Friday, March 28, 2008


I have been selling some bits and pieces to a dealer this morning, and it got me thinking about collections. My earliest and longest lasting one has been cows : it started with Staffordshire cow creamers and eventually extended to cows in absolutely any material. They are mostly pottery, but also brass, glass, wood, clay, gold, silver, and even wax!

But I now have so many that there is nothing like the pleasure in them that I had with the first two or three acquisitions, so hard come by because I had little money to spare - £3 I think I spent on my first one! I can remember so vividly the look of those cows on the high cornice round the large bed sitting room that I rented from friends in Maida Vale’s ‘Little Venice’; and I still feel the buzz I got from knowing I had sought them out and bought them, and had given them a home, in my first home on my own.

It was a marvellous Victorian room, big enough for two single beds, with built-in cupboards all along one wall, including a washstand space with marble slab which I used as my kitchen worktop. It had a huge bay window with a raised floor, so that it could have made a stage if I had wanted to perform something, and it overlooked the garden which had a beautiful magnolia tree in the centre of the lawn.

I remember one spring evening sitting at a table in the bay, eating an omelette and salad supper cooked on my gasring, and drinking wine with a man I thought I would marry, while we watched the magnolia glimmering in the falling dusk. Life was so good: I was living in the capital city with all its interest and excitement, I was supporting myself - well, up to a point, though I think my Pa paid me an allowance as well - I lived with people I cared about, I was in love ........... and I was collecting Staffordshire pottery cows!

Eheu fugit irreparabile tempus !
[This is my oh-so-kitch candle-wax cow figure!]

Thursday, March 27, 2008

My 'new' computer

Commenting on my post "My whole life", Avus asked me some questions about my new computer, to which I began composing an answer in Comments, but it became so long that I promised him a new post. Somehow that post has been stuck in 'draft' until now, but here it is.

It is not actually a "new new" computer, but one my son bought second-hand on Ebay - a reconditioned one from a dealer who buys company discards when they are updating. So the expense was small (£108 for computer, mouse and keyboard, no screen), it was ready to go, and my son was able to start straight in on transferring my stuff from the old to the new one. As he is a trained programmer he got this done on Friday evening/night and Saturday morning, reinstating all the customisations and so on that I had before, and the inconvenience to me was negligible - apart, that is, from trying to remember what I had on the old one, when asked! But there is effectively no 'running in' to be done.

However, it is worth mentioning that Richard always keeps my old hard drive when he has made a change for me, so that if I discover later that something has not been transferred, he can check it out and make it right. Last time, when I changed from Windows 98 to XP, my new computer did not have many of the fonts that I had liked on the old one, and he was able to send them to me by email to reinstall myself.

While he was here we found the bill for my first computer, built to his specifications 9 years ago, and he tells me I now have a processor which is 10 times faster, a memory which is 16 times bigger, and 10 times more disk space. Also I now have 8 USB sockets, as against 2 on my last one. Two of these are on the front of the computer, where there are also sockets for earphones and microphone. He reckons that with these I am now probably only about three years behind the state of the art, and we both agree that is good enough!

Avus, if you would like any more details let me know, and I can ask my son, or possibly put you in direct touch with him.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bad housekeeping!

Keith emailed me to tell me that a number of my links in the side bar were no longer functioning. I am grateful to him for pointing these out to me - I should be doing my own housekeeping. A lot of my link URLs had become corrupted. I am pretty sure they were OK when I set them up. I just wonder if things could have got upset somehow when Blogger was doing its own housekeeping. Anyway, I have put right all the ones Keith told me about, but if anyone notices this problem again, I would greatly appreciate having it pointed out.

Keith also asked me why he couldn't find both the versions of "Do not resuscitate" which I had posted. The muddle there was my own, but is now sorted. You will find them on 11th and 12th February 2007, here and here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Let the dying speak ...

How often do we we read or watch a deathbed scene where the dying person is struggling to articulate some confession or apology, and where the person who sits with them tries to brush their words aside, or tell them there is no need to unburden themselves, that all that is in the past, and that they must not distress themselves?

My feeling is that those who are dying should be allowed to say what is troubling their minds and lying heavy on their hearts; and however painful it may be for the listener to hear, those last words should be accepted and acknowledged. At no other time in our lives are we likely to be so clear about what we need to say, so that we may die peacefully and without regrets.

I wrote something here about how I wished my children to care for me in the last days of my life, and I am going to add to that some words about listening to what I have to say.

Monday, March 10, 2008

My whole life .....

I am having a weird experience at the moment. My youngest son was here at the weekend, installing a new computer for me, and he chose the My Pictures folder for my screen saver. Previously I had chosen one particular folder with some sort of homogeneous content, but I decided to leave it as it was for a while.

I am finding that the effect of a random selection from my unweeded and badly organised picture files is most strange, including as they do not only photographs and graphics, but also images of pages from census records, scans of family letters and other documents, maps, medical diagrams, and pictures on almost any subject culled from the web for my blog.

Every now and then I receive quite a shock, when, for example, a treasured nude picture of my beautiful mother on her honeymoon pops up after some crude cartoon that I may have once thought worth saving .

But the greatest impact of this passing parade is of the scenes from my own life. As I am lucky enough to have lots of photos taken by my parents, as well as all my own, there is a mind-boggling array of events and experiences passing before my eyes in quick succession. If I watch for more than a few moments, I feel as though my grip on reality will loosen, and my mind begin to fragment. Have I really lived all that? Even my 80 years do not seem enough.

The computer slideshow is rather like stepping on a treadmill which is going faster than you can run. Perhaps it is better to allow the brain to pass one's life in review at its own speed. But if, as they say, your whole life passes before you in the moment before death, I am going to take a very long moment to die!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

For better or for worse?

I was eventually offered a slot in the angiogram schedule at the neighbouring hospital 9 or 10 miles away. I had to get dressed and packed at very short notice and was whisked downstairs in a wheelchair to a waiting ambulance bus that was transferring patients between hospitals. I noted wryly that I would miss my lunch, which would probably be over by the time I got to the other one! I went straight to the Cardiac Department this time, where I was put first in the the acute ward (where I did manage to get some lunch), but after a couple of hours was moved to the general ward. And that was my last move; during my 16 days in the care of the NHS I had occupied 5 beds on 4 wards in 2 hospitals!

I had the angiogram next day. I was ’done’ by a charming Chinese doctor who looked about a quarter of my age. He spent a great deal of time with me beforehand, while I dithered over the consent form, as I nearly lost my nerve when I saw that the fatality risk for angioplasty, which I might have to have, was as much as 1 in 100, which seemed rather high to me. The outcome was that of the four bypass grafts which I had had done in 1993, two were blocked again, but two were still functioning well and keeping me going. It seems I have been very lucky to get 15 trouble-free years out of the original grafts. There was no scope for either stents or further bypass surgery, so management with medication was the way forward, and I could go home the next day.

The following morning around 10.30 my discharge was confirmed by the doctor doing the ward round. You might think that as I lived only 14 miles away I could have rung my son and got home by lunchtime. Oh no! First the doctors have to finish their rounds, which takes till after lunch. Then they have to write up all the medications needed by the patients on their wards, including discharge letters for the lucky ones. Then the pharmacist has to collect the prescriptions and take them to the Pharmacy, where several hours are required for them to put up all the drugs that are needed throughout the hospital. I was warned that I might not be able to get mine until early evening, so I rang my son and told him I would ring again when I was actually ready to leave.

“Well at least I shall be able to eat my supper with my friends on the ward”, I thought. No such luck. I had overheard a nurse on the phone saying “No, I’m sorry! We have a patient going home later but she hasn’t gone yet”. I was not too surprised therefore when I was told they were being pressed hard for a bed for another patient, and could I possibly get dressed and packed, and move down to the patients’ Day Room to wait there? I could hardly say “no”, so at 3.30 pm I left the ward and went to watch TV in the Day Room, where my lonely supper was brought to me later. At 7 pm my medicines came up from the Pharmacy, and at 8 pm I was finally able to walk out of the hospital.

But there is more. I had hardly settled in the Day Room before people began moving in furniture and filing cabinets from the office next door, where they were going to lay a new floor. At first it was only a few pieces, for which there was plenty of room. But after a trip to the bathroom I came back to find the few chairs in front of the television pushed into a corner, and barely room left for one person to sit and watch comfortably, never mind any other patients who might wish to do so. And when everything had been packed in that could be, the power tools started up in the next room, and carried on in competition with the TV until my son arrived to collect his frazzled and exhausted Mum. And to think that we go to hospital to get better!!!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Death and dementia

The Medical Assessment Unit was a further extension of A&E, a mixed ward of 4-bed bays where patients were held for short-term stays, or until a bed could be found for them on a more appropriate ward. As such, it saw patients come and go with great frequency, at any time of the day or night, with every different kind of illness, and of every age, though mostly geriatric. They never found a spare cardiac bed for me, and I spent two weeks there waiting for an angiogram, becoming a sort of fixed point, someone the staff could get to know a bit, and occasionally chat to in the quieter hours of night duty.

During the time that I was on that ward, the remaining three beds in my bay had a succession of no less than 19 other patients, both men and women. I cannot now remember them all, though many of them made an impression at the time. But I do remember that early on in my stay, in the bed opposite mine, there were two deaths within 24 hours.

I remember too the old man of about the same age and frailty as my husband was at the end - so thin, so subdued and quiet for most of the time. But there were moments when he would suddenly discard his oxygen mask and start ripping off all his monitor leads, or take off all his clothes and, if admonished, start throwing things off his table. I came back from a trip to the bathroom one time to find the floor of the bay covered in Maltesers! There was a certain bravura about such behaviour, a courageous defiance with which I had some sympathy. One could feel that he was hanging on to a sense of self-determination despite his diminished physical state. He certainly got the attention of the nurses!

Rather different from the pathetic, lost old woman lying next to me whose dementia, combined with extreme deafness, left her at the mercy of family and carers. She arrived on the ward from A&E at much the same time as I did, and was constantly worrying about the whereabouts of her handbag, which, she said, had a lot of money in it. She would speak of it to every nurse and other professional who came her way, but her enquiries were ignored or fobbed off with delaying words or excuses. Then her granddaughter visited, a loving and attentive young woman who spoke sympathetically to her Gran - until, that is, she was asked about the handbag. “I just need to know where it is” said the old lady plaintively. “You don’t need to know anything, Nana, you just need to leave everything to us” came the reply. Well meant, no doubt, but of one thing I am sure: we all have the right to remain in control for as long as we are aware enough to do so, and every woman’s life depends on her handbag! Why could no-one take the trouble to say reassuringly “I expect your family took it home, dear” - which, when her daughter visited, turned out to be the case. Her dignity was further assaulted when the doctor doing the rounds approached her with the remark “I am told you have some dementia”. This, of course, she roundly denied.

Then there was the 84-year-old man, upright and dapper and still quite a 'dish', who came in with a bad asthma attack. He never stopped fretting to go home, where he had an 89-year-old wife with the beginnings of dementia who depended on him for her care. At home he had his own nebulizer with which he was accustomed to manage his asthma attacks, in addition to his caring responsibilities. In the hospital there was a nebulizer plugged in beside his bed in case of need, but it had been disconnected while some other equipment was plugged in for the use of the neighbouring patient. This made him nervous, which I could understand, as I had had to call a nurse for him once already when an attack began with great suddenness. He was unable to plug it in himself, so he asked a nurse to do so. The nurse kept telling him he needn’t worry, because if he had another attack one of the staff would come and fix it for him. No matter how much he explained that he needed to have it under his own instant control, the nurse would not take the point, completely disregarding the fact that it could often take many minutes for the staff to answer the call bells. This time I could not forbear saying my piece in an attempt to get the thing connected for him, which it eventually was. When later he had another attack, this patient tried to bribe a nurse not to write it up in his notes, so that he would still be able to go home next day to his wife. Of course she did, but the doctor chose to overlook it and sent him home anyway, to his great delight and mine - (he was actually rather a bore, and chose me to unload his complaints onto).

[More to follow]

The last pancake

My (very small) heart attack began at 8 pm on Wednesday 6th February, while I was cooking up the last of my Shrove Tuesday batter: a tight feeling in the middle of my chest over the sternum, and some discomfort in the left arm around the elbow. The sensations seemed like no more than the normal aches and pains one gets in old age, but their persistence, and their classic position for heart attack symptoms, seemed to warrant paying attention. I checked the symptoms on the internet, ate my pancake, then left the washing up and went up to bed. By this time I knew in my gut that I should ring 999, although I felt I would probably be wasting their time.

A car with one paramedic arrived within 10-15 minutes, closely followed by an ambulance with two more - not because I needed three blokes to carry me downstairs, overweight though I am, but because the car was nearer and could get to me quicker. They asked some questions and did an ECG and decided I was for the nearest hospital. I pointed out that this was not the one in my own health authority which I usually attend, and which has all my notes - (which would prove to be a nuisance later) - but as it was more convenient for my family to visit, I didn’t protest very much.

I had not been experiencing any nausea - not, that is, until that ambulance ride. I am a notoriously bad traveller, and I had to sit with my back to the driver -something I never do in trains - while the ambulance rattled and banged and swayed and swung it’s way for the 7 miles to Accident and Emergency. I felt a great deal worse on arrival than I had on leaving home!

In A&E they did another heart trace and gave me a fearsome injection in the stomach of some clot-busting drug. (I had had aspirin and an under-the-tongue GTN spray in the ambulance). When they had finished with me there I was moved next door to the Clinical Decision Unit, a sort of keep-net area, it seems, where they decide whether to keep you or throw you back. I was to stay the night, and in the morning they would do a 12-hours-after blood test which would show conclusively whether I had had a heart attack or not. Meanwhile, thanks to the treatment I had received, the mild pain I had been suffering in the chest and arm had disappeared by midnight.

The blood test next day was positive, so they shunted me upstairs to the Medical Assessment Unit, until a bed could be found for me on the Cardiac Ward. I was hooked up to a monitor for the next 24 hours, after which, having had no further chest pain, I was allowed full freedom of movement again, much to my relief. They would keep me in for a week’s recuperation anyway, and would try to arrange for me to have an angiogram in their sister hospital before going home, in case further intervention was needed.

So the worst was over for the time being. I was optimistic - no, more than that, I was determined that this would be nothing much. I just didn’t feel ill - headachy and tired, yes, but I feel tired most of the time anyway. I would settle for slowing down a bit - I don’t do much anyway - but further surgery I did not want to face.

I was not ready for that. In fact I was not ready for any of this, so soon after my husband’s last illness. And I am much too busy with my research project into his ancestors, which has produced so much interest, such compelling trails to follow up, such intriguing stories to record. There were papers spread all over my study and my dining room table. If I didn’t get back to them I should lose the thread I was following and have to start all over again.

And if that wasn’t enough, there was my 9-year-old grandson, who never knew his other granny and has lost both his grandpas in the space of three years. My son told me that he was beginning to complain, that he’s not doing too well with grandparents!

No, it wouldn’t do, I could not be ill!

[More to follow]