A Trip to the Countryside
As readers of my blog will know I’ve had several eye surgeries in the last few years. This year I wanted to be free from hospitals and operations. However, my body had other ideas!
Whilst my mobility is compromised by both my spinal arthritis and my poor lung function, I can usually stand and walk a few steps without too much pain. I take regular analgesia and my pain levels are usually well managed. But my balance is poor and a few days after a fall in September last year, I experienced a severe pain in my right leg, I was unable to put it to the ground without excruciating pain and soon I had the pain when I was sitting or lying down.
Fortunately I was seeing a Rheumatologist as a follow up after a steroid injection into my left wrist (for pain due to having to try and carry trays of from my kitchen), this was also remedied by getting extra care hours, so I didn’t need to carry stuff. When I went to what should have been my discharge appointment, the Consultant agreed to send me for an MRI. I waited in vain for the appointment, but he was a locum consultant and hadn’t done the referral correctly. Several phone calls later I finally got my scan. When the result came back it was as I had expected, I had a trapped nerve. However this was complicated by a cyst between two of my lower vertebrae L4/L5.
According to what I understand is now NHS standard protocol, the next step should have been to refer me to the local MSK (Musculo-Skeletal) Triage Team. This is a group of specially trained physiotherapists who decide on treatment according to various treatment pathways. See here for an example of how this works.
I knew that the only way my pain would be resolved would be by surgery and there was no way I wanted a referral to my local hospital. The last time I was an inpatient there following cancer surgery I got a hospital acquired infection which caused wound healing failure and meant that my shoulder wound became so deep that my scapular was visible. The wound took over 15 months to heal. I also knew that weeks waiting for appointments to professionals who couldn’t help me would have a negative impact on my health and well being. More concerning, I had also began to experience peripheral neuropathy, ie numbness in my feet and I knew I needed treatment quickly. This also was affecting my balance, which made any walking really scary.
One of the advantages of working as a Nurse (my former profession) is that you get to know an awful lot of medics, one in particular came to mind. She had worked for many years at RNOH in Stanmore, a world renowned orthopaedic hospital that specialises in complex cases. I was well aware that I would qualify for treatment there and discovered that I could get referred directly by my Rheumatologist. That should have been a simple letter and the sending of my MRI scan, but in the way of many NHS referrals there were several hiccups, letters not being done, the scan getting lost between the two hospitals, in all it took 3 months before I was finally seen at a wonderful state of the art building in central London.
As soon as I met my consultant I knew I had the best person possible. I had a scan just 30 minutes before I saw him, I had my medical history taken by his Registrar and underwent a rather painful examination, (it took me three days of complete bedrest to recover) the Registrar was very apologetic, but I knew he needed to examine me fully. Then I got to meet my consultant, he immediately pulled the scan up on his computer screen, and took both me and my partner Eve through the images so I could understand exactly what had happened and why I was in so much pain.
We agreed a treatment plan, I was to be admitted as a day-case so that my cyst could be aspirated to see if that would lessen my symptoms, this would be done by guided imagery and I would also be put on the waiting list for full spinal surgery.
I quickly got the appointment for my day surgery. I was admitted into a lovely private room, and was taken down to the imaging department where I was placed on my front, given some wonderful short acting anaesthetic and the next thing I knew I was being wheeled back to my room. A few hours later my lovely friend drove us back home. Over the next few days I noticed some reduction in my pain, but that wasn’t sustained, so I was thrilled when I got a surgery date for four weeks later. The date could not come soon enough!
As preparation for my surgery and to prevent MRSA I had to use special body and hair wash, nose ointment and some ghastly flavoured mouthwash! I decided to drive myself to the hospital as there was lots of available car parking and I knew I had friends who could drive me home again. I was admitted to a main ward and promised a side ward after my operation. I had previously been sexually assaulted when I was on an NHS ward by a male patient and am now very nervous of being in mixed sex wards. Whilst there were separate male and female bays, they were adjacent and I did not feel safe.
The staff were incredibly understanding of this, and one of the Senior Nurses, who was on the hospital safeguarding panel, asked if she could talk about my situation, anonymously, to the panel. I agreed and I hope the way staff supported me would help others who had may have had similar experiences.
The RNOH could be described as somewhat ramshackle. It is set in 112 acres of green belt to the north of London. It was first built as a hospital just before the WW1 when it became an emergency hospital for the military and also began to house disabled soldiers in 1918. In the 1930’s the hospital became known as the leading centre for the treatment of Polio and TB. Come WW2, lots of Nissan huts were erected to house civilian patients and war casualties. Many of those huts are still being used, with long interconnecting weatherproofed corridors. Some of the corridors are really steep due to the contours of the surrounding land. When I went to theatre my bed was pulled on an electric truck operated by a porter, even the wheelchairs the porters use have electrical assistance. I had been well advised not to have my surgery there in the winter. It looks as if the latest lot of plans for redeveloping the hospital may finally come to fruition, I really do hope so.
Despite the difficulties of the building, everywhere was spotlessly clean and the care I received was wonderful. Firstly the ward I was on had enough staff to care for the patients, a rarity in today’s NHS. All the staff I met treated me well, they understood and accepted my limitations and gave me good personal care. Pain relief was offered regularly and every nurse who came into my room checked my pain score. There were no issues about giving me my own top-up Diazepam for the muscle cramps I sometimes get, in other hospitals I’ve had major difficulties about getting it prescribed and given. The whole ethos of the ward was that everyone cared for the patients. Domestic staff as well as Nurses of all grades were friendly and professional. The one downside was the food. The menu was well designed, but the food was not good quality and it was very repetitive, with the same choices each day. I was glad of the extra treats I had taken with me.
My surgery went exactly to plan, although it took longer than expected due to the difficulty of removing all of the cyst. I spent my first post-operative night in HDU, which is routine for RNOH surgical patients. My previous HDU experience had not been good, to say the least, so I was slightly apprehensive. But I need not have been, my care was great, I was given enough analgesia, and I did manage to get some sleep. The next day I was back on the ward and in my lovely side room. Although the room was small, I always had easy access to my wheelchair, even though staff had to bring it from another area on the ward, and then had to manoeuvre my bed & open both doors. I never had to wait to use the loo and staff were always on hand to support me when moving from bed to chair.
I saw both Physiotherapists and Occupational Therapists. The Physio was great, and she didn’t push me to do things I couldn’t do, again a new experience, I’ve previously felt very bullied by some Physios. Even the Social Worker came to try and get my Local Authority to sort out my Care Package, this will be the subject of another blog post.
My partner came to see me each day and our Rabbi came to visit too, which was wonderful. By 5 days post-op I was ready to go home. Our Rabbi’s husband came with my partner to drive my car home, the journey was not too painful, other than going over the dreaded speed bumps along our road. I was really glad to come home and see my lovely cats, who seemed pleased to see me. But my biggest treat was a takeaway from our favourite Chinese accompanied by a large glass of wine. Desert was some scrumptious champagne truffles Eve had brought for me.
I’m writing this two days later, my pain levels are reducing, I’ve even reduced my pain killers, but I still can’t spend much time in my wheelchair. But it’s so great to be home.
Prosecuting Emotional Abuse
(Warning – this blog discusses issues related to sexual abuse)
Under new laws being considered by government ministers in the UK, adults convicted of acts of emotional cruelty against children in their care will face the same threat of jail as those guilty of physical neglect.
These changes are amongst a number of updates to laws relating to Child Abuse which are being championed by the charity Action For Children.
Whist I think this is very laudable, I am concerned as to exactly how this would work. Does it mean that in future people will be able to report their own parents for the emotional abuse the suffered in childhood?
Could children, supported by appropriate professionals and the Crown Prosecution Service, instigate a case which sees their parents being taken to court?
Will it drafted in a similar manner to sexual abuse laws in the UK which have no statute of limitations?
Will victims be treated appropriately by the courts? In my view, the present system is woefully inadequate.
My own childhood was, at times, deeply unhappy. My mother was over critical and unloving. Nothing I did was ever good enough for her. This meant I grew up with little self-esteem and looked to adults outside my family for emotional support.
There are two particular episodes that I recall very clearly. The first surrounds incidents when I was sexually abused by two different men. I was aged about 11 or 12 at the time.
The first was the dentist who ran a practice next door to the house I lived in as a child. Back then, in England, dentists were allowed to administer their own general anaesthetics. A practice that was only halted after several child deaths. The pervert who molested me, did so when I was in the dentists chair, I only found out what he was doing because I came-to part-way though his abuse. Despite still bleeding from his dentistry, I managed to get out of his house and find a neighbour, who eventually elicited from me what had happened.
This lovely woman was a teacher, and she not only explained to me about ‘bad men’ but also spoke to my parents about the incident, so I did not need to relive my trauma.
When our neighbour took me home, my parents greeted me with blank faces and I was told in no uncertain terms that what had happened was never going to be mentioned again.
The dentist, by the way, was eventually struck off and jailed for attacks on other children.
The second incident was subsequent to my mother’s eagerness to save money where I was concerned. Because she thought that the hairdressers in the town where we lived charged too much she insisted that I went to a woman in a nearby village. This woman ran a hairdressing business above her husbands grocery store. (My mother continued to use one of the the ‘too expensive’ hairdressers in town.)
The hairdresser was fine, I quite liked her, but her husband was a different matter. He always insisted in giving me a cuddle when I arrived (straight off the school bus in my uniform). His hands wandered all over my developing body. As he was tall and well built I was powerless to escape. Whilst I was waiting to have my hair cut, he would lure me into the stockroom at the back of the shop with promises of sweets or magazines and then press himself against me. I could feel his erect penis through my thin summer dress.
Because of what I had been taught by my teacher neighbour after what had happened to me at the dentist, I told my mother what this other man was doing, and got told by both my of my parents not to make a fuss as it was saving my mother money!
The last time I went into the shop, I was literally ‘saved by the bell’. As my abuser pulled me into the dreaded dark stockroom, the shop door bell rang. The incoming customer called out to find out where he was, I yelled in response and in his surprise, my tormentor let me go.
I ran out of the shop, unheeding of any traffic as I dashed across the road to a house whose occupants I knew. Thankfully, they were in and provided me with refuge, comfort, love and support.
I remember clearly the reaction of Phyllis, she gently coxed out of me what had happened, explained that it was not my fault, and that my mother should have known better as this man was known to be ‘too friendly’ with young girls. Her husband John reacted with anger, not at me, but at my abuser. John was a relative of Albert Pierrepoint, one of the longest serving hangmen in England, and made it clear that he wished his ancestor was alive to hang ‘that pervert’.
Eventually my parents were telephoned and my stone-faced father collected me. Again, he exhorted me never to speak about what happened to anyone.
I was in my 40s before I could speak about either incident. Whist I find this difficult to write about, I’ve come to terms with what happened to me and have been able to support others who have had had similar experiences.
The second episode had a much longer lasting effect on both my teenage years and adulthood.
My first three years of secondary school (from 11 years old) education were at a small and select Girls Grammar School. I did quite well academically and flourished in a atmosphere where we were encouraged to debate, discuss and become rounded young women. Towards the end of my third year my father’s job meant that we had to move quite a distance. This meant a change of school. I did not want to leave where I was, nor move to a school which was mixed sex as the new one would be. I knew that other girls whose fathers had the same profession as mine could go to a particular boarding school, either on a scholarship or at reduced fees. Two girls from my Grammar School had recently moved there and my teachers suggested I do the same. I was really keen on this idea, and my father thought it would be good for me. I took the exam and passed.
I remember looking at the brochure and the uniform list and feeling excited at the new opportunities I would have. Also it would have the added bonus of allowing me to live away from home and out of the clutches of my mother.
She, however, had different ideas, she was adamant that I should not go. I’m still not sure if it was just because she wanted me at home to do all the chores I was expected to do or because she had worked out that I had gay tendencies (something I didn’t understand at that time), therefore thinking that an all girls school would give me even more ‘wrong ideas’. My father had no choice but to support, all be it reluctantly, my mother’s views. She could be very forceful and arguing with her was pointless.
So I landed up at a large mixed sex Comprehensive School. It was a real culture shock, absolute hell, I was desperately unhappy there. I was bullied both verbally and physically and suffered two broken ankles in six months. The first time I was deliberately tripped up when carrying a tray of glassware, the second was when I was pushed down some steps into a biology pond.
My academic work suffered too. The school syllabus was completely different from the one at my Grammar School. Whilst I caught up in English and other arts, the maths and sciences were so divergent I failed to pass any O levels in those subjects. Not good, especially as I was determined to train to be a nurse where such exams were usually a requirement.
In fact, partly because of this I was unable to train at any of the main London teaching hospitals and landed up at a provincial one.
If I had been able go to the boarding school I had so wanted to attend, the early part of my career would have been very different and I would have had many more opportunities.
In the end I did well in my profession and got some wonderful chances and experiences, but that was in spite of, not because of my education.
I could relate many more childhood events which have negatively impacted on me. For instance, I can never recall having the wonderful loving relationship with my mother that some of my friends have been fortunate to have with their mothers. But I know other people will have experienced far worse than I.
Will this new law help them? Will it help youngsters growing up today?
I really hope so, but I also hope that somewhere in the school curriculum will be space to teach the next generation of parents how to nurture and protect their children.
However, if this law is enacted I will not be seeking legal redress. My mother is long dead, and my father elderly. Also, the way in which such victims are treated by the courts in the UK means I would suffer further trauma, for me, a price not worth paying.
The situation may well be different for others in similar or worse situations. I wish them well and hope that the redress they seek improves their lives.