Friday, 28 October 2016

Work, play, the usual

Peculiar red flower
Krakow Botanical Gardens, July 2016 
Last week was exhausting but I don't quite know why, because I did less than the usual amount - not going to badminton one Thursday for example, spending the whole evening reading and listening to the radio instead. I did go into Birmingham on one of my days off, because I'd gone and bashed the baritone sax somehow and bent one of the lower keys out of place, so I took it to the menders. This also gave me the opportunity to have a lovely day in Birmingham, where I went to the cinema and to my favourite Cafe Soya.

I also spent one day of one weekend at a Buddhist 'retreat', which was actually just four hours in the village hall where we go on regular Tuesday nights. The person who was due to lead wasn't even able to come so it was shorter than planned, mostly meditation, with a bit of help from an online recorded talk. I discovered it's much better to meditate when not falling asleep at the end of a day tramping round Birmingham or chopping down shrubbery in the garden. There wasn't a lot of overt Buddhism, just a bit of a discussion about how we are responsible for our own feelings. To be honest I haven't disagreed with much that Buddhism has to say, it all seems very sensible and I've reached many of the same conclusions through my own reflections. And I still enjoy sitting quietly trying to rest my mind in a room full of like-minded individuals.

At home the LTRP continues with plans for the kitchen upgrade being completed and submitted for planning permission, since there will be extra glass and a wall is being moved. This won't progress any further for a number of weeks, so my next indoor project has to be emptying the loft so that the lighting in the room below can be fixed. I've also been in touch with a damp investigation company because of a couple of patches that need looking into.

My ongoing garden project has taken so, so much time. The lawn is still looking ropey but I've planted a million small bulbs and some baby plants that I enthusiastically bought thinking that the garden could do with some spring and summer colour. The effort of weeding the beds and planting everything was probably worth it, but I'm really tired of having to spend so much time keeping it under control. Astroturf and concrete has never seemed so attractive.

At work a new 'junior' nurse has started, and interviews have taken place to replace the other nurse who is now retired. When we are fully staffed there may be scope to move forward after the long hiatus, and improve services rather than just keeping up with what we can manage. The newly recruited nurse will have to work three months notice, and that will start only after all the formalities of the criminal records check and the formal job offer, so we won't be seeing her actually working with us until well into next year.

Now I have to go and pack because I am having a Holiday. Pip pip!

Saturday, 22 October 2016

A sad and difficult retirement

Cuboid salt crystals
Wieliczka salt mine, July 2016
About two years ago at work, my colleagues started to notice that one of our number was behaving strangely. I hadn't been working there for long enough to see any change - I just thought she had always been a bit forgetful. It became clear that this memory problem was chronic, deteriorating, and worst of all, she flatly denied that anything was wrong. Aggressively, sometimes. If errors were pointed out, she would pass blame to someone else (she hadn't received the message), or insist that the error didn't exist (she had in fact processed the invoices that hadn't been processed), or just shout at the colleague that they were wrong.

This was incredibly difficult to address. It's no good going to a more senior manager saying that something is wrong when the individual involved insists that it isn't. Everyone makes mistakes, and without listing every minor error that supported the issue it couldn't be proved to be anything other than a nurse being a bit inefficient. Her skills were intact - she would have no trouble starting someone on insulin, or analysing a blood glucose diary to suggest how medications might be adjusted. She just wouldn't remember being asked to do it, and would then deny all knowledge of the matter.

The technology started to become important - everything had to be emailed in order to prove that an issue had been communicated. She wasn't very good with technology though, and emails just languished in an expanding inbox. But emails and text messages started to form evidence of the problem - emails answered twice or not at all, repeated text messages about the same issue. I was protected from the worst impact because I do a different job, but the main nurse in a similar role was doing her own job plus part of her colleague's and simultaneously unable to challenge the situation while being abused for encroaching on her territory or for pointing out errors that needed to be addressed. It was an awful situation.

If only the patients had complained. Some of them could see that something was wrong, but "didn't want to get anyone into trouble." Without backup from service users our hands were tied - there simply wasn't strong enough evidence of the right sort, and every day we feared that someone would actually be harmed - not so much from the wrong action, but from inaction when action was needed. It seems that patients will put up with almost anything without complaining. Similarly the doctors - they must be used to asking people to do things that aren't done, because they made no formal complaint either, even though they could see that all was not well.

It didn't help that she had a strong and long-standing connection with a very senior and very influential member of the team, who took her word for it that she was absolutely fine. A whistle-blower would be in big trouble if the case wasn't watertight and beyond doubt. And the case wasn't strong enough to withstand this level of scrutiny.

Eventually, at long last, a bit more than a year ago, she had some leave booked and we all breathed a sigh of relief - we wouldn't have to deal with the daily stress of it for a whole week. On the Monday, however, in she walked as if it was a normal working day. This was too much for us, and finally she was persuaded that she was on annual leave and it wasn't appropriate for her to be in work - obviously all her clinics had been cancelled and she didn't have patients to see. We were all incredibly thankful that she didn't return after the week off - the reason was reported as 'stress'.

It took a while before we regrouped - there had been a distinct split in the team between those who were convinced by her and thought that actually there wasn't anything that a bit of a break from work wouldn't sort out, and those who could see it was more serious than this. But we all had a period of thinking "Maybe it is just stress, and she will come back, and it will start all over again," and this made our hearts sink.

Gradually we started to make changes in the department, and relaxed in the freedom we now enjoyed, apart from obviously the one nurse left had the workload of two nurses. Our colleague was signed off work for a long time, and we heard snippets of gossip from people still in touch with her, but nothing official. Her friends told us she was fine and looking forward to coming back to work. We were torn between hoping that she really had recovered from a bout of extreme stress, and concerned that it was the same cover-up and nothing had changed.

At Christmas she came into work for a festive lunch and brought us all Christmas cards, seeming utterly normal. As usual, she gave the impression she was looking forward to being back at work in no time. She expressed her sympathy for a colleague whose grandfather had been ill and had recently died.

Later that day, she arrived back at the department with a carrier bag. "I've brought your Christmas cards," she announced.

Next day she texted the colleague. The text said "How is your grandad?"

We heard little more for a month or so, but then we were informed that the powers that be could find no good reason for keeping her away from work. Occupational Health were satisfied that she was physically healthy and had recovered from whatever it was that was wrong. We thought otherwise, but couldn't prove it - the issues at Christmas might have been part of the problem of stress, and officially she was now better so everything would be fine. We did have a meeting where we expressed our reservations to management, and it was agreed that before coming back to the department and interacting with patients she would be located in an administrative building and would complete the mandatory training that she had missed while off work.

That first week we awaited developments with trepidation. It was to be a phased return starting with just a couple of mornings, but we anticipated some issues, and we were right. She arrived at the department and settled down in her old room. We had to call management, who persuaded her that she needed to be elsewhere. Our main concern was that patients would see her and assume she was back at work, then ask for help or advice and she would start to provide it. It was extremely uncomfortable having to call the authorities behind her back.

After several false alarms when she continued to turn up at the department, she seemed to accept that she needed to be elsewhere, but we were continually on edge in case she arrived unexpectedly. After just a couple of weeks we were told that as she seemed perfectly fine, she would be coming back to sit in with the doctors as a precursor to returning to her old job. All hell broke loose.

Luckily our insistence that this was completely unacceptable was acknowledged, and it didn't happen. Her perfectly rational outward appearance and conduct was very convincing, but eventually it became clear even to those supervising her mandatory training that we were right. The thing that we all struggled with was why she didn't acknowledge that something was wrong, and accept retirement gracefully? Had we been in her situation none of us would have minded leaving work, even if the reason was as unwelcome as incapacity. Why fight so hard to avoid an easy life of leisure and insist on coming back to the environment that had provoked the 'stress' in the first place? Especially so close to actual retirement age.

Very little information reached us throughout the next period. Officially it was not for us to know details of the negotiations taking place, but occasionally something would filter through, usually through contact with those colleagues she remained in touch with. The consistent message from her was "I'll be seeing you soon, I'm coming back to work next week." After our initial panic we learned how to react to this, generally with a good humoured "That'll be nice, see you then." Her powerful senior ally continued to imply that while she may not come back to work with us, there seemed no reason why an alternative sinecure could not be found.

After a year on sick leave, it was finally confirmed that she would not be returning to work, and for the first time in two years we could relax. A 'retirement' lunch is planned, a card and collection are circulating, and we have put measures in place to try to ensure that she doesn't miss her own lunch by forgetting about it. She popped into the department the other day, and told us that she might be coming back to work for a couple of days a week in a different role. "That'll be nice, see you then," we said.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Everyday tales of Not Much

Garlic and globe artichokes
Borough Market, May 2016
It's been a bit rough at work - not so much for me, but the main nurse has had a bad time. There have been two premature deaths, a stolen mobile phone, the start of a new Type 1 education course, conflict (there's always conflict) and we are all quite glad when the weekend arrives each week.

A couple of weeks ago I did a foolish thing - I attended a badminton training weekend at the National Badminton Centre with a group of Young People (and one other Old Person) from another club. This entailed arriving on Friday night and having a bit of a play around, then six hours coaching on Saturday followed by another six hours on Sunday. The coach was a very pleasant young man who was once in the GB squad playing men's doubles, and he did a pretty good job. I was pleased with my level of fitness and managed not to fall behind right up until the final hour, when due to a serious misjudgement I ended up having to play two games of singles against the youngest, fittest, strongest man in the group. But until then it was fun, and I learned a few things too. I don't think my badminton is going to improve much, but it's good to keep learning.

The unexpected benefit of this extreme weekend was that I was amazed to find that my frozen shoulder improved quite a bit. I have no idea why this should be - it's not my dominant arm, but badminton does put demands on the non-racquet arm for counterbalance, so perhaps this was what helped.

Lola II came to visit on a school night because she had to go to an event in Birmingham. We went out to a restaurant that I've had my eye on since they had a stall at the Food Festival, but the food wasn't as good as I'd hoped (and I accidentally set fire to the menu). After our main courses we reviewed the dessert menu, but it just didn't hit the spot, so we went to Tesco and carried out a thorough assessment of all possible options before realising it was 10 minutes to Bake Off. Making our final choices at great speed I then packed them into a carrier bag with a hole in it and managed to lose one of Lola II's choices on the way home. However, we not only made it in time for Bake Off, we sneaked in an episode of The West Wing and marvelled anew at how good it is.

The only other news of note is that I decided to treat the lawn with feed including moss killer. It turns out that the lawn is about 60% moss and is now looking a bit brown and sad. I also have some seedlings and some bulbs to plant, and while preparing the ground I ended up chopping down a large pyracantha. So that's been another trip to the local amenities site with a car-load of bags of hideous thorny branches.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

Over The River
by John Galsworthy
"Clare Cherrell has come home, fleeing the clutches of her violent, abusive husband. When he pursues her she vows she will never return and sets about fighting him in bitter divorce proceedings."
That's it, the last of the nine books in the Forsyte Chronicle, and I am so sad that the journey's over. I think I'd have to list John Galsworthy as one of my favourite writers of all time, which is saying something. The opening to this book was a masterclass in getting his meaning across without spelling it out to the reader - perhaps that's the key? It's what I love most about The West Wing - they don't patronise the audience, they make you work stuff out for yourself, and if it doesn't make sense you have to trust them that later it will, and it's why watching episodes again is so satisfying. I'm going to have a look for other Galsworthy titles, and if there aren't any I'm going to read all nine of these books again.

Image of the book cover
The House on the Strand
by Daphne du Maurier
"Magnus Lane, a University of London chemical researcher, asks his friend Richard Young and Young's family to stay at Kilmarth, an ancient house set in the wilds near the Cornish coast. Here, Richard drinks a potion created by Magnus and finds himself at the same spot where he was moments earlier - though it is now the fourteenth century."
A very different sort of book from Daphne du Maurier - still set in Cornwall but based on time travel. I love DdM but this one, written towards the end of her career, is not one of the best. There are many confusing characters and the location plays too much of a part; it also has one of the worst endings to a story that I can remember. I need to go back to Frenchman's Creek or Rebecca and remind myself how good she could be.

Image of the book cover

Uncle Tom's Cabin
by Harriet Beecher Stowe

narrated by Richard Allen
"Even though Arthur Shelby and his wife Emily believe that they have a benevolent relationship with their slaves, Shelby decides to raise much needed funds by selling two of them - Uncle Tom, a middle-aged man with a wife and children, and Harry, the son of Emily Shelby's maid Eliza - to a slave trader."
A classic book that I have heard of but never thought to read until now. Written in 1852, which sounds like ancient history but actually might have been when my great-grandparents lived, which perhaps isn't so long ago. How society has changed! To think that people could be bought and sold and worked and bred and killed like animals - the author is very coy about the sexual exploitation although she doesn't hold back with other aspects of slavery. Putting this alongside the examples of Homo sapiens in the the news at the moment, particularly the USA, Syria and all the English political parties, our species can exhibit some very unpleasant traits.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

I did this, then I did that

Orange lily
Krakow Botanical Gardens, July 2016
This is getting more like a diary than a blog - a succession of things that seem to fill my life sufficiently so that I am rarely bored and mostly have too much on my plate. Literally and metaphorically. The weight loss plan is not going brilliantly, despite me having completely stopped buying bars of chocolate. Bother.

Topic 1: Health - physical and metaphysical

I have had an ultrasound of my shoulder which identified some inflammation and degenerative changes typical in a person of my age. This was followed by a consultation with a specialist physiotherapist who diagnosed slow onset frozen shoulder. He offered a steroid injection to address the pain temporarily, which I declined because the pain doesn't bother me that much. I just feel resentful that my body is finally rebelling and giving me some trouble, just to remind me that I'm not as young as I was. With time, the shoulder should get better, but I doubt that I'll get any less grumpy about being as old as I am. This is as good as it gets.

On the other hand, I have started looking forward to the meditation and Buddhism group. I started with a four-session introductory course in April, then carried on attending over the summer, and now they are holding another introductory course and it feels very much like school when the new kids arrive and you're in the second year and not the youngest and littlest any more. I can very nearly remember everyone's name, although if they sling in a multi-syllable Sanskrit name I forget it in less than 2 hours. I spent one of my days off with the Buddhists I know of old, and pumped them mercilessly for information, and am still processing the results to decide whether to just stick with the meditation and mindfulness practice or to dip my toe further into the metaphorical Buddhist pond.

Topic 2: Food and drink

I have already mentioned the chocolate reduction plan, and I think I have reached the stage of acceptance in the continuum of despair-anger-denial-acceptance that I was once taught follows a trauma. Back when I was taught about this, the examples used were having your car stolen and sight loss, but it seems to apply to no end of situations including, it seems, breaking a serious chocolate habit.

I have continued my tour of Leamington Lunches on my days off - there are more restaurants than I have days off in a year, but I'm trying to pick those who charge less than £10 for lunch. There are still plenty to go. This Tuesday's was Cuban - I had a stew involving peppers, sweet potato and chickpeas and some amazing yellow bread that appeared to have been fried.

Other eating and drinking highlights in the recent past included a night out with work colleagues starting with drinks at Pub Next Door and progressing to a very fine Turkish/Eastern Mediterranean restaurant in town. It was such a success that those present immediately formed a Dining Club and set a date for the next outing. There was also my second Whisky Tasting evening with Mr M's whisky collection and matched food. I am very lucky to have been invited on two separate occasions, and there may even be a Whisky Tasting On Tour event in Leamington at some point. I discovered that I am starting to like whisky. It's always worth persisting with these things.

On the same trip to London there were two more food-related experiences. The first was the local international grocer where this time I picked two random tins of spinach-based and aubergine-based slop (I've already tried the spinach-based one topped with an egg - yum). The second was a Japanese restaurant in Notting Hill, where five of us ate until we burst for only £15 a head. Delicious and good value.

Topic 3: Housing and the LTRP

Not much progress to report on the LTRP, although the architect has now surveyed and drawn up plans of the ground floor in anticipation of our next meeting, in which we will define the alterations. These are primarily to allow more light into the kitchen and replace the stairs, but also to extend the kitchen a little to provide a utility/boot room. Olf the builder who worked on the garage finally came round to accept payment (I had to chase several times!) and he may be able to lead on the kitchen works whenever that time may come.

I'm still gradually emptying the loft (books and motorbike parts in the last fortnight) so that Ilf the handyman can sort out the electric lights in the upstairs rooms. In the meantime Mr M and Lola II stole Ilf and he decorated large parts of their house. Now that I've been to see it, the work done looks absolutely lovely. Ilf then came round and gave me a bunch of flowers to thank me for referring the job to him.

Topic 4: Financial matters

  • I researched and bought car insurance A WEEK BEFORE IT WAS DUE. I am so proud of this.
  • I bought fancy carbon fibre walking poles for my holiday A MONTH IN ADVANCE. [Can you see a theme developing?]
  • I joined a team of four Young People and we won a tenner each on the pub quiz, with a score of 76 out of 80. I probably contributed no more than 4 answers out of 76, but I like to think that without my 4 we would have come second.
  • The posh butcher in town sharpened three of my knives for free. Unfortunately they only gave me two of them back, but produced the third when I went back to enquire. Still, I now have three sharp knives, which is lovely.
  • I have listed quite a few random items on ebay, one of which has sold! I am not optimistic about any of the others. So after postage and commission I am £1.43 in profit. Now I'm ready to start on the postal mechanisation material. Hang on to your hats for literally pennies of profit.
  • With the help of Mr M I have switched my current account and opened another three accounts including transfers between them in order to maximise interest rates. Now every time I am faced with paying for something I have to think for five minutes about which card to use depending on whether I qualify for cashback or Clubcard points or a foot massage or puppies/kittens. However, not only is this a great problem to have, I am about to spend a whole load of money on my kitchen, so maybe it won't be a problem for long.

Topic 5: Work

I have had my first abysmal failure with a patient whom I will not see again (nor would the patient want to see me). Much reflection and 'what could I have done differently' but it's someone who's been within the service for years and years and nobody else has done much better. Apart from that, I have delivered three DESMOND courses for Type 2 patients in the last month and am looking forward to not delivering any more until December. I do enjoy it though, seeing how much people learn.

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