Looking after Mum

After the post remembering my Mum’s birthday this week, I was interested to see something similar on the blog of American writer, Pete Springer. That reminded me of this post from 2013, which few of you have seen before. Anyone who has ever cared for an elderly relative might be able to identify with this.

beetleypete

When I was young, my Mum was always there. She worked hard, looking after the house, cooking and cleaning, and doing all the washing and ironing. In addition to this, she also had a full-time job, and looked in on her own parents, as well as her sisters and brother. She rarely told me off, always seemed pleased to see me, and gave me constant encouragement in my school work, reading, and the development of my imagination. If I was ill, she tended me, sitting up all night by my bed if need be. She worried constantly about my eating, to the extent of overfeeding me, and making sure I always had sweets, and any other treats I desired. Though not a spoilt child, I was certainly a well-nurtured one.

As I got older, she continued in kind. When I was on school holidays, she arranged for her mother to…

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Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Weather, and illness.

I went to bed last night with an annoying chesty cough. I took some tablets, and retired early. I had been feeling cold for two days, after a change in the weather from twenty degrees and sunny, to thirteen degrees and showery. I woke up not feeling that much better, even though I had slept soundly for over ten hours. That got me thinking about the connection between illness, and weather.

When I was young, many forms of illness were blamed on the weather. Coming home in wet clothes, I would be told, “Get out of those wet things, or you will catch your death of cold”.
During some of the famous London smogs, we were issued with cloth ‘smog masks’ at school, and told that we must not breathe the air outside without wearing them. Apparently, the air would affect our breathing, and leave us with long-term lung problems. They seemed to forget that I was returning home to a house heated by smoky coal fires, and to parents who chain-smoked cigarettes.

Sitting too long in the sun was never considered to be a health hazard though. I never knew that sun cream existed, until I was in my mid twenties. But when I started to get severe hay fever in my teens, I was told it was ‘the hot air’, and that I should shut my bedroom window as I slept, so as not to breathe too much in. Visiting sick relatives or friends was never an issue either, as long as they put their hand over their mouths when they coughed or sneezed, I was reliably informed. Once they had finished coughing or sneezing, we were of course expected to hug them, and kiss them goodbye as we left.

It wasn’t long before the government became involved with trying to tell us all that it was nothing to do with the weather. It was ‘viruses’, and they were spread by close contact, especially among families, and on public transport. Information films began to appear, with catchy titles like, ‘Coughs and Sneezes spread Diseases’. They showed people using handkerchiefs, and covering their mouths when they coughed. But despite this new information, my Mum still insisted that the weather was mostly to blame, and that I should always take a jumper or coat when I went out, “Just in case”.

Now I am older, I have discovered that I am more susceptible to illness. A long life has weakened my immune system, making things like cuts take longer to heal, and other medical conditions much harder to shake off, once established. But I socialise rarely, and use public transport even less. Other than walking around with Ollie, I am inside most of the time, and always dressed appropriately for any conditions. But having gone from walking in warm and pleasant sunshine, to having to dress up in warm clothes to take my dog out, in the space of three days, something has got into my system and has left me with a cough that seems difficult to shift.

I blame the weather.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Age and infirmity.

As I have mentioned, I haven’t been at all well lately. So it is no surprise that I woke up (early) from a feverish sleep, thinking about how things change as you get older. I have written about this before of course, but in a few weeks from now, I will be adding an even bigger number next to the 6 in my age. And I woke up thinking about just how fast that seems to come around.

If you have a long time to go before you can even think about retiring, or the thought of sixty candles on your birthday cake seems like some distant event in an uncertain future, then you might do well to read this, and take pause for thought.

I spent the last fifteen years of my working life planning for the time when I could retire on the pensions I had paid into. Research informed me that I would have to work until I was 60, to make it financially possible. So like many before me, I started to ‘count down’ the years until I would no longer have to work, more or less wishing away a great deal of my life, hoping to get older faster. Does that seem crazy to you? Then maybe wait until you get close to that yourself, and see how you feel. By the time I got to my 58th birthday, I was coasting in neutral. I had a date fixed, and had already applied to retire on that day, excited to receive pension forecasts and confirmation in the post.

One week after my 60th birthday, I was no longer a ‘worker’. I was now one of ‘The Retired’, a ‘Pensioner’. With five years still to go before the addition of my official State Pension, I took a 60% drop in monthly income, and moved to Norfolk to live the quiet life. Well, I didn’t plan on it being quiet. I would get a dog, do a lot of gardening, some decorating, and various jobs around the house.

At first, it went just as expected. I didn’t get around to the decorating, but I tackled the big jobs in the garden, painted some fences, and got that dog. That got me out of the house, exploring the local area, and meeting new people. And I tried my hand at starting a blog too. In most respects, life was quiet, also peaceful, and content. This was how I had hoped it would be, and I could anticipate the coming years, planning ahead.

Then one day, I found it difficult to lift a shopping bag from the back of the car. I thought I must have misjudged the weight of it, and was surprised to discover I needed two hands to lift it. After doing some minor digging and weed-clearing the following week, I could hardly hold a cup of coffee later. I went to the doctor, and she took blood tests. I had been taking medication for high cholesterol for around five years before retiring, and it turned out that I was one of the unlucky ones. The tablets had caused muscle wastage, predominantly in my arms. Cells and muscle tissue were found in record numbers in a liver function test, and the medication was stopped immediately, never to recommence.

I had to readjust. I was never again going to have the upper body strength I had enjoyed for most of my life. Jobs would have to be tackled slowly, and I had to buy a small hand-truck to move things around. My arms ached to the point of bringing me to tears, and simple things like opening a stubborn jar lid were now almost laughably impossible.

I was annoyed with myself, but had to learn to live with it.

Not long after that, I felt dizzy in the bath one day. I was sure that the bath had overturned with me in it. Impossible as that sounds, I scrambled out the bath in a panic, knocking over everything in the bathroom. I considered that it might be a stroke, and spent a long time waiting for the symptoms to subside. Then I went to the doctor again. It was Vertigo, a simple painless condition that can seriously blight your life. Lying for even a short time flat on my back was now impossible. Look up at a tree, or down at some weeds, and an overwhelming dizziness would convince me that I was about to fall. The doctor suggested head manipulation exercises, but they didn’t work. So she told me that I would have to learn to live with it.

I needed to readjust, again.

The next summer, I was bitten badly by horseflies, when out walking Ollie. Some of the bites became grossly swollen, and others I had scratched continued to hurt, and bleed constantly too. Back to the doctor, and this time I saw the nurse. She told me not to scratch them, (yeah, like that works) and gave me some cream to help with the swelling and itching. I remarked that I was surprised how long they were taking to heal, and she smiled. “You’re not as young as you were, unfortunately”. On top of having arm muscles with the strength of bath sponges, and feeling dizzy doing so much as changing a light bulb, I now had to contemplate the possibility that a simple insect bite might never quite heal, and provide the possibility of worse infections attacking my bloodstream.

Retirement was becoming a contest with my own rapidly-ageing body. And a contest I was losing.

So the next time you dream about the day of your own retirement, whether it be sailing that yacht around the world, spending time with your grandchildren, or landscaping your beloved garden, I have a tip for you.

Check with your body first.

You’re not the one in charge, whatever your brain tells you.

A Viral Delay

For the last few days, I have been revisited by the body-crushing virus that I have christened ‘The Boomerang Virus’.
(Because it keeps coming back of course)

It has a distinct combination of symptoms, and once they appear, there is no mistake that it has returned.

Hot, painful, and watery eyes.
High temperature followed by feeling ice cold.
Weakness, tiredness, and lethargy.
A sore throat that feels like broken glass.
Random coughing fits that can last for up to fifteen minutes.

Yesterday, I was in bed for almost 20 of the available 24 hours. And for 16 of those 20 hours, I was asleep, in something akin to a feverish coma. I only emerged to take Ollie for a 90-minute walk, and later to eat dinner. I am taking the usual shop-bought medications to reduce the effects of a runny nose, and a headache that feels like an Eagle’s claw around my skull. They are helping a little, but I suspect it must be left to run its course, like the last time I had it. Meanwhile, much of my normal life has been put on hold, not unlike waiting for a delayed train, on a windy station platform.

So many people now have this here, that I am beginning to wonder if it is biological warfare, gone wrong.

I am unable to concentrate on anything for too long. So no reading, very little TV, and no long sessions on the blogs. Sitting in my office chair for more than an hour is too uncomfortable, and lack of enthusiasm and energy means that nothing else gets done at all.

To everyone who is awaiting the next part of my current fiction serial, I apologise. I haven’t been up to writing it, sorry to say.

If I feel better later tonight, which seems unlikely at the moment, I will try to get it done.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Unusually for me, I didn’t wake up thinking about anything in particular today, so I wasn’t going to bother with one of these regular posts.

However, when out walking with Ollie later, something popped into my mind unexpectedly, and took me back thirty-six years, to a strange encounter.
So, better late than never, here is what I have been thinking about on this particularly dull and dismal Sunday.

Veronica.

One afternoon when I was working as an EMT, we were called to a lady complaining of stomach pains and dizziness. Her address was very close to our base, only a few hundred yards away in fact. We arrived very quickly, and were met at the door by an attractive and smart older lady, with a pleasant manner. At first, I didn’t realise it was her that had called for the ambulance, thinking she was helping out someone who was ill. But she soon made it clear that it was for her, so I began the usual round of questions about symptoms, medical history, and so on. She was adamant that her stomach was hurting, so we did some basic tests, and could find nothing obviously wrong.

I offered to call out her family doctor, or to convey her to the emergency department of the nearby hospital. She opted to go to hospital, and during the short journey, managed to tell me a great deal about herself. She was 64 years old, and had just moved to the area after the death of her much older husband. She claimed to often feel dizzy, and that pains in her stomach had developed that morning. She also revealed that she had been very lonely since moving, and sometimes felt depressed.

I handed her over to the hospital staff, and left for the next job. My colleague wryly suggested that she had ‘lonely person syndrome’, and that was the last we thought of it.

We were on duty until 11 pm that evening, and remained fairly busy for the rest of the shift. Around ten, we received a call on the radio to return to the lady’s address. She had been discharged from hospital, and had called to say that we had left some equipment behind earlier. On the way back to base, we stopped outside, even though we were both sure that we had left nothing in her flat. My colleague stayed in the driving seat, and I went up and rang the bell. She answered the door, immediately asking me to come inside. Once in there, I could see that she was dressed very differently. She was wearing a low-cut blouse, a much shorter skirt, and had a lot of make-up on. I suppose a description might be ‘inappropriate’, though I wouldn’t presume to suggest what a lady should wear in her own home, or anywhere else for that matter.

She smiled at me and told me that we had left nothing behind, and she had used that as an excuse to make sure the same men returned to her address. She launched into a well-prepared speech about how she had really taken to me, and wondered if I would like to go round after work, “for a drink”. Her smiles and inferences suggested a lot more than drinks were on the menu. Now I am not remotely ‘ageist’, and as memory serves, she was a desirable lady in every respect. But at the time I was 30 years old, and Veronica was six years older than my own mother. I had also been happily married for five years, and had no intention of cheating on my wife. I thanked her for the invitation, and told her that I was very flattered, but married, and not interested in a ‘fling’. She leaned forward and tried to kiss me, but when I shied away and made my farewells, she smiled and said “Oh well, your loss”.

After that, she began to ring ambulances all the time, almost every day. As the odds were that she would rarely get me turning up, she started to ask other crews about me, going so far as to tell them that I was her ‘boyfriend’. She had asked my first name when I took her to hospital, so with that, and a physical description, she was able to make it clear who she was talking about. Then one morning, we got a call to her house, once again alleging dizzy spells. I spoke to her calmly but firmly, requesting that she stop calling ambulances in the hope of seeing me, and on no account was she to tell others that I was her boyfriend. When she declined to go to hospital, we left her flat.

Within days, she was putting letters through the door of the ambulance station. Her words were lurid, describing all sorts of sexual ideas she wanted to try with me. I decided to go to my Area Officer, and make him aware of what was going on. As was often the case, he presumed that I had taken up her offer that first night, and took some convincing that I hadn’t. He even suggested that I should accommodate her, smiling and adding, “It might calm her down”. Once he was told that wasn’t going to happen, he finally told me that I couldn’t refuse to attend her address, especially if I was in the nearest available ambulance. With a shrug, he concluded, “You will just have to put up with it. Consider it flattering, I would”. Not only did her letters continue, each one more explicit than the last, she took to standing on the corner opposite the ambulance station, hoping to see me. Other crews reported seeing her there for hours at times, and when I was on a two-week summer holiday, she rang the bell of the ambulance station and asked the crew that answered where I was.

For almost a year, the luck of the draw was on my side, and I never got one of the many calls she made to the emergency operator. Others did, and became frustrated and annoyed about her wasting time, when all she did when they arrived was to ask about me, then refuse to go with them to hospital. On one Saturday night, she made fourteen calls in under five hours, with an ambulance attending at least ten of those. And I wasn’t even on duty that night.

Eventually, she became classified as a ‘Persistent Nuisance Caller’, with the result that she could be refused the attendance of an ambulance. A Divisional Officer was sent round to talk to her about that, and she spent the whole conversation telling him that I was her boyfriend, and we were lovers. When he inferred that her allegations might result in me losing my job due to ‘Abuse of position’, she just said “If he loses his job, tell him he can come and live with me”. Reports were sent to Social Services, and I learned that she was later referred to the Mental Health Team. As far as I know, she stopped calling ambulances, and I never saw her again.

It wasn’t long before I had forgotten all about her.
Until today, when her face and voice popped into my mind, whilst out walking my dog.

If Veronica is still alive somewhere, she will now be 100 years old.
I hope that she found the happiness she was seeking.

Fever Dreams

As whatever has me in its grip continues, something new has appeared. Spending much of each day in bed can be tiring in itself, but despite that, I am still managing to sleep at night. I have been waking up around 5 am, after deep sleeps lasting almost seven hours. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmingly hot as I wake, and freezing cold at other times, even though I am under a thick duvet.

That feverish condition brings with it some very unusual dreams.

Recent weird and wonderful dreams have been bizarre, and sometimes upsetting. I had one where Ollie ran across a busy road, and was hit by a huge tractor that was towing a trailer full of turnips. The turnips were all over the road surface, and I scooped Ollie up and put him in my car, driving over the crunchy turnips as I left. I drove the twelve miles to the Vet at breakneck speed, where I was told that nothing could be done for him. It was so vivid, that I woke up believing that Ollie was dead, and was very relieved to find him asleep on his bed in the kitchen.

One afternoon, I dropped off to sleep after coming home from taking Ollie out. Although still early, it was dark and cold, so bed seemed to be the best place for me. During that sleep, my brain transported me into a different life, one where I was married to someone I didn’t know at all. The woman looked something like a young Elizabeth Taylor, and had a Scottish accent. In the dream, she was acting just like we were married, and I was wondering who she was. The weird part (even weirder part) is that at one stage, she told me we had to “get into the cage”. I followed her into a large strong cage, made from black metal bars, and she closed the door of it with a sliding bolt. She then looked at her watch, and closed her eyes. Immediately, lots of bricks and rubble fell down around us, banging and clattering against the roof of the cage. When that had stopped, she opened the door, and began to clear away the debris, acting as if the event was completely normal.

When I woke up, I was genuinely surprised that I was no longer inside a large metal cage.

The last ‘fever dream’ took me to somewhere quite exotic. Palm trees, stormy skies, and a beach with white sand and blue seas. I was younger than I am now, around thirty years old. I could feel the humidity of the place (probably transferring the heat of my body) and smell the sea. Other people walked around, but seemed not to notice me. Some of them were dressed in heavy winter clothes, others in swimwear. A small boy wearing something like German Lederhosen approached me, and gave me a pineapple. His mother ran over and grabbed his hand, leading him away along the beach.
I was still eating that pineapple, when I suddenly woke up.

I still feel absolutely awful. But at least the dreams are interesting.

Talk To Type

I know some bloggers who use speech-to-text software. They can talk into a microphone connected to their computer, and it translates their words into text on the screen. It often makes some very amusing assumptions about what they might have said, so probably requires careful proof-reading.

I don’t have anything like that. I am not sure it could cope with my London accent, or the colloquialisms I would use when speaking. I type on a conventional keyboard instead, and I don’t have to think too hard when it comes down to correcting typos, or using words that are not the slang I actually hear in my head as I write.

It is just as well that I don’t rely on those innovative programmes, as this morning I have woken up with little or no voice. My throat has closed up, and I sound as if I am using the voice of a dark entity that is possessing me, if I even bother to try to speak at all. It seems that I was wrong, when I posted the other day about exaggerating a heavy cold.

Whatever it is I have got at the moment, it is certainly much nastier than a cold, and getting progressively worse with each hour that passes.