YHA February: Hartington Hall Part Three – Doris Strikes

I was greeted at 8.30 by my comrades knocking on the door to call me to breakfast, and sprang out of bed feeling completely refreshed and looking forward to the day ahead. The itinerary was simple; Breakfast, leather up, ride to Matlock, meet the others, ride back to the Manifold Inn, natter, eat, natter more, ride back to Hartington to drink more.

Breakfast was lovely – Tinned grapefruit and peaches, toast, more fruit, gentle chatter and looking forward to the day ahead. A few more of the forum had checked in on Skype as being on their way, but a few more had cancelled for the weather.

We unlocked the bikes – My borrowed VanVan, a 1400 Intruder and a Kawasaki ZZR, and set out towards Matlock. By the time we’d got more than a few miles, I knew I wouldn’t make it out there, the wind was just far too strong, knocking me all over the road. I pulled over, explained the problem, and returned to the hostel as they headed on to Matlock, twenty-odd miles away to meet the rest, planning to meet them later at the Manifold.

I got back to Hartington, stopping once on the way to offer my phone to a stranded motorist (“A Geordie biker? Of course you stopped. Geordies are helpful, bikers are helpful, you must practically have had to take an oath…”) and settled in for a couple of hours of lacemaking in the lounge before going back out. The weather seemed to ease, so when one o clock rolled around I got back into my full kit and set off.

Here the problems began.

Firstly, I went the wrong way which was the start of my problems. I got a long way up the a515 before I realised, so pulled into the gate of a camping and caravan site in Pomeroy. Wherein my battery died. Remember that dead battery? I knew it would come back to haunt me. The wind was picking up a little, so I ventured across the cattle grid where I was met by a border collie, who insistently herded me down to the farmhouse, where a woman was both unsurprised to see me and knew right away what to do. “My husband is around. He’s a biker. He’ll help.” Minutes later he came out with a baler and a 10mm spanner, we took the saddle off, jumped the battery off the baler’s enormous industrial battery, and got it running.

“I’ve always liked these.” he said thoughtfully – he rode a BMW touring machine – “What’re they like?”

The only sensible response was to step down and offer to let him spin it around the yard. He did so, and upon his return I think I saw his smile before I saw the headlamp. The VanVan really is a bike that loves mud, and puddles, and fields, and just generally it makes people smile. He was very happy, and very helpful – Blocked the traffic with the baler to let me out onto the main road, where I set off back towards Hartington.

Here, the problems got worse. The a515 is a high, exposed road, with the winds of what became Storm Doris howling across it west-to-east. I was on a bike which, with me on it, still weighed less than 150kg, and was running flat-out, carefully picking a tacked line to stay upright and leaning hard in a hell of a wind, on a downhill. Clearly, nobody sane would get within spitting distance of this vehicle, understanding that I was currently a very vulnerable road user through no fault of my own, and I had no way to stop to fix this problem.

Unfortunately, Silver Fiesta Driver did not think this. Silver Fiesta Cunt was so important that, even though I was already at the speed limit for this road, he would wait until I was sufficiently tucked-in to the side of the road, then race to overtake me. He overtook me so close, in fact, that he just slammed hard into my rear right indicator.

I consider it a testament of my skill and machine sympathy that I managed to arrange a soft landing for both myself and the bike in the ditch at the side of the road, but this is how me, and the VanVan ended up upside-down in six inches of water in a ditch. I extracted myself from under it, and that’s where things get blurry.

I remember taking my gloves off and flinging them at the bike and screaming.

I remember a woman in a blue estate stopping on the far side of the road for a second, asking “Are you all right?” and when I shakily answered an honest, concussed “I don’t know. I got hit.” replied with “Oh you’re fine, you look fine” and driving off at high speed.

I remember a car stopping, an arm around my shoulders to hold me up, and someone saying very slowly “Have you been hit?” and then “Sit in my car whilst I run this up to the pub for you.”

I remember sitting in a car and wanting to get out to apologise to the man who was now pushing my bike up the road to the pub, since the dead battery meant that it wouldn’t restart.

I remember him returning, driving me up to the pub, and saying that he’d put money behind the bar so that I could get a coffee, and that he’d be back after picking his son up to check that I was all right.

I remember the landlady getting me the phone so that I could phone the Manifold to see where the bikers were, and the landlord of the Manifold saying that the bikers had just left to find one of their wives who was in some trouble up on the a-road.

I remember staring at my coffee and not being sure how much sugar to put in it, and thinking that this was a very nice medieval pub.

I remember Intruder-rider checking me over for obvious head injuries, whilst one of his friends checked my helmet for cracks.

And then time seemed to return to its normal flow, and the five of us were sat at a table eating a whole Sunday dinner by a crackling fire, surrounded by suits of armour and ageing taxidermy. And, you know, it was a really nice afternoon.

Getting the bike back to Hartington was a nightmare. The same winds that had basically unhorsed and unmanned me earlier were still howling. I did not want to get on the bike. The bike refused to start, repeatedly, until three of the others gave it a good old hoick around the car park to bump it. And then I was back on. Triumph America rode in front, then Intruder, then ZZR, Bonneville having had to get home to get his kids to bed.

We had to stop a good few times, with pep talks and wailing at every step, but eventually I just went visor-down, timed it between the gusts, and ripped out ahead of the pack to get back as fast as I could. Having the trail of four friendly vehicles behind me made it a thousand times easier.

Back at Hartington I dropped the bike in its spot, got inside, and immediately got a gin gimlet, the first of many. Using the dead battery as a figleaf, I phoned for breakdown recovery, and arranged it for 10am the next day. The rest of the night, the three of us sat and chatted, unbothered by incomers, I still working on and off on my lace, the others uploading photos of the day, all of us having a couple of quiet, calming pints. We said our goodbyes that evening, knowing that in the morning we all had different schedules to keep.

The next morning, they were both gone long before I woke up, but my bike had been un-bent and was spotless. The courier arrived at 10 exactly – A fellow biker, who’d toured the Sahara, Canada, the States and most of Europe and Asia, ridden the length and breadth of the UK on a push bike, and who was cheerfully un-patronising as we sat in the van listening to Black Sabbath and getting the bike home safely.

The VanVan was returned to its rightful place next to its brother, I flopped into the house completely exhausted, but overall despite all the bad luck, it was still a really good weekend full of scenery and bikes and good people. Two successes so far!

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Hundredaire

Right, a recap of a really shitty month. Dear reader, I petition you to remember whilst reading this whole post that at the best of times I feel like an unnatural mistake and a crime against nature.

 

First – The good; A long ride out to Selby in the cold, haring along the A63 on my beloved little 125, to meet the EN500; My prospective new bike. It’s good – A handsome old machine, with a high-revving parallel twin engine, a belt drive, and a very comfortable riding position. This one comes with a touring screen, a USB hookup, panniers, a tool roll (full of tools) and a sparkly custom paint job (In Kawasaki purplish-black pearl). Of course, I bought it on the spot. Riding back in the pitch black on twisty, unlit roads, watching the frost forming a halo around the moon was a tonic for the soul.

 

6th of December was my bike test – Failed, with technically zero faults, which I consider to be a sign that I was doing rather well. Only clocked 48kmph on the hazard avoidance – I needed to do it at 49kmph. Considering that this was in deep fog, with the ground green and slippy with moss and ice, I think that I did the sensible thing in taking the course more slowly than I would on a bright summer’s day, really. Next attempt, 17th of January.

 

After that, me, my instructor M, and his wife AM, all went out to Selby in the van to pick up the EN500. It’s now safely ensconced in the bike office, basically until I pass my test.

 

About three days after this, and two days before I was due to go home for Christmas, I got a migraine. Not just an ordinary, two-days-and-it’s-done migraine, but a full-on seven day nightmare. For the first four days, I couldn’t tolerate any light; Literally, even with my hands over my eyes, and the curtains shut, at night I was still screaming that it was too bright. By day three, I was still vomiting after so much as a sip of cordial, and it was only day six before I could stand up without getting so dizzy that I fell straight over again. This, by the way, is with Zomig, morphine, and a couple of over-the-counter anti-nausea pills. Without Zomig, I assume I’d have just killed myself.

 

And then yesterday was physio. The first driver picked me up at 10am, which was where the issues started. Before reaching the ringroad she had;

 

  • Nearly crashed twice at roundabouts, as she seemed to think that priority was to the LEFT, and had seriously jarred my back both times.
  • Decided to opine at length about how I should stop taking my meds and start taking turmeric instead
  • Told me about her haemorroids, describing them as “Pain so bad [I] could never understand it”
  • Explained at length about how everyone with a mental illness was just workshy and grifting.
  • Told me about three tragic cases of beautiful young people she’d taken to hospital who had awful conditions that she had to pray for.
  • Touched my leg four times.
  • Insisted on manhandling me and my bags, really hurting my knee in the process.

Upon reaching the motorway, she drove for most of the way on the hard shoulder, or in the crawler lane, and my attempts at sleeping for most of the journey were wrecked by her veering around in the lane – Not changing lanes suddenly, just being unable to follow the lane or maintain a steady speed.

 

We got to the hospital anyway, and she insisted on checking me in, giving a load of spurious requirements to the receptionist (No, I do not need my bags carrying, or a wheelchair, and if I did, I would ask for myself, ta), and then hugging me (I froze) as she left.

 

Physio itself went well – three new exercises, and just still not being patronised or blamed, which is an incredible victory in itself. Today was with Physio HH again, who is basically my main physio now, and was working on my hips and lower back.

 

The exercises (Since I’m keeping track here)

 

  1. Lie on back, knees bent about a foot apart, feet also about a foot apart. Close eyes. Keeping one leg upright, slowly lower the other leg out sideways, then pick it back up.
  2. Lie on side, ankles together,knees bent at about 90 degrees (as if in a chair) – Slowly pick up top knee, to about six inches off the bottom knee, then lower it back down.
  3. Sit on a balance ball, bouncing slightly (for core strength)
  4. Sit on a balance ball arching and curving back, whilst staying upright – This is also how we found that my left leg is shorter than my right, and I’ve got a functional scoliosis.

On the way out, I ran into Physio T, who seemed both really happy to see me, and also really worried that she’d been meant to see me that day, and had missed me. She was surprised that I’d not been in inpatient rehab in the month in the middle, since our last appointment, but also seems to think that I’ll do well once I’m in it.

 

That’s the other thing – Inpatient rehab; Aka, the fabled Stanmore Programme. There’s two versions of it, the hotel version and the hospital version, and for obvious reasons I’d rather do the hotel version. It’d just be conducted by physios, H was very certain to advise me that there’d be no nurses on-hand, thus no care shift – But then, in the real world, I don’t exactly have nurses on-hand all the time either.

 

The journey home was fine, even if I did have a two hour wait for patient transport, and only got back at 10pm. Nine hours of travelling, two hours of waiting, and an hour of physio. Seems like a great use of time.

 

The trouble is, well, my mental health. It’s not exactly great right now, it’s stable, but it’s stable at a low ebb – Nothing seems worth doing, up to and including things like “getting dressed” or “washing”, and stuff like putting on clothes more complicated than just bike leathers or surplus is so terrifying that I go into paroxysms of anxiety for days. Likewise, any kind of socialising – I’ve seen Best Friend a slack handful of times since we were on holiday, and I’m not really spending time with Dearest either. For my own good, I’m not doing Christmas now, but I almost wish that I could have some kind of in-person social interactions with people without finding it hateful and pointless. Not because I feel like I want to, but because I know that’s what “real people” do, and I really do suffer when I’m feeling more aware of persistently feeling like I’m not real, or not equivalent to a “proper person”. Failing repeated tests on a technicality, failing my degree, ending up in non-standard NHS treatment because my local trust don’t think I’m worth treating, being very socially isolated by a combination of awkwardness, reluctance and circumstance (today I rang up a client, for free, and chatted for an hour because I had nothing better to do), and having a job that relies on being able to be a very good liar/actor/cold-reader, atop a childhood of feeling like a mistake, an exception-to-a-rule, an outsider and an ersatz substitute for being with “real people” makes for a distinct sense of being not-a-real-person. It’s probably no coincidence that I’m happiest and feel most like myself when I’m entirely alone and hard to physically pick out from the next person; ie, either on my bike and in my leathers, or swimming and underwater.

 

It’s not exactly rocket science that I’m plagued with suicidal ideation at the minute either. I’m watching TV and generally numbing myself out with morphine and lacework, but it’s there in my head and I’m having a bit of a shitty time making it stay shut up. Ah well, not long to longest night, and then with any hope, I’ll be on the way up into Spring.

 

 

The joy of duplicates

Somehow, last week managed to be a great week. An MOT pass for my bike, a theory test pass for me, a stunning red kite sighting at the swim (through that amazing glass roof, that floods the pool with daylight) and a bit of light work done in the garden – meaning that there are now pots of seedlings on every window sill.

And yet, this week, reality has reasserted itself. Having probably my worst episode of suicidal ideation since 2014, when I was sectioned. The physical pain isn’t helping.

I’m trying to spend a bit of everyday in the front garden with my next door neighbour, since that forces me to be out in the sunshine and be supervised. And, if nothing else, the dog likes it.

I also have my second last University deadline in week. The work is inane and I’m struggling to fill the word count but it’s distracting me from the bad thing.

In terms of my earlier scale, this is somewhere between a type III and a type IV on a background of very distressing and insistent type II.

I may have to codify a type IIb, which is “I am keenly, physically, aware of my pulse and where all of my arteries are, for some reason especially the ones in the top of my feet, my femoral, and my radials.” Since I’m getting that too.

I’m safe, just miserable and not sleeping properly. Haven’t got to sleep until gone five for the past few days, and still getting up at about ten. Not good for me, and feels like I have no control over my sleep cycle, which is distressing in its own right, especially since waking up means spending two to three hours lying completely still, semi-conscious and confused and in a lot of pain, before getting the mobility to take my morning medication.

And the pharmacy have been late with my medication again this month. Supposed to be due yesterday, they swear that they sent it off this morning, so I’ll have it by Friday. It’s fine, it’s not like I need my medication to function at all and have anything approaching a quality of life, right?

Fire

I did end up in hosptial yesterday, in the end.

I phoned 111 at about four, and there was an ambulance at my house by half past, with two cheerful paramedics who helped me into some real clothes, fed the dog and sent him to Downhill Neighbour’s house, shared a plate of cinnamon rolls with me, and joined me in my despair when the doctor they called for was completely unhelpful (He decided that the appropriate response to “I’ve taken as much morphine as is safe, and am still in pain” was “Take more morphine then.”)

So, the only solution was to load me into an ambulance at take me to St J. On the way in I was given gas and air, so by the time I was at the hospital I was both no longer in pain, and feeling kind of strange. So when the second of the two paramedics said “Oh, you’ve been playing noughts and crosses on your arm, eesh, you shouldn’t do that” I had no too-much-information filter and replied with “Given the choice between taking enough morphine to competely shoot my liver, and having chequerboard arms, I will always pick the latter” and she winced and looked utterly scandalised, then refused to talk to me for the rest of the transfer. In retrospect – Anyone who pokes the privacy ulcer should expect it to perforate and spray them with unpleasant truth.

I got into the A+E waiting area, was tagged in, then told that there was no cubicle available, so I’d have to wait on the metal chairs. I picked up a book (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, a good-sized brick to last me through since I’d forgotten to bring a book of my own) and settled in across five empy seats to try to sleep.

It took three hours, of intermittent sleep, reading, and losing the ability to move independently, including some of the most frightening back pain I’ve ever felt, before I was helped into a cubicle where I could lie in a more normal position and take yet more morphine.

More hours passed. I managed to completely panic a nurse by getting her to help me reset a spontaneous shoulder dislocation. I took more morphine, and dreamt about trains.

I was eventually woken up at about 11 by a doctor who, I swear to god, looked like Stuart Broad. Not just “Vaguely tall and blond” but “Looked exactly like the noted England bowling all-rounder.” I immediately developed a speech impediment and tried to look less like a complete mess that was only wearing pyjamas.

He introduced himself, apologised profusely for the wait and the pain, then said;

“Aw no, you’re not going to be wearing underwear are you?”

I went a terrible, pomegranate colour. He offered me a gown.

“You may as well just tie it on like a skirt, to protect your modesty a bit, but I’m going to have to examine your legs and your anal sphincter, that’s done by-”

My sensation of wishing for a less attractive doctor got about a thousand times worse.

“I know. Knees up, glove on.”

He checked the sensation in the legs first, apologising profusely every time he had to set off a twitch in the right leg since it made me fly across the bench and make sad dugong noises, and reported them as “Basically fine”, as well as the usual doctor-that-is-paying-attention response of being fascinated with how zebra legs work (“Your knees go backwards. If I press here, will your leg just keep moving upwards? They rotate a lot further than you’d expect”) Then it was the turn for the spine (“Nice tattoo, what the hell happened to your back muscles, I am so sorry that looks so painful”) He then went and got gloves and a chaperone, got me to assume the position, and tried the DRE. First attempt, I flinched (just through cold and surprise), and the chaperone, instead of being an impartial observer, decided that it was appropriate to grab both of my knees and try to hoick them up further to my chest whilst telling me off for flinching. This resulted in an actual scream of pain, further flinching, and a stream of four-letter abuse towards the cack-handed twat that saw a patient presenting with severe pain and lack of mobility in the hips, and tried to drag their legs around with no medical rationale and no asking for consent.

The second attempt got a “Yep, your sphincter is fine, but your lower back is a mess, which I suspect isn’t news to you.” and he sent the chaperone away to get me a porter to take me for x-rays on my pelvis and hip joint, and also to bring up my last spinal MRI for him to have a look at.

The second after she had gone, he said, in a very calm, measured tone “I’d have kicked her. you could have kicked her, and I wouldn’t have said a word. You don’t touch a patient like that.”

I thanked him, and continued trying to squeeze some life back into my now-dead leg, and he went on his way.

Not long later, I was portered through to x-ray, where the incredibly youthful radiologist immediately struck up conversation, asking how things were going and once again apologising for the long wait.

“It’s not been that bad, but a couple of minutes ago a complete stranger did put his finger up my bottom, so it’s been a bit surprising.”

And without missing a beat she replied with;

“Oh no – the really good looking one? God, I can barely talk to him, never mind… Oh god. You poor thing, it wouldn’t be so bad if he wasn’t just so nice as well…” and then started collapsing with the giggles. I had to join in the giggling, mostly due to be being glad that someone else also saw the ridiculous depth of embarrassment at the situation.

She got the images neded – with the obligatory “Do you have a piercing? It looks like a little planet with rings! And it’s right in the way of the pubic arch…” then retreated to the prep room to apparently die of a giggling fit (It ECHOED) before coming back and taking me back to the waiting bay, where a porter took me back to the main ward.

Not long after, Dr. Broad returned, with good news and bad news – The good news being that it was definitely sciatica, the bad news being that A+E can’t prescribe painkillers for neuropathic pain, and that it has to go back to the GP. He mentioned amytriptalin and pregabalin, and I gave the obligatory groan; Mention neuropathic pain once, and a GP will assume that all of your pain is neuropathic, even if you present with a broken finger.

I told him this, and he agreed, and confided that he’d had sciatica once, which took a while and gabapentin to heal, and then every other injury he ever picked up, doctors had assumed was neuropathic. He promised not to use the word “neuropathic” in the letter, and to also point out that he’d seen me reset a stubborn dislocated shoulder without even thinking about it whilst we were talking.

Once again, the takeaway was basically that I needed to get back to rheumatology, sharpish. And, thankfully, that I wasn’t going to suddenly lose function in the leg and cause havoc on my CBT, as long as I could deal with the pain during it (And, adding the CBT to the four-times-a-week swims, getting a bit of a laugh and a “You really aren’t letting it slow you down”)

Then he offered to admit me into hospital, since it didn’t look likely that I could cope safely at home, with how much pain I was in and how badly I was moving. Admittance would have got me into rheumatology more quickly, would have got me fitted for a better mobility device (probably a walking frame or a wheelchair) and would have, obviously, relieved me from the pressure of having to prepare my own food or do my own paperwork for a few days.

I had to weigh it up really, really carefully. From where I was, there was no downside to it. Apart from the obvious – Having to do more paperwork with the DWP, and possibly having my benefits cut whilst in-hospital. So I didn’t take it. But the offer is, apparently, there. I suspect that when someone turns up in this much pain and with this much loss of function, but still alone, there’s probably cause for concern.

Overall, a bit of a mixed bag. I’m back home, still in as much pain as when I started, but I know what the problem is, and that it’s not going to get noticeably worse. I’ve slept most of today (It’s taken me about eleven hours to write this) and I’ve missed both yesterday’s and today’s swim. This is probably about par, really. One good paramedic, one bad paramedic, one good nurse, one bad nurse, one good doctor, one giddy radiologist. Letter sent to GP yesterday, phone message left with rheumatology today.

I’ll be fine, I always am.

Undsoweiter

Today was a “Back to normal” kind of day.

Swam about four hundred metres, then dislocated a hip, sank like a rock, and ended up clinging to the side of the pool alternating between swearing the air blue and screaming at a pitch that only bats could hear. Got winched out of the pool, needed the lifeguards to carry me around, the palliative care nurse from a few weeks ago helped me reset the leg, then two other complete strangers wrapped me in a towel then dressed me. I didn’t quite feel like a sack of turnips, but I wish I had been – Turnips don’t notably feel shame.

I’m now home, safe (Dearest had to collect me from the baths in the car, for the less-than-a-hundred-metre walk home. The receptionist phoned both him and Best Friend, in her panic to find someone to look after me) and filling up on morphine.

I feel like hell. I’d not swam in two weeks, and this is my reward for being cautious and sensible. Everyone was helpful and friendly and looked after me to the best of their abilities, though, and were basically the model of how to interact with someone that’s in that much pain (and that’s quite so confused after the heavy dose of laudanum).

On a brighter note, there were a couple of youngsters in from the local team, who wanted to try to race me. At least I still look like someone that it’s worthwhile getting the tape measures out for.

Cavemanatee

I have swam, and thus I feel immensely better.

Well, I have done in all four limbs, my clavicles have opened like a set of double doors, one of my scapulae is creeping around to the front, every muscle that I have is shivery, sensitive jelly, and my skin feels like it’s vibrating. I have worked hard. My thighs and back are warm. My shoulders feel as if a leopard is curled up around them, and purring.

I have a smile that’s bordering on inappropriate.

Today was only a kilometre, but it was a “quick” one – Broken up into twenty 50m sprints, each one coming in at around 30-40 seconds. I swam with a bloke who was training for an ironman triathlon (His goal being 100 lengths a session, at a 60/hr rate) and who’d asked me for breathing advice since he kept inhaling water. Anyway, I pushed the sprints until I’d completely ruined my everything and needed to be pool-winched back out of the water (I think I am getting better at accepting help).

I staggered to the changing room (much swearing), showered (blessed relief), got dressed (much swearing), and started heading home. Halfway across the car park on the way home, I crunched face-first onto the tarmac.

Someone came over; “Are you all right? Want a lift?” I squinted up, and started making my excuses – Pushing ten at night, empty car park, transit van, acutely aware of the half-pint of morphine burning a hole in my bag.

“Knackered from the swim?” he asked, and sense was made – It was the bloke I’d been swimming with. I relaxed, let him help me into the van, and then he said the best thing anyone could say;

“I didn’t want to interfere, since it seems far too personal to ask, and it might have just been how you managed, but I thought after you didn’t move for a bit that I’d be better off asking if you were all right. The worst that could happen was that you’d think I was stupid for asking.”

I reassured him that I was glad to accept help when it was really helpful, and we talked sports and recovery and training strategy until he left me at the garden gate.

There is something really refreshing about people treating me as myself, since most people now don’t – They either see “pointless cripple that needs pity” or “bizarre greek tragedy, godlike in water, corpselike out of it. But he was just being normal, looking me in the eye and talking like you would to a normal person. Just what I needed.