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Yesterday, on Twitter, @greebstreebling asked people to tell her the loveliest thing anybody ever did for them. It pulled me up short and really made me think about all the wonderful things people have done for me, and I realised that all of them were for the same reason. They “Loved me”.

Then I thought what each of these people did that let me know they truly loved me. I came up with this list.

I know Grandad loved me  because when I was a child he let me polish his bald head with beeswax and a duster.

I know my Dad loved me because he sang to me every day (including Baby Mine Don’t You Cry  when the children next door bullied me and made me cry).

I know my Mum loved me because she told me I made her feel safe just before she died.

Auntie Lil’s face would light up with happiness whenever I went to see her and she would hug me as if I was precious.

Dave stayed as long as he could, no matter how tired he was.

Tim knows who my favourite poet is, and read a chapter of My Neighbour Totoro out loud to me every night when I was in hospital.

That’s before I even start to think of the animals who have loved me and shared my happiness and sorrow, expressing an unselfish compassionate love without words. My life would have been less rich if I had not known them.

I feel so lucky when I remember these loveliest things. Thank you, Mobeena, for making me think.

angel

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Last night my husband came to talk to your father and you about some plans you have for your farm. Not to say that we are against them, just that we wanted to check a couple of things. He thought it was best to do that face to face as we are all grownups after all, despite the title of this post. Without ever having discussed it, or talked to us before in the 14 months we have lived here, you called us “rich, privileged bleeps who moved into the country and know nothing”. I just wanted to let you know a bit about me.

At about the same time your Grandfather was demobbed from the 1939-1945 war my Dad was sent home to a military hospital with a debilitating illness he got whilst serving in the Army. He ran away from his stepfather’s farm at 14, lied about his age and joined up to fight for what he thought was right. Actually, he ran away twice, the first time his sister went and put them right about his age, but he got away clean the second time. I have photos of him looking impossibly young in his uniform. I am sure your Grandfather did too. I have met him and he told me how he was posted to this area as an officer and stayed on with his new wife taking over the farm you now live on. He is very proud of what he has achieved, and the family he has raised.

In the meantime, my Dad was also demobbed and returned to his stepfather and mother’s farm ,with his new wife too. He was too frail to be able to return to farming and eventually was given one of the new War Memorial Homes reserved for those whose health had been severely damaged by their war service. He became a Civil Servant, and worked hard. He was one of the first to work with computers but he always missed growing things, and the animals. He had allotments to grow all our vegetables, and both he and my Mum worked really hard to provide for us, eventually saving enough to buy a small house with a minute garden. By then he wasn’t fit enough for the allotments even. My brother and I both passed our 11 plus and went to Grammar Schools, my Dad was determined we would have the education he didn’t.  He also did his best to instil his work ethic in us, we both had weekend and holiday jobs as soon as we could. I should think your Dad worked on the farm those times, and probably you after him.

I got married when I was 26. When we were 29 my husband died from Hodkgins Disease. When I was 30 my parents died within a week of each other. My mother from cancer, my father from a broken heart, according to one specialist, although the official wording was respiratory failure. I put everything I had into working, buying myself a home and not thinking much.

Some years later I met my husband who you were so rude to. His story is his and I shan’t be telling it. Suffice to say he comes from working class and farming stock too. We have lived in the country for most of our lives. Sometimes in rented accommodation until we found somewhere we could afford to buy. We bought a wreck of a house with some land and spent over 12 years doing it up. We grew our own fruit and vegetables and worked hard. We contributed to the community by doing voluntary work helping people learn how to become IT literate amongst other things. My arthritis was getting progressively worse but I never let it stop me.

We came back North because I found a job I loved. I had both my knees replaced earlier this year, so I have been at home more, but you wouldn’t know that because you have never spoken to us. I have recently had to leave my much loved job, which is devastating to me. We have worked hard, long hours all our lives and put everything we have into this home, glad to still be able to live in the country as we have for so long. Yes, we have a car each, but that may soon have to change now I have no salary. We have never complained about the noise from your family farm, the smell from the stables, or the milk lorry hurtling up and down the lane at breakneck speed. We love the country, and a working farm needs noise, smells and milk tankers.

We were pleased for you, your wife and children when you were given planning permission to build a beautiful, large detached house near the main farm, a place nobody else would ever have a hope of building. I think it is wonderful that four generations of you are living, working and enjoying the farm your Grandfather took on. I understand you need a top of the range four wheel drive, and pickup trucks, and a family car as well as the tractors and other farm machinery to live your chosen life. I wish you every success. Just next time you are going to call somebody a rich, privileged bleep living in the country and knowing nothing you might want to have a look in the mirror.

 

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Some of the things I hadn’t thought about before the op and nobody told me were:

you have to get out of bed the day after surgery, and move around, you may faint but that is nothing to worry about apparently (I fainted 3 times in a row and I confess I did not enjoy the experience, turned out one of the painkillers was to blame);
my feet were in compression bootees which work on a pump to stimulate circulation, that meant I was tethered in my bed and couldn’t change position, a great incentive to get mobile so you can get rid of the darn things;
I had to wear compression socks all the time, except in the shower, for 4 weeks ;
you can’t just hop out of bed to go to the loo;
I was on a drip for antibiotics for the first day;
I can’t wee on command or if people are watching and waiting, but you have to wee to avoid infection etc.,
it gets lonely in hospital.

Before the operation I had very much taken the view that I didn’t want to know too much about the actual operation. What I believed I needed to concentrate on was recovery. Especially as every member of the medical profession I had spoken to before the operation had said “Bi-lateral, ooh, you’re brave”. Which I am not, but I had taken the hint that recovery would take some work on my part, and more than if I only had one done at a time.

The physio had also prepared me for this. Not only would both legs be hugely bruised, but I wouldn’t gave a good leg to stand on so to speak. This meant I would not be able to bend either leg initially so everything between prone and upright required arm power. To see what that’s like, try lying down on a bed, then get up without bending your legs at all. Even worse, try sitting down on the loo without bending your legs, then try standing up. Fun times. I perfected a technique of gently sliding my legs out in front of me as I lowered myself down, then levering myself up with my forearms. As the physio said “push your backside out and your nose up and forward, like a baby bird taking flight”. I don’t think I looked as cute as a baby bird but I did squawk occasionally! I also got stuck a couple of times and had to ask for help.

The second day after the operation (or Day 3 as they called it) I was using a walking frame. I had a sit down shower, (my bandages had come off and the new dressings were waterproof), washed my hair and cleaned my teeth. I even managed to dress myself. I was able to sit in a chair and felt much better for it. The physio came and gave me my first set of exercises, including bending my knees and raising my legs a few times each. I knew that I had to get as much bend as possible as soon as I could, because the movement you get in the first few weeks or so is what you keep,it is really hard to improve after that. As everybody told me “do what the physio tells you, exercise is more important than walking because walking will come back naturally”. Good advice. The most frightening part of the day was having to go and have x-rays of both knees, standing with my knees pressed flat to the plate as well as sitting with them bent. We managed it without any more fainting though. The funniest was hearing the nurses telling male patients who wouldn’t even try to walk to stop whinging because “the lady in the side ward has had both knees done and she’s walking” then seeing some bloke hobbling past my door in a determined way.

Day 4 I lost the bootees at last, my exercises were increased, I moved on to crutches, and was able to get myself up to go to the loo in the night. I had to drink so much water I felt I was going to burst. The pain was pretty bad, but actually less than I feared and no worse than a really bad day had been before the operation. A couple of nurses seemed to think I should be able to go home, but to do that I had to prove I could do stairs ok. That was a very daunting thought as yet again I had no “good leg to heaven bad leg to hell” option for up and down the stairs. The physio said we would try that the next day. As you can imagine, I didn’t sleep well.

The next day arrived, as did the physio. I had expected a short flight of test stairs in the exercise room. No chance! The test is on the stairs from the ground floor to the first floor. They looked like the ones in Labyrinth to me! I considered just throwing myself down them but I managed them, by dint of putting my weight on the banister and my crutch. The physio said she was happy for me to go home the next day (Day 6 ). I was over the moon.

On Day 6 I asked when I could go home. The nurse checked my wounds and one of them was leaking. She said she wasn’t happy for me to go. I could discharge myself, but that meant I was going against advice. So I stayed. That was my lowest day. I had tried so hard and I still might have got an infection. I cried a lot that day. I didn’t want to, I just couldn’t help it.

The next morning the same nurse collared the registrar to check my wounds. He was happy and let me go home. Now came the next surprise. How to get into the car without bending my legs? We considered sliding me in through the hatchback like a plank of wood, but eventually I worked it out. I had to back up to the passenger door, lower myself onto the seat sideways on, then use the grab handle to manoeuvre myself back until I could swing my legs in with minimal bend. At the other end I “just” had to reverse the process. I was home.

I had been given some aids to help me, including raised toilet seats which were great for me, but not so good for my husband as they are very high and can’t be lifted up. Fortunately we have 2 loos so we went for His and Hers. Stairs, showering, a normal bed and coping with the dog frightened me a bit, changing the dressings scared us both. All unnecessary worries when it came down to it.

Ten days after the operation I had to go to our GP surgery so the nurse could remove my staples. This stung a bit but was ok, she was brilliant and very calming. One dressing was removed at this point as the wound was doing really well. The problem wound was still leaking a bit, so she checked with one of the GPs who prescribed massive doses of antibiotics to be on the safe side. Within 2 days I had a horrible heat rash, or it could have been a reaction to the penicillin. I was prescribed a cream and antihistamine tablets which helped a lot.

Two weeks after the operation I had my first physio appointment. He couldn’t do anything because that dratted leaking hadn’t stopped. Swabs were taken just in case of infection, but they were clear. So I just had to wait. I did carry on with the exercises I was given in hospital though. After another four days the nurse and I held our breath as she removed my dressing. Then we both cheered because everything was healing at last.

This meant I could go back to physio. I had my crutches replaced by sticks and a new set of tougher exercises. After a week the physio assessed how I was doing. He said to reduce my reliance on the sticks gradually, to carry on with the exercises and go back in another week. That week saw the improvements really start. I could walk unaided in the house, including up and down stairs, I was sleeping better, and I was reducing my painkillers, and the rash had gone. At my next appointment the physio asked me to kick his hand. I did. It hurt him. He said “well! I asked for that” then sent me away to carry on as I had been until after my 6 week check up with the consultant.

I was very nervous before my 6 week appointment, and I didn’t know what to expect. As it turned out, I saw the registrar. He was really pleased, especially when he realised the bend in my knees through 125degrees. He told me I could start driving again, should wean myself off my stick, keep up the exercises, go for walks and consider a phased return to work after another week. Then he said he will see me in a year. By which time he said I will be feeling the benefit.

I know there is still a long way to go. I get aches, pains and twinges in muscles and tendons, I don’t sleep brilliantly, the outside of my knees will always be numb, and I don’t yet walk “fluidly”. But I can use the stairs now, stand up and sit down unaided, have got rid of that high loo seat and rarely take painkillers. So in some ways I am already feeling the benefit. I just have to get back on the motorbike ….

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This is not a medical post, it is just my experience and not necessarily the same as anybody else’s.

About 15 years ago I was diagnosed with severe osteoarthritis in my right knee. My excellent and caring GP referred me to a consultant who suggested an arthroscopy to tidy up the joint and assess the damage. The procedure was done as day surgery. I confess my confidence in the hospital and consultant was somewhat damaged because:

they forgot to call me through for my pre-med until I eventually asked why I was still in the waiting room after everybody else had gone, then I was rushed through as if it was my fault;
after surgery the consultant came to the ward, walked up to the lady in the next bed with a heavily bandaged elbow and said “I am sorry Mrs. Wrathall, there is nothing we can do for your knee”, she suggested he speak to me, the one with the heavily bandaged knee;
I was sent home with painkillers which are unsuitable for asthmatics, despite them being aware I had asthma and I had specifically asked if they were ok.

I went to my follow up appointment and was told I would have to have a full knee replacement. By then I had done research of my own and asked for a second opinion. The second consultant was great. He was frank, clear and interested. His advice was to wait as long as possible because replacements eventually need replacing, and techniques etc. were improving all the time. The fewer surgeries I had the better. He also said I would know when the time was right.

Then a few years ago my left knee started to deteriorate. I reached the stage where I couldn’t climb stairs, I needed a stick, I couldn’t stand for any length of time and, worst of all, I couldn’t get on the motorbike. I believed the time had come.

I now live in a completely different area, so a new hospital, consultants and GP. My GP was brilliant. He immediately asked which hospital I wanted. I had already done some research using http://njrsurgeonhospitalprofile.org.uk/ so I was able to make the choice. I was surprised to be referred and given an appointment there and then.

The first consultant I met discussed all the options with me, including having both knees done at the same time (bi-lateral knee replacement). I was very impressed when he said he thought that, as I might be suitable for bi-lateral, he wanted to refer me to a colleague who was more experienced in knee surgery. I got back onto http://njrsurgeonhospitalprofile.org.uk/ and found out the new consultant had his own website all about knee replacement. My librarian side took over and I found myself evaluating it for relevance, currency etc. It gave me more confidence going into my consultation.

Once again, he was very frank. He said bi-lateral was definitely an option because I am young and fit enough (much to my surprise) to do well, but it is not an easy option. I know how scared I am of hospital, so I doubted I would go back for a second surgery after the first. After discussing the pros and cons with myself and my husband the consultant said he was happy to go ahead. I asked him the best way to prepare and he suggested I have a physio appointment to discuss options.

I really recommend this, as he gave me a clear understanding of the difficulties I would face with no “good” leg to rely on. He gave me exercises to strengthen my legs and my upper body as I would rely on my arms to move around. I am very glad I listened to him and did my exercises twice a day.

I had two outpatient appointments prior to surgery. The first was to take bloods, swab for MRSA etc., take blood pressure readings and discuss any existing health problems. The second was to do final blood checks and type my blood “in case”. All the staff were happy to answer questions and talked me through what to expect. I was given literature as well so I could check anything I forgot. I was also told I could ring at any time if there was anything I wanted to ask.

The day of the surgery I was admitted at 07:30, and very quickly seen by the registrar and anaesthetist who again told me what to expect. I am terrified of hospitals and surgery so I was given a mild sedative to relax me. The surgery was done under sedative and spinal anaesthetic rather than a full anaesthetic. Be assured, this is not like it sounds, I had no idea of what was happening, or how much time was passing, just a lovely drowsy happy feeling. You know, unicorns, fairy dust and rainbows. After a short stay in recovery I was back on the ward being checked, given a drink and told to rest. The good thing about the spinal anaesthetic is that the effects wear off much more quickly and you very quickly feel better.

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Recently I have been thinking about how I ended up where I am now, and the things that people have said and done that changed my life. These are 10 that shaped my working life. I am grateful to them all because without them I wouldn’t have had such a varied career, or got so much from it.

1) “You will never be any good at anything technical because you are worse than useless at mathematics”

My mathematics teacher when I was 15. She was the reason I decided not to do anything technical or number related.

2) “I hope you are good at making tea, you will be doing a lot of that in the library”

One of the interview panel when I applied for a job in public libraries at 20. She was the reason I joined the Civil Service.

3) “The great thing about programming is you don’t need to be some sort of maths genius”

My line manager when she suggested I try for a promotion into the IT Department and I said I was rubbish at mathematics. She was the reason I got into IT. Oh, and yes, I did meet that maths teacher again and took enormous delight in telling her I worked in IT and was loving it.

4) “I am very glad to see you back at work, there is a job we need doing and you are best suited for it. X has been off sick for two weeks, buy them a suitable card on your lunch break, girls always know the right thing to get”

My Senior Executive Officer when I came back to work after extended bereavement leave. He was the reason I decided to get into management.

5) “I  am so grateful that you helped me move out of your team, I thought I was a failure, but now I know I am just not good at that, but I am good at this”

A team member who was really not performing well, so we sat and worked out what he really wanted to be doing, and got him transferred to that team instead, where he blossomed. He was the reason I realised there is more to management than just getting the job done and that other part is the most rewarding of all.

6) “I just wanted to see if you had any balls”

My Director in a Government agency where I was a consultant when I asked him for a pay rise, as all the male consultants had been given a raise but not me (the only female on that team). He was the reason I decided I wanted to stop that rubbish happening to other people for whatever reason.

7) “If you could do anything at all when your contract ends what would it be?”

My husband. He was the reason I plucked up courage to apply for HE courses, give up work and become a full time student.

8) “You have a very unusual mind”

My personal tutor at Manchester Metropolitan University. He was the reason I decided thinking differently is not necessarily a bad thing and librarianship was definitely what I wanted to do.

9) “Maybe you are in the wrong job, and you aren’t suited to being a librarian”

An employee of a chartered professional organisation when I asked for advice dealing with bullying from senior management in my workplace. She was the reason  decided I wanted to change that organisation.

10) “You are the reason I stuck out my Access to HE course. Your help with referencing and research made me realise what I could achieve. I have started my Masters now and I wanted to say thank you”

A mature student I met after I had left my job and was wondering if perhaps the professional organisation employee was right. He was the reason I stayed in librarianship, but changed jobs to somewhere I felt I could make more of those differences.

Thank you all.

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Once upon a time there was a little girl who lived (nearly) at the seaside. Her name was Catherine and she had one brother (her hero), one Daddy (her even bigger Hero) and one Mummy (her star and her idol). She lived in a very special house on a very special estate. The War Memorial homes. Catherine could never understand why people gave each other a knowing look when she said where she lived. Her “best friend” would not come and play at her house because her Daddy said that Catherine’s Mummy and Daddy weren’t in the same “group” as them. Her best friend repeated this incomprehensible comment to her before saying” and Mummy says you can’t come to our house because my Daddy works at Barclays and your Daddy looks foreign”. Catherine talked to her Daddy but he laughed and said never mind what silly people say. So she didn’t. She spent her time out of school with her pet hedgehog (Mummy and Daddy had made it better when it got knocked down), the barn owl Daddy rescued from the outside toilet, and her roller skate (which was really her pet dog and had a lead of its own and could do tricks – mainly roll over and heel).

Catherine had a wonderful childhood because even though they never had holidays abroad, they had hardly any money, her clothes were never in fashion and sometimes her schoolmates laughed at them, she was always encouraged to think  about things, nobody ever stopped her asking questions and always tried to answer them, she had all the books she wanted to read from the public library and she knew she was loved whatever she chose to do.

Until she was eleven Catherine dreamt of being an archeologist, to do this she was going to go to University and study history. Catherine passed her 11+ and went to Grammar School (now luxury apartments). This was a good thing (apparently). At Grammar School she was taught English by a truly inspirational woman and decided she would study English Literature and become an academic, she would discover new knowledge and improve the world (somehow). At this time her love of anything unable to speak out on its own behalf began to really blossom. Her parents had some concerns, especially when she stood up and shouted at the trainers at the circus for being cruel to the elephants, sat in the local fur shop giving a running commentary on how FAT fur coats made people look and how cruel the fur trade was, and was very vocal about the Unspeakable in pursuit of the Inedible. They had a “quiet word”. Apparently they wanted Catherine to realise she probably wouldn’t be able to rescue every “lame duck” she met. However, they couldn’t hide that they were actually proud of her for standing up for her dreams and her principles.

Then the daft girl met a Boy. She decided to share his dream, and become a hotel receptionist so they could open the hotel he dreamt of. This meant not going to University and disappointing her beloved Mum. So she failed her A levels on purpose and went to Catering College instead. She became a Head Receptionist at a wonderful hotel and still dreamt of a future running their own hotel. Except now He was sharing that dream with another girl.

Skip a few years forward and Catherine had joined the Civil Service, where she dreamt of a great career progressing to mandarin status and the dizzy heights. Except she was a girl. Despite the fact she passed the exams with more marks and a better report than a Senior Manager’s son, she didn’t get promoted and he did. Somebody suggested she should try for a job in the Computing department. So she did. She started as a computer programmer in a department where being female was to be in a minority. It was fantastic. New dreams were born, inspired by Ada Lovelace and Lynne Lindsay. Catherine had many happy years working (playing) with computers and creating systems that she hoped would make life better for many lame ducks.

All this time at the back of her head Catherine still dreamt of university, learning and a way to be useful which her Mum would have been proud of (by now Catherine had been an orphan for ten years). Her husband supported her pursuing her real dream and so she saved up, sold her sports car (same model not actual car), and went to a wonderful university to study Library and Information Management.

It was a revelation. All the dreams, all the reading, all the talking and working she had been doing suddenly came together and she was incredibly happy. It was hard work but she finally felt that she was doing what she was always meant to do and that it would result in her being able to help other people achieve their own dreams. Before she had started the course her father in law and brother in law had joked with her that being such a very mature student might be difficult and she would struggle to get the grades her younger colleagues managed. She bet them she would get a 1st – a new dream. Catherine graduated with a 1st Class Hons, 2 awards and the highest marks in the cohort. A dream achieved.

Since then Catherine has had other dreams, some of which she achieved and others which she had taken away. On the whole she has achieved a greater proportion than she has lost. One huge dream she always knew would never happen. She would never be part of an elite university working on new ways to help other people achieve their dreams. After all she was from a very underprivileged background, with no A levels and worked in a profession that many people under-rated and didn’t value. Then one day she got an email, and all her academic dreams came true. Not only did they come true but now what she was given the opprotunity to do may very well help other people achieve their own dreams too.

The moral of this story is always think about things, read, ask questions, realise that “lame ducks” matter, and remember you are loved; then there is nothing that you cannot achieve.

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Are you sitting comfortably? Then let me tell you a story. It is a true story and it happened to me shortly after I moved back to my hometown after a year working away.

Many years ago a woman knocked on my door. She was careworn and faded in appearance, apart from her eyes which were shrewd and alert. Her mouth was bracketed by bitter lines and her forehead furrowed. As soon as I opened my door she started her spiel. “I am a poor woman with nobody to care for me and my children. Would you have such a thing as some old clothes to spare for me?” As it happened I had just moved in and had decided it was time to clear my wardrobe and make a fresh start all round, so I had some clothes already bundled up to go to a charity shop. I told her to wait at my door, which I carefully shut, and went to the back of the house to fetch them.

When I turned round she was right behind me. I still have no idea how she got there. My dog was barking his head off in the kitchen where I shut him before I answered the door, but she was unfazed as she looked around. I persuaded her back towards the living room, and handed her the clothes. I told her it was all I had and she turned to leave. Then she stopped, turned to me and said “I’ll tell you your future for £5”. I said I had no wish to know what was coming and opened the door (I knew I had closed it!) and said “Goodbye, I hope the clothes help”. She stood like a rock in the middle of the room. She stared at me for what seemed a long time, but wasn’t really. Then she took a pillowcase (new) from her bag and said “I won’t take anything from you without giving something in return”. She held out the case and said “Keep this and you will have good luck”. Slightly disconcerted, I took it from her and she took the bag of clothes and stepped outside. I watched as she began to walk over my garden.

Suddenly she stopped, turned around and walked back to me. She looked me straight in the eye and she said “You have had much pain and sadness, and it is all you can see ahead. Everything you have now you have worked for, everything you ever have you will work for. You think you will always be sad but I want you to know that soon you will meet again someone you once knew, who will make you happy. Make sure you recognise them. I am very glad to have met you, you are a special person”. And she turned and left.

To say I was unsettled by what she said would be an understatement. The tone of her voice and the way she looked me in the eye had been so convincing but how could she know what had happened to me in the last couple of years and don’t all fortune tellers say you are about to meet the “perfect” partner.

I told my brother what happened and he scoffed and said she was a flim-flam artist, skilled at reading people and interpreting the objects in my home to come up with a plausible story. I thought he was probably right, but in that case why had she only taken the clothes and not asked for more?

A few weeks later a friend got in touch, his marriage had broken down and he was catching up with friends he had lost touch with. He asked if I would like to meet up. That would have probably happened anyway, but did the Fortune Teller’s comments give me the subconscious push to go for that first drink?  Who knows. We celebrated 20 years of marriage a month ago (well, to be honest we both forgot but when I spotted the date we opened a bottle of wine).

I moved out of the area again shortly after her visit. I think about her occasionally. I am glad I didn’t shut my door in her face, because she reminded me that change and opportunity happen when you least expect them and aren’t looking for them. Some risks are worth taking. It’s up to us to recognise them when they appear, sometimes we just need a push in the right direction.

I still don’t believe in fortune telling though.

(But I do still have the pillowcase, still unused, in the linen cupboard).

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