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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!!!

"I always say keep a diary and someday it'll keep you." ~Mae West

 DIARY 2014
   I opened up a new 2014 diary today and began by inking in all the places we had been this past year on the days. For example, under January 2nd, 2013 at the very bottom in parentheses it says, (*Buckby top lock). I do this each time we moved to anew place so I know where we were last year on this date. I also add into the parentheses any significant happenings such as January 9th (*Blisworth, Lg. solar panel installed). In my diary I also keep track of all the boat oil changes, engine hours at change, battery top ups, belt replacements, gear oil changes, and any major repairs or replacements. I track our purchase of coal, diesel and Calor: when, from where (or whom), how much purchased and what we paid, month by month. I also do this with groceries.
   On the month at a glance calendar for each month I write in every time we get water, empty the loo, have visitors, get hair cuts, etc. I provide details of weather at the top of each day's entry: January 12th, 2103 says, "52 degrees, balmy light winds and rain!" Each days activities and main meals are noted as are details of books read or telly watched and any other ADLs (Activities of Daily Living) I find pertinent of interesting.

NB HERBIE: Neil and Kath
   I've got so much to write about and not nearly enough time to write it all!
 First of all an introduction is necessary for our readers, to Neil and Kath on NB Herbie. Each year the crew of NBH entertain the rest of us with a count down of the best: best moorings for the year, best pubs you've never heard of, and many other things boat related.
   Beginning in 2010 they decided to create a Herbie Award for Fortitude and choose a fellow boater who exemplified the strength of mind and character that allows someone to bear pain or adversity with courage. The first award went to Sue and Vic on NB No Problem.
   In 2011 the Herbie Award went to Sue and Richard of NB Indigo Dreaming... Then last year it went to Maffi..."So whoever wins this year is in elevated company."
   Well dear readers, this year I was totally gobsmacked to discover I was the honoree of the rare and coveted Herbie Award for Fortitude!! We have posted our award on the upper left of this blog page.
   Click on the award to visit NB Herbie's page and learn more about past recipients and their feats of courage and community which make the waterways a fantastic place on which to live. 
   I remember discovering NB Herbie's blog in late 2009 when I first found canals and narrow boats. I came across one of Neil and Kath's blog posts which featured a picture of their lovely floating home wreathed in early morning fog. Something about that picture touched me viscerally and helped (along with many other boaters' blogs) to light a longing in my heart for life as a continuous cruiser on a narrow boat.
   Back then I had never actually seen a narrow boat in all three dimensions or ever set foot off the North American continent. The life I lead now was all a wished for dream...one that I expected would take many years of planning and saving to accomplish. Love did not feature anywhere in this plan...until Les Biggs came to visit Pullman, Washington USA for one week and the unplanned, unanticipated, unthinkable occurred...we fell in love with one another!! And the rest, as they say...
   so here I am living La Vida Gloriousa aboard NB Valerie with Dear Sir. I am humbled and touched to be accepted into such an amazing, varied, and close knit though far flung society: the British boating community. Les and I offer grateful thanks to all who read our blog, post comments or send off an email in response to something we've written, or wave to us as we pass along the canals; those who stop to say hello--be they readers or other boaters.
   We cannot praise enough the goodness of the boaters who have assisted us this year. Each of you share this Herbie Award with us; your help made a very difficult time possible to survive and move beyond. We didn't come through the darkness alone: you each lit a flame of kindness to help us find our way. The prayers, positive thoughts and good wishes of loved ones and friends all over the world buoyed us up as well and carried us through.

A HOME OFFICE LETTER
  And so onward to New Year's Eve...A letter came from the Home Office dated the 23rd of December, requesting I proceed with registering my biometrics at the Post Office. Without any further delay (we had 15 days from the 23rd to get it done) Les and I left the boat early yesterday morning bundled up as warm as we hoped would be necessary (not nearly enough it turned out!) to catch a bus from Cow Roast to Tring, in order to catch another bus from Tring to Luton near the hospital, to catch yet another bus to our daughter in law Joanne's, where our mail is registered, to pick up the Home Office letter which one had to have in hand when registering one's biometrics, and to drop off a large container of homemade Chicken Soup to help Jojo fight a bad cold.
   By the time we reached Luton the high wind gusts were blowing the rain sideways and Les and I were soaked through and frozen. We peeled off our wet clothes at Jojo's and threw them in the dryer while we warmed up with a cup of tea and caught up with family. It was lovely to see Jo, Kiera and Kiernan who were helping with the post holiday tidying up. 
   After we were all dried out and dressed again we ventured out to the nearest bus stop to discover a bus was missing from the route and we could have stood there for an hour in the bloody freezing, wet and high winds so we walked back towards the Luton hospital (at least while moving one is generating heat!) and caught another bus to The Mall. 
   In the Post Office it took all of less than ten minutes to wait, have our number called, pay the £19.20 fee, take my picture, and take my fingerprints and signature electronically. Now all we can do is wait for a decision as to whether or not my application for Indefinite Leave to Remain is granted. We had a quick bite to eat and were back outside in the elements, waiting for yet another bus--this one back the way we came. 
   In Tring we walked up to the Tesco superstore, picked up four bags of groceries, slogged outside in the gathering dark and continuing rain, and waited for the final bus back to Cow Roast. Whew! A very long day indeed. Les and I were both so knackered we ached all over.
   Today we are mostly recovered. I forgot eggs last night so Les generously offered to catch the bus back into Tring for them while he chased up a prescription refill and I moved the boat, filled up with water, brought down a new bag of coal, and was just mooring up again when my Best Beloved came back from the village. 

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2014!!!
   Tonight we will celebrate the passing of 2013 with quiet thankskgiving and deep joy. We are together, Les's health is steadily improving and we have high hopes of getting in some cruising in the next few weeks!!
Portland, Oregon, 2012
   We want to take a moment to offer deep thanks to Canal and River Trust (CaRT) who have been kept abreast of Les' health issues. CaRT has allowed us to overstay for a period of time in order to access doctors appointments, the hospital, groceries, water, rubbish and in general to quietly work on getting Les better so we can get back to what we love most--cruising!! Many thanks for CaRTs unobtrusive support for our situation. 
   Happy New Year Everyone! From our boat to your home--wherever you may be on this round planet, we wish you good health, good will, love, peace, joy, contentment, laughter and the company of family and friends!! Blessed Be...

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Holidays! Feliz Navidad! Merry Solstice! Happy Christmas! Joyeaux Noel! Fröhliche Weihnachten! Buone Feste Natalizie! God Jul! Nadolig Llawen!

"Light is returning, even though this is the darkest hour, no one can hold back the dawn; Let's keep it burning, Let's keep the flame of hope alive, Make safe our journey through the storm; One planet is turning, circle on its path around the sun, Earth Mother is calling Her children home..." ~Traditional Pagan Chant

   NB Valerie is ready for a Great Yule! This morning Les left before daylight to take bags of holiday food gifts to our daughter-in-law Joanne's. He made a double batch of Ozlem's Soup, and I made American Cranberry Relish, and Rum Balls. I also tucked a piece of American Christmas Ribbon Candy in the parcel as well (recipes to follow in a few days). 
   After Les disappeared down the towpath in the dark, I finished my morning coffee, cleaned out the Airhead composting loo, started the engine, washed a load of clothes, moved the boat up and filled it with water, took all the rubbish to the trash bin, moved the boat back, showered and started cooking our Christmas Eve Feast. Step-son Kevin is coming to stay over and we are having a home made Mexican Dinner: Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas, Salsa, Guacamole, corn chips, Spanish rice, Corona beer with a slice of lime, and Rum balls for dessert! Feliz Navidad!!
Rum balls!

   For Christmas Day we are breaking our fast with a ham and roasted potato Frittata, cantaloupe slices with blackberries dressed in a sugar and brandy sauce (drunken fruit), warm croissants with butter and coffee, tea and juice. 


   For dinner will feast yet again on Roast Beast (beef)and roasted potatoes ala Vic, beef gravy, Yorkshire puddings, American Cranberry Relish, sage and onion stuffing, petit pois peas with mint sauces and glazed carrots with star anise. For dessert I will attempt to make my first ever steamed pudding: a chocolate steamed pud with salted caramel sauce and Ice Cream!!We toast each other with a bottle of Asti Spumante. 
   For Boxing Day we will nibble at leftovers and fill in with pigs in a blanket, melted Brie en Croute, smoked salmon log, Boursin, crackers, and golden ginger cake. Needless to say after all this feasting a juice and vegetable soup fast will follow soon!
American Christmas Ribbon Candy!
   Les and I don't exchange gifts; we have no room or need for anything else. We already have what is important one to another: we have each other. So we cook and clean and make our floating home a lovely winter cocoon in which to indulge in holiday feasting, celebrating the gift of friendship when folks stop in for a cuppa and some Golden Ginger Cake. We put our feet up in the evening and read (Les is currently reading the Alex Kava crime novel series I suggested, and I am reading The Naked Pint: an Unadulterated Guide to Craft Beer.)
   We have been retiring early in the darkest, wild, storm tossed, Wind woven nights to cuddle together and listen to the rain on the boat roof. I wake throughout the night and take comfort in the rocking of our floating home. As the high winds buffet the world outside, we lie warm and drowsy inside. The sound of Les' breathing wraps 'round me like a hug. Life is good !  LIFE IS GREAT!! Happy Yule everyone!!! Blessed Be!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Happy Holidays to the Wednesday Women, USA!

"For auld lang syne, my dear; For auld lang syne, We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet For auld lang syne!" ~Robert Burns

   Those of our readers who have followed along with our love story from its inception in print on my blog So This is Love... will remember The Wednesday Women. For those who've yet to meet them, click on the underlined term in purple above, and it will take you to the blog post about the night The Wednesday Women met Les! 
   At one A.M. Greenwich Time these fabulous women will gather in Spokane's landmark Davenport Hotel to feast together and share an evening of respite in the company of dear friends. 
    From left to right beginning in the rear: Kialynn, Lisa, Rosemarie, Rhea; In the front: Marian and Gina. 
   I am told that over 200 people gathered a week ago Sunday at the Spokane Unitarian Universalist Church to toast Marian on her 90th birthday. You are all sisters of my heart and intellectual firebrands with whom it was always safe to think--daringly, outrageously. So much love and laughter has passed between us all down through the years. You've all sustained me--even when long periods of time passed between meetings. I carry each of you in my heart. Merry Solstice, Happy Christmas, Blessed Be!
Love JaqXX (And Les, of course who passed the special vetting you provided in February 2011!! He thinks of you all fondly and sends his love.)

Friday, December 20, 2013

A stroll down the towpath

Hands up how many have made a Golden Ginger cake?  The title of this post came about when Jaq started her Christmas baking and rather than risk severe intoxication I decided a walk was needed. So leaving the strong smells of Grand Marnier soaking into cakes I took off along the towpath.

Having been out a few times recently and feeling no ill effects I just kept walking and ended up in Northchurch about two miles down the canal.
The beauty of this part of the Grand Union is that the bus and train routes are never too far away so not wishing to over stretch myself I went out to the main road and caught the bus back to the boat.

Spring is on it`s way. No frozen canals so far  but the good old UK weather could change at anytime so perhaps the buds should slow down a bit. Tomorrow is Winter Solstice the longest night of the year. From then on the daylight hours increase leading us brightly through spring into summer. So with the weather a bit mild, think back to frozen mid November canals, and longer days ahead things are not so bad.


Just down from Cow Roast  this scene caught my eye. I couldn`t just walk by so in the interests of  you.......ok I was being nosey. Just to the left is a former lockeepers cottage that has for sometime had problems with water seeping into the cellar through the lock chamber wall. Boaters have  for quite a long time been instructed to leave the lock empty of water after use to ease the problem. The water did drain away from the cellar via a gully but of course damp was a big problem. They are using a type of expanding foam that is pumped under pressure to varying depths where it comes in contact with water in the earth and blocks the route to the cellar. Looking at the markers they had put in the ground this would be a barrier stretching past the lock gates in either direction.


Just next to the lock is a field owned I believe by the lock cottage residents that contains two very well looked after Donkeys. They are very clean and have good weather proof accommodation
Notices on the fence ask people not to feed them but they always wander over if you put a hand through the fence. I suppose we all live in hope of a treat but all they got from me was a stroke and a smell of my hand.

Just a bit further on some fallen trees on the opposite bank had me salivating. I was in no condition to wield a chainsaw so all I could do was look. Funny thing was the picture I took has somehow disappeared from the album on the laptop. Perhaps someone is watching over me with a sympathetic eye and doesn`t want me to suffer the indignity of not being able to show you a pile of cut logs.

A bit further on I had the pleasure of a Kingfisher flying past and landing canal side and flying on after I passed. This it repeated three times till it flew over a lock and out of site.
Just by coincidence I came across a nature photography exhibition and amongst the exhibits were these amazing pictures of a kingfisher. The second Kingfisher referred to in the text can be seen perched on the right halfway down. The nest hole is top left.



Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Golden Ginger Cake!!

"Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread and pumpkin pie."  ~Jim Davis

   The festivities are upon us and the winter holiday season is here. I'll be posting recipes throughout the next week or so since we are not able to cruise yet. Mainly we are working on bulking Les up with yummy high calorie foods so he will heal well and tolerate another two surgeries just over the horizon. This is obviously not food on the Gerson anti-cancer therapy program. We will return to that in the months to come when we can resume cruising again. For now we are being naughty...and it sure is nice!!
   I am not a fan of fruitcake. It is too dark, too sweet, and I don't like the glazed cherries or candied citron. In the States we joke about fruitcake being the gift one can keep on giving year after year, re-wrapping it and passing it on to someone else; hard as a brick and never spoiling due to the high sugar and alcohol content. Some years ago I found Golden Ginger Cake and fell to my knees in gratitude. This recipe originates with Williams Sonoma Cookware. Chuck Williams--one of the founders--always included some very tasty recipes in their fabulous catalogs full of high end cook ware, table ware, and fine, imported comestibles. This recipe appeared decades ago and was so popular W-S decided to make it and sell it in their catalog, so the recipe is not widely available anymore! Without further ado, my favorite winter holiday cake!



Williams Sonoma Golden Ginger Cake
Throughout this recipe the British standard measurements and verbiage are in parentheses after the American equivalents
Ingredients:
1 cup crystallized ginger, diced (150 grams)
1 cup pitted dates, diced (150 grams)
1 cup pecans, cut into small pieces  (150 grams)
1/2 cup of pistachio nuts, shelled and halved (75 grams)
1/2 cup of golden raisins or sultanas (75 grams)
1 and a 1/2 cups of sifted all purpose flour (180 grams)
1 teaspoon of backing powder
8 Tablespoons (1 U.S. stick) of room temperature butter
1/2 cup of firmly packed brown sugar (90 grams)
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
3 Tablespoons of milk (I use evaporated milk for creaminess)
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/4-1/3 cup of Grand Marnier orange liquor (60-80 ml)
Directions:
Have all ingredients at room temperature.
Pre-heat the oven to 325F (Gas mark 3).
Grease and flour a 7 inch springform pan. (I use a 9 inch springform)
In a bowl stir together crystallized ginger, dates, pecans, pistachios, and raisins until well blended. Set aside. 
Sift together flour and baking powder and set aside. 
In a large bowl using an electric hand mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. 
Add the eggs a little at a time, beating until mixture is fluffy; add in the orange zest. 
Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk and vanilla, ending with flour until smooth and no lumps of flour remain. 
Fold in the ginger, nuts, dates, and raisins. Do not over mix.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top with the spatula.
Bake until the cake is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about an hour and twenty minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for about twenty minutes. Set the rack over a sheet of waxed paper and invert the cake onto the rack. 
While the cake is still warm, use a skewer or a very thin bladed knife to to make holes all over the top of the cake. Drizzle the top with Grand Marnier. Let sit for about ten minutes then gently flip the cake over and drizzle the bottom with Grand Marnier.
Wrap in bakers paper or Saran Wrap (Cling film) and then with Aluminum foil (Aluminium Foil). Let sit for two days then unwrap and dose again with a drizzle of Grand Marnier top and bottom. Re-wrap and let sit for at least a day before serving. 
One cake serves 8-10.

For Decorating:
   I made a simple syrup of equal parts water and sugar, brought it to a boil and reduced it for 10 minutes. I added an 1/8th teaspoon of ground ginger and a drop of Grand Marnier. I sliced an orange very thin and placed the slices in the sugar syrup to gently cook for 60 minutes. I left it to cool and then placed the orange slices on bakers paper to drain. I sprinkled them with coarse caster sugar. I also soaked some whole pecans in the syrup so they would be shiny and let them drain on bakers paper too. Then I made a simple Icing with 1 cup of powdered sugar (icing sugar), 2 Tablespoons of very soft butter, 2 tsp. of evaporated milk, and 6 Tablespoons of leftover simple syrup from candying the oranges.  
   William Sonoma recommend one embed large chunks of crystallized ginger and whole pecans and pistachios over the top of cake before baking but Les doesn't like the big chunks of ginger so I do my own decorating thing.)

Friday, December 13, 2013

TURP, Coal and a Con to look out for.

Trans - Urethral Resection of the Prostate is what my next surgery will be. LINK.
Not sure when but as it takes about an hour and I had the pre-op last Tuesday I was hoping it might happen before Christmas but what I have learnt since might push this hope straight into the canal.

It seems that the pre-op check up is good for 12 weeks!!!!!!!!! So because I pass all the tests and answered all the questions, including and I kid you not, how many pillows do I use in bed then in say 10 weeks my fitness will be just the same. Hopefully it will, but the last pre op was not followed up before my cancer surgery, just admitted day of op with just the blood pressure and temperature taken so how can anyone be sure.
Now searching around I found other hospitals with this 12 week window and some with 1-2 weeks. Wales stated 4-6 weeks before the operation for a pre-op as did the private BUPA healthcare.

We are using a lot of coal this winter as my lack of fitness has stopped our usual gathering of wood as we travel. There are some logs on the roof but they can remain as an emergency stockpile in case the canal ices over stopping the fuel boat getting to us. We will take on 15 bags tomorrow of  Supertherm that although not the cheapest seems to keep us warm and stays alight through the night. A 25kilo/55pounds bag lasts 3 to 3.5 days so about £3 ($4.5) per day. Happiness is a roof (on right) full of wood.

I must report my ever improving health lately has resulted in my on board healthcare advisor has allowed me to venture out on my own. One little trip was a very short bus ride to a nearby supermarket and being  allowed only to gather 3 light items and return. Having safely returned from this mission I was then trusted to travel further and stay out longer and folks it feels good to be able to mingle with the crowds although I did need a lunch break to re energise my inner self.

So having covered two of the items in the post title it must be the con that comes next. Correct but not anything to do with our small corner shop grocer Mr Tesco.
I walked out of the supermarket gate to catch a bus and became aware of someone behind me. As I turned I felt someone touch my ankle. Upon turning I first saw a mid twenties man with a £10 note in his hand and close by him a female of similar age. He was gesturing with the money to give the impression I had dropped it. She said nothing.
Instantly I turned my back to the wall firstly to stop either of them getting behind me and secondly to put my wallet out of easy reach. Why this reaction some of you might ask.
First and foremost at 65 I`ve had a lot of years to get street wise.
In micro seconds my suspicious brain told me;
I do not keep banknotes loose in my pockets so the note was not mine.
Where were these two going. The road led into open countryside and as they had no shopping they were not like me going for the bus.

So a bit of a Mexican standoff was going off so I took the £10 note out of his hand and said thank you.  This magically seemed to bring him to life and in broken English he muttered something with some "no" "no" being all I understood. I shrugged my shoulders and having the money in my pocket started to back away. Now the second magical moment came when after all this the female albeit in a strong eastern European accent spoke good clear English saying "he just wants change". Yeah!  I said to her perhaps we should go back to Tesco and call the police to see if they think the money was mine.
This put a look of panic on his face, seems he had suddenly remembered he could understand English. I had at this time the money in my hand and pushed it into her hand as I did not want any trouble in my weak state and said I might look old but I`m far from stupid. They turned and walked back into Tesco car park.

So my question to you is what was the con/scam behind all this?  My theory is they pick older folk and either try to get them to open their purse/wallet and get them confused when sorting some change or perhaps they might snatch and run with the wallet.

At this particular supermarket site there is nothing nearby. No other shops, no parking meters needing change. No need at all to require change.
My next theory is that the note was a forgery but then why the pretence of touching my ankle and trying to make me think I`d dropped the note. Whatever the truth they were up to no good.

Who knows but I think that maybe they saw the keys poking out between the fingers of my clenched fist  and that they might have chosen the wrong old fella.

Just to remind myself that we will soon once again be seeing views like this. Taken as we went up the Bosley locks on the Macclesfield canal.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Friends Are the Spice of Life

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art.... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”  ~ C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves 

   Life is filled with miraculous, amazing, serendipitous happenings and the last 24 hours have been a lovely example. We've been visited by a friend from across the Atlantic ocean and another from Abingdon, England. One is an old, dear friend of mine who I haven't seen in sixteen years and the other is a new friend who follows our blog. Both brought sunshine, laughter and connection into our lives. 
  I met L. in 1995 when I started working for Spokane Public Radio. She was a budding radio reporter in one of her first jobs after grad school. We hit if off immediately. Eventually L. moved on to larger and more serious employment opportunities upon which she has built a very fine career. She is a news correspondent and anchor on a national level in America's capitol hence the use of her first initial only. She is here to enjoy vacation and I am not interested in outing my friend--only in sharing her with all of you who follow our blog. Suffice to say L. is brilliant--with a lightening quick intellect, a deeply sarcastic,incredibly well developed sense of humor. She is also deeply real--there is no pretense in L. at all; what you see is what you get. We are soul sisters and I am so pleased she was able to spend a day aboard NB Valerie with me and Les, who was delighted by her--and she by him.
   We had a great time and although we have not seen each other in sixteen years our conversation started up right where it left off all those years ago in my bijou apartment in Spokane, Washington. Girlfriend, you graced our home with your presence and we hope you will do it again--before another sixteen years passes!
   Today a knock on the door brought me the pleasure of meeting Alistair--one of our regular blog followers. I love his comments which are kindly, wise, thoughtful, and often filled with good humor that makes me laugh. 
   We were planning on meeting Alistair in Abingdon where he lives, however cancer cut our trip up the Thames short earlier this past summer. Never mind, it is something Les and I both look forward to in the future. 
   Alistair is a television camera operator who also built a career with a major
network--over here in England. Now he free lances and enjoys a fulfilling career with some travel throughout the country, different opportunities to work at his craft, and time to spend with his wife and two children.
   Sadly Les was away in Watford at a pre-op appointment for prostate surgery. He will be quite disappointed to have missed meeting Alistair whose smile lights up a room and whose unexpected thoughtfulness is touching.
Friends spice our lives with the flavor of love, kindness, laughter, and companionship. Les and I are blessed to live a life which is a rich, nourishing, brothy mix of amazing friends from everywhere. Thanks L. and Alistair, for blessing us this week. Hugs to you both.  

Sunday, December 08, 2013

A Look at Cow Roast our Temporary Home

The wet foundations below our home date back some 216 years but if you go back another 1700 years the surroundings would be Roman. Much the same as the canal and railway builders did the Romans built Akeman street through the Chiltern hills.
 It left the Roman Watling street, a major route into London, at St. Albans and passed through Hemel Hempstead, Tring and Aylesbury on it`s way to Cirencester. Much of this route is still part of our 21st century road system and parts of Akeman street is now below the present day A41.

Archaeologists have shown that Cow Roast was the site of a Roman settlement just off Akeman street and coins have been found both near the pub and the marina.  Also when the canal was dug a Bronze helmet of Roman origin was discovered which is now in the British Museum.

Now back on board our bloggers time machine and we are going to the mid 1700`s and the Sparrows Herne TurnpikeThe art of Roman road building had been lost a thousand plus years in the past and road maintenance laws were passed onto Parishes without success and now the Turnpike with it`s tolls was born. This turnpike ran from Bushey, near Watford, to Aylesbury.

At New Ground, the first bridge north from Cow Roast lock, a toll gate was set up by local landowners who maintained the road across their property and charged a toll according to what was passing through. The link will give you toll fees but our interest is in cattle at 10d per score. Now converting the old £ s d into not only modern day decimal but also the U.S. $ is a challenge.

First the easy part, a score is 20. Then the 10d converts to just over 4p which is about 6 cents.
Our interest in cattle is because the name of the local pub, Cow Roast Inn, is probably a corruption of Cow Rest. This area was a stopping point to graze and rest cattle being driven long distances into London for butchering. So I think that is a very reasonable explanation of how Cow Roast got it`s name.

Leaving the turnpike investors to make a fast buck, remember the birth of canal and  railway are fast approaching, we return to the wet road of the Grand Junction Canal.

In 1793 the Parliament passed the act that enabled a canal of 90 miles and 121 locks to be built from Brentford to Braunston. Now as many will know the present canal has 101 locks.
One day I`ll try to work out where the 20 locks were done away with. Some obvious savings were the Buckby flight that was to be 10 but ended up as a flight of 7. Also the original route south of Hemel was to be lock free via a tunnel at Langlebury (west of Hunton bridge) ending in an undisclosed flight of locks into Rickmansworth.
The flight into Marsworth that was to have been far to the East and might account for some or perhaps the eight at Cosgrove that took the canal across the Great Ouse before the aqueduct was built. Fascinating subject, canals and their history.

Early starting points on the canal were Braunston, Brentford, Blisworth Tunnel and Tring Cutting. by the end of 1793 some 3000 men were at work along the route. A year on and the canal reached Uxbridge from Brentford and in 1799 it reached Berkhamsted just 3 miles from the Tring summit level that had been completed in 1797. The summit crossed the Chiltern hills and it was decided to drive a deep cutting 1.5 miles long and in places 30 feet deep.

The biggest problem was water supply and this led to the Wendover arm being the first of the branches to be built. Springs at Wendover provided a steady flow into the summit and Mills were purchased solely for their water supply and by 1796 the arm was in use. water supply was always a problem and by the early 1800`s the canal company was building reservoirs to help the situation. These were extended and linked together by underground culverts that used pumps to feed the summit.
The Wendover arm was to become a serious problem when the water that should have flowed to the summit started to leak away through the bed of the canal. Attempts were made to rectify this but eventually so much was leaking that it was draining the summit instead of topping it up. The canal company piped the water supply from the springs at Wendover into the reservoir at Wilstone and closed the canal to boats.

 Nowadays the Wendover Trust is relining the canal bed and slowly the canal is being re-watered in sections.

In 1848 pumps were installed at Cow Roast and Dudswell to pump water from wells sunk deep into the ground. The Dudswell site was not a success but Cow Roast was and in 1902 a new pump and engine were installed there. This was also the year of a severe drought that even the extra pumping could not overcome. This meant a reduction of 50 boats per week crossing the Tring summit causing a shortage of coal and iron reaching London from the Midlands and return loads of sugar, tea and other supplies to the Midlands.

Water shortage is still a problem in modern times and as recently as two years ago lack of rain caused the summit to be closed and the water level along it reduced. Every time a boat heads to the summit from either direction about 56,000 gallons of water is lost from the summit. This is replaced from reservoirs by pumping but in times of drought there can be nothing in reserve to pump.

Of course by now the London and Birmingham railway was in place having reached Tring in 1837 it also reached into the midlands and delays of boats crossing the summit  just drove more freight onto trains.
It was a tribute to the canal builders that the railway shadowed the route of the canal for many  miles crossing it in six places. They had similar problems getting over the Chilterns and also chose a cutting. On the left is the railway cutting under construction using horses to pull a barrow of earth up the plank with the navvy steadying it.

Cruising along the summit level through the cutting is pleasurable at all times of the year. Spring is when it comes to life as new tree growth begins to block the light that has broken through the treetops since Autumn. In places this gives  a feeling of cruising through a green living tunnel.

Tring cutting
On a hot summers day the tall trees all along the cutting give welcome shade with gaps that let the sun illuminate the many greens of the trees and shrubs. Apart from the odd train passing through it`s own nearby cutting the journey is one of peace and quiet.
Come Autumn the falling leaves drift down like a dark coloured snow. A truly remarkable journey year round and the best way to enjoy it is at a very slow speed. If cold make sure you have a hot drink as you enter the cutting and just enjoy. I have seen Muntjac deer on the towpath as well as rabbits and herons.

I did hear of a wartime crash of a B17 fighter plane returning to it`s base crashing at Cow Roast but can only find reference to a B24 based at Cheddington coming to grief at Cow Roast. It seems likely the B17 came down on Ashridge estate.
Some interesting reading can be found at this link.

Not a complete history but just a look at the area around our enforced temporary home.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Too Sick to Live, too Well to Die...Still I Feel Like a Naughty Teenager!

 "Simple pleasures are always the last refuge of the complex." ~Oscar Wilde

   Finally after nearly seven weeks we were able to sleep in the same bed--our big six foot by six foot cross bed with the Oh! so comfy mattress of 1200 hand tied box springs wrapped in memory foam. Clean, crisp sheets, the goose down duvet, and Les cuddled up beside me. Heaven! Indulgence!! Whoopee!!!
   I am recovering from exhaustion. I hit the wall so to speak when Les went back into hospital for sepsis. I don't mind doing everything on the boat--it is our home and I take pride in keeping our home clean, warm, and comfortable. Whatever needs doing to that end--be it shifting bags of coal, raking out the fire at 6 a.m. or moving the boat up for water and back, is fine.
   Somewhere along the way I put my right hip out of alignment. I am never aware of doing it at the time. And for most of us, we feel it first not in our hip but in our knees and then ankles and feet. Only after my hip had been out for three and half days did I cop to what it was. Until then though, I was in a right state due to exhaustion and the muzzy thinking process that accompanies it. I lay in the dinette bed at night experiencing deep pain in my right knee joint and the muscles directly either side. Weird truncated nerve impulses made my right calf twitch and the muscles around my left knee were now swollen and pulsing with pain.
   Eventually the pain worked its way to the bones in my feet which felt like they were being rearranged (which in a sense they were since all my muscles and ligaments were torqued out of alignment and attempting to carry on).
   In my bleary state I began to run through suspect diseases in my head. I lay there in the dark thinking, "MS--oh cripes it could be MS." I have chronic Sarcoidosis which is an auto immune disease for which I take meds daily. I was told by the U.S. doctors that once one has developed one auto immune disease it provides an opportune path for additional auto immune diseases to develop.
   Or it could be...well I lay thinking of a half dozen things like Polio--"Jesus what if it's Polio." I gasped as a picture of horror filled my head of patients trapped in iron lungs. The next frame  in my mind was of some poor soul whose muscles were constricted and frozen in the rictus grip of lockjaw--"oh God Tetanus--its other name--this is exactly how Tetanus starts," and then suddenly the light went on in my head and I thought, "It's your hip you dozy woman."
   Laughing in pure joy at my foolish assumptions, I spent the remainder of the night rolling around on the dinette bed like a buffalo in a mud wallow, working my hip back into place, giggling at myself for suspecting the worse instead of considering the obvious. I was so relieved it was something easy to remedy. My muscles and ligaments screamed over the next 48 hours as things slowly settled back into proper alignment. I probably put it out doing something innocuous like bending over to tie my shoes on the stairs of the bow.
   As for hefting bags of coal off the roof, I am proud of how far I've come in seven weeks. Back in October when Les first had surgery I would steel myself to wrestle with the coal bag. I went out, stepped up on the gunnel, grabbed the corners of the nearest bag and tugged. Of course the bloody thing didn't move an inch. So I twisted the corners of the bag into cow-eared shaped handles and jimmied it back and forth until the load shifted slightly, then leaned back and tugged for all my worth. Slowly the bag of coal moved forward. After about three minutes of this twitchy, side to side scenario the bag eventually ended up directly in front of me on the roof.
   Next I worked a fair share of the bag over my left shoulder, wrapped my arms around its middle and stepped backward off the gunnel in a leap of faith that my feet would connect with the ground. This commenced what I fondly think of as the "Coal Dance." I staggered toward the front of the boat in drunken half circles, clutching the fifty pound bag of coal like a rotund lover. When the bow appeared I threw myself in its direction, heaved the bag over the side and let go--dropping the bag of coal in the bow with an almighty, thunderous, echoing THUD. Then I climbed down gasping for air, twisted the bag corners, two-stepped it across the floor of the bow to the overturned bucket wedged against the bow locker, grabbed the bag by the bottom corners and rolled it up onto the bucket. Down and dusted!! Literally. I had no idea how fine the black coal dust actually is, or the means by which the pitch black opaque, silken powder finds its way into the wrinkles in my skin or under my nails. Sometimes I looked like I was wearing blackface--and hands.
   What wears me out is having to think for everyone. I concede to the necessity of having to think for Les. He has never been seriously ill before in his entire life and he is like an innocent lamb led to slaughter. It is obvious I have to think for myself: keep the boat going, keep our finances balanced, stock up with groceries (thanks to local boaters Mike Wall, Mike Griffin, and Angela Walsh for rides), finish instructing my courses for this semester and submit final grades, apply and submit my paperwork and fee to the UK Border Agency for Indefinite Leave to Remain (many thanks to daughter in laws Joanne and Bev for rides tither and yon). Check...
   Having to think for the NHS and its employees is what frustrates me no end; having to to think for well meaning family and friends who know Les has been through radiation treatments which have weakened his immune system--yet still appear for a visit in the midst of a cold, the flu or some other creeping crud--and forget--he should not be exposed to their germs in his weakened state.
   Les did catch a rhinovirus from somewhere which I've carefully nursed him through with heaps of Emergen-C, oral Vitamin B-12, loads of water, hot, homemade soups, tons of extra sleep, night time applications of Chloraseptic (U.S. product which numbs the throat so it doesn't hurt), and day time applications of Benalyn active cough syrup to make him pull up the mucous attempting to colonize his lungs. I've contracted it now and I am too sick to live and to well to die.
   With regard to the latest urology appointment update, we found ourselves back on the NHS merry go roundabout again.
   About three weeks prior to this appointment the Urology specialist called and requested that Les measure his urine each time he peed. She wanted to know to the milliliter what came out the normal way and what was left in his bladder to void through the catheter. We thought she wanted these figures for every pee so Les used a large surgical syringe and meticulously measured it each time, writing down the figures throughout every day for two weeks.  It turns out she only wanted the figures for the first and last pee of the day but that's okay. Les is nothing if not thorough.
   Bear in mind we were told previously when Les was recovering in hospital from the surgery that the supra-pubitol catheter was required because his urethra narrowed and had a little jog in it which made it impossible to use a urinary catheter. A visit by a urologist while Les was in hospital confirmed that an operation on his urethra was going to be necessary to widen it before the operation for the stoma reversal. Well and good...
   On Monday the urology specialist ushered us into her office. She stood behind her desk with Les' considerable medical file in front of her and pronounced, "Well I am not sure why they elected to leave this catheter in for so long but I feel confident after we measure your urine flow this morning that we will be able to remove it today because the contrast test and flow exam you had in November (while in hospital for sepsis) does not indicate any strictures or blockages." She smiled enthusiastically at Les.
   I frowned. There is a reason the urologist could not physically insert a urinary catheter into Les' urethra at the start of his anterior re-section surgery. Surely this issue has not magically evaporated...Les' eyes lit up like a child on Christmas morning at her statement.
   The catheter is a pain to drain, clean, hook a bag to each night, etc. etc. and it is heavy with a night bag attached, making sleep uncomfortably attained in only one possible position on Les' left side. I too wanted him to leave today without a catheter in place however, I didn't want his hopes raised prematurely.
   Les pulled out his two weeks of figures and handed them to the woman, who shook her head and said, "Oh I don't need to see those. I am confident we will remove the catheter today. We just need to measure your flow this morning."
   To prepare Les for the test he was requested to drink 4.5 pints of water in the hour before the appointment. That is about a day's worth of average water intake. He had done so and then some until he began to feel a really urgent need to void. So off Les went to the special room to pee in bowl attached to a very sensitive measure which charted not only how much he gave but the force of his stream.
   Back in her office she was dismayed at the results. "Oh you have no force at all behind your urine stream. This is not good, not good at all. Let's measure how much urine is left now in your bladder by emptying out through the catheter. The specialist measured his sample with the very same large 100 ML syringe Les had used at home to take his two weeks of measurement. 
   "Okay, well there is over 110 ML of urine left behind. This is not good at all. The catheter will have to stay in." She looked at me. "Your husband is going to need an operation on his prostate." Les' face turned the color of cold ash and his chin dropped to his chest. I was absolutely incensed that this medical professional had so glibly raised his hopes in the first minute and a half of meeting Les without following through on all possibilities first. 
   And while I am fairly well versed in human anatomy, the last time I covered the male reproductive system in any detail was for Sex Education in junior high school. I was confused as to why the Urological surgeon had previously mentioned a simple surgery to roto-rooter Les' urethra to widen it and now the specialist was talking about an operation on his prostate gland.
   I was aware that enlarged prostate gland (Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia--non cancerous) is a common occurrence for many men later in life and that it does cause a stricture of the urethra and a slowing of the urine stream. 
   Out came a diagram and the specialist explained the surgery.  Apparently the urethra is more like a channel throuhg the prostate gland than an actual separate tube according to her. Les mentioned that his GP had made note of his slow flow many years ago saying not to worry about it unless it became painful to pee. 
   "Well since the catheter has to stay in we need to change it. It should be changed at least every twelve weeks." Les asked if he could please go wee first as "You are going to be poking around and I will have to go then and I am likely to go all over you." Off he went to the loo. 
   "Just out of curiosity," says the specialist, "lets measure what is left in your bladder now via the catheter." Out came the syringe, Les voided via the catheter into a plastic cup, and the specialist was pleased to say, "Only 14 milliliters. That is more like it." Now at this point I stepped in with Les' list of figures. 
    "You asked Les to keep precise notes for two weeks previously. You could do him the courtesy of actually reviewing the figures and you will see what is left in his bladder each time is well under 50 mills. It was over 100 ML earlier because you asked my husband to drink a day's worth of water in one hour and that is what he did; consequently that is what you measured." She looked carefully at his notes and concurred. Then she said, "okay after I examine your prostate I think we can indeed take the catheter out." Jesus wept!!
   A digital exam found Les' prostate is indeed enlarged.  The urology specialist informed us Les will need surgery on his prostate to widen the urethra. It will be general anesthesia and he will back in Watford General hospital for two days. I asked how long it would be before he has surgery.
   "It could be as long as three months." I explained this presented a problem because Les has to recover from this operation as well as the first one in order to have his stoma reversal operation sometime in March or April. The specialist agreed to mark his case as urgent. Then she delivered the coup de grace.
   "We need to put Les on two medicines until surgery. Tamulosine will relax the prostate and his urine flow will be stronger. It can cause low blood pressure."
   "Well that is a problem because he has been diagnosed with low blood pressure since his initial surgery and the doctor said he thought Les might have had it for years and not known it."
   "Well in that case he may need to lie down for a few minutes after he takes the Tamulosine each time. We also want him to take Finestrade which will shrink his prostate gland and make the surgery go easier. I will give you a scrip for two weeks worth and then you will need to see your GP to get the prescription renewed."

   I've read the accompanying material in the prescription package and discovered Finestrade is deadly to women who are pregnant with male fetuses--it causes abnormal male genitalia just from the little bit absorbed through intercourse and male ejaculation. For every 1000 men who take Finestrade, it can cause breast cancer.
   On-line I found out that Tamulosine is an alpha-blocker originally field tested as high blood pressure medicine! One of the side effects is a relaxation of the prostate muscle.
   Finestrade was originally field tested for male pattern baldness. One of the side effects is a shrinking of the prostate gland, along with a possible increase in the development of prostate cancer!!! 
   This is a typical situation of drugs designed and field tested for one specific thing but marketed by pharmaceutical companies to physicians for other medical issues--without prolonged clinical field trials for the "other medical issues."  This is so common and I feel it is totally unethical.
   Also for Finestrade to have a maximum effectiveness, one must be on it for three months before it begins to have any effect--and we hope to have his surgery before then. But then they also say once you begin these drugs you must stay on them. And for Finestrade the benefits increase the risks proportionally.
   Needless to say Les will not betaking either of them. We've found a Solgar Gold natural Prostate Support product which he will begin taking next week.  

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

A Blogger calls in and Look no Catheter


A face we haven`t seen for some time was that of Ross the Gnome a fellow boater/blogger. Ross had trouble with his previous blog and has had to start again HERE.  So if you followed `Gnome Afloat` in the past please change your settings. Fellow bloggers can you add Nb Willow Moon to your lists so we can absorb Ross into the boating world.
Anyway we had a lovely few hours of catch up and I even let Ross have the last piece of  Jaq`s home made pumpkin pie. That my friend is what`s called a friendly welcome.
Happy travels Ross and let`s hope that it will not be so long till we meet again.


On the medical front things are moving along very nicely. Monday we spent just over 3 hours in the Urology clinic at Watford with flow tests and examination by doctors called in by the very professional Urology specialist Margaret Ng.
The flow test was very poor, in fact both Margaret and the doctor said it was in fact not just poor but worrying.
After some time the official verdict was the Prostate gland was enlarged and putting pressure on the Urethra and causing poor flow. This is a common thing in old boaters my age, also affects non boaters and there`s me thinking boaters were a special breed.
The solution is surgery to enlarge the Urethra and just like a carpenter you just use a slightly bigger drill bit and the hole is enlarged, glad I`ll be asleep.

So by now the decision was to put in a fresh Catheter until the surgery in case things stop flowing. By this time I am feeling very down having arrived at the clinic hoping the Catheter would be removed. Having drunk some 4 pints of water for the test and with some still in my system I told Margaret I would use the toilet before she changed the Catheter, just in case. On my return she decided she would measure what was still in my bladder after my emptying it by the normal process we all use, the Urethra.

Now to make things clear I must point out that the amount left in the bladder after a normal pee is very important and over 100ml is not considered good. Also I had been asked to keep figures before the appointment relating to this which was easy as the catheter had a drain tap so getting measurements using a jug and large syringe was simple.

So now Margaret has drained the Catheter and is shocked at how little came out. Previously it had been 114ml now it was 30ml. I pointed out to Margaret that the list showed as low and lower figures than the 114 over the whole time I had kept records.  The excessive 114 was because of the 4 pints I had drunk in a very short space of time for the test.. After studying the list the doctors were called back and decided the Catheter could be removed but they would prescribe some medication to help things. Jaq has dived straight into research and I will let her explain another day why I won`t be taking the pills. I was shocked just reading the accompanying leaflet that listed side effects without Jaq`s research.

Now I`m walking on air, I feel like doing cartwheels, ok not quite that good but you get my drift. The catheter is out and my surgery wound is healed at least externally and all that remains is the stoma bag. Last night I slept without the night bag attached to my catheter and woke to the normal calls of nature during the night. All exactly as before the surgery so tonight Jaq and I will once again be in our King size bed with no worry of my getting hurt if one of us gets out of bed in the night.

The last thing discussed at the clinic was the surgery would be marked as urgent and I was warned of the usual risks involved with general anaesthetic and would I be happy to go on the surgical list.
Now you remember my telling you of the mystery phone call re a pre op appointment a week or so ago.
Today not 24 hrs after the Monday appointment I had a call to book me in for a pre op next week. Of course this time I knew what was going on. I`m now thinking this surgery might happen this side of Christmas as long as they find a decent carpenter to do the drilling.

So here you have the latest update on things medical. The amount of detail I put in some might regard as excessive. I justify this by saying  I regard myself as just an equal to my fellow man and publish my experiences in the hope it might help someone if they find themselves in a similar position. I must say though I would not wish any of this on anyone friend or foe.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Six Week Post Operative Appointment

Hard to believe six weeks have passed since the surgery and amazing to realise everything that happened in that time.

So we took ourselves off for the 10a.m. appointment with the surgeon who examined the wound and enquired how I was managing the stoma. Strange that having surgically removed the cancerous tumour and gone on to create the stoma he did not want to examine the latter. I had taken a clean stoma bag in anticipation of this.

I did question the timescale of the future surgery that would reverse the stoma and give me back the human sewage works that works for so many of us. His reply was that in about 3 months time he would see me again and then an endoscopy would determine that the lower bowel had healed without leaks and that the reversal could go ahead. So in fact this will be about 6+ months from the original surgery.
They tell you this time is to give things a chance to heal and naturally we think of the bowel re-section after the tumour removal. Wrong!
We were told a while back by a very shocked stoma nurse of many years experience that we should have been informed it`s the radio therapy damage to the bowel area that needs to heal.
 Perfect example is Jaq had the same surgery as me. Except she had no radio therapy and no stoma was needed as within 4 days her bowel was functioning normally.

 Now while mentioning Jaq I must tell you how she amazed me today. Sitting in the boat not allowed to do hardly anything I watched her get a bag of coal off the roof and bring it to the front deck. These bags weigh some 50pounds and she just scooped it up in her arms and stepping into the front deck put it gently down. In past weeks she said she huffed and puffed and dropped the bag to the floor so her fitness is improving along with my health.

Anyway back to the future timetable of my recovery, the table has been set and I will deal with each course as it is served.  In a matter of months after hopefully a less invasive surgery I will once again function normally and can easily deal with the stoma care during this time.
Catheter clinic Monday and the hope is it will be removed.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Strange phone call and just recovering.

First of all thanks to you all for your good wishes and I`m sorry it`s been a week since  posted. The fact is I have been quite exhausted since my discharge after the infections.

I so  miss not cruising and blogging as we go although I must say at the moment I have no desire to go anywhere on the boat. That tells me there`s a long way to go yet in getting fit. Need to fatten up so if anyone has seen the 28 pounds I lost just send them on please. Jaq in the meantime is feeding me up with anything I want.

I am working on a little historical piece about our enforced home here at Cow Roast but  Something that did catch my eye on page 2 of the December TowpathTalk was Canal River Trust reporting some facts on continuous cruisers. Sixty seven boats in 2013 each month declared continuous cruising on their licence application, this is of course our licence declaration.
The surprising thing is that on top of this an average 36 boats per month change their status from a home mooring to Cont. cruising. Now we can only guess but this sounds like people are feeling the credit crunch and rather than give up boating all together are saving marina fees and leaving their boats on the towpath to be moved as the mooring limits dictate.
I realise a lot of boaters are working and cruising and commuting to work from different locations but I think this is not the case of the people leaving the marinas except in perhaps a very small number. No I feel they are leisure boaters feeling the financial squeeze.

Now the strange phone call;
Last Friday Watford hospital phoned trying to arrange an appointment for a pre-op check up. Now I have been aware that some solution to the Urethra/Catheter  was needed but have never discussed any surgical procedure with anyone let alone a surgeon.

The person on the phone had no idea of anything and promised after I explained my recent connections with the 5 star NHS accommodation called Watford hospital to get the surgical teams secretary to phone on the Monday. Now I have recently found out she works 8am - 3pm but not Mondays, why did I not have a job like that in all my 43 working years.

 My main concern over the next few days  was I did not, having just come out of hospital for the second time, feel fit enough to endure another surgery.
Anyway no phone call so the last 2 days I have left messages at about 4 different numbers I thought might bring results. Today I spoke to the secretary, the head of the Urology and the head nurse who I will see on Monday for my flow test and hopefully the removal of the Catheter.
It seems none of these people had any idea of why the call was made and reassuringly told me no surgery was planned and perhaps someone had entered an incorrect patient number.
At the moment I have the post op appointment tomorrow with the cancer surgeon and the Urology on Monday. Big thank you to Mike for the car ride on Monday.

A couple of days ago we had to attend a meeting at the settlement checking service. This was to have Jaq`s application for leave to remain in the UK checked and the relevant proof of cohabitation, financial and other documents copied and forwarded to the Home Office.
The fee of  £90 ($115) was worth it as not only were some errors spotted but important documents  such as passports needed certifying by the immigration officer and returned to us after the interview without going through the postal service.
Big thank you to Tom on Nb Waiouru for suggesting the service.   Jaq wants the indefinite leave to remain as Tom recently obtained.

All that is left is to wish folks across the pond a Happy Thanksgiving day.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Still here for many more dinners

Very nice it was to have dinner not in hospital but on board Nb Valerie. Of course it could have been so different with all my future dinner dates being heavenly!!. I count myself lucky to be married to a very intelligent and loving  lady who all along has watched my back, researched my condition, and been on the look out for side effects such as deadly Sepsis. Thanks for my life Jaq!

The three lots of anti biotics I was given soon gave not just the Sepsis but also the Cystitis bugs that were also swimming around my urinary system notice of eviction. So strong were these drugs that within four hours of the first course my appetite returned and staff rallied round to find me sandwiches, yogurt, jelly and rice pudding as the evening meal had long been served. The doctor said this was all quite normal and down to purely the strength of the drugs that had to match the urgency of my situation.

My stay this time was thankfully just a few days and started off in the Acute Admissions Unit assessment ward.  This was followed by a stay in another ward and my final night following a lot of late night emergency admissions was in a day unit that was quickly brought into night service for homeward bound patients. Like a game of pass the parcel. Big difference here four floors below the surgical ward was the standard of care was fantastic ALL the time.
The day unit I spent my last night in dealt with catheters for cardiac patients on a day visit basis but bed shortages on the main wards meant it being staffed overnight by two nursing staff, on overtime,looking after just two patients. Best night sleep I`ve had in hospital, dark and quiet.

The following morning our breakfast was served and after a bedside wash (I`m confined to bed/chair owing to lowish blood pressure) it was time to await the doctor and my discharge. By now there is a full day staff on as day patients arrive for their cardiac procedures and I am informed I am booked to have some Urology tests in the Radiology dept.
After initial panic and re-assurance it did not involve needles I did manage to find out it did involve the men`s toy dept and that a local anaesthetic would be used. Looking out the window I decided tying the sheets together to escape was not a good idea in my very weak condition.
Along came the porter and from a wheelchair I had my first look at the hospital from a sitting up position. Up to now my only description would have been the ceilings viewed from a bed as I have been transferred flat on my back. Below is the parts of this link that are relevant to my two tests.

Retrograde urethrogram is another radiology test to evaluate urethral strictures. This test basically entails placing a small urinary catheter in the last part of the urethra (closest to the tip of the penis). Approximately 10 cc of an iodine contrast material is slowly injected in the urethra via the catheter. Then, radiographic pictures are taken under fluoroscopy to assess any obstruction or impairment to the flow of the contrast material that can suggest urethral stricture. This test provides useful information about the location, extent, and size of any narrowing in the urethra as well as the shape of any possible abnormalities.
Anterograde cystourethrogram is a similar test but can only be done if there is a suprapubic catheter in place (a urinary catheter placed in the bladder through the skin in the lower abdomen). Iodine contrast is then injected into the bladder via the catheter and its flow out of the urethra is radiographed under fluoroscopy.

Anaesthetic or not men this makes your eyes water and while it goes on your manhood is fixed in a frame to keep it straight. Still stiff upper lip- Mmmm perhaps not the right words to use but you can imagine how I feel with just me and the doctor outnumbered by the female staff in the room 4to2  I just tell myself it doesn`t hurt. It was interesting watching on screen as the contrast solution flowed around my waterworks. No side effects other than a little blood during first pee.

Waiting for the results of these tests made my eventual discharge be very late afternoon but the results were clear. I have a Urology appointment December 2nd so perhaps more will be revealed then.
All this Urology business is because during the surgery a catheter could not be placed in the urethra as is standard practice. I still have the one into my bladder via my abdomen. I can still pee as normal or via the catheter and in fact am instructed to use both.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Guess Who's Coming for Dinner?

   Just a very quick post to say Les is home now and comfortably ensconced in his recliner; PJ's on, fleecy blankie over his lap, cuppa tea and Foxes super chocolaty cookie for a nibble. Chicken Marsala Pot Pie is on the menu for dinner and maybe a blackberry-apple pie with those lovely apples Angela left on our bow yesterday.
   I brought coal and wood inside this morning so it is nice and cozy on NB Valerie. The day started off with mist, then drizzle which quickly built up to torrents of rain pouring from the sky--drops hitting the surface of the canal and popping like pop corn! Soon enough that too passed and we had hail followed by snow flakes. Now it is sunny with blue skies. I am waiting for the hurricane at four pm and then we will have experienced all the world's weather in one day!
  Les' incisions have healed over cleanly now thanks to the mega doses of antibiotics. He slept for over seven hours last night, nestled in the clean down duvet and pillows, a smile from ear to ear. Peace reigns aboard our floating home once again.
   We offer grateful thanks to everyone who came to our rescue: Bev, Joanne, Kevin; Anonymous Angie, the Two Mikes from Cow Roast, Ken and Sue (NB Cleddau). We are grateful for all of the comments and the private emails from so many who wrote to say they follow our blog(s) and have for several years. Again Les and I have received a world wide hug. As we in the Craft say, "Merry meet, merry part, and Blessed Be."

Monday, November 18, 2013

She's Frayed Around the Edges While He is Slowly Recovering.

“Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends.” ~Alphonse de Lamartine

    I've resumed the daily trips to Watford General to visit with Les. Our thanks to Mike Hill and Mike Griffin for the rides into town. I feel like a princess with my two gallant knights looking after me.
   The one-two punch of massive doses of Gentamycin and Picicillin seem to have restored Les to the living--in fact his appetite came back so quickly and he felt so much better yesterday that he began to minimize the entire episode. The miracle that is broad spectrum antibiotics makes it all seem like a distant nightmare to him. He doesn't realize that with Sepsis, every hour of delay in treatment raises the chance of death by 7.6%; this is according to an abstract written by researchers from the University of Manitoba, Canada studying Sepsis treatment. (Critical Care Medicine,2006 Jun;34(6):1589-96). Les is grateful he is feeling better.
   His incisions and surgical wounds have closed up and scabbed over like magic, and his energy is slowly returning. He only weighs 143 pounds and we desperately need to put meat on his bones. I am also concerned that his blood pressure is still low and he is not receiving any IV fluid re-hydration since yesterday, yet the AAU doctors are talking about allowing him to come home tomorrow with a prescription of antibiotics by mouth. 
   He is definitely experiencing the side effects of Gentamycin--hearing loss, mental fuzziness and forgetfulness. Hopefully these things will clear up as time goes on. Blood tests indicate that after his last IV of broad spectrum antibiotics twenty four hours ago, his system is still fairly flooded with them which tells me his kidneys are struggling. Usually they are cleansed from the blood stream within two-three hours after the last dose if renal function is normal.
   Saturday night after our daughter in law Bev brought me home around 9:30 pm, I was too restless to sleep. I cleaned boat, and finally fell exhausted into our bed with my clothes on about 1 am after my previous blog post. 
   When I returned to NB Valerie after visiting with Les on Sunday with step-don Kevin, I had the pleasure of several hours spent with Ken and Sue Deveson (NB Cleddau), who came over to put up the plastic membrane on the windows for insulation. Ken has the process down to a fine art! They left with three large black bags of bedding linens, a down comforter (duvet), and three pillows which needed washing and drying after Les' sweat drenched episodes. We are blessed by your loving care and friendship and so appreciate your help. 
   The plastic really does make a difference. I woke at 4 am and it was so warm inside I had to crack the back hatch to return to a fitful sleep. Finally I gave up and got up, sweeping and wiping down the stern and bow decks. I started the engine promptly at 8 am, washed a load of clothes and hung them to dry, downed a cup of coffee and moved the boat up to the water point to fill up and then back again, which takes about forty five minutes.
   Mike Griffin picked me up and drove me to Watford and I stayed for two and a half hours with Les. When I arrived he was asleep; his slight, shrunken frame outlined by the pale blue hospital blanket. My best beloved looks so small and vulnerable, curled sideways in the hospital bed.
   My heart aches when I think of what we've been through, and how robust Les was when we met. I love his compact, wiry, muscled shape and that certain smile he has when he throws his head back and laughs from his belly--something he will not be able to do literally for some time until his internal incisions heal fully.
   We had a good visit though and I sat with Les through lunch then dashed for the bus which I missed. I walked the short ten minutes to Watford High Street and waited for the 500 back to Cow Roast. Finally I returned home at 3:30 to meet Ken with the freshly washed and dried bedding for Les. He brought a bag of coal off the roof for me, and handed over a bag in which Sue had tucked some yummy shortbread and Foxes really Chocolate cookies! Bless them...Les' eyes will light up when he sees this stash.
   I brought in coal and wood, tidied up, finished drying, folding and putting the laundry away, made our bed with the freshly laundered linens and duvet, spraying them with lavender scented linen water, and collapsed in my recliner in front of the fire. My joints were aching badly from the cold, wet weather. I turned on the engine, ran the Ebi for thirty minutes to really heat it up in here and took a scalding hot shower. I stretched out in front of the wood stove in my nightie and thick socks with a fleecy blanket for cover, passing three hours listening to some of the best music ever produced by humankind with only the light from the fire. When my soul feels spent and my spirit is broken I turn to music and nature for healing. 
   I began with Domenico Scarlatti cantatas, moved on to Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Johan Pachelbel's Canon and Gigue for three Violins, immersed myself in Beethoven sonatas and parts of his Symphonies: the second movement of Symphony No.7Symphony No. 5, and the joyous 9th symphony, the second movement which I was introduced to at age five as it was the theme for the CBS nightly news in the U.S.
   Goose bumps rose on my arms as I lost myself in Violinist Joshua Bell's evocative work in the soundtrack for the movie The Red Violin. Tears coursed down my face throughout Barber's Adagio for Strings. This piece captures the true depth of longing in the human heart and soul.
   I rose skyward on beating wings with Ralph Vaughn William's astonishing Lark Ascending. Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata brought me back to a sombre peace. I finished with Maurice Ravel-eyes closed in rapture as I pictured Torvill and Dean gliding sensuously across the ice to Ravel's Bolero at the 1984 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. Soul rested and spirit mostly restored I am listening now to Canadian pianist Glen Gould's Variations of Bach Transcriptions--Cantatas and Fugues on piano.
   I have the love of family, the company of friends, and the support of boaters across the British waterways; I am accompanied through this trial by some of the greatest musical composers and artists ever known. I just need my best beloved and boon companion back and on the road to health. We have come far but we have so much farther to go...

Sunday, November 17, 2013

SEPSIS!

“What do we say to the Lord of Death?"
"Not today.”  ~George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

   Before Les went into hospital I was surfing through the NHS website and found a big blurb about Sepsis. Apparently this relatively unknown illness is rampant in the UK--especially amongst the very young and those 65 and older, those with cancer and those who've undergone recent surgery. 
   I found another link to the Sepsis Trusts' Survive Sepsis website. The video I watched scared the hell out of me.
   Sepsis is blood poisoning--an infection which gains access for various reasons, to the body's blood supply, traveling throughout the body and attacking vital organs. Early stages feel like the flu: malaise, lack of appetite and extreme tiredness. This can go on for several days upon which it is accompanied by dehydration, slurred speech, fuzzy thinking, very high fevers with nights sweats that soak you, violent shivering, mottle skin, shortness of breath, blue lips, cold extremities, violent vomiting. Think Toxic Shock syndrome.
 I wrote down the symptoms and the "Sepsis Six"--the six timely treatments which save a person's life and tucked it away in my cancer notebook I kept for notes of all Les' appointments and transcripts of all conversations with health professionals regarding his treatment. And then I forgot all about it. 
   Les came home from cancer surgery and was doing well. His appetite picked up, his energy level grew slowly over the initial two weeks and the sunken cheeked, concentration camp look was beginning to recede from his features. He was sleeping well, going for brief walks outside and his sense of humor returned. 
   Les handled his stoma quite well. He changed the bag daily and emptied it frequently. Community nurses came in every day to change Les' bandages and assess his incision sites and general health. Slowly the incision were healing although they were attended by a pale yellow, creamy gunk and started to smell slightly. Now I have a VERY acute sense of smell and often small sour in milk before anyone else can even taste it. The incision in which the bladder catheter protruded from was swollen, red, and concerned me.
   I had a bottle of Hibiclens which I bought from the states. This is surgical scrub disinfectant solution. When I was scheduled for surgery the doctor asked me to stop by the pharmacy and pick up a bottle ($4) and wash all over with it in the morning before reporting for surgery. I also used it for wound after care at home on my incisions. I had three fourths of a bottle left and i brought it with me in my medicine chest when I moved here.  
   Les asked the nurses to call thirty minutes before visiting so he could shower each day. I removed his old bandages, and told him to wash his incision with Hibiclens. The nurses came shortly after assessed his wounds and applied fresh bandages. After he began using Hibiclens, his incisions looked much better and they began to scab over nicely; all except that bladder catheter site. 
   Wednesday afternoon Les seemed somnolent. He dozed and had no energy for a walk. His appetite, which had been building, suddenly disappeared. 
   Thursday I took my exam and Les was alone for four hours while I did some shopping for a grocery trolley and extra track pants for Les. When I returned in the early afternoon, he was awake and had a bite to eat but really wasn't hungry. A new set of community nurses visited and said all seemed well, but my spider sense said something was off. Les was quiet; a malaise fell over him. He slept all afternoon and early evening, and seemed confused and fuzzy in his thought process. I felt Les' forehead and he had a slight fever. He also developed shivers as bedtime approached. I warmed his bed and PJ's with a hot water bottle. He slept all night. 
   Friday morning Les looked terrible. That gaunt, starved look was back. He refused breakfast, had a small bowl of soup for lunch and ate no dinner. He drank water and juice steadily saying how thirsty he felt. It was almost as though Les had narcolepsy. He would nod off in the middle of a sentence and wake up shaking so violently Les appeared to be having a grand Mal seizure. He complained of exhaustion and weakly said he had to go lay down. It was 9:30 p.m. 
   Les called out to me in the middle of the night in a panic! I ran down the boat to our bedroom and I was shocked by the sight: it looked as though someone had drenched Les and our bed with a fire hose! His hair was sopping wet, his pajamas were dripping water. The down duvet was soaked through, Les' pillows were soaked and the sheets were sodden!
   I thought he had sprung a leak somewhere and I was peering closely at his incisions. He thought he had peed the bed but nothing smelled of urine.  I rang the water out of his pajamas in the bathtub, hung them to dry, got him dried off, dressed in clean, dry pj's, changed the bed and got Les settled down with a fresh hot water bottle, dry blankets and I went back to bed. Two hours later it happened again!
   After a repeat of drying. cleaning, re-bedding and a refilled hot water bottle we both slept through to 8 am this morning. I woke with a very bad feeling and decided I was going to observe Les closely and call the doctor if he seemed in any way worse.  My mind kept replaying the violent shaking spell and his mental disorientation.  
   Les didn't want to eat any breakfast. 
   "Baby you have to eat. You've lost thirty pounds since surgery and you have no fat left on your body. If you don't eat you begin the process of muscle wasting and you won't recover Les. Please baby, please eat."
He forced down half a piece of toast, part of a small bowl of organic oatmeal and a glass of orange juice. All morning he shivered. About lunch time I looked back through the cancer notebook and found the Sepsis notes. Immediately I knew Les had Sepsis and every moment we delayed brought him closer to death--and he was totally clueless. 
   Of course he wouldn't listen to me. I was overreacting, blah, blah, blah.  I wanted to call an ambulance. Les wanted to wait for the visiting Nurse, especially since today it was Jeremy who was scheduled and he is a favorite of ours. He is a good nurse who has gotten to know Les well. I reluctantly agreed. 
   Jeremy arrived about 1:30 p.m. and as soon as he came in the door I said, "Jeremy Les is extremely ill--I think he has Sepsis." The nurse quickly kicked off  his shoes, came inside, examined Les and agreed. He left for the office to talk with his supervisor about what we should do next. Fifteen minutes later Jeremy called me and told me to call the community nurses main number, explain Les' symptoms and I would be patched through to a doctor. 
   I called the number and it rang, and rang, and rang, and rang--endlessly until finally after over thirty rings someone picked up. I explained who I was.
   "Hello, yes my name is Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs. My husband Leslie is quite ill and needs immediate attention. He had surgery for rectal cancer on October 16th and has been home recuperating since October 31st. Since this past Wednesday he has slipped into a malaise. He is exhausted, has no appetite, suffers from violent shivering, extreme night sweats, he is confused, disorientated, dizzy, has mottled skin, cold extremities, cyanotic lips, and Oh my God he just threw up violently--twice! He has Sepsis and needs immediate treatment."
   "Okay Mrs. Biggs, I will pass on your concerns and an out of hours doctor will ring you. If you don't hear anything shortly then call 111 and they will tell you what to do next."
   I wanted to call and ambulance ASAP but again Les declined and we argued about it. He begged me to wait for the doctor to call. I waited for thirty five minutes and finally snapped.
   "I am an American Les. We don't stand around waiting while health care professionals endlessly discuss the merits of someone's symptoms until they die. WE DO something! I'm done and I am calling an ambulance NOW!"
   A paramedic arrived to the boat about twenty minutes later, took Les' vitals, took notes and called an ambulance. The out of hours doc called and spoke with the paramedic and then apologized for taking over an hour to return my call. She said the nurse who referred my call told her Mr. Biggs probably had a mild infection and was feeling unwell." UNBELIEVABLE!!
   We arrived to Watford General Hospital A and E about 4:45 p.m. The emergency room doc took his vitals, listened to my description and nodded affirmatively when I concluded, "He has Sepsis." Broad spectrum antibiotics were started intravenously right away. As I waited in the hallway for them to get Les settled in an ER bay bed, a paramedic came out to speak with me. He told me the ER physician thought Les had Neutropenic Sepsis--a side effect of the radiotherapy. Son of a bitch...something else the oncologist neglected to enlighten us regarding.
   Finally I stepped inside the blue curtained cubicle with my best beloved. Les was scared and broke out in tearful anxiety attacks, his lips thinning in a rictus grin of fear, hands shaking uncontrollably. I tell you now that death was in that room with us--a faint presence seeking a more permanent outline. My heart was in my throat but I hid my fear and swallowed my exhaustion, stroking Les' face, holding his shaking hands and reassuring him we were where we needed to be now. It was natural to be frightened, he has been through so much...
   We were in the A and E for just under two hours. a physician came and gave Les a very thorough exam. This medical doctor was a very young man who looked just like Harry Potter--I kid you not! He even wore the same eye glasses as Harry. He said Les' urinalysis showed infection bacteria were multiplying in his bladder. I said I was sure the bladder catheter was the main infection route. 
   Les is resting now in the Watford General Hospital Acute Assessment Unit where he will be given more antibiotics through his IV, and they will watch him closely for the next three days.
   80,000 people lose their lives annually to Sepsis; 30,000 of those in the UK. Please, please follow the links on this post and learn all you can about it. It may be the difference between life and death for someone you love.