Category Archives: Medical

As flu abates, Canada appears

No Arts & Entertainment here

No sign of Arts & Entertainment or even quick medical help

I continue to recover from flu. I think the layer of fat helps me.

I got sent condolences from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith, who had initially been confused by a recent blog in which I had mentioned I had to take my eternally-un-named friend to A&E at a London hospital.

“They do Arts & Entertainment at a hospital?” she had wondered.

In the UK, A&E means Accident & Emergency.

“In Canada,” Anna told me, “it is known simply as Emergency. Maybe that is because all our emergencies are assumed to be accidental. Maybe there are more intentional emergencies in the UK.”

She was also quite reasonably very shocked that, in UK hospitals, the target (very often under-achieved) is that 95% of patients who arrive at A&E should be seen “within four hours”.

Anna Smith is no stranger to the hospitals of Vancouver

Anna Smith is no stranger to the hospitals of Vancouver

Anna tells me: “I’m pretty fortunate as far as not having to wait long here. Last time I went to St.Paul’s (the local Vancouver hospital) they didn’t mess around. I was sent off for scanning almost immediately.

“A man was rolling around on the floor and yelling and hallucinating, pleading for water. He was brought a carton of apple juice but was too preoccupied to drink it.

“Another man in handcuffs, guarded by two policemen, was calm though depressed. The policeman sitting beside him fished through his pockets to locate his cell phone. The man then called his wife to say he’d be a bit late getting home.”

I guess there are worse things than flu.

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Filed under Canada, Medical, UK

The drain in brain is mainly in the plain

 Photo of traumatic brain damage on Wikipedia (Photograph by James Heilman MD)

Photo of traumatic brain damage on Wikipedia (Photograph by James Heilman MD)

As I write this, it is Saturday morning. I know that for a fact.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, I had been in bed with flu since early on Tuesday evening. I reckon it was about 66 hours of dozing with occasional, inevitable gettings-up to do the necessaries, including three baths.

Yesterday, I got up on principle and stayed up most of the day. I had an e-mail exchange with a friend:


ME: Slightly better. Brain vaguely working.

HER: I know what you mean, I had it last week. The one positive aspect is you really appreciate it when you’re over it and suddenly – Hallelujah! – you are lucid again and can do things!

ME: At my age, that’s unlikely to happen…

HER (aged 53): Well it’s interesting you said that because I wondered last week, maybe I’ve reached an age where you have to be grateful you do get over these things. Imagine if you never get that feeling of being with-it again and remain forever without-it.


Today’s Daily Express headline seems very unlikely to come true

Today’s Daily Express headline seems a little unlikely to be true

I knew what she meant. After I got hit by a truck in 1991 and, in falling, hit the back of my head on the corner of a brick wall, the concussion effect seemed to last about nine months, coming and going without warning.

There was no NHS aftercare, of course.

When the concussion was there, I would come home, look at the wall or mindlessly at the TV and not be able to form even simple thoughts.

It was as if I could feel nerve endings trying to link up with each other, like hands trying to reach out to each other but failing… and the thoughts were unable to form in my  mind. I would just stare at the wall or at the TV, able to comprehend the TV’s words and pictures but unable to think.

I figured it was a flash-forward to senility.

Yesterday, I mindlessly watched the second half of what appeared to be a slightly-out-of-focus science fiction movie – perhaps it had been shot in 16mm and transferred too many times – and an entire episode of Hogan’s Heroes.

Neither is ever to be advised nor a good sign of mental lucidity.

Inevitably, I looked up my old e-diaries in search of an easy blog for today.

I found these three entries in 2003.


THURSDAY 23rd JANUARY

I talked to Xxxx Yyyy (a comedian then in his fifties who is still alive). He said: “Someone told me the only important things in life are sex and death. But, after 50, the sex isn’t so important – it’s all death, death, death.”

FRIDAY 24th JANUARY

Yesterday, I went to an Italian funeral in Mill Hill. There was traffic chaos getting there and then, at the cemetery, the hole had not been dug big enough for the coffin.

SATURDAY 25th JANUARY

My mother told me ex-weatherman Ian McCaskill had been on TV saying he used to present the TV weather forecasts wearing no shoes, because they electronically affected the cameras. I could not decide if she was doolally, he was doolally or reality was doolally.

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Filed under Medical, Psychology

Why Jesus was not born in Scotland

Today, more news from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. She writes from Vancouver:


In Vancouver, Ben from Glasgow.(Photograph by Anna Smith)

Ben from Glasgow, making a living in Vancouver (Photograph by Anna Smith)

Ben from Glasgow tells me the reason Jesus was not born in Scotland was because they couldn’t find a wise man there.

Ben says he did stand up comedy in Toronto and was a jockey… I believe him… He has one joke after the next, is five foot one and knows about horses.

He told me he used to train race horses at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, then he worked his way out west exercising horses or swamping out stables, asking for temp work at racetracks. At one racetrack in Winnipeg, they asked him what he could do. He said: “Fuck, fight and fiddle.”

He was hired right away.

Scots boxer Benny Lynch (1913-1946)

Scottish boxer Benny Lynch (1913-1946)

He says he is the grandson of Scottish boxer Benny Lynch and, as soon as I looked up Benny Lynch, I could see it. He looks just like him and has the same mannerisms. He told me it was no picnic for his father – or any of them at that time, by the sounds of it.

But he still is laughing. A very cheerful guy… mostly.

For some reason he likes me. He let me know how to find him. It might be funny to do a rigged boxing match with him. They say I have a good left hook.

Meanwhile, Mark Steck, the bearded  motorcycling novelist from Missouri who sold me his book Artless not long ago, emailed me from California. He is in a redwood forest, reading your blog, on his way to Mexico.

I am moving back to my boat. A doctor named Derek Human (Head of Cardiology at the University of British Columbia) told me last week that my heart looks fine.

Anna Smith is no stranger to the hospitals of Vancouver

Anna Smith is no stranger to the hospitals of Vancouver

He said that my hose is definitely not coming loose – if anything it is stronger, as the scar tissue is holding everything so well in place that it will never fall apart.

They did almost a week of various scans, including four hours in an MRI where I was played Baroque concertos, which made me cry a bit.

All my neighbours on the river are happy that I am coming back and are talking about how great it is to live where you can throw potato peels out of the window. I agreed. I told them how horrible it is to live in an apartment and put all the food scraps in a bucket.

Are they using the term ‘lumbersexual’ in the UK? I noticed that a friend of mine who is a civil servant has been looking more like a lumberjack every day.

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Filed under Boxing, Canada, Medical, Scotland

A potpourri of Plantar Fasciitis, the Egg Throwing President, farting & the Pope

I saw the back of Andy Dunlop as I left yesterday

The prestigious Andy Dunlop

I think the word for this late-posted blog today is ‘potpourri’ in lieu of any transcription time.

Various people who read yesterday’s blog suggested various sources of various Chinese medicines to me.

Andy Dunlop, the already highly prestigious President of the World Egg Throwing Federation, picked up on the thought that I may have got Plantar Fasciitis in my right foot. He wrote, with the merest hint of self-publicity:

I got Plantar Fasciitis in one foot and the other later following ‘flying’ off Worthing Pier to win the 2012 Worthing International Birdman’s Kingfisher Class.

The Worthing International Birdman is an annual competition in which human ‘birdmen’ attempting to ‘fly’ off the end of a pier into the English Channel. These attempts tend to end in ignominious failure. Andy continued:

My aim was to manage 100metres (to win £10,000) then turn left, head for France, land, stock up on beer, take off and fly back. This plan was curtailed when I only managed to fly 18 metres, including 11 metres downwards. I hit the water, feet first, at around 35mph. This tends to damage a foot and causes it to stretch. It was bloody agony. 

I am not allowed to take part in the Birdman contest any more as my wife says the risk of injury is too great for her to bear my groans and moans. 

This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith also contacted me, asking:

Might there be a pain clinic in London? There is a pain clinic at St. Paul’s Hospital here in Vancouver. It is something to do with retraining your mind to react differently to the nerve impulses which are telling you you are in pain. Neuroplasticity, it is called. There is a book called The Brain That Changes ItselfYou might also suffer less pain if you stay away from comedians.

Anna Smith in her Vancouver hospital

Anna Smith, on a recent low-key visit to a Vancouver hospital

Anna continued:

I just had an appointment confirmation email from Cardiac Care at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. I learned a new word. Apparently I am an aortopath.

Then she got a little off-subject:

Don’t even think of asking (she named a British comedian) about drugs. They never had any effect on him whatsoever. He is one of that small percentage of people whose mind is utterly unresponsive to THC. When I was in Lonon, he could never fathom why I would impulsively grab £5 and bolt down to Brixton. He seemed to think I went to those clubs because I wanted black men to put their hands into my pockets.

The only time I ever saw him high was late one night after a party in a photography studio in Soho. We had eaten some carrot cake at the party and were walking over Waterloo Bridge afterwards. He made a comment about the reflections in the river looking pretty. This was completely out of character for him. So I realised it must have been a very strong carrot cake. Other than that momentary observation about the lights, his composure was completely unaffected.

I did go and meet three senators one night at a very luxurious Vancouver airport hotel four years ago. It seemed a little odd to be meeting senators in a hotel room for non sexual purposes.

I went there with three other friends to petiton the senators not to close staffed lighthouses along the coast. Our lighthouses are not automated as they are in the UK. But our coastline is far more jagged and isolated. Boaters, especially fishermen, have had their lives and vessels saved innumerable times by the light keepers… Somehow I became fairly involved with that battle even though my boat has never been out of the river.

Alright, it was actually two senators and an Olympic ski champion, but the skier was also a senator, so I guess that does make three senators in total.

The senators had no idea that I was an ex-comedienne. They thought I was an angry mariner.

I grew up along the banks of the Mississippi. Actually, the city was on the Mississippi but our house was closer to the zoo. We could hear lions roaring as we fell asleep.

After this, my chum Mr Methane, who was on a secret farting mission to Italy this week, e-mailed me, totally ignoring my tragic foot (and shoulder) pain:

The Daily Mirror spotted a resemblance between Jim Bowen (left) and Pope Francis

The Daily Mirror spotted a resemblance between purveyor of beloved populist fantasy Jim Bowen (left) and Pope Francis

I am back home in England. I have been travelling all day. No direct flights so I had to go via Germany. I had a ride on an open top bus in Rome yesterday and thought I saw Jim Bowen in a shop doorway but it was, in fact, a life size Pope Francis cut-out. I have bought you a Pope Francis fridge magnet from a souvenir stall outside the Colosseum in Rome, I thought you would like it as he really does look just like Jim Bowen.

This rubbed salt in my wounds, as I was recently passed-over for the role of Pope Francis in an upcoming pop video.

Life can be cruel.

But I am available to play the part of Jim Bowen in any upcoming pop videos.

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Filed under Drugs, Eccentrics, Medical

A story about the National Health Service in the UK and a bit of pain

Arthur Smith encouraged singing over ‘dead’ man in Royal Mile

Arthur Smith on Royal Mile tour with prone punter (not me)

Well, I have four as-yet un-transcribed blog-chats to post, but someone has persuaded me to blog about myself today, so you can blame him.

I went to the physiotherapist this morning. A second visit. The muscles inside my left shoulder are still occasionally painful from when I tripped over and fell on the night-time cobbles of Edinburgh during the Fringe in August. I mentioned it in a blog last month.

I blame comic Arthur Smith.

It was during his night-time tour of the Royal Mile and it was at about one o’clock in the morning. I tripped over a kerb amid a crowd of people and fell flat forwards without putting my hands out. I guess I fell on my shoulder.

The problem goes back to when I was hit by a large truck while standing on a pavement in Borehamwood in 1991. The corner/edge of the large container behind the cab of the truck went into my left shoulder, pulverising (apparently that’s medical speak for turning-to-powder) my collar bone in two places. I was thrown backwards, twisting, and the back of my head hit the sharp edge of a little brick wall maybe six or eight inches high. The base of my spine twisted slightly, but I did not know that until a few years later.

I was kept in hospital for about a week.

Because of my head injury, I was in theory under the supervision of the ‘head injuries’ department (they kept me in to see if I had any brain damage) but, because of my broken shoulder, I was kept in the broken bones ward.

Each morning, the Consultant in the broken bones ward would do his ‘rounds’ with his students and chat to the patient in each bed – except me. One day, I heard him explain to his students that “Mr Fleming” was under the care of the ‘head injures’ department (not his words) so I was not his patient.

My shoulder in 1991 - pulverised in two places

X-ray of broken shoulder at the time – pulverised, they said

No-one came to see me from the ‘head injuries’ department because I was in the bones ward. The bones ward had very attentive nurses but I was not seen by any doctors there. Until, after a week, late one afternoon, a very exhausted-looking younger doctor came and saw me. He was from the ‘head’ department, asked me how I was and told the ‘bones’ ward they could discharge me.

Apparently, I later learned, I should have had physiotherapy for a few weeks or months after my release but (possibly because I fell between the responsibilities of two departments and was a ‘head’ not a ‘bone’ injury case), I never did. I never heard from the hospital again.

At home, in bed at night, to stop myself rolling over onto my broken shoulder, I would lie with my left arm out at right-angles to my torso and, eventually, the broken bones re-merged themselves. Someone told me this had been the wrong thing for me to do because, instead of mending naturally, the left shoulder – stuck out at right angles to the body for eight hours of sleep – foreshortened the mend slightly and the two parts of the broken bone merged one-on-top-of-the-other instead of in a straight line. And messed-up the muscles in the shoulder.

But who knows if that is true?

It was just ‘someone’.

I did seem to have the results of concussion for about nine months: I kept thinking I was better and was not. I would come home and stare at the wall, unable to construct thoughts in my brain nor to read. It was as if my brain de-focussed after about two lines of a newspaper column. I still cannot read books (though, oddly, I can write them).

After (I think it was) about a year, my shoulder still gave me pain for about two-thirds of my waking hours. It was as if someone were sticking the point of a knife into me all he time. My GP doctor said it would be like that for the rest of my life and discussed what drugs I could take.

Miracle oil Wan Hua Oil

I don’t know what it is, but it worked in 1991

Instead, I went to a Chinese doctor – knowing that Chinese medicine is very slow because it tries to cure the cause not the symptoms. The Chinese doctor gave me Wan Hua oil to rub on and, within two weeks, the pain was gone.

The effect of the oil could not have been psychological, because it never entered my head there would be a fast result with Chinese medicine.

That was thirteen years ago.

If I put any prolonged weight on my left shoulder, it will still give me a bit of pain, so I avoid that. Most of the time there is absolutely no problem. But, since I fell on the cobbles of Edinburgh in August, there is some pain when I put on or take off a jacket or a pullover: presumably it is just a muscular pain as I put my arm through an unusually odd angle.

The physiotherapist this morning told me that there was nothing really wrong with the shoulder broken in 1991: the bones would have mended. Logically, he is right. But I know there is a problem in my shoulder. And I know there is pain.

I have been given exercises to do.

Doctors know best, eh?

I have much worse pain in the heel and on the sole of my right foot, but the NHS physiotherapist is only allowed to look at one problem at a time, not two.

This blog’s valued reader Sandra Smith has suggested the heel problem may be Plantar Fasciitis. I think, from the symptoms, she is probably right. It may take a year to mend.

I have started rubbing on the Chinese oil again: on my shoulder and on my foot.

It seems to be difficult to get Wan Hua Oil in the UK, so I have asked comedian Chris Dangerfield for a decent Chinese pharmacy, preferably in Soho.

This may be a mistake on my part.

But he knows about such things.

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Filed under Medical

Blog lady in dog horror while doctors encourage casual sex with women

Anna Smith in her Vancouver hospital

Anna Smith found herself in a Vancouver hospital last year

This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith has been telling me about some of the things happening in Vancouver.

“I mentioned to my nephew,” she told me, “that I had heard on the news some dogs had got married. He said: I think it was an arranged marriage.”

“I am beginning to think,” I told her, “that Vancouver is the new Swinging London.”

“This town will start swinging when the buildings start falling,” she replied. “I just discovered a couple of hours ago that ‘the dole’ here is now called ‘The Ministry of Social Innovation’. It is really only a matter of time before they start sending out mushrooms with the cheques. I guess the next major issue here will be how to deposit mushrooms into a cheque account.”

Anna had also recently read that Canadian research shows sleeping with numerous women protects a man from prostate cancer. But the same is not true for gay encounters – Having more than 20 gay male partners doubled the risk of prostate cancer.

“I will sleep well,” she told me, “knowing that Canadian scientists are working hard.”

Last year, Canadian scientists felt muzzled

Last year, Canadian scientists felt muzzled (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“Last year, scientists in Vancouver were protesting against being muzzled by the Federal Government. The government has been sending its ‘minders’ to scientific conferences to tell the scientists which information they are allowed or are not allowed to tell the public.

“And this morning,” she told me, “I was injured in a freak accident. A large Doberman dog was running wildly through a downtown intersection wearing a long pink leash tied to an iron patio chair. It ran towards me and the leash wrapped around my legs.

“I fell to the pavement to avoid being dragged. I sat on the leash and the dog became calm. A crowd gathered. Someone helped me to my feet. The owner  arrived and apologised. Luckily know how to fall.

“One time, I was making breakfast for a 90-year-old exotic dancer named Margaret Severn. She had been a star in the Greenwich Village Follies of 1921. She suddenly lurched from her bed and I rushed to her side.

“What are you doing? she asked me.

“I told her: I’m worried you might fall.

I KNOW HOW TO FALL DOWN! she told me angrily.

“I don’t know why that Doberman dog was acting so crazy. He didn’t have rabies or appear to be on drugs. Maybe he was recently divorced.

“Now I am resting on my boat. I am glad there is a pair of crutches on the roof. I left them there because people are always getting injured out here. I am on my old boat. Frustrating having a smashed knee as there is so much work to do here. The boat is like a cradle. I like how it feels.  I like sturgeons below me instead of interior decorators.”

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Filed under Canada, Gay, Medical, Sex

A day in the life of the most-fearsome comedy critic at the Edinburgh Fringe

Kate Copstick at yesterday’s Grouchy Club

Fearsome Kate Copstick at yesterday’s Grouchy Club

Every afternoon, I am co-hosting The Grouchy Club at the Edinburgh Fringe.

The idea is that, with luck, comedians, other performers and show-related people come along and we just chat to the inherently interesting audience.

For the last three days, we have included a 10-minute section where comics performed to get feedback from their peers.

My co-host is Kate Copstick, doyenne of comedy critics. She runs Mama Biashara, a charity based in Kenya where she spends, I guess, half her year.

Regular readers of this blog will know that, a few months ago in Kenya, she had a very serious accident and had to have a hip replacement in Kenya – no insurance, so in a local hospital. She came back to the UK in a wheelchair though she has now recovered fairly well though not completely.

For the last eight years or so, she has also had lupus.

Wikipedia defines lupus  as “a name given to  collection of autoimmune diseases in which the human immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks normal, healthy tisses. Symptoms of these diseases can affect many different body systems, including joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, heart and lungs”.

What this means, day-to-day, is that Copstick has to take very heavy pain-killing drugs and, even then, is in high pain for a large percentage of the time.

She arrived a couple of minutes late for yesterday afternoon’s Grouchy Club.

“How are you?” I asked.

“It’s not been a good day so far.”

“Why’s that?”

“I’m running out of painkillers. I’m running out of one of the medications I take for lupus. And now I’m running out of anti-depressants.

Copstick in London yesterday

Copstick in her London charity shop on her recent return (with new hip) from Kenya

“One of the things when that happens is I get weird moments. I always know when I need to up the dose – or drink heavily, which is the alternative.

“I get panic attacks.

“I go to leave the house and, as soon as I think Time to leave now, I get this feeling in my head I’m going to forget the keys. Or my wallet. I’m definitely going to forget my wallet. I’m going to forget something really important. Probably the keys; probably the keys. 

“So then I get to the door and open the door. You’ve forgotten the keys! You’ve forgotten the keys! Have you forgotten the wallet? Let’s check the bag! You’ve forgotten the keys! Definitely forgotten the keys! You haven’t forgotten the keys. Must be the wallet then. You’ve forgotten your wallet. Check the bag. But the keys are in the pocket. Never mind, check the bag anyway!

“So I check the bag and check the wallet. And then I get outside and I’m just pulling the door to and… No! You’ve definitely forgotten the keys! If not the keys then the wallet or if not the wallet then what’s in the wallet. Probably got no money in your wallet.

“So I open the wallet up and I do have money. But what about your cards? You’ve probably forgotten your cards. You’ve got no cards. What if you lose that money or you’ve got no money or you’ve got to give it to somebody or something else happens? Then you have no cards to get more money. But I’ve got the cards, got the money. What about the keys? What if I don’t have the keys? I won’t be able to get back in. This is a rented flat. I’ll have to break down the door. Imagine the cost of that.

“So it takes me about half an hour to leave the house and, when I do leave the house, I have my wallet in one hand – open, so I can see all the cards and everything – and my keys in the other. Have you forgotten anything? Have you got a pad? You’ve probably got no pens. You’re gonna have to buy a pen. 

“And, all the way along the road, I’m just checking everything in my bag.

“So now I’ve had a large Drambuie and I feel a lot better.

“It’s quite simple, really. People think mental health is this big, complex problem.

“It’s not.

“You just need to drink.

“If you feel a wobbly moment coming on, find a bottle of alcohol. I am not saying it is a long-term cure, because it is quite expensive and sadly – though I have spoken at great length to my doctor – it is apparently not available on the NHS. That is a big mistake. It is almost worth going into politics for.”

Our Grouchy Club show ends at 4.45pm every afternoon.

Wilfredo comforts Copstick (with her damaged left arm) by tickling her chin

Wilfredo comforts Copstick (with her damaged left arm) by tickling her chin with a flower

Yesterday, I bumped into Copstick again at around 6.15pm when I turned up at The Hive venue to see Matt Roper’s show as  strangely-loveable lounge lizard Wilfredo.

Copstick was nestling her left arm in a strange way.

Some drunken punter, running along a street, had collided with her and knocked her down. She was on her way to A&E.

At 9.25pm, I got a text message from her:

Humerus fractured. Make of that what you will…

I texted back:

Even more important, did you get the drugs you need?

It is around noon as I write this.

I have not heard back yet.

Our next show starts at 3.45pm.

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Filed under Comedy, Medical