Thursday, 23 September 2010

Jingle Hell

I saw my first Christmas tree today. It was 24 degrees outside and the customers at the Premier Inn coffee shop were in short-sleeved shirts and cut-offs. Pride of place in the entrance hall was given to a decorated tree, advertising the festive season (only three months to go!).
The charity shops are displaying cards in their windows, the newspapers are full of adverts for Christmas dining and supermarkets are already stocking Christmas biscuits, sweets and snacks, exactly the same as those available in the other aisles but wrapped in red and green with holly, berries and bows. The department stores are helpfully corralling a load of tat into a designated area, marked 'Gifts' where Halloween, Bonfire Night and Christmas vie with each other to empty the customers' wallets.
I am aware of the arguments, which are similar to the 'farmers in Scotland' reasons for not staying on British Summer Time all year. For those of you unfamiliar with this, the debate runs that it would be so dark in Scotland in the morning that the farmers wouldn't be able to feed their animals. So we all have to suffer miserable, dark nights for what feels like most of the year.
The 'Christmas in September' justification says that customers, particularly women, like to plan ahead and have their shopping done, presents wrapped and cards posted by the end of November. Those with families overseas need to get cards and parcels posted even earlier. If customers didn't want to shop early, the Christmas goods wouldn't shift, would they? We all have to 'enjoy' Christmas for three months, so that the super-organised amongst us can feel smug in December.
Well, excuse me but aren't presents available all year? The Post Office runs all year. Food, in ordinary packaging, is available all year. We don't eat the packaging. Trust me, shortbread tastes the same, however it's wrapped. I don't have a simple answer to the cards and wrapping paper dilemma but if it's so important, these could be bought cheaply in the January sales.
Let's reclaim the autumn and fight to hold back the Christmas tide! The way to achieve this is passive resistance. Don't buy anything 'Christmassy' until December. Women, let's join the men and shop on Christmas eve. If the stock doesn't shift the shops will stop displaying it. Be honest, that half-price tin of sweets is always gone by the end of October. And that's the whole point...we then have to buy another.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Stroke Diary (14): Back to Work

Monday 6th. September:
I once worked alongside a teacher in a small special school for children with learning difficulties. She had recurrent breast cancer but twice had made it back to work. I asked her how she was feeling and she told me that returning to the school had been her target, her goal, the thing that kept her going through the bad times. I couldn't understand this. Her class were exhausting, the school was tatty and the staff didn't seem to be an inspiring bunch. I couldn't imagine anything more desirable than not being at work, being free to choose how to spend each day and not having to face getting up on dark, winter mornings. But then I was a mother of three young children, struggling to balance home and work and not that confident about my success as an educational psychologist. I had no idea how important work can become for the mature woman, once children have left home and competence and confidence in the workplace becomes a mantle of respect and wisdom.
So I was relieved to return to work on an agreed plan of half days and very reduced duties but even then, by lunchtime each day my brain was shouting that it had had enough, it needed to go home and lie down. I didn't achieve a great deal. I managed to clear my e-mails, attend a couple of meetings and give some informal supervision. I couldn't have made any school visits or delivered training, so I am far from fit. My workplace is unique and I am aware that for many stroke patients, a return to work after six weeks would be impossible due to unreasonable demands and pressure from employers. I have been allowed to take my time and through the week I felt myself change from 'sick person' to competent member of a community with a shared purpose. The conversations about how I was feeling dropped away and I was consulted, sometimes apologetically, about real issues. Next week, I'll be more focused and tackle the pile of tasks, already comfortingly tagged with 'to do' post-it notes.
The best thing about this week's recovery is that my head is feeling less thick and fuzzy. Either that or I'm simply getting used to it. I can still get dizzy and my balance isn't good but I think these problems are going to need some kind of programme (Pilates? Tai-Chi?) rather than natural recovery. I had no problem with the three flights of stairs up to my office but after one unsteady moment, I had to be strict with myself about holding onto the bannister (difficult when carrying a mug of coffee AND a piece of cake).
My outpatient's appointment is scheduled for the end of the month. I am supposed to have another CT scan before this but I have had no word. My G.P has been chasing it up and she telephoned to say that the consultant was (roll of drums)...'waiting for QMC'. I wonder if this is code for 'I forgot all about it'.
My next Stroke Diary post will follow this appointment. It marks the start of my quest to find out what happened to me. I am not anticipating any enthusiasm or collaboration in this from the consultant and I am expecting to be told that I have to accept that the stroke was 'just one of those things.' I'm not going to accept this.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Stroke Diary (13): Almost There

Monday 30th. August:
Are you sure you're ready to go back to work? I'm often asked this question but it's a hard one to answer. How would I know? Some days this week, my last week of sick leave before my planned return to work, I'm almost 'back to normal' on the outside. Inside, I still have a 'thick head', an experience I was frequently promised by my teachers in Scotland but until now I've been lucky enough to avoid.
On Wednesday morning I go to two libraries, searching unsuccessfully for the books I need for the next book group meeting. I visit Costa for a coffee and then a friend calls in for lunch.
On Friday morning I manage the city centre for the first time since the stroke. I park in John Lewis, walk to an appointment in Hotel Street, have a coffee and finish with a small wander in the Highcross shopping centre. And another friend comes for lunch.
I reason that if my mornings can be as busy as this, then I can manage a morning at work. But other days are different. I now seem to have a built-in monitor for 'over-doing it' when tiredness and headache get the better of me. On Saturday, I do almost nothing and it feels like one of the first days after my discharge from hospital. At night I'm still troubled by pains in the back of my head and I'm still munching paracetemol through the day. I do want to go back to work. The longer I'm away the more daunting it seems and I need several weeks to prepare a handover before I leave. I'll let the G.P have the final say next Monday.
I love Autumn. I like the clothes and the weather is often calm and mellow with just a small bite in the early mornings to let you know that winter's on its way. We have a beautiful early autumn week and teacher friends are beside themselves with rage at being back at work after the unfairness of our dark, sodden August. I take walks along the towpath, each time venturing further out past the mellow red brick of the Victorian canal bridges, noticing spiders' webs caught in the low sunshine and the leaves just turning into their ancient tapestry colours. Twice this week I walk with a friend to the Kings Lock Tea Room, only accessible from the towpath and have coffee in the garden that overlooks the water meadows. The wasps are a problem but we let them have some jam and they leave us alone. Somehow, the distant view of the sheds of Fosse Park, an out of town shopping centre and the dominance of the pylons shouldering Leicester's power into the city, makes this unexpected oasis seem even more remote.
In town I revel in the quiet of Leicester's back lanes, bathed in early morning sunshine, the children back at school and their parents still too exhausted to venture out. I'm the only customer in Cafe Mbriki and spend a relaxed forty five minutes with my coffee and a newspaper. Since the stroke, I've been reading a daily newspaper and many magazines and I've become aware of how many articles in the review sections are about the same people or event, with almost the same content. These are always linked to a book or a television programme. Clearly, publicists are doing a good job.
I manage to get a copy of J.G Ballards's Empire of the Sun, which we're reading for book group along with his second novel, The Drowned World. I find that one of the best things about being in a book group is having to read novels outside my circle of preferred authors. I'm only on page 77 but I'm not keen on his style. Because it's his own story, it has the reported feel of a diary with too much detail that would be of interest to a small boy but with an overlay of adult interpretation and awareness. I will persist, however as I'm forming ideas about the impact of war on the next generation, with reference to my own peer group, the much-criticised 'having it all' Baby Boomers.
So far I've made a good recovery due to normal healing processes but now I need to work specifically on my balance. It is much better, but I still have 'whoops' moments when I stand up suddenly or stop in mid-track. Thanks to a friend's generosity, I now have a gym ball to balance on while watching T.V. I'll report on progress.
I haven't managed to make a start back with my own novel and I wonder what that's about? Maybe next week, when I'm at work, motivation will kick back in. It's ridiculous but I feel too busy. My days are taken up with walks and visits, a sleep in the afternoon, some cooking and any old rubbish on T.V. (usually involving reconstruction of some sort: houses, faces, bodies). And this blog! Something will have to go.