You can only do your best and I have no delusions that I was the best mother. There were numerous failings. There still are. But I was good enough. And that’s all I needed to be. I tried. I got it wrong sometimes. Got it right sometimes. I meant well, even if the results weren’t always what one might have hoped. But I have never been one to beat myself up over my inadequacies. Life’s too short.

We had three children under four and life was a bit of a blur for a few years. But it was with much anticipation we bundled them all in to the car and set off for a villa in France. Accompanied by my parents who were coming along for the ride and as live in babysitters for a couple of evenings over the fortnight. Or that was the plan at least.

We got the ferry across and drove to Hotel des Bains in a tiny village called St Jean le Thomas in northern France. We had chosen it without the benefits of google but on the basis of the old style yellow Auberge and Logis guides that hubby would assiduously study. The hotel was small and family-friendly and had a swimming pool so the kids disembarked and splashed around straight away. Ah bliss, this is the life.

Our rooms were across the narrow road from the main hotel in a converted coach house kind of thing – the kids all sharing one large room with its own ensuite and us next door.

They would probably have been two, four and five. We got them ready for bed and read stories, and left them happily reading or playing in their beds. Hubby went up about 15 minutes later to switch the light out and they were all fine. The two big ones reading and the baby talking to herself. He locked the door behind him so that they couldn’t inadvertently wander out on to the road, and no one could wander in and he returned to our restaurant table which was literally fifty feet from their bedroom door. Probably less distance than there was if we had been sitting in the garden at home and they had been in their own beds.

I went up about 30 minutes after that and was faced by complete mayhem. I could hardly get in through the door for a sobbing, inconsolable middle daughter who was terrified beyond words or reason because it was dark and she couldn’t open the door. We’d thought locking the door was the safest option but it had utterly terrified her. It took me over an hour to calm her down with stories and stroking and staying in the room. Every time I tried to leave when I thought she’d drifted off the wailing would start again so I gave up and plonked myself on the floor after I’d sorted the other two out.

The five year old boy was oblivious – bouncing on his bed, unperturbed by his sister’s wailing . And he was happy enough to get back in to bed as directed. The two year old was not in the bedroom. The son told me she was in the bathroom. I found her in the ensuite happily drinking from the bidet. She thought it was great – a personal toddler-sized water fountain and she was completely soaked from head to toe. But smiling at least.

once we got to the villa

once we got to the villa


The bits I didn’t like

September 23, 2013

The only bits of medicine I didn’t like, and in fact was quite squeamish about, was eyes. There were things I didn’t enjoy as much as others, like filing, but eyes did my head in. There was a girl at school who could put her finger under her eyelid and basically wipe her eyeball with her finger. Used to make me feel physically sick.  And as a doctor it’s pretty tricky to just say “Yeuk, no don’t show me that stye/conjunctivitis/contact lens!” so I had to brace myself and swallow hard when I did anything involving eyes. Funnily enough I rather enjoyed incising and draining Meibomian cysts which are little cysts in the eyelid and you have a special circular little clamp to use once you have flicked the eyelid inside out. Sounds gross but actually rather fun.  But that’s about the only time I haven’t minded eyes.

The worst time was when I was covering Accident and Emergency and two men came in having been involved in a stabbing. The guy I was resuscitating had been stabbed in the chest,the neck and the face. The knife in the chest had pierced his ventricle – the pumping chamber of the heart. The neck one had missed the major artery but looked like it had pierced the top of the lung. The one in the face was through the cheek bone and up through the bottom of his left eye. His eye was pushed forward out of its socket and resting on his cheek.

As the anaesthetist my job was to secure his airway so that air could come in and out. Basically to keep him alive whilst the rest of trauma team worked on him. He had arrested and had no signs of life so I needed to put a tube down in to his trachea (windpipe) so I could help him breathe and some lines in to give him fluids and drugs. Someone else was on his chest doing compressions whilst trying not to squirt all the blood out of the hole in his chest and heart itself.

The cardiac surgeons arrived. We are still in casualty but they decide they need to open him up and sew up the hole in his heart.  This meant getting all the sterile drapes on and making sure the field they were going to operate in was clear of any of my unsterile equipment. No tubes or bits and bobs in the way that they might accidentally touch once they had scrubbed up.

So I had to wrap his head in a sterile green drape to keep all my tubes and stuff  well clear of the surgical area as all my equipment is not sterile. But obviously I still have to be able to access them all and check he is still breathing OK and still unconscious. Wouldn’t want him to wake up and start coughing or pulling at his tubes.

Thus I have a green drape about a metre square and I lift his head up to shuffle the drape underneath. I then take the corners furthest away from me (I am standing behind his head) and pull them up and across his face, trying to ensure I capture all the tubing. (It’s a bit like putting a towel turban on after you’ve washed your hair except I’m wrapping his face in it too). And as i bring my hand up my finger catches his eyeball resting on his cheek. I am nearly physically sick as it blobs around. I have to clip the drape with forceps to hold it in place and I am terrified I will accidentally puncture the offending eyeball but I don’t.

It’s fairly crammed in the resus room in A and E but it’s all we can do and the surgeons have split his sternum (breast bone) open and have rib spreaders in place to hold the rib cage apart whilst they sew up the ventricle. They have managed to restart his heart and they put in a chest drain to reinflate the lung that has been punctured. It’s all going on and I am keeping him alive whilst they build him back together. I’ve had to be very mindful of this eye that is now hidden under the green drapes as it is not uncommon to rest ones hands on top of them, or a piece of equipment if it were light and obviously I can’t do that as I might damage it.

And soon the cardiac surgeons leave – all flying surgical gowns and blood stained boots. And I am left with this poor guy. And his eye. It is still there staring at me from under the drape that I have now loosened but not revealed the offending globe.

We are waiting for the ophthalmic consult. The eye guys have been called but obviously couldn’t do anything whilst the cardio-thoracics are ongoing. So I wait for them. They have been called from the specialist eye hospital Moorfields which is not far away in the City.  I am dreading the eye surgeons wanting to take him to theatre and then I will have to  anaesthetise him for that and sit through the whole gruesome procedure. And eyes are so close the head where I sit, I can’t get away with not looking.

And then the door opens and two guys sweep in. In shades and black crombie coats. As cool as fuck. Seriously it was like Men In Black but 20 years before it. I removed the drape. They took one look and said “He’ll have to come back with us.” What a result. The surgery was too complex for them to do at our hospital, They wanted to take him back to the highly specialised theatre in Moorfields.

“So how did it happen?” asked one of them. “It was an argument about a parking space outside a curry house.” I said. We all looked around the room at the aftermath of a senseless altercation over something as trivial as a parking space. He was lucky to be alive and may well have lost the sight in one eye. The other guy had been whisked away to theatre with an abdominal stab wound. At various points there had probably been in excess of seven or eight people working on each victim, numerous pieces of equipment, drugs, and blood being used, It will have cost the NHS thousands and thousands. All for a sodding parking space.

A girls jaunt to see a friend of a friend in a play she has written and stars in. Lovely little theatre with that North London literati vibe going on, but slightly less well heeled than Hampstead. But shishi enough to offer us ‘Cheese plate’ and ‘Veggie plate’ on wooden boards to share along with various wines and beer.

The play itself was an enjoyable hour but not entirely satisfying. A two hander where the wife is considerably more financially successful than her husband who is a once-published writer still waiting for his next break. And they resent each other in various ways and are both pretty unlikeable. Which is part of the problem for me. I just don’t give a shit about them. And then, in an attention-seeking move extraodinaire, the husband declares he is pregnant. About to have the child they never had. To be more of a woman than his wife, just as his wife is more of a man than her husband. And we go through various scenes and eventually she declares all she wants is to be swamped by his masculinity. For him to take control. For him to be the man.

The relationship between them wasn’t explored enough for us to feel involved and the continual sideways looks to the audience i found distracting rather than comedic. It had potential but didn’t quite fly for me, but the acting brought it up to three stars.
And the ambience and chat made it a really fabulous midweek boost with conversations ranging from books to bitching and food to friendship. Just what the doctor ordered. And needed.

table manners being taught

table manners being taught

Our children are all grown up now and can no longer hold us responsible for their behaviour as they have been old enough long enough to alter it if they want to. Otherwise one sees 30 year olds saying “It was all my parents’ fault” and that doesn’t wash with me. Yes of course parenting is hugely influential, and one would hope would ingrain good habits and ways of coping, but if you get to 15 and realise I’m a bit of a shit, I’d better do something about it, then you can. Or you might realise that it’s all very well your parents having a laissez faire attitude to school attendance, but it actually matters and I’d better go.

Plenty of great kids come from atrocious backgrounds. And similarly some real twats come from loving supportive homes. So it’s not all clearcut by any means.  But for me there are some real basic behaviours that I just don’t understand why some parents don’t teach their children (unless they are so inadequate they can’t and in which case I question whether they should be allowed to keep them…).

I just don’t understand parents who think bad manners are a form of self-expression or that “She gets so upset when I get cross” or “He’s in a bit of an awkward phase at the moment” means they can be let off the hook for refusing to come to eat at the table. That’s not to say ours got it right all the time. But I’m hoping the basics were drilled in to place.

So these are my

Top Ten Tips for Toddlers Upwards.

  1. Always say please and thank you. Including when you get out of the car.
  2. Always acknowledge people. It only needs to be Hello. Whether in the street or in the sitting room.Whether they are the Queen or the cleaner.
  3. Look people in the eye when you acknowledge them
  4. Always say goodbye when you leave.
  5. Sit at the table to eat and stay there until told you can get down. Ask “Please may I leave the table ?” if you want to get down before you are told to.
  6. Say “Thank you for having me” especially to friends parents when you are there after school.
  7. Thank people for presents. Preferably by letter.
  8. Don’t interrupt. If you need to say something and grown ups are speaking start it with Excuse me.
  9. Eat everything a friend’s parent gives you for tea. Preferably with a smile.
  10. Join in at parties and don’t sulk if you don’t win.
  11. Never ask to go home or pull at your parent when they are chatting to someone.
  12. Own up and say sorry loud and clear when you’ve done something wrong.

Sometimes I love my job

September 17, 2013

Last week had a day in point. Uptown at a hotel so the team i was training could be off site. I had four hours of their time and a brief to discuss issues to do with being out ‘in the field’ as its known as opposed to the particular issues of being in head office which is what my training usually concentrates on. So I’d spent quite a bit of time pulling a presentation and exercises together trying to make what can be viewed as an essentially dry subject in to something a little more fun. A bit more practical application and less this is what the rules say. So exercises, scenarios, quizzes, yes no cards. You get the drift. And it’s a bespoke session for this particular team so I’ve not tried it out before so don’t know exactly how the timings will run. Have I got enough stuff? Will I run out of time to get through it all? It’s a bit of a whistle in the wind but all down to how much interactivity and discussion, challenge and debate I allow. Because that’s the best bit really. The on-the-spot Q and As. The real stuff they are dealing with – what should they have done in this situation? So often training is theoretical, hypothetical and avoids giving clear direction – as these are the judgement calls that need to be made and people can find it difficult. But that’s the bit I probably enjoy the most as it shows people are actually engaging with the session and coming up with stuff that will actually help them in their day job.

The four hours flew by for me – might have seemed longer for them – but grabbed a nice buffet lunch and headed back to Paddington station only 3 minutes away. Perfect placement for me. Then off for a meeting with an agency to discuss a conference that is happening next month and the agenda, presentations and the like need to be decided and sorted. Three hours flew by and hopefully much was decided so it felt a worthwhile meeting as opposed to the pointless work-avoidance, decision-revision scenarios they so often are as I may have mentioned.

Then straight to the train station and uptown to a burlesque show via Pizza Express. Oh yes, it was a great day from beginning to end. Full on to full off (apart from nipple tassels) and loving every second.

I loved working in accident and emergency, or casualty as we called it. The terms are interchangeable but A and E is probably more modern. You really have no idea what is going to roll in. Sometimes literally as drink is a major player. Of course when I was working in them Casualties were often very busy, but we didn’t seem to be troubled by the shit minor stuff that comes in nowadays. Stuff that should be sorted out by a wash and a plaster, or perhaps a visit to a chemist shop. Or a visit to the GP on Monday. I mean there were time wasters, but nowhere near the level there are today. People seem to have lost the ability to sort themselves out and will call out an ambulance because they have a splinter in their thumb.

But I digress. The first time I was attached to Casualty was as a student, and I blogged here about the Hoover Dustette incident and here about the fireworks. But there were plenty of other stories. It really is a place to see all of life and we did. Sometimes in eye-watering ways.

And so it was that I was asked to see a young woman who had “Got something stuck”. I think we all know where this is going. And sure enough behind the curtain was a fairly dishevelled looking girl of about 19. Looking a bit embarrassed but more worried than anything else. I asked her what the problem seemed to be and she told me she’d got a Coca Cola bottle stuck up inside her. And sure enough, when she lay down I could clearly see the bottom of one of those nice shaped glass Coca Cola bottles between her legs. “How did it happen?” I asked, waiting for the “I was walking nude around the house and tripped over and it just went up there,” usual guff  But no. She was unperturbed to tell me she’d been masturbating frantically with the Coke bottle and suddenly she’d been unable to pull it out altogether. She’d no idea why not. She’d been pulling and pulling but it just wouldn’t come. (no pun intended).

I examined her more closely and could see that her vaginal wall had been sucked inside the coke bottle and was now swollen and unable to come back out of the top of the bottle. It was well and truly plugged in. I thought I’d better call the Gynae Reg to come and see her. This was their department after all. But of course in the mean time I was discussing her with other colleagues on the floor. I mean, these kind of cases brighten the day and raise a smile. So often we are dealing with tragedy and loss it is fun when something like this comes in. And during the conversations someone came up with the obvious solution which I hadn’t thought of. The frantic up and down, in and out motion had created a vaccuum and sucked the vaginal wall inside the bottle so all that was needed was to break the vaccuum and it would release the pressure. Brilliant.

So now we had to work out how to break the bottle without injuring her further. The colleague who’d thought of the answer came over and we thought about wrapping the bottle and hammering it but there wasn’t actually much bottle protruding so it was pretty impossible to get enough leeway to try to smash it without also risking crunching her pelvis instead. In the end we got an orthopaedic drill and drilled a hole in the bottom of the bottle and hey presto the vaginal wall was gradually and gently released and although a bit sore and swollen, she was able to go home even before the Gynae Reg had made it down to see her.

She was in and out in no time.

I am a freelance Consultant to a number of different businesses and with holidays etc I am having to play catch up and working shedloads. Which I enjoy. And the other day was a day of ups and downs and headbanging frustration but a great rollercoaster ride nonetheless.

It started with reviewing materials on the computer – calm, quiet, introvert inspection. It moved to meeting to agree a position between three of us and was an enjoyable discussion and meeting of minds. It then moved on to the telecon from hell. Four of us on the line from the UK and half a dozen or so elsewhere. But obviously not all there at the start. No we have the usual revisiting of decisions already taken in the first 15 minutes, followed by a realisation that the key player isn’t actually on the phone so no decision can be taken.

But we all took a decision a few days ago, why can’t we stick with that? Nothing’s changed. Then someone else joins the call. And introduces a whole new, incoherent element to the proceedings. We discover this is actually someone very senior whose views we should listen to but I have got to the point of no return. I am trying to interrupt the ramblings but am not getting anywhere until he decides to draw breath. By which time I am seething with anger at what I see as lack of clarity and vision from someone so high up and that’s it. I’m on my feet and yelling in to the speakerphone. i am invoking company mission statements in a bid to get them to understand that what they are suggesting is unacceptable to their own company, not just me. I rail for a good minute. And there is complete silence at the other end.

It was a different silence to the one when you ask brightly”Does any one have any ideas?” and you can hear people shuffling, wriggling, metaphorically looking down at their feet. No, this silence was total. As if we’d been cut off. It was a void of shock and disbelief. I realised I had gone too far but it was too late. I felt my contract swinging in the breeze but felt vindicated by my righteousness. (Won’t feel so clever if I can’t pay the mortgage though!).

And then someone at the other end broke the ice and acknowledged that it was a blistering attack and I’d stung them in to silence. But then we moved on. To a degree. Until someone else joined the call and we had to start over. And then we moved on to the main reason for the call, Having used up half the time on a side issue. The person whose call it was was doing her best to retain control and in the end it came down to her apologising for “being brutal” but asking for an actual unequivocal yes or no from the two most senior people there. Everyone else had put their cards on the table, but at the end of the day, these two had to make the call. They are paid high salaries to make high level decisions. To be fair, one of them did step up to the plate and do it. But the other? He weasel-worded his agreement in such a way that it was clear he was only agreeing because everyone else was. Here he was, the most senior person on the call and yet presumably he had just floated in to that position, and has stayed there, resting on the shoulders of his subordinates. Leadership my arse.

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