Monday, 23 December 2013

Are you Chasing Rainbows?: A Christmas blog - memory lane.

Are you Chasing Rainbows?: A Christmas blog - memory lane.: Just one more day to go before Christmas Day.  All being well, my body will be present and celebrating Christmas Day 2013. But my mind? I wo...

A Christmas blog - memory lane.

Just one more day to go before Christmas Day.  All being well, my body will be present and celebrating Christmas Day 2013. But my mind? I wonder where that will be? Where has it already been over the last couple of weeks of preparations?

Two weeks ago the box of Christmas tree decorations was unpacked. Some of those decorations are from the 1950s and my own childhood Christmases. Good memories of older relatives visiting, dislodging the tree when I tried to find our whether the fairy on top was real, chocolate selection boxes, Mickey Mouse lights, making paper chains and watching my first Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film. Also memories of being poorly and my mother being exhausted returning home from work on Christmas Eve, laden down with the turkey.

The 1960s - a different house, but similar tree and decorations.  Same elderly relatives, but a change in the family dynamic through divorce and now being a recalcitrant teenager. My mother was still exhausted and the memories are more of all the household tasks that needed to be done (or did they?), rather than of any joy in the proceedings. 1967 and I was on night duty in a Children's Home.  That was good and not that I knew it then, but I met my first husband too. 

1970 and I had been home for a day from hospital with my week old baby. Friends had decorated the flat, but those tree decorations were still at my mother's house, where we continued to spend Christmas Days. 

1975 and with a move to a bigger house, I took over hosting the family Christmas.  My mother downsized and I gained a few of the decorations. I was amazed to find that despite the effort required, preparing the meal didn't have to be as stressful as I had been bought up to believe it was.

The rest of the 1970s and 1980s.  We had good Christmas times. The children have good memories. A house that was only decorated the night before my daughter's birthday on the 18th, to help make it special, despite being so near Christmas. Relatives, nativity plays,  carol concerts, good food, visitors, fun and laughter. Except, sometimes, behind my smile... 

1990s. After the years of tradition, I'm not sure there was one Christmas like another.  Family breakdown, children growing up, moving away and divorce. In 1994, my new husband asked why I was insistent something had to be done a certain way. I replied that it was because it always had been done like that, it was tradition. "And that's a very good reason to change", he replied. But I was clinging to the past wasn't I? A past through rose-coloured glasses.

2013. It's been 18 years since my last 'family Christmas'.  Logistics make them impossible. But if we haven't all got together at Christmas time, we have for autumn birthdays and more recently my mother's 90th birthday in December 2010. But this year, my mother died and my husband was taken ill just before the family gathering and we couldn't attend.

The Christmas tree has gone up and the decorations placed lovingly on the tree. I played CDs of John Rutter carols, allowed some moments to become tearful for the past (the good bits) and tried to remember that I have a choice. I can't choose the first thought, but I can change the second and subsequent. On occasions I have chosen to indulge myself and not bother to change the second thought.  There's nothing like a dose of self-pity for distorting the truth of the situation.

I also remember that, I can change what I do today, I can change what I do tomorrow, but I can't change what I did yesterday.

My favourite quote, which comes at the end of the book is:
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
Helen Keller 

With Happy Christmas wishes to all the readers and see you the other side of the door of December 25th. Have fun.


Sunday, 8 December 2013

Recovery from a patient's perspective.

Ten weeks ago, the day was much like today.  A Sunday with bright blue skies, though it was a little warmer, as it was autumn rather than winter.

It was 8.30am and I was getting ready to go out for a celebration lunch with some fellow Soroptimists in West Yorkshire. My husband, Alex (book name), was going to drop me off at the station, but before we had to leave, he was working in the garden.

At 8.40am, Alex came in from the garden complaining of stomach ache. He is generally a fit and healthy man and this was unusual. A sixth sense told me not to go out.

The day progressed, nothing much seemed to change, but something wasn't right. By 6pm, it seemed time to take advice from the HelpLine 111, though we both felt it was a little extreme when they suggested an ambulance.

Four weeks ago I wrote the following blog, summing up my personal thoughts on what happened next:

But what about Alex? How is he? What are his views about what happened?

Most people who experience a major life event will recognise that surreal feeling of going from an ordinary day to one full of the unexpected, whether it is nice or nasty. Other people are going about their 'normal' life and yours has just been changed, maybe forever. Last week, the news was full of the aftermath of a tragic helicopter accident in the centre of Glasgow. Many people's lives changed forever, yet a radio reporter reported that in the nearby streets, the shops were busy with people doing their Christmas shopping.

Alex ended up having major abdominal surgery and the doctors and nurses saved his life. Twenty-four hours later he was in ICU. Alex is so un-medical that he got fed up with the assumption that everyone knows what all the hospital acronyms are. A few days later he still had no idea what staff were talking about when they mentioned ICU. For anyone reading this in the same situation it means Intensive Care Unit.

I knew our lives were about to change and I wasn't confident how someone who disliked anything medical was going to manage.

A specialist nurse visited the ward four days after the operation. She explained in a kind, but firm manner that there were two major contributions to a good recovery. 1. Family support. 2. Attitude

Alex's response was that family support was a given, which it has been. I played the nurse/carer to begin with and then gently withdrew to allow Alex to do more. We have discussed how easy it would have been for him to allow me to mollycoddle him, thus encouraging a dependency. Fortunately, neither his character or mine, would allow that to happen.

I am reminded of being very unwell in the mid 1980s. A friend experienced something similar around the same time. I managed with little help and recovered slowly. This was mainly due to having to get up off the sofa each day to provide the family with a meal, even if that was all I did each day. My friend's mother lived locally and came and 'nursed' her, not allowing her to get off the sofa. My friend remained unwell for a very long time and eventually developed clinical depression. It was sad and bewildering to observe.

2. Attitude Chapter 17

Alex has amazed me. While he's not happy about what's happened and "hasn't got his head around it yet", he decided that he would have change his thinking processes. His goal was recovery and positive thoughts have been prominent. This has not been and is still not easy at times, but Alex says that he now knows the meaning of 'mind over matter'.

Daily goal setting has been crucial. Chapter 13. As too, some  daily exercise. Chapter 1.

But the main contribution to his positive attitude has been having a role model. Two role models in fact.

His father, Bob, had been a healthy and fit man until he was fifty-five. A spinal problem led him to become a paraplegic and a few years later, an oxygen overdose led him to becoming blind. Alex's parent's home was adapted and they lived in it for over another twenty years. Bob did the cooking, gardening and all sorts of household tasks. He very rarely complained and just got on with life, even when it became more difficult when Alex's mother started to experience dementia.

Another relative had become unwell in their early twenties. They developed a chronic condition and let it rule their lives until their early death at sixty-two. Though highly talented in various arts and crafts, they became dependent on benefits and used their illness to get attention in unhealthy ways. There was secondary gain to remaining dependent, which they were unable to overcome. Chapter 17.  

Alex had a choice of role-models. He chose his father as a positive role-model and his relative as a negative one.

We hear and read much on having positive role models, but I write about the effectiveness of having a negative role model in Chapter 12. 

As a couple, Alex and I are only beginners on this new road in life, but we hope that we remain strong enough to manage our 'new normal' and the obstacles that will appear on our travels. It is already helping us focus on what we can do, rather than what we can't

It's amazing how so much that mattered before September 30th, isn't really important. Sometimes, events can provide a tough way to learn life's lessons.