Sunday, 17 September 2017

Good Nurses

I like the nurses at the hospital. They are professional, attentive and take the obstreperousness of the bantering men in their stride. They bring my husband three meals a day and note down how much he eats. They weigh him. They check his blood pressure several times a day and write that down. They remind him to drink more water.  They remind him that if he doesn't drink, he'll  have to have the fluid tube, and if he doesn't eat, there's a tube for that, too, and it isn't very nice. They also check him for bedsores.

B.A. does what the nurses tell them.

Respect.

The physio hasn't been by, but B.A. had a second operation this week, so physio has been abandoned for now. I don't even ask about that. I just turn up every day, sit by B.A.'s bed, observe the latest embroidery on his scalp,and which tubes are in or out, watch the nurses, relate the news.

The latest London Tube bombing was a "good news" story, believe it or not, as the bomb didn't go off properly and "just" singed a few people.

My visits are a ward fixture. I'm on first name basis with all the men who were in the room when B.A. was settled into it, and if he's stays, I'll be on first name basis with the young man who came in the day before yesterday. I provide a little supplementary nursing, too, just because I'm there. The other day, I handed a cardboard "bucket" to another man on the ward to throw up in.

Meanwhile Polish Pretend Daughter and her husband have come to stay with me.

This is, of course, only a very brief sketch.

Monday, 11 September 2017

A Much Better Day

Since I have harrowed up your souls with this morning's post,  I must in justice tell you that B.A. is doing so much better now that he has been operated on. He is so much more like his old self.

When I turned up today, I found out that he has got a proper physiotherapist at last. She taught him how to use a contraption he refuses to call a Zimmer frame, and he pushed it down the hall to the Patient Waiting Room where we had a good chat. He is very cheerful and getting along well with his three roommates. They all banter madly together and with the nurses in that inimitable Scottish way.

There is also a chart at the end of his bed monitoring how much food he has eaten. Also, I am delighted to say, he ate three square meals today. My goal now is to make sure he stays in the hospital long enough to gain weight and be able to walk without a prop.

But I am utterly exhausted, so that's it from me for now. When I was on my way for a sandwich from the nearby Waitrose between the two "visiting hours" periods, I got completely lost and spent my whole "dinner hour" taking buses back to the hospital.  I'm chalking that up as one more symptom of "tired brain."

Update (Wednesday): AND I forgot a bag of laundry on one of the busses on  the way home. However, I found it today at the Lost Articles office, so now the clothes are washed and drying on the line.

Astonishing Recollection of a Terrible Week

One day I will return to these posts about my husband's illness and be simply astounded that we went through all this. That's the hope anyway. Occasionally I wonder what I would have done had we had children, but that's simple: they would have been packed off to Canada months ago. It would have been very good for their French, and I suspect my brother would have signed them up at once for karate.

Last week was one of new horrors, and I was furious with myself for having cravenly whisked Benedict Ambrose away from the hospital when he could have been there at least an extra day and  seen a dietician. That said, his mobility was deteriorating there. I didn't cajole him outside for a walk for a few days--the trip home was exhausting enough, and the next day he threw up--but when I did get him outside, he could manage only one circuit of the front quadrangle. He didn't get physiotherapy at the hospital; clearly the physiotherapist saw him only to tick the boxes that said he legally could be sent home. 

Both the hospitals we frequent in Edinburgh have big posters insisting that patients should change out of their nightwear and to get out of bed and walk. A week in bed ages the muscles by ten years, claim the posters. Thus I made myself argue with B.A. to get him out of bed, to put his slippers on, to go outside, to walk the circuit, to walk the next circuit. 

"I can't," said B.A. 

"You CAN," I said. 

But the story doesn't end with B.A. doing a ten mile race alongside cheering crowds. No. Not so far anyway. What happened were two terrible falls, a call to the local surgery, being snapped at by the duty doctor, two paramedics and an ambulance. Because it was true. He couldn't, and he can't. 

That was Wednesday and Thursday. On Tuesday night, I decided to sleep in the guest room across from the bathroom, so I didn't keep B.A. awake, and he wouldn't wake me up with all his frequent wakings and muttered complaints. At 1 AM, I was awoken anyway by the sound of B.A. going to the loo.  I got up, opened my door and saw him weaving in the bathroom doorway.

"Alright?" I asked.

"I'm alright, darling," said B.A. or something like that. I was back in bed before I wondered if I should have taken B.A.'s arm and escorted him back to bed and then---CRASH!

I was out of bed in a shot, and poor B.A. was on the floor moaning "My neck, my neck." And because I had absolutely no idea what to do and because my experience of the NHS is people doing as little as possible, I didn't call an ambulance. I know now that if someone falls and says "My neck hurts," you call an ambulance.

Fortunately, B.A. had not broken his neck, and wasn't concussed (which was all I could think of; neck-breaking never occurred to me), and so I led him back to bed and got in with him, intending to wake him up every hour like the woman on the phone said to do the first time he fell and hit his poor head, months ago.  Instead I slept like the dead. 

B.A. fell again that evening sometime between 6 PM and 7 PM, and that was my lowest moment ever. I had worked all day* on my journalism and reluctantly got up to A) make dinner and B) take B.A. out for some exercise. 

B.A., as usual, complained and told me he couldn't do it and he was tired, etc. I begged him, ordered him, reminded him of the posters, told him his not being able to walk was because he had chosen to lie in bed all day, and shouted before stomping off to make dinner. Not very nice.  And when I returned, B.A. slowly got out of bed, almost stood, and then crashed to the floor, hitting his head on the wall, and then on the floor, grazing his forehead and his nose. 

And I collapsed on the floor myself, wailing and then banging the floor with my fists and screaming  "I don't know what to do. I simply don't know what to do. And I am all alone. There's nobody else. And I am simply not qualified. I have no idea what to do."

Poor B.A. was very dazed. I think I must have helped him into a chair. Blood was seeping from the grazes. 

"The room is spinning around," he said. 

Once again, I should have called the bloody ambulance. However, I had no idea this was "important" enough to call an ambulance. Because, you know, 999 is so sacred compared to the NHS 24 hotline, and I have called NHS 24 so many times already, and a lady on the phone saying "And can I speak to your husband?" wasn't going to get his grazes attended to. So instead of calling 999, I ran about the flat trying to find antiseptic wipes. We were completely out of antiseptic wipes. 

In the end I called my kindly neighbour, and she and her husband came over with antiseptic wipes. At that moment, my sister-in-law, the doctor, phoned, and we had a long talk in the bathroom about how important it was that B.A. see his neurosurgeon. Ma Belle Soeur was really worried that B.A. had been released from hospital without seeing his, or any, neurosurgeon. She was adamant that he must. I said I would call the neurosurgeon's office in the morning. 

The night passed without incident. And in the morning I called the neurosurgeon's secretary's answering machine twice, and went to see my Italian tutor because A) I hadn't had time to email him and cancel and B) I know firsthand how awful it is to lose an hour's teaching wages. And it was very therapeutic to tell my Italian tutor, in Italian, everything that had been going on and then to think of something else, i.e. what are the most frequent grammatical mistakes made by anglophones learning Italian, for half an hour. 

Upon returning home, I called the local medical centre and asked to speak to the duty doctor. The duty doctor called me back, and after I listed off a catalogue of woes, he ripped into me.  Apparently I had called the emergency line THREE TIMES [in history] and ALWAYS ON A THURSDAY.  He had told me the LAST TIME that I should call FIRST THING in the morning because my calling at noon messed up the schedule and if he sent out a doctor to me that would really inconvenience the people in the waiting room, etc., etc. 

I was utterly dumbfounded. And when a doctor arrived, questioned B.A., said he might have a broken   neck and called an ambulance, I thought about that awful duty doctor and wondered how he would feel if B.A. did have a broken neck.  

As directed, I held B.A.'s head straight, and when the phone rang, the doctor answered it. It was Mister [X], the neurosurgeon.  I held B.A.'s head straight with one hand while holding the phone with my other and being simultaneously grateful and impressed that the neurosurgeon had actually called me because, at this point, it was better than--and just as surprising as--Pope Benedict calling. 

Two massive paramedics appeared in the tiny guest room, and there was some discussion about how to get B.A. and his new neck-brace down 3 flights of  late 17th century stone stairs. In the end B.A. walked down,  a paramedic in front and a paramedic behind. He was carefully strapped onto a bed in the ambulance, I got in, and off we went. Yes, I believe there were tourists in the House at the time.  

Apparently the rest of the  staff was terrified for B.A., but they all kept their distance because they didn't want to get in the way. That was very kind of them, really, and the best decision. 

So for the first time in either of our lives, B.A. and I went to the hospital in an ambulance, and although I remembered my keys and phone, I forgot my wallet. However, I phoned French Pretend Son-in-Law from the waiting room, and he came within half an hour and loaned me £20 so I could get home eventually. 

After two hours, I asked if B.A. was out of the x-rays yet, and was sent along to what is sort of the triage department and found B.A. on a wheeled bed. All told, we were in the Emergency Department from 2 PM until almost 11 PM, and the people there were really kind to us. When I asked a young nurse for a pillow for B.A., he remembered to bring it. And a nurse practitioner remembered us from neurosurgery and smile at us often. One of the paramedics asked me how B.A. was doing. So those were the "people helping" Mr Rogers famously said children should look for in sad times. 

Unprecedentedly, we were told, Neurosurgery had called Emergency before Emergency called them, to say that B.A. should be transferred to Neurosurgery as soon as they had a bed ready, and so B.A. and I went by ambulance to Neurosurgery. 

B.A. asked if I could stay overnight in the Family Room because he was scared of what might happen to me going home late at night, but the nurse was reluctant--the Family Room is really for families who come from Far Away (e.g. John O'Groats)--and so was I,  having spent a very poor night in the Family Room back in March. So I went home by cab and phoned the ward to leave the message that I was fine. 

And then it was Friday.  B.A. fasted all day, waiting for the operation that never came.  A surgeon came to see B.A., explained to us why B.A. needed the operation. He was forced to retract his statement that B.A. would be home a couple of days after his op, when I informed him that B.A. would not come home until he could walk.  

"I'm so glad you were here when he came," said B.A., and this was better than a fur coat and a diamond necklace or any other present I can imagine.

I went home by bus before dark. When it was determined that B.A. wouldn't be operated on that day, he had dinner. 

And then it was Saturday.  Thank God, I broke all the visiting hours rules and arrived at 10 AM because I soon discovered B.A. had had a very bad night. He had been sedated and put in solitary confinement. He was still frightened and disoriented when I got there. At his request, I read him all the prayers and readings for the Trad Mass of the day, including the set prayers for afterwards. 

B.A. fasted all day, waiting for the operation that never came.

And then it was Sunday.  B.A.'s operation--his third--happened on Sunday between 12 and 4: 30 PM. Having ascertained by phone at around 8 AM that he was well-rested, I had carried out my usual Sunday schedule. When I got to the ward at 3 PM., B.A. wasn't in his room. 

I was told that he had gone into surgery at noon. I was rather frightened, as B.A.'s last surgery had lasted only about 2 hours.  But there was nothing I could do, so I sat in the neurosurgery waiting room until someone turned on the television, and then I went to the chapel, where I prayed the rosary until I got the call that B.A. was back on the ward. 

I scurried back upstairs, and there was B.A. under an oxygen mask, his beard trimmed right down but his moustache left bushy, so that he looked like a British soldier who had been ambushed in Afghanistan in the mid-19th century and wandered around the desert for a few days before rescue. 

"My beads,"  said B.A.. "They should be in the pocket of my dressing-gown. Are they there?"

His old green bathrobe was lying on the foot of the bed. I reached into the pocket and found the worn old rosary he bought from a Romany pedlar woman in Poland in 1990.  He loves it so much, I don't usually bring it to the hospital, lest it get lost, but it was the only one I had in my bag on Thursday. So after I showed it to him--and he relaxed--I put another rosary into his hand, and put his Polish rosary back in my bag.

I sat with him from 4:30 PM until 8 PM, ignoring the mid-point chuck-out time, and took various buses as far as I could before calling a taxi because have spent so much on taxis. Actually, a friend called the taxi for me, because although my brain is starting to do very weird things (which does not surprise me, since I keep reading popular science books about the brain and what stress does to it), I had the very good idea to go to the home of friends, out of the rain, dark, and cold, and ask to call from there. 

I had bought what the Scots call a donner-kebab, so I sat at a proper dinner table with proper friends and ate my donner-kebab washed down with proper Strong Drink, which I felt I sorely needed. We had a good chat about Cardinal Burke's Glasgow Mass and other interesting things, and then the taxi was called, and I went home and went to bed. 

And now it is Monday, and I am gathering strength for the next battle, which is to keep B.A. under medical supervision until he can walk properly. He didn't break his neck, but he could have broken his neck, and he's not going to break his neck because he's going to get all the medical treatment he needs from his country, no matter what I have to do or say to get it, no matter whose duty roster is messed up or which NHS targets won't be reached.

*Amongst other things, my memory for all the appointments is patchy. I hadn't worked all day because I had taken B.A. to a different kind of surgeon altogether by wheelchair and cab. The bizarre NHS story there is that the receptionist refused to tell me what the surgeon's name was, on the grounds that she couldn't pronounce it. When I asked her to write it down, she told me to ask a nurse. 

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Deep Work

This week I wrote 10 articles and visited Benedict Ambrose in hospital everyday. On Friday evening he told me that the doctors had done all the tests they deemed necessary and wanted to send him home. So I asked a nurse to get me a wheelchair, and after a conversation with a doctor, I took B.A. and all his stuff to the taxi rank.

B.A. was sick on Saturday afternoon, and I stared out the window, collecting my thoughts, before stripping B.A. and the bed, redressing B.A. and the bed, and then doing the laundry. B.A. wasn't sick in that way while in the hospital, so obviously there was something wrong with home. It was a very unwelcome thought. 

After an online consultation with Ma Belle Soeur, I decided what was wrong was the bed: if B.A. lies down all the time, it is very bad for him. However, sitting up in bed is apparently very uncomfortable. A hospital bed costs £4,000, so that's out of the question. A domestic reclining bed, though less expensive, is still expensive--especially as we bought a new bed this year. Thus, tomorrow I will go to a special shop for the elderly and chronically ill for a back rest and see what else they have for sale that might be useful. 

On bus rides to the hospital, I read Cal Newport's Deep Work, and while at home, I put its principles into practise.   Deep Work teaches "knowledge workers" how to concentrate hard enough and long enough to get more work done in a shorter amount of time. Controlling how much time you spend on the internet--and how you spend it--is very important. 

Now every morning, I write down all the tasks I have for the day, and I write a bullet-point plan for how I am going to do them, even outlining how I am going to structure complicated articles. This is very helpful later when I am tired. 

I also identify which tasks are "deep work" tasks--tasks that take a lot of hard thinking--and give myself 90 minutes to do them, as 90 minutes is apparently the maximum time you can really concentrate on an intellectual task. After 90 minutes of hard work, I take a break with some "shallow work", like reading emails or finding stories to write about or even research. Research is easy compared to writing pieces.

Deep work is by definition cognitively challenging, and I've had a lot of practise thanks to (GUESS!) frequent study of Polish. As I may have mentioned before, my memory has improved really a lot, thanks to hours of memorising Polish grammar, vocabulary and occasionally even poems and songs. Even my memory for numbers has improved. I still find writing "hard news" difficult, but I hope that eventually it will become second-nature. 

This week's challenge will be trying to keep up my work output after having returned to being B.A.'s primary caregiver. 

I am very grateful to the nurses and doctors at the hospital for all the tests they did and all the meals they brought B.A., but I am sorry they didn't provide him with very much physiotherapy or exercise. When I visited, I would take him for a short walk down the hallways, getting a little farther each day, but his mobility was clearly much worse than it was before he was admitted. I also read to him from a  children's chess book, as I am rather worried his poor shunted brain is being under stimulated. Learning to play chess will be good for both of us.

Meanwhile, the National Health Service is not the be-all and end-all of care. You really can't rely on doctors and nurses to do everything for your loved one in the UK: you have to do a lot yourself. You really do. Fortunately for "Central Belt" Scots over 65, many (if not all) local governments supply home nursing help. However, those under 65 seem to be out of luck. If you are chronically ill, under 65 and need help taking a bath, it's a good plan to be married to a relatively young and healthy person. 

Meanwhile,  the fund for Joe Baklinski, to which some of you generously donated, has topped the goal. His brother was hoping to raise $25,000 Canadian so that Joe, his wife and their eight children could see the winter out. (Joe's in construction, and in Canada that means you work hard all summer to make up for the lean winter.) Well, it was $26, 000 a few days ago, and I see that now that the goal is $30,000, there's $29, 096. That's very awesome, and I predict a very happy Christmas for all the kids.

B.A. was very pleased and edified that people donated to Joe's fund because he (B.A.) was sick. He said it meant that something good had come out of his illness. Fortunately for us, his employer has a very generous sick-leave provision, so we have a way to go before we have to start worrying about happy Christmases, etc. 

In other news, I saw Cardinal Burke yesterday. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to speak to him, but tomorrow I will write all about the Mass he celebrated in Glasgow. 

Monday, 28 August 2017

A Good/Good Day

Benedict Ambrose is in hospital and seems much better today than he was yesterday. The hospital has  been filling him up with fluid, and weighing him, and feeding him his dinner so early that in the evening he drinks Ensure Plus of his own volition.

I feel really happy about all that.

Back at the Historical Ranch, I applied some lessons I learned from Cal Newport's Deep Work to get as much work done as possible. It was extremely awesome. I got 1.5 hours of Polish study (deep work) done before breakfast. During breakfast I trawled through the internet looking for leads (shallow work). Then I went back to deep work and wrote a complicated piece before the shallow work of watching a film I'm reviewing. I hit pause when it was time for a meeting (shallow work).

After the meeting, I powered through the late afternoon by writing two articles (deep work), and then I ran out of the house to get to the hospital to see B.A.

When I got home (taxi, so as to get here before dark--£10), I finished watching the film. It's called "Because of Gracia" and I liked it way better than "Bella." Everyone's going to compare it to "Bella," so I might as well be first.

I wonder if I am able to accomplish that much tomorrow. That would be AMAZING.

Meanwhile, I brought B.A. the chess set I bought him after his first operation back in March, and this time we actually opened the box. Well, I opened the box. B.A. grumbled about the social politics of being publicly interested in chess. He seems to think that even a living skeleton can get hassled for being too posh if he's in a NHS hospital. However I refused, as usual, to get sucked into the class war/delusion, and happily read aloud about pawns and pikemen.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Three Good/Bad Days

Wednesday

The GP saw Benedict Ambrose when I wasn't at home. Apparently he told BA he shouldn't lie in bed all day. He examined B.A.'s skeletal frame (but didn't weigh him) and prescribed him Ensure Plus.

I was at Polish class, stuffing my head with useful work-related Polish. When I came home, BA told me he wanted to sleep, so instead of making his breakfast as usual, I got down to my work for the day.

My goal was to get the work done without distractions. To have a good work day.

I think I got B.A. to take some exercise. He tottered down the stairs and got, if it was like other days, up to 8 times around the front lawn. Then I sat him down in front of our big computer monitor and found something on BBC iPlayer for him to watch and started making dinner.

While I was making dinner, BA, who hadn't eaten all day, was violently ill. When I came into the sitting room, I found him with green-brown liquid all over his clothes, and after I ran for the basin, he was sick again.

I took him to the bathroom, and took off his clothes, and generally cleaned him up, and since he was there and I could, I got him to stand on the scales.

I had promised myself that if his weight fell below 100 lbs, I would get him into the hospital.

He was 97.5 lbs.

I called the National Health Service Emergency Hotline, leaving B.A. cranky in the bathroom with no shirt on, until I realised he was cold and helped him into bed. The NHS was not interested in his weight; they wanted to know if he had vomited blood. There was debate between BA and me as to what colour the vomit had been: tea or tea with milk? I had flushed most of the evidence, but some remained, and it looked brown to me.

The NHS said a doctor would be there within 4 hours, and indeed he arrived by half past eleven, remarking in his EU accent that it was really, really dark outside the House. He said B.A. could have thrown up because he hadn't eaten all day.

He didn't say it was my fault. But I knew that was my fault.

The emergency doctor didn't find much wrong with B.A. except that he needed some sugar. B.A. didn't want sugar. B.A. wanted the curried cabbage I had shoved off the heat when he was sick. He got cake instead.

I cancelled the next morning's Italian class.

Good work day; bad wife day.

Thursday

On Thursday I made B.A. a protein shake and watched him drink it. When he said that the bottom was gloopy, I put in more milk and mixed it up.

I told Facebook and other friends about B.A.'s weight, and the response was overwhelming. All Canadians and Americans were absolutely horrified: phrases like "passive euthanasia" and "he's dying" were tossed my way, and I literally collapsed.  I spent an online work meeting facedown on the carpet.

I gave B.A. some curried cabbage for lunch. He threw up. I cleaned up and called the local clinic weeping.  Then, because I thought he could die at any minute, I just got into bed with B.A.  When I thought I was going to be sick too, I went to the bathroom and lay on the floor.

I really need to wash that floor.

A nice doctor called me back, and it was some time before he had a chance to tell me he wasn't our usual GP and had never seen Mr McLean. The GP was on holiday. I apologised and explained that I wanted to know why my dangerously underweight (and vomiting) husband wasn't admitted to hospital. The cover doctor explained that B.A. wasn't dangerously underweight, as he had been 60 kilos and now was 50 kilos--numbers which didn't seem right to me, but I always think in pounds, and B.A. understands only stones, and the doctor sounded so reassuring.

All the same, I ended up not at work but back in a chair at the foot of the bed. To B.A.'s mild surprise, I didn't make him go downstairs and outside for his daily exercise. Not only did I not have any fight left in me, I wasn't sure I could get down the stairs and around the yard myself. That said, I did walk into town to fill the Ensure Plus prescription.

B.A. wanted more curried cabbage for supper, so he had some, and kept it down, and watched more quality programming on BBC iPlayer

I dragged myself back to Facebook to apologise for scaring everyone. And then Ma Belle Soeur, our sister-in-law, asserted her medical knowledge and said, in effect, "He's really, really sick. Push the NHS."

Bad work day; goodish wife day, total collapse notwithstanding.

Friday

Friday was supposed to be a totally normal work day, the day I made up for the very little work I did on Thursday. I was scanning the day's headlines when Ma Belle Soeur appeared on Facebook (where I first collect headlines--its a bit like berry-picking) and started asking me what was wrong with B.A. and telling me how to push the NHS.

When she started, I was thinking, "She doesn't understand Our System, and none of the British doctors think it's worth taking him to the hospital." When she finished, I wrote to work asking for yet another Sick Day, left a message on the answering machine of Mr Frightfully Important Neurosurgeon, and went to sit with B.A.

B.A. had decided that he should sit in a chair, so that was an improvement. He was very happy to have me sit on a stool across from him and read him articles out of the new Spectator. I realised how bored and lonely B.A. had been lying in bed listening to the BBC while I worked in my office across the hall, and reflected on how horrible it was to have to choose, every day, between being a good employee and being a good wife. But I also reflected that just for the day, I was going to act as though it were B.A.'s last.

At some point, I got him back on the scales. The numbers were 6 stone 5... 6 stone...6....6 stone 8... They kept flickering because B.A. wobbled so much.

Ma Belle Soeur, meanwhile, also called Mr Frightfully Important Neurosurgeon, and he called her back in half an hour. What a thing it is to be a doctor. She had also written a letter for me to take to whichever doctor I got B.A. to next. However, when Mr FIN's secretary called me (about three hours after my first call, within an hour of my second), she said we should get a referral to the neurosurgery department by going to the nearest Emergency ward

B.A. was so distressed by the idea of having to sit in Emergency, potentially for hours and hours, that he went back to bed. I phone neighbours for a lift, printed off Ma Belle's Soeur's letter, packed B.A.'s basic emergency kit, and off we went, B.A. in his increasingly grubby white dressing down and red-and-black Woolrich slippers. I think that was about 3 PM.

At about 9 PM, B.A. was in a men's ward at the nearest hospital, having been x-rayed and CAT-scanned, having had vials of blood removed and the hated cannula added, having lain in a chilly hallways for a couple of hours, while I waited worriedly for someone to get me, and then continuing to lie in the hallway, only now with me for entertainment.

"And I didn't even throw up today," he moaned.

"I'm sorry," I told him. "But [Ma Belle Soeur] said."

B.A. agreed that the instructions of Ma Belle Soeur were paramount--heck, the admitting staff of the hospital seemed to think so too. And Mr Frightfully Important Neurosurgeon had actually called her in person and spoken to her on the phone.  It is not surprising, therefore, that B.A. and I would do what she said.

I took a cab home in the pouring rain, prising open the big gates for the driver, and remaining thankfully in my seat as he undid the chain. When drivers don't ask about it, I always wonder what they think of my destination and whether they think I ought to give them a massive tip, living in a house like that.

Very bad work day; very good wife day.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Sweatpants to Freeze the Blood

In the ongoing struggles of Amoris Laetitia, the blood-freezing spectre of your spouse's personality changing in a radical way was introduced by a priest telling the sad story of a Catholic woman whose Catholic husband was badly hurt in a traffic accident. The accident left him miserable, and he became addicted to painkillers, as people in pain frequently do. He became abusive and got involved in crime and eventually ended up in prison. His young wife, the mother of his children, divorced him, hooked up with a new chap, and sat with the new chap in church weeping while her children received their First Communion. They were weeping because they couldn't receive the Blessed Sacrament.

The priest wrote the story in a manner to make us feel really sorry for the irregularly remarried wife and not at all sorry for her awful, abusive, cop-killer husband languishing in prison. It is the first time in my life I have read an article by a Catholic priest tailored to make a human being seem like disposable rubbish--yet another reason to approach Amoris Laetitia with caution.   However skilfully the priest wrote the story  (and however sympathetic the marriage tribunal) there was no getting around the fact that all the misfortunes and personality changes that befell this young Catholic man happened AFTER the wedding. It was a terrible, TERRIBLE situation, but let's face it, it was worse on him, and he was--and is--somebody's husband.

In case you are wondering, Benedict Ambrose has not become addicted to painkillers. Au contraire. I can't get him to take a paracetamol because he thinks it will make him nauseous. But he is having a terrible struggle with his temper, which is a lot more painful for him than for me, poor chap.  I don't know how one makes peace with chronic pain; if a saint has written about it, I will buy the book.

Since moving hurts him, it is a struggle to get him up, washed, dressed, down the stairs and out the door for some exercise. Yesterday after Mass I ran like mad through Edinburgh's Waverley Station to catch the train back home, cutting in front of some youths who shouted "EXCUSE ME!" at my back. Friends were coming to visit B.A., and I had a lot to do beforehand.

I didn't notice what the youths were wearing as I popped in front of them because I was beyond caring. Normally part of social life in Edinburgh is judging books by the covers, which is to stay, looking out for potentially dangerous members of the Socially Excluded class. The Socially Excluded of Edinburgh are probably exclusively white-and-Scottish, so this is not an inter-racial concern unless of course you are a minority person which--come to think of it--I instantly become when a Scot hears my accent. When B.A. and I are confronted by a Socially Excluded person, I keep my mouth shut and B.A. delves into the patois of his working-class roots.

Incidentally "Socially Excluded" is the polite term for chav. The British class system is by no means gone; in fact, in some ways it is worse. Drunkenness and violence among the urban poor (who now have money instead of religion) are as much of a feature as they were in Queen Victoria's day. One learns to spot a chav at 100 yards, and one of the signs is that the chav wears sweatpants in public.

The one and only British person I know socially who wears sweatpants in public is the neighbourhood grump, a former enfant terrible of English letters, who instead of growing into an eminence grise remains an enfant terrible at 70. I assume he wears sweatpants because he can't be bothered not to. Being cornered by him at a party is a horror; when he found out I had no idea what his career had been, he was nastily sarcastic.

I gave B.A. his first pair of sweatpants in 25 years when he started Pilates class. Unfortunately, Pilates class is now completely impractical and the sweatpants have been downgraded to pyjama bottoms. Normally when B.A. goes out in public, I get out his jeans. Since he has lost about 40 lbs since  March, none of his trousers fit, so the jeans stay on only thanks to braces (suspenders). Yesterday, thanks to time constraints, I made a snap decision and reached for his newly washed sweatpants. To make up for them, I added a hand knitted green cable pullover to the ensemble.

Mistake.

I was not around the whole time our guests were talking to B.A.--for awhile I was flying about getting tea, coffee, biscuits--but apparently he was "crotchety." And when I heard this my heart sank to my feet because my formerly good-natured husband never ever ever exhibited irritation  in front of guests. He was truly the most easy-going, most amiable and cheerful chap alive. His company manners were perfection. He would never even describe the Socially Excluded as I have above for fear of hurting someone's feelings. Being judged as "crotchety" was new.

And then the coup-de-grace.

"Maybe he'll turn into [the Neighbourhood Grump]," said a guest cheerfully.

Dear God, let that not be so. Something new to worry about, and how I wish those words had remained unsaid. How my poor B.A. could be likened at all to the Neighbourhood Grump, quite apart from completely understandable pain-induced crotchetiness, can be down to only one thing: those terrible sweatpants.

Update in Defence of Scottish Chavs: Whenever I write about Socially Excluded Scots, I always try to remember that as scary as they can be, the chavs/neds are the victims of history. Not only did the post-war collapse in heavy industry hit Scotland particularly hard, the two hope-filled ideologies of working-class Scots--communism and Christianity--also largely disappeared by 2000. Thanks to the Sexual Revolution, the traditional family was terribly weakened. Then there was the heroin and AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, so accurately depicted in Trainspotting. My Scottish great-grandparents missed all that.  Meanwhile, public drunkenness happens throughout British society. This isn't new. What is new (that is, post-1963) is that British women also get falling down drunk.