Saturday, 28 August 2010

Almost home... but it’s Bank Holiday Weekend

Rod is recovering from his stem cell transplant. He’ll soon be discharged from hospital but not while he has a Hickman line in. It’s yet another source of infection and this is something he must avoid with his present low levels of resistance... but it’s Bank Holiday weekend which means that the lines can’t be taken out until Tuesday so they allowed him home for the afternoon as long as he was back by 8 pm, a bit like being a prisoner out on licence.

Rod’s resistance is so low that I’ve been given a long list of dos and don’ts regarding cleanliness and food hygiene. It’s scary but when I got up this morning I only had to disinfect the door handles and brush the dog to put the finishing touches to my newly super-clean house. All was going well until I stepped into the downstairs toilet. Water was dripping from the hand basin. I tried to phone the plumber... but it’s Bank Holiday weekend and there was no reply so I decided to tackle the leak myself. How hard can it be to tighten a nut under a tap? I found the nut. No problem. I turned it and... OK, so I turned it the wrong way and once the water started to pour it was impossible to get a grip on it with wet fingers. Thankfully a kind neighbour came round with his toolbox, fixed the leak and I was able to finish my cleaning and get to the hospital in time for Rod's 'day-release'.

Rod is very weak and has by no means recovered from the treatment but today he had two good meals, he sat in the conservatory and admired his garden (which fortunately is still surviving) and he was reunited with the dog. Josh-the-dog has a manic streak. When the kids come home to visit he does crazy circuits, the sort of circuits where back legs overtake front legs with hilarious consequences. It’s been almost four weeks since Rod went into hospital. When we arrived home we braced ourselves for a daft dog explosion but Josh didn’t move. He stood and stared and then he pressed his head against Rod’s legs. Rod sat on the stairs. Josh laid his head on Rod’s lap and there they sat. If dogs could cry Josh would have been shedding tears of relief. Dogs can’t cry but we can... and we did.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Hospitals and Wormeries... Aaagh!

Rod will have been in hospital for three weeks on Tuesday. They said it would take three weeks for the entire stem cell transplant procedure, but they didn’t reckon on the chemotherapy sending his kidneys into hibernation. It would seem that the kidneys are lazy organs. That’s what the specialist said, and now they need to be coaxed into working again. The doctors are hoping to avoid dialysis because of the risk of infection but the machine is all set up and ready beside his bed just in case.

While he’s in hospital I’m in charge at home. I’ve managed to get the recycling sorted. The composting regime is easy but I made the mistake of buying Rod a wormery for his birthday earlier this year. A colony of worms is one responsibility too many. Those who know me well, know how much I loathe worms. If I touch a worm while I’m gardening the entire street knows about it but I overcame the fear. I had to. Rod’s wormery was letting in water. Some worms have drowned. I was mortified. I may not like them but I didn’t mean to kill them. The main problem is that it will not stop raining! So I’ve turned the mixture to let in some air. I’ve stirred in paper and oats to dry them out. Today I moved them all into the shed... without screaming once. Who’d have thought it?

Not all of my additional responsibilities are yuk, for example taking Josh-the-dog for his evening walk. The evening walk was always, always Rod’s job but I’m starting to quite enjoy it... if only it would stop raining! It hasn’t stopped raining since the day after Rod went into hospital. He’d set up an elaborate array of watering cans etc to make it easier for me to water all the pots but I haven’t had to use them once. I’m starting to wonder if someone up there has noticed the title of my blog and decided to be ironic!

Rod is still not able to eat solids, his kidneys are still struggling, his resistance is rock bottom because of the high-dose chemotherapy and he’s very weak but he is really hoping to be home by next weekend or the beginning of the following week. I hope he’s not disappointed. I guess you’ll all be relieved too because it’ll mean that I’ll stop moaning on about hospitals and treatments and start talking about something more interesting instead so, for all our sakes, here’s hoping.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

...and now I’m writing in a downpour

I may have mentioned before the reason for the name of my blog. Bear with me if I’m becoming repetitious. It’s not old age so much as stress... I hope. I’m writing in the rain because Rod has been heading for a stem cell transplant since I set this blog up last year, but right now the blog should be called ‘writing in a downpour’.

This week has been grim. Rod has been on morphine most of the time. Visiting times have consisted of me sitting staring at him... but yesterday when I arrived he was sitting up sipping a cup of tea. He asked normal questions like ‘Has the Bank Statement arrived?’ It was brilliant. He’s not through the worst quite yet. They’re concerned about his kidneys and he may have to go onto dialysis for a few days but he’s talking and thinking. He’s more like my Rod.

I’m feeling overloaded at the moment. I’d like to wrap myself in fluffy pink candy floss and not have to face the world but it looks like the world needs me. Josh-the-dog had his stitches out on Thursday after a lump (a nasty one as it turned out) was removed from his thigh. It’s healing well at the moment but he’s still consigned to the bucket when I go out and at bedtimes because he wants to pick the last few scabs off. You can’t blame him. There’s something irresistible about a crunchy, black scab. But he’s happy and eating and roaring round the park after his ball so fingers crossed...

What’s more I am truly writing this in a downpour, not just my metaphorical one. I now know why my dog-walking coat is called shower-proof and not water-proof. It’s a horrible feeling when icy rain trickles down your back. Still, at least the weather has provided me with one positive. I’ve not got to water the garden while Rod’s in hospital. In fact, it’s all looking green and lush and I know he’ll be delighted when he’s sitting right here looking at it... and so will I.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Hospital Visiting is Exhausting

Having someone ill in hospital is hard enough without having to find your way to the appropriate ward, work out what you can and can’t do as a visitor and then, having got all that sorted, you have to think of interesting, uplifting things to say. Parking the car is yet another problem. Our hospital has an almost permanent queue of cars attached to it. With Rod undergoing a stem cell transplant this is affecting me on a daily basis. But here’s the twist. The queue has become a source of fascination and a useful discussion point. Before I explain I’ll give a brief Rod Report for those of you who have kindly been asking after him.

Rod Report: He’s now in isolation as the high-dose chemo (Melphalan administered on Wednesday) has upset his digestive system badly and his blood count is dropping. I’m allowed to go in and see him but I must wash my hands and gel them before I go into and when I come out of his room.
They reintroduced his stem cells on Friday but the doctor did warn that this procedure would feel like an anti-climax. Three bags were removed from a huge tank with liquid nitrogen floating around (as I had imagined). Each bag was placed in a warm bath and as soon as it reached body temperature the liquid (red with tiny white dots i.e. the baby stem cells) was fed in through his drip system. They are helping him to fight the chemotherapy but he won’t feel the benefits for some time.
He’s very uncomfortable and is on a saline drip because they’re concerned about his lack of fluid intake and the condition of his kidneys. He’s likely to be in the unit for at least another two weeks. We’ve been warned that during this week the symptoms will get steadily worse. I’m trying to busy myself with writing so I’ll get back to my blog now.
Talking is making Rod feel sick. I’ve never had a problem generating idle chatter so as soon as I arrive, I start chatting to him... but I keep mentioning food. This is not good. Fortunately I’m sitting on a chair beside the window overlooking the queue of cars for the car park and I can give Rod a running commentary about the many and varied quirks of queuing drivers.

Here are just a few:

‘Swap the driver’ These people must be first-time visitors. The regulars know that the one with the appointment needs to be in the passenger seat so that, after inching along the road for half an hour, they can jump out of the car and run into the hospital (health permitting) to avoid being late.
‘The crawler’ Some drivers won’t pull forward when a car goes through the barrier. They try to play the ‘let’s see if I can keep moving very, very slowly’ game. Please don’t. For those people behind you it’s highly irritating.
‘The entrance blocker’ Most drivers leave the orange box areas free for delivery vehicles to enter other hospital gates, but just a few steadfastly don’t. It causes chaos.
‘Alternative pick up point’ I’ve done this for quick treatments like blood tests. Rod gets out of the car as I join the queue. I crawl along and before I reach the front of the queue he’s finished and rejoined me. We pull out and the driver in the car behind thinks I’m great.

‘The ignorants’ Every so often a car speeds down the outside lane and swerves into the car park when it reaches the front of the queue. This has happened in front of me on several occasions and it’s infuriating. There’s nothing you can do about it because they’ve got through the barrier by the time you’ve decided to get out and tackle them and you’re left with high blood pressure. At least the hospital has an A&E Department if it all becomes too much.

I know that the official line about hospital parking is that it’s preferable to get the bus but it isn’t, truly it isn’t. When I get out of that hospital all I want to do is to climb into my car and drive myself home. Hospital visiting is exhausting.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Bruges, Blakeney and Holiday Snaps

Do you remember when you had to wait at least two weeks for the holiday photographs to be ready and then when you went to collect them most of them were duds? Well mine were anyway. Now I can look at a photo instantly, take a whole stream of shots until I get it right, email that perfect picture round the family at the press of a button. It’s clever stuff.

Dad used to have his snaps developed onto slides. When guests arrived he would draw the curtains, set up the screen and get the projector out. Mum always complained. She wanted printed photographs to hold in her hand. She makes the same complaint now when I get my mobile out or sit her at my computer for a photo show. Some things never change... including the post-holiday blues.

It’s always difficult when you get back from holiday, washing to be done, food to be bought and you’ve even got to cook the stuff yourself, but this time we topped all the usual problems. We arrived home to hospital messages calling Rod in for extra tests before next week’s stem-cell transplant and, something we weren’t expecting, Josh-the-dog was rushed into the vet’s to have a lump removed from his thigh. We’re hoping it’s going to be ok. We’re hoping it’s from the fox bite he had a few months ago. It never really healed properly.

But this blog is meant to be about holidays not illnesses. 

Two weeks ago we went to Blakeney in Norfolk. I enthused at length about Blakeney here so I won’t bore you with repetition but it is my all time favourite holiday resort and this time we treated ourselves. We stayed at The Blakeney Hotel.

I could get used to living like that. We lounged in their lounges and Josh-the-dog walked all his favourite coastal-path walks. The restaurant overlooks the creek and we watched the tide rising and falling while lovely young waiters served up three-course meals every evening, followed by coffee (or mint tea in my case) and home-made chocolates.

Talking of chocolates, last week we visited beautiful Bruges. It’s a place where the sound of bicycle bells and horses’ hooves on cobbles merge with the aroma of artisan chocolate. Bruges has managed to retain its old-world look unlike any other place I’ve ever visited but I wouldn’t have been able to say exactly why until our tour guide pointed out that there are no aerials, no satellite dishes, or electricity wires. All the 21st century services, including internet connections, are ducted beneath the cobbled pavements...

...and there are very few ‘impossible to walk over’ cobbles. They’re mostly modern ones which are easy on both the feet and the eye. Why can’t our pavements look as good at that?

Bikes seem to be the favoured method of travel for the locals. For the tourists the horses are continually ‘doing the circuit’.

Our guide was keen to impress upon us how well these horses are cared for, never working more than one day on and one day off, and having numerous rests and meal breaks.

The canals contain very little traffic as only the local tour boats are allowed to navigate them...

...along with the swans which, our guide assured us, are almost as well looked after as the horses.

And so we move on to next week and all the hospital treatments but we have these lovely memories, not to mention megabytes of photos, to remind us... and I don’t even have to warm the projector up to view them.