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Sunday, June 29, 2014

The most important rule for any visitor to Jurassic Park is not to feed the dinosaurs...

You might get your loom bands caught on their teeth, and find yourself sucked down the throat of a T-rex.

On the subject of loom bands, the breaking news from around here is that in addition to making bracelets on her fingers, Amelie can now knit rubber bands on her toes, thereby doubling her potential output. I don't actually have documentary evidence of this skill, as she discovered it shortly before bedtime, whilst wearing a night dress and no knickers, so photography was technically illegal, but trust me, she can do it. With this level of productivity, she'll have cut off the circulation to most of her extremities by the end of next week.

Anyhoo, as the photo above demonstrates, the council successfully received my busybodying letter of complaint about the state of the grass at the local park. Even though I never sent it. Or wrote it, for that matter. Regardless of the specifics, they've now mown the communal lawns, providing plenty of food for carnivorous dinosaurs and wayward toddlers, so I took the kids down there yesterday morning.

Amelie was keen for us to go dressed like this...

... but I wasn't convinced the neighbours were ready for the Anne Boleyn / Boss Hogg combo, so I put Amelie in a pink tutu instead.

As for my health, that's still on the dubious side of dodgy, with random attacks of nausea, a slack-jawed expression, and flu symptoms entering their third week. But the good news is that I've now been lucky enough to receive a personal consultation from a fellow healthcare professional, who has taken a break from wrangling diseased retinas across the Thames Valley to hand out some tailor-made medical advice to yours truly. And having weighed up my symptoms, personal circumstances and religious inclinations, she's advised me to start praying to St Albinus of Angers, the patron saint for protection from pirate attacks. Apparently when you live this close to the sea, you can't be too careful, and the way my luck's going...

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Loom Bandit strikes again...

I'm not saying Amelie's obsessed, but the long chain she's holding contains four hundred bands (trust me, I've counted them) and she made the whole thing, from scratch, yesterday evening. I've never seen anyone work so hard. It's like having a Japanese prisoner of war on the sofa. And what's more, she made it all on her fingers, so not only did she have to eat her tea with one hand, but she had to trail the entire chain behind her when she went to the bathroom. I've no idea how she got her shorts down.

On the plus side, it's keeping her remarkably quiet, so at 99p for a pack of 300 bands, this is definitely money well spent. Although with a burn rate of 400 a day, it's costing me a tenner a week.

To be honest though, anything which stops her bothering me at the moment is a godsend. Inexplicably (to my impatient mind), I still feel as rough as sandpaper, and the cyclizine hasn't done a huge amount for my sickness, although this is the last day of the steroids, so I'm hoping that will improve. Currently, however, my tolerance threshold for demanding children is at a fairly low ebb, so I'm all in favour of Amelie amusing herself.

As it happens, she joined the Beaver Scouts this month, a fine organisation which is offering to take her off our hands one evening a week for the bargain price of just £6 a month. Frankly I'd let Boko Haram have her for that kind of money. Unfortunately, this week's session was cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances, which led to this delightful conversation between me and Lisa:

Lisa: I've just had a text message to say that Beavers is cancelled.
Me: Dam! You should lodge a complaint.
[Blank expression]
Me: Lodge a complaint.
Me: Lodge. Beavers. Lodge.
[Vacant look]
Me: What do you call a beaver's home?
Lisa: Is it a den?

It's no wonder I feel ill.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

It's nine days since my last trip to A&E, and I'm still feeling a bit bruised...

Or possibly I just need to wash the dirt off my arm. Either way, I might look like I've been bitten by Luis Suárez, but that's actually the bruise from last week's brutal combination of intravenous cannulation and reassuring arm-gripping. The former coming from a trained nurse, and the latter from Lisa.

Fortunately, my left arm looks a lot better...

I've always said that I have the rough hair of a gorilla and the delicate wrists of a princess, and now I can prove it. Yes, like Kate Middleton before me, I'm heavily into loom bands. I don't want to be, but my daughter's insisting. Over the past few days, Amelie's turned this place into a loom bracelet factory. She's currently churning them out at a rate that would make a Bangladeshi sweatshop manager jealous. She's even taught me how to make them. Frankly, the way things are going, I'll have a suit made out of these things by the end of the week.

Unfortunately, knitting with rubber bands is currently the only work I'm allowed to do. Having been signed off for eight days, I was due back at the retinal coalface today, but after a rough few days of nausea, sleeplessness and viral symptoms, I returned to my doctor yesterday instead. I thought she might suggest that I stay off work for the rest of this week, or - as a worst case scenario - a further week from yesterday. I was wrong. She signed me off for both this week and the whole of next week too.

It seems that whatever hideous virus has caused all of this, it's taken hold of me, and is refusing to let go. I've had cold/flu symptoms for ten days now, and they're no better. Which, combined with the side-effects from the steroids, is a pretty lethal combination. My GP confirmed that my throat's still inflamed, my glands are swollen, and I look as rough as an old dog's tits. She didn't actually say that, but I could tell it's what she was thinking.

She gave me some cyclizine for the constant nausea, and said that unfortunately it's likely to take more than a week to get over this. I already had a follow-up appointment booked with her for next Tuesday, but she's moved that to Friday, the 4th of July, on the grounds that seven days won't be long enough for recovery. She then signed me off for that week.

This will be the longest I've ever been off work, and I'm not a good patient, as I find it intensely difficult to do nothing, regardless of how ill I feel. But in an effort to rest and recover, I've handed over the washing-up sponge to someone else...

Frankly, the TV's never been so clean...

Now, if I could just get him to do the shopping...

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Amidst all that's been happening over the past ten days, one thing I haven't written about is this...

I'm not the Phil mentioned there, but the chap who has sadly passed away is Lisa's uncle. Phyllis was her Mum's sister, and we went to her funeral in April 2009. I'd never believe that was five years ago if I didn't have the blog post to prove it. It seems like yesterday.

This death was a little more expected, but no less sad, as the man was as lovely as his wife, and had always been good to me from the moment I started visiting Lisa in Brighton back in 2004. They were kind enough to put Lisa's Mum up for the weekend on a regular basis so that we could have a bit of space, and as this blog post mentions, I would often drive her over to their bungalow on a Friday afternoon and stay for a cup of tea, a slice of cake and a large helping of war stories. They were always generous with Amelie (even if they couldn't spell her name), and were just a lovely couple to one and all.

So it's sad that they're both now gone, particularly as Lisa grew up surrounded by three sets of aunts and uncles, all of whom helped to raise her, and Fred was the last of those. But the nice thing about writing a blog is that I have ten years of memories to look back on and re-read. The funeral was yesterday morning at Woodvale Crematorium, which is like a peaceful oasis of calm in the middle of a busy city, and despite being drugged up to the eyeballs, I wasn't going to miss it.

The service was conducted by the same chap who did Phyllis's funeral, and despite not knowing either of them, he did a lovely job for both. We sang eight verses of 'Abide With Me', heard a couple of tearful tributes, and ended with 'Morning Has Broken', which was perhaps appropriate on the longest day. We then returned to his daughter's house, where Toby played with the chihuahuas in the garden, and I was reminded of how much I like Lisa's cousins.

It was difficult emotionally for Lisa, and physically for me. The steroids seem to be having a cumulative effect, and rather than gradually getting better, I'm currently feeling worse each day. Yesterday was particularly bad, with a lot of sickness, and a continuation of the cold-like viral symptoms which meant that I began to cough up blood. It was also the first time since Monday that I've had to smile politely for more than a few seconds, which proved to me that my cheek isn't as improved as I'd thought. I'm no stranger to being called face-ache, but this time it was completely appropriate.

It was a beautiful sunny day though, and a fitting send-off for a lovely man who lived for almost 88 years. So temporary problems aside, it really wasn't that bad.

Friday, June 20, 2014

According to the drug information leaflet, one of the possible side effects of the steroids I'm taking is "Feeling, seeing or hearing things which do not exist", so I'm hoping last night's England game was an hallucination, and when I come off the tablets, I'll discover that we won three-nil.

To be honest, as things stand right now, I'm beginning to wonder if it would be preferable to forget the steroids, and just spend the rest of my life looking like Andrew Marr. It hasn't done him any harm. Having taken 48 tablets in 72 hours, I feel the symptoms of Bell's Palsy have improved (although I bit the inside of my cheek yesterday as it refused to move out of the way when I was eating), but the side effects make me glad I'm not at work. The first one on the list is "Feeling depressed, including thinking about suicide", but to be honest, you get that just from reading the leaflet.

I haven't yet been tempted to end it all, but the tablets do give me a constant feeling of nausea and stomach discomfort, and just make me feel generally odd. More so than usual. Among the list of common (oh yes) side effects are "feeling anxious, having problems sleeping and having strange and frightening thoughts", which might have been normal in the build-up to the England match, but which I didn't experience until last night. Not only did I sleep badly, but when I did, my dreams were like a remake of Hostel.

So I'm feeling slightly rough this morning. I did, however, manage to get out of the flat yesterday, when I joined Lisa and Toby at the nearby park...

I think I'll take advantage of my current mental instability by writing to the council about that grass.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

I think the past week is best summed up by saying that if I was thinking of writing an episode of Casualty, then my research would be going really well. I’d already spent four hours in A&E last Thursday, which was not only fun but character-building, so in an effort to really get to know the workings of a hospital emergency department, I decided the best course of action would be to return to work on Monday, spend the morning telling everyone how much better I was, and then end up back in A&E. I was there for ten hours this time. Give it another week, and I'll have my own room.

Of course, a good medical drama needs a decent clinical narrative, so here's mine...

Those notes were written by the specialty registrar in the Acute Medical Unit at 3am on Monday night. Clearly the NHS never sleeps. Possibly due to the constant noise in AMU.

Although not 100% back to normal, my symptoms of vertigo had completely resolved by Sunday, and with the exception of the cold I’d begun to develop, I felt pretty reasonable, so I decided to go back to work the next day. When I got up on Monday morning, however, I looked in the mirror and immediately noticed that my left eye wasn’t opening as wide as my right. I didn’t think too much of it, and despite Amelie asking me why I kept staring at myself in the mirror, I put it to the back of my mind, and headed off to work.

I spent the morning mostly on my own in Crowborough, dealing with a broken fundus camera, but when I returned to the office at lunchtime and started talking to people, I gradually became aware that the left corner of my mouth felt strange, and wasn’t moving as it should when I spoke. Shortly afterwards, one of my colleagues asked me if I was aware that my left eyelid was drooping slightly. I said I was, but being a typical man, I did nothing about it, and headed over to the eye hospital for a bit of slit-lamp practice.

As the afternoon wore on, however, I gradually began to notice that my left cheek was becoming numb. It was fairly subtle at first, but over the next three hours it gradually spread from the corner of my mouth, up the left side of my lip and nose, and across my whole cheek, and by the time I got home at 5pm, I felt as though I’d had a mild anaesthetic at the dentist.

A quick discussion with Lisa, who acts as my main medical consultant, and whose advice I’d ignored that morning by going back to work, resulted in the decision to return to A&E. I grabbed a quick sandwich, and by 5:30pm I was sitting in a crowded waiting room.

Much like two weeks ago, I’d had one of my pupils dilated that afternoon, so my first job was to explain to the triage nurse that it wasn’t one of my symptoms, but having overcome that hurdle, the nurse referred me on to the A&E doctor. I saw him at about 6:45pm, and – not to be too melodramatic – he was immediately quite concerned. He thought a stroke was fairly unlikely, but he also felt that it wasn’t Bell’s Palsy because I could still raise my eyebrows. An ability he then tested by mentioning motor neurone disease.

To be fair, he did explain that in A&E they have to start with the worst case scenario, and then work their way down, but when someone’s just raised the possibility of you ending up like Stephen Hawking, it’s difficult not to worry. Especially when the doctor ignores a packed waiting room full of patients, and says that it’s so urgent for me to have a brain scan that he’ll take me there himself.

Two minutes later, he was leading me down the corridor to the CT scanner, which looked a lot like this…

… but reminded me of this…

The nurse's first words when I walked into the room were "You look very familiar, do you work here?". I’m not sure if she recognised me from my job or my regular visits to A&E, but I confirmed that yes, I do work at the hospital. At least until the MND kicks in.

She carried out a full scan of my head, and five minutes later a different nurse escorted me to a cubicle in A&E. To my surprise, he immediately asked me to take off my clothes, put on a gown, and get onto the bed, at which point he took three vials of blood from my arm, and started fitting a cannula. When I asked him why, he said it’s standard procedure for anyone who could be having a stroke. If my symptoms suddenly developed into a major ischaemic attack, or if the CT scan confirmed it, then they’d want to be ready for urgent treatment.

So this was all a lot of fun. Made more so by the fact that I couldn’t get any signal on my mobile, and had no way of telling Lisa that I was currently undressed in A&E with a cannula in my arm, awaiting news of an urgent brain scan.

Forty-five minutes later, and with no news forthcoming, a different nurse turned up and asked me if I could walk. I confirmed that I hadn’t deteriorated that much, so she said “Good, follow me, we’ve got a bed for you in AMU”. Ten minutes later, having been told pretty much nothing, I was being settled into a full-sized hospital bed in the acute medical unit, by a healthcare assistant who said she expected me to be staying the night. She also took my blood pressure, which, surprisingly, wasn’t sky high.

I’m unsure of exact timings, as they made me take off my watch and put it with my clothes in a bag, but I think I got to AMU at about 8pm. And was there for seven hours. To my complete surprise, Lisa turned up after about half an hour. My Mum had agreed to mind the kids, and having failed to locate me in A&E, Lisa bumped into the doctor who’d first seen me, and he showed her where I was.

The next three hours were both uneventful and stressful. Not least because Lisa kept trying to reassure me by grabbing my arm, forgetting that I had a cannula there, and nearly shoving the needle through my elbow. I was asked to perform a swab of my nose and groin to check for MRSA, which proved tricky, firstly because I wasn’t sure which part of my groin I should be swabbing, and secondly because I’m not used to wearing a dress, and struggled to find my groin through the gown.

When a nurse eventually popped her head in, she confirmed that they expected me to be staying the night for more tests, but beyond that she had no information. So we just waited. And waited. And worried. Until gone 11pm, when a junior doctor arrived.

He looked like he’d been awake since about April, but was lovely, and carried out numerous tests similar to those I’d had on Thursday. He also informed me that the CT scan had shown nothing significant, and the blood tests had come back normal. After half an hour of testing, questioning, writing and thinking, his conclusion was inconclusive. He said he didn’t know what had caused my symptoms, and would need to speak to his boss. So he left, saying he’d be right back.

Half an hour later, when he still hadn’t returned, we spoke to a nurse, who failed to locate him, but looked at my notes and said that they definitely wanted me to stay in overnight, and advised me to get some sleep. It was well past midnight, so Lisa went home, and I attempted to get some rest next to a bloke who was gushing blood from his nose, and a partially deaf man who could only communicate by shouting. I knew sleep was possible, because the bloke two beds away was snoring like an outboard motor, but it didn’t seem likely for me.

Until 2am, that is, when I finally nodded off… and was immediately woken up by two doctors. One was the junior doctor I’d seen earlier, and the other was the specialty registrar. He introduced himself by name, before adding “I’m sure you know me – I’ve seen you a lot in the Diabetes Centre”. It was slightly unsettling, as I barely recognised the man, but I’m clearly the most memorable person in the hospital, so I went along with it.

To cut a long and repetitive story short, he carried out further examinations, before diagnosing Bell’s Palsy. He said it is possible for it to only affect the lower half of the face, so the fact that I can still raise my eyebrows doesn’t rule it out as a diagnosis. And he said that the vertigo last Thursday, and the cold symptoms I’ve developed since, made it all the more likely. Bell’s Palsy is usually caused by a virus, as is vertigo, a sore throat and rhinitis, so he felt it was all part of the same package.

He prescribed me a high dose of steroids for ten days, and told me I have a 90% chance of a full recovery, probably within 3 or 4 weeks. I was there for another hour while they completed all the paperwork and tried to locate the tablets, which they didn’t have in stock, so in the end they gave me the doctor’s report, and told me to take it to my GP who could prescribe them for me in the morning.

I eventually left the hospital at around 3am, and having had virtually no sleep (and even less food), I was back at my GP surgery at 9:30 yesterday morning, seeing my own doctor. She signed me off work until next Wednesday, partly because my symptoms make working difficult, and partly because I’m on such a high dose of steroids that they expect some unpleasant side-effects. Not only do I have to take twelve (yes, twelve) prednisolone tablets a day, but I have to take omeprazole to control the resulting stomach problems. I started yesterday morning, and I’ve felt peculiar ever since. Although I could probably win the 100m at the Olympics if I wanted to.

So there you go. This episode might have cost me an arm and a leg in taxi fares and prescription charges, but at least I shouldn't end up in a wheelchair.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

England might have broken our hearts at the World Cup last night (I knew I'd regret staying up), but the good news is that Amelie's finally got excited about the football. Not the actual game, obviously, but about the fact that they're advertising McDonalds on the hoardings at the side of the pitch. The match highlights were on TV this morning, and she had to call me in from the next room just to share her excitement about spotting the golden arches. Frankly she was lovin' it.

But whilst Amelie's making a happy meal of her corporate brand awareness, the important thing is that it's Father's Day. And I've had this card...

It came complete with a heartfelt message from the children, promising to visit me on the psychiatric ward when they drive me to a breakdown. They also gave me this CD...

I think that looks a lot like me and Lisa. Except the bloke's got hair, there are no toys on the floor, and neither of them are weeping. Oh, and we rarely get the chance to sit down.

As for my health, I now have a sore throat, which I'm assuming is coincidental, and is neither labyrinthitis-related nor induced by shouting late-night obscenities at the TV. But whilst I'm not what you'd call back to normal (whatever that is), I'm sufficiently improved to consider going back to work tomorrow. I've got Ivory Coast in the office sweepstake, so after their crushing 2-1 victory against the mighty Japan, and with only six more matches to go, it's important I'm there to lay claim to those winnings.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A few hours in hospital, and Amelie's already written me out of this family...

That reads "To my Mummy, I love you, love Amelie. PS. Toby loves you too". The smiles on their faces suggest that they're adjusting well to life without me. And enjoying the proceeds of my life insurance policy.

But much as I hate to burst Amelie's bubble, I'm actually a little bit better. Before leaving A&E on Thursday, the consultant prescribed me some cinnarizine, possibly to test my powers of speech again, but it's cheaper to buy it over the counter, and we already had some at home, so I rejected the chemist in favour of our kitchen cupboard. The tablets have done a good job of reducing my extreme sickness to a constant mild nausea, and over the past 36 hours, the dizziness which had rocked my world has settled down to more of a gentle swaying. I still feel like I'm wearing someone else's glasses, but I no longer feel like I'm on a suspension bridge during an earthquake.

In an effort to give me some space to recover, my Mum has kindly taken Toby off our hands, and we've packed Amelie off to a party for the afternoon...

It's actually the 'Frozen' party that was postponed from a couple of weeks ago, which is ironic as it's a lot warmer now.

The break has given me and Lisa a chance to spend some quality time testing each other for transient ischaemic attacks by talking a lot of nonsense. We've been discussing my longstanding love of Jim Carrey, a conversation which was prompted by this sixty second video...

It's not everyone who can make such a heartfelt point whilst wearing such a ridiculous hat. So I outlined to Lisa my admiration for the man, my love of his comedy, and my excitement about the new Dumb and Dumber film, before asking my wife who her favourite comedy actor is.

I was thinking of maybe Ben Stiller, Bradley Cooper or Sacha Baron Cohen. She said Chevy Chase. I'm not saying my wife's stuck in the 80s, but she's dreaming of another Griswold movie with John Candy and Danny DeVito.

Friday, June 13, 2014

If there's one thing I hate, it's those football-mad blokes who deliberately avoid using up their annual leave, and then, having been fine all week, promptly phone in sick on the day the World Cup starts. It makes my blood boil.

So anyway, I phoned in sick yesterday. I like to think I'm ahead of my time, and if there's one way to prove how forward-thinking you are, it's by refusing to wait until Friday the 13th, and spending Thursday the 12th in hospital.

Obviously I spend most of my days in hospital, but I'm not generally in A&E with people suggesting I might have had a stroke. But I digress...

Aside from the usual child-related exhaustion, I went to bed on Wednesday night feeling fine, but when I awoke yesterday morning and opened my eyes, I was aware of an immediate sense of dizziness. I got up and walked to the bathroom, which despite being in the east wing of our 2-bedroom flat, is not as far as you might think, and yet I genuinely thought I wasn’t going to make it. The world seemed to be spinning around like Kylie Minogue, and I could barely walk in a straight line down the hallway. By the time I reached the toilet, I felt so sick I almost threw up.

I headed for the nearest chair with a bucket, while Lisa went straight onto the NHS website, which confirmed that much like James Stewart and Kim Novak before me, I was currently appearing in this...

Which was surprising as I always thought I was more psycho. I’ve actually never had vertigo in my life (although I’ve been a bit unbalanced), and on initial impressions, I wasn’t a huge fan. Frankly it felt pretty awful.

Obviously, in situations like this, you need a good spin doctor, so I made an appointment with my GP for the afternoon, hoping that by then, the attack would have passed, and I’d be able to make it out of the door without falling over. I also took some Stugeron travel sickness tablets, as recommended by the NHS website, and then went back to my bed, which felt like it was floating around the room like a magic carpet.

The tablets eased my nausea, but did nothing for the dizziness, so in the afternoon Lisa’s Mum came round to mind the children, and with both driving and walking out of the question, I was forced to get a taxi to the surgery. Lisa came with me in case I felt unsteady, which is a bit like George Best helping you not to drink, and having settled me into the waiting room, she asked if I thought she was fatter than the other patients, and then popped off to Tesco’s for some chocolate-chip muffins.

I was eventually seen by my GP, who listened to my symptoms, carried out a number of coordination tests, and then told me she’d noticed that the left side of my mouth was sagging slightly, and asked me if that was normal. I didn’t really know what to say. Which was worrying, as her next question was to ask if I’d been struggling to find my words.

The upshot of it all was that she said I might have an inner ear problem, but that she felt uncomfortable with that as a diagnosis, and couldn’t rule out something else. So she decided to phone the hospital. We were asked to leave the room, and when we were called back in, she told me she’d spoken to the consultant, and they wanted to see me straight away.

I was given a letter (sealed, which made me slightly suspicious that I was being used as some kind of drugs mule), and told to go straight up to A&E. Which meant another £5 taxi ride. Frankly the cost of all this was making me feel dizzy.

At A&E, I waited half an hour before seeing the triage nurse, by which time Lisa had gone home to relieve her Mum, and after a blood pressure test and another short wait, I was led around to a different waiting area, from where I was told a doctor would call me. I sat there for an hour, which was actually quite a pleasant experience. The seats were rock-hard, but I felt so ‘out of it’ and so generally unwell that the moving scenery soon rocked me to sleep, and I dozed through the whole wait.

I was eventually called by a junior doctor called Elizabeth, who was young enough to be my daughter (but clearly far too polite), and she took me to a cubicle and told me to sit on the bed. Over the next 45 minutes, she basically did what my GP had done, only in far more detail. She carried out three times as many tests, asked me five times as many questions, and wrote down ten times as much information.

She then told me that during our conversation, she’d noticed that the left side of my face was more droopy than my right, and asked if that was normal. I didn’t want to make the mistake of saying nothing, so I said I wasn’t sure, and she added that it might not be significant, but there was definitely more of an indentation between my left cheek and my top lip, than on the right side, before adding that my mouth was wonky too.

It’s not every day you get accused of looking like Lembit Opik, so having apologised for being a cheeky girl, she said they’d do some more tests. She took some blood (nearly an armful), checked my blood pressure for the third time that day, and did various other checks, at which point she asked if I’d been struggling to find the right words. I said I didn’t think so, so she elaborated by asking me if my wife had told me at any point that day that I’d suddenly started talking nonsense.

I said no (which made yesterday quite unusual), and she informed me that the consultant would want to see me that evening, and might want to do a scan of my brain. Which was a shot in the arm for all those who say I need my head examined. She said they could do the scan that day, but it might mean me staying in overnight, so my first thought was to wonder how I was going to look cool on the ward without my summer nightshirt...

... but in the end I was able to put those thoughts (and my binoculars) to one side, as I waited for the consultant.

I was left for another hour, which I spent dozing and listening to the bloke in the next cubicle, who was ringing all his friends to say he had appendicitis, and would be having surgery in the morning. He was eventually seen by a consultant who told him he didn’t have appendicitis at all, and had probably strained a muscle playing cricket.

Personally I couldn’t get any mobile signal at all, so my family had no idea what was happening, but at around 8pm, the consultant finally arrived, and began a third round of tests, which, for the first time, included a tongue-twister. I was tempted to tell him that I can’t say 'slit lamp biomicroscopy' at the best of times, but I somehow passed that test, and by 8:30pm he was happy that there was nothing too sinister going on, and that I’m just naturally lop-sided and tongue-tied.

There was a slight concern that my original symptoms hadn't improved in more than twelve hours, but they concluded that in all probability, I have viral labyrinthitis. It's often associated with hearing loss, which I don't have, but despite that, they felt confident in the diagnosis...

... before telling me that if I start vomiting with extreme pain in the next 48 hours, it could be a brain tumour, and I should go straight back. That was 21 hours ago. So just 27 to go.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sure, they look cute...

... but they're also responsible for that torn wallpaper. So on balance, I'm not sure they're worth keeping.

Monday, June 09, 2014

One of the constant dangers of jungle exploration is the possibility that at any moment, you could come across a small clearing occupied by tribal natives doing some kind of fearsome war dance...

I think this is why UKIP are so worried about Bongo Bongo Land. That, and the possibility that cannibals might be gay.

In reality, of course, that's not a jungle. Although there is a monkey in the background. It's actually what passes for a extensive rear garden in Brighton, and belongs to our good friends Stefan & Andrew.

I like to think of Stefan as the Marie Antoinette of Sussex, partly because he's lived through a revolution, but mainly because he lets us eat cake. And yesterday was no exception. We arrived at their flat (an hour late, obviously) to be greeted with this...

To be honest, the word 'cake' doesn't do it justice. That visual (and actual) feast was a triple-deckered orgasmic taste sensation of coffee, chocolate and cream, featuring one of your five-a-day in fruit, and a thousand of your forty-a-day in Weight Watchers points, and was possibly the finest dessert I've ever tasted. I say 'was' because I've eaten most of it already. Stefan made it for us to say thank you for something or other, but I was too busy stuffing my face to listen.

Obviously when you're presented with the world's best tasting cake, you don't want the children around, so we sent them both out to the drawing room...

That's Toby using a green crayon to colour a duck. So I suspect it's a toilet duck. There's also a copy of 'Home' magazine on the left, which in this issue features an article naming blue tablecloths decorated with strawberries as this season's must-have home furnishing essential.

Anyhoo, the tragedy of having kids is that sooner or later you have to let them share your food. So despite seeing no reason why I shouldn't eat that entire cake myself, I eventually gave in to the plaintive looks on my children's faces (they were peering through the cat-flap), and agreed to let them try it. Needless to say, they were quite happy...

... although I was shedding a tear as the cake disappeared before my eyes...

I was hoping it might attract a wasp, and I could clear up the leftovers as they fled the scene in terror, but sadly I had no such luck.

We did, however, have a very nice afternoon. Admittedly, I didn't see much of my family, as Andrew and I slipped off into the bedroom for an hour so that I could fiddle with his laptop, but let's face it, I'm sure Lisa and Stefan were having fun in the living room. I certainly heard a few screams of pleasure. Although I think that was Toby playing with the cat toys.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and as early evening approached, I was forced to tell the kids that we had to go...

I think they took it well. Of course, we still had to get the rest of that cake home in one piece, and with Stefan & Andrew right out of giant cake boxes, I gave it to Lisa to hold in the car. Obviously I was hoping for something like this...

... but despite a near miss as I slammed on the brakes at the bottom of Manor Hill, she managed to hang on to both the cake and what remained of her dignity (she'd already lost half of both), and made it back to our flat safely. It's typical. Ask her to walk across an empty floor in flat shoes, and she'll hit the deck like there's an earthquake in Banana Skin Land, but give her a cream cake on a shiny tray in a fast-moving vehicle and you can't shake the thing out of her hands. She clearly valued it more than her own life.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

You know that can't-bear-to-look feeling you get when someone's just cut your hair..?

And the sense of crushing despair when you see it..?

Well, I don't, obviously. Although I do get a slight frisson of fear that I'm going to slip with the clippers and shave off my own eyebrows. Toby, however, experienced the full gamut of barbering emotions yesterday.

To be honest, I thought he looked a bit startled when we told him he was going to the hairdressers...

But, as you can see, he did need a trim. For the past few weeks he's been looking like a long-haired stunt double for Jim Carrey in Dumb & Dumber. Frankly the boy looks like a fool, and he knows it. Or maybe he doesn't. But I know it, and I'm not afraid to say so in public.

This hair cut has been booked for weeks, and it couldn't come soon enough for me. Every time we walk to the shops, we look like Scooter Braun and Justin Bieber circa 2009. I'd offered to cut Toby's hair myself, like my Dad did for me when I was younger, but unfortunately Lisa's seen photos of me as a child, and told me that if I went near Toby with the kitchen scissors, she'd use them to cut off something of mine.

So it was back to the salon yesterday for a cut and blow dry (the hot air was provided by Amelie). Being a teenager at heart, Amelie asked for her own hair to be straightened, and was pretty pleased with the result...

If you're wondering why she looks like a sunburnt panda, it's because she went on a school trip to the beach on Thursday, and chucked her sunglasses out of a moving train. That, combined with the fact that she couldn't find her own sun cream, means that she now looks a lot like Hiawatha.

But as for Toby, he responded to his transformation from gormless fool to cool young dude by sitting in the salon, rubbing his hair, and looking anxious that he could now feel his forehead. In the end, he made a dash for the nearest park, where Amelie considered the situation, while Toby pointed the way to the nearest hat shop...

In the end, he suggested that the answer to his problems might lie in the heavens...

But no manna was forthcoming...

And the only things looking up were my children.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The things I do for medical science...

If Red Riding Hood could see me now, she'd have something to say.

Putting aside my genuine concern that my eyebrows are turning grey and I'm going to end up looking like a negative of Alistair Darling, the biggest facial challenge I'm currently... um... facing, is that I have one pupil bigger than the other. Obviously that can happen if I look at Lisa through a telescope, but in this case I've been unilaterally dilated in an attempt to further my career. And to make me look like a junkie.

Since returning to work on Monday I've been undergoing training at the Sussex Eye Hospital in the art of slit lamp biomicroscopy. The first day and a half focuses on how to say 'biomicroscopy' without getting tongue-tied, and then you move on to more practical stuff. Like where the 'on' switch is.

Unfortunately, this afternoon there was a shortage of patients to practice on, so in a moment of extreme dedication to our craft, my colleague and I gave each other eye drops. We limited ourselves to one eye each, so that we could still see to use the slit-lamp, and could wink at each other with clarity, but I have to say, it's a slightly disorientating experience.

I think the patients are making a fuss about nothing when it comes to the stinging, but the after-effects aren't a barrel of laughs. Walking home in the sunshine was like skipping through a glitter-filled lava lamp. I found it easier to cross the road with my eyes shut. Foolishly, I agreed to read to the kids the moment I got back...

... and by the time I'd tried to focus on Alice's adventures for half an hour, I felt like I was in Wonderland myself. I now feel slightly travel-sick, with a serious eye-strain headache. I might have to tell the doctors I'm too ill to see them tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

I'm not saying there's nothing to do in Wiltshire, but whilst on holiday in Devizes, a pamphlet came through Big Sis's front door featuring this picture on the cover...

That's a typical west country family having the time of their lives at one of the local attractions. The mother and son might be slightly repressed and displaying a number of social hang-ups with their mildly defensive body language, but the way Dad's throwing his head back and roaring with laughter makes it obvious that this is a family embracing fun, living it large, and relishing the finest entertainment that Wiltshire has to offer.

Yes, they're visiting their local sewage works...

It's a crap day out, but in a good way.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Amelie came up to me this morning and said "Daddy, will you tell me how to spell everything?". I was a bit concerned that she wanted me to run through the whole dictionary, but as it transpired, she just wanted me to spell the word 'everything'. She was writing a sign for the opening of her new shop, and that's what she'd decided to sell.

To be honest, I could do with a cut-price retailer in the family at the moment, as we seem to be having to replace most of our worldly possessions. Not only has our kettle blown up for no apparent reason, but Toby's last holiday hurrah was to put my mobile phone in a glass of water, and despite all my best efforts, I've been unable to get it working again.

We returned from Wiltshire on Friday afternoon, and with my phone only capable of calling mermaids, I headed straight down to Asda yesterday morning to get a new one. Big Sis has promised me her old iPhone, but I can't have it until she's remembered to tell everyone her new number, so in the meantime I've gone with a cheap alternative which cost me less than the new kettle, and is more likely to bring me to boiling point.

The highlight of that particular shopping trip was when I agreed to let Amelie put a coin in a charity collecting box which was raising money for the ME Association . Amelie asked me (no pun intended) what it was for, so I told her it was to help people who have an illness which makes them feel tired all the time. Upon hearing that news, her face immediately lit up and she exclaimed "I think Mummy's got that!".

I said "No, I think Mummy's got you". Although I admit the symptoms are similar.

Anyhoo, one thing I didn't mention about our holiday is that we visited Dick Dastardly's house and saw Muttley's food bowl...

But as it happens, that wasn't the only gorgeous bird I photographed (see yesterday's picture of Lisa). I also took the photo on the left...

That particular feathered friend was soaring across the skies above Trowbridge on Thursday afternoon. Being ornithological experts with a wide knowledge of British bird life, we decided it was a Golden Eagle. Or possibly a pterodactyl. But having visited the RSPB website and realised there's a limit to how far south birds will fly for the winter (never mind the summer), I eventually matched it with that drawing of a buzzard.

Interestingly, the RSPB page about buzzards states that "In some areas they are known as the tourists' eagle, often being mistaken for this larger bird of prey". It doesn't state how many people think they're pterodactyls, but I'm sure we're not alone there either.