Tag Archives: hospital

Comedians, ‘madness’ and psychiatrists

(From left) Juliette Burton, Jorrick Mol, Laura Levites

(From left) Juliette Burton, Jorrick Mol, Laura Levites (Photograph by Brian Higgins)

A couple of weeks ago, I staged five daily hour-long chat shows in the final week of the Edinburgh Fringe.

In the second show, I talked to comedians Juliette Burton, Laura Levites and Jorick Mol.

All of us had experience of being in mental homes.

This is a short extract from the chat:

____________________________________________

JOHN: Laura, you were telling me last night that you had been really happy at the Fringe this year. Surely that’s bad creatively? Performers need to be troubled to be creative.

LAURA: No! I’ve spent my entire life being troubled. Why would I continue wanting to be troubled?

JOHN: You won’t have a show next year if you’re not troubled.

LAURA: That’s not true! That’s not true at all. I’ll find trouble anyway but if I’m not troubled, it doesn’t mean I have to have a life without experiences. You don’t have to be miserable to be creative.

JORICK: I’d like to pick up that idea that performers and mental illness are, in some form, related. I think that’s complete nonsense. It’s only when people actually do have mental health problems and are performers that that conversation will very quickly start. Although performers and writers and creative people are maybe more willing to play with the spaces in their mind and go places people wouldn’t normally go. They won’t go for the easy answers.

JOHN: Isn’t there a point that creative people, in order to create something new and different, are thinking laterally and, in order to think differently from other people, you have to be different?

JULIETTE: The experiences I’ve had – the psychoses and stuff – forced my brain outside a certain box and I feel like it’s a gift in a way, although it fucked up my education. But I have had experiences that were outside the normal way of thinking. And to try and make any sense of that… I kind of think that the world’s crazy anyway, but… to not laugh at it all… The fact that I heard voices and I saw weird things that weren’t there…

LAURA: Oh my god! I’m so jealous!

JULIETTE: Yeah?

LAURA: You did?

JULIETTE: Yeah, totally. I saw God and the Devil and…

LAURA: You saw God?

JULIETTE: I time-travelled.

LAURA: You time-travelled? I don’t have that. I’m so upset. What’s your diagnosis?

JULIETTE: It was a while ago. It was 11 years ago I had a psychosis as a result of anorexia. I don’t have that now.

LAURA: You stopped eating?

JULIETTE: No, I… I have been told not to take any drugs because it might happen again. If you have those weird experiences and try to make sense of those experiences… For me it just means that anyone who’s doing a normal job in a normal office, it’s like…

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’m a psychiatric social worker. My work is to sit talking to people like you with two medical doctors and to argue your case. And it’s really hard.

JOHN: Why is it hard?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: They say That person is completely off-the-wall. They have to be hospitalised. The last sectioning I had to take part in – luckily I didn’t sign the paper – the patient was saying I feel this love for this person and the psychiatrists wanted to section them because they were having this wonderful overwhelming feeling of love. They couldn’t understand…

What you are talking about is really interesting, because you’re talking about being in a certain world and having certain ‘mystical’ experiences that a lot of mystics and spiritual people have had. But, because ‘spiritual stuff’ is so alien to the medical model…

I’m interested in the spiritual emergency that comes from these experiences, that pushes people through into something else – the medical model isn’t looking at that. They’re saying This person needs medication in order to be ‘managed’ either by a family unit or by society in general, because they’re ‘dangerous’.

JULIETTE: With me, I was sectioned for anorexia and then I had this experience – seeing all this stuff – and then they got me on all the pills and got me away from seeing all these things and hearing all these things and then they carried on treating the anorexia. But they didn’t treat what I saw and all the theological implications of that.

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More injured and bloody comedians cause chaos at the Edinburgh Fringe

Casual Violence - concentrated comedy

Casual Violence – injured minds, bloody strange, very funny

James Hamilton of comedy sketch group Casual Violence has been nominated for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award in two consecutive years for his bizarre writing. This year, Casual Violence are performing not one but two shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

When I first saw one of Casual Violence’s shows, I wrote of  James: “I think he might need psychiatric help. Though not creative help. There’s something very original in there – I just don’t know what the fuck it is”

My opinion has not changed.

Yesterday afternoon, I was heading to see the new Casual Violence show House of Nostril at the Pleasance Courtyard when a tall young man handed me a flyer for Alexander Bennett’s Afraid of the Dark with Jorik Mol.

For some reason, I asked: “Are you Jorik Mol?”

“Yes, John,” he replied.

“People keep telling me I should meet you,” I said.

“We met a couple of years ago,” Jorik said.

“I have a shit memory,” I told him, “Where have you been?”

“I was in Amsterdam for a year,” said Jorik.

“I’m not surprised,” I said, “You’re Dutch.”

Jorik Mol up against a wall at The Pleasance

Jorik Mol – very pleasant at The Pleasance yesterday

“I was convalescing from clinical depression,” continued Jorik, “I basically spent a year in a haulage container doing voices to myself.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Because what else is there to do in a haulage container? I also read Tolstoy’s War & Peace.”

“You mean the big metal containers they transport on ships?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

“You need money to afford a haulage container,” I suggested.

“You don’t,” said Jorik. “I was given one. I was a student at the University of Amsterdam and they give them out to people who either live very far away from Amsterdam or who are strange. The containers have all been turned into flats. There’s a window at the front and a window at the back.”

“When did you stop living in a container?” I asked.

“I’m still officially living in a container in Amsterdam,” Jorik told me. “But I’m moving to London next month, going back on the comedy circuit and starting to study a Masters in Comparative Literature at University College, London.”

Jeremy Bentham sits, stuffed, at UCL

Jeremy Bentham sits, stuffed, at UCL

“Is that where Jeremy Bentham sits stuffed?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Jorik.

“And you’ll be gigging on the side?” I asked. “Comedy is difficult.”

“No,” said Jorik. “People say comedy is easy but, when you’ve been through severe clinical depression and hospitalisation, maybe everything is easy.”

“Ah…” I said. “Stand-up comedians and mental hospitals…”

“Mental hospitals are great,” said Jorik. “I was punched in a mental hospital. People in the mental hospital really fucking hated me.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Because,” said Jorik, “I’m young, I can speak and I can read novels. There was a guy in the mental hospital who was like the alpha male – he was like a white van man. He thought I was threatening his position in the ward. There were seven completely inert people there, three of whom had regular ECT treatment. So there wasn’t a lot of pride to rule over as the Lion King he thought himself to be.

“One day I woke up late, because I was on a lot of medication, and I was about five minutes late for finger painting or whatever I was supposed to do and the guy just came up to me and just knocked me out.

“I am pretty proud that I am so viscerally annoying that I annoyed someone out of severe inert depression.”

“It sounds like good training for playing comedy to British audiences,” I said.

“Absolutely,” said Jorik.

It turned out he and I were both at the Pleasance to see Casual Violence’s House of Nostril, as was uber-mindreader Doug Segal (he, of course, already knew in advance that we were going to bump into each other).

It was a full house as, indeed was Casual Violence’s other show – Om Nom Nominous at the Voodoo Rooms. It is their ‘greatest hits’ show which I also saw yesterday and, inevitably, it was very weird, very funny, strangely dark, strangely melancholic and the full house pissed themselves laughing.

PekkaStrangeboneComedyShowpiece

Pekka & Strangebone’s accident-prone Fringe show

I also saw Pekka & Strangebone’s Comedy Showpiece at the Voodoo Rooms – another odd sketch show with a dash of darkness added to basic (this is a good thing) silliness. There were three cast members. One had twisted his ankle – the bone had popped out then popped back in again. He had had to go to A&E earlier in the day. Another of the trio had fallen onto a piece of broken glass in the Meadows and gouged a great bloody hole in his hand. He had had to go to A&E earlier in the day.

When I came out of their show, I told them they should try to get publicity on the basis of being the most accident-prone show in town – or the show with most accidents soonest. Then (this is true) I checked my iPhone for e-mails and there was one from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. It was headed:

PLEASE, NO MORE INJURED AND BLOODIED COMEDIANS…

I thought I started to hear the theme music from The Twilight Zone.

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards disasters

The increasingly medically challenged Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show

Then I opened another message. It told me that Miss Behave – who broke her heel in Dublin a few weeks ago and is compere of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on Friday 23rd August… is NOT.

The message read:

“Not possible for me to stay without cutting my foot off and clubbing myself to death with it.”

Miss Behave, rightly, is going back to London to recuperate rather than continuing to damage herself by leaping around Fringe shows in Edinburgh.

I asked Janey Godley – the comedienne who can handle any situation – if she could compere the Malcolm Hardee show instead. She said Yes. Yippee!

Then I opened another e-mail…

It was from Andy Dunlop, the President of the World Egg Throwing Federation. He will be supervising the Scottish national Russian Egg Roulette Championships at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on Friday 23rd August. Except that he will not be…

The e-mail said:

Andy Dunlop in happier days

President Andy Dunlop in happier days

I am meant to be in Australia right now but I am not…..

My wife is unwell and starts Iodine 131 radiotherapy on Friday. Currently she is exhausted, can’t sleep, faints a lot, is over heated and very very grumpy.

As from this Friday she will also be radioactive for some considerable time and in quarantine at home for at least 14 days. This prevents her from being left alone, cuddling cats or sleeping with husband. She is upset about item 2.

My suggestion that I bugger off to Edinburgh for a few days may lead to suffering from a beating and probably divorce although it would reduce my risk of cross contamination by gamma and beta emitters.

I am unable to predict her recovery and thus am unlikely to make it for the 23rd but John Deptford, our World Vice President, is available due to his Russian Visa not coming through.  He is better than I at compering. Can he crash at yours?

I said Yes.

But it is going to be a crowded night in my Edinburgh flat on Friday 23rd August.

There will be me, John Deptford, Martin Soan, Mr Methane.

Four men and one bed.

It could be a Richard Curtis comedy.

If Mr Methane farts, he may die.

Perhaps all of us will.

So it goes.

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The British NHS – pain is still pain & death is death despite good intentions

My personal experience of the blind bureaucracy of Britain’s National Health Service – which I blogged about yesterday – continued after yesterday’s blog.

I blogged about how I encountered well-meaning bumbling when I had to have my eyes checked at the Ophthalmology department of my local NHS hospital in Hertfordshire.

My friend's painful horizontal wisdom tooth (left)

My friend’s painful horizontal wisdom tooth is seen on the left

Later yesterday, though, a friend of mine encountered continuing blind bumbling at the Dental department of Guy’s Hospital in London.

She has had painful problems with a wisdom tooth for, I guess a couple of years. A couple of weeks ago, she was told by a very amiable doctor at Guy’s that the tooth could be taken out but, as it was close to a nerve, they would first have to take a cone beam mandible CT scan to see exactly what any potential problems might be.

Good.

It might take six weeks to arrange the scan.

Well, OK.

So it was a surprise when my friend got home yesterday night to find a letter from Guy’s Hospital telling her the appointment to have the scan was arranged for yesterday morning.

She had been away from home for a couple of days.

The letter from Guy's Hospital - bad timing

The letter from Guy’s Hospital – bad timing

The letter for a scan at 10.00am on Friday 15th February, dated Thursday 7th February, had been sent second class on Monday 11th February. In theory, this should have arrived on Wednesday 13th February. If you trust the Post Office.

My friend was at home on the Tuesday, away Wednesday/Thursday and returned at 2300 on Friday night. She missed the scan appointment at 1000 that day. The letter, we think, may actually have arrived on Thursday, one day before the appointment.

In the minds of the no doubt amiable and well-meaning people creating the letter on 7th February for an appointment on 15th February, that was enough notice. But then the letter was not posted until 11th February. It was sent second class so – even if the postal system worked effectively – it would not arrive until 13th February and there was no thought of someone being away from home on two consecutive days.

So well-meaning people bumbled into incompetence.

At the bottom of the letter, it says: “If you are unable to attend your appointment please contact the Department giving 48 hours notice… If you do not attend an agreed booked appointment your form will be returned to the referring Doctor and you will need to contact your Doctor for a new referral.”

So, even if my friend had received the letter on Wednesday 13th (with the mail being delivered late-morning) she could not have re-arranged the appointment with 48 hours notice.

And now, because she did not know about the appointment, she will have to go back to her GP, get another referral, get another appointment to see a doctor at Guy’s, get that doctor to make another appointment for another scan, wait for the system to arrange another scan and then hope she receives a letter in time to know she actually has a scan appointment.

400 - 1,200 patients killed at Stafford Hospital

Stafford Hospital – where 400 – 1,200 patients were  killed

In some parts of the NHS, of course, patients die because of lack of care.

A couple of days ago Lord MacDonald, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, was calling for police to investigate the “needless deaths” of between 400 and 1,200 patients at Mid Staffordshire Hospital between 2005 and 2009.

Five days ago, NHS Medical Director Sir Bruce Keogh announced that nine English hospital trusts were to be investigated because of abnormally-high death rates:

– North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust

– United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust

– George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust

– Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust

– Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

– The Dudley Group NHS FT

– Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS FT

– Medway NHS FT

– Burton Hospitals NHS FT

My experience in Hertfordshire and my friend’s experience in London are of course – in comparison – wildly trivial. But they are a sign that, even when well-meaning people try their best, the NHS (perhaps like all large bureaucracies) is a mess.

In the case of the NHS, though, it is not just inconvenience which is caused but, in my friend’s case, continuing pain and, in many other people’s cases, death.

From tiny, slightly deformed acorns do vastly warped oak trees grow.

My friend phoned the number on the letter this morning and got no answer.

“It rings and rings for ages, then cuts off,” she told me.

So she then phoned the main telephone number at Guy’s Hospital.

“You get a voice recognition computer which asks for the department you want,” she told me, “If you ignore it, it gives you operator. The operator told me the Appointments Department is only open weekdays.”

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Britain’s National Health Service: Sod’s Law. What happened to me yesterday.

NHSlogo

Mostly amiable but badly organised

I have said it here before. What’s the point of having a blog if you can’t have a moan?

My mother had the eye disease glaucoma. So did my father’s mother. And so, I think, did my mother’s cousin. It is hereditary.

If you get it and the doctors catch it early, you can be cured. If they catch it late, there is no cure. You will go blind.

So I have regular eye tests.

After the last eye test, my local optician said the pressure on my right eye (always my weakest eye) was slightly – but only slightly – abnormal. So she sent me for more tests at the Ophthalmology department of my local NHS hospital. I went yesterday afternoon.

I am not going to name the hospital because the people who dealt with me were well-meaning people and trying to do their best. But, as in most of the rest of life, meaning well gets tsunamied by Sod’s Law and everything goes arse-over-tit.

When I eventually got an appointment, it was not in a letter. I got a phone call last Friday (the 8th) from a computer with an automated voice. It told me I had an eye appointment at my local hospital on Thursday the 14th at twndthee.

What?

Twndthee.

I phoned the number a couple more times and, as far as I could tell, the automated voice was saying “twenty to three” but I was only, perhaps, 65% certain. It might have been twenty past three or something else to do with three. Or possibly two. If it was, indeed, saying “twenty to three” they had, presumably, programmed the computer to say that phrase as it is friendlier than saying “two forty”.

A good intention. But the result was less clear.

I decided to wait for the inevitable letter.

This arrived on Monday confirming that, indeed, my appointment was at 2.40pm.

On Wednesday, I got a phone call from a genuine and very polite human being asking if I could come a little earlier – 1.30 instead of 2.40.

No problem. All agreed. Earlier appointment at 1.30 was confirmed.

Yesterday morning, my eternally un-named friend asked me: “Are you going to drive there?”

“Ah!” I said. “I had forgotten about that. I think they put eye-drops in and warn you not to drive.”

I looked at the letter.

“There’s nothing in the letter about it,” I said.

So I phoned up the telephone number on the letter.

“What is your reference number?” I was asked by the very amiable man on the other end of the line.

I read the reference number on the letter.

“Not that number,” said the very amiable man. “I need the reference number.”

“That is the only number I have,” I said.

“What is your NHS number?” he asked.

I read it off the letter. There was a pause.

“…and what is your password?” the very amiable man asked.

“Erm…  I don’t know,” I said. “I didn’t know I had one.”

“It is on one of your reference sheets with the reference number,” said the very amiable man.

“I only have one sheet,” I replied.

“I cannot process your request without a password,” said the very amiable man. “The reference number and password are on the referral letter sent by your GP to the Hospital.”

“I don’t have any copy of that,” I said. “I only have the appointment letter sent to me by the hospital.”

“I need a password to process your request,” said the very amiable man.

“I am having eye tests at the hospital in a couple of hours for glaucoma,” I said “and just wanted to know if I was allowed to drive. I wondered if they might be putting eye drops in which would mean I shouldn’t drive.”

“I cannot speculate on the answer,” said the very amiable man, “but sometimes they put eyedrops in. I cannot speculate on what they may do without access to your medical records, which I cannot access without your password.”

So, yesterday, I got a bus to my local hospital for the 1.30pm appointment. I arrived early and had a cup of tea. Then:

1.20pm – I turn up, present my letter to the receptionist and point out I have been asked to come for the earlier 1.30 appointment. No problem. I am logged in.

2.25pm – I think it best to check. I politely asked the receptionist if he can double-check what time my appointment is. Much fiddling on computer. “Two forty,” he says slightly aggressively. “Ah,” I say.

2.35pm – I am called in to the very amiable nurse, who makes the first tests on my eyes, photographs the back of my eyes and tells me she doesn’t think there’s any real problem, but I will be having two more sets of tests by other people and then seeing the Consultant.

"Wait in here," I was told

“Wait in here…” I was told by my first very amiable nurse

2.50pm – She takes me to another examination room and says, “Wait in here. You may have to wait a bit of time for the other tests.” I sit down. She leaves.

2.59pm – Another very amiable nurse comes into the room to get something and is surprised I am sitting there. I tell her why and I describe the nurse who left me. This second very amiable nurse takes my name and goes off saying “I will check.” I tell her: “The other nurse told me I might have to wait a bit.” The second nurse tells me with a smile: “Don’t worry unless it starts to get dark.”

3.06pm – The second very amiable nurse comes back into the room again to get something, looks surprised again and asks, “Any luck yet?” I say , “No.”

3.11pm – The original very amiable nurse comes into the room to get something, looks surprised to find me there, and says: “Oh, you’re not supposed to be in here: you’re supposed to sit outside” (in the corridor). I go and sit on a row of seats in the corridor.

3.17pm – I hear my name being called about 15 feet to my left, in the original waiting room. It is a very amiable Consultant. He examines my eyes.

The end result is he says I have no signs of glaucoma. “Your nerves are way too healthy,” he tells me. “When I look at them, they’re lovely and pink, lots of nerve tissue there. You’ve got thick corneas so, when they test your pressure, particularly with the air puff machine, they’re going to get false, high readings. The most important question is Is this pressure damaging your nerve? and the answer is No. Your nerves look 100% healthy. They’re lovely.”

“So I can put my nerves into the 2016 Olympics?” I ask.

“Yes,” says the Consultant.

Everyone was very amiable.

The organisation was a mess.

No one person was to blame.

That is life.

Sod’s Law.

I guess death in the NHS is much the same.

So it goes.

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The sick state of British healthcare

Back in November, I blogged about having to get a Wellington boot cut off me with a pair of scissors in a shoe shop and, towards the end of December, I was moaning about how my foot still hurt – as did my shoulder, which was broken in an accident in 1991.

They were both still hurting quite badly a couple of weeks ago, so I went to my GP to see if I could maybe get an X-ray done at the hospital. I have no real belief in traditional Western medicine – they rely on drugs to mask the symptoms without curing the cause – but, if nothing else, I thought maybe an X-ray might help my osteopath: he could see what was inside my foot/shoulder.

But the clue to British GPs is in the name. They are General Practitioners. By-and-large, they know a little about a lot but and a lot about nothing: they are (now) highly-paid generalists not specialists; their job is to filter out all but the most serious cases.

A year or so after my 1991 accident, for maybe two-thirds of my waking hours, my shoulder was still giving me a lot of pain – it was like a knife was being shoved in my shoulder and turned. My GP said:

“That’ll last for the rest of your life. What painkillers do you want?”

Instead, I went to a high-profile Chinese doctor, knowing that Chinese medicine is not fast. It aims to cure the causes, not to mask the immediate symptoms. He gave me Die Da Wan Hua oil to rub on the shoulder. I knew, if it worked at all, it might take months or a year. Within three weeks, the pain had gone. That was twenty years ago. Until this past December, the shoulder pain recurred only mildly maybe only twice a year for a few days, usually if I put too much pressure on it; even now, it is nowhere near as bad as it was in 1991 – maybe a tenth  – and only sporadically.

Inevitably, despite telling my GP a couple of weeks ago that the pain in my foot had been going on for two months and the pain in my shoulder for a month, the guy (whom I had never met before – you get whoever is free at my GP practice) pooh-poohed and refused to get me an X-ray and gave me simple painkillers, saying the painkillers would clear up the problem in “a couple of days”.

So, two weeks later, I am thinking of going to a Chinese doctor after I try some Die Da Wan Hua oil myself.

Harold Shipman can’t be the only GP to have killed patients. His only uniqueness lay in the fact he did it intentionally.

Last week, a friend  told me a doctor she knows confided to her there is an unwritten rule-of-thumb (not mentioned to patients) that, unless something is obviously very seriously wrong, GPs only refer patients upwards to specialists if they come complaining three times about the same problem.

Yesterday, mad inventor John Ward (who designed and made the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards) told me a story of his long-ago youth when he was “in the engineering game a few years after leaving school…

“Three of us new lads,” he told me, “were asked to go and see the local doctor to have a ‘check up’ to see if we were ‘fit’ due the nature of the job we were going to do – lifting heavy metal and so on…

“When we got to the surgery, we found someone who looked like he was out of Last Of The Summer Wine – a very old, whiskered barnacle of a chap with a stethoscope dangling around his neck.

“He asked us: Do you want the ‘long drawn out’ check-up or the ‘short to-the-point’ one?

“We opted for the short one, natch.

“This consisted of him using what he called his CSF Method.

Right lads, he asked us… Can you Cough? – Can you Spit? – Can you Fart?

“In his book, if you could achieve all three of these acts unaided, you were OK to proceed with your life. We said we could do all three.

Then you can bugger off now! he told us. I have to play golf this afternoon and you’re holding me up!

“With that, he let the three of us out, lit up a fag, got in his car and went off to the golf course.”

John Ward has just been told he is “borderline diabetic” but, a week or so ago, he read in the Daily Mail (which is oddly forever printing diabetic stories) that a woman had also being told she was diabetic but plainly was not.

“Apparently it’s a common ploy,” John Ward tells me. “Starting back in the Tony Blair years, it became a scam for doctors to put folk down as diabetic because they got/still get a ‘commission’ on each one they refer. It’s not a bad little earner for them but apparently the figures suggest most people referred are not diabetic. The nurse I am seeing at the moment says that, despite my GP being ‘absolutely sure’ I am ‘borderline diabetic’, the tests say I absolutely ain’t.

“I’m now on four different pills prescribed by the doctor. I didn’t touch one type of pill prescribed for me but, interestingly, I was told that my recent blood tests confirm that these pills (the ones I am not taking) are ‘doing me good’.”

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I think my body may be starting to fall apart. Perhaps leeches are the answer.

Yesterday was a hotchpotch of a day, starting with the unsettling news that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il had died. There may be more about this in my blog in four or five months time.

I have been hobbling a bit every since a humorous incident last month in which my left foot got stuck in a Wellington boot in a shoe shop and the Wellington had to be cut off me with a large pair of scissors. Before that, there had been much pulling by various people of my toes and heel with the result that the outside edge of my left heel has, ever since, been painful when I stand on it in my bare feet, though not when I wear shoes. But it has now started to occasionally be painful in shoes, too, so I guess I will have to go to my GP and maybe try to get it X-rayed. Two visits to my osteopath have not cured the problem, which he thinks is caused by problems in my toes, not my heel.

The humorous Wellington boot incident happened on 10th November; it is now 20th December. I have had problems ever since.

When you are younger, you think old people move slower because it is in their nature. As you get older, you realise it is often because of pain or the anticipation of pain.

Now there is something for me to look forward to.

Well, it seems I don’t even have to look forward. It is here.

My left shoulder is also giving me occasional pain after a visit to an osteopath (not my own) who was going cheap in a Daily Telegraph offer. She poked and prodded the flat stretch between my left shoulder and neck, which was damaged when I was hit by a large truck while standing on the pavement in 1991 – or was it 1990?- I can’t be bothered to check – and it has been more painful since then.

I think I was born too early.

The 19th century was all about mechanical inventions. The 20th century was electrical and electronic advances. The 21st century looks set to be an era of biological discoveries and advancement.

I was born too early.

John Ward with some Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy

I was thinking this yesterday lunchtime and then mad John Ward, designer of the three annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards and eccentric inventor of bizarre contraptions, e-mailed to tell me he had designed the ultimate bird table and I could see it on YouTube.

I think it has some echo of the villain’s lair in The Spy Who Loved Me crossed with the Martian tripods in War of The Worlds – someone else who saw it just thought it might attract foxes.

Perhaps the 21st century will not be all biology.

Perhaps eccentricity will proliferate.

I then had to go to hospital to have a minor operation: the surgical removal of two growths – well, OK, two little bobbly things were cut off my skin by a highly-trained and I presume highly-paid consultant with a scalpel. He is, in all seriousness, professionally called a ‘Lumps & Bumps’ consultant and, like 50% of doctors, has a good sense of humour.

One of the lumps – well, as I said, it was more like a little bobbly thing of soft flesh – has been growing on the side of my neck for a couple of years or so; the other has been growing, mini-mushroom-like, on the inside of my upper left leg like my body was trying to grow a second, more impressive penis (not difficult) beside the original one.

I don’t know which was more embarrassing: having the two bobbly things sliced off or having the consultant comment unfavourably on my bright yellow socks.

As this happened in a private hospital, we (my accompanying friend and I) were given tea and two Quality Street chocolates afterwards by the very amiable Irish nurse who told me that, if you give blood in Edgware, they give you cup of tea, a sandwich of your choice and crisps. As I have shamefully not given blood for about three years, this is tempting.

Blood transfusion centres used to just give you a cup of tea and a selection of biscuits. Things are looking up, though my friend opined she has never fully understood why doctors stopped using leeches and ‘bleeding’ patients on a regular basis.

For hundreds of years, people seemed to think that it was an effective and positively healthy thing to do. Can they really all have been wrong?

She may have a point, but where can one get leeches nowadays?

On a more 21st century subject, she discovered her O2 dongle does not work with Apple’s new Lion operating system because O2 have not pulled their finger out and updated their system. The Lion OS has been in use for months and O2 has sold customers dongles that no longer work. There may be biological advances in the 21st century but one thing seems likely to remain the same – all British telecom companies are equal.

‘Incompetent wankers’ seems to be the suitable phrase which covers this.

When I got home after the (admittedly not what anyone could call major) operation and the major trauma of realising O2 is selling products which do not work, I was almost immediately phoned by Adrian ‘Nosey’ Wigley: always a cheerily uplifting experience. I do not think we have talked this century, though I did mention him at the end of a blog a couple of months ago.

I booked him on a few TV programmes in the 1980s and/or the 1990s to showcase his impressive talent for playing Spanish Eyes on an electric organ with his nose.

His nose has not lost its musical ability and I am surprised he has not popped up on Britain’s Got Talent.

He lives in Brownhills in the West Midlands which, when last I heard, was home to several Guinness world record holders.

I think it’s the tedium that gets to them.

I hope, in the 21st century, it is eccentricity which proliferates.

Life can be so uneventful.

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What happened when I was admitted to a mental asylum when I was newly 18

I was born on Friday 28th July.

Just after my 18th birthday, on Friday 11th October, I tried to kill myself because of a girl. I have blogged about it before.

Obviously I failed and after I got out of hospital – as was not uncommon then – it was suggested I should go into a mental asylum. It was at Goodmayes, Ilford, in East London.

On Saturday 19th October, I wrote to a friend in Wales about it:

________________________

I never was any good at chemistry in school – I think I once managed to come next-to-bottom instead of bottom. I got out of King George’s Hospital on Wednesday afternoon. My underpants and one black sock had disappeared mysteriously while I was in there.

On Wednesday evening, I went in voluntarily to Goodmayes Hospital (the nuthouse) because I knew I wanted a rest and they thought I wanted help.

I was only there for one day because, on Thursday evening, I discharged myself, much to the annoyance of a point-nosed grey-haired man – a charge nurse – slightly balding, who filled in all sorts of forms and kept muttering about the extra work.

There was a secretary to the point-nosed grey-haired charge nurse – tall, thin and always reading intently – who laughed nervously at anything. He laughed loudly and shrilly. A really shrill laugh. He seemed like a patient, but he was one of the staff. The difference between the staff and the patients was that the patients walked slower.

Anyway, this charge nurse bloke was giving me what sounded like a prepared and rehearsed lecture on how I should not discharge myself and, at the same time, he was rolling a cigarette, looking down at it while he rolled it.

“You’re not reading it from the cigarette paper, are you?” I asked.

“Now why do you say that?”

“Hallucinations?”

“Well, it could be…”

I think that was why he was not too keen on letting me out.

He thought I might be seeing little green point-capped and grinning goblins crawling out of cracks in the walls.

When I had arrived at Goodmayes Hospital on Wednesday night, I had been very depressed. Very in the pits. They gave me a pill which gave me a surge into emotional elation. I did not really want to be elated but I had no choice. It was like a rocket taking off inside my body after I took the pill. Phwoeeeeeeehhh! Mindless happiness. I had trouble getting to sleep so they gave me two sleeping pills. The difference between the staff and the patients was that the patients walked slower.

The next morning, a doctor interviewed me at his desk in his room.

“You seem to explain it very well,” he told me. “I am talking to some students tomorrow. You can come and talk about your feelings to them so they can understand how someone like you thinks.”

The last thing I wanted to do was to talk to a room full of students like some academic lecturer. I wanted a rest. I did not want an audience. I wanted to be away from people. I realised they were not going to let me alone. I wanted a rest and they thought I wanted help.

I was in a ward with about ten people.

There was a queer bloke with glasses and smiling, intent eyes who had not had a shave that day. He kept going on about masturbation and had I ever let anyone do it to me and how good it would be. He was one of the nurses. He had started as a nurse in Goodmayes Hospital seven years ago, then left and been a clerk and a book-keeper and all sorts of things but then he came back.

“I came back to take care of people like you,” he told me.

When he heard I was discharging myself, he looked me deep in my eyes and told me:

“You’ll be back. People always come back. They think they won’t. But they come back.”

Also in the ward, there was an Irishman who read books about three inches from his nose and held them tightly with both hands and never looked at anyone, avoiding any eye contact with anyone else.

Then there was the hairy man with a torn pyjama jacket who lived in a triangular padded room at the back of the ward. They let him out for meals. He walked oddly, like he was doing it in slow motion. He would say: “Charles the First said it would happen,” and “Charles the First said he would never indulge it. He said he would never indulge it,” and “Harold Wilson Harold Wilson Harold Wilson Harold Wilson.”

And then there was the 20 year-old boy in the wheelchair who said he had a jaw disease.

“I’m in here because I have a jaw disease,” he told me.

He looked backward but I don’t think he was.

He kept talking about how he used to go mountain climbing and bog exploring.

“I used to like to go to quiet places and old ruins where I was completely alone,” he told me. “When I was outside. Before I came in here.”

He told me how he wanted to go camping and hiking. How told me how he threw cups and plates and bottles up in the air and liked to see things destroyed.

“I like to see things destroyed,” he told me.

He did nothing but cut out pictures of the athlete Lillian Board.

He was making a large Olympic chart backed by hardboard, covered with pictures of Lillian Board.

When I told him I was leaving that night, his eyes were like the sea without waves. He told me his girlfriend Evie, who used to live in Chingford, could not visit him very often.

“She has gone to live in Exeter,” he told me.

I gave him my address. I told him to write to me and promised to visit him.

When I left, the queer bloke with glasses and smiling, intent eyes was telling him about an isolated shed in the gardens outside the ward.

“You will be in here for a long time,” the bloke with glasses and smiling, intent eyes was saying to the 20 year-old boy looking up at him from the wheelchair, “And I will be in here too.”

_________________________

After I got out, I never wrote to the boy in the wheelchair. He never wrote to me. Other things happened.

Two years later, the athlete Lillian Board died of bowel cancer, 13 days after her birthday. She was 22.

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Filed under Health, Mental health