The Doctor will see you now

It’s been a busy week, not helped by the fact that I haven’t been very well, so this week’s blog will probably be shorter than normal. I awoke Monday morning with a pain in my back lower molar and a swollen jaw. Oh heck, I thought, here we go again. About seven or eight years ago I had exactly the same thing and it turned out to be a pretty severe infection which required two doses of live antibiotics to clear it up. I was back to work Monday and Tuesday, so there wasn’t really much I could do about it, other than pop pain meds and hope for the best.

My boss asked if I’d phoned my dentist to make an appointment, but I was reluctant to do so, knowing exactly how that conversation would go.

“Hi, I think I have an infection and I’m in a lot of pain.”

“Right, the dentist can see you later today.”

“Well, actually I’m at work so can we make it Wednesday?”

“Hmm, if you can wait it’s obviously not that bad, so let’s say that the dentist can see you a week next Tuesday.”

Like most people, I don’t get paid for having time off work sick so couldn’t afford to have an appointment during working hours. Instead, I walked to the dentist first thing Wednesday morning and threw myself onto the mercy of the receptionist, hoping that the fact the whole of the left side of my face was now swollen like a bullfrog would arouse her sympathies. After all, it’s harder to say no to someone who’s standing in front of you and is clearly in pain, than it is a faceless voice on the other end of the phone.

I was in luck, I only had to wait ten minutes before the dentist squeezed me in between patients. I was in his chair for precisely thirty seconds. I opened my mouth as far as I could, he looked, pulled a face, confirmed it was the same situation as previously, and gave me a prescription for two different sorts of antibiotics with the same warnings as before.

Now, doctors always tell you not to drink at all when on antibiotics, but the truth is the odd glass won’t hurt you because 95% of antibiotics prescribed are inert, dead. However, that wasn’t the case with these ones, and both the dentist, and the pharmacist who filled the prescription, stressed the important of abstinence. Last time I was a good girl and not a drop passed my lips the whole time I was taking them, except… I went for dinner at my parents’ house and mum had made a sherry trifle for dessert and I just didn’t think. I mean, it wasn’t in a glass, so it didn’t count as alcohol, right? Wrong. It so counted, and one tiny bowlful made me as sick as a dog. An experience I wasn’t keen to repeat, so until I’ve finished the course, I’m a teetotaller.

I also have to take a couple of probiotic drinks a day. The live antibiotics are so strong that they will strip all the bacteria from my body and won’t make any distinction between the good guys and the bad, thus leaving my immune system wide open for infection.

I left the dentist clutching my prescription and popped around the corner to my doctor’s surgery – I had to call in to pick up my hayfever pills anyway so hoped the dispensary there could also fill my prescription. They could, but not until next week and I really needed to start them immediately.

I walked back into town. Now, Wednesday is market day in the small town where I live and the place was heaving with people wandering around, stopping right in front of me, and generally being annoying.

I was tired and hungry. My whole face had throbbed with pain the entire night before, so I hadn’t really had any sleep, and my jaw was so sore that eating solid food was also an issue. I really wasn’t in the mood to deal with people, especially people who continuously got in my way and were just generally there!

Boots the Chemist was on my direct route home and I knew it was my best bet for getting my prescription filled immediately. Whilst I was there, I’d also be able to get the probiotic drinks I needed and the teatree oil shampoo and conditioner that Miss F had requested I pick up next time I was in town.

Brilliant, I thought. One shop and I could get it all, and then I could go home to take my first dose, pop another paracetamol and hibernate from the world. I reached the shop and dropped off my prescription at the pharmacy. Five minutes, I was promised, so grabbed a basket and went looking for the other items on my list. Endless aisles of haircare products, any teatree oil shampoo and conditioner? No, of course there wasn’t. I tracked down an assistant, who confirmed they didn’t sell it, but Holland & Barrett (all the way over on the other side of town) might. Probiotic drinks, I looked in the chiller cabinet, everything but. If I’d been in the mood for a Dr Pepper or a Diet Coke, then I could have drowned myself in it. Sandwiches, mini pots of pasta salad and falafel wraps galore, but actual healthy probiotic drinks… nope! My bad, the word “Chemist” tagged on the end of “Boots the” had plainly confused me.

By now, I was hot and dizzy and could feel my irritability rising. I’m a bit like a bear when I’m either unwell, tired, hungry, frustrated and need to pee – add all of those factors together and it makes for a very unpleasant Julia who had to go home before she bit someone.

I went home. Had some porridge with honey and then took my first dose. After a rest, I felt revived enough to walk to Waitrose which did sell probiotic drinks, hooray.

And then the fun began. If you’ve never taken live antibiotics you have no idea what they do to you. Completely stripping your body of all bacteria, it results in gastro combustion which can erupt at any moment and is highly unpleasant. Is it possible to pass internal organs? Asking for a friend.

But, needs must, and if it will get rid of the infection and stop the pain, then I’ll put up with the violent stomach cramps and the frequent bathroom visits.

Having a holiday off work last week was wonderful. Exhausted from the Christmas season and the January sales, it was nice to have a break, and I was determined to make the most of my eight wonderful days off. Usually, I waste my holiday frantically trying to catch up on housework, but I’ve come to the conclusion it is a complete and utter waste of time because I will never catch up. There will always be something that needs doing, so I might as well accept this and instead do something else with my time off, such as write.

I haven’t written an original word since last April, when I finished writing Chaining Daisy. Okay, I’ve blogged every week, but I’m not sure that counts, so I was determined that during my week off I would write, and only write.

Monday, I couldn’t get started. Begging the main character to give me a clue about her life, she remained stubbornly silent, so I pressed on and did the few chores I needed to get done in the week all in one day.

Tuesday morning, as I was eating breakfast, that obstinate Miss whispered in my head – “My life is small”. That was it, just one line, but it was enough. With rising excitement, I sat down at my laptop and typed the opening line – Her life was small. And from then on it was easy. Why was her life small? That was ten days ago, and I’m happy to report that to date I’ve managed to write 40,000 words. This is book three in the Blackwood Family Saga and as they all run to about 50,000 words each, this is a massive chunk of the novel written.

I’m very excited about this one. It’s completely different from the plot I had in my head, but I’m happy with the direction it’s taken, although, if anyone looks at my browser history I’m going to be in trouble. With searches covering the topics of burner phones, habits of serial killers, police safehouses, what is the range of an assault rifle and how much damage would a bullet do to a body if fired from such and such a distance, it’s enough to raise eyebrows in my direction. I’m a writer, honest, it’s all research.

I hate being ill. I’m the world’s worst patient. Hopeless at all this self-love nonsense, I push myself too far, refuse to rest, forget to take my medication at the right time, and generally drive myself crazy with my refusal to simply give in and admit that I’m not well.

I think it’s because for most of my life I have had to struggle on however sick I’ve been. Single parents have no one to tag in and take over to give them a rest. I could be bleeding from the eyeballs and Miss F would still need feeding and picking up from work.

Different story when she’s ill, of course, then it’s a constant chorus of – “Mum, can I have a drink,” “Mum, my bed’s all messed up,” “Mum, I can’t find Teddy,” “Mum, I feel… bleuughh… Mum, I’ve been sick again.”

Funny story, when she was a little one, about five or six, I noticed that she was very rosy cheeked one day, I mean, glowing, like a painted Dutch Doll. She also had a slight rash on her torso and was off her food. I took her to the doctor. Our normal doctor – who knew me and was used to my slightly off kilter sense of humour – was on holiday, so we had to see someone else. An elderly, very correct, doctor, he examined her.

“She has slapped cheek syndrome,” he told me.

“That’s impossible,” I replied.

“Oh, and why is that?” His eyebrows rose at my impudence in doubting his diagnosis.

“Because I never slap her where it shows.”

My usual doctor would have just laughed, understanding it was a joke, but this one looked at me in utter horror and scribbled something in his notes. Probably putting me on a list of some kind.

Over the years, Miss F has had the usual childhood ailments. She caught chicken pox off her cousin, and whilst she barely had any spots at all, poor Miss F was completely covered with them. They were everywhere. In her ears, up her nose and on her eyelids. Strapped into cotton mittens so she wouldn’t scratch and scar herself, for a week she was daily subjected to oatmeal baths, Calomine lotion and drops in her eyes – which were distressing for both her and me. Afterwards, I daily rubbed bio oil into her scars and they mostly cleared up, except one nasty one which has left a permanent spot in her left eyebrow where no hair will ever grow. Barely noticeable, I think she quite likes it, leastways even now that she is a teenager with access to eyebrow pencils, she never fills it in.

When she was ten, she came down with a virulent and rather nasty viral infection which settled in her joints and left her bedbound for a week. The doctor told me she had to have utter bedrest, and that too much exertion could leave her permanently afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis. Of course, I phoned the school as soon as I had this diagnosis and spoke to them at length about it. Absolutely, Ms Blake, they reassured me. We completely understand, keep her at home as long as necessary. Please just keep us updated as to her progress.

Duly, I telephoned them every day, letting them know how she was and that sadly she still wasn’t well enough to come back, but please could they email me some of her coursework for us to go over so she didn’t fall too far behind. I mean, obviously her education was and still is very important to me, but the doctor had terrified me with his grim warning, and, quite frankly, her long-term health seemed far more important than missing a few days of school at age ten.

Five days into her illness I received a letter from the school. Miss F had missed a lot of school, they said. They were concerned she might be truanting. Was I aware of quite how much time she’d had off and how that would impact on her future exam success? It was with regret, they said, that they were planning on starting legal proceedings against me!

Absolutely furious, I was going to telephone them, but this kind of anger had to be vented face to face. I did telephone my doctor though, who was horrified at the school’s attitude and again warned that under no circumstances was she to be moved yet. In fact, so adamant was he how detrimental to her health this would be, he sent me a very strongly worded email to print out and take to the school with me.

My mother drove in to sit with Miss F whilst I went to confront the school. Now, I’m normally a mild-mannered, let the waves wash over my head, kind of parent when it comes to schools. Trying not to be that parent – the one always making a fuss – I never had time to anyway, I firmly believed in keeping my head below the ramparts and not getting noticed. But this was different. I’d been in daily contact with them, keeping them informed at every step about her condition and the doctor’s diagnosis. To have received a letter like this, well, it was beyond belief!

I drove round there, girded my loins, and invaded the headmaster’s office. No appointment, no warning, I marched through his receptionist as if she wasn’t there and slapped the letter down on his desk. I’ve always felt that if you have a serious issue with an organisation, don’t waste time talking to the monkey, go straight to the organ grinder.

I talked. He listened. Once he realised what the issue was, he was horrified. Dragged the receptionist in demanding an answer. Why had this poor parent been dragged away from her child’s sickbed and threatened with legal action for merely obeying the doctor’s very strict instructions – here he waved the email under the woman’s face.

I did actually feel sorry for her by this point as, red faced, she scuttled away to see what had happened, confirming that she knew precisely what the situation with Miss F was because it was her I’d been reporting to each day. Turns out, there was an automated gremlin lurking at the heart of their computer system. Crouching there, it kept a record of all pupil attendance and, when a certain number of days had been missed, spat out this offensive letter, which was automatically posted with no one bothering to check or confirm its accuracy.

The issue was resolved, and no real harm done, but it did get me to thinking. What about if Miss F’s condition had been even more serious than it was? What if she was lying in hospital with a potentially terminal illness? How distressing would it have been to have received a letter like that?

Talking about receiving distressing letters, I received an odd one this week that I don’t know whether to laugh at or be offended by. After ten long years of Miss F’s father not contributing a penny to her upkeep and the Child Maintenance Agency proving worse than useless at getting anything out of him – apparently, the poor love is not earning anything and is filing nil tax returns. Really? So, the company he owns and the racehorse he’s just bought and splashed all over his Facebook page are just Scotch mist, are they? – Anyway, I gave up expecting any support from him years ago, be it financial, emotional or any other kind, but each year the Child Maintenance Agency send me a long letter, at the end of which they inform me that the child maintenance I can expect to receive that year amounts to £0.00 and what bank account would I like that paying into?

So, you can imagine my surprise when this year there was a change. He is going to finally contribute something to his daughter’s upkeep – wait for it, a whole £6.51 per week! Like I said, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, although on reflection, I think I’ll just shrug my shoulders and accept that it is what it is.

Anyway, I said this blog wouldn’t be a long one and here it is at almost 3000 words. It’s gone 8pm on Friday evening, and I will soon have to turn out on this cold and windy night to do the twenty-minute drive to pick Miss F up from work.

I’m glad I’ve managed to write this tonight. I have one more day off tomorrow before going back to work on Sunday and I’m desperate to get back to my story. My hero and heroine were left in a very precarious position and I really want to know how things worked out for them. Anyone know how quickly chloroform works? Asking for a friend, honest.

Take care, and I’ll catch up with you all next week.

Julia Blake

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