Monday, 31 August 2015

Documents in the Rain

Charlie was rushing home when he first saw it. If it had been a beautiful sunny day he would have been looking around him, taking in the beauty of the university grounds. Charlie loved the walk through the grounds. From the lecture theatre to his digs took him through the arboretum, around the tennis courts and finally across the end of the lake.  Charlie was always amazed by the different types of flora and fauna he experienced on his walk home. So different from Birmingham city centre where he had been brought up. The concrete jungle with the odd tree and small patch of grass put in by overspent councils to try and give it some semblance of nature and break up the grey monotony.
But on this day he had had his head bent down, trying to fight against the driving rain. At first he saw a spot of red out of the corner of his eye. He didn't want to stop, he was getting soaked and needed to keep moving fast but the flash of colour caught his eye and his curiosity. He dog legged across the pavement and stopped. Looking down he had to look twice but there in the gutter was a copy of the I Ching. He picked it up and carried on home.
When he got home he threw the book into the sink and started undressing. A while later after a hot shower and a change of clothes he came back and looked at it. It was wet through and in danger of disintegrating but he picked it up carefully and opened the front page. This book belongs to Billie Yang.
Charlie couldn't believe his luck. Billie Yang  was the most beautiful girl he had every seen. She was in his english literature group and he had been trying to pluck up the courage to talk to her for weeks. Now here was the ideal opportunity.
Charlie carefully laid the book out on the hearth mat and turned the gas fire on to low. He wanted to dry the book out so that he had something special to give to her.
The next day Charlie was sat behind Billie. Every time he tried to get her attention one of her friends or the teacher would say something. All day he tried and tried but always something distracted her. In the end Charlie knew he was never going to get her alone and he would never have the courage to talk to her with her friends there. What was he going to do? As he was walking towards the science lab for his last lesson of the day he walked passed the notice board. Of course that was it.
By the time Billie walked passed the same notice board an hour later there was a new notice in the middle of the board for all to see.

If anyone has lost a copy of the I Ching contact Charlie Somersby.

'Thank goodness,' Charlie heard one of Billie's friends say, in the large crowd gathered around the notice board. 'He lives over by the new mini mart you can pick it up on your way home.'

Charlie didn't wait to hear the reply but turned and ran out of the building. Chess club would have to be missed if he was going to get home and look smart enough when Billie got there.
Charlie showered and changed, and changed and changed. He didn't want to look too geeky but he didn't want her to think he wasn't intelligent. Finally he settled on his best checked shirt and his new blue jeans, just in time, he was still lacing his converse trainers when the door bell rang.
He raced down stairs but too late Mrs Jones who lived in the ground floor flat had got there first.
'Oh hi, does Charlie live here?' asked an extremely gruff voice. Charlie couldn't see who was at the door from where he stood but it obviously wasn't Billie.
'Yes,' said Mrs Jones. 'Oh look here he is now.'
Charlie slowly walked down the stairs to see Brian Matthews the school bully and resident idiot standing there.
'Hi Brian,' smiled Charlie, it wasn't wise to upset Brian. 'What can I do for you?'
'Billie said you had my book.'
'I've got a book but it's not yours. It's Billie's'
'No it's mine.'
'I don't know what your game is Brian,' said Charlie sounding a lot braver that he felt, 'but it's Billie's. It's got her name in it.'
'She gave it to me.'
'Course she did. Why would you want a copy of the I Ching?'
'Because I'm interested. So go get me my book.'
Brian grabbed hold of the front of Charlie's shirt and pulled him close. Charlie could still smell the remnants of the shepherd's pie the canteen have served for lunch on Brian's breath.
'It's Billie's book and I am not going to let you have it.'
Brian raised his fist just as Mrs Jones reappeared from her flat. He looked at her, shrugged and pushed Charlie away. Charlie landed in an untidy pile on the floor and Brian turned and headed off up the street.
Before Mrs Jones had chance to ask Charlie what was going on he picked himself up and rushed back up to his room.
Charlie sat in his room flicking through the book. It had Billie's name in the front and there were notes in the margin all in her beautifully delicate handwriting. The book had to be hers but why was Brian trying to get hold of it? Just then the doorbell rang again. On the third ring Charlie realised Mrs Jones must have gone out and he went down stairs to answer it.
Charlie opened the door to find Brian standing there again.
'Look Brian I don't know what you want but I am not giving you the book.'
Brian stepped aside and behind him was Billie.
'Hi Charlie.'
'Hi Billie,' Charlie blushed.
'I wanted to thank you for standing up to Brian about the book. It couldn't have been easy.'
'Not a problem.'
'But the thing is it really is Brian's book. I gave it to him.'
'Oh. Oh well I best get it for him then.'
Charlie slowly walked up the stairs and fetched the book. He returned and without looking up he handed the book to Brian.
'Thanks.' Brian took the book and started to walk off.
'Look Charlie,' Billie said. Charlie looked up and was happy to see she was smiling. 'I wondered, as you've been so gallant about the book and everything.'
'Yes,' Charlie replied.
'Do you fancy going for a drink sometime? Maybe tomorrow?'
Charlie could only nodded and grin as Billie turned and ran off after Brian.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Help wanted

Jessie walked into the kitchen and her brain knew something was wrong before her eyes saw it. She’d been out late the night before and was still suffering from dehydration and a killer hangover. She opened the fridge and took out the orange juice, placing it on the kitchen table behind her. The orange juice carton wobbled and started to fall. Jessie grabbed the neck of the plastic container just in time. She looked down to see what she had put it on that stopped it from standing up straight. There on the edge of the table was a small white pill. Then she saw another and another. There must have been twenty of them scattered all over the table and at the far end the medicine bottle lay on its side, open and empty.

Within seconds her head cleared and she sprang into action. She took in the scene, scanning the kitchen in one quick movement. At the end of the table the chair was on its side and her mother was lying on the floor not moving. Jessie rushed over to her and felt for a pulse. She tried her mother’s hand. Nothing. She felt around her mother’s neck and thought she could feel a faint flutter as blood continued to pump through her veins.

Jessie rushed back up stairs and grabbed her mobile, dialling 999 as she charged back into the kitchen and sat at her mother’s side. The ambulance was there with ten minutes and all the time they had been waiting the dispatcher had carried on talking to Jessie, making sure she was alright and telling her what to do.

When the paramedics arrived they checked Jessie’s mother and claimed she was stable but obviously needed to get to a hospital. They transferred her to the ambulance and left Jessie to lock up and make her own way there.

Jessie’s mother was admitted and later that day she regained consciousness. Jessie was sitting by her hospital bed, where she had been all morning, as she opened her eyes.

‘Oh Mum, you’re okay,’ Jessie said as she saw her mother blinking in the harsh fluorescent lights. ‘It’s me Jessie. You’re in the hospital.’

‘Mouth, dry. Can I have some water?’ Jessie’s mother asked.

 ‘Of course.’ Jessie poured a glass of water and held it while her mother sipped gently. Her mother nodded when she had had enough to drink and Jessie carefully placed the glass back on the unit at the side of the bed.

‘What happened? What were you thinking?’ Jessie scolded her mother.

‘I don’t know. I guess I just forgot how many pills I had taken and took too many.’

‘Mum you have the chart I made for you. You’re supposed to tick them off and then you can’t forget.’

‘I know but it’s not so easy when I’m on my own.’

‘You have to get used to this. I am moving out next week and you need to be able to manage by yourself.’

‘But we are good together. You helping me. It works okay doesn’t it?’

‘It works for you but I want a life you know. Dave has been patient with me so far but he won’t wait forever. I will only be across town and I will still come and visit.’

‘Excuse me,’ a young white coated man stood at the end of the bed. ‘Miss Carter?’

Jessie nodded.

‘I’m Dr Jones. Can I have a quick word?’

‘Of course.’ Jessie got up and followed the doctor out of the ward.

Once they were in the corridor the doctor turned to Jessie. ‘Miss Carter I have some good news. We ran a tox screen on your mother and she didn’t have any excessive drugs in her system.’

‘What do you mean?’ Jessie stared at him. ‘She took an overdose.’

‘No she didn’t. She had very little food in her system and if anything I think she had not taken enough of her pills. She probably just passed out from lack of food.’

‘Oh God. I am so sorry that we have wasted your time,’ Jessie blushed feeling annoyed at her mother for creating this furore.

‘Not at all. I am just glad it is nothing more serious. She can go home this afternoon.’ The doctor shook Jessie’s hand and headed off down the corridor.

Jessie headed back into the ward to give her mother the good news.



‘Right that’s me packed Mum. Dave should be here soon and then we can load up the car.’

‘Jessie please don’t go. You know I can’t cope without you. Of course you can. You have your chart for your pills and you cope fine when I am here.’

‘Yes but I need you in case something goes wrong.’

‘No you don’t. You will be fine.’

‘But what about last week?’

‘You had nothing to eat and forgot to take you pills. You just need to be careful.’

‘But I need you. Can’t you see what happened last week could happen again.’

‘Not if you’re careful.’

‘Well maybe I won’t be careful. What’s the point if you’re not here? I’m just a lonely old woman. What’s the point?’

‘Don’t talk like that Mum. You’ll be fine and I’ll pop in to check on you.’

‘Make sure you do or I might have to stop eating again.’

‘What do you mean by that?’

‘Well you only care about me when I collapse.’

‘You know that’s not true. I love you. You’re my mum but I have a life of my own and I am moving in with Dave.’

‘Well on your head be it.’

‘Mum don’t be like that.’

Just then a car horn could be heard outside and Jessie glanced out of the window.

‘That’s Dave. I’m off. Now take care of yourself and I’ll pop in later in the week.



Jessie put the phone down and frowned.

‘What’s wrong love?’ Dave asked.

‘It’s Mum, she’s not picking up her phone.’

‘She’s probably just sulking.’

‘I know we had words but I do worry about her. She had all that trouble when Dad died. I don’t want her to feel she’s all on her own.’

‘I’m sure she’s fine but if it’ll make you happier I’ll get the car and we can pop round.’

‘Thanks Dave.’


Twenty minutes later they pulled up outside Jessie’s mum’s house. Jessie rang the bell and waited. Nothing. She put her ear to the glass to see if she could hear her mother coming to the door from the back room. Still nothing.

Jessie fished around in her handbag to find the door key. Finally finding it she let herself in. She walked into the living room as Dave headed towards the kitchen.

Jessie spent a few minutes looking around the living room and came out into the hallway just as Dave stood in the kitchen door.

‘I’m so sorry love.’ Dave said as he blocked the door.

‘What, What is it?’ Jessie said as she tried to push passed him.

He blocked her and put out his arms to give her a hug. The only thing she could see over his shoulder was the kitchen table. In the middle lay a bottle of pills open and on its side. Only this time there were no pills left to scatter over the kitchen table.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Full v Partial Laryngectomy - the verdict so far

Four months ago I had a partial laryngectomy. At the time I was debating having a full laryngectomy and two different consultants effectively talked me out of the procedure. Four months on I am struggling with the decision I made. Here's how it went and how I thought it could have gone had my decision been different.
Had I have chosen to have a full laryngectomy I would have been eating within two to four weeks of the operation. I would have been talking within six weeks. In order to talk I would have had to had a value fitted which would need changing regularly. This procedure is done by popping in to see your local speech and language therapists and takes about 20 minutes. It is not known how often the valve needs changing but it can be as often as once a month or as seldom as once a year, everyone is different. This valve would have enable me to have had a stronger, but deeper, voice and it could have been adjusted until I got something I liked.  The main disadvantage was that I would have had a stoma in my throat for the rest of my life and would have had to insert a filter each day. This procedure would have been similar to what I have been doing every morning for the last seven months while looking after my tracheostomy.
But I didn't chose the full laryngectomy because, to quote one consultant, 'there would be no going back and with a partial laryngectomy within a year it would be as if all this never happened'.
So four months into my 'intense' rehab here is the reality of the situation.
After the operation I couldn't speak for six weeks. Now I can speak my voice is very quiet and weak. I get breathless and can only talk in short sentences and for short periods of time. As I only have one vocal chord it has got inflamed and swollen, This has caused a blockage in my airway and is making it difficult to breathe. This possibility was never discussed with me when I had to make my original decision.
I often get breathless and struggle to walk any distance. I can't walk up stairs and travel at about half the speed that I did before the operation. Apparently this is because my airway is narrow, again this was not discussed with me. Apparently this could be because there is some swelling from the operation. As I mentioned earlier the operation was four months ago and when I started this there was a chance that my rehab could have been finished in three months. With that knowledge I find it difficult to imagine that there is still swelling from the operation. And if there is could someone please tell me when it is likely to go down so I can start breathing again.
I can't swallow my own spit so I have to have a receptacle with me at all time to spit into. This means I can't leave the house other than to go to the hospital or work. Retail shops tend to frown on their customers spitting as there wander around the cashmere jumpers or fresh veg. I have been very lucky that the people at work have put up with me spitting into a cup all day. Without that release I would have gone stir crazy by now.
I am carrying out swallow exercises in order to restore my swallowing function but it is hardly the 'intense' rehab I was led to expect. I have to try to swallow five teaspoons of water every two hours. It is horrible as most of it hits my lungs and leaves me coughing like a 80 year old who's smoked forty a day all her life but it is not what I would  call intense.
Finally the rehab was supposed to take three to six months with no mention of it running past that. There was even talk of pushing me harder to get me through it in three months. Well four months in and my next swallow X-ray has been pushed back two weeks. Hardly any time at all you may think, but when you don't leave the house because you can't function and you have been fed via a tube for nine months, two weeks feels like a life time. It is also another sign that things aren't as good as they should be.
So was the decision to have a partial laryngectomy the right one? At the moment I doubt it but hopefully I will be proved wrong.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

The Strawberry Jam Incident

Pam was sitting at the kitchen table sewing name labels on the inside of Tommy’s school shirts. She wasn’t sure which she hated more, having to buy new clothes every term as he had a growth spurt, or the hours of sitting sewing name labels on everything.

Tommy and Jeanette, the girl from next door had been racing around the house for the last twenty minutes and from the general hullaballoo she thought it was cops and robbers. There had been a lot of noises like shots being fired and what she could only assume was a child interpretation of a police siren. Pam had just finished sewing the last label in, and had pulled the needle and thread up to her mouth to bite it off when she heard a noise that made the blood in her veins freeze.

She dropped the shirt with the needle and thread still attached and raced out into the hall just as Tommy’s tumble down the stairs finished at her feet.

‘Oh my god, Tommy, Tommy,’ Pam cried as she dropped to her knees and cradled Tommy’s head on her knees.

‘It’s okay Mrs Jones. I think I got him,’ shouted Jeanette from the top of the stairs.

Pam looked up and saw Jeanette still pointing her plastic gun at Tommy.

‘I don’t think you understand Jeanette. Tommy’s really hurt.’ Tommy lay still and limp in his mother’s arms. She could see his little chest rising and falling but who knew what damage had been done.

As she watched his chest she noticed for the first time the red stain. Slow spreading on the upper left hand side of his shirt was a large red stain.

‘Jeanette. I need you to put the gun down and go and get your dad.’

‘But he’s only playing dead Mrs Jones. He’s going to escape if I don’t keep the gun on him.’

‘I’ll keep an eye on him and you go next door and get your dad.’

‘But Mrs Jones…’

‘Jeanette this is important. I need you to go now.’ Pam was trying to keep her voice steady but she was starting to panic and she needed help.

Jeanette walked down the stairs and handed Pam the gun. ‘Don’t let him out of your sight.’

‘I won’t. Now hurry.’ Pam was starting to cry and she needed the girl to hurry and not get distracted.

Jeanette raced out of the door and Pam looked down at her son. As soon as the door clicked closed he opened his left eye.

‘Oh thank God. Are you okay sweetheart?’

‘Has she gone?’ Tommy whispered.

‘She’s gone but you lay still sweetheart. I think you’ve hurt yourself and we need to get an ambulance to look at you.’

‘Nah, I fine thanks Mum.’ Tommy shook his head and jumped to his feet.

Pam managed to grab hold of his arm before he had chance to go racing off. ‘I don’t think so. You’re hurt and you need checking out. For a start let’s have a look at your chest.’

Pam whipped his shirt off over his head. There was not a mark on him. She held his hand and spun him round and round. Next she held up his shirt and looked at the stain. The blood stain she had seen earlier didn’t look quite right. She looked at her son and he smiled sheepishly.

‘Jeanette was going to arrest me and lock me up in prison so I had to escape. She thought she shot me so I could escape.’

‘And what is this?’ Pam pointed at the stain.

‘Well… you know the jam sandwiches you made us for lunch?’

Pam was just about to explode at her son as Jeanette’s father came flying through the open door.

‘See I told you he wasn’t dead,’ Jeanette cried as she grabbed the gun and started chasing after Tommy.

At tear stained Pam picked herself up off the floor and smiled sheepishly at Jeanette’s dad. ‘Well now you’re here do you fancy a cup of tea?’

‘Why not?’

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