Thursday, 6 April 2017

How did I get here?

One of the thoughts I get from time to time given my condition is “How did this happen?” Or “How did I come to be in a wheelchair?” After all, on 2nd September Anne and I had our day planned out. We were going to go to look for some patio furniture in the end of season sale and then drive up though the Cotswolds stopping for lunch, to attend a wedding reception in Stratford upon Avon.

We did get to look for the patio furniture (the store we went to didn’t have any as it happens.) Then next I knew I’d collapsed, I was rushed into hospital only to wake up 3 weeks later with a right leg that was immobile. But I was alive. (From what I’ve learned since, I am fortunate to be alive as the condition that made me collapse – Abdominal Aortic Aneurism; “Triple A” – is extremely serious and survival rate is very low. In fact, every doctor I’ve seen since says at some point “You do know you’re lucky to be alive?” Yes, I do and I am grateful.)

Maybe sometime I will blog about how I processed all I went through. I don’t think I’m ready to do that yet, though I feel it might be good to do so. For now, let’s just say I am OK with what has happened but I do ask myself “How have I ended up like this?” “How did I get here?”

Medically, I have ended up like this (with limited function in my right leg) as I have Femoral Nerve Neuropathy. (Put simply the blood supply to my nerves was interrupted and they ceased working. But gradually they are starting to function again.) So, I know why but how?

There’s no answer. It was one of those things. There was no warning of me having a Triple A. I felt fine. It just happened.

And I’m pleased that is my attitude. There is no one to blame. I’m not angry at God. I don’t believe He allowed this to happen as some sort of test of my faith. I just had a leaky aorta. (In another life, I might just have to form a punk band called “Leaky Aorta”!)

It’s no point getting maudlin and saying, “Why me?” OK, I do have some days when I feel down. But I am alive! Spring is here. The birds are singing. And I have things to look forward to.

Now some of the things I am looking forward to will seem odd to you but they’re not for me so bear with me.

We have a holiday booked for the middle of May. (To a cottage in the New Forest adapted for people with disabilities.)

We have a new car coming (next week all being well.) A Honda C-RV. This will have some adaptations made for me.

So far so good. Now it gets weird.

I am getting a walking frame from my physiotherapist. (She saw me on Monday and felt I had made such good progress that it would be good to try a frame. At best only for small steps but steps nonetheless.)

I am getting a mobility scooter.

Yes, the kind I’ve always moaned about when driven by some old biddy in town. Or some old git trundling along the road at 4 miles an hour with no idea of the tailback behind him. Yes folks. I’m about to join that club.

Seriously though I am excited about the scooter. It means that when we go out Anne doesn’t have to push me in my wheelchair. It means I can have some independence. I can go out for a ride around the area we live in. I can get to Sainsbury’s. I can do some shopping which will mean I am taking some of the load off Anne’s back.

More than that, the new car will have a hoist fitted in the boot so the scooter can be lifted in and out. The new car will also be adapted so that I can drive it with my left foot.

How did I get here? Via my Sterling Sapphire Mobility Scooter of course!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

New Shoes

A highlight when I was a child was getting some new shoes. I only got new shoes when I had outgrown my previous pair or had worn them out. I tended not to wear shoes out so getting a new pair was a treat. Though on one occasion when staying with my grandparents, my grandfather noticed I had worn through the soles of my shoes. I thought this would mean a new pair of shoes. Oh no. Grandpa went to Woolworths and bought some rubber stick on soles and some glue. He “repaired” the shoes – though they dried in such a way that the soles curled up meaning the shoes were unwearable. I had to have new shoes after all. Result!

At that time I probably had a couple of pairs of shoes to my name. Black school shoes (also worn to chapel on Sunday and for playing in brass band concerts) and plimsolls (“daps”)

As I grew older into my teens I acquired rugby boots, trainers and some casual shoes. But even then, I probably had no more than 4 or 5 pairs of shoes including the rugby boots.

Times change and I now have quite a few pairs of shoes. There are 2 pairs of Loake brogues (one black, one oxblood); another pair of black shoes I use when I am taking a burial (so as not to get mud on the Loakes!); 2 pairs of walking boots (one leather, one Gore-Tex fabric); a pair of brown deck shoes for smart casual; and two pairs of golf shoes (I only need one pair but I turned up to play golf on one occasion and had forgotten my shoes and had to buy another pair!) There are others too but these are the ones that spring to mind.

However, since my illness last autumn these shoes have remained under the bed unworn. My disability means I have to wear a lower leg brace and the footplate of this device won’t fit into my normal shoes. Consequently, for the best part of 4 months I have been wearing some canvas shoes that are really glorified daps with a Velcro fastening. £10 from Asda. The height of fashion but they do the job.

Just after Christmas we did buy a pair of Clarks slip on shoes that I could get the footplate of the brace into. Unfortunately they rubbed my ankle and I got a blister which became infected. (Thankfully healing now thanks to the wonderful nurses at our GP surgery.)

The Clarks have been consigned to under the bed (at least for now.) But I needed some smarter shoes. (As a cousin of mine said when he visited me in hospital and found me wearing my daps, track suit bottoms and a sweat shirt “Blimey Dave, you like something out of ‘Shameless!’ “) On the advice of one of the nurses Anne had a look at the web site of a company called Cosy Feet. They specialise in shoes with wide fittings.

I shuddered at some of the shoes. Think of the shoes your grandad would wear. But there was one pair that looked OK. Like deck shoes but with a Velcro fastening. We ordered a pair and they turned up on the weekend. They are great! I’ve got new shoes!

I could relate to Scottish singer Paulo Nutini’s song “New shoes”

Hey, I put some new shoes on
And suddenly everything is right
I said, hey, I put some new shoes on, and everybody's smiling
It's so inviting
Oh, short on money
But long on time
Slowly strolling in the sweet sunshine
And I'm running late
And I don't need an excuse
'Cause I'm wearing my brand-new shoes

Simple things.

Several years ago, the charity Christian Aid ran a fundraiser for Lent. It was called “Count your blessings”. The idea was that for every day of Lent people in this country would compare their lives to those of someone in the third world. For example, “Most people in Africa only have one meal a day. Give 10p for every meal you have had today.” I vaguely remember that one of these was about shoes and I know it cost me a lot of money!

But now I feel blessed to have shoes on my feet. I feel blessed that the medical care I have received, and continue to receive, means I have a leg brace on my leg.

Hey, I put some new shoes on
And suddenly everything is right

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Thanks for the memories

An ice breaker game loved of management training days often included getting those on the course to say something about themselves that others mightn’t believe. It always seemed to me that everyone else on the courses I attended had jumped out of planes or climbed Mount Everest. Some of these could have been exaggerations of course. But being a truthful sort of chap the one I gave was “I once appeared on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall with a band.” Or “A band I played in gave a televised concert broadcast on TV.”

I can assure you dear reader these are both true. But perhaps you are wondering how this could be? The assumption on the course was that the band I was in must have been some kind of pop or rock band. Whereas the band in question was a brass band – the Crosskeys Junior Band.

We appeared at the Royal Albert Hall having got through to the finals of the Schools Proms. (November 1981 if memory serves me correctly.) Then in July 1982 we were asked to take part in a series of brass band concerts to be recorded by Yorkshire Television. Both were exciting, but it is the Yorkshire TV concert that has stayed in the memory.

The band (of around 30 – mainly teenagers) was put up in a 4-star hotel for two nights. The concert was recorded in the St George’s Hall Bradford. I think the programme was an hour long. Allowing for adverts and the compere’s links we played for around 45 minutes. I do remember though that we were on stage for close on 2 hours as there were some retakes as the director wanted a better angle or wasn’t happy with the lighting or some other excuse.

What has brought this to mind is that the compere of the concert was Peter Skellern. And you may have heard that Peter Skellern recently died aged 69.

Skellern had a brief pop career in the 1970s. He reached number 3 in the charts with “You’re a lady” in 1972. This song featured Grimethorpe Colliery Band. And Skellern’s other minor hits all featured brass band music. And his clear love of brass bands led Yorkshire TV to invite him to host the series of concerts.

The internet will tell you what he did over the years. He performed in shows with Richard Stillgoe featuring trademark witty songs. (I saw one of these shows in London in 1986.) He wrote music for films and TV. He wrote choral music.

A few months ago, Peter Skellern came to mind and I Googled him. I was saddened to hear that he had a brain tumour but I was interested to read that he been ordained as a priest in the Church of England in October 2016.

I thought about writing to Peter Skellern but didn’t get around to it. By way of this blog I’d like to thank him for his part in creating a very happy memory. God bless you Peter Skellern. May you rest in peace and rise in glory.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

They laughed when I sat down at the piano ....

One thing I’m trying to do whilst off sick, especially as it gets the brain going, is to learn the piano.

This will be my fourth attempt at learning the piano.

I had probably a year's worth of lessons when I was 6 or 7. I was making some progress – despite not wanting to practise. But then my piano teacher decided he would pass his younger pupils on to one of his older pupils. For some reason, I didn’t like the new teacher and eventually I was allowed to give up. My year paid off though as I could read music which gave me a head start when I joined the local brass band. I played brass instruments for next 10 or so years.

As I grew older I regretted not having carried on with the piano. So much so that when in my late 30s I was left a sum of money by an elderly aunt, I bought a piano and started some lessons. I had to start completely from scratch – although being able to read music helped (even if I had to think about the bass clef.) These were going well and I felt I was making progress. But then work intervened. I was working away from home for a month and had to miss some lessons and then got a promotion to head office which meant we moved.

After a space of a couple of years, I decided to try once more. I found a teacher and we go on well. Again, I felt as if I was making some progress. But this time my teacher had to stop as she had a baby. By the time she was back taking pupils I had received my call to ministry and was up to my eyes with theological studies.

Now, after a gap of perhaps 15 years I am starting once more. Again, I am having to start from scratch. This time though, I like my teacher, I don’t intend to have to move with work and it is highly unlikely my teacher will become pregnant given she is a lady of a certain age shall we say! I should have no excuses.

I am enjoying the challenge and it is a challenge. There is the challenge of the learning the piano anyway. And added to this is the challenge of low concentration levels. Unlike before I am not watching the clock when I sit down to practise. I carry on as a long as I want to. However, I find that after 20 minutes or so my concentration goes. I start to make mistakes and it is time to stop. I am sure though that learning the piano in this way will help my sluggish brain.

My dad (who is a good pianist and church organist) asked me recently how things were going with the piano. "They’re going OK" I said. "What about the left hand?" "Not too bad – the only trouble is when I combine it with the right hand!"

All the right notes. Not necessarily in the right order.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Putting your body on the line

It is a time of the year I really enjoy, for last weekend the Six Nations rugby tournament started. If I can, I watch all the games but I make sure I never miss the games my beloved Wales play in. Now, I should say at the outset, that if you’re not a rugby follower you will need to bear with me for a while before I get to the point of this blog.

Last Sunday Wales played Italy. (Wales won the match 33 points to 7.) Much of the focus in the pre-match TV analysis was on a Welsh player called George North. North is loved by fans for his turn of speed and strength. However, there have been concerns expressed about his fitness. He has been susceptible to receiving knocks to his head and suffering from concussion as a consequence. The rugby union authorities now take this much more seriously than they once did. The punditry before the game was concerned with whether George North would soon have to give up playing rugby. (He is only 24 and made it clear in the interviews he had no intention of retiring, though he may not have much choice.)

Wales looked lacklustre in the first half of the game against Italy and in fact were trailing 7 – 3 at half time. However, in the second half they came alive and one of the highlights was a great try by George North who ran in from distance and at speed. However, it was clear that he was in pain. His thigh was heavily strapped and press reports afterwards said he had hurt his knee.

Chatting to a friend on social media afterwards I made the comment that George had put his body on the line for the Welsh victory. Despite all the talk about his future being in doubt if he got another head injury, George North knew he had one job to do when he was given the ball – score a try for Wales no matter what the personal cost to him.

In another bit of TV punditry before the game, former Wales player Shane Williams was asked about what the Six Nations means to Welsh fans. Williams commented that although a cliché, rugby is like a religion to Welsh people. I recalled this comment after the game in the light of the thought about George North putting his body on the line.

One of the central tenets of the Christian faith is that Jesus Christ allowed himself to be executed on the cross. He put his body on the line taking the sin of the world upon himself. He died so that we might be forgiven. He died so that those who believe in him may have eternal life for in his death and resurrection he conquered death once and for all.

John 15:13 New International Version - UK (NIVUK)
13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

But Jesus also made it clear to his followers that we might have to put our bodies on the line for him too:

Mark 8:34 New International Version - UK (NIVUK)
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Thankfully very few Christians have to die for their faith – although from the start this did happen and is still happening today in some parts of the world. But even if we don’t die for our faith we must remember there is an element of sacrifice to it.

One thing I am wrestling with myself at present is what my future ministry will be like. Will I be fit and able to go back into full time Christian ministry? Or will I never regain fitness so that I have to leave ministry? I don’t know. Though I sense God is telling me ministry will be different in future. My illness will reshape my ministry. Though what that ministry will be like I don’t know.

But I do know that in some way I will have to put my body on the line to serve my Lord.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Alone again naturally

Since being “confined to barracks”, there’s been a concern that I’ll be home alone for many hours each day. This is true – Anne and Tom have both left for work by 7.30am and Tom doesn’t get back until around 4.30pm and Anne any time between 5pm and 6pm. The concern has been about my safety and also to ensure that I won’t get bored.

These are very valid reasons. But the thing is I don’t mind being on my own. Admittedly I’m a people person and like to meet people. But I equally like having time by myself. Ministry has provided the perfect balance between being with people and being on my own.

Now though most days I have a visitor or two each day. I’m not complaining. Far from it. I appreciate people coming to see me. It’s just that I am starting to miss my times of solitude. I’ve come to the conclusion that I will just have to block out days when I can have time to myself.

However, what to do on those days devoid of visitors? When I was in hospital and looking forward to being home, I had grand plans for what I would do with the space I’d been given through illness. I even gave Anne a list of books to take from my study shelves. Books I’ve been meaning to read for a while and hadn’t got around to. So far, those books have remained untouched.

And when I’m not in the mood for reading then there is plenty on Netflix to catch up with. (Funny, I seem to have found time for Netflix but not for the reading.)

We went to church at St Pauls Chippenham last Sunday. The congregation there is being encouraged to follow a Bible study scheme the aim of which is to “Go deeper with God”. The preacher spoke of the importance of us slowing down and making God space. This really struck a chord with me (though I must confess to having nodded off during the sermon – more to do with me than the preacher.) The God space was what I was longing for in hospital.

I know only too well that I can easily find things to fill the God space. Whether visitors or Netflix. I know only too well how I end up Doing rather than Being. But to be an effective Doer we need to be an effective Be-er too. We need that God space. That time to be with God.

The preacher on Sunday concluded his sermon by reading the following poem:

Prayer Stool

I leave aside my shoes, my ambitions;
undo my watch, my timetable;
take off my glasses, my views;
unclip my pen, my work;
put down my keys, my security;
to be alone with you, the only true God.
After being with you,
I take up my shoes to walk in your ways;
strap on my watch to live in your time;
put on my glasses to look at your world;
clip on my pen to write up your thoughts;
pick up my keys to open your doors.

Graham Kings (1986 Kenya)

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Seeing things from a wheelchair

In order to develop empathy with another person it is often said that “Before you criticise a man you have to walk a mile in his shoes”. As someone who is currently having to use a wheelchair I’m beginning to understand what it is like for disabled people in this country. I’m beginning to see things very differently.

Let me share some of my experiences so far:

When I was still in hospital in Bristol, one of my outings from the ward was to visit the Costa coffee shop in the hospital atrium. At that stage I needed to be pushed in my chair. On a couple of occasions (though not always) one of the people serving ignored me and spoke to my wife. The chair made me invisible.

Using a disabled toilet in Sainsbury’s supermarket in Chippenham, I found the door (that opened out) was heavy and quite hard to cope with. Inside the lock was an ordinary “Vacant / Engaged” lock. I was able operate this easily but would someone with a problem with their hands?

At a council owned car park in Corsham there were plenty of disabled spaces. But they weren’t much wider than ordinary spaces and there was no space at the side. This contrasted with Parent and Child spaces which appeared wider and had the space at the side.

Although there are dropped kerbs we find that the wheelchair catches on the road surface.

We’ve already worked out that several pubs we enjoy visiting for a meal will be no go areas for a variety of reasons. But we recently visited The White Hart at Ford (just outside Chippenham.) There was level access and all seemed fine until I needed the toilet. There was no disabled access toilet. To have gone to the Gents (even if I could have got in) I would have needed to negotiate a step down into the bar area. What was frustrating was that there was a baby changing room and the restaurant area of the pub (admittedly an old building) was fairly new. Why wasn’t a disabled toilet put in then?

Some people or organisations like employers, shops, local authorities and schools must take positive steps to remove the barriers you face because of your disability. This is to ensure you receive the same services, as far as this is possible, as someone who's not disabled. The Equality Act 2010 calls this the duty to make reasonable adjustments.
Clearly this legislation isn’t being enforced or is being ignored.

I find it heartening that many churches (and I am thinking mainly of Methodist ones) have tried to comply with the legislation. Why don't commercial organisations feel the same?