Armistice Day

“What does the word ‘armistice’ actually mean?”

That’s what OH asked me today, and it’s a good question. We all know what it means in terms of Armistice Day – it’s the day WWI ended, isn’t it? But in terms of the dictionary definition? It simply means “a cessation of hostilities in times of open warfare”, and the cessation can be either temporary, while an attempt is made to negotiate a treaty, or permanent, when it then becomes the end of the conflict. Thankfully, that was the case in November, 1918. The Armistice was signed at eleven minutes past 11am, which is why this is the time we honour the fallen with a two minutes’ silence on November 18th each year.

So I’ve been thinking of the fallen today, and in particularly those who were shot for ‘cowardice’ having refused to return to the fighting while suffering from overwhelming fear and terror – and what we today would call PTSD. Some of these men had been treated several times for ‘nerves’, and this was recorded in their service records, but ‘shell shock’ was not considered an excuse. These men and boys (some barely sixteen years old) gave as much as they were able, poor gentle souls, and when they could give no more and their minds were broken, they were executed. Any military pensions were voided, and in some cases their families were evicted from their homes. Thank heavens that all three hundred-odd of them have now been pardoned, but their senseless and inhumane deaths cannot be reversed, nor can the years of shame, anger and suffering be wiped clean from the lives of their loved ones.

I’m thinking also of the men who were forced to shoot their comrades. Some of the men making up the firing squads were the wounded, commandeered from field hospitals, just as long as they were capable of holding and firing their rifles, and some of them were barely sixteen years old, too. Imagine one of your sons being required to do this. Imagine your son being one of those executed.

We must not forget the men who died fighting in the Great War – The “war to end all wars” – nor must we forget those executed for being unable to bear the horrors of it.

No, we must not forget them.

Photo from Pixabay, the site that offers completely free downloads of royalty-free photos, some of startling quality, as you can see. I would encourage anyone who makes use of the site to do as suggested and make the occasional small donation – either to the site or to the individual photographer. 🙂

Give these guys a medal!

It occurs to me that the last few posts here on the Sparking Synapse have been, shall say, a tad on the cloudy side of the street.

Partly this due to the fact that I am a little more than three weeks into having to wear a very restrictive shoulder immobilising sling night and day for six weeks, and I am constantly uncomfortable, hot, and unable to function normally, with a side order of pain, random itchiness and boredom. This the second such period within five months, with a surgical repair thrown in for good measure, and I can’t even have a good slug of wine now and then because alcohol doesn’t mix too well with heavy-duty painkillers. So perhaps it’s forgiveable, but methinks it’s maybe time to haul on those bootlaces a little and cheer the fuck up.

So, with this in mind, and with a gentle reminder from Valerie over at A Mixed Bag, I am inspired to write this.

As we go about our daily lives we come across all sorts of people, and all-too-often, the ones that leave the biggest impression are the idiots, the rude, and the incompetent. We love to come home and say to our families and friends “You’ll never guess what a stupid woman in Boots said to me” or “the way some people park is (expletive of your choice) atrocious” or “it took me forty-five minutes to get home today, because some stupid idiot at the council thought it was a good idea to … (blah, blah, blah). And if we are angry enough, we follow it up with a complaint in writing, do we not? Or we get all hot under the collar and pick up the phone and give some poor lowly office worker hell. Yep. I know. I’ve done it myself. In fact, I am in the middle of a series of ultra polite, barely-sarcastic-at-all emails1 at the moment with a company who refuse to refund the shipping costs on some returned goods (but that’s another story).

The thing is, dear readers, that we so seldom remember to fill in those forms and write those letters – or even go home and tell our loved ones – when we are met with smiling helpfulness and efficiency, or outstanding service.

Basically, we do not thank people enough, or give credit where credit is due. I try to remember to do so but it’s so easy to forget, and if you’ve ever worked in the service industry, or in any job where you have contact with the public, you’ll know how one compliment or genuine smile of heartfelt thanks can brighten your whole day2.

So I’m going to try to concentrate on looking for the good in people again. To this end, at the end of my hospital appointment yesterday I filled in one of those feedback forms so industriously that the young lady behind the desk asked me if I was writing a book.

Despite the title of this blog post, the quietly efficient, the compassionate, the polite and the helpful don’t usually want a medal, and quite often they don’t even need to be commended3. But everyone does like to be appreciated, and we all feel better for meeting someone who knows how to smile without being patronising, or help someone in need without being pushy. A smile here, a word of thanks there, a bit of eye contact … and I’m told that the best way to show your appreciation for an employee – especially someone who works for a smallish company – is often a letter of commendation to their boss, which mentions them by name.

So go ahead. Make someone’s day! And it doesn’t have to cost you a thing.

1 I specialise in ultra-polite, barely-sarcastic-at-all letters of complaint. They are written rather passive-aggressively, I have to admit, and in the best and most polished prose I can muster, with perfect grammar and high-level language (Thank you, Mrs Learmont*). The recipient knows that I am probably being rude, although there’s nothing in what I say to hang that particular hat on, and they are left in absolutely no doubt that I know what I’m talking about. Of course this is never the first letter that I send, I only do this if I get stupid, misinformed or obstructive letters back in reply to my first letter, and the progress into veiled insult is gradual, and always well deserved.

* Mrs Learmont was my High School English teacher. She was a Scot, and she was fierce, but she gave me an enormous affection for our beautifully rich, complex, and absurd language.

2 There doesn’t even have to be money involved, though in the restaurant/cafe trade where the waiting staff are often poorly paid, it certainly helps.

3 Although some of them perhaps do, especially if they’re in the running for a “Volunteer/Employee/Etc of the Year” award. And why not, if they deserve it?

And the Physiotherapist said …

Today I woke early, after a little bit of a restless night. As soon as my eyes were unglued and my neck was unkinked, and my brain was firing on at least three cylinders, I was aware of a tiny tadlet of apprehension.

You see, today was the day for the first physiotherapist appointment following my rotator cuff repair.

For those of you who have never gone through rehab following surgery, I can tell you that it bloody hurts. To illustrate this, here’s an excerpt from a post I did three months after my last rotator cuff repair:

“So far, the exercises have been aimed at gently mobilising the shoulder joint and easing the stiffened muscles and tendons.  I had gentle circles to make, pointing towards the floor.  I had passive lifts (which did indeed hurt OH almost as much as they hurt me), and I had tentative self-powered lifts – raising my arm up to the front and the side, shoulder hitches, elbow rotations – and yes, they were painful too, but at least the instruction was to stop as soon as it hurt and not push it.

Now this sadist health professional has me sliding pieces of paper up the wall which is not only agony on the shoulder, but the elbow too, for some reason.  He showed me how to do it, then watched solemnly as I had a go.

‘Is that as far as you can reach?’ he said, with the vaguest hint of disappointment. ‘No, no, that’s fine.  Really.  You’re doing well!’

Sure.  Sure it is.

Sure I am.

‘Oh well,’ I thought. ‘If that’s the worst, I guess I can manage that.’

But then he led me into the gym.  He hooked me up to a pulley, so that I could use my left hand to pull my right hand upwards.  A sort of self-assisted passive lift, if there is such a thing.

‘Aaaaaaaaaaagghhh!’  I said, with great restraint.

‘Good!’ he said, beaming.”

And that’s what they’re like – they cheerfully ask you to do things which are extremely painful, and then they grin at you when you yell1.

So you’ll no doubt be relieved to hear that today’s physio session went really rather well! I was fetched from the waiting area by a diminutive young lady with dimples whose name was “M”. She looked about seventeen, and told us that while her origins were Italian, she herself was Portugese2. She took me to her little room, dimpled at me, and filled in her questionnaire. She had a look at my healing wounds and pronounced that they looked very nice3, and asked me to take my arm out of its sling.

Then she picked up a metal crutch and advanced upon me, whereupon the torture scenes from various movies flashed before my startled eyes.

In fact, all she wanted to do was to get me to hold it horizontally in front of me using both hands, to test my range of motion. To say I was apprehensive was an understatement, because for the entire fortnight since the op I’d been forbidden to remove the sling night or day except for washing, dressing, etc, and I’ve been firmly admonished to make sure it was supported either by the sling or by my other hand at all times. It felt very odd to allow my arm to hang loose from the shoulder for the first time.

But here’s the exciting thing: using my right hand to actually move the crutch (my left arm being a mere passenger at the other end) I was able to raise my arm up in front of me, out to the side, and even behind me to about a thirty degree angle – and it wasn’t agonising! This was quite startling, because I distinctly remember, back in 2009, turning the air blue when A was assisting me with some very gentle exercises in the early days of my recovery, and tears leaking from my eyes with the pain.

The difference – apart from the nine intervening years4 – is perhaps that the repair on my other arm was open (resulting in a two and a half inch scar across the top of my shoulder) and this one was done arthroscopically. Last time, my upper arm was black and blue (and green and yellow), and this time, it was not.

And this time, I’d already done six months of physiotherapy before I had the surgery, working on strenghtening my deltoids.

Whatever the reason, it came as a big relief to learn that I’m already in a better place after only two weeks than I could ever have imagined.

Still a long way to go, of course, but I’m going in the right direction, and this time, I seem to have picked up a faster ride!

1 They really like it when you yell. I can only assume they think it means that you’re really trying.

2 For some reason, many of the physiotherapists here are very large and gung-ho Australians, so she came as a little bit of a relief. Although it somehow didn’t feel right to be at the mercy of a dainty young thing like M from Portugal.

3 A matter of opinion.

4 The surgery was at the end of 2008 so it’s nine years, and of course, surgical techniques may well have improved during that time.

To the young, whose lives we are ruining

My husband and I (gosh, I sound like the queen!) are both over sixty. I’m not quite sure how that happened, although I suspect it’s a simple case of tempus fugit, and the thing about tempus fugitting is that is unstoppable, so I can absolutely guarantee that this will happen to you, too, barring accidents. I know there’s a tendency for the young to feel immortal and invulnerable, but trust me, this is just a cruel illusion. Been there, done that, got the tee shirt.

Looking at you (my sons’ generation) today, I see an awful lot of really great young people who are innovative, energetic, intelligent, polite & courteous, and who want to make a positive impact on the world that they have inherited. Well, I’m not talking about you. You guys can stop reading right here. I love you guys.

For the rest of you, I have a few things I’d like to get off my chest.

When we grizzled old crumblies are walking around town, using public transport, doing our shopping etc, we often have to pause to make way for you youngsters. There are those of you who don’t wait for us to exit lifts, step off escalators, pass in narrow areas, or even for me to walk through a door which OH is holding open for me, and some of you actually grin and say ‘thank you’ as you push and jostle past us1. Some of you do it thoughtlessly, but some of you seem to do it because you feel entitled, or perhaps just … more important than we are.

And this may be because some of you think we oldies are to blame for ruining your entire futures. I have heard that you also think we are horribly greedy and selfish for expecting your taxes to pay for our pensions.

Well, let me explain a few things to you.

Pensions

We, your older generation, paid a proportion of our wages to support our own elders. We watched our parents do the same; paying in a percentage of their wages each week, from the year 1946, to provide healthcare and geriatric care for everyone, the difference being that they received their pensions at the promised time3. We were PROMISED our pensions at the age of sixty years for women, sixty-five for men, and we arranged our savings and our lives accordingly4. So how is it fair to us that the government can now renege on that promise, leaving us high and dry?

The bottom line on pensions is that we paid, during our working lives, into a compulsory fund which the government promised us would provide an adequate pension for our old age, beginning at sixty years old for women, and sixty-five for men, and that promise has not been kept.

Brexit

The vote on leaving the EU was a democratic process. I’m not sure quite what your view of ‘democratic process’ is, but in terms of the referendum, it means that everyone over 18 years old who was neither a guest of HM Prison Service nor mentally unfit to make important decisions had the right to vote, yes or no. You had a whole day to make that vote, and there was provision to vote by post or by proxy if you couldn’t make it to a polling station. The votes were counted, and since more people voted to leave than voted to remain (that’s regarded as the ‘opinion of the people’) the government acted accordingly, and triggered Article 50. If you couldn’t be bothered to 1) get yourself to a polling station, or 2) make the necessary arrangements and vote by post or by proxy, you have absolutely no right to complain about the result if you don’t like it.

Did you not know which way to vote? Couldn’t decide? Well, neither could I, so I signed up for an online university course about Brexit which covered the history of the EU, the advantages and disadvantages to being a member, what works well and what doesn’t, and the implications for leaving. It was still a hard decision to make, but I thought about it, made my (informed) decision, and voted. You cannot take that right from me, nor do you have any right to know which way I voted or to complain about my choice.

The Environment

Don’t blame us! My generation can hardly be held responsible for the industrial revolution which brought the age of coal-fired industry, pea-soupers and the birth of the infernal internal combustion engine. We are not to blame for the drastic change in agriculture following WWII which resulted in inorganic fertilisers and pesticides being poured over the earth in vast quantities – I was just eight years old when Rachel Carson wrote her book ‘Silent Spring’, cataloguing the environmental damage which was being done so recklessly by the indiscriminate use of pesticides like DDT. And I loathe the proliferation of plastic packaging probably more than you do 5.

So. I have news for you. I still have a life at sixty-four years old, and if all goes well I could keep it for another three decades. If you are really lucky, one day you will be sixty-four, too (and then sixty-five, seventy, seventy-five, and so on). At the moment I am in full possession of my faculties, have been described as intelligent, and I am sane. While I struggle a bit with health, I am still fully capable of independent living, and like so many others of my age, I spend a part of my time volunteering6 and I have family and hobbies and things to do. You may find yourself in the same position, or you may not be so lucky; when you are sixty-four, you may be suffering from long-term health problems. You may be clinically depressed, injured in an accident, or unable to work (or live) independently for a whole truck-load of reasons. And you may then feel differently about all that ‘unnecessary’ help you think we are getting.

Perhaps what’s needed is a change in attitude. This occurs to me having recently watched on the news that a lot of young people are getting into serious debt. The first example they gave us was a girl who looked barely old enough to sign a credit agreement, but was in way over her head having taken out three loans within a couple of years. The first was for a holiday to Disneyland in Paris. Well, I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but maybe you should do as we did when we were young and only buy what you can afford?

So let me turn your question on its head. You ask why you should pay to support us in our old age. I ask you why we should go without essentials like food, medical attention and a roof over our heads so that you can go on foreign holidays and run a car that you can’t afford and expect someone else to pick up the pieces? Because, make no mistake, defaulting on your debt costs everyone else money, and causes taxes and the cost of living to go up.

Well, there you go. That’s all I have to say. Do forgive me if you are not one of the profligate and do not hold these hostile and offensive views. But I did tell you to stop reading after the second paragraph!

1 Twenty-five to thirty-five years old, roughly speaking

2 Which actually bloody hurts, by the way, when you are old and stiff and have trouble moving quickly

3 They were the first to do so, by the way. The first to pay in, and the first to receive State pensions. My father was twenty-seven years old at the time, and had been working since he was just a little over fifteen years old when he was apprenticed to the printing trade for a period of seven years. In those days, the Master practically owned you. He got ten shillings a week (that’s the equivalent of £26 per annum at a time when average yearly salary was £195.80) and was allowed one week’s holiday per year. I know this because I have his Articles – the legal document which binds the apprentice to his trade. I don’t think anyone would have paid National Insurance (for pensions etc) from that sum, but would have begun doing so at the end of the apprenticeship, at age twenty-two. My mother also left school early, became a nurse, and voluntarily worked past retirement age.

4 Many of us also paid money into company pensions (superannuation schemes) or private pensions to ensure a more comfortable retirement and avoid being a burden on our children. Some of those pensions companies invested our money badly, so that many people who did try to provide that little bit more for their retirement found they had little or nothing after having paid into the fund for decades. In the case of Equitable Life, I believe it was 90,000 of us.

5 If not more, because trust me, as the strength and flexibility of your fingers begins to fail you, you will curse it with all the profane vocabulary at your disposal, even if that is only multiple fucks.

6 Volunteers are filling in for more and more services which have had their government funding cut. Services like mental health, because ‘Care in the Community’ often means ‘No Care at All’. Volunteers run soup kitchens for the homeless, make baby clothing for premature baby units, fill in on hospital wards doing things like pushing the library trolleys around, and a whole truck-load of other stuff. An awful lot of retired people do an awful lot of volunteering. They have the time, you see.

Sugar & spice, and all things … salty!

I am old, clearly. I have arrived at the age when we all start to say ‘when I was young … ‘, and this is exactly what I’ve been thinking lately. Suddenly, there are an awful lot of sentences that begin this way, and a lot of them are to do with food.

It all started some time ago now, when I was diagnosed as hypertensive, and cut down drastically on my salt intake. Then some time in the early 2000s, I had a short but successful tussle with oral cancer, which resulted in the advice to stay away from spicy foods and spirits2, and when I was later diagnosed with GORD, I had another important reason to do so.

A decade or so after that, one by one, a whole bunch of my friends and family found that that were pre-diabetic, and then a few years after that, some had slipped over that invisible line into full-blown Type 2 diabetes. This tends to make an ageing person think, and as a result, I realised that my body no longer handled massive sugar hits as easily as it used to. In fact, it was positively pissed with me if I added a smacking great sugary dessert on top of a carbohydrate-rich restaurant meal laced with alcohol. This didn’t show up in blood sugar tests, but my pancreas was hinting that it could only be a matter of time until it did, so I made the decision to stop eating sugar, and in February 2016, I went cold turkey on added sugar. Not, I hasten to add, simply the sugar I used to put in tea, or on cereals or fruit – no, I stopped cooking with sugar, and I stopped eating desserts and cakes, and biscuits. Now, this year, I find that my cholesterol is working its way slowly towards the Dark Side.

So, here I am, a woman who doesn’t eat sugar or hot spices, and needs low-salt and lower-fat options. Did I mention that I also have a bit of a problem with yeast3? I don’t know if you’ve ever tried shopping for anything other than basic ingredients with those points in mind, but I can tell you that it ain’t easy – especially for someone who really doesn’t like to cook, and has other dietary restrictions (my allergies and intolerances).

But for the purposes of this blog post, my allergies and intolerances are beside the point.

Here’s the point. You try going into any supermarket and find even so much as a packet of cold meat which doesn’t contain sugar in some form: sucrose (usually just listed as ‘sugar’), dextrose, glucose, fructose, corn syrup, honey, molasses, and/or the insidious ‘fools-you-into-eating-far-too-much’ glucose-fructose syrup. Those are by no means the only names you’ll find for sugars in your food, by the way, but you will find one or more sugars in almost any prepared foods, from bread to pasta sauce, savoury biscuits & crisps to frozen chips – I once found a tub of pasta sauce which contained sugar in no less than five different forms. This bottle of BBQ sauce contains four.

Go ahead: try finding unsalted crisps or roasted nuts. Or soups, stocks, crackers, or pretty much anything savoury with a low salt-content. Then try finding soups, prepared meals, sauces, stocks, gravy mixes, etc with low salt content, and no yeast or hot spices.

Fats? Fats are a special kind of crazy. There are ‘good fats’ and ‘bad fats’, and the perception of which are good and which are bad changes regularly. At the moment there is a belief that palm oil is good, which has led to palm oil being almost ubiquitous in processed foods of any kind. There is nothing magical about palm oil except that it is naturally high in unsaturated fats, and it can be produced cheaply, and in large quantities. There is – naturally – a very heavy price to pay for this in terms of the world’s resources4, and what’s more, palm oil does a number on my acid reflux, so I try really hard to avoid it. But I challenge you: go into any supermarket, and do your usual weekly shop without buying anything with palm oil in it. The chances are that you’ll find yourself having to make substitutions before you’ve got halfway down the first aisle of shelved goods. And remember, palm oil masquerades under various names too, but you’ll have to look those up for yourself because there are too many to list. You’ll also find it in cleaning products and personal hygiene stuff like toothpaste, shower gel, and shampoo. We are literally destroying the earth for this crap. The fashion for palm oil will pass, but it might be too late for fragile ecosystems and magical places like Indonesia, Malaysia, and even Madagascar. Wildlife is being destroyed right now to make way for the increasing demand for it.

But the crazy doesn’t stop with palm oil.

In the search for low fat products with ‘good flavour and mouth feel’, manufacturers have reduced the fats, but upped the sugar and salt content, and added all kinds of emulsifiers and fillers. What’s more, they seem to be ignoring the use of more traditional ‘good fats’ like olive oil. You see, your body does need oils and fats. Your brain has a particularly high need for them, and the rest of you needs the vitamins which are fat-soluble – and it is being increasingly recognised that simply popping a vitamin pill doesn’t actually work as well as getting them via your diet. Oh, what a surprise.

And here’s where it’s really insane. Our Beloved Leaders have issued guidelines on nutrition, some of which are admittedly just plucked out of thin air, but some we know make sense. We know that too much salt and sugar can wreck your health, and yet manufacturers are allowed to carry on adding them in large quantities to our foods, because ‘it’s what the public want’. True enough, people like the taste – people are addicted these days to highly salted, highly sweetened, intensely-flavoured foods, but I can tell you, from personal experience as a reformed junk food lover, that it takes relatively little effort to kick all that and get used to the real flavour of the food itself. Trust me, it tastes more than acceptable. I still love my food, but now I don’t enjoy the artificially heightened and intense flavours at all.

This is not about persuading you to join in and kick the habit. This is about choice: your choice to keep on eating what you enjoy, and mine to find the healthier alternatives. Healthy alternatives do sometimes exist (Waitrose do a great line in sugar-free, additive-free, yeast-free, low-spice and salt-free stocks) but often they do not.

Products with good, sustainable fats also exist, with or without sugar or salt. But you could pack all these into a single, short aisle in most supermarkets, and it would be rather nice if they did!

At the moment, for people like me it’s back to basic ingredients, and I seriously dislike cooking. But for now – and this is great – since I’m forbidden to anything with my left arm, OH is doing the cooking (under close instruction). And this is his very first Shepherd’s Pie, made from basic ingredients. Give the man a big hand – it was tasty, too!

1 No, not the sort which go bump in the night

2 Which means that Chorleywood bread does me no good at all. If you don’t know what Chorleywood bread is, or why it can be bad for us, look it up. It’s interesting reading.

3 Slashing and burning to clear huge swathes of virgin rainforest is all-too-common. Sometimes this is done illegally, because they know that once the land is cleared, the profit from their lucrative new crop will be more than enough to make up for any fines they have to pay. Whether the clearing of forest is legal or illegal, all of the forest-dwelling wildlife is left homeless – including Orang-Utans, who are sometimes left with horrific burns and/or their babies orphaned. The wildlife on the periphery of these vast plantations is then further threatened by pesticides, or shot if they raid the fruit.

I have been a very brave girl

MeShoulder-Oct2017

Some years ago now1, I tore one of my rotator cuff ligaments, and had to have it surgically repaired. I blogged about it because it was traumatic, extremely painful, and took a whole year plus a truckload of physiotherapy to get right, and that was also extremely painful. By the end of that time, I pretty much had full use of my arm, but there were still twinges of pain from time to time, and I swore that if I ever did the same to the other arm, I would refuse the op and just fix it with physio.

Well.

Fast forward to 1st June this year. I was clearing up after tenderly tending my hoverfly lagoons, went flying up a 3 inch step in the garden2 and landed heavily and awkwardly, dislocating my (other) shoulder. Much profanity ensued, and after the obligatory six weeks with my arm immobilised in a sling, I set off on the physio trail. It worked, up to a point, and there I stuck. And so, after scans and discussions3 I was booked in for the dreaded surgery, because I’d completely torn two ligaments, and displaced a third, and while I could do an awful lot with that arm, I could not lift it away from my body sideways..

The fateful day – Saturday, 21st October, rolled around, and I admit that I arrived at the hospital in a state of terror and cowardice, and very nearly chickened out. It didn’t help that despite being on a high dose of acid-reducers for GERD, my stomach was pumping out acid like anything – all the stress, no doubt – and I was convinced that I’d wake up from the anaesthetic with a laryngeal spasm4 and die on the spot, and it would all have been for nothing. That’s what happened after the last anaesthetic I had, by the way, except the dying part. Obviously.

But I’m sure you’ll all be pleased to know that I went through with it, and I was fine. The surgeon was able to do the repair arthroscopically, so there is a lot less pain, and I am home and beginning the long road to recovery. When I say ‘there is a lot less pain’, all things, dear reader, are relative, and it still bloody hurts. Oh, boy, does it hurt! But I am managing, so far, without quite as many painkillers as last time, so I am not (at the moment) hallucinating. Is that good? I think it’s good 5

And one of the best things is that I am sleeping okay. Partly, perhaps, because it was a less invasive operation, and partly because I did a lot of research and bought myself a very heavy duty, large, bed wedge to prop me up, and another for under my knees to stop me sliding down the bed6.

The consultant and the anaesthetist were both lovely and very patient, by the way, as were all of the nursing and auxiliary staff throughout my stay. But I still think I was very brave not to turn tail and run from that hospital room.

And I didn’t even get a sticker!

I did, however, get no less than three bunches of flowers from OH, and they were all waiting for me at home when I was discharged. He’d put them into vases, and everything! Aren’t they lovely?

Flowers4MyShoulderFmA-Oct2017

1 2008, to be precise

2 Yes, yes, I knew it was there. It’s been there for fifteen years or more

3 The first consultant I was referred to was a knee specialist and didn’t even order a scan. Then the physio asked for an urgent referral to a shoulder guy, and the doctor’s surgery sent me a copy of my blood results from March 2016, instead

4 Laryngeal spasms are terrifying, and happen when a foreign substance touches your vocal chords – stomach acid, for instance will trigger a spasm, because stomach acid will seriously damage your lungs. Your larynx literally clamps itself shut, so it’s like trying to drag each breath into your lungs through the space between two pages of a damp book. It happened to me after a minor investigative procedure, and didn’t enjoy it

5 Although I did kind enjoy the impromptu opera performances by the invisible people, and OH found the one-sided conversations rather amusing

6 Ah, the wedges … After shoulder surgery, it’s not possible to sleep flat, so you have to find a way to prop yourself up. Last time, I used about five pillows, which kept slipping (which was painful) and if they didn’t slip apart from each other, I slid down the bed off of them (which was painful). This time I have a heavy-duty, 8 inch high firm, long, wedge which I can put my pillow on, and a ‘hill-shaped’ wedge for underneath my knees, so that I don’t slide off it. It’s actually quite comfortable, and it works!

Um … what?

DentalMouldTeeth-MFileXpistwv

A couple of days ago, OH and I spoke at some length on the subject of dental implants. You see he has some teeth which have been loose for some time – they’ve been supported for a few years now by a dental splint, but that broke1, and now they’re doing what our dentist referred to cheerfully as ‘waving in the wind’ (it didn’t help that he added a little ‘goodbye’ wave with his fingers at the time). So OH wants to see if there’s anything he can do to avoid dentures, and we were discussing what he should do next. Options, prices, and all that stuff.

I didn’t post it to social media, and I did no online search – heck, even if I had, I use Firefox and DuckDuckGo, neither of which (supposedly) track you.

So here’s what I want to know. How come I’m now getting ads on my Facebook page offering me dental implants at various ‘bargain’ prices? Both yesterday and today there have been dental implant ads, and, for goodness’ sake, one of them is even in Italian, which, yes, I do speak!

Screen Shot 2017-10-25 at 14.14.10

I was using Google.it to search for something yesterday, but it was certainly not ‘dental implants’. What is going on?

1 Following an unfortunate encounter with a crusty sourdough

The wise don’t build their houses upon sand

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I read with some disbelief the other day that a charity called The Lynx Trust is planning to release lynx into the wild in various parts of Britain. Seems a tad daft to me, for various reasons.

Let’s stop for a moment and think about urban foxes. They’re cute and cuddly, and remind us of our pet dogs, and it’s lovely to see fox cubs rolling around on the lawn and coming for the scraps that people put out for them. They do also sometimes rip open rubbish containers, but they’re still cute, aren’t they? Of course, they are opportunists (like most wild animals), and will steal chickens, and occasionally enter houses in search of food, where they sometimes leave their smelly scat or urine behind, and that’s not quite so cute. Very rarely, they will threaten human children1. Basically, it’s never a good idea to encourage wild animals to get too close to humans, but there you go, people will do it. But whatever the downside, foxes are a part of our native wildlife, and play an important role in the whole ecology thing.

Now imagine a different wild animal roaming freely here. A very large, wild cat which comes in at 80-130cm in length, stands up to 70cm at the shoulder, and can weigh up to 40kg2. We are talking about a feline which is described as a very powerful and efficient hunter, and is roughly the size and weight of a large male German Shepherd dog.

Lynx are magnificent animals and remarkable hunters. Their preferred habitat is forest, and their preferred prey is deer, which they like to ambush, sometimes dropping onto them from above. Well, we do have a problem with deer in some areas, especially Muntjac, and it might perhaps be nice to have a predator able to keep their numbers under control in a natural way, but at what price? Isn’t it possible that having run out of food in a particular area that they might turn their attention to other options? Isn’t it also possible that they will learn that human settlements provide easy pickings? I have no illusions that a wild cat the size of a lynx, would voluntarily keep away from farms, or from domestic pets. Cats are smart, and they are adaptable.

The Telegraph ran a news item which claimed that “every pet in the UK is to be insured against lynx attacks“, and I have heard enough from my American friends to know that where decent-sized wild predators are, it’s likely that sooner or later they will run foul of humanity, most likely when their food supply is short. Sometimes, they turn to farm livestock, and sometimes to the easy pickings that our pets offer, so I do not doubt that this will be a clear and present danger in areas where lynx live3.

There is also the question of what this would do for our other wildlife, much of which is already struggling badly. Suppose the lynx stay where they’re put and don’t come out of their forest habitats to snag themselves a pet cat, or a dog? What happens then when the supply of deer runs low? Well, presumably they will eat what they can find, which is likely to be birds and small mammals of various kinds. The problem is that our fragile food pyramid is trembling at the foundations already. You see, almost at the bottom of the heap and feeding those on the next step up are the insects, and we have lost 45% of our invertebrates in the last 35 years. Germany reports a greater loss. Plenty of environmental scientists are concerned about this, but so far we have no realistic plan on how to halt that decline. If the insects do not recover, the species which rely on them to live will also be lost. We are already losing our wild birds at a very rapid rate, so do we really need to add another predator into the mix – one that is on the top tier of that pyramid?

The Iberian Lynx (the one they want to introduce) is a protected species, so once it’s here, there will be precious little anyone can do about it. Will they eventually become so troublesome that they have to have to begin culling them under licence? If the lynx do become a problem and they don’t cull, will we simply see a rise in illegal hunting – which nearly always results in the cruel and inhumane treatment of the hunted, as well as trespass and damage to private land (as has been seen with illegal hare-coursing)? As with illegal hare coursing, will this go along with threats and maybe violence to landowners and anyone who tries to interfere? Well, all this would have to be policed, wouldn’t it? My feeling is that since they are a ‘big cat’ and their fur is valuable, we’d see illegal hunting anyway.

Now, those who know me know that I am very much in favour of the conservation of species, but while Britain certainly used to have a wild population of lynx, they were hunted to extinction 1,300 years ago. One thousand, and three hundred years ago. Since that time, an awful lot has changed here, including the fact that the human part of the equation has expanded enormously and encroached upon the territories of all kinds of wildlife, to the point where our native wildlife being frozen out, and the predators are being persecuted and killed, right, left and centre: badgers culled, foxes poisoned, birds of prey shot from the skies. The wildlife that is left to us is struggling to survive in an ever more hostile, ever shrinking environment. Not only that, but we have a whole different ecology going on now than the one that was in place over a thousand years ago, because at that time, much of our sceptered isle was covered in forest (which, you will remember, is the habitat of the lynx). Heck, long after that time, the whole landscape of the country changed dramatically again, with the Enclosure Acts of the 16th to 18th centuries creating bigger fields, fewer trees, and parks and gardens being landscaped all over the place! So why, in the name of the deity of your choice do we need a large re-introduced predator thrown into the mix – especially one whose natural habitat has shrunk so much4?

Don’t they realise that Muntjac deer themselves are a troublesome introduced species? I am reminded of that old nursery song:

“There was an old woman who swallowed a fly … ”

So far we’ve had ‘re-wilding’ schemes to bring wolves, lynx, and wild boar back to our countryside, all large, awe-inspiring creatures which can capture the public imagination5. This is building upon a sand foundation. We need to begin the re-wilding from the bottom up, by working on conserving our invertebrates. You know, those tiny many-legged creatures whose presence goes largely unnoticed (until they get in the way) and yet who make life possible for all of the rest of us, including the wolves, lynx, and wild boar. None of us would survive long in a world without insects. Don’t believe me? Read this.

1 In London a few years back a pair of twins were badly mauled by a fox

2 For those who don’t do metric, that’s 31-51 inches in length and standing up to 27 1/2 inches at the shoulder, and weighing up to 88lb (6 stone, 3lb)

3 It does happen, in areas where there are lynx

4 I refer you back to the place where I said that predators tend to cause trouble when food is short, and remind you that natural wildlife habitats in the UK are shrinking

5The buzz-word for this type of animal is ‘charismatic megafauna’ because the world is full of nature-lovers who really only care for the furred, feathered, or leathered. We’re talking lions, tigers, elephants, giraffes, turtles, and so on.

Salad Days

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There is a rather wonderful TV series called Boston Legal, in which an attorney called Alan Shore suffers from an intermittent inability to form comprehensible sentences. He opens his mouth, and a stream of complete gobbledegook issues forth. This both alarms and amuses, of course, and after investigation, it is put down to stress and labelled ‘word salad’.

Why am I telling you this? Because for a number of years now, OH has been suffering from a mild form of the same affliction. As in Boston Legal, this both alarms and amuses, and since it appeared to be getting worse, he gave in to my nagging gentle and sensitive persuasion, and went to talk to the doctor about it. And as with the fictitious Alan Shore, it was initially put down to stress, a diagnosis with which OH did not entirely agree1.

A couple of consultations later, however, with me in tow quoting from my ever-growing list of salad options, and he was scheduled for an appointment at the gently euphemistic “Memory Clinic”. I think the consult that did it was the one with our lovely lady GP whose lips twitched as I read out examples such as “Oh, fuck, I’ve put the Bishop into the tea trolley”, which meant “Oh, dear, I’ve put the used teabag receptacle in the dishwasher”. Well, of course it did 2.

Since then he has come out with such gems as “Quick – there’s a folded albatross!”, “Isn’t that a boating upside-down arch?”, and “We could get the cowgate back to the trickle”3. I’m getting quite adept at translating these things, by the way.

And so we went to the Memory Clinic, where OH was put through his paces and would have passed with flying colours had he not tried to be clever when the doctor asked him to list 30 animals in a minute. His downfall was trying to do it alphabetically, but when he got to ‘flamingo’, he was informed that a flamingo was not an animal, which threw him because of course it is, as any scientist will tell you. He ploughed bravely onward, only coming unstuck again with ‘parrot’, which meant that instead of a perfect 30, he scored only twenty-eight4.

As a result of this he was sent for an MRI of his brain, to see if his TIA episodes had resulted in any damage. The MRI, thankfully, was clear.

And so, on our return to the Memory Clinic, OH was asked if he suffered from sleep apnoea, because apparently, this too can result in forgetfulness and language problems5, and he was referred for a sleep study at Papworth. There he was given a monitor to wear overnight attached to a finger, which – although he approached it as one might approach a venomous snake – he dutifully put on and went to sleep, only to wake in the morning to find it coiled up neatly on the bedside cabinet, with absolutely no memory of having put it there. Apparently, this happens quite a lot. Anyway, they had enough data to see that he did indeed have sleep apnoea, and in spades. According to the print-out, he’d been having 50-odd episodes an hour.

This is classed as ‘severe’ sleep apnoea (Oh, really? You do surprise me!).

Now, the problem is that OH is a little claustrophobic. He hates being closed in anywhere (although he deals with lifts surprisingly well), and in particular, he freaks out when thing are attached to his body, like blood pressure monitors, slings, braces … and CPAP masks. He did take one home to try, but his stress levels shot up up just thinking about it. To see him merely holding the box in his hands, you’d think it contained three tropical centipedes, a handful of scorpions and a Brazilian Wandering Spider in a particularly foul mood.

To his credit, he did put it on and lay down, and he did this on three successive nights. I think he worked his way up to about twenty minutes before ripping it off with a small scream and throwing it away from himself. Papworth were philosophical, and said, well, he could try a mouth guard designed to keep his lower jaw pulled forward a tad?

I got the impression that OH agreed to this only because it meant they took away the CPAP box (goodbye, assorted life-threatening arthropods!), but I knew that a mouth guard was not going to stay in his mouth much longer than the time it takes a Mediterranean mosquito to decide that I look like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

And so it was.

So after multiple visits to our local GP, two to the Memory Clinic, and three to Papworth, we are not much further forward, although we do now have the reassurance that he doesn’t have dementia, major memory loss or anything much wrong with his brain. But the Salad Days continue. A nice, solid, non-NHS sling we’de ordered from the internet6 was due to arrive today, and he blithely told me that ‘Your new string will purport the transfer to the here today’.

I suppose now you want to know what ‘rustic salmon’ is all about, don’t you?

No guesses? Well, I must admit I was a bit stumped by that one myself.

Here’s what happened. We were walking back to our hotel in Rome a couple of weeks ago, when we turned into a small, deserted piazza in one corner of which stood a little booth like the ones you see at the entrances to car parks, only this one had an armed carabiniere officer stationed inside it. We wondered why, because there were no shops, no embassies, or anything else which looked remotely military. Then as we turned to look at the buildings behind us, OH exclaimed with sudden inspiration: “There you go – that explains it! It’s a rustic salmon!”

And I turned to see a large building with a small sign, which read:

‘Synagogue’.

1 His immediate reaction was to get instantly annoyed, wave his arms about and say – in a voice of a noticeably higher pitch and speed – “STRESSED? I’M NOT STRESSED! I DON’T GET STRESSED!!”

2 Yes, she did laugh, but only after we’d both given her permission. We said: “Oh, go on, you can laugh. We do!” And she did (but only a little).

3
1 – “Quick, there’s a pedestrian crossing!”
2 – “Is that the bridge (we are looking for)?
3 – “We could get the vaporetto back to the station” (a vaporetto being a Venetian water-bus, and yes, we were in Venice at the time).

4 He is aggrieved about that to this day.

5 ‘No,’ he said, confidently, ‘I just go to sleep, and then I wake up in the morning – unless I get up for a pee’. ‘Yes’, I said. ‘He does. Sometimes I think he’s dead’.

6 See previous post.

Well, Poot!

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‘Poot’ being a polite way of saying what I screamed to the unfeeling skies late on Thursday afternoon when I tripped up a little step in the garden, fell awkwardly, and dislocated my shoulder.

There was the inevitable moment of flight, the sudden intervention of gravity, and then I was aware that my outstretched hand had somehow hit the ground wrong and it was taking my rigid left arm forward at an angle which boded No Good At All1. I am no svelte young thing, so when my torso weighed in at the moment of impact, there was an ominous crunching and tearing sound which reminded me of 500 giant cows all ripping up a section of lush meadow grass at the same time. I knew then that Something Bad had happened.

Instinctively, I rolled onto my back, and was informed by my entire nervous system that the Something Bad was extraordinarily painful, and, having managed to completely immobilise my arm, was settling in for the long haul. There was no way I could bring my arm close enough to my body to attempt to get up. I tried grabbing it with my right hand and gently easing it over (Oh fuuuuuuuu …. cckkkk, that hurts!), and I tried inching my body around to meet it (“GAAAAAHHHH! No-no-no, that’s worse!) and in this I was hampered by the presence of a narrow flowerbed bordering my garage wall. I was on my back with my arm stretched out sideways at 90 degrees and I could not move. It was a dead weight – albeit a painful one.

I don’t know if any of you have ever dislocated a shoulder. I am told that it’s one of the most painful of dislocations because an awful lot of very large muscles keep your shoulder in place and when it is out of place, they go into spasm to let you know that Something is Wrong and needs fixing, and it needs fixing now. But they don’t do it all at once – oh no. Over time, they gradually increase their grip and so, just as you are getting to grips with one level of pain, they ramp it up and make you cry again2. I don’t like opiates, but after two hours lying there waiting for an ambulance and in screaming agony, I was thinking extremely friendly thoughts indeed about them.

By the time the paramedic got to me, I’d been laying on rapidly chilling concrete for two and a half hours. My pain level had passed my previous worst a long time ago, and seemed to me to be hovering around a 12 on the 1-10 Chart of Degrees of Pain. This may, to be fair, have something to do with the fact that I have fibromyalgia, which helpfully amplifies any pain signals going around and adds a few extras of its own, but as I said, shoulder dislocations have quite the reputation.

Obviously, people at risk of dying from cardiac arrest, bleeding, poisoning, burns, or any other critical condition are going to take precedence, also small children and the frail elderly – and damn right, so they should. After all, I was only suffering extreme pain and some non-life-threatening damage. But I wonder if those idiots who call 999 for a non-urgent problem think – really think – about the consequences? You see, what happens is that when a true emergency call comes in, there literally may not be an ambulance at the station to send out to it. They have to wait for one to come back in, complete any paperwork (I assume? There’s always paperwork …) and then send it out to the next on the list.

Should I complain about the delay. I am undecided. I fell at around 4.30pm, the first paramedic came at about 7pm, was brilliant and very quickly gave me that blessed morphine. He had then to wait for the grown-up ambulance and a second guy to actually get me off the ground after air-splinting my arm, which they did so gently and efficiently and with the help of Entonox (wonderful stuff), and I was transorted to A&E where I had another wait for x-rays before the dislocation was finally reduced at somwhere around 11pm. That’s seven hours3.

But.

There was apparently ‘high demand’ for the ambulance service that evening. There were a lot of other people in A&E that night, all needing treatment, some of them critical, some of them merely in worse case than me, and all hoping that they would be next in for treatment. The nurses were brilliant, the radiographer and the doctor efficient and kind, everyone endlessly patient. They were all doing their best. On the one hand, I am extremely grateful that we have a freely available and free-to-use NHS. I won’t be getting any bills, there won’t be an insurance claim (unless I bent my sunglasses) and I certainly won’t have to remortgage the house. On the other hand, it is a hell of a long time for an over-60-year-old to lie on the ground in pain, getting freezing cold and both busting for a pee and desperate for a drink. And the sling they gave me to keep my shoulder still is complete crap and flat out does not work.

But hopefully, those on the critical list who also rode to hospital in an ambulance on Thursday will have been treated much more promptly, and with a bit of luck and the skill of those wonderful healthcare professionals are now doing OK.

1 – Yes, I know I’m supposed to fold and roll, but I failed, OK?

2 – And scream and swear and roundly curse all of those stupid, selfish people who have ever called an ambulance for a bruised knee, because they’ve been sick for a week and now the doctor’s is shut, because they think they might have been bitten by a spider, or simple to save the taxi fare or to make a point.

3 – What was the first thing I was taught about dislocations when I did my veterinary nurse’s training? The sooner a joint is put back into place, the more likely it is to be successful. Ah, well.