Sunday 12 February 2012

Painful injections, hurtful comments

15st 12lb, 4.7 units. This morning I delivered Mrs H to hospital for her Date with Destiny on Valentine’s Day. Apparently she needs to be injected with steroids to give The Baby’s lungs a sporting chance once he is out and about. This is because they are not expected to have the benefit of being squeeze-dried by their passage through the birth canal, if that’s what it’s called in polite society these days. The steroids are delivered by injection in the buttocks and I can exclusively report Mrs H’s e-mailed verdict that “it f***ing hurts”, which is actually considerably stronger language than she ever used during the birth of The Boy two and a half years ago. So I think we may deduce that it cannot be an entirely pleasant experience.

It's being so cheerful as keeps her going

It is fair to say that the maternity ward we are honouring with our patronage does not inspire great confidence. As in every NHS hospital I have ever had the misfortune to visit, whether as a visitor or a patient, everyone appears to be frantically busy to the point of overstretch, yet it is never at all clear what they are actually doing. Rare instances of baby-snatching elsewhere have inspired them to lock the door to the ward, and make it accessible only by ringing a bell. The snag, as I remembered from Mrs H’s incarceration there following the birth of The Boy, is that there is never anyone around to hear said bell and respond to it. So you stand there, peering through the glass panel in the door, and every so often a uniformed member of staff wanders past and stares back, but makes no attempt to admit you. The saving grace is the high proportion of patients defiantly addicted to nicotine, so that eventually we were able to sneak in as one let herself out to add to the huge mountain of fag ends outside the building, directly beneath the notice prohibiting smoking anywhere on the hospital site.

We had been told to arrive around 11. Through our own disorganization, we were around 45 minutes late. Which was lucky, because we then had to wait for an hour while they “cleaned” a room in order to admit Mrs H. I have applied inverted commas to “cleaned” because I noted that there was still dried blood on the underside of the lavatory seat, which made me wonder whether anything else had received closer attention. Though, of course, there was a big notice on the door of the bathroom advising that it was STRICTLY FOR PATIENT’S USE ONLY and that ALL visitors must use the facilities elsewhere, so I suppose the cleaner would have been working on the safe assumption that a lady would never need to raise the seat and inspect the underside.

The light in the bathroom did not work, and the cord that was supposed to operate it had been ripped from the ceiling. I pointed this out to a member of staff, who regretted that nothing could be done about it as there were no maintenance staff on site on a Sunday. Nor many doctors, it would seem, to judge by the hours it took to find one to sign the correct prescription for Mrs H’s steroids. To look on the positive side, at least someone did spot that the original prescription supplied for her was completely wrong before the drugs were injected into her.

I read recently that being admitted to hospital on a Sunday increased a patient’s chances of death by 16 per cent. This is beginning to seem like a suspiciously low number.

The Boy accompanied us to hospital and thoughtfully munched a cheese sandwich in the day room while we waited for his mother’s room to become available. Then his grandparents arrived and whisked him away. I had asked him over breakfast whether he would prefer to be looked after by Daddy or Grandma while Mummy was away, trying to sell the Daddy idea by claiming that we could eat nothing but chocolate for four days.

He gave me a withering, sensible look and said, “No, Daddy, I have to eat my dinner first.”

He did not supply the rest of the sentence: “… and I don’t feel that I can really trust you to supply that.”

But then, to be honest, he did not really need to.

Saturday 11 February 2012

Out and about with a loony dwarf

15st 10lb, zero units. Sometimes my son is the sweetest little boy that anyone could possibly imagine; at other times life with him resembles nothing so much as being in the company of a loony dwarf cloned from Mao Tse-tung or Adolf Hitler.

I am currently beginning to worry that our failure to pay for a Sky TV subscription, partly out of meanness but mainly because of my long-standing dislike of all that Rupert Murdoch stands for, has left him overexposed to the inevitably left-wing hippy standards of the BBC’s CBBC channel. I mean, Waybuloo: what the hell is that all about?

And if we continue to be able to afford to live in middle class rural England, it surely won’t be long before he starts questioning why there is such a marked shortage of the black, disabled and screamingly gay role models of which he sees so much on the telly.

His indoctrination with political correctness struck me forcibly in Sainsbury’s this morning. There was a buy-one-get-one-free offer on Cathedral City Cheddar, so Mrs H naturally tried to stick two of the things in our trolley. But The Boy hurled himself in front of her and announced sternly, “We only need one, Mummy.”

“Yes, but they’re on a special offer and we don’t have to pay for the other one, so it would be silly not to take it.”

“But we only need one, Mummy.”

So you end up in the middle of a busy supermarket trying to explain that we are, in fact, responsible shoppers who would never dream of taking up those pernicious BOGOF offers on fresh food that stands no chance of being consumed before it goes off and ends up being transferred directly from fridge to bin. But on stuff with a reasonably long life like cheese, which we were going to buy anyway, it is actually mad not to take advantage of the offer.

And then Mrs H did her, “Look, what’s that?” trick, pointing down the aisle, and sneaked the second packet into the trolley while he wasn’t looking.

I quite expected to be having this sort of conversation with my child at some point. Just not when he is two and a half. I dread to think what is going to happen when he finally discovers what goes into the sausages that have been his favourite food since he moved onto solids.

I tried to take his photograph eating some in the pub where we went for lunch after Sainsbury’s, but he threw a tantrum, putting his hands in front of his face and weeping “No, no photos now, Daddy!”

I had to sneak this one by pulling the “What’s that?” trick yet again. I wonder how much longer that will work?

As you can see, to say that he wasn't happy about it is something of an understatement.

On second thoughts, maybe he’s a loony dwarf cloned from Hugh Grant rather than Adolf Hitler.

Friday 10 February 2012

I didn't do anything in my pants

15st 10lb, zero units. Back in 2008 I used to count down the remaining days of my life at the start of each entry in this blog. There were more than 1,200 of them left, then. It was hardly a worry. But if had got it right, I should have died last Saturday.

I thought it was in with a late chance when I developed a mysterious lump on my jaw in early January, which my GP considered worth referring to a consultant who in turn felt that it merited a scan and a biopsy, though clearly it would have needed to be a particularly vicious form of cancer to polish me off in just four weeks. As it was, the lump vanished completely before anyone could even take a sample of it, and I have decided to give up trying to predict when I am going to die. There is enough going on in life at present to keep me occupied.

Cue asteroid falling unexpectedly on head.

The main lesson I need to learn (and I have been working on this for decades, without success) is the importance of constantly reminding myself that we only live once, and not for long, and that it is therefore important to GET ON WITH IT. Like many, I have a nasty tendency to approach life as a whole as I do most individual days: with a stack of things to do, but plenty of time to get through them, so why not have a nice cup of tea and a look at the papers before I get started, then perhaps a glance at Twitter and Facebook and a check on one or two other websites? After which it is always good to go through my various inboxes and send what are supposed to be hilarious replies to my personal correspondents. Then it’s almost time for lunch, so it’s clearly not worth starting work until after that. And in the afternoon – well, I’m a bit tired now and I would undoubtedly get the work done in half the time if I started it when I was nice and fresh in the morning, so why not do a little more of that morning stuff? And maybe write an entry for a long neglected blog?

The net effect of which is that it is time for home and Coronation Street before I know it, with nothing particularly useful accomplished. Which is not how I want to feel when the tap on the window proves to be caused by a bloke in a black hood clumsily wielding a scythe.

But now let us turn to the current mood in the Bloke in the North household, which can best be described as “apprehensive”. Thanks to the entirely characteristic Hann stubbornness displayed by my forthcoming second son, who remains resolutely stuck in the breech position, Mrs H is scheduled to go into hospital on Sunday in preparation for a Caesarean section on Tuesday. Valentine’s Day. The reasons for this slightly bizarre choice of date were covered in my newspaper column on Tuesday, so I shall not repeat them here.

It would be fair to say that Mrs H is not looking forward to this procedure one little bit. But then she listened carefully as the professionals outlined all the various options for separating her and The Baby, and it would be fair to say that she did not fancy any of them in the slightest.

I was fully with her on that.

She asked me whether I would like to be with her in the operating theatre, so that I could hold her hand during the Caesarean. I enquired, in response, whether she would like to be in an operating theatre with me if I were having my appendix out, and we swiftly established that she would not. That summed up pretty much how I felt about being around for her. I have had a horror of operating theatres ever since I had my tonsils clumsily removed in one at the old Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in Newcastle’s Rye Hill 50-odd years ago. The only half-persuasive counter-argument I have heard is the one advanced by male friends who have sat through both natural childbirth and Caesareans, and confirm that the latter is considerably less likely to put a chap off his breakfast. We shall see.

Meanwhile, The Boy is also showing clear signs of nervousness, despite our best efforts to get him feeling involved and enthused.

“What shall we call the baby, Charlie?”

“De brudder.”

“We think Jamie’s quite a nice name. Shall we call him Jamie?”

“No, I think we call him de brudder.”

Every now and then he picks up a clearly knackered toy car that is fit only for the bin, and generously announces that de brudder can have it.

On Tuesday I drove him into his nursery on my own for the first time, to get him used to the idea since I will inevitably be doing this rather a lot during the weeks that Mrs H is unable to drive as she recuperates from surgery.

When there are three of us in the car he usually keeps up a more or less constant flow of banter, commenting on passing vehicles (with special emphasis on trucks, tractors and Land Rovers) and the animals in the fields, and offering invaluable snippets of driving advice, such as:

“Go very slowly, Daddy. It icy.” (Tick.)

or: “Come on, Mummy. Catch the truck and go past it.” (No tick, as usually uttered on a blind bend, or when there is row of monster lorries approaching in the opposite direction.)

But when there were just the two of us, I was treated to 45 minutes of more or less complete silence, apart from one “Where Mummy?” and a couple of “Not that one”s to less favoured tracks on his Poppy and Sam story CD, which I now know more or less off by heart. (I reckon that Mrs Boot the farmer is having a torrid affair with Ted the halfwitted tractor driver, but have not shared that insight with The Boy. Yet.)

When we finally pulled into the car park he removed his seatbelt, looked me in the face with a very serious expression and announced “I didn’t do anything in my pants.” This is not something he has ever said before. It took me until lunch, which I shared with a couple of colleagues, for its true import to be revealed to me by the man who, before he discovered chartered surveying, was a professional racing driver.

It was, he pointed out, the finest testimonial to my driving skills that I was ever likely to hear, and one that he had himself been longing to hear for more than a decade, but for which he was still waiting.

I suppose I should have expected some such sign of intelligent appreciation from The Boy, whose growing vocabulary remains a daily source of fascination. A few months ago we acquired a cat (hereinafter called The Cat), as an inevitably inadequate replacement for Mrs H’s sadly deceased pair of moggies. She (The Cat, not Mrs H) had been languishing in our usual cattery / kennels for months, while a not very old lady with Alzheimer’s agonised over what to do with her. Or, more likely, kept forgetting that she (the cat, not the old lady, though in this case I suppose it could well be both) existed. She had certainly not been able to remember whether she had fed the bloody thing for quite some time, as a result of which it had ballooned to literally double the weight it ought to be. We have been systematically starving her ever since, under veterinary supervision. Meanwhile, to add to the joy of her life, she is barked at and chased by a Border terrier on a daily basis, and has a small boy periodically hurling himself on top of her and subjecting her to a bear hug. She has not scratched him yet, from which we may conclude that, whatever else one might say against her, and “fat” springs ineluctably to mind, she has at least got a sweetly forgiving nature.

The Boy holds her in high regard. “Melody, you’re amazing,” he announced the other morning, which will make more sense when I tell you that the not-so-old lady with Alzheimer’s named her cat Melody.

He clearly liked the sound of it, for he said it more than once.

Mrs H, in training for having two sons, looked to introduce a bit of balance, and asked him whether Craster (The Dog) was amazing, too.

He thought about it and declared, “Craster amazing – but in a different way.”

Such profundity at a mere two and a half. I do believe we have a genius in the making, or at any rate one whose gnomic pronouncements on the great issues of the day can be published to the delight of the gullible, ideally in return for ready money.