2020 AND THEN THERE WAS COVID

PLANS for 2020

You make all the best plans for the year ahead, something to look forward to, something to add a bit of interest to your life and then this happens. No, not COVID. That comes later. We planned to visit people, a northern tour, a southern tour, and a tour abroad. We were booked to go to Machu Picchu and Menorca again. Adrian wanted to write his novel, “Wilf.”  We planned to get the garden straight and do all those house repairs we’ve not done for a few years. Our Trustpilot score would be       1 / 5.  And that’s because you can’t get zero stars.

PLANS CHANGE

After Sue’s mum’s hip operation in Menorca things must go better in 2020. We celebrated a lovely Christmas Day. People had just gone home when the phone rang. The hospital called to say Adrian’s dad had fallen after getting out of bed. He was in A & E. Well, that dampened down our spirits a little. We couldn’t drive because we had been drinking and taxis are hard to find at Christmas, and we were exhausted after a day of cooking and fun games. We went to bed not too perturbed. This had happened a few times before. We were supposed to be fetching him on Boxing Day for a day with the family. He said he didn’t want to come but we were fetching him anyway. This was going a bit far to get out of a day with us.

2019 – THE YEAR OF THE HIP OPERATIONS

The mood changed next morning. The hospital told us Adrian’s dad had broken his hip and needed an operation. Oh no!  We were about to go through this all over again. Not such a big deal we thought, not for us anyway. It must be easier than doing it all in Menorca. An English speaking (mostly) hospital, no apartment moves to contend with, no flights home to arrange. Sue’s mum was in hospital for a week, which was challenging, but when she came back to our apartment for the following week we had fun and pushed her in the wheelchair to restaurants, for drinks at the pub, and to sit watching the waves rolling in. Yes it was a challenge but she made it fun. A broken hip in the QMC was entirely different. 

We spent summer 2019 clearing Adrian’s dad’s flat so there were no trip hazards. Then we took him on holiday to Cornwall. We are so glad we did both when we did.

In the QMC he had 4 operations at least. They put a new hip in and he was up and walking in no time at all with the help of a walker.  They had clearly been asking him the dementia questions, and asking his name and address before they gave him his medication because he was standing at the bottom of his bed using his walker like a pulpit and reeling of all the answers to the dementia questions at the top of his voice. He shouted “My name is John Alan Woods and I live at ……I was born on ……  My telephone number is ……  The queen is Queen Elizabeth II, the Prime Minister is Boris Johnson…  and just about anything else he knew.  For those who might want to pass the dementia test the address they give you is 42 West Street, commit it to memory now before it’s too late, but be warned, they sometimes change it, or the consultant gets it wrong. Then he zipped up and down the ward using his walker. No problem there we thought. After a few weeks he acquired an infection in the hip and they cleaned it out several times, opening up the wound to get inside. Finally they had to remove the hip joint. So he now has no hip joint and no bone to attach one to. We’ve no idea how it all holds together but needless to say he cannot walk. But that’s not the biggest problem. His age, the anaesthetic, the trauma of the operations, and the infection have left him with delirium. He forgets how to use the walker and tries to get up by pulling on it, so it just ends up on top of him. He told us the police come in at night and they are fighting on the ward. The man in the next bed says the doctors and nursing are coming round having sex with the patients all night. No wonder they have round staring eyes and look exhausted all the time. And the patients look rough too!

Adrian’s dad thinks they are coming to throw him off the roof of the hospital. We can understand this though, as he is shouting a lot and demanding attention. Perhaps they really do want to do that. 

They tried to send him home in this state but we resisted, pointing out the dangers to the social worker: that he did not understand how to use his walker to stand up, and we are glad we resisted as that’s when the delirium kicked in and he had 4 strokes. That could’ve been fatal at home alone. He was on a trolley in A&E after being “unresponsive” for 20 minutes (we aren’t sure but to the medically untrained I think that means dead.) He was transferred to a different hospital on the stroke ward at around 9 o’clock at night. We met him there. This was no fun. No restaurants, no laughing and joking in bars, no warm nights watching the sea rolling in. It is a dark cold winter evening in England, with damp air and wet ground. And it’s dark, in every way.

We see him settled in but by morning he has been transferred to a high dependency ward. He is shouting and demanding cups of tea and the toilet every few minutes. It was not long before he had identified a little wizened old man in the bed opposite as a witch and the witch was coming with the coven at midnight to hang him. Again, I think he showed immense awareness because he probably realised that is probably what people would like to do to him to shut him up.

I cannot speak highly enough of the people looking after him, not just because they treated him with compassion and respect throughout all his complaining. The doctor was a friend’s daughter so that was reassuring and we probably got more information than people usually get and we wanted it. We were advised to consider a  “Do not resuscitate” (technically a DNACPR) order. Maybe he was right, they might want to do away with him.

As ever there is fun to be found in every situation, it seems necessary to have a laugh to relieve the tension and the strain. He certainly gave us plenty of opportunities. He kept complaining “the witch” was blocking his signal. He told the doctor. The doctor said he “would see what he could about it.”  He looked at us as if to say “see, you’re the one who are crazy for not believing me.” But for all the fun, the danger he thought he was in and the constant threats were real to him and he was genuinely terrified.  And the paranoia is still with him. It’s easier to laugh when it’s not your own misfortune I suppose. How are we going to leave him for two weeks to go to Machu Picchu?  

FOLLOWING THROUGH ON OUR PLANS

In January we started a Spanish course. We enjoyed our holidays in Menorca but a week in the hospital had taught us that we needed a little more Spanish if we were to survive there. There are the occasional people who don’t speak English and it’s always the ones you need to talk to, like the hospital, or ambulance drivers. Who cares if we use our Spanish to order an omelette and they bring us steak and chips. But it matters more if they cut the wrong leg off.  So we enrolled.

A PLACE IN THE SUN

Sue loves watching “A Place in the Sun” and Adrian does not. Adrian had, by coincidence, been sent some free tickets for the “A Place in the Sun” show in Manchester in March. We think it was a spelling mistake in the email address and they were intended for someone else! But hey, Adrian thought it would be fun to go along so we booked our hotel room in Manchester and took two days off hospital duty. It was nice to get away, have a few drinks and to have a nice dinner out. Do you remember those days?  We took the tram into Manchester and sat in a nice cosy, COVID insecure restaurant, crammed with ambiance and character for a lovely meal. At the show Sue decided to talk to the “A Place in the Sun” stand as well as all the people advising on how to buy abroad and all the estate agents. We had no interest in being on the programme.  Adrian was interested in buying a place abroad, in Menorca, but Sue wanted to rent for three months. Anyway, we ended up having a screen test and they invited us to partake in the programme and asked us what our budget was. Of course Adrian gave them a budget although he has no idea where his money is or how much there is. Sue deals with all that and the money moves around all the time. It is hard to know how much or where it is, or what it is earmarked for, according to Adrian. As an economist he’s used to millions (pity he doesn’t have them) but Sue keeps accounts to the nearest penny. Of course we can’t buy the property we would like without selling at home, but there are properties that would be nice and let us live like a local which is what we want.

We got home and within days we had a call asking if we can do a screen test at the studio, then “don’t bother with the screen test, can we come to film at your house!” Ouch! That meant a lot of tidying and sorting out. You can’t let people see how you really live. We trimmed the log pile so all the logs were neatly lined up, planted flowers and bought more flowers in pots. We had dates of travel and filming. We planned our clothes. You need two identical sets because filming is over several days and you start to smell by the end we are told by the presenters. When you look at their smart dresses on the TV it’s not the first thing that comes to mind. And then Spain banned us because of COVID. We got our telephone call as we left the garden centre with more flowers. By the time we got home the holiday in Peru had also been cancelled.

“A Place in the Sun” asked us to go again in May and then again in October but Adrian said he would not travel on an aeroplane. So that was soon over. The programme was to air on Adrian’s birthday without us. A good job too, as COVID hit the resources hard and we still don’t know on what terms  we can visit Spain because of BREXIT. So we probably can’t afford it and aren’t allowed to go for as long as we would like. But at least we were cat free and our children and parents didn’t need us. So we nearly made it. Perhaps they’ll want us next time or we can do it alone.

MACHU PICCHU

Adrian’s mum had always dreamed of going to Machu Picchu so we had booked a trip there, and Claire was coming along too. The Spanish lessons were also partially motivated by going to Peru. It was not cheap for four people to go to South America but it was a once in a lifetime event.  It was cancelled the same day as the “A Place in the Sun.” Cancelling our trip to Peru was the most disappointing as we don’t know if we’ll get the chance to do that again. Maybe not even a once in a lifetime event as Adrian’s mum is over 80 and it’s a challenging trip up the Andes and over lakes.

COME ON YOU PIES

After years of supporting Notts County and having little success, we were on course to see them play at Wembley twice in one year, once in the play-offs, and once in the cup. Then we were banned from attending games. We had only ever seen Notts County Ladies Team play at Wembley before they were disbanded and that’s how it stays.

BACK TO REALITY

In the real world, we were banned from visiting the hospital because of COVID so we couldn’t see or otherwise communicate with Adrian’s dad. Then the hospital moved him to a care home to make way for the swarm of COVID patients. I don’t know if there is an official name for a collective of COVID patients but swarm seems as good as anything.  

At least at home we could get the garden straight and Adrian put a new roof on the garage. There are benefits to being confined to home and not being allowed to visit the care home or the hospital! We always knew there must be positive elements to COVID.

Eventually Adrian’s dad came home with carers. All went well at first but then the carers were leaving him for 12-15 hours overnight and he can’t get to the toilet on his own. The emergency carers were called a bit more often than they are supposed to be used so they started to complain. The emergency cord is attached to the telephone line and his bill was approaching £200 a month! At least they are based in Sheffield so he didn’t think they were going to come and get him. We got him an Alexa. He took to it straight away to turn his lights on, play the radio. He tried asking it for a bacon sandwich but I think he knew that wasn’t going to happen. Then he started shouting at it all day and all night, changing the colour of the light, making it brighter and dimmer. It didn’t understand him sometimes after his stroke so Alexa confused his “please” for “play” and it started playing the radio. “Some bloody idiot keeps playing loud pop music all night “ he would tell us. We tried explaining but …..he just kept doing it.

Every day brought a new crisis: a trip to the hospital, they’re beating him up, they don’t feed him, he reported the carers to the Care Quality Commission, they didn’t turn up when they were supposed to. He wants the opticians, the dentist, the doctors, the incontinence nurse hasn’t been. Can we get him a razor, new socks, t-shirt, 3 pairs of pyjamas. He was bored and called us all the time. Just when we finished sorting out his tablets, the doctor, the physio, the carers, get him a new phone, a new watch, he’s got no socks, no trousers, he doesn’t like meals on wheels because put garden peas on his dinner, we would sit down and he would call for something else. That lasted four months. Hardly a day to relax. “Can you come and put my light on?  I’m waiting for a call from the doctor and I can’t see to answer my phone and I can’t pick it up.” But he dialled our number to tell us. I guess that’s what being institutionalised means.  There has been someone to do everything for him for so long that he expects that service at home too. It’s not like we live close.

CORNISH TOUR

We managed a “holiday “ in Cornwall.  We went to collect Sue’s mother so she didn’t have to catch the bus.  It also meant we could see Sue’s sister so it was a no-brainer to take the caravan to Cornwall and stay on the pub field at the end of the road (all the camp sites were full anyway.)  We planned to visit a friend in Wells as part of the trip but he said we couldn’t go because he was on holiday. “Where are you going?” we enquired. “To St Ives.” “Oh, we’ll meet you there then.” And so we did. So a warning to all those who make excuses when we are coming to visit you. You had better have a better excuse than you’re on holiday. I mean, St Ives is the furthest away you can get in this country and we still managed to see them. It was lovely to meet up for a meal outdoors in September. On the day we were due to go home Adrian woke up dizzy in the middle of the night. In the morning he couldn’t walk straight. How could he still be drunk? He doesn’t remember being drunk when he went to bed. He was aiming to go towards the car which was on the right and he could only walk towards the left. Maybe we should have gone to A&E but we’re sick of going there. So we stayed an extra day. He was still a little dizzy but able to drive home. It’s only 350 miles. Not like John O’Groats. It was sad because the last time we did this was last year with Adrian’s dad.

OUTDOOR LIVING

We set up a gazebo to watch the football matches on the TV outdoors when it was allowed and our writing class met in it too. We never understood why the continentals sat outside so much but after five years being a little bit German, we tried it.  It was quite nice and we might continue that. Putting the passcode in to watch the football match proved a problem. Adrian lost his sight for 15 minutes and couldn’t even see the password on a flat screen tv. Perhaps we should have gone to A&E, but the match was on and he had paid. And besides, he could see again.

BANKING ON SUE

During 2020 Sue tried to give up her job but the bank just continued paying her and told her to come back when she feels safe to do so. She did in the end when cases went down but then she finally gave it up as the cases were rising again and she was on the front line. It was a shame and she was sad to do it, but it was safest for all of us.

PRESSURE COOKER

We weren’t getting our own things done and the pressure began to tell. Adrian was dealing with the council and the ombudsman and the MP since the council had narrowed the drive and were making it difficult to get in and out. They also directed all the floodwater into our drive. You would expect them to put their errors right without going to court but that’s a different, and even longer story, and is not yet concluded. We couldn’t deal with this as well as the caring duties so the stress built.

EYE CASUALTY – YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN.

Sue went to the opticians while Adrian hosted a writers meeting.  Adrian asked for an appointment since his incident the previous week.. They couldn’t see him “but he must go to Eye Casualty immediately” and they phoned to make sure he did. “How soon can you get here?” they said. This was a bit odd. “Are they short of business we thought?” The optician stayed behind to see him in eye casualty. They were supposed to be closed.  When he arrived the optician took one look, checked out his eyes and had him bundled into a wheelchair and taken to a trolley in A&E. They wouldn’t let him walk. Adrian’s used to it now. A lie down, plenty of water and coffee, a bit of food and he’s back in action. But when doctors take a look at you and send you to A&E I guess you should listen. Well, yet again he aced all the tests and he’s in great shape, except, the doctor said, there may be some evidence of an irregular heartbeat. “I fell and dislocated my finger this morning too because of being dizzy.” “Well, we can look at it but you’ll have to go to the back of the queue and start again.” It was 10:30 at night by this time.  So he came home. Waiting longer with no food and water would not have been a wise choice. He still can’t use his finger, which in some cases is just as well. Yes it’s that one.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

On his birthday Adrian woke up at 12:45 am feeling unwell. He couldn’t speak to Sue when she spoke to him, or walk in a straight line. It was definitely not the drink this time.  We called the ambulance to get an ECG but soon realised they would want to take him to A&E again. He got washed and dressed, got his phone ready, and put some food in his pocket.  Wow, a birthday in A&E.  It’s the only place open anyway. Where else could he go?  For two years on his birthday Adrian had the “Movieprep” formula to clear his bowels prior camera insertion so this is an improvement. Next year he wants a proper party. No cameras allowed.  He was admitted to the ward in the morning and spent his birthday trying to answer questions. It’s amazing how many people come to ask you questions when you can’t speak. Nine consultants and professionals in just 3 hours.

 The results of the scans came back and Adrian was having a stroke and the Cornwall episode may also have been something similar. So after three good meals he was eventually dismissed with the obligatory plastic bag of old man medicines. Prostate, blood thinners. He’s on the same medicines as his dad!

He went home for his birthday dinner, let’s not call it a party this time.

GOOD NEWS – SORT OF

On top of all that Claire was made redundant and then got a new job accounting for COVID, so there are some more positives coming out of the pandemic, except it’s COVID that caused the redundancy, or maybe just brought it forward. Craig bought a house from us and is now selling it to move to a bigger place! If we bought it back the tax office would suspect a Capital Gains scam.  He left his job at the University and is now working full time for Deep Branch. They feature in a documentary in the new year on January 4th on the BBC Horizon programme. They’re feeding carbon to bacteria to create fish food for Scottish Salmon, then farm animals and then maybe for human trials. I can’t quite believe what we have created. It could add a new twist on the Frankenstein story.

ANIMAL MAGIC

And we have a new cat. He arrived the day after Adrian got back from hospital. We didn’t want another cat just yet but when one of the family has a cat that needs a home, what can you do? We didn’t really have to think about it. He’s big and smelly and eats a lot but he’s really lovely.  After a month I think we’ve finally filled him. He’s called Severus and is six years old. He went missing for 18 months before returning to his old house and sleeping under a tree. Adrian feels a bit self conscious going out shouting his name, but he can cope. The last cat we inherited was called “Nigger.” The older generation did that. But you can’t go out shouting that these days. So we renamed her “Blackie.” Good job we have distant neighbours.

TAKING A DEEP BREATH

After a month being very fatigued, moving Adrian’s Dad out of his flat and into a Care Home, clearing the flat, and having several ECG monitors fitted we are just about ready to get ready for Christmas. It’s 21st December. Time to return the latest heart monitor in the morning and put the trimmings up after figuring out how to publish this story.  The children are allowed to come on Christmas day but no-one else is coming. We are so well-behaved. 

And then we will make our plans for 2021. We think we can say right now that our plans are to be spontaneous and opportunist and to do whatever we can whenever we can do it, safely, regardless of the guidelines.  We value our lives more than the Government does, so whatever their advice, we will listen, but we’ll probably be more careful than they suggest. What can possibly go wrong with that plan?

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