Deforestation, or, Plucking Hell.

Courtesy of the thoughtfully-filled, individualised goody bags at the MAD awards (about which I never got around to telling you: I didn’t win, Shannon didn’t win, we fell in love with Bumbling and held her captive in our bedroom drinking until the wee hours, The Hiccupy End) I am now the proud owner of a Phillips epilator – an item that essentially contravenes the contractual terms of this blog.

It has sat upstairs, unused, since September, given that we’re not too bothered by fur at Hairy Towers, and also not too big on extraneous pain. I have very dark, thick (or, as John once called it, ‘coarse’. He was referring to strand diameter as opposed to texture, and still struggles to comprehend my mortal taking-of-umbrage) hair; plenty of it, too. In all the usual… locations.

It’s generally all Live And Let Live vis-à-vis furry pelts around here, but my pelt is coming under operating-theatre scrutiny tomorrow morning, and I felt it incumbent on me to tidy things up a little.

I managed to muffle my screams, as I am a Big Girl, but I’m a bit… ouchy. I also have a bright red aureole of newly-plucked, angry skin surrounding what, for the purposes of this communication, we will call my undercarriage. It’s my own fault: I put it off all weekend and the slash and burn agriculture effect hasn’t had time to wear off. I have no aloe vera, but there IS snow on the ground outside, so perhaps I should perch my bum on the car bonnet, as it has refused to start this evening – or initially, to even open its doors – due to the cold snap, and we’re due to leave here at 6.50am.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t vaguely troubled, a little concerned, mildly mithered, faintly fretful, ahh, who’m I kidding? I’m shitting bricks. The top five things I would like not to happen are as follows:

1) Have heart attack on table.

2) Be woken up to be told am borked beyond repair, and there will be No More Babies.

3) Be sent home for still being too fat.

4) Post-operative nausea.

5) Shoulder pain.

Number 1 is, I’m reassured, pretty unlikely. I have a healthy heart, albeit a benignly arrhythmic one. My reason for dwelling on it is that I had a couple of unprecedented upsurges of premature beats a couple of days back, which I couldn’t attribute to hormones, although stress and caffeine may have been factors. Suddenly going from 40-odd cardiac misfires a month to 80+ an hour was… unpleasant. Worrying. Terrifying, actually. I found I could face the prospect of my own mortality reasonably calmly when it got right down to it, but the thought of not being there for Harry has become a dark subliminal disquiet, if the fact that I’ve caught myself gazing at him, trying to etch his features a little further into my mind, is any clue. And I am choosing to stop this paragraph here, because that way madness lies.

Number 2. I dunno what the odds are on Number 2. I’m thinking: fair. And I do not want to wake up without choices.

Number 3. Well, I have nothing but shrugged shoulders and a shamed expression for you here. I am a round 14 stone on my bathroom scales, which are 3-4lb kinder than many. I was told to get to at least 13st 12oz. Got there. Lost motivation. Went away again. I can pinpoint the moment when I stopped caring: I was curled up on the bed, drugged to the legal max, and wondering if my uteri were actually imploding, and if so, if going in there myself with a carving knife might help. I became Angry, and I decided that exploratory surgery was no longer a frivolity, an elective survey of reproductive damage and capability that I should be in decent shape for, but something that desperately needed to happen, and soon, and that I shouldn’t have to jump through fucking hoops to have it. I decided that the increasing severity of my pain entitled me to be bloody well fat if I wanted to be. 

I am embarrassed at the fundamental illogicality of this thought process, given that an obese patient is a more at-risk patient – and see 1) above – but there you are. They (‘they’ are two excellent physicians, btw, one of them Exceedingly Senior and a particularly talented minimal-access gynae surgeon) might well decide that my ample fat-padding is not conducive to laparoscopy.

Number 4. I’ve been under general anaesthesia a number of times, but never for as long as I expect to be out cold for tomorrow, and I abhore – really, really hate – feeling sick. The thought of actually vomiting with a (I assume) really rather tender belly is worrisome, and I shall be bleating specifically for anti-nausea drugs if possible.

Number 5, I hope may not happen. I’m not too concerned about actual abdominal pain, per se – I feel I own every available t-shirt and could write the proverbial Belly Pain book if pressed – but I am wary of encountering any new enemies.

So. That’s where I am. Nervous Nelly, with a soupçon of Extra Added Terror. If you have any nice, cardiac-strengthening thoughts going spare tomorrow – and despite the nil-by-mouth 7.30am roll-call 30 miles away, I have no idea what time of actual day they might be useful – do please send them my way.

*Smiles wanly*

I’m always asking you for things.

Sorry.

You’ve Got A Friend In Me

Well, people. I have to say, I think I’ve done you all a fairly profound wrong. 

I knew I could possibly trespass on the good nature of a certain kind few of you, as I’ve met with such remarkable generosity – of purse, mind and spirit – here before, yet I wasn’t expecting… well, this.

I had thought that, over 3 years of assiduous fundraising, that I might reach £2,000, which is around how much I estimate it cost to keep Harry in NICU for 24hrs.  This is my 2nd year of keeping score, and, to the complete flabber of my ghast (or possibly the flast of my gabber; I have a stinker of a cold and I’ve been on the sherry) it appears that you haven’t left me much to do next year.

I’ve drafted a few sentences about thanks, and they all sounded hollow and trite and insincere so I’ve deleted ’em.

I’m touched. I’m humbled. I’m really, really bloody grateful. If you had a hand, I would be pumping it up and down right now, while grasping your shoulder and staring at you in scarily intense fashion.

And I wish I could beam my virtual thanks out of your computer screen, dust off the topic and turn to cheerier subject matter – Harry’s CONVERSATIONS, no less! –  because I feel you’ve borne with me quite enough. But… I’m not quite done bending your ear. I’m sorry. There has been provocation, and I’m hoppingly, incandescently and seethingly annoyed.

No sooner did I finish drawing a picture of a critical care service permanently teetering on the edge of desperation – and I swear the neonatal nurses commenting on this article are not known friends of mine – than Our Glorious Leaders announced they were planning to drop an alarmingly large neonatal bollock.  This is the worst thing, the worst thing, that could happen. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health  – who ought to know a thing or two, between them – are all dismayed and throwing rotten fruit, but since when were politicians frightened of Colleges?

They’re frightened of voters, though. There isn’t long. Please: before Andrew Lansley, Secretary of State for Health, sets out his priorities for the NHS for 2011/12, click here (please feel free to share the link and the Why), where it’s all drafted for you, and contact your MP. Make the buggers work! It’s the only sphere I can think of where a little bullying and browbeating is entirely acceptable – and feel free to mention my name in the context of a steaming trailerload of cowshit if they don’t pony up and bombard the Right Honourable Andrew Lansley with reasons why things need to get better, not worse. If you could leave them a tad nervous as to whether you’re joking or not about the cowshit: that’d be nifty, cheers.

If you ask me how much of this is altruism on my part, and how much horrified self-interest, I’m not sure I could tell you. My laparoscopy/hysteroscopy surgery is confirmed – confirmed, in proper ink pen – for Monday 29th November. If they give me the go ahead afterwards – which they may not, because the pain I’m in is making me uneasy about what they will find in there – then we’re looking at more fertility treatment afterwards. Sharpish, really, as I’m 35 and feeling creaky. My Chance of carrying a child to term lies, I feel, somewhere between Fat and No, so I have to face, among other spectres, the prolonged, powerless, rudderless hang-glide over the hell that is premature birth.

God help me. In fact, considering the Government’s latest maternity plans, I’m beginning to think that only He will have the resources to.

*drags hands blearily down face and takes another swig of sherry*

Hokay. We’re gonna be happy now.

Teddies! Two teddies! Only very slightly covered in dust from a fortnight on my dresser!

21 (T’was actually 23, but the lovely lady in the next village knows nothing of the Hairy Farmers and would be Puzzled, and I have also disqualified my Dad, as in return for his very generous donation, he was stuffed to the gills with cake AND took a plate home AND has a nice shiny Bliss badge instead) of you donated online and left me an email address – I assume those of you who did not leave an email are replete with all the teddies you emotionally require?

Random.org, which is scarily mathematical, told me that 11 and 10 still need another teddy in their lives.

Teddies are both extremely lucky young chaps: destined for wonderful writers – who have both started blogging relatively recently, so I am delighted at an excuse to mention them here, on the basis that you may not have encountered them yet and are definitely missing out. Teddy One is heading Down Under – unless the distinctly fabulous and engaging Wombat, with whom I darkly suspect I might have a Uterus of Doom in common, returns from Sydney anytime soon; Teddy Two is heading to the US of A, where Irretrievably Broken writes – fascinatingly, thought-provokingly, and stupendously well.

My sherry glass is empty, so I am calling my work here tonight done. I am taking my streaming cold and my toilet roll – I am no longer a woman organised enough to lay in proper tissues – off to bed.

Thank you, again, and again. I am humming Randy Newman at you.

Lucky Beggar

My French, which was never much above borrowing-the-pen-of-the-gardener’s-aunt standard, has dwindled significantly during the 19 years that have passed since I last sat a French exam. I can, however, still remember how to blurt out the single, solitary phrase that I ever used in genuine French situ: a tearful foreign-exchange 11yr old on her first time away from home, stuck in the beautiful yet oh-so-isolated St-Aubin-Chateau-Neuf, realising that she probably wasn’t going to make it through dinner with her kind, yet very much non English-speaking host family, without grizzling miserably.

“Je suis très fatigué!”

And I am. I’m done in. I uncharacteristically fell asleep on a sofa yesterday evening, while Harry, puzzled by my non-combative status (‘Marmee! Marrrrrmee?’ is his latest pronunciation. I have been having Little Women thoughts all week) busily fed plastic coins down my cleavage while I dozed. I had odd dreams.

Yesterday, I held my annual coffee & cake morning for Bliss, the Premature Baby Charity. I wrote, last year, in a reasonable bitterness of spirit, a little about why I do this. Several people have asked me: why not just write a cheque? I could do that, I suppose, because I work in sales for a living and selling cake to family & friends in my spare time is definitely something I could happily Not Do, as it happens, but for some inexplicable reason I feel like I have to suffer a little.

John, who is my chief appointed tidy-upperer at Hairy Towers for this occasion, would very much like to suffer a good deal less, and would delightedly buy himself out with a cheque. Procrastination, thy name is Husband; he managed to convince himself that the vacumning, junk-clearance, toy-boxing, coat/shoe-tidying, floor mopping and trailer-park-trash-removal was able to wait and industriously set-to with a hoe to weed the patio, before disappearing A) to the recycling centre (with the old dishwasher that’s been sat outside for 6 months) and B) to drink coffee at his mate’s house. He was inordinately cheered when my mother, like the hero she is, risked life-long asthma and tidied the dog room for him. He would really, really prefer that I wrote a cheque.

But writing a cheque would deprive me of the opportunity to rant. I get very ranty indeed about the topic of neonatal critical care in the UK. 20,000 babies a year need Intensive Care in this country. Not just Special bit-prem-bit-scrawny-can’t-maintain-own-temperature-or-suck/swallow/breathe-properly-yet Care – although God knows that’s plenty, plenty horrible enough. Intensive Care. Please-Don’t-Die Care. I-Will-Hear-These-Sounds-And-See-These-Sights-All-My-Life Care.

Which is often extremely tough luck for the 20,000 babies, on a number of counts, because finding a local Level 3 NICU cot is like trying to find a taxi at 1am, New Year’s Day. It’s luck, you see. Not standardised provision. There’s plenty of cars in the world, yes, but… a taxi? Vacant? Near you? Manned by a licensed, alert driver? Good luck with that.

We were lucky with Harry. God, we were lucky. We had the last bed in our local, brand new-equipped NICU, 10 miles away. It took several hours to stabilise him enough to transfer him onto the ambulance ventilator and actually get him there, during which time we were stuck at the wrong hospital with no mobile phone signal and we were bowel-meltingly terrified (there really ought to be better synonyms for scared) he might have died, and his first few days were filled with atypical, unusual seizures, massive desaturations, hole in heart with grade 4 murmur, suspected brain damage, suspected necrotising enterocolitis, suspected infection, second-line antibiotics and a spinal tap, but… yeah. Lucky.

I can relate the whole sorry tale, and I tell you, I still feel really, really fucking fortunate. 

The parents of the baby in the cot next to Harry? Weren’t lucky.

We can’t save them all. I know that. But we can save more than we currently do in this bloody country: people are often surprised when I tell ’em about the UK’s infant mortality stats. Trailing in, 24th in the European Union, level with Croatia, is… awful. I’m not knocking Croatia: the UK undeniably has advantages that they do not, and WHATTHEBUGGERYFUCK, UK?

Sigh. This is the buggery-fuck: there’s just not enough staff. There’s a chronic, chronic shortage of neonatal specialists, ergo the available cots are under hellish pressure, and patient care is, inevitably, sometime compromised, because the service has been stretched to its limits, almost since inception. An adult admitted to ITU can generally expect one-to-one nursing care. Despite the wearisome year-in, year-out, same-old recommendations for improvement, a neonate often cannot (although their medical needs are, arguably, greater than an adult’s) because there simply. Are. Not. Enough. Staff.

Harry’s NICU cot was next to the ward desk, and I could hear, over the cacophony of beeps and alarms, the sister on the phone, trying to fill shifts. Asking tired nurses to come in on their days off. And, although I deeply appreciated, even at the time, how these men and women needed their down-time to recharge and relax, I couldn’t help being acutely aware that it might be Harry’s night nurse shift she was trying to fill. I was the epitome of Conflicted.

I can’t think of a higher-pressure job in medicine than neonatal and paediatric intensive care. Your patients are, without exception, adorable. They have everything, everything to live for. When you lose a patient on these wards, it’s not an easy, quiet death. Not a gentle death; the closing of a fulfilled life, with children and grandchildren stood ready to mourn, to grieve, and, eventually, to accept and to smile at their memories. These medical staff must, daily, stand ready to face that most unnatural facet of human existence: the death of a child.

When they unhooked the baby next to Harry from the ventilator, and wheeled the incubator out of the ward, I saw the face of the nurse who was bagging the child – mainly because her face was an easier one to look at than the parents’ – and the tears were pouring down her cheeks like rain.

I want that nurse to be able to take her days off, and not feel guilty.

I want that nurse to be properly supported and trained in her important, specialist role.

I want that nurse, who put her arm tightly around me when I cried over my desperately-poorly son, not to burn out under the stress of her job and working hours, and leave the role to others with less empathy. (Of which others, I have to say, I found a few too many. These tiny neonates are beggars, and cannot, sadly, be choosers.)

I want every baby to be born healthy, but I’ll settle, pro tem, for every baby getting the best quality care this country can give – without having to be unnecessarily and dangerously transported hundreds of miles to find it.

I would love a donation, no matter how small, but I would also like to direct the flinty gaze (or stony. Stony is also good.) of UK readers at the Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley, MP. A draft letter to the bloke can be found on this page. Your MP, who should be exhorted/pleaded with/blackmailed (please delete as applicable) to approach Andrew Lansley on the topic, can be found here.  

A most sincere thank-you to those of you that came along yesterday. I know some of you read – indeed, some of you blog! – and I really do appreciate your kindness to us. To Harry. To me. I liberated you of £227 and I am delighted with my shakedown!

I was humbled beyond belief last year when so many of you, whom I have mostly never met, donated online. I was completely mentally tripped-up by the notion that my odd little corner of the internet could have generated so very much unforeseen good will, generosity of spirit, and sheer human kindness. Many of you found me here because you do not – yet – have children, and yet you gave your money to Bliss – a charity that helped us, Harry, and his medical team –  because it was a cause dear to my heart, not yours. 

I cried. I cried for days.

I do not take your support for granted, and I know – don’t I just! – that times are hard, and the wolves are likely snapping as closely at your fiscal sledge as they are at ours. But if you are able to hurl off an undeserving peasant give (from each according to his ability, from each according to his need, type-of-thing) then I would be… well. I think the word is verklempt.

There is a minimum donation set by the Just Giving website of £2 (approximates to USD$3.33 / AUD $3.20 / €2.3 / 0.00232344 gold ounces) and if that’s what you’re comfortable sparing, then please, believe me honestly, truly grateful, and more than grateful.

http://www.justgiving.com/DarthToddler

I am jollying the donation process up a little: I have bought two very friendly young Bliss teddy bears – everyone needs a teddy, or knows someone who does –

to give away, and shall do so with the help of random.org, among everyone who donates and leaves me an email address to contact you with. I’ll post them anywhere in the world: I don’t care if you’re Santa’s little helper or an Antarctic scientist. 

And… if you’re still with me all the way down here… thanks for reading, peeps.

Ann xxx

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