The Beetley Pigeon: An Update

I recently wrote about a pigeon that had injured its wing, after flying into the kitchen window.

The Beetley Pigeon

Many of you were very concerned about the pigeon, so I thought an update was in order.

Since publishing that post, I have been looking after the pigeon as best as I can. I place a decent portion of bird seed in a container for it, with a similar dish of water next to it. Every day, the seed is eaten, and some of the water has gone. I keep this away from the other feeding area on the small table, where the other birds fly up to eat it.

Supplies for the injured pigeon are placed on the grass, very close to the dense shrub that he/she now calls home. On a couple of occasions, I have seen it emerge to eat and drink, and sometimes added a chunk of granary bread so it can fill itself up away from the other avian diners.

This afternoon, I got a good look at it. When I went out with Ollie, all the other birds flew away, as they usually do. But the injured pigeon is still unable to fly, and walked quickly back to the safety of the shrub. The good news is that the wing is no longer hanging down, and dragging on the the grass. The bird is able to hold it against its body now, even though it is obviously not healed enough for it to fly even a short distance.

It can never be classed as a pet, but I will continue to look after it for as long as is needed.

In Praise Of Honest Mechanics, And The NHS

Ten days ago, I wrote about my car failing the MOT test, and needing two new tyres.

Always Something

I didn’t use it after driving it home, and then three days later, Julie used it to take her daughter and grandchildren out for the day. They did a fair few miles, and had an enjoyable day. However, when she returnd home that evening, she said she could hear a ‘rubbing noise’ when turning right. I drove into town and back, and couldn’t hear it.

Last Friday, she cut her hand at work. It was in an awkward place on the edge of her right hand, and bleeding badly. So I drove to collect her, leaving her car in the car park. We had two options then. Either drive the shorter distance to the main Norwich Hospital, and possibly wait for many hours to be seen, or drive up to Cromer on the north coast, where there is a minor injuries unit open from 08:00 until 20:00. That seemed the better option, and off we went.

Arriving close to 7:30pm, we wondered if we were going to be too late. But no. An efficient receptionist booked her in, then asked me to wait in the car park due to Covid-19 restrictions. Less than ten minutes after I got back to the car, Julie appeared, her wound closed with steri-strips, and a dressing covering the injury. When you hear so many complaints about our health service, I think it is only right to balance that with praise for the marvellous service we received last Friday.

Well done the NHS.

On the way home, we used the main relief road to avoid Norwich, and it has many roundabouts. Once negotiating those, I could hear the ‘rubbing noise’ that Julie had spoken about previously.

On Sunday morning, I returned to the car repair dealership I had used for the MOT, service, and tyres, and asked them to investigate the noise. The manager drove the car around the forecourt, and agreed he could hear the noise. However, after some examination of the wheels and steering, he was unable to speculate on what might be causing it. He suggested I leave it there overnight, and he would get a more experienced colleague to examine the car today. (Monday) I agreed, and Julie collected me and took me home. Although this Monday is a public holiday in England, they were open from 10:00 until 16:00.

Me being me, I feared the worst. Major repairs just before our holiday, and yet more eye-watering expense. While I was out walking Ollie, Julie rang them just before 1pm, and they said the car was ready. They had found a loose back plate on a front brake disc, and that was moving enough to cause the rubbing sound on full right lock. As they had worked on the car recently, they said they would not be charging me anything at all, because of the possibility that they may have caused the temporary fault.

When I collected the car, they gave me a Diagnostic Wheel Alignment report, telling me they had additionally checked the alignment to put my mind at rest. This alone usually costs £59, but there was no charge. I think good service like this should also be praised, especially for a large chain of car repairers that doesn’t always have the best reputation here.

So, well done to Dereham branch of Kwik Fit too.

My Doggy Doctor

(Not Ollie of course. He has no uniform)

It is well known that dogs can detect illnesses in humans.

Here are some examples I found online.

Last week, researchers presented evidence that dogs could tell from sniffing someone’s socks whether they had malaria. After several months of training, a labrador and a labrador-retriever could tell if a child had the disease even if they were not showing symptoms.

Prostate cancer
In 2015, Italian researchers announced that they had trained two German shepherds to detect chemicals linked to prostrate cancer in urine samples. The dogs were correct in 90% of cases, while the standard PSA blood test is not considered reliable enough for screening. There is an ongoing study in Milton Keynes hospital NHS trust that aims to evaluate dogs’ abilities in a normal clinical setting.

Dogs are already used by diabetics to detect when their blood sugar levels are dangerously high or low. A charity called Hypo Hounds trains dogs to smell tell-tale changes on their owner’s breath or in their sweat. The pets can detect a problem earlier than a glucose monitor.

Parkinson’s disease
Researchers at Manchester University are attempting to train dogs to detect Parkinson’s disease years before symptoms emerge. The work is inspired by the work of a human “super-sniffer” who detected a change in her husband’s odour six years before he was diagnosed.

Breast cancer
Dogs are also being trialled at Buckinghamshire healthcare NHS trust for their ability to detect breast cancer. If dogs could detect this form of cancer from a woman’s breath it would allow more frequent screening; currently, women over 50 are screened only once every three years because of the exposure to radiation involved.

Ollie sniffs me intently, any chance he gets. He will also sniff my clothes when I get undressed. If I have a scratch or a cut, even one so small I might not have noticed it, he will suddenly start to lick my leg, arm, hand, or foot as soon as he smells the tiniest trace of blood. It is believed that licking a wound can actually hasten healing. Hence the old saying, ‘licking his wounds’.

Last week, Ollie started to refuse to take any treats from my hand. If I put them in his food bowl he would eat them, and if I gave them to Julie, he would take them from her. But he flatly refused to accept them from my hand, for the first time ever.

Then on Saturday, I was watching TV quite late and wearing a dressing gown. He suddenly got up and walked over to sniff my legs. He was concentrating intently, sniffing very small areas. Soon after, he began to lick both of my shins. He kept doing it so obsessively, I had to stop him and tell him to go and lie down.

On Sunday, I remembered those facts about dogs detecting illness and injury, so examined my legs for any small wounds. I couldn’t find any.

As for illness, I feel fine at the moment, and have no obvious symptoms of anything. But this morning, he still refused his treat from my hand.

Perhaps I should be worried?

Pain Threshold

On an unusually hot and sunny afternoon last week, I was chatting to a fellow dog-walker when I felt an incredibly sharp pain at the back of my head. It was best described as being hit by an air-rifle pellet, or being stabbed by someone using a spike of some kind. I yelled loudly, and jumped forward, quickly turning to see if someone was behind me. The man I was talking to pointed to the space above my head, and declared, “It’s a horsefly”. I have had horsefly bites on my legs in the past, and they can be painful. But this one on my head was much worse, and was throbbing immediately.

I carried on with my walk, and by the time I got over the river onto Hoe Rough, the swelling was the size of an egg, and pulsing painfully. As I type this, I can still feel the remains of that hard lump above my right ear.

Yesterday afternoon, I was stepping into the bath, prior to getting ready to take Ollie out. As I did so, I caught the inside of my left leg on the edge of the bath. It was little more than a glancing blow, hardly even a ‘knock’. Yet it made me shout in pain so loudly, Ollie’s head appeared, to see what was happening. It was really painful, and by the time I was out of the bath and getting dried, there was a bruise appearing, the size of a coin.

I have been lucky so far in life. I have not had to have any major surgery, and have never broken an arm, leg, or even an ankle. There have been my fair share of falls, bumps, and cuts over the years, and I did break four fingers on my left hand in a very bad car accident when I was 32. But whatever injury I ever had, I never thought too much about it, and never once made a fuss.

So how is it that I suddenly have zero pain threshold for things like a small impact on my leg, or the bite of an insect? What changed along the way? I’m sure it cannot just be age, as I know older people who have bravely endured surgery or broken limbs quite recently. Is it my perception of pain that has altered, or can a body actually change how it registers levels of pain?

Whatever the reason, I don’t like it.

Ollie’s Tail: A tale.

As I know (from comments and e mails) that many of you are interested, here is a short update on the condition of my poorly dog, Ollie. I felt it was necessary to take him to the Vet this morning, even though my dealings with any Vet in the past have always left me uneasy. I cannot justify the huge costs, for what is often a very short visit, and for what is sometimes the most minor treatment. I understand that to be a Vet, is an expensive proposition. Years of study, post-graduate qualifications, and acceptance into a busy practice, often for a large fee. It all adds up. They probably don’t start earning a decent salary (by Vet standards, of course, not by normal ones) until they are into their late twenties. This leaves them with a fair bit of catching up to do, at our expense.

Don’t get me wrong, I want the best care for my dog, and I don’t want him to suffer, or to be in any discomfort. But this is probably the closest we ever get, to seeing private healthcare as it really is, in countries where it is often the only decent option. As we only have the Vet’s word for what is wrong, we pay up, listen to the necessary medications prescribed, and return as instructed, for follow-up treatments. I just have a niggling doubt that a lot of it is unnecessary, and done to increase the bill at the end. If you question the charges, they rattle off the cost of all the tests and anaesthetics, making you feel guilty about not wanting the best for your pet. In extreme circumstances, they invite you to take your pet off their books, and start all over with a different Vet. Same prices though. Maybe it is just me, but I would like to see them looking a bit more worried about the dog, and less worried that I have the means to pay. Of course, I don’t expect them to work for free, just for a little less.

I digress. Ollie was kept in, to have a general anaesthetic. He was unlikely to sit still for a proper examination and treatment, even if muzzled. Even before she agreed this, the Vet immediately began to estimate future costs, should her initial treatment prove to be unsuccessful. With only a cursory glance at the dog, she began to quote me hundreds of pounds for future surgery, that might be needed, to create a proper stump on his tail. After three hours had passed, I went to collect him. I had to pay before even seeing him, and it was a hefty bill, for treatment lasting less than an hour, then letting him sleep somewhere, for two more. He has a huge bandage on his tail, which was shaved and cleaned. Antibiotics have been administered, and I had to buy more, as well as pain killers, to take home. He has slept all the rest of the time, feeling most sorry for himself.

We have to go back on Wednesday, to have the dressing changed, and to see if more surgery will be needed. I hope that I am proved wrong, I really do, but I have the feeling that he will be requiring that extra surgery, after all.

If you have a child, bright and studious, but unsure of the path to take in life, recommend being a Vet.

A Country Tail

Ollie hasn’t had a great week. After chasing a deer into some bushes, and not catching it of course, he pulled a muscle in one of his back legs, and developed a limp. No sooner had that begun to clear up, than he had a bout of diarrhoea to contend with, probably caused by drinking something potentially lethal, in the river water. Luckily, that soon cleared up, with a couple of days of bland food- chicken and rice, and a good rest.

As he draws near to his second birthday, next February, he has become a little difficult on occasion. He sometimes ignores my commands to return, and often runs the length of the meadow, when he sees another dog. As we decided not to have him neutered, (not yet, anyway) his usual playing with his dog chums has recently developed into shows of dominance. Most of them are doing something similar; shoulder mounting, growling, pawing the ground, and scent-marking every molehill and twig. Even when they seem to be playing happily, they nip harder, bowl each other over, and steal sticks and balls constantly. It is to be accepted, I suppose, as a coming-of-age ritual, which hopefully will not last too long. The shame of it is, that all the dogs concerned were once great friends. All born around the same time, they had their first ever walks together, shared first experiences in the river, and trips across to Hoe Rough.

Now, they are becoming like a gang of squabbling teenagers. Running in groups, careering into people, snarling, biting, and generally wrestling. Ollie, who is otherwise placid and so easy to own, becomes a changed dog across the meadow now. Strutting like a neighbourhood tough guy, on the lookout for any strange dogs to intimidate, or old pals to settle dominance issues with. I have to tell him off so much more, and sometimes walk him on the lead, to keep him in check. The once pleasant walk has turned into a constant reconnaissance mission, as I scan the horizon for potential combatants. Two of his former ‘best mates’, Retriever Duncan, and chocolate Labrador Flynn, are now either attacking on sight, or being pursued by a determined Ollie, keen to show them that he is the boss. I have had to start avoiding walking companions, even occasionally going to different venues, rather than have to encounter them.

Late Saturday afternoon, Ollie had been running around and tussling with Spike, an enormous eight-month old Rhodesian Ridgeback. It was a hard play, that left him with a gash over one eye. Luckily, Spike is still young, and Ollie senses his youth, and takes advantage of that. For the moment, they are still equals, despite the size difference, and Spike’s large ears were targeted on more than one occasion, causing him to yelp, as Ollie sunk his teeth in. As it got later, we decided to make tracks home. Near the river, we encountered a lady, who had another of Ollie’s old friends, Robbie the Terrier, on a lead.  After some sniffing and growling, ( by the dogs…) we said farewell, and walked towards the exit, as it was now almost dark. After getting some distance away, Ollie suddenly turned, and ran back towards Robbie, determined to have the last sniff, and show the small dog where he stood, in the grand scheme of things canine. I heard a snarl, and a high pitched yelp, and saw Ollie running back towards us. He stopped halfway, obviously in some distress, as he kept sitting down.

I went back, to try to cajole him on, and he kept looking at his tail, which is curled in on itself, not unlike a pig’s tail. I went to uncurl it, for a better look in the gloom, and he snapped at me angrily, for the first time ever. I put his lead on, but had trouble getting him to walk home. Once back in proper light, I could soon see that the tip of his tail was gone, bitten off by the angry terrier. There was a nasty-looking wound, and some dried blood around the base. Part of what was left was visible, and it looked very sore. I suppose it must be a bit like losing a fingertip, made worse by the fact that the curl in his tail constantly forces the wound into contact with his back. He can relax it slightly, but not for very long. I tried to get to it, to clean it up, but he was having none of that. All he wanted was to be stroked and cuddled, and he looked very sorry for himself. Mind you, he did eat his dinner, so it didn’t put him off that.

He kept fairly quiet for the rest of the night, not playing with his toys, and constantly seeking reassurance. Even though it was his own fault, we couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. I will take him to the Vet tomorrow, to see what can be done with it, if anything. Today, I drove him up to Neatherd Moor, to keep him out of the river. As soon as he was out of the car, it was plain to see that he was not his usual self; constantly stopping, and looking behind. When other dogs came close, they tried to sniff the wound, no doubt sensing the blood. I had to keep him walking on his own, and cut the usual length of his walk short, as he was patently not enjoying it. On the return journey, with rain increasing, the windscreen wipers on my car began to operate in slow-motion, for some unknown reason. With more rain forecast, and a busy week ahead, the last thing I needed was the inconvenience, and expense, of getting wipers fixed. I have had better weekends, it must be said.

On the plus side, I was published on Curnblog once again, here’s a link; Although this made me very pleased, it also coincided with the least ever views on my blog over a weekend, since I started it.

Let’s hope that it is a seasonal aberration.

Ambulance stories (18)

Living with the dead

This is not an anecdote about a specific job, like the other posts in this series. It is rather a reflection on death, and on dealing with it in the role of an ambulanceman. It is not meant to be depressing, though it may read that way. It is part of my reflection on those years, as I get older.

Before I joined the London Ambulance Service, I had seen one dead body. When I was young, my maternal grandfather died. He was only 65, and died suddenly. I was taken to see him in his coffin, which was in my grandparents’ front room, for a vigil before the funeral. My enduring memory of that night, was not of my first dead body, but of my uncle crying. My grand-dad just looked as if he was asleep, and I did not find it distressing.

Decades later, and I have seen many hundreds of dead people. I have watched them die, unable to do more for them. I have been having a conversation with someone, only to look up from my equipment, and realise that they were dead. I have seen people who had been found dead after lying undiscovered for weeks in a hot summer, and had to remove bodies found floating in the Thames. I have seen dead children, and helped to deliver a baby that was dead as it arrived into the world. There have been bodies of people who had died from violent acts; shootings, stabbings, and beatings, and others blasted by terrorist bombings, or consumed by fire.

I have tried, without success, to resuscitate a teenager, drowned in a swimming pool, and tiny children who had fallen victim to cot death, as their distraught mothers screamed uncontrollably. I have had to tell an old lady, that her husband of 50 years has gone, and seen the loss in the expression on her face. I have picked up the bodies of suicides, having found them still hanging, smashed into pavements after jumping from buildings, or cut to pieces under moving trains. I have watched people struggle to cling to their last few moments of life; the desperation, and fear of the unknown, discernible in their wide-eyed stares.

There have been the tragi-comic deaths. The man dressed in his wife’s clothes, dying as he masturbated, found by his confused and disgusted family. The overweight man who died as he made love to a prostitute, so heavy on top of the woman, she was still struggling underneath him, as we arrived to help. An elderly lonely man, dead on his bed next to a partially deflated, garish blow-up doll, as well as the auto-erotic asphyxiations, once a common find. A dead alcoholic, his cat sitting on his head, looking for all the world like a fur hat. The one constant with these deaths, the victims always died alone. To some extent, everyone does.

Then there are the places of death. Emaciated junkies, crammed into toilet cubicles, the needle still in their arms. Toilets are surprisingly popular places for people to die. It seems strange, until you realise that urgent bodily functions often precede a demise. Vagrants are often found dead in large refuse containers, having crawled in there to escape the weather. Stairwells are also a common place to die. Murder victims lie in them, drug users hide in them, and victims of crime are pursued into them. Roads and traffic provide their allotted share of bodies. Mangled in the wreckage, or struck at speed, catapulted along the tarmac. Cyclists’ bodies wedged under trucks, youngsters under buses, all dead the same. Stranger’s bedrooms, canal banks, inside supermarkets, in a crowded tube train carriage, or in the middle of a busy building site. There is nowhere that someone will not die.

There are good and bad weeks. I recall one early shift where the first three jobs all dealt with a dead body of some sort. Our colleagues joked that we should swap the ambulance for a hearse and carry a scythe, like the Grim Reaper. There could be a period of as long as a few days when you did not deal with a death, though that was rare. This was balanced by other incidents, where one job would provide multiple deaths. Mainly because of where I worked, I had some contact with many of these. The Hyde Park bombing, 11 soldiers killed, and many horses too. Harrods bombing, 6 killed. Ladbroke Grove train crash, 31 killed, as well as hundreds terribly injured. To a lesser, or in one case, greater degree, I was at the scene of these incidents, and dealt with all this death, as best as I could.

There are many deaths that fade from memory, and others that can be recalled with ease. The sight of a man sprawled in a chair, with a large knife protruding from his chest, or what was left of a man’s face after he had shot himself with a large-calibre pistol; things like that are easily remembered. If you stay in the job long enough, you start to identify with some deaths. They begin to get closer to your age, and you discover, perhaps for the first time, a real sense of your own mortality. If you are 27 years old, and a man in front of you is dying, and he is 60, you think he is getting on a bit, and has had a fair run at life. As you approach 50, you start to see yourself lying there, like looking in a mirror. One third of my life spent looking at death.

It was time to go.

Is it any wonder that people say I am grumpy, and easily depressed? 🙂