Posted in Book review, Books, NHS, Non Fiction, Poetry, Reading

Many Different Kinds of Love – Michael Rosen

Hello Loves! 💜

How are you all? I’ve missed you all terribly! I can’t believe it’s been two weeks since I last posted. I can only apologise. School is manic now we have all the children back but it’s so good to see them. Also, I’ve got myself in that rut of reading (albeit much slower than usual) but not having the words to write. I’ve got some wonderful books I can’t wait to share with you all so I hope the words come soon. I’ll give it a go with this book anyway. We all know and love Michael Rosen from his wonderful children’s books like We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and my personal favourite, Chocolate Cake amongst others. In fact, I don’t know a child who hasn’t been brought up knowing his stories. However his latest book tells a very different story. It’s the story of his survival. It is a story of love.

What’s it all about?
This book is a mix of diary entries, messages and prose poems, sharing the journey of Michael Rosen and his battle with coronavirus. It opens with an entry on 23rd March 2020 – almost one year ago. The entry is from Michael’s wife, Emma. At this point, Michael was feeling unwell but did not have any of the symptoms that have been drilled into us. Michael continues to feel worse and worse and Emma decides to ask their friend and neighbour, a GP, to help. Whilst waiting on the doorstep, Emma checks Michael’s oxygen. The result of this is an urgent trip to A&E. Seven months later, we have the next entry, this time from the GP friend we learn exactly what happened.

“Evidence was emerging of the importance of checking oxygen saturations when assessing people with COVID-19 – I had one in my doctor’s bag at work, but had decided that it would be a good idea to buy one to keep at home. I did not realise at the time how important that decision and the timing of the delivery would be.”

Once in hospital, Michael was immediately put on an oxygen mask. Coronavirus was still the unknown – we we learning about it as we went along. 6th April 2020 and Michael was re-admitted to intensive care and placed in an induced coma. He has a 50% chance of survival. Without it he is 100% likely to die. Whilst in the induced coma, doctors and nurses make use of the empty notepad beside Michael’s bed. Inside, they share stories of what they said and did during this period of time. What shines from these pages is love and hope. We can only imagine what it has been like inside hospitals during the peak of this pandemic. To take the time to leave a note which will enable Michael to fill in the gaps of his six week coma is truly special. We see how specialists have all come together to help our beloved NHS during what has been the worst threat to us in our life time.

“It’s been lovely to look after you today on your birthday! You’ve been a popular chap today – FaceTime calls from your family and a birthday card. You were also treated to a rendition of Happy Birthday from about 15 ICU staff around your bedside and a round of applause from staff and one of the other patients! You continue to improve and I know how proud everyone is of you.”

Slowly, Michael starts to improve thanks to the love and care of the numerous NHS staff and his family. The joy from everyone when Michael can talk, when he can breathe a little better, when he can start to piece together exactly what has happened to him, is immense. The style of the book changes now to the prose poems too. In these poems, Michael is adamant that it was his wife, Emma who saved his life. She sent in a duvet to keep him warm, music that she knows he loves, sends an iPad so she can be by his side and reassure him. Anything that she thinks will help bring him back from the brink – and it does. It provides him comfort and strength; the strength he needs to survive. Over time, Michael learns to take it slowly. One day he can walk, the next he is exhausted. Emma is there as a constant. Improvement means he is one step closer to returning home.

“The family watch me. I wonder how it feels for them to see me like this. I am sorry this is me… I walk into the living room I realise that they have taught me how to walk. The gap between hospital and home has closed.”

Once home, Michael realises that March and April have gone and he has very little, if any recollection of it. In the later poems, we see brutal honesty about how this has changed Michael forever. He repeatedly says that he is not the man he was. He may have survived but he has changed inextricably. He has a good ear and a deaf ear, a good eye and a blind eye, a painful knee, one big toe with a nail and the other without and a sore nipple. His whole body has been ravaged by this virus. BUT, he is alive.

“I am getting it that there is a place between life and death. I was there for weeks.”

This book isn’t negative in any way, shape or form. It’s about celebrating life. It’s a consideration of the doctors and nurses who fought daily to keep Michael and everyone else alive. It’s about how love can pull us from the depths of despair. His body has definitely changed, his mind too. We have all been affected this past year because of the current climate. But the end of the novel shows us that we have so much to live for and so much left to do in our lives. We see Michael’s daughter getting ready for university, Michael’s son with his GCSE work on the table and we see his granddaughter, nearly two years old, playing in the garden. Life is not over yet.

“I read their diary-letters to me that they wrote in a little black book when I was in a coma. Why did these strangers try so hard to keep me alive? It’s a kindness I can hardly grasp. The words tell me that they wanted me to survive.”

Final Thoughts
Michael Rosen didn’t write this book with publication in mind – he just wanted to piece his life together. I don’t think he quite realised just how poorly he was; how close he was to death. My biggest insecurity tells me that I will never be able to do a good job with reviewing this book. I don’t quite have the words to show the kindness, resilience, determination and love shown within. I loved it on so many levels. When we hear the words ‘coronavirus’ or ‘COVID-19’ our hearts sink. But in this book, we see the exact opposite. Read it and your heart will be filled to the core. It is magical to think that people are just this kind even when faced with the hardest challenge. For those of us who have had friends or relatives in hospital fighting this horrendous disease, it will give you a snapshot of what is happening behind those closed doors. The staff become extended members of our family because they hold the hands we can’t. We can do this. We can beat this. We will get through it. We have no other option. ♥️

Big love all xx

Posted in Education, Teachers

An Open Letter From A Teacher

Dear World,

On Monday afternoon, I huddled around my interactive whiteboard with two of my colleagues listening to our Prime Minister and his instructions about what on earth we are going to do now the whole world is facing a pandemic. 14 days of isolation if anyone in our household gets symptoms. The idea of social distancing and becoming more and more isolated from each other. I received texts that night from friends, basically saying, ‘see you later’ and ‘make sure you’ve got plenty in.’

It felt kind of distant from me. I saw it on the news of course and read about it in the media, but it wasn’t impacting me at that point. China, Italy, Spain, France. They’re all so far away from my door step. Maybe I just didn’t understand the severity of it. Or maybe I just didn’t want to. I look back to two days ago and remember thinking, ‘Well, I’ve got a job to do and that’s it really.’ I’ve done that but today it’s changed. If only doing my job was that simple.

We are living in incredibly difficult and strange times, there’s no doubt about it. The media is full of chat about the big C. Social media is full of it too. This is bordering on too much. It’s creating anxiety for everyone, especially when we consider the more vulnerable amongst us.

Two days later, we have an announcement that schools will be closing. For me, it’s about the students in front of me. They’ve worked so hard. We’ve changed their mindset, gave them hope and resilience. This is all very much a work in progress still. They are young people after all. But, today standing in front of my classes showed me that the young people are confused and scared. I’m just as worried and I don’t have any answers to make it better. I feel just as lost as they do. I keep saying, “It’s business as usual kids! Let’s do this!”

My team and I are still teaching normal English lessons. We have a curriculum to deliver, a curriculum I’m passionate about and have spent three years creating. Year 7 and 8 are reading non fiction, Year 9 are looking at a modern novel, Year 10 analysing unseen poetry and Year 11 focusing on preparing for their GCSE exams. I think now about the things we should be covering in the next few weeks, the incredible books we’d be reading and the writing styles we’d be experimenting with.

I’ve had emails from worried Year 11s who are self isolating desperate for work. How do I reply now? What on earth can I say to them? The announcement today means their Year 11 experience and their school days essentially end on Friday. There’s more questions than answers. The need to protect them, lioness like, stirs deep within me. I could cry.

Currently the emails are left unanswered because I just don’t know what to say. I have a class of Year 11 tomorrow. Who knows if they’ll have any motivation left to turn up. How do I know that I won’t just burst into tears when I see them? How can I safeguard their futures? More importantly, for those most vulnerable students, how do I know that they’ll be ok now, without the safety of our four walls around them? Questions. No answers.

Despite this turmoil, I’m really overwhelmed by people at the moment. The kindness in supporting the older generation at supermarkets. The camaraderie on the streets. Doing everything we can to help our colleagues in the NHS who are working tireless to keep people healthy and safe. We really are pulling together to support each other. I truly believe we show our best in times of great need. I knew this day would come where we would have to close. I just didn’t quite realise or process everything that meant. Teaching is my whole life. My students are everything.

Amongst this utter chaos and desperation, I’ll be on the ground tomorrow with my fellow colleagues, reassuring the students in my care. Despite the clichèd rollercoaster of emotions I feel, we have to be calm. Our young people are worried about their education, their families and their own health and well-being. It’s our job to reassure them. Likewise for my team who will be worried about their own families and friends.

To the rest of the world, stay safe. Talk to each other. Send messages. Read something you’ve always wanted to read. Visit open spaces and breathe in the spring air. Have we even noticed it’s getting lighter? Check in on those vulnerable people around you. Take up a new hobby. Do the jobs at home that we’ve been sat on for about three months. Regardless, we are all in this together. This. Will. Pass.

Yours faithfully,

Posted in Book review, Christmas

Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas – Adam Kay

Hello Everyone!!

We are in that very strange period of time in between Christmas and New Year where it is perfectly acceptable to have biscuits for breakfast, chocolate for lunch and mince pies for dinner. Heavenly Christmas food! I hope you’ve all had a peaceful festive period and enjoyed yourselves immensely.

Today I want to share with you a book that I’ve now read twice this year because it is just that good. Adam Kay is back with his festive tales from the NHS frontline: Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas. You may remember my review of Kay’s first book, This Is Going To Hurt, which you can find here. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

Overview

This book is much like Kay’s previous one but with a more festive edge. You may recall that Kay spent a number of years as a junior doctor in our beloved NHS and the novels come from his diaries he was writing whilst working. Kay omitted any festive stories from the first book so it didn’t become too Christmassy and here they are for us all to laugh, cry and read.

It starts off with a open letter really to the reader reminding us that despite it being Christmas time, there will be doctors and nurses who are working Christmas Day. Written with humour, it is a humbling start to jolt us back into the grim reality of the present regarding the NHS.

“A&E departments are busier than turkey farms, thanks for black eyes from carelessly popped champagne corks, fleshy forearms scares by roasting tins, and children concussing themselves by hurtling down the stairs in the box their Scalextric came in.”

Following this introduction, the book takes a simple structure: one chapter for each Christmas Kay spent in the profession. He openly admits to working 6/7 Christmas Days in obstetrics or gynaecology during his practising years. In his first year, Kay tells the story of a family member who has taken a turn for the worst, with the reality of there not being too much the doctors can do now. This moving aspect is something we can all relate to. However, I bet a fair few can say that they ended up laughing hysterically.

“Hoping to show empathy through my body language, I lean in to say all we can do is keep her comfortable and concentrate on her dignity. As I do so, I inadvertently lean on my tie. It is a seasonal tie…Crucially, and disastrously, underneath Rudolph’s red nose – and now the pressure of my elbow – is a button that activates a tinny speaker to blast out a frantic MIDI rendition of Jingle Bells.”

Thankfully the family took it well – hence the laughing!

Christmas Eve 2006 and a number of doctors are being quizzed about a child with an impressively luminous green nose. What could it be? How on earth did this child become so green?

“Answer: he’d dismantled his mum’s novelty earrings and shoved an LED up his nose…”

Kay writes with what I’d call, ‘knife edge humour’. We laugh yet we know we shouldn’t. However, these type of events happen on a daily basis with NHS, all 1.4 million of them, dealing with the consequences of our behaviours which are arguably worse over the Christmas period.

Nevertheless, it is always the harsh reality that brings us to tears. 2006 brought Kay an opportunity that would shape him and change him. Patient SH has a cardiac condition which means that if she continues with her pregnancy, she is unlikely to live. The procedure is grim, not for the faint hearted and highly emotionally charged. In Kay’s words:

“If Patient SH is brave enough to go through this, then I should at least have the balls to step up for her.”

Kay admitted for previously keeping this out of his first novel and still feels the pang of uncertainty in the editing process of this one. Yet, it stays because it was such an impactful moment. Again, it is reality.

Another Christmas Day, another day on the ward. Kay doesn’t even bother to complain and routines are forming – alarmingly. For the next Christmas on the ward, Kay was treated to a nice festive fragrance, cinnamon and mulled wine scent, mixed with every smell to do with childbirth. This did make me laugh out loud.

“It hangs in the air like some kind of acrid death-gas in a James Bond film, its putrid cloud choking every airway, blunting every nerve ending. We’re having the room deep cleaned, but they may well have to knock down the entire hospital.”

It’s Christmas and more often than not workplaces hold an annual Secret Santa and it’s sod’s law that you pick someone out that you don’t like. You hope and pray for the person you desperately want or even for the person you could merely tolerate in the name of the season. Life, or Secret Santa, never seems to go that way. Kay also picked out someone he despises and who despises him in return. H suggested a guinea pig, which was declined.

“I bought him a set of sandalwood styling wax and hair pomade. He is bald.”

I have so much admiration for our doctors and nurses. The hours are relentless, the breaks nonexistent and the patients and their families are sometimes downright rude. However, it is the glimmers that mean the most. The acts of kindness, the ‘thank you’ which make the job bearable. The only other thing that makes the job easier is humour. Those stories that stay with you forever. There’s some right corkers in this book but I think the story next is my favourite.

A child asks his mother if his father was there the day he was born. The answer is no. The reason why – hilarious.

“Well, darling, he made it to the hospital on time, but he was so drunk that he whipped out his cock when the doctor was putting forceps on your head, and they had to call security to boot him out.”

Is it just me or is this hard to believe? Only in England…

The final Christmas is one where, amazingly, Kay doesn’t need to work. Here we see descriptions of Christmas day’s as we know it. The food, the fizz, the party games and the television. Deep down though, any NHS worker will know, it is in your blood and you come to miss it. I feel the same about teaching. I’m so grateful for my time off but in a strange way I do miss not being in the classroom. I feel it more in summer though to be fair.

Finally, The Queen’s Christmas Message is a very important part of Christmas Day for some. Kay offers his own alternative message for us all to reflect upon. Thank your doctors, nurses and ward staff, if you’ve been in hospital. If not, remember the following:

“Stop sticking root vegetables, remote controls, chocolate wrappers, fairy lights – or indeed anything else that’s irretrievable and inanimate (or, god help us, animate) – up your interval cavities for one day a year. It’s only twenty four hours, guys, and you’ll make all their Christmases come at once.”

Final Thoughts

I loved this book just as much as I loved the first. It’s incredible to believe what people get up to over the Christmas year and what foolish and sometimes humorous decisions people make. Kay has such a unique writing style. He can make his readers laugh and cry and feel utterly dismayed. Massive respect for those NHS workers this Christmas and New Year. We wouldn’t be healthy without you. For all that you do, thank you.

Read this book. Feel it with your heart.

See you before the New Year guys!

Big love all xx

Posted in Book review, NHS

This Is Going To Hurt – Adam Kay

Hi Everyone!

I hope January is treating you well and the new year has got off to a splendid start. Today I want to share with you a book that I absolutely loved for so many reasons. The book: This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay.

I read this book because (without going into too much detail) I spent a lot of time over the Christmas and New Year period going backwards and forwards from hospital. I saw first hand the staff who after 12 hours were still there, with a smile looking after a small armies worth of patients. I felt for them, wholeheartedly.

Adam Kay was a junior doctor for 6 years. This book is essentially made up of his diaries from 2004 to 2010. Whilst it’s incredibly witty, it does show the extraordinary work of the NHS. There’s also tears along the way too.

 

What’s it all about?

This book shows us the journey from being a teen, choosing your life career to the time when Kay decided that enough was enough. This first hand account of the daily grind at the NHS shows exactly what happens on the front line every single day.

“Reading back, it felt extreme and unreasonable in terms of what was expected of me, but at the time I’d just accepted it as part of the job.”

Rather than spoiling a number of the anecdotes here, I wanted to share with you just a few of my favourites. The first is when Kay experienced his first ‘degloving’ injury. An eighteen year old patient was out celebrating (who hasn’t been out and done something we regret the next morning?!) when he decided to take a shorter route home, via a lamp post. Naturally, there were some injuries to the penis which made my eyes water!

“It brought to mind a remnant of spaghetti stuck to the bottom of the bowl by a smear of tomato sauce… when asked if the penis could be ‘regloved’…Mr Binns, the consultant, calmly explained that the ‘glove’ was spread evenly up eight foot of lamp post in West London.”

However, it is the reality of the situation that stands out, arguably more, than the stories from the wards. In an entry from Christmas Day, Kay reveals how he has overslept in his car. The hours are long, the patients often challenging and doctors are usually exhausted.

“It takes me a while to establish where I am or why. Good news: it seems I fell asleep in my car after my shift last night and I’m already at work, in the hospital car park.”

Another hilarious anecdote that I enjoyed in this book was about car parking. As you may be aware, hospital car parks are incredibly expensive. However, Kay reveals that there is no staff car parking due to a health initiative. Therefore, to save himself a longer commute, he uses the visitors car park.

“Today, however, the jig is up: my car has a clamp and a £120 fine for removal jammed under the windscreen wiper…The parking attendant has scrawled on the back, Long fucking labour, pal.”

The diaries are funny and honest and yet sometimes completely unbelievable. The following anecdote made me laugh and cry. Kay remarks on how patients seem to enjoy placing various objects into different areas of the body.

“Christmas in particular has rewarded me well, with a stuck fairy (‘Do you want it back?’ ‘Yeah, bit of a rinse and she’ll be grand,’ a grossly swollen vulva from a mistletoe contact allergy and mild vaginal burns from a patient stuffing a string of lights inside and turning them on.”

As we progress to the end of the book, the laughs end too. Kay reflects on his time as a doctor. The difficult outcomes and the reality of the situation that every single day our doctors are faced with life or death decisions. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, things still go wrong.

“If you’re going to survive working in his profession, you have to convince yourself these horrors are part of your job. You can’t pay any attention to the man behind the curtain – your own sanity relies on it.”

 

Overview:

I loved this book. It’s honest, compelling and heartbreakingly sad at times. I feel it does show the complete picture of our NHS. I have a lot of respect for them. The majority are excellent and care for their patients. I appreciated the letter at the end of the book to the Secretary of State. It’s honest and real and this is why this book is brilliant. I urge you all to read it.

Big love xxx