‘An Open and Shut University’

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
(Reinhold Niebuhr - 1892-1971)

If you don’t want to read my whinge – look away now.

Back in October 2012 I was 9/10 of the way through my final module for a degree in psychology.  I had only the final exam to go and then the prize that I had spent six years, thousands of pounds and as many hours working for would be mine.

I wanted this degree so much – not just for myself but for my Lovely Mum, who had been interested in psychology long before it became fashionable.

A week before the exam I was involved in an accident that left me in a great deal of pain, with an infection that wouldn’t go away, poor mobility, stress, anxiety, deterioration in pre-existing health issues, the loss of my job and career, and in a horrendous situation where I was stopped from talking to many of my friends and colleagues.

Legal constrictions prevent me from writing any more about that horrific year but those who know us will understand the impact the accident has had on me and on those I hold most dear

I went ahead and took the exam because I thought it was too late to cancel.  The combination of pain, strong painkillers and antibiotics put me on another planet and I fell asleep during the exam. I’d already managed to get Lovely Friend very lost in the middle of a not nice bit of town when she took me for the exam.  Apparently I had the sat nav upside down. I don’t remember much about it.

Not surprisingly I failed the exam and was offered a resit  – for a mere £97.00. My GP didn’t feel that I’d be fit to take the exam in April 2013 and I was booked to take it a year after my original exam  – in October 2013.

I was studying for another course and was relieved when the exam venue was changed to one closer to home.  The exam for that course went well and so I felt optimistic about my resit – especially when I found that I passed, and passed well.

Because it had been a year since I’d studied the resit subject I was told that I would have extra tutorial support.  It never materialised and I had great difficulty getting any information that other students taking the exam had access to. I dug out my books, drew up a revision plan and set to – optimistically – despite all the other hassle that was still occupying my time.

I tried so hard to revise but for the first time in my life, the ability to retain information had gone. I would sit for hours going over my notes and reading the course books but pain would intrude after an hour or so and taking the painkillers sent me to sleep. Subjects that I had found so interesting and enjoyable a year before now seemed to swim on the page in an unintelligible sea of words.

At the time of the resit I was embroiled in the legal wranglings that I’ve been gagged about – so needless to say  – my mind was elsewhere most of the time.

When I went into the exam hall – same place that I been to earlier in the year and successfully passed an exam – I felt nauseous.  Hot, cold, y head began to swim. I turned the exam paper over and my mind went blank. I hadn’t taken any painkillers in case they made me fall asleep in the exam again so three hours of sitting still took its toll .  Halfway through the exam I had to go out to the toilets and throw up.

I did my best. I answered all the questions. I tried to pull every piece of information out of my fuddled head.

It wasn’t good enough. I failed.

I was told that the only way I could get my degree was to take the whole year again. Not only had the fees had gone up, but this seemed so unfair given that I had passed all the coursework and the residential  school section of the course.

There was one other chance to salvage my degree – aegrotat credit.

This is a bare pass that is awarded if a student is no longer able to continue their current studies due to ill-health, are on the last course for their degree and are permanently unfit to study. You don’t have to have a terminal illness – but apparently it helps.

I discussed this with my GP.  We were both of the opinion that the content of the course had become so linked with the stress of the past year that no matter how many times I took the exam, I would not be able to pass due to the physical symptoms I experienced.

I applied for the aegrotat credit and they turned me down because they didn’t believe that I wouldn’t be able to study any more. They suggested that I took the course again.

In desperation I wrote to the vice-chancellor – who NEVER deals with this kind of situation. I was passed back to student services who advised me to get further medical proof regarding the permanent cessation of my studies.

I paid for another letter from my doctor.

They rejected it on the grounds that the phrase ‘for the foreseeable future‘ doesn’t mean permanent.

They offered me the opportunity to progress to a level 2 complaint but said that I would need further medical evidence.

I went back to my GP – who not unreasonably was rather peeved that his wording had been questioned.  We put together a letter that we thought would be acceptable and in it he emphasised that it wasn’t just the difficulty in concentrating on my studies, the pain and stress of sitting through three hours in an exam hall, but it was primarily the fact that the content matter had become so inextricably linked with the accident and subsequent issues that it had caused a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. He also felt that the stress of wrangling with yet another bunch of bureaucrats was having an adverse effect on my overall health and preventing me from getting better.

I sent off the letter.

On Friday I received the reply.

It is with regret that they have turned my application for aegrotat credit down again because they still don’t believe that I am unable to continue my studies permanently.

I can progress to a level 3 complaint if I want to.

They even came out with a heap of sanctimonious claptrap about their compassion and understanding for students with disabilities and that they could make alternative exam arrangements for me should I wish to take the course again and give them some more money.

I don’t understand their logic.

I have no intention of studying with this organisation again – ergo – permanent end of studies.

Both exams were failed by a couple of points and I had done all the work to pass the rest of the course.

I have provided them with more medical evidence than you can throw a stick at – and despite the fact that the people making the decision are not medically qualified – or psychologists even – they have the power to rubbish everything my GP has told them and branded me a liar.

Do they think I am going to sneak back and take another course if they give me the degree I have worked so hard for?

Is it really just about the money or have I come across some petty-minded group of administrators who move the goal posts according to their whims and don’t like giving in?

Hub and I have talked and I think it is about time I drew a line under this farce.

I learned a great deal in the past six years, so the knowledge for the degree is mine and nothing can take that away.

The establishment that I have been studying with has shown a total lack of compassion, understanding and integrity so – is their degree really worth the paper it is printed on anyway?

In my opinion they have moved away from their original ethos and become greedy and grasping in an effort to compete with other educational establishments.

I want no more of it then.

To be honest, I never use the string of initials after my name that I’ve earned over the years.

I need to think about my health, my family and friends – not a bunch of anal retentives wandern amongst concrete cows  whilst they make up rules to suit themselves.

Shut the door  – close that particular book – and move on.

With particular thanks to Paul McGee  – The SUMO Guy


Oh and Flower, if you are still reading this and are about to put a another thinly disguised rant about me on FaceAche – don’t bother – just unfriend me please – time you moved on too.






“Rage, rage against the dying of the light” Dylan Thomas

Something written a couple of years ago after my lovely step dad died in hospital; his ending was not as we would have wanted it to be, not what he deserved.

It was her stillness that first caught his attention.  Glimpsed through a half-open door; she was serene.  Other visitors watched the television screen, read magazines, kept up a stream of inane chatter and occasionally fell asleep.  She did none of these things but sat quietly holding the hand of the man in the bed.  A man who slept most of the time but when he was awake, shouted and screamed foul abuse at her.

Ben marvelled at her composure.  He had been in his new job for two days and could see her from his office across the corridor.  He never heard her so much as raise her voice in response to the vile accusations and recriminations that poured forth and polluted the otherwise tranquil atmosphere of the hospice.  Fearful for this woman’s safety, Ben sought advice from his supervisor Marian.  She had smiled at him benignly.

“Speak to her.  It’s the only way that you’ll understand.  I could tell you all about them but not as eloquently as she can.  Her name is Lily.” She looked at her watch.   “I expect you’ll see her out in the corridor in about half an hour when the nurses carry out their obs.  Take her for a coffee?”

Ben returned to the office and left the door wide open.  He wanted to cheat and check the computer system but Marian’s words had made him curious and he felt that he owed it to this obviously dedicated woman to let her explain why she suffered the abuse so calmly.

A sound in the corridor outside made him look up and Lily was standing in the doorway.  He got to his feet quickly and walked towards her, extending his hand.

“Hi, my name’s Ben.  I’m new here. I’m an advocate; I speak for people who don’t have anyone who can make their wishes known.”

She took his hand in both of hers; warm soft hands that gripped but didn’t crush.  “Marian asked me to come and see you whilst the nurses are seeing to my Tommy.  Are you free to come for coffee?”

“Yes,” he replied, slightly taken aback. “I’d love to.”

Closing the office door behind him, he followed her into the lounge and Lily poured them both some filter coffee.  She led the way to two armchairs that had a view of the sensory garden; a place guaranteed to both stimulate and soothe.  Ben could smell lavender and rosemary in the breeze.

“I hope Tommy hasn’t disturbed you; he does shout so but he doesn’t mean any of it.”  Lily took a sip of coffee and smiled at Ben.

“I was a bit concerned; for you having to listen to all that abuse.”

She shook her head and smiled again.  “He would never hurt me.  We’ve been together sixty years and he never so much as raised a hand to me.  We’ve always sorted things out between us.  I wish you could have known him when he was younger.”

“Sixty years is a long time to be married.” said Ben.

“He was such a charmer; when I first met him he was running a greengrocer’s.  My friend Sylvia introduced me to him and I used to pop into the shop in my lunch hour.  I worked in the haberdasher’s across the road.  He was a stickler for business though.   If I went into the shop for just an apple I had to pay for it, but when he took me out for the evening he’d pay for everything and make me feel really special.  He was so dashing; always well-turned out.  He’d been around a bit too, he did his National Service in the RAF and I think I fell in love with him the first time I saw him in uniform.”  Lily giggled and smiled to herself, remembering the moment and the handsome young man in his airforce blue.

Ben still looked dubious and she leaned across and touched his hand.   “We have two children; two lovely girls.  They married well and I have seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren all together.  Not all of them live close by any more but they visit regularly, and we used to go and stay with them till Tommy took ill.  My eldest granddaughter keeps asking me to have a break from all this but I can’t leave him, not now.”

“This must be terribly draining for you.  Marian says you stay here all the time.” said Ben.

“No, no.  I have a little break when the nurses see to him.  He doesn’t like me to be present when they do the personal things.  Tommy’s always been a proud man like that. He’s in so much pain and I can’t bear the thought of not being there when he finally leaves me.  The only time we’ve ever been parted was when I was in hospital after I had the first baby.  I had my second at home.  They didn’t make such a fuss about having babies at home then.  You just got on with it.  Like dying really.  Part of me wants Tommy to let go; just go to sleep and not wake up but that’s not what we agreed to.”

“What do you mean?” asked Ben.

“My Tommy didn’t hold with painkillers.  He wouldn’t even have a jab when he went to the dentist, and when he started getting these pains in his stomach I had the devil’s own job getting him to the doctor.  I only went with him the once, after that he went on his own and he wouldn’t tell me what the consultant said.  He didn’t want to worry me but of course I knew things weren’t right.  He stopped eating and drinking; I tried everything to tempt him but nothing appealed to him.  I came home from doing some shopping with my granddaughter and found him on the floor.  His hands and feet were purple and swollen; I’d only been out a couple of hours.  We had to call an ambulance and I thought he was going to die.”  She gasped a little at the memory and pulled a tissue from her cardigan sleeve, dabbing it at her eyes but smiling nevertheless.

“Tommy won’t take the drugs that would help him.  He says that they will take his memories away; he wanted to see my face and always know that I was there with him.  The doctors and nurses tried to explain to him that the pain would become unbearable and that there were things they could do to keep him comfortable but he won’t have it.  It comes in waves you see, the pain.  He sleeps for a while but when he wakes up it hurts him so much and the only way he can cope is to shout and scream at me.  He doesn’t mean those dreadful things and he can’t say them to anyone but me because no one else in the world loves him the way I do.  No one else understands him like me.  Marian says that eventually his body will stop fighting but his mind is still so alive and scared.”

“I could sit with him, if you wanted a longer break, to get out of here for a while.”  Ben desperately wanted to do something but no amount of training could help him think of any other way to help.  She took his hand in hers again and shook her head gently.

“Bless you.  You are such a lovely young man.  He wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t there and I couldn’t bear that.  Our time together is precious; I love to watch him sleeping peacefully but when he wakes and shouts, that’s when I see my Tommy again.  I know that I have a heart full of memories and that I’ll never lose them, but Tommy is still here and being the man that he is, he can’t go down without a fight.”  She rummaged in her handbag and brought out a small green leather-covered book, the gilt lettering on the cover worn off through much use.

“Do you know the work of Dylan Thomas at all?  I love his poems.  My granddaughter bought me this little book because I remembered a poem we were taught at school. “Do not go gentle into that good night, rage, rage against the dying of the light’.  Such beautiful words, and so true to the way I feel about my Tommy.  Anger isn’t always a bad thing Ben.  If you’re going to make a career out of this advocacy thing, you need to look at things from all sides before you make your mind up.  You’d written my Tommy off as a bully and marked me down as a victim but I’ve had a happy life and I’ve no doubt that my children and their children will do their best to make sure my life is as good as possible once Tommy has gone.  I must get back to him now.  I’ll see you tomorrow I hope.”

He watched her go; squaring her shoulders in readiness for the next onslaught and felt humbled.

Ben arrived early the next morning; fired up with a new determination to listen more and keep his mind open.  The door to Tommy’s room was ajar but Lily wasn’t there.  Ben knocked on Marian’s door.

“Where’s Lily?  I really enjoyed meeting her yesterday. I have a few more questions for her though.”

Marian motioned him to sit down.  “She died just after midnight.  A massive coronary and totally unexpected.  It was Tommy’s shouting that alerted us.  We had to sedate him; not a choice we wanted to take in view of his strong feelings about pain relief but there’s no one to sit with him, his family are on the way but won’t be here for some hours.”

“I’ll sit with him.  I’d like to – for Lily’s sake.”

Ben sat next to the bed and steeled himself for the time when Tommy came round from the sedative.   This was what it was really about; making sure that Tommy had his wishes respected even though Lily couldn’t be there to see him rage against the dying of the light.

Frail, confused, in pain and sometimes wanting to give up the fight –  we can’t choose the ending but we can show tolerance and compassion to those who are vulnerable, whether their history is known to us or not.  Spare a thought for those who care because it doesn’t always come easy.