On Dying – or in praise of the real NHS.

Less than a week ago, I was fighting for my life. I was on the way to a conversation with St Peter or  it may have been Osiris or one of the many gods of the afterlife. It all depends on your outlook on what happens once we discard this frail body of ours.  It is in this sort of situation that our NHS comes into it’s own. As I moved in and out of consciousness I was aware of being surrounded by many people efficiently going about the business of saving my life.

The expertise and equipment are worth more than diamonds, all done with the sole purpose of saving the life of a stranger who will leave without a backward glance once the task is complete regardless of outcome. This is the reality of the life of those who work in the NHS. They rarely see the fruits of their labours, just moving on from one task to another, whether at the critical moment of saving a life or the longer term of of helping people on the road to recovery.

I have Atrial Fibrillation that has gone undiagnosed partly because of my procrastination in doing anything about the symptoms I was having, and partly due to the difficulties in getting some primary care. I had a strong idea of what it was, but had been trying to deal with it by adjusting lifestyle and diet. I had fully intended getting to the GP at sometime, but that is not an easy task in these days of too much to do with little time and resources in which to do it. Nevertheless, I have to acknowledge that I should have persisted in trying to see the GP.

I’d been having random bouts of difficulty in breathing but put it down mostly to my ever decreasing levels of fitness over the past couple of years and ever increasing weight. The balance scales were tipping the wrong way. I had thought my irregular pulse and breathlessness would settle once I could tip the scales back to where they were supposed to be. It was a risk I took that almost saw the end of me. When my breathing became difficult and wheezy, I did what had become a habit. Leaving the situation and letting it all settle naturally. Except it didn’t. My breathing became worse and I realised I was in serious trouble. Luckily my brother and his wife were nearby and I managed to get to them just before I lost conciousness. The next thing I knew, I was surrounded by paramedics. I greyed out again and woke in A+E.

Interested people can find many discussions and opinions about when is a person actually dead. Clinical death is defined as when the heart stops, actual death when the brain stops functioning. So, when they deliberately stopped my heart, it seems I was clinically dead albeit for a very short time. The electric shock applied then restarted my heart into a more normal rhythm. My lungs had become severely congested because my heart was in such a quivering state. It took a little time to clear my lungs so that I could absorb some oxygen. It’s all power to the aforementioned expertise and equipment that I’m able to write this post. Not that many years ago that I would have been having a discussion with whichever deity, or saint, was my destiny to meet on my way to eternity.

There were no flashing lights or tunnels or me looking down on myself. I only remember being uncaring about my loss of dignity as they cut my clothes off me exposing my doughy cellulite and secret places to the world. All I wanted was to be able to breathe. The pull to life is extrememly powerful. While I have a great deal to live for, I’ve often wondered at this pull in people when all hope is lost. Even in the end stages of disease, life and continuing to live becomes paramount importance. Not only in humans but in all organic life. Perhaps something to consider in another posting.

The upside of all this, is that I’m otherwise quite healthy. Not diabetic, no other issues detected and the meds they’ve put me on seem to be working as they should. in other words, it looks like I’ll be able to rebalance the fitness and weight scale in the next few months. So watch this space…

Heartfelt Praise for NHS Staff

On Friday 29th May I was admitted to hospital as an emergency suffering congestive heart failure. I was in hospital for just over a week. I thought I would share my experience as an assurance to those who are reluctant to seek medical help. I have to say, the whole procedure was reassuring and safe. In fact, I felt safer in hospital than I do in a supermarket.

On that morning, I had a great deal of trouble breathing which was rapidly getting worse, so I called 999. The ambulance was there in minutes and after some initial treatment I had the full blue light siren trip into hospital. As a precaution I was taken to the Covid assessment section of A and E. The hospital has the whole process under control, the atmosphere was calm and quiet. The nurse who cared for me was dressed in gowns, a filter mask and the Perspex shield. She stayed with me throughout. No one else was able to enter the cubicle. My nurse took bloods and other investigations and managed my treatment. She had another nurse outside the area who was a ‘runner’ for her. The doctor was not able to touch anything inside the cubicle, having to write his notes and recommendations outside the area.

Once I was stable, I was transferred to the Cardiac Unit. The staff there have settled into the routines as if they have been doing it for years. In my day it was called barrier nursing where staff only entered the room after they had put fresh aprons, gloves and masks on. This is now done as a matter of course. Aprons, masks and gloves were all changed between each patient. The whole of each room was cleaned each day and inspected for dust several times. The beds, the curtains, the rails, the lockers, the sinks, the cardiac monitors and leads. Each patient had their own blood pressure cuff and oxygen monitor which were disposed of when finished with.

Talking to the staff – paramedics, nurses, doctors, cleaners etc, many of them have had and survived the Covid-19 virus. They have been through enormous strain. Imagine caring for someone who is seriously ill, knowing that you are likely to catch the virus. Imagine catching this virus and feeling so ill while picturing the people whose symptoms you have eased as best you can, feeling impotent and hopeless as they deteriorate. Imagine recovering and having to go back to that situation. Imagine having to work in a strange environment as you were deployed to the wards most in need, teams split, colleagues falling sick, more very sick people being admitted.

Nothing in the attitude of those staff portrayed what they had gone through, although most were happy to talk about it if you asked. Nothing was too much trouble. Nothing. There were no visitors allowed in the hospital, but staff were more than happy to trot along the long, empty corridors to pick up supplies sent in by relatives up to several times a day during their 12 hour shift.

You may see that Covid-19 admissions to hospital are going down. The chances of contracting the virus inside the hospital must be as close to zero as can be. You may see that numbers of people recovering are going up. When you see the figures announced daily, remember this. Remember also, that when you see how many have died – tragic and devastating as it is – those people would have contracted the virus days/weeks/months before. The nearest up to date figures showing the trends are Hospital Admissions or Nursing Home/Community residents with a confirmed diagnosis. Even those can be a few days out of date.

We will come out of the other side of this, and as far as I can see, the door is opening. Even if there is the predicted ‘second wave’, hospitals and health care staff have learned so much and will continue their ‘new normal’ while persisting with their skilled, compassionate, lifesaving approaches to those in their care.

Stay well, stay strong and stay safe.

Beware the Barrenness of a Busy Life – Socrates

Sometimes we hear a phrase or saying that resonates with us. Maybe it’s a message from the Universe or maybe it’s our subconscious telling us what we already know.

I’m a busy person, I’ve always liked being busy to an extent where often I’m just too busy to enjoy what I do. I always have a todo list on the go, a rather crowded todo list.

Why? Well, I find life so interesting sometimes and want to try everything – everything.

I also have a need to help people. Yes, it’s a need in me rather than in anyone else – even I know that. Sometimes though it’s not enough, sometimes it’s too much. When I see something needs doing I tend to go at it like a runaway train which may look as if I’m trying to dominate or take over. I’m not, I just want to help.

Sometimes I make a token effort to help someone, but the help is not enough. I came across a lady wandering around M+S openly crying, a lost desperate look in her eye. Of course, I wanted to help, so I asked her if she was ok. Her husband had recently died, she was alone, no family or friends nearby. She had come out of the house to try to ease the pain. I spoke to her for a while, she said she was going to get herself a cup of tea before going home. I was busy and needed to get on; I don’t like shopping at the best of times and I still needed to complete my outfit for my daughter’s wedding. So, I wished her well and went on my way. All it would have taken was half an hour to have a cup of tea with this lady but I was too busy. My head was full of getting the shopping done so I could get home and carry on with my assignment, my house tidying (that’s a Sysiphus challenge) and work my way down my todo list (another Sysiphus challenge). Now I wonder about that poor lady and sorry that I couldn’t give her what she was obviously looking for, just a short respite from the pain of grief and loneliness.

What I like most in life, what I get most satisfaction from is being creative. Making something that wasn’t there before. I like to write, sew, draw, and generally create designs with the software and machines I have. I also like to read, play music and learn. I love learning new information and am often found wandering the internet or reading, soaking up new information. My problem is, I don’t have the time to give any quality attention to all of these things. I’m too busy chasing other things. I’m like a butterfly skipping from one delightful task to another and putting my hand up like an over enthusiastic child to anything that needs doing.

There’s a philosophy that says when on our death bed we tend to regret the things we didn’t do rather than what we did do. That’s all very well but perhaps what we do do needs some attention, real absorbed attention. Which means prioritising. If I had given that lady some time, I would have felt better in myself, she may have felt a little less lonely and I may have had some material for my writing. If I’m going to regret anything in my life, it’s likely to be that I didn’t give enough time to doing nothing, no space to create or even just to be.

Some weeks ago, I was facing my own death. I’m here now by the skin of my teeth. It was an emergency and I was so lucky that I was near the help I needed. It got to that stage because I was too busy, too busy to go to the doctor when I knew there was something wrong. My diary was full of meetings and more meetings and other activities. I didn’t want to let anyone down by giving myself the day to sort my health. Now I’ve had another chance to review my life. When I left hospital, I determined that things were going to be different, my priorities were going to change.

Like an addict, I’m back in the saddle running around wasting so much time being busy.

Then I came across dear old Socrates which has given me pause. My life feels full and interesting, I have goals and destinations to reach. Socrates – or my subconscious – is saying that that particular road leads nowhere, it’s never-ending. We all need respite, a pause to gather thoughts and ideas, or simply to look around and enjoy the life we have.

Another phrase I came across this morning is –

Creative idleness

Those two words have that WOW factor for me. It’s when my mind is not crowded with what I’m going to do next that my best work comes. When I’m walking the dog, I find solitary walks in the woods so healing and allows my thoughts to flow. When I’m washing the dishes, and other automatic chores yes, it can be a very creative time, doing an automatic task that needs little thinking it opens up those creative channels don’t you know.

I’m proposing here and now, that I’m going to be less busy and more idle. In this way, my life should be more productive and less stressed.

But first, I must tidy the house and work through the todo list…


While at the bus stop this week, it struck me that I’m always writing. Where ever I am, when there’s not a task that requires my attention, and sometimes when it does, I’m writing. Even when I’m reading or watching television, I’m writing. I lay in bed waiting for sleep and I’m writing, sleepily waiting for the kettle to boil in the mornings I’m writing. The problem is, my literary genius rarely gets to the page, or Word Document, or even a blog such as this.  There it stays in my head until the thoughts and inspirations evaporate, curling their whispy way to who knows where.

Of course, I do write ‘on the page’ so to speak, especially when it comes to writing for deadlines such as weekly tasks set by course leaders and, of course, assignments.

Talking of assignments, as I’m coming to the end of my second year MA, one of the lecturers has suggested we keep a journal of the stories we read for the short story module. Writing a short story, I discover is a very different skill, One of the lecturers said that the short story has depth rather than breadth. Shortly afterward I read Tessa Hadley’s “Bad Dreams” and I knew exactly what she meant. Bad Dreams is a story capturing a moment in time, but revealing unease and hidden feelings beneath the surface in members of the family.

I don’t know whether it was cooncidence or an unconcious act that led me to read some short stories selected by Angela Carter on and around International Women’s Day. The book Angela Carter’s Book of Wayward Girls and Wicked Women in which she selected stories about girls and women from various authors for their spirit rather than their potential or actual criminal acts. Elizabeth Jolley’s ‘The Crop‘ has a woman who is kind to those who are less well off than the rich people she cleans for. It has  – to my mind –  a humorous if rather cunning twist. Appearing to the man she tricks as a quiet unasumming woman she takes advantage of a him by “stealing” his land from him legally. Throughout the narrative the reader would see the woman as being dishonest in something of a Robin Hood kind of way. What is implicit throughout though is her love for her children, a love that will lead her to many transgressions and even jail, but somehow the transgressions engage the reader who may well give her a thumbs up when she triumphs in the end.

Six Tenets of Social Leadership

Just came across this, I want to use the wisdom therein in my organisation The University of the Third Age.

Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

Social Leadership is a style fit for the Social Age: it’s about building social authority, reputation based leadership that is consensual by the community. It’s complimentary to formal leadership but vital at a time when formal authority delivers a diminished return. Here are six tenets that any social leader will adhere to:

Six tenets of Social Leadership

Be curious: question everything. Just because ‘this is how we have always done it‘, don’t assume that’s how you should continue to do it. Solve for today, remain curious as to tomorrow. Curiosity, a willingness to question and the permission to challenge (and be challenged) is key.

Try, Learn, Try: new technology, new ways of working, new ways of sharing, new approaches, new techniques, new mindsets. Try, learn, fail, learn. Agility is about always being willing to stretch, and to support others as they find their…

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In my previous post I had written a rather rough, naive and raw diatribe about how Christmas is exploited and now focuses more on greed and avarice, gluttony and general over indulgence. The poem was written from the heart but I know myself it is not as it should be.

I’ve now rewritten it as below


christmas edit

It feels a little better but still needs some work for it to be of any satisfaction. However, now that the Christmas season is over, I think I will leave it in the cupboard with the left over wrapping paper until next year. By then it will have had time to settle and like the carefully packed away Christmas lights I can untangle it and hope it lights up.

Mrs Grinch’s Christmas

This is my last upload for this module for the moment. I’ve put together a ‘seasonal’ piece. I’ve called it Mrs Grinch. It’s very much a work in progress, but any comments would be welcome. The formatting isn’t as I would wish but I’ve struggled long enough to get it to do as it’s told. The final piece will have the first six stanzas in column with the last stanza holding up the two pillars – could be seen as chimney pots. That is, of course, unless I change the whole thing completely which is likely. If you are reading this, I hope you have as good a Christmas as you would wish for and may the New Year bring new promises.

Mrs Grinch.jpg

Reversing down the road

I came across a ‘Reverse’ poem some time ago which fascinated me. It’s a poem that when read backward gives it a totally different meaning. The one I found was called Refugees by Brian Bilston and can be found here

I thought this was a challenging and fascinating method and when read both forward and backward can give a powerful message to the reader. It certainly drew me in, I was somewhat incensed at first reading but then at the end taking the invitation to read in reverse I was inspired to try my own.

reverse poem

Found Poetry

Happy poets who write found poetry go pawing through popular culture like sculptors on trash heaps. They hold and wave aloft usable artifacts and fragments: jingles and ad copy, menus and broadcasts — all objet trouvés, the literary equivalents of Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans and Duchamp’s bicycle. By entering a found text as a poem, the poet doubles its context. The original meaning remains intact, but now it swings between two poles. The poet adds, or at any rate increases, the element of delight. This is an urban, youthful, ironic, cruising kind of poetry. It serves up whole texts, or interrupted fragments of texts.” — Annie Dillard

http://www.foundpoetryreview.com/about-found-poetry/ accessed 27.11.2017

This week we were given the challenge of writing a poem from within the text of an act of Antigone a Greek Tragedy written by Sophocles apparently first performed in 442 BC

Here is my first effort:



Last week, I attempted a ‘Sonnet with a difference’. The idea was to try to link last month’s ‘Ophelia’ storm with Hamlet’s tragic Ophelia who starts life innocent and chaste, then rises in temper – or madness – then dies. The sonnet form just didn’t work for this, I found the restrictions obscured the ideas I wanted to impart. I’ve now lifted those restrictions and, using some of Shakespeare’s own words among mine, I hope I’ve created a symbiosis that works rather better.

October storm