(Photograph: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash)
I am probably going to have a minor operation at a local hospital next Friday.
I say ‘probably’ because, when I was phoned-up at around 8.30pm last Thursday night (three days ago), I was told the operation could not be 100% confirmed until Tuesday (two days from now).
I say the ‘probable’ operation is at a ‘local’ hospital though, to get there, I have to travel on two trains.
Anyway, because I am probably having this minor operation on Friday, on Tuesday afternoon I have to go to the same hospital and have a Covid test – just for safety. The result will be known two days later.
After having the Covid test on Tuesday afternoon, I will need to self-isolate for the rest of that day and for the whole of Wednesday/Thursday before turning up for the operation on Friday morning.
This is, of course, to avoid my being infected by anyone between having the presumably negative Covid test and the operation.
Which is fine…
Except, of course, that, after the Covid test on Tuesday afternoon, I will be taking two trains to get back home.
And, on Friday morning, I have to turn up at the hospital by 08.00, which will involve me travelling on two fairly-crowded early-rush-hour trains to get there.
So I will be potentially exposing myself to infection.
Those who have read my appropriate blogs will know I was hospitalised for seven days last May and seven days this July because my body suddenly developed very high calcium levels and a dangerously low kidney function.
As a result, I have not had a full night’s sleep since June 2020. I wake up every hour throughout the night, dehydrated – my tongue and the inside of my mouth as dry as the Sahara Desert.
The doctors still do not know the cause of my calcium and kidney problems.
Inevitably, my eternally-un-named friend has recently been looking on the internet for explanations about dry mouths and has decided, with little evidence, that the problem is that I sleep with an open mouth.
The passages inside my nose were severely buggered in my teens by an overindulgence in Vicks Sinex Nasal Spray.
“In your bathroom cupboard,” my eternally-un-named friend told me yesterday, “there is one of my black hairbands. Put it round your head when you go to bed at night. It will keep your mouth shut.”
I tried to persuade her that a hairband is impractical for me because I have no hair on my head, but she would not be swayed.
She got an old photo she took of me and sent me a visual representation of how I should wear the hairband as a medical aid…
She helpfully added: “My hairband does not have a bow.”
I found the hairband in my bathroom cupboard. I tried her suggestion. It is not a good look. Life is a trial.
I try to go to sleep at night but it takes a bit of time. Then I wake up after two hours, go back to sleep and then wake up again every hour all the way through the night.
My normal abnormal.
Fortunately, I have not had serious vertigo (which I first had in January) since 1st June…
…until a couple of days ago.
In the afternoon I was feeling a bit unsteady. It was as if my brain were padded with suffocating cotton wool but I was also lightly swirly inside my head. So I went upstairs to my bedroom to lie down.
When I did lie down on the bed, it was as if the soft brain tissue inside my head started whizzing round-and-round in a circle, faster and faster, parallel with the pillows… like a bicycle wheel or a fairground ride whizzing round and round, faster and faster, parallel with the ground but with centrifugal force trying to spin it off out of control and out of my head.
I was able to stop this by lying on my left side not my right side, with my left ear on the pillow instead of my right ear; and by sitting up.
Around teatime, I was standing vertically again, so OK and went out thinking fresh air might help, but was a little wobbly inside my head, as if my brain were telling me it was not altogether in total control of how my feet worked nor safe controlling my overall balance.
I went to bed around 8.30pm and got to sleep around 12.50am, then woke up around 2.50am with my tongue, the roof of my mouth, the insides of my cheeks and my throat all parched totally dry – no lubrication, no liquid of any type anywhere. And I woke up once every hour through the night with the same thing, having to drink water to stop the parched mouth.
So, as I say, back to my normal abnormal.
Going to the toilet, I was a little unsteady on my feet. Going from my bedroom door to the toilet door, I pass the top of the stairs and, for safety, made sure the ends of my fingers touched both the edge of my bedroom’s door frame and my toilet’s doorframe, just in case I toppled into the gap between and fell down the stairs.
Swings and roundabouts, though.
There are the dreams.
For most of my life I went to sleep very fast at night and slept soundly, waking very slowly in the morning. What this seemed to mean in practice was that I was never aware of having dreams. Perhaps once every six or nine months if I was awoken in mid-dream by something like a noise or whatever.
So I think back then, because I went into deep sleep quickly at the start of the night and took a long non-deep-sleep time to wake in the morning, I never remembered dreams.
I always wished I could remember my dreams, because I like surreality.
Now, waking up virtually every hour throughout the night, I sometimes do remember the dreams. But they are not surreal. They are realistic, narrative and linear.
Swings and roundabouts.
Perhaps now, when I’m awake, it feels surreal. And, when I’m dreaming, it seems real.
The kidney doctor is phoning me tomorrow.
Their latest guess is it might be renal sarcoidosis but, as this has been going on for around fourteen months – since at least June last year – that’s just another guesstimate to explore.
Comedian John Ryan appeared in this blog a couple of times in 2014. The first time, he talked about scripting Teletubbies and getting awarded a Royal Society for Public Health Special Commendation for contributions to the field of Arts and Health Equalities.
Recently, he contacted me about his new online radio show Reading The Signs. His pitch was: “It is on two sister stations: Men’s Radio Station and Women’s Radio Station. It is the world’s first and only comedy and mental health radio and social media show going out on YouTube, Twitter, FacebookLive and Soundcloud as well as over 40 stations worldwide as part of the deluxe radio network.”
So we talked via Skype…
ME: You’ve not taken a conventional comedy career path…
JOHN RYAN: Well, ten years ago I decided, rather than pursue that elusive dream of being on 8 Out of 10 Cats and Mock The Week, I thought I would use my academic background. So I got into ten years of community care work and pursued that avenue. And this is the next step.
ME: You do stuff for about five NHS regions around the country.
JOHN RYAN: Yes.
ME: But you are still a comedian.
JOHN RYAN: Essentially, yeah. Up until the Covid lockdown, I was still doing cabaret on cruise ships and doing all the clubs up and down the UK.
ME: So, if you had to put your primary ‘job’ on your passport, what would your profession be?
JOHN RYAN: (PAUSE) Memory maker. (A LONG LAUGH) I suppose I would put down Entertainer, really.
ME: Reading The Signs is…?
JOHN RYAN: Every week, I get a comedian on and we talk about comedy: how they got into it, why they did, gig experiences… but also how they stay resilient, especially through the last 18 months.
At the best of times, comics are ‘fragile’. So having no live work for the last 18 months meant having no constant validation from audiences, no ‘love’ and no money. It’s a combination cocktail for disaster and I’m interested in how they have survived. If THEY can do it, then the average Joe in the street can maybe learn stuff from them.
ME: It started online a couple of weeks ago…
John Ryan – well-being training and mental health training
JOHN RYAN: Every Monday at 7 o’clock.
There is a company called WJ who do all the road markings on the motorways and schools and places and they sponsor me. They have been using me for the last three or four years to go into their teams and do well-being training, mental health training and corporate comedy shows.
The idea of Reading The Signs was to show there’s more to comedy as a vehicle than just standing in front of an audience, trying to get on that comedy industry rat race. And it’s trying to show there’s more to comedians than people who go on stage and make you laugh. Last week my guest was Ria Lina.
Traditionally I’ve just done men’s health and men’s mental well-being. But this is more about the resilience of comics.
Just cos you don’t appear on 8 Out of 10 Cats don’t mean you can’t make a good living. I’ve travelled the world. It is possible to make a GOOD living from a comedy career even though nobody knows you. I live in (he mentions a very up-market area of London).
ME: So it is possible to monetise comedy without being on TV?
“When everyone was trying to get on the train…”
JOHN RYAN: When everyone was trying to get on the train with the Off The Kerb and Avalon agencies, I targeted the NHS and BUPA and, when auditions and castings came up, I got onto the cruise ships and the military gigs and the corporate circuit. My thing was not about doing comedy as a vanity project. I was raised in Hackney and…
ME: Hackney is a bit Yuppie…
JOHN RYAN: I grew up there before people ate avocados for breakfast.
I’m from a very multi-cultural, working class background. I brought that work ethic into my comedy career. I would say: “You need a compere, I’ll do that… You need a headline act, I’ll do that… You need a musical act, I’ll do that…”
Most comedy is about the self-indulgent egos of the performers. But Reading The Signs is actually about getting below the surface and seeing what makes people do comedy. So, if there’s anyone out there suffering from depression or anxiety or mental un-wellness, they can see that most comics have got some kind of ‘block’ that stops them being able to interact ‘normally’ or in a ‘usual’ manner.
“I’m not preachy… I’m not a clinician…”
It’s not preachy. I’m not telling people to hug trees. I’m not a clinician. I’m not a consultant. I’m just a bloke who has managed to stay sane in this world. Here are some of the things that work for me – and here’s some of the things that work for my friends. And they are people who are not part of the mainstream society.
One of the things about mental health is that, when you suffer, you’re excluded from mainstream society.
ME: You got interested in mental health because of family things?
JOHN RYAN: Yes. My mother suffered from clinical depression all her life and, as a child, I used to sit with her on her dark days and just read loads of books which meant I developed an amazing thirst for knowledge.
Both my parents were barely literate, but I managed to get a Masters Degree plus two other degrees. And it was all because of what I picked up as a little child: the quest for knowledge; the drive to know Why is that like that?
ME: A Masters Degree in what?
JOHN RYAN: In Health and Social Policy.
ME: And the other two degrees?
JOHN RYAN: One in Social Science. The other in Trade Union & Labour Studies.
ME: What? Why?
“The quest for knowledge… to know Why is that like that?“
JOHN RYAN: It was hobbies.
My first degree was because I wanted to get out of Hackney and change my friendship circle.
But the others I did as hobbies. I also have an NVQ in Gardening… I just like learning.
ME: Is your life going to dramatically change when the Covid lockdown finally ends?
JOHN RYAN: I have a reluctance to travel now. In the year up to lockdown, I did 64 flights.
ME: Any change to your on-stage style because of lockdown? Zoom gigs are very difficult for comedians – no feedback; no laughter.
JOHN RYAN: Well, I think comedy is like sex. It’s always better if there’s someone else doing it with you and they’re near you and enjoying it. But my comedy was never necessarily funny stories. It’s basically just sheer force of persona. So Zoom suited me. I’ve come to terms with Zoom.
ME: Have you lost part of the urge to step on a live stage?
JOHN RYAN: No. I did a live gig last week and loved it. The audience was very receptive and really willing. But I think we have to embrace the fact things have changed.
I’ve been talking to someone about doing a little theatre tour in the autumn and what we will do is sell tickets for a live audience but also stream it online.
ME: Any other projects?
JOHN RYAN: I’ve written a kids’ book – me and my mate have written it. It will be published next month.
ME: The title?
JOHN RYAN: A Mission Most Fowl.
ME: I smell chickens.
JOHN RYAN: It’s basically four anthropomorphic creatures in a post-Apocalyptic future… Mankind has gone… There are some genetically-modified animals living in a cave where all Man’s technology was. Some baddie ducks want to capture the cave and take over the planet.
ME: For what age kids?
JOHN RYAN: 11 upwards. Publishing a book was on my tick list of things I wanted to do.
I have blogged about the chaos in the UK’s National Health Service before. The larger a bureaucracy, the larger the potential chaos.
I was in hospital for a week in May last year – with abnormally high calcium levels and dangerously low kidney function. This was reversed by a week’s worth of intravenous bisphosphonates – a drip to you and me.
But I have not had a full night’s sleep since June last year (ie exactly 12 months ago). No-one knows why I had the calcium/kidney problems and no-one knows why now, when I eventually go to sleep at night, I wake up at least once every hour every night with my mouth as dry as the Sahara Desert, forcing me to drink water.
As no-one has been able to diagnose the cause, there is no treatment.
Currently, I have appointments with a Calcium Man in July, a Respiratory Man in August and a Kidney man in October.
One of the 6 pages of my Blood Test results
Yesterday morning, I got a 6-page print-out of my latest blood tests. I also got a call from another man at my local hospital to arrange a ‘Water Deprivation’ test two days before I see the Calcium Man.
The Water Man was arranged by the Calcium Man.
The Calcium Man told me that it would be an early-morning urine test and I would not be able to drink liquids for several hours before the test.
Yesterday, the Water Man (who was a tad dithery) told me I would have to do “a 12-hour fast” before the test so I would not be able to eat or drink anything after 6.30pm the previous night. He had not told me what time the test would be.
“Oh,” I said, slightly surprised, “is my appointment at 6.30 in the morning?”
“9.30 in the morning,” he replied.
A slight pause.
“Oh,” I said, with a sinking heart. “So really a 15-hour fast.”
A slight pause at the other end of the line and then some linguistic confusion along the lines of “Umm… Err” followed by some audible recalculation.
“7.00pm,” the Water Man said, having recalculated the 12 hour gap before 9.30am. “So you can’t eat or drink anything after 7.00pm the previous night.”
I know when there is no point asking any more questions.
We left it at that.
But this does not increase my confidence in the efficiency of the UK’s National Health Service. I guess each generation thinks its doctors are experts and know what they are doing. Frankly, I do wonder if giving up on the application of leeches to the body was a good idea.
“The lies, and truths, and pain?… oh! yet… Stands the Church clock at ten to three? And is there honey still for tea?” (Photograph by Ivan Mani via UnSplash)
What’s the point in having a blog if you can’t be self-obsessed?
This is one of those blogs. But we don’t get to that bit until towards the end.
At the time of writing, England is almost out of Covid Lockdown.
On June 21st, all restrictions may (or may not) be lifted. The chaos caused has been, of course, even worse in large bureaucracies like the NHS.
This morning I got an email from someone I know.
“If you think you are having a rough time with the NHS,” it said, “below is a cut ‘n’ paste of an email from my son about his wife, Sue.”
I have changed the names to protect their privacy. The email he attached read:
Hope you are doing OK.
All OK here – except that Sue had an interesting unexpected phone call last week. The number was not recognised, but she answered because it was a local number.
The person introduced himself as her consultant and said it was urgent that he speak to Sue Simpson.
Sue said she was speaking, then the consultant asked her why she had not attended any of her appointments over the last 18 months, at which point Sue pointed out that they had cancelled her three booked appointments and she had not received any more.
Last January Sue had some scans – CT scan, X-ray, cat scan and bone density scan because the year before she broke three vertebrae in the accident, as you know.
She never got the results due to cancellations as a certain pandemic hit.
We wondered why the results were not passed on to her GP but the consultant said they were too important to give to the GP and had to be dealt with by themselves… But they were obviously not important enough to keep the three appointments!!!!.
Anyway, the consultant asked if Sue was sitting down, so Sue said she could cope standing up. The doc then said that Sue should start three new medications immediately as she has been diagnosed with osteoporosis and he was sorry but this diagnosis was made after his scans nearly 18 months ago.
It means she has missed out on 18 months of meds and it could cause permanent damage to her spine and other bones. Basically, he said that if she has a severe jolt to her body there’s a possibility of her spine being crushed and possible loss of feeling.
We have to take it one step at a time. But it does explain why she’s lost so much weight and her bones and muscles really play her up.
Waiting 18 months for results has meant that she’s lost 18 months of medication and her health has got worse.
That was the email which was forwarded to me.
If you remember, there was a reference to “If you think you are having a rough time with the NHS,…”
The rest of this blog is really an aide-memoire to myself.
Feel free to abandon ship.
I have been not 100% since I was hospitalised for a week last May with a high calcium level and dangerously low kidney function. I am still an outpatient with The Kidney Man at my local hospital. They only realised I had dangerous calcium/kidney problems by taking blood tests; all other tests showed no problem.
I am booked-in to see him again, in-the-flesh, on 14th June which is reassuring because I have not had a blood test since 19th October last year.
I was also supposed to have a telephone appointment with ‘the Respiratory Team’ at my local hospital last month – on 11th May. The appointment had been made by my Calcium Man way back on 30th November last year so, on 10th May, the day before the appointment, I thought it wise to check if it really was going to be in the flesh or by phone. In fact, the Calcium Man had asked for a Respiratory Team appointment on 27th November and it had taken to 2nd January to actually confirm an 11th May appointment in writing.
When I phoned, I was told the appointment had been cancelled altogether back on 21st February because there would be no doctor available on 11th May. I had never been notified of this cancellation. But I was told would not have to make another appointment as it was now “in the system”.
Obviously, the next day, I checked with the secretary to my Calcium Man’s secretary, who said she would sort it out.
So, on 20th May, I got two letters, both dated 18th May.
One told me my 11th May appointment had been cancelled and I had a new appointment on 14th September. The other told me my 14th September appointment had been cancelled and replaced by a 9th August appointment. Both letters, as I said, were dated 18th May. Both arrived in the same post.
Now we reach the even-more self-obsessed bit.
I have had vertigo since January. Its seriousness comes and goes. When it is not serious, I just feel light-headed and not 100% in control of my balance.
Yesterday morning, just after midnight, for about an hour, without any warning, I had very very very bad vertigo… then with added bad diarrhoea, then with added vomiting.
After that, I managed to sleep for four hours, which was quite an achievement as, since coming out of hospital last May, I have not had a single full night’s sleep – I wake up at least once ever hour, very dehydrated.
Yesterday, when I did wake up – at around 0530, I was a bit better though, if I stood up, I was still dizzy and wobbly.
Mid-morning, a text arrived from the Kidney Team at my local hospital. My appointment with the Kidney Man on 14th June has been changed – “due to COVID19” – from a face-to-face meeting to a telephone call. “We will phone you in due course” it said.
This was – erm… – somewhat disappointing as it means no blood tests.
The Kidney Man had said when I talked to him by phone on 15th February that I would be contacted about a further blood test by one of two local hospitals, but I never was. That’s large bureaucracies for you.
Anyway, yesterday I was told my next ‘meeting’ with the Kidney Man would be by phone… so no blood test there.
That was yesterday morning.
Then, just after midday, the SEVERE vertigo came back, including my bedroom walls whizzing round, it appeared, both from right to left AND from left to right. Who knew this was possible? That only lasted for about half an hour and the rest of the day was just a bit wobbly inside my head.
I was OK yesterday during the day but, last night, the wobbliness came back.
Since last May/June, my sleeping pattern every night is I go to bed and have some trouble getting to sleep (I used to go to sleep almost immediately).
After sleeping for about two hours, I wake up with a dry – and I mean totally dry – mouth and tongue and have to drink some water. I then go back to sleep but, at least once every hour after that, I wake up again with a bone dry mouth and have to more drink water.
This means that, a lot of the times I wake up, I have to go to the loo.
Last night, I went to sleep around 2300 and woke up about 0100… then (as normal since last May) I kept waking up with dehydration at least once in every hour until around 0800. Most times I had to go to the toilet.
All that water imbibed!
Multiple toilet trips!
But, when I got up and sat on the edge of the bed to get up, my head felt wobbly inside and my torso wanted to topple over. I had to concentrate to stay upright, then inch slowly to the foot of the bed, still sitting on it, reach out, open the wardrobe door and use my right hand to clutch the edge of the door to raise myself up.
I then had to walk a wibbly-wobbly diddery-doddery walk to the loo keeping myself upright by clutching the end of doors, doorframes and walls until I got to the actual toilet. If I had not done that, I would have fallen over.
Maybe it’s not vertigo. Who knows?
I think vertigo is a sort of dizziness with the world spinning sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly round outside or inside your head. This was more like a lack of communication between brain and balance function. Maybe it’s an ear infection.
Sure as hell, my GP won’t be any help and, as I say, at the moment, in the daylight, with my torso vertical, there’s no problem.
Yesterday’s blog was me bitching about the inefficient, mindless bureaucracy of the NHS. In particular, about how they sent me three self-contradictory letters about changing my meeting with a Consultant in June (in four months’ time) from an in-the-flesh meeting to a telephone call (because of the infection risk during the current COVID outbreak).
Inevitably, about ten minutes after posting that blog, I got a phone call from the NHS about changing from flesh-to-telephone a different appointment I have tomorrow with a different Consultant at the same hospital.
Something of a pity that I am not seeing him in the flesh because last week I had a recurrance of the vertigo I suddenly had without warning three weeks ago… and the neck/shoulder/arm pain which has recently got worse since it started back in November… and, of course, the fact I have not had a proper night’s sleep since I was in hospital in May last year – I wake up at least once every hour during the night, dehydrated, with my throat and mouth parched and having to drink water.
This means – because of the water – having to go to the toilet a lot during the night, which is not helped by falling-over vertigo or a painful and restrictive neck/shoulder/arm problem which is easier to describe visually rather than over the phone.
It also means I will not be given a blood test to see how my calcium level/kidney function is progressing or not. Those were involved in my problem last May, the cause of which is still a “mystery” (technical term).
Anyway, I got a fair number of comments about yesterday’s blog. These are a few…
Andy’s response was:
You should raise this with The Minister at The Department of Administrative Affairs. The response will be that to change a standard NHS letter issued by a single key stroke that generates three different but essential standard letters to the same person whilst informing several departments of the change is essential in effective running of the appointments system.
Whilst admitting that this does appear to be wasteful and confusing, particularly if the three letters received by the patient are opened in the wrong order, to alter the system requires the employment of a number of consultants and support staff over a period. It’s estimated, that may extend over several years because there is no central office for administration within the NHS.
You’ll recall the failure of the government proposed computer system to link all the the NHS computer systems into one seamless system. It’s considered that to fix this issue, which is considered mostly harmless, would take in the area of £736,000,000 and is therefore not worth doing.
In addition, all of the Ministers’ friends are all currently overstretched in other government projects they’ve been awarded so won’t be able to start work in this until at least 2037.
Yes it is the efficient work of computerised automation. Once there would have been a thinking clerical worker managing your appointments. But computers are cheap to employ even if they produce three contradictory letters where one would suffice.
This is the same bureaucracy that, when medics were crying out for Personal Protective Equipment, refused to deal with many suppliers who had stockpiles of exactly the right equipment, in date, authorised for medical use… They refused to purchase it because that particular supplier couldn’t be added to the procurement system due to a lack of past dealings.
Every once in a while there’s a cry-out for everyone in the NHS to receive a pay rise or bonus due to the hard work they’ve done in fighting the pandemic.
While I wholeheartedly agree that every single person in the NHS who has been right there in the hospital, facing danger, risking their own health as well as that of their families should get something, I’m still very reticent to make it a blanket award as I don’t want to reward those who made it more difficult or who simply did their job from home at no additional risk to themselves or others.
…and Sandra said:
The NHS? I have been lucky in my treatment from them in the main.
Apart from the time when I was sent for physio, when in fact my hip was on the point of fracturing.
Plus one other doctor whom everyone avoided.
As it turned out, he mis-diagnosed my condition, complained about the price of the meds he was about to prescribe, then ran after me begging forgiveness because he had given me the wrong prescription. Bastard.
And I told him so, leaving out the word bastard…
Obviously, I realise my alleged problems are only relatively minor inconveniences, but – hey! – look – it’s my blog. It needs writing and where else can I selfishly whinge up my own arse if not in my blog?
This week, on one single morning, I got three NHS letters in two envelopes from the same London hospital, all posted from Bristol and all written on the same day, five days earlier.
The first told me (in paragraph 2) that my appointment to see a doctor at 10.30am on Friday 18th June had been cancelled “as part of our response to the COVID-19 outbreak”.
In paragraph 3, the letter explained that, although the second paragraph “states your appointment has been ‘cancelled’, this is not the case. You have been placed on a waiting list.”
Attached to this letter was a second letter saying: “We’re sorry but we have had to cancel your appointment” at 10.30am on Friday 18th June.
Both these letters were in the same envelope.
In a second envelope which arrived at the same time on the same day was a third letter dated on exactly the same day as the first two letters.
It said: “This letter is to confirm that a telephone appointment has been made for you at 10.30am on Friday 18th June. When you have a telephone appointment you are not required to attend the hospital.”
So basically, entirely reasonably, to avoid people attending the hospital in person during the COVID-19 outbreak, my in-the-flesh appointment at 1030 on Friday 18th June (over four months away) had been changed to a telephone appointment at exactly the same time.
To do this, I was sent a letter saying my appointment was cancelled but not cancelled… an attached letter saying my appointment was cancelled… and a third, separate letter saying my appointment had been changed from physical to telephone.
All that I needed to receive was one letter saying my appointment had been changed from physical to telephone, not three letters, all sent from the source on the same day.
Have I mentioned before how much I hate mindless bureaucracy in general and what an administrative mess the NHS is?
Bad: cut head. Good: if you have freckles, no need for hair…
I got my Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID vaccination yesterday. Apparently over 12 million people have now been given the jab.
No side effects so far except that, about half an hour after getting the jab, I fell over backwards in my back garden.
I was unable to control the fall, landed flat on my back on the concrete path and hit the back right side of my skull against the sharp edge of my back doorstep.
Now I have a very sensitive-to-the-touch large domed bump on my head and a V or Y-shaped cut. Surprisingly no blood.
Nothing to do with the vaccine, of course – I just accidentally clicked my heel against the slightly raised concrete path by the grass and fell backwards. But it’s a kinda clickbait way to start a blog.
The execution of the vaccination itself was stunningly efficient. A steady flow of people entering the venue, being rapidly processed and exiting. I can only assume the organisation of it was set up by the Army not the NHS and not politicians.
I think anyone who has ever worked with me knows that I do not get on well with mindless bureaucracy.
All large bureaucracies are inherently mindless, inefficient and incompetent, no matter how well-meaning the staff may be.
Aye and there’s the rub.
Settle back with a nice cup of something hot. This is a lengthy, self-indulgent blog.
Early last week, I contacted my local doctor because I have a persistent pain at the right side of my neck, across my shoulder and in a straight line down the outside of my right upper arm. The pain has been there since late November. It is now early February and has been a bit worse the last month or so.
I think it is a muscular pain and the problem is really in my neck. I could be wrong.
My shoulder was broken in 1991 – pulverised in two places
In 1991, while standing on a pavement, I was hit by a large truck. It pulverised (technical talk for “powdered”) my collar bone in two places. The back left side of my head was cut open when it hit the edge of a low brick wall as I fell.
It also turned out later that my spine had been damaged at the bottom. The same effect as a slipped disc, though I don’t think it’s medically called that. And it hasn’t mended.
After the knock-down, I was in my local hospital for a week.
I was in the bone section ward of the hospital because of the shoulder injury; but I was bureaucratically under the care of the brain section people because of my head wound. These were/are two different departments/wards on two different floors of the hospital.
It meant that, in the hospital, although the nursing staff in the bone ward cared for me and looked out for any after effects on my shoulder and brain, the consultant supervising the bone ward ignored me.
“He is not our responsibility,” said the doctor, passing by.
One day, I heard him say, as he approached my bed with a bevy of (I presume) eager and attentive trainee doctors: “This is Mr Fleming. He is one of Mr XXXX’s patients, so he is not our responsibility.” And, as normal, he passed by my bed without stopping or talking to me.
Mr XXXX, who was on a different floor of the hospital, never visited me.
Eventually, late one Friday afternoon, an exhausted and I presume very over-worked junior doctor who worked for Mr XXXX came down, had a brief chat with me and told the nurses in the bone ward I could be sent home. Presumably they had advised Mr XXXX that I had no long-term head problems. (Which was not the case, as it turned out.)
After I was sent home, there was no physiotherapy, no after care of any kind. Much later I discovered there should have been but – hey! – it’s a big organisation. Shit happens. Some things don’t.
For about the next nine months I had waves of inability to think properly, I presume caused by concussion. I am still unable to read books because of concentration problems. Oddly, I can write books on a computer but I cannot read printed books.
I also buggered my shoulder. Mea culpa.
Because of the fractured bone(s) in my shoulder, I could only walk very carefully and slowly. I discovered walking is quite a violent shock to the torso. Who knew? Every step was a jolt and a knife stab into flesh because my bone had broken diagonally, creating two very sharp pointed ends. And I had to sleep on my back at night. Throughout my life I had previously slept on my side.
To avoid turning over, I slept with my left arm stretched out at right angles to my torso. This meant I mostly did not turn over but also had the side-effect (not realised at the time) that my shoulder bone, fractured in two places, mended with the bits of bone overlapping rather than re-attaching as before.
Not me (Photograph by Dylan Sauerwein via Unsplash)
This, in turn, I think, had the result that my left shoulder is slightly shorter horizontally than it should be and muscles around the back of my neck are a bit bunched-up.
So, occasionally, the back of my neck gets very tense and bunched.
In November last year, this was happening again and the right side of my neck started having an occasional vertical pain. As this developed, it also went along the top of my right shoulder and, for some reason, in a straight line down the outside of the upper half of my right arm.
Currently I get a pain on the right side of my neck and in that line down the outside of my right arm. I can’t really lift my arm more than halfway up my torso without a shooting pain.
All this, I think, is muscular and related to my buggered back-of-the-neck – not anything to do with bones or trapped nerves.
So I phoned my local doctor earlier this week. We are, of course, still in mid-COVID pandemic, so seeing anyone is pretty much of a no-no. The first person I talked to put me through to a second person. She told me: “There are no appointments left today. You have to phone back at 8 in the morning to book an appointment.” I was not asked why I wanted to talk to a doctor.
The next morning, I set my alarm for 0756 and phoned back at 0800.
This was the same number I had successfully phoned the previous day.
The answerphone said: “Thankyou for calling. This number is no longer in operation. Should you require urgent medical advice, please hang up and dial 111.”
111 is a general NHS advice number.
As an aside… In May, I was advised after a negative COVID test to contact my doctor because I had odd non-COVID symptoms.
When I phoned the GP surgery and told them my symptoms, their initial reaction was: “It is not our responsibility. Phone 111.”
When I phoned 111, they told me to phone back the local GP surgery and tell them that 111 said I HAD to talk to my doctor and he had to talk to me within three hours. I did. He phoned back just over three hours later and got an ambulance to take me to A&E because he believed I had had a stroke (although I had no symptoms of having had one).
When A&E tested me, they took me into hospital immediately. I had dangerous kidney function/calcium levels. Someone later told me I was probably within spitting distance of being on kidney dialysis machine.
Anyway, back to this week…
I phoned back the surgery’s number again after a few minutes gap. Same message. “Thankyou for calling. This number is no longer in operation. Should you require urgent medical advice, please hang up and dial 111.”
I went online and checked the surgery’s number. It was the correct number. I phoned back again.
“This line is no longer in use,” a different message said.
I phoned back again. The answerphone again said: “Thankyou for calling. This number is no longer in operation. Should you require urgent medical advice, please hang up and dial 111.”
I phoned back again. Same number. This time, I got a receptionist who put me through to another receptionist who asked what, in general, was wrong with me and said a doctor would phone me back “sometime today”.
Later that morning, the doctor phoned me from a very echoey room. He was either in his kitchen or a very small room with hard walls. It sounded like a toilet but I felt that was unlikely.
He listened to the symptoms I had had since November. I told him I had tried rubbing on Deep Heat, Tiger Balm (suggested by Boots chemist) and Chinese Wan Hua Oil, all to no effect.
He suggested I take paracetamol or some other simple over-the-counter pain killer.
This is why I largely distrust Western Medicine. The object is to relieve the pain and hide the symptoms… not to cure the cause which will continue, masked by the drugs.
“Pain is a sign that something is wrong, Rosemary…”
I have, perhaps, been unduly influenced in my thinking by a line in Rosemary’s Baby… “Pain is a sign that something is wrong, Rosemary.”
I somehow, perhaps foolishly, doubt that I am pregnant with the Devil’s baby, but pain is my body telling my brain that there is a problem in some part of my body, its seriousness reflected in the level of pain transmitted.
I would rather know there is a problem and try to solve it rather than not know and let it develop unknown by me.
I have a feeling that a good neck massage might help me, but – hey! – we are in a COVID pandemic where no-one wants to get to close to anyone else.
The doctor did say he would text me two NHS online exercises for neck pain and shoulder pain. And get a physiotherapist to contact me.
Whether this physiotherapist actually will contact me or not is in the lap of the Gods, but I had a look at the two pages of NHS advice as sent by the doctor.
The one for Neck Pain says: “See a GP if pain or stiffness does not go away after a few weeks”.
The advice for Shoulder Pain says: “See a GP if the pain is getting worse or does not improve after 2 weeks”.
As I mentioned to my GP, I have had pain since November.
I can’t imagine this NHS treatment happening in a pandemic…
Ah well, I should look on the bright side. I am seeing my Chinese doctor in two weeks.
The good thing about Chinese medical philosophy is that they try to cure the problem not mask the symptoms.
Western Medicine and the NHS is a pain in the neck.