Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Happy Holidays

Saturday 9th October

Wonderful break at a spa, 500 metres above Lake Garda, but perhaps it was too soon after chemo for such adventures.

It was a two hour drive from the airport to the resort, 500 metres above Lake Garda. I arrived hot and as soon as I saw the long, blue infinity pool I dived right in. Glorious! There is nothing to beat breaking the surface of a swimming pool, especially after months of being virtually house-bound. A few hours later my left ear went rather numb. I ignored it but three days later I had a really bad infection and the pain was getting worse.

My own stupid fault – I had wax ear plugs with me. I will never swim without them again. On the plane home I nearly wept with the pain as the cabin pressure made it feel as if someone was applying an electric drill to the side of my head. Start crying silently with the pain, hiding behind my airline mag in case anyone notices. The side of my face was swelling and I remembered doctors at Garry saying that if you ever get an infection or a fever you have to go to hospital immediately.

At Victoria I thought of going to their private medical walk in centre. Years ago, when I was well off, I walked in there for an ear infection. They were pleasant and treated it effectively and charged me £65. I’m not so well off now and there is the complication of the chemo, so I took a taxi with all my luggage, suitcase, bottles of wine and olive oil, to Charing Cross A & E.

The plane landed at 5pm. I got to the hospital at about 7. 45pm and didn't see a doctor till after midnight. It was a kind of torture, apart from the real pain in the ear, sitting there under bright lights as the floor gradually filled up with old copies of the Sun and the Standard, food wrappings, plastic cups, water, vomit and urine. A young lad next to me vomited into a kind of grey cardboard top hat.

I was freezing when I finally got to see a doctor, shaking and hungry but so relieved that the long wait was over. They did a few tests, including a chest X-ray and I got home at 3am.

Charing Cross issued me with a prescription for antibiotics but the doctor apologised, saying: “We haven’t got any here. We’ve run out, as usual.”

The idea of having to return next day loomed up like a dire punishment for having wasted their time and further stressed them out.

It was a ludicrously painful night, the throbbing pain turned to grinding and I couldn’t move my head or get comfortable. Neither could I listen to the radio unless I lay flat on my back as otherwise I had to lie on my good ear and the other one was stone deaf.

Maisie, who decided that she didn’t want to eat any of her remaining cat food, sat by me, bolt upright but staring down at me, meaningfully. I should have given her a big fish treat as soon as I got home but I had hoped she could wait until morning.

The next morning, Sunday, a quick glance in the mirror, something I avoid these days, showed a distorted face and an ear sticking out like ET.

I got up at 7 am to get the emergency fish sorted and be ready to schlep over to Hammersmith Hospital to collect my drugs. A friend gave me a lift and I pictured another queue winding down the street. At 10am when I arrived there were only two of us queuing, including two pharmacists waiting to be let in to the locked department. They took our prescriptions in with them. As I sat waiting a lot more people began to gather.

When I got home, longing for my bed, I realised that this was the day I was supposed to be starting my duty on the coffee rota at church. I had let them down without realising it. Went to bed feeling dismal, reflecting that the spa and its good effects were like a vanishing dream.

While I was away I received two phone calls from a Jill Wickens asking me to call her about the complaint I’d made about the community nurses and the inappropriately named “Harmony.” She sounded anxious and really keen for me to call.

On Monday, after unpacking, apologising to the cat yet again and giving her more fresh fish, taking pills, trying to sleep and sorting out washing and work schedule, I screwed up courage and called her. I do not recommend calling anyone connected with the NHS – if you value your sanity - and lo, at the number she’d given they had never heard of her.

I was immediately back on planet NHS, a dead star most furthest removed in the universe from the planets known as Happy Holidays and Relaxing Spa Treatments. The bored voice on the line put me through somewhere, and another bored voice put me on to an extension where I heard a female voice, but not that of Ms Wickens.

I started again and redialled. A young lad on the line seemed to find the situation amusing, he was certainly not bothered, but he gave me a number for a centre in Acton. They knew Jill Wickens. What a relief! She had gone on holiday for two weeks and handed over the case to someone else who “will be dealing with it.”

Planet NHS again – 13/10/10

I am taking Clarithromycin for the ear. They are making me feel rather ill, headaches and nasty taste in mouth, rather like the old chemo taste. Daft fears spring about in my head – maybe this drug is undoing the chemo, perhaps my lymph glands are too busy coping with this infection to deal with the free-ranging radicals?? Is all this spinach I’m eating enough to cope with all this infection?

I rang NHS Direct at 9pm just to ask about any possible side effects of the anti-biotics, perhaps I should change to something else? They took down my details at length then said that a nurse would ring me up, "In about eight hours time."

I said thanks but no thanks. Couldn’t quite believe that a nurse would be on the line at 5am anyway. I think there would have been a deafening silence.


Just remembered that someone was supposed to be dealing with my Harmony case. Not a word since that phone call to Jill Wickens.

This morning on the radio hear that Violetta Aylward, a nurse employed by an agency called “Ambition 24 hours,” an even sillier name than “Harmony,” switched off a disabled patient’s life support machine, leaving him with severe brain damage. A video passed to the BBC shows her struggling to revive the patient, applying the resuscitation bag in the wrong place. Aylward is a foreign nurse and the agency didn’t check her qualifications. The only real surprise is that there aren’t many more similar cases, but most people probably die quietly of neglect.


  1. I hope the nurse called you - is a useful website - you may already know it. Of clarithromycin it says:
    Can clarithromycin cause problems?
    Along with their useful effects all medicines can cause unwanted side effects, which usually improve as your body adjusts to the new medicine. Speak with your doctor or pharmacist if any of the following side effects continue or become troublesome.
    Common side-effects -
    Nausea (feeling sick), vomiting (being sick), abdominal pain Try taking the medicine immediately after food. Drink plenty of liquid. Stick to simple foods such as dry toast. If vomiting continues to be a problem speak to your doctor.
    Diarrhoea Drink plenty of water to replace lost fluids. If diarrhoea continues to be a problem speak to your pharmacist or doctor.
    Indigestion or heartburn Ask your pharmacist to recommend a suitable remedy. If this continues speak with your doctor.
    Tooth or tongue discolouration and changes in taste This will usually disappear after you finish your treatment. It is harmless.
    Sore throat with inflamed gums, lips or tongue Speak with your doctor if this becomes a problem.
    Headache Ask your pharmacist to recommend a suitable pain-killer. If headache continues speak with your doctor.
    Changes in sense of smell

    Clarithromycin can also cause other side effects but they are much less common, if you experience any other problems that you think may be caused by your medicine, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.

    best wishes

  2. I had a few of those symptoms!

    No, Lee. She did not ring. I told them to forget it. My health would not have been improved by getting a phone call at 5am.