Near Death – Week 45 of the 52 week short story challenge

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‘Hello?’

‘Hello? Can you hear me?’

I’m pressing the button on this pendant I wear around my neck but nothing happens. Usually when I press it I get a crackly voice from the other end telling me that I have come through to the ‘We Care Service’ and what did I want?

I don’t use it often because I have difficulty hearing what the woman is saying and now, when I really need it there is nothing.

Not even the reassuring beep that tells me that although the line is busy, they will get back to me as soon as possible.

Nothing.

I can just see the clock from here. It’s still early; six o’clock and the time when I would usually be up making my first cup of tea. something to set me up for the day as I sit and listen to the news on the radio.

I could watch the news on the television that my granddaughter bought me but I prefer to listen early in the morning. I don’t want the intrusion of strangers in my house yet.

Today I would welcome anyone to my house.

Today even the lad who has been burgling houses in our area would be welcome. I would tell him where to find my money, my wife’s jewellery, my medals even, if he would call 999 as he leaves.

The floor in the hallway is cold. I should have had carpets fitted but my wife was always proud of these tiles. Minton she said they were and she wouldn’t dream of having them covered up with some old carpet.

I could have had the carpets fitted when she died, when there was only me to think of but every time I look at these tiles I think of her.

I see her as the young girl I carried across the threshold of our house; as the mother of our daughter, tired but proud in her hospital bed, and then I see her bringing our baby girl home to the bedroom I had so lovingly painted pink in her honour.

She did us proud our girl; married well and presented us with grandchildren. I had never thought of our daughter as being traditional but she named her children after her mother and me. Keeping the memories going she said. A legacy.

I never thought I would outlive her, and her mother.

When I came home from the war my lungs were useless; poison gas, cheap tobacco and a cough that never really went away. As if to remind, I cough now and the pain from my legs wracks my body.

I used to have people who came in to check on me. Cheerful young women who did my washing and made me meals. Someone to talk to four times a day; not as good as my wife, who never seemed to stop talking but at least they filled a part of the void when she was gone.

Now they are gone too. Cuts in social care.

A brisk young woman came to visit me, and decided that my care package was too large for my needs. I didn’t need all this help as I was obviously self-caring. I didn’t need to go out to lunch clubs; the transport was very expensive and they were closing down the day centres anyway. She gave me this pendant but was at pains to tell me that I would have to buy the new batteries for it.

I have batteries in the fridge but I can’t reach them.

I can’t reach the telephone.

I can’t reach the door.

I can’t go on.

I can’t.

I can’t give up.

Today of all days.

I look at my coat, hanging out of reach on the coat hook.

I can just see the poppy.

I should be getting my breakfast and making myself presentable so that when my granddaughter comes to fetch me for the parade, she will be proud of me and the part that I played.

So tired.

All I want to do is sleep.

To sleep and have the pain go from my legs.

What legs?

I can’t feel them.

I should be able to feel them. To feel the pain that has kept me awake at night for over seventy years. There is no pain. Just cold.

I look at the clock again. Where has the time gone? I don’t remember being asleep but four hours have passed since I last looked.

I want to sleep. It’s time for me to join the people who I love and miss. This is no place for old men like me – we may have been seen as heroes once but now we are just a burden on the state – a burden that the taxpayers can’t afford according to that brisk young woman.

So tired.

‘Grandad?’

The sound of her key in the door pulls me back from the place where pain has gone and there is just a soft glowing light that draws me in.

‘Grandad? Hang on in there. I’m calling an ambulance. Don’t leave me Grandad.’

It isn’t time yet. Her hands are warm as she tucks a blanket around me. Her hands are warm like her mother’s and her grandmother’s, and while I long to feel their touch again this beautiful girl pulls me back to the present.

I open my eyes and focus on her face. She looks tired and worried so I do my best to smile as if I was okay. The poppy on her coat is close to me and I reach out to touch it.

‘Not yet then?’ I ask.

‘Not yet. Not today of all days. Love you Grandad.’

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Tragic Romance – Week 41 of the 52 week short story challenge

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The boy and the girl were eighteen years old when they met on social media in 2008.

As well as being American teenagers, they both suffered from cystic fibrosis (CF); a genetic disease which they were both born with.

A cruel disease that causes a build up of sticky mucus in the lungs, digestive system and other body organs.

People with CF often look ‘healthy’ but a large part of their lives is taken up with physiotherapy and having to use a nebuliser to disperse the mucus.

The mucus can lead to chronic infections and the need to be given in-patient treatment in hospital.

Many people with CF have to take a cocktail of medication to keep their symptoms under control – and often that isn’t enough.

So these two young people had already been battling against diseases when they met online.

He was in hospital at the time and she was at home but having a difficult time with her breathing.

Whilst social media often gets the blame for stalking, harassment and sending out the wrong messages, for these two young people, it gave them the opportunity to share experiences, to understand feelings that those around them could not comprehend because they weren’t teenagers with CF.

Not surprisingly, they grew closer despite the physical distance between them.

In time that closeness developed into love.

Another cruel aspect of CF is that the risk of infection is even higher between CF sufferers.

The girl knew about this. Her consultant had emphasised this risk to her throughout her young life.

The boy she fell in love with on social media had an added disadvantage; he had a particularly dangerous infection that could pose a risk to the girl’s life.

The people around them knew about their love but also knew that meeting in person could threaten both their lives.

The girl took a decision; she wanted to meet the boy in person – whatever the risk.

He drove for six hours to meet her.

The magic became a reality and they married in 2009.

Their health deteriorated.

They both had to give up work and by 2014 lung transplants were necessary to prolong their lives.

The boy had his first, and despite the chronic infection that complicated his CF, it was a success.

The girl had to wait and then cope with the devastating news that her Medicare insurance had run out and that she would have to leave hospital for sixty days in order to qualify for more treatment.

But she was too ill to stay out of hospital and had to rely on public medical insurance back in her home town.

Away from her husband and away from the large hospital that was experienced in treating her condition and doing lung transplants

Red tape prevented them from being together.

Red tape prevented the girl from getting the medical support she badly needed.

They drew up a bucket list of things they wanted to do:

  • to drive through every state
  • to learn another language and visit the country where it was spoken
  • to write a book together about their young lives
  • going shopping together
  • watching TV side by side on the sofa

Friends set up a crowdfunding page to pay for the girl’s transplant.

She is still waiting.

Her husband was admitted to hospital and died in September 2016.

Red tape ruined two young lives and cut short their happiness.

In England in the 1940s, the National Health Service was created to provide a free medical system for all ‘from the cradle to the grave’.

The Conservative government are trying to sell the NHS to private providers; hell-bent on destroying a service that has saved so many lives, in order to line their own pockets.

Save our NHS so that this kind of cruelty won’t happen in our country.

Cut the red tape.

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Birthday – Week 23 of the 52 week short story challenge

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I can remember every moment of your birth-day – and that of your younger brother who was considerably bigger than you but slipped out with an ease and speed that caught the midwife on the hop. More of him another time.

Before you were born I had two miscarriages. I wasn’t sure if I could carry a pregnancy to full term; if I would ever know what it felt like to hold my child in my arms, to watch him or her grow into an independent person.

So when we got to the thirteen-week scan and could see your little heart beating, your Dad and I (and your Grandma) finally dared to hope that our dreams might come true. They didn’t do scan pictures in those days but your Dad had come prepared and was allowed to take photos of the screen.

We christened you Parsley. After Parsley the Lion, a character in one of our favourite children’s programmes – The Herbs. It wasn’t until the twenty-week scan that we found out that you were a boy and you became Robin. Robin Goodfellow. Robin the Hooded Man. His friends are more than fond of Robin. All our hopes and joys were invested in you.

This pregnancy was different.  All the symptoms that had been missing in the previous two pregnancies were there; the nausea, going off certain foods, craving other foods – especially cod in cheese sauce and crunchy cornflakes with strawberries.

You don’t like fish.

We went to National Childbirth Trust antenatal classes. All first-time parents, all nervous and full of questions – except for the immaculate health visitor with the designer bump and gorgeous husband who was planning a water birth at home. She knew it all – and she made sure that we knew that she knew it all.

Fast forward to the day before your birth-day. Things felt different. I started fussing and nest building. The labour bag was packed and unpacked a dozen times and when my waters broke – luckily after we had been shopping at Sainsburys and put it all away – we phoned the hospital and were told to come on in.

You were in no rush though. Your Dad and I spent most of the following morning trudging round endless hospital corridors in an effort to get labour started. It was more diverting than lying on a hospital bed and feeling uncomfortable. The words of our antenatal teacher rang in my ears. ‘Keep upright as much as you can and let gravity do the work for you.’

The nurses on the ward would have preferred me flat on my back and well-behaved because they kept losing me.

Our consultant – who bore a striking resemblance to Maggie Smith – turned up at half-past two in the afternoon and although she smiled, we could see that she was slightly disappointed that you weren’t likely to make an appearance before she clocked off for the day.

We went into the labour ward around six o’clock that night. You were on the way. I tried to remember all the things our teacher taught us. Then I got told off. I was doing the empowering grunting thing. ‘Don’t waste your energy screaming – grunt and push.’

The midwife told me I was frightening the other mummies with my Neanderthal noises. I ignored her and carried on. Gas and air made me bold. Your Dad grinned and got the odd whiff of gas and air.

You gave us a bit of a fright when you finally emerged at half-past seven (in time for Coronation Street according to Grandma). Your APGAR score was low because you had managed to wrap the umbilical cord around your neck – not once, nor twice but three times. Liberated and unwound, you pinked up nicely and let out a yell. The midwife let go of the end of the cord and – according to your Dad because I was out of it by then- it flick-flacked around and sprayed the ceiling. Tennessee Chainsaw Massacre apparently.

Your Dad had you to himself for the first hour of your life. The midwives weren’t happy that all the placenta had come away so I had to go to theatre and have a ‘scrape’ under general anaesthetic. By the time I came around  I was back on the ward with you and your very proud Dad.

I never drink full fat milk and I’m not enamoured of egg sandwiches but these were offered to me and nothing ever tasted so good.
Your Dad went home to bed and I tried to sleep. You were in a cot beside me and I kept one hand on your head all night to make sure you were real and no one could take you away.

We had to stay in hospital for three days; I had stitches and you were jaundiced. It was torture because we lived so close to the hospital that I could see our house. Every night your Dad stood out in the garden and shone a torch so I could see he was thinking of us. I knew that.

We escaped on the fourth day and I can remember lying on our bed at home, feeding you and devouring Kentucky Fried Chicken. We were told to get you out in the sunshine to get rid of your jaundice.

You got sunburn – the yellow turned to pink and your ~Dad went out to buy a sunshade.

We didn’t do too bad for new parents; we only forgot you once. I’d strapped you into your car seat and left you at the top of the stairs for your Dad to bring down and put in the car. It wasn’t until he started the car that I realised something was missing. You slept through the whole thing so I don’t think you were mentally scarred.

Our theme song was ‘Kooks’ by David Bowie. You came to live in a lovers’ story. We hope you haven’t been sorry.

The antenatal class met up again six weeks after you were born. We shared our birth stories and showed off our babies. We tried not to look smug when the golden couple turned up with their screaming baby (and not very pretty). The water birth at home had to be abandoned and she was rushed into hospital for an emergency C-section. All that expense! Unlike her baby, the mother was very quiet during our catch up session. She looked rather unkempt and her husband’s tee-shirt had sick marks on the shoulder – just like the rest of us now.

So the birthdays came and the birthdays went. You were a left-hander and you skipped to school because you loved it so much. A prodigious reader;I had to buy two copies of each Harry Potter book when they came out because you didn’t want to wait till I had finished it. I always finished first but you said this was because I didn’t have to go to school and lose valuable reading time.

Senior school followed primary school, and we were told that you were officially a National Gifted and Talented Youth.  You made your own path – avoiding games and PE as much as possible  – but you were a very strong swimmer which made up for it. When everyone else was wearing an extremely short school tie, yours was a more respectable  – and acceptable – level because you didn’t care about such things.

You had your group of friends and parents’ evenings were embarrassingly wonderful for all of us. Dad helped you with your German and I dredged the depths of my mind for my GCE French. The maths and sciences were beyond me.

You aced your GCSEs and went onto college to do your ‘A’ levels. I panicked when we didn’t get a call from you after you got your results. I had visions of you throwing yourself into a canal in despair because you hadn’t got A stars.

I shouldn’t have worried. You sauntered in and showed me your results. All A stars. What was the fuss about Mum?

University was a foregone conclusion. So was your first-class honours degree in Chemistry and now you are studying for a PhD with a long title that I can never remember. Something to do with amino acids.

You are a teacher. A mentor. A scientist. You also mix a mean cocktail and know how to have a good time. Your knowledge of politics astounds me and I value your advice (and your cocktails). You are a bit more of a dedicated follower of fashion since the school tie days.

We don’t see that much of you because you are a hundred miles away and have your own life to lead but you know that you have surpassed our expectations and that we are very, very proud of you.

Robin Goodfellow. Robin the Hoodied Man. His friends are still more than fond of Robin.

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Lost and Found – Week 6 of the 52 week short story challenge

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Lost and Found and Lost Again

Rochelle sat on the rocky outcrop at the end of the beach. Her beach. The beach she had known all her life and the place she sought whenever life became too much. Unfortunately life became too much for Rochelle every day until she could push it aside with her current cocktail of choice. She had been told to avoid alcohol because it could have an adverse effect on her medication but ‘could have‘ was not a definite and there were days when avoidance was impossible.

The youngest of four girls, Rochelle was often referred to as ‘the Afterthought’ by her older and married sisters. They were all in their teens when their mother surprised them – and their father – with the birth of a tiny and delicate sister who was duly fussed over and petted by them all.

Perhaps as a consequence of this concentrated attention, Rochelle was a demanding baby; the toddler who invented new levels of tantrums, and the most sulky and erratic of teenagers. Mercifully for her sisters, they had married and set up their own homes by the time she had reached this most petulant and attention-seeking phase of her development.

Her father was bewildered by Rochelle’s behaviour. His other daughters had seemed so easy by comparison. Her mother continued to dote and spoil her pretty little girl, enchanted by the sweetness of her nature – provided things were going her way.

School was a trial for Rochelle. She made few friends but many enemies due to an unfortunate ability to tell tales with a mask of complete innocence that belied her devious nature. Tears and tantrums failed to move her teachers and she left school without any qualifications due to an extensive sickness record and no ability to apply herself to anything but craftwork.

Expressing a hitherto hidden desire to get away from home and family, Rochelle informed her parents that she wanted to go to college. A college on the mainland. A college far away from home. Puzzled by this desertion, Rochelle’s parents applied a few sanctions. She could go to college but only if she agreed to stay with Mr and Mrs Bullingham, elderly family friends who could guarantee to keep her safe from the wicked world.

It was agreed and having been escorted to her new home by her tearful mother, Rochelle settled into her new life. ‘Settled‘ may not have been the best description of how she spent her days. The college was small, more like a finishing school for young people whose parents were not ready for them to tackle the hazards of big city life. Many of her fellow students paired up throughout their time at college but not Rochelle. Some of the boys – and teachers – found her childish behaviour initially enchanting but the magic wore off very quickly and they soon realised that she was a person to be kept at a distance.

Rochelle learned how to flirt and flutter her eyelashes in order to get others to do things for her. She also developed a taste for alcohol; only to be consumed in her room or when she wasn’t due home to the Bullinghams’ genteel and alcohol-free zone for some time.

The college course came to an end and Rochelle returned home to her island, still without qualifications but possessed of a multitude of manipulative skills. She had made a few friends who kept in touch – perhaps because they felt sorry for the girl who didn’t seem able to grow up. To those who cared for her, Rochelle continued to be sweet and charming. Her sisters loved her but grew increasingly intolerant of her demanding behaviour – especially when she had been drinking.

Gentle suggestions regarding Rochelle finding work were rebuffed and met with floods of tears and prolonged sulking. Employment on the island  was limited anyway but for a young woman with little experience, no real skills and an air of naivete that did not transfer to the workplace, it was impossible. Rochelle’s parents came to the conclusion that she was unlikely to ever make a financial contribution to their household.

Being of a sensitive and rather sentimental nature, getting Rochelle involved in voluntary work for animal charities on the island may not have been the wisest of choices but it kept her occupied and her craftwork earned small amounts for the darling animals. She felt that she had found her true calling at last and was quick to tell her friends of her new purpose in life.

Her sisters however, grew increasingly concerned about Rochelle’s mental health, especially when she was at home or attending family events. She screamed and cried; retreated to her room when she couldn’t have her own way and had to be rescued from bars when her cocktail consumption got her into peril with men who were less scrupulous than her college chums.

There was a spell in hospital during her mid-thirties; life had become too much after Rochelle developed a crush on the much-married manager of the seal sanctuary. She stalked him and bombarded him with handmade cards containing coy messages. He succumbed to Rochelle’s childlike charms but panicked when she announced that she was with child herself. His wife found the bag of love tokens when emptying out his recycling and after talking to her repentant husband, contacted one of Rochelle’s sisters who in turn spoke very sternly to her parents.

The problem with living on an island is that the only strangers were tourists; everyone else knew each other and in order for Rochelle to escape the laughter and mocking glances, her parents had her admitted to a small private hospital where she was kept under heavy sedation following her ‘operation‘ and  caused her to retreat further into the safety of her fantasy world.

By the time her doctors felt she was well enough to go home, the manager and his wife had been relocated to the mainland, and another scandal had replaced Rochelle’s assumed shame. She made more friends whilst in the hospital; women who had been damaged and made vulnerable by life, women who saw Rochelle as an entertaining child, a willing drinking-companion, and a person unfazed by their own bizarre behaviours.

As the years passed, Rochelle’s sisters gave up on the idea of ever finding a man patient enough – and wealthy enough – to take their sister away from their aging and increasingly frail parents. They did their best to try and encourage some element of maturity in their baby sister, but she remained that – a child-woman who was incapable of doing more than making chocolate-box cards for animal charities and stamping her foot when life failed her.

Through one of her old college friends, Rochelle became acquainted with Trudi, a woman who had spent some years recruiting people for a demanding religious sect. As a consequence, she was adept at spotting those who life had left open to exploitation. She honed in on Rochelle; showering her with compliments, feeding her ever-hungry ego and grooming her as a useful source of information as well as a potential mouthpiece for Trudi’s opinions.

Trudi had a lucrative business selling email addresses to companies who used them to spam and intimidate people who had no interest in their services – especially the elderly. Several of her friends had become wise to this misuse of their details and Trudi found herself needing a new method of obtaining information.  Rochelle fell for Trudi’s explanation of needing email addresses to raise funds for charities – animal charities of course – and was quick to use her volunteer status to find mailing lists of anyone who had ever made a contribution. Trudi was ecstatic, and clever enough to get Rochelle to use her own email address when sending on the information. She paid Rochelle a token amount and kept the rest of the money  to herself.

Rochelle watched the police car draw up outside her house with some curiosity. At 53 years of age she had never seen a police car at her house before and idly wondered if her parents were alright. She turned back to the sea again and barely registered the crunching of police-issue boots on the shell and gravel beach. Rochelle’s mother had tried to persuade the police that her daughter had mental health problems but some of the people on the lists sold via Trudi’s dubious transatlantic contacts were from old and very influential island families who objected to being inundated with emails peddling Viagra, funeral plans and weight loss products.

One of Rochelle’s sisters met them at the police station and acted as her appropriate adult. Rochelle didn’t really know what to say in response to the questions. Tears and eyelash fluttering failed to move the stony-faced female detective and her equally impassive male colleague. After hours of questioning, Rochelle’s sister requested a break and took the opportunity to give Rochelle the kind of talking to she had badly needed all her life

Eventually Rochelle was persuaded to give up Trudi’s details and tell the version of events as she understood it. The detectives weren’t convinced that anyone could be as gullible as Rochelle but had little choice to let her go with a caution and a very stern warning about getting involved in this kind of scam in the future.

Unable to trust Rochelle, the animal charities she had previously supported made it clear to her parents and sisters that her services were no longer required. Her computer had been taken away by the police and her parents stated that they didn’t want it returned. Those friends she had kept in touch with via social media wondered idly what had become of her but no one cared enough to find out. Trudi was tracked down and despite blaming everything on Rochelle, her past track record gave her away and she was exposed as the force behind many other such scams.

Rochelle spends most of her time on the rocky outcrop; lost again but unlikely to be found this time.

 

 

Ophthalmology – a game of snakes and ladders

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 Doctor – my eyes!

I have cataracts. A big one in my right eye and the beginnings of one in my left eye.

It wasn’t a complete surprise; the ophthalmologist told me that they were developing a year ago and things have been getting increasingly fuzzy ever since.

Shopping in brightly lit supermarkets has become challenging. I get dazzled and dizzy halfway through the shopping trip. Hub has taken to running around the aisles like an updated supermarket sweep contestant – where is Dale Winton when you need him? Hub does this in an effort to get the shopping in the trolley before I have to lurch to the safety of the wooden benches placed for that purpose by the tills.

Our shopping bills have decreased remarkably – and Hub is keeping very trim – good exercise for all the paintballing.

This year’s eye screening confirmed the worst and the charming (and very young) ophthalmologist softened the blow of my eye referral with his dulcet Irish tones.

He reassured me that the whole thing would be done under a local anaesthetic in day surgery at the hospital.

I went public about my cataracts on FaceAche and was reassured by the number of people who had survived the operation and surfaced with better eyesight. The survivors included my own very brave Big Sis who knows more about hospitals than I’ve had Chinese takeaways.

The hospital appointment came through just after the New Year. The letter wasn’t very informative – just the vague warning that the appointment could last anywhere between 30 minutes to three hours. The letterhead confirmed that the Ophthalmology department was in the hospital but didn’t give a clue as to where.

Hub and I turned up early – as is my habit – my Dad always maintained that if you were anything less than 15 minutes early for an appointment – you were late. On this occasion it was just as well as the smiling volunteer from the Friends of the Hospital sent us in completely the wrong direction and we ended up in Endoscopy.

Redirected to the correct department, we were still on time for our 0830 hours appointment. I joined a queue of twelve people; some of us grasping our hospital letters, others looking bewildered. The receptionist was not a happy lady; I think she had forgotten any lessons learned on the customer care course and her worst growl was reserved for those who forgot to bring their letters.

As I stood in the queue, two nurses passed me and one of them said,”They’d better not wind me up today, I’m in the mood to tear someone’s head off.”

Well that’s not in the customer care manual either.

When it was my turn at the window, I smiled brightly and said ‘Good Morning’ as I passed my letter  under the narrow window gap. The phone rang at that moment and any retort she may have made was eaten up by her grumpy reply ‘Yes’ and a monosyllabic conversation with the poor unfortunate on the other end.

She found my file and told me to wait in the waiting room next door.

It was a large waiting room with a very nice flat screen TV. The sound was turned down however and the subtitles turned off. As there were notices advertising hearing aids as well as aids for the visually impaired, I’m not sure for whose benefit the TV was turned on.

It was a busy waiting room with staff trotting around in all directions, looking important and carrying clipboards.  When my name was called I followed the nurse and left Hub in charge of bags, coats and his Sudoku book. The nurse asked me to sit on a chair behind a pillar about three yards away from where Hub was sitting.

I sat and waited.

Ten minutes later she ushered me into a room with ‘Visual Acuity’ on the door. It also had a sliding sign that said ‘Free/Engaged’ on it.

I went through the usual eyesight tests and did my best not to guess at the letters. My concentration was interrupted five times by other staff opening the door and popping their heads in to see if the room was engaged or not.

I think they must have had some visual acuity issues themselves where the sign on the door was concerned. Either that or they didn’t do guessing.

When I had finished reading the letters, the nurse told me that I would need to do some field tests and that I could go and sit back behind the pillar. I asked if my husband could come too and she went off to fetch him.

We sat behind the pillar, Hub and I, with all our necessities and stared at the door marked ‘Field Tests’. It also had a ‘Free/Engaged’ sign on the door. A young blonde lady in a very tight-fitting black dress and stompy heels came in and out of the room several times, clutching her clipboard and looking stressed.  She passed us each  time but didn’t make eye contact.

After ten minutes of this (the optimum waiting time) she stomped out to the main waiting room and called my name. I got to my feet and responded. “Here”. She looked at me as if I was deliberately in the wrong place and checked my date of birth.

We went into the ‘Field Test’ room and she sat me down in front of one of those machines where you rest your chin and press a button when you see a light. she took my specs away and made a big thing of cleaning them before she checked the prescription.

The young lady – blessed with an unfortunately nasal Liverpool whine – gave me the instructions as if I was a half wit and set the machine going. My clicking was disturbed by people coming in and out of the room and banging the door loudly. By the time we got onto testing my left eye, I had sussed out the pattern of lights (random – oh yeah!) and did my best to ignore the unwelcome visitors.

I was tetchy by now and decided that enough was enough. I asked the young lady why there were so many interruptions and that as the patient I found it rather rude and disrespectful to have people banging about in the room whilst I was doing a test.

Nobody knocked on the door either.

To her credit, she went off in search of the complaints book and wrote down my objections. She then pointed out that the complaints book wouldn’t be seen by anyone else in the department as they didn’t look in it.

I sighed.

She took me outside to my Hub.

Then she sighed and stomped back into the room, banging the door extra loudly.

We waited another ten minutes and I heard my name being called in the main waiting room again. I responded and was met with a very grumpy lady who appeared to be deeply offended to find me where I had been left instead of in front of the silent TV.

I followed her down the dingy corridor and she motioned toward the only vacant chair. I had no idea why I was there but reasoned that the words ‘Consultant’ and ‘Free/Engaged’ might be a clue. The wait was fifteen minutes this time – Hub was still up by the pillar at the other end of the corridor whilst my fellow patients and I tried not to listen to the very audible consultation being carried out on the other side of the door.

The consultant was okay. I liked him and it wasn’t his fault that the walls and doors were so thin. He had a good old look at my eyes and confirmed all that my charming Irish ophthalmologist had diagnosed. He also told me that he needed some up to date retinal pictures and that I would go there next and come back to him when the pictures had been taken.

I sat outside and after a while, I heard my name called in the main waiting room again. Hub heard and sent the lady wot does the photos down the corridor,; she seemed surprised to see me there.

We went on a route march to the other side of the department. My walking stick and I were not fast enough for the photo lady, who deposited me in a very chilly conservatory. Hub had my coat and was now sitting outside the consultant’s room having a conversation with a nice student bloke who was also waiting.

I was in that conservatory for half an hour. I thought about making the journey back to Hub, collecting him and my coat but reasoned that Sod’s Law meant my name would be called as soon as I sallied forth down the dingy corridor.

I met a nice lady who had been referred to our hospital rather than her own, and as a consequence her notes had not been sent over.  she had to sit and wait until the next regular courier arrived.  She was desperate for a cup of decent coffee but her husband could only find lukewarm tea because he didn’t know the way back to the Costa shop at the entrance.

He also needed a fag and somewhere to smoke it.

My photos were taken eventually and I was returned to Hub and my coat. The photo lady was called Claire and apart from the consultant, she was the only person who actually looked me in the eyes and gave me their name.

My consultant grumbled about the slowness  of the hospital software but eventually loaded my photos.  He gave me some good news about eye pressure and complete lack of glaucoma. He also said that my cataracts were a sign of old age and had nothing to do with mean old diabetes. Good news for the diabetes nurse – not good news for me with another birthday looming.

I was given the choice of hanging on for half an hour and doing my pre-operative assessment or coming back another day and doing it. Hub was due in work that afternoon but what the hell, we’d been there three and a half hours so far – what was another half an hour?

He got permission to come in late and we were taken round to the cave where the pre-operative nurses live.

The assessment took another hour and a half.

It was extremely comprehensive and it made my blood pressure shoot up – white coat syndrome or over-exposure to hospitals – who knows.

So there is an eighteen week waiting list and once they’ve done the old right eye, the old left eye will go back on the waiting list.

Hub and I were both starving when we finally escaped. The game of snakes and ladders was over and we dashed off to Maccy D’s for sustenance. A strawberry milkshake can soothe most of my ills.

In the meantime, my achy breaky legs limit my computer time and my fluffy cataract eyes insist on BIG letters when I type – which also gives me a headache.

Filling in my online tax return will be fun – if they get around to sending me my unique tax reference number – otherwise it’s a £100 fine and I haven’t even earned any money yet due to the legs and the eyes.

By comparison, the MRI scan I had a week later was easy peasy lemon squeezy. I did lying still  in a small box for 40 minutes and worked my way through Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’ album in my head while the machine whizzed and clicked around me.

Medical explorations – fun, fun, fun.

‘Blood, sweat and breakfast on a Friday morning’

Fasting blood test.

Curious how, after eating a dinner that would usually have proved perfectly satisfactory, the knowledge that you mustn’t eat anything for twelve hours makes you incredibly peckish.

I got through to bedtime by drinking gallons of water every time I felt the need to nibble. That, of course, had a knock-on effect throughout the next seven hours.

Between the toilet trips and hot flushes, it was not a peaceful night.

Seeing to the dog first thing proved to be something of a distraction; canine kibble does nothing for me.  More water and then the dash to the hospital in the hope that we beat the crowds.

My blood is sluggish and my veins dive for cover at the first sight of a needle so blood tests have to be done by the heavy-end phlebotomists in the outpatients department. On the one occasion I let the nurses at the health centre have a crack at it, I was put into a taxi and sent off to the hospital after my veins and I had reduced three nurses (and myself) to tears and my arms looked like pin cushions. It was when they suggested immersing my hands in a bucket of very hot water in order to make the veins ‘pop’ that I rebelled.

So now I go to the nice ladies at the hospital. They see me as a challenge and are determined to fill their vampire vials with as little damage to me as possible.  They have an almost unblemished record.  There was just the one occasion where an over-enthusiastic trainee went in one side of the vein and came out the other.

Black and blue but no lasting damage.

So, armed with another bottle of water  – dehydration slows down blood flow and it is always rather warm in the waiting area.  I clutch my form and a pink ticket that says I am number 43 and I people watch.

It seems that the whole world wanders down this corridor; elderly people with sticks and wheelchairs and helping hands, schoolchildren stringing it out so that they miss maths, pregnant women passing through to ante-natal, a bunch of us middle of the roaders  and pyjama-clad patients returning from the shop, the cafe or a crafty fag outside.

It is the staff that are the most fascinating to me.  They conduct their conversations as if we are invisible.

“You know all the rearrangements we made for Dr B’s clinics? Well, she’s only gone and changed everything back to the way it was before! All those sticky labels I printed! She’s so ungrateful!”

An older lady totters down the corridor pushing a trolley loaded with files; she is beautifully coordinated  in animal print but her stiletto shoes are falling off the back of her heels with a curious sucking noise. The trolley wheels squeak as she staggers into the reception area and unloads.  The empty trolley makes a different sound as she returns and the lack of ballast makes her even more unstable.

“Grandma, Grandma!  What wobbles up in the sky?  A jelicopter!”

Laughing now, the same small child had been grizzling a few moments before; she did not enjoy going into the phlebotomist’s lair and watching  ladies sticking needles into people.

Another member of staff sashays past.  She is wearing a skin-tight red dress with a very visible panty line but is apparently oblivious with regard to  her rear view.

Young doctors hurry past with their stethoscopes swinging.  Consultants amble by; venerable and aging briefcases dangling loosely while they have important conversations about the school run and shopping on their mobiles.

My turn.  I have been clenching and unclenching my fist ever since number 40 was called in.  The optimum position for getting blood out of this stone would be for me to hang upsidehttp://www.warringtonguardian.co.uk/news/11143065.New_look_for_Warrington_Hospital_food_court/ down from a trapeze but I have already discussed this subject on a previous visit and we came to the conclusion that the flimsy curtain rails would not be sufficiently weight-bearing.

I have a sensible phlebotomist; she goes for the outside vein and I barely feel a thing.  The needle is removed, the cotton wool and tape are in place and I am out of the door.

Breakfast in the hospital cafe.

Bacon and egg on brown toast with hot chocolate.  There seems to be a mini-feud going on between the woman on the till and the two women serving up breakfast.  She has to keephttp://www.warringtonguardian.co.uk/news/11143065.New_look_for_Warrington_Hospital_food_court/ asking them what the prices are; they are very snippy with her and in the end one of the women opens up the other till and flamboyantly shows off her speedy till skills.  I steer my tray to the first woman and speed through because she has been deserted by all the other customers.

It is a good breakfast though.  The high cholesterol and sugar content is somewhat at odds with the poster-covered wall advertising eating a healthy diet in order to avoid cancer. I turn my back to the wall and munch my brunch with a smile.

This could be the cause of the internal conflict ……. competition from Costa and Subway looms …….

http://www.warringtonguardian.co.uk/news/11143065.New_look_for_Warrington_Hospital_food_court/

 

 

‘Offally painful’ – my devilish kidneys

kidney_stones

For the past week I’ve had a nagging pain – not in the neck – but in my back and side.

It disturbed my nights and messed up my days.  Monday was especially bad and going to bed was a waste of time so I got up at 0500 hours and surfed the net for my symptoms – as you do.

I didn’t have a temperature. My blood pressure was normal.The waves of hot and cold were attributed to the curse of  middle-aged women-ness and I discounted the idea of kidney stones because the pain wasn’t that bad.  I already knew about the pain they cause thank you.

Hub had kidney stones when the boys were younger. He was nauseous and in such pain that when my dad drove us to hospital, I had to physically hold Hub down to stop him getting out of the car when we stopped at the traffic lights.  I will never forget the look of relief on his face as he lay on a bed in A&E and the morphine injection kicked in.

They kept him in hospital for two days, and when they scanned him there was no sign of the stone, so it must have sneakily sidled off into the hospital’s sewage system.

Hub remembers the time as one of pain, boredom, annoyance at the squeaking of the night nurse’s shoes and tells me that the clock stopped every time I left him.

I remember that time as one of awful division; wanting and needing to look after the boys but wanting and needing to look after my Hub, who looked so desolate in a ward full of creaking and groaning  old men.

It was wonderful to have him home again and a scan a year later showed he was still stone-free – maybe that’s what Jimi Hendrix was talking about when he wrote the song?

Back to the present and after a  few hours of web-torture I stumbled back to bed and into a troubled sleep that saw me wake at 0900 hours; half an hour too late to book myself an online GP appointment – they go on the website at 0830 hours and are all gone within minutes – possibly due to the depersonalisation aspect and not having to wrangle with a curmudgeonly receptionist over whether you deserve to see Doctor or not.

We had things to do in town that day so I gritted my teeth and took one last desperate attempt to get an emergency appointment ……. “Surgery has finished for the morning.  There are no doctors here. If you want an urgent appointment you need to phone back in an hour but I can’t guarantee you’ll get one.”

The receptionist obviously misunderstood the meaning of the word ‘urgent‘.

Hub and I went to town; walking actually seemed to ease the pain and I felt better, deciding that whatever it was had gone away.  Buoyed up by a sense of achievement at getting things done (taking our passports to the nice check and send lady being one of the things) we went food shopping and I attributed the now dull ache in my back to the usual twinge of a degenerating spine.

The pain came back though; Hub was on night shifts for two nights and on the first he left me some money in case I needed to get a taxi to A&E whilst he was away. It subsided and although I was up till 0230 hours watching dogs doing assault courses on the TV – not actually ON the TV, it was a programme – I got some sleep and put things off for another day.

The next night was worse; I couldn’t get comfortable and the realisation finally set in that whatever it was that was giving me grief, it wasn’t going to go away unless I did something about it.

Awake again at 0500-ish hours and it was You Tube clips of ‘Smack the Pony‘ and ‘Life of Brian‘ put on by old college chums, that helped me make it through the night.

I texted Hub and he got an early go from work to come home and take me to A&E.  Scooby dog was very confused at such comings and goings but after feeding him and packing my rucksack with the necessities of life: Kindle, water, money and a spare battery for my Blackberry, we set off.

Plus points; the receptionist was fine and I was triaged and asked for a urine sample by 0720 hours.  Half an hour later we were following a nice doctor into the minors section and I was soon safely situated on a trolley, tethered by a BP cuff and blood oxygen monitor (the plastic clip thing that they put on your finger).

When the doctor returned we played a twenty questions game to see how thorough my medical surfing had been. He won.  I had kidney stones but they needed to do blood tests and a CT (computerised tomography – all those years of studying psychology were not in vain  – or vein) to see what was going on in my kidneys.

I warned the nice nurse about my manky veins; veins which look as if they might give up a bit of blood but withdraw speedily at the sight of a needle.  She did brilliantly though and within a few pain-free minutes, had drawn sufficient blood and installed a canula in case she needed to come back for more. I was given some very cold water and told to drink it up as my bladder would need to be full for the scan.

Hub went home at my insistence; he was just as tired as me and needed food.  In addition our trusty car was going to the dint man at 1030 hours, to be replaced by an unknown quantity courtesy car (hope it’s bigger than the Ford Ka they gave us last time). It turned out to be a Citroen C something – small, silver and Gap Boy says it looks gay.

I drank more water.  My nice nurse was replaced by a distinctly more abrupt one who thrust the thermometer in my ear with what I considered to be unnecessary force.  She barked terminological questions at me and when I looked blank, explained in a patronising and long-suffering way, that she wanted to know if I had been for my CT scan yet.

I looked down at the BP cuff and blood oxygen monitor holding me to the bed and shook my head.  She tutted and wandered off. I drank more water.

At 0925, the trolley, me and my worldly goods; rucksack, boots and hoodie were wheeled off by a lovely porter who became a friend – largely due to the fact that he seemed to be the only porter in the hospital but also because he was very kind and had a sense of humour – unlike Nurse Ratchett who pulled an extremely smacked-arse face when we arrived at the Clinical Decisions Unit (otherwise known as the Make Your Mind Up Ward) and they knew nothing about me.

The porter and a Ratchett replacement in pale blue made me up a bed  – he willingly, she with another smacked-arse face. My aching kidney, bursting bladder and I climbed aboard the bed to wait, and wait, and wait.

Twice I went to the toilet because my bladder hurt more than the kidney did.  Twice I filled up my bladder again. I didn’t get breakfast because no one had told the ward staff whether I was nil by mouth or not.  They didn’t think to check.  The lady next to me went off to her MRI (Magnetic Resonance imaging – go me!) scan a quarter of an hour late because the staff forgot to ask the porter to take her.  She was so annoyed by this that she went out to the ward doors to wait for him instead of compliantly waiting on her bed  – like me.

The woman at the other end of the ward was having hysterics and decided to discharge herself and her water infection because she wanted to go home.  The very attractive girl two beds down read a newspaper and politely reminded staff that she hadn’t had her breakfast.  The trolley had been removed by then so they gave her some Ribena. The old lady opposite who had wanted toast, was told that she couldn’t have any.  She was given bread and jam; the porter scavenged some butter from another ward and came back brandishing it proudly like a warrior returning with spoils.

The staff nurse asked me if Ratchett 2 had done my obs (BP and all that jazz).  She hadn’t.  She was last seen hiding behind a monitor at the nurses’ station.  The old lady opposite me  was waiting for her daughter to come and take her home.  She waited for the staff to get her dressed; she waited, and waited, and wet herself.

The staff nurse and Ratchett 2 were in the middle of completely strip washing the old lady when her daughter arrived. They were not unkind to the old lady but a tad brusque and annoyed at all the extra work her incontinence had caused.  I listened to their all-too-audible grumblings and thought – yeah, if you hadn’t spent so long chatting at the nurses’ station this wouldn’t have happened.

A cleaner in a lilac top listlessly mopped and wandered about the ward picking things up and putting them down.  Apparently her duties do not include emptying the overflowing paper towel bin in the toilet although it came in useful to prop the door open whilst she performed the cursory mop.

Another nurse in a green top seemed to be the only one able to carry out her duties without grumbling or being distracted.  I liked her.

My doctor returned; confused as to why I hadn’t been for my scan – after all it was 1100 hours by this time. I still hadn’t been able to take my breakfast time medication – due to a lack of breakfast and my bladder was reaching killer wave proportions.  He promised to write me up for some pain relief, get me a sandwich and find out why I hadn’t gone for a scan yet.  I liked him.

The staff nurse came over, took the obs that Ratchett 2 hadn’t, explained that they had no food on the ward  but that she would get me a sandwich later, she also said that she had phoned the scan department and the porter would be along shortly to take me down.  I kind of liked her.

The porter arrived and we sped off to the scanning department where I was told that they had been waiting for me since 0900 hours and had made phone calls trying to track me down but no one seemed to know where I was.

An old man in Guantanamo Bay orange pyjamas sat silently in a wheelchair beside me whilst I squirmed in bladder agony. We were then joined by two more patients who were taking it easy in hospital beds.  It was getting rather crowded in there.

My turn! I was pushed into the scanner room and a schoolboy asked me if I was pregnant.  My bladderific state prevented me from coming up with anything too sarcastic.  I had to lie on my stomach (ouch) and as I clenched my pelvic floor muscles desperately. an American voiced female said “Take a deep breath and hold”. I slid into the scanner and out again. “Breathe”. that was a relief.  I slid in and out again and it was all over.

I don’t know about being pregnant but my waters broke as I hefted myself off the scanner couch.  I apologised to the schoolboy who grinned and said he was used to it.  I clenched my pelvic floor muscles again and staggered out to the toilet only to find that the ladies was blocked by another hospital bed.  My schoolboy ushered me into the gents with another endearing grin.

Oh Reader – the relief!

I was however, rather damp below and embarrassed, annoyed that none of this need have happened if I’d been taken for my scan at 0900 hours as requested, starving hungry and a bit wobbly through not taking my morning medication.

My porter took me back to the ward where Ratchett 2 appeared to be in charge.  I had heard her and the staff nurse making complex arrangements earlier about breaks and lunches and other such vital things.  That was when the old lady opposite wet herself.  Now I was in the same predicament.  What price personal dignity on a hospital ward?

I texted my Hub for clean clothes and got my medication out so that I could take it when my sandwich arrived. I waited, and waited, and waited.

Managing to finally catch Ratchett 2’s eye and receive a responsive smile, I was rather downhearted to see her then disappear into the other ward.  I continued to wait. It was now 1145 hours.

She returned and hunkered down behind her monitor so that she didn’t need to make eye contact with anyone.  A tin of Quality Street appeared and was passed around the occupants of the nurses station, which now included an occupational therapist who talked very loudly on the telephone about another of the patients. I really didn’t need to know about the woman’s involvement with social services or domestic violence but discretion seemed an unknown concept to to the O/T.

Her indiscretion was outdone however, by the administrator sitting in the open door office behind the nurses’ station.  She really had a loud voice and if it wasn’t for the  fact that I was either bladder-obsessed (pre-scan) or seethingly damp (post-scan) I could have acquired information on all my fellow patients very easily.  Note to staff – referring to patients as ‘Bed 1’ and ‘Bed 7′ is not discreet when we can all see our bed numbers.

Finally, I managed to attract the attention of Ratchett 2 who very reluctantly and slowly approached my bed.  I explained that I had been told I would have pain relief and something to eat with my morning medication when I returned from the scan.  I had been waiting for 25 minutes by then and no one had acknowledged my return to the ward.

Ratchett 2 denied all knowledge of my needs because she had been on a break – apparently checking the patients’ notes when she returned was not in her remit.  She was extremely defensive and claimed that she hadn’t noticed me waving (but not drowning) because she had been so busy.

I pointed out that she hadn’t been too busy to sit at the nurses’ station and eat Quality Street. I asked if she realised how this action impacted on patients such as myself who were waiting for food and medication.  She didn’t think it was any of my business.  The nice nurse in green came over and tried to calm the situation by offering me cereal or a slice of toast (why was the old lady opposite refused toast then?) The administrator came out of her office and made no valuable contribution to the conversation other than to lend support to a defensive Ratchett 2 and glare at me.

We were then joined by the irate cleaner who claimed ownership of the Quality Street and maintained her right to offer it to whoever she wanted, it was none of my business anyway and she wasn’t going to let me have a go at HER!!!!!

I did not shout, nor raise my voice nor swear.  I asked Ratchett 2 not to patronise me or call me ‘my love‘ in such a sarcastic tone.   Ratchett 2 responded by telling me that I had no right to come on her ward and upset her staff. At this point I told the administrator that I wished to make a complaint about my treatment and could she organise it please?

Ratchett 2 and the cleaner disappeared, leaving me with the nice green nurse who (finally) explained that they could not get me a sandwich until 1200 noon when the food trolley arrived.  Why no one had thought to give me this simple but vital piece of information earlier, I don’t know.

The food arrived.  I asked for ham on brown bread but got corned beef on white processed.  Healthy fodder? No matter, it was food. Hub arrived with clean clothes and was tucked into a side lounge – no visitors on the ward whilst meals are being given out.  Is this health and safety or is it to prevent visitors from stealing the patient’s food? Corned beef sarnie anyone?

I took my pills. I started my sandwich.  they gave me Tramadol for the pain. I stopped shaking.

The assistant matron visited me and was very apologetic about the way I had been treated.  She went back to speak to Oooh Matron.  I put on clean clothes, threw the hatefully small hospital gown on the bed, pulled on my boots, and clutching the other half of my sandwich, fled to the safety of the side lounge and Hub’s enveloping arms.  Safe at last.

My nice doctor came back; deeply sympathetic but also bearing tidings of great joy.  My blood tests were back and there was only one teeny tiny stone left in my kidney (approximately 2mm) which wouldn’t hurt when in made the leap into bladder land. I have good-looking kidneys too apparently.  Not that important to most as no one else sees them but as good to hear for me as was the news that I have beautiful pulses in my feet and no nasties in my eyes.  Diabetes can be very cruel to kidneys, feet and eyes so I am blessed. Hub went to get me more painkillers from the pharmacy, the nurse in green removed the canula with no pain or blood, and the staff nurse returned from lunch.

She was very kind but also guarded about the behaviour of her staff.  She promised that she would be looking into the situation and gave me the telephone number for PALS  – the service that attempts to mediate between hospital and patients – some job.

We had been waiting to see Ooooh Matron but the gloating administrator came in to tell us that she was too busy doing interviews to talk.  The staff nurse took our telephone number and said that she would ask Matron to call us the next day so that we could go home and get some much-needed sleep.

Scooby was overjoyed to see us.

Hurrah for Hub, and Bezzie Mate who kept me diverted with off-colour jokey texts throughout the morning.

Hurrah for A&E reception, triage nurse, nice doctor, canula nurse, porter, CT receptionist, sweet schoolboy, nurse in green, assistant matron – and staff nurse.

Boo to Ratchetts 1 and 2, and the throughly incompetent and unpleasant cleaner.

I’d like to think that these were isolated incidents but recent exposure to other hospitals further south has led me to believe that what we have here is a failure to communicate.  Despite all the patient’s charters that are pinned to the hospital walls, there is a lack of appreciation on the part of the staff that the patient’s needs should come before the tin of Quality Street or what time you take your break.

Time for more painkillers.  The sneaky stones have left me bruised and I am instructed to listen out for the tinkle of the last one as it splashes into the toilet bowl.  Lovely.

If in pain, don’t ignore it. I was relieved to find that I had easily treatable kidney stones and nothing worse.

Update: just spoken to Oooh Matron.  I liked her too.