Eye, eye! Part 1

It was Goose Fair time yet again.  That could only mean one thing.  The Park and Ride was out of action.  I had an appointment at the QMC for 8:30am for my pre- op chat.  Now because of Goose Fair, my usual route in was blocked. Normally I park at the Park and Ride and glide in by tram. In my usual parking space was a tall tower with capsules at either end.  The tower would spin vertically while the capsules would rotate to much screaming inside.  I don’t think my eye appointment would be quite so adrenaline pumping.  But you never know…

So how to get to the QMC?  Driving, like for most of hospitals up and down the land, was out of the question.  My husband mentioned I could always park in the special, secret parking space.  Everyone who regularly goes to a hospital has one of these.  My husband’s one was about a fifteen-minute walk from the hospital.  Plus, I don’t think it was that secret anymore. So, what to do?

Another reason why I was also feeling anxious was also due to my appointment letter.  I had a purge of burning my hospital appointment letters after the barrage of MRI scans that I had in September.  In the purge, I had foolishly burnt the appointment letter for my eye op.  Not to worry.  The hospital sent me a text reminding me of the appointment.  However, the text said I had an appointment at the QMC at 8:30am.  Where in the QMC, the text couldn’t tell me.

“Go and ask at reception.” Said my husband.

“But what about data protection?”

“It’s YOUR data for Christ’s sake!”

Good point.

So, I arrived by magic carpet at the QMC and ventured to the reception by the Main Entrance.  They were perfectly happy telling me where my appointment was. We did the usual pre-flight checks.

“Ooooo… summer of ’76 eh? That were a hot one…” said the receptionist who then preceded to tell me her memories of it.  The only thing I contributed to the conversation was, “I think I spent most of it in my nappy.” which wasn’t great.

Anyway, my appointment was in eye outpatients so off I trotted.  When I got there, I was met by a queue of five people and a harassed looking receptionist, searching files.  All of the five people in front of me had appointment letters.  Not good.  The man in front of me in the queue was smartly dressed, wearing a blazer with and RAF pin on the lapel.  I’m not too sure what he was expecting from the eye clinic, but I had the feeling that he might be disappointed.

My turn came and I was shooed around the corner to the pre- assessment part of the clinic.  I went around the corner and was greeted by a huge, empty waiting area.  On the far wall was a huge TV showing Heartbeat.  Strange choice for half eight in the morning.  After about five minutes, a professional woman in a business suit appeared.

“I’m afraid the clinic doesn’t open until nine.”

“Well, my appointment is for half eight.”

“That can’t be possible.”

“Well… it is.”

I was dreading the obvious next question regarding a letter.  But I was saved by a jolly looking nurse.

“Oh! You must be my first appointment.  Please take a seat and I’ll just get my bits together.”

I smiled smugly and the woman bustled off.

Soon I was shown into a small windowless room.  My height and weight was measured as was my blood pressure and temperature.  She asked me a lot of questions as to whether I had any illnesses that I had never heard of.  The life-threatening illness I did have wasn’t mentioned at all.  It soon raised its ugly head when the topic of regular medication came up.  She believed Herceptin wouldn’t affect the sedative.  Phew.

She described what would happen on the day.  I would check in, have the op and then recover on the ward.  Once I had eaten and passed urine after the op, I was then free to go.  As I would be wearing a gown, she strongly recommended that I bring in a dressing gown and a pair of slippers.  The way she described it, it sounded like a visit to the day spa in Centre Parcs, rather than an operation.  Here’s hoping….

The discussion took a strange turn when she outlined what happened after the op.  For twenty-four hours after the op I couldn’t drive, use heavy machinery, use electrical items like kettles or microwaves or sign any legal documentation.  Urm OK…

“Do you have a responsible adult at home to look after you after your op?”

I snorted.

“Well there is my husband…”

You could tell she had heard this joke many times before.  I didn’t need to finish the punchline.  I signed something to say that I had understood what was going on and off I went.  Spa day at Centre Parcs.  That’s all it was…

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Curb Your Enthusiasm

Life is often far stranger than fiction.  None more so than in the world of Larry David.  Larry, twenty years ago, created Seinfeld, which grew into one of the greatest sitcoms ever screened.  It’s popularity, especially in the States, was ground breaking.

Seinfeld finished quite a while ago and Curb Your Enthusiasm documents Larry’s life ever since.  Although the premise doesn’t sound great, it’s absolutely hilarious.  This is mostly due to Larry himself and the weird and wonderful scenarios he finds himself in.  Some elements are very like Fawlty Towers.  Each episode revolves around a farce. A series of events are introduced which then lead to a conclusion where everyone is shouting at one another.  With Larry himself, like Basil, we are either laughing with him, rooting for him or, more commonly, laughing at him.

Curb is great because it also shows how ridiculous some of the first world problems we have are.  In one-episode Larry gets annoyed with a woman who he views, is abusing the free samples rule in an ice cream parlour.  The way the confrontation occurs is done in such a way where you are either with Larry or against him.  It’s only when he is retelling what happened that you see how bonkers the situation was.

I’m catching up on Curb and still have a season to go before I am ready for its return in October. The last episode I saw was one where Larry’s girlfriend was diagnosed with cancer.  Larry, at first, is sympathetic.  Then, a couple of days after the diagnosis, his girlfriend asks him to drive her to somewhere.

“Why? Just because you have cancer, it doesn’t mean you can’t drive.” says Larry.

His girlfriend isn’t at all happy with this and a huge row ensues.  However, they are both right.  Larry is right in that his girlfriend CAN drive.  Why should she stop because she has cancer?  His girlfriend is right because she has just heard what is the worst possible news that anyone could hear.  Her mental state must be all over the place.   This coupled with the medication that she is now on, could mean that in no way should she be in charge of a vehicle.

And here is the crux of illness.  When you get ill, it infects the whole body.  The biggest organ that gets infected is your mind.  You may have a broken leg, backache, cancer, whatever.  The thing is that your life won’t be as it was before and this will affect your mental outlook.  That’s why, in my opinion, all illnesses are mental illnesses.  This is not to say that mental illnesses have any less impact on their sufferers than physical illnesses do.  In fact, it’s far worse.  At least if I have a broken leg, others can understand why I’m not feeling great.  Having depression doesn’t quite have such an obvious visual cue.

Also, illness ebbs and flows.  You have good days and bad days.  What irritates others, especially employers and institutions, is when these good and bad days are.  It annoys me when you get people spouting off about the flexibility of the workforce.  I’m all for more flexibility, but it’s one sided.  We must be flexible to work at a drop of a hat, but should we need time off for illness or to care for a sick relative, the door is slammed shut.

The nature of illness is changing.  People are living longer and living with illnesses.  Yet there has been a lack of funding in services, benefits, respite, social care, wages to help these people get on with their lives.  Until this changes, Larry better pull his finger out as living with people with illnesses certainly isn’t black and white.

 

The Joy of MRI

Hospital appointments are a bit like buses.  You wait ages for one and then three come at once.  I have four lined up in September.  Two are scans, one is a chat about the scans and the other is a chat about my mouth.

I had the first one this week which was an MRI of my head and neck.  I have this every six months, so I know the drill.  I guess the only thing I could compare it to is that it feels like is if you are a frequent flyer.  You go through all the pre-flight security and checks first.  Then you are immobilised for forty-five minutes to an hour.  You wake up and are on your merry way.  The only exception is that with flying, the stewardess doesn’t wake you up midway and inject you with dye.  That would make flying a bit more interesting.

There are two hospitals in Nottingham and I have had MRI’s in both.  In the larger of the hospitals, the Queen’s Medical Centre or QMC, the MRI scanner is enclosed.  It feels like you are being rolled into a dark tunnel with your nose only centimetres away from the top.  At the other hospital in Nottingham, City Hospital, you are enclosed, but it’s light and airy.  You can take deep breathes and dream away.

My appointment was at City and according to the letter, it was in a temporary unit outside the maternity department.  Mmmm.  So, I made my way to the maternity department.  There I was greeted by the sight of five heavily pregnant women walking round the circles with dressing gowns on.  Husbands and partners were trying to help but they weren’t.  A nurse appeared, so I asked her where the MRI unit was.  She pointed to a gleaming white metal shed outside, opposite the entrance.

I went outside and the signs led me up a gangplank.  Uncertain what lay at the end, I went up.  At the end, behind some automatic doors, was a small, cramped reception area with no one in it.  I stood by the desk and I could hear laughter.  This happens quite a lot at receptions.  There’s no one there but you can hear sounds of life, sounds of fun.  It puts you in a bit of a dilemma.  Do you want to stop the fun by announcing your presence?  I was wrestling with this when the phone rang.  Phew.  A jolly looking receptionist appeared, smiled and answered the phone.  After she finished the call, she asked my name and I was checked in.

Five minutes later a nurse appeared to run through the pre-flight checks.  As the “M” is MRI stands for magnetic, these checks are mostly concerned with whether you have any metal inside you.  You would be amazed with the amount of metal that could be secreted in you after an operation.  Shunts, clips, staples, you name it.  They all could be in you.

The nurse was visibly relieved when she found out that I had had many MRI’s.  She didn’t really ask me why.  But she was relieved and that was all that mattered.  She gave me a gown to change into and said she would be back in five minutes to take me through.  I hate hospital gowns.  This one was the old style where you had to do it up at the back.  Thankfully I could leave my jeans on so I wouldn’t be mooning anyone.  Well not today anyway.  After my struggle with the gown, I noticed a strange notice on the back of the door.  It said that if you had changed into a gown, leave the door open a bit and a radiographer would bring you through.  I opened the door about half an inch.  Waited five minutes.  Nothing.  I opened it half an inch more.  Still nothing.  I did it again and got a response.  So next time one and a half inches it is.

She took me to the scanner.  There I lay down on a table and had a cage placed around my head.  I was given headphones and a buzzer to press if I needed to stop the scan.  The table then wobbled into a brightly lit scanner.  On the cage was a mirror.  The mirror is angled in such a way that you can see what is happening in the scan control room.  They could be doing the Paso Doble in there.  You can see it all in your tunnel.  There is a series of loud clunks and the scan noisily begins.  I love these noises.  In a weird way because they are repetitive, they are very relaxing.  I often get lulled to sleep.

After fifteen minutes or so, the noises stop.  You hear a muffled voice.  In the mirror, you see a nurse enter the room.  You are wobbled out and the nurse prepares you to inject dye into you.  This is so that any anomalies can be seen clearer in the scan.  The cannulation went well this time but there have been occasions where I’ve had three plasters or four stickered on me thanks to failed attempts.

You are then wobbled back in for the final part of the scan.  Sometimes the dye makes me feel a bit queasy.  A few deep breathes usually cures this and I’m soon dozing away.  After another fifteen minutes, it’s all over.  You are wobbled out and told to drink plenty of fluids to wash the dye.  So up you get, back into the world of circling pregnant women.

Adventures in the Eye Clinic

The allotted day and the allotted hour had arrived.  I stood in the queue awaiting to be checked in.  A lost looking ambulance driver was wandering round and round the eye clinic, trying to find his stricken patient.  A nurse finally escorted him to one of the clinics. I didn’t see him again.

I reached the head of the queue and readied myself for the pre-flight checks.  Apart from stating your date of birth and the first line of your address, the eye clinic also throws in your GP’s name and the last four digits of your contact number.  This can throw people sometimes, but I was prepared.

I was called in for an eye test.  This is the eye clinic equivalent to weighing you, which happens at other clinics.  It’s done.  It’s noted and never referred to again.  The nurse sat me down and began reading a letter.  It was a very long letter.  It looked like it had been written by Mr Q.  I had done some dyslexia training at work where the tutor gave us something to read, and then spoke instructions at the same time.  It was impossible to read and listen and the same time, which was the point they were trying to prove.  Aware of this I sat silently… for five whole long minutes.

She looked concerned.  I was not what she was used to.  We did the eye test and I did quite well.  She took me to a set of chairs where I sat and waited.  I was called through quite quickly and Mr Q was sat there, looking chirpy as ever.  I wondered how he managed to get into the clinic without any detection.  Maybe he tunnelled in or transported his way in as on Star Trek.  Mrs P, the eye consultant, was also there and looked a bit flustered.

I gave my history and got the impression that Mr Q was taking a back seat in things.  It wasn’t his clinic after all.  After listening we went through the options.  It involved two operations.  The first one involved tightening the lower eyelid.  I won’t describe the gruesome details but it would be done in day surgery and involve heavy sedation.  The second op would involve gold implants being inserted in my upper eyelid.  Once that had been done, Mr Q would rush in and sort my mouth out.  I would be knocked out for that one.  Phew.

So that was it sorted.  Mr Q rushed off saying that he would confirm dates with Mrs P and that was that.  As she started completing the consent form, Mrs P stopped.

“You know, I think the damage is so severe, we may be wasting our time with the eye op…”

What?  There was a pause.  It was like she was prompting me to decide about it.  I stayed quiet.  She looked at my notes.

“You are seeing Mrs T… what does she feel about it?”

I said that she hadn’t really given an opinion on any kind about it.

“She’s in clinic today.  Do you mind if I discuss this with her?”

I nodded and five minutes later a smiley Mrs T appeared.  She seemed the happiest I’ve seen her.  I guess she prefers being around other doctors rather than awkward patients.  They started speaking medical gobblegook to one another.  Then a decision was made that could be explained to me in English.

They would do the first op on my lower lid but not the one on the upper lid.  Mrs P seemed quite happy with that.  Mrs T left the room and the drafting of the consent form recommenced.  The op would take place in November or early December.  I would get a letter confirming it all.  She would let Mr Q know of the change of plan.  How he would take it? Lord knows.  Thankfully I had booked another appointment to see him in September just in case he hadn’t been able to make the appointment today.  We could discuss it all then.

I left, consent form signed to have before photos taken to be scrutinised by eager medical students.  It’s the pics after that I felt slightly apprehensive about…

Bucket List

Thanks to Mr Facebook, I know that it has been two years since I was attached to a handsome man and jumped out of a plane.  It wasn’t quite the experience I was expecting.  I did it because I am quite lazy and couldn’t be bothered to train for anything exhausting like a marathon.  The first man who ever ran a marathon, died straight afterwards.  That’s all you need to know about my view on marathon running.

Anyway, inspired by memories of Janet Ellis on Blue Peter leaping out of planes, I thought why not?  It’ll be over quick.  Everyone I spoke to who had done a sky dive kept saying how amazing it was.  A few were envious that I had had the opportunity to do it.  The allotted hour arrived and there I was, sat between the legs of a very attractive parachute instructor in a rickety plane, that kept climbing higher and higher.  Everyone in the plane seemed very chilled.

“Right. I’m off then…” said a jolly bloke as he jumped through the open hatch, like he was popping out to Tesco’s.

Then it was our turn.  I had stupidly paid for a video of the occasion which was a huge error.  I dangled my legs out of the hatch, with a loon who had a camera fixed on his head asking me how I was feeling every five seconds.  The instructor slowly shuffled forward and soon I was dangling under the plane. Then we dropped…

When we landed, the camera loon ran up.

“So, how was it?!?”

“Interesting… I think I might be sick…”

Not exactly the answer he was hoping for.  I was quickly disentangled and made to put my head between my knees.  I felt a lot better after that.

Sky diving is often high on people’s bucket lists.  I’m a bit dubious about bucket lists.  It’s all a bit organised for me. The best fun and experiences are the ones that are unplanned and spontaneous. The planning aspect somehow, takes the joy away from that, for me anyway.

I was in two minds before doing my sky dive.  I had started going to a women’s cancer group and one of the women in the group, Lou, persuaded me to do it.  Lou and I got on well from the start.  We shared a similar taste in humour.  Lou had breast cancer and found out that she had the BRAC-2 gene, made famous by Angelina Jolie.

“Believe you me that is the one and only thing I have in common with Angelina Jolie.  Mind you if she ever fancies trading Brad in…”

When I first mentioned the sky dive, she urged me to do it, just to ogle at the instructors at least.

“They are all gorgeous!”

A week after the sky dive, Lou took a turn for the worse and was admitted to hospital.  I went to see her.  She was in a bad way and was drifting in and out of consciousness.  Her mum asked how the sky dive went.  I told my story of it and I thought I could see Lou smile in the corner of my eye.  Lou’s mum asked who the instructor was. It turned out that Lou had done a sky dive five year previous with the same instructor.

“He was absolutely gorgeous!”

Sadly, Lou died the next week.  Myself and another woman from the group decided to go to her funeral.  Lou lived in a small village on the outskirts of Nottingham.  My Sat Nav failed big time and we were ten minutes late for the service.  As soon as we ran into the church, the vicar was finishing the eulogy.

“Lou was quite often late for things.  She would rush in apologising which made her even more endearing…”

You could almost hear Lou muttering,

“Honestly you two, what muppets!”

Glastonbury

Yes, it’s that time of year again.  The indoctrination that everyone is having a truly fantastic, awesome, lifechanging experience on a farm in Somerset.  If the wall to wall coverage is anything to go by, we at home are missing out big time.  However, all is not what is seems at Worthy Farm.

I went to Glastonbury twenty years ago.  I had graduated from university so thought why not?  Getting tickets weren’t a problem.  They were £65.  I think I got them from a record shop in Leicester.  None of this photo ID and registration malarkey.  I went with my friend Sooze who fortunately, had a tent and camping experience.  So off we set on a chartered coach from Victoria Coach Station with high hopes.

When we got there, the security was quite tight.  The previous year a lot of gate crashers had climbed over the fence.  It got so bad that Michael Eavis had said that is the same thing happened at the next festival, he would scrap the thing altogether.  We had been told so we were on our best behaviour.

Once we were in the next question was where to camp?  I had no idea.  Thankfully Sooze decided upon a location that was on top of a slope, quite close to the loos and a five minute walk from some shops and food vans.  I wasn’t too happy about being so near to the loos, but we thought we would stay put for the night and maybe move in the morning.  As we settled down for the night we were unaware of the dark clouds arriving.

The next day we woke up to a quagmire.  It had rained all night and there was mud everywhere.  I had bought no boots as I had optimistically, packed sandals and factor 15.  My first mission was to acquire some wellies.  This was done at a premium and then we could survey the damage.  As we were at the top of the slope, our tent was still secure.  As we made our way down the slope towards the Pyramid stage, the worse the situation became.  Tents had been washed away.  There were people who only had the clothes that they had slept in and nothing else.  It was like a disaster zone.

This was a time before mobile phones so there was no way of letting loved ones know that we were fine.  Our parents had to rely on really startling news reports that were showing mud of biblical proportions and not much else. That first day was pretty grim.  We trudged to the Pyramid Stage.  The Other Stage had sunk, so all performances on that, were cancelled.  On the Pyramid Stage were The Levellers.  For a band who were named after a band of revolting peasants, they weren’t really showing much comradery with their common man.  They had Hawaiian shirts on and seemed to be taunting the crowd.  Mud was chucked at them.  The atmosphere changed to something quite dark.

“I think we should go…” said Sooze.

The Levellers finished their set.  Beck was on next.  I knew a bit about Beck but not much.  But he was a revelation.  As soon as he came on, the darkness lifted.  Beck is more than a musician, but an artist.  His performance include dance, DJing and music from every genre imaginable.  More crucially it reminded us why we were all there in the first place.

After that, the rest of the festival was amazing.  Radiohead were magical.  I’ll always remember watching No Surprises while fireworks were going off.  Not huge New Year Eve type fireworks, but little bursts of colour that matched the music perfectly.  We tried to go shopping for wet weather gear and ended up raving in a clothes shop, which can only happen at Glastonbury.  The decision to be near the loos was genius.  You could hear them being cleaned each morning so we could time our morning ablutions to perfection.  On the Saturday, we worked out we had stood for more than eleven hours solid. There was nowhere to sit because of the mud but we didn’t notice at all.

I nearly went again in 2011.  However, I was still suffering from the trauma of radiotherapy to be fit enough to go.  Although I regretted not going, nothing could ever better that awesome Glastonbury of 1997.

Never Forget

We’ve come so far and we’ve reached so high.  And we’ve looked each day and night in the eye. And we’re still so young and we hope for more.  Yes, it was Take That time again.  Roughly every year since Take That have reformed, my sister and I have seen them in some form or other. At their maximum, there was five.  Now two have jumped ship and they are down to three.  As we’ve seen them so often, I’m now on the pre-order ticket list.  For pre-ordering their album, I get to access the tour tickets a couple of days before the hoy polloi get them.  Sweet.

For some reason, they seem to announce their tour dates for the upcoming year during the October half term.  They know that their main client base must be teachers both practising and retired.  Every year my sister and I have the same argument.  I want to stand and she wants to sit.  Every year my sister always wins out. Oh well maybe next year…

So, there we were last Saturday, in the O2, up in the Gods, sweltering away.

“Hello London! You’re looking fabulous on a Saturday night!” announced Gary Barlow in the way that Gary Barlow only can.  The opening chords for Greatest Day rang out and up we stood.  Half way through a woman whose head were in front of my feet, started shouting at me.

“What?!?”

“You’re spilling your beer on my head!”

“Oppss! Sorry!” I said and put the mouthful of beer I had left in my plastic pint glass into the drinks holder on my seat.  I stopped singing.  I knew it was far worse.  It wasn’t beer that had gone on that woman’s head.  It was drool.

My drooling has reached epic proportions.  I am drooling everywhere.  On student’s work, random women’s’ heads, on the dog, on nurses’ iPads, you name, I’ve probably drooled on it.  The reason for the drooling is my mouth.  As I have no facial nerve on the left side of my face, the left side of my mouth is drooping quite badly.  It’s happened quickly.  Only last year in photos, I’m grinning away celebrating my 40th birthday.  Now it’s all lopsided.

People are noticing.  When I went to the local tip to get rid of some gardening stuff, the old bloke who works there asked if I had had a stroke.  I told him a condensed version and he looked horrified.  You can forget how bonkers it all is to civilians. So, it was a bit of a blessing that after Take That, I had an appointment with the plastic surgeon.

I decided to take some moral support so my husband came with me.  We managed to squeeze in a trip to Costa to discuss tactics beforehand.  I had decided to go with the bog standard hoik up.  I wanted to stop drooling asap and to-ing and fro-ing to Birmingham wasn’t going to help that.  We arrived bang on time and an hour later we were called in.

My husband has a weird theory about medical professions.  He thinks you can tell a lot by looking in their eyes.  They either have sharp, focused eyes or dull, lazy eyes.  Thankfully Mr Q’s eyes are firmly the former.  I told him of my preferred option and the reason why.  He nodded and didn’t try and change my mind.  In fact, I think he agreed with it.  Now came the tricky part.  We arranged for him to come to my appointment at the eye clinic in August.  There both he and the eye surgeon would discuss further what to do.  Then, hopefully, I would have one operation where both my eye and my mouth would be hoiked up.  The stitches would finally come out of my eye and the drooling would stop.  It all sounded good.  We shook hands and arrangements were made to meet at the end of August.  My drooling days were numbered.