. I don’t know if those with a needle phobia will also be avoiding vaccination.

This is another issue to divide people, as if we hadn’t enough already. It’s not compulsory in the United Kingdom, but the big picture is to get as many people as quickly as possible vaccinated for any chance of life returning to normal and to save as many lives as possible. Anthony Fauci is one of the world’s leading experts on infectious diseases and now chief medical advisor to US President Joe Biden, who no doubt listens to him more carefully than his predecessor. I heard him on the radio saying if people ask which vaccine they should have he tells them to have whatever is offered as soon as possible, because we can get vaccinated again. Other experts say similar things; my lay reading of all this information flooding into our brains is This is just the Start. Most of us have absolutely no idea what goes on in laboratories, except it involves microscopes and tiny glass droppers. Viruses mutate and in the same way that different flu vaccines are offered each winter, Covid vaccination could need to be updated and offered every year.

Meanwhile back in Southbourne-on-Sea, the fact I was called so soon, when I am not vulnerable, is nothing to do with my age, but the rattling rate at which the NHS are getting the vaccines done! Procuring vaccines in the first place involved a huge operation and cooperation between government and private concerns. This was followed by a great deal of organisation and commandeering of buildings from leisure centres to fire stations.  Regular NHS staff have been joined by retired doctors and nurses and army medics, plus an army of volunteers to herd people safely.

But I did not have to go anywhere adventurous or blogworthy, our local GP surgery was doing jabs with seven rooms open. We all lined up safely spaced and after a couple of minutes outside, it was only ten minutes from going in the front door to going out the back door. As there was a bitter easterly wind, the ten minutes included divesting several layers of clothes and scarves to have an arm ready and putting it all back on again. We filed to desks to get a sticky label with name, date of birth and a mystery number, which was stuck to our information sheet. The advantage of having the NHS is we’re all on the computer; all that has to be done is print out millions upon millions of sticky labels… When I arrived at the needle point there was a doctor to jab and a person tapping into the computer. We get a tiny card to bring back for the second jab, no date, but in 10 to 12 weeks. Of course I am bound to forget where I put the card, so remind me it’s in the top drawer left hand side…

The Game Of Life- Covid 19 Edition

Essays submitted to BBC Radio 4’s PM programme detailing its listeners’ coronavirus experiences are to be archived by the British Library.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-52487414

The Covid Chronicles were launched in March when presenter Evan Davis asked his audience to write in with personal accounts of life during lockdown. Perhaps this is what I would write, though I have exceeded the suggested 400 words.

The last day life was normal for us was Burns’ Night, 25th January 2020. Friends came round for dinner, my husband cooked. The day before, his birthday outing of choice was a trip to Ikea, our last outing.

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Life hadn’t been completely normal since his cancer diagnosis in autumn 2018, but chemotherapy had gone well and 2019 was filled with what was normal for most of us last year, holiday breaks, long walks, family visits, going out with friends…

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By February this year things had gone off at an unexpected tangent and downhill. Family were flying over, driving down, coming in shifts and helping out with stays in three different hospitals. We were aware of the virus, but the main defence was hand gel; how ridiculous that seems now. The main entrance of Southampton Hospital, where his major operation took place on 2nd March, was like an airport; twenty four hour Costa Coffee, shops, cafes and people, lots of people. The intensive care unit was a quiet little bubble away from all this; you had to phone from the waiting room to be let in, but that was the only restriction.
On two occasions we were called into a little room to talk to a doctor, but after a few days my husband was on a ward. In the background to our little lives hospitals were planning for the virus to get worse, suddenly he was transferred to our local hospital and we were wondering how this Coronavirus was going to pan out. Our physiotherapist daughter had already been organising the NHS and her brothers and now she made sure our house was ready, persuading the ‘social care team’ I would cope fine in my new role as carer. I don’t drive, but I’m fit, we have great local shops, family would continue to come and stay at regular intervals and friends would be dropping in for coffee and jigsaws, what could possibly go wrong? The reluctance to let my husband go suddenly changed to a flurry of Covid 19 bed emptying activity on his ward.

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At home things went as planned, some friends were already voluntarily isolating, but others came round for coffee. Our last family visitors left the evening after Mothering Sunday, by the time they were on their way home, on Monday 23rd March, the Prime Minister was telling everyone to stay home and close everything. We were already confined to home, now everybody would be at home; though I certainly wouldn’t have wished for a world wide pandemic just to feel we were all in the same boat.
My husband soon got The Letter – the most vulnerable people to stay at home for twelve weeks; I was now a shielder as well as a carer. By now we all understood the theory, it was a duty for everyone not to get Covid 19. My humble Covid Challenge, my contribution to the NHS was to keep my husband out of hospital and not get the virus myself as I am his sole carer.

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So here we are in our cosy little bubble, thanks to our kind next door neighbours and the local greengrocers, butcher and Co Op doing home deliveries, I don’t go near any shops. I only venture out for a walk and to our doctors’ little pharmacy; one customer at a time, the staff wear masks and shields. The amazingly fine weather and the garden have given lockdown a holiday feel. As a retired couple with lots of interests we’re used to having relaxing days at home; now every day is a relaxing day at home. Real carers are people who look after severely disabled children or partners or parents with dementia, for year after year. Apart from having to think what to have for dinner and cook every single day, life is easy and there is time for gardening, writing and blogging.

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In the Game of Life, Covid 19 Edition, over 35,000 people have died in the UK.

We have been given another extra turn and got some bonus points; loved ones and friends have been safe so far. Lucky to have a garden, not have to worry about losing a job or trying to home school children. Lucky that what happened to us came just before lockdown.

Have you written a Covid Chronicle or kept a journal?

Silly Saturday – Quarantine Quests

Some of you may be coming out of isolation, some of us are still in confusion, but it is imperative that you have completed this list of ten goals to achieve before re-entering the world.
1. Share on Facebook, one a day, the covers of thirty books that have shaped your life. If you have not even read thirty books in your whole life you have time to read them now.


2. Share on Facebook, one a day, the forty music albums that had an amazing impact on your life. Think carefully about your street cred and decide what image you wish to project.
3. Train your dog or any pet to do amazing tricks and post them all over social media. Not got a pet? Now is the time to raise a puppy, cub or foal while you are at home all the time.

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4. Upcycle just about anything to plant plants in and post smug pictures to demonstrate your green credentials.

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5. For the more ambitious, design and create a totally new garden with a wow factor that will mean you never need to go on holiday, or even out again. No garden, no problem. Create a hanging garden on your balcony. No balcony, no windows? Create a terrarium. But don’t forget to post the pictures.

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6. Create new dishes from scratch and share one a day – share on the internet, the good news is you don’t have to actually share the food, you can eat it all yourself.

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7. Macro photography is ideally suited to your new insular life. All you need are a few flowers and endless patience so you get shots of bumble bees, butterflies and dragonflies that are superior to the millions of others on Instagram.

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8. If you haven’t tried them before, take up cycling and jogging and be sure to post regular accounts on Facebook of how far and fast you have been. You may even get a starring role on social media if your picture is taken by walkers complaining on the local Facebook group about the idiot cyclist or jogger who breathed too heavily when they sped past.


9. Laid up with a sprained ankle after number 8? No excuse for not taking up sewing. By now you should have made at least a thousand ineffective facemasks out of your old Tshirts or flowery sundress… And also created the longest rainbow/ hearts / We Love NHS banner in your road so you will be ready for number Ten.

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10. The only time you see another human will depend on which country you are living in. Perhaps you are out every evening clapping for something or someone. In the UK we are out at 8pm every Thursday clapping and banging saucepans for the NHS and anybody who is actually out working. But that is not enough. You must get your road or block of flats on the local news that night, or better still the ten o’clock national news. You will need one bag piper marching down the street signalling it is eight o’clock, a string quartet playing on the front lawn, lots of cute children glad to be delaying bed time and an out of work opera singer leading a rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’ Just make sure everyone is two metres apart to avoid a media storm of disapproval.

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Have you achieved any of these goals?

The NHS

I was going to write about The NHS weeks ago, but events kept overtaking me and the subject.

‘The National Health Service is the publicly funded healthcare system of the United Kingdom. It is made up of four separate systems that serve each part of the UK: The National Health Service in England, NHS Scotland, NHS Wales and Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland. They were established together in 1948 as one of the major social reforms following the Second World War. The founding principles were that services should be comprehensive, universal and free at the point of delivery. Each service provides a comprehensive range of health services, free at the point of use for people ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom, apart from dental treatment and optical care. The English NHS also requires patients to pay prescription charges with a range of exemptions from these charges.’

https://www.nhs.uk/

Often the NHS is only in our thoughts when we are having our own personal dramas. Sometimes it is in the news for the wrong reasons, when things go drastically wrong. At present it is in the news all the time, it IS The News. The system that has cared for most of us from before we were born until we take our last breath is now responsible for steering the UK through the world wide pandemic. Whilst many people have been told not to go to work and stay at home, NHS staff are hardly seeing their homes. Government quickly forgets all the cut backs, poor pay for some, meddling, outsourcing and attempts to sell bits off that put the NHS at risk and expect all the staff to rise to the challenge… and they have. Perhaps when or if this is over those in power will do the right thing, instead of the public having to continually sign petitions pleading for our national treasure to be protected.
I recently finished reading Adam Kay’s Book This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor and reviewed it on Goodreads.

‘When my planned caesarean for our first baby ( breech ) turned into a 1am Sunday morning dash to Queen Charlotte’s Hospital a week early, one of the staff said ‘You’re in luck, the registrar’s on tonight’ I wondered what would have happened if he hadn’t been on. They may also have said I was lucky it was a quiet night. Anyway, everything proceeded quickly. When the same early imminent arrival happened with my third caesarean the same hospital was busy with a worrying lack of progress; the surgeon told me he had another emergency caesarean to perform and he had rung the consultant – for advice, not actually to come in; consultants don’t come in during the night as you will find out when you read this book! The anaesthetist said he had been on for 24 hours, I was shocked, but this was no doubt the norm, then and now. Adam Kay’s book is very funny, but there are dark moments and to an outsider it seems a realistic portrayal of a medical career, the dedication of those who work for the NHS and the cavalier attitude of management and government to our most important and treasured institution. Many readers will find anecdotes that relate to their family’s experiences and people who enjoy medical things are bound to relish this book.’

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35235302-this-is-going-to-hurt

Adam Kay is now a writer and comedian, no longer a doctor. Is the NHS perfect? Of course not, it’s staffed by human beings, some not as caring as they should be, some arrogant and others too scared to be whistle blowers. Tales of what went wrong and what went right are for another time.
One of the sad aspects of the virus tragedy is that the seriously ill are in isolation, they are not able to see any loved ones. Nor do they have the comfort of seeing the compassionate faces of the medical staff, who in all their protective gear must look like aliens or spacemen to their patients. Those of us who have had treatment in normal times know staff come from all over the world, international cooperation at its best.

The Game of Life Goes Global

The Game of Life is being played on the biggest scale ever with the worldwide virus scare. A game of chance with good odds for most of us, but with the rules being made up as we go along and every team making up their own rules, or so we might think… But it is viruses that make the rules, mutating at will; do they have an agenda? It is not hard to believe that Gaia has her hand in this, as travelling and normal life grind to a halt it must be good for the environment and non human creatures.

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Meanwhile, if we zoom in like Google Maps to my family, even without the virus there has been drama. Our daughter has clocked up five different hospitals visited, with her younger son and father in hospital at the same time. Luckily the little one is fine. After a year and more of being well, Cyberspouse’s condition went off at an unexpected tangent and he has been in three different hospitals. Now I am officially a carer, having persuaded the discharge nurse and social care team I would manage – not mentioning that once I was back on my computer writing I would probably forget all about him! Luckily our daughter is a physiotherapist and has been organising us, her brothers and the NHS. Our aim was to get him out of hospital before it went into virus lockdown!

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Blogging and writing was put on hold and once my scheduled blogs ran out it was quite liberating to know there was no chance of writing anything or catching up with fellow bloggers. But what a fund of material I have acquired in my head; a blog about the NHS and patients and visitors…

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Latest virus update… Cyberson 1 now back in the USA has to stay home as he has been to the UK within the last 14 days. Team H are now self quarantining as our son-in-law came home from work with a sore throat and cough. Cyberson 2 can’t come down as his boss’s wife has symptoms. We are lucky all the family got together before the virus kicked in. How have you and yours been affected by the virus?

Going To The Dentist.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that most people don’t want to go to the dentist. It is also true there is nothing worse than toothache, so there are occasions when you may be glad to visit. Another mystery is why anyone would want to BE a dentist, but that’s for another blog (perhaps a blogging dentist.)

Dental tales abound among three groups of people; those who never go to the dentist, those who will travel miles to visit the one and only dentist they trust in the whole world and those who change dentists as often as their clothes. The last group doesn’t always reflect on the dentist; how many of us put off going for a check up, then are too embarrassed to face our dentist; you can’t fake it for he will look up his records…

‘Sorry I missed my last check up.’

‘It’s actually eight years since you were last here…’

So we seek out a new dentist who must go through the whole procedure – dictating to his assistant in a strange language.

4 upper missing, 6 right lower decay, front left 7 amalgam, back lower 15 gold crown…

Just put this sharp piece of plastic in your mouth so we can take an XRay…  and the other side, open even wider for this extra large piece of plastic. Okay, that’s all for today

Sigh of relief.

Make an appointment for next week for three fillings and a three hour appointment in a fortnight to remove those four teeth…

I knew someone who would ring round dentists asking ‘Do you knock people out?’

The answer is usually No as dentists do not want to be responsible for a patient dying under general anaesthetic.

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My frequent attendance at dentists as a child was through no fault of my parents, except genetically. I was not allowed to have ice lollies, only ice cream, sweets carefully rationed. It was the orthodontist I had to visit at nine years old. At the time it was thought it was necessary to act quickly before it was too late, but nowadays plenty of adults have their teeth straightened and braces are an accessory.

I had teeth too large and too many to fit in my mouth; nearly a dozen first and second teeth had to be removed to give the remaining teeth room to grow straight. In those days cocaine was something injected into your gum at the dentist, the local anaesthetic. There was also gas, general anaesthetic. I sampled both, how it was decided I don’t know; I recall gas required the dentist to have a doctor present. The first time I was to have gas I walked into the room and was horrified to see a huge tank with a large skull and cross bones on. My first sensation on waking up was feeling the dentist was trying to yank my mouth open.

In between all this I wore a single wire on my teeth, a removable plate. Visits to the orthodontist were to tighten the wire, a cause for aching mouth during the night, but probably not as sore as after tooth extraction.

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Why do we have such fear of dentists?  People unlucky with ill health or accident have surely endured much worse suffering. Perhaps it is because it is our head, an intrusion into the part of our body we need for speaking and more vitally, breathing. We can’t talk or protest. I’ve had three caesareans and two carpal tunnel operations awake; lying helpless in the dentist’s chair is definitely more daunting.

But don’t be scared, it’s not really that bad. A handy hint; the older the building, the narrower the wooden staircase, the higher up the winding stairs you go, the better the dentist.  My current dentist is in an edgy part of town, a nice young man at the very top of the building, unlike my previous dentist he discusses everything with you first. I had a tooth out on Monday, it’s not fun having the first needle go in, but better than the alternative! Luckily he asked if I could still feel anything – YES – so he gave me a third shot.

Tell us your best – or worst dental story.

sunshine-blogger

 

 

The Game of Life

Warning: Do you dare to play the game of life? If you don’t want to read about illness and death or you dislike dark humour please avoid this blog, but I hope you will continue to visit my Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday blogs.

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Cyberspouse is feeling rather a fraud; having initiated drama, compassionate leave, flight booked, Christmas brought forward, he is feeling fine. But a letter arrives with NHS on the envelope; the copy of the letter sent to his GP from the oncologist. It wasn’t a joke after all, there it is in black and white. But there are still plenty of jokes in the house. We catch up with a film on television, looks like a good British comedy, winter comfort watching, all the familiar actors. ‘Finding your Feet’, retired people having fun, we know all about that. Our retired friends dash around the world, passionately pursue hobbies, whiz around with their bus passes or lounge at their beach hut. We do all of those except the first. But the film has included all the cliches, the sad widower, the wife with dementia and then… one of the characters has cancer, but of course doesn’t want to tell anybody and spoil their fun… you have to laugh, that was a good choice of film…