National Heroes Service – Part 2

It has been eight weeks since my last blog post; nine since an aneurysm in my right knee caused my foot to go numb and resulted in my having to undergo emergency surgery.

Before I get to the purpose of this post, a quick update on my leg. It’s been a long old haul, not helped by coming down with an infection in the wound. That required a course of strong antibiotics and set back my recovery at least a week. But I’m relieved to say that, although I still have some way to go before I can claim to be completely recovered, if I ever can, my leg has vastly improved. I can now sleep without waking up with throbbing pain every time I move; I can wear long trousers with only minimal discomfort; I can walk a mile before anything starts to ache.

It’s going to be a beaut of a scar, running from the inside of my thigh almost from my groin to around midway between knee and ankle. I aim to gradually increase the distance of my walks, along with the number and severity of inclines, until I can comfortably walk four miles of mixed terrain in an hour. I am hoping the numbness that makes much of my leg feel like a plank of wood will wear off, at least partially.

Enough about me. The purpose of my last post was to praise the staff of the NHS, after my first-hand experience of what they have to put up with—some of the patients in the wards I was in were, to put it politely, hugely demanding, with one or two taking up a massively disproportionate amount of the nursing resources. And look what the staff have been going through since.

I didn’t feel I could resume my blog and not pay tribute to them again. And not only to those who work in our health service, but carers everywhere, our police and other emergency services, those who work in all aspects of retail (from supply and delivery to checkout), refuse collectors, those keeping our public transport going, the postmen and -women… the list could go on. In short, everyone who has continued to work, at risk to their own health, to keep us fed and warm and safe and informed.

Many—too many—have made the ultimate sacrifice. Many—too many—have flouted government advice and made the situation worse. An example: during the weekend commencing 3rd April, well into the second week of lockdown, it was reported that police in Greater Manchester had to close down 660 house and street parties. That’s a lot of people who don’t give a shit about anyone but themselves.

Mind, there have been some face-palming moments that make me wonder how those making the rules expect the rest of us to obey them when they themselves are cheerfully breaking them. Take, for instance, the Chief Medical Officer in Scotland. She was caught, twice, travelling to her second home, more than an hour’s drive from her main home, once with her entire family in tow, having been busy appearing on television and in press conferences advising the public to remain indoors and not to travel unless essential.

And it apparently goes on. A video is doing the rounds on social media claiming to show Westminster Bridge at 8:00 yesterday evening during the weekly expression of gratitude for the NHS. In a seemingly police-sanctioned display (police cars are pulled up to the kerb and police officers are standing on the pavement with members of the public), people are crowded onto the bridge in blatant disregard for social distancing.

This isn’t the place to get political, but our government has to hold its hands up and admit it got a lot of things wrong, especially early on. From not seeming to know what strategy to adopt to combat the viral threat, to confusion over procuring essential PPE and testing equipment, it has, at times, appeared to be a shambles. At the time of writing, the UK is the fifth-highest ranked country in the world for the number of covid-19 deaths—almost 14,000. Fifth… yet we rank twenty-first for population and we’re an island. There will surely be some serious questions to answer when this is over.

My bestselling books are the Earth Haven trilogy, an apocalyptic tale about a manufactured virus that is spread deliberately and brings humankind to its knees. A friend asked me whether I’d write them in today’s climate. My answer was probably not; it would feel too much like writing non-fiction. I’m reminded of the meme that’s been doing the rounds for the past few years, but that seems particularly apt now: a sign outside a bookshop announcing that the post-apocalyptic section has been moved to current affairs.

But I digress. With my leg on the mend, I’m aiming to resume posting to my blog every two weeks from today. The posts will, as usual, be loosely related to writing, reading, publishing and, when I can’t avoid it, marketing. Starting next time.

Today, it’s all about the amazing staff who run our National Health Service, and the remarkable people who are keeping other essential services in our country running. You’re bloody heroes and heroines, each and every one of you.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

National Heroes Service

A week ago—Valentine’s Day—I awoke with a vague tingling sensation in my right leg. I assumed I’d slept on it awkwardly, ignored it, sat at my desk and got to work. It was only a few hours later, at lunchtime, that I realised the tingling had become more focused, centred on my foot, while my right calf, knee and thigh had developed an ominous dull ache. Then I noticed the colour—or, rather, absence of it—in my foot. It resembled a plucked chicken and had grown icy cold.

My wife took one look and whisked me to our local A & E Department—what Americans would call ER. Over the ensuing hours, the colour gradually returned to my foot, but not fully. After a scan, I was informed that I had an aneurysm (a bulging of the artery) behind my knee, which had filled with clotted material that had interrupted the flow of blood to my foot. The lovely surgeon I spoke to explained that I needed to go to a different hospital where they had a specialist vascular surgical team and warned me to expect surgery that evening. She added that they would arrange an emergency transfer. By teatime, I was in the back of an ambulance being transported—blue lights flashing, sirens blaring—the twenty or so miles to Morriston Hospital in Swansea.

I did have to undergo emergency surgery to bypass the aneurysm, though it didn’t take place until Monday evening. I awoke in the recovery room and glanced down. The surge of relief was almost overwhelming when I could see my right foot and feel the toes wiggling. There had been a risk I would lose the leg.

Here’s a snap I took Monday evening when I was back on the ward—the push button thingy lying on the  bed alongside my bandaged leg is for morphine, though I barely felt the need to press it. I’ve rarely experienced such a sense of exhilaration as I felt that night; it was making the pain bearable. Though I couldn’t have got out of bed for all the drips attached to me, I was ready to party.

I came home on Wednesday and have been excelling in the sheer blissfulness of being in my own bed ever since. The incision in my leg runs from the groin almost to the ankle—my daughter counted at least fifty staples holding it together. They are due to come out next Friday.

It’s going to take a good few weeks for me to recover from the surgery so this blog is going to have to take a break for a month or so. But, as Arnie says, I’ll be back.

In the meantime, I had to post something here to thank the amazing men and women who staff our NHS. They are truly a wonderful bunch of people who do our country great credit. Not going to get all political, but the NHS is something bigger and better than any government can lay credit to. Quite frankly, it serves us well despite the politicians, not because of them.

And, yep, unlike the politicians, the NHS staff are, to a man and woman, heroes and heroines. I owe them my leg, if not my life, and will be grateful for the rest of my days.