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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary – No 24 – A broken shoulder and anal cell-phones

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 23

This particular blog is admittedly self-indulgent.

Do I care?

No.

But you have been warned.


SUNDAY 28th JUNE

In my previous Diary blog Andy Dunlop, esteemed President of the World Egg-Throwing Federation, suggested, rather persuasively, that my ongoing problem with raised calcium levels in my body was paralleled by the troubles of a dog called Rigby and that the cause might be my parathyroid glands.

Today, American comedian and occasional burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller contacted me:


“That is a very delicate difficult surgery and…”

So you think it is your parathyroid gland? 

That is a very delicate difficult surgery and can leave you with injured vocal cords.

Be very wary of parathyroid surgery John,. They were going to take mine out years ago and then decided it was too risky.  

Here are the advantages: improved bone health, reduced risk of kidney stones and improved quality of life. 

You also have better memory and no aches and pains.  

However the surgery is very dangerous because you run the risk of injuring your thyroid gland and your vocal cords. Those little glands are very hard to find.

I have really terrible osteoporosis and I was all excited to have this done but the guy who everyone thought was the only one I dare trust to do this thing simply didn’t think I was a good enough candidate for the surgery.

I assumed he either hated women or Jews or the elderly. Possibly all three. So here I am sagging, shrinking and unable to touch my toes; not to mention my lousy tummy and disgusting personality.


My left shoulder as was in 1991 – pulverised in two places

MONDAY 29th JUNE

I wonder if maybe my parathyroid glands were affected by my occasional ongoing shoulder problem.

In 1991, when I was standing on a pavement, I was hit by an articulated lorry. My shoulder bone was pulverised (medical talk for ‘powdered’) in two places. I also had a skull injury – as I fell, I hit the back of my head on the sharp edge of a low brick wall – and, it later turned out, the bottom of my spine was also damaged by the jerk as my head stopped when it hit the wall and the rest of my body continued downwards.

In 1991, I was taken to the same local hospital I was taken to for my calcium/kidney function problem a few weeks ago.

Because I had broken bones, I was looked after in a Bone ward but, because they were worried there might be brain damage (from the skull injury – my brain would have hit the inside of the skull) I was bureaucratically under the care of the Brain people, who had their own ward(s).

The nurses in the Bone ward were very attentive but, when the Bone consultant did his rounds, he always ignored my bed because I was not his patient. Once, I heard him explain this to the student doctors who followed him round absorbing all he said: “We don’t deal with Mr Fleming. because he’s not our patient.”

The Brain consultant never visited me, I guess because I was not in his ward.

But, after about a week of observation, I was released. Late one afternoon, a very tired and clearly very overworked junior doctor from the Brain lot came down to my ward and told me I could go home.

A map of the Rhineland in 1905 looks a lot like the inside of the human brain but is not

I was released but, really, for about nine months after, my mind would occasionally sort-of de-focus and I would be unable to string thoughts together – I presume from some form of concussion. And I could not read for a while.

If I tried to read a newspaper, it was as if my brain would lose focus halfway through the first or second paragraph.  I still cannot read printed books, though I can write them on a computer screen.

After about a year, my shoulder still tended to feel like it was having a sharp knife stuck in it for maybe 90% of my waking hours. To protect my shoulder at night, I had to learn to sleep on my back with my left arm stretched out at right angles to my torso. This stopped me turning over.

But it also eventually meant that, instead of my shoulder bone mending back to its original state, the two broken, sharply-pointed ends overlapped each other. So my left shoulder is a tiny bit shorter and weaker than my right shoulder.

The pain in my left shoulder was eventually sorted by a Chinese doctor (ie Chinese medicine) and only gives me problems now if I lean too heavily for too long on the not-healed-correctly left side.

Occasionally, still, I also get some muscle pain in my right shoulder and at the back of my neck because (I presume) the muscles are not quite right. Maybe these muscle problems affected the parathyroid glands in my neck? Maybe not.

Anyway, apparently I should have had physiotherapy and outpatient care when I left the hospital in 1991, but this never happened, presumably because of the bureaucratic complication that no hospital department was 100% in charge of me. My brain was too much like confused wobbly jelly to really think straight until much later.

This might also partly explain why, though I admire nurses and other frontline NHS staff, I have a high disregard for NHS bureaucracy… Did I mention I have a high disregard of all large, faceless bureaucracies?

My missing tooth cap

TUESDAY 30th JUNE

Today I went to my heavily-masked and plastic-visored dentist to get one of my capped teeth, which had fallen out, re-inserted. It was not simple and may not be long-lasting as the (dead) root into which the cap is inserted via a spike, is apparently fractured or fracturing.

It never rains but it pours.

WEDNESDAY 1st JULY

Social distancing is still in place because of the coronavirus pandemic. This has some bizarre effects as in the Ladies toilet at an IKEA store in London.

I did not, for obvious reasons, see the Ladies toilet first-hand myself, but a friend took a photo.

It is reasonable to tape off alternate sinks to maintain social distancing. But this does not explain why IKEA has closed alternate (and entirely separated) cubicles, as can be seen in the mirror at the top of this photo.

The Nokia 3210 (1999)

Today, still on the subject of human bottoms, someone else told me that there is a good second-hand trade in old 1999 Nokia 3210 mobile telephones.

In the early days of mobile phones, this particular phone was very popular with the inmates of UK prisons.

Mobile phones, of course, were not allowed in UK prisons, so they had to be smuggled in.

I am reliably informed that the Nokia was popular in prisons because it was small (certainly compared to modern phones) and had rounded edges. This meant it could be shoved up inside the body where the sun don’t shine by a prison visitor and then removed, given to and used by the lucky prisoner who had ‘ordered’ it.

The Nokia 3310, released in 2000. A snug fit in an XL condom.

To preserve cleanliness, the Nokia was usually put inside a condom (XL size) before insertion.

After it was removed, I remain uncertain whether the XL condom was thrown away or used.

But the Nokia 3210s were much used and – even though drones are now often the preferred method of getting things into prisons – the popularity of the Nokia 3210 and its 2000 successor the Nokia 3310 remain (I am told) very high.

This may or may not partly explain why, in 2017, a new version of the Nokia 3310 was released to an appreciative world.

Plus ça change, the more SNAFU…

THURSDAY 2nd JULY

I have a telephone consultation with the NHS Kidney Man (or Woman) on Monday. The fact that it is a telephone appointment – not a face-to-face one – was confirmed in a letter and by phone last week.

This morning, I received a text message telling me that my face-to-face consultation next Monday has been changed to a telephone consultation.

No, you did not mis-read that. Did I mention I have a high disregard of all large, faceless bureaucracies?

A glass of water by my bedside for when I wake up parched…

FRIDAY 3rd JULY

I continue to wake up at least once an hour throughout the night every night with my mouth bone dry, almost as if bits of my mouth want to stick to other bits they are so parched dry. I need to drink water – I have a bottle and a glass by my bedside.

I think it has to do with my kidney function being abnormally low or my calcium level being too high or both – but what do I know?

I counted the number of times I woke up during the night last night – ten times.

So par for the course.

SATURDAY 4th JULY

Today I asked Andy Dunlop, esteemed President of the World Egg-Throwing Federation, if there was any further news of Rigby the Dog and his parathyroid glands.

Andy’s reply was:


Ahhhhh,  I was hoping you wouldn’t ask. 

He’s now home. Arrived last night. Tests dispel initial and obvious parathyroid thoughts but reveal a very rare type of blood cancer.

Treatment will either be put on hold and he will live a long and happy life or not.

This was discovered by invasive biopsy of bone marrow.


Rigby the Dog will live a long and happy life or not… like all of us…

… TO BE CONTINUED …

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John Fleming’s (second half) Weekly Diary No 23 – I am maybe sick as a dog

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 22

THURSDAY 25th JUNE

I got a letter this morning from Bristol confirming I have a face-to-face appointment with the NHS Kidney Man or Kidney Woman at my local North London hospital on Monday 6th July – about my ongoing high calcium level/low kidney function problems.

This afternoon, I got an email from Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg-Throwing Federation who, like all sensible egg-throwers, follows my blog. 

His email read:


President Andy Dunlop weighs the alternatives…

I have been following your tale of woe. 

I noted your last visit to the Kidney Woman.

A friend of mine has a dog called Rigby. It is not well.

A vet’s visit confirmed too much calcium and he (Rigby) is off to a specialist vet to check the cause. Suspicion is placed upon a gland in the neck and a benign tumour.   

Sod all to do with kidneys.


Andy drew my attention to the parathyroid glands, four small glands which regulate the calcium in humans’ – and dogs’ – bodies and how those glands control calcium levels. 

They are located in the neck behind the thyroid where they continuously monitor and regulate blood calcium levels.

When one of the parathyroid glands goes bad, it makes too much hormone, the excess hormone goes to the bones and takes calcium out of the bones and puts it into your blood. It’s the high calcium in the blood that makes you feel bad.

The reason I was taken into hospital for a week was that an abnormally high calcium level resulted in a serious drop in my kidney function from 62 to 19.

Andy tells me that Mr Google is my friend.

I am a little wary of Mr Google’s opinions, but…

Apparently, everybody with a bad parathyroid gland is more likely to develop bad osteoporosis (which my mother got) unless the bad gland is removed.

The parathyroid glands (in yellow)

Not removing a parathyroid tumour and leaving the calcium high for a number of years will increase the chance of developing other cancers in your body (breast, colon, kidney, and prostate).

Symptoms of high calcium levels in the blood include excessive thirst and frequent peeing; lethargy and excessive fatigue; and depression. Yes to all of those.

Mr Google says there is only one way to treat parathyroid problems – surgery.

FRIDAY 26th JUNE

Yesterday morning, I got a letter from Bristol confirming I have an NHS face-to-face appointment in North London on Monday 6th July.

This morning I got a letter from North London confirming my NHS appointment is not face-to-face but via telephone.

I expect a third NHS letter any day soon…

I also received another email from Andy Dunlop:


Rigby the Dog leaves the vet’s happier than when he arrived

Rigby the Dog left the vet’s this afternoon. My friend reports that intravenous fluids and some drugs perked him up no end. Unlike you, Rigby has all his own teeth.

Rigby is seeing a specialist later. I will keep you posted on your canine twin’s progress.

Your doctors were treating the symptoms and not the cause.


Andy drew my attention to Hypercalcemia a condition in which the calcium level in your blood is above normal. It is usually a result of overactive parathyroid glands. Other causes of hypercalcemia include cancer, certain other medical disorders, some medications and taking too much of calcium and vitamin D supplements.

I am a little wary of Mr Google. but I identify with the last sentence in Andy’s email.

Your doctors were treating the symptoms and not the cause.

I am always wary of Western medicine.

Chinese medicine tries to cure the cause of a problem. Western medicine tries to treat the symptoms of a problem – very often by masking the symptoms with drugs. It seems like the problem has been cured but the fact is simply that the symptoms have been hidden.

If I could afford it (which I can’t) I would constantly get advice from a Chinese perspective in parallel with any Western medical advice. And I would tend to trust Chinese treatments more.

Chinese medical appointments also seem to be more reliable than NHS ones.

SATURDAY 27th JUNE

I slept until about 2.00pm this afternoon and went to bed about 9.00pm. 

Neither my body nor my brain seemed to think this was unreasonable.

The thoughts and feelings of what remains of my soul… That is a different matter.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John Fleming’s (half) Weekly Diary No 22 – Coughs, teeth, dead surrealists

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 21

SUNDAY 21st JUNE

One of my front upper teeth has gone out of alignment with the others. Hopefully this is a false tooth.

Staying on things oral, I have a lifelong dry, irritating (to others) cough, which is very useful for clearing queues during the current coronavirus outbreak.

One of the many British comedic highlights of the past which I missed was The Fast Show on BBC2 (1994-1997 + 2011-2014). I never saw an entire episode though I saw occasional excerpts.

One thing I apparently missed was a running gag/character called Bob Fleming, who had a dry irritating cough. Someone drew my attention to it today.

I had zero involvement in The Fast Show, but I did (inevitably, though Malcolm Hardee) peripherally have a nodding acquaintance with a couple of the cast members. It would be nice to think one mentioned in passing about this bloke John Fleming who had a perpetual irritating cough. That would be my 15 seconds of inspirational fame.

Alas, I imagine the thought of phlegming/Fleming is a more likely source.

Today I also chatted with TV chap Simon Kennedy for an upcoming blog. Inexplicably, the subject of long-time Chinese statesman Chou En Lai came up… and his famous quote.

Ever-wise, much quoted Chinese statesman

In the early 1970s, talking to Henry Kissinger, he was asked if he thought the French Revolution had had a successful outcome. The French Revolution happened in 1789.

Chou said: “It is too early to say.”

I have always seen this as the epitome of Chinese long-sightedness.

But Simon correctly told me that Chou was actually referring to the 1968 student riots in Paris.

What a pity.

It is far more Chinese to say that 1968 was too early to say what long-term effects an action in 1789 had.

MONDAY 22nd JUNE

China – and, indeed, similar political paradises – are known for their bureaucracy.

So today I arrived at my local hospital at 0845 (with my three appointment letters) for my 0900 Nephrology appointment at Outpatients and, on presenting myself and my three letters at Main Reception, was told the department was closed and all appointments had been moved to another hospital.

I ignored this – as I had had the three letters and had had a phone call confirming the appointment. I phoned the Kidney Man’s answering machine, found Outpatients and sat in Main Outpatients Reception (open from 0830 but with no receptionist).

About 0900, the Kidney Man’s secretary phoned me back to confirm I would be seen and if no-one turned up, to phone her back. I was due to see a Kidney Woman.

I said if no-one turned up by 0920 I would phone back.

The Kidney Woman arrived at 0917, unlike the receptionist.

She (the Kidney Woman) told me that, during my 7-day hospital stay, they had not treated me – just observed. Fair enough.

During that time, my calcium level had gone back to normal without any treatment (except the saline drip for 7 days). My calcium level had been 3.2. I had been told in hospital it should be 2.6.

The Kidney Woman told me: “2.6 would be an absolute maximum.”

Apparently ‘normal’ would be 2.2 to 2.6.

My kidney function last October had been an OK-for-my-age 62 but, on entering hospital, it was down to 19. Over 7 days in the hospital I had been told it had risen to 28 which was concerning but no longer “dangerous” and the Kidney Woman today told me it had been 34 on discharge from hospital.

“Anything over 60 would be OK for a man of your age,” she told me. “Your calcium level would affect your kidney function, but your kidney function could not affect the calcium level.”

Still, there is no hint of why my calcium level/kidney function went haywire nor why I keep waking up 6 or 7 or 8 times a night with a parched, bone-dry mouth and have to drink water. Next week, I will hear the result of today’s blood test.

During the day I am mostly OK though I sometimes have to have a late afternoon nap for a couple of hours; and I go to bed, tired, around 8.00pm or 9.00pm. My normal bedtime used to be around midnight.

Whether this tiredness is a result of my calcium/kidney problems or just being old or having constantly woken up 6 or 7 or 8 times the previous night… Who knows?

TUESDAY 23rd JUNE

The pandemic has resulted in much more dental bureaucracy

The tooth cap that was out-of-alignment on Sunday has now got decidedly wobbly. It is hanging on in there, but threatening to either fall out during the day or (in my fantasies) drop out and get swallowed by me during the night.

Miraculously (because of the coronavirus lockdown) I was able to get a dental appointment next Tuesday. My dentist re-opened last Monday (eight days ago) for emergencies.

I got an appointment after answering a lot of detailed medical questions and, I think, because the dodgy upper tooth is towards the front and visible.

There will be absolutely no drilling of any kind because of the danger from airborne spray from the mouth. So anything that would normally involve drilling will, instead, be temporarily repaired.

Around lunchtime, I was sitting on a bench with someone (the regulation two metres apart) in the Green Belt area near my home when a stray football from a nearby game headed towards us. I got up, kicked the ball back and nearly overbalanced and (did not) fall over.

I am constantly lightheaded during the day and waking up hourly at night.

Who knows why?

In the afternoon, I was told of the death of Douglas Gray last Thursday. He and brother Tony were The Alberts, a surreal comedy duo which linked The Goons and Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

I met the brothers years ago – in the 1980s, I think, at their home (I think they lived in the same rambling house but I could be wrong) in Norfolk. They were interestingly and gently eccentric and one – I think it was Douglas – appeared to be dressed for playing cricket for no apparent reason.

They should have been British cultural treasures but, alas, mega-fame escaped them, like so many worthy performers. I seem to remember that they used to pretend to work on a national newspaper in London, before Margaret Thatcher destroyed the ‘closed shop’ policies of the trades unions.

They told me, I think, that they would drive down from Norfolk to London each Friday, sign on as print workers (they had union cards), then drive straight back to Norfolk. They got paid well for working at the weekends although they were not even in London, let alone working on the production of the newspaper.

They were surrealists on and off stage.

Today was the last day of the daily government Briefings/updates about the coronavirus pandemic. The lockdown restrictions will be partially, but not by any means totally, lifted on the 4th of July – our ‘Trim-dependence Day’ as one BBC News reporter put it, because hairdressers will be allowed to open with safety restrictions.

The total of reported UK coronavirus deaths is now 42,927… up 171 in the previous 24 hours

WEDNESDAY 24th JUNE

I have received the three pages of forms I have to fill in before seeing my dentist next Tuesday.

The accompanying letter details what will happen.

The tooth will out…

– I should rinse my mouth with mouthwash before leaving home, to kill off any bacteria in my mouth.

– I should not arrive early, because the surgery’s street door will be locked and I will only be allowed in when the previous patient has left.

– On entry, my temperature will be taken with an infra-red thermometer.

– I will have to wash my hands with anti-bacterial gel before seeing the dentist.

– The dentist and nurse will be wearing protective clothing: presumably face masks and/or plastic face visors.

As if to celebrate my filling-in of the dental forms…

…my tooth fell out.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s Weekly Diary 21 – Bureaucracy, the NHS, a cough, a death, a long walk

… SORT-OF CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 20 …

I have been posting a diary supposedly about life in Britain during the coronavirus pandemic – focussing on the everyday amid the historic.

But it took a sidetrack when, instead of COVID-19, I developed some unknown kidney infection or damage or/and calcium imbalance and/or… well… something. No-one has yet found out what is wrong.

So this strand of the blog will now become a more general diary until I get bored with it or it meanders even more pointlessly than normal like a dildo lost in a jellyfish.


A typical 1888 cough syrup (courtesy of Stephen O’Donnell)

SUNDAY 14th JUNE

I had a bad, hacking cough: probably nothing to do with coronavirus.

I took a Tyrozet tablet.

Stephen O’Donnell in Glasgow reminded me of the type of cough linctus they had in 1888 with alcohol, cannabis, chloroform and morphia “skilfully combined with a number of other ingredients”.

Presumably, if that didn’t cure your cough, at least you would be unaware you had one.

Forget the telephone consultation – It’s a face-to-face meet…

MONDAY 15th JUNE

As is now normal, overnight I woke up about six or eight times – basically, at least once every hour – with my throat parched dry, desperate to drink water.

When I left hospital just over a fortnight ago, the Kidney Man told me he would treat me as an outpatient. Then, a week later, I got a letter saying it would be a face-to-face consultation at the local hospital.

Forget the face-to-face consultation – It’s on the phone…

Then, another week later, I got a text saying that, because of the COVID-19 virus, they were changing the face-to-face appointment to a telephone consultation. I joked to a couple of people that, as the NHS is a vast bureaucracy and all vast bureaucracies are a mess, they were bound to phone me up today and ask why I was not at the hospital.

Today, after over an hour waiting for the call, I phoned to check that all was OK.

The appointments people told me: “He’s not actually ringing absolutely everybody. Some patients he’s looking up on the system and, unless he feels he absolutely has to speak to them, what he’s doing is dictating a clinic letter which will go to your GP and you will get a copy as well… It’s a little bit of a grey area.”

Fair enough.

About half an hour later, the Kidney Man phoned up because he had been expecting me to go in for a face-to-face consultation and wondered why I hadn’t turned up.

Fair enough.

He told me that the Petscan I had about two weeks ago showed nothing abnormal and they still didn’t know what was wrong with my kidneys. So a blood test would be arranged and I definitely had to come in for that, even if I got a letter or text saying I should not.

After that, I went out (perfectly legally) to South London to see my Eternally Un-Named Friend. It was the first day when face masks HAD to be worn on public transport in England. So I wore a face mask on the mostly empty trains.

We walked along the River Thames from Greenwich to the O2 Millennium Dome – a long walk on what (I had forgotten to check) was a Very High Pollen day. I felt hot and sweaty and slightly light-headed and, for my feet, the walk became a plod.

Nothing to do with the pollen or the company. Something to do with the kidneys, I think.

View of Canary Wharf from near The O2 Dome (Photograph by My Eternally UnNamed Friend)

The south (well, really east) bank of the Thames between Greenwich and the Dome has become mostly a post-industrial wasteland which is being flattened or is already flattened for high-rise flats, with some already built. My Eternally UnNamed Friend found some sort of Wordsworthian Romanticism in the open spaces and vistas. I thought it just looked more like a post-apocalyptic landscape.

At 11.15pm, back home in Borehamwood, as I was about to go to bed, sniffles, sneezes and an itchy right eye started to kick in. Over the last few years, I have tended to get hay fever fairly late at night and almost always after dark. What is that all about? What on earth are the flowers doing at 2315 at night?

Well, the news took me a bit by surprise…

TUESDAY 16th JUNE

The man whom I called ‘George’ in my hospital diaries died yesterday. I know this because my friend Lynn spotted his obituary in various newspapers today and – very impressively – guessed it was the person whose identity I had (I thought) disguised in my posts.

I then (perfectly legally) went to East London by train to see writer Ariane Sherine and her daughter in their back garden (well, back decking).

On the way there and back, I wore a face mask in the mostly empty train carriages. There were some other passengers. But we all seemed a bit half-hearted about it as we were all seated so far apart.

The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 41,969… Up 233 in the last 24 hours.

Me in my lost hat – Maybe not a great loss…

WEDNESDAY 17th JUNE

I went to Tesco’s in Borehamwood in the afternoon to buy a hat to protect my bald head from the sun. I lost my previous hat two days ago, somewhere by the post-apocalyptic River Thames.

I was hot and sweaty (despite having had a bath at lunchtime) and light-headed.

Ariane Sherine texted me:

“I’ve made a few jokes about you in my new book. I thought I should run them by you to check you’re OK with them.”

I replied: “I will be OK with them. You can say anything you like about me. I fancy being described as a dishevelled, shuffling, shambling mess. I would quite like to be described as a Dickensian character rotting slowly in my wrinkly skin as the dust gathers in my ears. I always think it is better to be laughed at rather than be laughed with… It is much more memorable. People forget jokes but remember OTT characters… Perhaps you could say something like: He was having a mid-life crisis at least 30 years too late, with fantasies of Baby Spice in a bikini rolling around in tiramisu.

Alas, the book is a serious – though populist – non-fiction work and the reply I got was:

“We are at the proofreading stage, so I can’t add anything, but thank you for being such a good sport.”

My heart sank. I quite fancy being a badly-dressed Dickensian character. But I have never aspired to be a sport.

The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 42,153… Up 184 in the last 24 hours.

The ever-admirable kick-ass vicar Maggy Whitehouse

THURSDAY 18th JUNE

Last night, in bed, I had about an hour of feverish hot temperatured forehead and a hacking cough.

I think I may be turning into a paranoid hypochondriac. Or is that tautology? Who cares?

Meanwhile, admirable kick-ass vicar Maggy Whitehouse (I blogged about her in 2018) posted on her Facebook page:


Well that’s a first… I’m on the prayer line this morning and the first caller was a man who said he was in social isolation and lonely. He turned out to be calling from his bath… and was making somewhat too-enthusiastic noises during the prayers. He did say, “Thank you,” and that he was feeling a lot better now afterwards. Obviously, I have to report him to the boss… but I think I should have charged him a very large amount of money… and fortunately, I’m just trying not to giggle.


This seemed bizarre and unique to me but apparently not. Comments on Maggy’s post included:


– I had a fair few of them while on my Samaritans hotline 😉
– I used to work for a crisis helpline similar to the Samaritans and we had many a call along those lines…
– I used to be a Samaritans listener… we had similar calls…
– Sounds like the time I was a Samaritan on duty on Christmas Day. The tale was different – at the end he learnt it was seen through and it was good he had opened his ‘Christmas Present’ quickly!!


The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 42,288… Up 135 in the last 24 hours.

FRIDAY 19th JUNE

Original edition. Lots of good advice.

In 2012, Ian Fox published his excellent book How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show which was edited by fellow comedy performer Ashley Frieze.

Now, with the coronavirus pandemic causing chaos in comedy and entertainment generally and the Edinburgh Fringe effectively cancelled this year, the dynamic duo have published a follow-up:

How to Write, Perform and Produce a Cancelled Edinburgh Fringe Show: A complete guide on how to not write, perform and produce a show at the Edinburgh Fringe.

A new book for the new COVID-19 era.

The book is a must-read. Handy tips include:

  • When and how to cancel things

  • How not to travel to Edinburgh

  • Writing a show that is cancelled

  • How not to get a review for a show that isn’t happening

And it’s all in aid of a good cause… The authors have suggested, for every copy purchased, a donation to the Trussell Trust which supports a nationwide network of food banks.

The book was free until yesterday and may be free from tomorrow in one form or another.

Ashley Frieze says: “The ongoing pricing seems to be some random mystery concocted by Amazon.”

Ian Fox: “Truthfully, we didn’t realise you couldn’t just do free Kindles anymore.”

The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 42,461… Up 173 in the last 24 hours.

If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing in triplicate…

SATURDAY 20th JUNE

As of today, I now have three letters – all confirming my Monday face-to-face appointment at the hospital.

It is to have another blood test, so it is unlikely it will get changed to a telephone call.

But never say never…

Never underestimate bureaucracy…

An article in The Guardian yesterday suggested that, at the height of the current coronavirus pandemic, deaths in the UK may have been 64% higher than reported because, part of the way through the current run of the pandemic, the government changed or, at least, the bureaucracy was able to re-define the type of deaths included in the statistics.

But the worst news of the week is that today I discovered – who knew? – that Tyrozets have been discontinued following a challenge from the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) over whether the use of an antibiotic in throat lozenges is “clinically relevant”.

Who cares? They worked.

Does anybody know where I can get hold of some 1888 cough syrup “with alcohol, cannabis, chloroform and morphia skilfully combined with a number of other ingredients”?

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 19 – Comparatively trivial

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 18

(Photograph by Camilo Jimenez via UnSplash)

THURSDAY 28th MAY

Today, the total of UK deaths caused by coronavirus reached 37,837 – up 377 in the last 24 hours.

FRIDAY 29th MAY

My home is, in effect, in a square and, in just the one week I was in hospital (with kidney problems – not with any COVID-19 problems), anarchy has broken out.

The elderly woman (90+) in the house directly opposite me has been taken up to the North of England to an old people’s home near her son. She had been very confused the last few weeks when I met her in the street.

And a man who lives in a house on another side of the square died of a brain tumour in my week away. Apparently he had been ill for a few months but I did not know: a sign of 21st century life. He had been seeing people and things that weren’t there for the last three months. He was buried two days ago. The day I got back from hospital. 

On a lighter note, Romanian entertainer Dragos Mostenescu has posted another video of lockdown life with his family in London.

SATURDAY 30th MAY

I talked to Ariane Sherine’s 9-year-old daughter on FaceTime. In the middle of a playful conversation, she said: “Any person who never makes a mistake has never tried anything new.”

“That’s very good,” I said. “Did you just make that up or did you read it somewhere?”

“Albert Einstein,” she said.

She will go far. 

SUNDAY 31st MAY

In the nights I have been back home, I keep waking up at least once every hour with a bone dry mouth and have to drink water.

All through the night. Bone dry mouth. Needing to drink water.

And now I have developed constipation, very smelly farts and hay fever.

My life is complete.

The UK COVID-19 death total is now 38,489 – up 113 in the last 24 hours.

An illustration of why social distancing is now UK policy…

MONDAY 1st JUNE

Coughing, sneezing, spluttering hay fever and constipation – This makes it easy to maintain ‘social distancing’ in the street. We are told to maintain social distancing by keeping at least 2 metres apart from other people. I try my best to keep the farts to myself. 

TUESDAY 2nd JUNE

Hay fever tablets have stopped the sneezing and spluttering but not the farts.

Well, they wouldn’t, would they? I am still keeping them to myself.

Total UK coronavirus deaths have now reached 39,369 in total, up 324 in the last 24 hours.

WEDNESDAY 3rd JUNE

I had a petscan at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead. This is the scan where they put radioactive stuff in your system and look at it going round inside the body. I have been telling people that, because of financial cutbacks at the NHS, you now have to provide your own pet – and that I rented an iguana for the day. 

So far, no-one has laughed. This is an excellent example of why I am not and never will be a comic. Comedian Lynn Ruth Miller tells me the joke would have worked if it had been a puppy not an iguana.

Travelling to the hospital, the Thameslink and Overground trains were almost entirely empty.

(Photograph by Maria Oswald via UnSplash)

On May 25th – over a week ago – an unarmed 46-year-old black man – George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis.

He died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was lying face down and handcuffed on the street.

His death has resulted in tightly-packed mass street demonstrations.

Not just in the US but around the world.

I have a British friend who happens to be black – we have known each other over 30 years. I got this message from her in the North of England:


Hi John, I’m sobbing my heart out. About 30  minutes ago I was coughed on deliberately by a young idiot. The pavement was narrow and he clearly didn’t want to walk in the bus layby. I turned my back to him and faced the church wall and felt his warm breath on the back of my neck. I was so shocked I stood there for about five minutes and ran home, jumped in the shower and wiped myself dry with anti bacterial wipes. My clothes are in the washing machine and I’m now paranoid about whether he’s genuinely infected me with COVID-19 or thought it was a great prank to play. I know it could have been worse. He could have spat on me rather than cough. If he’s infected or not… What a cruel thing to do.


THURSDAY 4th JUNE

Total virus deaths in the UK now 39,904 – a 176 increase in the last 24 hours.

Martyn Jacques of The Tiger Lillies

FRIDAY 5th JUNE

Cult Weimaresque British band The Tiger Lillies have released a second – yes, a second – album about the COVID-19 pandemic.  I find it surprising there has not been more musical stuff inspired by the pandemic. Too soon?

SATURDAY 6th JUNE

When in hospital, I mentioned to the doctors that I seem to have a slow heart rate. The average is supposed to be somewhere between 60-100 beats per minute. Mine (as per my Apple Watch) is usually around 51-54 beats per minute; sometimes 47-49. The doctors were not really worried provided it was fairly regular. 

My cousin tells me that she too has a slow heart rate. 

So it must be a family thing.

And a minor thing.

Very trivial.

Comparatively.

UK coronavirus deaths are now over 40,000.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 17 – Red socks, casual racism and a death?

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 16

At this point in the saga below, I am in hospital with kidney function/calcium level problems.

(Nothing to do with COVID-19.)


When I had to wear a coronavirus mask …

SATURDAY 23rd May

The hospital staff have to wear several layers of clothing. About 50% wear face masks and sometimes, when dealing with patients, gloves. Almost no-one wears a plastic face visor. As far as I can see, this is not anything to do with lack of personal protective equipment. As far as I can see, it is choice. None of the staff seems to be nervous inside the ward.

At one point, one nurse was sitting spoon-feeding the old man in the bed opposite me. Another was doing the same to the patient in the bed next to me. Neither nurse had gloves on.

When I had a scan two days ago, I had to wear a face mask when I was taken to the scanning room (quite a way away), had the scan and came back to the ward. 

It was hot, stifling and horrendous to wear – and I only had to wear it for maybe 25 minutes. The nursing staff are on 12-hour shifts – mostly, it seems, 0800-2000 and 2000-0800, with a few breaks. They are wildly over-hot most of the day. (Admittedly temperatures are high in the UK at the moment.) Occasionally I hear them talk to each other about the discomfort. 

Apparently the earlier face masks they had to wear were worse – more tight-fitting and suffocating. 

There are two effects of having to wear masks for long periods.

1) The nurses are physically uncomfortable wearing them and very hot most of the time, especially over the last few days.

2) They want ventilation and open windows most of the time while the patients, just wearing pyjamas, feel a totally different temperature. 

At the start of the evening last night, I got the two slit windows above my bed closed. Been open since Wednesday night. Draughty.

One of the Filipino nurses is actually a trainee nurse in the first year of a two-year course. The deal is the hospital pays the fees for his course and he works for them. So yesterday, for two hours in the afternoon, he went off to another area of the hospital and, with others who work in the hospital, did academic stuff.

My friend Lynn texts me: “Saturday night in our local hospital here was a revelation. We had a Lord and a knifing one weekend. A real Lord whose wife sat by him knitting throughout and they said not one word to each other. The knifing victim had his extended family in to have a good laugh over the happy event.”

I discover the hospital has free red socks. The joys of the NHS!

Because I did not expect to be taken into hospital, I have been wearing the same pair of socks since last Wednesday. So potentially smelly. I discover the hospital has free red socks. The joys of the NHS!

A new guy was brought into bed space opposite me. I shall call him George (not his real name).

The nurse spoke to him gently and caringly; he muttered his replies, barely audibly.

Nurse – “You want your phone?”

George – “This is the reason.”

Nurse – (Gently) “What?”

George – “I don’t even know how to work the bloody thing. The phone.”

Nurse – “You told me before to put it here, so that you can reach it.”

George – “Oh, that’s rubbish. Absolute rubbish.”

Nurse – “This (the table) moves about… See? Now you can reach it.”

George – “I can’t reach them all. I can’t lean forward, as you know.”

Nurse – “I can put you forward, but you said your back was…”

George – “I can’t reach forward.”

Nurse – “Here, you can sit up. You are not in pain now?”

George – I am in pain in my knees.”

After given his meds and some routine tests, as the nurse left the room, he asked weakly: “OK? Was it OK?” Then, a few minutes later, “Was there a problem? What was the problem?”

The nurse didn’t hear him because she had gone. He is registered blind, though I think he has some slight sight.

Occasionally, throughout the day, George – with no nurse in the ward to hear him – mutters: “What was the problem?”

Later, sitting in a chair by his bed, George was talking with another Filipino nurse. (I had my iPhone so this dialogue is correct):

George – “Why do you still want me here?”

Nurse – “I think they are still sorting out something for you at home.”

George – “I’m an old man. The government are doing all this. I don’t believe it.”

Nurse – “I think the home care is not ready yet. That is why you are still here.”

George – “I am old. I wanna go home.”

Nurse – “They are still sorting out the care before you go home.”

George – “Just let me go home. We’ll sort it out on the way. But it ain’t gonna be like that, because it doesn’t suit you, does it?… I’m an 86-year-old man. Why on earth do you want to keep me here? Why?”

Nurse – “It’s not me. I don’t do about all these things.”

George – “So you don’t agree with it. Why are you letting it happen?”

Nurse – “It’s the doctors deciding what’s best for you.”

George – “From what country?”

Nurse – “The discharge team is sorting something for you at home.”

George – “Why? Why? I don’t believe that. Why? Can I move? My arse aches.”

Nurse – “I’ll get you back into bed.”

George – “We’re getting nowhere. You’ve said so many things and you’ve contradicted yourself. Why I don’t know.”

Nursing is a nightmare. The nurses in the ward are calm, caring and have to understand the psychology of difficult and sometimes doolally patients.

As for me – it’s Saturday now – I have had the saline drip permanently in my left arm since Wednesday around teatime.

Daily, I get injected in my right hand (a blood sugar test, I think); blood samples (two small tubes, I think) are taken from my right arm; an injection in my stomach; and sundry other injections. Blood pressure taken two, maybe three times a day. And a daily chat with a doctor. Still no sign of the doctors discovering what caused my kidney function falling or my calcium level rising. So tests, tests, tests.

Nighttime in the ward, with a couple of chilly open windows

SUNDAY 24th May 

Around 0200 in the morning, it was pretty chilly, I managed to find two new bedsheets and pillowcases half-hidden away on the other arm of my bedside chair.

I vaguely remember out the side of my eye seeing a nurse put them there yesterday, I presumed they were for the next bed. I now realise they were for me. I added them to my single sheet. 

0348 – Drip had run out. Pretty chilly. Bad headache along the base of my skull at the back. 

0402 – Light headache on right temple

0414 – Light headache at front, between eyes.

0419 – Light headache in middle of forehead

It went away.

I have a ‘call button’ for the nurses but they would just have given me paracetamol or similar and I wouldn’t have known how it developed. Not serious pain.

Around the same time (unconnected) and not near me, two nurses came into the ward with jackets on and closed a window at the end of the ward which had been open all day.

Around 0514, I was shaken awake for blood pressure to be taken.

The guy tried wrapping the band around my arm about three times and tried taking the blood pressure four times. Didn’t work.

At pretty much the same point, we both saw a blue lead and an electric plug hanging at the back of his portable unit.

He plugged the machine into a wall socket.

It worked.

Neither of us reacted as if anything unusual had happened.

I suspect, like the very efficient Filipino nurse, he is probably a student.

He went on to take blood pressure from the guy opposite.

The old guy asked: “Is it OK now? Was it OK? There was something wrong last night…”

“No, no problem,” the nurse said.

0715 – I woke with heavy headache at base of skull at the back, but it went away quickly. 

The hospital menu: less British Railways, more Park Lane

The food here is AMAZINGLY good. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Big selection. VERY tasty. Great food! I expected British Railways buffet here, standard circa 1955. In fact, it is like Dorchester Hotel standard 2020.

I saw myself in a full-length mirror in the loo last night, after showering myself. I looked like a bloated stomachy creature.

I mentioned it to a friendly nurse (they are all friendly) who told me: “It will be the water from the drip bags.”

Another day today of little pricks and wetness – needles and drip bags. 

All the nurses now have little individual tattoos on their arms – a gift from one nurse’s 5-year-old who has a book of ‘em. They last about 3 days. The tattoos, not the nurses.

Heaven preserve us! A nurse has turned on a radio for the ward and left the room.

Even worse, it is playing Danny Boy in a particularly saccharine version. The next step will be community singing. If they start playing Country music, I am going to demand a transfer to the Euthanasia Ward.

My friend Lynn texted me: “My nightmare would be hip-hop. They are giving you saline so you will be bloated and you will not be able to move around until the line dancing starts.” 

Oh good grief! Now it’s some ghastly 1950s girl group going full blast with trombones backing them! 

Now The Shirelles! I have no objection to The Shirelles in their place. This is not it.

The three other blokes in the ward are (for them) mercifully fairly deaf. Well, to be honest, one of them is permanently curtained-off and I rarely see him.

Talk about rest and recovery! I think the North Koreans have invaded and are torturing us. I have realised it’s not the radio but a tape on a 5-10min loop. The North Koreans are demonstrating why Western Civilisation has to be destroyed via its own worst 1950s US musical culture. Give me earplugs, a bread knife and a bucket for the blood.

The music is no more.

One nurse is saying to another that, outside the hospital, some nurses have been approached asking if they want to get a clap – meaning that, if they pay, they would be given a clap in appreciation for their work.

True.

The nurse was saying: “What planet are they on? Do they not know what’s going on around them?”

I talked to a doctor. I misunderstood the numbers for my kidney function and its drop.

In fact, 90 is normal kidney function for a young man. My kidney function in October was 62, which is OK for my age.

My kidney function was 19 on Wednesday 20th and now, thanks to all their dripping, has gone up to 27.

My calcium level on Wednesday was (I think) 3.3 and is now down to 2.7.

They’re going to keep me in until I get back up to a reasonable kidney rate (how long is a piece of string?) with the drips… then they can send me home and do other care from there. Or it might be a proper calcium level they need to get me to. I really was rubbish at chemistry in school.

They still don’t know the source of my kidney/calcium problems.

It feels nastily like I may be here another week Although it is almost worth it for the food.

The normal view of the fourth bed in the ward…

I am in a 4-bed section of the ward and, since I arrived, one of the four, as I mentioned, has been curtained-off. Rarely seen.

They just curtained-off – it is now the middle of the night – the other three sections – this has never happened before – and there was a coming-and-going of I think two men and a trolley bed or beds was/were being pushed around. One was taken out.

Then our three beds were un-curtained and the fourth bit was now uncurtained with a newly-made bed. 

But no patient in it.

People have been wheeled in and out before but without the curtaining.

I presume the man in that bed is a goner.

Brown bread. Dead.

… CONTINUED HERE  …

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 16 – “The first of the blood tests begins…”

CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 15

THURSDAY 21st May

Throughout the night, I was on a liquid drip, linked into my left arm.

0930 – The first of the needles and blood tests begins.

First new consultant of the day. A white South African. Never usually a good omen. But she seems fine.

Now a drug bloke with questions about my lifestyle. Alas, I am very dull. No smoking. No drinking. No recreational drugs. No bestiality beyond the norm.

I am attached to a bag of gooey stuff with an electrical thingie in between it and me

Around midday, I have to drink unexpected vegetable soup and have a new drip tube inserted into my left arm linked to a bag of gooey solution. I have to keep my left arm as straight as possible otherwise it cuts off the electrical thingie between the bag and my arm. Not good if I want to eat or hold an iPad with my left hand and type with my right hand. 

It will be there for the next 8 hours, so presumably they won’t be sending me home today. Hopefully tomorrow.

This billed day of multi-tests has turned into some brief blood-taking at the start… then the first four hours (1200-1600) of new planned 8-hour drip treatment.

A new bag is attached at 1700 and the next bit is now going to be three 2-hour bag drips – presumably ending at 2300. So one suspects definitely not getting out tonight!

I am reattached to this new drip bag for my latest 6-hour stint at 1700 but then taken along corridors at breakneck speed in a broken wheelchair (although I can walk fine) for a scan. 

There had been some bureaucratic SNAFU – the scan people hadn’t known which ward I was in.

The wheelchair pusher was very much a jobsworth. He told two other wheelchair pushers we passed by that they were leaving their wheelchairs in the wrong places and told a cleaner bloke outside the scanning room that a couple of other staff had been saying he (the scanner bloke) had been being lazy but he (my bloke) had said the other guy was a good worker not lazy. Psychological workplace politics at play.

I had the scan lying on my back. They scanned from top of my chest to my pelvis, to include lungs, liver kidneys, etc etc.

It was then back to my ward where my evening meal was waiting at around 1810 but I was only reattached to my drip around 1830, presumably to avoid me switching off the drip by bending my left arm when eating. Who knows when this attachment to bags will finish?

“So bad at chemistry, my teacher emigrated”

FRIDAY 22nd May

They have just (1041) changed the drip feed bag again. 

I have already had another blood test. The nurse (Hispanic) says this new bag is for eight hours. I guess that means another night in. 

A nurse tells me the liquid in the bag is 98% or 99% water and the rest sodium chloride. It is only later I realise ‘sodium chloride’ is actually salt. Like I knew?

At school, I was so bad at chemistry, my teacher emigrated to New Zealand. I am convinced my inability to do the subject was at least a contributory factor.

Yesterday, a young Thai nurse told me this is an awkward ward to work on because the patients tend to be old men, some either doolally (my word) or very awkward.

My night nurse was a black (I guess from the accent) African lady.

This morning, round about dawn, further down the corridor, my African nurse was having an argument with an old patient. Raised voices, I’m guessing because his hearing was not good:

HE – “Don’t touch me! Do NOT touch me!”

SHE – “You have wet yourself. I have to change you. Your bottom is full of poo.”

HE – “Get out! You are fired!”

(Later)

SHE – “Who is Darkie? Who is this Darkie?”

She eventually got him to let her look after him by a combination of shouting back and not letting him tell her what to do – to leave the room etc – and by getting some laughter into their exchanges as if they were chums having a play fight.

Then she immediately had to come back into my ward where she was quietly tender, gentle and caring to a patient. She should write a book on psychology: How To Control Uncontrollable People Who Have Uncontrollable Mouths. 

One clever thing they seem to have done in the hospital – this is only my guess from observation – is to split the teams on ethnic or linguistic grounds. I have so far not seen any white nurse. All 100% are non-white, multi-ethnic, multi-national.

My night team are black Africans and share a language – I’m guessing Swahili but the main nurse is probably West African.

During the day I have Spanish-speaking teams. (Not necessarily from Spain itself.)

Occasionally there are a few Asians – Thai, Chinese-origined, Filipino etc.

What this means is, as they are almost all working in a second language, they can communicate nuances to each other in their own shared first language and there can be clearer communication.

In strict PC terms, there should not be teaming by ethnicity or nationality but, in this case, I think linguistics and a shared social background wins over.

The doctor tells me they still have no idea what is wrong with me. So they are just testing everything in sight. I will be in here at least one or two nights, I am told.

If they can find a cause for my calcium and kidney problems, then they can maybe send me home. If not, more needles ahead.

During the current coronavirus lockdown, the hospital allows no visitors unless you are dead or giving birth and then only (I think) one person. There are special rules for the end-of-life wards, but I’m not exactly sure what they are and it would seem presumptuous to ask a nurse.

I get a text message from British performer Matt Roper in the US… “God forbid I ever have to stay in a hospital in America. I pay $355 for health insurance every month and I’m still billed for co-pay regardless. I have to pay $30 for a visit to a GP, $50 for a specialist, $35 for urgent care and $200 for a trip to A&E. They are running a racket. God bless the NHS.”

My friend in Central London, whose friend is still in the Intensive Care Unit of an NHS hospital with COVID tells me: “A COVID-19 ICU bed costs the NHS £1,500-£2,000 per day. He has been in there 45 days”… at no cost to him, of course.

Ariane Sherine, currently training to be a celebrant at Humanist funerals (true), has offered to give me a free funeral. It is a bargain, though there are personal pros and cons to my having a funeral right now.

Personally, I think a funeral for me is pointless and have told my executrix Lynn I don’t particularly want one – Just bung me in the ground.

But I don’t really care: the real me won’t be there.

Unlikely to happen in the near future, but a pig may fall on my head at any time.

Worldwide, that is not as uncommon as it might seem.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 15 – I suddenly get taken into NHS hospital

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 14

The COVID-19 self-administered swab test pack arrived…

SUNDAY 17th MAY

The COVID-19 home test kit with explicit 12-page instructions arrived: I had to do the test around 0700 tomorrow; a courier would collect it between 0800-1600 tomorrow and I would get the result within 72 hours.

Later I had a FaceTime chat with Ariane Sherine’s 9-year-old daughter whose first question was: “Why are you talking so slowly?” I had not known I was.

The UK’s daily increase in coronavirus deaths has dropped to 170 – the lowest since the day after lockdown began.

The announcement comes a week after the first easing of restrictions in England – and, although the numbers are typically lower on Sundays, the figure is almost 100 fewer than the 268 reported a week ago.

The overall UK death toll remains the highest in Europe.

Sticking a swab into your own mouth – Easier said than done

MONDAY 18th MAY

I took the COVID-19 swab test at 0700.

I could stick the swab up both nostrils no problem. Trying to get the swab into my mouth and rubbing it over both tonsils and the back of my throat for 10 seconds was another matter. I couldn’t see the two tonsils nor the wiggly thing – whatever it’s called – at the back of the throat at all, even using a mirror or an iPhone in one hand and the swab in the other. I tried my best and hoped I got it but was gagging/almost puking up so badly I gave up after about 20 or 25 seconds. 

I then waited for the courier to arrive sometime 0800-1600. 

I slept under a duvet on the living room floor, near the door, in case I slept through the courier (They had my mobile phone number anyway.)

Still very tired.

Around 1100, the UK government added loss of smell and taste to the coronavirus symptoms; I’ve never had a problem there, but it always seemed glaringly obvious these were possible symptoms. 

At 1143, the test, duly packaged-up and boxed by me, was collected by a terrified-eyed young man wearing a baseball cap and gloves. He used the gloves to hold out a plastic bag at arm’s length into which I dropped the box containing the test. The tube containing the swab sample was now, together with a soft tissue, inside a plastic bag inside another plastic bag inside the box – and now inside another plastic bag…

In the afternoon, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that everyone aged five and over in the UK with symptoms could now (in theory) be tested for coronavirus.

Captain Sir Thomas Moore – a tribute to the power of walking

TUESDAY 19th MAY

Just before fully waking in bed in the morning, I was slightly gasping for air in gulps into my lungs. But only very minor.

The test result came back negative.

Captain Tom Moore is to be knighted for his fundraising efforts after a special nomination from the prime minister. The war veteran raised more than £32 million for NHS charities by completing 100 laps of his daughter’s back patio before his 100th birthday in April. Boris Johnson said the centenarian had provided the country with “a beacon of light through the fog of coronavirus.” Now, under Ministry of Defence protocol, though promoted to honorary colonel, his official title will be Captain Sir Thomas Moore.

The knighthood, which has been approved by the Queen, will be formally announced tomorrow.

WEDNESDAY 20th MAY

The email with the negative test result suggested that, in any case, I should phone either NHS 111 or my GP.

I expected them to ignore me as bureaucratic generality kicks in and I have little trust in GPs – General Practitioners – The clue is in the word General – they know a little about a lot not a lot about a little – let alone non-GPs at NHS 111. At least the GP surgery has my records.

To say the unsayable, I have a very low opinion of basic NHS bureaucracy. Only the hospital and specialist levels work. At the GP/general advice level, it’s one-size-fits-all bureaucracy. 

Obviously, in the hospital Intensive Care Units, it is (one hopes) the creme de la creme of expertise. Mostly.

My GP’s phone was working, which was a surprise as there was a “This phone number is no longer available” message on it last night.

I phoned my GP’s surgery and they told me to phone 111 because I had had the negative result to the COVID test so it was, they said, “not our responsibility”.

I tried NHS 111 online to avoid jamming the system and because I thought it would be quicker. That was a long endless mess because their tick-a-box screens could only deal with single symptoms not multiple symptoms. 

I then phoned the NHS 111 number and, after going through about 6 or so keypad multiple choices, was connected, actually, reasonably quickly.

The phone woman got all the symptoms and dates and then briefly consulted a doctor. They, like I, thought my symptoms – though not coronavirus – were something that I should follow up. They told me to re-contact my surgery and tell them NHS 111 had told me to ask for my GP to contact me within two hours – I think just before any symptoms changed, not cos it was in any way dangerous.

I phoned the surgery at 1246 and, after going through two receptionist people and telling them I had been told by NHS 111 to ask for a doctor to talk to me within 2 hours, got an appointment. I was told he would phone me from his home “within a few hours”. I expected this would be maybe 1700 or 1800 tonight or tomorrow morning.

He phoned back at 1501.

He was/is not really a listener. He was talking on speakerphone in an echoey room in his house so was barely audible. 

He said I might have had a mini-stroke. I didn’t believe this as I didn’t really have stroke symptoms except Ariane’s 9-year-old  saying once: “Why are you speaking so slow?” (Maybe I had just woken up and was sleepy.)

The GP arranged an ambulance to the A&E Dept of a local hospital.

I packed my iPhone and iPad and toothbrush/toothpaste, even though it would just be a check-up.

I was tested in the ambulance. Nothing showed up except some very mild anaemia; but nothing to worry about. They looked at my inner eyelids: fine. They didn’t think I needed to go to hospital. (Neither did I.) They phoned the GP. He insisted. The ambulance lady said my GP was “very rude”. 

I said, “Well, yes, he is always very abrupt.”

“I think just rude,” she said.

I could not really disagree.

The ambulance duo said I would probably sit waiting in A&E  for 4-6 hours, have brief tests, then be sent home.

I had some preliminary tests at the hospital and very quickly (after maybe 5 mins) a long talk with a doctor. He didn’t think I had any truly serious symptoms – certainly not a mini-stroke (zero symptoms). And I am a mildly anaemic, but nothing serious.

Then another wait.

I sat in the waiting area.

A girl in her teens or twenties was brought in to wait with two carers, I think both nurses. She looked like she was on an acid trip or something similar. She changed between staring into the middle distance or staring up very inquisitively at the ceiling or suddenly being startled by something; sometimes moving her two forefingers slowly together and watching them intently, then jiggling like a seated disco dancer, then staring blankly into the mid-distance – all without saying anything.

I had a chest x-ray.

Then another wait and I was elsewhere, having some blood taken out of my hand and some fluid put into my arm. The presumed acid girl was brought in next to me, a curtain dividing us. She was having a blood test.

I gave a urine sample. Awaited another test. Basically, everything was AOK. They were going to repeat the fluid in the arm thing and check it was the same as the last test.

I sat in the waiting area, ready to go home while they repeated the blood test results.

The doctor came back to say I had to have an x-ray. I had slight light kidney damage.

I felt fine. Over the next 45 minutes I had liquid dripped into my arm – 99% water, I think, then another doctor saw me.

They thought the sudden kidney problem was to do with dehydration. 

When I had an X-ray of my back last October (looking at some lower spinal damage I got in 1991 when I was hit by a truck while standing on the pavement) I had a kidney function of 90, which is OK for a man of my age. Now I had a kidney function of 19. So they were confused why I suddenly had kidney damage. They decided dehydration.

They took a bladder scan and decided to keep me in at least overnight for observation.

More blood tests tomorrow. 

No big problem though.

Tomorrow would be a day of tests.

I had maybe 7 or 8 tests and repeat tests end-to-end. Then maybe 5 or 6 more tests and needles and fluids and probing and finally another COVID swab test before they took me up to the ward with another urine test on the way.

Then another COVID swab test before going into the ward and a one-off chat and probe and questioning by the young evening consultant and some younger assistant I guess being trained. The main guy described himself as “a grunt dragged in for the night” and my real personal consultant would start tomorrow. Nice bloke as they all are.

I felt miles more awake since I had been in the hospital. Maybe a result of just being out and about.

They basically didn’t understand why my kidney function was down from 90 to 19. I might be in for more than a day – some possible tests might take longer to come back. They also found my calcium level was suddenly high. I think they said it should be around 2.6 and was 3.3. Might have misremembered by a digit but somewhere in there. Pretty sure that’s right.

Everyone was basically saying I didn’t have any symptoms of anything specific and that night’s consultant said they would never normally have me in on the results but now they had found these inexplicable kidney and calcium weirdnesses…

They put me on another 45-minute drip and would continue dripping liquid (saline solution?) into me through the night.

The COVID test in the ward was a swab test up each nostril and down both sides of the groin(???)

My friend Lynn told me (text messaging is a wonderful thing) that the groin swab was probably the usual one for MRSA. Lynn is the executrix of my will, my designated next-of-kin and has Medical Power of Attorney over me, if I become incapacitated. So it is always best to let her know if I go into a hospital or visit North Korea.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 10 – What it’s really like in COVID-19 wards

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 9

(Image by Tumisu, via Pixabay)

SUNDAY 26th APRIL

UK hospital deaths in last 24 hours 413 – Total deaths in hospital 20,732

I thought if you got coronavirus you were supposed to self-isolate (which means you don’t get included in any statistics) for 7 days because that was how long it lasted and it peaked on the 4th or 5th day. But my friend who lives in Central London and who – pretty certainly – had the virus a few weeks ago tells me:


I think there is a difference between being symptomatic, being infectious and being post-viral but still feeling ill. I don’t know for how long people are infectious. I am just saying that some people, including me, feel ill for several weeks. That is different from NHS guidelines about isolation and work.

One friend has had fever for over 2 weeks. Another couldn’t get out of bed for 3 weeks. Another – an obstetrician – couldn’t stand up for 10 days and is still signed off work, A fourth was in bed for a week and, in week 3, still can’t push a Hoover round a room.

As for loss of taste and smell… Does having no sense of smell mean the virus is still active in me or is it just a post-viral leftover? I don’t know.

With me, the fever stopped over 2 weeks ago. I am now mildly able to taste my casserole. I would say I’ve got 25% back. Can get very strong tastes. A spoonful of mustard just about gets through!! Have to hold things against my nose to smell them. I would say this week has been the first proper better week. Energy back. Still got a cough but it is abating.

The rules state that you should self isolate for 7 days or longer if you still have symptoms. But one friend’s partner who’s a nurse got symptoms and was told to report for work 7 days later. I know a lot of people who have been pretty ill. But ill at home.


Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to return to work tomorrow. The Financial Times had quoted May 7th as a likely return date but an expert (currently, it seems, the world is full of experts) told The Times that he would need one week’s rest for each day spent in the Intensive Care Unit. He was in the ICU for three days and is, indeed, roughly coming back after three weeks’ recuperation.

My friend in Central London (as detailed in previous Diary Blogs) has a friend seriously ill with coronavirus in an ICU since 4th April.

MONDAY 27th APRIL

A rare collection of items, not seen by me locally for four days

I bought some eggs today… they have been unseen for the last four days…

My friend in Central London, whose friend is in an ICU with coronavirus, messaged me:


I am exhausted.

My friend had a tracheostomy today.

I may stay in bed tomorrow with my phone on silent.

Running on empty.

Me. Not the iPhone.


Prime Minister Boris Johnson is, indeed, back.

UK hospital deaths in the last 24 hours were 360.

Total deaths in hospital now stand at 21,092.

“The procedure went well…” (Photo by Cottonbro via Pexels)

TUESDAY 28th APRIL

My friend in Central London messaged me:


Don’t feel brilliant today. My friend had the tracheostomy yesterday. The procedure went well. Is stable.


Hospital deaths in the last 24 hours: 586.

Total UK deaths in hospital: 21,678.

WEDNESDAY 29th APRIL

I went to donate blood today. They test your blood for coronavirus antibodies, but not for the coronavirus itself. You used to get tea or coffee and biscuits after donating blood. The last time I went, in February, you could not have hot tea or coffee – only cold drinks… something to do with the caffeine.

“You used to get tea or coffee with biscuits…”

This time there was a different reason given for not drinking tea or coffee after donating – Because of social distancing. They don’t want people to linger too long at the biscuit table afterwards. Apparently, people linger less long if the drinks are cold instead of hot. 

Instead of having nine people on nine beds donating blood at the same time, today they had six people donating blood in plastic recliner chairs which were wiped-down after each person. 

In the queue going in, I got talking to another donor (keeping the regulation two metres apart). I normally clench and unclench my fist to help the blood flow out faster. He said the medical advice was also to clench and unclench your buttocks. It has the same effect.

I am not sure this comes naturally to me in practice; only symbolically.

Latest from my friend in Central London on her friend who is in hospital:


Yesterday was a good day but it is very up and down.  

His slight rally is due to our wonderful NHS. They are so compassionate. I feel they are really taking care of him. Today his nurse decided that my friend’s bed was too near the door so might be interfering with his rest – he feels moving him somewhere quieter today in ICU might help him rally more. Details, but they are fighting his corner every moment. 

On the other hand, the call from the consultant is always more sobering. He said they still don’t give my friend more than a 15-20% chance because of multiple organ failure (his liver function is now also impaired). However, they are not giving up on him. They have brought him this far (since 4th April). 

If only his daughter and I could go and talk to him and hold his hand.

What people are not realising, I think, is that it’s not just old and infirm people dying. And it’s not just Oh we’ll pop somebody on a ventilator for 3 days and then they’re fine. 

The consultant told me that 80% of ventilated patients who are in a similar position to my friend don’t make it. Those with a chance – like my friend – who are under 60 and have no pre-existing medical problems, are often on ventilators for weeks. Over 50% in my friend’s ICU are aged 45-65. He is 58. 

He has settled well with the tracheostomy. This morning I spoke to his consultant and his ICU nurse. The tracheostomy means they can easily take him off the ventilator and back on again. He did well off the ventilator for a few hours yesterday, with just a supplemental oxygen mask. They put him back on the ventilator overnight because, even though he is now managing to breathe on his own, his breathing muscles are weak and easily tired. They will try him off the ventilator again today. 

Both the consultant and the nurse said he’s “a bit more awake” – sometimes opening his eyes when they say his name. He doesn’t yet respond to any other commands like squeezing a hand or sticking out his tongue. The nurse thinks my friend’s eyes maybe look like they are actually looking back at him for a second, but he can’t be sure yet. 

The consultant said they are still giving kidney filtration and, as he is young, they hope his kidneys can eventually recover much of their function. 

He is a bit jaundiced at the moment and they know his liver isn’t working 100% but the consultant said this is common in ICU patients. 

So some hopeful signs.


Meanwhile, UK hospital deaths in the last 24 hours rose by 765. That means total coronavirus deaths in hospitals has reached 21,857. Total all-in deaths (including hospitals, care homes and in ‘the general community’) have now reached 26.097.

THURSDAY 30th APRIL

Boris Johnson and his girlfriend Carrie Symonds had a son yesterday.

Inspirational war veteran Captain Tom Moore has been appointed an honorary colonel of the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, to mark his 100th birthday. He has now raised over £31 million for the NHS.

He has also been awarded a Defence Medal, “after experts realised he was owed one decades ago”. It will be added to the 1939-1945 Star, Burma Star and War Medal he wore on his walk, which also earned him a Pride of Britain Award. The newspapers report he will also be made an honorary England cricketer by former captain Michael Vaughan. I have no idea how that works.

Latest news from my friend in Central London is:


I have just had an update from the ICU. My friend needed a lot of kidney filtration today, as well as a unit of blood and blood pressure support. With all that going on, his oxygen requirements went up again so they’re leaving him on the ventilator at the moment. His oxygen saturation (SATs) is good though. So it’s a bit up and down today. 

He is still responding to pain stimuli. When they suctioned the chest secretions earlier, they thought he was trying to bite the tube – so this could be a further little sign of improvement in awareness, although he still hasn’t come round from sedation, which was discontinued 2 weeks ago. 

They invited me to ring the ICU mobile today and they held the phone to his ear so I could talk to him. I told him how his family and friends are constantly sending messages of support and love. He will be overwhelmed at all the good wishes coming his way. I also told him about what’s happening in his beloved garden and I didn’t forget to add that many of us are missing his cooking – especially the curries!


“Increased ventilation overnight… increased support…”

FRIDAY 1st MAY

My friend in Central London tells me:


News just in from the consultant. The trend is downwards.

Increased ventilation overnight, increased BP and cardiovascular support, inflammatory markers up, kidney support up.

He said the longer they support multiple organs the slimmer the chances are becoming and he said it’s not looking great at the moment.


UK coronavirus deaths up 739 in the last 24 hours to an overall total of 27,510.

Carrie Symonds with son Wilfred on Twitter

SATURDAY 2nd MAY

Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds named their son Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson. The Nicholas bit is in tribute to Dr Nick Price and Dr Nick Hart, whom Boris credits with saving his life when he was in hospital with coronavirus.

Wilfred was Boris’ grandfather and Lawrie was Carrie’s grandfather.

I myself was named after my grandfathers – the rather unfortunately named John and Thomas.

I also heard from my friend in Central London:


I had a call from the consultant today. 

My friend’s inflammatory markers have come down a little bit – The lab found no new infections yesterday, so they’re continuing with the antibiotics as before. They will also try to lower his blood pressure support by a small amount. 

Other than this, the news is much the same as yesterday. He confirmed that my friend’s breathing has lost some ground since a week ago.

It is some 6 weeks since he first became ill, so the medical opinion is that they are no longer dealing with the virus itself but rather the very considerable and widespread damage that it has done to his body/vital organs. They think that, at this point, ICU patients are no longer infected (or infective) with coronavirus, so they are now no longer treating the virus but instead supporting my friend’s body to heal, which includes treating any infections that crop up and supporting his lungs, kidneys and cardiovascular system. 

This is disappointing to hear, of course, but the hope is that new treatments will soon be able to help newly infected people.


I also found out that someone else I know was taken into hospital with coronavirus earlier in the week. He has always seemed to be strong, sturdy and healthy. He came out of hospital yesterday and is now resting, alone, at home. He tells me:


What an experience going into those COVID-19 ‘hot wards’ as they call them. You can really see how stretched the NHS really is. I only found one sanitiser dispenser that had any in it in the two different wards I was on and the porter was telling me that, when there’s a delivery, it’s a bit of a free-for-all to try to grab gloves and masks to last until the next lot arrive.

Strange experience being in a locked-down hospital with security on every door, I had to have an argument with a security man to let me out after I’d been discharged even though my son’s van was about 15 feet away waiting to take me home. I threatened the security man with a cough and he let me through in the end. LOL.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 4 – “I was involved in pandemic planning”

In response to my blog yesterday about the coronavirus outbreak, someone I know – a very level-headed chap – sent me these three pieces, which I post without comment…


(Photograph by Roman Kraft via UnSplash)

I have been a community first responder (CFR) for some years. This is an unpaid role where we attend all sorts of medical emergencies – we use first aid equipment, defibrillators and oxygen.

As the coronavirus situation became more widespread, the calls we could be sent became more restricted as the threat level increased. No being sent breathing difficulties or anything that could be COVID-19 related. Preparations were ramped up within the NHS.

More call handlers were required for 111, more admin staff. 

We were asked: “Would we help?” Two days training AND pay. 

We, of course, said: “Sure, whatever you need.” Didn’t ask what rate. I’d do it for free.

A week later, the call for help changed: “We may need 999 operators and dispatchers. Can you help?”

“Of course. Whatever you need.”

Now, these 999 operators and dispatchers, as new recruits, normally get 12 weeks training in a classroom and then close supervision before being unleashed. This is intense and skilled work.

Last week, I got 8 hours training and I am now on standby for when COVID-19 illness or isolation reduces the current team to below minimum levels.

When the call comes, I shall drive 70 miles, each way, to my call centre. During my shift – which may be nights or weekends – I will get an unpaid half-hour meal break. I will, of course, pay tax and National Insurance on my wages.

My hourly rate? £9.17p


(Photograph by Antoine Dautry via UnSplash)

In a previous life, I was involved in pandemic planning for national government. 

The published loss rate (ie death rate) was based upon 1% of the total population. We actually pre-planned for 2.5%. 

This % loss was based upon the group most affected. 

The 1918/21 flu targeted 18-30 year-olds.

In 1958/60 – children.

And normal flus target the old and sick.

We did an Impact Assessment and, as required for any plans, a Cost Benefit Analysis.

If it hits children (who are 25% of the population) we lose 10% of the kids. Very sad, but we’ve not spent much on them. They are replaceable AND we get smaller class sizes.

If it hits working adults (who are 50% of the population) we lose 5% of the potential workforce. Very sad; we have wasted money educating them, but we keep their pension pots, they will be replaced soon AND unemployment goes through the floor. We pay less Social Security benefits and get more tax revenue.

If it hits Old Age Pensioners and the vulnerable (25% of the population), we have a 10% loss rate of grannies, grandads and the permanently sick. Very sad, but they were going to die soon anyway. Do the maths… up to 10 years x 1.6 million x weekly pension savings, care savings, savings on hospital costs, bus passes, free TV licences, etc etc. PLUS… all those homes are freed-up.

Two years or so after we completed our planning, they accidentally purchased the wrong flu vaccine as the wrong seasonal flu hit us. 

There were 60,000 excess deaths of the old and vulnerable.


(Photograph by Engin Akyurt via UnSplash)

People at the moment are hoarding because they are short-sighted chimps and self-obsessed.

I currently do my shop once a week and buy what I need for the week. Supported by an online shop with delivery.

That said, with my background, I had seen this coming and stocked up way before the rush in January and February with some rather nice frozen ready meals, frozen vegetables and canned stuff. The wife has noted my cooking has improved dramatically. 

I have ample stocks of hand sanitiser, nitrile gloves and toilet paper. That last item is almost a no-need, though, as I benefit from a top of-the-range Geberit Mera bottom washer/dryer. People (who haven’t got one) laughed at the expense when I purchased and fitted it two years ago.

My home is also rigged-up for my standby generator and I have stocks of petrol (in cans and in the wife’s car) for one month of limited usage, along with a wood burner.

The country is two meals away from anarchy…

Indeed, when the power goes off, people will be using their ill-gotten toilet roll stashes in the dark and wondering how long their frozen food will last and can it be eaten cold? 

The shops will not open as lighting and tills won’t work. Cash or barter will be the only currency – the former in short supply as the hole-in-the-wall cash machines cease to operate. 

The mobile and landline phone systems will crash within 24 hours as their batteries drain. WiFi and TV stops immediately. The few who have old FM radios will get news telling them to flee to the hills, but they can’t re-fuel their cars as the underground tanks won’t pump. 

Essential services that maintained their standby generators are good for seven days but need to protect their own assets. Their staff fail to turn up for work, though, as they are sick or self-isolating or, more likely, just protecting their family from gangs of feral youths and adults who roam the streets looking for places to loot.

… CONTINUED HERE

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