Friday, 25 September 2015

The Ragnar Hairybreeks Question
*   *   *   *   *
So, once again the routine fasting, pill, etc. etc., into the black and out again, surfacing to High Dependency and a degree of pain that overrode anything I’d experienced before.
They often ask you to rate your pain, 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst you’d ever known. My 10 had been tooth abscess or childbirth (in their different ways they make you want to bang your head against the wall). When the nurses turned me over after the hip operations, that rated 15, but at least it didn’t last long. This pain was monstrous, way beyond 20, and the nurses hadn’t even got near the turnover bit. When they came near, I gripped the rails and wouldn’t be turned. They retreated, muttering. The monster carried on biting.
Then Karen appeared and saw that this was beyond the usual amount of nastiness. Almost at once her professional eye saw what was wrong. “Your morphine line isn’t connected,” she said, swiftly scanned the room to see who was available, and, there being no-one, connected it up; as the blessed dope took hold, I drifted back down towards the old 10 mark. Phew.
There is absolutely nothing so good as having one of your own folk looking out for you when you’re helpless.
That hiccup aside, recovery was straightforward, but the outcome was a notch or two across the fuzzy line that divides disabled from normal: I still (about 5 years later) need crutches, and even with crutches the sense of balance is iffy, for the bad leg is now a bit shorter than it used to be; it’s surprising how small a difference is enough to throw a body off balance. Moving about now is like doing a slightly difficult climb, looking all the time for the next hold, so as not to tip over.
Would I have to go into rehab, conquer the stairs, make breakfast? No, because now I had a nurse at home (Karen), they were happy to let me go. Grateful as I was for being mended, and for the effort that had gone into the repairs, and for the nurses, doctors, auxiliaries, tea-ladies, vampires, cleaners, physios and OTs, many of whom had gone out of their way to be kind and helpful beyond the call of duty, I didn’t want to go back in there again.
While home was where I wanted to be, there were things that went on being difficult, and still are: putting socks on, for instance; showering – for as soon as the shampoo makes me shut my eyes, I start falling, so each shower provides excitement parallel to a day on the Buachaille long ago.
shadows on the road at sunset
Gradually crutching distance has increased, but now I’ve gone as far as I can -  on a good day about 500 yards, half way to the nearest bus stop; when I get back after this enormous distance I am far more exhausted than after the 8-hour day long ago when Allen and I sewed up the whole of Glencoe [post of August 2013], a total ascent of 8,600 feet. Age plays a part in the difference, of course, but a minor part.
It will be obvious to any reader of the early posts in this blog that I have vivid memories of weekends spent with climbing buddies. Almost all of them died on the hill, far too young. One winter night I lay sleepless in the C.I.C. hut beneath the cliffs of Ben Nevis, knowing that Ted, one of our group, was lying outside the hut in a plastic bag, having fallen on the way down from the summit. How cold and lonely he must be out there in the snow - even while I realised how absurd that thought was, for the thing in the body-bag would never be cold or lonely again.
Back then, each fatality was shocking. Now I envy them. No doubt the end was unpleasant, but it was quick, and each one of them died doing the thing he loved.
Whereas I have lived on to become ultimately a burden, costing the NHS an amount both in money and in effort that would doubtless stagger me if I knew what it was.
Of course I am grateful for the effort that has mended this aged body, and for the time that Mike and Margaret, Sheena, Trish and Peter, Ken and Pauline, Lesley, as well as my immediate family have spent visiting; and of course the present state of the aged body, while irritating, is perfectly liveable.
Only I wonder if it has been worth that much effort.
As Ragnar Hairybreeks (was it?) asked: "Is this how you wish to be remembered?"
Back in February ’07, as I lay on the kitchen floor wondering if Widget was going to eat me, might it not have been far more economical to shoot Old and Idle now that it was broken and useless?
*   *   *   *   *
(The end (with luck))

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Twa Corbies
*   *   *   *   *
So, once again the routine checks, the fasting, the wee pill, the backless flowery gown, the trolley ride to the bright light, the calm, competent team in bonny green, the slide from trolley to table, the merciful blackness. A moment later (it seems), waking again in High Dependency, with the catheter and oxygen and the blessed morphine. Once more the bit where two nurses turn you, to prevent bedsores, and it hurts like b*ggery in spite of the morphine. (Surgeons and doctors seem unaware of this, but of course they aren’t around to hear the language and – sometimes – screams.)
Again the transfer to a ward, but this time it’s a single room with toilet, hurrah. And there’s a new feature: a weight is attached to the new cement leg, which apparently will end up a bit shorter than it was, and the weight is there to minimise the shortening. An unnerving feeling of being gradually dragged over the edge, though obviously the weight would stop when it hit the floor.
Fine to have an adjacent loo; only, when the need arose, I had to call a nurse first to remove the weight so that I could get up and make the slow zimmeration loowards, so it took quite a time to get there; since I had the blessing of a catheter it was only Number Two that needed the journey, but the antibiotic in the cement had a powerful loosening effect on the bowels, and an Urgent Need could strike very suddenly. Many near-accidents and one frightful uncontrollable episode live in the memory. Truly nurses have a shitty job.
Aside from the recurrent bowel emergency, there was little to entertain. so the brain dipped into its resources: heaps of music lived in there, but it only played what it felt like at the time; dollops of Great (and small) Literature were scattered about too, surely something amusing would surface?
Out of all that Greek and Latin stuff, was there not a snippet or two? What came to mind was Petronius, who wrote the first (possibly) novel ever (oddly, epic doesn’t count as “novel”), including a satirical account of a rich vulgar dinner-party hosted by Trimalchio, who was almost certainly a cartoon version of Nero; Nero was not pleased, and soon Petronius found himself in a situation where suicide was the best option; he invited his friends round, and they had a great party with wine and posh nosh and song and jokes, during which P. slit his veins open, bandaged them from time to time if a particularly good riff of jokes was on the go, and amid the feasting and revelry gradually handed in his dinner-pail (in a manner of speaking). Clever Petronius, I thought, remembering the white tunnel and the peaceful feeling. Best not dwell on that just now, though. How about music?
What popped up was a poem-plus-song, The Twa Corbies, by that greatest of all balladeers, Anon. Old Blind Dogs’ version was singing in my head. Everyone knows it – a tale of (probable) skulduggery and treachery told by the eponymous Corbies as they discuss their dinner-options: “I ken whaur there lies a new-slain knight,
and naebody kens that he lies there
but his hawk, his hound and his lady fair.
His hound is tae the huntin gane,
His hawk tae fetch the wild-fowl hame,
His lady's tain anither mate,
So we may mak oor dinner swate."
"Ye'll sit on his white hause-bane,
And I'll pick oot his bonny blue een;
Wi ae lock o his gowden hair
We'll theek oor nest whan it grows bare."
So we’re left to guess who done him in: his missus? the bloke she’s moved in with? both together? he was bonny, but maybe seriously boring? all we get is the Corbies’ point of view, which is limited to nosh and stuff for nest-lining – lots there to brood over, great plot material, masterly story-telling, far, far better than Shakespeare, it seems to me.
Dark thoughts, and Old Blind Dogs go on and on about the corbies picking oot his bonny blue een, but they pass the time. Days come and go, zimmering gets a little easier, Christmas is drawing near. Let me have a shot with elbow-crutches … no, impossible.
But Karen and family are coming back from South Africa for their summer holiday and they will stay with me, so I can go home. This is the most cheering news imaginable.
And on Christmas Eve they come and get me. Home means negotiating a tiny step, about one inch high, at the gate, and another at the door, incredibly difficult, but at last I can sink into an armchair and hope that zimmering the two steps down into the kitchen and bathroom will somehow be possible.
Only 10 weeks to go now, until bye-bye, cement, hello, new prosthesis. This might be the beginning of the end.
*   *   *   *   *
(alas, old’n’idle has droned on so long aboot thon pome that we’ll have to leave the rest till another instalment)

Monday, 21 September 2015

Washout and Girdlestone
*   *   *   *   *
Back in ARI, the surgeon considered the rat that was trying to escape from my scar. “We’ll open it up and wash it out,” he said. Um, did that mean the flowery gown and the balance along the prune spectrum, all over again? Of course it did. But it would be a very minor thing this time, no learning to walk again, no rehab, home as soon as the stitches were out.
And so it proved. Whew! So that was fixed, then?
Well, not entirely, because it wouldn’t quite close up again, and stuff kept oozing out of it. Community nurses came two or three times a week to change the dressing. Every month I went back to the clinic, where the surgeon took a look: it’s just laudable pus, he said; oh, so that’s all right then, and we discussed cars (his a Porsche (envy), mine a mere Alfa Romeo) and his deerhound; he showed me its picture on his iphone, a splendid beast; of course I knew that cats (especially mine) were superior to dogs, but felt that truth was best left unsaid.
I wondered what was so laudable about pus, but the surgeon inspired confidence and the community nurses were a fine bunch – I looked forward to their visits, and I was at home, and able to walk not too badly, improving steadily. Surely this little thing would clear itself up?
Going shopping was a bit iffy, because quite often the pus would unpredictably burst forth from its dressing and start to leak through my trousers, and the passers-by would be embarrassed, not realising that it was just pus, and laudable.
Sometimes they tried a new type of dressing, but still the leak continued. “It’s bound to get better eventually,” I said to the most experienced nurse; she looked away and changed the subject, and I realised I was wrong. But so what? It was a nuisance, but that’s all, basically I was fine.
But there came a day when the surgeon said “I think we should do a revision”, and went on to explain what he had in mind: open up the leg and take out the existing prosthesis. But how will I get about without a bone? Well, we then fill up the space with cement full of powerful antibiotic, and that’ll zap the remaining infection. You’ll keep the cement leg for 10 weeks, and you’ll be able to get about on it. And then we’ll open it up and remove the cement and give you a new prosthesis, and you’ll be fine.
I felt a powerful resistance to this notion: two more lots of prune etc. Why not just carry on? The pus was a nuisance but I was doing okay, it was liveable.
He told me about long-term consequences of not dealing with the infection, and made an appointment for me to see the head of Infection Control, so that I could get another opinion.

Meantime I did some googling; it seemed that the unzapped MRSA bug could result in “pneumonia or inflammation of the heart, organ disruption and even death”. Mm.
On Girdlestone I found the description of how to do it (aarrggh) and this advice to the surgeon: “This is a difficult procedure and is for more experienced surgeons only ... If you are inexperienced: (1) The joint cavity may become infected and seal off. (2) You can injure his sciatic nerve. (3) You may have to abandon the procedure uncompleted, in which case you will feel ashamed, and he will be made worse.” Double aarrggh.
I went to hear Infection Control’s message. He considered all the technical details of the infection and state of leg, and inspected my hands, especially the nails, with care. He told me what would likely happen if the bug didn’t get zapped, and it was just as Google had said. His strong recommendation was to have the revision.
Back at the clinic, the surgeon said “My predecessor wouldn’t do this; he’d do the Girdlestone bit, but not a new prosthesis. He used to do Shetland. If you go up there you’ll see folk walking like this,“ and he did a realistic imitation of a chap limping along bent over, with one leg shorter than the other. Yes I’d seen folk walking like that, though I hadn’t known what was wrong. “It’s a difficult procedure; and you’ll need a longer prosthesis, specially ordered, expensive. But I’m willing to offer it. It’s your choice, no-one’s forcing you. If we’re going to do it, the sooner the better.” And we reverted to discussing Porsches and deerhounds, to give me time to think.
I tossed a mental penny, yes or no, and shut the frontal lobes down and consulted the lizard …
“Yes,” I said, “go ahead.”
*   *   *   *   *

(How amusing will a cement leg turn out to be? Will a new, longer prosthesis be fun? or not? the next (and possibly last) instalment will reveal all)

Sunday, 20 September 2015

In the Cupboard
*   *   *   *   *
How long for the vancomycin to zap the MRSA? When will I be back home? The doctor, a kindly soul, strokes his chin. “Oh, just a few weeks?” I note the question in his voice and the way he’s looking into the far distance, and reckon on it being a fair number of weeks. So in that case, how amusing is it going to be in the cupboard?
Pluses: I feel reasonably ok; there is a bed, a wee chest of drawers, a washbasin, a commode, a window high up with a view of the sky; I might be able to open that window; I won’t need to practise putting on socks.
Minuses: intravenous medication for an hour twice daily; strictly no socialising with other patients (that might be a plus, of course, depending); boredom?
But surely there’s enough random rubbish in the head to keep the boredom at bay? And of course visitors can come and tell me what’s doing in the great outside world where there is weather and the owl at night, and my cats – I worry about the cats.
Mike and Margaret, my nearest neighbours, come regularly: the cats are fine, no need to worry, here are your clean clothes, give us your dirty ones, here’s a bacon sandwich from M&S, and some dark-chocolate-coated ginger biscuits. Oh yum yum. I keep the sandwich up on the high windowsill to eat at 5 a.m., before the day shift comes on with breakfast. What a drag it must be to come and visit, parking is a nightmare, but they do it week in, week out, bringing treats. My indebtedness is very soon far beyond any chance of repaying.
Other neighbours pop in from time to time, and even a neighbour's sister, visiting from South Africa because her father is somewhere in this hospital, comes for a chat.
Lesley, once a colleague in Stromness, comes all the way from Montrose, bringing news of Orkney, for she visits there regularly. Madeline, once a fellow student, comes all the way from Edinburgh, with a fat book about the depopulation of St Kilda.
Without the visitors the cupboard could have been a tad desolate. But even outside visiting hours there was some light entertainment. For instance, the battle of Getting Into Bed.
Getting out of bed was a doddle, necessary either to wash or to evacuate into the commode, or to access the bacon sandwich on the high windowsill. But getting back into bed was seriously difficult, because the bad leg was by now enormously swollen and so heavy that even heaving with both hands I couldn’t get it off the floor. I tried asking for help. We can’t lift that, they said, we aren’t allowed, it would hurt our backs. Health And Safety rules.
So I asked for a slip sheet (a piece of slippery material which makes sliding on to the bed possible – I’d been given one in Inverurie). No, too dangerous. Why? You could slide right across the bed and shoot off to the floor, Health And Safety.
Arrant rubbish, of course. No way could that happen. But I guessed what might be going on: perhaps they’d been told to make me try harder, because I was a lazy attention-seeker, unwilling to make an effort. (Which, of course, I was, only not in that particular context.)
Next I evolved a Cunning Plan. I kept a big plastic bag in which Mike and Margaret had brought my clean clothes. When no one was observing, I laid it on the edge of the bed, slid smoothly over it and safely into bed, then hid the plastic bag.
For quite some time no one knew, or if they knew they kept silent. And with practice it gradually became easier and quicker. But one day they said “We’ve been told to check how you get safely into bed.” “Oh, no need,” I said, “it’s no problem.” “Aye, but we’ve been told …” Gulp. I got out of bed, wondering how to get out of this, but no Cunning Plan B came to mind. So making an enormous effort and heaving with both hands I got my huge swollen leg with its attendant sorry carcass back into bed. Hah.
The weeks were passing, and it was getting steadily more difficult to find a vein. There came a time when only one nurse, the Chief Vampire, could get a cannula to work, and she was usually on night shift somewhere upstairs, available around midnight. So they decided to put in a Hickman line, a tube in my chest, straight into a major blood vessel. Under local anaesthetic I watched the x-ray movie as the tube went in – the most entertainment for ages. After that, getting the medicine aboard was easier.
The vancomycin course came to an end, but the MRSA was still there, unzapped. What next? Was it time to give up? No, they had another weapon that might be the answer, gentamicin. How long would that take? Oh, er, a few weeks? Hmm.
One day, a deputation came. I needed to be moved, not clear why. There was choice: Inverurie, Oldmeldrum or Elgin. The obvious place was Inverurie, only 10 miles from home (home – would I ever go home?)
Back again to Inverurie, but this time not a big ward, not a cupboard, but a spacious bedroom with attached bathroom - basin, proper flushing looand SHOWER – and a fridge and TV. All to myself. With many windows looking onto grass and trees and people walking about.
Ecstasy. Bacon sandwiches kept much better in the fridge. Mike and Margaret sometimes took me out in a wheelchair to watch the skateboarders doing their amazing thing.
The bad leg was less swollen now, getting into bed was a doddle, the morning shower bliss. Soon be home.
The weeks ground slowly past, I felt fine. One day the Hickman line had clogged up, and the medication wouldn’t travel in, so they sent me back to hospital, where the line was pulled out. By now the veins were once more adequate.
A day came when they said “You can go home tomorrow.” Home? HOME! Tomorrow? TOMORROW!
Next day, as I packed things and got ready, I suddenly felt a shivering tremor. The same shiver that had marked the onset of the MRSA months back? No. Absolutely not.
Mike came and took me home, and I found that he had got Charlie, the blacksmith down the road, to put in two strong rails at the steps between kitchen and livingroom. The Occupational Therapist fixed a rail beside the bath and a board across the bath so that I could shower sitting down.
And there were the cats, well looked after all this time, and we started going for walks again, a bit shakily at first, but soon into the woods, following our old tracks.
A joyous time.
Until one day I noticed that the scar was a bit red. A day or two later it was bulging; it looked as if a rat was trying to get out. I took it along to the GP. He gave it one look and phoned for an ambulance. And gave me half an hour to get home and find my things for going back to hospital.
*   *   *   *   *

(Is Old’n’Idle doomed? Has the superbug won? Next instalment may reveal all, or possibly not.)

Thursday, 17 September 2015

the right leg is marked with an arrow in case of error
Stuff Happens
*   *   *   *   *
So back in ARI the usual non-emergency routine swung into place: next of kin, blood, chat with medics, the fast, the pill, the shower, the mirth-provoking backless flowery gown. In the course of all which I tried to get a promise to keep the removed femur for me afterwards, for I fancied having it on the mantelpiece as a memento mori - a reminder to be more careful in future. No luck there; but they offered to take photos, so I gave a medical student my camera, urging complete coverage of everything.
Presently the trolley came and I was wheeled along the labyrinth of corridors and into the blackness where stuff happened that I know only from the pictures that the student took. You may prefer not to see them, in which case look away now.
removal of broken femur and failed plate, and closing up after the prosthesis in inserted

In what seemed a moment I was in a recovery place and soon thence into a ward.
Still dozy, I was shown two buttons, one to press for more morphine and the other to call for help, but registered them only vaguely. It seemed very cold, I wanted another blanket, and fumbled with the help button. And dropped it. So maybe more morphine? I groped about for the morphine button but couldn’t find it.
It got colder … I was on the summit plateau of Ben Macdui in a whiteout, hoping not to see the Fear Liath Mòr [see Attack of the Earworms. posted Sep 2013]. The fog became thicker, closed in, became a shiny tunnel. This wasn’t the Macdui of 1953, this was surely the famous shiny white Tunnel of Death? It was very peaceful, a relief not to have to deal with the prunes and the stairs and so on … just to be allowed to drift …
But no, drifting was stopped sharply. Someone was shaking me and saying urgently “Don’t you dare, don’t you DARE fade out after all that work we put in.” It was the surgeon, a most excellent, witty lady, who in no time at all dissolved the shiny tunnel with a massive input of blood. Later they said I’d lost 4 pints of blood, about half the total, so I suppose that would be how it feels to bleed out.
Farewell, tunnel, and hello, prunes and zimmer and once again that steep climb towards mobility. But it was nice to have known the moment of utter peace.
Better still, as soon as I got upright and tried zimmering, I knew it was okay. This time, I was walking feebly but properly. This time the stairs would be a doddle.
One day, when the stitches were out and everything looked fine, the question of rehab arose, because it wasn’t yet feasible to cope with living alone. Where to go, Inverurie or Woodend, just up the road from ARI? I thought I’d try Woodend.
Oh no, not another huge Nightingale ward! Too hot, too little room between beds. But no matter, soon be out of here and back home. Meantime, get walking, practise getting socks on (amazingly hard to do).
A few days passed, and one morning I felt a strange shivering tremor, and suddenly it seemed very cold. I rang to ask for another blanket, the nurse looked, checked my temperature and soon they took a sample of blood. In no time at all my bed was wheeled along to the end of the ward, where there was a separate room that used to be a cupboard, and vancomycin was dripping into a vein.
I had MRSA, it seemed, and the course of treatment would likely take 12 weeks, and I wasn’t going home until the antibiotic cleared the bug ... If it did.
*   *   *   *   *

(Will Old’n’Idle enjoy life in the Cupboard? Can vancomycin defeat the MRSA? Next instalment may possibly reveal the answer. Or not.)

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Prunes and Prisons
*   *   *   *   *
“Imagine you’re walking on egg-shells” they said, as they levered my wincing carcass to its feet with one of their giant hoists, “because it’ll be a bit fragile at first.” And indeed zimmering across the open spaces of the ward to reach the toilet felt desperately fragile at first, far more so than with a knee replacement. But I was confident that it would come right in a few days, and I would go home.
How to make the fastest recovery? What are the pluses and minuses that can get you home or leave you in limbo? Medical stuff, obviously, but that isn’t in your hands; you must assume that the medics are doing their best for you. But there are bits where you can maybe help yourself a little.
For me, first priority was the unblocking of the bowels, familiar from previous post-operative dependency on morphine; but I’d already found out that the prune was the magic bullet that gets you going, so I had great wads of prunes for breakfast each day. Indeed I overdid it a bit, in view of the long time and serious effort needed to reach the toilet. It’s not easy to find the right place on the spectrum between concrete bowel and excess prune: on the one hand you are reduced to breaking through the concrete barrier with a teaspoon and unbalancing contortion, on the other a sudden speedy zimmeration is needed – hard to achieve while on eggshells. The websites that advise you on post-operative care are largely silent on this point, yet your feeling of well-(or not)-being is dependent on it to a great extent.
Food in hospitals gets a lot of criticism, but if you had to cater for all those people with different conditions. you’d find it hard to do on the budget. There is always choice, and it doesn’t take long to find out what suits you best: personally I found fish and chips on a Friday great, and macaroni-with-potato the pits. Best to stifle that longing for a bit of wine and a cup of proper coffee – it wasn’t going to happen.
Routine humiliation is unavoidable. One of my worst moments was the first compulsory shower, for which I was taken to the shower, clothes all removed, shown how it worked, by a male nurse, an ex-sergeant-major; as I sat in the chair the shower head leapt out of my soapy hand on to the floor where I couldn’t reach it, nor could I reach the controls to turn it off, nor was there any visible means of summoning help. And he had put my zimmer out of reach (all nurses do this, I think it’s an unconscious control measure). So I sat and enjoyed the steam for a long time, until the sergeant-major returned, shouted “Ach, what a mess you’ve made”, gave me a towel and my zimmer and went off to do more caring things elsewhere.
Blubbing in public is simply Not On, so you have to hold on to the thought that these are kindly people doing their best for you and you are slow and feeble (sob) and irritating, and they’ve been up since sparrow-fart and don’t get paid nearly enough … etc.
But I found myself blubbing uncontrollably quite by surprise, on being ticked off by an auxiliary for failing to step on to a weighing machine, which I found impossible to do. Nurses came and took the auxiliary away, and said “You’ve gone quite white” and brought a chair and sat me down, and indeed I felt a bit odd for a while. Emotions all over the place.
But never mind, time was passing, soon I’d be home and everything would be fine.
Came a day when they asked “Where do you want to go for rehab?” “Eh?” “Rehab. Inverurie?” and they explained all the reasons why I couldn’t go home, still needing a zimmer, to be alone in a house with two steps down to the kitchen. “How long is rehab?” “Oh, usually a fortnight.”
OK. another two weeks and then I’d be home …
*   *   *   *   *
So off in the ambulance, to Inverurie, Friday lunchtime, missing the fish and chips. Och.
It was a big Nightingale-type ward in Inverurie, and my bed was a long way from the toilet, and I couldn’t yet walk properly with the zimmer. But it’s only for two weeks, no worries. Before they’d let me home I had to be able to do stairs and make my breakfast in their kitchen, using a trolley instead of the zimmer … yeah, that would be fine. Surely.
Only two weeks later it wasn’t yet fine, the stairs were impossible, I couldn’t put weight on the right leg, I couldn’t go the length of the ward on the zimmer, it was too tiring half-hopping to keep weight off the bad leg. And I couldn’t get up the step to the kitchen to make breakfast.
Time passed, people came and after a bit they did the stairs and the breakfast and went home and new people came … And there was unavoidable TV (Eastenders etc) and CD (Daniel O’Donnell – an experience akin to drowning in warm syrup). And there was the Bed of Doom, a bed in the massive heat of big bay window where each occupant in turn went spare and had to be wheeled away – the last one after throwing her whole tray of plates, food, cup and drink hither and yon to the floor.
I washed in the basin, but eventually they insisted on a shower. But that was at the far end of the ward, so they wheeled me along and showered me, which felt great, but I couldn't stand without holding on to the pipes.
There was a phone on wheels which they would bring occasionally, and I could have a chat with the outside world. But one day my youngest daughter phoned and they said “We can’t bring it to you, you’ll have to go and answer it.” But it was at the other end of the ward. I couldn’t get there.
It was clear that their strategy was designed to make this lazy creature walk instead of sitting and lying about. But the desolation of being cut off from friends and family sent the soul into a very dark prison.
Physios came and tried to improve the walking. One physio, a blonde of perfect physique, tried to make me walk farther, and was very severe. When my daughter and her husband were visiting, I told them about her, and Will said “She’s Helga, the Horrible Hitler Handmaiden, and she keeps knives in the toes of her shoes, like Rosa Klebb”, which was a cheering thought. One day Helga the HHH got irritated and said “Let’s stop this silly hopping, shall we?” whereat tears of frustration rolled down my face. My GP, who was visiting, heard of this and had a word in high places, whereupon Helga disappeared and was seen no more.
But I still couldn’t do stairs or breakfast or walk properly, and weeks were rolling by: I’d crashed early February and now it was near the end of April.
One day an auxiliary watched me hop-zimmering and said “I saw a gentleman walking like that once. It turned out that a screw had come out and his plate had worked loose.” I wish I’d got her name because she deserves a huge bonus for observation and diagnosis; but at the time this thought was so horrible that I didn’t want to know.
My GP came a visit. “You look a bit down.” “Ug.” “I think you might be depressed, I could prescribe some antidepressant?” After a deep breath I reached for the only weaponry that was available to me: the vocabulary and tone of voice that I’d soaked up from monitoring the girls’ cloakroom at Stromness Academy, turns of phrase that I’d seen produce an effect.
Through clenched teeth, and in a monotone I said “Yes I am effing depressed, I can not effing walk, I can not effing climb the effing stairs, the effing steps to the effing breakfast are beyond my effing powers … “ and I subsided into blubbing remorse because he was a nice man and none of these words had actually been effing and many of them had been different and none of them at all nice.
“Oh!” he said, and reached for his phone. I expect I’ll be sent to a bad place now, I thought, and I heard him say “Bill? mumble mumble..” and he drifted off to where I couldn’t hear. Presently he came back and said “I’ve spoken to Bill, and he says to send you to ARI for an X-ray. That’ll convince you your leg’s all right, and you’ll find that you can walk.” Ah, Bill the head Orthopod.
And so, without packing anything, because it was only going to be a lightning visit, I was put in an ambulance and taken to ARI, where the leg was X-rayed.
The X-ray technician looked at the picture and said “Of course I’m not an expert, but no-one could walk on that leg.” It seemed that one of the screws had come loose and was gradually excavating away through the bone. But no worries, they could cut out the damaged bone and put in a prosthesis and I’d be fine.
“Hm, good”, I said, “but I need to pee, would you give me my zimmer” (which they’d put out of reach, as they do). “Oh no, you can’t walk on that leg, you’ll damage it. By the way, your GP rang with a message for you. He says to keep your sense of humour.”

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(will the prosthesis be the end of Old'n'Idle's problems? the next instalment will reveal all, or at any rate some of it.)

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

They Shoot Horses
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Yes, and I wished that I was a horse.

For I was lying on the kitchen floor, somehow the legs were failing to get me up, the phone was out of reach, and Widget, the biggest and greediest of the four cats, was looking down at me hungrily, for his plate was empty.
I lived alone, well out of earshot of my nearest neighbour. Perhaps in another day or two the postie might bring some mail and hear me if I shouted; or perhaps he wouldn’t, and Widget would finish me off? Over the years I’d watched big, beautiful Widget and his siblings, Fidget and Mousie, and their mother, Sooty (all rescued many years back from the Cat Protection folk in Orkney).
I’d seen how Fidge would go up a tree and knock a squirrel to the ground, and then they’d all have a game of Squirrel Tennis, and I didn’t fancy the game of Human Tennis that could well be in store. Far easier to be a horse and be shot – quick and probably nearly painless.
I brooded for a while. How ironic that this was the first day since I’d had knee replacements two years ago that I felt once again totally confident walking over rough ground, that I’d come home rejoicing and cooked a celebratory casserole of chicken, mushrooms and leeks with cream and wine; and there it was in the oven, ready to eat. Out of reach.
How doubly ironic that the rug I’d just tripped over on the way from sink to table was the very rug that I myself had made many years ago, that a while back it had developed a curl at the corner, over which I had half-tripped a few times and Not Paid Attention (stupid stupid stupid) and now my own rug had turned on me, and my own cats were shortly going to eat me, little by little, aaarrrgggh.
But why had the lizard not saved me, as it had done so often in the past? [see Saved by the Lizard, posted August 2013] Sadly, it seemed that replacing the knees included cutting the connection between the lizard and the feet. I was on my own, lizardless. Shit.
Spurred on by this thought I made greater efforts: the phone was lying on the table; if I could just reach it …
Much time passed as I experimented with one-handed press-ups (not a thing that I had ever tried) and at last I swept the phone to the floor and called the neighbours, and they came and looked.
“Help me up?” Mike looked down at me. “No, I’m not touching that, I’ll call an ambulance.” For the first time I realised that something must have broken, that would be why the right leg was at such a stupid angle and not working.
Time passed, the immediate priorities - feed cats, switch off oven - were sorted out, and chaps arrived carrying a chair thingy, and with no little difficulty they got me off the floor, strapped in the chair, out to the ambulance, away to the hospital.
And I still wonder who got to eat the chicken-leek-cream-wine casserole. Because from that day to this, eight (I think) years later, dammit, I’ve not been able to make such a gourmet dish again. Och.

*   *   *   *   *
At ARI (the hospital) a young doctor laid out the alternatives for me:
1. we straighten out the femur, and you lie still until it knits together: pro: you keep bone; con: you shit into bedpan and nurses wash you and turn you regularly which isn’t easy, for many weeks.
2. we fix the break with a metal plate: pro: you keep your bone and you’ll be up and walking quite quickly; con: the bone needs to be good enough to hold the plate.
3. we cut out your femur and give you a prosthesis: pro: you walk again quickly; con: you lose the bone, and prosthesis brings the danger of infection if you get a wound, ever after.
How to choose between 2 and 3, 1 being a clear no-no? Had I known a little more and been able to speak to people and google, I might have gone for 3, but lying on a trolley and needing to decide fast, I wanted to keep my bone, and chose 2.
In no time at all, the bliss of unconsciousness. None of that showering and back-to-front flowery hospital gown stuff that had happened with the knees. Just a minute (it seemed) of blackness and I was being wheeled to a ward, tubed and doped, with a leg that lay straight again.
I was confident that I would be home within the week. I’d got back from each knee in 4 or 5 days. so a day or two longer this time?
*   *   *   *   *
(will Old'n'Idle's confidence turn out to be well-founded or seriously misplaced? the next instalment will shed some light)

Sunday, 13 September 2015

The Cloned Balaclava

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A time came when once again I could rummage through the giant stiff drawers where the olden clothing lives, and there I found many tattered comfy things - jumpers, trousers, knickers, socks – that I had thought long gone to the great recycling bins of Kemnay.
And since winter will soon be upon us I was most pleased to find the balaclava that had come into my life way back in 1954, and kept me unscathed through many an unsettling episode. Wearing this iconic headgear, I reasoned, I shall probably be able to crutch my way along the road even when the snows come, without falling over.

the 1954 balaclave on Ben Nevis

So I put it on, and once again felt the comforting warmth that had so often restored courage and rationality to the fading brain. Yes, this would surely get me through the approaching cold, and did I not remember a pair of long woollen socks that might help the failing feet? I burrowed onwards, farther into the dark recesses of the mighty bottom drawer.
But what can this be? Another black balaclava, and then yet another, dark grey? How have they come here? I bought only one black one in 1954, and never another, except for a navy one some years later, which I didn’t like (too small, too colourful), and never wore. Now there are two black balaclavas (balaclavae?), and one dark grey one, and nowhere is there a navy one. Nowhere. I have rummaged at the cost of great effort through every piece of furniture that holds any kind of clothing, and there is no navy balaclava anywhere. Yet there are two extra balaclavas that I have never bought/borrowed/stolen. How can this be?
Being of an age where I have plenty of thinking time, I have thought out the only rational explanation. Call the original balaclava the parent, and the extra black and grey ones the offspring (who knows whether any of them are m or f? gender in a balaclava is relatively unimportant), and call the navy one the reject. Here is my thesis: the parent, bored by years of living in a drawer without adventures, cloned a black offspring, and some years later another offspring, slightly lighter in colour as his ageing powers began to fade. For some years the parent and his two offspring lived on in the drawer in harmony but increasingly hungry for action; eventually they turned on the navy reject, formulating the convenient idea that navy was not the right colour for a proper balaclava, pounced on it, tore it shreds and … (the horror!) … ATE it, in a misguided cloud of Anti-Navyism.
You may feel that this scenario is unlikely. Yet how do you explain away the scraps of navy woolly fluff that are to be seen in that drawer and nowhere else? No, I think we have to accept that the balaclava is a more dangerous animal than we had realised, mild and comforting so long as its emotional needs are met, but prone to cannibalism in the sufficiently long term.
But I shall still wear it: it may be a cannibal but it is still an old friend, and deserves some excitement in the evening of its days. Probably it would be best to wear the offspring as well, from time to time.
Just in case.

*   *   *   *   *

… so off I went to take a picture, to show that it wasn’t all pure fantasy; and here they are, the parent and its two offspring crouched on envelopes on the little sewing desk (!) in the window …
… and clearly one of the offspring is navy. Not eaten. No cannibalism
The relief! After all that speculation and fear, it was just that the cataract-clouded eyes can’t see colours properly any longer. (Though why can they see the navy easily in a photograph and not in real life? eh?)
Now we have merely a parent, a reject and a mystery offspring. Cloning in a balaclava I can live with, free from the threat of cannibalism.
Only now, every time I buy something online I have to wonder what colour it really is.

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