A favourite quote and a way by which to approach life.

Today is the tomorrow that you worried about yesterday.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Review of 2014

*peeps around the corner*
*whispers* Hello... I'm still here... I've been a bit busy... Sorry about that.  I'm back now, and I intend on being more productive here this year.  In the meantime, seeing as I'm here, I'm going to do my annual review of the year, but seeing as there's not a lot of point in reviewing this year, with only being three days into it, I'll do the more typical thing of reviewing the year that was, using the same questions I set for my previous Review of the Year.

1. What has been your biggest achievement this year?
Probably gaining a position as a lay reviewer for Asthma UK.  This is a new thing for me, only gaining it three or four weeks ago.  I was one of many applicants throughout the country for about five lay reviewer positions, and went through a process of application form, short-listing, telephone interview, and selection.  I was greatly surprised and hugely delighted to be successful, and I'm looking forward to getting started in a few weeks time.  It's a voluntary position that I can do from home, will involve a lot of reading, and some teleconferencing.  As a lay reviewer I'll be on a panel of other lay reviewers, scientist, and medics, who will collectively decide which of the many research proposals put forward to Asthma UK are granted funded from the charity.  It means a lot to me to have got this position, because it means that finally my experience and knowledge of asthma will be put to good use, and has potential to be a part of something that changes and develops treatment and management of the disease.
2. What made you laugh most this year?
Hmm, I always seem to have trouble with this one.  It's not that I don't laugh through the year, it's that I have trouble remembering what the hilarity was about.  Let me think...I know that I've had some very silly conversations with my mum through the year that caused us both a lot of laughter.  Again, I can't remember what these times were about, but most likely they were plays on words that probably ended up being a bit rude ;)
3. What unfulfilled hopes do you have for this past year?
Writing.  I didn't get much done at all this past year, which my blog reflects with only four posts for 2014.  I'm sorry about that, but I'm mostly sorry that I haven't been in an emotional place where writing has felt very possible.  I'm still emerging from the horrible thing that 2013 was, but I'm a great deal better than I was this time last year, and I'm hopeful that I will be able to write this year.
4. What has been your favourite/most listened to piece of music this year?
I have an eclectic taste in music, my listening has reflected that, but certainly at the back end of 2014 I listened a lot to the Peter, Paul, and Mary track 'Jane Jane'.  It's a piece I first sang as a teenager with the Swing Bridge Singers, and which I've been singing again this autumn and winter with my current choir, Flotsam.  I love it, particularly the arrangement we do by Scottee (MD of both Swing Bridge Singers and Flotsam).
5. What was your best holiday this year?
I had a few trips up to Edinburgh through the year, but my only real holiday was a family holiday to Shropshire in May for my mum and step-dad's seventieth birthdays.  It was very lovely, and great to spend time with all the family.
6. What new skill, if any, have you acquired this year?
Crochet!  I had decided that this was something I really wanted to learn in 2014, and then in February/March my friend Ruth said she also wanted to learn.  Ruth had a couple of months off work recovering from surgery so we got together during that time and taught ourselves to crochet from a fab little book I'd bought. We learnt all the basics together and then went our separate ways with it, and now I'll give almost anything a go.  I am completely addicted and find it very relaxing.
7. What's the best book you've read this year?
I think probably 'The Music Room' by William Fiennes, which I was given for my birthday.
8. What has been the biggest challenge of this year?
Emotionally surviving.  There has been a lot of stress and unhappiness in the last twelve months, with several deaths, and a number of very difficult situations.
9. What is your happiest/fondest memory of this year?
Hmm, despite the upsets and difficulties of the year, there have also been many good things.  I have lots of lovely memories of times with friends and times with family, especially my nephews.
10. Of what one creation of the past year are you most proud or pleased?
Probably some of my crochet creations, and probably one of these:

11. What new hobby did you take up/old hobby did you reinstate this year?
I took up two hobbies this year, one I've already talked about - crochet; the other is geocaching, which is basically an on-going international treasure hunt using GPS.  I love that it gets me out and about, discovering new places (even locally), rediscovering old places, even just going to places I usually go to but looking at it a different way because I'm on the hunt for the 'treasure' - the cache.  I've also enjoyed setting a couple of caches myself and making some new friends too.
12. What one thing would you really like to do next year?
I'd like to write.  I'd like to make good progress with my book.  I'd like to crochet some warm hats, scarves, and gloves/mittens for homeless folk.  I'd like to find all the mulitcaches in the city centre.  Lots of things, not just one thing.
13. What was the saddest thing of this year?
Oh, lots of death at the beginning of the year.  It started with the death of a friend of twenty-five years and more in January, then the tragic and unexpected death of one of my cousins at the beginning of April, and nine days later the death of my gorgeous and ever-characterful cat Zachariah Zebedee.
14. What has been your best discovery of this year?
In a very literal way, I was delighted to discover a particularly tricky geocache at East Cramlington Nature Reserve, in fact it was the first one I went hunting for there and it took me at least 25 minutes to locate it.
15. What news story of this year has had the biggest impact on you/do you most remember?
Gosh, there have been so many terrible things in the news ... I think the bleakness and such widespread impact of the Ebola crisis in Western Africa has been just terrible...still is terrible. 16. What's the best film you've seen this year?
I didn't see many films at the cinema this/last year, but I did see 'What We Did On Our Holiday' and absolutely loved it.
17. What was your best buy this year?
Isobel! My gorgeous kitten.  Strictly speaking I didn't buy her because she was bought for me by some beautifully-hearted friends, but I think she still counts for this question.  Here she is lying on my legs last night.

18. What has been your best day out this year?
You know what, I've had many good days out this year, a lot of them doing geocaching.  I had a fabulous day with my new friends Helen and Carrie doing geocaching in the Tyne Valley, and another in Chopwell Woods.  I had a great day geocaching up near Morpeth with my friend Ruth too.  However, I think all the fabulous days I've had geocaching are just about pipped by a day with my dad at Rising Sun Country Park.  It was so special to spend some time with him, just the two of us, and to see him enjoying himself.
19. If there’s one thing you did this year that you’d do differently if you could, what would it be?
I'm not sure ... There was something that came up in my therapy sessions with my psychologist that caused me a great deal of stress as it looked as though some old demons might be forced to the fore.  I had several weeks of stressful uncertainty, and perhaps I would approach things differently if I were to go through that again ... but I'm not sure that I would have any choice in the matter, as I don't think I really did this time.  Difficult.
20. Is there anywhere you'd like to visit next year?
Um, possibly Derbyshire.  I spent a few nights in Derbyshire at the end of my Dorset holiday in 2013, but there's a lot of it to see and I wasn't there long enough to see very much of it.  Also, the triceratops hat I made (shown in one of the photos above) is for the young son of a friend in Derbyshire so it would be lovely to give that to them myself.  I would also like to visit my brother and family who are in Cambridgeshire, especially as they gave me identical twin nieces as an early Christmas present at the end of November.

21. Name one thing you did this year that you'd like to do again?
Take Dad for another day out.  It's not easy with my limited mobility and Dad's own disabilities, but we did manage it a couple of times in 2014, and I think if I find the right places to go, it should be possible again.
22. Who gave you the best advice this year?
Probably my psychologist.  She's helped me through a huge amount of stress, difficulties, and upsets through the year, and at times that's included giving advice for management and survival between appointments.
23. What new skill would you like to acquire next year?
I might like to try Tunisian crochet, which is sort of an extension of crochet knowledge, whilst also being a new skill itself.
24. What was your favourite TV/radio programme this year?
Oo, there's been quite a lot of good telly this year.  I really enjoyed 'The Wrong Mans', and then there was ... oh, what's it called? It was set in Yorkshire and had what'shername in as a police officer ... 'Happy Valley'!  Yes, 'Happy Valley' was great too.
25. What would you like to make more time for next year?
Two things - writing, and my dad.  If I am to try to write I need first to make time for it, even if I sit doing nothing for a while before I find a way back into it. As for Dad, I haven't made enough time for him in recent months, mainly because I find it so upsetting to see him in such a deteriorated state, but I'm also aware that it's the coward's response to avoid the difficult things.  I want to make the most of whatever time he has left, but I also want those times to be good.  I find it particularly difficult when I go to see him in the care home and I'm searching for something to talk about and not knowing quite what response I'll get from him, so I want to take him out.  I want to take him places I know he will enjoy, but where I can manage him too, places we can enjoy together, that just being there initiates conversation, places that will form good memories together.
26. What has been the biggest disappointment this year?
I'm not sure.  To be honest I can't immediately think of any major disappointments, except that of not writing.  I'm sure there have been things that I've missed due to illness that I was disappointed about at the time, but I can't now remember what they were.  Perhaps that's a good thing.
27. What was the best or most enjoyable concert you went to this year?
I haven't been to many concerts in the past twelve months, but I did go to a great one of music from Oscar winning films, hosted by Barry Norman.  The concert was at Sage Gateshead and I went with my friends Rachel and Marc.
28. What do you think was the best thing that you did for yourself during the last year?
Went to see my GP early when I suspected I might be developing diabetes.  I was lucky that it turned out I had Impaired Glucose Tolerance, rather than full diabetes, when I first went to the doctor, but my early action meant that it could be watched closely, so as soon as it reached a level that diabetes was diagnosed, the wheels of diabetes management/education could be put in motion. 
29. What is the biggest difference in yourself from this time last year?
I'm not as depressed as I was.  In fact, I'd say that I'm low rather than depressed, and not so low that it often causes me a great deal of distress.  I hide myself away sometimes still, which is counter productive, especially as I sometimes find myself getting lonely too...
30. What are you most looking forward to about next year?
Meeting my twin nieces, starting the Asthma UK lay reviewing, getting out and about with more geocaching, hopefully with friends.

Monday, 29 September 2014

It's complicated

A while back I mentioned that I had been diagnosed with Impaired Glucose Tolerance (IGT), which is basically pre-diabetes.  The main blood test for diabetes has the not so catchy name of HbA1c, and basically measures the long-term (3 month) blood glucose level. This is in comparison to the finger-prick blood glucose level (BM) that is like a snap shot of what's going on at the precise moment that the test is done.  There are various different levels of HbA1c that classify whether or not someone is non-diabetic, pre-diabetic, or has diabetes.

When I was first diagnosed with IGT my HbA1c was at the lower end of the spectrum for pre-diabetes, but it rose within three months to the upper end.  During this time I was advised by my GP to check my BM at various times, but particularly when I felt unwell with my blood sugars.  By doing this I've quickly learnt how I feel when my BM is high, or at least high for me.

When I was in hospital in July/August there were a number of times when I felt my blood sugars were going high, and when they checked them they were indeed high.  At times they were the highest I've ever known them to be, and some of the staff (and myself) became concerned that perhaps I had crossed that threshold from pre-diabetes to diabetic.  A few of the other staff thought that perhaps my BMs were going high in response to being ill, and that things would settle again once I got home.  There seemed to be some confusion and some argument about what was the best way forward, with some wanting the diabetic team to get involved, whilst others didn't want to do anything.  To be honest, I felt very stuck in the middle without much of a say of what was to happen.  In the end the Diabetes Specialist Nurses (DSNs) were asked to come and see me, but for one reason or another they never actually materialised, and upon discharge one of the doctors said, 'You have a good GP.  Hopefully he'll be able to tie up these loose ends.'  It wasn't exactly ideal, but by then it was the only option I had, and the doctor was right - my GP is good.

I did as the doctor suggest and went to see my GP who suggested getting another HbA1c done.  Sure enough, when the results came back it showed that I am now diabetic.  I was expecting it, but for some reason it was still a lot to take in.  I had thought that it might be a relief finally to know for sure, but it wasn't.  However, I did think that now I had the diagnosis of diabetes then some action might be taken, that I might have access to helpful services that I couldn't use when I 'just' had IGT.  It's true that I have seen the practice nurse with a special interest in diabetes at the GP surgery, and she has referred me to the podiatrist and specialist optician, and that I will be going on a DESMOND course (an education course for those recently diagnosed with diabetes).  However, the earliest DESMOND course there are spaces for, and on which I'm booked, isn't until the middle of November, I won't get an appointment with the specialist optician until April, I haven't heard anything about the podiatrist, and although the GP practice nurse is lovely, she confessed that she doesn't know much about steroid-induced diabetes.  Oh yes, that's the thing, the general consensus is that this isn't 'straight-forward' Type 2 diabetes, but steroid-induced diabetes.  This isn't surprising given that I've been on long-term high-dose steroids for sixteen years ... in fact, it's more surprising that I haven't developed diabetes before now.

I hate steroids.  I can't live without them, but they are wrecking my body.  I've piled on the weight since I started on prednisolone; I've had cataracts in both eyes; it's reducing my bone density and making my vertebrae crumble; it's most likely contributed to the depression that I've suffered for years; it's probably to blame for the peptic ulcers I've had; it's reduced my immunity so I pick up infections easily; it may well contribute to the terrible water retention that I get; and many other minor side-effects that I have from it.  The trouble is that if I don't take the steroids I can't breathe.  Even trying to reduce them a little causes my lungs to start giving up, and I invariably end up really poorly, so I have no choice but to take the meds and take the side-effects too.

There are one or two medications, generally immunosuppressants, that can be taken to help reduce steroid doses - steroid sparing agents.  One such medication is methotrexate, which in large doses is used in chemotherapy, but in smaller doses is sometimes used in rheumatoid arthritis or severe psoriasis.  In a very few instances, in those dependant on steroids, it can be used in those with severe asthma.  I have been on methotrexate before, several years ago, but after about a year and only getting my prednisolone down to 30mg, my consultant didn't think the risks were out-weighing the limited benefits.  Like prednisolone, and most medications, methotrexate has some hard-core potential side-effects, such as pneumonitis/lung fibrosis and liver damage.

Given my recent diabetes diagnosis, my asthma consultant has been keen for me to start methotrexate again.  This is a big turn around from the stance he took last time when he didn't really want me to start methotrexate in the first place, but was eventually willing to try.  This time we discussed the options, and I soon came to realise that I don't actually have any option but to give it a go.  There is no other way to try to reduce the prednisolone, and seeing as the prednisolone is almost definitely making the diabetes worse, I have to try the methotrexate.

I took the first dose of methotrexate just over two weeks ago (it's a once a week medication), and then, because of the potential it has to damage the liver and cause other problems, I had to have bloods done just over a week later.  Nausea is a common side-effect of methotrexate, particularly at the beginning of treatment, and indeed I did feel very sick.  I passed it off at first as something I'd just have to put up with, but then I started vomiting and couldn't keep any of my other meds down, so I ended up having to see my GP.  She was concerned about the potential for liver damage, one of the symptoms of which is nausea and vomiting, so she advised that I didn't take the next dose of methotrexate until we got my blood test results back.  She phoned me a few days later when she got the results, by which time I'd a couple of days of feeling a bit better because I'd missed the next dose of methotrexate.  The upshot of the call was that the results show my liver isn't in great shape.  It's not awful, but some of my liver results were out of normal range, so then my GP didn't want me to take the next dose of the meds until I'd spoken to my consultant.  So many phone calls later trying to get through to my asthma consultant, I eventually got to speak to him and explain all.  He said that he understood my GP's concern, and yes, my liver results weren't great, but given how much prednisolone is wrecking my body, methotrexate is my only chance to try to get the dose down.  I was to take the next dose of methotrexate and have my bloods done again in a week, so I did as instructed and I have to go for my next lot of blood tests in the morning.  I'll be taking the third dose of methotrexate before I go.  Each time I take the meds it feels like I'm putting something really dangerous into my body - something that's going to damage me further.  I know it's my only option.  I know that a lot of people take methotrexate without problems.  It's still not easy taking the meds, even if they are the only thing that might help with the diabetes at the moment.

The saying 'stuck between a rock and a hard place' feels very appropriate with all of this.  Maybe especially so while I'm still on the high-dose prednisolone and we're titrating the methotrexate dose upwards, so I have the potential side-effects of both medications concurrently.  I have to say, these aren't things that I ever thought I'd be having to consider or deal with just because of asthma.  You never really imagine that one disease can lead directly to another simply because of the medication you have to take, and that those medications can have such a damaging effect on the body as well as saving your life.  So confusing.  So complicated.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Longer than expected

When I wrote my last post I fully intended to write again very soon, but for one reason or another I haven't been able to.  I've written my next post in my head several times, with it being different each time because of what's been going on at the time, but because of that I've also rather lost track of how long it is since I actually managed to post anything.  At last I'm here, albeit two and a half months since my last posting.

So what's been going on for me?  Well, it's been the summer and traditionally a time when folk go on holiday.  I haven't really been on holiday as such, but I have been up to Edinburgh to stay with my mum on two occasions, each time for about a week.  I've taken the kitten - Isobel Artemis - with me each time and she's had no problem with the car journeys or getting used to a different environment, and has really loved darting up and down the stairs at Mum's.  I don't have stairs in my flat, so Isobel's first encounter with stairs was at Mum's, and each time we've visited she's had great fun galloping up and down them, sounding like she's wearing boots.  She's five months old now, and although young for it, she was spayed last week, mostly because she's desperate to investigate the outside world, but I don't want to risk her getting pregnant.  She's healing well, and hasn't had any problems at all, which has been a huge relief because I was worried that she was a little too young, even though the vet said she'd be fine because she's quite 'long for her age'.  I am completely besotted with Isobel and she's giving me so much pleasure and delight.

At the middle of July/beginning of August I spent two weeks in hospital with my asthma.  I'd had a brilliant couple of days down in London for the Monty Python show and then drove back home on the Thursday.  I wanted to be back home in time for choir as it was the last Flotsam rehearsal before the summer break and we were singing at the wedding of a couple of choir members at the end of August.  In the end I decided to go straight to Flotsam so that I didn't have that post-drive slump at home and have to go out again almost straight away, but then as I was approaching Gateshead I realised that I was going to arrive a bit too soon so I decided to stop at the Angel of the North.  I was absolutely fine when I arrived and when I got out of the car, and fine when I got the wheelchair out of the car and had a little trundle around, but very quickly and suddenly I became extremely ill.  I couldn't breathe and my chest felt incredibly tight.  I got out my nebuliser and started to use it, but I could feel myself going - the world was going black and I was about to pass out.  I knew that if I passed out then I would die.  I could see an elderly man sitting on a nearby bench, watching me, looking concerned, but he didn't approach me or ask if I needed help, and then he started to disappear into the encroaching blackness.  Just as I was resigning myself to dying under the gaze of an angel, the drugs in my nebuliser started to kick in, the blackness started to dissipate, and my breathing started to ease.  For the first time ever I went from being absolutely fine to incredibly ill to fairly okay again in one 'sitting.'  It was a huge relief, but also very confusing because I didn't know how to deal with this new situation - would I continue to be okay?  Should I go to hospital?  Would I be alright if I went home?

When I got back in the car I looked in the mirror and could see that I was far from being the right colour, but my breathing did feel a lot better than they had done and I thought I was probably okay to drive ... although, in retrospect, I probably ought not to have done.  I had been very scared by what had just happened and was feeling rather shocked by it, all of which probably contributed to my decision to leave getting checked out until the next day.  In the meantime I decided that I would go to choir as planned because it was probably safer for me to be with people in the immediate aftermath of this than to go home and be alone all evening.

It took a long time - a good couple of hours - for me to get back to being the right colour, and during choir I was sweating a great deal and not feeling well, although my breathing remained okay given what had occurred on the way.  Perhaps because of the fear of the attack at the angel and being so close to passing out, I didn't tell anyone at the time quite how poorly I'd been (it would be like admitting it to myself), but I did go straight home afterwards rather than join others in the pub for an end of term drink.  And when I got home I was exhausted.

I had every intention of phoning my GP the next day to get checked over, and I set my alarm to wake me in time to phone for an appointment, but when morning arrived I was too tired to move.  I tried to wake up, but I couldn't.  My head didn't feel right.  In fact it hadn't felt right since I'd almost passed out in the asthma attack - it felt thick and heavy and I couldn't really think straight.  I went back to sleep, telling myself that I'd phone the doctor soon, but as the day progressed I wasn't able to stay awake long enough to make the call, and I was fumbling around doing my nebs practically in my sleep.  I don't know what happened to the day, but it disappeared, and the next thing I knew my carer for the day was calling my name from the hall.  I hadn't heard her ring the bell, knock on the door, or even phone me up, so she'd got the code for my keysafe and let herself in.  I managed to explain what had happened, but I still wasn't right, and she said that I seemed a bit confused.  I said that I wasn't, that I was just tired, but actually I think I was confused.  The carer stayed a while, made me a drink (I didn't want anything to eat), and phoned the office/on-call to tell them what had happened and how I was, and then she had to go.

I can't remember much about that weekend, except that my head didn't feel right and my lungs were slipping again.  My GP surgery is closed at weekends and I don't like A&E (plus, I didn't think I really needed to go to A&E) so I was hanging on for Monday.  When Monday morning arrived I managed to wake up to make the call to the surgery, got an appointment with one of the doctors, and went straight up to the surgery.  Part of me must have known that I'd end up in hospital because I had checked my hospital bag was ready, but part of me was still in denial, or maybe not thinking properly, so I didn't gather my meds together or take anything with me to the surgery.  The doctor was lovely, but clearly concerned so had me admitted to my usual ward at Freeman Hospital via an ambulance straight from the surgery.

At first the docs on the ward didn't do very much for me, but I could feel my lungs getting slowly tighter, and the nurses who know me well were concerned for me.  My consultant was off (his first sick leave in his whole career), and the registrar had opted to wait and see how things went with me before doing anything proactive, which was tiring and frustrating for me.  I didn't see the point of being in hospital if they weren't going to do anything different from what I could do and was doing at home, besides which I could feel my lungs getting slowly tighter and tighter.  The following day they agreed that the time had come to intervene and they put up the aminophylline infusion, which slowly, slowly did its thing and I started to get better, except that then the docs were too eager to get it down, despite my telling them that I need to be weaned off it very slowly.  It all went pear-shaped and I ended up back on it very soon after it'd first come down.  This time they kept it up until I was more stable, and as far as I remember it was up until after my consultant came back to work and could oversee the whole the process.  Eventually I was well enough to be free of the aminophylline infusion, and I could start to get some better rest before going home.

I was discharged two weeks after being admitted.  The general consensus was that there was most likely something at the Angel of the North to which I'm allergic - a pollen of some kind, probably - and that the confusion and headaches had been due to the lack of oxygen to my brain when I was so acutely unwell.  These seemed to get better with time and rest, although I was still extremely tired for about a week after I got home and did very, very little other than sleep or lie in bed for my first week home.

Since then my lungs have settled back into their usual state of unpredictability, but I've got back into life, taking each day as it comes.  I've been up to Edinburgh once since then and had some Mum TLC, which is always good for recovery from poorliness, and I've seen various friends at various times too, which help my spirits and remind me how lucky I am to have such lovely people in my life.

There have been a few other medical things going on throughout the summer and recent weeks too, but I'll post about them separately because otherwise it might be overload for both me and you.  Besides which, I've just noticed that it's almost 1.40am and I really ought to take myself to bed if I'm to have any chance of seeing any of tomorrow morning, which I'd like to do as I've been enjoying the sunny September weather.  So for now I'll bid you goodnight and I'll take Isobel for a cuddle in bed.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Getting back to it

Well hello there, folks!  Even the most unobservant of you will have noticed that it's a very long time indeed since I last posted, but now it's time that I got back to it, back to you.

It's been a difficult five months or so since my last blog post with two bouts of pneumonia (I told you there was no such thing as a simple cold for a severe asthmatic!); time in hospital; the death of a very long-standing and dear friend; the death of my beloved cat, Zach, who had been my loving (although crazy and psychotic) companion since he was four or five weeks old almost seventeen years ago; the diagnosis of Impaired Glucose Tolerance (IGT), or pre-diabetes, with a major contributory factor being the long-term high-dose oral steroids I take for my lungs; and still working through some of the stresses of last year, both in my own time and with my psychologist.

Is it any wonder I've needed a bit of space from writing about it all on my blog?

However, despite all of that there have been some good times and some good things in the last few months too.  In recent weeks, one of the things that has helped to bring back my smile has been my new little kitten, Isobel Artemis.  This photo was taken when she was just three to four weeks old and I went to meet her for the first time.


Isobel came to live with me on the day that she turned eight weeks old, and this photo is from her first evening with me.


As you can see, she'd grown a bit, but she was still so small (especially in comparison to the size my lovely Zach boy had been) that I kept looking at her and thinking, 'You're so small, you can't be real!'  She was quite unsure of her new surroundings for a couple of days, although she seemed to feel safe enough, judging by how relaxed she was first thing in the morning of her first full day...


She's now completely settled in, a complete delight, and totally nuts :o)  Her mother was half Bengal, which of course makes Isobel a quarter Bengal.  She has some of the traits, particularly being talkative with a variety of little chirrups as well as the more conventional meows and purrs; and she has just a couple of the Bengal spots on her side; but I wasn't sure how many of the other traits she'd have.  One thing Bengal cats are known for is a liking of water, and yesterday Isobel had her first encounter with water.  It was the middle of the afternoon and she decided it was cuddle time, which is lovely and usually not a problem, except that I happened to be in the bath at the time!  Despite having her feet already immersed in the bath water, she walked along my legs into deeper water (my legs were at a slight angle due to the bath lift I use), patted it with her paw as if gently attacking it, walked back up my legs, looked at me quizzically, leapt out of the bath, ran around the flat in crazy mode, scurried back into the bathroom, leapt back into the bath, missed her footing on me and got absolutely drenched.  She ended up very spiky, utterly bemused, extremely soggy, and yet wanting more.  I don't really want to end up sharing all my baths with the cat from now on - that would be weird! - but it was very amusing, and I have to say that she's incredibly silky soft today.

I could probably post photos of Isobel ad infinitum, but I'll restrain myself (for now) and tell you some more of the better things that have been going on for me in recent times.

So, at the end of April my mum turned seventy, shortly followed by my step-dad at the beginning of this month, so between the two birthdays we had a family week away in celebration.  Mum, J (step-dad), my brother M, his wife, N, and their children, O and D, and my brother C, his wife, S, and their son, J, hired a 'cottage' in Shropshire.  The 'cottage' was in the grounds of a manor house with several other 'cottages' (mostly far too big to be called cottages), and amongst other things a huge building that contained a large games room and banqueting hall.  We'd arrived on the Friday, and on the Sunday we had a big party for Mum and J in the banqueting hall with various other factions of the family coming to join us for the day.  Most of the folk who came to the party were from J's side of the family, and it was great to have a chance to meet some of them for the first time, some for the first time since Mum and J got married over twenty years ago, and to chat to others who I have seen more recently but haven't had the opportunity for a good catch-up.

There are always some tensions when families get together for prolonged periods, but on the whole I don't think we did too badly, and I did have a good time.  There were times when I felt a bit 'spare part-ish' and lonely, because I was the only one who didn't have someone else, and a couple of days when I ended up spending much of the day on my own while others went off in their family groups, but I tried to make the most of it, and did have some good times.  I also had some very enjoyable times with my brothers and their families during trips out, and I really valued the time to get to know my youngest nephew, J, a bit better.  I don't get to see him very much, so even at age three, he didn't really know who I was, but by the end of the week he was inviting me to his next birthday party ... in February next year.  I do hope I get to see him (and his parents, of course!) rather more now and we can have the kind of aunty-nephew relationship I have with O and D.

What else has been good?  Well, I've been learning to crochet.  In my review of the year at the end of last year, and I think also at the end of the previous year, I said that I wanted to learn to crochet.  I sort of learnt a little bit in 2012, but not at all confidently, and I couldn't do it with any accuracy without having someone who knew what they were doing to guide me.  Earlier this year my friend R was off work for a few weeks.  Early on in her recovery from the surgery she had I went to visit her and happened to mention that I wanted to learn to crochet, and much to my delight she said that she did to and we set up a plan to learn together.  I'd bought a book (A Little Course in Crochet) a few weeks before in anticipation of teaching myself and we decided to use it as our tutor.  We met up frequently during R's recuperation, working methodically through the book, and practising on our own between times.  We still haven't reached the end of the book, and R is now back at work, but I feel like I can call myself a crocheter.  I can actually make things, things with straight edges where they're meant to be straight, and with corners where there are meant to be corners.  I've made all sorts of things, albeit mainly those in the book, but that's the beauty of the book, because it teaches you a skill and then gives you a project to make using the skill it's just taught.  R and I don't meet now like we did, but I'm still crocheting, I think she is too, and we certainly plan to get together for more creative crocheting times.  It's so relaxing, and actually it really helped me after Zach died.

So having heard what has been, I guess I should say a little about what is.  Right at the moment my priority is trying to keep breathing.  The weather has been lovely recently with lots of sunshine, but the air has been thick with humidity - around 60% to 75% according to the Met Office - and that's been causing me problems.  That and the high pollen count.  As much as I love going out in the sunshine - and I really need to get the vitamin D given my osteomalacia - I've had to spend a fair amount of this lovely weather indoors, breathing the clearer air produced by the ventilation system in my flat.  Even then I've had some very troublesome days and nights with my breathing, and have generally been quite exhausted.  I've put my steroids back up from 45mg to 60mg, and have been having extra nebs, but I'm also thankfully due to see my asthma consultant on Thursday.  I don't expect him to have any magic answers or even the glimpse of any new treatment, but at least he'll know where things are up to.

To be honest, it hasn't been too much of a hardship having to be inside at home.  Sure, I'd love to be outside enjoying the sun and the warmth, but I've also spent lots of time with Isobel and have been taking great delight in her.  We've played a lot, had lots of cuddles, and she's been learning the word no when she's looked up at the curtains with rather too much interest ;o)

I think that I'd better sign off for now as it's getting late, but I'll be back a whole lot sooner than I was last time.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Lurgies

It's a brand new year, and just as it gets going I have a brand new lurgy.  It's a viral thing.  You might be thinking, as part of me does, 'So what? Almost everyone picks up some bug or other during the winter months,' and that's true, but the problem is that, for a brittle asthmatic like myself, there is no such thing as a simple infection.

At the moment I don't feel too bad most of the time - a little bit sniffly, the edge of a headache, a slight sore throat, etc - except that, aside from those niggly things, I also have scratchy lungs and a barking cough.  The cough is tiring and it's beginning to make my lungs ache, and the worry with that feeling is that it's all too common when an upper respiratory tract infection is making its way south to become a lower respiratory tract infection.  And the trouble with that is that it will set off the asthma.

For most, a cold or a bit of viral bug is annoying and bit miserable, but you know you'll be back to normal after ten days or so.  My worry is that this could land me in hospital.  In fact, I've all to often ended up in Intensive Care on a ventilator because I've picked up a 'simple' cold.  Of course, there's the possibility - albeit limited - that I might get over this without any drama, and that is exactly what I want to happen, of course.  But the other possibility scares me.  Having a bit of a viral infection scares me.  I know that it could all go horribly, horribly wrong, and that it could end up putting my life in danger.

Mum's still with me at the moment - still here from her stay for New Year.  I have the appointment for the MRI on my back/spine first thing in the morning, and she's coming with me to that, but then she and J are going back home to Scotland.  It shouldn't make much of a difference, seeing as I'm almost 40, but actually it does, because while they are here they can (and do) make sure that I'm okay.  That's not to say that I can't look after myself - of course I can - but everyone knows that it's easier to have someone help look after them when they're under the weather.  More significantly, should my lungs have a big splat while Mum is here then I know that she can easily summon help quickly.  It's not quite so straight forward when I'm on my own again - if I haven't got the breath to speak clearly to ambulance control; if I lose the ability to judge how ill I'm becoming (which does have a tendency to happen due to a build up of carbon dioxide in my blood when my lungs get bad); if I push myself that little bit too far in trying to maintain my independence, which might be as little as trying to walk through to the kitchen to make a cup of tea, or through to the bathroom to use the toilet.

Then there are night times, those dreaded times when lungs have a habit of deteriorating and GP surgeries are closed.  Now, in my cogent head I know that in an emergency I should call an ambulance, and that ambulances exist throughout the night as well as the daytime.  But the trouble, once again, is that muddled brain that I get when my lungs go into that dangerous slip, and I forget about ambulances.  I forget about other portals of help.  I worry that I will wake a friend from needed sleep, rather than thinking that they'd much rather be tired the next day having been woken by me to help me get the right help, than to later find out that I've died from an exacerbation of asthma.  My CO2-muddled brain worries about getting my health record info and my meds list up to date in the event that I might need to go to hospital, but it doesn't always register that I should be going to hospital there and then, rather than faffing around with paperwork.  My CO2-muddled brain thinks about making sure that there's everything in my hospital case that I need, not about getting to hospital itself.  My CO2-muddled brain is a dangerous brain to have, probably because it's in danger, and it's that CO2-muddled brain - the possibility of it - that scares me now.

Of course, of course, of course I know that it might not happen this time.  I hope to God that it doesn't, but I can't trust that it won't, and that uncertainty is frightening too.  And then there's the thought that it might all drag on, and I'll get more and more tired and weary, and then I won't have the energy to fight if I need to.  The possibility of a long, slow slip downwards is frightening.  The possibility of a long, hard fight at the end of that is even more frightening.

I have home antibiotics if I need them, but there's no point in taking them at the moment while it's almost certainly viral.  I won't take them unless I need them.  I'm keeping an eye of signs of an antibiotic-worthy infection, but so far there's none.  I just cough, and I feel the heaviness in the top of my chest, hear the gentle wheeze and the edge of an occasional crackle, feel the scratchiness in my throat, and take the meds I can to alleviate what is possible to alleviate.  No relief lasts long, but I'm thankful that at the moment I'm not in crisis, and I hope that it stays that way throughout.

All this from a bit of a lurgy.  It scares me, and I wonder how much people understand about why my fears are real, and why they're not an over-reaction to a 'simple' viral bug.  And I wonder how much people understand why, at times like this, living on my own is a frightening thing, and why it means quite so much that my mum's going home tomorrow.  Perhaps it shouldn't matter what others understand ... but for some reason it does.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Review of the year 2013

It's that time again when many of us take some time to look back at the year that has been.  2013 has been a difficult year for me, but I'm still going to do the annual review, so here goes...

1. What has been your biggest achievement this year?  Probably just surviving it.  It's been tough in many different ways, and there were lots of times when I really doubted that I would get through.  I'm still alive, and I reckon that's a huge achievement for this year.
2. What made you laugh most this year?  Hmm ... I've had some good laughs with friends, particularly R and M.  Other than that, probably (repeats of) the TV show 'Miranda'.  Oh, and I went to see Eddie Izzard earlier in the year too, and he was very funny.
3. What unfulfilled hopes do you have for this past year?  I really wanted to get my book about my asthma finished, but I had a long, long time this year when I wasn't able to write at all.  I've done a bit to add to it, but not enough.
4. What has been your favourite/most listened to piece of music this year?  Hmm, tricky ... Probably not one single piece of music.  I've gone back to listening to a lot of church choral music this year, maybe because I've done more singing again.  I miss taking part in that kind of music, making the music, but I do love listening to it, so I've listened to a lot of CDs of excellent church/cathedral choirs singing anthems and canticles.
5. What was your best holiday this year?  I've only had one holiday this year - when I went to Dorset, with stop-offs on the way and way back at Stratford and Derbyshire.  It was excellent, and revitalising. 
6. What new skill, if any, have you acquired this year?  I'm not sure that I have.  I'll have a think and get back to you if I come up with anything, but I'm not sure there's anything.
7. What's the best book you've read this year?  Oh gosh.  I usually read a lot, but for much of this year I found it very difficult to concentrate on reading so I've only read about eight books!  However, the best of those was probably 'Tuesdays with Morrie' by Mitch Albom.  It's a memoir based around Mitch Albom's weekly meetings with his old university professor who now, twenty years after their first meeting, is dying.  It's a moving book, with both sadness and joy, but always full of life.
8. What has been the biggest challenge of this year?  Depression and the various reasons behind it, but particularly one very difficult situation that I haven't been able to write about on my blog, but that had repercussions through many aspects of my life.  In some rather complicated ways it got kind of tangled up with physical health stuff as well as depression, but things are at last settling.
9. What is your happiest/fondest memory of this year?  Despite the year's difficulties, I've been extremely lucky to have the friends I do, and my fondest memories of this year are those of fabulous friends who have shown me such love and gentleness, often at times when I was at my lowest.
10. Of what one creation of the past year are you most proud or pleased? I'm pretty pleased with some of the writing I have managed to do for my book, maybe in part because it's been so challenging to write, but if we're thinking of more artistic creations then I guess the piece of glass that I made at a glass workshop in November.  So far as skill is concerned, there was very little in it, but I know the frame of mind I had been in the morning of that day, how insecure and incapable I'd been feeling.  I got the fired pieces back just before Christmas, and I'm really pleased with the main piece that I spent most of the workshop working on.
11. What new hobby did you take up/old hobby did you reinstate this year?  Singing.  Actually, that's not strictly true, because I helped to start up Flotsam (the choir) at the end of 2012, but I've kept at it this year, despite the hospital admissions and various health problems.  This year I also took part in the Christmas choir at church, which I haven't done for about three years.  We don't usually have a choir at the church I go to, but every year at Christmas those of us who want have six or seven rehearsals in the weeks running up to Christmas and 'perform' at the service of Nine Lessons and Carols.  It was lovely to be a part of that again.
12. What one thing would you really like to do next year?  Finish writing my book about my asthma.
13. What was the saddest thing of this year?  There has been a lot of sadness this year.  One was at the beginning of the year when my dad had to move in to a care home; another, just a few short weeks ago, was the death of my wonderful friend Caroline.
14. What has been your best discovery of this year?  Probably the company Good Wine Online who specialise in sulphite-free and low-sulphite wines.  I'm extremely allergic to sulphites and have missed having a glass of wine, because sulphite-free wines are practically impossible to find in the shops.  I was very, very lucky to be given a case of twelve bottles of wine from GWO from my brother and sister-in-law for Christmas.
15. What news story of this year has had the biggest impact on you/do you most remember?  Gosh, a year of many news stories, with many of them being of particular note.  Possibly the two international news stories that I most remember are 1) The chemical weapons attack on the children in Syria; and 2)  The gunmen's siege of the shopping centre in South Africa.  Having said that, the news of Nelson Mandela's death was also significant.  I think a lot of the news stories about freak weather events, both abroad and in the UK, have also had a big impact on me - things that no-one can prevent and have potential to affect all regardless of status or wealth.  There seem to be increasing numbers of wild weather events causing widespread devastation.
16. What's the best film you've seen this year?  Another year when I haven't seen even half of the films I've wanted to see.  I've yet to see Philomena or Gravity, both of which or on my list to see before it's too late.  Perhaps the best film I saw this year was Les Miserables.
17. What was your best buy this year?  I think that has to be my Ugg boots.  Obviously I didn't get much wear from them through the summer, but they were great through the very cold spring and excellent again now.  My mum helped me buy them, and they were at her suggestion after I got frostbite in three of my toes in my left foot in February (actually, the night I went to see Les Miserables at the cinema).  My big toe has never fully recovered, and the circulation in my feet seems to be pretty poor, but the Ugg boots certainly help to keep my feet cosy.
18. What has been your best day out this year?  I was thinking about this in bed earlier today, trying to think of days out that I've had, and you know, they've been rather few and far between this year.  I had a nice day out with my brother, Dad, and step-mum around Easter time (I think my brother came up on his own, without his wife or children).  We went to Belsay and had a walk/trundle through the quarry garden to the castle.  Other than that, the other day/part-day out that sticks out was the glass workshop I mentioned earlier.
19. If there’s one thing you did this year that you’d do differently if you could, what would it be?  There was a misunderstanding and over-reaction (on my part) that led to an argument with an online friend.  It was resolved relatively quickly with the person it was actually with, but someone else jumped in on the act and raised it again months later.  If I could change that initial argument, misunderstanding, and over-reaction, I would.
20. Is there anywhere you'd like to visit next year?  Yes, there's a place nearby that opened almost two years ago, but to which I haven't yet been and want to.  It's a sculptured landscape called Northumberlandia and is only about 20 minutes drive away so I really don't have any excuse.
21. Name one thing you did this year that you'd like to do again?  The glass workshop.  Once I let go of the mangle of stuff in my head that day, I had a wonderful time and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I know that I will do it again because I got a voucher for Christmas from my step-dad for a full day's workshop at the same place :o)
22. Who gave you the best advice this year?  My psychologist.  She's given me lots of advice, or at least helped me to find my own advice, seeing as that's how therapy kind of works.  Actually, one of the best pieces of advice she did clearly give me was to share with my friends that I was depressed.  I was distancing myself from people, from my friends, in the fear that they'd distance themselves from me if they knew that I was depressed.  S made me realise the paradox in this and helped me to question the helpfulness of my action.  She suggested I tell some of them.  I have been blessed with wonderful friends who have embraced me in my depression and loved me through it.  I know it's not easy for them, but they've stayed with me all the same.  I thank God for them, and I thank S for her advice.
23. What new skill would you like to acquire next year?  I've forgotten the scraps of crochet that I learnt last year, but I'd like to learn to do it, and this time properly.  I need to persevere with it once I've started, and really acquire it as a skill.
24. What was your favourite TV/radio programme this year?  Broadchurch  I think I missed the first episode, but I saw the second with my mum and J when they were staying with me for a couple of days.  I got completely sucked in to it and loved it.  I was ridiculously excited when I discovered that West Bay, near where I went on my holiday, was where Broadchurch was filmed.  Fab.  Can't wait for a second series.
25. What would you like to make more time for next year?  Writing.  I have lots of time.  In many ways, far too much time, but I need to make sure that I dedicate a decent amount of that time to writing.  I need to stop thinking about it and just do it.  I need to stop talking about it and just do it.  I just need to do it.
26. What has been the biggest disappointment this year?  Most of the year has been a huge disappointment, and perhaps the resurgence of depression has been one of the biggest disappointments.  Some of the causes of some of that depression have maybe been bigger disappointments, but I suppose that ultimately I've been hugely disappointed in myself.  I have lost direction and lost some of myself, and that is an enormous disappointment.
27. What was the best or most enjoyable concert you went to this year?  Nigel Kennedy He's an odd chap, but a fantastic violinist, and his concert was amazing.  A huge mix of straight baroque, jazzed up baroque, and jazz, with a big eastern European influence at times.
28. What do you think was the best thing that you did for yourself during the last year?  Stood my ground when I needed to, even though it was incredibly difficult.  I sought the help that I needed to stand my ground, and to get through the protracted aftermath of it.  It was terrible in many ways, but has also been a huge relief - a step to getting myself back.
29. What is the biggest difference in yourself from this time last year?  I'm no longer in an abusive situation and I'm finding my way through the damage that was done.
30. What are you most looking forward to about next year?  Time with friends and time with family.  It's both my mum's and step-dad's 70th birthdays next year, and between the two they're having a joint birthday week away with all the family.  There's going to be immediate family like myself, my brothers, and my step-dad's brothers, but also extended family of my step-dad's nephews and their families.  I think various people will be coming and going through the week, but there's going to be one day of particular celebration when all those who can only come for the day will join us.  I'm really looking forward to the time away and the time with family.

Christmas and all that jazz

In case you haven't noticed, it's Christmas time.  Well, it's been Christmas and now we're in that limbo time between Christmas and New Year, during which I have done a whole lot of nothing.  It's been prescribed nothingness because I've got some collapsed vertebrae (i.e. compression fractures in the spine) in my lower spine.  It's another side effect of the long-term high-dose steroids I take for my lungs.

I first had back pain in August/September, but didn't think much of it.  Then a couple of weeks ago I suddenly had excruciating pain that was making my legs feel weird - kind of tingly and achy all at once - and some weakness in left leg.  I thought maybe I'd pulled something so waiting until the next day to go to my GP, thinking that maybe a good night's sleep would help.  Only I didn't get a good night's sleep, and half way through the next day I decided that I probably should see my doc.  When I did at last see him he sent me straight up to A&E, which was rather a surprise because I hadn't thought that back pain would warrant an A&E trip.  X-rays apparently showed vertebral wedging and compressed vertebrae, and the A&E doc decided that I needed to have an urgent MRI, though thankfully not so urgent that I needed to be kept in.  It turns out that a request for an urgent MRI can take several weeks, but I got my appointment through the other day, weirdly for next Sunday at stupid o'clock in the morning.

So I've spent the majority of the festive season flat on my back dosed up on Tramadol.  Unfortunately Tramadol and alcohol are a bad combination, so I've had to skip the meds on the days I've wanted a drink, like Christmas Day.  I don't usually drink much alcohol, but I have to say that I did make an exception this Christmas, although it was spread throughout the day.

Despite essentially having a broken back, I had a lovely Christmas Day.  I've usually gone to my mum's in Edinburgh for Christmas, but this year she and my step-dad spent it with one of my brothers and his family down south, so I went to my good friends R and M.  Just to be clear, I was invited; I didn't just turn up and say, 'Hi, I'm spending the day with you, and by the way, happy Christmas' ;o)  R and M picked me up around 11am, and as previously arranged, we were all in our Christmas pyjamas for a truly comfortable Christmas Day :o)  When we arrived back at R and M's it wasn't long before we got stuck in to the enormous spread of cheese and biscuits and wine.  Mmmmmmmmm cheese.....  I think it's fair to say that we stuffed ourselves.

Once we could move again, or rather, once R could move again - about six hours later - she started on the Christmas dinner.  As my main contribution to the shared meal, I'd bought the turkey, but R did amazing things to it (nothing weird!  Just tasty things like soaking it in brine and spices for 24 hours prior to cooking, as per a Nigella recipe) to make it exceptionally tasty and succulent.  Ahh, it was delicious!  Oh yeah, we had all the usual turkey trimmings too, but it was an hour and half later that any of us were able to squeeze in a slither of my mum's Becky-friendly Christmas cake.  In fact, it probably would have been longer if time hadn't been an issue, but my taxi was due at 11pm, so it was then or never (or more likely, Boxing Day), and seeing as we hadn't opened the Baileys it seemed rude not to wash down the cake with a large glass of the creamy stuff each :o) hic!

So that's an outline of my Christmas Day.  A very relaxing day with friendship, food, alcohol, presents (yes, we had a time of presents too, obviously), chat, laughs, Doctor Who, cheese, santa hats, pyjamas, fun, and lying around on the sofa.  Yes, I'm rather afraid that I hogged one of their sofas (sorry R and M), but I was only obeying doctors' orders, and neither or them seemed to mind ... or at least, they didn't say they minded...

Anyway, Christmas Day was lovely.

I've had a very, very quiet time since then, having done very little indeed.  I've needed it to be like that, if I'm honest, although it's also a bit lonesome at times, and definitely boring.  I've caught up on some of my TiVo recordings, cuddled the cat a lot, slept a lot (thanks to the Tramadol), read a bit, tried not to think too much about most of the year that has been (although I will be doing so in the next day or two for my annual Review of the Year), and enjoyed the Christmas decorations.

My mum and step-dad are coming down to stay for a few days over New Year.  R and M are coming on New Year's Eve too :o)  It'll be another cheese fest with wine, chat, and maybe some games, but generally low-key.  I'm looking forward to seeing Mum.  For all that I had an excellent Christmas Day, I did miss Mum too.  She and J were only going to stay until Friday, but since I got my MRI appointment for Sunday, Mum's offered to stay until after that and come to it with me :o)  We won't get any results then - they'll take two to three weeks to get back to my GP (oh, and they're checking for disc, nerve, and spinal cord involvement) - but it'll still be good to have her support.

It's still early days for my back - I'm told it will take two to three months to repair itself - but the rest/lying down does seem to be helping.  Having said that, I will go completely mad if I'm not able to get up and do things soon, and I'm pretty sure it would be good for my back muscles to start having to do some work before long ... wouldn't it?  It's surprising how little information I've been given about these sorts of things actually.  Hmm.  Oh well, I guess the doc will tell me more when I go for a check up the week after next.

Well for now I think it's time I peel myself off the sofa, feed the cat, and go to bed.  The Tramadol (and nefopam and paracetamol) has really messed with my sleep pattern, but I don't care much if it means that I sleep through some of the pain.



Oh, and my blogosphere new year's resolution will be to post more often.  I've been rubbish at it this year.  Sorry.  It's been tough.