• sheilavanloo

In Praise of Our Wonderful NHS, Not a Pity Party

Image courtesy of Karolina Grabowska At Pexels

I’ve received so many ‘Where’ve you been?’ messages from people that I would usually bump into at theatres, festivals and gigs that it seemed easier to put the whole story online. So here it is, not dressed up in any way, not a Pity Party and definitely an enormous show of love for our NHS. As I begin to venture out out again it will make conversations easier without boring everyone until their eyes glaze over and they run away screaming to the nearest bar.

The problem with my eyes began last Christmas, it didn’t seem serious enough to bother the doctor when our NHS was in the grip of the Covid pandemic and had far more urgent problems to deal with. We were thrown into another lockdown immediately after Christmas and, on the rare occasions when I ventured outdoors; I wore sunglasses to ease the aggravation – even a glimmer of light set off insane itching and waterworks. Despite my dogged resistance to rubbing them, both eyes were constantly red and sore. I had taken up knitting and jigsaw puzzles during lockdown, but my eyes had became so bad that I gave up on both hobbies as I struggled to see much of anything. In normal times I devour books and during various lockdowns I had been getting through books by the dozen, but by mid January this avenue of pleasure was also taken away. I could only manage a couple of hours of telly and so I turned to talking books – thank goodness for our online library service and friends who supplied me with storybooks on CD. When we came out of our winter lockdown I booked an eye test and the optician immediately diagnosed Blepharitis - something I had never heard of; I was surprised to learn it was probably due to not having worn make up for several months. Throughout months of lockdowns I hadn’t bothered with my usual makeup routine, I saw no point in wearing war paint as I couldn’t go anywhere, I live alone and had one ‘bubble’ friend; ironic that my eye problems had probably been caused by stopping my usual routine of deep cleansing my eyes every day to wipe off the day’s makeup. And so began my daily routine with medicated eye wipes, these eased things but certainly didn’t cure the problem and my sunglasses were now a permanent fixture shielding my eyes.

Blepharitis became the least of my worries when an ambulance was called in mid June; I had spent the night on the bathroom floor in absolute agony afraid to leave the loo. Until that weekend I had no idea how evil norovirus can be, I honestly believed I was going to die. In the middle of everything I could hear my dear Mum telling me to keep drinking water, somehow I managed to do just that and dragged myself to the tap to take small, but life saving, sips of tap water. Despite a high temperature, blinding headache, horrific stomach pains and being unable to leave the bathroom I didn’t call for help until 24 hours after the illness first kicked in - we were in the middle of a huge hike in Cornwall’s Covid numbers and I felt the NHS had enough to cope with. I finally called 111 in desperation and the sheer relief when the wonderful paramedics arrived is indescribable; their kind, efficient, caring presence washed over me and I knew I would be ok. I was terrified of being whisked off to Treliske, despite being so ill I knew I didn’t want to be a burden to an already overloaded hospital and, more selfishly, had no desire to be anywhere near Covid – I had spent almost 16 months protecting myself and others, now at my lowest ebb was not the time to be in Treliske. I will never know if my Mum actually came to me from beyond with her message about getting water inside me or if I imagined it, either way the fact that I had kept myself hydrated saved me from being admitted to hospital.

Recovery from the norvirus attack took weeks – I had lost a stone in a matter of days. When most of our lockdown restrictions were lifted on 19th July I had neither the strength nor desire to venture out, the fear of catching Covid with no resources to fight it meant that I continued with a self imposed lockdown.

Protecting myself became even more important when I finally managed to see a Doctor about my eyes, by this time my right eye had deteriorated to the point where my lower eyelid had turned in on itself with the eyelashes constantly scraping my eyeball. One morning I found myself sobbing down the phone to the surgery and begging for an appointment – not something I would normally do, but I was very weak from the norovirus and becoming deeply depressed, my eye was on fire and felt as though someone was rubbing across it with sandpaper. My brilliant Doctor immediately diagnosed Entropion (another new medical term on me), explaining that I would need an operation to rectify the problem and he referred me urgently to an ophthalmic consultant. The prospect of an operation forced me to cancel all the upcoming festivals, gigs and theatre that I was booked to review; having researched medical websites I discovered that untreated Entropion could eventually lead to ulcers and possible blindness – the thought of dropping to the bottom of the surgical list by catching Covid was not an option, my precious sight took priority. Despite Treliske being overloaded I met my Consultant in mid August and he promised to give me a priority operation within 6 weeks - true to his word I was on the operating table a mere 3½ weeks later. A pre op check with the surgeon and doctor led to a bit more surgery than planned – I don’t do things by halves! A small lump had appeared on my right cheekbone last December which had grown in size very quickly, sometimes bled and was looking a bit nasty. Although I had worried about it, my eyes were my main worry and the fact that I had been glued to my sunglasses meant that nobody had noticed or commented on it. In the short time between my visit to the consultant and my eye operation the thing had become obvious and ugly; the fantastic surgeon expressed concern over the rapid growth and asked if he could remove it while I was in theatre. It was a no brainer, of course I said yes. The result of the biopsy showed that the offending growth was indeed cancerous, but the surgeon is confident that he has completely removed it and that is good enough for me; I have a follow up consultancy appointment at the end of October, but I have complete faith in the surgeon and his incredible theatre team and am not worried.

10 days after my surgery and healing nicely, I took a short walk up the road to visit my friend for coffee and a catch up. I usually speed walk everywhere, but I took my time carefully watching my steps to avoid any accidents. Well, at least I thought I was being careful until, just two minutes from home, I went flying and face planted the pavement. Luckily I managed to twist my head and protected the stitched and sore side of my face from the gravel; the rest of me wasn’t quite so fortunate – my palms were scraped and bleeding, as was the left side of my face and forehead, my knees were a mess and for days afterwards bruises appeared everywhere from my shoulders down to my toes. Incredibly I didn’t break any bones and as I tried to stagger to my feet two guardian angels appeared, helped me up and insisted on accompanying me home. All attempts to persuade them that I was fine were ignored as they each took me firmly by an elbow and half carried me home. Massive thanks to my lovely Samaritans, Olive and Linda, who went out of their way to lend assistance. I had never met either of them previously and I think they were strangers to each other, both going in opposite directions until they ran to help me. Once I was safely indoors the shock hit me and I was violently sick, with that out of my system I was able to inspect the damage, someone was watching over me that day and the stitched side of my face was miraculously untouched. The left side of my face and forehead had taken the brunt of the fall and I set about washing the cuts and grazes, cleaning out the grit and gravel before falling into bed dizzy and shaken up. I had a sleepless night worrying that I might not wake up if I fell asleep. I realised I had concussion, but quietly rested for several days afterwards, it has taken over two weeks to feel recovered. During this time, my eye and cheekbone surgery is mending brilliantly – not all the stitches have dissolved, but it is almost impossible to tell that I’ve had surgery at all. I count myself fortunate to have been given such amazing care at Treliske.

Hopefully I’ve had my share of illness, hospitals and disasters for this year as I’m planning on finally getting out and doing fun stuff once again. My out out plans include Miracle Theatre, ‘Owdyado Theatre, the newly refurbished Hall For Cornwall, the premiere of Yazmin Vigus’ film Mermaids, Kerry Godliman at St. Austell Arts Centre, The Dream of Henry Blight at The Old Bakery and a visit to White River Cinema to soak up Daniel Craig’s final performance as 007.

Before I sign off on this blog, I cannot praise our amazing NHS highly enough; they have been stretched beyond endurance throughout the past 18 months and there is no let up as they continue to put their lives on the frontline war against Covid. Every. Single. Day. I have received incredible treatment this year - the paramedics who were called out to deal with my frightening norovirus, the locum Doctor at my surgery who insisted on referring me for treatment and all the wonderful staff at Treliske – the consultant, the surgeon, the theatre team and the pre op/post op nurses. They all played their part in caring for me every inch of the way; despite being under immense pressure they remained positive, cheerful, funny, caring and kind and I will never be able to thank them enough for being there when I really needed them.

We must continue to fight for our NHS, the battle to keep our treasured institution away from privatisation continues, we simply cannot capitulate and allow our NHS to be flogged off to the highest bidder. If our NHS had not been there for me, the private treatment I received this year would have cost in excess of £7000 – money I do not have and would not have been able to find. Without our wonderful NHS how would sick people without private medical insurance or a fat bank balance get treatment? Would those of us without healthy finances be forced into debt to pay for private treatment or simply be left to die? So much has already been sold off; we have to cherish and fight for what is left, we must never allow the American private health system (or any other profit seeking individuals) through the doors. Our NHS isn’t perfect and there are problems, but when we really need them they are there for us and we mustn’t forget just how special and precious they are. We’ve asked our NHS staff to go far above and beyond since Covid arrived on our shores and the NHS has come through for us. Thank you to everyone involved in my treatment at Treliske and a big thank you to the NHS in general.

One final thought - I am fed up with hearing members of the public on the news and social media wrongly declaring that ‘the NHS has let them down’; the NHS has NOT let you down – the NHS has suffered severe damage from 10 years of crippling cuts. Empty promises, devastating financial cuts and meaningless sound bites are responsible for most of the issues and we must never, ever forget the billions of pounds of public money wasted on undelivered or poorly delivered medical contracts since Covid began. Vast sums of public money were simply poured down the drain with no default penalties levied against those responsible.

2020 and 2021 have been disappointing for everyone, roll on 2022!

Stay safe out there.

Sheila Vanloo

October 2021

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