Prescription for Disaster

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Tigers, Bears, Flying Monkeys and a poor, poor pudding cup. Oh my!

I don’t think I’m going to be able to show my face at that zoo again for at least a couple of years.

When my mother in law, Sylvia, was here over the summer she and Paul took the kids to the Woburn Safari Park, an award winning free-range zoo that you can drive your car through like a Safari. I wasn’t able to join them (chemo weekend) but the four of them had a great time and rubbed it in constantly about how wonderful it was. They were disappointed that a monkey didn’t jump onto their car and that the animals were just kind of ‘sitting there’, but they did get some great pictures and overall had a very good time. Good enough that Paul has wanted to go back ever since.

Now, go to any attraction and you are pretty much guaranteed a good time. Bring me and you’re guaranteed an adventure.

We arrived early in the morning and joined the queue to slowly drive through the safari route of the zoo like every other normal family. We’d stocked up on snacks and sandwich stuff for later, heading off into the fields to creep past the huge animals that barely paid us any notice. The route was fantastic, driving through antelope, rhinos, zebras and giraffes – even watching a zoo truck chase an irate ostrich through the fields. We then went through the Jurassic Park style electric gates and into the carnivore area of bears, tigers and lions with a stern warning to keep all windows closed and not to get out of our cars for anything

Fair enough.

We drove through with everyone else, seeing the animals lazing off in the distance to the sheer glee of the girls. I have to admit, it was pretty cool. Finished with the safari we followed everyone else to the parking lot to go in for lunch.

That’s about when the ‘normal’ part of our day ended.

We parked in a muddy field, all jumping out of the car and opening up the back of our SUV to make our sandwiches. Some ducks came waddling up toward us while we were cutting bread and unpacking cheese. The girls thought the ducks were cute, as did I. We continued unpacking the contents of our sandwiches, cutting into veggie pepperoni packages with our teeth as many more ducks came. It wasn’t too alarming until Paul nearly stepped on one – my goodness they were close. There seemed to be a small flock quacking quietly right underneath us. The girls were starting to get a bit leery – there were a lot of birds now. No worries girls, mummy’s got this. In an attempt to get the birds away from us and with my mouth still holding a package of veggie pepperoni, I tore off a chunk of pita and tossed it a little ways away from us.

And then the sky fell in.

An army of seagulls came out of NOWHERE and attacked the duck trying to run off with the pita. The ducks went wild in retaliation – the attacked duck was being rolled over and over by seagull claws and the air was filled with the scream of birds and the flapping of wings.
The girls screeched and ran for the car – I left Paul behind fending off the winged rebellion and still stuffing pitas as I opened the doors and threw the girls into the car, then running back to help Paul. He was draining sun-blushed tomatoes with one hand and waving off birds with the other – kicking his feet out to warn the circling, hissing ducks of his space. It was a feathered nightmare. We were both ducking, hunching our shoulders and stuffing pitas as quickly as we could, dodging birds and trying to shield ourselves with the SUV back door. The kids inside the car were screaming for us, afraid that the birds would get in the car like they did last weekend. 

Pitas stuffed we slammed the door and ran for the car, jumping inside and rolling up the windows to eat in peace.

Looking around, none of the other cars were being attacked by birds. They’d all gone into the restaurant. You know, like normal people.

We munched in silence for a few minutes when Paul had a sudden brainstorm – everyone was in the restaurant eating, the park was pretty much empty. If we were to go back to the safari part now we would practically have it to ourselves!

So we peeled out of the parking lot, a great white cloud of birds rising from around our car as we did. He was right, we pretty much had the entire thing to ourselves! How great! The winding road was practically deserted!

So… can I drive?

I’d not driven in about 4 years. I’d never driven on the left side of the road and for a long time in England hadn’t needed to – then having had a stroke I’m still not able to get a license for another year or so. But I can drive. Bemused, Paul agreed – but we couldn’t get out of the car to switch like Chinese fire drill – there were Rhinos and rules. We’d have to do it in-car.

Look out girls! Mummy’s coming back there! I squeezed myself up and into the back seat like a ninja while Paul slid over to the passenger side with only a bit of huffing and puffing. I then began the slow and surprisingly difficult task of getting from the back seat of the car through the middle and into the driver’s seat, contorting myself and completely mooning a Rhinoceros in the process. Paul ducked as I swung a leg over his headrest – he wasn’t too bothered. He was busy enjoying his chocolate-vanilla pudding cup.

Okay. Okay. We were sorted and for the very first time in the UK, I was driving. And I wasn’t doing too badly! I managed to go through the Jurassic Park gate without incident and we were now into the Tiger enclosure with only one other car up ahead. Very cool – but where were the tigers? We looked around for them off in the distance when Katie pointed out that well, it was right there beside our car. What? Oh wow, very cool! We stopped the car and watched as it walked slowly across the road directly in front of us and off into the field – a cool experience made even better as the other huge tiger came up beside our car as well, crouched low and actually stalking the first tiger. Like some kind of National Geographic documentary, we watched as the second tiger prowled low in the grass and nearly flat toward the first, hiding behind a tree and then running flat out to chase the first tiger back toward our car. We’d now caught up to the other car and watched as the two tigers circled our vehicles before heading back off into the woods to lie down.

Don’t open your door indeed!

We drove through the gate and into the bear enclosure, having a similar experience with a black bear walking across the road and then sitting directly in front of our car, just chilling. Erm… what do I do here? I can’t honk the horn, the staff will think we are being mauled. Plus, it would be rude. I can’t try to intimidate him off the road by nudging forward – we’re Canadian. We know what bears can do to cars. I couldn’t go around the bear, because you’re not meant to leave the pavement for anything. Butttttt… this was an SUV and we couldn’t stay here forever. This bear was not moving.

So I drove a bit to the right. The bear moved to the right. I went a bit further right. The bear nudged toward us. I was partially on the grass now, and the car was a bit tilted on the hill. The bear didn’t care. He moved a bit more to the right and then sat, like an indignant prick, right in my way. Alright, screw you bear – we’re out of here! And I peeled out far to the right, up the slant of the hill and around the bear, back onto the road full of triumph and yet side-eying myself that a bear just ran me off the road – then braking hard for a wolf.
Yeah, I should probably leave the driving to Paul.

It was when we made it into the lion enclosure that we heard the most terrifying phrase that could have possibly happened at that very moment.

“Mummy. I have to pee.”

“WHAT?! Oh no sweetie, you are going to have to hold it. We are a long way from the washrooms and we can’t get out here – there are lions.”

“I can’t hold it, it’s going to come out!”

What the crap?! Seriously?!? No, honey. You NEED TO HOLD IT. You don’t understand. There are LIONS.

“I need to go nowwwwww!”

OMG. Okay come here.

Wide eyed and panicked, we parked the car and scrambled around for something she could pee in. A water bottle? A bag? The floor???? And then Paul held up his empty chocolate-vanilla pudding cup. We stared at each other in silence.

It would have to do.

And this is how we came to be that family. You know, the one stuck in the lion enclosure with a half-naked four year old squatting over a pudding cup held by her father while I held her steady and howled with laughter. Until she started straining. Wait, WAIT! WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN THAT PUDDING CUP?!?!?

We were then rather quiet as we drove through the remaining safari route, our eyebrows still high up in our hair in disbelief of what had happened. Still, I was driving. And I was exceptionally pleased with myself.

33 GIFs That Will Make You Howl With Laughter Every Single Time

After that even the monkey hanging out on our car was only vaguely entertaining, and we were happy to finish the safari and head into the rest of the zoo like normal people.
Well, we tried to do it like normal people.

When going to any type of zoo with kids you just can’t leave without first seeing the monkeys – no matter how traumatized you already are – and this zoo had a monkey enclosure that you could go inside and walk around. It sounded cute, why not?

Well then.

Inside was a wooden pathway with rails – the route for us to walk through. And there were monkeys. Lots of monkeys – hanging out on the rails just chilln’ and watching us approach. There were monkeys in the trees, all watching us as we got nearer and nearer. I stopped at a corner before the waiting monkeys, looking down over the rail to see a zookeeper giving this small horde of monkeys the stink-eye, like she was warning them. I asked her how many there were.

“Oh, 22 are out in here today.”

“Wow. That’s a lot.” My inappropriate social skills took over and I continued “Have you ever been swarmed by all of the monkeys at once like an Alfred Hitchcock movie?”

“Um… no. But It can get pretty creepy at night when you come into the enclosure and they all rush toward you from high up in the trees. They’re mostly harmless though, and don’t often bite.”

“Oh? Well, that’s… interesti…..JESUS CHRIST!!!!!!!!!!!” as a lemur had leapt out of nowhere and onto Paul’s back. I jumped backward just in time to miss a monkey preparing to leap from the railing and onto ME, hyperventilating and ready to bolt for the door.

Paul laughed and took me by the hand to calm me down – the kids were terrified and the zookeeper was chuckling as she scolded the monkeys away. Her chuckles turned into howling laughter as we continued through the enclosure to the exit at a speed-walk, the twins pointing at each lemur in turn and shouting “Jesus Christ mummy, look!”. It sounded like the second coming in there. And the ironic part? When we got to the end of it and I bolted through the cage door we were met by a BBC Film Crew entering the cage.

For once in my life my timing was actually pretty good.

One final stop was all my heart could take before we made it back to the car – Bird World. Some sort of building you go into and the birds fly around freely.

Why not?

In we went – the kids already a bit nervous . I’m a big believer in kids reading our stress in situations and reacting accordingly so, trying to make up for the whole flying monkey blasphemy incident earlier, I sucked it up and went into Bird World like nothing was wrong.
Oh holy hell. I regretted it the moment we stepped inside the door. 

We made it about 3 ft in when we were distracted by a young girl and her mother on a bridge up ahead, the girl freaking out as two parrots duked it out on her shoulder – her mother trying to whack them away. Paul was riveted to their scene but that was it, I’d had enough. I took the girls by the hand and turned back toward the door – I wanted out, and was dive-bombed by a large bird that flew straight into my face. I screamed and batted it away, running for the door and plowing through a laughing family that had witnessed the whole thing. The door wouldn’t open, it was a one-way electronic security door. I clawed at it, I banged on it. The twins were each gripping a leg and Paul was still making his way up to help the other family on the bridge.

Other families laughed and cleared the way as I picked up my children and bolted, the three of us screaming like banshees until we were in the safety of the foyer, Paul joining us a moment later – completely oblivious to his hyperventilating family and wanting to know what was next.

The car, Paul. The car was next. 

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Some of my disabilities may be self-inflicted

We have been having some issues with one of the twins in the loo-department. The poor kid just hates to go, and will hold it so long that her innards will suddenly force their way out, resulting in us now shopping for children's underwear at Costco as the aftermath is a hazmat experience not worth trying to salvage.

We've tried everything. We read books with her about pooping. We made a big deal about how fun it was. We gave her laxatives (omg. Never, ever again. Ever.). So now we're on this kick of toilet-yoga and ensuring that the bathroom is a calm, relaxed place in which she can chill out and take her time.

So we told her to go into the loo, take her time and just relax in there - bring the iPad.

"Really? I can bring the iPad in there?"

"Sure you can. Just don't drop it in."

She was still a bit dubious, so we started 'modeling'. Apparently this is some sort of intentional parenting technique that trumps common sense (really?) in which you just do the things that you want your kids to do. Alriiiiiiight.... fine. Okay.

So on a recent trip to the loo I was sure to announce loudly to the family that I was going to the loo, I was going to relax and take my time and I was going to bring the iPad with me, as weird as announcing that felt. It doesn't matter, I was intentionally parenting.

I'm probably going to get a medal for this at some point, surely. 

Now, I'm normally a stickler for what is in our bathroom. Bathrooms in Britain are very different from North American bathrooms - not all are like ours but this is the THIRD house we've lived in here with a bathroom that is divided like this.

One room houses the toilet, while another, much nicer room, holds the sink, bathtub, shower, cabinets, mirrors, shelves, window, etc. You know... a proper bathroom.

Forgive Lochie's expression, she was rather 'put off' by the last person that had used it when this picture was taken. But this is our bathroom.

As our 'toilet closet' is so ridiculously small I don't like having reading material left in there, because I would essentially need to be either resting my feet on it or holding it in my lap throughout what should be a quick experience. But, I'm 'modeling' for the twins, so brought the iPad in there with me. 

Well, while I'm in here I may as well play a level in my game. And then another one. Maybe one more. Okay, this is definitely the last one.

By the time I'd realized how long I'd been in there and I put the iPad down and to the side, I also noticed that my legs felt a bit... funny. My feet were extremely cold and... an- and I couldn't feel them. Oh my God, no. No no no no no. My thighs were bright red and tingly, and I felt nothing at all from the waist down. 

Oh no. No no no no no. I had dead leg in BOTH legs.

This was NOT good. 

Okay. Okay. I had to get up. I couldn't sit here forever, I had things to do and the only way to get rid of dead-leg was to move it around and walk it off, right? 

I started massaging my legs. It didn't seem to matter as I still couldn't feel anything in them. I chastised myself, this was all probably just in my head. If I just tell my body to stand up it will, just as it has done countless times before. I'll just do that. 

^^^That did not happen. The only thing that happened was this:

Alright. Enough of this, I had to get out of there. I just needed to stand up, finish the task at hand and walk out of here like a normal person - no big deal. 

I couldn't feel my feet but I planted them evenly on the floor. I gripped the wall on either side with my hands. I was going to just stand up using the wall for help. 

The first attempt resulted in a small bang and crash as I stood for a second, then careened back toward the loo, missing it completely and tearing the toilet roll holder off the wall. 

"Hun? Are you okay?" Came from downstairs. "I'm fine! Be right down!"

Okay- the situation was urgent now - I couldn't have him come up and find me like this. I just had to get out of here. 

The second attempt was partially successful. I counted to three and then heaved myself up off the loo and forward, my knees locked tight and standing fully erect on what I as hoping were my feet flat on the floor. I could have broken one just then and I still wouldn't have felt a thing. I fell forward and supported my weight with my face mashed against the door - another bang and loud assurances that I was fine. At least I was able to finish up and pull up my pants - at the very least I was now fully dressed.

I pushed away from the door and sat back onto the toilet seat, staring at the door and wondering if I would ever again see the light of day. This was impossible, I had visions of crawling out of the loo like a crab -


 to lie in the hall, defeated and shamed until feeling was restored in m useless legs.

Okay. OKAY. ENOUGH. I had to get out of here! I opened the door of the teeny toilet room - picking up each dead-leg in turn with both hands to move them out of the way of the door. I was so close. I was dressed, the door was open. The hall was RIGHT THERE. I just had to stand up. I did some quick leg exercises, swinging my knees to try to get some blood flow going. This triggered pins and needles - tickling me to the point that I cried out and laughed like a hyena, cackling madly from within the toilet-room. More shouts of "Are you SURE you are okay?" and i could barely answer through my laughing tears, let alone the sound of my legs slamming against the floor and walls.

OKAY. I was ready. I was limber. I was totally going to do this.

I was totally going to bust an ankle.

Alright, one more determined count to three, gripped the walls, feet flat on the floor (I think) and one and to and three and UP and I was standing! I was white-knuckling the door-frame with both hands and panting from the ordeal. But I was up! I was free! 

And then I took a step forward into the hallway.

Ah crap. this wasn't going to be over any time soon.

When I finally escaped the upstairs hallway and back to my family I had tears of determination and involuntary laughter pouring down my face as I approached them like this:

I handed the twins back the iPad and said "See? No big deal!"

But after the wild commotion upstairs and my bathroom-emergence drunk-walk I don't think they believed me.

I may have actually made it worse.

Well, back to Costco.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

You don't stop a Lung Function Test for ANYTHING... (apparently)

You don't stop a Lung Function Test for ANYTHING... (apparently)

I'm not a religious person, but even I'm kind of thinking I need to go to church to make up for this one.

I'd been booked at two hospitals on the same day, so was in my typical rush of get the kids to school, take the tube to Charing Cross Hospital, see my neurologist for Narcolepsy treatment (as you do), get back on the tube and rush to my office, go to an unnerving Chinese bank with no signage, receipts or cameras for an errand, then back on the tube to rush to Hammersmith hospital for a lung function test.

So it wasn't a huge surprise when I arrived late, panting and sweating at the outpatient reception like I'd just run there (I had. It's about a mile).

Being kind and compassionate, the lung function team 'squeezed me in', even though I would need to do my testing alongside the next patient. I wasn't bothered, and expressed my gratitude, climbing in to 'the box' to start the test - wondering how they planned to fit another patient in there with me.

The test itself went fine, it just feels like you are continuously blowing up balloons, and then they cut off your air supply completely. Next time I'll just go with the regular balloons, thanks.

I heard a bit of a dramatic commotion down the hall near the blood draw room, but didn't think too much of it. I could see the room from where I sat waiting for the second part of my test, and heard the lung function staff giggle and say that their '4:00 must be here, I can hear him now.'


And then I saw the patient I would be doing the next part of my lung function test with  - a large, muscular guy in a bright orange jumpsuit and handcuffs, chained to a prison guard on either side of him.

I do not know how or why these things always seem to involve me. I just don't. Okay, fine. I'm sure that he's a nice guy and this is somehow perfectly normal. 

The guy had three sets of handcuffs on, kind of. I'd never seen it before. His hands were cuffed together in a mega-heavy-duty kind of handcuff that crossed his hands over top of each other - then a guard was cuffed to a link on each handcuff on either side. He was clearly not going to be escaping today.

We were then both fitted with an oxygen and heart-rate monitor on our wrists and fingers, and tasked with walking quick laps from one end of the hallway to the other and back as many times as we could in a 5 minute time frame. Despite all of the weirdness, my competitive streak kicked in and I asked the coordinator what the hospital record was. They didn't have one, apparently (yeah right they didn't have one). It didn't matter, I was going to set one. 

She held up her stopwatch and said 'GO!' and off we went, all four of us power walking down the hallway and completing an awkward group turn at the end of the hall, passing a large gap where ours met another hallway that opened up into a packed waiting room that to me felt a lot more like a viewing area.

I picked up speed, pulling so far ahead of the prison team that we were now passing each other in the middle at the viewing area gap, them marching ahead while I deftly sidestepped into the gap to get around them. This all felt a bit crowded as we also dodged nurses carrying pee samples to and from different rooms and doctors rushing from office to office. 

I commented as much to the coordinator.

"This seems a bit dangerous, doesn't it?" I panted to her as I speed walked past, people in the waiting room staring as I darted through the gaps in the hall back and forth. "You can't see around the corners" I panted to her again as I side dodged the prisoner and his two guards for the upteenth time. "Has anyone ever plowed into -" BOOM!!!

Old Man Down!

I had completely crashed into an old man clutching a zimmer frame that had been coming around the corner.

Two nurses caught the elderly man as I tumbled into he wall, tangled in the walking frame. My legs were completely caught within the frame - it was one of those moments in life where there was just no saving it and it was better to let yourself fall - trying to save myself was just going to make it worse.

Legs caught in the zimmer frame and going down hard, I flailed around like a mermaid, I plastered my hands and face against the wall and did a slow, inevitable slide diagonally down to the floor, where the frame and I clattered down in full view of the entire waiting room of people - where some got to their feet in alarm, not sure if they should help the old man or me... or to take video.

"KEEP GOING! YOU'RE NEARLY FINISHED!" barked the lung function tester wearing my backpack (she said she would so it wouldn't be stolen. Apparently they have a problem with that) and waving her stopwatch from down the hall.


I was so confused - the old man seemed okay (angry, but okay) and the prison team was about lap me. And I was NOT about to be lapped by a guy in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffed to two sweaty guards. On my hands and knees I untangled myself from the metal frame, kicking it off as it clanged against the walls and floor and I scrambled to my feet, getting back to my pace within the most bizarre hospital hallway race of all time.

Bewildered, I continued my laps, making awkward eye-contact with the prisoner until one of his guards barked at him to 'keep his eyes on the hall'. The old man had made it safely into an office room and all evidence of the preceding mayhem was cleared - leaving me again wondering what in the hell had just happened.

By the time it all finished I was still in a slight state of shock - I honestly have no idea what my results were. I'm still breathing though, so I'm going to go with 'probably fine'. I'd gone home and not even thought about it for a few weeks until Paul opened up the mail in the kitchen the other day, handing me yet another hospital letter.

I've got to do it all again in another 6 months.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

PSA: Great for chronic pain - but for the love of God not on your neck!

Great for Chronic Pain, but for the love of God not on your neck!

Living in Britain as a Canadian that formerly lived in China (try to keep up now), I'm a big fan of Chinese medicine. With my 'super-lucky-rare-disease' I'm also a pretty big fan of Western medicine, which I fully credit for generally keeping me alive at the moment. 

But that doesn't mean I'm always comfortable.

I've got refractory multi-systemic and neuro sarcoiodosis with Heerfordt's syndrome. This includes the quite lovely effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). With this comes the occasional bout of rather excruciating bone, muscle and joint pain - which can be barrels of fun, of course. I'll often pop some more painkillers but sometimes I want something different. Something to take care of the pain locally without having to stone myself out. 

I have the usual arsenal of a person with chronic illness: A hot water bottle, heating pad, heated blanket, magic bag, ice packs, cool bags and some sort of electro-magnetic device that is supposed to help somehow.

And then there is Chinese medicine, my good old standby.

Although hot cupping is a hoot and a half, my steroids and blood-thinners would probably result in a scene from CSI, so that's out. Acupuncture isn't something that I can (erm... should) just do at home on my couch - as a cactus is apparently "not an acceptable replacement for proper needles and training, even if you 'fall on it correctly'. "

So I've been turned on to White Flower Oil (similar to Red Flower Oil, but stronger and cheaper)

Alright, now THAT is some strong smelling stuff! Like liquid Tiger Balm, you dab (note: DAB for God's sake!) some right where it is hurting over a joint and then you just chillax and let it work its magic. And it does. It goes through a soothing period of warmth, then a refreshing, deep cooling sensation - and then my joint pain is pretty much tamed. It is quite wonderful.

But I'm an idiot, so I couldn't just leave it at that.

Having bought some cheap, crappy Ikea pillows, my neck had been in quite a bit of pain for a couple of days. A recent flare up after bike riding on the weekend (I know, I know) had caused it to radiate down into my shoulder and arm - so I did the best thing I could think of and lathered my arm, elbow, shoulder and the back of my neck (my brainstem) in white flower oil, grabbed my shihtsu and went up to bed. 


My arm, elbow and shoulder felt fine. Just a bit warm and tingly. Quite pleasant. But not my neck. The back of my neck felt warm. Unusually warm. Kind of alarmingly warm. Hang on... this isn't supposed to be getting this hot

I darted to the bathroom with thoughts of frying my brainstem running through my head - splashing cold water on the back of my neck in an awkward spinal twist. Here's the thing with white flower oil though - YOU CAN'T WASH IT OFF!

That shit STAYS ON and then you end up SPREADING IT. And it buuuuuurrrrrrnnnnssss!

Okay. Okay. At the very least I can cover it with cold wet towels to cool it down - the skin on the back of my neck was bright red and tingling like I'd snorted pop-rocks. I looked around for a facecloth, a towel - anything. Laundry day - there was nothing. I dashed around my bathroom looking for something to wet like a squirrel, twitching with the tingles from my brainstem with the paranoia of triggering another stroke. I had a sudden stroke of genius and was back in bed three minutes later, resting comfortably with soaking wet tube socks wrapped around my neck.

My arm felt wonderful, however.

At around 3am I woke up again, freezing. Absolutely shuddering with the cold - yet the only thing cold was the back of my neck. 

I was shivering violently and my husband was nowhere to be found, because there was a game on that night.

I was seriously freezing - what was WRONG with this stuff? (my arm didn't hurt though) Back to the bathroom to douse the back of my neck in another spinal twist position with warm water, and layering on warm, wet socks. It didn't work, the socks cooled too quickly to be effective, then just made me colder. I needed something warm, really warm. Consistently warm. 

Sorry Huar Huar, you're going to have to do! I wrangled my poor, 14 year old grumpy shihtsu up to the top of the bed and wrapped him around the back of my neck like some sort of growling travel pillow, relaxing us both into the soft pillows and pulling the blankets up to my chin.

Sure I felt a  little bit bad, but 'technically' it was cuddles, and he loves cuddles. But the best part? 

He vibrates. Alllllll  night long.

So in the end, I completely, wholeheartedly recommend that if you have chronic joint, bone or muscle pain that you try Chinese White Flower Oil - you can get it from pretty much any Chinese medical shop, it's cheap and effective. Also, maybe pick up a cheap shihtsu while you're at the Chinese shop too.

But for the love of God and all that is holy in this world, do NOT put it on the back of your neck!