Great expectations (2)

It’s my birthday today and it has been a wonderful day. Got up and had breakfast and went back to sleep for a couple of hours before heading off for a massage. I go there regularly  and today had someone I’d not had before, a small delicate looking man. Turned out he had fingers made of steel and found every knot and twist in my shoulders and spine. I was so entranced that he had to say ‘hello’ twice to bring me back again.

Then a quick trip to a bookshop – emerging with only one book which is a record. Followed by a trip to a local cake shop for a blueberry brioche with the crossword. Looking forward to doing a bit of writing with a new gel pen and book a friend kindly gave me.

So a pretty much perfect day.

The odd thing is most people feel the need to ‘celebrate’ and if they know it’s my birthday, seem to think I should be doing more. Maybe involving balloons. So they ask me what I’m going to do. I find it easier to lie these days – meeting friends, going out later etc.

The real answer that I’m delighted to spend a whole day in my own company, thinking about the year that’s gone and the year ahead, seems to mystify many people.

One of the advantages of serious illness is that it allows you to do away with conventional manners. Just move along, nothing to see here but someone enjoying herself.

Great expectations

So I’ve finally given in and got a cleaner – it’s getting too hard to cope with cleaning  the flat myself, I can’t bend easily, my energy levels are low and I look at the carpet and think ‘time for another sleep’.  This after much wrestling with my feminist principles as I’ve never really approved of paying another woman to clean up after me.

But another few steps on the slippery slope of serious illness prove to be unexpectedly hilarious. My lovely elderly neighbour recently died and her housekeeper still looks after the place and regularly knocks on my door as she doesn’t like going into the room the neighbour died in. So we sit and chat, have a coffee and one day I asked her if she knew anyone who might want to do some cleaning for me. She volunteered immediately and as we’ve known each other for decades it seemed a great idea.

She turned up on yesterday like a whirling dervish of hygiene. Thought my hoover wasn’t right or my cleaning products come to that. I’d cleared up a bit and cleaned the bathroom and kitchen before she arrived and also shut the door to my office in case it frightened her.

She wasn’t impressed at all with my cleaning and tidying, ‘you can’t live like this, it’s not good for you’ she said,  in the tone of someone who needs urgent medical intervention. ‘I’ll come back for an emergency kitchen clean on Saturday before my holidays’. She’d been cleaning the kitchen for an hour, all surfaces now gleaming in a slightly menacing way.

I’ve been shopping for the missing cleaning ingredients, opening up a whole new vista of expectations.

‘We must tackle the papers too’ she says of the very small pile on my sofa. Door to the office will remain firmly closed.


Live music

Spent last night at a jazz gig in a local restaurant and it reminded me yet again how live music reaches parts of one that recorded music just doesn’t hit. The band were great musicians but also funny and clearly having as great a time as we were.

While they were playing I started thinking about the other live gigs I’ve been too and they all made me smile. My first was actually a pantomime in which Cliff Richard was appearing. My long suffering grandfather took me and my sister and also a roll of cotton wool which he stuffed in his ears for the musical interludes, leaving the excess hanging down to protest at the loudness of the music. But it had a weird Christmassy feel to it as well.

Then as a young teenager I went with some schoolfriends to see the Four Tops. Magical evening, full of style and yes we did stand on the seats and sing and scream.

During my year abroad in France, I was introduced to the revolutionary singer Francois Beranger, whose hard left politics perfectly suited the times, even if the evening did leave your ears ringing. We knew all the words to all the songs and sang them defiantly, each song dedicated to yet another oppressed group in a different part of the world. I still find myself singing his songs sometimes. Just googled him and discovered that he died some years ago and would be eighty now. How is that possible?

Living in Paris meant lots of gigs; we had to leave Ian Dury’s evening for fear of hearing loss but Elton John was in his extravagant phase and an extraordinary live performer.

Van Morrison, Bob Dylan both thrilled, the Gypsy Kings were marvellous at the Albert Hall. I was in a wheelchair with a broken leg and got in for free, with my mother as a carer. We were practically on the stage with a nurse in attendance throughout the performance.

Some years ago I took Mum to hear one of her favourite singers, Juliette Greco. She came on stage, her voice no longer as strong as it was but we didn’t care. Just to be in her presence while she performed her magic was enough. She loved us as much as we loved her.

The Nice jazz festival was always a favourite, the big names but also the old men and women on crutches or barely able to walk. But put an instrument in their hands and they were transformed, as were the audience, to a different time and place which pulled the heartstrings. Listen to this sax and understand how painful life can be. But we still carry on, because we have the music.

Musicals too – Mamma Mia, Motown had us singing and dancing in the aisles.

And then there were the ones that got away – Edith Piaf, Leonard Cohen, Mahalia Jackson. You can see their live performances on youtube and get a flavour, but you don’t have the same connection.

Last night I realised too that the live musicians need us as much as we need them; the music is the bond that makes us all feel alive.


Emerging from hibernation

So the antibiotics are doing their stuff and am no longer coughing so much or sleeping almost all the time. Even went out to buy a paper this morning – when did everyone start walking and talking so fast?

A mountain of paperwork on my desk, quite satisfying to start dealing with it. As ever very tempting to go from neutral to fifth gear straight away, but I know from past experience that I need to poodle along in first for a bit.

Yet another odd thing about serious illness is that of anything else that you catch. Not only am I more vulnerable physically to any passing germ but I’m psychologically more vulnerable too. So my immune system is banjaxed and everything I catch hits me harder than it used to and takes longer to recover from. And my psychological immune system takes a battering too – so just having a normal illness like a bad chest infection seems to herald the beginning of the final lap. GP taking it all so seriously showed she’s aware that the mileage on the clock is ticking over.

But it turns out it wasn’t the opening chords of the last trumpet after all.


Taxi to the doc this morning which is normally a fifteen minute walk. I came out of the house with the intention of walking it, but realised after a few steps that I’d stand a better chance of climbing Everest.

I’ve been wrestling with sleeping the last six months or so and have been taking sleeping tablets, gradually reducing the dose. Now I’m wrestling with keeping awake. I’ve gone cold turkey on the tablets but am still sleeping through the night and then most of the day. I even manage to fall asleep in the waiting room.

The GP is kind and efficient, before I became ill I’d see her every five years or so. Now it’s at least every month, but she knows I only come as a last resort. She thinks it’s another chest infection, plus a bit of whatever Mum had last week. More antibiotics. And she says to just give in to the sleep.

I’m to phone her on Tuesday to let her know how I am, ‘if you’re not better, I’ll pop round.’ Then she insists on going outside to call me a cab.

Let no one diss the NHS in my hearing.

Ready meal

The good news is that Mum is really on the mend, taking fluids and eating and getting up; that generation are a hardy lot.

Not so good news is that I seem to have caught a version of it, without the vomiting thankfully. But I have basically been asleep since Tuesday, right through the night without sleeping tablets and then most of the day. Deep sleep, with only the occasional glass of water and piece of toast. I seem to rally and wake up about six pm but only for a couple of hours before the bed calls again. And it’s a call not to be denied, not an ‘I fancy a nap’ type of call, but an ‘If I don’t lie down I shall fall down’ trumpet, followed by several hours of deep sleep.

Doc tomorrow as I don’t seem to be improving, a wonderful practice where you can get an appointment within twenty four hours.

But meanwhile, I’d run out of milk and bread, so made a sortie to the shop. Met a neighbour who asked how I was and when I told them to keep their distance because I’d been in bed most of the week, told me I was looking really well. The fact that they are still standing demonstrates my weakened state.

At the shop, I look at the veg and turn away, buy some fruit, milk and bread and just can’t face buying anything to cook. So I walk along the ready meal shelf, disregarding the sound of all my French relatives turning in their graves, and buy a couple. No one from the food police stops me at the cash desk, I take them home and put them in the fridge.

Never bought one for myself before or willingly eaten one. The fish pie tasted ok, not as good as the one I would have made.

But the slippery slope of serious illness just got a lot slipperier.

Wave of sadness

Mum is taking the antibiotics and beginning to sip water and hold it down, she even ate some custard – unthinkable before her dementia. Custard was on a long list of things considered way beyond the French pale. Along with Christmas pudding, sprouts, jam with meat, Victoria sponge etc. And there were secret lists too. When my father died, Mum never ate turkey again, she said she’d always hated it, but ate it annually for the forty years they were married.

I’m back home for a few days and knackered, physically and emotionally. It’s all I can do to crawl into bed and sleep, with the occasional glass of water to keep hydrated. I’m so tired I even do without my sleeping tablets on two successive evenings and still sleep like a log.

Today I make some calls to arrange a specialist appointment for Mum and am struck with a wave of sadness when I realise that our last appointment was when I was still caring for Mum at home, before I became seriously ill. I had a job and a completely  different life.

I call a good friend who is looking after both his elderly parents – it helps just to articulate the sadness with someone who really gets it. We exchange sadnesses and then laugh about something else. Just the tonic I needed.