Saturday, December 07, 2013

2013. What a year! What a life!



As 2013 draws its last breaths for 6 weeks I am reflecting on what can only be described as the best, the worst, the best and definitely the WORST year of my 57. I didn't think so many incidents could happen in just one year and to one family!

The year had started well and the arrival of our new puppy, Honey, was very exciting. I was not at all keen to get a dog but once she was here I could see what fun and pleasure she was going to bring with her.

Things seemed to settle well although you could see that a dog was hard work and would take a fair amount of looking after. One day Caroline decided to meet Kate at the school gates with Honey and Kate was obviously excited. On the way home Kate unfortunately let go of the lead and Honey ran away onto a busy road. Caroline chased after her and caught her before it was killed on the road. Unfortunately in the course of this heroic act Caroline tripped and managed to rupture the extensor tendon in her little finger ( pinky). After a course of bad treatment from hand doctors at the Western Infirmary Glasgow she saw a consultant physiotherapist and a different hand specialist at the Royal Infirmary where they managed to re-set the finger in a proper splint and enabled the finger to return back to what it was before. Caroline returned to work in August this year. That was a full 7 months after the fall!

In all of this time Caroline had been having trouble with her stomach and an ever increasing mass in her abdomen. After an MRI scan on 13th August a massive fibroid was confirmed. Thankfully nothing sinister was seen and so the next step would be a full hysterectomy.  Unfortunately on 1st September She was admitted to the Southern General with severe abdomen pains from the fibroid and was kept there for a couple of days while the pain settled. A date was set for the 2nd of October at the Royal Infirmary, Glasgow for a full hysterectomy.

I wrote in my diary on the 2nd of October:

"At last Caroline has had her hysterectomy. It was done this afternoon and when I phoned just before 4.00 she was in the recovery room. I am just hoping that everything went well and she will soon be on the road to recovery. I will find out more tonight." Later that night:

"I'm sitting in the waiting room to see Caroline because the doctor has been in and now they are changing her due to blood spillage!. The operation was difficult and the fibroid very large. It was akin to being 5 months pregnant! There was a lot of rummaging around so the pain will be intense! She has lost a lot of blood and is very weak. Ovaries and tubes removed. Bladder peeled away quite easily although stuck. They don't have a worry regarding the bladder. She may have to go back to surgery as she is still bleeding but they don't know why. They have applied a pressure dressing to see if that is enough. If not then it will be back to theatre to open up again. 
She is having a morphine pump for pain and I have mentioned the bad reaction to Tramadol. Hopefully things will go smoothly from hereon in"

 When I wrote that in my diary I knew the operation had been tough on Caroline but I had no idea what was to follow! Within 24 hours Caroline was taken to Theatre for a second operation. Here's what I wrote in my diary that Thursday:

"The saga continues with Caroline. She did not have a good night and required a couple of units of blood due to her bleeding profusely. I spoke to the consultant, Miss Hardie, and she told me they would have to operate to stop the bleeding, believing it was coming from near the drain site.
She phoned me later after the operation to say they had found clotted blood which was why it was not draining properly and the bleeding was continuing .They also fitted a bigger drain to help. I'm seeing her tonight so we will see if she is any better."

From that day Caroline really suffered! The second operation really took it's toll and she was constantly wiped out. I think because of the difficulties involved in her situation they thankfully moved her to her own room where she could get both attention and the peace she needed. 

By this time we had made the decision that it would not be possible for me to look after Honey as well as run the house. It would really have been too much. She was already out to board with the dog walker but I knew this whole thing was going to take a bit longer. On Thursday 10th October at 11.00am I received a phone-call from the hospital to ask if I would come to the hospital in order for Dr Hardie to speak to both myself and Caroline about her test results. I got to the hospital in about 30 mins and went straight to Caroline who visibly upset. I sat down and with tears streaming down her cheeks she pronounced the horror word "cancer"!

My reaction was one of shock and incredulity. I really was not expecting this. The 
Cancer is called Uterine Sarcoma. It has been found in the fibroid they removed. I have been knocked side-ways and didn't expect it. I am now letting my head runaway with everything. One moment I'm hopeful and optimistic. The next I am pessimistic and imagining life without Caroline. I can't think of the difficulty of bringing Kate up on my own. How would Kate cope? How would I cope.
Caroline thinks she will be in hospital for quite a while and that on it's own is a strain.



Caroline left hospital on 16th October and came back home. It was good to have her home but she was not well at all and I have been running around trying to make her as comfortable as possible. Both of us are very fearful of the future but we have to stay positive and hope the treatment Caroline receives will be enough to see off this terrible curse. A day at a time has never been so appropriate.

We are nearly a two months down the line since Caroline got home and she has made a fantastic recovery from her hysterectomy. She is much fitter than she was but the biggest battle just now is fighting the tiredness which can overcome her in an instant. She went for her first Chemo on 27th of November in a week where we had to first of all attend the clinic on the Monday and then come back for the Chemo on the Wednesday. These appointments will be every 3 weeks and it has given our lives a whole new regime. The doctor at the Beatson was very informative and explained exactly why the Chemo was taking place. Basically to stop the cancer coming back! They believe they have taken all the cancer out but of course can't be 100% sure. The Chemo and all it's side-effects will be to keep it at bay and hopefully never to return. The hospital will be part of her  regime for the next 12 years. It will be hard but if Caroline can continue in the way she has and continue to make the progress she has then it will be worth it. Kate now fully understands what is going on and like many children, is very accepting. She knows Caroline will have side-effects like loosing her hair. With the sense of humour that thankfully Kate has she has even joked about it! On one occasion when Caroline complimented Kate's hair she turned round and said " Well, yeah! Much nicer than your's will be in a few weeks!" We all laughed and were relieved that humour was still in our lives and we could laugh and be happy. This is not a death sentence but merely another hurdle to get over in our lives. It's a big hurdle but it can be overcome and we can look forward to many happy days weeks and years. We've booked our Italian holiday for the end of June and perhaps in the near future we will see the return of our dog Honey. We will continue to support each other through good humour and positivity. For that alone we are eternally grateful








Friday, August 02, 2013

A case for my multiple Tuscany holidays

I've written quite a number of times about my holidays in Tuscany and how wonderful they are and if people read this then they may well think to themselves ; "not another holiday blog about Tuscany!" I make no apologies for it, sorry!

Tuscany and it's beautiful environs, people and general life-style have now become a huge part in my and my families life. I sometimes wonder, before going on holiday, if I will enjoy it as much as the previous year or if we will find something new to see or do. I now know that I don't have to look for something new but can enjoy what I already know and if something new comes my way then all the better . BUT it is not necessary. The point of holidaying in the same area is you get to know it better and can feel at home there.You know what to expect and can relax and really enjoy what has become familiar to you. The point of a holiday for me is to relax in surroundings I feel comfortable in and where I don't have to be seeking something new to see in order to justify being there. I know if I don't see something this year I will be back and see it the following year - if I want to!

                                                                         Sarteano

Being based in Sareano is perfect. It's easy access to beautiful towns and real Tuscan life has been such a bonus for me and my family.We feel very much at home here and seeing the development of the little Hamlet of Castiglioncello del Trinoro
into a very upmarket holiday destination is wonderful. Here is what you can get! Montiverdi

After 2 weeks of holidaying in Sarteano we moved on to a new location. Celle dei Puccini in Northern Tuscany. My wife Caroline discovered this wonderful little hamlet and the accommodation. The hamlet was the home to the Puccini family whose best know son was the great Italian composer Giacomo Puccini. There is now a small museum to the great man in the house where the young Giacomo spent many summers with his Grandparents.


The accommodation Caroline found turned out to one of our greatest finds.
The property is run and owned by an English couple Gill and Ken. They had this ex nunnery renovated into 5 apartments that offer the luxuries of a 5 star hotel without all the pretense  that can often be associated with such places. Gill and Ken (who live in an apartment within the building) are the ultimate in good hosts. They are there if needed but never intrude on your privacy. I cannot recommend this place highly enough. Everything about it is top class.

Also top-class were the restaurants and in particular

This restaurant is owned and run by a lady from Rutherglen in Glasgow! The owner, Daniela's story is wonderful and inspiring for what a young person can achieve. 

The food and hospitality here is wonderful and given that I have a daughter who is a very fussy eater, it is a testament to them that she ate everything and more!

One other night that must be mentioned is the "Pizza night". Organised by Ken and Gill for all the holidaymakers that want, this is an evening of eating pizza like you never tasted before and of good company and chat. It also included my daughter, Kate, making her own pizza in an authentic stone oven! Another first. A GREAT night!

 Our week there was fantastic and again we intend going back. Why? We are now familiar with the surroundings and everything that goes into make a great holiday.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Great day



We're just ending our first week of our holiday in Tuscany and today has been the best so far.

I'm still not feeling great, with coughing keeping me awake a lot of the night, but I was determined today to enjoy it and off we went on a day trip. We started off driving to Pienza, which is one of my favourite towns, and having a lovely picnic sitting on the wall surrounding the town. We had thought the weather was going to be in danger of a wash out but the sun shone and the temperature rose to over C30 degrees and was lovely. After a wander round the town we then set off to visit a monastery about 20k east of Pienza.

Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore is run by Benadictine monks and is set in a glorious setting of peace and tranquility. What was really interesting apart from the monastery itself were the people who spoke to us at the beginning.
They wanted signatures and money! They were collecting for a Rehab centre in the village below. Given all the work I have been doing with RehabGrads I found it really interesting to find people here in Italy having the same problem as in Scotland. Getting into rehab! It was nice to chat with them and being able to leave a card with information about RehabGrads. Maybe we can help each other in the future, who knows!

We then had a lovely drive home where we caught the tale-end of the Wimbledon Men's tennis final. I has forgotten about it but given Andy Murray was playing, I shouldn't have! Anyway AM made history and became the first British player to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry back in 1936! An end to a perfect day.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Sarteano a year on

I'm sitting on the decking outside our mobile home in Sateano waiting to have breakfast. This time last year I was doing the same and this place is just as beautiful and peaceful as last year. In that, there has been no change. The weather has not been so kind so far and we have endured the most spectacular thunderstorm and temperatures that are not up to the usual blistering heat. Definitely a bit of change there! The biggest change however is in how I look at things. I am one year older and so is my young daughter. That is scary and brings home to me that I will not be able to keep up with her energy levels.

I'm only one year older, as is Kate, but while her energy grows as a 9 year old, mine seems to wain as a 57 year old! I watched her swim in the pool yesterday thinking; "this will at least tire her out" but NO!! Her energy increased by the hour whereas I just wanted to lie in the sun and read! A year ago I would be going to bed much later than her but now I find myself ready for bed by 11.00pm and Kate wanting to carry on and play yet another game of cards!

This all sounds like the "poor me's" but while I don't think I'm particularly old for my age, the natural turn of events is I will get older and slower whole Kate will continue to blossom into an energy filled young Lady. I intend to slow mine down as much as possible but sometimes you just want to give in and act your "real" age. I also gave to contend with all the anguishes that occur throughout the year (and THEY take their toll) whereas Kate continues on her merry journey through life, almost oblivious to what else is going on. That is and how it should be! Kate and many of her young friends, will have enough to deal with when they are older. My one bit of advise would be: try NOT to get pregnant at 46 and especially if you already have two growing teenagers (soon to be adults) creating havoc in your  notyourown life!

Monday, May 06, 2013

Mallet finger

Mallet finger to most people would just be a pain but not a major inconvenience. To a professional violinist, or any professional musician it could be the end of a career. This is the case with my wife, Caroline, a professional violinist with the RSNO.

3 months ago Caroline was out walking our new puppy when she slipped the lead and ran towards the busy main road. Caroline's natural reaction was to try to grab the lead before she reached the road. The result was Caroline having a heavy fall which ruptured the extensor tendon. She took herself to the A&E department of the Western Infirmary to have it X-rayed and to see what the damage was as the top joint of her little finger of the left-hand would not straighten. Diagnosis was Mallet finger, or baseball finger. The treatment was for a splint for six weeks then to be used for a further 3 to 4 weeks at night. One doctor said a 60% chance of the tendon knitting back but the consultant said probably 90% chance as she had come to hospital immediately.

After 7 weeks the splint came off and to our horror the finger was both very swollen and still would not straighten. When the doctor looked at in hospital was "we've done our bit now you will just have to get on with it". Distraught, Caroline's main thought was "is this it? No more playing my violin". The fact is it still might be, we don't know. 

She has since seen a physiotherapist who has referred her onto a consultant physio. She has since met with Caroline and was so horrified at how she has been left to "get on with it" that she has made a splint specially to fit Caroline. Why could they not have done that in the first place? Is it egotism or laziness, or both! The splint is on for a further 8 weeks and then we will see where we are. The good thing is this physio is not giving up! Unlike the doctors at the Western who had given up. 

One other ridiculous situation that has been overcome thanks to another good doctor was a referral to the specialist hand doctor in another hospital. There is a protocol for getting this done but it can be blocked or made difficult. Thankfully there were enough good doctors to get through this process but it's time some of them got off their high horses and thought out the box, putting their patients first and not their own egos.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Kingsbarns And Morton of Pitmily

Caroline, Kate, myself and for the first time Honey have come away for 4 nights to this lovely place in the East Neuk of Fife. It's great just to get away after what has been an incredibly busy time. The weather is quite cold, to be expected on the East Coast, but sunny and dry. We've ventured down to both the West Sands and Kingsbarns beach and allowed Honey off the lead for the first time. She has loved it, as we have, and brought a lot of new fun and enjoyment to our family. We're off to Pittenweem tonight for one of their famous fish suppers. This is a must when you come to this part of the world. Simple things are so often the best!





Saturday, March 16, 2013

Rehab and recovery

I have never written on here about my own battle with addiction or about my recovery but given the work I'm doing just now I feel I must. I have never been embarrassed about people knowing of my alcoholism or the fact I went into Rehab. I am far more embarrassed about my behaviour when I was in the murky waters of my addiction. I am what people would call "a success", a"positive outcome". Why should I be embarrassed about that! I am half way through my 11th year of recovery and I have a great life. My 3rd child was born just short of a year into my recovery, an occasion which is a major miracle in itself, and she has never seen me touch alcohol. That is unlike my two sons who had to live through the worst ravages of my disease. Thankfully they are now 23 and 21 respectively and I have a great relationship with them. I love them both unconditionally and I believe they love me too. They see me not only as a responsible Father but also as an example of what can be done if you listen, get honest and have some humility.

How did that happen to this arrogant, irresponsible drunk!? There is no one answer but a combination of them. I was fortunate to be offered Rehab. It didn't come quickly because I had to go through the usual channels of my GP, Council on Alcohol, Community Addiction Teams and hospitalization. None of them worked! I didn't engage with them and they really couldn't be bothered with a drunk who seemed to have plenty but didn't appreciate it. The fact is, I may well have had everything one should desire but the most important thing I didn't have was myself. I was a closed book, an empty shell who was stuck on a hamster wheel and the only way I was going to get off was in a coffin. I was eventually offered Rehab thanks to the efforts of my wife and young brother and at that point my life and my family's changed. After 6 weeks of working on ME and realising all my emotions, I, for the first time started finding myself.

I was not a bad person but a sick one. I was not perfect but I was certainly not a failure. I was lucky; I got the "best treatment" i.e. Residential Rehab.

Today I am chair of RehabGrads Scotland
and our message is to “Ensure that Residential Rehabilitation is offered to all who need and seek it”

Rehabs in Scotland and the UK as a whole are under the threat of closure due to sufferers not being offered Rehab but instead they are asked to see Community Addiction Teams (CAT). These people are well meaning but lack any real knowledge of how recovery work, what it takes to achieve it and, just as important, maintain it. They can't help service users discover the "real" person and they cannot advise properly on maintenance of recovery. One letter I wrote to the press recently, sums the inadequacy frustrations of the present system:
On seeing the article in Friday's Society Herald by Dr Roy Robertson, my heart sank at reading the sub-heading "prescribing methadone is a pleasure and a privilege". In actual fact there was much to applaud in the article itself.

It is a pity that there are not more GP's with Dr Robertson's obvious insight to sufferers of addiction. Other GPs want the addict out of their surgery as quickly as possible. One case was of a young man suffering severe withdrawals from alcohol and with a history of seizures being offered some librium at 10mg dosage. That combined with the patient's vomiting caused him to then have seizure later that day. That is not an isolated case. The patient is then taken to hospital for detox and scans to see if there is any permanent damage. That will take between 1 and 2 weeks. Not cheap and certainly not effective treatment for the patient's addiction. Is that best practise as outlined in the Scottish Government "Road to Recovery"?

The aforementioned document looks good on paper but it is not being practised. The use of Residential Rehab Centres is held up like a Holy Grail and many sufferers will never get near them because of the misconception that it's too expensive. Worst still the sufferer may die waiting. No need for rehab there.

Community Addiction Teams (CAT) have their place in helping addicts but when it comes to tackling the issues of dealing with the root problem and teaching coping mechanisms, they are woefully inadequate. Addiction is not a 9 to 5, with weekends off, illness and good Rehab Centres know this. That is why the care they receive is in a safe environment, where they can access treatment and understanding 24 hours a day for as long as the treatment takes.

I would just like to add that in many rehab centres the therapists are mostly recovered addicts themselves. That gives them a deep insight into what still active addicts are going through. Empathy and example are an invaluable part of an addicts recovery. It shows that recovery is possible if, as Dr Robertson said, we embrace best practise.