Welcome back, friends – I have been on an unintentional blog break for two weeks. Unintentional as life, fatigue and brainfog took over – I just was unable to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Then there are the constant demands of a family – hubby, dogs and “big” kids.
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The biggest kid, the young tech engineer, continues to spend half his week working from home, the other half in London as he and a tech pal continue to grow their new IT start up. He just spent the weekend in the Peak District walking with 9 nine others through the mud and rain – a good time was had by all. The smallest kid, the lovely girl, is currently working her way through German TV dramas on Netflix for her A level German “wider experience” – this weekend it has been Deutschland 83. I saw it on TV but have been happy to watch again as the soundtrack takes me back to my teens in the 80s – the plot is great too!
Hubby managed a visit to the politics student last week. It was supposed to be an overnight stay to break a long journey there and back to the north of England – and could well have included a pub crawl of Nottingham. Hubby took the middle kid out for dinner and in true student style he ate everything put in front of him, but when they arrived back at the “digs” the number of young people staying in the house had grown to the point where hubby didn’t fancy his chances of 1. sleeping and 2. getting anywhere near the bathroom. He was very relieved to be climbing into bed next to his wife at 1 am rather than in with his 19 year old son!
What about the dogs? Well our old dog has been on his holidays to grandparents the last two weekends, whilst we have been vizsla sitting….firstly for Chester and then for Jensen. Sam is now back and in his favourite spot in the window asleep on his bed – at 16, he is probably well over 100 in human years so can be forgiven for turning up his nose when the back door is opened to a rain swept garden!
I haven’t been very active with blog reading or commenting, but I have found some lovely posts that I hope you will enjoy them! Commemorations have taken place globally this weekend for both Remembrance Day and the 100 years since the end of the first World War, so it seems fitting to share some posts to mark this. So sit back, grab a cuppa and have a good read….
Last weekend I gathered with a group of special ladies to celebrate 30 years since we had started our nurse training together. Our school of nursing has long since gone, nurse training has changed beyond all recognition and neither of our teaching hospitals are in existence in their previous state. But half of our nursing set gathered together in London, travelling from as far afield as New York, for a trip down memory lane and renewing/strengthening old friendships.
We trained at Bloomsbury College of Nursing and Midwifery and spent the majority of our time living and working between University College Hospital and the Middlesex Hospital, situated on opposite sides of Tottenham court Road.
UCH opened its doors on the Gower Street cruciform site in 1906 and this Victorian red brick building remains imposing, if impractical next to its modern day counter part on Euston Road. A wonderful lady, Lucie, gave up her day off in order to show this group of old nurses around a building that closed as a hospital in 1995, but for us still holds so many memories….tunnels beneath the buildings from nurses’ home to hospitals, cockroaches (Yes, REALLY!), endless stairs and the founder’s portrait on the staircase encased by wooden panelling and doors.
It was written into the Night Sisters’ contracts that at the beginning of their shift they must close these doors, for if the doors were left open there would be 3 sudden, unexpected deaths in the hospital that night. The building is now used by the medical school for research labs, but it was lovely to see the preserved nursery rhyme pictures on the once children’s ward and the stunning architecture.
Sadly the future of the beautiful old Middlesex Hospital building on Mortimer Street was not so secure. It opened in 1757 and had further wings added in 1766 and 1780, but the whole hospital was rebuilt in the 1920s only to be closed in 2006 with the opening of the new UCLH. The building was demolished in 2008 and due to the financial crash, the site remained undeveloped for several years.
The only part of our building to still be standing in the newly developed Pearson Place, is the grade II listed hospital chapel and it was here that we gathered for remembrance, commemoration, cream teas and Prosecco! It felt strange to walk into the sleek lines of Pearson Place (also known as Fitzroy Place). So many memories surrounded us and we brushed shoulders with many ghosts – including one of our own, to whom this post is dedicated.
The Middlesex hospital chapel was a place for patients and staff alike, situated in the middle of the hospital, stunningly beautiful, unconsecrated, without denomination and open to all. We saw laughter and tears, fear and pain, marriage and love within that small pocket of calm situated in the midst of a busy teaching hospital. I remember singing in there during night shift breaks – not allowed I’m sure – and hiding out after my first patient death. In order for the space to always be welcoming and never shut away, the main doorway had a special glass door fitted to comply with fire regulations (I believe) and yet to be visible every hour of the day, open for all.
Today the newly named Fiztrovia Chapel has been restored by the developers and has a cultural focus, overseen and managed by a charitable foundation. During the period that the site was undeveloped, the old chapel was closed up and reopening it, introducing the outside air pressure and movement actually caused damage to much of the original gold leaf decor. A huge restoration project followed and the foundation to maintain the chapel was founded. It was through the foundation that we were able to visit the chapel and were given a wonderful historical “tour” by the lovely manager Sarah.
She gave us information about the history of the building and archive material that she continues to uncover, and in turn we were able to provide stories from our time during the 80s. Whilst there, a group of physiotherapists who worked in the Middlesex Hospital 50 years ago arrived to view the chapel and share memories. This little Gothic place of beauty, full of gold mosaic and stunning stained glass restored so lovingly by a local firm, costs £10,000 per month to maintain – but to so many of us it is priceless. If you are ever in the vicinity of Mortimer Street (just off Oxford Street), or are looking for a wedding venue or a film location – the Fitzrovia Chapel is well worth a visit.
Emotions were high on Saturday – for memories, for each other, for friendship. We worked hard and we played hard – there weren’t many central London night spots unknown to us. Anyone remember the Dreamboys? We do! We lived together, we grew up together and we probably shared some of the most intense times of our lives. Many a time we found ourselves thrown in at the deep end at such a young age. Our life experience by the time we qualified in our early 20s was way beyond that of many of our peers – we were pretty street wise!
Have we changed? No…not really! At breakfast on Sunday one of the others said that although the saying goes that people change, actually it isn’t true. Despite marriages, children and whole different lives, we all slipped back to being twenty year olds without thinking. I had been anxious about going and the day before the anxiety levels were growing. Whilst my first back surgery was whilst I was a student nurse and I had always dislocated, had migraines, anaemia and fainted – only one of my peers has actually seen me “disabled” by my condition. It still feels like a big thing to get my head around, and whilst they are nurses and can care for me, I actually don’t want my mates to have to take me to the loo! So hubby became an honorary nurse for the weekend – he knows them all anyway!
So life goes on and we all leave behind our own little stories carving out a slice of history. When the very fabric of the buildings that you made that history in have changed beyond recognition, the emotions are so mixed. The memories of the nurses’ homes – one at UCH and one at The Middlesex – will always be with my friends (refreshed as history repeated itself when we got in to trouble for setting off the security alarms 30 years on – a stunned student let a group of middle aged women declaring “we used to live here” into the building!), alongside friends & colleagues, patients and relatives, skills gained, calamities forgotten.
I felt that those familiar yet different surroundings triggered feelings and long buried memories, hopes and dreams, the best and worst of life. Is this a familiar sentiment for everyone at particular stages of life? I wonder if sometimes we get so caught up in the minutiae of what is happening today, that the amazing things already achieved and shaping our lives are (unintentionally) forgotten. Maybe one or two of those ghosts that we all have, be they loved ones or for us patients, would even give us a pat on the back and tell us we did make a difference.
I know that some of my set read this. Ladies, I say to you that it remains an honour to have shared my informative years with you and last weekend just reminded me how much I have missed you all (I always felt rather disconnected from the set on my return after 6 months away for back surgery). To don our hoodies and reconnect was a privilege – always have been and always will be ordinary girls/women doing extraordinary work.
This is in honour of Kate, who died when her career was only just beginning.
This weekend has been one of Remembrance in so many places across the globe. With Saturday being the 11th November, it was totally fitting that the Lord Mayor’s parade in the City of London started with the playing of the last post and a 2 minute silence. In true UK style, the weather was miserable – I can’t remember the last time it was fair for the Lord Mayor’s show!! Sunday however was a beautiful, crisp day as the veterans and current serving forces gathered alongside politicians, members of the public and the royal family for the service at the Cenotaph. The oldest veteran attending, a 99 year old former Royal Marine Ernie Searling, sent a heartfelt message to the world – “I feel very humble seeing so many hundreds of men and women on the parade today. So very, very humble, particularly those who are not with us on this day today… All I hope is that the future generations could see this parade, see some solidarity in it. See that the betterment of mankind in England, especially Great Britain, should be at its highest level. We don’t want street fights. We don’t want arguments. We don’t want racial injustice. All those things are horrible!” He brought a tear to eyes in our lounge.
Over the last week the BBC have been broadcasting a series of programmes celebrating and highlighting the roles women have played in war over the last one hundred years – Women at War 100 Years of Service. – currently available on the iplayer. It is difficult not to be inspired by the young women of the World Wars who were trailblazers for so many careers that women had previously not been able to undertake – and I would imagine that this is the case in other parts of the world when the men were on the front line. Some of these women, now elderly ladies, recounted tales of their training and deployment – as radio operators, munitions workers, pilots and engineers. These women paved the way for both women in the forces and in the workplace generally.
Image from Homefront Heroines website
My first inspiring blog for you today follows this theme and gives thanks on Remembrance Day – but the others have a mixture of themes from midlife crisis (me!!) to migraines to books & disability to Christmas baking & gifts! Not on quite the same par as WW2, but I think that you will enjoy these inspiring posts and urge you to grab a drink, take a seat and enjoy.
First I must give a huge shout out for my in laws who gave me a fantastic week, in spite of the weather. Thank you for the break, the opportunity to rest without feeling (too) guilty and for generally looking after me! I really, really appreciate it.
We drove back home on Sunday, a damp, dreary drive. By the time we reached the first services on the M4 motorway I was beside myself – pain, nausea, swearing I would never make another car journey. I was grey – even I could see I looked awful, and whilst a fix of caffeine helped, getting back in the car took an enormous effort. But then something happened that put things into perspective.
From out of nowhere, a stream of motorbikes appeared, rider after rider bedecked in red. Their mixture of T shirts, scarves and even hats over cycle helmets formed a crimson river billowing out behind them. Many carried flags, wreaths or giant poppies. We left the M4 for the M25 and another fleet of riders was heading towards us on the opposite carriageway. This was the “Ride of Respect” and I don’t know how many riders turned out on Sunday on small bikes, Harleys, huge modern Suzukis, trikes, but they paid their respects to our forces in the most poignant way I’ve ever seen. Why was I complaining?
It’s funny, but the first time I “experienced” nerve pain was as a new student nurse caring for an old soldier. He had served in WW2 and had a wicked sense of humour. In other words he had great fun teasing us first years. “Nurse, please help, I need to get up to have a pee” and then he would roar with laughter when he saw the young nurse’s face as the bed covers were pulled back and realization dawned that he had no lower legs. He would never say what happened to leave him a double amputee, only that he was the lucky one. Most of the time he was happy go lucky with a throaty guffaw of a laugh, but every couple of days he would change. He would rock backwards and forwards, and weep as the pain in his feet became unbearable. Yes, that’s right, his feet. My first experience of phantom limb pain. The worst time for him was during the night when he cried out in agony, but there was little that could be done to help ease it. We cared for his stumps to the best of our ability, and helped him fit his prosthetic limbs when he could tolerate them, but it is only now that I can truly understand to a very small extent what this uncomplaining old soldier was going through.
At one of my outpatient appointments with my last surgeon, Mr B, I asked why he couldn’t just “snip”the affected nerve and be done with it. His response was that I knew better than that, as I would still feel pain after – exactly like phantom limb pain. The actual problem is not in my foot or my leg or even my sciatic nerve, but rather right in the nerve root which then tells my brain that my foot has pain. In the same way my patient’s brain was being fed false information that made him “feel” sensations in his non existent feet. The nervous system is ever complex.
Today as we remember our war dead on armistice day, it is so important to remember our war living too – those wounded and in pain, physical and emotional.