Riding as Therapy

 

Bailey at Snowball Farm Equestrian Centre, Burnham

Here I am on Bailey, enjoying my first hack in the countryside in 25 yrs.  I can’t adequately express how happy it makes me to be on a horse again, at the grand old age of 53, with an altered nervous system, bad co-ordination, poor core strength and a fused ankle.

Horse-Riding was the only form of exercise I could think of, which would enable me to build and maintain my stomach muscles, without impacting on my fused ankle.  But it’s given me so much more than that already.

I can nearly stand on tiptoe, I can mount the horse unaided, save the necessary mounting block as the horse I ride is nearly 6ft to the shoulder, and I’m learning to transition from walking to trotting and back again, with increasingly less bounce in the bum department.

I was surprised to find that riding for “the disabled” is much more of a group activity, with no real in-built progression.  Whereas what I was seeking was a gradual building of strength and a return to a more recognisable sport.  When I watched the team competing in the Paralympics, I was inspired to rediscover my love of horses, in spite of my diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Hypermobility Type, in 2015.

I recommend getting on a horse to anyone with disabilities – they are the most compassionate creatures.

The Buddha is Going on Retreat

Rainbow
Photo by Dave England

In June of this year, I found myself sitting in a room with five other chronic pain sufferers, under the care and tutelage of the experts from the Royal National Orthopaedic hospital in Stanmore, Middlesex.  I had been waiting for almost one year to get onto the course and it has changed my life in many ways.

First of all, I didn’t realise that Joint Hypermobility Syndrome is also known as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome – Hypermobility Type 3 (EDS-HT). It is a genetic condition, causing widespread pain because of the hyper mobility of joints.  It also presents problems with concentration, memory, sleep, appetite, memory and anxiety.  All I knew was that following my multiple ankle surgeries, my health was worsening, instead of getting better.

Once diagnosed with this condition, I felt a sense of relief; gratitude for the help and support of the experts at RNOH but also devastation at the realisation that this was not going to go away.  My life has changed forever.

Not that I’m complaining and, to a degree, I’m pleased that I was struggling on in blissful ignorance.  But knowledge is power and the theory is, the more the patient (and you do have to be patient with this condition) understands the nature and behaviour of a chronic pain condition, the better they can learn to manage it.

Several of our recently successful paralympians suffer from EDS-HT and have learned not only to cope with it, but to find a whole new outlet for their talents.

So… I’m at the beginning of a long journey, but at least I can see the road ahead.  I have fantastic support from our wonderful NHS and I’m so grateful for the friends and family helping me out on a daily basis.  I’m not the person I used to be, but I’m looking forward to discovering the New Me and whatever she can do.

This blog space may lay dormant for a while, but please watch out on Facebook (Dog Days and the Buddha) for news of more blogs about EDS-HT and my journey of discovery; for more news about Alan the puppy I donated to Medical Detection Dogs, and the work of that amazing charity; and I’ll also be posting more pictures of my experiments in glass and precious metals jewellery.

For the immediate future, I have to concentrate on my health, rehabilitation and moving forwards within my altered bodily system.  Ta Ta for now, the Buddha is going on retreat for a short while.  Take care of your good selves.

Socialising Clever Cancer Dogs

Medical Detection Dogs
Josh and Chester at the MDD Graduation Party 2016 by kind permission of Nigel Harper Photography

At the end of May I was invited to be part of Medical Detection Dogs Graduation and Celebration Day at Stowe School, near Buckingham.  What little I know about the charity has been learnt through my contact with them, since I donated one of Amber’s puppies to them last year.  He, Alan, is doing really well.  His good temperament, keen nose and love of people probably means that he will become a medical alert dog, working with one of the many human partners whose lives are enhanced by the care and constant vigilance of their canine partners.

Whilst I was enjoying the graduation ceremony in the Stowe School theatre, in the space of just two hours, five dogs alerted their humans to imminent blood sugar drops, blood pressure crashes, and the potentially fatal presence of airborne nut particles, not just once, but several times.  I witnessed their “notifications” (usually by placing a gentle, but insistent muzzle on the leg of the human) three times myself.

On that beautiful Spring afternoon, I also met one of MDD’s puppy socialisers, named Diana Dudley.  She has kindly donated an article to this site, so that we can both encourage people to get involved with this much needed, woefully under-funded charity.  Here is her story, first published in the Bedfordshire Community Life Magazine January 2016:

Being a Puppy Socialiser and Fosterer

Diana Dudley with one of her trainees.
Diana Dudley with one of her trainees.

I have always loved animals but dogs have a special place in my heart.

It is this love for dogs that sparked my interest in ‘Medical Detection Dogs’, a charity that trains specialist dogs to help people with life-threatening health conditions such as Diabetes. With their natural amazing sense of smell, these specially trained dogs can detect the odour of human disease, giving their ‘owners’ confidence, a better quality of life, greater independence and above all potentially saving their lives on a daily basis.

My Mother has been living with Type 1 Diabetes most of her life and therefore I feel very passionate about this amazing charity and the life-changing differences their dogs make.

I volunteer with Medical Detection Dogs as an approved Puppy Socialiser & fosterer, where I take care of a dog in my home, socialising and training the dog that will eventually be placed with a client. This includes attending regular training sessions facilitated by the charity, as well as learning good dog handling skills and knowledge of canine medical conditions. Additionally, I also support the full-time trainers in a variety of ways such as transporting my assigned dog to scheduled trainings and assessments, and attending community relations activities.

I am also a fundraiser & speaker covering the Bedfordshire area. I attend various fundraising events and my role as a speaker is to visit groups such as Women’s Institute, Guides, Schools etc to promote awareness of the charity and to help raise valuable funds to support and train the dogs.

Not only do I find it extremely rewarding but I have also met some incredible people and witnessed some emotional and heart-warming moments ever since I attended my first Puppy Socialiser session last year. Alongside my role with MDD’s, I have just completed my Diploma in Canine Behaviour to increase my knowledge even further in this field, as well as starting my own dog walking business “Yappy Tails” with qualifying in Canine First Aid.

About Medical Detection Dogs:

The charity has two sides: Cancer Detection Dogs and Medical Alert Assistance Dogs.

Cancer Detection Dogs are trained to identify the odour of cancer. They work in research only by screening samples at the training centre and NEVER detect cancer on a person. The two aims are:

  1. To assist scientists through research into the development of electronic systems (E noses) that will assist in the early detection of cancer through cost effective and non-invasive tests.
  2. In the short term, the cancer dogs can provide second-line screening for cancers that are currently very difficult to diagnose reliably, such as prostate, Kidney and Bladder cancer.
  3. This year, trials are being carried out in detecting malaria-carrying mosquitos, using just material samples from clothing sent from Africa.
Medical Alert Dogs, Medical Assistance Dogs, Dr Clare Guest
Blue Cross.Daisy with her Blue Cross Medal. Winner of the Blue cross’s Medal is Daisy a Cancer detection dog her owner is Dr Claire Guest who is also Chief Executive of Medical Detection Dog’s the charity where Daisy works. The Blue Cross Medal was reinstated this year to commemorate the animals that lost their lives in the First World War and to recognise those animals that continue to make a differance to our lives today.

Medical Alert Assistance Dogs are fully accredited with the regulatory organisation Assistance Dogs UK, thus allowing access to all public areas like a guide dog for the blind. They are trained to assist individuals who manage complex medical conditions on a day-to-day basis. By detecting the odour changes that are associated with certain medical events, they warn individuals of an oncoming life-threatening episode, therefore allowing the individual additional time to react. This early detection can prevent visits to A&E and vastly improves the quality of life of the assigned patient and their family.

MDD Summer Party DNG 29.5.16
MDD Summer Party – Sue and Caspar, her diabetes alert dog by kind permission of Nigel Harper Photography

How can you help?

We rely completely on public support and donations and without this, our valuable life-saving work would not be possible. If you would like to support us by making a donation please find out how by visiting the MDD’s website.

Our volunteers play a vital role and make a real difference to the lives of many individuals, children and their families across the UK. Medical Detection Dogs are looking to recruit more volunteers and socialisers in the Bedfordshire area and within traveling distance of the centre in Milton Keynes.

If you are interested in fundraising, volunteering, becoming a puppy socialiser, organising your own event or want to find out more information about the Medical Detection Dogs’ charity and how you can support us please visit www.medicaldetectiondogs.org.uk.

Medical Detection Dogs
MDD Summer Party by kind permission of Nigel Harper Photography and Medical Detection Dogs

 

 

Google is Blind to Creative Minds

Creativity, diverse interests

Recently I received a slew of positive comments about this blog.  One in particular highlighted the dilemma I face with each blog I create.  Google is blind to creative minds and diverse lives!  I know this, not only because I’ve been told this by many SEO experts:  “Be one thing.  Set one strong keyword.  Decide what your blog is about”, but also because I’ve just spent an age editing this piece to make it fit into Google’s search engine recognition algorithms.   My problem is that I’m a polymath of eclectic tastes (take that Google!).  I’m interested in many subjects and don’t want to draw attention to just one aspect of my passions. By imposing SEO algorithms on me, they are asking me to decide what my Life is about. This is not my problem, it’s Google’s problem but Google is trying to make me adjust to it, rather than it adjusting to me.

In the first instance, I have been a Buddhist for 20 years now, so that’s a given in the title bar of my site. It’s who I am. To separate me from my Buddhist practice (Nam Myoho Renge Kyo) would be to deny the source of all my strength in adversity, my passion in creativity and my innovation when facing obstacles.

As the only child of my parents, one of whom died in 1994, I’m a carer.  My Mum is now 87 years young and I’m happy to say, still has her mobility.  However, she does need reassurance, help with unravelling the complexities of a modern world (she’s about to get connected to the internet for the first time) and transport to activities and the shops.  I’m a member of the Society of Authors, courtesy of my book about living with infertility and the feature articles associated with that publication.

When I became a carer and simultaneously began my long dark journey into arthritis treatment, I found that I could no longer write to a deadline.  However, support came in the form of James Green, who began the blog “Writers as Carers” in conjunction with the SoA.  This closed group comprises writers all struggling with health problems and/or caring responsibilities, has been a lifeline to me.  I want to blog about that as well.

I’m passionate about my two sprocker spaniel dogs. I have bred two litters of puppies, raised them at home and created a whole new network of friends and a joyful Facebook page where all the owners chat to each other.  We’ve had two “birthday parties” (no dressing up allowed) to celebrate and I have met a diverse group of warm and wonderful people and even rekindled old friendships which had become disconnected over time and geography.  If you read the archive blog ‘Friends for a Reason, a Season or a Lifetime‘ you’ll see what I mean.

Before I began “raising” spaniels, I had two rescue dogs, so I’m interested in rescue charities and the incredible work they do on a shoestring.  I’m going to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home Fun Day in Old Windsor on Saturday 2nd July, so I’ll probably blog about that in due course.

Battersea Old Windsor Fun Day
Battersea Old Windsor Fun Day 2nd July 2016

One of the first litter of Sprocker puppies is a professional truffle dog, working in Somerset.  Who knew that we grew truffles in the UK?  Marion Dean’s interview about her change of lifestyle and her truffle dog training school is also in my archive blogs.  This time, I donated one of the second litter puppies to a medical alert dog charity.  He had some special qualities: he is quietly confident, he stayed out of puppy play fights but loves people – all potential qualities of a medical assistance dog.  I wanted to donate him to Hearing Dogs for the Deaf, but their training programme was full, but they suggested Medical Detection Dogs who are also relatively local to me, so I made the connection with them and want to highlight their work.

Medical Detection Dogs are pioneers in early cancer detection.  I’m sure that all you guys out there would rather have a sample of your urine sniffed by a medical detection dog, than have a biopsy painfully removed from your dangly bits?  The puppy I gave to them is going to be a medical assistance dog, alerting a type 1 diabetic to falling blood sugar levels, before they sink into a coma.  My husband and I were recently invited to their graduation and celebration day at Stowe School.  An account of that day, including an interview with a puppy socialiser and a couple of stories about the life saving partnerships formed as result of the work that Medical Detection Dogs do, is fascinating to me and I want to raise awareness of this small, but burgeoning area of the charitable sector.

Medical Detection Dogs
MDD Summer Party by kind permission of Nigel Harper Photography and Medical Detection Dogs

Before beginning this blog, I was a successful event and stage manager.  My career took me into world famous venues where I facilitated and sometime produced shows and events alongside creative people from all genres of music and entertainment.  I worked on the first production of Madam Butterfly at the Royal Albert Hall (the one that flooded the arena in the first act matinee, drained it for the second and re-filled for the evening performance).  I facilitated the finale of Spice Girls – The Movie.  I was the Production Manager for the first performance of Romeo and Juliette, starring Roberto Alagna and Angela Georghiu in the newly refurbished Royal Opera House.

Roberto Alagna and Angela Georghiu
Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu in 2006 at Cannes Film Festival (Wikipedia)

My live events career was interrupted by the desire to start a family.  You might have clicked through to see my book “Making Babies the Hard Way” about my journey through fertility treatment, which in our case, was unsuccessful.  I would never discourage anyone from exploring the accomplished and technically advancing techniques available to help create a family, but for 75% of couples, the treatment is still unsuccessful.  My book was written to give some support, in whatever small way my experience can be of support, to those couple left bereft and grieving when they run out of money, physical strength or emotional resilience to carry on.  They, like us, will have to adjust a lifetime of family orientated dreams and reinvent themselves, often without a template to work from.

infertility, donor sperm
My book charting the journey my husband and I took through unsuccessful fertility treatment and beyond.

As a result of  flat feet (those are not my feet in the photograph above, I hasten to add), I had an accident in my early twenties, smashing my ankle joint.  I recovered, thanks to fast treatment in Spain and great orthopaedic work in the UK.  I went on to lead an active life for twenty years, before developing end stage arthritis in my early fifties.  I’ve had multiple ankle surgeries (ongoing), leading to constant pain.  “Serious” writing or commission writing to a deadline isn’t possible, so I’ve had to adjust my career again. The onset of fibromyalgia, most likely triggered by multiple surgery and my hyper mobility means that my joints swell and give me pain.  At its worst I have to spend the day my bed.  After googling fibromyalgia, I discovered that occupational therapy is very important to distract the brain and reduce pain.  Arts and Crafts work has been found to be very helpful.  This is how I began to explore glass work and to re-skill and revive my knowledge of silver and goldsmithing learned at school as part of my Art and Design A-level.

I force myself to walk nearly every day, but I’m unable to give my spaniels the length of walk they ideally need and deserve.  After running out of funds to pay a dog walker after my health problems became measured in years instead of months, I’ve been helped by a set of altruistic volunteers whom I found through a website called “Borrow My Doggy“.  This site featured on BBC Radio 4 the other day, as part of a segment on the Sharing Society.   Yes, you guessed it, this is another subject I want to link to, highlight and bring to a wider audience.

In the About Me section of this site, I make the point that Life will always throw you curved balls and I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been thrown a fair share.  But I’m also eternally optimistic about Life, hence the Dog Days (high days of Summer).  I know my SEO will not be easy due to the number and range of subjects I want to blog about but, in my experience, nothing in Life worth having is easily gained.  I live a rich and varied existence.  My Life is full of surprises, not all of them pleasant, but I wouldn’t have it any other way and Google needs to catch up with me, rather than forcing me to narrow this page for Google.  If you manage to find this blog, and like it, please share, comment and let’s beat the search engines into submission!

Unity from Division

'Fissure' by Jeremy White
‘Fissure’ by Jeremy White

I recently went to an exhibition at Obsidian Art Gallery.  It was part of Bucks Open Studios – a three-week long celebration of artists and their work in Buckinghamshire.  I was fortunate enough to acquire (a gift from my mother) this ceramic vase called “Fissure” by Jeremy White.  For those of you who are interested in the media used, it is high fired stoneware, inspired by natural forms and landscapes.

Admiring it in the gallery, I knew it would look good, sitting amongst other diverse precious objects on my butsudan, the place where I chant ‘Nam Myoho Renge Kyo’ each morning and evening as part of my Buddhist practice.   Once in position, I suddenly began to worry that Buddhism is about unity and this appears to be about division.  However, as I looked more thoroughly at the artwork, I realised that it can be about unity, about the fastest way to heal a rift being about finding a middle path, a harmonising central way.

This piece once was whole, it was one but is no longer one.  In Buddhism we have a definition of unity as two, but not two.  In an article printed in the SGI Quarterly in 1998 this principle of esho fun  is explained like this:

The Buddhist principle of the oneness of self and environment (esho funi) means that life (sho) and its environment (e) are inseparable (funi). Funi means “two but not two.” This means that although we perceive things around us as separate from us, there is a dimension of our lives that is one with the universe. At the most fundamental level of life itself, there is no separation between ourselves and the environment.
Buddhism teaches that life manifests itself in both a living subject and an objective environment. Nichiren wrote, “Life at each moment encompasses…both self and environment of all sentient beings in every condition of life as well as insentient beings—plants, sky and earth, on down to the most minute particles of dust.”
“Life” means the subjective self that experiences the effects of past actions and is capable of creating new causes for the future. The environment is the objective realm where the karmic effects of life take shape. Each living being has his or her own unique environment. For example, a person whose inner life is in a state of hell may perceive the environment of the inside of a crowded subway train as being hellish, while a person in the state known in Buddhism as bodhisattva might manage to feel compassion and a sense of camaraderie with the other people pressed around them.

People also create physical environments which reflect their inner reality. For instance, someone who is depressed is likely to neglect his home and personal appearance. On the other hand, someone who is secure and generous creates a warm and attractive environment around them.
If we change ourselves, our circumstances will inevitably change also.
According to Buddhism, everything around us, including work and family relationships, is the reflection of our inner lives. Everything is perceived through the self and alters according to the individual’s inner state of life. Thus, if we change ourselves, our circumstances will inevitably change also.
This is a liberating concept as it means that there is no need to seek enlightenment outside ourselves or in a particular place. Wherever we are, in whatever circumstances, we can bring forth our innate Buddhahood, thus transforming our experience of our environment into “the Buddha’s land”—a joy-filled place where we can create value for ourselves and for others.

The single most positive action we can make for society and the land is to transform our own lives, so that they are no longer dominated by anger, greed and fear. When we manifest wisdom, generosity and integrity, we naturally make more valuable choices, and we will find that our surroundings are nurturing and supportive. Often, we cannot foresee the long-term results of our actions, and it is hard to believe that one individual’s choices can really affect the state of the world, but Buddhism teaches that through the oneness of self and environment, everything is interconnected. And the more we believe that our actions do make a difference, the greater the difference we find we can make.

Look carefully again at this piece, as I did:  Each side of the shape, fits neatly back into place with its twin, if you remove the central fracture.  Each side has gold within its form.  I believe each person has a golden centre.  They are fundamentally good, however deeply that self belief or goodness can seem buried on occasion.  In Thursday UK EU Referendum, in spite of the narrow victory for Leave Campaign, there was also a substantial and almost equal cry for unity with our colleagues in Europe.  Whether you wanted the UK to stay as part of the European Union or preferred a split with the other member states, we are all human beings.  We all fundamentally want peace, goodness and neighbourly relations.  The vast majority of us can demand that tolerance and collaboration prevail.  So let’s not get caught up in fear and loathing.  Instead, let’s choose to unify; to believe in and encourage ourselves and each other to manifest the value we can create as citizens of the world.  We all have a choice.  We will always have a choice.  Let us always make the choice every day, to act for the betterment of all people, and leave no-one excluded from creating a better way of living in harmony together.

'Fissure' by Jeremy White
‘Fissure’ by Jeremy White

A Cast of Thousands – My Trials with a Tsunami and Orthopaedics

Animals get better prosthetic limbs than humans, warns Supervet Noel FitzpatrickScreen Shot 2016-06-08 at 15.57.17

This is Professor Noel Fitzpatrick, specialist and innovator in animal prosthetics.  He is also in a plaster cast, which strangely wasn’t mentioned in the feature published in The Telegraph UK newspaper on May 28 2016 by Sarah Knapton: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science

My own trials with plaster casts; orthopaedic pins, plates and screws began back in 1984, when I fracture dislocated my ankle joint in Southern Spain.  I was holidaying in the Almeria area and sauntering along the golden beach, ahead of my flight home to the UK the following day.

I decided to take one last look into the beautiful sapphire seas, this glorious sunny day, across to North Africa.  I walked away from the coastline, down a concrete jetty which culminated in a T-shaped platform, surrounded by a low wall.  I stood up on the walk, which was only about one metre high, to drink in the vista.

Tsunami, Mojaca Playa, Fractured ankle
Mojaca Playa and the walkway

I didn’t feel an earth tremor, but I do clearly recall seeing an extremely high wave, rolling towards me at great speed.  Better get down, I thought.  I crouched, knees bent to descend but was instantly inside the wave.  All I could see was white foam and jade green streaks before the pain of my ankle smashing into the concrete wall consumed me.

I came round, horrified to see that my foot was facing not forward, but to the right of my lower leg.  (Sorry I should have warned the squeamish earlier).  I absolutely knew that should another wave wash over the barrier, I would not be able to save myself from beings swept into the swirling ocean to my right.  I would not be able to swim because my foot was useless and I would drown.

Onlookers had rushed down the jetty to see if I was ok.  Two burly men in swimming shorts were just standing, staring at me, unsure of whether or not to move me.  My survival instinct kicked in.  I had no pain, but plenty of adrenalin, which translated into ordering the men to form a “bosun’s chair” with their hands and get me the ‘quake out of there.  They hesitated.  I promised not to scream or cry in pain.  They did as I asked.  Thanks to them, whoever they were.

The next few hours were painful as shock set in and adrenalin subsided.  I was seen by an excellent doctor at the nearest hotel.  She splinted my leg and called for an ambulance to take me to the nearest hospital in Almeria.  They turned out to be experts in motorcycle accidents and fixed my ankle under general anaesthetic, before lots of arm flapping (indicating that I was booked on the flight to Manchester the next day) meant that I was only in hospital overnight, before getting the VIP treatment and admitted to hospital for further surgery the next day.

Fast forward thirty years, past a career in Stage Management, Event Management at the Royal Albert Hall many nights out in high heels and much dog walking.  Combine this with no knowledge or interest in the eighties, nineties and naughties of orthotics (supportive insoles for my shoes) or exactly how flat my feet were and how hyper mobile my joints had become and…. you have the pain I suddenly began to experience in 2011 when I thought I had tendonitis which refused to get better.

I saw many physiotherapists, podiatrists and orthopaedic surgeons.  Just ahead of any appointment to pour over the latest MRI scan or X-ray, eternally optimistically, I would expect a verdict of: “more exercise, take care, it all looks fine.”  Instead, they would each in turn shake their expert heads, take a sharp intake of breath and say: “well, it’s a bit of a mess in there Caroline.”

One closed arthroscopy, a great deal of chanting for an ankle replacement instead of a fusion, and a change of surgeon later and I found myself in the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, Stanmore, looking down at the sorry sight you see in my first photo.  I mention chanting because I did not want my ankle to be fused.  I wanted an ankle replacement instead:  Ankle fusion, in plaster for nearly 4 months; ankle replacement, in plaster for about 4 – 6 weeks.  You see my point?

I researched who, I believe, is the best ankle surgeon to look after and hopefully fix, my ankle problem. I came to see that  Mr Andrew Goldberg OBE is an extraordinary man.  I emailed him and he replied, saying he was happy to see me at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, Middlesex – a centre of excellence.

After the now familiar: “well it’s a bit of a mess isn’t it?” consultation, he agreed to prepare my ankle for a replacement, with the proviso that I also consented to a fusion if it became unavoidable for clinical reasons, when I was under anaesthetic.  I felt at once that he cared about all of my body, and my lifestyle (lots of dog walking and an active life); he cared about his work, to the point of it being a true vocation and he was personable, knowledgeable and very experienced.  In this field, he has pioneered ankle replacement in the UK and is respected by his peers.  In spite of multiple surgeries and numerous irritations with non-union, the discovery that I had osteoporosis (the major cause in my case, of the non-union), I still  trust Andy Goldberg to listen, to do his best and to treat the whole me, not just my size 3 flat feet and several buggered ankle joints.

I awoke from the operation to see Mr Goldberg standing next to me with a look on his face which spoke of sadness and understanding that he was about to impart the news I didn’t want to hear.  He had prepared the smallest ankle replacement available to be used, but it was 4mm too big.  He couldn’t fit it, because it would have overhung my tibia and fractured it.  My ankle had to be fused.  A tear rolled down my cheek, but I knew he’d done his utmost to give me pain-free joints and as much movement as could be retained.

This is how I now looked on the outside:

Orthopaedic Ankle Surgery
Snow Boots and No Boots

And on the inside (Squeamish LOOK AWAY – explicit X-RAY, but no blood):

X-Ray from ankle fusion

Here I am in 2016 and after more surgeries to remove those large screws, but not the rod as that has to remain, I’m still struggling and still receiving great care from RNOH.

I decided to explore all the coloured leg casts that the RNOH have to offer.  Here are a few of my fashion statements:

 

 

Blue cast

And especially decorated for Christmas:

Thanks to Martine Cochrane for the decoration
Thanks to Martine Cochrane for the decoration

Since January 2013, I have spent a total of 221 days in a plaster cast, 37 days in bandages and not to mention the travelling I’ve done, limping along in my trusty old “Storm Trooper” boot:

IMG_0039

At times, I’ve wished for ruby slippers that would take me back to Oz and away from Oz-teoporosis (one of the many reasons for my complications, leading to multiple surgeries).  My husband even bought me a pair, but I couldn’t click my heels together hard enough!

IMG_3506

Due to the multiple surgeries, arising from the extensive damage to my ankle joint, I have nerve damage, neuropathic pain, achilles tendonitis and I’ve put on 7kgs due to lack of long walks with the dogs and constant pain.

One emotion I don’t experience, alongside the frustration, irritation, sadness and total amazement at my wonderful support network of friends and family I experience on a weekly basis, is anger.  I couldn’t have received more care and better support from Buckinghamshire NHS practitioners, my GP and the fabulous experts in Stanmore RNOH.  When I had to stop writing my novel, Faber and Faber academy supported me and are holding a place open for me to return to their mentoring programme in due course.  My family and  friends rallied around when I couldn’t drive for a year.

Now I have a different life from that which I imagined when I thought I’d be up and about in a few weeks, three and half years ago.  I discovered that making stained glass and silver jewellery has reduced the pain in the joints of my hands (caused by fibromyalgia), having to stop writing commissioned feature articles and my novel, has led to this blog – which I just love!

The main lesson for me in all of this, is that you can’t dodge the curved balls that Life will throw at you.  But if you grab them with both hands, hold onto them and count your blessings, you just might discover a wealth of new opportunities.

I still want an ankle replacement.  Which is why I keep a close eye on the work of Noel Fitzpatrick and his custom made prosthetics.  The sooner our orthopaedic surgeons can trial some of his amazing techniques on us humans, the better.  Fitzpatrick Referrals here I come!

 

The Worst Type of Glass Jigsaw

IMG_4047

Behold my first stained glass panel, being leaded successfully.  Only a few pieces to go, along the top there.  Well. There is that slight problem at the top left on the watery-looking glass where there is a largish hole which somehow I thought the stained glass pixies would pop by and fill in for me.  Many in my stained glass class (try saying that in a hurry) tried to reassure me that the cement would cover a multitude of sins, but my teacher and glass artist, Suzanne Raffellini and I slowly became painfully aware that this gap wasn’t going to fill itself.  Having nearly finished the leading:

Leaded stained glass lotus flower

I came to the end of Term 2 at Highcrest Adult Learning Centre, run by Bucks County Council.  I took my work of Art home, fully intending to “just take it apart, solve the problem and “pop” it back together again.  I sought the advice of Ernest Riall (he of the Wooburn Crafts School) who offered to provide moral support and a workbench space in the holidays.

Fast forward 8 weeks to find me sobbing “this is supposed to be en-JOY-able”, feeling like an eight-year-old who’d just dropped her lollipop down the loo.  You guessed it, when I dismantled the lead work and glass pieces, not only had I forgotten to place them on a pattern, so that I remembered where they replaced, but I also decided “while I was at it” to “correct” an ugly (to me) centre piece of leading around the fulcrum of the flower, with lead of a narrower gauge.  Big mistake.  BIG mistake.  Whilst I did, proudly, solve the corner issue by splicing in a narrow piece of lead and re-cutting the watery glass into two separate pieces, I created a huge problem as I came to reassemble the panel.  I ground down piece labelled “J” so that it fit against the new central piece better, but the hole I created in piece 4, was so big, I had to cut a tiny fill-in crescent, which I now have to lead with even thinner gauge lead, when I have the strength and have recovered the will to live!

Glass disaster
Left hand top corner solved, the rest gone TU!

After reassuring me that it wasn’t quite the disaster I thought, Ernest and Phil Lyons – a furniture restorer who works next door – gave me some really good advice:  “Finish the piece.  Extract all the learning from it you can.  Then, if it still doesn’t meet your exacting standards, you can throw it in the trash!”

I’m seriously considering soldering the bottom left hand corner next stage, so that at least the B*****d doesn’t keep squirming around under my fingers.  Any reason why I shouldn’t?  Any advice from less than novice glass artist readers accepted by this novice with grace and gratitude.

Putting Caring Energy in the Right Place

I’ve discovered that I don’t need to respond to Mum’s frequent phone calls one by one, or immediately. Of course I’m right there if something is urgent, but most of the time she’s just checking in with me, or needs reassurance that she hasn’t forgotten to do something. Sometimes, she can’t recall what we have agreed or where a particular piece of information is “hiding” in her flat. Invariably, she sorts it out herself, given time to calmly think things through. As a result, she has more confidence the next time and has a sense of having achieved something on her own.  Its a balance, but I know she would love to feel empowered and still firmly independent, even if she is relieved I’m always closeby.  The temptation is to take over and take responsibility for every decision, but that isn’t good for either of us.  It’s an ongoing challenge to get the balance right, but I’m getting there.

By the way, I decided to have a “hats and best bib and tucker” garden party in our back garden for my 50th, I don’t usually dress like this to go to Tesco.

Carer, tips for caring
Me and Mum raising a glass on the occasion of my 50th birthday in 2013

Early Retirement for Teacher leads to Interior Design

Louise Ann Interiors
One of Louise’s striking schemes

Louise Frantom and her husband Des, moved to our village 23 years ago in 1993.  She remembers coming down the hill and seeing the lovely village green (for a shot of the Green, see my blog ‘Bucks and Pups’).  It was Spring and the fun fair was in full swing.  She fell in love with her little house from the moment she first saw it and never tires of the view across the hills to Marlow.

Flackwell Heath, Marlow, Buckinghamshire

Interior Design is Louise’s third career to date.  She originally studied Art and Music, qualifying as a teacher back in 1980.  Taking an opportunity to travel to Athens as a nanny and English teacher, she ended up working for Thomson holidays as an Overseas Travel Rep. in Europe and West Africa.

In 1984, Louise returned to the UK to begin her teaching career in Primary education.  She co-ordinated Art, Design and Design Technology but over the years was promoted to a senior position as a specialist leader in education.

Whilst in school, Louise enjoyed working with some amazing people.  Her job gave her many wonderful experiences and opportunities but the still, small voice of her mother prevailed and urged her to take a chance and retire early.  “I remember my Mum saying, ‘don’t forget that you are creative.’  It dawned on me that I had absolutely forgotten and needed to do something about this!”

Louise Frantom
Louise Frantom of Louise Ann Interiors

She continues, “when I took the leap into early retirement, some people said I was ‘very brave’ when I knew what they really meant by this was that I was being reckless!  I felt both excited and worried.  Was I making a big mistake?” In spite of her misgivings, Louise felt she just had to trust her instinct and go for it!

With the benefit of hindsight, she knows that she made the right decision to leave education and follow her passion for interior design.  She misses the staff and amazing camaraderie but she still pops back to School to say hello from time to time.  And she began her retirement in true ‘Thelma and Louise’ style, by going on a 3000 mile road trip to Australia, Los Angeles and across the United States, occasionally accompanied by her best friend and neighbour Di.

Chillin' in Williamstown

Louise came back from her adventure feeling so much stronger and more confident.  It was on this journey that her idea of channelling her creativity into interior design happened.  Back in Blighty, she signed up for a professional course and discovered she was in her element.  Her tutor said she had a natural flair that could not be taught.  That encouragement led to establishing ‘Louise Ann Interiors‘ in July 2015 and here she is, embarking on career number 3.  The challenges she faces are neither small nor insurmountable.  Getting herself known, building the business and addressing misconceptions are all priorities for a start up company.  But the opportunity to be creative, enhancing other peoples’ lives with her fresh designs, meeting new people and being her own boss all make the fear and hard work worthwhile.  Her top tip for the over 40s embarking on a new career is to be proactive about what you really want out of the work/life balance.  Don’t ignore the impact your environment is having on your sense of wellbeing  and go for it, before it’s too late.