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Hunt the milk bottle

Doorstep milk delivery is an old and honourable British tradition, and one that, as a person with visual impairment, I particularly value. So why has it proved so difficult of late to get the dairy to leave the milk in a place where I can actually find it?

I have had milk delivered to my front door for many years. It is convenient. I can’t easily get to the shops so it suits me to have the dairy bring milk, fruit juice and yoghurts to my house.

When I first moved to my current home in Swindon, the milk was generally left on top of the gas meter by the front door. This turned out to be an invitation to passing milk thieves, however, especially when I was late rising on Saturday mornings, so I purchased a lidded box for the milk to go in. I put it by my front door with a label on it clearly stating that it was for milk and postal deliveries. This worked well. The person delivering the milk knew where to leave it and I knew where to find it.

Last week, though, my milk delivery person started to do his or her own thing. One day, they left the milk by the gate, where I couldn’t find it. Fortunately, on this occasion, a friend saw it and brought it in for me. On another day, the milk was left behind the box, where I could find it but, thanks to the restrictions placed on me following my hip and leg bone replacement, I couldn’t bend down to pick it up. In the end I had to call my neighbour for help.

Frustrated by all this, I emailed the dairy and complained. I explained yet again that I am blind and have limited mobility. I cannot go crawling round my garden hunting for the milk, especially as I can’t pick it up even if I find it. (I should mention that my box stands on another box, so I don’t have to bend down to get the milk out of it.)

The next time, they left the milk on top of the gas meter. I hadn’t expected it to be there and so didn’t find it. Later in the day, my kind postlady rang the bell. She didn’t have to. The letter would have gone through the mail flap but she was worried about me as the milk hadn’t been taken in. I thanked her profusely.

By this point, though, I had already emailed the dairy again. “I imagine my milk is somewhere in my garden,” I wrote. “I haven’t found it yet.” I stated that I expected an apology for the inconvenience.

Instead, they phoned me back.

The gentleman from the dairy said, “Have you found your milk?”

“The postlady found it, thank you,” I replied.

He then asked, “Do you leave your empty bottles in the box?”

“Yes,” I replied, “and there are about a dozen in there now because no one has been taking them away.”

“Ah, but the milkman can’t put his hand in the box in the dark in case there is broken glass in there,” he said. “It’s a health and safety issue”.

Now, what chump has been putting broken glass in their milk container? When did this rule come in? And why didn’t someone tell me the first time I emailed?

Unfortunately, all these questions only came to me after I had put the phone down.

I did say I would stop putting empty bottles in the box.

On Saturday, all went well. I put the empty bottles on top of the gas meter and the milkperson left my milk in the box.

On Tuesday, I stepped outside to take in the milk and promptly kicked one of the bottles over. It was on the ground right outside my front door. I was incandescent with rage. Fortunately, it didn’t break. I had to break my surgeon’s rules and bend down to pick the milk bottles up. I didn’t want to bother my neighbour again.

I did email the dairy, though, for all the good it did.

Today, the milk was on the gas meter. I only found it because I put my hand there to check that they had taken the empty bottles.

This is getting ridiculous.

What is particularly irritating is that there is a space on the account to put delivery instructions. I have, of course, entered instructions, but what is the point if they don’t read them? I am following their instructions. Why can’t they follow mine?

I wait to see what reply I get to my latest terse communication, but I’m not a happy bunny.

Good news: I do have something to be cheerful about. I have had my second post-op X-ray and I am finally allowed to bend my legs now! I am writing this today wearing shoes which I have done up myself. I can’t tell you how exciting that is!

Bats

For my birthday a week or so ago, I received some rather splendid bat jewellery. My sister and brother-in-law (the editor of this blog) gave me a jewelled necklace with a long-eared bat in the centre. My niece gave me matching earrings.

Just to avoid any misunderstanding, I should emphasise that this wasn’t because they didn’t like me, or because they were hinting that I’m a bit batty. No, it’s because I love bats – they are my favourite animals – and they know that I collect bat-themed objects.

I have rings, a bracelet, and now a necklace and earrings based on bat designs. I have rubber bats of various sizes, and furry bats too. One of these is enormous. He hangs on my wardrobe door in what I like to think is quite a regal way. He was also a present from my relations. He was given to me one Christmas and I spent Christmas Day stroking his beautiful furry body and elegant wings.

It doesn’t stop there. I have bat keyrings and fridge magnets. I even have a knitted bat which laughs squeakily, and somewhat manically, when you press its tummy. And I have a splendid bat door-knocker, given to me as a house-warming present by my brother. (One lodger thought it was an ironic comment on my disability.)

So, why bats?

I may have mentioned that I fell in love with Dracula whilst watching a TV adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel back in the 1970s. I was probably around 15 or 16 and a soon as Louis Jordan, who was playing the title role, said, “I am Dracula,” I was smitten. When the actor died a few years ago, I hoped one of the many TV channels would show the film again, but none did.

I don’t, however, just love mythical bats. I think bats are amazing creatures. I love their furry bodies, their pointy ears, and their little fingers at the ends of their wings. Sadly, of course, I can’t see them, although I’m told that some have been spotted in my garden. I can’t hear them, either, as the noises they make are at frequencies beyond the range of human hearing.

I must have seen them at one time, though, because the picture in my mind of what a bat looks like is so vivid.

When could I have seen a bat? I don’t recall the occasion. Perhaps I saw them at a zoo or on television when I was little, before I lost my eyesight. Perhaps I am just drawing on memories of pictures. Still, I know I have seen bats somewhere.

As I think about this, I wonder how many animals I actually have seen. Have I pictured some in my mind for so long that I mistakenly think I have seen them in the flesh?

I can remember the blue whale in the Natural History Museum in London. It was so huge that, as a small child, it gave me a slightly edgy thrill to stand in the gallery alongside it. I know I saw penguins swimming underwater at a zoo or wildlife park. There are other creatures, too, that I remember seeing in the flesh and whose images I can still conjure up, including elephants, giraffes and bears.

But what about aardvarks?

I don’t think I have ever seen one. Does this mean that the image of an aardvark that I see in my mind is just something that I have conjured up from scratch, or was there a description in a book somewhere that wormed its way into my brain?

I thought about this a lot when I encountered a tactile picture of a wildebeest recently. I realised that, before I touched the graphic, I couldn’t have told you what one looked like.

I don’t know much about the working of the human brain but it does make me wonder how accurate a picture anyone can create who hasn’t seen an animal for themselves. I expect you all know the story of the four blind men who each feel one part of an elephant and conclude from that small area that they know what the animal looks like. Imagine, though, how difficult it might be to conceive the size of a whale or picture what a rhino’s horn looks like if you have never seen either in the flesh.

There are many more tactile images around now than there were when I was a child, and plenty of furry toy representations of wildlife are also available. I have quite a collection myself. A cuddly octopus, a velvety raven and a plush duck-billed platypus all adorn the back of my sofa. Despite their unusual shapes, I have pretty good idea of what they all look like because I have been able to feel them.

Size, though, is difficult to convey. After all, what do you use for comparison?

“It’s the height of this house.”

Okay, so how high is that? I know I’m being a bit pedantic now. You can walk to the top floor of a building and get an idea of its height but, still, I’m sure you take my meaning.

It is said that no two people see colour the same. I expect it is true that perception in general is very individual. So, perhaps, it doesn’t matter if a blind person’s idea of an elephant is different from that of a sighted person but I can’t help feeling that there is a great research project for a keen student somewhere, exploring how our brains manufacture images without having a picture to look at.

But, be all that as it may, I think I have a pretty good idea of what a bat looks like. And I think that it’s a beautiful creature.

Woodwork

As I have mentioned before, at the age of seven-and-three-quarters, I was sent to a school for the blind. Linden Lodge School in Wimbledon was a light, airy, modern building. There was also a modern approach to teaching children with sight loss. By the age of ten I was already being taught a wide curriculum including biology and French, as well as craft subjects such as pottery. There was a great emphasis on music and drama and we even had an indoor heated swimming pool.

We also had woodwork lessons.

(Yes, you read that correctly. They actually taught visually impaired children how to use hammers and saws.)

I am not a very practical person but I loved woodwork. We had a wonderful teacher called Mr. Grenfell who was a descendant of Sir Wilfred Grenfell, the celebrated medical missionary who was sent to Canada in the late nineteenth century and founded clinics and hospitals in Newfoundland and all up and down the coast of Labrador. In his own way, our Mr Grenfell was a marvel too. He seemed to be able to keep order without ever raising his voice. I think we were all so engaged in what we were doing that playing up never entered our minds!

It was all interesting but I particularly enjoyed planing wood. I found the repeated arm movements soothing and it was deeply gratifying to feel a rough wood surface gradually becoming beautifully smooth.

When it came to banging nails into wood we used a gadget rather like a small bottle. There was a narrow neck which you fitted round the nail. You then held the bulbous end with one hand and hit hard on the end with a mallet. This too was highly satisfying and it was a system that meant we could hammer nails with reasonable safety.

But we weren’t only taught how to wield simple hand-tools like planes and hammers. We were also instructed in how to use more sophisticated devices and I well remember how much fun it was to use the jigsaw. The one we used had a mechanism that allowed you to pre-set the length of wood you wanted to cut. There were holes in it that equated to inches. You counted along to the length of wood you wanted, put a peg in the corresponding hole and put the wood under the saw. It would then cut your long piece of doweling to the required size.

The sensation of sawing wood was wonderful. You could feel the vibration and hear the blade cutting through the wood. You could even sense when you were getting to the point when you were just about to cut right through.

We made a variety of different objects in woodwork and when we had finished the carpentry part of each project we then got to paint our creations. I made a box for my father to keep his shoe-cleaning materials in which he used for the rest of his life. Inspired by the moon landings that were happening at the time, I also made a spaceman puppet. I painted his body silver and Mr. Grenfell attached strings and added felt hands.

I know of many visually-impaired adult men who are very good at woodwork and DIY in general. I don’t know if any of the girls I was at school with carried on developing their woodwork skills. Once I left Linden Lodge I never had another opportunity to indulge myself with a plane or a mallet. Looking back, though, it gives me immense satisfaction that, for a few years during my childhood, I positively revelled in hammering, smoothing and sawing wood.

Invisible Numbers

There is a brilliant programme on BBC Radio 4 called “More or Less”. It is presented by Tim Harford, a financial journalist, who probes the numbers bandied about by the media. For instance, he recently delved into the UK Covid stats to get to the true picture. He explains everything so well that, for the half hour that the programme lasts, I actually believe that I understand numbers.

Occasionally he poses puzzles for the listeners. A recent puzzle went something like this: add 28 to 50-something (I’m sorry, I can’t recall the exact sum). The point was, people wrote in with what seemed, to me, to be unnecessarily complicated solutions. There was talk of carrying numbers over and other technical terminology. Surely, I thought, you just add 20 and then 8?

I remembered then that, when I was at school, my parents were told that children without sight thought of figures differently to sighted children.

So: is this true?

I don’t remember much of the maths we did at my infants’ school. We did do some but I can only really remember sheets of numbered squares. To help us learn our times tables we had to colour in, say, every third square or every ninth square. I loved colouring and all that stays with me now is a memory of the fun I had choosing the colours to use. The numbers were a secondary matter as far as I was concerned.

I also remember buying a Ladybird addition and subtraction book which taught you to do sums by putting numbers above and below lines. I know I enjoyed learning how to do this and completing the book but I can no longer recall how to do sums in this way.

I first went to a school for the blind when I was seven and three quarters. (I was very proud of knowing my precise age!) I still had residual vision and was given something called a Colour Factor. This was a box with bars of different colours and lengths representing the numbers from 1 to 12. The figure one was a small white cube rather like a sugar lump. The number two was pink and twice the size. You played around with these bars until you discovered that pink and light blue equalled yellow. Again, as I loved colours, I really enjoyed playing with the Colour Factor. I don’t think many of my classmates had enough sight to make use of this piece of apparatus. It had limited educational value but it looms large in my memory.

After that I moved on to sums brailled on red card. When you finished each card, you went to the teacher and got the next one, thus getting a good feeling of making progress. There must have been some teaching involved. I can’t have magically known how to do all the types of sums on the card, but, again, the cupboard is bare. I can’t recall the teaching, I just remember the cards.

It was at this point in my education that I started missing lessons through having to spend long spells in hospital and in sick bay.

When I went to Chorleywood College, my secondary school, I got on all right with numbers to start with. In the days before electronic talking calculators, we used abacuses. I loved mine and still use it for addition and subtraction although I have forgotten now how to do division and multiplication. Incidentally, when I visited Russia in the 1990s and stayed in a town on the Russian-Chinese border, I was delighted to find that many of the shopkeepers still used abacuses to tally amounts rather than electronic tills.

Another fun maths activity at school was creating geometric shapes. We had tactile graph paper laid out on rubber mats. Following the teacher’s instructions, we would count, say, five squares along the bottom row and, say,  six from the left edge, and then fix a drawing pin at said point. We would follow further instructions and determine the location of the next pin. When all the drawing pins were inserted, we joined them up with an elastic band and, hey presto, there was an interesting shape!

At some point we tackled matrices, which involved writing figures in squares on our Perkins braillers. I don’t recall what we did with said figures but, whatever it was, I did manage to do it.

I wasn’t too bad at algebra in the beginning but at some point it left me behind.

We didn’t have to take O-level maths because it was understood that it was a difficult subject for visually-impaired children and I never sat the exam. Some girls did go on to do A-level maths and even studied it at degree level, but they were few and far between.

I left school with the conviction that I was useless at numbers. Looking back, I believe now that, at some point, the gaps left by my earlier absences from class had undermined my ability to keep up.

As an adult, I did get some confidence back by doing the numbers problems on the TV game show “Countdown”. Using the four stand arithmetic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, you have to make a specified large number from a random collection of six small numbers, none of which is larger than 10. I couldn’t necessarily do the sum in the 30 seconds allowed on the show but I started to get there if I gave myself time and didn’t panic.

So, back to my original question: is it true that children without sight think of numbers differently to sighted children?

My considered answer would be yes, but it depends on what age you were when you lost your sight.

My experience was that children who lost their sight after or around the age of 11 still thought of calculations in terms of carrying numbers and putting numbers above and below lines. But if you lost your sight at a very young age, like I did, you almost had to start off all over again and relearn arithmetic from scratch.

I don’t know for sure but I think there is something inherently visual about Maths and you have to have a certain kind of mind to overcome this if you can’t see. I expect that if I Googled enough I would find learned research papers on this very topic…

…But life is too short and, besides, it’s time for a tea break. (Yes, I can tell the time – with a tactile watch, of course!)

Shelf Space

Braille books are huge! They take up so much space!

Braille users reading this will know exactly what I mean, but sighted readers used to conventional printed works may have little idea of how big the braille equivalents of those books may be. They tend to be large format, and the braille version of what may be a modest paperback in print can easily run to half a dozen spiral-bound volumes.

The Gideons can conveniently slot a print bible into the drawer in a hotel bedside table, but the braille bible requires at least 40 encyclopaedia-sized volumes.

Finding shelf space for even quite a small collection of braille books can be quite a challenge.

When my father was alive, he used to custom-build shelves for my books in the family home. Sometimes, he would even extend the shelves to make space for new volumes, although I still had to throw a few out from time to time if I wanted to add new ones.

When I moved to my current home, I was thrilled to find a walk-in cupboard in my bedroom. I already had free-standing wardrobes so didn’t need it for clothes. What could I use it for?

Books, of course!

My former neighbour was a carpenter by trade. He made me some shelves to go in the cupboard and my new braille library was born.

That was great but I have now filled all the space and am having to use the floor as an impromptu bottom shelf. What should I do when even this is full?

Good question.

I gather that many people have taken the opportunity to give their homes a thorough clear-out during lockdown. Some, apparently, have even been getting rid of unwanted books. I feel I should do the same, but which ones should I dispose of? I generally only buy braille books that I really want, so the number I can part with is tiny. If I want to buy any more, though, I’m going to have to free up or create some space.

My house includes a loft conversion. When I was being a theatrical landlady, the actor playing The Big Bopper in “The Buddy Holly Story” at the Wyvern Theatre stayed there and christened it “The Penthouse,” which is a splendidly exaggerated name for the room at the top of all those stairs. I am not sure how much room there is for shelving up there but I’m sure something could be done. It would be a lot of work carrying the books up there, of course, but the real issue is that, sooner or later, even that extra space would be filled.

I keep buying poetry books without thinking where I’m going to put them. I’m not at total capacity yet but someday soon I’m going to meet my Waterloo.

So it looks like I’m back to throwing some books out. But what should I do with them? I can’t just toddle off down to a local charity shop with them. They really wouldn’t want something so bulky and so specialised.

Fortunately, there are solutions to this question. In many countries there is a scarcity of braille material and, if English is one of the languages spoken, there are people ready to pass pre-used braille books on to an appreciative readership. I understand that you have to send customs documentation when you mail braille books overseas these days but, still, it is good to know that they are not just ending up in the recycling. When you think of the time and resources that go into producing braille, you want it to go to a good home.

Of course, I approach friends and e-group members as well, to see if they’re interested in any of my unwanted titles.

In fact, an e-group dedicated to circulating braille books has recently sprung up in response to a new RNIB policy. The RNIB library has miles of shelving containing hundreds of braille books. Many of these are no longer read. It costs money to maintain this facility, so the RNIB have decided that, from now on, books advertised for loan will be printed and bound to order and the recipient will be allowed to keep them.

This makes me smile. It solves the shelving problem for the RNIB library but simply passes it on to their readers!

Horrified at the prospect that these unwanted books might eventually be thrown away by readers unable to find space to store them, braille users have formed an e-group to keep them moving around the visually impaired community.

I hope the scheme works.

Meanwhile, I still have my own book storage issues to grapple with. I remain optimistic. I’m sure that if I explain to visitors why they are having to climb over a mountain of volumes in order simply to get into my house, they will be perfectly understanding about it!

Progress report

I thought this week I would bring you up to speed as to how I am now.

I’m pleased to say that I’m doing quite well. I am walking with just one stick now, though when I try and walk without it I perform a horribly jerky motion that resembles a robot with dodgy joints! Still, at least I feel stable on my feet, which is a great improvement on my previous post-operative experience.

When my personal assistant Mary was living here to look after me while I convalesced, she was able to pick things up for me from the floor or other locations. I am still not allowed to bend at all so, before Mary left in May, we re-arranged items in the kitchen, office and bedroom so that I could find and reach them comfortably.

It is frustrating that I can’t do my shoes up, but I am learning to use my ingenuity to overcome some obstacles.

One day recently, for example, I knocked the TV remote onto the floor. Whilst I am quite nifty at picking things up with my feet, the TV remote poses problems. For one thing, it is almost impossible to pick it up without pressing buttons with your toes and thus messing up whatever you are watching or recording. I wasn’t going to wait twenty-four hours for someone to come in and get it for me so I had to find a way round the situation. I soon formulated a cunning plan. I got one of the waste paper bins from the office, dropped it on its side, kicked the remote into it, picked up the bin, and got the remote out. Voila! The bin is very tall so I don’t have to lean too far to grab it.

When I drop my walking stick, which I do from time to time, I get it between my feet and flick it up to a position where I can reach it.

Other people are being wonderfully helpful.

My cheery regular postman, who has always looked out for me, is careful not to push mail right through my letterbox so that it doesn’t fall on the floor.

My kind neighbour is watering my garden for me. I miss doing this, as I love to walk round the garden in the evening, inhaling all the scents that rise up from the flowerbeds when you pour water on them. However, I don’t see me trundling round with a walking stick in one hand and a hose in the other. I am not very co-ordinated and the potential for tripping over one or the other would just be too great!

Another issue which I will have to address as lockdown ends is that I can’t use a walking stick and a long cane at the same time. This makes travelling on my own potentially difficult. It’s not just that I can’t use a long cane in the approved manner right now, it’s also the fact that a long white cane acts as an important signal to other people, including taxi drivers, that I can’t see and may need help. My experience is that, most of the time, taxi drivers are very helpful, but it may be a challenge to explain to them my double disability of visual impairment as well as poor mobility, especially as English is often not their first language.

I will have to work on another cunning plan…

Anyway, I had my original fall on 19 June 2020, so it is already well over a year since my accident and, at last, I do feel as though I’m finally making progress.

Surgery 2021 – #6 of 6: Life at home

Over the past few weeks, I have been describing my recent hospital stay in Oxford and the care I received after I was discharged. I must backtrack now to my actual coming home.

On the day of my discharge from hospital, my personal assistant and good friend Mary came over to Oxford with a friend from church to pick me up. General confusion and a lack of communication meant they had to wait patiently for an hour in reception before I finally showed up, but I did eventually get home.

I couldn’t climb up and down stairs to and from my bedroom so, prior to my coming home, my bed had been moved down to the ground-floor lounge and the furniture re-arranged accordingly.

Mary had moved in to look after me before I had surgery as I was already struggling and she stayed to care for me after my return from hospital.

After my operation last summer, for many weeks I was not allowed to put any weight at all on the leg which had undergone surgery. This time I was allowed to put some weight on the operated leg but I wasn’t allowed to bend and, at first, some actions, such as getting in and out of bed, were painful and difficult. Having my bed in the sitting room meant that at least I could get to the downstairs cloakroom under my own steam and without having to worry about negotiating any steps. After a while, movement gradually became easier and less painful.

Mary is still looking after me now like the absolute star she is. At first, she even had to help me get dressed. I can manage that by myself again now, but she is still doing most of the cooking, washing and much more.

So, where am I now?

The X-ray I had a few weeks ago shows that all is progressing as it should. The surgeon I saw in out-patients at Oxford told me that my leg was now so strong, I could run a marathon. I had to point out that I couldn’t do that even before the operation, so I’m very unlikely to be able to do it now!

I am not allowed to bend for six months, so many items in my kitchen, office and bedroom will need to be re-arranged. I won’t be able to put shoes on without help, either.

I have, however, now cooked two meals and been none the worse for it.

I am also sleeping upstairs once again. Mary dismantled the bed and carried it upstairs and then put the furniture back in place. You see what I mean? What a star! I can only walk up the stairs toddler-fashion, but it is wonderful to be back in my own room.

I still walk best using my trusty Zimmer frame, but I can manage with one or, sometimes, two crutches. Walking without any aids still leaves a lot to be desired but I am working on it!

So, this time round, I am making real progress. Mary and I are working towards me “taking back control” of my life.

I look forward to it. Oh happy day!

Surgery 2021 – # 5 of 6: Follow-Ups & Mix-Ups

In the course of recent blogs, I have been recounting my adventures in the Manor Hospital in Oxford, where I had surgery to replace my replacement hip and remove a shattered femur which had failed to heal after an earlier operation.

When I was discharged from the Manor, I was told that I would be given an appointment two weeks after the operation to come back to have my dressings checked.

A couple of days before this appointment was due, I received a voicemail telling me that this would be a telephone consultation and not to come in to the hospital. This seemed a bit odd to me, so I rang them. I was once again told not to come in and that a doctor would call me.

On the appointed day I waited and I waited. No one rang.

The next day, I rang the Manor Hospital to find out what was going on. The person answering my call could find no note on their system to indicate what should have happened with my case the previous day. For that matter, there was no note on the system to indicate that the surgeon had seen my previous message enquiring what was going on.

At around 5 pm, one of the surgeons called. He didn’t know how the mix-up had happened but he assured me that they had definitely been expecting me to come in for a face-to-face consultation the day before.

What’s more, I would have seen a physio.

The surgeon ended our conversation by asking me to contact my GP and get a district nurse to check the dressing. So that’s what I did.

My GP was less than impressed. The hospital hadn’t given them any information about the surgery.

I pointed out that I had got a friend to deliver a letter to my GP that I was given on discharge from hospital. The GP told me, however, that this had turned out simply to be a list of medications.

I then tried to explain as best I could what the operation was that I had had. My GP listened in growing dismay.

I have to say that at this point the Community Health Team suddenly whirred into action. A district nurse came and removed the dressing on my leg which, by that time, had been in place for some time. The nurse assured me the wound was looking good.

Then another positive thing happened. An occupational therapist from the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre phoned to ask if there was anything I needed. I asked if they could refer me to a physio at my local hospital, the Great Western in Swindon. Such a reference would not only involve crossing the boundary between one Area Health Authority and another, but also between the private health sector and the NHS. I wasn’t at all sure that anything would actually happen!

Despite my misgivings, though, lo and behold, a physio from the Community Health Team duly contacted me.

Wonderful!

At the time of writing, they have already been to visit me twice. This is so much better than after my operation last summer, when I was left to rehabilitate myself. The physio has given me exercises to do and organised for me to receive a perching stool to go in the kitchen, and for my sofa to be raised to a better level. It is so much easier to get in and out of the sofa now that I think I will keep it at this level.

The physio is due to come back next week and I hope he will be able to help me with other practical living and mobility issues.

Surgery 2021 – #4 of 6: Relief Supplies

I have been recounting my experiences in the Manor Hospital in Oxford whilst I waited for and then recovered from surgery. I suppose at this point I should explain what the new surgical procedure involved.

Well, they took out my existing hip replacement and the broken bit of my femur. They then gave me a new hip and put metal in right down to the end of my femur. I am metal now from hip to knee and have a very impressive scar to prove it.

One of the benefits of this approach was that, as they had taken away the broken femur, there was no longer any fracture to heal. One of the surgeons opined that, if they’d left the femur in place, it never would have healed. This was at least in part because my rheumatoid arthritis interferes with the healing process. Medical opinion was that this operation would give me more stability, which it has. I can stand on my two feet without holding onto anything and feel pretty secure, which I didn’t after the first operation. Even better, now, some ten or more weeks or so on from the operation, my leg is nothing like as painful as it was after the first procedure. The pain never did go away after that one.

Mind you, my leg was pretty painful in the weeks following this operation and, while I was in hospital, there were the usual issues over pain control. All was well at first. In the days immediately following surgery, the doctors ensured that I had sufficient pain relief for me to cope. After a few days, though, the nurses started commenting that I had very few of my morphine sulphate tablets lefts. These are the ones I use to control acute “breakthrough” pain. I asked what would happen if I ran out. I was told, “Well, our pharmacy may have them.”

This was vague and not very encouraging.

I discovered when they gave me my medication to bring home that they had simply been relying on the supply that I had brought in when I was first admitted. So much for private healthcare. In the NHS Great Western Hospital in Swindon, when they saw any of my medicines running low, they always made sure that they ordered more from the pharmacy. Fortunately, I was discharged from the Manor Hospital before my supply of medication ran out and I was able to get more from my GP.

It was unnerving, though, and raises questions for me about the contract the NHS has with the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre.

Surgery 2021 – #3 of 6: Private versus NHS

As related in my previous posts, following an unsuccessful operation last year, I was referred to the private Manor Hospital in Oxford for an NHS operation to replace my hip and repair my broken leg.

I have to say that the nurses and health care assistants at the Manor Hospital were very kind. One took a long time helping me connect to the hospital Wi-Fi. When I discovered I had accidentally only brought the charging cable and not the plug for my phone, one of the night staff kindly lent me a charger for the night.

The only real difference I noticed at first between NHS and private care was that I had a room of my own and everyone knocked and waited for me to say “Come in!” before entering. I also think the curtains might have been made of slightly nicer material.

Then again, I didn’t find the food particularly special. At the Great Western Hospital (GWH) in Swindon, they have a different menu for each day of the week. It’s true that if you are in for more than seven days, the same choices come round again but, in the meantime, each day is different. In contrast, the menu at the Manor Hospital was exactly the same every day except for Sunday, when there were fewer options but one of them was a roast.

Oh yes, I almost forgot: the tea at the Manor Hospital came in a pot, and the milk arrived in a proper jug. All very civilised.

At GWH, I was cared for by nursing staff and they were always very good about anticipating my needs. As I can’t see, they would explain what was on my plate and where the different items (meat, potato, veg etc) were located. They would also offer to cut up my food for me, which was very helpful. The food at the Manor was served by catering staff and, until some of them eventually got to know me, I had to explain to them each time what I needed.

When I first arrived at the Manor, I was told that I would be going down to theatre early the next day, but a problem soon arose. Due to having had a large blood transfusion some years ago, I had antibodies in my blood and, before they could operate, they had to be sure to match the blood I might need very carefully. This meant sending test results to the John Radcliffe, a nearby teaching hospital, and waiting for them to send over the right blood products.

Whilst I waited to go down to theatre, I started to explore my table. I found a remote control. It felt very similar to the remote I have for my Digibox TV receiver at home. I tried pressing buttons. Lo and behold, a TV came on! Even better, it was Freeview, like I’m used to, so the channels were where I expected them to be. Even more wonderful, the audio-description was switched on!

This TV became my lifeline. After surgery I was in a lot of pain and discomfort. I had no visitors so there were an awful lot of hours to while away. I put the TV on a station which ran back-to-back detective shows and watched it from mid-afternoon till 2 o’clock in the morning.

I wouldn’t have been able to do this if I’d been on an NHS ward. Another benefit of being in a room of my own!