One year on

Exactly one year ago today I went through possibly the most emotional day of my life. I had to watch as my wife and sister were wheeled, one after the other, into an operating theatre at Hammersmith Hospital, so my sister could give my wife one of her kidneys.

The night beforeFrankie had gone in the night before. We left her in a bed next to a women who had been speaking on the phone for about two hours when we left, and apparently continued until another two hours until Frankie had to ask her to stop so she could get some sleep. And then she went outside rather than hang up. Whatever that phone call was, it was clearly important.

My family and I were staying at my in-laws. We sat up watching old cartoons from the 1940s on YouTube. 

And then in the morning we all headed over the hospital. Emily got prepped and then taken off to the theatre, while I waited with Frankie. At nine o’clock they came to prep her, and we left them to it. We made out way to the High Dependancy Ward, where they would both be brought once they were done, and settled in to wait.

Freshly harvested

At two in the afternoon Emily was brought in, awake enough to state for the record that she felt like she’d been hit by a bus. A little while later it had reduced to a car. Later still, a bike. I am told that at times like this, drugs are your best friends.

The surgeon came up around four to tell us everything had gone fine, and Frankie was in recovery. Well, fine apart from her having an allergic reaction to the antibiotic they gave her just before surgery, which literally could have ruined the whole thing if it had been worse. But it had died down, the operation had gone perfectly, and she finally came up to us at six thirty.

It’s a hard thing trying to describe how it feels seeing the person you love being brought in after a major operation. Small, helpless, only half aware of their surroundings and clearing in a lot of pain. About a dozen different tubes snaking out of her arm, hand and throat. Yet you’re also aware than everything is technically better than it (a) was, or (b) could have been. We had already been told it had been a textbook operation, and the kidney started working straight away. Almost too well, in fact. They had two bags of saline literally pouring into her, with the kidney producing two litres of urine an hour. Fast enough, in fact, that it flushed all the glucose out of her system and gave her temporary diabetes.

3

I can’t describe how useless I felt. As her stomach started waking up she started retching, which forced her to have to sit up and strain the massive, fresh wound in her side. And then, when I stood too quickly to grab a bowl to try and help her, all the blood drained from my head and I nearly passed out myself.

Helpful!

It’s been a year now, but this experience is not something you forget. Emily remained in the hospital for a few days before getting released. Frankie stayed a few more, of course. Once she did get out she had to go back in almost daily for check ups. Then weekly. Now monthly. It’s not all been plain sailing, of course. She’d had to deal with BK viral nephropathy, and the two day migraines that followed the treatment for that. Then we learned that she cannot just “power through” a mild discomfort anymore, as that can leads to a three day hospital stay with a bladder infection.

But this has been a part of our lives for far longer than a year. Off the top of my head it’s involved: 3 kidney biopsies; 12 months of testing to determine the level of her kidney damage; 24 hour urine tests for 6 potential donors; MRI, ultrasound and X-Ray examinations on two of those donors (including a follow up MRI and ultrasounds for one of those to check a potential, non-related issue); pre-op appointments; a frickin’ Kidney Transplant; approximately a month of overnight hospital stays altogether, a week of which were in the high dependancy ward; follow up appointments, emergency clinic visits, and enough blood vials taken to keep Dracula satisfied for a year.

And how much were we charged for all this? What was the total on the bill were given at the end? Nothing.

How much did we need to sacrifice in order to go through this necessary operation? Nothing.

How many times did our doctors outline the different levels of service we could get, pushing us towards something that wasn’t what we needed but would earn the hospital the maximum profit? Never.

When have we ever gone into a hospital, whatever day of the week or weekend, to find there were no doctors or nurses working their hardest to help us? Never.

It’s not hyperbole that the NHS is one of the greatest organisations in the world. It is, and has been, a literal lifesaver for countless people. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, there are quite possibly more efficient ways parts of it could be run, but anyone who honestly believes it should be replaced with any other programme is either a terminal idiot or unbelievably selfish. Or likely both.

We are currently stuck with a government determined to use the NHS to score political points. Rather than quietly working with doctors to improve the service, they are at best fighting to make arbitrary changes for idealogical reasons, and at worse seeking nothing more than to forward their own financial interests. And as people fight back, the current Health Secretary does little more than go to the media to wildly blame doctors, using every political trick in the book to try and con people into blaming the people who actually know how the NHS works.

Doctors and nurses are life savers. They do a harder and more important job than I will ever do. And they are also far more over worked and – in many cases – underpaid. I’m not going to say that over the last few years Frankie and I never had to deal with grumpy, unfriendly nurses. Or terse doctors with almost no bedside manor. Because they’re people, just like us. Everyone had bad days at work. Busy people aren’t always the friendliest. And the people they are working to help are not in the best mood themselves. That’s life.

It boils down to the fact that doctors and nurses do are the point of the NHS. Everything else is just a structure to allow them to do it in the most efficient way. And two of the things that makes it efficient is making it free at point of service, and making the people at the point of service happy, awake, and willing to make the necessary sacrifices their job requires.

Don’t let the government fool you into mistaking how important the NHS is, or hide how little they know how to handle it. Or how badly they are handling it. Like any organisation, the NHS needs to continuously develop and grow. Today’s NHS isn’t the same and it was fifty years ago, and it will be different again in another fifty. I’m not going to pretend I know what the next steps for it our, but I’m not in government. The Tories don’t have a plan either, and they are.

But they are politicians, and so believe that have to be doing something. And without any idea or plan they have fallen back on tired, political ideology instead. And once they’ve claimed that they believe something – no matter how vapid or damaging it is demonstrated to be – they can’t go back on it for fear of being branded with the dreaded “U-Turn”. Rather than admit they might have been wrong, they try to force people into believing that their failures in policy, planning, and ability are actually the NHS’s own fault for not agreeing with them.

So let’s ignore the political hyperbole, or the media grandstanding. The NHS doesn’t need saving. It needs running, and it needs to be run by people who know what they’re doing.

And when you need it, you’re going to be so glad the doctors fought back.

2015: Looking back, then forward

Happy New Year, folks. How was your 2015? I think I can safely say that mine was definitely one of the more eventful years in my life.

2015 and things that have been

So, looking back at this year, was there possibly anything that kept me a little too busy to get as much writing done as I would have liked?

Oh yes, my wife going through a kidney transplant. That was it.

It has to be said my family started off 2015 on a bit of a stressful note. On February 9th my wife went through a transplant to receive a kidney from my sister. Understandably, this took all my focus and energy for quite a while. Between the build up, preparations, the stress of the day of the operation itself, visiting them both in hospital and then looking after Frankie during the recovery period, I think I can say the first 3 months of the year were a write off, writing wise.

And then this autumn I’ve had a massive project at the day job that completely absorbed all my mental energy. I’m not complaining as such. I like my day job, and bigger projects means more responsibility means more chance of advancement. But between working through lunch breaks and coming home exhausted I essentially lost another couple of months of writing time.

So I think I can say I lost at least five months of 2015 for writing. That’s not to say I didn’t get anything done in that time. It’s just that I had other things on my mind that had to take precedence.

One thing I did get done was producing the paperback edition of The Serpent’s Eye. Like the e-book, putting this together turned out to be one hell of a learning curve, but I’m happy at how it turned out. Especially as I had very little idea what I was doing. There are a couple of small things I would like to tweak, but they’re tiny in the overall scheme of things. But my designer tells me there are a couple of little things she can see now it’s a physical book she would like to fix, so there may be an updated version sometime in the future if we get around it it. And at the moment that’s a big if, as there are plenty of more important things to get done first.

Short-story wise, it wasn’t a prolific year. The thing with so much else going on simply did not have the time to work on any independent projects. I had to prioritise. Annoyingly, the anthology with which I was involved, with Thomas Hill Publishing, fell through, so that story is now looking for a new home. However I was included in Verto Publishing’s Halloween Celebration. Those of you who caught it were able to read the first story in The Æther Collection, complete with a wonderful illustration from P. Emerson Williams. It’s still up, so head over if you want to check it out.

The rest of the year got taken up by working on The Æther Collection. 

And I feel I do have to mention that this year we lost possibly one of the greatest English writers, and the man who got me into reading; Sir Terry Pratchett. I’ve written about my feelings on his passing here, so I won’t go into them again. But it’s sad that 2016 will be the first year since I was born that there won’t be a new Discworld novel to look forward to.

Terry&Death

I will keep you all updated on my sister’s campaign/project to get a permanent statue of Sir Terry erected in Salisbury. I think we can definitely call it a project now as everyone involved seems onboard. Watch this space for updates.

2016, and things that are to come

So the big project for this year is, of course, completing The Æther Collection. At the start of last year I had hoped to get this done for Christmas, but obviously with everything going on it has been pushed back. I do have the first full draft completed and with my Alpha Readers (you can read more on that here) and should hopefully have notes to begin redrafting by the end of January. I’m not sure how many more drafts it’s going to need, but my gut is telling me a least four more; one from readers notes, another just from myself, a second round of notes, then a final polish and copyedit.

The Æther Collection - 4th Draft

Of course, now I’ve said this, it will take far longer. At this point I’m hoping for a June release at the latest. I want to have time to get it out to agents and small press publishers, but I will put this out myself if this process takes too long. June would be two years since the original release of The Serpent’s Eye, which would be nice timing. But of course I don’t want to rush anything. Watch this space for more updates.

Outside of this main project I do have other plans. I would like to get a couple more short stories done this year and get them into anthologies. I have one I’m finally getting to finish at the moment, and at least two more in early draft stages, waiting for their turn. Possibly these will be palette cleanser projects between drafts of The Æther Collection. I would really like to get these done early in the year and start submitting them, but we’ll see. The Æther Collection has to take priority.

I’m also beginning to get annoyingly excited about my next big project. It’s a haunted house story, filtered through the views of an adolescent girl trying to fight to discover her place in the world while insisting that she shouldn’t have to fight for it. Over the last couple of months various ideas have begun to slip into my mind, fleshing out the main concept and I’m ready to start writing. This is great, but not quite so much when I need to get the previous project completed before I can get started. But hopefully I’ll have a least a first draft of this done by this time next year.

I’ve had a great little break over Christmas. I’ve kept away from the keyboard almost completely to allow my brain to rest. Now I’m itching to get back to work.

See you all in 2016.

boot-inn-new-year