Tag Archives: medicine

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

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

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

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

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

I blame comic Arthur Smith.

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

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

I was kept in hospital for about a week.

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

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

My shoulder in 1991 - pulverised in two places

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

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

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

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

But who knows if that is true?

It was just ‘someone’.

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

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

Miracle oil Wan Hua Oil

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

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

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

That was thirteen years ago.

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

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

I have been given exercises to do.

Doctors know best, eh?

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

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

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

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

This may be a mistake on my part.

But he knows about such things.

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“So how many pricks have you had?” I asked comedian Martin Soan yesterday

At home yesterday: my e-u-n friend, Matt Roper & Martin Soan talk balls

Yesterday: e-u-n friend, Matt Roper & Martin Soan talk balls

I was in my living room yesterday afternoon when I thought I heard my eternally un-named-friend say something about inflating the scrotum by making a hole in it, sticking a straw in and blowing.

Comedian Matt Roper had stayed the night, after returning with me from Totnes. And comedian Martin Soan had come round yesterday morning to help me re-decorate.

“Not scrotum,” I heard Martin Soan say. “You’re talking about the sac. Otherwise someone will just go and blow up their testicles.”

“Was someone talking about an inflatable scrotum?” I said and switched on the recorder in my iPhone.

Seeing this, my eternally un-named friend told me: “I don’t want to be quoted in this! I know nothing!”

“You blow up the sac, not the scrotum,” said Martin Soan.

“Isn’t the scrotum the sac?” I asked.

“Oh, it might be,” said Martin.

“I thought,” said Matt Roper, “that the scrotum was the bit between the bum-hole and the balls.”

“That’s where you’ve been going wrong,” I suggested.

Matt said: “The scrotum would be just behind the sac, wouldn’t it?”

“No, no,” said my eternally un-named friend. “The scrotum IS the sac.”

“In Yorkshire, probably yes,” said Martin.

I still have no idea what he meant by this but, in reply, Matt said: “It’s called the tinner there. It’s the bit in ter middle.”

It was at this point, I think, that I again started to lose control of my understanding of the conversation.

“Do you know,” asked Martin, “what is fascinating about that bit between your arsehole and the beginning of your scrotum?”

“It depends on your predilections,” I suggested.

“It is the very first and very last point in acupuncture,” continued Martin. “It’s not called the bubbling stream. I know which one is called the bubbling stream.”

“They’re numbered?” asked Matt.

“Number One and the last one start in that same place,” explained Martin.

“Is this like connecting the dots?” I asked, “You end up with the shape of Fidel Castro’s face?”

“It is useful, though,” said Matt, “It is not just a no-man’s land.”

“Try sticking a pin in it,” suggested my eternally un-named friend.

“On Saturday,” Matt reminded us, “I’m going down to Totnes for three weeks of acupuncture.”

“Well at least,” I told him, “you now know the point where it will all start and end.”

Martin Soan wears breakfast yesterday

Martin Soan wears breakfast yesterday

“Basically,” said Martin, “those points are used if they’re kick-starting you. Acupuncture is like running a car: it’s getting your body to operate at its optimum efficiency. And sometimes, like a car, you get a flat battery and your body’s so fucked-up that they have to do those two points. To give you a clean sheet, so they can start treating you properly.”

“And have you been kick-started?” asked Matt.

“Yes,” said Martin, “I’ve been kick-started once in my life.”

“Via the tinner?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Martin. “Only once during 30 years of acupuncture. It was about seven years ago.”

“Does it hurt?” asked my eternally un-named friend.

“I think it’s the most extreme pain I’ve experienced,” replied Martin. “The bubbling stream is a point just to the side of the little nail on your little toe… That’s like a blue bolt of electricity which starts about 50 metres away, comes through an arc into my head, down through my body and exits by the little toe and disappears. Each pain you can actually visually describe but, as soon as it’s there, it’s dissipated.”

“You’ve had acupuncture for 30 years?” I asked Martin.

“Yeah,” said Martin.

“So how many pricks have you had?” I asked.

“He usually does between 4 and 5 a session,” Martin replied, “and I’ve averaged maybe one session a month for 30 years… Years and years ago, he looked at me and said The older you get, the healthier you’re going to get. It’s just like tuning a car. The funny thing is he’s really good at getting rid of warts.”

“How did you start on the acupuncture?” I asked.

“Well,” said Martin, “I came back from Holland with the Greatest Show on Legs and I got introduced to some heavy drugs over there. When I woke up in England, I was just covered in bruises and cuts and also I suddenly collapsed in the street. The Greatest Show on Legs had to go off and perform without me for a month until I could build myself up again by eating properly.

“About a year after that, we were in Wales – me and my wife Viv – and this girl who was an acupuncturist took one look at me and said You almost died some time ago. You were very, very ill. And it cut through to my core shocked me. I had been very, very ill. And she said: When you get back to London, I recommend you go and see this guy. And I did. And I’ve been going to see him ever since.

“I love the whole philosophy of the Chinese, which is you pay your doctor while you are well and, if you’re ill, you stop paying him. It concentrates everybody on staying healthy.”

“Western doctors,” said Matt Roper, “are great for life-saving and emergencies…”

“Yes,” agreed Martin. “Broken legs and things like that.”

“But Chinese medicine,” continued Matt, “is great for prevention.”

“I’m still not sure why it’s called the tinner,” I said.

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Chinese cupping, some Australian wet comedy, a doctor and a baby on stage

Should I turn my back on Chinese medicine after this result?

I was hit by a truck in 1991. It pulverised two parts of my shoulder which still occasionally hurts; I also hit the back of my head on the edge of a brick wall and have not been able to read books since and the base of my spine is slightly damaged, causing me occasional pain.

The bottom of my spine is painful as I write this.

In my apparently never-ending quest to try and stop this occasional pain, a friend and I tried a cut-price offer from the Daily Telegraph this week – three Chinese techniques, one of which was cupping.

Certainly interesting. But, three days later, we still have giant red-and-brown blotches on our backs. My friend likes to swim but can’t go to the pool with these blotches – “I will look like a mobile art installation!” she says.

I tried to cheer her up by suggesting she could sell herself to Tate Modern, but this only made things worse. One problem, I think, is that she believes the blotches on her back look “very Sixties”. There is nothing worse than being scarred in an outdated style.

But our mild medical traumas are minor compared to British comedian Eric’s financial problems at the Adelaide Fringe in Australia, where he had his credit card stopped after a company tried to take over $4,000 from it for a hotel bill which should have been $640. Being on the other side of the world with his wife Helen and newish-born baby ‘Little E’  but without access to credit, he is struggling a bit.

And it never rains but it pours.

Eric, Helen and ‘Little E’ were eating a pizza under a tree when a leaf fell off the tree onto the pizza, signalling, Eric presumed, the arrival of autumn.

He tells me:

__________

It appears the change of seasons are very marked here. I wasn’t able to finish my pizza as I had to go see Gordon Southern’s show A History of History. As I walked away, the sky darkened quickly and I heard a clap of thunder, followed by the inevitable lightning. “Crikey,” I thought. “It was 31 degrees when we went to the restaurant!”

Then it started to rain. I was wearing only shorts and a shirt – I have not worn a coat or carried an umbrella since I got here in October. The trees on my side of the road provided some cover, but spotting an awning outside a pub over the road I made a dash for it. This was a big mistake. I got as far as the median strip and it absolutely fell down and, as the traffic slowed dramatically at the onset of the downpour, the gap I had anticipated in the cars closed up and I was stranded in the middle of the road with no cover whatsoever… And this was no light shower – it was bucketing it down! Within seconds, the rainwater overwhelmed the drainage system (which is probably only designed to cope with about four inches of rain a year) and great puddles formed by the kerb.

By the time I reached the awning, I was already soaked to the skin and the shelter it offered was of no use to me now. I continued in the pouring rain to see Gordon’s show. I arrived but had missed the start – he was already up to the Greeks (not the financial bail-out, but Aristotle). I sat on a stool at the back of the room and wrung my socks out into an empty glass on the windowsill.

When I had finished, I did not know whether my glass was half full or half empty (of sock juice).

__________

Eric started his comedy career when the late Malcolm Hardee dragged him out of the audience and up on stage at Up The Creek and, ever afterwards, encouraged him to become a performer. It seems Eric’s baby daughter ‘Little E’ may follow in his footsteps (when she learns to walk):

__________

Helen and I have been taking ‘Little E’ to shows at the Adelaide Fringe and she has seen quite a few now, though we suspect that some of the more subtle stuff has gone over her head and a lot of her dinner has certainly gone over Helen. Nevertheless she seems to be having fun.

We went to see the legendary (almost wordless) Dr Brown’s show. I first saw him at the Edinburgh Fringe and he ejected me from his audience, because my mate Charlie Saffrey clapped in the wrong place and Dr Brown thought it was me.

‘Little E’ was silent all the way through his show and, when it came to the part where Dr Brown was miming a baby onstage, I whispered to Helen that, for once, the little one’s cries might actually have fitted in with the proceedings, instead of proving a distraction.

No sooner had the words left my mouth, than Dr Brown left the stage as part of his continued mime and, when he got to the back of the room, he spotted our silent ‘Little E’ perched on Helen’s lap. So he whisked her onto the stage to the delight of the whole audience and ‘Little E’ made her stage debut at 11 weeks and 12 hours old.

Afterwards, Dr Brown said that “it was an honour to be working with such a professional.” Well, actually he said “playing with” but I felt I should change the wording.

My first stage performance was as a result of being dragged up onstage by one comedy legend. Now Erica has followed in her father’s footsteps, but at a much younger age.

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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 got virtually no sleep last night

Beware! If you cannot bear hearing medical moans from people, read no further.

I got virtually no sleep last night.

I tried sleeping on the floor; I tried sleeping on the bed.

In a blog earlier this year, I explained why I have been unable to read a book since I got hit by a truck in 1991 when I was standing on a pavement in Borehamwood.

One result of the accident which did not become clear until well after it happened – and, alas, well after compensation was agreed with the insurance company – was that there has been some damage to the base of my spine.

The hospital had X-rayed by shoulder because my collar bone had been broken in two places – ‘pulverised’ was the rather alarming medical word used – but they had not X-rayed my spine.

What seems to have happened is that I was thrown back by the impact of the truck and I fell backwards with my spine fairly straight, then the back of my head hit the edge of a low brick wall maybe six inches off the ground. This meant my head stopped but my spine continued downwards for another six inches before the base of my back hit the pavement, putting some small bones at the bottom of my spine slightly out of alignment.

At least, that is what I understand people now tell me happened.

My osteopath cannot fully rectify the problem as I do not fully relax – I suspect because I am just not used to lying semi-naked, face-down on a bench while a large man leans over me, interlinks his arms with mine and jerks me sharply backwards – I have obviously led too sheltered a life.

Anyway, the damage to my spine rarely shows itself unless I twist my torso in an odd way to stoop down or lift something. I then put the bones slightly out of place and get shooting pains, usually in my left hip, sometimes in my right hip, which make it difficult for me to walk. But this can usually be cured by sleeping on the floor for three nights.

I have no idea why.

If it really bad, it can take a fortnight of sleeping on the floor.

But – with luck – this only happens once every nine months or so.

As the problem mends, the point of pain moves from the inside of my hip (which actually has nothing wrong with it) to the base of my spine (which is where the actual pain problem is).

The last time it happened – maybe six or nine months ago – it was slightly different.

I felt pain shooting along my waist in a line from the base of my spine, then down my left leg to the ankle or, sometimes, to the knee.

People I know who have had sciatica told me:

“That is sciatica.”

I went to my osteopath. He said:

“It is very strange. Every time someone has come to me with sciatica, I have manipulated the feet and it has gone away. I have absolutely no idea why. I am thinking of writing a paper about it.”

He manipulated my feet.

The pain went away.

This time, my lower back has been aching very slightly for a couple of days – it happens if I slouch on a soft sofa seat and is usually cured by sleeping on the floor – and there has been some slight pain along my waist and at the top of my right leg under the buttock (I know – too much information) and in my right hip… and a shooting pain down the side of my right leg which moves around depending on my position.

So, last night – the floor, but no sleep.

On the floor; on the bed; on the floor; on the bed; on the floor.

I could not get a position where there was not a shooting pain. Not horrendous pain; just slight pain. Not an ache; a slight shooting pain. But enough to stop me getting to sleep.

Eight hours.

There is no moral to this blog. No insight into anything.

I just did not have anything to blog about this morning and eight hours of moving your legs and hips about, trying to be comfortable, does not, I found, concentrate the mind.

In some future blog, I may witter on about how I have more confidence in Chinese medicine than in Western medicine – because Western medicine aims to stop or to mask the symptoms quickly whereas Chinese medicine aims to cure the cause of the symptoms.

But, frankly, a quick masking of the symptoms would not go amiss this morning.

Look – it is your own fault – I warned you at the start.

If you cannot bear hearing medical moans from people, read no further.

Tomorrow, normal blogging should be resumed…

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