Tag Archives: medical

Mel Moon – a Sick Girl dicing solo with death away from the Edinburgh Fringe

Mel at home yesterday, with husband Chris

Mel at home yesterday with husband Kris

Comic Mel Moon is being admitted to hospital this afternoon and she is having her throat cut in the operating theatre at 9.30am tomorrow morning.

The Edinburgh Fringe is going to be even more chaotic than usual this year, with some shows not appearing at all and a lot of acts performing at different times and in different venues to what is billed in the official Fringe Programme – all because of the Cowgatehead debacle. (See past blogs if you have to.) But some shows, dates, times and performances have changed for other reasons.

Back in a blog in February this year, Mel talked to me about her show Mel Moon Dicing with Dr Death which was to be co-presented with Philip Nitschke of Exit and would discuss her (since changed) decision to commit suicide with advice from Exit.

Now Philip Nitschke is billed as doing the Dicing with Dr Death show solo.

Why the change?

“These things happen,” Mel told me, when I went to her home in Sussex yesterday afternoon. “As is often the case when you work with someone you don’t know, things don’t always work out the way you would hope… I dunno… We were so different. So very different. Even down to some of the things we believe in. Now there are two shows. I wish him the very best of luck. He has put a lot of money into it. We got the Caves for him as a venue and he’s staying there.

“I am doing my show at the Counting House, 8th-30th August at lunchtime – 12.15pm – thanks to the amazing Alex Petty, who ran to my rescue and offered me a fair old chunk of venues.”

“So you,” I said, “are doing your own solo autobiographical show on much the same subject. Which is called…?”

Sick Girl – same title as the sitcom Kate Copstick and I are working on for a TV production company.”

“And now,” I said, “you are going into hospital for an operation…”

“Yes. I’ve been through a bit and I’ve never really been scared before – not scared-scared… but… I spent a good chunk of time wanting to die. And now I don’t want to die. So it would be Sod’s Law if this was the thing that did me in.”

“The operation is going to take nine hours?” I asked.

“That’s the maximum,” Mel explained. “They told me the minimum will be 5 or 6 hours but to expect 9 because of the complications I bring to it.”

“Why the operation?” I asked.

“It’s a combination of factors. I had a car accident in 2008 which caused a bit of disc damage in the neck. Three or four of them dislodged, but it was fine. It was no big deal. I was young, I had a few injections for pain and eventually it stopped hurting.

“Then I got this disease – PGF (polyglandular failure) – and started living off steroids… What do steroids do? – They weaken the bone. In high doses, like I’ve been taking for the last three years, they certainly do. So I’ve been taking a couple of other drugs to protect the bones, but it’s not done enough because there was a weakness there already.

“So all those little discs have started to break up and now they’ve taken ones either side with it, so I’ve now got a neck that is slamming on all the different root nerves. So I don’t feel my hands. They’re just numb. I have no real grip and, if I hold my hand in any position for too long, it starts to twitch. And now I don’t feel anything in my lower arms, so I have burns on my arm where I have leant on the iron without realising.

Burns and a cut on Me Moonl’s arm

Cut & burns: Mel’s un-feeling arm and elbow

“There’s no point them doing a bone graft because I still have to take the steroids and, in a few years time, the same problem would happen again. So they’re going to take away the damage in the neck and rebuild the neck using some titanium rods and some of these… I saw one… it was like a blue disc. I don’t think the discs are titanium, but I’m not sure.”

“The rods are replacing a bit of your spine?” I asked.

“I guess so,” said Mel. “The truth is I have not pushed for too much information.”

“I don’t think I would want to know anything,” I said.

“In January,” explained Mel, “I went for what I thought was a routine appointment to discuss having the next injection, because I’d been getting a bit of pain. They’d been giving me injections in the neck. Even though I didn’t feel my fingertips, the nerve pain deep in my arm was bloody awful.

“It was an orthopaedic surgeon and he said: I’m really sorry, but the option of giving you injections has gone. We need to operate and we need to do it quick. If you have it done, we can’t guarantee that the problem will go away, but we can guarantee it won’t get any worse. If you don’t have it done, we guarantee you will lose your hands within a year.

“So I signed the form, got out of there, cried my eyes out and made arrangements to have it done. It’s my throat they’re cutting. That’s the bit that gets to me.”

“They don’t,” I asked, “go in via the back of the neck where the discs are?”

“No. They say it’s safer to go round the front. That way, they’re less likely to hit the spinal chord. They cut on a crease in the neck and I’ve got loads of them from my fat.”

“Worth it, though,” I said.

“There are two incentives for the operation,” Mel told me. “One, obviously, is I don’t want to lose my hands. The other is I would really like to reduce the amount of morphine I take.”

“How much morphine do you take?” I asked.

“A shitload. I divide it between two doses. I’m on slow-release morphine. So, in the morning, I take between 70 and 90 milligrams. And I take some at night. So between 180 and 190 milligrams a day.”

“And you still get some pain?”

“Yes I do. I have different type of morphine for breakthrough pain but, if I took that as well, I wouldn’t be able to talk, so I use codeine, which I find as beneficial.”

“How long will you take to recover from the operation?”

“Well, they want you out of there as bloody quick as possible. The SALT team (Speech And Language Team) come to see you the next day and, as soon as you can speak, swallow and have your drains out, you can go.”

“I would keep schtum,” I suggested.

Mel Moon performing on stage

Mel Moon performing on stage

“No, I want to get out of there as quick as possible. The hospital I’m in is in Haywards Heath. But they’re moving to Brighton so, if I don’t recover in eight or nine days, I’ll be moved as well and I don’t want that.”

“Have you a poster or flyer for Edinburgh yet?” I asked.

“No. I thought I was doing the show with Dr Death, but now I’m doing my first solo show with no sponsor, no poster, no flyers. I don’t know how I’m going to pay for anything, including my accommodation, but the Independent newspaper asked me to write an article for them.”

“About the disease?” I asked.

“About everything that’s happened,” said Mel. “I was so excited. It should be published next week.”

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‘Sick Girl’ Mel Moon Dicing with Dr Death for Edinburgh Fringe Comedy

Mel Moon with her Bassett hounds

Comic Mel Moon at home with her Bassett hounds yesterday

In this blog last month, critic Kate Copstick mentioned that she was involved in an Edinburgh Fringe show about suicide with Philip Nitschke of Exit and stand-up comic Mel Moon who, Copstick said, “suffers from a horrible endocrine disorder. She joined Exit with a view to topping herself before she turned into a puddle.” So obviously, yesterday, I chatted to Mel Moon.

“What’s your disease?” I asked.

“PGF – polyglandular failure, but mine isn’s auto-immune.”

“POLYglandular failure” I said. “Every bleedin’ gland?”

“It’s like a big series of collapses,” explained Mel. “It basically means my endocrine system shut down.”

“And,” I said, “this is curable because Western medicine can cure anything…”

“No,” said Mel, “it’s not curable.”

“But it’s not necessarily terminal?” I asked.

“It kills,” said Mel, “but it’s not terminal because ‘terminal’ means there’s a natural progression to death whereas, with my disease, it would be very sudden. It would just be BASH! – Game over. My life is shortened as a result of the medication I take. That’s just the way it is – part of the risk of taking the injections that mean I’m able to get up and about.”

“And your partner Chris gives you 14 tablets every morning?” I asked.

“Yes, to get me going and then I take over. In the afternoon, I take another 6 tablets and then another 10 at night. And I also have an injection at 6 o’clock every day.”

“In your bottom?” I asked.

“No. The behind injection is the emergency one, which is a bit weird – I’ll be incoherent, dizzy, babbling, unable to make sense, but I’ve got to inject myself in the behind. Whereas the other injection that’s not life-saving is dead easy.”

“And your Edinburgh Fringe show in August is with Philip Nitschke, who is the founder of Exit?”

“Yes.”

“Not to be confused with Dignitas in Switzerland?” I asked.

“You don’t go to die at Exit,” explained Mel. “They advise you on the tools to die at home. Most people don’t want to have to go to Switzerland.”

“If you do a comedy show about this,” I suggested, “it’s going to be a difficult idea to get the balance right .”

“Yes. We do want to preview it a lot,” said Mel, “because, with the content being quite sensitive, we are going to need to tweak it to make sure nobody is overly affected. What we don’t want is to glamorise the subject in any way – and we certainly don’t want people coming to the show who think they are going to receive an education in how to kill themselves. It is not about us projecting our views onto them.

“We want to preview it at some good comedy venues, because that’s the audience we are aiming for: the everyday person who is a bit curious and I guess death is the ultimate thing we’re curious about – we know it’s going to happen.”

“You used to be a musical comedian,” I said. “How long have you not been gigging now because of the illness?”

“I took two years out,” said Mel, “but I’m back working now.”

“And the experience has changed your comedy?”

“Massively. You can’t go though something like this without being changed. I still love nothing more than getting out the keyboard and singing a few filthy songs. I love it and I love getting up there and being funny about things that don’t really matter. But I’m not playing any music in the Edinburgh show; there’s no comedy songs, no comedy poetry.”

“You originally intended this as a sitcom,” I said.

“Yes. A sitcom called Sick Girl, which would look at the hilarity of a complete family unit having to cope with something tragic. Every family at some point has experienced tragedy and that’s where the comedy is. There’s a lot of humour there. In how they deal with it. It’s whether they fall apart.

“The actual fact is your family fall apart before you do. My mum actually said these words: Why is this happening to me? I remember looking at her and thinking: This is not happening to you, it’s happening to me.

“I distinctly remember saying to her when I got diagnosed: Don’t tell anybody. I want to get this through my head first. Cos grief does two things. It can act as a repellant: people just run a mile from it. Or it can magnetise those that really like to bask in grief. I saw my sick friend today. Oh, it’s awful… Oh, it must be so hard for you. Can I have a picture? – Can you bollocks! No, I’m pissing blood in the toilet at the minute.

“I wanted to discuss that: friendships and relationships and how they are severely affected when someone faces something which may take their life – what happens with your partner, your kids, your friends. They all want the best for you, but they can come at it in a completely inappropriate way. Everybody thinks they can cure you. Have you tried nettle tea… I read a book: you don’t want any acid in your diet… Someone said: You know, a lot of people take marijuana for pain. And I thought: I take that much bloody morphine every day I’ll give it a go. But I can’t say it had much effect.”

“You’re prescribed morphine?”

“Yes. I’m on oxycontin – which they call the posh man’s heroin because it’s pure – and oxynorm. Two types of morphine – slow release and fast release.”

“So what is the structure of your show with Philip Nitschke?” I asked.

“It’s called Mel Moon Dicing with Dr Death and it’s about a doctor/patient relationship. Most doctors want to heal you, whereas this doctor actually assists you in ways to snuff out your life. It’s like a dual autobiographical account of our stories in chronological order. There is a tiny section about who I was before and then we move into my diagnosis and other reasons people might choose this particular way. Then we move into medications and drugs that help and also ones that… get the desired result.”

“Can you legally say that on stage?”

“Well,” replied Mel, “everyone knows that (she named a drug) is the number one choice for that sort of thing. But you can’t get it. It’s impossible to get it. So we can freely talk about it.”

“How will you present the show?” I asked. “Both of you standing on the stage together?”

Philip Nitschke

Philip Nitschke, founder of Exit – aka Dr Death

“I will be at one side of the stage. He’s at the other. The spotlight interchanges between the two of us, with a central point where we can step in and do something together. And we can use a screen behind us to show photographs.”

“And this is in the Comedy section of the Fringe?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Well, come on. What’s the best friend of tragedy? Comedy. They’ve been together forever. Pathos is a wonderful friend of comedy as well. There is nothing funny about death and, believe me, I would know. We’re not laughing at me or what Philip has done with other people. We are laughing at the general reaction to the things that have happened and also, when you give an autobiographical account of something like this, the comedy is in the detail.

“It might not be funny that someone has to have a life-saving injection in order that they don’t snuff it and leave behind two small children, but it is funny that someone has to draw a cross section in a biro pen on someone’s backside because otherwise they don’t know where to give the injection.”

“You told me the other day,” I said, “that you might have a problem with one section.”

“Yes, there is one section that I’ve tried reading out to my family and, as yet, I’ve not made it through without crying. There are some sections of the show where I’ve deliberately flowered it up a little bit to make it easier for me to deliver.

“It’s about the night I made a decision to end my life. You could put years between me and that moment and it will always be emotional and I have to get up there on stage and somehow not get emotional to allow the audience to.”

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Filed under Comedy, Death, Drugs, Medical, Suicide

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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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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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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A comic’s heart, the medical benefits of cocaine and the sexual use of Mars Bars

This has been a funny and complicated old week so, instead of what I did yesterday, here are three extracts from my e-diary 15 years ago – on 8th October 1999.

1.

SennMicrophone_wikipedia

This can give even a seasoned performer  heart palpitations

I phoned up a comedian. He was worried.

He had had more heart palpitations – for about 90 minutes.

This morning he had gone to his local hospital for tests.

He told me he would get the results within ten days.

He thought maybe the problems were caused by the stress of giving performances and moving house.

He talked of maybe giving up performing: “It makes you think,” he told me.

2.

Not recommended by me (Photo free from Wikipedia)

Not recommended by me (Photo is free from Wikipedia)

I had a meal with a TV colleague. He told me it was only taking cocaine that had got him off his anti-depressants (members of the Prozac family of drugs).

Before that, trying to get off the anti-depressants, he was getting bright silver flashes in his brain.

I think he should have stuck with the silver flashes, given the way coke has now screwed-up his brain and his personality.

3.

A Mars Bar split in half as it should be.

A Mars Bar divided in half as it should be, not in a messy way.

I mentioned to the same television colleague the famous (possibly mythical) Mars Bar story involving Marianne Faithfull and the Rolling Stones. He told me it had inspired him to do the same thing.

But, with the Mars Bar embedded in the girl’s vagina, there is a point beyond which you cannot eat and, by that point, it has become impossible to extricate the stump of the confectionery bar from within the girl. It is further complicated by the fact that the periphery of the Mars Bar has melted and is, in effect, glued to the insides of her vagina.

He was reduced to exhorting her to push and push as if it was childbirth to try and expel the chocolate bar. Eventually, they succeeded.

“It was,” he told me, “un-erotic and, for quite a while, a bit of a sticky situation.”

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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