Monday, 17 October 2016

Subconjunctival haemorrhage, infected sebaceous cyst and exercise classes

How did the school holidays go for you?

During the summer, most people used to roll their eyes and say something like 'only two weeks to go!' whilst pouring another glass of rosé, oblivious to the fact their child had just fallen off a swing.

Others would give you chapter and verse about the difficulties of finding childcare as a working parent— one woman I know seemed to mishear any question she was asked, and think you'd actually said 'please can you give me a detailed rundown of who has looked after each of your children this week, giving precise timings, locations and what the traffic was like on that day'.

My hols, since you ask, were rather violent.

The violence was from Felix, who is now three and two-thirds. He and Logie (five and two-thirds) use fighting as a sort of language — it's how they play, argue and converse. But Felix is usually the aggressor, and I am often on the receiving end too.

At one point, he hit me in the eye with a toothbrush. On the actual eyeball, because I literally didn't see it coming (he was flailing around beneath me doing his usual anti-toothbrushing morning protest) so didn't close my eye.

This resulted in a noticeable bloody blister on the white of my eye, which grew over the next 24 hours til it took up approx a quarter of it. It was gross.

Because I was overdue an eye test (that's the problem with ordering lenses online — they're always bloody BUGGING you to get your eyes tested every year) I went to my local optician to get it checked out.

This optician runs a small business just round the corner from me. He seems quite near retirement. The carpet is grey and looks about 30 years old. It's always very hot in there. I've only ever seen one other person in there, even though I walk past it every day. I transferred my business to him a couple of years ago, because I got fed up with Vision Express e-mailing me every 20 minutes and I wanted to support a local business. Actually that's bollocks — I thought he'd be cheaper, and I couldn't be bothered to go to Westfield any more.

Anyway, he does the job, and there's no chance of him or his 'receptionist' ever bothering me with an e-mail, because I'm pretty sure the screen on the desk at reception isn't anything as modern as a computer. I suspect it's a microfiche.

But he has quite a dour sense of humour, if indeed he has one at all. When I was told there were no appointments free til the afternoon (surely untrue), I took off my glasses and presented him with my Halloween eye. Just in case it was an emergency. 'Well,' he said, after doing some close-up whistly nose-breathing 'the worst-case scenario, which is unlikely, is that the retina could become detached. In which case, a few hours won't make any difference.'

Obviously this was thrilling to a hypochondriac like me, but it lacked the urgency I was hoping for. So I decided to go to my usual exercise class at the gym in the meantime.

Anyway, it was all all right in the end. I actually wrote most of the above about two months ago, and then never got round to finishing it. I was going to write some hilarious things about exercise classes — which I only started experimenting with earlier this year, despite the fact I've been a member of the gym for about seven years — because the most annoying times to have glasses enforced on you rather than lenses is when it's sunny, or when you're trying to exercise.

Goodness, exercise classes are scary. Though some of them are so ridiculous it's lucky that I don't have any friends in them, because if I caught someone's eye I would crack up. Either way, what I really dislike is the fact that once you've started, you can't stop. Even if it's too hard (spinning) or too ridiculous (zumba, complete with scarves edged with tinkly coins) you simply have to stick it out til the end of the hour.

Some high/low lights for me have included a step and tone class, run by a sharply camp man aged about 60, who seemed to think we were all in Butlins and I'm pretty sure despised women. He kept a rictus smile on his face while managing to say 'Lift your bottom a little bit higher' while substituting the word 'bottom' for 'flabby, overprivileged lard arse' in his head. He'd have made a marvellous Victoria Wood sketch.

Once I went to this class, only to find it had been cancelled and replaced with body combat, with a substitute teacher. She was very angry, this woman, about something. She also didn't really seem to know which class she was teaching, or which leg we did last. But every now and then she'd just unexpectedly yell 'GET YOUR FREAK ON' with enormous aggression into her head mike, and everyone was rather taken aback. Although no one said anything, of course.

I'm quite a fan of something called stretchworks, which is generally very good for elongating and decrumpling yourself. Unless you get a bit too big for your boots, and try the advanced class. As someone once said to me 'I don't know how they do it — it's like Cirque du Soleil'. 

At one point I found myself in fear of being crushed to death by the weight of my own breasts. We had to do a shoulder stand, then slowly lower our legs down over our heads. I sort of floomped mine down, but this involved such a shift in gravity that most of my ribcage somehow ended up over my face. I couldn't see or hear anything, so it was difficult to know when or how we were supposed to get out of this position. It became difficult to breathe. I tried not to panic. It was only the idea of being resolutely stuck in this undignified position, amongst a sea of Lululemon limber milfs looking at my arse with barely disguised shock and hilarity, that gave me the energy to topple gently over onto my side in order to escape.

Probably the worst thing I've tried is spinning. How do people pedal for more than three rotations while standing on the pedals? I mean actually how? I'll wager those machines will soon be designated official weapons of torture by the UN. Afterwards a friend sent me a sympathetic message: 'I tried it once and it made my vag bleed' so I've decided never to return.

Instead I've become a zealous convert to body pump, where you lift weights to very loud music. The sort of music you imagine they'd play in a post-apocalypse film, where humans have gone half savage (but hung on to a few techno mix tapes) and dance round a fire at night, banging empty oil drums. I find it rather empowering, despite the fact I barely have the strength to lift my phone for a couple of hours afterwards.

But in order to close the loop on this rambling, time-delayed post, I need now to tell you that I have an infected sebaceous cyst. Which, if I still had my bloody eye, would complete any decent Halloween costume. It is on top of my left shoulder, just before the slope to my neck, and it is utterly repellent. I had a small white bump there for years, which I always assumed was a mole. Earlier this year the GP told me it was a harmless cyst, but I couldn't have it removed on the NHS because it counted as cosmetic surgery.

Only now it's got infected, as I was warned could happen. It's swollen to about seven times the size, is red hot and angry, and looks like it could explode at any moment. I'm on antibiotics four times a day for a week, and if it's not better soon apparently the next step is to go into hospital for IV antibiotics. Even though I always imagine the worst, I wasn't expecting that. Though imagine how much work I could get done. 

Then again, I don't think they do body pump in most hospitals. Even though I don't come out 'on a high' like some people claim (I come out with a camel toe and a white line around my mouth) I need to keep my strength up to protect me from my children.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Questions, lies and coughs

I hate the question 'How are you?'

Because, on the whole, I don't like lying. And I'm never short of material when it comes to ailments or complaints. 

But when this inquiry comes as a passing greeting, I simply don't want to get drawn into conversation.

The over-friendly barrista who just made my coffee might be a bit phased if I were to describe the green stuff I've been coughing up all week.

If I were in the office today, the unlucky colleague who made tea at the same time as me wouldn't want to know that my left buttock is quite sore, as that gluteal muscle so often is, because I'm one of those people whose sciatic nerve runs through their periformis. She'd just be killing time while the kettle boiled.

The check-out assistant in Morrison's doesn't want to know that my boobs ache today, for no apparent reason. (Is it a hormonal thing? Is it some sort of lingering protest about my new sports bra?) I doubt this is covered in staff training, even if they do have a go at role play in the customer engagement module.

The school mum whose name I can't remember and it's now far too late to ask, doesn't want to know that actually I had a tummy bug over the holidays, that peaked on Christmas Day, turned into mild pancreatitis, I had to go the doctor, miss my godmother's bread sauce, and although my husband had the same bug a few days earlier mine was obviously much more serious because I have IBS (I really haven't dwelt on that enough recently) and had my gall bladder removed years ago after various infections (helicobacter pylori — I love to remember that name), gall stones, bleeding in my stomach and mild pancreatitis once before, so these things are prone to cause me immense pain.

But the other reason I hate this perfectly innocent question is because it's a really hard one for people with mental health problems. Trust me, it can be the hardest thing in the world to answer, when inside you're feeling total panic and despair because all you know is that something is terribly terribly wrong, yet externally you feel obliged to gaily respond 'Fine thanks!'

Or you're so numb, you haven't a clue how you are, who you are, or how to carry on — 'Good thanks'. Or you've been awake half the night, in a cycle of anxiety, and simply being in daylight amongst other humans now feels so surreal and likely to tip you over the edge it seems bizarre that nobody else has noticed — 'Fine, how are you?'

I mention this today because it was Time to Talk Day yesterday, the big PR day for the mental health anti-stigma campaign, Time to Change. It's a brilliant campaign, and a brilliant aim — to get everyone to have a conversation about mental health on the same day. (I'm late, as usual.) 

Of course, some people are crying out (silently) for someone to ask them how they are, for an opportunity to share their problem, to get some support. Sometimes, in the right context, 'How are you?' is the perfect conversation-opener. One on one, with a friend, I find it hugely helpful to talk about my mental health, and a sympthetic listen can alter the course of my whole day.

So I've just got to tell myself that answering 'Fine thanks' isn't a lie, so much as a foreign greeting ritual. Apparently in Tibet, the custom is to stick your tongue out. I gather that killer whales have entire greeting ceremonies, involving tail slaps and chest bumps (like those American brothers in tennis doubles?) so we actually get off lightly with two harmless words.

Nevertheless, I've come up with a few reply techniques to get round the question:

  • Ask, without missing a beat 'How are you?' [For people too thick/in a hurry to notice you didn't answer. Also, don't stop to hear their answer, so as to make it clear this was a meaningless exchange.]
  • Say, with as much credibility as you can muster 'You look well!' [Works particularly well on school mums who are wearing make-up, so long as they're one of the ones who don't normally wear make-up.]
  • Joke, 'Don't ask!' [but don't make eye contact, otherwise they will.]
  • Pause for thought, then in a completely dead-pan way, say just one word: 'Medium'. [This is something I learned from a very clever, Eeyore-ish editor with whom I once worked, and to be honest only works if you're in quite a cerebral environment and can deliver it with the requisite amount of black humour.]

Alternatively you can just summon up your fruitiest, chestiest cough, which serves the dual purpose of providing an answer to The Question, without actually having to speak. Best of all, you're not even telling a lie.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Breasts and New York

I know this may come as something of a disappointment, but I've actually been fairly well since June. Well, not entirely, of course. Should we run into each other in the street, feel free to ask about my mysterious bruises, 'senile' spots (google them) and the numb patch on the side of my big toe. 

But looking back over the various subjects I've covered on this blog, I realise now that what it's been missing is something about my breasts. Obviously nobody's actually asked about them (don't be shy now - I am on twitter), but given that recent entries about my wooomb have smashed through the embarrassment ceiling, I'd say my boobs are a whole level down in terms of intimate body parts.

Also, I might pick up a few more random-googling readers if I type the word breasts and few more choice synonyms within this post.

Earlier this month I went to New York, by myself, for four days. Suffice to say it was as fun and liberating as it sounds, and I have now started a movement amongst all my married friends with kids about how no actually this really is a good thing for honestly everyone in the whole household when you put it like that.

Whilst there, I went to Saks 5th Avenue to be measured for a bra. Mostly because my friend Maddy did it several years ago, and came home with the most useful motto known to woman, which I genuinely say in my head at least once a day whilst positioning each bosom inside its bra cup: 'Scoop and center' (pronounced senna). Try it, it's so helpful.

Also because having put on and lost a bit of weight a few times recently, breastfed a couple of babies in the gaps and not being 20 any more, I thought it would be a good idea to find out if I'm actually wearing the right size. Another friend got measured at Harvey Nicks recently and was appalled to be told that her boobs are now different sizes, by half a cup. 

History doesn't relate what one does about this - can you get extra bits of moulded padding to go in the smaller one? Is there a make of bra that comes in two halves, and you choose the cup size for each tit? That would be quite fun, if only from a fashion point of view - each half could be a different colour! 

In fact, if I'm ever forced to go on the Apprentice, that is going to be my business plan. I'm sure that woman from last year who did the different shades of nude tights for a range of skintones has already realised there's a whole sub-market for people whose legs are not quite the same colour. And I don't just mean those, like me, who applied one brand of fake tan to one leg earlier this summer, realised it had gone off (it was grey-green and smelt) and so put a different brand on the other leg (true story). 

So with a small amount of trepidation, I went to the very top floor of Saks, which you can't even reach by lift, sorry elevator; you have to take a special escalator from the penultimate floor. I was the first person to enter the lingerie floor that day, thanks to jetlag and a very early start. It was deathly quiet and cold - do they turn the aircon up especially to make all nipples that dare enter easier to locate?

There was an intimidating array of very beautiful, insubstantial undergarments in every colour under the sun - Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Marks & Spencer any more. I made the mistake of going over to the La Perla section first, looked at a flimsy bra, and then at its price tag, which was $367. I felt a bit sick.

Nevertheless, determined to go through with it, I went over to an assistant, cleared my throat, and asked in a small nervous voice if I could be fitted for a bra. She gave me a look of genuine confusion and replied with a trace of annoyance in her voice: "What?!" 

I know I have a British accent, but you'd think that given our surroundings she could've had a pretty good guess, and not reacted like I'd just asked to be fitted for rollerskates or something.

After apologising for disturbing her, we eventually managed to communicate without resorting to sign language, and she took me over to meet Olivia. Olivia was a matronly woman of about 4ft, who may have once played a fed-up Latino housekeeper in an episode of Modern Family. Her appearance was so incongruous she could almost have been an oompa loompa if you'd only ever watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in black and white.

"Why you want measuring?" she shouted at me while we were still on the shop floor. As she led me towards the changing room, I kept my eyes down and muttered something about having had two children recently, and gone a bit saggy. Once in the changing room, she looked me up and down like a cowboy assessing a horse, and told me to take my bra off.

Olivia asked me where my bra - a very nondescript, nude, t-shirt bra - was from. "Gap" I replied. 
"The Gap?!"
"Yes, the Gap!"
Olivia shook her head and actually tutted. Thus began an encounter during which I slowly realised I was only ever going to let Olivia down. 

She brought me some plain bras to try, each of which she did up rather tightly. I indicated that I wasn't keen on the resulting area of overspill that I want to call side boob, but know that that's not what the term is commonly used for, given that it's commonly used when describing Jennifer Lawrence. And although Jennifer and I have a lot in common, it's more in the strong feminist department, rather than our physiques.

Perhaps now is the time to coin a phrase for this specific bit of overhanging flesh. It's not so much the side of the boob, but the bit above, just below your armpit. The muffin top bingo wing of the side boob. I think I'll call it the avalanche.

"Oh. We can no do anything about that," Olivia said sadly (although not without mirth), shaking her head. Then she demanded to know which one I wanted to buy.

I explained that I didn't actually want a flesh-coloured, everyday bra (if I was going to suffer this indignity, and pay a lot of money, I wanted a statement bra to show for it) but a special bra. She frowned. A special, sort of, you know, sexy bra, I went on, taking care not to make eye contact. She still seemed somewhere between bewildered and disgusted. "Lace?" I whispered.

Olivia sighed. I stupidly thought that further description would be a help to her. "Do you have anything in any colours? I like green, or blue!" I offered unhysterically. "No," she replied firmly, and folded her arms. Then she made a noise which I can only describe as a scoff. I made a small, apologetic noise, and like Robert de Niro in a poker game, she threw me a bone: "Maybe we do red."

Off she went, to find something to please this incredibly difficult customer, and I heard her complaining in the corridor to her colleague - "She want SEXY bra!"

At this point the penny dropped. I hadn't realised that I wasn't going to be able to choose my own bra. Stupidly, I thought I'd be allowed out again, perhaps armed with some advice about sizes and styles, to browse. But no, this was effectively a hostage situation.

Olivia returned with a selection of the tackiest bras I've ever seen. What about this one, she asked, while bolting it onto me. It was a nasty shade of pink, almost entirely see-through, with gold metallic bits on the straps. "You need move this...there" she instructed, indicating with gestures but thank God without actually doing it herself, that my nipple was in the wrong place. I rearranged. "Just a LEETLE bit!" she castigated. We eventually got there. 

Next I tried on a horrible red one, which she described as pretty. I wondered whether I ought to explain that I wasn't actually a hooker.

As I ruefully rejected one bra after another, I foresaw the future and realised that whatever happened, I was going to disappoint Olivia. Whatever I bought, or didn't buy, would only earn her disapproval. Plus I began to suspect she was deliberately bringing me bras that made the avalanche bulge worse.

In case you've not been able to picture the scene up til now, the changing room was about the size of a small bathroom, but contained only Olivia, me and a chair. There was no music to fill in the awkward silences between us. Even a bit of Lionel Ritchie would've helped.

When Olivia was struggling to do up the hooks at the back of one bra, I had a moment of weakness and actually bent my knees so as to lower my torso a bit, because she was so short. I am 5' 8" and I was just trying to help. Maybe that's why she became a bra-fitter, I mused - because bazookas are constantly in her eyeline. Anyway, she told me off. It was a dreadful faux pas. I caught sight of myself in the mirror doing this sort of bob and for the first time felt like laughing.

Next time the nipple issue came up, she did a sort of jiggle, like a special Latin dance with her elbows, in order to show me how to get my boobs perfectly tucked inside the cups. I had a stab at it, but as usual got it wrong. So then she actually held the cup and jiggled it herself to get my boob into place. Like trying to get a pillow into a pillowcase.

Hang on a second - the bra looked pretty good! And it was navy blue. Olivia couldn't contain her surprise that it not only fitted, but looked nice. I started thinking that maybe this was going to turn out okay. Also that I could actually get used to having my bra done up for me every day. Like Brienne in Game of Thrones, having her breastplate and the rest of her armour strapped on by Podrick before going into battle.

Olivia knocked my newfound confidence out of me by bringing me the matching blue 'panties' to try on. I could not for the life of me work out which way round they were meant to go. The label was at the side, not at the back. It didn't make much difference actually, because they were a bit small, and I was never going to spend $60 on a pair of pants that I was never going to wear because they didn't fulfil the basic function of pants, ie cover up my bottom in crucial areas.

Finally, I emerged from the dressing room. Olivia was waiting at the till like an American dentist with a shotgun two feet away from a broken lion. She couldn't hide her displeasure that I hadn't brought out one of the nude t-shirt bras she'd brought me, as well as the navy one. She told me several times in front of her colleague that I needed it and that 'they' (presumably my breasts) looked nice in it. When I stood my ground she then blatantly rolled her eyes.

As she scanned it in, she asked "You want pay in jeeby peas?" The next fifteen seconds were so confusing I almosted funked the whole thing and did a runner. Eventually she turned the screen towards me, and I understood she was asking whether I wanted to pay in pounds (GBPs) or dollars.

As I walked away, in my the gap bra, I could feel her shaking her head again in cross dismay. I had clearly put her out in the most terrible way. Interrupted her day, despite there still not being a single other customer in the department.

Then I saw the perfect bra. A greeny turquoise, it was the right style, the right size, and it was $30 cheaper. Plus it was in the sale, so there was another 15% off. And there were matching pants. I looked around - Olivia had disappeared. Did I dare go back into that changing room holding cell for round two?

"Oh, you still here?" shouted a familiar voice across the shop floor, in disbelief tinged with hilarity. I hid the underwear I was holding, and did a lap of the whole lingerie floor to see if there was another changing room. The Stella McCartney sales lady was so nice and friendly - like, I dunno, a shop assistant - but apparently I couldn't use their changing room unless trying on Stella McCartney gear, so I had to go back to Olivia's turf. 

I returned. Somehow I got myself into a changing room and was allowed to try it all on by myself. All I could think was quick, be quick, for the love of God, before Oliva gets back. Then there was a knock on the door "You need help?" she asked menacingly. I reassured her, but clearly not loudly enough. "You still in there?" she threatened next.

Remember that episode of Friends where Chandler is trying to give up smoking, and borrows a hypnotism tape he plays while he's sleeping? 'You are a strong, confident woman' it tells him, so he does not need to smoke. I am a strong, confident woman, I told myself. I will not be intimidated by a shop assistant. I am Brienne of Tarth.

I went out to purchase the turquoise underwear, which I liked much more than the $99 navy bra I was practically forced to buy at gunpoint. "Oh, THEES colour," Olivia said, flaring her nostrils, in an if-only-you'd-said, but I-never-expected-any-more-of-you kind of way.

"But these panties are same size. And they fit, and the other ones didn't?" she asked, eyeing me with suspicion and open disbelief. I mumbled something about the cut.

"Very hard to get thees sale price," she warned, fixing me in the eye - and then waited for some kind of response. Was I supposed to say thank you? Was there a password?

Eventually, she asked if I wanted to pay in BJs. What the actual fuck? She really did think I was a hooker! I may have let out a small splutter. "I mean in jeeby peas" she corrected herself, though this whole currency business was clearly yet another unreasonable demand on her time.

Before I left, she suddenly asked me a whole new type of question. "How old your children?" 
"They're two and four," I replied, thinking that this would be a nice note on which to leave things. "Oh," she replied, nodding sadly, as if that was no excuse for still having a mum tum or avalanching boobs. I smiled defiantly, and left. She didn't tell me to have a nice day.

On my last morning in New York, I returned the navy bra. Thankfully, there was no sign of Olivia.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Antibiotics and feminism

Thank you to everyone who has inquired about the state of my 'pipes', as my husband describes the area, after the cliffhanger in my last post.

I have an update for all of you who have been waiting avidly for news. I've been saving up witty things to tell you about it, plus some thoughtful observations about male gynaecologists and feminism, but something has just interrupted my laptop time and is more pressing.


I'll describe what's happening right now. Picture the scene. I am sitting outside at my gym. Okay, it's a health club, but if you call it that straight off the bat people usually aren't quite sure what you mean (Is it residential? Can you do detox programmes there? Why can't you just say gym like a normal person - oh right, you don't want to sound posh).

So it's a posh gym, with loads of play areas for kids, sports grounds, a cafe and an adults-only bar with decent wifi where I often work when I'm working 'from home'. Because then I don't get lonely, or interrupted by ankle-biters, and anyway I don't like carrying around heavy money when it can be spent on endless coffees and health snacks.

As it's sunny, I'm sitting outside on the terrace, because the wifi stretches that far, a friend has given me the fear about vitamin D deficiency and it's usually deserted mid-morning.

Except today it's not. A very expensive west London prep school is holding its sports day on the football pitch. There are men wandering around in red waistcoats. Oh right, they're the jazz band, Jesus look at the size of that tuba, what is this, the Great Gatsby?

A barbeque has been fired up. The smell of burger is not helpful. HELLO I AM ON A FAST DAY PEOPLE. The 5:2 diet is hard enough when you've been to the gym and had no breakfast but please don't make me cope with a saliva rush to the mouth so early in the day.

Some tennis coaches behind me are discussing a sighting of DB, who is a parent at this school. Apparently he is more 'wrinkled' than they were expecting.

People are coming to sit down. There are many tables, and I am at the far end. The tables are filling up. Wow everyone here is so beautiful. It's like The Affair, with toddlers. 

They are starting to get near my table. I am getting looks. I'm not going to move! I'm a member! I'm here almost every day (in order to get some semblance of value for money)! I practically live here! Recently I have started bringing my own lunch in a tupperware, and my own fork, and brazenly eating it while taking advantage of the complimentary salt and pepper! Okay, the ketchup too, but I feel a bit bad about that.

Right, all the tables are taken. The tide has swept in around me. I'm trying to look engrossed in my screen. I'm going to refer to DB as XX from now on because I have the font so large (my optician says I don't need reading glasses, my eyes are just slow to change focus and I don't blink enough. Like there's anything one can actually do about either) that anyone behind me could easily read it, and I bet they are, the nosey fuckers! But maybe I should stick to DB, because I should not be cowed because this is my land! I am the red indian! They are colonial soldiers. That's quite a good metaphor actually, because I have red hair. But actually there are quite a lot of American accents going on. Perhaps they're Kevin Costner in that film. What was it called? Oh, I can't remember, how annoying. But I must move on.*

Where is DB? I mustn't look up. Play it cool Tallon. He could be really near me. Presumably all the other parents are so used to him and un-starstruck there wouldn't even be a ripple, a murmuring, a vibe at all when he approaches.

It's not fair. I'm surrounded by all these Notting Hill mummies with their long hair and FlyBarre figures eating burgers and CHIPS right under my nose. I hate you. I want you! I'm on a fast day, you Instagram-perfect families. I will not go inside!

A man just asked if he could take the other chair from my table. I let him. Even though he wasn't DB. Even though he was going to use it to sit on to eat chips off. 

Oh Jesus, Pimms? You fuckers. I'M ON A FAST DAY. I could murder a Pimms. This has become a test of my character. I will not fail. Oh God I need a wee. But I'm staying put.

Wow, I've never seen such a big logo of a man playing polo on a pony. It takes up the whole of that man's left pec area on his shirt. Is it ironic? Or is he eurotrash? I mustn't stare. I'm putting my (£12 Marks & Spencer) sunglasses on.

I wonder how much the men in the band get paid. Jon used to play the clarinet. He was in 'wind band', a phrase that to this day still makes me snigger. I'm doing it now. Whenever I need to make myself smile I just say to myself 'Jon was in wind band' and it always works.

Help, what else is open on my screen? I was just ordering a tax certificate from my bank. I mustn't let these people see my bank details! They must not know I only have £63.72 in my bank account til the end of the month! Maybe I should take up an instrument. It could be lucrative. I played the double bass for a whole year at school, just to be different, and also so the school would be forced to buy one so I could borrow it. That's quite a Gatsby-ish instrument actually. I could fit right in. I'm not doing the waistcoat, but I did buy a panama hat from TK Maxx the other day, when I discovered that they didn't have any wooden spoons, highball glasses, spatulas, plastic laundry baskets, washing-up bowls or any of the other things on my list, and felt I needed to buy something so as to alleviate my crossness and foolish optimism in getting a trolley when I entered, then pushing it round, empty, for twenty minutes.

Okay, I'm going to have to go inside now. I need to eat, and pee. Some of the people who aren't DB have finished their food items of more than 500 calories and have wandered over to the playground. So they didn't drive me out. I won.

Would it look weird if I went back into the bar on a somewhat circuitous route, being careful to demonstrate that I am definitely not scanning the remaining crowd for DB? I mean, yes there is a door right behind me, but this is my manor. I'm allowed to walk wherever I like. Hell yes! I might even let out a little bit of wee just to mark my territory. If I pack up my laptop bag and my gym bag it'll look authentic. They're quite heavy though. I can't do a cool walk when carrying both.

I'm going to do it. I'm going to do it for YOU. I'm not even going to take any props. I'm just going to stroll to the end of the terrace. Because I'm allowed...

I'm back. I did it. I didn't see him though. Even though I came back the long way and took my sunglasses off. This is not dignified. It's beneath me. I must concentrate. I have stuff to do! This tax return's not going to do itself, is it?

I've moved inside. Ordered some edamame beans (94 cals). Even though the bitches on the table next to me left half their chips and three-quarters of their Pimms. But I didn't minesweep. I returned to my normal world. Where were we?

Oh yes, my pipes. Long story short, I had the coil removed, felt very sorry for myself, was told my womb lining would heal by itself within three months, the infection didn't get any better, I got some mega antibiotics, I puked a bit, and now I'm fine. But I do feel a little sore, in both senses of the word, about the whole thing.

I don't think I'd seen a gynaecologist before this incident. Not for non-baby-related things. And even then, is an obstetrician the same thing? I know in American medical shows they're always talking about oh bee gee why enn. 

Anyway, it sounds terribly grown-up to talk about 'my gynae', especially as I'm not sure how to spell it, but my gynae was a man. Which is fine. I was very grateful to him for fitting me in without an appointment. He was matey and well-built - just the sort of person you'd want to stop and drag you out with his tractor if you'd got stuck in a ditch.

But I don't think he really GOT it. I don't think he gets how unpleasant it is to have someone rootling around in your uterus. I don't think he can, because he hasn't got one. Dislodging and removing a foreign body with barbeque tongs from such an inner cavity hurts. At least the GP used some anaesthetic gel to numb the area when she inserted it, and that was a lot less traumatic a procedure. He suggested paracetamol when I asked about pain relief. I hate it when people do that.

In fact, when he told me to take my lower clothes off, he let me sit awkwardly on the edge of the bed, legs crossed, for quite some time without offering me any of that blue paper towel or anything. Upper half fully clothed, we carried on the conversation, while I sat and tried to pretend I was totally okay with being naked from the waist down.

It's not really his fault. I think his approach was to make it all seem as normal and friendly as possible so as not to alarm me. But I like a bit of medical formality, especially in this department. I don't want him to describe my insides as 'a bit gungey'. I'd rather undress behind a curtain. 

He wasn't creepy in any way, and I know there's nothing untoward in a male medical student deciding to go into gynaecology. I suppose I just would have appreciated some sisterly sympathy. Afterwards I checked the names of of his colleagues in that department, and what do you know, there was only one woman, amongst about eight men. More gender-biased than other departments in that hospital actually. Odd, isn't it? I wonder why.

Feminism is all about equality, and, where there are differences, acknowledging and embracing those differences. Yes I think men and women should be paid the same for doing the same job, and should have access to the same opportunities. Men can be feminists. They often are. I feel for Matt Haig, an author who has recently been attacked for talking about mental health and men, and accused of 'mansplaining'. 

I used to be the sort of person who would say, when pushed, that they believed in equality of opportunity and all the things that basically amount to feminism, but that I shied away from describing myself as a feminist because it was a word that came loaded with so many connotations. Then I read Caitlin's Moran book, and have been proud to call myself a feminist ever since.

Here's another thing I keep going over in my mind - when I, half-jokingly, said to the gynae that I was going to start a campaign for the male pill, he said something that I've heard expressed elsewhere too. 'But can you trust them to remember to take it?' Which I think is an insult to men. 

My husband would be happy to take it, if it were easily available. After all, I took pills and put hormones in my body to stop us getting pregnant before, in between and after having babies. I carried those babies. My body will never be the same again. Let's not even talk about the births. Why should contraception be my responsibility forever more? I've ended up having to take the same antibiotics they give to people infected with anthrax in order to clear up an infection in my womb that spread to my bladder, possibly my kidney and set off my back pain because the whole of my lower torso was so inflammed inside.

I bet David Beckham is a feminist. I wonder if he'd take the male pill. If only I'd had the chance to ask him.

*Dances With Wolves

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

When coils go AWOL

Graphic detail warning: male members of my family might want to give this one a swerve

Very few words are taboo now, when it comes to medical problems. When I worked in mental health, people would often refer to the stigma surrounding cancer just a few decades ago, because it sounds so ridiculous to my generation that anyone would be ashamed of saying the word 'cancer' or admitting they had it. Hopefully, the same will be true of mental health problems for the next generation - it would be wonderful if my boys grow up in a world where schizophrenia, depression and the like are discussed in the same open way as physical health problems.

I remember being quite taken aback, not long after I had Logie, just over four years ago, when I took someone from my NCT group out for tea, along with her baby and her mother. This woman was having a challenging time, as her baby had appalling reflux and apparently cried non-stop. Her mother and I were queuing for the tea, out of earshot of her exhausted daughter, surrounded only by strangers, and I was making sympathetic noises about how rough it must be for all involved. The mother leaned towards me, did a furtive look round, and said it had even been suggested that her daughter might have...then mouthed the word 'depression' in such an exaggerated but silent way I would've found it funny, were it not for the fact that it really, really wasn't. 

Did you ever watch Miranda on BBC1? Well this mother wasn't unlike Miranda's mother, Penny, played by Patricia Hodge. She would definitely have joined Penny's campaign to ban people wearing tracksuits from Waitrose. But I didn't think that people really mouthed words like that in real life, unless for comedic effect.

However, I've had to use the word 'coil' quite a lot recently, and it turns out I can't say it normally. I put on a funny accent, which I do in an exaggerated whisper, just for that one word. It makes me feel like such a dick. I go into the beginning of the sentence bravely, determined to say it in an ordinary voice, but then chicken out. Even with my female friends - not that I've described the situation to any of my male friends, come to think of it - there's something about me, or something about the word coil, that means I can't say it without dropping my voice. I think I might even raise my eyebrows when I say it too. 

Anyway, my coil went AWOL recently. It had only recently been introduced to my...ahem, life...a couple of months beforehand. The whole idea of a coil always seemed terribly middle-aged and unfashionable to me. But then again, those are two characteristics I take great pride in these days, and are evidenced by the following:

1) My being unable to look at clothes in a smart shop without checking the washing instructions on anything I like the look of. Dry clean or handwash only and it's out. Yup, I am that woman in Cos, methodically checking all the labels, but never purchasing anything because she's forgotten yet again that you can't carry off 'boxy' styles if you're fat.

2) I am on the 5:2 diet.

3) My eyebrows are balding.

4) I  asked for - and received - a cardigan debobbler for Christmas when I was under the age of 35. From my husband. I've never actually used it, but still.

So my coil was a bit uncomfortable after it was fitted, but I understood that this was to be expected. About a month later I got what felt like cystitis. The only male GP at our practice did a urine test (on me, not himself), confirmed the presence of some sort of infection, and gave me some antibiotics. They made it a bit better, but not really.

I went back to the doctor, saw the headmistress GP, who said that my urine now looked okay-ish, but that could be just because the antibiotics had temporarily taken the edge off it. I asked whether this could have anything to do with my coil, since the low pain in my abdomen was getting fairly significant. On top of this I just felt rubbish, but it turns out that's not a medical term. She asked me some questions about bleeding, discharge and pain, all of which I answered in the affirmative, but didn't ask if I could feel the threads. 

The threads are, well, thread-like threads attached to the coil, which is a T-shaped device about 5cm long. Mine was made of copper. You're supposed to be able to feel them yourself, without tumbling too far down the rabbit hole. But I had never been able to find them. 

As my 6-week post-insertion check was due the following week, she suggested doing an internal swab then and in the meantime holding off on further treatment to see if my symptoms settled down. Which went down like a lead balloon with me, but when your headmistress tells you to grin and bear a certain amount of pain, fatigue and burning sensation in your nether regions it's not something you feel able to have a debate about.

The following week I went back for the check. But my period had started (just a quick shout out now to any male members of the family who have hung in there throughout coil, discharge and period - high fives all around) so this third GP - who had put the thing in in the first place - said she couldn't do the check or any kind of test. I begged for something, as a gallon of cranberry juice a day wasn't touching it, and doing nothing for another week whilst peeing acid and being gently punched on my c-section scar just wasn't an option. She gave me a different course of antibiotics.

The week after that I went back. Some symptoms had eased, some had got worse. She did the check. She couldn't find the threads. She said I might have 'expelled' it. I was pretty sure I'd have noticed that. I asked where else it might have gone, and whether it was causing this infection thing, and she said she didn't know. She asked me if that was okay, whilst making it clear she wasn't going to speculate or be able to answer any more questions. She filled in a form for me to have an urgent transvaginal ultrasound. She wrote URGENT in capital letters.

I phoned the hospital to book the appointment, but they said they wouldn't process the fax for several hours so I should ring back tomorrow. FAX?! See my previous blogs about the use of faxes in this day and age.

I rang back the next morning. Amazingly, they had a slot that lunchtime. Then they rang back, computer error, they didn't. It would be a few days. There was a bank holiday coming up. I fumed, did some work, then booked a private appointment using Bupa for 8:30am the next day. They just needed me to fax the referral form. I gratefully agreed, forgetting my feelings about faxes, let alone the fact that we don't have a fax machine. Cue a phonecall to Jon, where he then calls out to the rest of his office "Does anyone know if we have a fax machine? Really, is that one over there? Does anyone know how to work the fax machine?" After some stressful scanning, I e-mailed everything over to him, in order for him to fax it over. We're still not 100% sure it went through properly, and I suppose there's a chance he scanned it in and e-mailed it to his CEO by mistake. If it comes to it, I'm thinking we could pass the Transvaginal Express off as some sort of train.

I went out that night for a long-planned drink with some school mums, and discussed it with them in my funny voice. They all winced visibly - in fact let's pretend that's the reason we got through quite so many bottles - and had a fascinating group discussion about where it might have gone. One of my favourites drew a diagram in the air with her fingers. The only thing that emerged for sure was that it had been a good twenty years since any of us had had a biology lesson. The truth is I was quite enjoying the drama, because I didn't think anything very serious had gone wrong.

Next morning, not hungover at all, I went for the scan. It involved what I can only describe as a very thick, ergonomic broom handle. A bit like metal detecting, it must have given off a beep, because the sonographer immediately said "It's definitely still in there". I looked at the ceiling and pretended to be concentrating on something else pressing, like what I might have left off my Ocado order. 

And here comes the final awkward word of this instalment, then my poor brother can breathe out. Not only do I say this stupidly - think of the noise an owl makes, twit twoo - but I'm unable to do it without pursing my lips into a sort of trumpet. The coil had perforated the lining of my twit twomb.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Sinusitis, tonsillitis, conjunctivitis...

...vomiting bug, a sprained ankle and two split lips.

Have you ever wished you were ill?

I have.

Before any psychologists reading this jump for joy, I'm not referring to depression - I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy, let alone myself - I just mean a nice bug. One of those ones people say 'absolutely knocked them out', and exclaim with horror that they 'actually had to go to bed for three days'.

Actually is one of those words that is over-used these days. I blame the Americans. Logie, newly turned four, says 'actually' a lot, though it's (actually) quite sweet when used as the adverb in 'I love you', 'I haven't watched Power Rangers for ages' (a lie) or 'Felix hit me like this'. He also says cookies instead of biscuits, and good when someone asks 'How are you?', which really pains me.

Now I have a low pain threshold, but the idea of a three-day lie-down for a glorified cold is appealing to me. I'm no fan of nausea, but it seems a neat way to lose weight quickly too - if you've got no appetite, not eating won't be hard.

However, I recently had a very sore throat, a blocked ear, headache and a weird lightheadness when I stood up. The doc said it was tonsillitis and sinusitis, as the pressure in my sinus by my eardrum was affecting my balance. She gave me antibiotics! Veritable proof of the diagnosis! I had the perfect excuse to retreat to my sickbed.

Except I didn't enjoy it. I didn't watch lots of lovely crap telly. Or read my book. I didn't lose any weight. I ate rarely because I couldn't be fagged to go down to the kitchen, but when I did I posted into my mouth anything that could be knocked up in less than 30 seconds or eaten straight from the fridge. I even persuaded Jon to order pizza to eat in bed.

I felt rubbish (what a surprise) so I just sort of mulched, getting my sheets all rucked up and losing my duvet inside the duvet cover, but being unable to fix it due to my immense frailty. I drifted in and out of sleep, fretting that no one would believe I was really ill. Because that's the thing when you've had long periods of mental ill health - you feel pretty guilty about being physically ill. You think you've used up all your credit, and no one is going to believe you anyway because you're such a wimp.

So instead of simply logging off from work, I replied to every e-mail informing that person (regardless of whether I'd ever met them) that I had the two -itises, and couldn't do any work. I laid it on thick the one time I collected Logie from school, til one of my fellow mums offered to take him to his swimming lesson for me. Having secretly longed for one of these bugs, I didn't feel like I deserved it. 

I began to doubt my own symptoms, particularly when Jon would ask 'How are you feeling?' approximately three seconds after I'd woken up, when the only truthful answer was 'I don't know yet'. Even though my head was as clear as someone's peripherary vision in a parka, I worried that if I kept absolutely perfectly still then perhaps I was just imagining my headache. Isn't it normal for it to hurt just a bit when you swallow?

Anyway, by the time I started to recover, and retook the reins of our household, things had stacked up alarmingly. I had a 1600-word piece to file in a couple of days. We were literally down to our very last babywipe - something I still find extraordinary as we order them by the boxload and always have a pack on the go in at least three different room. How can nobody have not noticed that this crisis was looming?

Since I have bravely clawed my way back to the land of the living, our household has continued to provide a wealth of material in terms of ailments, but I'll only whizz through them because this is all about me and the double affliction that I did/didn't want/have. Felix has had a vomiting bug, which has been a substantial test for our washing machine, and made our sitting room a no-go area what with the collateral damage suffered by both sofas as well as the carpet. 

Jon has had bacterial conjunctivitis, which made his eyes terribly red, and initially gave him a slight squint (which he ironically said he couldn't see). I just keep thinking how awful it would be if you got that just before your wedding, which reminds me of the friend of a friend whose fiancé had his head shaved completely bald on his stag weekend. His best man, the instigator, was apparently banned from the wedding.

Both boys have cut their lips - Logie on a trampoline, Felix on a basin - which have bled rather alarmingly. It's especially alarming if you're not in the room when it happens (I am not a bad mother) and think their crying is just due to a normal snatching or thumping incident, then you return and find their face covered in blood (I am not a bad mother).

Their injuries have long healed though compared to my ankle, which I sprained over a month ago at a work event. I'd like to stress that I really wasn't drunk, in fact I was holding my first drink of the evening, which is perhaps why I fell so awkwardly - because I was determined not to spill it. But the swelling just won't go down. In case you're interested, apparently I sprained it in two places, one of them being quite rare and known as a high ankle sprain (I thoughtfully included a hyperlink about this when e-mailing a few people afterwards, because I don't think things sound serious enough if they're not an -itis).

But despite all that I'm almost back up to speed, although I still have about forty thank-you letters to write from the boys' birthdays. Perhaps if I included a copy of this blog, they'd forgive the delay. Though would it get me more or less sympathy the next time I'm ill?

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The psychology of tiredness

Why don't we go to sleep earlier?

You know, like you vow to every morning when you get up, when your body is screaming out, begging you to stay horizontal? Insisting that you're at the end of your tether, there is absolutely no chance you will get through today unless you have another couple of hours' kip.

Lights out by 10pm tonight, my husband and I often agree, before dawn. Sometimes even 9:30pm, we promise eachother, like deluded fools.

We all have our own ways of getting through the day. Coffee, music, hard drugs, exercise - whatever works for you. Lots of people have a dip at some point, when they renew their vow about having an early night. Often it's in the afternoon, seated in front of a computer, when they realise they've only actually done a total of half an hour's work since lunchtime, and decide to cover this up in plain sight by proclaiming dramatically - "I need sugar!".

But then, somehow, evening comes around, you're in bed, and this odd second wind blows in. Why not read another chapter? Catch up with twitter? Watch another episode, because Netflix is going to play it in 15 seconds anyway, and you can't find the remote control? Answer that work e-mail, because then you can go to sleep feeling smug because you've had the last word?

"Actually, I don't feel that tired," you tell your other half, with a note of wonder in your voice. (They then misinterpret you, get their hopes up, and let's not go there.)

And so the cycle carries on. It is one of the things I find most annoying about myself.

Since you ask, the list of things I find annoying can be separated into three subsets:

Things that are my own fault

  • The scales in the bathroom giving me the wrong answer when I stand on them.
  • Getting really wound up about some work thing that doesn't merit the effort, or fixating on an insurmountable problem that dissolves when you put it in perspective that evening at rioja o'clocka.
  • The 40 children coming to Logie and Felix's birthday party this Saturday. Forty. FOUR-TEEEEE.

Things that involve a lack of respect from others

  • When Logie has a runny nose, or a milk moustache, he heads towards me. Not to get a tissue, but to literally wipe himself on me. Whatever I am wearing. To him, I am a piece of kitchen roll in human form. 
  • Cab drivers asking "Wet enough for you?" when it's raining.
  • Passive-aggressive women saying "Do you like my trousers? You should get some, they go up to absolutely huge sizes, and they're really good quality."

Things I just find baffling

  • Modern loos with two buttons for flushing. Which is which? I'm really asking. I don't know. I can see the logic for both. And when one is a small jigsaw piece of a bigger button - do you press both at the same time in some circs or what? I am genuinely at a loss on so many occasions, and I fear the same could be said for much of the nation. But we're all too embarrassed to ask. Presumably our children are being taught the rules in school these days, so at least they will grow up knowing what to do. But otherwise how were we supposed to know? Was there a memo? A public health campaign, with posters at the GP? Maybe it's perfectly obvious to the rest of you, but I like to get these things right.
  • People who wear their staff passes around their necks on the commute to and from work.
  • Signs above letterboxes that say 'No junk mail please'. You know they don't actually work, right? The people posting pizza leaflets and minicab cards through your door don't count their special offer as junk. They might not even be able to read.

But I suspect the sleep thing is a bad habit that many of us share. I sort of agree with people who won't tolerate any "I'm just so tired" whinging, on a just go to sleep earlier/don't go out every night then/your job's actually not that hard basis. But I venture there is something deeper going on.

Because even people who really are that tired, the mothers of small babies, who are genuinely sleep-deprived and so exhausted they could puke...they sometimes do it too. They treat themselves to a bath after supper and kid themselves that it might actually sleep through the night tonight. They don't 'just' sleep in the day whenever the baby sleeps. 

Even they fall victim to the heady sensation of doing something nice. Of being conscious, briefly free of things you have to do, and free to do things you want to do. It's exhilarating. It's distracting. It's stupid, but you always were a bit of a rebel. It gives you power. And who feels like that when they're asleep?