Friday, 29 August 2008

On a Limb

In June last year my left shoulder started to ache. By July it was really beginning to play up and there were things I couldn’t do anymore. Like sleep. I like to curl up on my left side or lie on my back with my arms above my head but since it hurt like hell to lie on my left side and I could no longer raise my left arm above my head those options weren’t possible. In August I gave up and saw my GP who confirmed, as I suspected, that I had a frozen shoulder and prescribed hefty painkillers and a course of physio.

Since I’m quite good at taking care of myself I was pretty miffed to be struck down by something completely out the blue (yes, there are much worse things out there, I know) and it was especially frustrating that even after lots of hard work with Margot the Marvellous Physio that some movements weren’t coming back. Without an operation, Margot told me, I’d be looking at all kinds of problems one of which was muscle wastage. Looking at my nice new bingo wing I agreed to get myself referred to an orthopaedic consultant asap.

After six months of waiting I finally got an appointment this week so, leaving Hotel H’s latest guests to amuse themselves, (it’s been a busy time at Hotel H) Tom and I made the long trek to hospital. After more x-rays I was ushered in to see a rather serious Asian doctor. At least, I hope he was a doctor because he didn’t introduce himself but he did have a nurse with him. Anyway, my new friend twiddled my right arm and then, less successfully, my left, before he finally smiled.
‘Very restricted!’ he announced.
I didn’t roll my eyes and say, ‘Ooh, gosh – you don’t say!’ which is just as well because the next bit sounded very painful and I didn’t particularly want it performed without an anaesthetic.
‘This, I will do for you!’ he proclaimed, with a flourish.
I mentioned that I was training for a half-marathon in October and didn’t particularly want to miss it and was met with frank stares of disbelief… what I’m trying to work out is whether it’s the thought of me running a half-marathon or my innocent belief that I might actually rise to the top of a waiting list before then which caused them.

And finally…Auntie Joanie is holding on but poor Ma has heard that her eldest brother, Uncle Bill, is also very sick. Uncle Bill is my Australian uncle who went walkabout in Sydney and turned up, unannounced at my door in Wales. What a sad time it is.

Image is No.VI from Tom Tomos's series of sea prints

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Looking Ahead

Honestly! If it wasn’t so sad it would almost be funny. After visiting Auntie Joanie last week I really didn’t think she’d still be here, especially since the medics had warned the family to think in days rather than weeks, but it seems she’s perked up a bit! In the general hospital she was sinking fast but it seems that some tender loving care in a pleasant environment has definitely made life more bearable for her again. Perhaps all your good wishes, both here and sent to me privately and for which I thank you, have reached her somehow. Ultimately there will be no miracle recovery because the odds are so heavily stacked against her but it seems that Auntie Joanie isn’t ready to let go just yet.

I’m grateful, too,
for the suggestions for my treadmill playlist. After some trial and error I have discovered that it’s hardcore that does it for me! How tragic is that!! The fast, insistent beat, which would drive me crazy in real life, is absolutely brilliant for keeping me up to pace. The speed sessions have really helped my long runs and I’m knocking three and four minutes off my best times. Don’t think that Team GB will be calling on me any time soon, though. Running has been very important to me in times of emotional upheaval and it’s given me time out this summer from worry and disappointment. I ran ten and half miles this morning (before the torrential rain came in again) and once I’d settled into the rhythm I reached that blissful state when thoughts just come and go without hurting or causing pain. Can’t say the same about my legs which are aching today.

Encouraged by Tom, who has been thoroughly enjoying his OU music course (A214) I have signed up for a creative writing module, A215. As well as doing some learning for learning’s sake I’m looking forwards to stepping out my comfort zone a bit and trying some different creative forms. In a way it’s also an opportunity to set right what I sometimes think of as an old mistake when I rejected reading English at university in favour of European Studies and German which I naively believed would make me more employable. Ha! What a lot I had to learn! I might have been employable but for work I didn’t really want to do. Rejecting what you love for something you believe might be practical seems an entirely ludicrous way of doing business now with the benefit of hindsight.

Whilst I was making my mind up about the OU course I took some soundings from the lovely Novel Racers who were enthusiatic in their recommendations. Congratulations to b who got a distinction for A215 this year and I’m glad to have Fiona's company as she has signed up too. Congratulations, too, to Novel Racer, Lucy Diamondwhose novel , Over You, is the the Lovereading top ten. Well done all.

Image is a monoprint, 'By the Cliff Edge' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

'Ta ta, Ducks.'

‘Mum can’t talk anymore,’ my cousin tells me when I ring to see if I can visit Auntie Joanie, ‘so it can be quite tough. If there are a couple of you, you can have a conversation around her which she can follow.’

Auntie Joanie has now been moved to a small cottage hospital. Inside it’s clean and bright with views across a field. The atmosphere is calm and peaceful. The staff look up and smile when they see Ma and I’m glad that my aunt is in a place where someone’s taking notice of what’s going on.

I’ve thought about a few things I want to say but it all goes out the window when we turn the corner. Auntie Joanie is propped up in bed, supported by pillows. The general hospital, where she was previously, lost all her clothes so she is wearing a new cornflower blue nightdress which brings out the blue in her eyes. Her hair, which was once a rich gleaming auburn, frames her face in silver waves. From this angle you can’t see what radiotherapy has taken away but Ma bends over her big sister and rearranges her curls just to make sure. All the time Ma’s talking softly, calling Auntie Joanie by one of the pet names they shared and which I’d almost forgotten. Watching them just breaks my heart. Tom catches my eye and I can see how moved he is too. I have to make my excuses and leave the room, briefly – I want to be brave for Auntie Joanie, and especially for Ma. Crying all over the place isn’t going to help.

When I return Auntie Joanie stares long and hard into my eyes; her gaze reminds me of a newborn baby seeing the world for the first time, trying to take everything in. Maybe it’s the same at the end of life too. Tom manages to raise the faintest of smiles by teasing her for not offering him a whisky as she does usually, whatever the time of day, but mainly she watches us with a clear, steady gaze until sleep starts to overcome her and we have to let go.

Letting go is the hardest part. I didn’t manage to talk about the things I’d planned but it doesn’t matter; Auntie Joanie will always be there in everything from my earliest sun-kissed memories of a beach in Cornwall, through being given a thorough telling-off for some inconsiderate behaviour as a teenager, to being cared for by her when I was convalescing after an operation. I will miss her. It’s hard enough saying goodbye to Auntie Joanie when she’s on the end of a phone as neither of us wants to be the one to actually break the contact but I can’t keep her here forever. Bye bye, Auntie Joanie. Ta ta, Ducks.

Painting is 'Chapel Window' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

All We Have

As a firm believer that ‘today is all we have’, I try to squeeze the most out of every hour and tend not to dwell too much on the past but when my lovely Ace Gang came to stay recently we had the kind of weekend that memories are made of.

The five of us met at antenatal classes when the only thing we had in common was carrying a bump. Barriers quickly dropped as we exchanged horror stories about labour and new babies and we have continued to share, scare and care ever since. Some of my happiest and most hilarious memories are of our annual night out but out of this came a serious tradition of setting ourselves goals for the coming year. 2008 has already seen Ann climb Ben Nevis and Ju save enough to buy herself a much long-for cello so we don’t hang about!

With geographical distance between us our annual night out has been replaced by a get-together at Hotel H. This year’s visit coincided with the most glorious spell of sunshine here on the west Wales coast. We walked on the golden sands at Poppit and paddled in crystal clear water, occasionally stopping to waylay handsome men on the pretext of asking them to take a group photo. We visited the farm park – ‘No children?’. No, no children, thank you – just five middle aged women larking about in the sunshine. We spent a day by a pool with lunch and a glass of wine for £10 which, given the weather, was like being in Greece for the day, and we laughed and talked late into the night.

Occasionally we’ll sit and try to analyse our extraordinary friendship; it shouldn’t work – we’re five completely different characters. Maybe it’s something to do with the odd number? We don’t pair up but simply slot in and feel comfortable with each other. Perhaps it’s because, being expectant mums when we met, we began from a point of always being ready to share our feelings with each other? I don’t know but whatever it is I’m grateful for it and feel very lucky to have these dear friends in my life. After recent trauma and continuing heartache having my Ace Gang to stay was the best tonic I could have.

Tom’s been at OU summer school. Given the cost of fuel at the moment we worked out it was cheaper for him to get an off-peak rail ticket than to drive to Durham but as I set off in heavy rain just before 1am to meet him at Carmarthen I did wonder if it was such a bargain. Whilst I battled over high, lonely roads in a cloudburst or urged the car through flooded hollows, Tom was one of the few sober passengers on a train full of boisterous drunks with no staff in sight. Anyway, all the unpleasantness was immediately forgotten when we saw each other. One of the good things about being apart for a few days is that you can appreciate what you have all over again when you are reunited.

My thoughts at the moment are now with my Auntie Joanie who is currently in a busy general hospital ward waiting for a place in a smaller hospital or hospice. My cousins, I know, are doing everything they can to get her the dedicated care and attention she deserves. It’s tough for everyone when the word ‘hospice’ is mentioned but I know what a difference it made to the quality of my dad’s life; his final days were good days because the staff made everything as easy as they possibly could for all of us. All I can do wish the same for my beloved auntie.

Image is 'Sea II' from Tom Tomos' series of sea prints