Friday, 30 November 2007

Repair men, hospitals, and Cute Puzzle Games (Grow)

It's been a long and slightly stressful week, but it's Friday, so nearly through it.

The new face of Repair men!

The dishwasher packed up a while back after 11 months which made me rant on about the quality of goods these days and how nothing seems to last. Why, oh why, do we have to buy insurance against breakdown after only a year? Is nothing built to function for any longer than that?! In the current of climate - no pun intended -of recycling and protecting the earth's resources, would it be too much to ask for stuff to last longer than 12 months?!

Anyway, we're still under warranty so the repair man came to fix it. He arrived with a brief-case akin to something 007 might have, a tool kit that fit neatly into the size of a wash bag. A very smart, black wash bag.

I was amazed. Gone are the days of the fix-it man with an industrial sized hold-all full of dust and strange looking implements - now they arrive with wireless broadband, a handful of megabytes, and a hard drive to die for. Again, no puns intended. I am ill after all, and he was my dad's age.

So he plugged stuff in, and the machine told him the day we first plugged it in... how did it know that? I couldn't even remember that!!! It also told him, in a kind of Dishwasher/Dr Doolittle speak that it had a poorly circuit board and that's why he couldn't heat up the element. The element, it said, is fine. Another dishwasher 007 will arrive next week to replace the chips. Technology eh!

All very clever stuff. I think. So he printed off a receipt for the work, and all the diagnostics, and I thought, if only the doctors could've been so quick diagnosing me!

Speaking of which...

I saw the surgeon on Wednesday, after 3 weeks of the recommended low-fat diet. I realised by the end of day two that my diet wasn't particularly high-fat in the first place, so carried on as normal with two changes; semi-skimmed milk and low-fat spread. Symptoms continued as usual until I ate some birthday cake with the youngest and then it really did hurt!

On the plus side, all this nausea etc., means I'm steadily losing weight so will be sylph-like and elegant at the end of it all, hopefully.

So the surgeon decided I need a laproscopic cholecystectomy on Dec 20th. YIKES!

He's Russian and appears to have no sense of humour. When he proceeded to tell me about all the little things that can go wrong, like death, and that I need to take it very seriously indeed, I said I really didn't need to be told that. He said, "No. I think you do."

I began to wonder if many people have complications, and asked him how many times he's done this procedure.

"A few." Face straight as a scalpel.

I said, "How many is a few? A thousand?"

"I might never do a thousand in my career," he said in his Russian tones.

"Three?" I asked, panic rising. "Have you done more than three?!"

"Yes. More than three. A few." Unshakable, but then I guess that's what I want in a surgeon. Serious. No jokes. Getting on with the job at hand efficiently and effectively, and that includes dealing with a grown woman who is crying like child who has enough sense of the horror to befall her, but not enough to stop the panic spreading.

I told him I didn't want a drip in, and that did they have to the drain thing, and that if they did, I might freak out and want to pull it out.

He said, with all the seriousness and forcefulness of the Siberian out-back, that he "would not operate unless I was going to co-operate." I said I was only joking - that I wouldn't do anything stupid, and but then he mentions the words "urinary catheter" and started to sob again. And you know, besides the pain, it's the indignity of it all. I have very startling memories of a living room floor, a fire-place, a midwife armed with a piece of plastic tubing, and no drugs whatever. "Not that again," I pleaded, "Do the drain thing but not that while I'm awake!"

"I vill try to have zat removed before you wake up," he said, and almost smiled.

So date all set. In hindsight, the very fact that he mentioned the words "when you wake up" is encouraging, and I've been on-line reading the British Medical Journal's article on Laproscopic Cholecystectomy - I'll spare you the link - and the figures were pretty good. Starting to think I can do this. Well not a lot of choice really!

For the interested - here's a little diagram.

And if you're still with me, and now need a bit of light relief, you could do worse than to pop over to the Eyemaze website and play cute puzzle games that are very rewarding when you work them out!


is a wonderful website full of adorable games. The idea is that you click on items in a specific order, and watch how everything interacts with everything else. I love it!

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Beautiful words: the book thief by Markus Zusack

A while back I bought a book in WHSmiths because a) the cover caught my attention, and b) it was on a 3 for 2 offer shelf. (Lessons to be learned here, fellow writers, I'm sure!) It then sat on the bedroom floor in one of many TBR piles for a couple of months until I came off work sick a couple of weeks ago and wanted something to cheer me up.

I begin to read. There is a prologue. 'Death and Chocolate' I read on. "Here is a small fact - You are going to die." Oh Great, I thought, but then I don't know why I thought a novel narrated by Death would cheer me up?! I didn't want to keep reading, but he drew me in. I couldn't help but like him, this narrator, with his scythe and his black cowl.

Set in Germany in WWII, Zusack tells the story of a young girl named Liesel - our book thief. It is a story about language, about the power of words, and about the horrors of Nazi Germany, of learning to read, of growing to love books so much that you will risk your life to rescue just one of the condemned from the embers - the Nazi Party even as you dig, standing so close to you.

This is not a book to pick up and plough through, rather one to be digested at regular intervals, like chocolate. And words have a physical presence in this novel, they have actions and weight attached to them. They are "thrown down" at people's feet. When Liesel is learning to read, trying to match the written word, to her Papa's voice, "the soft spoken words fell off the side of the bed, emptying onto the floor like powder."

It is a novel to be to be savoured rather than gulped down, despite the fact that the content may make your throat constrict at times; the lines of Jews - "Stars of David were plastered to their shirts, and misery was attached to them as if assigned," walking, staggering, being beaten towards Dachau.

I'm still only half way through so I can't tell you how it ends. It might not be very happy, after all, Death is narrating, but I highly recommend it to anyone who loves words, and books. It will even teach you how to swear in German!

the book thief by Markus Zusack is available from all good bookshops. It is available in an adult edition and a teenage edition. (I have the adult one and have no idea if the text is identical or not.) For an extract, more about the novel, and links to buy, visit here.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Facebook - What's it for again?!

I just checked into face-book to a host of odd invitations...

1 x do I want to be a zombie
1 x do I want to play vampires
1 x IM request (use msn why can't you?!)
1 x join a club request
2 x family requests

I'm still not sure I get this facebook thing. I hope people aren't too mad when I choose to ignore all the applications, but life's too short and I've got a novel to write...

I like the drinks thing though! Virtual drinks are so much better for my guts than real ones!

p.s. all the bloods were normal so very relieved and just waiting to see the surgeon.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

New experiences/an interesting week

I've had some lovely emails since I got diagnosed with gallstones - people who've had the same problems and recovered (thank you sooo much for those ones!) and people just wishing me well (also extremely welcome!), but one emailer was laid up for some years after a motorbike accident, and she made an interesting comment about learning from it.

It's made me think. What have I learned from this experience?

1. That the house doesn't run itself and unless I am there to rant on and on, only the very basics get done.
2. That daytime telly is crap, even with Sky.
3. That I really miss riding. So much I can't bring myself to look at horse at the moment.
4. That guilt is a terrible thing; not doing enough with the kids/hubby/my writing/the house/my students/gymnastics etc etc. It takes me all my time to make it to the supermarket before having to curl up with a hot wheat-pack and self-pity.
5. That the old adage, "You haven't got anything if you haven't got your health" is bloody well true.
6. That I HATE not being able to run around like a stressed out lunatic - that's who I am, and I miss it. Learning point is that maybe I should get less stressed about housework - after all, nothing that bad has happened so far (to the house).
7. That one's ability to bear pain does increase. You start to develop little breathing techniques and stuff, and learn to 'ride' it.
8. That I really don't want to die just yet. This may seem obvious but being sick and not having the results back from the gamut of tests is wreaking havoc with my head.
9. That my job has been far more stressful than it needs to be, and I'll be prioritising family over it from now on.
10. And finally, that I do want to finish my book, and that the thought of dying now and leaving all that unfinished business behind is almost as upsetting as the thought of leaving my kids.

I promise that when I get better I'll do more with my time, and do it better!

Wednesday I was all positive in the morning, and then I had a blood test. By a student nurse, and I know she's got to learn, but she made two holes in my arm before announcing that all my veins had collapsed and that she needed help. As she ran from the room it got really hot all of a sudden, and my head started spinning. I've never had that happen in my life. I had four nurses cooing over me on a trolley asking me if there was any chance I might be pregnant. With a gut full of gallstones I hardly think so, says I, and eventually they let me get up and crawl under a rock to lick my wounds. The following day I had to go again and this time another nurse did it - without any problem at all.


So now we wait again. This week feels like a month, and I've missed doing anything for both my girls' birthdays. Oh woe is me! Fed up fed up fed up fed up.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Musica pa' la mañana! Los Aslandticos and Tomatito

I'm off sick which is crap. I've got blood tests to look forward to. Humph.

But received feedback from the first chapter of the novel from my supervisors and it wasn't all bad/negative. The plan (my plan that is) is to just keep going, knitting all the bits together until I have some sort of whole. At least now there's lots of time to write since I haven't got the energy to do anything else.

On a happier note - it is a musical morning and this is what I'm listening to;

The first is called Que Trata Andalucia. Reminds me of the costa I love soooo much :)

... and ... the second is De Momento, and has the line La vida pasa de momento - Life passes/happens in the moment. Quite apt at the moment... seize the day, live in the moment, etc.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

light at the end of this tunnel

This blog is starting to turn into some kind of medical moan site, so this is the last I'm going to say on the matter of my ever decreasing health!

A very kind family friend, who happens to be a GP, rang me last night and has put my mind at rest, finally (it took her over an hour). I'm no longer thinking I've got something really nasty and/or terminal, and instead, am looking forward to getting rid of this offending piece of kit (i.e. gallstones).

I think I ran out of fear. I wonder if this is normal - that you can only wind yourself up so much before something gives and you become passively acceptant of whatever happens. A que sera sera approach, you know? Or one could crack up and lose it altogether I guess, but nope, my body has gone with the (pardon me) 'fuck-it' reaction; if we die, we die and if we don't then hey, that's a bonus. (Dunno why I'm a 'we' suddenly? Security in numbers? Not going through it alone?!)

So. I have slowed down and am going to accept it. Here's 5 things I'm looking forward to;

1. Having energy again and not being able to sit still.
2. Doing things with my kids and hubby instead of waiting for them on the sofa.
3. Riding again. I so miss the horses.
4. Being pain free, and nausea free, and getting through the post-op ouches. Hmm.
5. Christmas! Finishing the first draft of the novel. (Okay, so I can't count!)

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

No further ahead and the dangers of googling medical problems

Been to see the surgeon today.

He doesn't want to rush into surgery for gallstones when he doesn't think the shoulder pain on the left is related. Thinks it could be stress. Needs more data.

Am partially relieved but still wondering what the blasted pain is about. Now on a reduced fat diet for 3 weeks, liver function tests, god knows what else.

Stress? It can do that?!

Need another trip to Spain! De-stress meself a bit!

Google is a bad thing when it comes to trying to diagnose yourself - and it doesn't help when the medical profession, in whom we are supposed to put our trust (and lives, let's face it), can't tell you anything. It makes you go looking for info, and thinking the worst.

Am going to be very patient and wait for the rest of the test results while putting any thoughts of surgery out of the window... after all, I found an article about flushing out gallstones with olive oil and clay or something, and if it's on the net, it must be true - mustn't it?!

Hope everyone out there is healthy 'cos being poorly is crap :)

Monday, 5 November 2007

Doctor Doctor

I've waited a week to see my GP (granted that's my fault for wanting to see the sameGP due to some mis-guided notion of continuity of care) and guess what? No test results are back yet.

So I ended up explaining what was on my own scan and looking for cooing "It'll all be okays," only none were forthcoming. So I asked to be referred to a private hospital, and the receptionist made me feel more at ease than anyone I've so far spoken to, plus I have an appointment with the surgeon on Wednesday - this Wednesday.

I'm feeling a bit miffed that I've had to wait since July for a correct diagnosis with what have been text book symptoms. Actually the Doctor said that pain in the left shoulder and arm, and left chest, were rare, but I've been googling (as you do), and according to anecdotal evidence, it's more common than they'd have you believe. I'm only saying all this because if you have persistent pain, and you know something is wrong, I'd urge you to keep on and on at the doctor until they take you seriously! The only reason I questioned the diagnosis of costachondritis was because I met a woman at work who had the same left sided pain I did, and it was gallstones. I could've been 'getting on with it' and living on Ibuprofen for another year or so!

Fingers crossed we get me sorted so I can finish me novel and all that!

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Half Way!!!

I am most pleased to report that my WIP has just reached the 50,000 mark. Which is interesting as I've only just started Chapter 2...

So what's going on?

The research trip was invaluable, and I'd recommend it to anyone who writes. It has brought my ideas together and I realised that the struggle was in finding the right voice for the novel, but also, the form and structure. The word count consists of a mass of pieces that will need to be stitched together carefully if I'm to get away with it - but on the bright side it fits in beautifully with whole PhD thesis; hybridity in form and content.

Or maybe I'm just being a pessimist and thinking I better crack on given what's lying up in wait for me (an anaesthetist, surgeon, nurses... argh!). Whatever, something has clicked into place.

In hindsight, here's 5 things I've learned/discovered from undertaking a research trip:

1. Note-books are crucial.

Write down everything; tiny things, insignificant things (how much it costs for a coffee, what the light switches look like), obvious things (the weather, the view). Use all your senses - smells, the feel of the wind on your skin, the sound of people's voices. I filled three notebooks and attempted some naive water-colours. They have become invaluable now, as the notes I made, and the things that they reminded me of, (about what I wanted to say, to show, to share, that I also wrote down), have become the basis for the novel.

2. Collect data.

Because my novel is set in Spain, I collected newspapers, bought novels and language dictionaries. I was conscious throughout the entire trip that I was there to absorb and collect, so no wonder I was over on my baggage allowance. Photographs have also been invaluable, when I want to jog my memory about a particular day, or place, I can call up the images and then try to paint that picture in words. I collected music too, as traditional local music is an important part of my novel.

3. Talk to people.

People are the richest form of data we have. I spoke to as many people as I could, listened to their stories. When writing about a place, local people often have local knowledge and can tell you all the quirky stuff that remains embedded in the oral tradition.

4. Let the research mull.

I left the writing alone for a couple of weeks after the trip, and let it all sink in. At first I felt quite overwhelmed by all the info I'd accumulated, and I couldn't see the usefulness in anything. But then the dust settled and things began to come to the surface, to make sense. I felt doors opening up in the writing that had been closed before.

5. I can't think of a fifth thing.

If anything, it's come as a bit of a surprise just how beneficial the research trip was, in terms of; getting ideas; developing existing ones; gathering practical information (dates, places, weather etc.); coming to terms with the project and my intentions.

Perhaps when the novel is in its final stages, I'll need another one! Just to make final checks you understand, and not to bathe in the Med, and ride across the hills!

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Saturday already!!!

Time is ever paradoxical. On the one hand it barely creeps along, especially as I sit here feeling like an invalid (interesting how that word is made up - in-valid - like in Gattaca) waiting for the doc's to see me, to tell me what they're going to do about my tummy rocks, and on the other hand, it's just racing by. Saturday. Already.

5 things on my mind:

1. Gallstones (obvious that one really - although technically in the gall bladder)
2. House-work (Struggling to get it done at the moment as bending hurts - loads)
3. Food (am very hungry and waiting for my knight in shining armour to arrive with a late lunch)
4. My Novel (excited - want to write write write and wish they'd all bugger off so I could get some work done)
5. Yachting - they're all going tomorrow to play and I can't cos of tummy rocks Boo Hoo!