Writer Interrupted – New Episode

Episode 2 of the Patrons-only podcast, “Writer Interrupted” has been published patrons’ feeds.

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Living the Dream 85. – A new normal?

Update

In my little bubble, much is happening.

I watch, incredulous, the events in the US. I wrote earlier in the week, how I felt. I hope this is a watershed.

The Patient

Mrs L battles on with her back, slowly climbing the steep slope of recovery. Our thanks for all the good wishes from readers.

The Virus

Covid-19. Cyprus continues to progress through a relaxation-in-stages. The beaches are open, bars and restaurants too. Malls open on Monday, along with the airports. (Certain countries only.)

Touch wood, we have got away very lightly. As of the 4th of June, the figures are,

958 people infected. (794 per million of population)
17 deaths (14 per million of population)

For comparison, Italy’s infection rate is 3,867 per million and death rate 556 per million.

The Transition

Mags getting better, lockdown getting easier: I’m off to the golf course. This has brought me face to face with a whole new set of awkwardness.

My friend said,

“I’ll pick you up.”

“Ummm…I’d rather not.” I mumbled.

“We’re allowed two in a car, now.”

“Sure, but, no thanks.”

I’m still of a social distancing mindset. I understand the desire for normality to return, but in my view, the virus has not changed, there is no cure, and still no vaccine.

I look forward to seeing my friends on the golf course, in the bar, and at the restaurant. I’ll laugh, wave and give a hearty “What-ho!”. I don’t think I’ll be touching or getting overly close to anyone.

The new normal

How long will I feel like that? I don’t know. I’m nervous about bringing the virus home, but I’m also scared of passing it on outside. To me, maintaining social distancing is a low price to pay for keeping the virus on the back foot.

I’m fascinated to see how this will unfold. I’ve already heard from friends, uneasy about mutual acquaintances mingling in large groups.

Will we refrain from touching now? No more handshakes, no more cheek kisses?

Gesundheid!

I imagine that we will all become gradually more relaxed as time goes by, but what happens when someone sneezes? Or is reported to be “in bed with a cold”?

We need to rewrite the entire etiquette.

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Living the Dream 84. – Lockdown Gardening

If there were a school report on my gardening, it might read:

“B-plus. Stuart is easily enthused and throws himself into new projects. At times his enthusiasm outstrips his abilities.”

The mountain hideaway is set on a decent-sized chunk of land. My Mum worked hard on the garden, nurturing fruit trees and colourful flowers. As time went on, she guided the garden towards low maintenance, laying a weed suppressant and gravel around the trees.

Once a week, Mick, mechanic, pool-man, and gardener, comes, gives the pool a proper clean and wrestles the trees and shrubs. A Sisyphean task leaving no room for development of the garden.

This week, I decided to throw myself into gardening as exercise, stress-relief and an aesthetic endeavour. I’m aiming for Mrs L to be delighted by flowers when we can get her up and about and onto the balcony.

Action

Fortune favours the brave, so I strode into the local flower shop / nursery and whimpered,

“Help me, please.” I even gave my best puppy-dog eyes. Fifteen minutes later I was loading bedding soil and plants into the back of the car.

I suspect I may not be the first with limited gardening ability, to throw myself on the mercy of the florist. We’re starting with flowers in pots and herbs in a built-in bed on the terrace.

Petunias (Petuniae?) love a bit of sun, and don’t mind doing without water for a bit, apparently. That’s a gentle way of saying that I really have to neglect them to kill them. Likewise, a busy-lizzy is a tough character, prepared to put up with some abuse too.

Herbs

I love where we are situated. Unfortunately, mosquitos love it too. the only thing that the location lacked, from a mozzy point of view, was a plentiful supply of sweet blood. Then I moved in. They’re hardy wee souls, and rapidly adapt to whatever means we employ to deter, or indeed eliminate them. They are not great fans of strong smells, so planting some herbs is a double win, discouraging them, and adding a nice flavour to my cooking on the BBQ.

So – meet my herb garden. Basil, Mint, Rosemary, Sage, Spearmint and Thyme. I planted them in alphabetical order, because…well, I’m like that. I envisage having to marshall these, as from memory, herbs are the megalomaniacs of the plant world and will attempt to eliminate each other, and take over the entire bed. Perhaps I shall propagate some to separate pots, if I detect a degree of success in my war with the mozzies.

I have more pots – so assuming that these first experiments survive, there will be more flora to come. Maybe, I’ll even try my hand at some vegetable gardening.

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Living the Dream – 83. Lockdown

Cyprus has laid out a blueprint for exiting lockdown.

Is it right? Is it wrong? I don’t know.

However, I’m most interested in whether it’s relevant. At various dates, we will be allowed to start doing things that we haven’t done for months. Will we though?

For example, on May 21st, we will be allowed to get our hair cut, and to eat at a restaurant (only at its outdoor tables). Mrs L has unilaterally declared that she’ll be doing neither. I haven’t asked, but I’m guessing this means that I won’t be getting a haircut either.

Fear

People are scared. The virus persists and governments are quick to claim that the measures they implemented have contained the pandemic and saved many lives. They may be right, I don’t know. The numbers and statistics are an overwhelming avalanche of public relations. It will be many, many months until there is some perspective on the numbers and the efficacy of the various measures. How did country A achieve “x” while country B got “y”?

Change

If the virus persists, and lockdown and social distancing are the measures that contain the virus, then Mrs L has a point. Why go out?

I’m fascinated to see how our habits have changed. Will we all demand our hairdressers wear gowns, gloves and masks? Will restaurants with small isolated tables fare better than those that offer benches at communal tables? Is the Maitre D’s first duty to take your temperature as you approach the bar?

Concerts

Last year, we enjoyed UB40, Il Divo and Eros Ramazotti, gigs in Limassol. What about this summer?

Conferences

I attend trade shows in the stationery world, and conferences in financial services. Not this year, I guess.

Tourism

The Cyprus economy relies heavily on tourism and hospitality. The lockdown is severely damaging the economy. Both short term and long term, the challenge is going to be persuading people to be social again. I have read that experts in the airline industry expect flights to be very cheap this summer, as carriers like Ryanair and Whizz attempt to kickstart travel and take market-share. Perhaps, they’re right, but what about two years from now? I think that airline industry will bear no resemblance to the one of 2019.

In the meantime, can I get my hair back to 1990 length?

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Living the Dream 82. – Health Insurance

“No health insurance?” A shake of the head.

The pedant in me wanted to point out that we had chosen to self-insure rather than buy the health insurance policy offered to us. However, I felt it best to nod.

Alien Registration

In order to live in Cyprus, it’s a legal requirement to obtain a Certificate of Registration, and to get one of those, one needs, amongst other requirements, health insurance.

We were asked to undergo a medical examination, where we both discovered that our heart rates were low. A surprise, since we had both been having regular medicals in the UK, and I wear an Apple Watch and therefore have a lot of heart data to hand. We had been sent to a specific Doctor by the insurance company, and it was clear to me that his role was to generate exclusions – improving the risk profile. He did a great job, excluding multiple conditions, and a weighting factor was going to be applied to the price. The Premium for the two of us was going to be, shall we say, “x”. We are in Year 2, so would have paid “2x” to date. We did not take the policy, rather taking the “immigrant policy” which only covers emergency treatment.

Back Troubles

Margaret is being treated for a problematic back. As I type, she is in bed, recovering from a complicated four hour operation on her spine, at a private hospital. The operation was a success, and fingers crossed, her recovery will, in 6 weeks or so, be complete. The total cost is expected to be “4x”. As per the picture, she is being nursed by Spice.

Of course, this is an over-simplification. The insurance premiums would have increased one year to the next. Certain treatments or tests may have been excluded. Mags had experience mild back pain in the past, so who knows what the underwriter would have made of that.

However, in broad terms, if Mags and I do not require any further private treatment over the next two years, then we will have broken even or be marginally better off than had we taken out the insurance.

Does this mean that self-insurance is better value than commercial insurance? Not necessarily. None of us has a crystal ball. I don’t rule out us taking out a policy in future. However, self-insured, we had no excess and no exclusions. Obviously – we only spent money when we needed to, rather than annually.

Almost heretical to say so – but some times it makes sense to self-insure. If funds are available, then self-insuring is a realistic option.

Whatever the choice, it’s always a gamble.

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Living the Dream – 81. A month in bed

Our personal lockdown has now been a full month.

On March 3rd, Mags went to bed, still in agony with a bad back. On the 4th, she couldn’t get up.

Since then she’s been to a couple of hospitals, had three rides in an ambulance and almost had an operation several times. The surgeons were resolved to operate on Friday the 13th until a possible throat infection intervened. With Covid 19 sweeping across the world, they discharged her on the 14th, no better than when she had gone in, a week before.

There was vague talk of an operation in a week, but we knew that was unlikely.

Discharged

Put starkly, Mags was safer bedridden at home with only me to care for her than she was in a private hospital with an excellent rota of medical professionals.

It seems odd in retrospect, but before we got Mags admitted, she was in bed, while our bathrooms were being refurbished. I made coffees for the patient and the builder. Once admitted, I spent the day at the hospital before coming home to sleep. Then, visitors were prohibited for Covid concerns and I had a day or two to bring some order to the house.

Progress

We were able to be more organised for Mag’s return, and set up our ward in the spare room. Here I monitor blood pressure, blood sugar and try to make her as comfortable as possible. On the 18th, her fifth day back home, she sat. Then, on the 19th, she walked a pace or two. On the 20th, she managed a lap of the house with a walker. The 26th, she took a shower!

Mags has to balance pain with movement. She wants to move more and more, but the pain roars back with rapidity and ferocity. She still cannot sit or stand for extended periods – but we’ll get there. Mags has spent a full month in bed.

Perspective

This private drama of a month in bed has overridden the worldwide one, for us. Were Covid not tearing across the planet, I’d still be effectively locked down. I guess I might shop more frequently, but Mags needs a hand around the clock, so not much would be different.

Mags believes that everything happens for a reason. Was that possible throat infection a sign? I don’t know.

From my side, I’m thankful that I stopped drinking this year. Old me would be draining a bottle of wine a night on top of a couple of cold beers in the afternoon, all the while claiming that the drink was getting me through the crisis. By now, I’d be on my knees, beaten down by a persistent hangover.

I might have an alcolohol free beer to celebrate.

Cheers!

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Living the Dream – 80. Lockdown

Before the Lockdown

Adamantios (his real name) took me through the CT. I’m sure he was speaking English, but when it comes to the medical terms, Greek remains the lingua franca. Spondylolisthesis was one of the more entertaining tongue-twisters.

I’m not sure I can accurately explain the breadth of the issues, nor indeed the intricacies of the solutions proposed. The recommendation was to operate. Then it wasn’t. Then it was again. I was getting dizzy. Poor Mags was increasingly confused and most important of all; in agony.

First hints

On Tuesday the 10th, as a response to Corona virus, the hospital limited patients to one designated visitor, who should wear a mask. Then, on Wednesday the 11th, all visiting was suspended. Margaret’s birthday on Thursday, she would be allowed no visitors. Tough.

The operation was now scheduled for Friday the 13th. Well, it would be, wouldn’t it?

Postponed

Then, on the morning of the 13th, Mags awoke with a sore throat. An ear nose and throat specialist examined her and declared the operation off, prescribing a course of antibiotics for a week. Moments later, Mags’ doctor informed her she was being discharged.

Put simply, while the pandemic rages, Mags is safer at home than in hospital.

Time for me to step up. “Nurse Lennon, your patient.”

As I type – the patient has survived 30 hours plus with no mishaps. That’s a start, I suppose.

I have learned a few things.

  1. Nursing is hard. Really hard. A professional nurse is nothing short of a superhero. Likewise those people who are full-time carers for a loved one.
  2. My fear of needles is personal. Turns out I’m fine sticking them into other people.
  3. There are always people worse off. With all that is going on – our problems shrink rapidly.

Lockdown

Right now, the government of Cyprus has effectively closed our borders, and all non-essential business. “Lockdown” is the new buzzword.

Dramatic times.

Now – how’s the patient?

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Living the Dream – 79. Field Test – Medical

Ambulance

“What?”

The paramedic eyed our straightest staircase with horror.

“If we go around the house, there are fewer steps,” I ventured.

We went off to explore this route, while the ambulance driver focused on turning the vehicle around, knocking over the lighting on the driveway as he did so.

Eventually we exited the house through one of the bedrooms. Keen to reassure the patient, strapped to the stretcher, Marios, the paramedic, said,

“This part is very dangerous. But don’t worry Mrs Lennon.”

He and I took the front end of the stretcher. A couple of times he let me bear the weight while he helped his colleague at the other end. A clever tactic to make me feel useful, I’m sure. Eventually, the Chuckle Brothers and I got Margaret into the ambulance. I picked up the hypodermic needle that had fallen to the floor and followed the ambulance to the hospital.

Accident and Emergency

As I entered the Accident and Emergency department from the car park, I met the stretcher coming in from the other side.

Margaret was pale.

“Marios tells me, this is the worst A&E in Europe.”

I made a note to talk to Marios about his over-sharing problem.

We were seen promptly and courteously.

“You need to see an Orthopaedic surgeon.” The A&E Doctor look harassed and tired.

“I know.”

“But they’re upstairs.”

“You have lifts?” I was trying to keep my tone neutral.

“But you can only see Orthopaedics, in the morning. You should come back then.” Dr Stress said.

Disappointing, I felt. “My wife can’t walk, can’t sit or travel in a car. How do I get her home?”

“Ambulance.”

“Ambulance? Had you seen the journey here, you wouldn’t say that. How do we come back?”

“Ambulance.”

“Three ambulances in 15 hours? Would it not be easier just to take her upstairs?”

“There are no beds.”

The Mediterranean

Ultimately, we whistled up a private ambulance and had Margaret admitted to the clinic that, if she could travel, she would have come to as an outpatient. It was half past nine at night.

“Insurance details, please.”

“We’re self-insured.”

Brows were furrowed.

I explained that I had phoned ahead and was happy to pay the medical costs.

“Right. Off we go.”

“Off we go where?” I asked, suspicious.

“CT scan.”

How the other (medical) half live.

After the scan, Margaret was admitted into a room in the surgical ward. Her roomie is an 83 year old who has just had a new knee. They prattle away at each other. I’m not sure that not sharing a common language is any impediment. Several nurses are in and out of the room constantly.

That night, for the first time in a week, Margaret was in good medical hands.

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Living The Dream 78. A plan

This month, I have written about the joys of property repairs, a dodgy pump, and an impending trip to Rome. I had intended to write about that trip and my next one, to London.

The older I get, the more I realise the fragility of plans.

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”*

Life has come out swinging this week.

Mags’ sore back was fine in Rome. We were strolling all day, every day. There’s no finer place for a meander. Each morning, she would feel stiff, then once we got going, things would loosen up and though not pain free, she could enjoy the day. Until Monday. Monday started poorly and got progressively worse. The pain increased, rather than decreased. By the time we were due to go to the airport, Margaret could barely walk. In fairness, she could barely stand, sit or lie either. The pain was acute and constant.

To their credit, the airline, Aegean, were magnificent. When we landed in Athens, a wheelchair was waiting to help us navigate the farce that is Schengen/Non-Schengen transfers (surely a future Lennon-rant). The team in Athens also organised us to be met by Assistance in Larnaca.

Since being home, Mags has been in agony, interspersed with intervals of worse-than-agony. Physio does not appear to be working and life feels awfully bleak.

As I write she is trying to sleep. No doubt, the dulcet tones of power tools destroying the bathroom adjacent to her pillow are not helping on the nap front. Yep. We are mid-bathroom replacement too.

Our joy is unbounded.

Thankfully, I am in good form, and kept busy. Much though I’d like to help Mags, there is little that I can do, so I content myself with buying the wrong food, cooking it incorrectly and making a mess of the kitchen. Despite my attempts to make the worst coffee, the builder likes a steady flow to be maintained. I have, thus far, thwarted his attempts to liberate the dog by leaving the gates open. When not making a hash of the domestic engineering, or gingerly driving Mags to physio, I’m trying to keep up with a plan.

Next Thursday, we are due to fly to the UK, to visit family and attend a pen show for Nero’s Notes. This will require a marked upturn in Mags state of health. There is no way she can travel as she is, nor could I leave her. Of course, if she does improve, there must be a reasonable chance that Corona virus will thwart the pen show anyway. I imagine an uptick in infections is coming for the UK, and larger gatherings might not be the wisest move. Additionally, I’m not sure there is a more efficient way to spread infection than air travel.

There’s nothing like a plan coming together – and this is nothing like a plan coming together.

Living the Dream, indeed.

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*Mike Tyson