No Brainer

22 April, 2016

 

I sit bolt upright in bed at 2am.  My subconscious has processed what the Dr was saying, 5 hours ago in A&E.  Sami’s concussion from his bike accident is passing, he can leave in an hour or two, but there’s something else;

“The CT scan has shown cell growth in the left ventricle of his brain.” The Junior Dr. tells me earnestly.  Initially, I am relieved; I have been pushing my GP for over a year to get a neurological exam for Sami.  I recently got a referral appointment, but my GP has made it clear I don’t have enough evidence to get very far in the NHS.

“It’s great, we have something concrete to go on, physical evidence.” I reply

“Yes, yes, it’s definitely a good thing,” Dr. Young replies a bit too eagerly, a bit too reassuringly.

With hindsight, I realise we were having the classic it’s-nothing-to-worry-about conversation.  The slow moving cogs of my own brain have clicked through the night and finally worked it out for me, “cell growth in the left ventricle of the brain”, can also be called a brain tumour.  I had a bit of medical training, years ago and I remember random bits and pieces of it.  Cell growth can also be described in terms of degradation of DNA.  So, if you imagine a cell has a tiny spiral of DNA which is repeated in a continuous chain, billions of times.  Each time that cell reproduces (dies and replaces itself), it replicates the entire chain, except it loses one DNA spiral each time.  As the DNA chain shortens in length so we experience aging, our skin slackens, our bones dry out etc.    This is what aging actually is (and why skin creams called “Age Renewal” don’t work at all).  There are only two places you find perfectly replicating DNA chains in the body; the first is in the testes – because to produce a child, it has to be born with a perfectly long DNA chain, otherwise it would be born aged.  The second place is in cancer cells.  They perfectly replicate, they’re sometimes known as “eternal cells”, while all the so-called normal cells around them deteriorate.  They have other functions too, but this is how I understand “cell growth in the left ventricle”.  Cells are definitely not supposed to be spontaneously growing in there.  I sit up the rest of the night, classically terrorizing myself on google.  There is between 5%-15% survival rate at 5 years post treatment – a combination of surgery, chemo and radiation therapy (which leaves lasting detrimental effects on surrounding brain tissue).  Not good.  High fat, vegan diet (surely, a contradiction in terms?) has been shown to be helpful.  He is veggie, so I plan to move us into ultimate vegan health over the next few weeks.

I drive us 5 hours back home the next day, in pieces, hiding my bursts of grief from him behind my sunglasses.  He drivels on about the Tour-de-France for five hours, next to me, oblivious.  I email his teacher, she writes back “That’s not good, let me know if I can do anything to support you.”  I fall a 1000 feet through the floor reading her reply, couldn’t she have written, “We get his all the time at school, it’s perfectly normal in teenagers”.  I leave a message for our GP who’s not in the surgery for another 4 days.  She calls me within two hours and my heart drops another 1000 feet, she’s on it, chasing scans, being incredibly competent.  This is not routine.

I watch my son struggle with basic tasks like walking through doors and answering my questions.   I’d been so frustrated with him before, but now I see his neurological impairment, it explains a lot; his outbursts, his inability to be on time, to function at school or communicate.  When I drop him at school the next day, he says, “I hate being late for school”.  I stifle a laugh; he is late for school pretty much every day.  It’s the school’s and my biggest irritation with him, clearly, something is pressing on his brain, because this statement alone is utter madness.

By 9.30am, I am still in the car but I haven’t even finished school run.  I cancel my clients for the next two weeks and park at the side of road, in teary devastation.  There’s nothing else for it, I have to call Kiki.  I have tried not to call her, because over the years we have shared way more trauma than anyone should.  We are not friends who do coffee, or go shopping, or remember each other’s birthdays anymore.  We might send a text – which invariably sits without a reply. Or, “like” each other’s stuff on Facebook and keep up in vague way, meaning to see each other more than we ever manage.  But if one of us phones, like makes a proper old fashioned voice call, we know it’s serious and we pick up.  Two hours later she is sitting in my garden, fag in manicured fingers, tapping on her phone as I explain.

“So, what are you going to do?”  She asks, pressing “dial” on her phone, as I reply.

“Dunno.  Er, wait till Friday then call the GP back?” I say, making it up on the spot.

“Hi, Can I see a paediatric neurologist this week?” She asks whoever she’s talking to, “Ok, if you don‘t have one, where can I get one?”  She speaks to them as if she’s booking her Waitrose delivery slot.  Within fifteen minutes we have a next day appointment at The Portland Hospital.  I’d say we were booked into see a top Neurologist, but there was a bit of confusion with the phone signal and she accidently booked him in with an Urologist, first time round.  (The amount of laughter we got imagining a Doctor sticking his finger up Sami’s arse, looking for his brain, made it well worth the mistake though).  We agree to meet at the Co-op in Woodstock at 5pm.  She is taking over, she is scooping me up, driving to her boat in London, making appointments, buying food.  She is my knight in shining armour because she knows how to be good in crisis.  She’s had more than a few.

Sami disappears after school for an hour instead of coming home.  “Neurological impairment”, I think as I wait, unable to contact him.  When he finally appears, he explains he’s been at his weekly, Tuesday after-school club.  School call it “Detention”.   I understand better what’s going on with him, all this time he’s not being an annoying little git, he can’t help it, he has “Neurological Impairment”.

At 6.15pm I text Kiki to say we’re in the Co-op, he’s hungry.

“What just standing still, staring into space?”  She texts back immediately; neurological impairment is clearly on her mind too.

“No, not staring.  We’re in the Coop, he’s STARVING.” I reply, checking the autocorrect this time.  I look at the basket he’s been filling; four cheese sandwiches, a stuff crust pizza, a loaf of bread, a jar of Nutella, two bags of Wotsits & a Mars Milkshake, veganism will be more challenging than I thought.  I grab a bottle of red and a big bag of chocolate buttons, (I don’t feel like cooking) and jump in her massive BMW.

Kiki is a godsend.  Years ago we were a vacuous pair, who sat in bikinis by an expensive pool in Thailand, complaining about our fat (they were actually flat) stomachs, wishing our idiot boyfriends would marry us.  We imagined our futures with happy little children, who would do well in school and oh, drive us mad!  Our Bridget Jones years.  Then we grew up.  We lost the boyfriends, traumatically.  We survived emergency births, ectopic pregnancies, seizures, operations, traumatised toddlers and a few bouts of Post-Traumatic Stress each.  Incredibly, we’ve both ended up as single parents with three young children.  Mine, a grief inducing, mid-pregnancy divorce – well, that’s what we thought until her husband dropped dead during her third pregnancy.  Yes, she’s trumped me at every turn over the years.  I am in safe hands because she gets it, she knows exactly what I’m going through and what to do.

We sit in detached luxury, neither of us give a shit about our surroundings.  I have a bottle of red, she has a new packet of Marlborough Lights.  I feel helpless, like both my arms have been amputated.  Sami is behind us, headphones on, watching the Tour-de-France on the iPad.   I take a sleeping pill that someone left behind in my house, a long time ago;   I give her one too.  For the first time I sleep through the night.

I decide to wake her around 11.30am.  I notice my bag of chocolate buttons are lying open, next to her bed, thieving cow.  Sometime after, she stumbles upstairs to the living room, blonde hair looking like a straw mat, and joins Sami and me.  She is covered in brown stains, so I don’t say anything.

“Sleeping pills”, she says, casually lighting up.  “Effing strong aren’t they?  I woke up in the night with my hand stuck in a bag of melted chocolate buttons, but I couldn’t quite get up and wash.  Looks like I’ve shat myself in there and smeared it around the master bedroom.  I’d better text the cleaner and forewarn her, eh?”

“Yeah, better had.” we reply casually, as if this is an everyday problem.  Then she urges Sami to photograph it for Instagram.

Couple of hours later we arrive at Great Portland St and she dumps her beast of a car in a private car park, somone will park it for her.  At The Portland I offer my credit card to the receptionist and Kiki pushes my hand away, blinding the receptionist with the glint of her triple platinum Amex.

“Hey, you’d do it exactly the same for me,” she says.  This is not entirely true, I imagine what me doing it for her would look like.  They’d be a lot more buses & trains, and a Travelodge (in Hackney).  She’d probably have a panic attack discovering there were thousands of people travelling on the Underground, right under her Gucci pumps in Sloane Square.

We sit with the Consultant Neurologist and both stifle school-girl giggles when he says he wants to examine Sami. (At this point Kiki makes a swift exit under the pretext of Sami’s privacy, but I know she’s going for a fag and a Costa).   It’s ok, the physical is all above board, he is a Neurologist, not a Urologist – I checked his badge when we arrived.  Later, I send Sami out, so I can discuss the CT scan, without him knowing about the tumour.

“Have you seen the Radiologist’s report, on the CT scan?” Dr Neuro asks me.

“No, I haven’t been shown a thing.” I reply.

He turns the screen towards me; there is a message from the Radiologist, it lacks any tone of urgency.  It mentions a “density” in the left ventricle, it suggests it’s a shadow of the Medulla Cortex accidently picked up in the scan.  There is no mention of “cell growth” or “possible tumours”, only a recommendation, again without any urgency, that it’s checked with an MRI.

Between us, Dr Neuro and I deduce that Dr Junior, in A&E, saw the scan and interpreted it himself without reading the radiologist’s report.  I no longer feel my son is at risk of cancer, or is dying of a brain tumour.  I am angry at what this has cost us, not even financially, but in human emotion.  How I would have remained in that traumatised state for three, maybe four weeks, if I hadn’t gone privately.  But overall, I am entirely relieved Sami is ok.  The sun is shining, my son is not dying and my life is fine again.  The lift is full, so we watch fondly, as he almost falls down the stairs on our way out.   “Neurological impairment” is no longer an option.

His CT scan (above) clearly shows no internal cell growth.

Sami’s CT scan (above).  The Consultant Neurologist was able to confirm, there is absolutely no internal cell growth.

 

I read a report on Women’s emotional responses to retail therapy today (K. Pine, University of Hertfordshire). They sent the survey forms out in a trendy women’s magazine and then branded the results as “Sheconomics™” (gettit?). I found the report pretty fascinating, but probably not in the same way as K. Pine did. According to the results, here are the top reasons that women go shopping.

I want to cheer myself up 79%
I want to treat others         75%
I feel I’m looking good      61%
I’m feeling a bit low            61%
I’m feeling happy                53%

Brilliant. So, 61% of women go shopping because they’re feeling a bit down, and 53% of women say they go shopping because they’re feeling a bit up. Now, maybe I’m wrong about this, but this looks to me like pretty inconclusive proof that anything much is a happening when women go shopping. Other than they’ve got:

a) got nothing better to do.
b) er, that’s it.

Interestingly, none of the respondents cited “getting something I genuinely need”, as a reason to go shopping. If I spent long enough on t’internet I could probably find a research project where some student got a £130,000 grant to study her own serotonin levels when she went in and out of Top Shop and we might have some more conclusive evidence, but obviously, I’ve got better things to do.

The “Sheconomics™” survey then probes more deeply into the underlying causes getting respondents to ask themselves, “Why-oh-why do I do it?” (Let’s have a look shall we?)

Sheconomics asked over 700 women to finish the following question:
“I would spend less than I currently do if:…

I had more self-control                                                      70%
I understood how my moods affect my spending  55%
I had other ways of cheering myself up                      55%
I had more hobbies and interests                                  45%
I could break the shopping habit                                   41%
I felt happier with my life                                                 38%
I felt happier about the way I look                               38%
I didn’t worry or get anxious                                          34%
I had a more fulfilling job/role                                      32%
I didn’t experience cravings                                           28%
I was thinner                                                                          22%

Love this. There are a couple of things about this that really stand out for me. The first is the tone of the questions, so freakin’ dependent. Just go back up to the list and insert “Oh, if only..”, said in a resigned tone, in front of every question.

“Oh, if only ……I had other ways of cheering myself up.” Look lady, where do you live? Are you chained up in a department store? Do they give free frontal lobotomies with your facial now, or what? Haven’t you heard of a “t’internet search?” Yep, you just type in the place where you live, or work and then write next to it, “what’s on?” Then, (if it’s after 5.30pm and the shops are shut), you can just go along. Honest, it’s true, I’ve read in glossy magazines about people who’ve done it.

“Oh, if I only…..I had more hobbies and interests.” Yep, shame that avenue is completely closed off to you, isn’t it? Don’t forget, the amount of clothing and equipment you’d need to buy if you take up a new hobby though, especially if it involves exercise. Feeling a little more motivated now?

The last one that I’m going to draw your attention to is this little beauty.
“Oh, if only………..I was thinner”. Sorry, Katie Price, did you write this survey in English, this century?  Or is this a study from another era, like when Reuben was alive and chubby water nymphs were all the rage? So, women answered this survey saying if they get thinner they’d shop less? Right, they’ll get all slim and then decide to wear all their fat clothes, the ones they felt so awful in.  Really? Ladies, have you answered this survey completely honestly?

There are a few questions I would like to add to the end of the survey, just for purposes of clarification.

Has a partner (gay/straight/bi/hermaphrodite) ever described you as;

1.  Dependent?
2.  Boring?

If your partner (gay/straight/bi/hermaphrodite) “agrees strongly” with either of the above, you’ll need to immediately buy yourself a “life”. (Prices can vary; from £29.99 in Hull, to £9.7 million in the Bahamas).

Y’know, it’s crossed my mind on more than one occasion; if the suffragettes could have seen womankind 100 years on, would they really have bothered?
What if instead, they’d just said, “Fuck it, we’re going to the haberdashers.”

"Oh, Agamemnon, I've got nothing to wear!"

“Oh, Agamemnon, I’ve got nothing to wear!”

Bye x

Insomnia

23 June, 2013

 I’ve been struggling to sleep this week.  Yesterday, I was up at 4.30am.  I lay there thinking, I’m not sure if I’m going to get back to sleep, as Amba and Asha played noisily in my bedroom.  There’s an interesting theory in therapy, for sleep disorders you make the client do something tedious that takes ages.  This encourages the subconscious to choose the alternative, sleeping. So, without this in mind, I decided that this was a good time to get up and make a Charlie and Chocolate Factory inspired fancy dress costume for Amba.  She had a party the next day and had helpfully decided to go as a “Wonka Bar”.

We had a couple of other things to do, that I could easily squeeze in if I added a several extra hours to the day.  I had to cook the 5th and 6th batches of cupcakes for the school fete.  The 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th batches, baked on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday had vanished from the cake tin. This time, Amba helpfully decorated them (and the most of the kitchen) in Nutella.  Which was just great.  I accidently dropped Asha off at his friend’s party in the wrong place, half an hour early, that saved me some time.  Then finally, I had a hope in hell of making it to Wembley for The Killers concert; Sami’s early birthday surprise.

The result?  All round success.  I discovered making a Wonka bar costume at 5am does cure insomnia.  I got home around 1.30am (after a couple of hours in a post Killers concert traffic) and slept soundly that night.  The party host kindly delivered Asha to the right venue, at the right time.  Thanks Maya – he had a blast.  And the cupcakes sold out at the fete.  I said to Amba the next day: “Those cakes were so pretty.  How did you do those amazing spirals with the Nutella?”

“Oh it’s so easy,” she said.  “Just put a big dollop in the middle of the cupcake.  Then, you lick your finger and draw a lovely smooth swirl with it.”

Image

 

I can see clearly

21 June, 2013

I‘ve spent the day with an old friend, over from the US.  Hence I ignored you for most of the day.  If you’re wondering why I’ve suddenly started bothering with my blog at all, it’s because another good friend, the artist formerly known as Toni-cool-but-embarassing-le-busque (TAFKATCBELB) said she wanted a post a day from me.  A post a day!  Is she insane, I asked myself.  The unanimous cry from my subconscious was, yes, she’s totally off her rocks, but you knew that already and a post a day is something to aspire for.  Formerly, I was knuckling down to a post, oh at least every couple of months (or so), which yes, I found demanding, but heck I did it anyway.

Today’s visit was one of those lovely friendships where it’s like there’s been no time between you, even though we haven’t seen each other for 13 years.  She joked casually at how “flighty” I used to be.  I nodded in laughing agreement, wondering what the feck she was talking about.  She was staying in a hotel in London.  She was supposed to have been staying with someone she knew.  But, she couldn’t bear the filth in their house.
“Oh my god, it was so awful,” she explained, “like three times as bad as yours, their dogs shit all over the place.”

Now, I admit that I’m a long way from being obsessive compulsive, when it comes to tidying up, dusting and er, the rest of that er, stuff you’re supposed to do in a house.  But, I would describe my home as quite a lot more than a mere “three times better” than a house full of dog shite, thank you.  I’ve got a window cleaner for god’s sake, doesn’t that count for anything?  He’s a Jehovah Witness (JHW), he has standards and even turns down work because of his strict code of personal ethics y’know.  And, he’s done the insides.  And he stays for a coffee, without even bothering to trying and convert me.  (Although, I do concede that last point is a bit strange).  I recently found out that my mum’s window cleaner is also a JHW.  A quirky coincidence?  I thought not, so I decided to conduct extensive research into the matter.  It took six weeks to get the answers I was looking for.  That might be because he had only just done the windows and I had to wait till next time he did his round.  But when I saw him, I gave him a grueling interview (over coffee and biscuits).

Mike the Jehovah witness window cleaner: “So, we’re not allowed to do things that would be bad in the eyes of god, just to make a money?”
Me:  “Oh right, so that would be like bad karma, right?”
MTJHWWC: No, we don’t believe in karma.  That’s an invention of Satan to lead humankind away from the path or righteousness.”
Me: Of course.  So, you mean you have to be careful about how you make money?
MTJHWWC:  Yes, very careful.  That’s why a lot of us like window cleaning, although there are some people that we wouldn’t window clean for, we can’t take their money for ethical reasons.  People don’t realise how crafty Satan can be, so we’re always on guard against him.
Me:  Oh tell me about it.   Caught me out a few times over the years.
MTJHWWC:  His goal is to get us engaged first in his work and then his worship.  We have to be really vigilant about everything we do, especially when it comes to what we do to earn money.
Me:  Ok, I get it.  Funnily enough, I used to live just behind that massive publishing place you’ve got in Brooklyn.  God, that place is like a whole city block long.  Imagine what it’s worth nowadays?
MTJHWWC:   $100,000,000.
Me: Really?
MTJHWC:  Oh yes, I know because the Elders sold it to a pension company last year.
Me:  Er, is that allowed?
MTJHWWC: The Elder’s explained it’s ok, we still own more than half of Manhattan.  We rent all the buildings out.
Me:  Er??

Anyway, my old friend and I picked up the kids up from school, so they got to meet her briefly.  Then she went back to London on the train.  As we drove away from the station, three happy voices from the back seat said to me;
“Remember Mummy, you promised us ice cream because we did such a good job tidying-up for your friend.”

Jehovah Witnesses fighting crime and grime.

Bye x

How to Leave Feedback

26 April, 2012

My basic rule of thumb with leaving feedback has always been; the worse the event – the better the feedback I leave it.  Sort of like leaving reverse feedback actually.  So if I go to something that I think is utterly, mind blowingly shite, then I often just feel sorry for them and tell them it was good.  I mean if they don’t know how crap they are, then they’re a long way from change.  So, instead of shattering their reality and spending months resetting their dysmorphic self belief (back down to zero), I tend to leave them happy in ignorance.

I once received a copy of Oxford Montessori’s school brochure (when I  only had one child and actually cared about that sort of thing – his education and stuff).  It was full of spelling mistakes, incorrectly used words and even a map which had one of the schools located on the wrong side of the street.  Here’s a quote I remember;

“We will inform you if your child is illegible for the government voucher scheme”.

Illegible instead of eligible?  I think they were offering my child the chance of their amazing education skills for only £5,000 a year.  I thought the brochure was the best indicator of the school they could possibly send out to be honest.  I didn’t ring up with corrections, I rang the local state school and had a look round instead.

With workshops I’ve enjoyed, I’ll often leave a bit of feedback on small things that could be improved like, “move the venue from East London to Birmingham” etc., all helpful stuff.   Generally speaking, it’s received by the host with, er, hostility.  This happened recently, so I’ve decided to have a bit of a re-think on feedback and how to leave it.

My new forumla for feedback is based on my many years of research, trial and, oh-s0-many errors.  I think I’ve now developed an exciting new approach which will give you incredible results.  Soon, you will find people hanging on your every word and inviting you to be a public speaker at their events.   Please feel free to copy it, or expand on it in your own intimate style.  Although no two situations are ever exactly the same, with this method you will get massive-results-which-blow-your-mind. The conversation should typically go along these lines;

Host(ile) facilitator:  Hey, How was my workshop?

You:  “Oh your workshop……” (pause for thought, like you’re thinking back to the actual day, instead of remembering your lines.  Basically the more you pause at this stage the better the overall effect.  So fill that pause with something like imagining yourself walking backwards through your whole house – include garage and/or sheds).  Then when you’ve done that, you can begin…

You: “Oh it was, well, really fantastic”

Host(ile): Really?  Do you really think so?  I mean I know I’m relatively new to this but….

 You;  (interrupt with enthusiasm) “Oh, yeah, you’re not the biggest, that’s true, but OMG! you’re so the best, the best, it was fan-tas-tic. Really, really good.

Host(ile): Wow, that’s so nice of you, I’m so glad you liked it.  We’ll be doing some more later in the year…

You: (interrupting enthusiastically)  More! (a slight scream should enter your voice now)  Oh, yeah, I’d like more, yeah more.  I’m just going to keep coming again and again and again it was sooooo amazing.  Thanks. (Deeply exhale and if light up a cigarette if you’re outside). 

 

Host(ile):  You’re welcome (he looks happy). I’ll tell you what, shall I put you on our mailing list.

You:  Yes, Yes, YES!

I guarantee, you’ll get a much better result if you use this method anytime you’re asked for feedback.  If you need to practise this complex technique before you use it then write some feedback about my blog below.  (Just scroll up if you need help remembering the formula.)

Introductory price: £7,777.99  (cash/paypal)

H x