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Seize the day (but mind my knees)

I’ve just read a letter written by my father in 2008, two years before he died. He was writing to his NHS consultant to apologise for opting out of a medical trial. His reasoning was that, although he knew there was no cure for his condition (Myelodysplastic syndrome), he was still able to achieve a decent quality of life and if he joined the trial he would need to travel several times each month (and possibly more, depending on which trial straw he drew) to a hospital 50 miles away, endure injections and unknown after-effects with no guarantee of improvement or reversal of his symptoms. 

What I also know now is that my mother was beginning to suffer from Alzheimer’s at that time, and Dad was increasingly supporting her. He must have been weighing up the odds – was it worth the inconveniences of the trial and the resulting absences from home for the chance of a stay of execution? I can see from his copious notes and press clippings (he wasn’t an Internet guy!) that he was fascinated by the science of his illness and would have relished the involvement in a trial, at least from an intellectual perspective. But it just wasn’t convenient enough so he chose a different route – to enjoy the life remaining to him (and to help my mother manage and enjoy hers) while he still could. With the benefit of hindsight on his behalf, I think he was right. He lived two more years and postponed my mother’s deterioration for at least 18 months of that.

I am fortunately not in such a difficult position myself right now, but frequently entertain those ‘seize the day’ thoughts. Particularly after the recent sudden and rather shocking deaths of singing and rowing acquaintances, my resolve to ‘do stuff’ has rarely been stronger. Book more holidays! See more friends. Broaden my horizons and don’t just sit in a same-old same-old comfort zone, however comfortable it may be. Book more theatre visits (yes, even more!) – ok, in and out of comfort zone perhaps.

So why have I just spent the weekend sitting around?

Because of my knees. My stupid knees, which are doggedly refusing to (a) stop hurting (right knee); (b) allow me to kneel with them (left knee); or return to their former pre-Madeira shape (both knees). I was never particularly fond of my knees, nor proud of them – but they were fine and I have rarely had occasion to think about them at all in the past.

In the spirit of my positive ‘doing stuff’ drive, I have two walking holidays booked, one of which begins before the end of this very month. And whilst if my life depended on them, I’m fairly sure the knees would go those 50-plus miles up and down cliff paths tomorrow, I’m not sure that would be entirely sensible in their current state. So, also in the spirit of taking positive action, I forced myself last week to pay a visit to the walk-in small injuries clinic at Teddington Hospital, an adventure on which this hospital-phobe does not embark lightly. 

On arrival, by bus and a bit of a walk (which I can still do without a noticeable limp –  slightly annoying), my first concern is the rebranding of this facility as an Urgent Treatment Centre. I already feel a bit of a fraud and endeavour to develop a last-minute hobble. In all the palaver of donning a mask at the door and navigating the queue for Reception, I’m not 100% sure my limpy-leggedness is consistent, but no-one is paying any attention anyway. 

My second concern is the 3-hour wait warning, but I have prepared for this and brought a new paperback with me. I give the briefest of explanations to the receptionist as to why I am here, and supply a few personal details which seem to allow him to access all sorts of additional pieces of information about me (sadly not sufficient to allow the visit to appear subsequently in my GP medical history online, it seems, although perhaps it takes a few months to replicate there). I choose a seat from the few vacant ones dotted around the room and am pleased to say that despite the end-stage emphysema behind me (diagnosed by me to ensure it is nothing transmissible) and the acute ‘terrible twos’ on display to my left (unfortunately more contagious than I have previously thought), I manage to avoid ending up in a fainting fit on the floor this time and remain marvellously aloof throughout.

It is eventually my turn. I don’t need to feign a limp, as my whole body has pretty much set in its ‘patient seated’, or should that be ‘seated patient’, position. My gait is consequently some kind of wooden lollop which loosens up only marginally as we reach the consulting room.

Health professional (addressing his umpty umth sorry specimen of the day): “What can we do for you?”

Scruffy middle-aged lolloper: “Well, I fell on volcanic rock on holiday about three weeks ago and hurt both my knees, and although they were very bad, I could still walk (eventually) and thought they would get better, but they haven’t really and now I’m worried that when I’m even older than I am now, I won’t be able to walk properly at all, so I thought maybe someone should have a look at them…”

Health man, with his clipboard: “And have you seen your GP?”

Limper: “Er no. It’s so difficult to get appointments these days.”

Clip-board Man: “Did you try?” (Bit combative…)

Scruff: “No.” (Looks downcast, nay crestfallen and hopefully mightily apologetic.)

Man: “Hmm, ok, let’s take a look.” (Phew, crestfallen is clearly a more successful look than the alternative curmudgeonly old bag face I keep up my sleeve for awkward customers. Fortunate choice.)

The upshot is that one knee has a bruised meniscus and the other a sprained ligament. As such, no X-ray is given (a little disappointing perhaps but that would undoubtedly be another 3-hour wait) and I am speedily dismissed. I walk carefully back to the bus-stop trying to lollop a little less and clutching my diagnosis (notes on my phone), a couple of pages of hastily printed knee exercises thrust at me on departure and my two-thirds finished novel, and resolve to rest for the next two weeks (once I’ve walked the half mile home from the bus-stop of course.)

I’m not very good at resting. Better when it’s chucking it down with rain outside, and there has been plenty of that, but as soon as the sun comes out I am restless rather than resting. Desperate to do a bit of day-seizing.

However, like a dutiful patient I determined to sit indoors and write up a blog piece this weekend. Plagued with one of those headaches which was bad enough to annoy but not so awful as to justify medication, I soldiered through Sunday writing and revising and editing a veritable masterpiece on the carpe diem theme. Explanations and comparisons, justifications of taking care of myself to preserve for the future versus just bloody doing what I want right now. Etc etc. No doubt it was very edifying and elucidating and marvellous crafted. 

You will never know.

I’ve spent most of this sunny Monday trying to rejuvenate my broken website (actually quite easy once I’d engaged the scary IONOS lady) and retrieve the Word doc I most definitely saved before my laptop crashed – this latter proving impossible, despite discovering all sorts of hidey-Mac-holes and pathways. So the above is a much more succinct version (believe it or not – haha).

And I’m pleased to say that although the knees may still be giving me gyp, there’s nothing wrong with my theatre booking finger and I’ve seized some bargain tickets for The Lehman Trilogy tomorrow evening to challenge the old brain cells.

I promise to walk carefully and slowly across Waterloo Bridge.







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