How I Got Through A Trip to Emergency

I’m usually inspired to write my blog by something I can share that might be useful to others. The past few weeks have been rather sombre in tone so this blog reflects that. In life there are usually some positives to cheer us along and this month that still held true; a walk in the local woods was a particular highlight.

However, news of friends who are unwell, and worse, have filtered to my ears at the rate of several per week, or at least it feels like that. One Friday morning, my husband returned unexpectedly from his early morning walk to the station. On hearing his key in the lock, I immediately rose from my warm bed. Leaning over the stair case I saw he was ashen faced and breathless, doubled over and clearly in considerable pain, my first thought was It’s a heart attack.

A trip to to A & E ensued (emergency room for those not familiar). The day had begun began at 5:30 am and transpired to be a strange ‘Ground Hog’ of a day. Waiting, waiting, waiting and waiting, punctuated by snippets of diagnostic information, my husband was told he should be transferred to another hospital with a more suitable unit. The seamless hours slipped by reminding me of a long haul flight, with the in-flight entertainment replaced by a backdrop of anxiety.

Husband, it turned out, had a kidney stone. Apparently it’s common in middle aged men, who have probably been dehydrated through the summer months, to shed “a stone” – like an Autumn conker falling from a Chestnut tree. The pain of his body contracting to expel the 4mm stone was unbearable; in the end he gulped down a phial of liquid morphine and promptly fell into a merciful sleep.

Perched on a grey moulded plastic chair, shifting to find a nonexistent comfortable position, my adrenalin eventually subsided and in flowed my awareness. I was exhausted from the shock at husband’s sudden onset of doom laden symptoms and the previous night’s full bodied reunion with some old colleagues in London.

In a vacuous bubble, away from daily life, I pondered how fortunate we are to live in a country where all we have to do is wait a few hours, fearful and pensive yes, and yet safe in the knowledge that a specialist or a surgeon will come to our rescue. The NHS (National Health Service) is not perfect; we couldn’t help but notice inefficiencies whilst we were marooned in the CDU Bay, and yet as the proverbial s**t had hit the fan we were thankful for the postwar brainwave that provides free healthcare for UK residents.

Dibden Woods, Kent.

Dibden Woods, Kent.

With nothing to read and my phone battery ebbing down to 8% I was forced to sit and simply listen … As nine more hours passed four elderly people were treated separately, all had various texts and x-rays, each of them sounded frail, confused and in need of time and attention. Nothing could be found physically wrong with them, despite their best efforts to insist they had broken their hip, leg or whatever. I was struck by the nursing staff’s attitude; they were SO patient, reassuring and kind as the elderly people waited for transport home.

A woman in her fifties who’d been squished inside her car for two hours following a road traffic accident, cheerily rang friends and family, “I’ve no roof to my car anymore” having been cut from under it by the fire brigade, she explained. Her conversational tone would have been more suited a casual chat about the weather. Clearly each person at the other end of the line was struggling to adjust to the news, as she continued on, “Oh yes, I think I’m okay, I’m hobbling a bit … got lots of stitches up my leg.” Shock, the great protector.

At 7:30 pm it was announced that a bed was free at Maidstone Hospital and as no ambulance was available it was proposed I drive my husband as he was now comfortable enough to move.

Delighted to be leaving a last, we exited the hospital to find it dark outside and a storm in progress. I ran ahead through the driving rain, my elation immediately dampened as I discovered my car blocked in by an illegally parked vehicle.

After twenty minutes nudging backwards and forwards yelling directions at each other (and praying we wouldn’t be electrocuted by a lightning strike) we prepared to set off. It was not to be; slewed across the exit to the car park was a Ford Escort that clearly wasn’t going anywhere. Once again I got out and feeling hysteria rising within me, tapped on the driver’s side glass. A woman’s face appeared through the gap in the glass, she wailed through the thunder and rain, “My husband’s in the hospital and my car’s broken down, I can’t move, I don’t know what to do!”.

After a bit of encouragement we worked out her power steering had chosen this moment to break and somehow between us we managed to shove the car a little using both sets of arms to turn the steering as far as it would go. Just enough gap was eventually eked out for us to slip our car past and make our getaway under the exit barrier.

Thank heavens for SatNav, about an hour later despite having no idea whether we were going the right way, we pulled in at Maidstone Hospital and found our way to a ward. Events are something of a blur after that, I was so tired and my husband was starting to protest about staying in overnight. Eventually having enlisted the voice of reason from his father on the phone from South Wales, he was persuaded the best way to get treated quickly was to stay put until the morning and stay safe, given the possible complications  eluded to earlier in the day …

I got home around midnight and flopped into bed. As I tried to make sense of my longest ever day, attempting to drift off, images and memories of my own kidney stone experience, a few years back floated in. Clearly not a middle aged man, I think it was undergoing a pregnancy and subsequently breast feeding in the equatorial heat of Singapore that upset my hydration. The experience left such an impression on me I wrote it about it in my memoir An Inconvenient Posting, an Expat Wife’s Memoir of Lost Identity. I remember vividly pleading for something to take away the pain, but for some reason I never understood, none had been forthcoming. My husband was abroad at the time making it all the more difficult to endure.

Certainly it had been a day I did not want to repeat, but I was thankful that it hadn’t been anything more serious and he was at home when it happened, plus he now understood a little of what it was like to give birth (the pain of contractions is not dissimilar) … As for the stone, its current location has not been established at the time of writing – hopefully its gone for good.

Read the Introductory Chapter to ‘An Inconvenient Posting’

9781904881803-Perfect.indd

First published Great Britain 2012 by Summertime Publishing

© Copyright Laura J. Stephens
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher.
This is book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not,by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent
in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
This is a work of nonfiction. The events and experiences herein are true and have been faithfully rendered as the author remembered them, to the best of her ability. Some names, identities, and circumstances have been changed for reasons
of privacy.
ISBN 978-1-904881-80-3
Book design by Creation Booth – http://www.creationbooth.com
Painting ‘At Home: Houston’ 2009 by Diane E Wilkinson http://www.di4arts.com

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For anyone who has ever struggled to relocate themselves.

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INTRODUCTION

COWBOY IN THE BEDROOM

From the happy fog of a good night’s sleep I am woken to a clattering noise; someone is rummaging in the china dish on my chest-of-drawers. Lifting my head a few inches off the pillow I can just make out a silhouette in the half-light. There is a cowboy in the bedroom.

A few heart pounding seconds later, and I realise the cowboy with his back to me is my husband David, and this can only mean one thing, it is Go Texan Day.
David is proudly donning a black felt Stetson and tan leather cowboy boots, which he has teamed, I notice, with his everyday shirt and chinos. He slides his car keys and wallet
into his pockets, plants a kiss on my forehead and casually leaves for work. I have no doubt David will spend the day with his co-workers acting as though it is completely natural for a Welshman to be dressed half cowboy and half business man. 
Our three girls, determined not to be outshone by their father, are wearing the full get up to school; white cowboy boots, blue jeans, red checked shirts and daisy patterned bandannas. They stride through the kitchen waving their Stetsons and yelling.
“Yee ha, Go Texan day!”
Our family has been ‘going Texan’ for two years now, since we relocated to Houston from the south of England. This year, we are keen to be part of Houston’s annual Rodeo celebrations.For the next few weeks the girls are only interested in one thing, the headline event, a Miley Cyrus pop concert at the Reliant Stadium. It is the finale to three weeks of exhibitions, livestock shows and country ‘n’ western bands, a unique celebration of The Lone Star State. Even Elvis once played there.
Finally it is the day of the concert. Our Sunday lunch of roast chicken stuffed with garlic is wolfed down and we retreat to our bedrooms to get ready. I surprise myself and decide to go for the Western look too; threading a leather belt in the loops of my jeans I notice the turquoises inlaid with silver not my usual style – which I’d purchased right here in Texas, in a ‘one horse town’ called Old Town Spring. At that time it had been a big deal for me to venture beyond Houston’s outer limits. I shiver as I remember the sadness and, tightening the pretty belt, I smile to myself – how strange that all seems now. I grab my Stetson, catch my image in the mirror and wonder if I look the part. As I search for the tickets in the clutter of the kitchen drawer, Elisabeth, my eldest, eyes me suspiciously. She is unmoved by my enthusiasm.
“Mum. I can’t believe you got dressed up for it.”
“Well, I’d like to join in too,” I say.
“Yeah right… hopefully we won’t see anyone we know.” She’s only twelve and already I have become an embarrassing mother.
“Let’s go girls,” shouting up the stairs, “Bye David, see you later.”

We arrive at the Reliant Stadium and join the dense, humid crowd as it snakes around the auditorium. The sounds are chirpy and chaotic, stalls selling colourful T-shirts and baseball caps line the route. Excited little cowboys and cowgirls wear Stetsons edged with tinsel. We mingle in the smell of hot dogs and sweet popcorn, making me suddenly hungry again.
Locating our aisle, we pause at the top of the steep steps leading down to the stadium. Inside it is vast and yet surprisingly cool, courtesy no doubt of the sealed roof and air conditioning.
White, red and blue flags flutter gracefully above us – half are the American flag, the others bear the white star of Texas – each one is big enough to cover a tennis court.
“Look, Mum,” Megan’s tanned arm points upward, her mouth is open slightly, “Show-offy flags!”
We squeeze past vendors wearing white flared trousers, trimmed with cerise rhinestones. They carry boxes of food slung around the waist. After nearly two years in Texas, I
finally understand what they are saying.
“Come on y’all and git yur eats,” they hold up peanuts and shake bags of cotton candy like cheerleaders.
We find our four plastic, moulded seats among the crowd of mums and children. The girls have counted off the weeks, and eventually the days, from the international school calendar pinned to the cork board on our huge American fridge. Finally they will get to see their teen idol, Miley Cyrus. Megan, our middle child, sits between her sisters holding a
polystyrene tray. They help themselves to refried beans spread over a layer of corn chips. They each have a bucket size soda with a foot-long straw poking out, enough to hydrate a whole playground of kids for only a couple of dollars. Far below us, a rodeo starts.
“What’s going on?” Megan asks.
“Um, not sure,” I hesitate, “It looks like we’re going to see some rodeo after all.”

There had been no mention of three hours of livestock action before Miss Cyrus came on stage. I wish I’d known, I could have warned the girls what to expect.
“I thought rodeos were in fields,” Megan says.
She has a point, knowing the concert was inside the Reliant Stadium I hadn’t anticipated the livestock coming indoors. I turn and look at her, “We’re lucky to catch the rodeo,” I offer positively. Megan looks doubtful,
“Okay, but when’s Miley coming on?”
We are interrupted by a burst of activity on the floor of the stadium. A lone calf zigzags crazily inside an enormous pen. A cowboy shoots out from a hidden entrance at the side. His Stetson flays back and forth wildly as his long, blue-jeaned legs grip the girth of his chestnut horse, hooves rhythmically pound out a large circle around the calf. His right arm rotates aloft, whipping the air with his lasso.
In one swift, balletic movement the calf snaps, upended onto his spine. His hooves point skyward, his body inert forming a triangle shape. I glance at Elen. The corn chip nestled in her little cherub hand stops halfway to her mouth. Her blue glass marble eyes hold their gaze on the hapless calf. The colour is still draining from her face as she says in a small voice,
“Is he dead?”
“No, no sweetheart, he’s just caught in the cowboy’s rope.
He’s showing how clever he is at lassoing,” I say.
“But he’s dead… he’s not moving, Mummy,” says Elen.
“It’s okay, it’s the Cowboy’s job to look after his animals and make sure they don’t run off.”
I reach over the arm of the seat and place my hand on her leg.
“He’ll be fine in a minute.”
Elen’s soft hand closes over mine. The corn chip falls to the floor forgotten.

I notice a youngish man is peering over at me from the aisle steps, he grins good naturedly as he clings tightly to his daughter’s hand. She teeters on the steep steps, shivering
in a sundress and trying to balance two armfuls of Miley memorabilia.
“Would y’all mind moving along a coupla seats, only it’s kinda difficult for me to git in and out, owin’ to ma size an all.”
He grins again, patting his seriously oversized trunk. I smile back.
“No problem,” I say in my best Texas drawl and turn to the girls,
“Move along a couple of spaces please, this gentleman needs our seats.”
I have a feeling they are going to mount a protest or at least roll their eyes, but good humour gets the better of them and they move a little further away from the action.
Over the next three hours, the man’s daughter wags her metre-long Day-Glo sword across my face; each swipe narrowly missing my nose. Just as I’m losing the will to live,
there are signs the headline event is nearly upon us. Stocks and pens give way to a circular stage. Banks of coloured lights take aim at its centre.
The stadium is full to capacity, with 78,000 ecstatic people. There is no audible clapping, only a cacophony of endless, deafening screaming. Then everyone stands up, no one knows why; it’s what happens when people are in the moment. The excitement is palpable as the screaming reaches an unlikely pitch. At last, Miley is here, bouncing and waving
alongside her dad, Billy Ray Cyrus. Tall and talented, an all American dynasty, they blast around a bandstand of white Grecian pillars.
Miley is more grown up than I remember, but does not disappoint. Later in the set it’s Billy Ray’s turn, he strums his guitar with well-practised ease and sings his song, western
style.
It’s about a girl who is going to give her dreams a shot, however big they are. Mmm, I think, I could dig that too. Am I going to give my dreams a shot or am I too settled here in
Texas now? The lyric reminds me that lately I’ve been wondering if I would have the guts to write a story – my story. I have even imagined a subtitle, ‘Corporate wife and therapist, lost in identity crisis and blindsided by culture shock’. It is beginning to seem unlikely. But this morning when David reached up high for my Stetson, he had rediscovered my journal sandwiched between some books. Maybe it’s the sign I have been looking for?
Waking the following morning I lie still in bed and wait for my senses, mind and body, to emerge.
“You’ve got the best of both worlds.”
It’s another song from the Miley concert, resonating around my head. A surge of happiness washes over me and I am suddenly aware how very fortunate we are to have had
the best of both worlds, living in diverse places, experiencing contrasting cultures.
I can hear David’s work shoes on the wooden floor of the corridor; he is travelling at a clip towards our bedroom. I feel my heart quicken a little as he strides over the cream carpet.
His face is obscured, silhouetted against a row of sunlit zebra slats projected on the wall through the slender shutters. I notice the image ripple with the movement of the pool and think how strangely opulent it seems.
“Oh good, you’re still here,” I say. I see now he looks smart in a navy linen jacket, chestnut trousers and a slim fitting shirt.
“Yep, I’m ready to go though,” resignation, and a hint of apology in his voice. He sits down, his bottom nearly squashing my legs under the light quilt. It feels nice. My mind
is buzzing.
“David,” I say in a low voice, “You know all the problems I had when we got here?”
His head tilts down, his hand smoothes his hair, “Yes.” His reply feels measured.
“Well, I learnt a lot living through all my difficulties. Do you really think I should share it?” I stare at his profile, dark hair, tanned neck against his white collar, “You know, in a
book?”
“Yes, definitely.” He turns to look at me and stretches his arm towards me running his hand over the top of my hip, I can feel his palm through the soft quilt. “Go for it,” he says and gets up to leave.
Jumping out of bed, I follow David along the corridor. By the front door we have a quick hug. His warm, dry skin smells of L’Occitane aftershave.
A black Lincoln with a mafiosi air about it is lurking on our cobbled driveway. Leaning against the passenger door is the regular driver, waiting to take him to the airport – a five-day dash to South East Asia and back.
“Girls, I’m going,” he yells.
David’s pull-along bag is stationed upright; a faithful dog waiting for his master. Elisabeth, Megan and Elen rush down stairs from their bedrooms and gather around his legs.
David crouches down to their level, circling his arms around them.
“Okay girls, I’ll be back on Friday. Be nice for Mummy and have a good week won’t you?”
“Love you Daddy,” says Elen.
He gently pulls each one to him in turn, smudging big kisses on their cheeks. The ritual done, he stands up and faces me.
“Right then,” he says, deftly tapping a little button on the handle of his bag, it pops up and he catches it with one hand whilst opening the door with the other.
“Wait,” I say, touching his arm and biting my lip, “I think I’m going to make a start on the book.”
“Good, you’ve been talking about it long enough, saying how that’s what you’d do ‘if only I hadn’t lost my journal’.” He cocks his head to one side with a cheeky grin. I think he means to encourage me. David settles back in the car and exchanges a few words with the driver. The girls have already scattered in search of breakfast and I wave at the black glass Lincoln as it glides away. Closing the oak door behind me, I lean against it feeling its cool, firm surface on my back, I allow myself a little smile.
That’s it then, decision made!

Want to read on? Buy the An Inconvenient Posting at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

Mindfulness: Happiness is an inside job

You may have heard the buzz around the practice of ‘mindfulness’? Its use has becomes far reaching, with schools and even governments employing its use. Its origins lie in centuries-old Buddhist meditation practices and breathing exercises.

I was sitting over a latte trying to explain what mindfulness is to a friend and have to say I found it quite difficult to describe, I thought it would help to write about it, so here goes …

Put simply, mindfulness requires us to focus on ourselves, tuning into the here and now; stilling the mind and concentrating on the present reality.

I’ve discovered it is not something just for other people; we can all use it to help us concentrate better and reduce our stress. Life can be so challenging and complex and we all experience suffering in different ways; physically, emotionally or spiritually. This can lead to a sense of disconnecting from ourselves. Mindfulness can help us to tune in and reconnect with our inner space; that might be our own subconscious or simply the ongoing internal dialogue we have.water lily

INVITATION TO PAY ATTENTION IN THE PRESENT MOMENT

I’d like to invite you to stop what you are doing and give what is written here your full attention. For example, you could do this in a multi tasking, half hearted kind of way; whilst checking your phone, eating a sandwich or allowing your mind to wander off, OR you could read this blog mindfully.

If you’d like to try, reading with your full attention might involve:

  •          Pausing from anything else you are doing
  •          Becoming aware of the feeling to be ‘pulled’ to carry on with other activities … notice other thoughts and feelings creeping in and perhaps the need to rush.
  •          There may be something distracting you; a noisy environment perhaps? Allow yourself to observe how your senses are being stimulated and those thoughts and feelings as they crowd in. Try to let them go, think of them as just thoughts and sensations.

‘Mindfulness’ means ‘to remember’ or ‘to recollect’ the present moment. It can be surprisingly difficult to achieve staying in the moment for any length of time, and yet the benefits are well documented.

There is a plethora of information available on how to practice mindfulness; possibly too much to capture and keep your attention in one blog post! So I have compiled some links and book resources to help you decide an appropriate place for you to dive in, should you wish to.

PEACE, SILENCE & SOLITUDE

You might like to try a breathing exercise to help step out of the auto pilot state and reconnect with the present moment. You will need at least ten minutes but can take up to an hour if you wish:

Sit quietly, close your eyes and ‘go inside’. Allow yourself to become more aware of distractions. It is completely natural for your mind to wander, just notice this happening and take your attention back to your breathing.

Focus on the cool air coming in to your nose. You can think of your breathing as a mantra, counting up to six as your breathe in, and eleven as your breathe out (I found this quite difficult at first but learned to do it easily in a few days.)

Remember to be gentle and compassionate with yourself; being mindful takes practice and resistance is normal – humans are designed to be constantly thinking!

After a little while of focusing on your breathing you could ask yourself these questions:

  •          What am I thinking?
  •          What am I feeling?
  •          What is happening to my body?
  •          What inner sensations am I aware of?

Try to notice, acknowledge and stay with each answer.

Accept all your experiences, even the unwanted ones. You can have strong feelings but you don’t have to react.

Now gently re focus on your breathing, it is a constant in your life, always there for you, follow the breath all the way in and all the way out.  Do this for a few minutes; take as long as you can.

Notice when your attention wanders and again gently bring it back to your breathing.

Feel your awareness encompass your whole body; expand your awareness so your body feels as though it is breathing.

Allow any sense of discomfort, resistance or tension. Sense the space around you, hold that sense and imagine yourself being soft and opening up (your might find it helps to visualise your favourite flower opening up and blooming).

Did you know …

One of the best ways of developing

mindfulness is to start a regular

meditation practice.

Daniel Siegel

pebblesBy allowing ourselves to be still, anchored to our breathing, we learn to tune into our thoughts and feelings. In this way mindfulness can helps us to deal with negative emotions such as anger, fear & greed. It can therefore impact positively on our relationship with our inner self and others.

Mindfulness can be simply maintaining awareness in the moment, whether you are reading a blog or eating a sandwich (and if you are take notice of the taste, texture, smell and how your sandwich looks!).

I have found mindfulness most useful as a becalming tool, particularly when I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed, it provides a welcome opportunity to stop, rushing, doing, planning etc and generally going too fast. In the stillness I am free to tune in to what is really important and make more considered decisions and that must be a good thing.

RESOURCES

Guardian Articles:

Should we be mindful of mindfulness?

Julie Myerson: how mindfulness based cognitive therapy changed my life

Coping with stress: can mindfulness help?

Books

Loving What Is, by Byron Katie, 2002

For trauma: In an Unspoken Voice, Peter Levine, 2010

Videos

Thich Nhat Hanh – Ten Mindful Movements

Guided meditation: Guided Meditiation with Dan Siegel (Wheel of Awareness)

Quotation Reference

“Happiness is an inside job” ~ William Arthur Ward