Tag Archives: Health

Helicopters, hallucinations and hospital

.It only took two seconds. But since the consequences of those two seconds have dominated my life for the last six months, and promise to do so for some months yet, I feel faintly justified in sharing them.

Stepping blithely onto the back of the sofa to put a book back on the highest shelf, I lost my balance and fell backwards. Lying on the floor in a strange position, I knew without even looking that I had broken my leg and announced this to my love as he came to help me. Luckily the sofa is seven feet long, so he was able to get me onto it so I could lie there in unbelievable agony.

Even in that short time when I looked at my knee it was about ten inches across. I foolishly thought this was just swelling.

Abandoning the idea of driving to our nearest hospital an hour and a half away along a winding, precipitous road above the sea, we rang 111 instead. In half an hour the blessed ambulance arrived, with two angels who pumped me full of morphine, got me onto a special stretcher which didn’t entail lifting me, and decided I had to go by helicopter to the big area hospital.

After the interminable drive down the long winding gravel road during which time they stopped regularly to allow me to be sick, we reached the air strip and the waiting helicopter.

The last words I heard before I even had time to say goodbye to Himself, were: “I’m giving you ketamine for the pain. Some people get hallucinations.” I did.

Suddenly I was hurtling through outer space – tumbling into a vortex between intricate patterns of gold and black, and being sucked into the centre into the black hole. It seemed to go on endlessly. Eventually I said if I’m dying, I’m ready to die, but this didn’t stop the tumbling through space, the diving into the black hole again and again, and the patterns closing in around me. Then suddenly, I was back in the real world, unable to move a limb, totally paralysed, with the blazing sun beating down on my face through the glass about a foot away.

Unable to move or attract attention, I somehow survived this ordeal by sunburn, and arriving on terra firma was immediately surrounded by helpful, efficient people and wheeled away into a white tunnel which is what seems to pass for an X-ray these days apparently.

Then up to the operating theatre, and more blissful unconsciousness while they put on a plaster from thigh to toes, which had to last until the specialist could operate five days later. They told me the top bone was jammed down on the bottom bone, shattering it – a very nasty injury they assured me… not sure what happened to the knee in between, and I never got to ask…

Wheeled into a ward, addled with drugs and shock, I got used to the other drug-crazed, injured people around me! There were six of us and they included a secret smoker in one corner, and a young Maori woman who wore dark glasses all the time so she didn’t have to speak to any of us. The one time she was roused into vehement speech was on my behalf on the third day.

I had drawn what I called the Short Straw, a nurse who was looking after me that day who was so stout, it was a real effort I felt, to keep on her feet all those hours, and deaf too, so I wasn’t sure whether she was a bit dim or whether she just hadn’t heard me. Her ministrations were slow and reluctant, and when I told her I felt sick and she ignored me, I wasn’t sure whether she didn’t think it was worth taking any notice of me, or whether she just hadn’t heard. Seconds later, I called urgently for a receptacle and then filled three large ones with blood. “I wonder what caused that?” she kept saying in a helpless, puzzled way.

Apparently enraged, the Maori girl sat up in bed, took off her dark glasses, and using the odd four letter word, said words to the effect: “what do you expect when you fill her full of F… tramadol. Of course it’s tramadol doing it, you dimwit.” I trust the Short Straw only heard some of this.

The doctors decided it was the infamous drug tramadol too, combined with the rest of my cocktail, so I was downgraded to morphine and daily injections, instead of taking anti-coagulants. The result of this was that I had damaged my stomach, but didn’t know what to eat, so ate nothing but yogurt or mashed potato for some time, since otherwise I felt so ill that the pain of my leg paled into insignificance.

The operation duly took place and I wore a heavy black lycra and metal brace from thigh to foot for the next two months, unable to set foot to the ground. The operation also left me with a numb foot and shin, which I still have, accompanied by nerve pain which means I still enjoy/consume a full cocktail of painkilling drugs, and which makes it hard to walk.

The months were passed in a little cottage hospital where thirty-five of us were all coping with long-term injuries. In our little ward with four of us, we sympathised with each other, listened to each other’s life stories, gossiped about our favourite nurses, and moaned about the rigours of trips by ambulance back to base hospital to see the specialists at regular intervals.

I was humbled by the dedication and commitment of the staff, none of whom ever dawdled but who were on the run all day,   scurrying down long corridors of an old style building, walking between ten and twelve miles a day.

I set myself to be a low maintenance patient, but many of the patients needed help even in getting out of bed, (depending on the injury this was an art in itself), into a shower, dressing or eating, and no nurse ever be-grudged the time they spent with anyone. Two patients died unexpectedly while I was there, and red-eyed nurses showed me how much they cared.

The doctor who visited several times a week knew everyone’s names, joshed us all, and usually ended his visits in the big sitting room, where he sat at the piano and played old favourites for anyone who wanted to listen. One of my favourite nurses was a delicious and beautiful Indian who brought her children and nephews to do Indian dancing for us… exquisite…others brought their dogs, and one jumped straight up on my bed, and cuddled into me – bliss…

Most people were old, and alone at home so they couldn’t manage, and were sheltered safely here until they were ready to cope. I was a rarity with my leg stuck out in front of me in a wheel chair. But what I learned as I observed the others was that I was one of the only lucky ones there.

Though I was older than many, I was almost the only man or woman there with my own teeth, who didn’t have a hearing aid, who didn’t have dementia in some form, and who was strong and active, healthy and able to do yoga and all the other things that kept me young(ish) and flexible. In other words, I had been lucky enough to afford to go to the dentist, to be educated about a healthy diet and life-style, could afford them both, and had enjoyed a life fairly unencumbered and unstressed by money worries.

These frail people brought home to me as never before how life expectancy and/or the enjoyment of good health depends on income, which dictates education, health care, mental health, housing, and everything else we need for a good life.

I listened to the life stories of my companions in pain, and heard how one woman brought up her six children when her husband died when her youngest was five, working at sewing factory uniforms at home from dawn to dusk to make a living and look after the children, and helping in the local shop when she had any spare hours; the lady in the bed across from me who had had two children and adopted two more, shared the trials of coping with deeply disturbed children and then their adult problems; the beautiful, feisty woman in the next bed was going home to look after an alcoholic and bloody-minded, middle-aged son she’d brought up alone, and the severely mentally handicapped sister she also cared for.

And then there were the incidental friendships. A visiting son who had raised thousands of dollars to rescue, doctor and re-home over six thousand feral cats. When he ran out of money and still had thirty-six cats to re-home, he sold his house and he and his wife moved into the country into a smaller house with land where rescued dogs, ducks, ponies, goats, pigeons and every other needy creature came to live with him and be loved. All the cats came and were named and loved until they died. This lovely man worked at night driving a bull-dozer to make enough money, and he also did a lovely tango across the ward to amuse his mother! It was my enthusiastic applause which connected us !

A young woman came with her dog to visit an old neighbour, and she told me she and her sister and her mother, rescue and re-home more dogs than the local animal charity, who often turn to them for help. They used up every penny they earned caring for desperate creatures.

Listening to these stories, and the life-stories of my fellow patients, I felt humble and so grateful for the life I had been able to lead. Even having the time to write and to blog, and to own a computer is something only the fortunate can do.

Breaking my leg, and now hobbling around with my stick, waiting for everything to heal has been a blessing. It has opened my eyes to how so many good, kind women live their whole lives coping with inescapable burdens. That son reminded me of how much hidden goodness there is in the community, and I was shown how much beauty,  compassion and dedication so many women pour into their lives and their careers in the hospitals where they work. I was reminded that women are wonderful.

And I left this wonderful place with a full complement of much needed pain-killers, a walking frame, crutches,  stool for the bathroom and a high stool to sit on in the kitchen. I was offered care at home, plus someone to clean, and free physio for as long as I needed it. I will never grumble about paying taxes again! I give thanks for being fortunate enough to live in a western society where care and compassion for those who need it, is a way of life.

Food for threadbare gourmets

This is the first year of my adult life that I haven’t made my own Christmas mince pies – for obvious reasons (see above !!!). But I found some decent bought ones, prized off their lids and spooned oodles more good mince- meat into them, replacing the lids, and heating them up as required. Before serving I sprinkle them with caster sugar … this IS Christmas isn’t it??

I also like to serve them with a dollop of brandy butter – why keep anything so delicious just for Christmas pudding? I make it by ear as it were, using two ounces of softened butter – preferably unsalted, but not necessarily… and adding icing sugar and brandy… I go on beating with a fork, or a beater, and adding butter and icing sugar and brandy until it tastes the way I want it, and is the right soft consistency. I also add a few drops of vanilla. Once tasted, no mince pie is complete without it… though cream is also good…      A  Merry Christmas… to threadbare gourmets and to all those who are neither gourmets nor threadbare !

Food for thought

Lord, forgive us that we feast while others starve.           Grace before a banquet, said by John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester in the reign of Henry VIII.         Just as appropriate now as then…

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The challenge of meditation

When a Korean soldier went berserk many years ago, and shot sixteen of his mates, his excuse was that they’d been making a noise when he was meditating.

My children roared with laughter when they read this, and said they knew exactly how it would have happened, remembering all the times I had exploded out of my bedroom when I couldn’t stand their unconscious attention seeking noise every time I went to meditate. (It was the same if I was on the phone to a friend – sure as eggs were eggs, they’d end up squabbling or making some commotion to get my attention again)

I learned to meditate in the palmy days of the Maharishi and his disciples the Beatles. Transcendental Meditation they called it. ‘Transcendental’ being the word that hooked us all in, thinking we’d find bliss in meditation and transcend our normal consciousness… it sounded safe and blissful at the same time… better than drugs…

It wasn’t like that of course… I went to a tatty hippy house, where a motley collection of us tackled the mantra, with lots of hocus pocus about it being specially designed for each one of us, hibiscus flowers, joss sticks and candles setting the scene for the whispering of this magic word.

And so I began, and found for the first few weeks that I fell into a deep sleep each time I meditated, but I felt ok about that, as they’d warned us that we’d catch up on what they called our sleep debt. Now with some experience behind me, I think that the tiredness which came up could have been the life-time’s effort of keeping feelings bottled up – for meditation, as it relaxes us – puts us in touch with our buried feelings. Then that anger started to rise, and I couldn’t handle the children’s noise. But I persevered, and had had so much practice at bottling up my feelings all my life that the meditation didn’t do too much harm. I remember a friend telling me she’d started meditating too: “I thought it was meant to make you feel peaceful, but I feel so angry.”

Some years later serendipity meant that I helped set up a personal growth movement in NZ, run by a talented and inspired couple who had realised what a powerful and sometimes dangerous practise unsupervised meditation can be ( see Korean policeman). They devised a series of courses designed to handle the emotions and buried feelings that meditation brings up in people. I remember at the end of one weekend a psychologist who’d just done the course, saying that people had cleared in a weekend what would have taken seven years in therapy.

One of the important lessons I learned  was not to treat meditation lightly. I read some comments the other day from people who said they’d given up meditating, they felt uncomfortable and didn’t enjoy it. I felt  sad – because they’d been given a powerful tool and not enough knowledge to use it, a bit like being given a piano and not knowing how to play it.

Meditation was the basis of the courses I did, and on one course, an old woman (she was about sixty, and I was a heedless forty-five) couldn’t settle while we meditated on the first day. As she fidgeted and shifted in her seat, the teacher signalled to me to take her out. We went into a counselling room where she lay on a mattress and I asked a few questions.

She started to tell me about her childhood with the step-mother she hated as much as she felt the woman had hated her. I noticed as she was talking, her right hand was fidgeting, so I suggested that she let it shake as much as it wanted. The hand took over, then her arms, then her whole body, and she shook all the bottled up rage of her childhood out of her body, on and on…  when she’d finished, she was gasping with joy at having shifted this huge burden, her eyes were sparkling, she moved quite differently, and went back to meditation calm and happy.

It was a graphic example of how powerful meditation can be, and why some people find it an uncomfortable experience. In all the great religions in which meditation is practised, it’s done with a mentor, precisely because it is a technique which can’t be treated lightly. It has to be done consciously, with awareness. But if we’re on our own, and aware of what meditation can do, we can start to deal with its side-effects.

When we feel fidgety or have some discomfort, it’s possible to look at where this energy block is. Some people become so in touch with their inner self that they can immediately identify what the feeling is, when they first felt it, what it’s about and then let it go.

Another way of dealing with it is to use something called the pain banishing technique which was very popular in the eighties, and even used in some hospitals, but now seems to have fallen into disuse. It can be used on a head-ache,(unless it’s a de-hydrating head-ache, in which case, drinking is the answer) discomfort in the body, or any sort of physical pain. If it doesn’t work then you need to see a doctor. So when I sprained a knee skiing, it contained the pain for three days until I got to a doctor, but when I fell last year and used it on the pain in my arm it didn’t work, because I ‘d broken it and needed immediate treatment.

The pain banishing technique consists of six questions. The person can ask the questions themselves, or they can get someone else to ask them.

Where is it? This needs to be answered in detail. “On my left leg two inches below the knee, on the left hand side….

How big is it? Sometimes it’s enormous. When I scalded my finger-tips, the pain was ten inches out from my fingers …

Has it got a shape? Has it got a colour? Has it got a texture? … like wire wool, steel, rubber?

On a scale of discomfort from one to ten, where would you rate it?

You do this three or four times, by which time the pain has diminished or it’s gone.

It works because the place that was crying out for attention has got the attention… whether it’s a physical pain or an emotional pain. With a child who’s fallen over, I say “Does it really hurt?” ”Yes,” they’ll answer tearfully. “Is it still there?” You can see them thinking at this point, and then they’ll say “No”, and skip off happy.

Any time a person is fidgeting during meditation, something is coming to the surface, and this is why it helps to have a technique to use if a person is meditating without a mentor. Sometimes even talking or reading about it makes a person feel uncomfortable. It brings up in us what we’ve been trying to ignore all our lives, which is why it often feels disturbing. But properly used, meditation does bring – if not transcendent bliss – certainly peace of mind, a calm spirit, and an ability to find a different way of being, instead of fight or flight.

People have written whole books about it, so it’s presumptuous of me to write this inadequate description. But if it helps explain why it isn’t always easy to meditate, it may have been useful to someone.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I needed a cake to take to a summer gathering, so made my quick standby, a lemon and olive oil cake – a Spanish recipe from Elizabeth Luard, an English food writer who lived in Spain with her children. Take 175 gms of flour, sugar and olive oil, three eggs, a pinch of salt and the zest and juice of a lemon. I also put in some drops of vanilla in memory of my grandmother who put vanilla in all her cakes! Mix everything together, and tip into a greased lined tin – I use a loaf tin. I then add a thick dredging of sugar on the top to cheer it up, and cook it in a moderate oven for forty five minutes or more, or until cooked.

Food for Thought

‘Do you pray for the senators, Dr Hale? ‘No, I look at the senators and pray for the country.’ Dr Edward Everett Hale 1822-1909  Chaplain of the US Senate

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