A busy day

“It’s only a dribble.” Said one of my carers returning from the kitchen.

“What is?” I was curious.

“The tap.”

Then a conversation I had with Mary earlier came back to me and everything made sense. Our new neighbour had discovered a leak in their water pipe. Obviously they were fixing it and I remembered that every flat, house and business in our alley shared the one stop tap.

I sent my carer out to request they turn the water back on so she could fill my wash bowls. I was all ready for my morning ablutions and decided water was a necessary part of that. She went off down the alley on this windy morning, plastic apron flapping, blue rubber gloves on hands. I watched the exchange on my door camera in fascination. Heads nodded, hands waved, aprons flapped and then she returned triumphant. The water was back on. But brown water spluttered from the tap at first try. Eventually it ran clear. We later discovered that our alleyway has a steel water pipe that is corroding, hence the leak and the brown rusty water. Examining the repair had shifted some rust, lovely. Looks like all of us in the alley are going to need a new main pipe soon.

. The temporary repair on the water pipe.

Quickly she filled wash bowls, kettle and started my wash. We hadn’t finished when the doorbell rang and our neighbour was checking if the stopcock could now be turned off. More water was fetched before the water dwindled to another dribble. This was probably the least water I have been washed in for a while. Still, better than no water.

It seemed only two minutes later when the phone rang. Millbrook were responding to my request that morning about my ripple mattress. I’d realised the night before that it was slowly sinking. My bottom was gradually reaching the metal frame, not ideal. This situation is classified as urgent and Millbrook have a 24 hour emergency service. So just 1 ½ hours after I phoned I had a call to say the replacement was on its way, accompanied by a technician. I added that last bit in case you were picturing a mattress walking down Wellington High Street on its own. Stranger things are happening these days. Food is being delivered by wheeled automated delivery vehicles on university campuses. Amazon is using flying drones for delivery. How long before my mattress arrives unaccompanied? But as I received this phone call I was still undressed and mid wash and the technician said he would be 5 minutes. This caused a great deal of alacrity, by my carer, in the last bit of getting me ready. So much so that I was ready before they arrived. Any quicker and I would have been ready before we started.

To enable the mattress change I was hoisted in my day sling. It’s more comfortable and safer for a long duration than my other sling and like being in an upright hammock. Hanging there I watched, sorry supervised, the work of changing the mattress. The sling is comfortable for a short while, but it took a while to change and re inflate the new mattress, so I was ready to return to bed . Now back on the new mattress I realise that the old one had been deflating for some time. Probably weeks. The difference between the two was very noticeable.

On Mary’s return at lunchtime the water was still off. So she arrived back to a pile of washing up, no water for a cup of tea or to make dinner. Not a good welcome home. Fortunately she found some bottled water in the cupboard for making lunch as by this point a section of the broken pipe had been removed. So the stop tap couldn’t be put back on till after it was fixed. Mary had not finished her lunch when we received visits from our new neighbour and his brother who was helping him. They were showing us the corrosion on the pipe and chatting about the way forward as the rest of the pipe in the alley looks poor. They seem like really nice new owners of the house at the end, very capable and helpful people. I look forward to getting to know them more.

Then the phone rang again. Wellington Swimming pool, an update on the situation about me swimming there (see my blog “Sink or swim?”) Apparently the mobile hoist is not fixable and the current owners will not spend money to replace it. When the new owners take over 1st August it is a high priority to replace it. So meanwhile all I can do is try out the changing room/shower to make sure that works, in readiness for the arrival of the hoist. Oh well, from a one week wait to try out the pool, to a two month wait. At least I get to try out the shower. You would think there is an equality law about swimming pools being disabled accessible. But there isn’t, not yet. In the USA there is such a law and there is talk it may come here. Meanwhile accessible pools are widely spaced and what is meant by accessible varies. After all, there is a big difference if you are a wheelchair user who can stand to transfer compared to someone like myself who can’t. Not every, so called ‘accessible’ changing room has beds to be changed on.

It’s been a much busier day than usual for me. You are probably thinking, busy? What’s he talking about? That’s not busy. But remember, for me a normal day for my health condition is to have nothing happen beyond being washed and dressed, or perhaps a trip out to the Spa coffee shop. Which is very tiring in itself for me (see my blog “Consequences.”) Anything added is exhausting. So it really has been a busy day.

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Consequences

1995 Board game

Didn’t there used to be a game called consequences? Not sure I ever played it, I’m not really into board games. Too much time playing monopoly on Saturday mornings as a child, or rather losing monopoly. Mary was saying to me this morning how we sometimes forget there are consequences, we can’t just have fun and games, she was talking about my health. After three afternoons of going out in my wheelchair; today I have been awoken by a severe headache. When this happens, all too often, the headache literally drags me out of a deep sleep as it did this morning. The pain and nausea awaken me. This morning was most likely a migraine, but as I missed the aura, being asleep at the time, it’s hard to be sure. I do know that it seems to be responding, slowly, to the migraine medication, Zolmitripan. At least it is after the second one, which I had to wait two hours to take, then another hour to take effect.

I was woken at 4am, it’s now 8.05am and the pain is lifting, leaving me feeling, rung out and yuk. The plans for the whole day need to change because of this. I just need quiet and not too much light. The tablets are good, but not 100% effective. What they do is stop the agonising, head splitting headache in its tracks and leave a numb rung out feeling, that normally follows the day after a migraine. You feel like you have become very fragile, like a china doll.

Today family are visiting, and I’d hoped to join them at Weatherspoon’s for lunch. But instead we’ve had to hastily rearrange my care so that Mary is free to go with them on her own. That takes its toll on Mary. Changed plans are never easy and in this case mean moving things around in the house so that I can have a quiet space in my bedroom which is also our lounge (See my blog “Bedroom, dining room, lounge, toilet.”), plus organising care and changing other plans for the day. All before Mary’s breakfast. I feel useless, lying here with a cool bag on my head looking pathetic. Needing all the usual things done for me on top of this extra.

We should have learnt by now about consequences. But I find that my memory for suffering is very short and my memory for joy very long. So that when things go wrong and I end up in difficulty, feeling nauseous and in agony, I forget it soon after. That’s why I wrote this on the day it happened. I need to be feeling it to remember it. I’m not sure if it’s a protective thing, or just a very good strategy, but either way it works well. I am not a miserable person. I don’t focus on the bad days. Even during a bad day, I don’t have to be free of pain for many minutes before I move on. My tendency is always to be optimistic and positive. Anyone who knows me well will agree with that. That’s the real reason I never learn about consequences. I have a very short memory. I will also use distraction and adrenaline to override pain and difficulty. If anyone visits, I refuse to look sad and gloomy. This is a very common thing to do for those who are chronically sick. They will mask their real feeling behind a smile and laugh. It’s amazing how effective that is at making people say, “You look so well.”

We tend to judge the degree of illness someone is suffering on how miserable they look or on how white they are. Misery is easy to hide, and I would suggest desirable to do so. Who wants to visit a misery? Don’t misunderstand me here, there are times when the pain becomes so bad you can’t ‘put on a brave face,’ at those times I avoid seeing people. But I find those times come in waves for me. Pain, in my case is more often wearingly long term (chronic). But I realise there will be those who are suffering from severe, constant pain, don’t assume I am talking about them. I can only talk about myself and people in my situation. Whiteness commonly comes with iron deficiency anaemia and bouts of nausea. In fact, people can often look very ill when they have a minor cold and very well when they are dying. I have seen two friends on the day of their death, both looked better than ever. I never guessed it was the last day I would see them. If you have ever seen someone the day after a major heart attack, they can look bright and well. Yet they have not only nearly died, but still have major heart damage. Add into the picture all the major illnesses that show few external signs till the very end and its all very confusing. I always find it odd that a lot of cancers are invisible until treatment starts. The treatment makes people very ill, until it hopefully cures them. My point being that something as life threatening as cancer can sometimes be unseen until treatment starts. We cannot make a diagnosis of how well someone is by how they look. Certainly, a smiling red face tells us nothing. Again, I understand there are those who are severely ill and look it. I am talking of the many who are severely ill and don’t look it. (See my blog “You look so well.”)

I made the best of today, managed to see our visitors a couple of times during the day. Mary brought them in after each of their trips out. It was lovely to be included, but I needed the long breaks in between to recover.

I am writing this last section the next day. Migraine is gone and I am feeling that strange post migraine euphoria, that only migraine sufferers will understand fully. It’s like a weight has been lifted and you are left feeling a little lighter than usual as if gravity has reduced. I tend to get more ringing in my ears (tinnitus) but that may not be common. When I was still able to walk, I used to feel like going for a walk or even a run on a morning after a migraine. The freedom and joy of it having gone makes you want to rejoice. Now I run in my head, although I am always curious how my smart watch seems to find I have done some steps every day, in my bed! I don’t want to disappoint those of you with smart watches who assume every step on your watch you really took. Perhaps my watch counts the steps I take in my imagination? Don’t worry, I know that its based on arm movement so the few steps it counts are my arm moving.

There are consequences to everything we do. That applies whether you are ill or not, it’s just more obvious physically when you are ill. Activity takes a toll easily when your body is weaker. I so enjoy getting out of the house and this won’t stop me. I just need to pace it and allow recovery days. Today is a quiet day before I try out the swimming pool tomorrow (see my blog “Sink or swim.”) Let’s see if I can remember the lesson learnt.

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I’m singing in the rain

“Oh no, I’ve given you another excuse to sing.” This said by one of my carers, after she inadvertently mentioned a song title in something she said.

Can I help it if I love singing? These days I only sing a few words, a line at most, but it brings back the memories of singing. I don’t claim to be the greatest singer or actor. But I did love singing and acting in Nailsea Musicals (see Biography of Mike & Mary). ‘The sun has got its hat on’, has never sounded the same as when I sang it. Just as well really.

Me singing “The sun has got his hat on.”

The production of ‘Lest we forget’ demonstrated why I shouldn’t become a dancer. Amazing bottom wiggles aside, which, let’s face it, did look good in my sailor whites, every other move lacked style.

Me 2nd from right in sailor whites, wiggling my bum.

My rendition of a verse in ‘Bless em all.’ Had to be seen to be fully appreciated. Maybe the fact that I hadn’t understood waist measuring had moved between 1940 and 2000 didn’t help. I measured my hips, 36”. In 1940 waists were measured around your tummy, mine was 40”. When my 1940’s uniform arrived with a 36” waist, it wouldn’t fit over my 40” inch belly. Even after Mary moved the button and I breathed in; tears were in my eyes the whole of the song. Perhaps I looked more emotional, maybe I had a higher register, or was I just in great discomfort.

I relive my glory days as a singer every time I am hoisted now with a line from ‘Up, up and away.’ Or the beat box sound of Thunderbirds. I shan’t tell you what I sing when I use the bedpan in the morning. I’m sure your imagination can fill in the sounds and all the other senses.

People who meet me tend to say what a ‘happy chap’ I am. That’s before I start singing. Maybe I could change that if I sang a few choruses to them. It could be that the silly grin I often have plastered on my face, or my daft sense of humour gives people this idea. But I am more than happy. I have talked about this before in my blog “How can it be OK?” Happiness is about what happens to you. I do have lots of good things to be grateful for. But I could also focus on the negative limitations. I don’t do that, I find an inner joy, because joy is not reliant on events and situations. Joy comes from within. My joy and my peace comes from knowing God. 38 years ago, I had my eyes opened and my life felt like it started again. That is the real reason I am such a ‘happy chap.’

My carers often say that spending time with me cheers them up, because I am very positive and upbeat. What they are experiencing is the joy and peace I know from God. I can be as grouchy and as much of a pain as anyone else. I am by no means perfect. But despite my imperfection, even though I fail, God never does. He shines out even on my darkest days.

I want to just say a quick aside about religion. I am not religious. I don’t follow a set of rules. There is not a list of things I must achieve for God to love me. If you think there is, then think again. That is a legalistic way of looking at God. It makes God into a big bad distant figure in the sky. A sort of white bearded disciplinarian, waiting to punish us for getting it all wrong. That is not the God I know. That is not the God I met 38 years ago through Jesus. God is a loving, forgiving father, a father more loving and caring than any earthly father or mother.

Back to my wonderful singing. When I was a child, I used to sing a duet with my sister ‘Come my dear Franz, just one more dance.” A Harry Belafonte song. Very odd to sing to your sister, although I was too young to understand what it was about. We were quite a musical family, I hesitate to say Von Trappe, because that would be totally untrue. My Granma used to sing on stage at the local Church social club. My mum sang at Church but was always very nervous and sang quietly. On long car journeys my mum and dad sang duets and sometimes all five of us children joined in. ‘Puff the magic dragon’ sounds amazing sung by seven voices in an estate car on a motorway.

You’re probably thinking, “where can I get to hear this incredible voice?” That’s just rude, if you weren’t thinking that. Well I’m sorry to tell you I no longer sing on stage, although there are videos that change hands for incredible amounts of money, I think the last sold for…. Wait they don’t sell at all. But I do still occasionally sing in public. I have been known to burst out in song with the odd line as we are wheeling along Wellington High St. What a treat you are in for if you pass us by. It’s a shame you’ll miss the infamous bottom wiggling from ‘Lest we forget.’ You just need to track down a video from Nailsea Musicals. They are as rare as hens’ teeth.

Being limited and long term ill doesn’t have to make you miserable. Find something to hold onto. Focus on what is good. Find that inner peace and joy. I would obviously say seek God and he will be found.

Check out Alpha www.alpha.org it’s a way to explore Christianity.

Climb every mountain

“It’s a very steep hill.” Mary is very fit and yet finds the climb to Cleve Spa hard going, especially as it comes after the half mile walk from our house.

One of my old carers used to find it fun, or perhaps her daily workout, to run up this hill. I’d never really appreciated how steep it was. For some reason it never struck me as hard going. I certainly never get out of breath going up it. Then one day Mary stopped at the top of the hill, rotated my wheelchair to face the way we had come and showed me the rooftops of the garage at the bottom of the hill. It seemed an awful long way down. Perhaps it was steep after all. Still it’s easy going down.

My wheelchair has a brilliant function, designed so that I can recover from a collapse whilst in it. But also, to enable a change of pressure in use and to help with steep slopes. It can recline and tilt. I have used this on steep hills. In Dawlish and in Sidmouth.

My Quickie Salsa M2 fully reclined

In Dawlish we were staying at the RCH Bridge house convalescent hotel in winter, it’s cheaper. The route between Mary’s dad’s house and the hotel goes via a park. In winter the park is muddy and full of leaves. Not wanting to take leaves and mud into Mary’s dad’s flat we chose to avoid the park. The problem was that the most direct route took us up by the hospital within the car park. If you know Dawlish, you will know that is a very steep, if short hill. I had two options, either go up backwards, tilted back, or put the wheelchair in a full forward tilt and take all recline off it. Making the footplates almost touch the ground. I chose that option, as I like seeing where I am going. The Quickie Salsa M2 is a very stable and well-balanced wheelchair, so I knew it would cope. Even so it felt scary the first time I went up the hill. Each little bump felt like it would tip the chair backwards. I was glad to reach the top. I am convinced there was no actual danger, only perceived, as the slope was within tolerance for the chair in the tilt I had set up. But that doesn’t take away how it feels.

The time in Sidmouth was a day trip by minibus from the RCH. The accessible minibus took us first to a donkey sanctuary just outside Sidmouth. By the way that is a very accessible place for wheelchairs, plus if you like donkeys you are totally sorted. The café is also very large and accessible with nice food, if a little pricey. But as entry to the sanctuary is free, I guess they make their money in the café. Then we were driven down into Sidmouth. The driver dropped us at Connaught gardens just above Sidmouth itself. The gardens are an odd mix of accessible and non accessible. You suddenly come across steps and must double back even though all the route has been smooth and easy up to the steps. The café there is not accessible.

We decided to try out the cliff path from the gardens to the sea front. But we weren’t sure if it was accessible. A word of warning; do not try to access it from the top in a push wheelchair unless you are strong and have suitable brakes. The path down is extremely steep! With a power wheelchair I would not attempt it unless you have one like mine that reclines. I reclined mine backwards quite a way and headed down. There were a few points where I wished I hadn’t started, but the thought of trying to go up kept me going. I would only attempt going up, backwards and tilted. Definitely not to be tried in ice or even heavy rain. Once we reached the bottom the rest of the path was accessible, but I could see that stones from the beach, or any debris could easily block the route. I would probably recommend a wheelchair user access the path from the seafront and head along from there, rather than from the gardens. Sidmouth seafront itself is a lovely long promenade to wheel along. If only Sidmouth was accessible by train, rather than just by car or coach.

Sidmouth with coast path behind

Another, less major hill I have climbed in my wheelchair a few times is on Dawlish seafront. Under the viaduct as you turn right towards Coryton Cove you must climb a short incline onto the sea wall that runs alongside the railway by the sea. It’s an exciting trip and not possible, or rather not safe at high tide in stormy weather. The waves sweep over the sea wall an onto the railway line.

View of sea wall from the wall

Passing under the viaduct and towards the sea wall is usually simple and clear. But in winter often pebbles have been swept over the path. Mary therefore keeps a stylish pink spade hanging on the back of my wheelchair. I see it as my manly pink spade, and I don’t feel at all embarrassed to have a pink spade. Not in the least embarrassed. When we were traveling to Dawlish, this pink spade, got caught on the internal train door, pinged off and landed at a passengers feet. I debated pretending it wasn’t mine, but Mary quickly claimed it back.

Note the pink spade, as I wait at the train station

One morning we were heading to Coryton Cove and the night before the sea had decided to block our path. Mary gamely used the pink, yes pink spade to clear a path for my wheelchair. We reached the incline, I like to think of it as a hill, or mountain. Somehow it makes the whole journey more heroic. But if you know Dawlish, don’t let on that the incline is only a few feet. I struggled up the massive hill onto the sea wall to be greeted by more pebbles. We were also greeted by a helpful man warning us of the dangers of the sea wall. It is dangerous if you are unaware not to try it at high tide and that there are bumps and potholes to avoid.

View of sea wall from beach

Coming the other way were a big gang of workmen. They were all men, so I’m not being sexist. They were welding spades and brooms so Mary asked if they would clear a small path for us. I was just glad to see the back of the pink spade. Although it did get hung on the back of my wheelchair again in full view of passers by. The workmen were brilliant, they cleared a large pathway for me right the way through. So, we enjoyed our trip to Coryton Cove.

Workmen clearing a path for me

If it wasn’t for my brilliant wheelchair these trips would not be possible. I really can climb every mountain, OK, well slight incline then.

See my other blogs for other details of my wheelchair (My amazing wheelchair). I also blog more about our past (Biography of Mike and Mary) my journey and things we have learnt on the way. As well as helpful aids I have discovered (Not so public convenience.)

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Lovely day

As I sit in the conservatory at Cleve Spa Coffee shop, the tune playing in the main area is “Lovely day.” Our wedding was before the days of home video cameras being common place; the early 1980’s. But a friend made an 8mm cine of the glorious event, now copied digitally of course. He used the song “Lovely day” as a backing track at the beginning, while Mary and I were getting ready.

Mary and I fell in love the moment our eyes met. I was going to say across a crowded room but that would be cliché. Besides it was in her office. I went to do some voluntary work for her as a photographer. She was a Hearing Therapist at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, I was waiting for a new job to start and at a loose end. She needed photos to illustrate her talks and I was a keen amateur photographer. Between jobs at a photographic studio in London and an electronics distribution office in Aylesbury. Quite a change and another story.

I asked Mary to marry me after we had gone out for 2 weeks, I left it so long as I didn’t want to rush into it. Mind you our parents insisted we waited a year before we got married. Now 37 years later I think things have worked out OK from our love at first sight marriage. I will pause here for the oohs and ahhs. Or is this too sugary and sweet for you?

The film of our wedding starts with a shot of two houses next to each other, Mary’s parents, where she was getting ready and their neighbours, where I was preparing. My mum pops her head out of the door of Mary’s parents house. Presumably checking the coast is clear for Mary to go to the hairdresser. I really don’t know. She could have been checking the weather.

The scene changes to an impossibly young man trying on a jacket and adjusting his tie. I think it might be me. I look so thin I am almost invisible sideways on. Then we move to a shot of Mary, her mum and sister. Veils are being tried out over the wedding dress. It’s all very romantic and very 1980’s in fashion.

Next we see the Methodist Church where we were married. Mary’s brother is playing the organ. ‘Only fools rush in’ not a song I knew at the time. I didn’t even know it went on to say “I can’t help falling in love with you.” I thought he was just being ironic, because I’d asked Mary to marry me so quickly.

I remember that day so well. My knees knocked so loudly people at the back went to answer the door. I was so rigid with fear I couldn’t even turn to face Mary as she walked up the aisle. I wanted the floor to swallow me up, I was so nervous. But, I was also very happy to be marrying the woman I loved. At the reception my speech, which was the first bit of public speaking I had ever done, should have indicated to me never to repeat it. I listen to the film recording ever since in horror. No one would believe I would go on to speak to crowds of hundreds both in the open air and in large halls. When I have spoken since I have been as nervous as on that day, but I’ve learnt to control it better. I have also been taught to speak from my chest not my nose since that day. I can’t replicate the way I spoke at the wedding, just as well.

One of the many things I miss, being limited by health, is public speaking. Specifically what a lot of people would call preaching. Although that term has gained a negative meaning to most people. We say “don’t preach at me.” Meaning, don’t tell me what to do. Or we talk about preaching, meaning people who stand on the streets shouting condemnation at passers by. Telling them they are going to hell. Neither description fits what I do.

When I preach, or as I would rather describe it, talk about God. I share about God’s love. How we all fail and need help. How God knows that, and wants to reach out to us through Jesus. I share about Jesus, who says “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

I saw a cartoon on facebook recently that was an atheist view of life, after leaving religion. It showed a line of people under umbrellas in the rain. One in the middle, supposedly having left religion, was putting down their umbrella and finding it was not raining. I found it very funny to see a cartoon depicting the exact opposite of reality. Life can feel very tough without God. We can feel inadequate and try to measure up to standards of the world that are impossible to meet. We end up feeling stressed, overworked, overwhelmed and desperate. The image of rain captures that feeling quite well. Then when we turn to God, through Jesus, it’s as if a weight is lifted from us. It feels like the sun starts to shine, even in the dark. Some people describe it as like a new life. If that is preaching, then I am guilty. What I don’t do is condemnation or judgment.

On our wedding day I managed to break my cufflinks cutting the cake. Why I was using my cufflinks to cut the cake? I don’t know. Actually I was holding Mary’s hands over the top of a knife handle as we attempted to cut the cake. We forgot where the soft part of the icing was. So we were pressing too hard. Rather than just mark the icing we were determined to cut the cake. All the pressure on the hard royal icing with two pairs of hands pressing down broke my cufflinks. My dad gave me his spare pair, which I still have.

Earlier in the day I had taken photos of Mary while she was being photographed by the professional. On the film you see me in the walking backwards motor drive firing, taking multi shots of Mary, looking very cool. Mind you the most impressive bit of photography I did at a wedding was when I married my sister. No there was no incest. I was able to conduct her marriage as a Methodist Minister in training at the time, in the 1980’s. But, as I also volunteered to take her wedding photos I pronounced the final blessing, then ran, I mean processed speedily, ahead of the bride and groom down the aisle so I could photograph them walking down. I wasn’t in as many photos as would normally be expected.

Back to our wedding. One other funny thing happened. On arrival at the church Mary and her Dad arrived without attendant bridesmaids and the photographer wanted to capture them arriving. The chauffeur kindly obliged in preventing Mary’s train from getting dirty. He carefully ducked behind Mary and her Dad, trying to keep out of sight, holding the train. The problem being he was very tall and large, whereas Mary and her Dad are shorter and slight. They were not designed to hide him. Somehow he was invisible on the photos. But he is beautifully captured ducking behind them up the driveway to the church on the Cine film. It is a very funny sight as he impersonates Quasimodo, with Mary and her Dad apparently oblivious in front.

While on the subject of weddings we once went to a family wedding where the announcement at the speeches was, “my Lords, Ladies and gentlemen.” No I am not showing off, the Queen wasn’t there, she was busy.

I can’t believe that as I finish this blog we are still at the Spa. We have had a light lunch and an afternoon drink, so perhaps that’s alright. What a lot of memories are triggered by a song.

Me and my big mouth

I think you could say I am direct, blunt, in your face, a ‘say it as it is’ type of a guy. I tend to speak a bit too quickly and be a bit too blunt. I used to think I was just being honest and open, as I’ve got older, I realise it can cause problems and sound rude.

I remember when I was 16 in the 1970’s, that can’t be right, it makes me in my fifties now. Surely, I’m not that old. So, I had just started work and I was working in London in a photographic studio. Not as glamorous as it sounds, because I worked in the black and white processing lab attached to the studio. I printed up photos for professional photographers that were used in magazines and for displays. There was also a larger photo department with a De Vere Mk 10 enlarger, that printed huge black and white photos many feet wide and high. These were used in exhibitions and on one off billboards. These days such things are produced by large laser printers. In those days a small run of prints had to be done photographically as any other form of printing cost too much to set up for a small run.

I couldn’t find a photo of the De Vere Mk 10, so this is a later floor enlarger
to give you an idea of scale.

A large format negative

I am going to make an aside here, this was the 1970’s and I know a lot of people post things on Facebook about a ‘rose tinted’ lack of health and safety in the 1970’s. I just want to balance that a little, health and safety can be a good thing. I was a trainee along with a young girl also about 16 at this photographic studio. We were used as human packing to transport precious photos to exhibitions. Yes, you heard right. When the company had high value photos to take to an exhibition, evidently higher value than us. They put the two of us in the back of the van to hold the large photos and stop them getting damaged, no concern for us getting damaged. The van driver was not careful in his driving around London. He made no allowance for having two young people unsecured in the back. Both our hands were holding the photos and there were no seats, so we were leaning, half crouching against the side of the van. One day he slammed the brakes on so hard we were both thrown forward. The girl was hurt much more than I was, and she never returned to working at that company. I heard that she had whiplash and back injuries and couldn’t work at first. I really hope she recovered. I for one am glad that companies can’t get away with such things now.

Back to the photo studio. I coveted working in the large printing department. It had a photographic enlarger that was so large it was on a train track, used large negatives, and projected the image onto rolls of photo sensitive paper held on a long wall by magnets. The room was huge, a bit cold in winter, but a fun place to be for a young man. To develop the exposed paper, you rolled it through giant baths of processing chemicals. I would be sent down occasionally to help with this part if there was a big job on. Rolling the paper through developer, stop bath, fixing agent and finally a wash bath. The sheer scale was exciting. The guy who worked there was called Gary and one day he told me in confidence that he was leaving for a better job. But he also said:

“Don’t tell Alan.” That was our boss. “I will tell him at the right time, once it’s all finalised.”

What did I do in my excitement at hearing the job was becoming available? Next time I saw Alan, I totally forgot I was meant to keep it a secret and blurted out.

“Can I have Gary’s job when he leaves?”

I was not very popular with Gary after that. Don’t worry, he did get his new job. But you know the worst bit? I didn’t even get his job after he left. Apparently, I was too young and inexperienced, as if.

My big mouth seems to have a habit of speaking too quickly. A few years later I was working as a manager in a company. Yes, I had worked my way up over the years and it wasn’t a photographic company. I came back from lunch one day to find that my staff had received a visit from a lady in accounts who enjoyed trouble making. She had spent a while stirring up dissent. Not knowing that she had walked in behind me while one of my staff told me this. I then expressed my opinion of her trouble making nature. I don’t think I really held back on saying what a pain she could be. I did wonder why the chap I was speaking to was looking behind me rather than at me as I spoke. Lessons learnt, don’t be rude about people even if they cause you difficulties. Always look behind you. Think before you speak.

Those who have read my other blogs, will know I am a Christian. As a Christian I know it’s important to be loving towards everyone. As a human being, I fail in that all the time. God loves us not because we are perfect, but even though we are not. A church is just a place full of sinners who recognise the fact and are asking God’s help. OK, preach over, back to the blog.

I also seem to have a similar tendency to be blunt and say the wrong thing in what I write. I have noted that some things I say have been misconstrued. Odd really considering that my first blog was about misunderstandings in language. The way carers sometimes say things (“Shall we get dressed now?) Pot, kettle and black jump to mind. Of course, my carers do point out my inconsistency to me, with a raised eyebrow. Especially when I say,

“Shall we hoover the floor now?”

It seems somehow more inclusive saying it that way, it’s also good to say to Mary when she comes back:

“We washed up, we tidied the front room and we got me washed and dressed.”

I feel I really achieved a lot in my deputising. Supervision is an important role, even when it involves me doing absolutely nothing.

I am sure that when I am old and grey. When I am older and greyer. When I am extremely old and totally bald. Well, I am hopeful that at some point before I die, I will become better at thinking before I speak and being gentler in my words. My big mouth does seem to get me in trouble.

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Sink or swim

I am taking bets now, ready for Friday. Will I sink or swim?

If you have read my blogs then you know the difficulties of me getting a bath (Shall we get in the bath?). What you may not realise is that even in a bath I am only partially covered by water. The last time I was submerged in water was years ago, in a swimming pool. Now I have an opportunity to repeat that. Hopefully my head will stay above water, at least some of the time.

One of my carers was swimming at the Wellington Sports centre a few days ago, and noticed a hoist out of the corner of her eye. Maybe that’s an occupational hazard, spotting disability equipment when having a fun time with your boyfriend. She mentioned it to me, so Mary and I went to check it out. What a lovely greeting we received there from the staff, they were happy to welcome us and show us around. One of the duty managers showed us the disabled facilities. They have a lay down bed shower, I want to repeat that so I can soak a bit longer, they have a lay down shower…ahhh. I am looking forward to that bit, never mind the swimming pool, I just want to go for a shower. It consists of a height adjustable soft plastic bed with drain holes, next to a shower head, all within a disabled changing room. After being hoisted onto it, I lie on it and my carer or my wife gives me a shower. Luxury has never been so luxurious. Normally I would then have transferred to a poolside wheelchair to go through to the pool, but that has been stolen! I don’t understand some people. So I will need to use my big power wheelchair on Friday and I used it for the show around, it fits through the narrow gates. If you have never driven a large power wheelchair on a swimming pool side, you have not lived. I felt like I was breaking all the rules. Remember the don’t run, no splashing, no outdoor shoes, no petting rules? OK so I wasn’t petting, what is petting? I didn’t have any animals with me. But my wheels were from outside, is that like outside shoes? I felt so naughty breaking all the rules, I thought I should go fast just so the life guard could shout, “no running, I mean wheeling fast.”

On the poolside there is a hoist/chair to take me into the water. It looks like someone has taken the top of a bucket type school chair and stuck it on a metal contraption that swings around and goes up and down. The whole thing hooks on the side of the pool. One rather large problem though. No, not me, but how to transfer me into the chair. The only other person who uses this hoist chair can momentarily stand, with assistance from her carer in order to transfer. I can’t stand even with assistance, so I can’t transfer without a hoist. Just as well they have one, but it hasn’t been used in a long time. Hence the weeks delay before I can try out the pool. They have to get it charged, tested and receive training. My carer can use it, but the pool staff have to be trained too. Once this is all done I can access the pool.

The whole process on Friday will be. Arrive, get ready in disabled changing room, by using hoist onto the shower/changing bed, hoist back into wheelchair for trip to poolside. Hoist from wheelchair to the poolside chair, swing poolside chair round and lower into pool. Of course I don’t do any of this. At some point I will have put on a flotation vest. In the pool two people will be on hand in case I have a collapse they will have noodles, hopefully not egg ones. I can’t actually swim, so I will just enjoy floating till I get cool. Back out via poolside chair, to my wheelchair via hoist, wheelchair to changing room, hoist onto shower bed, shower…ahhh luxury, wash and dress, hoist to wheelchair, wait somewhere while carer gets ready and home, simple eh? With all the flotation devices and people I shouldn’t sink.

I am really looking forward to it.

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Strangers on a train

“I just wish I could be spontaneous.” This was said by another wheelchair user on the train to Dawlish on Thursday.

He had decided to travel by train, the first time in years. In common with all wheelchair users he was forced to plan ahead. You can’t just leap on a train in a wheelchair. Well, you can’t leap for a start. To begin with there are only two or maximum four wheelchair spaces. Two being the most common, four on the very long trains. When there are four, two are in first class.

Wheelchair spaces double or is it treble use anyway, as pushchair and large luggage areas. Why is there no other space on trains, or buses for that matter for pushchairs or large luggage? Are wheelchairs really just an afterthought? On a train at least you can usually book the wheelchair space. So, you have some right to the space. On a bus you rely on the goodwill of the other passengers to move. No law forces them to move. That’s right, there is no law enforceable about wheelchair spaces. A wheelchair user can be left stranded if an intransigent passenger refuses to move their stuff from a bus or train space. There needs to be a change in the law. Wheelchair users have no option to fold up their chair and sit themselves on their knee as a parent does with a child in a pushchair. Wheelchairs don’t fit down the aisles as luggage does. The wheelchair space is an essential, not a nicety.

One of the many wheelchair space layouts on a train

Back to our trip to Dawlish. Yesterday was the first time I have travelled with a second wheelchair alongside. We do tend to travel at less popular times and have only travelled Taunton to Dawlish. It was an odd experience, two wheelchairs in the two spaces make it tight for turning. I know its supposedly designed for two, but I have a large power wheelchair. Fortunately, the other guy had a smaller push wheelchair. The other wheelchair user was very chatty. What struck me most was his observation that I have heard before and noticed myself. People often think that the fact you are in a wheelchair gives them the right to offer advice. I suppose it’s a natural step on from the help folk offer, people are often very helpful. But advice is a mixed blessing, especially for this chap. He got the same unwanted advice repeatedly:

“why don’t you get a power wheelchair?”

He also got lots of offers to be pushed. As an independent young man, he particularly disliked that. He just wanted to be treated normally. Of course, that’s not going to happen. You can’t be treated normally in a wheelchair; our world is not setup for wheelchairs. Everywhere you go there are steps and narrow doorways. Doors that need holding open, tight corners, toilets that are too small or don’t have hoists etc. In a wheelchair you can’t do housework without a lot of adaptations and help. Kitchens need complete redesigns to be accessible, likewise bathrooms. I understand his desire, but reality is going to fight him. He has the muscular and physical strength to do the things I can’t and is still limited by his surroundings.

For myself I get lots of offers of help, Mary isn’t very tall, so folk can see she struggles operating my chair. I don’t mind that although I find it a surprise when people smile at me, men and women. I don’t mind the women. I guess it’s to be encouraging and positive. The last time this used to happened was many years ago when one of my sons was a baby and I was carrying him on my back. But I guess all the young ladies were smiling at him, not me. It’s just that his head was so close to mine… I wonder if there is a baby just behind my head in the wheelchair these days.

Our trip to Dawlish was to visit my 92-year-old father in law. He has made an amazing recovery after an emergency operation a few weeks ago and a time in ICU. He is an inspiration, how he has pulled round after that. We were out on the sea front walking and wheeling in the unexpected sunshine. What does BBC weather know anyway? On our way to Coryton Cove, it’s one of our favourite jaunts and a place Dad walks to most days. Now the weather has improved, the café at Coryton is open, so we stopped there for a coffee.

I grabbed a table; it was trying to run away. I had a choice of two, one next to a group of French ladies, just drying off from a swim and enjoying a fairly loud chat and even a sing. As we were still recovering from the train ride where just six ladies had impersonated a crowd of several thousand, I was not keen to choose that table. I looked to the other at the far end. It had a mixed group around it, equally loud. The table between the two had people sitting at it. In the end I chose the table near the Gallic ladies. I’ve always enjoyed the odd spattering of French, especially a good song. I have never been able to speak French, my French teacher at school threw her hands up in defeat. I was surprised though as I thought an F in French O level meant fantastic, but apparently it meant fail.

Mary and her Dad were buying the coffees, hence my agonising over the choice of tables. The position I had taken placed the rear of my wheelchair towards a slight step. I kept saying to myself, “don’t forget, do not go backwards.” Fortunately, I didn’t. The coffee was very nice for a paper cup, portable cabin coffee. The wind was light, the sun warm and the company wonderful. We then travelled to the URC Church for lunch.

On route to the Church, we saw the famous Dawlish black swans. They were next to the fountain near the viaduct. I was commenting to Mary on how the wind looked like it was blowing the water from the fountain towards the path, when it hit me, the water that is. Mary decided to stop a moment and enjoy looking at the swans. Not in anyway related to me getting a light shower. How refreshing on a hot day to get a light splash of fountain water, is what I wasn’t thinking as I asked Mary to move on.

Sausage and mash, is there anything better? Yes, sausage and mash without broccoli and cabbage! I couldn’t believe it, I ordered sausage and mash at the URC Church café and expected either onion gravy with peas or baked beans. But not gravy, carrots, broccoli, and cabbage. What is happening to the world? I know there are some serious issues, but I didn’t know it had got this bad. Still at least I could leave the cabbage and broccoli. The URC Church café do a main, pudding and drink for £5, seems good value. It’s also a nice big space for my wheelchair and has a ramp access. They let me have a cheese scone as my pudding as I don’t eat sweet stuff. It’s a choice I made a few months ago. The easiest thing to do when you are mobility limited is to eat. The easiest things to eat are sweet things. I can eat a packet of biscuits, or a bar of chocolate at one go. So, if I don’t have those things at all, it stops me gaining weight. That way I won’t end up needing an extra-large wheelchair or bed. Doesn’t stop me fancying sweet stuff, but I can just about keep off them.

After lunch we had a short time to visit Dads flat before our train home. Dad’s flat is a tight fit for my wheelchair, but just about possible. I was able to sort out his laptop for him. Nothing major, such things would be beyond me now. Just checking why the internet had lost connection. Then it was time to head to the station, the required twenty minutes before the train. You can’t arrive last minute when you have assisted travel.

The sun was really beating down on our trip to the station and on the platform. If you don’t know Dawlish station it overlooks the sea. In a storm the sea overflows the station. We looked out at the flat, glistening ocean. A beautiful end to a very enjoyable day.

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How the station looked when we were there
This is what can happen to Dawlish Station in a storm

A fragrant offering

For Father’s Day, no don’t panic, it isn’t until 16th June. Mary is planning on buying me some aftershave. No, let’s be posh, eau de toilette. No, I’m not posh, some smelly stuff to slap on my chops. In order to choose the right one as a surprise, well maybe not such a surprise, Mary asked the staff at Superdrug. That’s right we use only the highest-class shops. She asked them to spray samples of a few possible scents on cards. These cards came home into my bedroom, come lounge, come everything room (see my blog “Bedroom, dining room, lounge, toilet”) where I smelt them to see which I liked. Having selected three, we visited the shop to have those three sprayed onto my skin. We then travelled on to the Cleve Spa. I don’t know what the staff thought when serving me coffee. Probably something like:

“Wow! Mike smells amazing.”

Or possibly more likely:

“Why does it suddenly smell like a Turkish boudoir in here?”

Either way the coffee shop certainly smelt very different around where I sat. The three scents wafted around on the warm air. I was sitting in the conservatory and the door was open. A few people said hello, I’d like to think it’s because of the scent. But they were probably just friendly.

While at the Spa Mary and I were trying to decide which of the three scents was best. One problem, we both forgot where they had sprayed them. Was it inside or outside my arms and the back of which Hand? We must have looked very funny taking turns sniffing my arms and hands. At one point Mary inhaled deeply then said, “no, that was just sweat.”

On our return home, it being a warm day and the scented cards being left in my room, we were hit by a wall of scent. I am very curious what my carers tomorrow will say. I’ve been in this room for several hours and the smell is still overpowering. Walking in fresh I expect they will either be knocked backwards out of the door or pass out in a faint. They will certainly be in for a surprise, not necessarily a good one. Whether they will be in a fit state to do any work remains to be seen.

Scent is a very dangerous thing. Mind you anyone who ever watched a Lynx advert knows that. After shave can cause hoards of women to chase you down the street. Not that I am influenced by advertising.

Smells are an odd thing. We tend to think only unpleasant smells are objectionable. There are certainly plenty of unpleasant smells in a room that plays as many functions as mine, including as my toilet. But even nice smells can be unpleasant in volume. I can think of many occasions where people have been so generous with their shower gel that the scent of it winds you. Then there are the people who use so much scented talc it literally sucks the air from your lungs. What about those who think perfume only works when a whole bottle is applied or the person who thinks deodorant sprays must be applied for ten minutes at a time. I think we all know such people. Maybe I have embarrassed you into realising one of those descriptions fits you, sorry.

Back to Father’s Day. I only want to mention it twice to make sure it isn’t forgotten. Anyone would think I’m a Father. Oh yes, I am. I’m going to bring in the obligatory statement everyone makes these days. Father’s Day can apply to any significant male figure in your life and if you only have negative male figures in your life, I am sorry to hear that. I also realise for those whose Dads are no longer around it’s a difficult time. I’m saying all this and it’s still a few weeks away. That was such a long statement I nearly forgot what I was saying.

The fragrance was chosen from the three, spray tested on my body and will no doubt be bought. But that of course will be a complete surprise to me. So, I wait with baited nose for my present. Meanwhile I am trying to get to sleep with a rather strong smell of several after shaves in the air.

This morning I called Mary down as usual to help me on the commode. For some reason she laughed when I told her my latest blog was called “A fragrant offering.” I can’t think what smell make her think that was funny.

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Science fiction or fact

“Pass me the proton gun”. That’s what I felt like saying after I heard that one of my tablets is called a Proton Pump Inhibitor. Surely it’s a laser gun, not a tablet, or at least an inter dimensional portal opening device.

It feels like medical science has shot on so fast in the last few years that the technology on my old favourite TV shows look like cave man tech in comparison. I used to think Star Trek had such amazing equipment. But in the early shows they just lay on a medical bed and a gigantic display read out heart rate and other vitals. You can now buy a ring on Amazon that will give you heart rate, oxygen and sleep patterns, a ring! Just about any smart watch does the same, well without the oxygen read out, unless you get an add on.

Sleep monitoring ring

A couple of years ago I bought an endoscope, to look behind a radiator. An actual endoscope. That’s a fibre optic cable that enables you to view into tiny holes and gaps. They use them in medicine to view down your throat and up the other end. My endoscope plugged into my laptop and enabled me to view a video feed on the laptop, now you can get Bluetooth ones that connect to your phone wirelessly and you view the feed on your phone. Of course they say, not for medical use. But they are effectively the same devices, available for a few quid. Don’t tell me no one is tempted to use them medically, hopefully none of my friends.

Then there’s the space age materials, around today. Pressure relieving gels made of silicone, breathable fabrics, super absorbent pads, and all the new polymers, plastics to you and I. Then what about the leap forward in electronic controls. I was looking at, well to be honest I was coveting, an amazing hospital bed on eBay. It was able to profile into a seat from a bed. The controls on it would not look out of place on a space ship. Multiple controls, read outs, even a colour LCD display. These days the simple controls on beds, chairs, wheelchairs and hoists are touch control. They use a circuit board level switches under the plastic cover. The more advanced even use the conducive type found on smart phone screens. These are technologies that didn’t exist when I was younger.

You can monitor most medical read outs via your smart phone and let’s face it a smart phone is one of the most incredible advances out. If you had told me when I was a teenager, much less a child, that I would be able to own a hand held computer that could: communicate with anyone on the planet with video and sound. Run so many applications the mind boggles. Track my location to a few metres. Speak to me and understand me. Translate most languages, well sort of. Be pointed at an object or place and tell me what it is. Take high definition photos and videos. Be a word processor, a desk top publisher, a portable power point device, an excel spread sheet, a complex calculation device, a drawing tablet, a video editor, a photo editor. I haven’t even scratched the surface. If you had said I could own one of these I would have laughed. Or I would have assumed it would be massive or cost thousands. But the vast majority of us now have and rely on smart phones.

My smart phone connects to my Hive heating, can check my cctv cameras, switch on my smart plugs and lights. It also links to my Amazon Alexa system. How much longer before we routinely get smart monitoring and medicine dispensing for dementia patients. I believe it already exists. Or how about a push button food preparation for people like me. Where a meal is taken from the fridge or freezer, heated and delivered to my bed robotically. Personally, although I could see that and even robotic care as possible in the future, I would never choose to replace human beings with machines. You would lose so much. Human contact is not replaceable by machines and it is vital to our wellbeing.

I like technology, it’s fun and helpful. But it has its place and its limits.

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Cutting through the red tape

(This is based on my experience, written as a personal guide, not an instruction manual.)

I’ve realised that for many people, including me, becoming ill is enough to cope with, without the hassles of ‘The System’ to navigate. So, I thought I would write a blog on cutting through all the red tape, aimed at helping anyone who has just become long term ill or disabled, or if you have family in that situation. I’m only writing from my personal experience. I do not claim to be an expert in this area. You need to check details of your particular circumstances with the DWP, NHS and/or local adult social care. I also highly recommend the CAB (Citizens Advice Bureau). This blog is designed to raise questions, not answer everything.

The first thing I discovered is that there are two separate systems when you are long term ill and about to be released from hospital. The NHS (hospital) and the community. Therefore, if you are in hospital and have a life limiting condition, the hospital have their own OT’s (Occupational Therapists) and Physio’s that are separate to the community ones. This might seem obvious, but it’s important. The significance being that the hospital team assess you and see if you are fit to return home and if so what equipment and care you need to return to your house. They put in place all the initial things you will need. Things like a bed, commode, carers, etc. But the care they setup is only temporary, a few weeks at most, whereas the equipment can be permanent. There is a problem though. They don’t sort out high spec wheelchairs (I believe they may loan push ones) and unless you already have a wheelchair or can get one, they don’t sort out ramps, temporary or otherwise. The reason that’s a problem is because ramps are not just needed for wheelchairs, but also for stretchers. I was returned home by stretcher, so the lack of a ramp was an issue. You’ll also need a ramp for any follow-on hospital visits if you, like me, need stretcher transport to hospital.

When I was last in hospital and due for discharge, the longest delay in getting home were access issues. The hospital transport service sent out an assessor to check access at my home. As an aside I should explain this was in January 2018 at the end of the period of time I was able to walk (look at my other blogs for details). So, we were in a house with normal access. In our case we have a step. How many houses don’t? The assessor said we needed a ramp; he also reckoned our inside access was too tight. It is tight, but I have had stretcher transport several times since too and from. He was prepared to have the crew try the internal access but would not authorise my return without a ramp. The hospital would not supply a ramp as I had no wheelchair at that time. A circular argument. We had returned my previous wheelchairs as I had been able to walk for nearly three years. After my wife had many fruitless phone calls to the hospital OT, a friend of ours assembled a temporary ramp, enabling my return home.

This is where I am really grateful to a wonderful friend for that ramp, and a fantastic ambulance crew, three of them (an extra one joined them at our house). They persevered even though the temporary ramp was not ideal for my weight on a stretcher. This enabled me to get home. Our friend did a lot more than the ramp. He helped Mary prepare the front room for my community profiling bed.

A word about the temporary care package from the hospital. They put your care requirements on a system that gets bid on by a few care companies. The lowest bid wins! The trouble is companies that bid don’t necessarily have enough capacity. They just want any extra business; it seems they bid first and see if they have capacity second. The company that won me in auction, it feels that way, did not have capacity for the hours I was supposed to get. Which meant that I was given less care each day than I needed, even though they had bid on it and accepted the contract for those hours. The other problem is that the care company who accepts the contract has that contract with the NHS. So, they don’t feel they need to meet your wishes, the NHS is their customer. Every problem I had first had to be authorised by the NHS.

Next step Adult Social Care, that’s community, they take over your care and therefore the payment and authorisation of the care package. This still means you are not directly the client of the care company. But it’s a step towards things changing. You start to get choice. Adult Social Care do an assessment of your needs. They decide how many hours care per week you need. If you have a partner caring for you, they look at respite weeks for them and extra hours care that will help them if they have needs. Looking after someone who is long term ill and needs 24/7 care takes its toll on your health and respite breaks help to prevent burn out. If your partner/carer becomes ill, then the state will end up looking after you full time. They want to prevent that.

Once care is granted by Adult Social Care, you have two choices. First you can let Adult Social Care get you those hours exactly, but from a supplier of their choice. You will not be the client directly. So, it will be like the hospital package with all the control out of your hands. Or you can take direct payments which are less money per hour than any care company charges, yes you heard right, than any care company charges. The council get special rates on everything, so a couple of companies have negotiated prices with them that are at the rate they pay if you let Adult Social Care organise your care. But those care companies treat those contracts as second class. That is my opinion, I cannot claim it as fact, it’s how it feels. They send whoever they want at whatever time suits them. So, if you have a problem with smokers, or loud people or if you don’t want male carers or have any special requirement, tough. If you want to get up at a set time each morning, you’ll be lucky. The cheap rate for the council comes at a cost. Yet some of the staff I have spoken to at Adult Social Care seem unaware of this. They are convinced there are agencies that charge the adult social care rates to individuals, I can’t find them. Either they are as rare as hens’ teeth or like Scotch mist.

I just want to say a word of praise for our main Social Worker, she is brilliant and does understand these limitations. She just has no power to change it. She did a fantastic job organising my care and setting everything up. In fact, most social workers we have dealt with are great, they just lack the power to change the system. The current system means you no longer get a permanent social worker. One sets everything up for you, then you just call the ‘hub’ and speak to the duty social worker for any changes. I am always pleased when the social worker who I know is on duty. For some unknown reason three departments organise Direct Payments. Adult Social Care authorise it, a department at the council pay it and a non-governmental charity, in my case Enham, administer it. Three different lots of staff are being paid to sort out one lot of money. Is that efficient? Cost effective and or does it waste the money that would otherwise go to care? You decide, I have my own opinion.

Direct payments buy you less hours than you are assessed for, but you have choice and can get consistency of carers. They buy less hours because of the difference between the amount per hour paid by adult social care and the amount per hour charged by care companies. Normally at least £2-3 per hour different. I think counsellors and politicians who setup the system should be forced to have the council run system of carers provide them care for a few months. Or try to buy care at the amount provided under direct payments. It’s a nonsense to say you need a certain number of hours then give you insufficient funds to buy those hours from any care agency. Even micro providers charge more than the amount given and they are self employed individuals. The system would soon change if politicians had to use it themselves. One other thing, you receive a different rate of Direct Payments if you use an agency than if you use a micro provider. A little higher for an agency as they are CQC registered and have lots of extra paperwork.

The basis of how much, if any you pay is assessed by the council based on your income and savings. I understand we live in hard pressed times and I realise that I am fortunate to live in a country that provides free care to people like myself without other means. But my point is that either the correct amount per hour should be supplied or at least it should be acknowledged that it is impossible to meet the hours assessed with the amount given. To pretend that the hours assessed and payment given match or can ever match is a folly.

The other very odd part of the system is for respite care. That whole system is very upside down. The way it works makes no sense to me. But it’s too complex to explain here.

A lot of things run in parallel when you come out of hospital. An OT and Physio from the community should be assessing you. A district nurse will no doubt call on you and if you need it, your GP. Depending on your level of limitation you can get almost everything done at home. There is a dental access centre in Taunton you can register with, they do home visits. The same rules apply as with visiting a dentist in terms of payment. If you had free treatment before, you still do. The GP can visit you. Even opticians can test your eyes at home. Again, the free treatment rules apply. But, dental and optician visits at home are second best to going into a practice. They travel with very limited equipment and can’t do everything. So, if you can travel, then do.

With hospital appointments if you have no transport of your own, need to travel by stretcher or wheelchair on public transport would be impossible (buses with a large power wheelchair are a nonstarter). There is hospital transport. They question you closely about why you can’t travel by another method. Hospital transport is also a very inconvenient method of transport. You must be ready 2 hours before your appointment time and can wait an hour or more after.

It’s the OT who assesses you for aids. The hospital OT will have supplied initial equipment, but things like hoists, slings, chairs and other more specialised equipment will come from the community OT or they will advise where to buy them. On the subject of hoists, if you are unable to stand or weight bear, the standard type supplied will be a push portable one. Ceiling hoists are only supplied if they are deemed necessary in your circumstances, as they are in ours.

Just recently we have been made aware that there is a specialist OT who deals with housing, both modification and allocation. No one told us about that when I was sent home from hospital into my front room without access to a bathroom and with difficult access to our house. That’s why I am writing this blog for others. Information is vital, we should have been told advise was available about housing. If in doubt, ask.

Wheelchairs are a whole area in themselves. You need a GP referral for a wheelchair. That referral goes to Millbrook Healthcare. They send out an assessor, eventually. It took 8 months for me and apparently, I was marked very urgent. It seems to me that the new privatised system for wheelchairs is slower than the old system through Exeter Wheelchair Services. In Hartlepool, the NHS wheelchair service assessed me and built me a custom wheelchair within 3 months. The way it works with wheelchairs is that you are assessed for the minimum type that meets your need. In most cases that is a push wheelchair. If you need a power wheelchair because of your needs, then you will only be allocated one if you can use it inside and outside your house. Years ago, when I was first allocated a large high-backed reclining wheelchair, it was still a push wheelchair. See my blog ‘Keep on rolling’. You only get a ramp supplied in your house once you have a wheelchair. Some Church friends bought me a second-hand power wheelchair while we awaited the NHS chair, this meant a temporary suitcase ramp was then supplied. But we were fortunate, friends from Church paid for and other Church friends built an even better concrete ramp outside our house. It accesses our front door and back garden.

Me using the concrete ramp outside our house last year, in wheelchair our friends bought while we waited for NHS one.

I hope my experiences have cast a little light on a complex area. You can see there are many anachronisms and it’s frustrating to navigate. Without Mary sorting all this out over the last few years I don’t know where I would be. She has had many a stressful phone call with different departments. I realise this blog may make it sound like I sorted things out. In reality most things were sorted by my wife Mary. I have only really got involved more recently as things have been easier.

May your journey through the red tape be a simpler one than ours.

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A writers’ life

When I used to picture my future life as a writer. I was sitting on a sun-soaked veranda in the South of France, sipping an espresso and glancing out to sea wistfully, while conjuring up scenes of fantasy and adventure. Instead I’m lying in bed in a small room in Wellington, looking out at our tiny courtyard garden, writing about the frustrations and daily joys of life with a long-term disability. Yet it is that reality which has led to me living out the life of a writer, not my childhood fantasy.

Mind you, right at this point in the blog I’m sitting in a conservatory on a sunny day, at Cleeve Spa Hotel. It’s attached to their new coffee shop and is a great place for me to sit and write. My cup of cappuccino is beside me. I have a view of trees and distant fields through the large picture windows. There’s a gentle squeak from the coffee house sign as it blows in the wind outside. Just enough to give ambiance and interest. Playing in the main part of the coffee house I can hear the strains of background music. This is not a busy place yet, good for me, but no doubt not good for business. I can’t imagine it will stay that way, as people discover this oasis on the outskirts of Wellington that serves food and drinks from early till late in such lovely surrounds.

Conservatory at Cleeve Spa coffee shop

My bottom is reminding me I’ve been sitting in my wheelchair for quite a while. Even though I have a battery powered ripple cushion, a result of generous donations from friends and family, my sensitive bottom still feels the pressure. The “occupational”, is that the right word, hazard of a permanent wheelchair user who still has feeling below the waist. Not that I would want to lose that feeling, many other problems would ensue. My gluteus is not very maximus. It never was, but since the illness I have tried not to put on too much weight. The easiest thing to do when you spend all your time limited, is eat. The easiest things to eat are sugary, sweet things. I can polish off a whole packet of biscuits, or bar of chocolate, not the small ones. So, I had to make a choice. A few months ago, I was going through one of the regular bouts of sickness I get. It put me off most food, but particularly sweet stuff. After I recovered, I just made a choice to continue not eating sweet things. Although I had lost the sugar cravings, the desire for sugar was not gone. Christmas was very difficult, and Easter a complete nightmare. But I continue and it is not just enabling me to continue at my current weight but even lose weight. Important when you are hoisted and have a limited width wheelchair. I’m not yet in danger of fading away “to a cough drop.” As my mum would say.

Back to ripple cushions. I had only heard of them as being mains powered, for beds or armchairs. There are ones, again mains powered for wheelchairs. But what is the point of a non mobile ripple cushion for a mobile chair? A ripple cushion is an alternating air-filled cushion, they work in different ways, but the principal is the same, pressure changes on different parts of the cushion, so that you get a ripple effect. In the case of a bed mattress, as I have, the pressure change moves up and down the bed. It’s like moving a patient regularly to prevent pressure sores. The same applies to cushions for chairs or wheelchairs. But I’d not seen a portable one for a wheelchair until a few months ago although I thought there must be such a thing. It was developed by one company and brought out in 2017 and it’s called an Alerta mobile cushion system, this has been amazing for me. I can now stay much longer in my wheelchair. I still find the discomfort builds up after a few hours, so I must recline my chair to alleviate that. The key difference is that I’m sure I will not get pressure sores, it’s just uncomfortable after a few hours in one position. The device prevents sores by the ripple effect of alternating the pressure in different areas of the cushion, but no device can prevent discomfort from sitting in one position. Wheelchairs by their nature restrict you to one position. I am fortunate that I can profile my wheelchair and so alleviate that.

Because of a combination of things. The profiling wheelchair, the Alerta ripple cushion, Conveens (see my blog Not so public convenience), and my new medication we can plan a trip by train to stay with one son and hopefully also see the other and his wife. Train assistance and wheelchair accessible taxis play their part too.

One extra factor has made planning this trip possible. A hospital type bed at our son’s house. I first looked at hiring one. Once I’d recovered from the shock of the price quoted and they assured me that wasn’t to buy one, I looked on Ebay. A wonderful gentleman was selling, not just a profiling bed with sides, but everything else I needed thrown in, all for £99. One problem, it was over a hundred miles from where my son lives. Transport looked costly. Then this amazing guy volunteered to drop it off for the cost of the diesel; £20. There are some very generous people out there. Now I will be able to travel to our son’s house, have a bed to sleep in that I can match to my wheelchair height and slide onto. Not ideal, but I can do it for a week. I will really look forward to my hoist when I get home.

Those more astute of you, I’m just buttering you up, will have noticed that my blogs include a wide variety of types. There are autobiographical, fiction, poetry, thoughts, theology, experience and I am not the only author. Mary has so far written one piece with more to come. The blogs were written over several years, some are very recent, and some over ten years old. Some were written when I was taking my OU degree in English Lit and Diploma in Creative Writing. Yes, that’s right, that means I know nothing about writing. Each type of writing is categorised but depending on the type of device you are reading this on, those categories may not be obvious. A word of warning, if you are reading this post on a phone, watch out for that lamppost ahead! I feel I must say that now as one of my readers nearly walked into one while reading my blog.

It takes me a while to finish off a blog, so as I finish this blog it’s 4.30am and I’m sat in bed. It’s still dark outside, but at least it’s warm. When it’s cold I have a woolly blanket to put over my shoulders. A friend from church knitted it while praying for us, so we call it our prayer blanket. I used to sit in a small pool of light from my bedside light, but now with all my smart switches (see my blog It’s a smart world) I have light all around me. Sitting, surrounded by light is where I will leave this blog.

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A moment at a time

Diary extracts:

September 9th 1993

Migraine, chest pain, sickness. 4 lots co-codamol, 4 lots Ibuprofen, 3x Metoclopromide and 1x Zomig

24th March 2010

Woke at 4.50am! This is getting ridiculous. My right shoulder has joined the clamour of pain waking me each morning. Still it makes a change from the headache that usually pierces my slumber.

12th May 2019

Woken at 2.40am by pounding migraine. When will I learn to pace myself better. I had been to a two hour get together the night before, really enjoyable, but beyond my capacity.

******

Normality?

At a recent consultant’s visit, he asked me:

‘Can you remember being normal?’

‘Yes!’ I replied aghast.

I wasn’t aware that illness made me abnormal. In fact my memory of normality, if that is what it was, is painful in many ways…

There was an incident that still shames me to this day. A friend of my wife Mary was visiting us with her little boy. It was early in our married life, before we had children. The little boy had a long term, but not life threatening, illness. I was very intolerant of illness. We were having a cup of tea and the little boy, who was about five years old, was sitting and playing quietly with some Lego blocks on the floor. His mother was chronicling to us details of her son’s illness, and the many doctors he had seen.

As a trained medical expert with zero years of aesculapian training and no experience in healing, I sat and observed this seriously ill child. Watching him playing quietly for ten minutes, I could of course make a complete medical assessment of him.

‘He doesn’t look ill.’ I stated.

His mother was taken aback and responded sharply.

‘He does have a few good times.’

‘But he’s playing quite happily now. You said he’s always ill.’

‘He is ill! Playing for a couple of minutes doesn’t change that.’

‘Oh… I see.’ I said with deep meaning.

I chalked that up as a point won as I watched his mother squirm. Mary looked crossly at me as if I had done something wrong.

‘Mike, why don’t you go and get the cakes.’

So I walked out victoriously, while Mary tried to console her friend. I had proved my point to my satisfaction. The mother stopped talking about her ill son.

It wasn’t until I became chronically ill years later, and started to suffer a similar disbelief from others; that I realised how badly I had acted. I have often wished I could see her again and apologize, but we’ve lost contact.

An illness that is not visible to a casual observer is a curse twice over, once because of the illness itself and then because of misunderstanding and disbelief. People are not deliberately cruel; they are merely ignorant, as I was with Mary’s friend. Ignorance leads us to think we know best or to judge without understanding.

******

Conversation:

Terry is someone who is happiest in a throng of people. At six foot with rugged features, and a confident manner he has always been attractive to women. He was unhappily married once some years back. As a very loving father of an only son he has spent most of the six years since looking after him, with his ex-wife taking the weekend shift.

Terry has recently set up a company to run from home. One thing about Terry that has always struck me as odd, is that he is the most laid back ‘workaholic’ I know. I have known him since school and I have never seen him as being in danger of ‘overdoing it’. Yet somehow in his relaxed and laid back manner, while seeming to do very little, he gets a lot done. He is a conundrum to me.

One day we were sitting in his spacious lounge, Terry was stretched back as usual on his huge red sofa.

‘I’m never ill, I don’t have time.’ stated Terry, while answering a text on his phone.

‘You don’t just get ill when you have the time.’ I replied in surprise.

‘My approach is positive thinking, I don’t let illness stop me, and I just keep going.’ Terry finished his text as he spoke, and then looked up at me.

I took hold of my increasing annoyance at Terry’s lack of understanding and replied:

‘I think you’ve been very lucky not to have any serious illness that would prevent you working.’

‘Oh, I’ve had loads of illnesses I just ignore them.’

‘Right – Let’s look at something well known like flu. They say the definition of flu is this: “When you’re too ill to get out of bed to pick up a £10 note off your windowsill.” So when did you last have flu?’

‘When I have flu, I just carry on working.’

I took a deep breath to remain calm.

‘In that case you are talking about a bad cold not flu. The reason for the definition is so that you can understand the difference.’

‘When I’m very ill it just doesn’t stop me working. I have a strong constitution.’

‘Terry, I used to think like that. I worked on through bad colds, migraines and I even drove 300 miles with pleurisy, for goodness sake. In fact they reckon it’s because I carried on working through illness that I am so ill now. There are some things your body will not let you ignore… it just stops!’

‘Well I can’t afford to be ill; I have far too many commitments.’

We were saved from further argument by Linda and the children returning from a walk.

******

Memory:

I see my life stretched behind me like the contents of a roof rack shed upon the road by a speeding car. I can see it arrayed messily behind me on the tarmac of life. Some memories piled up others spread out; some appear damaged parts missing, others almost complete. There in amidst a great jumble I see one particular memory. I had forgotten it, packed it away.

It is the early 1990’s and I have been ill for over a year, but off work just six months. One of our son’s is having a birthday today. We are celebrating his Birthday, and I am hiding how ill I feel. As we start eating his Birthday Cake there is a knock at the door. Mary answers it and finds my boss standing there. She invites him in:

‘Come in Martin, it’s our son’s Birthday, we’re having a party. Do you want a cup of tea…piece of Birthday cake?’

‘Umm… no… sorry… I hadn’t meant to… intrude. I.. just wanted a word with… Mike. Urr… Happy Birthday.’ Martin faltered.

‘What was it you wanted?’ I asked.

I was sitting at the table with our children surrounding me, chocolate cake smearing their faces and hands. They were very excited to meet my boss. Our son assumed that he must have come especially to say Happy Birthday.

‘Can we talk privately?’ Martin asked, regaining his confidence.

I walked hesitantly into the hallway, but the children were so excited they followed me.

‘Wait there children, I’ll be back in a mo.’ I was feeling a sense of foreboding.

Once we were alone with the door shut Martin began.

‘Umm… when you came to the office today to hand in your doctor’s report, you should have been given this.’

He handed me an envelope.

‘What is it?’

‘It’s a notice to terminate your employment, with one month notice, effective today.’ Martin stared at the floor while he spoke.

I had never been fired before and certainly not for being ill. So I just stood staring at him for a moment before saying:

‘Why?’

‘Because you are not able to carry on your job due to illness. I’m sorry.’

He then left without saying goodbye to Mary. I slumped onto the stairs and stared at the letter. Mary heard the front door close and came into the hall. The children bounded out behind her.

‘Daddy ready now?’ our son shouted.

I just looked blankly at him.

‘Are you OK? You look shaken.’ Mary asked gently.

I was trying to control my emotions but Mary’s gentleness released my pent up sadness. We have always believed in being honest with our children about feelings, as long as they also saw how things were resolved. I would not have chosen to be upset on our son’s Birthday, but the pain had to be dealt with, so I cried and we all hugged and talked. After we had expressed our sadness we finished eating the Birthday cake and watched a family film. It was not the way I would have chosen our son’s Birthday to be and I felt bitterness towards Martin. But he did not know how bad his timing was.

******

Reflections:

My profound relief is that illness comes a moment at a time. Had I known back in 1993 that I would still be ill in 2019 I don’t think I could have coped with that. It is easier to cope day by day rather than looking many years into the future. That way there is always hope and there are always fresh challenges.

Not so public convenience (Updated)

(This blog designed to advise and help, it is humorous, but also factual. It may cause you to blush)

Wheelchairs are brilliant machines for transport. Power wheelchairs in particular have transformed my life. But a wheelchair is after all still a chair. Think about a chair, you sit on it, it has a solid seat, and no hole in it. So, imagine that you are a man and you need a wee. I guess it may be worse for a woman. You may not want to imagine it, you might prefer to think of something else, I am trying to help for those who would find this useful. These are everyday realities of being disabled. Let’s forget for a moment if you need to do anything more than a wee, that’s a whole other area.

You are sitting down, and you need to wee. Well you might think, there are urine bottles you can use. True, there are. Think then about Wheelchairs, they are narrow, the width of your bottom typically, so your legs are together. Still with me? Maybe you need to act this out in your head. Where does the urine bottle go? If you can put it in the right place how do you ensure, no leaks at a 90-degree angle without injury to yourself. Perhaps you are beginning to see the issue. It is possible but not easy, after all it can be done. Then imagine you are on a train in the disabled space. The train companies give much more space these days for wheelchairs. But typically wheelchair spaces face the rest of the seats. That is also true on many buses. Perhaps we are expected to entertain the crowds while we are there. Getting back to relieving oneself, I don’t really fancy entertaining the other passengers by using a urine bottle in front of them, or under a blanket with everyone wondering what I am doing. It would be a little off putting. Talk about performance anxiety. Fortunately, there is an alternative and I found out about it after I had struggled with urine bottles in wheelchairs for years.

You might think how can Mike share such intimate details publicly. But, if I do maybe I can help others. I didn’t know about these things. I have had to struggle finding out. If my embarrassment can speed up the help for others, then so be it.

The alternative is a Conveen. I believe there are various makes, but I only know about the one I have used. Coloplast Conveens. They are external catheters. Normally catheters go inside the urinary tube in either a man or woman. Conveens, which I think are only available for men, fit on the outside. They look like a condom, but they have an open end with a fitting for a tube to go to a urine bag. They are adhesive, I will come back to that as it causes some fun fitting them. The bags come in two types, ones that attach to your leg and ones that attach to your bed or directly to your wheelchair.

Remember I said Conveens are adhesive, so they must stick all around to prevent leaks. Obviously, you need the right size. Yes, they send you a device to measure the diameter of your manhood. After you have recovered from the disappointment of the fact you are average, boasted in the fact you are large or wept over the fact you are small. You can order them. When I phoned the surgery to give them my size, I had a very funny conversation.

Prescription line lady, “what size do you need?”

Me, “30mm”

Prescription line lady, “is that length.”

Amazed silence from me, then “no, that’s diameter.”

I feel like I should wait a few minutes at this point while all the guys reading this, finish measuring. By the way the diameter range available is 21 to 40mm. Who knew such things eh? Or who wanted to.

There is a special measuring device (See picture below):

Fitting a Conveen, is, let’s say tricky. Think adhesive, hair, preparation adhesive, yes they give you a preparation wipe of extra adhesive. So, everything is sticky. You really need the two pairs of hands you have with a carer to fit it successfully. If you get it right and don’t catch all your hairs in it. Then connect the tube right, it works great. Much better than any urine bottle.

I would say if you are someone who needs to use a Conveen, read the instructions carefully and follow the advice of the rep to the letter. I ignored one bit of advice and realised afterwards why it was important.

Below is a picture of a Conveen sheath, the part that fits over your manhood. It’s rolled up in its package so you can only see the top that connects to the tube, that then goes to the urine bag (see photo below the Conveen) the ribbed part is a strain relief or air gap. This is where I went wrong. It’s important to flatten all this part with your thumb and fingers when fitting so none of your manhood goes into any of it. If it does, then that strain relief part, with the ribbing just acts as a pinching device, not nice. The only bit that goes over your manhood can’t be seen in the photo, it’s all rolled up and sticky. It unrolls as applied. Glue on glue, very sticky. Hence no leaks. So long as you apply it right and have the size right, no boasting. (Also note, there are two lengths available, so check you get the appropriate length, no comment).

Next step you connect the tube from the urine bag and attach it by straps to your leg. Make sure when attaching it to allow for expansion, after all it will get filled up. The urine bags come in different sizes and will need emptying, so leave the drain tap accessible and check it’s closed. It’s easy to accidentally knock it open if your carer pushes it back under your trouser leg after draining. By which you will realise they have a drain tap at the bottom and your carer or partner has the enjoyable job of draining it, see photo below.

Conveen sheath in its package. Note the ribbed section, avoid inserting your manhood into this bit by squashing the top of sheath when putting it on.

Leg bag, pipe at top connects to the sheath, see below for close up of the drainage tap

Note, make sure tap is closed after draining.

At the end of the day you may be thinking, but how do you remove a sticky rubber thing from such a delicate area. Your eyes may be watering in anticipation. Don’t panic, they thought of that. There is a non stinging release spray that is amazingly effective at removing the glue. It’s a pain free process.

This is the glue remover spray.

Have I freaked everyone out sufficiently and caused everyone to need a lie down or at the very least some counselling? Seriously, I hope I have helped to explain and clarify some things and point you in a helpful direction.

Let me just emphasise these Conveens have been life changing for me. I can only recommend the Coloplast ones as they are the only ones I have tried. They sent me samples to try first. They work brilliantly, the only failure I had was when I applied it wrongly the first time. Every other time since I have had no issues. So follow the instructions carefully.

I read this blog our at a writers group in Wellington and one big issue that became apparent was, what about women? There are internal personal catheters for women, but that is not as easy or convenient.

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Poem on suffering

Poem by Mike Nevin

(Written in January 2018 when I again lost the use of my legs)

It’s when we have given up

When in the depths of despair

When darkness closes in

When our legs fail, and our arms fall

That is when we discover true strength.

The strength beneath us as we fall

The strength beside us as we cry out

The strength within us we never knew.

If you feel alone.

If your tears are dry.

If your pain has overtaken all reason.

There is only one way

There is only one hope.

God never lets us go.

God never fails

God always loves

God is hope, life and joy

God is love.

Love sounds such an empty word

It’s meaning drown by repetition and trite words

Love seems such a simple notion

It’s power drained by so much use.

But love, real love, the love of God

Is a love that created the universe

A love that overcame death

That love, the love God has for you and me

That love is the only answer to the mocking cry of sickness

It answers the empty power of evil

It answers the sadness

It answers the desperate plea.

It answers pain and confusion.

God says, “I love you, I am with you, I will not forget you.”

God says, “I am here.”

A new place to relax

(Cleeve Spa Hotels’ Coffee Shop)

Wheelchairs have a nasty habit of leaving wheel marks wherever they go. In our house we put down sheets. Ooops, there I go, ‘we’ put down sheets, as if I play any part in the action. When we visit Mary’s dad in Dawlish, ‘we’ cover his carpets too. But you can’t carry sheets with you for every trip you take. Shops, café’s, church just generally being out and about is a messy business in a wheelchair. When you are walking you can take your shoes off, or at least wipe your shoes on a matt. Have you ever tried wiping six wheels on a door matt? I have and it doesn’t work. When we stay at the RCH hotel in Dawlish, we always feel bad coming into their lovely carpets with dirty wheels. So, ‘we’ try and clean the wheels. I should say, they always say not to worry. I too and fro and spin round on the door matt. Some mud and leaves come off, but often Mary has to actually clean the wheels with water and a brush.

View from the conservatory seating at coffees shop

Yesterday we decided to visit Cleeve Spa’s new coffee shop that only opened that day. There were still one or two finishing touches being carried out when we arrived. But on the whole, it looked great. I wheeled up to the entrance door and we were greeted by a few staff members whom we knew. We looked at the narrow door which had a slight bump on the threshold, Mary and I were anxious that if my wheelchair jumped it would bang the frame. But the staff were unconcerned about that. They were much more focussed that we were happy and safe. They offered to open both doors, which would have involved a lot of difficulties as the second door was fixed in place awaiting an electric opening system. We decided to give the single open door a try, slowly, and with a slight bump all went well. What a fantastic place greeted us inside. A lovely series of spaces to sit and chat or look out over the beautiful surrounding countryside. At the far end there is even a separate room that can be hired for functions. I started to work out how many years till I was sixty and would we still be in this area. I decided it was far too many years in the future to plan. We explored the inside, wheeling and walking around.

On first arriving at the coffee shop, this part has a wooden floor

How many people would be OK with white wheel marks on their new dark grey tiled floor? I know I wouldn’t, so when I was retracing my tracks and saw the trail I’d left, I was horrified. What did the staff make of it? They were amazing, “No, problem.” They said, “It’s going to happen.” They acted like it was just a floor.

Note grey tiled floor. Fortunately you can’t see my wheel marks

Mary and I had set out not knowing what to expect of the new coffee house. It’s a place we had watched being built over the previous months and been curious to see finished. As I sit here listening to coffee house jazz, and enjoying my coffee, writing this blog I am impressed. This is a place we will be visiting again. The lunchtime menu looks like it will be interesting. My mum and sister are visiting next weekend, so maybe this a place to come. You’ll think the Spa is paying me to review them. Trust me, they aren’t. Nice idea though.

Mary enjoying her coffee

It’s Cleeve Spa where Mary comes when I have my carers looking after me. Some of her carers allowance pays for it. If Mary doesn’t stay well and healthy it won’t just be her that suffers, so it’s very important that she has a place to relax and exercise. Now we have a coffee shop for an occasional treat too.

Me writing this blog

I want to say a word about Cleeve Spa as a hotel. Because the coffee shop is part of the whole complex. It’s a family run hotel, that has function rooms for hire, does lovely food, has a spa, swimming pool, steam room, jacuzzi, gym, does massage and other treatments and runs exercise classes. Our children treated Mary to a big birthday celebration here, it was a spa weekend with treatments and meals in a function room.

Mary’s Birthday celebration at the Spa

We also had a pre wedding celebration here for our son Adam as I couldn’t make it to the wedding in Alnwick. The staff set both events up wonderfully and the family enjoyed their spa treatments and relaxation. The location, up on a hill, looking out towards Wellington monument makes it peaceful and scenic. The grounds are large and have plenty of seating for the better weather. One aside, we walk, and I wheel to the spa from our house. The last part is up a steep driveway. Whoever is operating my wheelchair is always breathing heavily at this point. I breath normally, does that mean I am fitter? I can’t think of another explanation.

Occasionally I‘ve sat in reception and had a coffee while Mary is swimming. This is possible because Mary is a short walk away and easily called by the staff if I had any problems. The staff are incredibly friendly, helpful and kind. When Mary and I have had a meal here they’ve given us a quiet table to sit at where my chair can recline. I can’t really over emphasise how great they have been to us. The coffee shop is a new venture for them, and I hope a successful one. It’s certainly a welcome addition from my perspective.

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Into the Ark

The plan was a nice day looking at the animals, but as the taxi neared Nailsea we began to wonder if the zoos’ name may be slightly prophetic.

For weeks we had planned a day out at Noahs’ Ark Farm, it’s a zoo near Nailsea and Bristol owned by friends of ours from our days in Nailsea. The planning had started during the most unusual April ever, when the weather was more like summer than spring. Easter I’d actually got sunburnt. Understandably we were expecting the weather to be even better in May. Have you noticed how the weather seems to read your mind and enjoy surprising you? Gradually as you will have noticed, if you are reading this live, the weather had been getting colder and wetter.

To go out for a day involves a lot of planning for us, so we can’t just wake up one morning and say, “weather looks nice, let’s go.” We decided on a date, Thursday May 9th, booked a taxi and had already organised early morning care with my micro provider, I have both an agency and a micro provider. My micro provider tends to often cover early mornings and evening visits. She is a really lovely person and very good at her job.

We kept looking at the BBC weather app in the weeks before, first it showed colder, overcast weather, then rain. Then a few days before we were due to go, it showed a break in the rain. We still hadn’t booked firmly with the taxi at that point, just provisional, so we decided to confirm the trip.

The day before was heavy rain, but we hoped the air was just clearing. On the morning of May 9th it was clear and dry; in Wellington. Our hopes rose. I checked the BBC weather for Nailsea and it showed rain all day, what do they know.

As we were going to be out all day I had a Conveen put on. These are external catheters. I will look at those in another blog, because they have caused much hilarity, but they are also extremely useful in my situation.

Knowing it was cold and rain expected I was wrapped up like an Eskimo. I have faux fur lined leggings that I sit in, on the wheelchair. Then a coat, hat, scarf, gloves and a lined waterproof cover over the top. People look jealousy at me and often comment that I have the right idea. Because the back of the waterproof cover goes over the head rest I look a bit hunchback.

Mike all wrapped up

We were travelling with our favourite taxi firm, Archies cabs, his taxis are bigger than most. So I can easily fit into one of his cabs and slightly recline. I have to make sure my shoulder straps are tight and neck brace on plus my arms under the restraints. That way if I have a collapse I don’t get bounced too much. I did have a collapse and all was well. Archies cabs have good suspension. Paul, the owner was driving and he is careful on bumps.

Most of the journey was fairly clear weather, just the odd raindrop. As we neared Noahs’ Ark the Biblical floods started. There was not just water pouring out of the sky, but water forcing it’s way back up from the drains! Water from above and water from below, if you know the Bible story you will understand the reference. Mary and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. But we decided we would pray that there was a break in the weather, and we would make the best of the day.

Arriving ten minutes early we had to shelter in the bicycle shed, but a kind ticket office staff member let us in early. I don’t think I have ever spent as long buying tickets and reading the signage. I am sure it was not because that bit was sheltered and the rain looked heavy. When we did venture out the rain had eased. Even so we headed for somewhere warm and inside, the reptile house.

One of my previous carers gave Mary and I a pink bendy toy. Really it’s a plant clip to hold a plant against a stick, but we use it as a mascot and call it Kermit. He travels with us and gets photographed in various locations. He posed by one of the reptiles.

We didn’t need to shelter in an ark, there was no Biblical flood. Although there were some bouts of heavy rain and it was chilly. We also had sunshine, long periods of dry weather and times when it just lightly rained. Our prayers were answered. We also met lovely people, both other visitors and the staff. Everyone was helpful kind and understanding.

Mary feeding the meercats
Mike wrapped up next to lion
Lion eating
Mary feeding lambs
Elephant close up

At lunchtime we went into the café. The tables were laid out in rows. Normally as I am in a wheelchair I go on an end. But I fancied a window view, so I weaved down between the backs of peoples seats in between the tables to the window. It worked ok getting there, but on the way out more people had arrived and one poor child had to be lifted in their chair, by Dad, out of my way. It may seem I was being unreasonable going to such an awkward place, but why shouldn’t I have a window view occasionally.

Mike having lunch

We managed to see a number of the talks and most of the animals played ball and came out to prowl, frolic or at the least feed. Probably the most exciting talk was the Wings of Wonder which, given the weather was inside. You haven’t lived until various large birds of prey have brushed by your ear at speed.

Mike & Owl

As may be expected from my previous posts, I had several collapses during the day. The zoo was so empty, maybe twenty or thirty people, that we could always find a quiet sheltered spot for me to recover.

Mike reclined in wheelchair

We also bumped into someone we knew from our Nailsea days who works there. It was so lovely to catch up a little.

Since our last visit Noahs’ Ark has improved it’s disabled facilities greatly, including a changing places toilet. No, that’s not where you become someone else. It’s basically an adult changing room for disabled. Think baby changing but with hoists to do the lifting. They have one in Weatherspoon’s Wellington. It’s new at Noahs’ Ark and everything is very swish. Lots of room to manoeuvre inside.

Changing places toilet
Changing places bed

I was able to get most places, only a couple of the animal enclosures had steps. The maze is not accessible, and there are a few platforms with steps. The exciting bit is getting around the site in a power wheelchair. Some parts are an old farm with concrete drives, other bits are very steep. Everywhere has tiny bumps and indents, plus cambers on the paths for drainage. The gravel bits have various size stones and in some places the stones have gained bigger holes. Overall the ride around is thrilling. Not sure everyone would enjoy that, but I did. Of course not every power wheelchair user would attempt to go everywhere I went. I also travelled fairly fast. A push wheelchair would not be as exciting, but you would need strength on the slopes. All of this is explained in their accessibility brochure. I find they gave the best details of anywhere. It is an accessible site, more accessible than most. As with all such places you just need to be cautious. Because I am not cautious by nature it is just as well my Quickie Salsa M2 was able to cope with the terrain.

High view of Noahs ark park

The only thing that would stop us going lots of times is the taxi cost. We had to save up for this special treat. You might wonder why we travelled all the way by taxi, it may sound an extravagant method. But, the taxi to Taunton Station plus train fare and a taxi from Bristol station to Noahs’ Ark is the same as all the way by taxi. It was a fabulous day out and the weather didn’t dampen it.

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Ambulance transport

(A note of warning for the squeamish, there are descriptions of an accident you may find difficult)

Emergency and non-emergency hospital transport I have travelled in them both. As a kid I used to look at ambulances and think they look fun to have a go in. Of course, in my youth they had simple sirens and blue rotating lights. None of these complex LED, close encounters, night club, stage show lighting effects. Nor the fantastic range of sounds they have now. These days you feel like they could actually play a tune on their sirens. I don’t mean to be dismissive and silly; they play a very serious role and I appreciate that more than many.

The first time I travelled in an emergency ambulance was in 1989. We were living at Wesley College in Bristol where I was training to be a Methodist Minister, I didn’t complete the training due to what happened next. It was breakfast time; I had just come back from morning prayers and was getting my stuff for the first lecture. Mary pointed out that there was a big pile of washing in the kitchen. Our washing machine had been broken for a while and the replacement part had arrived a few days earlier I just needed to fit it. This was not a complex job, just a new drive belt. Had it been a new bearing I would have needed a few hours. So, I decided I would quickly do it before the lecture, bad choice, I was too rushed.

Frances Greaves House, the flats at Wesley College, where the accident happened

Thinking I must have already unplugged the washing machine, note to self and everyone else, always check an electrical device is unplugged before taking it apart, I took the top cover off. The old drive belt had perished and was easily removed. I took the new belt and tried to hook it on to the lower drive wheel. This is not something easy to do just by letting it hang down and hoping it will slide itself on. You need to get you hands on it and push it into place. That was the near fatal mistake I made. I reached down into the washing machine to push the drive belt onto the bottom drive wheel. As my arm reached in, it contacted the exposed pins of a 415v 13amp capacitor. If you have ever witnessed a car being arc welded, that is what happened to my arm. An arc of electricity burnt it and I was also electrocuted. As I was bent over the machine with my arms down inside it, when my muscles contracted it held me tight against the capacitor and thus trapped. Unable to move, being burnt and electrocuted, I knew I was slowly dying. Really I should have died quickly, the doctors say I must have the heart of an ox.

Mary was in the front room with a 5-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son. First our daughter came to the kitchen door. She looked at me, saw smoke and bright sparks and realising it was something akin to fire ran to the front door shouting “Fire, fire!” Mary thought she was playing. Then our young son came to the kitchen door looked in puzzled and walked away. I am so grateful neither of them touched me. The current passing into them could have stopped their hearts.

Mary could hear the hissing of electric current but assumed I had fixed the machine and it was filling with water. The electricity coursing through me was preventing me moving or speaking. I was in more pain than I had ever experienced or have ever been in since. Ever muscle and nerve ending was being triggered. To say it was agony would be to downplay it.

Eventually I summoned up every fibre of strength I had to repeat the phrase, “Turn the power off.” Mary heard me and came through. Again, fortunately she did not touch me. She was pregnant with Adam. She looked at every switch in the kitchen, not knowing where the flats’ junction box was. Then she worked her way through them all, starting at the light switch. I’d managed to turn my head towards the door earlier. I watched in what felt like slow motion as she switched each of the many switches off. I thought ‘By the time she gets the right one I will be dead.’ But obviously I didn’t die.

Once she turned off the power, she ran to phone 999. As I pulled my arm from inside the washing machine, I got an additional shock. There was a deep hole in my arm and blood pumping from it. Mary was telling the 999 operator I had been electrocuted, not knowing this. I looked around for something to stem the blood flow and found a tea towel to make a pressure bandage. I then sank to the floor in a pool of my own blood.

After phoning 999 Mary ran next door to get another minister in training, a friend I feel forever indebted to, Fran. She came in and without any thought for her clothing or herself, she sat in the pool of my blood and put her arm around me. This enabled Mary to sort out care for Sandy & Chris while we awaited the ambulance.

The ambulance took ages, they couldn’t find Wesley College. When they eventually arrived, I had brightened up considerably. I am one of those people who react opposite to the situation. In an emergency I am less panicked rather than more. I was laughing and joking in the ambulance. They strapped my arm under my nose, and I said, “I am never going to eat bacon again!” Think burnt flesh. By the way I eat bacon all the time now, so that didn’t last. That first ride in an emergency ambulance was a disappointment in many ways. I was sitting up looking out of the window. They didn’t have the lights or siren on. They had checked me over at the flat and decided I wasn’t in imminent danger. They were wrong. The doctors at the hospital told Mary, not me, that the next 24 hours were critical. After a major electrical accident my heart could have just stopped at any point in that time. I was wheeled into and out of the ambulance in one of those special chairs. I don’t mean to sound flippant; I don’t really want to be in need of travelling with sirens on. It’s just youthful expectation of an emergency ambulance. The ambulance crew were absolutely brilliant, helpful, friendly and skilled.

Another time I travelled in an emergency ambulance, was when we were living in Wellington and my legs stopped working again. This was after the two and a half years of them miraculously and medically unexplainably working. We waited many hours for an ambulance with the paramedics in. They had decided from the GP report that it wasn’t an emergency. Not walking is a big problem, but not life threatening.

They eventually arrived about 10.30pm. After some examinations from the paramedic they decided to take me in for further tests at Musgrove. Remember at this point, the reason they had been called is that I couldn’t stand or walk.

The lead paramedic said “As your alley is a bit bumpy and you have a lot of steps into your house, we haven’t brought a stretcher in. Can you walk to the ambulance?”

Obviously, I said I couldn’t. He then insisted that with them supporting me I could. I wasn’t given a further choice. They basically took me by each arm lifted me off the sofa and almost dragged me down the alley. My slippered toes actually scrapped the alley floor. I was trying to move them, but I only managed to move my feet about one step for every five or six of theirs, even then it was only short irregular movements, not walking. It was a terrible and very unpleasant experience. My head was hanging down, my body slumped, my weight supported totally on the two ambulance crew and my legs stiff and dragging. Had it not been for everything else that happened at that time I would have made an official complaint about the paramedic who was leading that team. He should have fetched a chair at the very least. I had enough to cope with losing the use of my legs again to think of making a complaint. Of all the times I have travelled in an ambulance, they are the one crew, the paramedic lead in particular, who were awful. All the others have been so helpful, kind, caring, professional.

I have also travelled many times in non-emergency ambulances. Let me tell you of two. I had an appointment in Liverpool in 2018. The ambulance crew were with Mary and I the whole day. It took four hours each way plus a stop for toilet and lunch. For me the toilet stop was just using a urine bottle in the ambulance. When I travel in hospital transport ambulances I must do so lying down on a stretcher, because of the collapses. Travelling on a stretcher that long, is quite difficult. I had an inflatable mattress to help, but even so the stretchers are very narrow, about my width, and the suspension of the ambulance is hard. I had many collapses and my arms had to be restrained by a blanket so that they didn’t hang uncomfortably down the side of the stretcher. Lying cocooned in a blanket, staring at the ceiling for four hours, being wheeled out to an appointment, then repeating that process home is no fun. It’s not something I wish to repeat in a hurry. But, the two ladies who took us were lovely. A nicer couple of ladies we couldn’t have wished for. They made the journey as easy as possible.

Being loaded into a hospital transport ambulance at Creech St Michael

Another time Mary and I went on a respite break to a disabled hotel in Minehead, its now closed. To get there at the time 2013, we had to hire a Red Cross ambulance. This was before I had my reclining wheelchair. Now that I have one, we can choose respite hotels or nursing homes near railway stations. We can travel by train which means I can recline my chair. It’s not as flat as a bed but works OK for train journeys. At that time, without the wheelchair we were going to Minehead by Red Cross ambulance. They charge quite a lot for their services, fortunately we got a grant to cover the hotel and travel. The crew were very helpful and as with other trips I was on a stretcher cocooned in blankets. If you have ever travelled on the Minehead road you will know that it is windy and a bit bumpy, so I did feel quite travel sick by the time we arrived. Staring at the ceiling, unable to see out, while you body is thrown around causes your brain confusion.

Without ambulances to get people to and from hospital many people would be in a big mess. They make transfers easier, smoother and more comfortable. The use of ambulances for hospital transport for people in my situation is also a great blessing and I am so grateful that we have an NHS which has these services. Apart from the one paramedic I mentioned earlier, who I see as an exception and who could well have been having an off day, the emergency ambulance crews I have met are excellent. They work long hours, see terrible, difficult things and yet remain helpful, professional, caring and understanding throughout. While the non-emergency crews don’t see all the accidents and incidents of their counterparts, they are still hard working, helpful, professional, caring and understanding.

My thanks go out to ambulance crews everywhere.

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Biography of Mike and Mary

Mary and I have been married 40 years having met a year earlier and fallen instantly in love. Yes, the full fairy-tale. We have three children, Sandy, Chris and Adam. Sandy who is married to Christian lives in the USA, Chris and Adam.

Mary and I are the embodiment of north meets south, with Mary from the north. We met when Mary worked at Stoke Mandeville hospital, where I was volunteering at the time.

We have lived in various places Steeple Claydon, Stoke Mandeville, a few weeks travelling in Israel, Simpson Cross (Wales), Bristol, Nailsea, Hartlepool, Hatch Beauchamp, Creech St Michael, Wellington and now Hartlepool again.

Our garden at Creech St Michael

The first signs of illness were in Bristol, but it was in Nailsea that it took hold more fully. Hartlepool is where I first needed a wheelchair. See the blog The unexpected emergency, from our time in Hartlepool. Creech St Michael is where I was first limited to a hospital bed and had carers for the first time, but I was still able to weight bear for transfers sometimes. A number of my blogs are from here, the first being Hello World.

It was also Creech St Michael where a miraculous healing happened, and I was able to walk for two and a half years this carried on until part way through our time in Wellington. Two years into our time in Wellington I was no longer able to weight bear or walk and needed a hoist for the first time. To understand something about this look at my blogs “You can do it again.” And “How can it be OK?

The Nailsea years

Our arrival in Nailsea in 1992 didn’t start well. After an exhausting day moving, with the help of my brother and brother in law, I awoke with a head splitting, sick, eyes blinding, face numbing, migraine. It wasn’t a headache. Our eight-year-old daughter, Sandy was with me, while my wife and two younger sons Chris and Adam, aged six and two were staying with my mum. Having seen that I was totally incapacitated by migraine, Sandy was making her breakfast and a drink for me.

2 Worcester Gardens, Nailsea, 28 April 1995

Worcester Gardens

When I pack a microwave, I use any spare clothes to hold the glass plate safely within the microwave. Not knowing about my clever packing skills, Sandy opened the door saw the clothes in this odd place and pulled them out. I heard the crash of glass from my bedroom and it mobilised me, slowly and painfully. Not an auspicious start, trying to clear broken glass from the kitchen floor, whilst in agony, trying not to be sick. But things got better.

Our first night as a family in this new house was an eye opener. Or should I say ear opener. We’d moved from a busy, noisy street in Bristol and here we were on a quiet road in Nailsea. Mary and I sat down after the children were in bed. After a moment of silence, we thought we’d gone deaf. Then we heard a cow moo. We’d never before or since lived anywhere as quiet, it was lovely. The house itself was not as lovely, it had been neglected and we decided we would only stay there for six months. We actually stayed thirteen and a half years.

We’d moved to Nailsea because of the schools and because our two sons had severe Asthma which meant we needed to move from the polluted air of the city. Selling our house in Bristol we rented a house next to one we planned to buy once the price dropped. This was when house prices were dropping, but faster in Bristol than Nailsea. But our plans didn’t work out. Due to a combination of events we ended up continuing to rent the house in Worcester Gardens.

Nailsea was an amazing place to live and still a place we look back to fondly. The first thing that struck us was how friendly it was. The health visitor recommended to Mary a neighbour across the road who would give her a lift to the school on cold wet days. This was needed because our lads had such severe asthma the cold air would trigger an attack and I used our only car to commute into Bristol for work. Our actual neighbours were amazing too, being so friendly and welcoming.

Safe is a word we always associated with Nailsea, it’s a place where we were happy to allow our kids to play out in the streets or at the local green. After the hothouse schools at Henleaze, our children really thrived at the Nailsea infant and junior and latterly the comprehensive school. The more relaxed and yet solid education suited all of them and they learnt effectively. The infant and junior schools were also very good at dealing with asthma.

We’d never lived anywhere, especially such a small town, with so many large churches. Not just large, but joyful, encouraging, full of life, supportive and helpful churches. As Christians we got to know many folks in the churches of Nailsea.

The fly in the ointment for me is that even before we moved to Nailsea, I had unknowingly been ill. In Bristol I’d been doing work on our house and towards the end of doing that I found my normal high energy levels dropping. Pain increased and I started to really struggle to function. Some days at work I literally couldn’t move for a few minutes and I felt sick and ill. Obviously, I saw the GP, he ran some basic blood tests and for some reason fitness tests, I was told I was unfit and needed to exercise more. In 1993 there was one blood test result that had a yellow highlight from the path lab, my red blood cells were enlarged, more on that later. So, on doctors’ advice I exercised, I started walking a mile each lunchtime and I bought an exercise bike and spent half an hour each night on it. A month later I went back to the GP, he re ran the fitness test and my fitness level had decreased. This was the first thing that pointed to a possible diagnosis. Muscles that are made worse by exercise is a symptom of ME. Normal muscles improve over time with exercise. My GP at the time didn’t believe in ME so he didn’t diagnose that.

Muscle fatigue and tiredness were not my main problems. I had pain, so severe that I could have happily ended it all, had I not had a family to live for. There were parts of my body that lost sensation, like they’d been anaesthetised and then came back a week or so later and another area lost sensation. My legs, my arms, my hands and my face competed with each other to see which could last longest without feeling. I had balance issues, my legs didn’t always obey me and there were other neurological symptoms. I repeatedly visited my GP at the time, who will remain nameless. Each time he ran blood tests there were yellow highlights on my red blood cell result. I now know these are megaloblastic red blood cells.

He called them, “Bully beef red blood cells, a sign of how healthy you are.”

He reckoned that was why the lab highlighted it. I now know it is a sign of pernicious anaemia, he should have known that. But these first sign of pernicious anaemia he totally ignored. There were several other anomalies in my blood test results:

My GP said this,

“In someone who was ill they would be significant, but in a healthy man like you we can ignore them.”

Yes, I found that unbelievable as well. I was repeatedly visiting him because I was ill. He didn’t really see me as ill even though I had lots of symptoms and anomalies in my blood test results. I struggled on working for two years with no answers having to take bigger and bigger chunks of time off work.

One day I was driving up the motorway. I entered it at Clevedon heading uphill towards Bristol. Being early morning, it was quiet, and I was on the inside lane. As I entered the motorway my hands fell off the steering wheel and my feet slipped from the pedals, my body went limp and I slumped forward with my eyes closing. I was not asleep, but frighteningly awake. I really thought I would die. As I was going uphill the car slowed with no acceleration applied, due to the motorway camber it drifted onto the hard shoulder and wedged against the kerb, stalling to a halt. After about half an hour or so, it felt an eternity I came around from what I now call my first collapse. (see other blogs for more details on these) Drove very slowly to the next exit and home. I went to bed and called the GP. He said I was just suffering from exhaustion and overwork and gave me a week off work.

I needed to know what was really wrong. I didn’t know at that time I could have just changed GP’s. So, I paid to see a private doctor. He was the one who diagnosed ME and said only time and rest would cure it. It was a poor diagnosis because it stopped them looking for the other problems, leading to another six years of untreated pernicious anaemia after it had already been untreated for a few years. As the diagnosis of ME gave an open-ended return date for work, my employer fired me because I was ill.

Over the next few years I was mainly limited to the house. I could occasionally get out, on a good day. But I found that my legs, became more and more disobedient as time went on, as if I was drunk. It was only recently that a neurosurgeon explained to me that my inability to walk was caused by the permanent neurological damage, resulting from the pernicious anaemia (central neuropathy) and that there was probably another overarching neurological condition that has been missed so far.

Between 1994 and 2000 Mary not only had our children, but me to look after. There were times when she had to leave them to sort themselves out downstairs, while she comforted me as I lay in bed. I mentioned before about pain. Mary sitting with me gently stroking my head and praying was the greatest comfort. Other times I was lying on the sofa feeling retched while the kids played around me. These were difficult times.

Mike Ill sleeping Children playing Feb 1995 no2

There were times of great joy too in those years. Kindness from friends and neighbours. Generous gifts of money that enabled us to buy food, a car given to us just when our previous one failed its MOT. Help from the churches. One-time Trendlewood Church took Mary and the children on a camping holiday, while our neighbour kept an eye on me, sorting my meals. At the campsite there was a swimming pool, too deep for Mary, as she is only short. The kids wanted to slide into it down a shute. So, the pastor stood in my place like a surrogate dad and caught each of them as they slid into the pool.

Mary found respite in an art group with two friends. The three of them met together for years. Mary also got an allotment near our house. It became her oasis from the stresses of illness at home and a place I could occasionally walk to and sit in enjoying the beauty.

In 1999 I’d finally had enough of my GP telling me I was fine, and nothing could be done. I insisted I see a neurologist. Whom I saw early 2000 and he diagnosed pernicious anaemia. After it was treated, I had a respite in my health. Let me explain for the non-medical. Any form of anaemia causes the body to be starved of oxygen. My body had been slowly starved of a full supply of oxygen since about 1990, when I first had symptoms. Hence the damage to my central nervous system.

From 2001 to 2005 I worked part time for the City Church Bristol as an Evangelist. We set up weekly at Nailsea Market giving out free tea, coffee and biscuits or telling people about the Alpha course.

Market 23rd April no.4

During that time, we also formed a Church plant called Link Church that met for a time at the Town Hall building, where the Baptist Church now meet.

Link Church (11)

One time we put on a fun weekend with the help of a large group of teenagers. It was called The Noise and we held it at Scotch Horn sports fields, August Bank Holiday weekend 2002.

IM000613
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Puppet show

In those years I also joined our children in a couple of productions of Nailsea musicals, my favourite being ‘Lest We Forget’. I love singing, acting, not so much. I am not saying I am any good, I just enjoy it.

It wasn’t that I was totally well in those years. But think of it this way, you’ve been suffering from reduced oxygen for years and suddenly your oxygen levels are returned to normal. It’s amazing, your energy levels increase, headaches decrease, and sickness gets less. Its like going from being on the floor to a couple feet above it, where normal is the ceiling. Its only once you have experienced it for a while that you realise the remaining limitations. What you may have realised about my character, by the fact I carried on working for a few years when I was first ill, is that I push hard and don’t give up easily. I am a fighter and not a quitter. So even once I realised, I was still ill, I carried on doing things. It was after I realised that I was still ill, that I started part time work for the church and joined Nailsea musicals. There is a foolish part of my character that thinks ‘if I push myself really hard, I will be able to overcome this.’ Of course, the actual result was a complete collapse again in 2005. I stopped everything and not surprisingly, having stopped and rested for a few months I felt better. So much better that when I was offered an opportunity to go and work in Hartlepool, part time, I took it. But that’s another story. One you will find in my other blogs.

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Relativity and Time

They say time is relative, was that Einstein? I’m not talking about his theories though, but that feeling of time passing at different speeds depending on how we feel.

You might imagine that time would pass very slowly for me. After all I spend my whole day lying around doing very little. You’d be wrong, time fly’s past, I don’t know why. In fact, at times I don’t know where time goes, I look around and it’s just disappeared. No, I haven’t nodded off, I realise that can make a long film very short or a long journey over much quicker. This is something different, a sense that life is passing by quickly. I realise part of it is age, every passing year is a smaller proportion of my life. So, each day therefore seems shorter. But there is something else too, I enjoy life, I enjoy thinking and learning, I enjoy hearing about things, chatting to people. I enjoy the time I have with my wife Mary. I enjoy spending time with my carers. Going out, even if only occasionally, is interesting and fun. Watching documentaries and films is enjoyable. Maybe that’s why time passes by fast, I am enjoying life.

Time isn’t all fun for me though. I can get fixated on time. We are currently with a very good care agency and a micro both provider who arrive on time or even early. But in the past, I used to get anxious when a carer was due. I am not good at waiting for appointments. So daily appointments are unhelpful to me. It’s better if the carers are always on time and I really know the carer well. But new people and changing times are stressful.

Do you find your life gets ruled by the calendar and clock? So, do I, but additional to that during one of my care visits I might get an unexpected visit. Not every medical visit gets notified to me, some slip through the system. Even ones that are regular, I normally only know a time 20-30 minutes before a visit, when they phone to say they are on route. Which means if they call at the beginning of a care visit, I have a choice, I can say to the person calling “can you call later”, not ideal. Or my carer can start my care and be part way through when they arrive. Obviously with someone like a nurse or doctor that’s not such a problem. But I also get deliveries and service calls from Millbrook wheelchair services and their equipment services. Then it’s not ideal when they phone and say they are on their way and we are mid way through my wash or massage. This can be alright for a delivery, but not for a bed, or hoist service.

Another area time plays a part is when to get ready. We all know, correction, men all know that women take a long time getting ready. Sorry, anyone can take a fair time getting ready to go out. I know not to criticise women; I am surrounded by them every day. Even my Alexa Echo has a female voice.

Most people can throw a coat on fast to just pop to the shops. When I am going out, even if just into the garden it can take 15-20 minutes. I must have a sling put on, the floors need to be covered as we have carpets, the wheelchair brought in to my room, the hoist is then used to move me into my wheelchair. A coat, slippers etc put on. Seat belt, shoulder straps, neck restraint all attached. Then I can manoeuvre out of the lounge into front lobby via kitchen, an art in itself. Mary or a carer puts down a metal inner ramp, this can’t stay in place as it catches on the door. I can then go outside. All this takes a long time. So, we must plan ahead to go out and allow for possible collapses as well in our timing.

Fully togged up for bad weather

Time is very relative; it can pass very fast. It can be difficult to manage. There can be too little of it. But this I know; I am enjoying the time I have.

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