Now we are Four

IMG_20131019_2222124 years ago today. I got up, went to the gym for an hour and then went shopping to Marks & Spinster with my folks, where we stopped to have a pot of tea and an apple turnover. ‘What a beautiful day’ I thought.
Little did I know that an hour or so later my heart would traumatically tear away from its root, contacting emergency services as I struggled to unlock my apartment’s door for the ambulance and my parents to get in.
2 days later I woke after 2 emergency heart operations, having lost several pints of blood and being put on ice, hallucinating about Chinese nurses and caretakers and hippopotamus and Aladdin.
The years between have been full of cancer scares, cameras up/in every orifice, depression, PTSD, the loss of 2 jobs, a mini stroke, loss of field vision, losing my driving licence because of health issues, severe anaemia, a crash with a double decker bus ……..

I began blogging a little before this. In fact, it was in anticipation of planned heart surgery. I’d been planning a holi-holiday to Peru (Macchu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, Nazca Lines – all terribly exciting) and because so much of the adventure was at high altitude, I decided to check in with my Cardiologist. I watched as her face dropped on examination, and she rushed me in for an echo-cardiogram ‘just to check’. I waited to see her for the results as the ward emptied and we were the only two Left Standing.  It wasn’t good. I had an underlying heart condition, which had worsened and required surgery within the next 5 years – she would need further tests and a referral to a surgeon in order to determine when.

The trip to Peru was cancelled – the first of many holidays I’ve had to cancel since.  I was never all that keen on Macchu Picchu if I’m being honest – I don’t really like edges, as I get a bit drawn to them and a little too intrigued about what happens if I go over the edge. In the end, my heart decided it couldn;t really wait for the NHS and so it broke early and impetuously.

In between all that, I had the small matter of my testicular cancer diagnosis the previous year before my emergency incarceration. I know – it never rains but it pours, right?I had some counselling as I was going through it all – the orchidectomy, the chemotherapy. the waiting for surgery. Which is what led me to the blogging. I found it a cheaper way to process and capture some thoughts and feelings – so, if you’re reading this, you’re kinda my cheap therapist. But I don’t know if you’re qualified or not. If you are, I’ve got a bargain. If not, just don’t go telling my secrets to people, because you’re bound by confidentiality, right?
Today I was at the gym. There were 2 crutches left by the side of my treadmill, and I saw a woman struggling to climb on to a Stepper Machine. I recognised the determination on her face, and the struggle she was experiencing.
4 years have passed. I’m not currently employed, and it’s not always easy.

Step by step ….

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I have a dream

dream

dream

Never real and always true – Antonin Artaud

Dreams fascinate me. I dream deeply and often. Last night was a confusing mash of visists from dead friends, vague acquaintances, family – some terror, some fun, set in the twilight between the past and the present. There was no depth, no message, no psychic foresight. It was all just a dream …

I recently read Richard Wiseman’s Night School, a great account of sleep, dreaming and psychological research. On the subject of dreams, I’m none the wiser. Am I deleting unused or unnecessary information? Am I processing difficult thoughts and feelings? As I entering my subconscious? Am I entering some shamanic dream world denied to me during the waking hours? Am I seeing warnings of the future?

At some time, nearly all of these have been true. I’ve had dreams of foreboding, and sometimes acted on them. I’ve had dreams prompted by anger, injustices, or trauma of the days and weeks beforehand. I often find I’m flying, and always have done since being a a child. I have dreamed lucidly, knowing it was a dream, and being able to choose which direction to take – not often, but sometimes. More and more, dead friends visit me in my dreams – one in particular. It’s never frightening, and sometimes I know that he’s a spectre, and sometimes it seems we’ve just met up again as we used to. Invariably, he has some sort of message or some discovery or revelation to bring. Mostly, I feel comforted that he has visited because I cannot reach him any other way. For a while, he is real to me.

For a time, following surgery and medication, in the midst of anxiety or depression, I lost my dreams. These were the most unsettling times. I knew of their absence, and begged for their return, no matter how frightening or terrifying they might be, because the loss of them was worse than the truths they brough. They have always returned.

There have been brief times when my dream world and my real world have interacted. Immediately after my heart surgery, my world was populated with Chinese nurses, vengeful caretakers, hippos created out of paper mache, and Arabian princes. I believed them all, and it took years for me to be dissuaded of their reality. I daydream easily and often, my mind wandering off into half created worlds and futures, passing minutes or even hours.

On and off, I have kept dream diaries. I ask for dreams, and sometimes the requests are granted – answers to life decision, ideas for stories, characters, plots and projects. I can always remember at least some of my dream when I wake – although often feel frustrated that I haven’t recollected enough, or got to the end. But my dreams don’t have endings – mostly, the waking is its own end. I have often died in dreams, and dream in colour, destroying at least two popular myths.

I don’t (largely) snore – so I am told, and have never talked or walked in my sleep, the thought of which disturbs me greatly. My dreams are entirely private, and acting them out in some way in public fills me with a self censorship my dreamland has always freed me from.

I’m not a Jungian, or Freudian, and don’t really believe  in dream symbols or interpretations. Occasionally , counselling clients  discussed their dreams with me, and therapeutically I have found it most helpful to ask what emotion the dream brings up for them, as well as any special meaning they might attach to the dream. Invariably, we are able to find some understanding of the dream, although this is most probably simply interpretation rather than a ‘real meaning’. But dreams have never been unhelpful for me or for clients, and as a writer I am always surprised and welcoming f the worlds created by my dreams.

I wish I knew more. For someone who spends so much time dreaming, I know instinctively that it must be important. I cherish my dreams, and wish you all the best, and sweetest, of dreams…

 

On why I’d really suck as a vampire …

vampire kit 14

I’d make a really rubbish vampire. Not because I’m particularly squeamish, or because I’m not actually hundreds of years old, living by night and afraid of crumbling to dust in the daytime. Or because I don’t have fangs. Just because I can’t quite get a hold on all that blood taking business.

Some time ago, I blogged about warfarin home testing in It’s only a little prick, sir…! and the frustrations I was experiencing in getting my GP to accept NHS prescriptions for a home testing kit. The good news is that after contacting my Clinical Commissioning Group, I was able to clarify that test strips for the machine are available on NHS prescription, as long as I have completed a ‘training’ on use of the machine and able to provide the Doctor with evidence. The good news is that I’ve completed the training. It lasts all of 20 minutes and is actually  me just doing the Haematology Nurse’s job for her – ie, taking my own blood through a fingerprick lancet device to test my INR to gauage how much warfarin I need. They train for years, of course, and I got 20 minutes. Which is how I know I’m not a natural vampire – I don’t have a knack for collecting blood. Since the training, I haven’t been able to get a single result at home, having now used up all the test strips I had.

It seems simple enough, especially if  you’re as butch as I am and don’t get squeamish about blood. You insert a lancet into the fingerprick device, prime it, stick a test strip into the meter, warm it, up and then dangle your arm to get blood flowing to the tips of your fingers. A gentle massage of your finger and then you have to whack in the lancet (without screaming) to prick the finger (quick, mind, as you only get 15 seconds  before the blood starts clotting) and then you squeeeeze the blood onto the test strip for a count of two. If successful, the machine beeps loudly  and hey-ho you get all sorts of wonderful magic test results. I haven’t managed this at all yet, and just spent an evening swearing and sticking plasters on finger after finger after finger until I ran out of test strips to play with. It looked like something out of Saw by the end of the evening.

I ended up having to go to hospital to get properly trained nurses  to draw blood out of me and do another test. Since then, I had a message  from the GP about my ‘test strips’. I rang back, armed with all the info from I’d got from the CCG, anticipating a battle  over the prescription again. They were just letting me know the prescription was ready – including a sharps box (I’ve always wanted a sharps box, it makes me feel like I’m in an episode of Casualty.) So, I’m going to have to try again.

Unless you’re a vampire, or a murderer, or a trained nurse/heath professional, it is actually quite hard to draw your own blood without making a complete and utter hash of it so that you either fail to get anything at all, or you end up spewing out blood like some crimson geyser. When I had blood tests before my chemoptherapy treatment for testicular cancer, someone accompanying me fainted and had to be looked after by the nursing staff. Guys, aparently, are much more likely to faint around blood than women, which is why they make you sit dwn when they take any. I have never fainted, dear reader, for I am a man’s man.

Vampires are a favourite for erotica stories, and series like Vampire Diaries and films like The Twilight Saga, contribute to an increasing popularity of their mythic status. I’ve always found vampires faintly ridiculous and don’t quite understand the fascination. I wrote a vampire strory, ‘The Ward’, for a collection of vampire erotica Blood Lust, and which is included in my own anthology A Happy Finish. It’s a modern take on vampires, and was based on my experience of heart surgery. You wouldn’t believe the amount of blood they take from you after surgery ! Well, it has to go somewhere …

I need to hone my vampiric nature as I’m not giving up on the home-testing. I’ve booked a long weeekend in Transylvania in the hope that on a dark night, on a lonely country road leading to a moonlit gothic castle, some handsome Eastern European aristocrat might seduce me with his vampiric charm…. MWAHAHAHA.

links:

ACSMA is the Anti-Coagulation Self-Monitoring Alliance and campaigns to support self-testing, and for home slef testing to be provided on he NHS. It lists the benefits for individuals and theNHS on its website, and suggests how you might help.

#amazeballs – Never Mind The Bo##ocks

It’s a year since I had all that unfortunate business in the ‘downstairs department.’

Originally, I went for a check up to distract me from waiting around for heart surgery. ‘It’ll re-assure me’, I thought, after thinking ‘it doesn’t quite feel right’ for a while, although I already knew I had a torte (undescended testicle) and that seemed OK. I’d been reassured several times I was still fertile and could have children (leaving me feeling weirdly, and rampantly, heterosexual).
The Doctor – a young and very polite trainee – was terribly, terribly embarrassed by the whole thing. I’d gone with a list of things including repeat prescriptions, request for flu jab, and finaly thecheck up. Clearly, doctors need to feel another man’s genitalia a lot more than they do in training.He waited until the very end of the consulation befoe donning blue latex gloves ‘for that other thing you mentioned’ and asked me if I wanted a chaperone, which sounded quite glamorous. He fiddled around for a while and then went out of the room and came back with a more experienced colleague who introduced himself with his hands round my nuts saying ‘this is an unusual way for me to introduce myself’. ‘Not for me’, I nearly quipped. He then asked if I could get an erection. ‘What, right now?!’ I thought before letting him know that I had no problems performing thank you very much. They sent me for an ultrasound’ ‘just to be sure’.
The appointment came for the day I wa due to be ‘ringholder’ for a friend’s wedding vows renewal. They cover you in KY jellyfor the ultrasound, so I figured someone could be in for a fun night later. We know what straight men are like at weddings.

Eventually I was given an emergency appointment with my GP – which I knew was a bad omen as you can never get an appointment that quick usually. He told me that to expect things like this ands the heart surgery ‘at my age’ but that everything gets better when you’re in your fifties. At one point he paused the consultation as another patient wanted to know if they’d left their bag in his room. He shook my hand, wished me luck, and told me he hadn’t had any of his patients die from this. Which was comforting.

I was offered surgery pretty quickly, and as the Macmillan nurse felt my crown jewels, I learned she knew my mother – formerly also a Macmillan Nurse. Not the most comfortable of conversations to have whilst undergoing that sort of exam. ‘We never did physical examinations’ my mother told me later, leaving me unsure if I’d been molested or not. They mark which testicle to lop off with a big blue pen, and asked several times ‘which one?’ Fortunately, I kept giving the same answer, and did the marking myself, commenting the right one was always my least favourite anyway. I was offered a ‘replacement’ but, disappointingly, that didn’t include my request for a glitterball (bit or razmatazz, I thought) or even a dongle – ‘That could be really useful, I thought, like you do when you see a pineapple corer or other kitchen item you know you’ll never use. Like my pasta making machine.

The oncologist offered me a single course of chemotherapy to reduce the (slim) chance of a recurrence. That wasn’t pleasant, but I’m glad I did it, even if I ended up like a pin cushion following the pre-treatment blood tests they carry out (I counted 20 injection points where they tried to get blood from). My brother accompanied me, and fainted in the corridor.

I was in and out of hospital within a day, and told friends I was walking lop-sided after the operation. The outlook for this thing is very good, apparently, apart from the annual facial horrors of the well-meaning fun ‘charity fundraisier’ Movember, where guys can show support for testicular and prostate cancer by wearing the most ludicrous and terrifying facial hair furniture. Why not just grab a mate’s gonads for a good feel and check-up instead? At the hospital today, I saw a man attempting suicide, trying to jump from the top of the car park. He was by the entrance where I left after the surgery – ironically, next to the ‘mother and baby’ ward. He was prevented from jumping by 3 or 4 burly, but caring, security guards and paramedics. Just another reminder of how difficult, painful and fragile life really is.

For more information, try:
www.everyman-campaign.org

Macmillan Cancer Support

I’ve zhooshed my riah

That’s your actual polari for hair cut. Or getting your knob shaved. It’s been a big thing. When I was planning for surgery, I was booking a haircut beforehand, just to feel a little better about myself in hospital. I might look pale, scarred and bloodied, with tubes and drips and canulas, but at least my hair would be FABULOUS.

Hair. It’s such a strong part of identity. My neighbour was upset at losing his while undergoing chemotherapy. Understandably. And he’s not anywhere near as vain as me.

I’ve been a skinhead, been bright red, bright blond, highlighted, lowlighted,  had an 80s mullet, short back and sides, tied my hair with a band at the top so I looked like I had a fountain on my head. I’m even going grey. I mean, becoming a silver fox.

I’ve used clippers on my own hair, had stylists and an old fashioned barber with a cut throat razor. Some styles have looked great, some I now admit look awful.

Yesterday, I visited the Intensive Care Unit I was in 3 weeks ago. I was delivering chocolates as a thank you to the doctors and nurses (you have to give two lots – one for night staff, one for day staff – otherwise there’s war.) We joked about me obsessing about my hair while I was drugged up and vomiting before my operation.

This time, I was able to walk in to the ward, and I was able to walk out. As I walked out, after all the compliments on my progress, and all the thanks for the 2 weeks of hospital care, and the giving and receiving of chocolate, one of the nurses shouted after me

‘AND GET YOUR HAIR CUT!’

I’m feeling a little something like my old self.

Sleepless In Coventry

My second night where, although exhausted, sleep hasn’t come easy. One of the things about being ripped open like Christmas is having to sleep on your back as the scar and chest heal. It’s not my usual style, so I have a mound of pillows for support to keep me upright, like the princess with the pea. I’m wearing my invisible tiara.

I’m cutting down on painkillers and that rat poison warfarin keeps changing, so the drugs may be having an impact too. Some of the meds are supposed to give me vivid dreams … If only! It’s all been a bit of a dream, full of Chinese paintings and alligators and floods and curtains getting changed at midnight in the hospital.

I’m trying to catch up with 9 months backlog of Doctor Who Monthly, started reading books again but hiding from daytime TV.

And people are being kind. Cards, good wishes, hampers, DVDs, a family offering 24/7 support. Return to living on my own in the flat where I collapsed is a daunting prospect, as is yet more surgery. This time last year I was just coming to terms with cancer and losing my least favourite testicle.

But Peter Capaldi is the new Doctor, and tonight I might sleep. Apparently my scar ‘looks great’ but not to me. I’m going to pretend it’s a shark-bite or an attempt at cyber-conversion. I’m still hoping to be Upgraded …

My heart got ripped apart three weeks ago today, so happy anniversary

I blame the apple turnover. I’d been fine until then, awaiting a scheduled heart operation. I’d been out shopping with my folks for their anniversary the following day and also made a bara brith and an american spiced carrot traybake for visiting relatives. I must still have their anniversary card somewhere…
A sudden tightness and pain in my chest, and I collapsed onto the floor unable to panic. Flooded with panic and alone in my flat I managed to phone my parents and ask them to get an ambulance, explaining I couldn’t breathe, both arriving with minutes and before sinking once more to the floor I had the foresight to at least open my front door. I was terrified I’d lose consciousness and no-one would be able to get in.
It gets hazy after that. I began throwing up. Mum told the ambulance we needed ‘blues and twos’. I passed my neighbour downstairs as I was taken out on a stretcher, saying ‘oh, hello….’ Holding onto the oxygen mask like a scene from Blue Velvet. Ambulance rides are bumpy and uncomfortable and I don’t know why I thought it would be different. Getting mum to phone work and explain what was happening so they could make arrangements. Trying to explain to my parents where my newly signed will was kept.
‘This is all very Casualty’ I thought, as we pushed through the double doors at A&E, to be met by the nursing team. The ambulance staff stayed to hold a drip for me, I kept throwing up and then apologising for it being ‘unseemly’ and kept getting asked my name and if I knew where I was. I told the nurse I couldn’t have my surgery yet because I hadn’t had my hair done and it needed touching up with red highlights.
‘Sometimes the anaesthetic turns it pink’ she said. ‘Oh I’d quite like that …’ I replied.
My parents had a conversation in the corridor with the surgeon. I can’t remember what he said to me except that they were going to operate immediately. ‘Oh that’s nice’ I think I said. It’s only now I’ve found out my aortic valve had ripped apart.
I was introduced to the anaesthetist, an eccentric but kindly man who made me laugh before wiring me up to all sorts of drips and I was taken into the operating theatre which was full of people and very, very bright. Like in The X Files when people get probed by aliens. Which may have been what I was thinking as the anaesthetic kicked in and a handsome doctor who looked about sixteen told me everything would be OK…
Three weeks ago today. I still owe my parents an anniversary card. And, along with the amazing NHS and ambulance staff, so very, very much more …