Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Scarlet Lipstick

I stand at the window with a lump in my throat and watch a great tit dip it's glorious black and white head into the feeder. Bird feeders which no longer blend like a mist into the background of bushes. Instead they now hang clear and proud in their green and silver suits.

A female blackbird bobs along the stone path below - a path that until Wednesday looked like a sea of sand to my cataract misted eyes - and I gaze in wonder as it pecks up a stray seed with its yellow beak... 

As I turn my head I spot a red breasted robin, its chest is as bright as scarlet lipstick. She lands on a branch of our candy floss pink, cherry blossom tree. I stare as she dives at the feeder to snatch a seed to feed her fluffy baby waiting below. 

My feasting eyes stray to our display of tulips which gently sway in the breeze. Mr H planted bag after bag of bulbs last autumn for us to enjoy. The startling pink stand behind the purest red and white I have ever seen.

Tall cups of colourful petals look up towards the grey sky which, to my new eye, is as bright as the Caribbean sun.

Now each morning when I wake my face splits into a huge smile as I watch the white brightness of daylight enter the room. The daylight that has been filtered by my cataracts for so long. 

But the temptation to carry on flirty winking is hard to beat. I have to cover each eye every day to check that my new cataract free eyesight is at least as good as the day before. This cover, check, mantra means that I am reminded of the grey world within which my left eye still lives.

When I read, the words are clearer, and at long last I can read on a deckchair in the garden; the words are no longer clouded from view as soon as my eyes see daylight.  

But reading glasses will be by my side for the rest of my life. My miraculous artificial acrylic lens only gives me distance vision. The lens can't adjust like my own lens used to before I turned 45 when reading glasses became permanently perched on my head.

After a week of rest, my energy bank is topped up and with sunglasses on I test my eyes on a pavement walk. I stride with more confidence as cracks and dips no longer hide from my trippy up view.  

Four times a day I drip drops into my eye which I protect with a patch at night. My calls to Mr H for help are more frequent as I drop things I cannot pick up or have to stop myself from reaching into low drawers. Bending to the ground is forbidden for a while. With military precision I follow the regime for fear that this gift may be lost if I do anything else.

And for now, I tingle with the joy of my new bright world. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018


I can't see it I say as Mr H repeats: it's on the left near the bottom

No I still can't see anything I moan - all I can see is black.

Let me look again it's probably moved... no it's still there he says with furrowed brows as he adjusts our birdwatching scope at a Dorset bird reserve in the summer of can even see the snipe's stripes . try using your other eye...

Back home I booked an opticians appointment and after testing then retesting my eyes and the promise of a warning letter to my GP, I left the shop with a pounding heart. 

The following couple of weeks I squinted in and out of hospital doors to attend appointment after appointment and was soon lying flat in the noisy hoop of an MRI. With my brain tumour history; blurred vision could not be assumed to be just that; blurred and cloudy vision.

But at the eye hospital, my
pupils were dilated with dripping drops and peering inside them the eye hospital consultant said; you've got rapidly progressing posterior capsular cataracts. This type of cataract is usually caused by steroids...I had steroids during my brain tumour and breast cancer treatments I say with a shoulder shrug and wry smile - no one warned me I mutter...

I stumble through the weeks and months with my unfocused camera lens vision. People give me puzzled looks as I develop a habit of flirty winking! It's hard to resist a constant check to see which eye is worse, which one is more out of focus... it's like looking through a peasouper fog! 

I grumble to Mr H that I can't see the pavement cracks and potholes swim in and out of focus, adding layers of risk to my wobbly walking. I grumble that I can't read books anymore as the words hide behind cloud covered pages. I grumble when, in the dark,  I crash into our gates as I walk down the drive and at the dazzling super moon of light around every headlight...

This year large print letters plopped onto my mat and after two further trips through hospital doors, my name is, at last, added to the cataract surgery waiting list. Two weeks and a phone call later, I have a date for the following Wednesday, and it's not with Mr H, wink wink! 

I have to tape an eye patch over my eye at night for two weeks after the surgery I read out loud to Mr H. Will you still love me as I get more and more like long John silver? He laughs; of course it's the person not the patch that I love!
Back home last night in time for fish and chips

You don't realise how important your vision is until it starts to fail
So relish the colours of summer flowers
delight in the blueness of the sky
take pleasure in swishing grass swaying
and be thankful for the gift of sight

Friday, March 16, 2018


Jenny slides into the seat of her wheels. I clutch the handles of mine...the automatic doors spring open and like a snake slithering warily across the floor we exit into the unknown...


The lift doors open and the cool air wafts around our smiling faces. Take a sharp left I call out to Jenny who by this stage has found the forward lever and liking its feel, zooms off ahead!

Wait for meeeeeee echoes in the vastness of the mall.

She's a learner I say to a lady who generously steps out of the way to protect her toes from not one but two sets of wheels. Look at these trousers I squeal as Jenny stops with me right in the middle of the aisle. We create a wide roadblock and titter as other shoppers are forced to walk back the other way to get to the rails...

With our wheels piled high with three pairs of trousers, a skirt and top we skid towards the sign saying Pay Here. Jenny safely attempts a 12 point turn to swing around a tight corner to the till but I get stuck behind her, my wheels are too wide. I decide on a two wheel approach and force my way through sidewards... we leave bewildered shoppers scattered behind us as we pay. The grinning saleswoman says it's far too tight there isn't it, it's always the same shops rarely think about us wobbly ones getting in and out I reply.

Back out on the track, our transport stacked with bags, we move from shop to shop. We have booked our taxi home as we know we only have a maximum of two hours fuel on board! We buy a take away lunch to eat at home and trundle slowly back towards the exit. Head for the lift at the end I call to Jenny who yet again is whizzing ahead of me. I push my wheels faster trying to keep up. 

Oh no we cry at the sight of a big yellow OUT OF ORDER sign swinging in front of the lift door. What now Jenny mutters.

Straight ahead, the only way is forward, through John Lewis we can use their lifts...

The sound of metal on metal makes everyone crammed into the lift jump as Jenny squeezes her forward lever thinking it's the brake...

..but there is no brake you just have to stop squeezing... an easy mistake I remind her as we exit laughing.

Our taxi is waiting with his doors and boot open ready for us to fill with our stuff - my word for the week. I love saying stuff I keep telling Jenny as we slide wearily into the seats with grins smeared across our faces...

Friday, December 22, 2017

Love can build a bridge

A lump rises in my throat as I read yet another Christmas card message, this time its from a friend in Cardiff who I haven't seen for over a year....


As I write your address on the card I feel such a longing to come and see you, I've missed seeing you, I miss our chats and catching up...

On my walk through life, like beautiful shells from beaches across the world, I have collected friends along the way...but unlike my shells which are stored in glass jars and baskets to be admired around my home, many of these friends live far away. Now I am unable to drive or get on trains or buses with ease, even those living relatively nearby prove too difficult to reach. 

Mr H is my willing chauffeur but he works, he gets tired, and we no longer venture out when the dark evenings draw in. Without a guiding arm, I trip over unseen holes, uneven kerbs and even walk into gates as my rapidly progressing, cataract choked eyes fail me. 

Last week Mr H dropped me off at the post office where I took a deep breath as I asked for eighty second class stamps.  I stepped out into the dazzling daylight with a much lighter purse! At Christmas I always sit down with a pen and write personal messages into the hundred or so cards which I send. I also enclose a short snappy, blog like, newsletter for those friends I see infrequently but think of often.

Like my shells, my friendships come with happy and sometimes sad memories and they have all left their imprint on my heart. More often than not when Mr H comes in from work I am out with a friend or on the phone, or nowadays iPad, calling or FaceTiming my friends; mostly laughing with a grin on my face. But sometimes we share sad news and support each other by quietly listening as the other pours their worries into the phone.

I am lucky to have lots of local friends too and today I stand nestled between my dearest Choir friends  while we sing...

                             Love can build a bridge, oh oh between your heart and mine,
                             Love can build a bridge, don't you know its time....

my heart swells and my eyes fill with happy tears as I am reminded of the many bridges of friendship I have built. I reflect on how those bridges of love have remained in place despite the distances between us. Knowing I have so many true friends makes my world that much richer. I am thankful that I constantly receive the gift of friendship. 

So don't hesitate, this Christmas reach out to friends who you haven't spoken to for a while, call them, it will be the best gift you can give...

I wish all my friends, family and readers a peaceful Christmas
and a calm friendship full 2018. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Watching a leaf uncurl

She is so tiny I excitedly exclaim, with a grin as wide as the ocean. I sit in the chair as my new nephew in law, with hesitant hands and a longing look, passes his perfect bundle into my arms. I gaze at her pretty pink face and my heart melts into molten mush.

I am in love.

But there are too many miles between us and thanks to my epilepsy I can't step into the car on the driveway and zoom up the motorway for cuddles and hugs whenever I want.

I need a Halle fix I often tell my niece in a phone message. I am home in an hour lets FaceTime she replies.

So an hour later this gleeful Granty, is playing pat a cake with her gorgeous great niece.

I watch as she screws her nose up when she eats her chopped figs. I am there when she learns to say Ta as her Mummy hands her a toy.

I marvel at her tiny fists clinging onto the ropes of the swing I bought for her, then watch as her legs cartwheel around mid air and best of all I get to see her face come alive with a grin as her Grandad pushes her to and fro.

Halle knows my voice and grins at my screen covered face when I blow her kisses, then tries to blow me one back. She reaches out to grab my hair, smiles when I sing to her, tries to hand me her toy.

I remember a conversation not that long ago, who it was with I have no idea, but we spoke about the horror of making phone calls when we could see each other. But this potential horror lights up my weeks and brings sunshine smiles into my days...

...until next week when I get to feel her face against mine, cover her in kisses, give her my latest knitted creation.

I can only imagine how it would have felt to be handed my own baby. My bundle of love and watch as she or he slowly uncurled like a leaf, but thanks to technology I once considered in horror, this is pretty near perfect.

The adoring parents of Happy Halle
Pom pom hat created by Dawn!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Writing my last sentence

What shall I write my next blog about I ponder drumming my fingers on the table as I stare at my laptop keyboard. Sometimes I just start writing but today I need a focus. So as I scan through the pages of my life looking for ideas, an email pops into my inbox from my friend Jim Lawless.


Jim reminds me that Time is my precious commodity, a scarce resource which I need to use wisely. None of us know how much Time we have to write our life story, our daily sentences...

As the minutes tick by I ask myself if I am filling my pages of life with content I will look back on with joy and satisfaction. Or am I back in a routine where the days roll into each other, each weekend starting before the last one has finished...

I often say to friends I might never have had this Time, these pages, this part of my story. I believe I am making the most of each moment, each second of my life. I believe I will look back with a smile, knowing I made positive use of each moment.

Apart from my writing. 

Before my chapters of life finish, I want to write so much more; a book about living with unexpected life changing disabilities; a book about the history of the Adult School, a children's book about being a Granty. I want to write more regular blog posts... 

My heart smiles when I sit down at the laptop and start tapping, when I read over pages I have written, pages I might never have had the time to write if it was not for my brain tumour.

My brain tumour gave me Time, handed it to me from the first moment it crashed into my life; 
Time to plan for a new life, a new normal. 
Time to do new and wonderful things.
Time with my family and friends
Time to join a choir and sing in a cathedral.

Yes I find some of my sentences in life ooze with frustration. Irritated by my legs inability to keep me upright when I am tired. Annoyed that my brain is not even a quarter as quick as it used to be. Angry that while able bodied people spring in and out of their cars I am left waiting for a lift that doesn't arrive...

But as Jim reminds me today, if I am to look back on my life with a satisfied smile, I need to be sure I focus on three essential things:

Decision   Action    Result

So I decide...
I will prioritise my writing; give it Time in my days and weeks.
I will put pen to paper, finger to keyboard every other day. 
I will allow myself Time to sit and reflect as that's when my writing is at its best.
Only then will I be able to achieve my goal of being a published author.

And only then will I be content that this sentence may be my last...

They always say time changes things
But you actually have to change them yourself
Andy Warhol

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Waving Goodbye

Eight years and nine months ago I lost some of me. It happened overnight, well in just a few hours. Under a surgeon’s knife. He did it with my permission, I signed a form, said yes. Not realising that in those few hours so much of me would disappear.
I have found ways of replacing some of my missing parts. Found a way to keep smiling, doing positive things with my life. Found ways to deal with the things I can’t replace.
Most of the time.
But every now and again the missing parts take control. I cry a lot on those days. Sob into the silence of the house. Punch my fists into the sofa.
I could list all the missing bits but that would be boring for me and you. If I create my top ten that would be fun. A challenge and I like challenges.So Today’s Number one spot is…
Yes, of all of my missing parts, the one that can cause me to crumble is not being able to drive. Why you may ask?
It’s illegal to drive with epilepsy. A safety thing. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I need a complete seizure free year before being able to reapply for a licence and get back behind the wheel. A year which continues to evade me.
I have found alternative ways of getting around. But the frustration of having a car on the drive which physically I am capable of using, but legally cannot makes me foot stampingly mad. Especially when transport or a taxi I have booked doesn’t arrive. Or if I want to pop out when my energy is at the bottom of a pit and walking is impossible. I have lost the courage to get on a bus or train. My seizures have seen to that. Places along the local streets where seizures have caught me out now haunt me. Tease me as I pass. Epilepsy madness has set in!
So now I am saying goodbye to my Dorothy. It’s a sensible thing to do. My head knows it but my heart hates the thought of letting my car go. I haven’t been able to drive her for such a long time. The seizures keep coming, troubling my days. Keeping me away from her steering wheel and pedals.


I remember the day I got her home. I felt as though the wind was in my hair. I was free to pop out. Visit friends. Go to the seaside.

But not anymore.

She is going to a new home where she will be loved. I will even get to see her, take rides in her.  But this waving goodbye brings the grief of losing so many parts of me straight to the surface. So, I will cry today.
Tomorrow will be a better day.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Remembering Professor G. Ayliffe

On Wednesday the 24th May, my day starts as usual; after eating my cereal, l open my emails and scroll down to find one from my friend of 28 years, Sue M saying I thought I would send this before you see it on twitter...its 11.30pm too late to ring you - she knows I am always in bed by 9pm!

The subject heading reads Remembering Professor Ayliffe.

I read the Healthcare Infection Society email with tears in my eyes then sit back in my chair and remember...

I started my nursing career in 1980 in orthopaedics and I loved it from my first day on the wards. In 1989 I changed direction when I joined Professor Ayliffe's team as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Infection Control.

Initially I had no idea how lucky I was to secure a job working within this team in the Birmingham, Hospital Infection Research Laboratory (HIRL). But as I studied the subject I saw the names of people I was spending my days with crop up in research papers and books. I was immersed in an environment of learning and my education was coming from the best; the founders of much of the theory Becky, Elaine and then Kathy and I taught others in the classroom and in practice.

Ayliffe et al 1978

In the late 1970s Professor Ayliffe and his team were the inspiration behind the  evidence based six step hand washing technique that can be seen adorning the walls of restaurants, cafes and healthcare premises across the world. In doing this and other significant practical research; such as producing early evidence of the value of wearing plastic aprons over uniforms; Prof and his team made an outstanding contribution to reducing the risk arising from the transmission of infections, thereby saving millions of lives.

Prof Ayliffe was an advocate of nurses specialising in infection control and in 1970 was the co-founder of the Association for Infection Control Nurses (ICNA). It was a privilege to be able to attend my first conference in Guernsey, soon after I joined the team. I met Sue M and we listened in awe as Prof Ayliffe, John Babb, Jean Davies and many of my colleagues took their turn to stand on the stage and share their wisdom.

In 1990 I commenced the Foundation Course in Infection Control run by Marian Reed. I  listened as Prof's soft spoken voice held the attention of a room full of nurses as he taught the practical application of Microbiology. He then gave me quiet reassuring direction as I embarked on my first piece of research, my course assignment looking at the prevalence of infection in long stay elderly care wards. I passed and he then guided me as I prepared it for publication. He grinned as I ran in to his office waving a copy of the Infection Control Supplement in the Nursing Times containing my first published paper!

I tried not to smile at Prof Ayliffes serious face when Becky and I seized an April fools opportunity which coincided with our team meeting day. We described the symptoms of a pyretic man admitted to an open ward with sores on his hands, who was working on a sheep carefully lead him and the other microbiologists to a diagnosis of anthrax. We then shared in their quiet laughter as we declared our hand before they left the meeting in search of this imaginary patient!

In 1993 Prof, Kathy and Becky supported my successful application for a Birmingham Hospital Fund, Travel Scholarship to travel across the USA studying the infection risks associated with parenteral nutrition (intravenous feeding).

This award included a book of my choice and without hesitation I asked for Control of Hospital Infection, This was our day to day infection control handbook, which we referred to constantly. After being awarded the book I proudly asked Prof Ayliffe and then the other authors, to sign my book. As a bibliophile, although retired from use, it still sits proudly on my bookshelves at home.
Prof Ayliffe continued his visionary approach when he encouraged and supported an annual Lab day out. Kathy organised the minibus and off we would go, picnic stored in the back, singing and chattering all they way there and back. The most memorable for me was a visit to Chatsworth House where we picnicked in the grounds before visiting the grand old house. Nowadays this kind of outing is called 'Team Building'!

I flew the nest of Prof Ayliffe and the HIRL Team six years later to take up a lead nurse post still in infection control in a nearby hospital but we remained in constant touch. From this team I realised how important it is to share research, experience and knowledge. I had witnessed with admiration their constant open and giving approach to others in the world of infection prevention and control. From Prof and his team I learnt that we were one family united in our aspirations to prevent and control infection across the globe.

Left is Prof Ayliffe, I am behind in blue 
and Marian Reed is in white

In a subsequent role of chair of the West Midlands Infection Control Nurses Association which I held for many years, I attended quite a number of happy events with Prof. We shared in the smiles of budding infection control nurses when awarding the annual Marian Reed prize.

In 2007 when I was working in Wales as a national Nurse Consultant, I was delighted to be approached by Tina Bradley, the current Director of the Research Laboratory, to ask if I would co-write a chapter for the new edition of The Control of Hospital Infection Book with my infection control colleague and friend Sue Millward. The new edition was to be titled Ayliffe's Control of Healthcare-Associated Infection. By this time Prof had retired from day to day work but throughout his retirement he continued to give of himself and his skills on a regular basis.

I completed my chapter just before a brain tumour changed my life forever. I received a copy of the book a few months later in 2009 and it rests on the same shelf as my signed copy of the previous edition.

But Prof didn't forget me as I didn't forget him, we have shared Christmas cards and met up at a conference when I attempted to return to work in 2009 and again after my retirement in 2011. But Prof and Mrs Ayliffe will never know how much I valued a visit from them when they were in Bristol as I recovered from my brain tumour surgery at home.

Tears fill my eyes again as I remember Janet and Prof arriving, sitting in the sun, sharing a cup of tea, talking about infection control. About life. I asked Prof to sign my new book as we chatted about mutual friends, our love of birds and birdwatching.

I like to think that Professor Ayliffe is now resting in a great laboratory, amongst mutual colleagues and friends; John Babb, Johns wife Janet; Professor Lowbury, Professor Emmerson, Kathy Mitchell and Marian Reed to name but a few.

Rest in Peace Professor Ayliffe x

Friday, April 14, 2017

S Club 43

I can't talk about it I mutter to my friend Mike over lunch

What he asks

I can't say. I really can't say...

It's just ...

I am in a club and I'm not happy about it, people'll judge me if I tell them so I have kept it to myself 

Mike starts to laugh it can't be that bad surely

Oh it is

To me anyway. I cough nervously then tell all

I am one of the seven million members of S Club 43, Mikes grin widens and he laughs. So am I he titters nervously. I can't talk about it either, as an organic vegan all my mates would double up in glee if they knew.

What are you doing about it he asks

I have been trying to give up sweet things, cake and chocolate, like a self imposed Lent, and I was doing really well until I bought some chocolate bunnies as a surprise for Easter for me and Mr H. 

But only I knew where they were hidden..

One evening I went to bed but couldn't sleep I kept seeing the bunny bounce before my eyes. It was teasing me in all it's chocolateyness...

So I came downstairs and tried to distract myself with a jigsaw and raw carrot but the bunny kept hopping into view sniffing eat me, eat me, please eat me...

...and I caved in and dragged it from its hiding place. I ripped the cellophane off and bit one of its ears, it melted in all its organic-ness as soon as it hit my lips...

I bit off the other ear, then the body, too solid to break into pieces I gnawed like an animal, chocolate smearing my face...

Picture Le Comte de Reynaud in the film Chocolat when he repents and fasts during Lent but then surrenders to a window full of chocolate the day before Easter Sunday...that was me!

I managed to stop myself just before I reached his ground thumping feet and hid the mangled, chewed remains in a drawer...

A symptomless HbA1c blood sugar level of 43, found by chance when the GP tested me following a group of horrible seizures, is so frustrating. Forty one would be within normal range but 43 means I carry the pre-diabetes label. I became a member of S Club 43. Luckily it can be reversible so it's better to know so that Mike and I can do something about it and prevent ourselves becoming members of the ever growing Type 2 Diabetes Club. Now for me the most important thing I can do is lose some more weight...whereas Mike is a thin as a rake so maybe its genetic too...

More information and statistics can be found on Diabetes UK website...