It has been a VERY long time since I last wrote here.
Much has changed in the interim period and yet everything feels much the same. I retired in March 2009 from the NHS and missed my ex-colleagues immediately, though not the NHS, its liberal abuse of the truth or convoluted politics! I really believed that I would enjoy retirement massively and immediately, but that wasn’t quite how it happened.
A couple of years before I was due to retire, I experienced a workplace accident. I’d twice reported a water-leak from one of the toilet compartments to the facilities management department, both verbally with email confirmation. On the day my world changed, I had been into the toilets and as I came out I remembered the water-leak and went to step over it. Sadly I must have miscalculated because the heel of my right foot landed just in the puddle and slipped forwards, which sent me into what would have become a classic case of the ‘splits’! Whether or not it was the best thing to have done, I still don’t know, but I reached forward and grabbed hold of the door frame, stopping my complete descent!
OMG., the pain was instantly and indescribably horrendous, with regular spasms adding to the discomfort and increasing the level of pain with each event! I staggered back to my desk and collapsed. I didn’t know where to put myself. It seemed there was no position which would reduce the pain, nor could I identify one specific place from where it emanated. I had no option but slowly limp to my car and make my way home.
The following day I saw my GP and the lengthy charade began. It took pain-filled weeks with little sleep before my referral meant that I was seen by consultants, and even then there was no diagnosis about which they agreed.
Later I was to learn, that if pain lasts for more than six months, then it’s unlikely that it will ever stop. Apparently, after an extended period, the brain identifies and interprets any and all signals from the body as being pain signals and responds accordingly. Over the period, I have elected to stop taking some of the analgesics, since the evidence suggests that there may be life-limiting risks to their continuance over lengthy periods. Sadly that means an increase in the level of pain, but perhaps it’s been worth it!
Down the track I decided that I would seek advice about compensation. What followed was both enlightening and grossly disappointing. Once the Primary Care Trust received my claim, they set about denying that I had (twice) reported the water leak. I referred them to my emails, since they bare-facedly denied my verbal reports, despite my confronting the two people to whom I had made the reports. Their response was to state that there were NO emails. I checked my ‘sent’ email box. Sure enough, when I checked for my copies of the emails I had sent, they were no longer present. I had NO proof now of what I had claimed! Collusion was the least of their actions. The deletion of emails from my email sent box was obvious too!
After some six months of pain, and with little likelihood of betterment in my condition, I returned to work. It was an awful experience, even though I was permitted a phased return to work, and to work flexibly once I was back to full-time working. I found that I could manage some 5 or 6 hours of productive work if I started early (usually before 6 am – about an hour and a half after waking) and went home once the pain had become intolerable, then I was able to continue to work from home to make up the balance.
After about a year, I had a relapse, suffering the regular spasms of pain again which made working impossible. I took a further five months to recover sufficiently to make a tentative return to work.
Over time, it became apparent that my claim stood little or no chance of success, despite the evidence before them. Being fair about the whole situation, I had experienced historic neck and shoulder pains before, largely due, in all probability, to the type of work in which I had been engaged in my early work-life. Lifting and shifting heavy weights in small spaces had probably given me long-term damage. That being said, until my fall I had not been experiencing any pains at all. The final settlement offer, while tiny was, I was advised, all I could expect. I settled reluctantly.
Within a couple of years I reached retirement and chose to save a few days holiday so that I could leave in advance of my actual retirement date, thus avoiding any opportunity for the hierarchy to set up an ‘official leaving do’!
I discovered that it’s all very well having plans before you retire, and even dreams about how life is going to be, but if you’re in pain throughout your body all of the time, it’s all too easy to let it consume your life, succumb to self-pity and begin to lose all purpose.
I had hoped to be able to continue setting up my workshop, and succeeded, albeit to a limited extent. It took a long time to work out what I really needed, and how to rearrange it in the short-term so that I could begin work on at least one the many projects I had planned.
Truthfully, the actual ‘structure’ was still very much more a matter of plans rather than actuality, in that the rearmost (oldest) part, which was constructed using salvaged materials long before we moved in, leaked, was close to collapse and unusable!
Over the following (several) years, as well as taking care of our newest grand-daughter, daughter of Abigail and James at least once a week while her mother continues to work, I started out on a couple of my longest planned projects. While I did make a start, it was obvious that my heart really wasn’t in it.
Even after several years taking a powerful mix of medications, pain was still at the heart of the challenge. The specialists had interviewed me, poked and prodded, taken x-rays, scans and used invasive cameras, but there was no agreement about what it was that was causing the wide-spread pain, thus no recommendations for a treatment regime. My doc’., presumably having received feedback from the consultants, tried to find an appropriate drugs regime that would reduce, if not stop, the pains. Sadly his efforts were largely unsuccessful, simply as a result of my condition.
The current mix, using several very powerful drugs, alongside the meds that are often dictated for an elderly bloke, does take the worst edges off the pain some of the time. However, within a couple of hours of taking the latest batch, the pain is breaking through again, and if I should be remiss (or forgetful) and miss the timing for the next, I’m quickly climbing the walls.
All that taken into account, life remains worthwhile, most of the time.
Since we bought No 8 Glenloch View, we’ve spent many very happy weeks there. At first I traveled up and spent a couple of weeks there alone, as my dear wife was still working. It was ‘interesting’, but when there’s no-one with whom to share the enjoyment, it’s not quite the same.
More recently, after my wife retired from her challenging job as staff manager in one of the UK’s largest GP Group Practice, we resumed what would have been a more normal life. That included agreeing a plan for my workshop, and her craft room, as well as the usual essential maintenance and repairs to the house.
I’d been using the smallest bedroom as my ‘study’, which was where I’d been making up my hours when working. I’d been responsible for ‘mapping’, which included identifying unused pieces of land within the area, generating data sets related to GP Practices and other similar tasks. Thus I’d uprated my desktop to handle the vast quantities of data needed. Once that need had ceased, I’d planned to evacuate the room and shift my ‘stuff’ elsewhere so that she could spread out and keep all her necessaries in one place.
The space that I would free up by demolishing the old garage/workshop, no mean task in itself, would be more than sufficient to accommodate the machine tools I needed to be able to use, and perhaps enough to form a dedicated wood-working space. However, as is not unusual, we (my wife and I) did not agree about how much space I would be able to utilise. She felt that we (I) should create a ‘sitting area’ where we could relax without being overlooked and enjoy the sun, and perhaps have a glass of wine. Compromise would be essential to accomplish a mutually agreeable solution!
Following lengthy discussion, much measuring up and planning, I agreed to only use about one-third of the space that was going to be freed up. In the remaining portion I would create an area where we could position our garden table and chairs.
Over the best part of three months, I demolished half of the old garage, and then started to prepare the foundations for a building an extension, which would measure about 10 feet by 9 feet, to the front (sturdily built) part of the garage. That would leave an area of about 22 feet by 9 feet to be made ready for our proposed ‘sitting area’ .
During this period I had begun to try to find some kind of activity which would widen my (tiny) circle of acquaintance. That led to me meeting up with three other men who were also trying to find something to do. Over some months we searched for a place where we could set up a facility which we had discovered was known as a ‘Men’s Shed’. Even at that early stage we agreed that it wouldn’t be appropriate to limit any such facility to men alone, despite that being the model, first developed, tested and proved in Australia.
Eventually, more by luck and happenstance, I found such a space in a local park’s old potting shed. Next I, together with another ‘trustee’, managed to get the organisation recognised as a charitable body, and entered into an ‘agreement’ with the city council to use the space. That entailed cleaning up, repairing and equipping the space with everything necessary to make it a viable facility.
Within a year it was up and running, and that was also about the time at which we recognised that things weren’t working as we had hoped. A small group of people, trustees among them, seemed intent on fomenting division and unhappiness. There were a couple of specific instances where a trustee picked on another who had self-confessed mental health issues. We managed, not without some difficulty, to bring things back to a stable position and hoped that it would not recur.
I had been voted in as chairman at the outset, and during my period in office, found that the term ‘chairman’ was taken to mean that I would do everything, largely unsupported. When I asked for help, there was none forthcoming. I continued for some months, before deciding that my workload was demanding more from me than I was able (or willing) to support. I thus asked for an unspecified ‘leave of absence’. A colleague trustee (already the vice-chairman) agreed very kindly to take on the role on a temporary basis.
It was only once I had walked away that I realised I was suffering from anxiety and depression. I visited my GP who ‘gave me permission’ to walk away permanently, if that was what I needed or desired. That was all that was necessary for me to start feeling better. However, recognising the symptoms, he suggested a referral to a mental health charity, to which I readily concurred. I’d been there before at least twice in my life and knew that I would be helped by such an intervention.
The time delay in being able to gain any real benefit was such that I slipped further down. It was only after about eight months that I was able to meet a psychologist who was able to offer me a short-term course. While I was not comfortable with the offering initially, it soon became obvious that it was an alternative method of achieving similar results to the interventions to which I was accustomed.
I had rejected out of hand the notion of ‘mindfulness’ as a way ahead, but toward the end of the course I was able to discern the benefits of what was described as ‘living in the now!” I had, for many years, been struggling with memories from my childhood, and the anxiety, fear and hyper vigilance with which I had become used. By using the new techniques I was able to reduce the level of anxiety (and associated fear) I had been experiencing. Depression was also reduced over time. Although I believe that any recovery is likely to be a temporary state of affairs, I now had tools with which to fight the negative influences.
I resigned officially some six months after taking the ‘leave of absence’, and although I miss the company of several of my ex-colleagues, I have never missed the toxic atmosphere and prejudiced attitudes and behaviours of a number of the members and trustees.
There has recently been a significant problem between two men who have acknowledged mental health issues and the trustees, such that a petition was prepared and a vote taken to remove them from office and membership of the organisation. It is evident that the rights of the men in question have been abrogated and should rightly have been subject to an official complaint to the requisite authorities. Sadly, this has yet to be initiated! In the meanwhile, the trustee board are evidently operating a rogue organisation, ignoring the standing orders and the regulations imposed by the Charity Commissioners, and in effect establishing a small ‘club’ rather than operating the ‘shed’ under the original stated objects.
In the meanwhile, at home, I have demolished the old garage/workshop, completed the foundations for the extension of the structure, built brick and block walls, constructed a flat roof, equipped the space with water and electrical supplies, installed the machine tools and arranged the original area so that there are a sheet metal working area, welding bench, woodworking space and general storage area. However, the space is very tight and much shuffling of equipment is necessary when attempting to work.
In the last year I’ve prepared the foundations for the sitting area, mixed and poured the concrete floor, built two sections of block walling to replace our neighbours wooden fence which was falling down, reinstated a dwarf garden wall and begun work on making an arbour which will eventually provide a ‘green roof’ for the area.
Oh yes, and I managed to strip the paint from our old front gate, repaint it, make and fit two new steel gateposts, fabricating hinges, strike plates, and anti-theft devices so that it would be difficult for anyone to remove it! The reason is because there have been several instances, locally, of gates being taken and sold for scrap value.
Much remains to be accomplished, including dismantling part of the front garden wall and rebuilding it on a new and more stable foundation. One big challenge is the roots of the street trees, really the responsibility of the city council, which regularly disrupt the surfaces of the pavement, and in our case, lift the block wall, splitting them and bringing them close to collapse.
By the time that’s finished I daresay that the cracks in the retaining wall along the drive will have worsened, entailing a rebuild. Alongside that, the surface of the drive, presently tarmac over concrete, has been badly affected by both a street tree and (historically) by the sycamores which we cut down more than 15 years ago.
Assuming I’m still alive and kicking, there’s a long-held plan to restructure the back garden. Then there is the redecoration of: the lounge; the dining room; the back bedroom, the front bedroom … need I go on?
There I shall place the ‘punto final’ since it’s after half eleven this Saturday evening and I’m overdue a bath and so to bed!